Red Lava by Kathryn Silver-Hajo

He said he was living in his parents’ one-room garage until he could afford his own place, that he’d decked it out like a scene from a 70s movie: red lava lamp in the corner, posters of trippy fractals on the walls, a silkscreen of Hendrix on the ceiling, shag rug on the floor in front of the mattress that was covered with an Indian bedspread. Come see for yourself, he said.

She was surprised to see it was a standalone structure—a squat concrete cube engulfed by ivy and surrounded by a tangle of dandelions, crabgrass and sunflowers, a cracked birdbath at one end of the lot. Charming in a shabby sort of way. He rolled up the corrugated garage gate to let her in, then lowered and locked it, saying that way his parents couldn’t get in. They didn’t like it when he brought girls there, especially his father—a real bastard of an ex-marine, he said. No point taking chances. It felt strange being locked in with this person she hardly knew, but the place was tidy and lying on his bed kissing in the glow of the lava lamp, the smell of sandalwood incense wafting around them in his hippie hideaway, she felt daring but safe, intrigued to be suspended in this windowless box, and after a while she had the disorienting sense that it might still be light outside or could be dark. She didn’t know and didn’t care, especially once they’d downed a couple of tequila shots and the room started to tilt around her.

She wasn’t used to hard liquor and her grip on reality was slipping and that’s when something started to shift. Him groping her body aggressively, when he’d been all tender and easy-going a few minutes before. Him pinning her hands against the bed and pressing harder when she resisted. Her breath coming faster, not from excitement but something more like panic, and maybe he’d think it meant she was into it and she said slow down but he laughed, downed another shot or two, jammed his knee between her legs, saying how hot she was and not listening to her saying stop, I’m not ready for this, and the room spinning and the red glow from the lava lamp menacing instead of romantic now as she searched for a way out but found none and she scanned and scanned until her eyes locked on a steel flashlight on the bedside table. She wondered if there really were any parents, or if he’d made them up so she’d be trusting enough to walk willingly into his lair, like a fox following the scent of food into a trap that snaps shut, the animal realizing its mistake a moment too late as its leg is crushed by the jagged metal teeth.

And when he raised up off her to get a fifth or sixth shot, his knees still on her thighs she asked where’s the bathroom and he said she could use the bucket in the corner if she really had to and she thought of him flirting from the next booth at the diner when they first met, his easy smile and musky scent when he asked if he could join her, how she even found his Wolverine-style sideburns oddly attractive, and she’d laughed and said sure. He’d said he was a line cook there, that Tuesday was his day off, and after that they started meeting up for coffee Tuesday mornings, the warm smells of eggs and toast and bacon swirling around them, and she got so comfortable with him that going to his “pad” seemed like no big deal, but now she was thinking maybe that line about being a line cook was a lie even though he knew all the waitresses by name. Maybe he wasn’t anything he claimed and maybe when he was done with her, he’d dispose of her behind a dumpster, leave her to die.

And maybe he had bet on her being meek and fragile and compliant and didn’t expect her to grab that flashlight instead of peeing in the paint bucket with him in the same room and maybe he was too hammered to notice when she was behind him lifting and then bringing the weight of it down on his head, maybe he hadn’t thought her capable of such a thing—at the diner he’d said how sweet she was—and maybe he realized too late that he’d got it wrong, and a little sound, a surprised exhale, came out from between his parted lips as he slumped forward, a rivulet of red spreading onto the Indian quilt the same color as the red blobs in the lava lamp. And she kept that flashlight raised because now she had to slide her other hand inside his pocket to fish out the key and maybe he’d suddenly whirl around and grab her arm like Godzilla rising up enraged and slam her against the wall to finish her off. But her hand made it into the pocket and out again, the key gripped between trembling fingers and she had to turn her back to him in order to get the key in the lock and turn it and raise the gate and escape into the fresh air of the night and run and run in the fine misting drizzle and try not to think about the gossipy waitresses or her fingerprints under a blue light all over his body and the bed and the flashlight she’d dropped at the last minute.

Kathryn Silver-Hajo writes short fiction, long fiction, and poetry. Her stories and poems appear or are forthcoming in Cleaver Magazine, Unbroken Journal, The Drabble, The Ekphrastic Review, Boston Literary Magazine, Flash Fiction Magazine, and Rusted Radishes. See more at and follow her on Twitter: @KSilverHajo and Instagram: kathrynsilverhajo.