The Devil Winds

The sun sank into the Pacific Ocean, a violent gasp of orange and purple flared across the span of the sky. It was November, that time of year when the Santa Ana Winds made their annual incursion into the city. The winds brushed through the air, tickling hairs on the arms, caressing the skin with brittle warmth. They say the winds are filled with an excess of ions, making people anxious, prone to fights or suicide. Hard to tell if this was true or not. At the least, the Santa Anas brought fires to the dry hills surrounding the city. Every year, they rampaged through the yellow shrub, burning down the mansions of the wealthy.

The three of us were bunkered in Catherine’s apartment on Hoover Street. The television was turned off, granting momentary reprieve from delirious reports on the news of hillsides and houses on fire. We sat on the living room floor, filling our glasses from a bottle of tequila. The lamps in the corners of the room were dimmed, casting a cloak of yellow light on white-washed walls.

Robert, Catherine’s new roommate, was telling us a story about a friend of his who’d been found dead recently, alone in her apartment. The girl was discovered collapsed on the floor, in a pool of blood and broken glass, a John Coltrane record spinning slowly on the turntable. Robert said she’d been drinking from a bottle of red wine. We imagined the girl’s final moments, twirling around the room in a drunken swoon as the record turned, bottle of wine in her hand. She must have slipped and fallen, the bottle shattering beneath her. She’d knocked her head on the wooden floor as a shard of glass punctured her wrist. Her blood oozing out into a puddle, mixing with the red wine.

We sat quietly, pondering the tragedy and absurdity of the girl’s death.

The last bit of tequila was poured out, and we all turned in for the night. Everyone had work early the next morning. I sat with Catherine in her bedroom by the glow of a bedside lamp. We spoke softly while listening to faint music on the radio. After removing our clothes, we turned the lights off, and settled underneath the blankets.

It wasn’t long before Catherine was snoring faintly beside me. The cozy comfort of the room gave way to a menacing unfamiliarity in the darkness. Catherine’s bedroom was recently on the other side of the apartment, before Robert moved in. That room was now his. I lay awake under the blankets, watching the skeletal dance of shadows on the wall from tree branches shaking in the wind outside the window. I gazed upon this frenzied waltz for some time before eventually drifting off into uneasy sleep and feverish dreams.

When I awoke the next morning, Catherine was still asleep. The blue light of morning seeped through the windows, filling the bedroom with its chill touch. The tree branches outside were deathly still. I felt a cold dampness around my loins, soaking my pajama bottoms. I was horrified to realize I had wet myself in the night. I ran to the bathroom to wash myself, anxious of Catherine noticing. When I returned to the bedroom, she was stirring, slowly waking up. But she made no mention of my accident.

The rest of the apartment was quiet, Robert had already left. The empty bottle of tequila and our glasses were still strewn haphazardly in a circle on the living room floor. Catherine and I sat silently at the kitchen table sipping coffee. We got dressed and were soon out the door. I waited quietly in the passenger seat as Catherine started the car, and we drove off.

Catherine stopped the car in front of my workplace. As I stepped out onto the sidewalk, I looked back at Catherine, sitting behind the wheel. Her lips pursed into a smile, but I could read nothing more from her face, nor her lingering eyes. I smiled uncertainly in return, then turned and walked away. I did not realize this was the last time I would ever see her, as the cataclysm descended upon the city that day.

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