“Fucking hell, what kind of a business runs out of milk!?” It was a dark and stormy night, and my words rang like a bell through the quiet street. I was standing outside the Stromaz Café, famous for its milk. It didn’t have any fucking milk. I stood in the street, rainwater dripping down my hair and into my eyes. I was so thirsty, I almost drank it. But I couldn’t… the rain in this town wasn’t clean enough to drink without treating it first. And I had no idea how to treat rainwater. So, I survived on milk. But there was no milk. The Stromaz Café had hung a sign on the door that clearly stated “OUT OF MILK”. I threw my head back and screamed in exasperation. Lightning split the dark sky like a glowing sword. Thunder rumbled overhead. It was all very dramatic, but no amount of drama could quench my thirst. I needed milk. I needed it NOW. But there was no milk.
I felt my eyes beginning to water, and a lump growing in my throat. Soon, tears were streaming down my face faster than the rainwater streaming from the clouds. Unable to hold myself upright any longer, I fell to my knees in the gutter, choking on my own tears. So thirsty… maybe if I just tilted my head back opened my mouth I could drink the rainwater… maybe if I only drank a little bit, the water wouldn’t poison me… No. I couldn’t. I reminded myself what had happened the last time someone drank the rainwater- they dropped dead. I was thirsty but I wasn’t suicidal. I could make myself last until tomorrow, maybe the café would have restocked on milk by then.
I steadied my breathing and wiped my eyes. Taking a deep breath, I picked myself up out of the gutter and tried to dust myself off. I had little success in this endeavour, given that my jeans were totally soiled with mud and mould from the gutter.
My house wasn’t too far from the café. Even though I was weak, I was sure I could make it back home without collapsing.
I was wrong. Clutching my soggy coat around myself, I stumbled drunkenly up the street, dehydrated, soaked, dirty and emotional. I doubt I made it 50 meters before I collapsed on the hard concrete, and everything went black.
When I woke up, I wasn’t on the pavement any more. I don’t know how long I was out, but it was apparently long enough for someone to carry me from the side of the street to a strange, small room, painted white from the floorboards to the ceiling and well illuminated from the fluorescent lights on the ceiling. I sat up and looked around. The room had very little in it but the sofa I was sitting on, a small wooden coffee table, a little window with the blinds drawn over it, a full-length mirror, and a flower vase full of wilting red roses in the corner. Had I been kidnapped? Was I being held ransom? Would I live see the light of dawn tomorrow? A thousand horrible thoughts buffeted my brain, each more catastrophic than the last. I was on the verge of a panic attack when a woman walked into the room.
The woman had a kind but tired face, with furrow creases along her forehead and smile lines around her eyes. If I had to guess I’d say she was in her early fifties. Her hair was ginger and streaked with white, pulled into a loose bun. She was wearing a white pantsuit and a red tie. She smiled at me when she came in.
“Eet ees good to zee you avake, darlink.” She said in a slow, deep voice. Her accent bothered me. What was it? Russian? “I hope vee did not scare you. But you vould not vake ven vee shook you and I thought you vould get ill from sleeping in zee storm. Are you all right?”
I opened my mouth and tried to speak, but my throat felt like a desert. “Milk…” was all I managed to croak.
“Ah, you must be thirsty, darlink. I have milk, yes”. She left the room, presumably to pour me a glass of that life-saving white liquid. I wasn’t sure if I should trust the woman, but she seemed kind enough thus far. I let down my guard a bit and leant back into the soft sofa. I turned my head to face the mirror. A pale, scared face stared back at me. My dark hair was a tangled, slightly damp mess, my fringe smooshed against my forehead. In that moment, I was really glad that I wasn’t wearing makeup, because if I was, it would have been a horror show after the night I’d just had. Instead of smudged eyeliner, smeared lipstick and running mascara, my face was covered in a little dirt and a lot of sweat. I wiped my face on my sleeve and looked toward the door, hoping that the woman would soon return with the milk.
About half a minute later, the door opened again, but it wasn’t the woman standing in the doorway. A man roughly her age with salt-and-pepper hair and the same white suit as the woman entered the room, holding a glass of milk. My eyes widened and my dry lips cracked into a smile when he passed it to me. “You should drink this.” The man said. He didn’t speak with the same strange accent as the woman. There was a slightly British note to his voice, and he spoke in a slow, soothing tone that made me want to like him. “Thelma says you are very thirsty”. I gulped the milk greedily. It tasted better than anything I’ve ever consumed. It was creamy and hydrating and delicious, neither brain-freezingly cold nor uncomfortably hot. It was a while before either of us spoke. “Thank you so much!” I gushed. “You really have no idea ho much you’ve just helped me. I really owe you. And your milk is delicious. Please… who are you?” The man chuckled. “My name is Phil. You have already met my wife, Thelma. We remotely run a dairy farm in Tasmania- I am glad you enjoy our produce.” I wasn’t sure what to say. I’d already thanked the man, already complimented his milk, already said that I owe him… I supposed that this was my cue to ask him about his farm, his life, his wife… but, to be honest, I didn’t particularly care. Now that I was sure that neither he nor his wife were murderers, all I really wanted to do was go home. Could I ask how without sounding ungrateful or rude? I settled on asking him “Um…. Could you tell me where I am, please sir?”
He smiled and replied, “please, just call me Phil. You are not far from where Thelma and I found you. If you walked out of our front door and turned your first left, you would be on the same street where you fainted. Would you like me to walk you there?”
I considered this. “Ah, no thanks si- Phil. I’m sure I can find it. I really can’t thank you and your wife enough- I really do owe you. Please, do call me if you ever need anything.” I gave him a card with my number on it. I always carry a few around, though I’m not sure why. I suppose they were useful in this case.
“Of course, we will. Say, I don’t think you’ve told us your name?” Said Phil, taking it.
“Oh, of course- My name is Gin.” I replied cheerfully.
“Well, Gin, I hope to see you around.” Said Phil as I rose from the sofa.
Phil walked me through a long, white, largely empty corridor until we reached the blood-red front door. I opened the door and stepped into the bright light of the early morning. I smiled. I would be fine.
Phil’s voice came from behind me. It sounded faster, more serious, less reassuring. “Gin?”
“Yeah?” I looked down the road, not seeing what Phil was doing behind me.
“Next time, I’d be less trusting.”
An intense pain filled my lower back. I screamed. Looking down, I saw the bloody tip of a knife sticking through my torso. I had been stabbed. Phil pulled his knife out of my abdomen and I fell to the ground. The pain burning through my body was unbearable, but worse was the sting of Phil’s betrayal, coupled with how stupid I felt for not seeing it coming.
My eyes flickered one last time. I saw my blood, pooling on the floor. Then- everything went black, for the last time.