When Maggie and Bianca received a phone call from Elizabeth responding to their Facebook ad for a third roommate, the two young women had no idea they were agreeing to live with a human trash generator. The ad had been listed for a couple weeks and after receiving a few messages from outright weirdos, Elizabeth seemed like a normal college student by comparison, one who they thought they could even potentially be friends with. When they asked her to list a few facts about herself, Elizabeth responded, “I’m a Fashion Design student who draws inspiration from Vera Wang, I grew up in Maine, and I’m an only child.”
Sadly, Maggie and Bianca were not privy to the implications of Elizabeth’s third personal fact. Sophomore college students themselves, the two of them were just moving into their first apartment after having lived in the dorms the prior year, and so their experience with roommates was limited. In their eyes, the worst possible scenario for prospective a roommate was someone who listened to loud, angsty music into the wee hours of the night (or morning, by then) and who didn’t shower but once a week. They had no idea that the worst candidate for a roommate could be a pretty blond girl with French-tipped nails and a love of classical symphony.
In fact, Maggie and Bianca had had the opportunity to live in the apartment just the two of them—-the apartment for which they had signed the lease was a two-bedroom, and so they could have easily just left it at that and been fine. However, the notion of splitting their rent three-way rather than two-way was alluring, and if they bargained for the third roommate to pay a little extra for her own room while Maggie and Bianca shared a room… The dollar signs in savings flashed before their eyes and soon they were announcing to Facebook this new opportunity. “Besides, it’ll help out someone who needs a place to stay,” Maggie said, already feeling like a Good Samaritan for offering this opportunity in a college city in which the housing market was overflowing with students looking for residence off campus, and, also, the excitement of an extra $250 a month in her pocket.
Armed with the three facts Elizabeth provided about herself, and after peeking at her Facebook profile pic to see what this stranger looked like (because a profile picture alone is enough to judge one’s character), Maggie and Bianca accepted Elizabeth’s request for co-inhabitant status and in August, the three of them all moved in to their new apartment, 5145 Desordre St, Apartment 312B, with nothing but high hopes.
Often, when one finds themself in an undesirable scenario in which they have somewhat cornered themself into something unpleasant, they are able to look back, and with the wisdom of hindsight, pinpoint exactly where everything began to go wrong. In this particular situation that Maggie and Bianca found themselves, they traced the first of their red flags back to the very first day: Moving Day.
Whereas both Maggie and Bianca viewed the apartment as a space equally shared by the three young women, it turned out that Elizabeth’s parents viewed the apartment as singularly Elizabeth’s. When Bianca’s mom politely attempted to introduce herself to Elizabeth’s mother, the prudish woman merely raised her eyebrows and commented, “Ah, so you’re the mother of one of the girls living with Elizabeth.” Bianca’s mother quickly felt offense to this, but when she made a remark to Bianca about the catty woman (“I should have said, ‘No, you mean Elizabeth will be ‘living with’ my daughter‘) Bianca merely wrote her mother off as being too sensitive to too small a passing remark.
As all three families—-Maggie’s father and three younger brothers, Bianca’s parents and older sister, and Elizabeth’s parents—-toted boxes and duffel bags and small furniture up the three flights of stairs into the old, cramped apartment, it became increasingly clear that Mr. and Mrs. Highfalootin (as Bianca’s mother referred to them) considered themselves project managers of the whole operation. “The couch should go over there, so Elizabeth has the best natural light to study in,” her father directed, as Maggie’s younger brothers all grunted under the weight of the couch they were holding. They dropped the couch—-which was from Maggie’s grandma’s basement—-in the spot Mr. Highfalootin had pointed to, and all picked up their Gatorades and Nike water bottles to hydrate. Meanwhile, Mrs. Highfalootin was in the kitchen with Bianca’s mother and and sister, commenting, “We should really get this kitchen cleaned up before they unpack any dishes, just to make sure it’s clean. Oh look! Here are Clorox wipes,” before leaving the kitchen and going to sit down in Elizabeth’s room with her daughter as they discussed plans for her room. Bianca’s mother and sister were left looking at each other like, “Did she just instruct us to clean the kitchen?”
In the chaos of all the moving parts, Maggie and Bianca were both willfully oblivious to the passive aggressions of Elizabeth’s parents, and even further ignored any perceived offenses that their parents muttered to them when the Mr. and Mrs. Highfalootin weren’t nearby. At the end of the day, after all the hugs and tears and hesitant goodbyes from the parents, the three girls were left in an apartment with the Highfalootin fingerprint all over the place. But Maggie and Bianca didn’t care—-it seemed convenient to them that all had been decided for them. The red flags had not been noticed.
The first week went by without incident, as Maggie and Bianca were primarily wrapped up in the strategizing of decorating their room. Maggie and Bianca complemented each other well as friends—- Maggie was the type of person who focused on the big picture, while Bianca was more detail-oriented. Often describing herself as “Big, Beautiful, and Bold,” Maggie was the type who had a large heart and a loud voice, but didn’t necessarily like confrontation, even though she was well aware of what she liked. On the other hand, Bianca was sometimes uncertain about her wants, although once decided, she was strong headed about the matter. She spent more time in the bathroom getting ready each morning and was more shy to speak about herself. Their room together was a blend of tapestries, stringed lights, photographs, and maps—-a typical, if not beautiful in its own rite, room for a couple of female college students.
However, despite all the “help” from Elizabeth’s parents, her boxes were left unpacked for quite some time. After the first week went by, Maggie and Bianca began wondering if she had just been too busy to sort through the cardboard boxes stacked up next to the couch in the living room, and after two weeks they considered asking Elizabeth if she would mind if they unpacked for her. But by the third week, the two young women had grown used to seeing the boxes in the corner of the kitchen, and had grown accustomed to walking around the boxes near the couch, and occasionally they’d get a glimpse of Elizabeth’s room if they walked by and her door was cracked, and it was confirmed even more boxes still awaited their unpacked fate in her room, as well.
After that first month, Elizabeth took a “grazing style” to unpacking her boxes, although it was finally some sort of an approach other than blatant neglect. Gradually, after classes began for the fall semester, Maggie would notice a box flap left open—-meaning there was some activity!—-or Bianca would notice new dishes put up in the kitchen cupboards.
And thus began the theme of their co-inhabitance with Elizabeth: ghostlike activity. For it became clear that Elizabeth was not interested in being their friend as they had hoped—-after they had invited her to join them at the campus gym, and their college’s beginning-of-the-semester kickoff, and a free hip-hop dance class put on by their student center, they grew tired of her rejection. Elizabeth always declined, saying that she already had too much homework, or that she had plans to go with different friends, or one time she had actually said she wasn’t going because she felt under the weather, only for Bianca to spot her ducking out of sight at the actual event. The two of them were bewildered by her aversion to their invites, and they began to perceive Elizabeth as being kind of bitchy.
It was around the time when Maggie and Bianca started side-eyeing Elizabeth that they began to realize how messy she was.
The boxes had finally been unpacked (and the empty cardboard boxes were now stacked up in a messy tower next to the front door, not even broken down), which perhaps thinned out the smoke screen Elizabeth had either intentionally or unintentionally utilized—-now they were able to more clearly realize the subtle messes Elizabeth left about the house. At first, Maggie supposed that the toothpaste globs all over the bathroom sink could have been Bianca’s or Elizabeth’s fault; after all, Bianca spent a decent chunk of time each morning getting ready in the bathroom. And, in the beginning, Bianca couldn’t say for sure whether the empty yogurt cup left out on the coffee table and the potato chip crumbs all over the couch were from Maggie or Elizabeth; after all, Maggie was all about her snacks. However, one day, after Maggie went to pour herself a bowl of cereal and found no clean bowls in the kitchen cupboard and only two dirty bowls in the kitchen sink, Maggie stormed into their room and, squinting skeptically and biting her lip, asked Bianca, “Do you know where the hell all the bowls went?”
Bianca, who had been sitting cross-legged on her bed with her laptop in front of her, excitedly yet in a hushed voice, exclaimed, “No, but I was wondering the same thing!!” The two of them then shared a silence as they both glanced in the direction of Elizabeth’s room, then burst out in more quieted hysteria, saying, “Oh my god! Dude! Dude!” They then broke their awkward unspoken concerns and dished all their shared observations around the apartment.
“So she’s the one who’s hoarding bowls in her room!”
“Ugh! So you didn’t leave the globs of toothpaste in the sink?”
“Ew, no! And you didn’t track dirt through the kitchen?”
“God no! And you weren’t the one who left a banana peel sitting on the kitchen counter?”
“What the hell! I was wondering who that was, too!”
The two of them pieced together the series of messes they had noticed and almost all signs pointed to Elizabeth—-except for one, which was a simple conversation. (“Okay, I admit I’m the one who leaves all my hair in the shower drain. But I’ll be better about that!” Bianca confessed, because she was the only one of them with thick curly black hair that made it obviously hers.)
After venting about all of Elizabeth’s messes for nearly an hour, they felt relieved to have discovered it wasn’t each other that they were so frustrated with, but their stranger roommate.
“Should we talk to her about it?” Bianca asked, frowning uncertainly.
Maggie thought about it, but confronting Elizabeth sounded highly unpleasant and awkward. “I don’t know,” she responded. “Maybe she’ll get around to cleaning up her messes if we give it time. She could just be really busy. I mean, I hear fashion students have a lot of homework.” Besides, they so rarely crossed paths with Elizabeth that it would be difficult to find a time where all three of them were home at once. In fact, they weren’t even sure if she was home right now—-they had been practically shout-whispering the whole time they were complaining about her, just in case she was on the other side of the wall in her own room, doing homework or taking a nap or something.
But after the two of them agreed on a no-cleaning policy regarding Elizabeth’s messes, it quickly became apparent that she was in no haste to tidy after herself, but that her messes required tidying. Ants began frequenting the living room and kitchen, crawling from the sliding glass door on their balcony, and gnats swarmed around the kitchen sink. The bathroom counter was covered in lint, random discolored drip marks, and the waste basket was overflowing with products both of them swore they didn’t use.
“Well,” Maggie decided one day, “I’ll clean the kitchen if you clean the bathroom. Then next time it’s dirty, we can say that we did it last time, so it’s her turn.” Bianca liked the sound of this, so that they could be the bigger people and then use it as leverage to motivate her to clean in the future. To them, it didn’t seem like they were making excuses for her lack of hygiene.
The next day while in class, Bianca received a text message from Elizabeth. “Did Maggie throw away my beauty blender???” It was the only text Elizabeth had sent her since before they moved in together and were coordinating the Moving Day, and Bianca frowned at the message. While she had cleaned the bathroom the day before, she hadn’t seen anything that resembled a beauty blender—-and she would know what one looked like, because she owned several herself. A moment later, the text was followed by another one: “I know you would never throw it away, but I bet Maggie wouldn’t know what it is if she saw one and so maybe she thought it was garbage. I noticed you guys moved a bunch of stuff in the bathroom. If she threw it away it’s fine, I’ll just have her buy me a new one.”
Bianca’s jaw dropped, and for the remainder of class she was too livid to focus on what her professor was lecturing. As soon as she got out of class, she screenshot the message and texted it to Maggie, who immediately called her. As Bianca fast-walked to her next class, she out-of-breath answered, “Can you believe it?! She said we ‘moved stuff around.’ Girl, we cleaned!!!”
Maggie’s side of the conversation was rife with curse words, and by the end of their five-minute conversation, no swear word was left unmentioned.
“What do I even say to that text?” Bianca asked, and Maggie said she didn’t know, but had been in the bathroom and needed to go back to class now, but she would text her later.
But that evening, as Maggie and Bianca were eating at the student center, brainstorming passive aggressive responses, Bianca received an additional text that launched the two women into a fit of maniacal laughter so violent that they henceforth lost their appetite for the rest of their food. It read: “Nevermind. I found it in my room.”
“Oh my god!” Maggie screeched, and several heads at nearby tables turned towards the direction of their commotion.
“That is hilarious!” Bianca laughed.
From then on, it felt like a full-on rivalry between the two rooms in their apartment. Elizabeth had revealed her true colors, and Maggie and Bianca were determined not to let her walk all over them. The only problem was, it was hard to stand up for yourself when your bully was never even around to confront.
By November, the only way that Maggie and Bianca knew that Elizabeth still lived with them was by the messes she left behind. If Elizabeth was ever home, she was closed up in her room listening to symphony music, or slipping into the bathroom for an hour-long showering excursion at the most inconvenient times. (One time, Bianca had to pee so bad that she actually knocked on the neighbor’s door and asked to use their bathroom. Maggie had strict instructions to call the cops if she didn’t return in five minutes.) If they did happen to cross paths with her in the kitchen, for example, it was made incredibly awkward by Elizabeth’s avoidance of eye contact and passive aggressive comments, such as, “It’s way too hot in here.”
For that was another battle—-the thermostat. As the weather grew colder, Maggie and Bianca began to turn on the furnace. However, several mornings they would wake up shivering, only to realize the thermostat had been completely switched off. It became a full-on battle, until one day Bianca caught Elizabeth in the foyer of the apartment building going the opposite way, and Bianca, now determined to her cause and so therefore unrelenting, told Elizabeth that in the colder weather, the furnace always has to be on otherwise the pipes could freeze, so she needed to stop turning off the heat.
“I just naturally run hot,” Elizabeth responded, jaw tightened. “And I get heat rashes at night if I’m too warm.”
“Okay. Use a fan,” Bianca responded, shrugging, then turned and left for her class. She burst out laughing as soon as she stepped into the crisp autumn air, drizzling slightly, and immediately called Maggie to tell her about this highly satisfying encounter, and Maggie practically deafened Bianca with her self-righteous cackling.
“I’ve never been more proud of you, B! So gutsy!” Maggie praised.
Elizabeth backed off the thermostat, but her messes continued—-fabric scraps and sewing patterns laid out all over the living room floor, an ironing board blocking the TV, more dishes hoarded away out of access. As soon as Maggie would wash the dishes that were in the sink, all the dirty dishes that had been missing inevitably appeared in the sink the next day.
“It’s because she’s an only child,” Bianca’s mother declared on the phone one day, while Bianca and Maggie had her on speaker phone, venting. “And her parents are rich. She’s been spoiled rotten her whole life and so she doesn’t know how to take accountability. I saw it all the time in college, too.”
So Maggie and Bianca revisited their idea of confronting Elizabeth about cleaning up. Bianca sent the text, and it read: “Hey, we’ve noticed that we’ve been washing a lot of dishes lately, and since we all use them, we think it’s your turn to start washing them.” They consulted with Bianca’s mom to make sure this sounded all right, and after her approval, they sent it to Elizabeth—-only to receive a response the next day that loftily read, “I have a lot of projects this week, so I’m pretty busy.”
“As if we don’t have homework!” Maggie shouted when Bianca read it to her. “Ugh, what a—ugh!!”
Their frustration was only exacerbated when they saw Elizabeth tagged in an Instagram post the next day, a snapshot from a Thursday night outing where Elizabeth and a group of girls were dressed in short black dresses and posing at what appeared to be a frat party.
“I wonder what class this project is for,” Bianca said, scoffing, as she and Maggie were watching Mean Girls in their bedroom together for a Friday movie night, pajamas and popcorn.
“She’s like the Regina George of college,” Maggie said, crunching on kernels.
“Does that make us Cady or Janis?” asked Bianca.
“I hope Janis. Actually, I’d want to be Damian. But, we do bitch about Elizabeth a lot these days…” Maggie frowned and grabbed another handful of popcorn.
“I mean, either way, Elizabeth would definitely look like a British man if she cut her hair,” Bianca retorted, and the two of them laughed at the thought, although the realization that their constant clashing with Elizabeth may be borderline obsessive lingered in their mind, as they considered the fate of Cady—-who became so preoccupied with her rival Regina that she turned into the very person she so loathed.
After that, Maggie and Bianca tried a little harder to back off of Elizabeth, although the messes still persisted, which greatly interfered with their daily lives. It appeared as though Elizabeth were competing for World’s Worst Roommate in some unknown Guinness Book of College Records, or that otherwise, Elizabeth was secretly from an unknown species of alien whose sole purpose on Earth was to pollute clean spaces to disrupt the human balance of cleanliness. But these were all just theories.
“When will it end?” groaned Bianca one day, when she opened the toilet to discover it was clogged with unspeakable matter. “She clogged the freaking toilet!”
Maggie joined Bianca in the bathroom, hands on her hips. “Well, kid, it looks like we may have to burn the whole place down, at this rate.”
The two young women longed for the dorm days—-back then, there would have been an RA long-ago intervening to mediate this situation and impose some sort of oversight on all the messy shenanigans. However, the only people who had any authority over their apartment was the leasing office, and in this tough adult world, the workers at the apartment office couldn’t care less if one of their tenants was annoying their roommates through sloppy behavior. All they wanted was rent money, and a clean apartment when the three of them moved out, come July. Which felt so, so far away.
Thankfully, the holiday season was soon upon them, and between a month-long winter break and the abundance of family obligations, both Maggie and Bianca were preoccupied and therefore away from their apartment for significant stretches of time. By the time January rolled around, the girls were actually excited to get back to their apartment and away from their annoying families, even if it meant they’d have to be around Elizabeth again.
But Elizabeth was even more sparse than usual. The two young women figured she had traveled back to Maine for the winter break, and therefore would return when the spring semester commenced, but come the first day of class and they still had seen no sign of Elizabeth. If they hadn’t known any better, they would have supposed that she had moved out while they were away, but all her stuff was still exactly where it usually was.
“Is she so rich that she just left all her crap behind and decided to buy all new stuff?” Bianca asked Maggie while they trudged to class through the snow.
“Honestly, maybe,” Maggie responded, her cheeks bright red as the wind whipped and snow flurried.
They kept this theory in the back of their mind, but they began noticing new messes once again. “She has to be near…” they commented, giggling, as though they were detectives or exorcists. “I can sense her.” They delighted at the mystical myths they built about her, and although they were joking, part of them started to believe that maybe… No. There was no way.
And then one night, Maggie returned to the apartment after a late study session at the library and noticed a huge, dark red stain on the couch, which unmistakably smelled like wine. Her pulse immediately quickened and her thoughts began to feel wiggly with rage.
“What the—–!” Maggie shouted, and Bianca came dashing out of her room to see what was happening. Bianca gasped when she saw the giant stain, like it had been simply poured all over the seat. Maggie charged up to Elizabeth’s door and pounded on it, and when no noise came from inside, she turned the handle and barged in—-a line they had never crossed before.
But the light was off and Elizabeth wasn’t in there. Maggie flipped the switch and cried out when the room became illuminated—-it was a disaster in there. But no Elizabeth.
“Oh my god!” startled Bianca, who was right behind Maggie.
Elizabeth’s room would have served as an ideal torture chamber for a person who experienced strong compulsions for cleanliness. Actually, it would have served as an adequate torture chamber for nearly anyone who had a sense of smell or sight. There were dirty dishes riddled throughout the room like a “Find It!” Book, bowls with milk still left in them, bowls with oatmeal crusted around the sides, plates with pizza sauce hardened to it, plates with egg yolk solidified on it, mugs of half-drank coffee, cups with juice residue, and a medley of disposable beverages from fast food chains and local cafes scattered about. Clothes were strewn upon furniture like someone had teepee’ed her room with her own wardrobe, and make-up products and hair accessories were scattered across her bed and desk. Binders, papers, notebooks, and pens were piled upon her bed, and garbage collected around the edges of her room like debris tossed around in the breeze. In fact, the floor was not even visible beneath the carpeted junk coating the surface beneath their feet, and besides that, there was nowhere to go between the furniture crammed in there, the stacks of cardboard boxes, the drying rack, her bolts of fabric, and the sewing pins that had been sprinkled about the room like a drizzling of pointy objects. Maggie and Bianca were silent for a full minute as they observed this atrocity.
“I’m traumatized,” Maggie finally uttered.
“Is that cat pee I’m smelling? How does her room smell like cat pee when we don’t even have a cat?” Bianca asked.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a cat somewhere in here!” Maggie retorted.
“It smells like sweaty feet.”
“I think this is a crime against humanity.”
“There is definitely something rotting in here.”
“I may never be able to look at another mess again.”
“Should we take a picture?”
The two of them finally backed out of the room and began giggling with astonishment. The laughter helped relieve their extreme shock.
“I mean, I knew she was messy, but…” Bianca began.
“I can’t live here anymore! Not knowing that’s on the other side of our wall!” Maggie cried. They closed the door and returned to the stain on the couch.
Hands on her hips, Maggie said, “I just don’t know what to do. Where is she all the time?”
Bianca sent Elizabeth another text, but this time, she didn’t respond. It was regarding the wine stain—-they decided to pretend they had never seen her room, and merely have an intervention about her messiness. They would use the wine stain as a mock final straw, sparing her the embarrassment of other people knowing her dirty—-or rather, filthy—-little secret. “Hey Elizabeth, the wine stain is really upsetting and we really need to talk to you,” it read.
But this time, Elizabeth never responded, not even with a cavalier excuse or a blatant lie. Maggie and Bianca eagerly awaited scheduling this sit-down with her to confront her about her reckless messes and maybe even provide her with some professional cleanliness counseling resources, but Elizabeth’s end was radio silent. Bianca even sent a follow-up text saying that they weren’t going to yell at her, they just wanted to talk, and still, no response.
Yet the messes continued. Some of her fabric scraps accumulated on the living room end table. Water was spilled all over the counter. There was Alfredo sauce singed onto the stovetop burner. Cookie crumbs littered the hallway carpet. The bathroom door formed a huge scratch across the wood surface. More dishes went missing. Maggie and Bianca were pulling out their hair.
“How can someone who practically doesn’t even live here make so much of a mess?!” Maggie shouted one day after opening the microwave and discovering food splattered all over its inside, nearing her breaking point. “I can’t live like this!”
Bianca was doing her best to calm Maggie when suddenly a knock came at the door. The two women exchanged a look of uncertainty before approaching the peephole and discovering it was Elizabeth’s parents!
Their eyes widened as they brimmed with hope—-maybe Elizabeth’s parents could help them solve this! Quickly they opened the door and said hello.
“What the hell have you two done with Elizabeth?” Mrs. Highfalootin accused, skipping any formal greetings. She shoved the two of them aside and barged into the apartment, her husband following. As she looked around the apartment, her face scowled.
“Ugh, you two are such slobs!” Mrs. Highfalootin said disgustedly, and her husband shared an equally disturbed look of repulsion.
“Seriously, who raised you two?” he added, shaking his head in amazement.
It took an absurd amount of willpower for Maggie and Bianca not to let all of their frustrations loose on Elizabeth’s parents, but Bianca put her hand on Maggie’s shoulder and began speaking.
“We have no idea where Elizabeth is, but if you find her, let her know that we have a bone to pick with her, because all the mess you see is actually all Elizabeth’s doing,” Bianca said, incredibly proud of herself for not screaming at these two arrogant and rude imbeciles.
Mrs. Highfalootin scoffed. “Oh, it’s really petty of you to pin all this on Elizabeth. She’s way better than this.”
Maggie opened her mouth and began to snap at them, when Bianca held up her hand again and smiled. “Okay. Then go look in her room.”
The snobby pair frowned and walked down the hall to Elizabeth’s room, and from the kitchen, Maggie and Bianca could hear their shrieks. They quietly giggled to themselves as Mr. and Mrs. Highfalootin saw the handiwork of their daughter in the greatest of messy masterpieces.
But of course, they could not believe it.
“You bitches!” Mrs. Highfalootin shouted, running back towards them in small, high-heeled steps. “You trashed my daughter’s room!”
Maggie and Bianca quit giggling and groaned. “We didn’t do anything! We’ve never even been in there!” Maggie replied, relishing in the fact that the two of them physically couldn’t step foot in Elizabeth’s room any farther than the doorway, so this was no lie.
“You’ll be hearing from us soon!” Mr. Highfalootin spat at the young ladies, as the two of them quickly left the front door, too frightened by the abomination to even remain in the apartment still.
“Hopefully, we don’t,” Bianca muttered as she slammed the door behind them.
With this unpleasant visit, Maggie and Bianca learned that not only were Elizabeth’s parents as batshit crazy as Elizabeth herself, but that Elizabeth had just as much disappeared from her parents as she had from them. They would have actually been concerned about Elizabeth’s well-being if they didn’t have pretty substantial evidence that she was still frequenting their apartment via her messes.
It wasn’t until finals week of spring semester when Maggie and Bianca finally got their answers.
Normally, Maggie and Bianca were gone for durations throughout the day for their classes, but because it was finals week, their schedule was different. They only had to report to each class at a specific time so that they could take their final exam, and then they’d be finished with their sophomore year of college! Maggie was fretting over her Art History exam, and Bianca was calculating the lowest possible grade she could get on the Microeconomics final to still pass the class. It was a Monday afternoon on which neither of them had a final scheduled, and so they had been hanging around the apartment, where they were now currently posted up on the couch.
And then something strange happened.
The bag of chips that was sitting on the coffee table, leaning upright against their textbooks, fell all the way onto the floor. No gust of air had blown by, although the window was cracked to allow the fresh, if not crisp, springtime breeze air out the musty apartment, and neither of them had made any movement prior to the bag falling. They both eyed the bag, then looked at each other.
“That’s weird,” Bianca commented, but they left it alone and continued studying and worrying. It was when Maggie got up to go to the bathroom that she noticed the message in the way the chips had spilled from the bag: IT’S ME.
After some moderate level freaking out, Maggie and Bianca calmed enough to reason through what had happened. Either A.) It was a total and absolute, bizarre, freak coincidence that the chips spelled anything, and maybe it was their imagination inflating this. B.) It was the ghost of Maggie’s mother. C.) The apartment was haunted by strangers. D.) And least believably, it was Elizabeth, which they only hypothesized because her absence had been so forefront in their minds.
They took a picture of the chips, and Maggie finally ran off to the bathroom to relieve herself like she was originally intending to do. Still somewhat rattled from the creepiness of the chips, Bianca went to make herself a cup of tea.
But there were no mugs in the kitchen.
Not even dirty mugs—-all the mugs were missing. Bianca was annoyed, but immediately knew where she could find at least a dirty one to wash: the Trash Room, or Elizabeth’s room, as it was formerly known.
So, Bianca harmlessly approached the Trash Room, planning to find the least-bug-infested container for holding hot drinkable liquids, but, true to tradition, as soon as she nudged open the door and turned on the lights, she gasped horrifically.
And, true to tradition, Maggie came running.
And then Maggie screamed.
It was as though Elizabeth’s room had absorbed Elizabeth and from her essence formed a mess-ified version of Elizabeth. On what was probably her bed underneath all the clutter, two stained originally white Starbucks cups with coffee crusted on the lids appeared like pupils, and belts formed the shape of eyes around them. A bright red dress lay between them upon more clutter, bearing the likeness of a nose, and rolled-up clothes intertwined together to form the shape of lips at the foot of the door.
It wasn’t that Bianca merely had interpreted a face out of Elizabeth’s mess, though. It was that the mess of the whole room was stirring, or almost pulsating. And when Bianca had flipped on the light switch, the belt-eyes blinked open and those Starbucks pupils stared directly at her.
“Guys, it’s me,” the clothing mouth uttered, and Maggie backed up so quickly that the wind was knocked out of her by the hallway wall behind her. Bianca shrieked and stepped back as well, as a small avalanche of clothing rolled out towards them.
“I’m stuck here!” Elizabeth’s voice boomed, the Starbucks eyes begging, the dress nose crinkling, the clothing mouth distorting to form the shape of each word. And all of the mess surrounding these facial features shifted and churned, governed by a supernatural messy force.
Bianca slammed Elizabeth’s door shut and said, “I’m getting the hell out of here.” Maggie followed Bianca as she darted into their room and began throwing things into a duffel bag she pulled from her closet.
“What the hell is that thing?” Maggie asked, following Bianca’s lead and grabbing her suitcase from under her bed.
“You heard her! It’s Elizabeth!” Bianca said, pulling shirts out of her dresser, eyeballing them suspiciously, then shoving them in her duffel bag.
Maggie had tears running down her face as she picked up picture frames of her family off her bedside table and set them in her suitcase. “This is so crazy,” she muttered under her breath.
“This girl was so messy she literally became the mess,” Bianca said, shaking her head. “Not me. Not today.”
Within fifteen minutes, the two of them were hauling their bags out of their apartment and to Maggie’s car. It wasn’t until they were outside that they were able to sigh in relief, feeling as though they fully escaped.
“What if she consumes the entire apartment building?” Maggie asked, incredulously, staring back at the apartment.
Just then, a Cadillac pulled into the parking spot next to them, and Maggie groaned as Mr. and Mrs. Highfalootin got out of the car, already blathering away incessant accusations and unrestrained rage.
“Where are you two going? What have you done with Elizabeth?” they were ranting, as Maggie and Bianca merely ignored them and got in their car and backed out of the parking spot, leaving the wildly gesticulating couple behind to discover Elizabeth’s rightful destiny on their own.
As the two of them drove away towards the campus library, where they planned to post up for the following week until the semester was over and they could return to their families’ homes, Bianca called the apartment leasing office about an “infestation” they were dealing with in their unit.
“Uh, yes, I’d say it’s a pretty large scale infestation. Cannot identify the source, however. Send out your best guy immediately.” Bianca hung up her phone as Maggie pulled into a parking spot.
“I don’t even care if we get our security deposit back,” Maggie said, laughing.
“At least we know what happened to her. Kind of.”
Yes, at least Maggie and Bianca knew what became of poor, slobbish Elizabeth, and her tragic, unbecoming fate. It may haunt them for the rest of their lives, the way those beady Starbucks cups looked directly at them, but at least they no longer wondered if they were merely insane for their obsession with the messes that practically—-and factually did, as it turned out—-generated themselves. So it seemed that the human trash generator was actually herself just human trash, woman one with waste, homo sapien merged with mess, person bound with clutter. Maggie and Bianca dared not speak of this cautionary tale of cleanliness to outsiders for fear of judgment, but you absolutely must believe that they spent the rest of their lives preaching the gospel of tidiness to anyone who would listen.
Thanks for reading!