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Karmic Catastrophe

"Life is but the shipwreck of our plans."

Plan your missteps wisely.

Karmic Catastrophe by Lisa Ciarfella

The constant hammering, going on two years now, never ended. It had been all bang, bang, bang in her ear twenty-four, seven including Saturdays, sometimes Sundays too. Traci’s next-door neighbor had been on a roll, determined to see both the tear-down of his old beach bungalow and the birth of his new McMansion through to the bitter end, and she’d grown mighty tired of it. 

Weekday evenings were always the worst. She’d slug home dead tired after a full day’s grind of grad school classes and all she wanted was to veg out on the sofa and mindlessly click her way through re-runs of FX’s Criminal Minds. Tonight, that game plan was not to be.

Her day had been particularly brutal; two final exams and a follow-up thesis meeting with her adviser, neither of which had gone particularly well. He’d never embraced her writing, especially her crime fiction, and always sent her away from the mandatory weekly interrogations frustrated. If only he understood; those unpaved alleys snaking their way down crime-city central fed into her soul like a mainline, much like that crystal-clear moon outside her kitchen window.

As she mixed her nightly snack of pasta and perfectly poached eggs, Traci stared up at the moon’s amber silhouette, half crescent with slivers of orange and black running straight down its middle. Nature’s ultimate backdrop for banging out a couple of deliciously decadent criminal characters.

If only the damn noise would just stop! But the work crew’s constant Mexican Mariachi music and hard tools cracking away at the concrete got inside her head, made it throb hard. If only her neighbor had hired a real contractor instead of forging ahead on his DIY project, with no clue how to DIY! Ahhhh, but a girl could dream!

Since he’d started, she had multiple waking fantasies where she casually walked by and tossed a match over the construction mess skewed carelessly across his property. Then nonchalantly watched while the place went up in flames; a real bang-up, Fourth of July backyard extravaganza! In her fantasy, she always waited to call 9-1-1 til it burned half way down to the shards, with nothing left to recoup. Problem was, her apartment lay within spitting distance. She didn’t own much but her laptop—full of grad school projects, a novel in the works, and stories yet submitted—was not expendable. Neither was her puppy, Lilac, who she’d snuck in under the landlord’s radar. Everything else, though...

Running had been her go-to to drown out the noise, so she’d laced up the Reeboks and when she got back, the crew had finally packed it in. Clicking on the telly, she sat back to unwind but quickly realized she wasn’t alone.

A gruff, strange voice rang out from the half-constructed space next door, straight through her living room window. A rough, male accent;  Australian or New Zealand. “Awwwrrrrr... I’m gonna do it. Back off mate, or I swear I’ll do it. I can promise ya that.”

Traci jumped up out of her makeshift sofa fashioned from beach chairs and whoopee cushions and went to the window. An unrecognizable large dark figure swooshed right by her in the narrow shadows between her place and her neighbor’s house-in-progress. “Who’s there?” she cried.

She ran to her tiny bedroom and grabbed up her dad’s old aluminum bat from underneath the bed. He’d given it to her years ago, thinking it might come in handy one day. Back at the window, she saw a spark flash from deep inside the construction zone where a quaint bungalow once stood, long before the wrecking ball wreaked its havoc. Another flash popped off quick, then another and another.

“Hey you, I’ve got a bat,” she said, as if that might help. “And a dog.” She eyed all twenty-four inches of Lilac’s height. There were three more flashes, each brighter than the next.

Then, from the dark, came her neighbor, Karl’s, voice. “Traci – that you? Quick call the cops, now. He’s gonna do it and I don’t have my phone!”

“Gonna do what?” she cried. “What the hell’s going on over there?” She saw nothing but heard running, feet shuffling, then a whoosh of liquid spilling out onto the dirt.

A lunging sound came next, a jacket ripping, and a strange gurgling noise from the stranger’s throat. Get your hands off my throat, yankee, or I swear I’ll let her rip,” he said.

“Traci, call now!” Karl shouted.

Another flash exploded and fantastic heat welled up all around. She started to dial but her fingers hesitated. She tried again, but nothing.

“Sheeeeit,” Karl cried. “You son of a bitch. Now you’ve gone and done it.”

Traci stood mesmerized as the blaze outside her window grew from the size of a flickering Bic at a Bon Jovi concert to the mother of all bonfires. Thoughts of graham crackers and marshmallows entered her brain.

When the heat really started smoking, she snapped to and grabbed both her pup and prized laptop and jammed out her apartment’s back door. She could hear both Karl and the strange figure who started the blaze loudly screaming and fighting. Neither one of them would go down without a fight.

Traci stood on the sidewalk with neighbors gathering on all sides. Someone had called the fire department, someone else the cops, and her typically serene street was now filled with the chaos. Everyone stared as Karl’s proposed McMansion slowly melted into ashes. 

The next day, the neighborhood was abuzz. The cops had matched the stranger’s teeth with that of a local known vagrant. They’d had trouble with him before and said it was just a matter of time before he’d cause more. 

Neither Karl nor his DIY project made it into the new year. Christmas was still a few weeks away, but it seemed Karma delivered presents early this year. 

Lisa Ciarfella is a recent CSULB MFA grad and writes darkly tainted, noir-style prose where bad things happen to bad people, and not so bad people get caught up in the madness. She’s been featured on Pulp Metal Magazine,, Studenthealth101, Near to the Knuckle, and other places. Lisa’s currently cranking out short stories and her first crime fiction novel, doggedly pursuing the game! Find her on Facebook at Or on her blog, at