Today. The weirdness was today!
More than a month had passed without incident. Zillah knew the shit was really about to fly, like all over the place. She didn’t know how she knew. She just did. Like, when she woke up (not got out of bed; awake and blearily standing were two distinct events), the world wobbled and stretched out in front of her, then snapped back into place, like in those old cartoons Mom showed her online. But, like, everything seemed extra sharp and hyper clear.
And it happened while she was brushing her teeth. Like mid-spit and wham! She knew. Only problem was, she had no idea WHAT was about to happen. Only that something was. And that she alone noticed the weirdness.
Except, that wasn’t exactly true anymore.
She’d followed those two teens around as much as she could, ever since that afternoon at the car dealer last month. Brother and sister. They even went to her high school. But she hadn’t found the courage to talk to them, never mind that she’d been less than ten feet from them a number of times. She replayed so many hypothetical conversations over and over in her head, all of them lame. Like, yeah, “Hi, so I’ve been following you and I’m pretty sure we’re all going nuts. Or maybe it’s the world going nuts. Wanna team up to figure out why?” That would go over super well.
If there were two, three including herself, maybe there were more.
Not that she had any idea how to go about finding anyone else. Like, it had been a total accident she’d even learned about the twins, noticing the brother first. He was the only one at school who’d carefully side-stepped the showers of gold, while making sure to collect every piece. But he was a junior or senior and no way he’d be caught talking to a lowly freshman.
Zillah had absolutely no idea why she could see past the ruse and no one else noticed anything weird. How do you not remember gold raining down every time you laugh?
She reached into her pocket, toying with the only surviving gold coin, the first one that had hit her, square on the head. It was different than all the others, slightly larger, shinier, and the only one with a firework-star-thingy on it. The twins had been wise to spend theirs quickly; she’d followed their lead, splurging on new clothes, piles of long-lasting junk food to stash about her room, and a gorgeous new bike. Mom hadn’t even asked about any of it.
As for the rest of it–the small pile she’d stashed–it had vanished at the strike of midnight. Literally before her eyes.
The house was quiet. Still. Never mind that it was almost ten. Weekends didn’t mean anything to her, since Mom worked every Saturday and Dad slept most of the day, no matter what, exhausted from his overnight shift at the factory. She hadn’t even heard him come home. She thought about staying in bed all day, but her stomach had other ideas.
Zillah tiptoed downstairs, desperate not to be there for the half-hearted parenting Dad would toss her way once he woke up in a few hours. He tried. She appreciated that. But she didn’t want any part of it. Not today. She made some toast, nearly burning both slices–and her fingers–inhaling it as she headed out, dodging the front gate as it nearly slammed on her fingers with a tooth-shivering screech. That was weird. Dad had fixed it just a few weeks ago.
She had no destination in mind, just walked aimlessly, meandering through the neighborhood. Wary. But so far nothing was falling from the sky. No one was fighting or being overly friendly. It hung over her, though, the unknown, like a heavy blanket in summer. She almost couldn’t breathe. An hour later, Zillah popped into the corner market, almost running into the guy coming out. And he didn’t even apologize. Or seem to notice. She turned and glared, in time to see him barely miss getting hit by a bike.
Karma’s a bitch, dude.
She grabbed a cranberry juice and big bag of cookies, fumbling through her backpack for an extra quarter (which she found buried under an old sock) and decided to enjoy the sunny spring day with a morning snack picnic in the park.
While Zillah waited to cross the street, swinging the bag of cookies in time with the whoosh of cars passing by, she watched no less than twelve close-calls. Pedestrians almost knocked over by bicyclists, who swerved at the last moment; cars skidded to sudden stops to avoid both bikes and pedestrians; squirrels zipped across the street almost becoming roadkill pancakes.
Every incident, every almost, was suddenly in a spotlight, like they’d been hit with a rainbow glitter bomb. And it was everyone. Everywhere. People dodged, weaved, bobbed, and ducked…so many almosts and nearlys Zillah couldn’t even keep track of them all. Especially when she was trying to keep herself uninjured.
But, like, no one seemed to notice that their lives had almost ended. Or been seriously changed in some massive accident. No angry words were shouted. No one screamed or cried out. They just went about their business. She thought back on her morning… Okay, sure, not all of the incidents were horrible, but some of them could have been.
So what was going on? What the hell kind of day was this? Almost Accident Day? Smash-Up Saturday? What in the actual world was going on? And WHY ME???? she wailed to herself. Thirteen deep breaths later, rubbed her eyes and straightened her spine. The twins. I need to find the twins…no matter what.
If anyone will believe me, it’s them.
Zillah hovered on the porch of the tidy suburban house, her hand inches from the doorbell. Like, what was she actually going to say? Before she could decide whether to ring or run, she was almost plowed down by someone bursting through the now open door.
A shocked, then not-at-all surprised face met hers.
“Been having near-misses all day,” he said, his eyes narrow, but his smile wide. “I’m Monty. Nice to meet you…face to face.”
“Uh…what?” Zillah ran a hand nervously over her short, tight curls.
“Just a sec.” He turned away from her and shouted into the house. “MONA! Get your booty out here!”
“Dude, what the actual…? Oh. Hey. It’s you. You are so not sneaky at all.”
The world shrunk around her. Zillah’s heart plummeted into her shoes as she slumped inside herself. And almost fell backwards off the porch.
After a few awkward stops and starts to the conversation, Monty put a hand across Zillah’s shoulders. “Let’s take a walk.”
The three of them strolled, avoiding runaway trash cans blown over in sudden winds and birds swooping low across the sidewalk. And the bird shit. That was, like, playing dodge ball in elementary school. Lots of almost hits, mostly misses. But today, it seemed that none of them was going to get nailed.
“It’s Near Miss Day,” Monty finally said, ducking under a branch that swayed in the increasing breeze.
“It’s what?” Zillah stopped, and shook her head. “How do you even know that?”
Mona tripped over Monty and caught herself with a sigh. “This is super undignified. Can’t we just stay home in bed today?”
“It’s probably safer to be out today than any other day,” he said, then poked at his phone. “See? All the weirdness seems to follow this ‘fake holiday’ calendar. Took us a couple months to figure it out, but now we look for it, for something, every morning.”
Zillah caught a delicate new leaf that almost grazed her eye and fiddled with it, pulling the green from the veins. “I don’t have to look. I wake up and know.”
They almost rammed into each other, but managed to keep walking. “How? How do you know?” Mona gasped.
“Dunno. Just kinda clicks, you know?”
The twins shook their heads. “No. We literally don’t,” Mona answered.
“It’s a crapshoot,” Monty said at the same time.
They waited, staring as she stepped over a crack in the sidewalk. “The world looks different. Sharp. Hyper-colorful. Sometimes there’s glitter. Not real glitter, but like, shimmers. Hard to explain.”
“When?” Monty demanded, stepping aside gracefully as a dancer when a large inflatable ball rolled past his feet. “When did it start for you?”
Zillah shrugged. “While ago…like, after Halloween or something.” She shuddered. So many pickles that horrible day. It had been like all of her nightmares coming to life. “Just woke up and while I was eating breakfast I knew weird things were going to happen that day. Thought maybe I was getting sick at first, but then…well, you know.”
Mona and Monty steered her around a fallen tree limb as they approached their house. They sat on the front steps, pointedly avoiding each other’s feet and fingers until finally Zillah said what they’d (probably) all been thinking. “So, do you think there’s anyone else? I mean, who can tell what’s going on…”
“We talk about that, like, endlessly,” Mona sighed. “He wants to start posting on social media or something. But I really don’t want to end up in a psych ward again.”
Again? Zillah wanted to ask. Was afraid to ask. Some other time, when all this, whatever this is, gets figured out. Mona was clever, sassy. Zillah had a total girl-crush on the tall, smirking teen. Monty was smart. She could tell. Allies. They were both allies.
Despite a lot of near misses so far today, this decision had landed right on target.
From across the park, Aidan huddled against a tree, waiting for the murder of crows to move on already. Yeah, sure, nothing had landed on him yet, but looking at the splatter around him, even knowing what today was, he wasn’t going to tempt the Fates or Gods or whoever was toying with his town.
Jess rolled her eyes. “Dude. Now’s the time. Come on!” She pulled him away from the relative protection of the tree as three rapid-fire splat-splat-splats landed right where he’d been standing.
“Wait…did you see that?” he muttered as she hauled him toward the nearest crosswalk.
“All I see are the freakin’ IDIOTS who don’t know how to stop for pedestrians,” she growled as yet another cyclist barely maneuvered around them.
He searched the area he’d last see it. Them. But they’d disappeared into the evening crowd of commuters. “Just thought I saw…never mind.”
“Don’t you dare ‘never mind’ me on a day like today. Can’t handle any more of these near misses.” They side-stepped a woman sitting on a bench sobbing…something about almost getting hired but then not. More and more of those were bubbling around them as the day came to a close. Yeah, sure, most of the near-misses were just that: avoiding an accident or bird crap. But he’d seen plenty of sad faces, people almost getting something they’d wanted.
Like Jess. Getting an answer from him. He had to fight the urge to keep the observation to himself. And for a moment he envied those around him who had no idea there was anything out-of-the-ordinary going on. Most wouldn’t even remember the events of today when they woke up. It wasn’t like all the details of the day disappeared; more that they just hadn’t noticed the weirdness.
“Tell. Me,” she ordered, pulling him out of the way of a jogging stroller, rolling of its own accord. Or the wind that had suddenly kicked up.
“Ow1 Hey! Okay, okay…” He tried to pry her fingers from his arm, but she squeezed harder. “I saw a group of three kids–like our age–avoiding debris and people and stuff.”
“So? That’s all anyone is doing today,” Jess rolled her eyes at him, but at least she let go of his arm.
A flurry of leaves blew by, but totally avoided his eyes and mouth. “No, like intentionally getting out of the way. Actively noticing all this.”
“More like us?”
Aidan shrugged. “Maybe. But I lost them.”
She slugged him in the arm. It didn’t miss. “The hell is wrong with you? They might’ve been really important!”
“What’s wrong with me? How about you always pushing and pulling me around?” They do-si-doed with a line of people streaming off a bus that had almost, but not quiet, run into a line of parked cars.
Jess growled and cursed and glared at all of them, not that any of them noticed, and plopped onto a low rock wall. “So, more of us, huh? Or the ones behind all this…this fucking mess?”
“How am I supposed to know. Look, they were going kinda, sorta, that way.”
“Why didn’t you say that?! Get up. Let’s go.”
Jess took off at a fast, confident stride. The walk of a person who knew nothing was going to hurt them. But she didn’t really think it through. It was near miss day. They were never going to find the three-some he’d glimpsed earlier. But his arm still throbbed and there was no way he was going to say a damn thing about it now. So he followed her up and down streets until he forgot about the bruises on his arm because now his feet ached. And his back. And legs. Pretty much just all of him.
After more than an hour of wandering, she flopped on a bus stop bench. “We can’t find them today, can we?”
“Well, I tried–”
“Do NOT say I told you so.” Jess huffed, then snorted as she flung her body across his.
He didn’t mind. The contact was nice. Like, really nice. She’d been super touchy feely the past few weeks. Of course they’d been spending a lot of time together trying to puzzle all this crap into some kind of sense. He had no idea what was going on with her either. “I wasn’t–”
“Dude, I so deserve a fuckin’ I told you so. I mean, duh. We’re probably super close, though. Maybe we should wait them out. Like, until the end of the day.”
Aidan shrugged. “Not like we have curfews or anything…”
“Okay, fine. So we can’t stay out until after midnight this time. GAHHHH!” she grumped. “It’s so frustrating.”
Aidan pulled his feet out of the way of a couple in the midst of a fight, totally oblivious to anyone else around them. Something about lilac so not being her favorite color…he should know she liked dark purple. Wasn’t purple, purple? Then she stormed off in a huff, leaving the dude trailing along behind, obviously confused.
Aidan sympathized. That could’ve happened on any day, really. Girls, women. All impossible to understand. Seriously, today sucked. He’d almost done so much, he totally understood why so many people were unhappy or fighting. He’d almost gotten to have lunch; he’d almost gotten hit by more cars and bikes than he could count; he’d almost said a few things he’d have regretted.
“Okay, let’s get out of here before things get out of hand,” she said, gesturing to the small groups of arguing couples and silently crying people shuffling along in front of them. “I so don’t want to get caught up in another fight. Not after that mess in January.”
Over Jess’ half-hearted protests, Aidan walked her home; it was as the rest of the day had been: chock full of near misses.
Zilla shivered, feeling eyes on her back. She peeked over her shoulder, down the darkening street they passed. Seeing nothing, she stopped and looked all around her. Monty and Mona paused, unasked questions clear in their raised eyebrows, but she shrugged them off. “Though I saw something. Just shadows, I guess.”
But the streets had gone hyper-hyper colorful for a few seconds when she glanced up. Not enough to clearly see anything more than almost…
She smiled to herself. Some times almost was enough.
Looking down from the top of a newly budded oak tree, hidden in evening shadows and obliviousness, they snickered.
Humans…always missing what was right in front of them.
Every year, when I participate in this short story challenge, I like to have a personal challenge as well. That’s been everything from writing more third person to trying a new genre. This year I’m stepping it up some. Though this is a stand-alone story, it’s intended to be the first in a connected series of stories. I hope you’ll read along for the other nine parts. I can’t wait to see where it goes from here!
March 23: Near Miss Day
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