Chatter and giggles greeted Jess as she approached the bus stop. God, everyone here hated her. And the feeling was totally mutual. It was too late to fake some vague illness. Mom would see right through that. Especially since she had a math test first period.
She ignore the just-too-loud conversations with their pointed words–weirdo; she’s coming this way; slut; nerd–and stood as off to the side as she could, a blank expression instead of the designer makeup contouring the girls’ faces.
She shuffled, a mindless drone, to first math. She hadn’t studied for the test. She hadn’t needed to. She’d read through the entire book in the first month and already had all the homework done. Not that it was all correct. Just correct enough to get her a good, but not an attention-getting-good grade. Made life simpler. Made it easier to coast.
Jess took her seat in the back and got out two pencils.
Mrs. Johnstone stood by her desk as always, a stack of papers cradled in her arms. But instead of passing out the test, the teacher clapped her hands to get the class’ attention. “Okay, okay, I know you are all excited to get this over with and impress me with your supreme knowledge, but first, there’s a change to the test.”
The class groaned appropriately, but Mrs. Johnstone waved it off with a sigh. “There’s an extra page of bonus problems. Each worth five points. Could make a big difference for some of you. I strongly suggest giving yourselves enough time to at least make an attempt…” And with that, and a few pointed stares, she handed out the test and took her seat.
Jess tucked one leg under her rear and got started, careful to make errors–simple, easily explained mistakes–on the problems she “missed.” She glanced around, careful not to work too far ahead of the rest of the class. Finally she reached the last page and paused. The three extra credit problems were beyond simple. Like, she’d mastered them two years ago. Nothing but a little algebra.
But all three of the word problems were about socks.
Still, Mrs. Johnstone had a wicked sense of humor, as evidenced by some of the answers to previous test problems, and she’d probably been folding laundry last night or something super mundane.
As soon as the bell rang, Jess’ phone buzzed like a hive of angry bees lay waiting in her pocket. Probably because of the ringtone she’d set. Her fellow peers glanced about nervously, then glared at her.
It was awesome.
The message from Zil was not. Damn. Today was another “special” day. After a whole month (that seemed to last way longer than four weeks) with nothing, to have this one so close was a serious bummer. The kid wasn’t sure yet what the day was, just giving an early alert.
Still, Jess kept her eyes and ears open as she fought through the congested hallway to her next class. It was impossible to know when it would hit. Or how.
All seemed quiet. Tame. The bus ride was the usual hell/blessing of being mostly ignore, allowing her to eavesdrop. Nothing seemed unusual. No overly complimentary words, or gushes with TMI to a simple question.
Another message buzzed just as she took out her lit book. She read it three times before sending back a thumbs up, but also a confused emoji.
I know, right?!
What the actual fuck was Lost Sock Memorial Day? And what was it going to do to the people around her?
Oh, crap! She thought back to those surprise bonus math problems. The effects of the day had already started.
She flicked her eyes toward the Mr. Laughton as he started in on the day’s lecture. They were halfway through The Altar of the Dead. Brain-numbing as most of the “classics” tended to be, Jess had breezed through it, skimming for themes and other predictable topics they might be expected to notice.
But, like, how bad could today really get? Missing your lost socks? It might get streange, sure–like the way Mr. Laughton had somehow switched to talking about sock altars instead of the book–but she had a hard time seeing any way for it to take a turn for the violent like so many of the others had.
Besides, Jess didn’t give a flying fuck about a single one of her missing socks.
A flash of little purple monkeys filled her mind, until she was staring at tiny toddler-sized feet sticking out of a stroller. The ground whooshed past, a blur of green grass and cracked sidewalks. She thought she even smelled goldfish crackers.
They’d been her favorites. When she was, like, two.
And one had gotten lost. Probably her fault for pulling it off when they were at the park or something. Mom had been beside herself searching for the missing precious.
Tears blinded her with stinging saltiness for a moment until she was able to push the memory away.
Damn. All that over a freakin’ lost sock. And she was supposedly immune to the effects of the weirdness.
With her vision and mind cleared, she checked out the rest of her classmates. Mr. Laughton had their full and complete attention for literally the first and only time this year. They were entranced. Nodding in agreement. She rubbed her eyes and tried to focus only on his words. His normally monotone voice was strong, passionate. No wonder he had their attention. If he was like this all the time, classic lit could easily become her favorite class of the year.
He was deep in a story about a sock he’d lost when he was a child (red and yellow striped with a blue heel) and how he was going to pay homage to it with an altar out in the clean spring air.
Yeah, I am so outta here, Jess thought, watching as the minutes ticked by. She pounced from her seat the second before the bell rang; she was the only one to get up and leave. Mr. Laughton didn’t even notice.
The hallway was empty. Jess peeked into a few other classrooms as she made her way to the back exit. They were just like her lit class: every student paying rapt attention to their teachers, eyes fixated on the teachers interpretation of how to properly deal with the grief over lost socks. Somehow they’d all managed to encompass socks or hosiery into their lessons.
Without a backwards glance, and only one brief flicker of those little toddler socks, she rushed out of the school and headed home. No, she thought. Not home. The park. The others will be there soon enough. Assuming they’re still immune.
Her immunity seemed weaker this time. And last month, too. Like, in the past, she didn’t have to actively concentrate to avoid whatever was going on. Unlike today. If she wanted, she could totally relax and remember every sock she’d every lost. And feel real grief over it. She wondered if the other four were feeling a similar lessening of their immunity.
No one seemed to notice or care that she wasn’t in school. Normally someone would’ve been all over her ass for roaming the streets in the middle of the day. And calling her mom.
Today, though, everyone seemed lost in their memories. Which they probably were. And Jess could totally guess what they were reminiscing about.
Jess stopped at their tree–the one they always met at on the weird days–and plopped to the ground, thankful she’d brought her lunch today. She tore into the pb&j and apple with a hunger she hadn’t realized she possessed until that moment. A few taps on her phone confirmed that, according to one website, anyway, it was indeed Lost Sock Memorial Day.
If her theories about trickster gods was correct, then like, seriously WTF? Of all the odd holidays to pick, why this one? What did it have to do with the end game? Was there even an end game? And why were they only messing around here?
Jess growled to herself. All she had were questions. The biggest one for her, beyond even who, was WHY. Why were they doing this? Why were the five of them immune to the effects? And just why why why WHY!!! And no, she didn’t care that she sounded like a toddler having a tantrum. She was over all of this mess. It had been going on more than six months already with no signs of stopping.
She flopped back on the spring-soft grass. It was the perfect May day. The sun was warm on her skin. The breeze was gentle and sweet with lilacs and dogwoods. The clouds puffy white as they whooshed across the pale blue sky. The pollen is thick, too, she thought as she sneezed a whole bunch of times.
Her vision blurred on the last one.
Something flickered just out of sight. But it was enough to catch her attention. She was careful to move only her eyes, straining them as far to the right as they would go while keeping her breathing calm and even, her body still.
It was super hard.
But there it was. Or rather, multiple its.
She had no idea what they were. Nothing about them was fully formed. Just wavers in the otherwise pollen-filled air. Flickering pulses where there shouldn’t be anything. Three. Maybe four. And they were most definitely hovering around her.
She wanted to sit up and scream her questions at them.
Her gut held her back, warning her that could set off a chain of events that might make things even worse for them all. So she continued the ruse of daydreaming, letting her eyes unfocus, hoping that would either make them pop more clearly or lull them into coming closer.
It did neither.
Moments later they were gone.
Jess huffed in frustration. All she had was more questions.
She stood and stretched the hard-ground knots from her back. And gaped. Now she had even more questions. Like, what the actual fuck was that over there? She approached with caution as almost a dozen people–all of them wailing with what she guessed was genuine sorrow–knelt in front of something. But she probably could have gone on a screaming profanity-laden rant and not garnered so much as a raised eyebrow. They were too focused on…
A three foot altar (the only word she could think to describe the precarious pile of rocks and branches) was adorned with socks. Single socks. Not a match to be found. Some of them fluttered like flags from clotheslines tied to the four long branches that adorned each corner of the rock pile altar. People–adults mostly–sobbed to each other, telling long-winded tales of how much the missing sock meant to them, how they’d waited and hoped to find its mate for weeks or months before giving up. How the mysterious disappearances had never been explained.
Jess rolled her eyes and got the freakin’ hell outta there before someone demanded that she memorialize her long-missing purple monkey sock.
The whole way home, she passed all manner of altars and memorials for lost socks. A few people looked askance at her as she rushed by. She covered her freak-out by pretending to sob and mutter about her poor little lost baby sock.
When she was safely locked in her room–and certain her lost sock-grieving mom hadn’t noticed her coming home when she should have been in history class–she sent a quick message to the others, letting them know the weird was spreading and how to avoid standing out too much. She wrote and deleted the bit about seeing fluttering air shimmers three times before deciding to save that for an in-person update. No reason to have her insanity on record.
From her bed, where she huddled with her old Funny Bunny stuffie for comfort, she could see partway down the street. Instead of flags, socks whipped and flipped in the breeze, mini windsocks hanging from the flagpoles.
Neighbors gazed, some with fondness, some with sorrow, at the colorful (or dingy) footwear. They stood unmoving on the sidewalks, spilling out into the street. Someone was gonna get themselves killed one of these days.
Jess wondered if they would even care.
She doubted it. If they did care, they would’ve stopped this madness when the first person got hurt. Fucking asshole gods.
But were they? Gods?
Whatever she saw in the park–and she had zero reason to believe it wasn’t related to all this dumbass fake holiday crap–was small. Not godly. Granted if a trickster god could make all this happen, then she supposed they could make themselves small.
Jess dug through her backpack for her tablet. Time to do more research. She typed out all the weird holidays they’d had so far, looking for similarities:
*Laugh and Get Rich Day
*Near Miss Day
*Lost Sock Memorial Day
But nothing, not one alike thing seemed to make sense. Frustrated, she huffed and flung herself backwards against her pillow, hugging Funny Bunny to her chest. She reached for her phone when it buzzed, a whole slew of thumbs ups reacting to her warning. She replied all:
Come over…we need to talk…
At least now they, maybe, just maybe, had a tiny idea of what was going on.
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!
May 9: Lost Sock Memorial Day
Image by: HomeMaker
Find Jill in all these places:
And follow The Accidental Magic Project: