It wasn’t enough that the past few months had been way weird. Like, Twilight Zone weird. Mona wanted nothing to do with any of it, most especially since pretty much no one else around her realized the weirdness.
Pretty much because at least she had Monty. Sure, he was annoying AF, but he was her brother and they kinda had to watch each other’s backs. If she was alone in her knowledge, she’d have gone crazy by now.
The biggest pain in the butt was not knowing when the weirdness was going to happen. It could be any day, randomly, that the rest of the town (state? the country? THE WORLD?) lost their marbles.
This unknown made every day a heart-thudding challenge of unpredictability. Monty thrived on it; she wanted to hide in bed all day, every day.
Mom thought she was depressed and should see the psychologist more often. Like she could tell ANYONE what was going on without getting locked away for the rest of her life. And Dad, well, he had to be around for him to notice anything. Not that he’d noticed when he was here anyway.
Her twin sense twitched, like a noogie to the base of her spine.
Monty was up to something.
He flung her door open, dodged the stuffed animal she flung at him–because DUDE! Privacy!!–and twirled an imaginary mustache. “So, stop me if you’ve heard the one about the big brick wall…it’s so funny I’m still trying to get over it!”
Monty paused, clearly waiting on her for something. A reaction. All she had was confusion. Before she could do more than gape, he pranced around in front of the bed and adopted another dramatic pose. “Tough crowd…tough crowd…You’re looking well this morning, dear sister. I had a rough night, kept dreaming I was a muffler. Woke up…exhausted.”
This wasn’t the first time he’d barged in, overflowing with jokes.
As the horribleness of the pun rattled around in her still-waking-up brain, she snorted, then full out laughed. Then yelped.
Something hard pelted her bare arms and head. Mona reached out, tentatively plucking a shiny golden disk from a rumple in her comforter. It was a coin, about the size of a quarter, but not American or European or anything else she recognized. Nor was it perfectly round. It had a pattern of lines on one side, and those freaky-looking theatre masks on the other. Mona made a pile of the coin, nine in all, examining each in turn. They all had the masks, but varied slightly in size–as if they’d been handmade or something–and the symbols on the other side were different. One had a cornucopia; one had a lucky cat; one had a four-leaf clover.
Well, at least they’re equal opportunity…
Then it hit her. Literally and figuratively. One last coin struck her on the top of the head, larger than the others. It was happening again.
Well, fuck it all.
Monty, totally disregarding all personal space, jumped on the foot of her bed and leaned in, never mind the morning breath. “Could be worse, right? Getting pelted with gold coins.” He plucked one off the pile and stuck it in his mouth, giving it a nibble, pirate-style. “Real gold, too. Or real magic gold. I dunno. But it only seems to happen when you laugh. A genuine laugh, no fake ones. I’ve been experimenting all morning. Got a nice stash in my room.”
“But…but whyyyyyy?” Mona howled, then hid under the blankets, deciding right at that moment to just stay in bed all day, Mom’s complaints be damned. Maybe she could fake sick. Mom saw through the fake colds, but cramps, that was a hard one to argue with. Not like Mom kept track of her periods…
Her asshole brother pulled all the bedding off. “Don’t even think about it. Come on, we’ll both play sick, watch comedies all day, and be rollin’ in it. Literally.” A golden coin danced on his fingers as he stepped it from knuckle to knuckle. “We’ll just, I dunno, make buckets into hats and wear armor or something.”
“MONA! MONTGOMERY! School! Ten minutes!” Mom shouted up the stairs.
Mona grumbled. “Out,” she said to Monty and dressed quickly, dashing to the kitchen before Mom had to yell a second time. Never mind trying to weasel of out of going. No way she’d buy it this late in the morning.
School was gonna be so much fun today. Last month kids had come to blows, over being nice. She still had no idea what that was all about. Someone almost died falling out a window. Pretty sure he was still in the hospital. All because being nice became competitive. But, like, the next day, no one even seemed to remember any of it. The bruises and scabs were all there, but her classmates were either in denial or actually that naïve. No one seemed confused why so many kids were beat to hell.
Monty chomped on peanut butter toast while loading his backpack. The bag jingled suspiciously as he swung it over a shoulder, but Mom didn’t seem to notice. She chuckled at something he said, and, like, didn’t even blink when a few coins dropped to the floor at her feet. She gathered them absently and stuck them in her pocket. “Mona. You’re going to be late. Grab your waffle and scoot!”
Properly scooted, she trailed behind Monty, watching to see if the dumbass kids in the neighborhood were aware of anything weird yet, or if they were just go-with-the-flow like Mom had been. Like everyone (else) was.
Her peers slouched and shuffled about, waiting in small clusters for the bus. A few of them stared as they took their usual place near the oak tree. God, they were all so fucking awful. Mona hadn’t been able to wait until she got her driver’s license, counting down the days with a big calendar on the fridge, one that even Mom and Dad couldn’t ignore. But when that came and went with no access to wheels, she tore it down with a huff; they’d had absolutely no idea why she was so incensed. “Just Mona in one of her moods,” Dad had shrugged, returning his attention to some email or report or something more important.
Not that she’d at all expected to get a brand new shiny car like most of the other kids in the neighborhood, but she’d definitely expected to find a crappy used one in the driveway. One that she and Monty could share.
She glanced upward. Maybe she could laugh enough to buy a car. Her own. One that she might occasionally share with her brother.
Monty played with a coin again, making it disappear and reappear in front of his phone. Probably for his dumb magic tricks youtube channel.
A few girls tittered and giggled, barely even noticing the coins that fell with musical pingpings around their feet. One girl bent and swept them off the sidewalk, distributing them absently.
Mona caught her brother’s eye, forcing him to acknowledge that he was seeing all of this. He nodded once and flicked his gaze toward the phone. Of course he was videoing all this on the sly.
She laughed. And it rained gold.
Monty’s backpack jingled as he dodged the usual jackasses crowded in throngs throughout the hallways. Just two more classes to go and he’d be free of the hell of high school for one more day.
Not that he was counting or anything.
If only high school offered more chances at laughter. He’d be rich and could just go get his GED and be done with all of it. He cast envious eyes at the cliques who giggled and found joy in the mundanity of the everyday, of the routine, of the sameness.
Perhaps that was why he woke each morning, hoping chaos would have descended for another day of unexpectedness. And yeah, sure, it was unfortunate that someone got hurt and ended up in the hospital, but that had been one exciting day.
He wished Mona enjoyed it more. Monty truly believed they could have conned Mom into a sick day and spent the whole time watching goofy movies–he knew the ones that made them both–and earning serious gold. As it was, he was pretty sure he had a few thousand dollars’ worth of gold on his back at this very moment. The rest of his alleged peers would stoop to gather a few coins here and there, but they seemed to largely disregard it, focusing instead on whatever had made them laugh in the first place.
More and more people were prone to fits of amusement as the day progressed, though. Initially he let it become a background noise, fairly easy to ignore after the first hour or two. But then he’d paid attention, noticing that it was more frequent and lasted longer. The longer the person laughed, more coins fell. And more got left behind.
They didn’t really fall; more that they appeared, slightly above the person laughing. Monty watched, looking for the source, be it a portal or a cloud or a fucking leprechaun on a bender. He so much care where it came from, but his curiosity demanded some kind of proof. Instead it merely just appeared, without so much as a shimmer of atmospheric disturbance.
He wanted to tear his hair out.
Mona also brought that out in him. He had no idea why they were immune to the memory loss that affected everyone else in town when the incidents occurred, but it didn’t surprise him that they were both aware. It must have been in their genes.
No, what infuriated him was her lack of caring. About any of it. She wanted to hide, to ignore, instead of embrace the gift of awareness to this puzzle. Then again, she’d always hated puzzles, going so far as to hide a piece–just one piece–any time he worked on a massive jigsaw puzzle and tried to involve her.
In spite of her rotten attitude, it was nice not to be alone with the knowledge of, as she called it, the weirdness.
Monty couldn’t fault the moniker.
Gold coins raining from somewhere when you laughed was weird.
The laughter was beginning to grate on his nerves, though. He texted Mona, telling her they were skipping the last two classes and to meet him in the usual spot. She didn’t reply, but he knew she’d be there.
Didn’t hurt that she hated PE as much as he did…
The rare coin shop was on the far side of downtown and he wanted to get there before it closed. Given how no one ever seemed to remember these random events the following day, he had to wonder if the coins would even exist past midnight. If he was going to take advantage of this, he wanted to sell them today. Well, not all of them. He’d keep a few, of course.
As an experiment.
He planned to set up multiple cameras all around his room to see what happened when tomorrow came. Not that he was going to sleep tonight. If there was a trick involved, he’d see it. He always knew what to look for.
Sure enough, even his long strides didn’t get him to their secret meeting place before Mona. She’d probably been there when he texted her. “What’s so damn important you had to pull me away from my favorite class?” she laughed. Coins hit the ground near her feet, shiny as her eyes as she gathered them.
Monty saw how heavy her bag hung against her shoulders. “Taking advantage, are you? Shocking really. I didn’t think you had any joy left inside.”
Mona admired one of the coins. “Turns out gold coins raining from the Heavens fill me with so much joy. Who knew?”
“Fair enough. Let’s go. I wanna get in on the riches before anyone else thinks of it.”
“You okay to walk?”
“Yes. Go. Where?”
“That antique coin shop, a mile and a tenth away. I mapped out a pretty flat route. Not like you’re the only one packing.”
Holding in the eye roll physically hurt. It was all but impossible to believe they were related some days. “To sell the coins. For cash. To buy things.”
His sister plucked a coin from her pocket. “So I can’t just use these? Wait, if there’s too many then they won’t be worth much…oh…yeah, okay, let’s get walking.”
For the first time in months, Mona talked to him. Really talked. About school and her struggles with some of her classes, their parents, her desire for a car of her own (he couldn’t fault her for that one; they’d had to share more than their peers.), and, mostly, how she didn’t know if she could manage on her own after high school…without him.
Monty linked his arm through hers, liked they’d done on the first day of kindergarten, when their parents had–wisely–put them into separate classes. But they’d entered that building together, parents and teachers be damned. He didn’t care who saw them or what they thought; he felt Mona relax with the contact and that was enough.
The antique coin and collectibles shop was tucked into the far corner of a mostly abandoned strip mall. The owner was exactly as Monty expected: overgrown gray beard, wrinkled hands, and in overalls. The walls were covered with old posters of coin and stamp conventions, and a healthy cobweb population. It looked like nothing. But Monty had seen the expensive sedan in the otherwise empty parking lot. This guy was doing just fine.
“Afternoon, son. Name’s Bo. Help ya?” he said, the dour lines around his mouth deepened. Monty doubted the man had been outside at all today, let alone laughed. Perfect.
Monty nodded at Mona and they carefully eased their backpacks to the floor. Monty pulled a coin from his pocket. “We recently came into possession of a large amount of coins. Not sure if they’re worth anything, but they seem to be made of real gold if nothing else.”
The man’s eyes lit up, though he tried to cover it with a scowl. “Are they now? I’ll be the judge of that…”
Monty handed over one of the coins. His heart pounded in anticipation. He loved a good bargaining scuffle. No one thought teenagers bothered with research, but Monty had looked up the price of gold and had tested ten coins during chemistry. They were real and they were about to get really rich.
The owner fiddled about, looking at the coin under a loop, grunting, examining the detailed images, giving it a quick nibble. He finally handed the coin back with shaking fingers. “Ain’t worth much, and the price of gold has been down lately… but I could take ‘em off yer hands if yer lookin’ to sell. Let’s weigh ‘em and see what we got.”
Monty emptied most of his coins into the scale at the end of the dinged up counter: just under ten pounds. Mona did the same and smirked at him when her coins weighed more. Bo punched away at a calculator and wrote a number on a piece of paper, sliding it over, just like in the movies.
Monty knew they’d lose some for working with a middle man, but he couldn’t risk waiting to handle it himself. Even so, this price was an insult, even for someone underestimating a teenager. He pulled out his phone, did his own calculations, removed a percentage of the total as a “middle man fee” and showed Bo.
The older man glowered. “Can’t afford that. You seen my shop right?”
“Indeed. I also checked. You own the building, and I bet it didn’t cost much when you bought it thirty years ago, so you don’t pay any rent. I won’t ask what you’re doing with empty units. I also saw your very nice car out front. And really? Just how difficult do you think it is for me to check on the price of gold? Even at this price,” he wiggled the phone in Bo’s direction, “you will make a literal shit ton of money when you resell them. So, do we have a deal? Or do I send an anonymous email to the IRS about some of the oddities I’ve observed about this strip mall?”
Bo mumbled and grumped, but didn’t counter. “Gimme a minute,” he sighed and shuffled off, shoulders slumped, to the back of the store. Monty hoped it was for the cash and not a rifle.
As they walked out of the shop, bags lighter and sixty thousand dollars richer, Mona gaped. “Like, what the fuck, big brother? What did you just do in there?” She leaned in closer, even though no one else was around. “Did today give you some other kind of magic, too?”
Leave it to his sister to think being prepared was magic. “Maybe,” he said, and winked. “Now, I didn’t pick this place by accident. Follow me.”
He stopped at a used car lot. It was empty except for one other person. The three sales dude-bros hovered. Monty kept his eyes down and on his phone. “Don’t look at them,” he hissed to Mona.
“But…but…are you for real?”
“I don’t recommend spending all of it here, but you can purchase a nice car and still have some money left over for your college fund.”
She beamed. “Let’s find a blue one. And you’ll get me a good deal, right?”
He linked his elbow through hers as they walked onto the lot. “Like you have to ask.”
“Hey, Monty. This was, I mean this afternoon, us? Together? This was fucking awesome. Maybe we could, you know, do it more often?”
“Without the skipping school part, though,” he said.
Mona snorted, her laughter infectious. Coins fell around them, but neither stopped to pick them up. What more could he possibly need today?
She peeked out from the shadows of the alley, watching the two teens as they bargained with the dealers in the used car lot.
She wasn’t alone…
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 tale, it’s intended to be part of 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.
Read chapter one here.
Image by: dzeninalukac
February 8: Laugh and Get Rich Day