Hey guys! I have a treat for you! A free short story! A previous version was featured in A. Charles Ross’s Writing Out Cancer podcast. The intro to my story starts at about the 14:46 mark and I start reading the story at about 17:54. If you have extra time, do be sure to listen to the story that was featured right before mine. “Circles” by Anna Sanderson is utterly beautiful.
The following version of “Collision” is the final version. If you spend the time comparing the two, let me know which version is your favorite!
Some say time is a linear thing. You’re born. You age. You die. Nothing else. Others say it’s cyclical. You’re born. You age. You die. You’re reborn. Rinse and repeat. There’s some who believe in loops where you’re forced to relive a certain moment over and over again until you make the right choice. Like some sort of big invisible man—or woman!—playing God is giving you all of these second chances, and why is it taking you so long to make the right choice?
Others say time is just a man-made construct. Something we’ve devised to make sense of the seasons, the sunrises, the sunsets, the way the Earth revolves around the sun, and the moon revolves around the Earth.
But time is more hectic than that, isn’t it?
Time is a hodgepodge. Sometimes it does crazy things at the worst possible moments. Like when the stars aligned and the person who was supposed to play Johanna in your high school musical version of Sweeney Todd suddenly got hit with mono and couldn’t go to school—much less sing a note—and you, who had been tapped to be her understudy, had never once thought you’d ever step foot on the stage because the actress who was supposed to be playing Johanna had never missed a day of school in her life—she has the awards to prove it, thank you very much.
You think her being struck with mono is a sign as you finally step foot on the stage and the guy playing Anthony—oh lovely, lovely Anthony, your savior, your everything—is the guy you’ve had a crush on since forever. You’re not like those other girls who get tongue-tied around their crush and hope they notice you. You took the initiative. You guys are like best buddies. Well, not really best buddies, but you sit next to each other in one of your shared classes and you trade notes. You say hey if you walk by one another in the hallway. He notices you. But not in the way you want him to notice you.
But now you’re singing “Kiss me!” and he’s singing back, “I shall!” and you two are so close now—closer than you’ve ever been before—and you take a quick look in his eyes and wonder for just the briefest of moments if maybe he’s always wanted to kiss you too—just once—just to see what it would be like, when time suddenly decides to unleash all hell on your dreams.
A child falls from the sky and crash lands on both of you.
There’s a panic in the crowd. Where did the child come from? Children don’t just fall from the sky. Parents in the audience are counting children. Is it one of theirs? But nobody runs up to the stage.
You glance over to your Anthony in the quickest and most discreet way possible to make sure he’s not hurt—he’s not and you’re a little upset about it because you had hoped you could impress him by whipping out your first aid kit that you keep in your bag. And then both of you slowly look to the child between you.
And you realize you are staring at you. Not like now-you. Because now-you was just a breath away from kissing the guy of your dreams. This you—the child—is from before. Obviously. Don’t you remember? You were at the age when the last thing you wanted to do was kiss a boy because everyone knew they had cooties. And when your mom told you that one day you’d actually enjoy kissing boys and marry one someday, you decided to pack up and run away to your grandparents’ house in the middle of the night, so that you’d never have to hear such ludicrous ideas ever again. Your grandparents called your parents—they’re such snitches—and you were forced to go back home to hysterical parents who cried and yelled at you and punished you and then hugged you and then apologized and everyone ended up staying up until two in the morning eating that super chocolately ice cream right from the carton.
As you try to wrap your head around the fact that before-you has just fallen from the sky, the audience begins to scream. There are things—portals are the only thing that come to mind as you try to make sense of what you’re seeing—opening everywhere. It’s a strange thing, actually seeing portals. They weren’t exactly what you had expected them to be. They’re asymmetrical and undulate at the edges. And they’re dark black, the blackest black that you’ve ever seen, so black it looks like nothing is there—kind of like that time when they painted The Bean in Chicago black. But then, from somewhere deep in that blackness, there’s a faint light, and it swirls bigger and bigger until a person falls out of it—there are a lot of people falling out of the portals now. A lot of younger people. But there are older people, too. And the audience is kind of panicking and screaming and there are a few people who can only stare in shock at the people who are falling out of the portals.
Your father screams, “Dad!” and you’re confused at first because your paternal grandfather has been dead for ten years now. But no. There he is. Out in the audience. It looks like he bumped his head and he seems dazed but unhurt, and your dad is embracing him and crying and you realize you’ve never seen your dad cry before and you’re starting to feel emotional from it all and the only thing you really want to do is turn to your Anthony and kiss him among all this chaos, but when you turn, you realize that your Anthony who was supposed to kiss you is no longer there. He’s moving down in the audience, moving toward some strange person you’ve never seen before.
“He’s such a dork,” before-you is saying as she gets up. She rubs her head and a sudden memory of falling onto the sidewalk while running washes over you.
You shake your head. “He’s perfect.”
Before-you scrunches her face and fake gags. “I don’t understand what is up with you older ladies. Don’t you know that boys have cooties?”
“Not all boys,” you snip. “You’ll see. When you’re older.”
And as the words tumble out of your mouth and echo though your mind—were you starting to sound like your mother or was it possible that it was actually now-you that told before-you that from beginning?—you find yourself sucked upwards and before-you is staring wide-eyed, her hand trying to reach for your hand, trying to keep you anchored in the here-and-now, but it’s too late. You’re swallowed up by the blackness.
The blackness doesn’t last long. It spits you out like foul food and you’re hurled into grass. You roll, tumble, and try to cover your face. Leaves crunch under your weight until you finally come to a stop against a tree. And maybe it’s because of all the confusion, but you’re pretty sure you can smell Christmas in the air. You know the smell—nutmeg and ginger and cinnamon and cloves and pine. And now there’s a dog with its wet snout in your hair, sniffing deeply.
This place is definitely not the school auditorium. This place is…somewhere…and you feel like you know this place—that dog snout, this smell all around you—but you can’t quite figure out where in time you are—because you’re smart and you’ve figured out that those portals must be time portals. But how and why? Why in the worst possible moment when you were so certain that you were going to have a Disney moment—that you and your Anthony would kiss and that would be it and he’d realize that you were the one, despite being fifteen, and that you two would forever be tied together.
Sleigh bells jingle from somewhere afar and the dog begins to whimper.
“Get. Up,” you tell yourself as you lay there. You will your body to stand. The dog looks up at you with its impossibly big eyes and it’s the color of hot cocoa. You suddenly want a gingerbread cookie.
Off in the distance, a person is moving across the forest and they seem both familiar and unfamiliar. There’s a memory of that person buried deep in your DNA. It’s snowy way back there, and the person is getting lost in the whiteness of it all.
The dog has moved on and sniffs the ground hard. You run your hands through its silky coat. It sniffs harder.
You want to follow the person, but the dog begins to bark, distracting you. It is intently staring at the ground and barking.
“No,” you tell it, but the dog’s barks become impossibly louder. So loud that it blocks out any other sound. You cover your ears and the dog starts to dig faster and faster and faster. The earth is slightly damp and dark and it sprays all over you.
You wipe your face of dirt as the dog stops. It sits and looks up at you expectantly. You brush more dirt off you and look inside the hole it has dug. There is a small chest. It looks like one of those small wooden chests that could be used in a child’s room and decorated to look like a treasure chest. But this chest isn’t decorated. It’s just been sparsely painted robin egg’s blue. You bend down and open it. There’s only one thing inside—a note. And on that note, in your own messy handwriting are the words: Don’t forget.
But don’t forget what? This place? This…event? Can one call this time displacement an event? And before you can do anything else, you’re being sucked sideways now and there’s nothing around you except utter blackness.
You feel yourself being warped and pulled, twisted and turned. You’re not sure what’s up or down.
And then you’re falling again. You feel the hard ground beneath you and you roll to a stop.
There’s murmuring in the background. Lots of murmuring.
You slowly open your eyes and find yourself back where you started. Your vision is still blurry from all the time travel. Everyone seems confused and still in shock. Some of the time remnants are disappearing. Your grandfather is gone. Your father is weeping and your mother is rubbing his back, whispering something to him. You wish you could hear what she’s saying. They don’t even look your way. You think that perhaps they didn’t even know you had gone.
Everyone is gone from the stage. Has anyone noticed that you had been sucked up into a portal? That you had been gone this entire time? How much time had passed? And where was before-you? Did she make it back to where she belonged?
“There you are! I saw you get sucked up and I was worried about you!”
Your head feels like its spinning as you begin to get up. But the person who spoke is running to you and she stops you, telling you to lay back down. You had hoped that your Anthony would have been the first one to greet you. Her touch is at once familiar and unfamiliar. You try to speak. Words are jumbled. Another side effect of time travel? Of time…whatever it was?
Your eyes lock onto her eyes. You’ve seen her a few times in the halls. And all at once you can feel time locking back into place. The past, present, and future collide for one precise second inside you.
Don’t forget, you wrote.
You reach out and grab her hand.
I won’t, you think.
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