Real Life

December 2020’s short story of the month

As a kid I’d spend almost all of my allowance money on going to the movies. I’d go see a double feature on a Saturday afternoon and emerge from the dark theater into the blinding sunlight, and it seemed like it was the “real” world that was made up and fake. I’d walk home and invent stories about the people in town, like Mr. Roberts, our mailman, who was clearly an evil villain and secretly a vampire.

I wanted desperately for magic to be real and for it to triumph over some unknown emerging power. I wanted to travel to space or find out that I was actually a member of some distant royal family. They’d just misplaced me at birth. The movies were better than the small town I lived in. Everyone was better looking, and even though the obstacles the characters faced were earth-shattering, they always overcame them in the nick of time.

I wanted there to be something more. I didn’t care if it involved danger. I just wanted something to happen. Nothing ever happened here. No one ever murdered anyone because of a tragic love triangle. No criminals set up shop in town. There were no traffickers or smugglers. There wasn’t even a village idiot. I lived in the most boring town in the whole world. The biggest thing that happened this year was the town council voted to put in a stop light. We didn’t even need a stop light. They just wanted to feel “fancy.”

Someone needed to tell them that having a stop light wasn’t fancy. It was needed to control the flow of traffic and prevent accidents. We didn’t even have accidents here, not bad ones anyway.

Our newspaper was filled with pictures of school age children posing with participation trophies alongside the most recent winners of whatever the local charities were raffling off.

Instead of escaping to the movies this Saturday, I was standing on main street like the rest of the town, waiting for the tape cutting ceremony for the new traffic light. As I stood there next to my parents and sister, I scanned the crowd. I knew everyone. I saw all of my class mates. They all looked about as thrilled as I was to be idling along the street for something that I didn’t care about.

As I crowd watched, my eye landed on three girls who attended my school. The oldest was in my grade; her name was Mary. Her younger sisters, Angela and Tilly, were her only friends. They were an odd family. In fact, the more I thought about it, if there was a secret in town, it had to be something relating to their family. They were just slightly off, even for this town.

They kept to themselves, almost exclusively. I couldn’t put my finger on what was out of place about them, but they were an odd bunch. I’d bumped into them once at the movies; they were there with a boy close to their age and a woman I didn’t recognize. It was literally the only time I’d seen them go to the movies. That was fairly odd. It was one of the only things to do around town, and the sisters had only been once in their whole lives.

What did they do all the time? What were they hiding? Their parents weren’t friends with anyone either. They were always polite to everyone, but they weren’t a part of the community in any real way.

I watched the sisters as they looked bored just like the rest of the kids standing around. There was a loud boom as a cannon was fired at town hall. It was followed by the sound of the marching band beginning the parade.

They were actually having a parade for the inauguration of a traffic light. This town was so lame. The parents of the sisters were watching everything with fascination. None of the other parents were that enamored with the situation, but their parents watched everything with a sense of awe and wonder.

The sisters realizing their parents were distracted, used the opportunity to sneak away. I looked up at my own parents. They were carrying on a conversation with the family next to them. I also made a break for it.

I took a few steps away from my family and then checked to see if anyone noticed my movement. Everyone was distracted. I wove my way through the people and got behind the crowd. The longer I was moving, the more everyone pressed forward to watch the parade. I quickly found myself near where the sisters had been standing.

I moved behind the crowd again and searched for them. I didn’t see them anywhere, but there was an alley between the barber shop and the antique store. I dashed towards it but stopped short of turning the corner. Instead, I peaked around. I saw them casually walking arm in arm away from the parade. They turned behind the buildings. I tucked my hands in my pockets and strolled through the alley following in their footsteps. I didn’t want to run because I might draw unwanted attention, but I wanted to know what they were doing.

As I came around the building, I slowed and tried to peak around the corner. I saw them running off towards the park. They were giggling and laughing so I ran after knowing they wouldn’t hear me.

Once they crossed onto the green grass of the park, they all ran straight for the playground. I ran until I was in the park, but made for the trees so I could watch them.

They were just being normal kids. They were climbing and running and sliding. They laughed loudly and freely. I’d never seen them at the playground before. It occurred to me that this was something their family didn’t do very often.

After they’d ran around for several minutes, they made their way to the swings. They each took their own and where swinging back and forth in no time.

I felt like a fool. I’d chased after them hoping to learn their secret but they didn’t have any secret. Other than having an overprotective family. They were just kids.

I was about to leave and return before my family came looking for me. I watched them.

Mary jumped from the swing when it was at its highest point. She didn’t fall clumsily to the ground and land with a thud; instead, she went higher and higher and then gently glided down touching the ground almost gently.

I shook my head. How did she do that?

And then her sisters did it too. They moved in a way that didn’t make sense. How did they float? They should have fallen like every other kid on the swings.

Once they were all back on the ground, they joined hands and spun in a circle chanting a nursey rhyme.

I sat down against the tree. What had I just seen? It didn’t make sense.

I turned to spy on them again, but they were gone. I scanned around but didn’t see them. I walked back towards the noise of the parade. I could hear someone on a glitching mic discussing the momentous occasion.

I felt like I’d just left the movie theater. Nothing felt real. The real world was fake. The sisters were real. I knew it down to my bones.

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