When Two Collide

Apair of clean white runners stood at attention on the faded asphalt. A canvas knapsack, haphazardly shrugged over one shoulder, sagged heavily across her small back. A handful of freckles, those undesirable things, twitched as she sniffed at the sun, the sky, and nothing in particular.

There was a ribbon in her hair. Red, a present from someone she no longer remembered. She pulled at it now – and it yielded quite readily – and shook the braids out, letting them fall in curls around her face.

She had been imaging this moment for a very long time.

The scenery from where she stood, was a familiar one. The sidewalk, slightly cracked in places, extended from the ground beneath her feet and sloped gently skyward. A woman pushing a stroller was slowly making her way across a street packed with cars and trucks that steamed under the sun’s rays. On the other side, a man walking a dog swung his arms leisurely as he peered through shop display windows and soaked in the musky smell of ground coffee. A group of rowdy students, arguing over who knows what, roared with laughter as they sauntered up from behind and parted carelessly around her, in twos and threes, before melting into a tumbling mess of limbs and jerseys and unruly hair.

Today.

A trio of girls had accosted the man and his dog, and were gushing adoration at the latter while the former looked on and scratched his head. A boy and a girl whizzed by on a pair of bicycles, chatting easily above the whirring of the wheels. An impatient driver honked as the lights blinked green, and brought the stream of traffic to life.

Today.

Lowering her gaze, she took a single step forward, toeing the faded yellow line painted on the faded asphalt, and felt the world fade around her.

Today.

She closed her eyes.

The tolling of a bell pushed its way into her consciousness. It rang, echoing in the chambers of her skull with an authoritative regularity that overpowered the beating of her heart. From behind her eyelids, she could just sense a curious tint of red, flashing in sync to the sounds of the bell.

Red. Off. Red. Off. Red. Off.

A small mechanic clicking tickled her eardrums as a system of pulleys startled to life. It creaked and sighed and groaned and clattered and ended as abruptly as it began.

She opened her eyes. Directly before her, a yellow stripped pole barred her path at waist height, with another one mirroring it 20 feet away. But for the constant tolling of the bells above, all was still, bathed in the eerie flashing of the light.

Red. Off. Red. Off. Red. Off.

A low growling rumbled through the ground at her left, and she turned her head in that direction. It turned slowly into view, arching with a grace that only distance could provide. As it came nearer, the rumbling did too, crescendoing into a roar that tore at the weeds and disturbed the pebbles into flight.

And through it all, the bell tolled.

Today. Today. Today.

Clutching the straps to her knapsack with one white hand, she inhaled slowly.

Today. Today. Today.

It hit with a force that knocked the air out of her lungs. She shut her eyes on instinct, and had to fight to open them again as she flew through the wind that flowed like water towards her. Gritting her teeth against the current, she stood her ground, if only just barely, and lifted a fist towards the metal monster.

And through it all, the lights flashed.
Today. Today. Today.

As she reached toward it, her fingers unfurled, releasing the length of red ribbon that had been balled up within. She let it go but continued to stretch, grabbing at nothing as the wind enveloped her body and pulled her back with at fistfuls of hair, knapsack, uniform, anything that could be grasped.

And through it all, the train chugged
Today. Today. Today?

Straining, she lifted a foot towards it, but nearly lost her balance against the storm keeping her at bay. As it chugged past, the gleaming engine suddenly caught the sun’s glare, making her blink.

And then it was all over.

The tolling bell and flashing lights were bidding their goodbyes as she stood, feet toeing the line, and stared without seeing the chipped paint that marked the border between her world and the other side with the words nagging in her head.

Today. Today. Today.
Red. Off. Red. Off. Red. Off.

A sudden nudge from behind knocked the knapsack off her shoulders, setting her off balance. A pair of warm hands caught her as she stumbled. Their eyes met, and she may have smiled when he did.

And had she taken the time to look, she would have seen the world from other side.

word count: 813

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