A couple of teenagers find something on one of their phones that couldn’t possibly be true. Or could it? Enjoy!
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Written and narrated by Rob Dircks
Huh. I don’t remember taking these pictures. They’re from the winter, but it’s the middle of July and they’re showing up at the top of my camera roll. Stupid phone. Been acting weird for a month. Of course if I tell Mom and Dad, they’ll just get pissed off and lecture me about how kids these days don’t take care of anything, and we’re a bunch of entitled brats. So forget that.
“Brandon. We’re eating dinner. No phones.”
“Mom. You and Dad are talking about taxes. I have nothing to contribute. I don’t pay taxes yet. I was just quick checking my-”
“Put it away. And someday, you better believe it, once your generation starts actually contributing…”
…and I tune her out. I put my phone on my lap, under the kitchen table, and try to figure out what the hell is going on with it. These photos are from Rockefeller Center during Christmas. The big tree, the crowds, the ice skating rink, all the lights. It’s at night, it’s beautiful, and there’s almost a magical quality to all the smiling people in the pictures.
But I don’t know any of them.
And we didn’t go to Rockefeller Center this past Christmas. Or the one before that.
Who’s pictures are these?
Okay, either it’s a glitch, and I’m somehow linked into someone else’s cloud photo stream by mistake, or it’s a joke. Amanda would do something like that. She probably took my phone and snuck these on here. Let’s take a look at the info and see if her name’s on them.
“Mom, what year is it?”
“Brandon, have you been listening to anything I’ve said? It’s 2017, you know that, and you’ve got exactly eight years to get your act togeth…”
2017. That’s what I thought. So according to my glitchy phone, I took these pictures.
On December twentieth, 2017.
Six months from now.
“‘Manda. Come on. How’d you do it?”
“I didn’t do it! I swear!”
But she’s laughing, so I know it’s her. She’s a terrible liar. Ever since we were little kids, she could never lie like me. “You’re turning red. The color of guilt.”
We’re on my bed, which would normally trigger an containment leak siren and flashing strobe lights – god forbid Brandon’s allowed to have a girl in his room – but Amanda gets an exception, because my parents are practically family with her parents, and we’ve just never been into each other like that, and my mom thinks it’ll keep all the other girls away from me forever. Which I guess is true. My room has had exactly one girl in it. So Mom’s plan is working. But I don’t care. Amanda’s cool, and we laugh our assess off constantly, and she knows how to play Elder Scrolls like a boss, and she occasionally sneaks a beer or two into my room for us to share.
She kicks me in the shin. “I’m turning red because it’s funny as hell that you got someone else’s pictures from the future.”
“They’re not from the future, you dummy. The timestamp is just wrong. My phone’s glitching out.”
“Did you restart it?”
“Delete the photos?”
“Yeah. They keep coming back.”
She grabs the phone from me. “Let me take a look.”
“Amaze me, miss tech detective.”
We both pore over the photos, a dozen of them, it’s actually kind of cool to peek into someone else’s life like this, without permission. But another weird thing: none of the people in the photos are the same.
She swipes back and forth on the phone. “If it was a family or something, wouldn’t they be in all of them? This is just like random smiling people.”
“Yeah.” Then something catches my eye. Something red. “Except this. It’s in all of them.”
“No.” I point to the girl in the red parka, in the background of every photo. “Her.”
“Her? How do you know it’s a her?” She swipes back and forth again. “She’s blurry. You can’t even see her face in any of these.”
“Look at her hair. It’s beautiful.”
Amanda looks sideways at me. Uh-oh. While she’s never been into me, ever, she still gets jealous when I talk about other girls. It’s funny. Well, it’s funny until she flicks my earlobe, which hurts like hell.
“I think her hair looks kind of ratty. She looks like a slut.”
“Of course. Yeah, sorry, ‘Manda. It’s awful.” But I can’t stop looking at it. It’s long and wavy and shiny. And jet black. Perfect. I start to imagine what Red Parka Girl’s face might look like.
“Hey, Brand – maybe she’s a time traveler!”
I laugh. “Impossible. Where’s her flux capacitor?”
Another earlobe flick. Ouch.
“It’s in her handbag. Whatever. You can say it’s a glitch, but there’s only one way to find out what it really is.”
“Go to the Apple store?”
“No, silly. Go to Rockefeller Center on December twentieth.”
“How many more days?”
Amanda looks up from my desk, flips the calendar pages. “Two months to go. How many days is that?”
“That’s two more issues. Keep cracking!”
I roll over on my bed, scribbling like a madman. When the mystery photos first showed up on my phone, me and Amanda started joking about Red Parka Girl, and the jokes got pretty creative and involved, so we decided to write a comic book about her. In our comic, she actually is a time traveler, slipping here and there to protect humanity, seeking treasure on the side to pay for her extravagant lifestyle.
We’re such nerds.
But really, I don’t care. Who could ask for a better team? I get to lay in my bed after school and write the stories, and Amanda draws them at my desk. She’s an awesome artist. We’ve been doing this almost every day, spending way too much time together. We showed Karl and Tim and their crew the first issue and they loved it: Red Parka Girl vs. The Evil Zordo. In it, Zordo travels back in time to the formation of the Earth, and injects carbon into the planet’s core, which would eventually form the largest diamond deposit ever. He, of course, would use the these to buy influence and eventually rule the world. But Red Parka Girl travels back in time even further, and is waiting for him. She kills him and lets the diamond deposit grow anyway. Back in the future, she helps solve global economic problems with her new found treasure – and creates a bitchin’ diamond-encrusted parka.
We’re on issue number three now. We’ve been uploading them to WhiteHat Comics, and believe it or not we’ve got almost four thousand followers. No money yet, but if we hit ten thousand we start earning ad revenue.
“Hey, ‘Manda. I had a dream about her last night.”
“Spare me.” She gags herself with her pencil.
“Not about the comic girl. It was about the real girl. I wonder if she’s all right.”
“Ask her yourself, lover boy. You’ll be meeting your dream girl in sixty days.” Her art pad slams shut. She puts her pencils together to leave.
I get up and sit on the edge of the desk. “Hey, don’t get pissed. I’m sorry. This is all a joke. We’re just having fun. None of this is real.”
She looks up at me and frowns. “I know.”
Tomorrow is December twentieth.
The waiting is over.
I’m actually kind of sad it’s going to end. Like, all this time I’ve been spending with Amanda has been, I don’t know, it’s hard to explain. She’s more creative than I thought, and we actually do make a pretty good team – for the comic thing, I mean.
We’re both laying on my bed, looking up at the last panels of the last issue of Red Parka Girl taped to my ceiling.
“Maybe we should have killed her off. Sent her out with a bang.”
She nudges me with her elbow. “Nah. I’ve gotten to like her. A lot.”
“Yeah.” I turn to look at her profile. “Me too.”
Uh-oh. Something just happened.
I don’t know if it’s the smell, she wears this stuff I can never remember the name of it, or if it’s just the satisfaction of knowing we’ve finally created something worthwhile, or if it’s the anticipation of tomorrow, but I feel a little light-headed. She’s looking a little light-headed too. What the hell is happening?
My mom walks in. Thank God. “Okay, Amanda. Your mom said we should feed you, so you’re staying for dinner again. Pizza will be ready in a couple of minutes. It’s Dad’s infamous Hawaiian pizza. Please tell him you like it even if it’s terrible. And Brandon, your uniform’s clean, it’s hanging up to dry. ”
We both awkwardly jump off the bed and brush the crumbs from the Doritos off us. “Thanks, Mom.”
She raises an eyebrow. “Thanks? I don’t think I’ve ever heard you say that. Are you all right, Brandon?”
“We’re – I’m – fine. Listen, Mom, I forgot to ask you. Is it okay if me and Amanda go into the city tomorrow? To see the tree? There’s a 4:30 train. I have plenty of cash.”
She shakes her head. “No. Absolutely not. The Drakes are coming over tomorrow, we’re having a little holiday thing. So no.”
Damn. I should have asked her weeks ago. But I guess I knew the answer would be no somehow anyway. I look over at Amanda, and she gives me the slightest, almost imperceptible nod, and I immediately know what it means.
We don’t need anyone’s permission to meet Red Parka Girl.
We’re going anyway.
It’s December twentieth.
Me and Amanda are on the 4:30 train into New York.
To meet Red Parka Girl.
“You know this just proves that we’re insane.”
She laughs. “Yes.”
“And we’re never going to be allowed to hang out together again.”
She pouts, but she’s still laughing.
“And it’s all for nothing, because if we had just called Apple, they would have figured this whole thing out in two minutes.”
She tugs my shirtsleeve. “Yeah. But look how much fun we would’ve missed.”
And she’s right. This whole thing has been pretty awesome. And tonight’s the icing on the cake. Getting chestnuts from the cart guy on the corner, checking out all the store windows, ice skating. And the tree. It’s massive. It’s beautiful. There are like a million lights on it, all different colors.
“It’s so pretty. Take a picture.”
I snap a photo of her.
“Not me, silly. The tree.”
And we walk around, taking pictures of the tree, and the crowds of people having the time of their lives.
“Wait! The pictures. Brand, look at your phone. The pictures.”
Whoops. We were having such a good time we almost forgot about the photos!
I open up my camera roll.
I can’t believe what I’m seeing.
I just took the same photos I’ve been looking at for six months.
“Woah. ‘Manda look at this.”
I watch her take my phone and swipe through the photos, amazed, looking around, with this adorable, expectant smile on her face. She’s popping with energy. Her eyes are practically glowing with the magic of all the lights around us. God, she’s… she’s…
“She’s over there!”
I snap to attention. “Who? Where?”
“Red Parka Girl! Over there!”
Yes, I see her! Maybe about thirty yards away. The Red Parka. The same one! We wade through the crowd, trying to get to her, but the crush of people makes it impossible to move at anything faster than a crawl. Eventually, Red Parka Girl stops in a little alcove.
I hesitate, and turn to Amanda. “Listen, this is silly. Maybe we-“
“Don’t be an idiot, Brand. It’s actually happening. You have to. It’s fate. And don’t worry. I’m standing right here. Ten feet away. I won’t leave you.”
Wow. That felt good. She knew just what to say. “Okay. Here goes.”
I cross the ten feet – and damn, it takes a solid minute in this crowd – and with every step I see more clearly her hair, even longer, more wavy, and jet black than my memories. She’s perfect.
I tap her shoulder.
She turns around.
It’s a man.
With a long, shiny, jet black beard to match his hair. And deep, threatening eyes. He looks horrified and angry that I’ve noticed him.
“Uh, sorry, dude. I thought you were somebody els-“
And I look down and I see them.
Wires sticking out from his chest. Duct tape. Cylinders.
The Red Parka is a bomb.
The man’s hand reaches into his pocket, and with a speed I never knew I had, I lunge for it.
He grips the detonator and brings his thumb down to complete the circuit. But I’m there before him, and I wrench his hand from the little box. He screams and pounds my face, grabbing for the detonator, and I shout “POLICE!!!” and they’re on us in seconds.
My eyes are closed. I can only hear the screams of thousands of people running. And feel the little box in my hands. And smell the breath of the man who tried to kill us all, still on top of me. Then his weight is off me, and I hear a new voice. “Kid. You can let go. The detonator.”
I open my eyes. And I see all the people, now far away, but alive, every last one of them alive, looking back at us between a barricade of policemen, to see what the hell just happened.
And then I see, just ten feet away, Amanda.
She didn’t leave me.
I start to run to her, into her arms, but a hand stops me.
“Kid. We’re gonna need you to come with us. Both of you.”
So here we are, where I’d never expect to be in my whole life: in the back of a squad car in Rockefeller Center, under the big Christmas tree. They’re calling our parents right now. We are in so much trouble.
And I’m shaking uncontrollably. I don’t know if it’s the cold, or if I’m in shock, or what. The cop up front reaches back and hands me one of those metallic blankets they give marathon runners after a race. “Here, kid. And good job.”
Amanda’s crying. I don’t know what to say. So I look out the back window and just say, “Well, I didn’t expect THAT.”
And she lunges for me, throwing her arms around my neck, laughing and crying. After a minute, she takes a deep breath, exhales, and sits back, and looks at me. “The photos. Brand, you’re the time traveler. Here to protect us.” She crinkles the blanket I’m wearing between her fingers. “Metallic Blanket Man.”
We laugh, and suddenly I’m kissing her, and she’s kissing me, and everything is all right. Better than all right.
It lasts a long time.
But then my phone buzzes. I pull it out of my pocket and look at the screen. Nothing.
She taps the photos icon. “Maybe not.”
There are twelve new photos on my camera roll.
Photos of tourists in front of the Louvre in Paris. In the summer.
Six months from now.