Summary: Fern hates public speaking, especially when she has to read her school assignments to her peers. But this assembly is different because her work could have unintended consequences…and because it keeps happening. Every day is a new day but the scenario is the same. Fern is stuck in a time loop and she has no idea how to escape. Can also be found here on ff.net.
Fern was still studying the calendar when her mother stepped into the kitchen. Doria smiled as she eyed the date. She looked to her coffee pot and exhaled before moving to the sink. If she wanted coffee, she’d have to make it the old fashioned way, which was more work than she wanted to put in but it had to be done.
“I’ll be glad when they’re done cleaning up all this storm damage. I don’t think I’ve ever seen summer thunderstorms like that. Don’t worry, though. The city will have everything worked out before your recital tonight,” Doria smiled, moving to the cabinet to grab herself a mug, “You know, doing it this way, you can make yourself a cup of tea.”
“I’m fine,” Fern whispered. She was distracted now by the thought of the recital. That meant she was reciting something, but what was she reciting? And exactly how many people were going to be there?
A memory fired into her mind, and Fern realized this was along the same timeline as her brisk February reading. This was the next step somehow, but Fern could feel the separation. She had lost friends and gained enemies because of that poem, yet some local leaders liked it so much that they wanted her to read it for the city, for their group of elite, for anyone who would listen.
Fern exhaled as she brought herself back to this reality. She wondered what exactly had happened since that winter reading and now, but she knew that asking her mother would only bring more questions and possibly a medical exam. Fern knew this was real somehow, and though she did wonder if she was really in a coma somewhere, she knew that no medical exam in this or any reality would be able to determine that. She’d just have to wake up on her own, eventually, and deal with whatever reality was actually her own. They were starting to blend at this point, and Fern wondered what the next sleep would take her to—what time, what place, and what reality, a new one or one she had experienced before?
Doria looked up as her husband entered the kitchen. Sweat beaded on his forehead, but he accepted the cup of coffee anyway, “Three days without power is making life quite dull, but at least the coffee is still decent.”
“Agreed,” Doria nodded, looking to Fern, “You should get dressed and go downtown to make sure the recital is still on. My cellphone died last night, and the landline still isn’t working. I think it would be safe enough for you to walk.”
“But if you see any down power lines, you should avoid them. Pretend that every wire is a live wire,” her father said adamantly.
Fern nodded, “I know what to do. I’ll go get dressed now,” she whispered, going upstairs and putting on the dress she found on her bed. She normally liked to wear tights or leggings under her dresses, but the summer heat made her want to dance around naked instead. She wore just the dress, and after putting on a healthy amount of deodorant, she grabbed her bag and left the home.
The streets of Elwood City were desolate, and Fern could tell whatever storms had come through were quite violent. A tree in a neighbor’s backyard was split in two up the middle, and several cars were plastered with leaves, twigs, and other debris. Water was still ponding in places, and Fern wished she could recall the storms themselves, but no memory came to mind.
As she passed a road she knew to be Jenna’s, she heard someone call out. She turned to see the first person she would encounter on her journey. Instead of a kind neighbor, it was a furious Jenna marching up to her.
“Are you going to tell them you won’t be reading that poem for God and everybody?” Jenna demanded.
Fern froze. What was she supposed to say in this situation? She had no idea what was really going on beyond the recital and the poem itself. She just knew she was friendless and nothing else.
Jenna shifted, “Why are you looking at me like that? It’s like you have no idea what I’m even talking about. You’re crazy, do you know that? Completely insane. One day you’re writing things that make our friendship worthless, and the next you’re pretending it never even happened.”
“Because I don’t know what happened!” Fern exclaimed. Now Jenna froze, and Fern wondered what she should do next. Her cry came out of frustration and nothing else, but should she really tell Jenna? The girl’s confusion gave Fern no choice. She had to be honest, “The last few days have been crazy to me. The first day, I marched through the snow to get to school and read that stupid poem, and the next, it was warm and I was reading a love poem for everyone. Now I’m here, and I have no idea what’s going on. I just know that if I knew this was going to happen, I never would’ve written that poem. I should’ve never participated in that contest in the first place, and I definitely shouldn’t have won.”
Jenna shifted, “Now you’re just making things up,” she murmured. Fern could tell she wasn’t sure. She was still sympathetic to her former friend.
Fern sighed, “I wish I was making this up. Yesterday for me, I was in a relationship with two people at the same time. Me, two relationships, and one was with a girl! When would that ever happen?”
“It wouldn’t,” Jenna said, finally growing defensive, “and you should stop trying to make me feel bad for you. It’s pointless for you to even attempt to fix things now. You’ve messed up everything by letting these people plaster your face all over town. You should’ve said something from the beginning if you really mean what you just told me.”
“What do you mean about them plastering my face all over town?” Fern asked with genuine confusion. But Jenna was done. Fern’s story was too much for her, and she marched back down the street. Fern kept walking, but she could hear Jenna slam the door behind her once she got home.
Downtown Elwood City was just as awful as the side streets. Fern found a few boarded up windows on Main Street, as well as a large tree trunk nearby. She could now picture a news story about the incident showing the historic trees breaking in the storm’s fierce winds, but otherwise, her mind was at a loss for what really happened that day.
Once she reached City Hall, Fern saw what Jenna was talking about. Posters of Fern were placed on every entrance to advertise the event, a recital of the poem of the year. Fern shook her head as she entered the building. The secretary immediately recognized her and led her into the mayor’s office. The recital was still on, and the mayor wanted to see her before the big event.
The mayor was a large, round man that reminded Fern of a well-dressed pumpkin. He shook her hand before shooing away his secretary and returning to his large leather chair behind his big, bulky desk.
“I’m glad you stopped by today. I didn’t know if you would remember our appointment or not, but, you’re here,” the mayor laughed, pulling a folder from his top drawer and sliding it across the table, “This is a formality, really, but I need you to fill out this form. Once it’s completed, I can easily get this scholarship for you.”
Fern eyed the form. The scholarship’s details were listed at the top, and Fern was stunned. The scholarship was for $100,000 per semester, and she could keep whatever money was left over as long as it went for her basic needs. That could be housing, food, or school supplies, and it would be plenty to cover Fern’s desire for a new computer and several books.
“This is too much,” she heard herself say. She realized it was the truth, and she put the folder back on the desk, “I don’t feel comfortable accepting this for a poem I wrote in class for an assignment. It doesn’t express my true—“
“If you wrote it, no matter what the situation was, then it’s your own work,” the mayor said firmly. “Listen, Fern, I know how you feel right now. You’re getting recognition for your stance on important social issues, attention you probably didn’t ask for, and praise in a way you never have before. You deserve all of it. You wrote this poem, and you should revel in the spotlight.”
“But I’ve lost all my friends!”
“And made many more, many of them named Benjamin,” the mayor smiled with a sinister look in his eye. His hand was on the folder, and he carefully slid it back towards Fern, “When you get into the college you want, and when you have no worries about money, you’ll easily find new friends, the right friends for you.”
Fern was at a loss. The money did sound good, but she didn’t want to keep playing by everyone else’s rules. She knew that the moment she went to sleep, she’d be back on this same day. The date itself would be different, but she’d be doing the same thing over again. That gave her some freedom, and she decided to use it.
“I already had the right friends. I don’t want your money, and I won’t be reading that poem for anyone. I take it back. The work isn’t mine. I stole it—whatever excuse you want to use, use it. I’m not interested anymore,” Fern said, standing to leave.
The mayor stood and grabbed her hand. Fern cried out in pain, but the mayor only kept gripping, “No, you won’t leave, and you’ll take the credit you deserve! You’ve brought me plenty, and you’ll bring me more if you just play along.”
Fern saw a stapler nearby. She grabbed it and slammed it down on the mayor’s wrist as hard as she could. He screamed and released her. Fern took her chance and ran out the door, and she kept running.
When she reached Jenna’s street, she went to her house and knocked on the door. Her father answered, and Jenna refused to come to the door. Fern didn’t mind leaving the message with her father—she was done with the poem, and she wasn’t going to participate any longer.
Jenna didn’t react right away, so Fern went home. Her mother was there standing in front of a vent. The power was back on, and cool air conditioning flooded out. The smell of coffee filled the air, and the moment really felt like home. She hated to ruin it, but her mother needed to know.
“Mom, I won’t be going to the recital. The mayor was just using me, and I never meant anything I wrote. I can’t stand for something I don’t believe in, especially when it seems to have hurt so many people,” Fern said.
Doria smiled, “I knew you could do it. You told me you were having second thoughts over the last few weeks of school, and I knew you would do something with those second thoughts. I’m proud of you, I really am,” she said, looking up, “Honey, what’s wrong with your hand?”
Fern looked down. Her hand was resting funny, and it was the one the mayor had grabbed. Realizing she was injured helped Fern feel the pain, and she was immediately angry. The mayor had done something to her, and she didn’t want to stand by and let it happy. When they got to the ER, Fern told them exactly what happened. An officer was sent into her room to see if she wanted to file charges. She did.
Fern ran her finger over the cast on her other arm. Her wrist was badly broken in two places, but they were hoping her youth would help heal the wound. They sent her home with medication and a referral to a hand specialist in Metropolis. Now she was in bed, ready to sleep but unwilling. Would her hand injury follow her? Would it be a different day? Would the time loop end here and leave her to deal with the corrupt mayor and her charges against him?
Listing her problems calmed her mind somehow, and despite fighting, she felt herself slip into a black sleep.
When she woke up, it was to her alarm clock. Her cast was gone, but a slight pain was still there. Fern checked the date. It was October now, and next to the calendar was a printout. Fern looked it over and realized it was the same poem. A memory hit her. This time she’d written it at home, and she was about to turn it in for her English class.
Fern balled up the poem and tossed it in the trash.
“Not this time,” she muttered, going downstairs to start her day.