There was a long line of frustrated people outside of the movie theater. Rain thumped on colorful umbrellas, for those who cared to pack them. A few had come without umbrellas and were forced to wait in the rain.
The weather was so unpredictable nowadays that it was hard to tell when an umbrella was needed. The day had been dry and miserable an hour before, sunlight bearing down on the town square where shoppers tried to get Christmas shopping done. Now it was wet and miserable; it seemed that misery was the only constant around here, and they couldn’t even escape reality at a movie theater anymore.
“We should have gone to the theater inside the mall,” muttered Natasha, holding the yellow umbrella up over herself and her sister. Being the tallest had its disadvantages.
“You were the one pushing for the cheap theater,” Jane said, hugging herself.
Natasha wrinkled her nose as the rainfall intensified. “It’s your turn to hold this.” She handed Jane the umbrella.
“Why? It’s for my birthday.”
“But I drove. It’s going to be so wet in the theater. Maybe we should just get lunch somewhere.”
Jane crossed her arms. “Two days ago, you said we were going to see—”
“I know what I said. It’s not smart to make plans these days.” Natasha hoped it wouldn’t start thundering.
The world had gone mad, ever since those buildings fell from the sky. It hadn’t even been here in Virginia; the strange phenomenon was in Florida, but seemed to have shattered every ounce of logic. The weather was so unpredictable, it seemed to be a person with real emotions. Anger came in the form of hot sun, sadness as pouring rain; she and her sister hadn’t had a real outing for months, but Jane made a special request for her birthday. The only two theaters still available within their timeframe were here and at the mall; they had to escape home while both their parents were at work.
Jane would have to understand a change of plans for the sake of safety—right?
Natasha eyed the movie posters, crossing her arms as she tried to work out the best decision. It was pushing luck to stand in line for more than five minutes anymore. People said that strange things happened when you were out in the open for too long.
She took a deep breath and began, “How about we get some ice cream—”
But Jane cut her off. “Did you see that?” she cried, craning her neck.
Natasha looked with puzzlement at her sister’s wide eyes. “See what? There are umbrellas everywhere!”
“I thought I saw a puff of smoke.”
She swallowed, turning away. Her friends told stories of strange, colorful smoke appearing just before chaos. Tales filled the halls at school of curses and illusions striking those who stood out in the open, just like they were doing now. “I’m sure it’s nothing,” she said, feigning confidence. “Like I was saying, I have a coupon for ice cream at the place down the road.”
The moment she finished speaking, there was a blur of pink before her very eyes, causing her to blink—smoke like her sister had described, and everyone at school who told stories. People stumbled away, proving to her dismay that she had not imagined it.
From inside that blur of pink smoke, she heard a spine-chilling giggle. An echoing female voice said, “Ice cream sounds lovely.”
Jane’s grip on the umbrella wavered. “Tasha?” she asked in a small voice tainted with fear.
Above them, lightning flashed. In the flash of light that came with it, Natasha saw a willowy blonde woman appear before her very eyes, wearing a flowing pink dress matching the smoke she’d appeared with.
“Surely you’ll invite me to ice cream,” said the woman, peering at them with steely blue eyes. “It’s your birthday, you say?”
Speechless, Jane could only stare at her.
“Everyone deserves a gift for their birthday!” the blonde woman cried, grinning. “How would you like a real escape? Not just a visit to a wet movie theater.”
“Jane,” Natasha said in a low voice, “run.”
Her sister did not seem to hear, or perhaps she couldn’t remember how to move her legs. She stood clinging to the umbrella, staring at the tall creature with horror.
“Of course she doesn’t want to run away from a present. Who would? Now, you two look like you’d enjoy the woods…or perhaps the beach? Maybe you’ll enjoy both!”
“No, don’t!” Natasha cried, but they were already being engulfed in a blinding pink fog. She waved it away, coughing, and reached for her sister but could not feel her anywhere. The sounds of rain and even the woman’s laughter faded, and she was falling, falling, falling through pink clouds.
She passed out just before hitting the ground.