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Rainboots. She’d asked for rainboots. The black-with-polka-dots kind. She didn’t need Kate Spade or anything. In fact, she’d seen some at Walmart for fifteen bucks. So when she informed her mother that her already-fraying chucks would probably disintegrate if she wore them in the rain one more time, she hadn’t expected her mother to plonk down a pair of olive-colored galoshes in front of her the next morning.
“I found you my old rainboots from high school, Nancy,” she announced cheerfully.
Nancy looked down in despair. “But...they’re gross.”
Her mother frowned. “I liked them at your age. Think of them as vintage. Isn’t that fashionable nowadays?”
“Yeah, but puke-colored rubber blocks are definitely not.”
Her mother pursed her lips. “Well, I’m afraid you’ll have to make do with them. We’re low on money, Nan.”
Nancy sighed. They were always low on money. “Fine.”
So, there she was, pulling on her clunky galoshes and heading out the door into the drizzling gray world. A fine mist hung over her street, blurring the lines of the neat houses and towering trees. Nancy went to open her umbrella and discovered that it wouldn’t open more than halfway. After a few violent attempts at unfurling it, Nancy gave up, laid the umbrella by the door, and stalked down the driveway. She was so angry, it took her a few minutes to notice the silence.
She hitched her backpack strap higher on her shoulder and looked around. There were no cars driving by, no early-morning joggers. Bikes were lying on the sidewalk, their wheels spinning, and a solitary ball rolled slowly down a driveway toward her. She shook her head. Stupid. Of course no one’s here. I’m late. Everyone else has already left for work or school or wherever they have to be.
She checked her watch, but what she saw made her frown. It said 7:56, but, instead of ticking, the second hand frantically oscillated in place. She let out her breath in a shudder. Nothing was making sense. Whatever. It didn’t matter what time it was, anyway. She’d squirmed her way out of detention before, and she could do it again if she had to.
Nancy kicked through the puddles resentfully, glowering at her boots. And yet, with each step she took, the creeping feeling of emptiness amplified; Nancy found she was dreading the rest of the walk. She passed through her town’s downtown area (downtown in little Roersville being composed of a movie theater, a grimy diner, a laundromat, and a flower shop) on her way to school every day. For all its size, there were usually a couple of people milling about.
She was convinced that if she walked downtown and met the same silence, she would scream and turn back home. However, even from a few streets down, she could hear the bustle of people and cars. If Nancy hadn’t been so spooked, she would have realized that the sheer amount of noise coming from downtown was even more abnormal than the eerie silence of her neighborhood; as it was, however, she was glad.
But as she crossed the street, she realized that the stores were all closed up, the streets in front empty. The cars weren’t parked in neat rows along the pavement as they usually were—rather, they were all gathered in a huddle in front of the movie theater, where she could hear the murmurs of a disgruntled crowd. The uncomfortable feeling started to claw its way into her stomach again. Nancy stopped for a moment and thought about turning around. She inched closer to the theater, her curiosity getting the better of her fear.
She realized as she got closer to the theater that the people in the crowd were all children, dressed identically in loose blue tunics and tall gray-green boots. One of them looked at her and pointed. As one entity, the rest of them, at least fifty or sixty, turned around and stared.
One in the front approached her. Nancy readied to run to if needed.
The child tugged on the hem of her sweatshirt and said, “We wanted to watch a movie, but the door knob is too high to reach.”
Nancy blinked. His boots were exactly the same as hers. In fact, all of the children were wearing the same boots.
“Can you get it for us?” the child prompted.
“Um. Yes.”
The children parted to make way for Nancy as she walked to the door. Slowly, she opened the door of the theater and then jumped out of the way as the children ran inside. Only one lingered outside, probably the one who had asked for help in the first place.
“Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” Nancy said.
The child cocked her head to one side and looked at her. “You’re not supposed to be here.” It was a statement, not a question.
Nancy thought about the empty streets and the eerily identical children. “No, I’m not.”
The child smiled. “I can fix that.”
For a brief, taut moment, Nancy’s bones felt like gelatin and her skin like cellophane, and she felt that if someone had looked at her in that moment, they would have seen her just as a collection of faint outlines, like she was an amoeba under a microscope.
And then she felt like she was being compressed back into her suddenly too solid body, and she felt the pump of her heart and the blood shooting away from it, all the way to her fingertips and her toes, could hear the valves snapping open. Nancy felt the blood rush to her face, and then she realized that there were tears streaming from her eyes, and saliva dribbling from the corners of her mouth, and every muscle in her body was contracting, and she felt a sudden panic, like her entire body was going into overdrive, and she thought she was going to die, and then it stopped.
There was no gradual return to normalcy, and so it took Nancy a few seconds to realize that everything was fine again: yes, this is how my hair feels against my face; this is how the joint of my knee bends.
She was on the ground, flat on her face. Her lip was bleeding, and her palms were raw from hitting the asphalt. Struggling, she lifted her head and saw a car cruise by her. A toddler screamed in the yard across the street. She eased herself up and realized that she had somehow ended up a few streets beyond her school.
Nancy looked down at herself. Her jeans had split at the knees and there was a dark smear across the front of her sweatshirt. She studied the boots, then pulled them off. She stood there and squinted at them for a few minutes, rainwater slowly seeping into her socks. In her periphery, Nancy saw a garbage can standing a few feet away with its lid ajar. Not caring if the owners of the trash can noticed, Nancy padded over to the trash can, opened the lid, and tipped the galoshes in.
She would walk to school shoeless. She would wear her gym clothes today, and she would wash her face in the sink in the girls’ bathroom before going to class. When her mother asked her where her rainboots were, she would tell her that she had lost them.


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