Speak No Lies

by Jill Corddry

Looking down from the top of a newly budded oak tree, hidden in evening shadows and obliviousness, they snickered.

Humans…always missing what was right in front of them.

***

Mona was a million miles away, her thoughts branching from the obvious: she and Monty were collectively insane (together, like so many other times in their life as twins) to the fantabulous, that something magical was going on.

Monty relished the unknownness of the mess; Mona did not. He actually woke up disappointed when something weird didn’t present itself; Mona rejoiced. Monty wanted to figure out what was going on and why they weren’t fully affected; she wanted it to freakin’ stop already.

Okay, so they weren’t really the same at all. People just treated them alike.

Her brother banged on the other side of the wall they shared, in their long-shared code. Two hits, one smack, one hit. Mona pounded back twice, granting him entry. Seconds later her bedroom door swung open and Monty slid in on sock feet, bowing as he came to a gracefully posed stop in front of her.

“Why are you like this?” she muttered.

“Because it annoys you to no end,” he snickered, then clamped a hand over his mouth. “Because you hate it,” he tried again.

Fuuuuuuuck…no…”

“Fuck YES!” A grin split his face so wide you’d think the gooiest grilled cheese had just appeared in front of him. “It’s TODAY!! I was getting worried. I mean, it’s the last day of the month and–”

“And maybe whatever’s been going on had finally stopped.”

“Without knowing what’s going on? Or who?”

“Okay, fine, not knowing is making me crazy–” Mona groaned and shut the book she’d been trying to read. “That is not what I was going to say. What the actual hell is going on?”

Monty shrugged. “Come on, everyone says you’re the brainy one–which totally used to bother me, but now, like, I’m just super proud of you and wow, I can’t shut up…” He shook and took several long, focused breaths. “Okay, that’s better. Guess even we’re not all the way immune to this one. Anyway, do you really need to look this one up?”

Mona glared.

He reached for the TV remote and flipped to a national news station. “Let’s see how wide-spread this phenomena actually is. It’s nearly impossible to tell since no one ever remembers it the next day. Unless they’re like us. And no one has responded to any of my posts.”

“No one? On the internet? I thought you’d have hundreds of people calling you an idiot. Or worse.”

“It’s the internet. Of course people were assholes. But no one credible. I posted it again a few minutes ago. Hoping to get some fresh trollish replies. Now shush.” He paused and turned to the TV, then flipped to another station, and another, nodding irritatingly to himself, his lips pursed like a clichéd professor from an old movie. He checked his phone briefly, grinning with smug, knowledgeable satisfaction. “Just as I suspected. Today is gonna be awesome. And terrifying.”

Mona slid out of her comfy spot with a groan.

Excitement tinged his voice. “No one can lie today.”

“Is that gonna be better or worse than everyone trying to kill each other with kindness?” she asked. “Should I wear my ass-kicking boots?”

Monty switched his attention back to the TV, where a perky newscaster was spewing a live love letter to the sports dudebro. “Sis, today is gonna be one for the books. Just hope no one dies.”

“Not that anyone would remember how it happened.” So. Weird. “So, is it a local phenomenon or more wide-spread?”

“Local.” He tossed her the remote and dashed out of her room, calling back over his shoulder. “Meet me downstairs in five. And yeah, wear those ass-kickers.”

The truth was nothing to be trifled with. Sure, she could probably get away with lying now that she was aware of it. But even so, her brain itched with the urge to hand her diary over to her parents. And the key. God! What was wrong with her? She’d be grounded for, like, ever.

She dressed for war: jeans, black t-shirt, thick-soled books that laced half-way up her shins, leather cuffs on both wrists; hair in a no-nonsense braid. Instead of grabbing her sunglasses, her fingers landed on the large coin she’d kept after that day of gold raining on her every time she laughed. All the others she’d kept had vanished at midnight.

But this one stuck around.

It had been the first to hit her, and the largest. She tucked it into her back pocket and retrieved her sunglasses, as well as her tablet and an old backpack, then headed for the kitchen. Within minutes she’d loaded up with snacks, two large water bottles, and all the cash she could get from her parents’ wallets. The itchy part of her brain made her leave a note promising it was an emergency and she’d pay it all back. It was all she could do not to tell them everything.

Not that she really knew anything. But the urge was still there.

Whatever was going on was strong this month. Her immunity was fighting. She felt it inside, building walls, slapping duct tape on the holes. How long would it withstand the pulses of truth hitting her?

Her brother made his second grand entrance of the day a moment later, soft-shoeing down the hall and into the kitchen. He was similarly laden down with a backpack. Mona assumed he hadn’t thought about food or water, and that whatever he considered appropriate for an emergency kit was very different than anyone else.

But he was (almost) always right.

“You look like a man with a plan.”

“You look like you could take on the apocalypse,” he said as she tucked a couple of pocket knives and a first aid kit into his way emptier pack.

“It’s not coming to that, is it?” Mona asked, legit concerned.

Monty merely shrugged and cinched the pack tighter around his scrawny waist, then checked his watch. “Let’s go find us an adventure. I know just the place.”

Mona sighed. Definitely a man with a plan. One he didn’t seem willing to share. She shifted the heavy supplies into a more comfortable spot on her shoulders and followed him out into the way-too-sunshiny morning.

***

Just when Zillah thought whatever was screwing with her–with them, she reminded herself; you’re not alone in this anymore–had forgotten about April, whammo, there it was. Another weird day.

She kicked off the flats she was putting on and reached for the new, knobby-bottomed sneakers she’d bought a few weeks ago. Then she texted Jess and Aidan. She checked in with them every day, once she’d confided in them that she could tell, like, Spidey-sense, when a weird day was upon them.

They’d all been on edge this week. Optimistic. Cautious.

Seconds later, Aidan replied:

Gear up

Meet in 10 mins

He didn’t have to say where. They all knew. Better not to have a record of it.

Her go-bag was ready, had been since she went to bed on March 31. No matter that some of these “holidays” seemed totally lame or sweet, they always seemed to take a nasty turn. Humans, man. Humans. Literally ruining everything.

So she had mace, money, extra socks, and a well-sharpened folding knife. She stuck some cheese-filled crackers, a couple granola bars, and a full water bottle in her bag and headed to the park a few blocks over, pacing around a large oak tree until Jess came running down the street. Her short, spiky hair was a rumpled mess, like maybe she’d just woken up.

Jess squeeze the breath of out her with a hug, dark eyes wide with fear. They both knew what might happen. “Zil! It’s really today? I mean, like, sure, it’s the last day of the month and all, but I was kinda hoping…”

“Me, too.” Zil was still in awe that the two older teens would even talk to her, let alone believe her. But when you find you’re the not the only one recognizing and not totally reacting to the weirdness, you cling to those others. Zillah almost didn’t want to find out what was going on. Just in case they stopped talking to her.

It was nice to have friends.

Aidan ambled along a few minutes later, flinching when a crow scolded him. “Sorry I’m late. My mom decided to tell me all about how she was actually doing. All I said, was, ‘Hey, what’s up?’ and she went into a lot of detail. Like, a lot. I might never recover.”

They all shuffled awkwardly for a moment. Zil caught the older teens exchanging wordless glances. “What? Just tell me. Oh, crap! Is my shirt on inside out or something…?”

“It’s just nice to have others. You know?” Aidan finally said.

Zil didn’t believe him. “No. I mean, yeah, sure, it’s awesome to not be alone. But that’s not what you’re looking at each other about.” She crossed her arms and scowled. “Just freakin’ tell me already.”

Jess flung an arm around Zil’s shoulders, giving her a quick hug. “It’s Honesty Day. Probably gonna get ugly. We’re just…we’re worried about you.”

She shook off the comforting arm. “I’m all of two years younger than you. And dudes…I saw way worse than anything here before I was five. I can handle myself. Now, let’s go find some truths of our own, okay?”

“Take advantage of the day and our immunity. Maybe get some answers,” Aidan nodded approvingly. “Told you she was fine.”

Zil’s phone summoned her attention. A notice had triggered some of the keywords she’d set. She scowled at the screen for a moment, her eyes flicking over the short sentences. Again. And again.

“Dude, what gives? Did someone, like, die already or what?”

Zil held up the screen. “There’s more.”

Aidan and Jess read, and re-read, the message.

Weird things happening to those around you, but not to you? Yeah…us, too. It’s Honesty Day, so no liars allowed! Meet at Cherry’s Diner. 16:30 Don’t be late!

#WeirdStuffGoingOn #FunnyHolidays #DidYouNotice?

“Cherry’s Diner? They’re local,” Jess said, her breath catching. “How did we miss someone else? Or someones since they said ‘us.’ What do you guys think? Should we go?”

“Could be a trap,” Aidan said. “Maybe we know too much…”

Zil barked a laugh. “What do we know? We know nothing. Yet,” she added.

“Aidan has a point, though,” Jess said. “We know that we don’t know anything, but whoever is doing this doesn’t necessarily know what we do or don’t know.”

“That made my head hurt,” Aidan laughed. Zil couldn’t help join in. Even Jess paused to rethink her words.

“Okay, yeah, but you know what I mean,” she said. A family strode by, bickering about who was really putting the empty milk carton back in the fridge. It was already starting and it was barely past breakfast. “Or maybe they just want us out of the way of their grand plan or something.”

“Grand plan? There doesn’t seem to be any plan,” Zil sighed, studying the open, public invitation again, looking for hidden clues as to who sent it. “What good does it do to mess with people one day a month? It’s like twelve April Fool’s Days or something, But the jokes are way meaner.”

“Jokes…” Jess muttered. “Jokes…”

Aidan rolled his eyes and ignored her. “Maybe we should go, but just, like, not let them know we’re coming.”

“Jokes,” Jess repeated, louder this time. “But not jokes. Not really. More like pranks. Pranks that magically affect people. Most people… Like something the old gods would do. But not the gods. I mean, not the ones with full power. But still powerful. I mean like the … what were they called. Crap! I totally loved that part of lit class last year. Uh… RIGHT! Demi-gods. Some of them were tricksters. Guys, do you think someone, something, like Loki or Maui is messing with us?”

Zil glanced at Aidan. His mouth hung open. She was pretty sure hers was in a similar state. “Whu…?” he finally managed. “Like Loki Loki? From the movies?”

“No, dumbass. Not Loki from the movies. I mean, yes, kind of, but not really. God, you really need to pay attention in class more.” Jess glared when he didn’t seem to follow her sudden erratic thoughts. “Trickster gods! There are lots of them. Across, like, all cultures. Come on! Let’s get to the library before we head to Cherry’s. We got some reading to do!” Jess took off at a run, not waiting for them, her backpack banging against her rear.

Zil shrugged and grabbed Aidan’s hand. “Guess we got some reading to do.”

***

Monty checked his phone again. Only a few more minutes until his deadline for any other immunes. He and Mona had spent the morning surfing through every idea they had, questioning everyone they passed by:

Had they seen anything weird or unexplainable?

Had anyone said something weird or strange to them today?

Did they remember anything out of the ordinary happening recently, or within the past few months?

Everyone had been way more than honest.

And yet no one had noticed anything unusual, weird, or strange. Except for the twins, asking unusual, weird, and strange questions.

Totally discouraged, they shuffled to the diner, grabbing one end of long table in the back. The waitress glared when they didn’t take a smaller table. He didn’t say anything to her, though, really done with honestly. Outside, judging the body language and harsh voices, at least three fights were brewing. Besides, the diner was totally empty other than the two of them and an old dude at the far end of the counter. He was immersed in his paper and chiffon pie, and hadn’t even looked up when they squeezed past him to the table.

Mona shook her head at him and gestured to six empty seats, mouthing, “Really?”… but he was ridiculously hopefully more than the two of them had noticed the weirdness. And were willing to face it.

If it was just the two of them, they’d work tirelessly to find answers, but with more, they could face so much more. And maybe it was the weight of truth firmly settled on his shoulders, but he didn’t think he could do this alone–even with his sister–for much longer.

The timer on his phone went off at exactly 4:30. Well, so much for…

A bell tinkled. The bell over the door.

Three teens, two about his age and one maybe two or three years younger, came through. They looked tired, and one of them had a rip around the neck of his t-shirt. All three had dust and fine debris in their hair.

They glanced at the old guy, then studied Monty and Mona.

The younger of the three led the way, her shoulders tight, her chin up. Was she limping?

They stopped in front of Monty, the older of the three flanking the younger, petite girl. No one said anything until the other girl (who Monty thought looked vaguely familiar) leaned forward and said, “So, who the hell are you? Why are you an immune? Why are you doing this? Or are you? Who is? Hey, wait…didn’t we have geometry together last year?”

Monty blinked. It was a lot to take in. But he’d asked for it. Well, she’d asked, but he’d done the inviting. His head was starting to hurt. “Monty. Mona,” he said and pointed to himself, then at his sister. “Don’t know. We’re not. Don’t know. And yeah, I think we did. Have a seat. Let’s figure it out.”

After a few seconds of furtive glances and whispers, the younger one sat first. “Zillah. Call me Zil. Jess and Aidan. We don’t know anything either. But we have a few ideas…”

Monty and Mona exchanged their own secret language. Under the table, against his thigh, she hit him twice, one smack, another hit. He paused, contemplating the three bedraggled people in front of him. The truth hurt. It was time to share.

He hit her twice on her knee, granting them entry.

Into what, only time would tell.

The End

*******************

Every year, when I participate in this short story challenge, I like to have a personal challenge as well. That’s been everything from writing more third person to trying a new genre. This year I’m stepping it up some. Though this is a stand-alone story, it’s intended to be the first in a connected series of stories. I hope you’ll read along for the other nine parts. I can’t wait to see where it goes from here!

April 30: Honesty Day

Image by: MabelAmber

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