20 March, 2012

The Jar - A Short Story

Kiplin found a jar on May 14th. It was a pretty ordinary jar; a glass exterior with a metal bottle cap-like lid on the top. At first glance it looked like a stopped wine decanter, shaped in a delicate figure with an elongated spout at the top. The glass was pitted in some places, but otherwise in good shape for being found cast off the side of the highway and living in the wooded area beneath it.
She remembers the day she found it because it was her birthday; a day in which she woke up excited and quickly realized this day would be no different than any other. Kiplin started her day hopefully optimistic until she got to the kitchen and noticed the scrawled note boasting: “Happy birthday! Had to go in work a double shift, see you tomorrow.” Disappointment reined over her as she realized her mom would not be home for her birthday. She got ready and boarded the school bus at the end of the road, avoiding the other kids waiting, and arriving with enough time to get to her first class. She’d only been at the school for a little over a month, missing the first few weeks of class due to a small registration error, but effectively missing the crucial grade 9 social bonding that comes with a new high school.  Because of this she was having a hard time making friends and penetrating the groups of cliques that had inherently formed during the time she missed.
To the disappointing shock of no one, Kiplin spent the day being routinely invisible; students leaning over her to speak to someone in the next desk, and the afternoon not improving by being told “someone is sitting here” when she asked if she could join a table in the cafeteria at lunch. She overheard a few students talking about a birthday by her locker, and when she happily exclaimed it was her own birthday the kids barely looked her way and one muttered “so what?” By last period it had started raining, crackling lightning and claps of thunder rolling in the distance, lighting the classroom up with each bolt. The bell rang and Kiplin made her way to the bus line when a horrifying image popped into her head: her backpack lying on the floor under her desk, holding her house keys, wallet, phone and all her school work. With her mother working the night shift she would have no way to get inside the house, or get her mom’s work number – she had to go back.
She sprinted back down the pavement and up the stairs to the school, heaving the thick wooden door open and blasted through the halls. Adrenaline coursed through her body as she descended the multiple stairwells to get to the science lab and finally burst through the door, eyes frantically searching identical rows of seats. Her backpack was put on top of the lab bench; she grabbed it in a fell swoop with her right hand and took off back out the door and down the hall. Her lungs were on fire as she sucked air in, fueling her heart as she raced up the stairs and shoved the main door open just as her school bus was pulling out.
She yelled – hopelessly - waving her arms trying to signal the speeding bus, the backsplash from the tires hitting her like a bucket of water as the bus sped off unaware. Thunder rumbled above her, lightning striking the air like a firework then vanishing back into the darkness like someone pulled a plug in the sky. Kiplin stood in the middle of the sidewalk on the near deserted street, rain beating down on her and rolling in large drops down her flushed skin as it dripped down her neck into the collar of her jacket.
The walk home was long. It was almost an hour before she got to the highway leading to her house; it had stopped raining just as she reached the bridge over the ravine leading into the woods. The faint colours of a rainbow made in the mist showed on the horizon, the taste of grasses and wet earth carried through the air as Kiplin stopped on the bridge and leaned over. Garbage littered the edge of the ravine running under her feet, strewn from cars concerned with making appointments on time. She watched as a duck swam with its mate casually throug the floating soda cans – and then something caught her eye. A glimmer flickered on the edge of the bank below, creating a solar flare blinding her for a split second enough to shield her eyes. “Whoah,” she exclaimed, suddenly curious.
She walked to the end of the bridge and made her way slowly down the wet bank, feet sliding a few times as mud kicked up her leg and over her shoes. By the time Kiplin reached the creek bed, her shoes were half sunk in the soft mud and she lost sight of the object. She slowly moved down the bank, shoes softly sucking as she took each step, as she caught a glimpse of the object again. It was a larger object half buried in the mud, about the size of her forearm with a curved top. Her eyes fixated on the object as she got close enough to pick it up. She used her hands to scoop the mud away from the sides, freeing the object and carefully plucking it from the ground.
It reminded her of some kind of vase as she turned it over in her hands and feeling the small cap with her fingers. She couldn’t tell if it was empty due to the mud so she learned backwards and dunked it into the river, scattering the ducks who then quacked loudly at her. After a few splashes and rubbing the muck off with her palm, she noticed the glass was black, or cloudy. She scrunched her eyebrows as she slowly tilted the jar, and it appeared as though the inside shifted, like it was filled with fog. “Is there something in here?” She questioned to herself.
She clutched the jar to her chest as she walked along the gravel road, leading to her house. Her hands started to get warm, like she was holding a dish that just came out of the microwave; she held the glass out at arm’s length to examine it, muttering explanations to herself as she turned up her driveway. Once inside, she grabbed a glass of water, put the jar on the dresser in her room, and turned on the TV; the glass casting shadows from the sheen of the television. Throughout the night she thought she saw movement coming from within the glass through her peripheral vision, but whenever she glanced over it would appear opaque once more.
Kiplin walked over the jar, relaxed as she picked it up to study it. She noticed the cap again and her fingers were drawn to it, tracing the grooves on the metal cap. She lightly twisted it, feeling the resistance with what was probably rust and mud from the stream. She turned the cap harder, dried dirt fell lightly onto the table below as she unscrewed it, finally removing it. She peered into the thin opening, and tilted the glass to get a better visual when she felt the weight shift inside. Startled, she glanced behind her for something to catch whatever was inside. She placed her cup on the table and grasped the glass with both hands, gently tipping the object so the elegant spout was directly over top of the cup. She felt movement inside and held the glass over the cup for a few seconds before gradually a sort of smoke escaped the decanter spout and gracefully swirled into the cup, like she was pouring clouds. The fog seemed to pour like liquid - only weighed nothing – and filled the cup to the top. She set the container down and picked up the cup, examining the contents swirling inside but taking up no weight, like it was a ghost.
She dipped a finger in it – it was cool like mist – and inspected it; her finger was shiny like she touched oil. Without thinking she brought the cup to her mouth and gingerly sipped it; it smelled like dew and had the texture of air with no taste. She set the cup back down, fastened the cap and sat by down to watch TV, not giving the glass another thought. An hour or two later Kiplin was ready for bed; she remembered her day and suddenly pitied herself. She turned off the lights and crawled under her duvet, not looking forward to another day. “I wish my life were different,” she muttered, a faint glow came from the jar – swirling fog – as Kiplin closed her eyes, too tired to notice.
Something was different. Before she even opened her eyes Kiplin knew something was different. She sat up and surveyed the room, kicking off her sheets and then climbing out of bed. The smell of waffles, hot butter and syrup filled the room as the sound of pans and clinking glasses could be heard from the kitchen. Cautiously Kiplin threw on some jeans and a shirt and walked by the glass jar on her table, too distracted by the waffles to notice it was void of the fog inside and was now a clean transparent glass.
“Hey babe,” her mother was whipping up more cake batter, fluffy pancakes and waffles lay on a plate on the table beside a vase of flowers, “happy birthday!” She put the wooden spoon down inside the bowl and grasped Kiplins face in her hand and kissed her cheek. She smiled as she picked up the spoon and started stirring the mixture again, humming to herself.
“Mom,” Kiplin started, in disbelief as her mother was never home from work until after she left for school, “why aren’t you working the night shift?”
Her mother smiled and started pouring the batter into the frying pan. “What night shift kid? I always leave after breakfast! I wouldn’t go in early and miss seeing you on your birthday.”
Confused, Kiplin sat in the closest chair at the table, “Mom my birthday was yesterday, you left me a note saying you had to work early.”
“What!?” Her mom stopped pouring the batter and rushed to the calendar on the wall, wiping her hands on her apron as she inspected the dates. Her face fell into a relieved smile, “Oh my god, you scared me kiddo. May 14th, ya ya, Wednesday, because I have that investor meeting today.” She clicked her tongue and went back to the bowl, rolling her eyes, “you are such a joker.”
Kiplin’s head swirled as she grabbed her backpack after breakfast and walked down the road to the bus. A few of the local kids were milling around at the stop and turned to watch Kiplin as she took her usual place a few feet behind everyone else. “Hey Kip, happy birthday!” One of them casually waved, as the others nodded in agreement, nonchalantly waiting for a response.
“Hey… thanks.” Surprised, she tried not to look as shocked as she felt, as the bus pulled up and the kids piled inside.
“Kip! Over here!” One of the popular boys at the high school was waving her to the back of the bus where all the cool kids normally sat. She glanced around and headed skeptically over to him. He patted the empty space beside him and smiled as she sat down slowly. “Are you looking forward to your birthday party later? Valerie reserved 15 spots, although it may be a few more if the twins show up. You know how they can be.” The boy carried on, rambling about the party until the bus pulled up outside the school where they got off, random students calling out happy birthday as she walked by.
Her head was swimming, as she followed the boy almost in a daze, turning her head when teachers and students wished her a happy birthday as they passed her in the hall. “Ok well here’s your class, meet me here when the bell rings?” He leaned over and kissed her softly, face going red as he smiled and turned back down the hall. Bewildered, Kiplin spent the rest of the day like she was in someone else’s life; people knew her, they liked her, and she had a boyfriend and a birthday party.
After school she came back home and ran up to her room. She slowly walked to her mirror and stared at herself; the same curly red hair, freckles and blue eyes. She pulled her hands up to her face and felt her eyebrows, nose, and lips until she was convinced they were the same as they were yesterday. She patted down her body and could see no noticeable changes. A car honk sounded as Kiplin was getting ready for her party. She bounced down the stairs, oblivious to the fact that the glass jar was missing entirely now, and ran outside to meet the crew who pulled up in a shiny red Mustang. She took a deep breath and opened the car door, smiling. She had no idea what was happening, but she was going to enjoy this as long as it was.
The car sped off down the road, over the bridge and towards Kiplin’s birthday party. Nobody noticed the man standing below the bridge in the creek, burying an opaque black jar with an elongated neck into the mud.

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