"As soon as her alarm clock went off, Jenn knew this was going to be the worst day of her life."
The only day worse than today was going to be was yesterday. Before that, the worst day of her life had been the day before yesterday. That day had only barely topped the day that had come just prior, which had been incrementally worse than the previous day.
Truth be told, most days were all alike, at least so far as Jennifer Ferrel could remember. As Jenn had an eidetic memory, she could remember things very well, almost all the way back to what was truly the worst day of her young life, the death of her father around the time she turned two years old. Like most other things in her life, her memory failed her in the only way she really wanted, in this case providing her any clear memories of a loving parent. Jenn's life since that day could be charitably described as "dismal," but the thought that every day was just slightly worse than the day before was almost comforting, if only to see by experience just how bad things could truly get.
The day wasn't going to get any better by staying in bed. She had tried that out once or twice, but there would be no comfort or care from anyone if she faked illness, plus all the things that needed doing would be waiting in addition to the new problems of the following day. It was easier to just live through it until she was allowed to go back to sleep. Besides, she needed to eat, and breakfast wasn't going to make itself.
Jenn slowly dragged herself out of the lumpy mattress, out from under a ragged comforter, a name that had always struck her as being misleading. Her feet managed to miss the tiny, thin mat beside the bed, but she hardly noticed the cold from the bare wooden floor as she silenced the dull ringing of the old mechanical clock and slowly shambled over to the wardrobe. Jenn pulled one of a half-dozen identical sets of clothing from hangers in the scratched wardrobe, amusing herself for a moment by trying to decide which off-white uniform shirt was the least threadbare, combining it with the knee-length gray plaid skirt with the least scratchy wool. The only person she was kidding was herself; they were all equally scratchy.
No matter how many pairs of knee-socks she owned, no matter how she tried to re-pair them, one always managed to sag. Her socks were some of the only relatively-new clothing she owned, having worn the rest of her uniform clothing for years. "Baggy" would have been kind when she first wore the shirts, and her belt had cinched her skirts to the point where the material was overlapping. Now that she was finally around the right size for her uniforms, they were achieving new lows in shabbiness, but count on the socks to pick up the slack in hanging slack. Ignoring that no other school to her knowledge still required saddle shoes of its female students, her shoes were the only extravagance she currently owned, and she had taken pains to keep them shiny and in good shape.
Jenn sat at her vanity, another misleadingly named piece of furniture so far as she was concerned. The white paint on the vanity was cracked and chipped in enough places that there were in some places more aged white primer showing than actual paint. The mirror showed Jenn a sight she was all-too familiar with and would have been happy to not have to see: her own image, with her straight brown hair gaining order as she ran a brush through the occasional tangle, her green eyes failing to meet even her own gaze. Jenn was thirteen years old and eleven years sad, and the only time she looked up from the ground was to stare her ceiling into submission as she fell asleep.
At least, that was the only time anyone knew about, and Jenn wanted to keep it that way. The only feature of her room that she liked was the view out her tall bay window. The vaulted ceiling ten feet above her left plenty of wall to be occupied by window panes, and the circular shape of the room gave her a vantage on the world outside the small lot of her home. Hers was the only house left in the neighborhood, and the lot faced a busy city street with tall buildings everywhere. Still, though the house was in shadow most of the day, a wide river of open sky gleamed blue above her, and her view of it was the only thing she liked about mornings. It was beautiful when clear, it was mysterious in the rain, and more than anything, it sometimes gifted her with a fleeting glimpse of a flying man in shiny blue armor.
She had waited patiently, sitting with a disposable camera with another of those misleading names that promised to capture your fun and keep it for you. For a week, she had waited, staring up from the bench of her window, hoping to catch a moment. There’d been a false alarm or two; a jet flew past, but all she found later was a picture of its contrail. Finally, her patience was rewarded. She’d fumbled the camera as she frantically tried to frame him as he flew past, but he’d banked into the shot as though he’d been posing for it. She’d spent only an hour using up the roll as she walked to a nearby pharmacy to drop off the camera, shooting anything that was sitting still just to use up the exposures. A fire hydrant, the dog that had just finished sullying it, a tree bare of leaves, the deli owned by the nice man who spoke three words of English and who yet always conveyed more of a welcome than most any other person in her daily life, and finally the storefront of the pharmacy simply because she ran out of steps before shots. A day later, the rest of the pictures were sitting in a drawer gathering dust, but that one picture, that one was carefully hidden where it wouldn’t be found, taken out only when Jenn was feeling especially low.
There was motion blur as he’d banked into a turn, but the features were all clear enough to make out, and he’d been flying low over the street. The sunlight had been just right, making the blue metal and chrome shine but not flaring into the camera to obscure the view. His right arm was extended ahead, his left pointing straight out from his body. The flame from his rocket boots was almost immediately covered by white smoke, but he had really been moving. The cheerful yellow lamp above the visor slit in his helmet glinted in the picture, and the lightning bolt symbol in the middle of his chest plate was just right of center in the picture. It was her treasured possession, an almost perfect shot of the hero of city: Blue Bolt.
“No time for pictures,” Jenn thought to herself. She picked up her military surplus messenger bag from its place by the vanity and quietly made her way downstairs. She avoided making any noise, hoping to pass without attracting her mother’s attention. The house was dimly lit by what little natural light came in beneath the window blinds or through the cracks in the shutters. Dust kicked up by her footsteps glinted in the beams of sunlight cutting the air. As she reached the staircase, she looked down into the front hall, at the doorway to the living room. Very little “living” went on in there, though it was one of the two rooms where her mother spent most of her life. There was flickering light coming from the door, cast by the television that was almost always on, whether her mother was in the room or not. There was no sound; the volume was frequently muted in favor of the closed captioning. The scent of cigarette smoke was in the air, but it was as ever-present as the light from the aging cathode tube, so there was little that told her one way or another if her mother was in her usual place on the sunken couch or somewhere behind the locked door of the staircase that led to her room in the basement of the house.
Jenn descended to the front hall quickly, muffling her steps as much as she could. She rounded the bannister and headed for the kitchen, and for a moment, she thought she’d made it past. Her steps faltered and her head bowed as she hear the smoky alto from the front room. “If you wouldn’t mind,” her mother said with an audible sneer, “get something cold you can eat on your way. You stomp around like a herd of elephants and the smell of your cooking lingers half the day.” Jenn turned back, her gaze reflexively rising as high as her mother’s collarbone before dropping back to the floor. Ashley rarely bothered wearing clothing more involved than a tank top and cotton shorts, and today was no exception. Jenn’s peripheral vision had caught sight of an unlit cigarette dangling from Ashley’s mouth, at Ashley’s shoulder-length, dirty blonde hair pulled into a ponytail, and her eyes had paused briefly on the half-empty bottle of whiskey hanging from her mother’s right hand. Her body was lean, and in excellent shape for someone who did her best to never leave the house.
Ashley didn’t bother waiting to hear Jenn’s downcast whispered response of, “Yes, ma’am.” She had already returned to the couch, turning the volume up enough that she probably couldn’t have heard Jenn even if she’d cared. Jenn quietly turned back down the hallway, grabbed a granola bar and a banana, and closed the back door leading outside behind her. As she left, she thought to herself, “Well, that went better than it could have.”
She circled around through the narrow side yard, closing and locking the gate in the wrought iron fence as she exited the lot to the street. As she closed the gate, she took in the overgrown lawn and the weathered and peeling lavender paint that had dulled over years of neglect. The Princess Anne home with her round tower room was only barely maintained, a minimum of structural care with no attention paid to the appearance, performed once a year like clockwork by a company paid well in advance and staffed by people who didn’t bother to so much as say hello.
Ten city blocks through a canyon of concrete and steel stretched in front of Jenn on her way to school each day. Ten blocks rain or shine, and as the school was on a year-round semester schedule with only two week breaks between, in the snow or in blistering summer heat. Office buildings, mixed use high rise modern apartment buildings, her path to work offered a colorful mix of people going about their busy lives. When Jenn looked at them, she could only imagine that they were all happy, bustling about in pursuit of whatever they wanted. Jenn wanted to join them, be one of the happy herd, but had no idea how to even begin to move towards that as a goal. She had a vague belief that maybe, somehow, the keys to adult happiness were handed out on one’s eighteenth birthday along with a voter registration card and the secret formula to turn lead into flying unicorns. Jenn was fairly certain that in her case, all she would get would be a voter registration form and a couple of rejection letters from various colleges.
As she walked, she occasionally looked up, hoping to catch a glimpse of Blue Bolt. All she saw were the fluffy white clouds in the blue sky and a couple of patrolling camera drones. Blue Bolt had initially faced some concerns from the public when he had offered to provide the city with the little flying cameras; privacy fears were the main issue, as well as how the footage taken would be used. Bolt had responded that the cameras were observed on a two-tier system, first by an advanced supercomputer to weed out non-criminal activity and then again for specific event reviews by personnel trained in law enforcement. Crimes in progress were immediately relayed to the police dispatchers, resulting in an increased response time and video evidence of events. After almost-real time review, footage was wiped after a day except when it would be used as evidence in court. As the drones only focussed on public areas such as streets and parks, there were no legal privacy expectations, and the value to public safety of closed-circuit camera nets had been shown in numerous other cities around the world. After presenting the city with the results of a three month trial period, a public referendum had passed to keep the drone net. Now, only six months later, the sight of shiny blue drones floating by a couple of stories up went completely unremarked aside from the few times when one or two would go zooming past to the scene of an observed incident to provide added vantage points. Jenn looked back down to cross the street, just in time to miss two drones suddenly zip around the corner she was turning to take.
As she crossed the corner again and continued on her way to school, Jenn’s thoughts returned to her dismal, dreary life, and her vague dreams of how she wished things were for her. She paused at a storefront window, hardly seeing the reflection of the street behind her at a t-junction. She looked into the window, seeing the mannequins dressed in their elegant clothing, thinking humorlessly to herself that even the dummies were happier than she could claim to be. She imagined herself in a pretty dress, going from her high-rise, plushly-appointed home to some gala event, maybe even driving the car she saw reflected in the window, the one flying sideways right at... her?
Her last thought, clear in the split-second before impact, was, “I was right; this is the worst day ever.”