The gray morning fog hugged at the roofs of the buildings in the tiny town tucked in the white-capped mountains. It crept slowly down the winding streets and hid in plain sight. Juno had already woken up and was sipping coffee in her window, staring out onto the breathtaking view of the pine trees covered in snow, but hardly visible through the fog. The smothered silence of the morning was one of the things she liked best. Her orange tabby cat rubbed against her from her perch in the window, mewing quietly to be fed and her daughter slumbered peacefully on the couch. Juno casually looked at the clock above the tiny fireplace. It read 7:45. Sometimes the fog gave the illusion of it being earlier than it was. Juno suddenly began racing through her tiny house, her coffee cup sitting forgotten and cooling on the window seat.
"Wake up! Wake up! We're going to be late for school again!" she shouted as she rushed into her room, tossing off her over-sized t-shirt and trading it for a black turtleneck and gray dress pants. The sun began to pierce the fog. Her daughter, Lucy, groaned and stretched on the couch. "Up! Up! Lu, you've got to get up!" she yelled as she frantically squeezed toothpaste on her toothbrush and began brushing furiously. Lucy appeared in the doorway of the bathroom, rubbing her sleepy eyes and holding a blanket with one hand and clutching the edge of her nightdress with the other.
"I'm tired," she said, a yawn escaping her mouth.
"I know, sweetie, but I overslept and I'm sorry but we've got to go," Juno said, wiping her daughter's face with a cold washcloth.
"Hey! That's cold!" Lucy said, trying to turn her face away. Juno abandoned the washcloth, tossing it into the sink and pulling her daughter into her room.
"What do you want to wear today?" she asked, trying to be gentle and kind to her seven-year-old, but also trying to rush. Her daughter looked at her with big eyes.
"I don't know," she said, pondering her options in her head. Juno turned and grabbed the first thing of Lucy's she saw and tossed it to her.
"That'll have to work today," she said as she began pulling of Lucy's nightdress.
"Hey, I can dress myself you know?" she said, placing her hands at her hips and giving her mom the "I'm not a little girl anymore" look, her desire to dress herself out weighing her disgust at what her mother had picked for her.
"You're right. I'll be in the kitchen," Juno said as she sped into the kitchen and began making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. When Lucy walked lazily into the kitchen Juno had packed her a lunch and shoved the brown paper sack into one hand and an open granola bar into the other. She grabbed Lucy's wrist and her backpack and began to walk quickly for the door, stopping only momentarily to grab her and Lucy's coat before she resumed running out the door.
When they reached Lucy's school, Juno bent down kissed her daughter on the forehead and sent off into the playground with all the other boys and girls.
"Have a good day!" she yelled as Lucy ran off to play with her best friend, Ashley.
"Okay, you too!" Lucy yelled back.
"I love you!"
"I love you too!" her daughter answered. Juno stood for a moment watching her daughter play before turning and walking back down toward her house. She strolled leisurely along looking at all of the old shop fronts, the snow sitting prettily on top. One building caught her eye though, it was different from the rest. It was old, just like all of the others, but it didn't have any snow on it or Christmas decorations in the window. Juno was intrigued and walked slowly up to the door. She glanced around for an open sign, there wasn't one, or the list of hours, but there wasn't one of those either. She then glanced around to make sure no one was watching and she gave the door handle an experimental tug. The door opened with the jingling of a bell. She stepped inside to see that the shop was filled with clear glass marbles, hundreds and hundreds of clear glass marbles. Juno walked over and picked one up, studying it carefully. It wasn't actually clear glass, there seemed to be a smoky line moving through it. She set it back in its basket.
"Can I help you?" a man's voice asked in a British accent. She looked up and over at the counter. A man about her age was standing there. He had black hair and playful blue eyes, broad shoulders, but still rather slim. He was fit but not athletic and dressed in a green t-shirt. He didn't smile.
"Um... No, I'm just looking."
"For what?" he asked.
"I don't know. I'm just looking," Juno said, slightly annoyed by his question.
"Well, all we have are marbles."
"Oh." She already knew this, but pretended not to. "And what do you do with these marbles?"
"I'll tell you if you buy one." She was taken aback by his straightforwardness.
"I don't need a marble."
"I'll give you your first one free."
"I still don't need a marble."
"Where's the harm in just taking a single marble? It's not as though it's going to bite you," he said, still trying to coax her into taking a marble.
"I don't need one. My house is small enough as it is," she responded icily. Juno turned with the intention to leave, but then the man said, "Oh, yes. Yours is that tiny house at the top of the hill, the one without Christmas lights and the yellow tabby that sits on the window sill." She froze.
"How did you know that?" she asked, anger and fear creeping into her voice, her thoughts spinning.
"Take a marble." She paused, staring at the man and then she reached out and grabbed a marble. "Good girl." Juno bridled at his comment. "Okay, that marble gives you a day. Instead of seven days in a week, you can have eight. Only you. Your daughter can't have eight too... unless she has a marble," his soft voice explained. Juno glared at him.
"I get a day? An extra day? With a marble?" she asked. The man smiled as though she was a slow student and had just gotten two plus two. "I hardly believe in that sort of thing anymore." He stopped smiling but his eyes were still alert. She turned to leave the store. As she reached the door, his voice stopped her.
"When the time comes, you'll know what to do with it." Juno paused, still facing the street and then walked quickly out, not quite knowing what to think of her strange encounter.
What was with that guy? I wondered as I wandered back home. The marble felt warm in my hand and I rubbed my finger over it. I stared at it, stopping in the middle of our street, my breath rising in a cloud in front of me.
"Okay... I want an extra day." I said to the marble, not really believing. "To reach my deadline," I added. Nothing happened. I opened my door and left the deserted street and my cat, Oswald, rubbed against my legs. "Right," I muttered as I shrugged off my coat. "An extra day? Who are they kidding?" I went about my day staring at my computer screen willing the words to come but they remained elusive. I went and picked up Lucy at my usual time, standing at the fence with my hands in my pockets, same as always. She ran out and said good-bye to her friends before running over to me and grabbing my hand and bouncing happily back home, chattering about her day as her pink backpack bounced up and down. An extra day, my thoughts said as I prepared dinner, yeah right. Lucy was sitting at the table coloring happily as I cooked the beef for the tacos. We went to bed at a usual time and there was no mishap and time had not frozen.
The next morning, I sat in the window again watching another gray, uneventful day unfold. I glanced at the clock and did a double take, the second hand wasn't moving.
"Stupid clock," I mumbled as I got up and went to my bedroom, Oswald following me, begging to be fed. I sat on my bed and stared at my digital clock. I stared and stared... and stared. It never changed. "Okay..." I said cautiously as I got up and moved back out into the living room. I shook Lucy gently. She was as hard as rock.
"Lucy," I said. I shook some more. "Lucy." No response. "Lucy!" I shouted. "Come on, wake up!" She was warm, but still as a statue. "Lucy!" I bolted up and ran outside, my bathrobe hanging limply on my figure. The fog just moved lazily out of the way. I ran over to the neighbors and pounded on their door. No one answered. I ran down the street screaming for anyone to hear me. No one did. "Oh my God!" I screeched as I realized what had happened. I bolted downtown and found the little shop that sold marbles. I burst in through the door. There was no one behind the counter. I rushed toward it.
"Hello!" I screamed hysterically. "Hello!" I pounded on the counter.
"Jeez... Don't you have a concept of a good..." the man in the black shirt from yesterday mumbled, but he shut up as soon as he saw me. "Oh, good morning," he said brightly, smiling at me. I swallowed hard.
"Lucy won't wake up! No one is around!" I cried. I was squeezing my fists as hard as I could.
"You used your extra day," he responded.
"Yes, I didn't think it would work."
"But, secretly you wanted it to, otherwise it wouldn't have."
"You don't understand," I said, evenly, "My. Daughter. Will. NOT. Wake. Up."
"No, I understand. See, time's frozen, but the marble allows you to walk around. You've escaped time," he explained.
"Well, I don't want the extra day," I said.
"Sorry, can't help you. You'll have to wait it out." He began to walk back towards wherever he came from.
"Wait. Why, if time is frozen, my cat still moving around? And why are you?" I asked. He came back to the counter and looked me over.
"Surprisingly enough, you're the only person who has ever questioned having an extra day. This is my first time explaining it."
"Like I care," I said. "Now, answer my question."
"Alright, cats don't care about time and as so its rules don't apply to them. Simple as that. They don't care. Me, well, I'm special and I'm actually willing to strike you a deal," he said conversationally, leaning against the counter in a relaxed manner.
"I don't want to strike a deal. I just want to get out!" I cried impatiently.
"Fine," he said grumpily. "I've already told you, you just have to wait." I stared at him.
"What's your name?" I asked icily.
Woah! That one caught me off guard. Her icy green eyes staring into mine were starting to freak me out. She looked as though she was going to murder me.
"My name?" I asked, lamely. I couldn't help but look at her again. Her messy brown hair framed her flushed face. Her lips pressed into a thin line.
"Yes, your name."
"Okay, Jay, may I please speak to your manager?" she asked me. I laughed. My manager was a four-hundred year old hermit who fashioned marbles out of years of people's lives. I just was an unfortunate faerie that was in the wrong place at the wrong time and was now stuck with having to watch over the store.
"No." She leaned over a little farther onto the counter and stared into my eyes. I backed up a little bit. For as small as she was she was fierce!
"If you accept my bargain, you'll be able to get out," I said, trying to use my words as a shield.
"What's the bargain?" Juno asked, looking at me skeptically.
"I can't tell you unless you say yes." She made a frustrated noise and sighed.
"What is up with you and your 'you have to do this before I explain,' crap? That's how I got into this mess in the first place," she said angrily. With every passing second she was looking more and more feral. Well, as feral as you can in a pink bathrobe.
"Alright then, you'll have to wait."
"Fine." We stared at each other for a little while. I got bored and began to play with the rings on my fingers. She just continued to stare. "You know you could be a champion starer," I said, trying to make her smile. Sadly, it wasn't happening. She didn't respond. The silence grew and warped. This couldn't possibly be good for the marbles. I decided I'd find a way to trick her into accepting my bargain. As I was thinking, I guess we both thought it would be a good idea to keep staring at each other. I looked away and then I looked back at her. Her eyes were like daggers. I imagined little jade daggers shooting out of her eyes and stabbing me several times over. "Well, this is extremely exciting," I tried. "It's not even a hard bargain."
"I don't care." Finally, a response. I felt like punching the air in joy but I didn't think it'd be quite appropriate. I looked at her and then grabbed a pen and grabbed a scrap of paper. I hurriedly wrote down the bargain on it.
"Read this." I pushed the paper forward.
"What's on it?" she asked, eyeing me suspiciously. I shrugged.
"You'll have to read it to find out." I could almost hear the gears in her head turning. She was a writer. She wanted to read it. She bit her lip as she tried her hardest not to look at the piece of paper.
God, he just had to write something on the piece of paper and not tell me what was on it. I was biting my lip, trying not to look at it, but there was some unknown force drawing my eyes to the paper. My eyes flicked to it.
All you have to do is go and see some people.
My eyes flicked back up.
"Go and see people?" I asked.
"Haha!" he shouted as he pointed his finger at me, his eyes bright. "You now have committed yourself to the bargain!"
"No, I don't. I didn't say yes," I responded. He raised his eyebrows.
"So, you read the bargain. Now, you have to." Jay wrote something on another piece of paper. It had a place and a time. There was no name. "Just go there, you'll get what you're supposed to do." He smiled at me. I scowled at him. "By the way, Lucy has," he paused and looked at his watch. "Ten minutes to get to school." I grabbed the paper from his fingers and bolted out the door. "Happy Friday," he called. I hate Fridays even more than I hate Mondays.