Short As Fictober #27: “Barn Coat”

Edith wore an old brown barn coat, the same one worn by her mother and her mother before her. Two lifetimes plus one in the making ran throughout the fabric, the buttons, the zipper. Inside, the coat had four pockets, each with the potential to contain entire worlds. This particular attribute made the girl’s task at hand–delivering The Basement Tapes to the next faction over–significantly easier.

She reached inside her coat, then slipped her hand into the lower left pocket–this one felt like a Midwestern winter–and grasped the small cardboard box. When she’d held the box long enough to reassure herself it was safe and secure, Edith removed her hand and blew heat back into her fingertips. 

A speaker mounted on the wall above her blares to life.

“ATTENTION, TRAVELERS. THE NEXT PORTAL WILL OPEN IN THIRTY SECONDS. TO AVOID POTENTIALLY  FATAL BODILY HARM, PLEASE STAND CLEAR OF THE PLATFORM. IN THE EVENT YOU SUSTAIN INJURY FROM A PORTAL, HOP*SKIP*AND*A*JUMP, INC. IS NOT RESPONSIBLE.”

Other travelers swarmed the platform, moving as close to the portal’s perimeter as possible. Edith decided to wait out the crowds, and stepped back, leaning against one of the station’s pillars. She scanned the crowd for potential threats. Most of the travelers wore suits, pantsuits, dresses, and the fatigue of a commuting 9-5 job. They could care less about a strange girl swimming in an old coat. All they wanted was to get home, and they were going to pass the time with their faces buried in their communicators until they got there.

A subwoofer hum filled the platform area, and the outline of a seven-foot, electric blue circle appeared, heralding the portal’s arrival. Edith’s eyes landed on the only other person not facing the portal–a grey-haired man clad in a tan raincoat, staring directly at her. She let her eyes slide away, then travel back on the off-chance that it’d just been an awkward exchange, that they’d both been looking over the crowd, when synchronicity stepped in. When her glance found the man again, he was still staring. Not a coincidence then. More than likely, the man with the staring problem was a pirate, hired to swipe the Basement Tapes from her.

The outline of the portal filled in, and a bright blue field appeared at the platform’s edge.

“THE PORTAL IS NOW OPEN,” the speaker announced. “PLEASE STEP THROUGH IN AN ORDERLY MANNER, AND CONTINUE MOVING ON THE OTHER SIDE TO ALLOW FOR OTHER TRAVELERS BEHIND YOU.”

Edith crossed her arms, and slipped a hand back inside her coat, this time exploring the upper right pocket. This one always felt like the deep desert, and Edith always figured that one time she’d pull her hand out and it’d be filled with sand. Her hand closed around the hilt of her beam dagger. As she stepped forward to join the crowd, Edith removed the dagger and hid it at her side in one movement. She noticed that when she moved, the pirate did too, but for every step she took forward, he took one forward and one lateral, positioning himself to intercept. 

The crowd funneled through the portal, bringing Edith and the pirate’s meeting closer and closer. Edith tightened her grip on the dagger, and zipped up her coat. The pirate’s mouth had downshifted into involuntary snarl, and his left hand dove inside his coat.

Edith didn’t like surprises. Instead of moving forward, she sprinted sideways toward the pirate, and she watched his eyebrows climb his forehead. The pirate began fumbling to pull his weapon, but it was too late. Edith dove and shoulder-rolled, slashing at the pirate’s legs with her beam dagger as she passed by. Before the man could so much as scream, Edith was already up with her dagger back inside the coat. She joined the last line of travelers preparing to step through the portal. She allowed one glance back, and saw her adversary collapsed on the ground, holding his shins. Edith waited for the man to find her eyes, gave him a nod, and stepped into the blue.

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