It just happens, one day. You're walking down the street and the kid who mows the neighborhood lawns over summer break is walking ahead of you, his iPod jammed in the pocket of a pair of weirdly furry pants. You start to yell hi, but when he turns around he's had those weird nubby horns installed under the skin and giant gauged ear flaps. Plus, those weird goat-footed boots, just like Lady Gaga? Kids these days.
Then you walk into the bakery and the nice ladies who run the place have been replaced. The woman behind the counter tries to sell you New and Improved Bread, made from a giant puffball mushroom, but you hate mushrooms, and you just wanted some toast. She wrinkles her entire face at you when you ask for brown bread, the kind with a little salt sprinkled on top, and tells you she might as well keep Cold Iron in the shop if you want her to sell that kind of crap.
You're confused, because isn't bread usually baked in an oven? And wouldn't that be hot iron? You shake your head and go around the corner to the florist's, but the door is locked and there's a sign on the door. "Closed indefinitely by Royal Edict," which is truly odd, because your country hasn't had royalty for hundreds of years.
It's not a great day. It's like everyone you know has up and moved, overnight, and a lot of strange characters have taken over. Still, you have to eat, so you head over to the grocery store. It's next to the elementary school, which is even louder than usual. In the playground, they appear to be playing some kind of complex war game, with blue face paint, bows and arrows, even a cute little blowgun or two. You wonder why you never had friends like these, who would pretend to shoot you and then be patient while you acted out your thrilling death scene. Some of those kids are really hamming it up, too--convulsions and flailing around on the ground like landed fish--mostly the ones who were on the wrong end of the blowgun "dart". It's pretty cute.
The school bell rings, and you turn into the grocery store parking lot. The recess war looks to have been decided in the blue-painted team's favor, but the ones who are left lying on the ground are really committed to their death scenes. You remember how hard you played at that age, and smile to yourself as you head into the store. On your way in, you pass that wizened old school bus driver. Smiling and nodding, you head over to the organic produce and start picking through this week's crop of tomatoes. Your hand on the cool, dry surface of the crimson tomato reminds you of something, but it can't be that important, or you would remember, right?
You wander the aisles, putting into your basket anything that catches your eye, and with a start, you realize that the hat your old bus driver was wearing is an oddly rich shade of red. Plus, wasn't it just a trucker's cap last week? This one was pointed, and seemed a little damp. Sodden, even, is the word that comes first to mind.
You check out at self-service and stop making eye contact with the other customers, because the anxiety is kicking in again. You always feel like you're the center of hostile attention. Time to get home. Heading out, you see the bus driver standing outside his bright yellow school bus, all the tiny blue-painted savages lined up to board. The kids still lying on the playground, those must be waiting for rides home. Funny how they haven't gotten up yet, though.
You're walking past the school bus, and you tip a salute to your old bus driver, when you realize it's not your old bus driver at all, and his hat, that strangely pointed hat, is dripping slowly. You're walking on past, in a hurry to get home, because things have started to feel really weird and you'd like to get to your medication, and it's then you realize that he isn't a man at all, but a Redcap, his teeth and fingernails and hat all dripping thick blood the color of old rust.
For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Chaos Mandy challenged me with "Fae and Children", and I challenged Cheney with "God's away on business."
This is not technically a ghost story, sadly--the prompt was pretty specific. I'm okay with a delightfully murderous gang of pixies and a Redcap or two, instead. I hope you are, too.