May Free Fiction: Gravity Cracks

May Free Fiction: Gravity Cracks

 A little bit romance, a little bit sci-fi. A whole lotta goofy fun. Welcome to Match Valley!     

Victoria Mullins sat behind her Queen Anne desk with its dainty spindle legs positioned just so on the wool area rug with its dainty bird-egg blue fleur-de-lis dancing along the edges. She twirled a dainty curl between her not-so-dainty fingers. That one specific brown curl refused, with frustrating frequency, to be confined with the rest of the locks on the top of her head, and twirling this curl was always her go-to stress release.

      So she twirled it. Stressed.

      And she stared. Drooled a tad, as she had to swallow a little more than usual, lest this not-so-dainty anxiety reaction come out of her mouth and smear her lipstick. The vanilla chai tea, hot and steaming a half hour ago, had given up on her. It sat untouched in a fine china cup on a matching fine china saucer. She pushed her hot pink readers higher on her nose—a nose as unruly as that curl and as dainty as her chubby fingers in its slightly-too-wide spread across her face. The readers helped, Victoria thought. Brought the focus to her hazel eyes and masked the broad sniffer. She gave the glasses another push for good measure.

      And stared through the double glass doors of her bed and breakfast’s bright, airy foyer.

      The foyer, bright with the rays of streaming spring sunshine which toppled into the room. Bright from those rays playing with the creams and daisy-center yellows of the walls and delicate mirrors at the entrance and the crystals in the chandelier above. Airy with the not-humid-yet spring breeze that danced delicate steps in the white lace curtains from the windows on either side of the entry doors.

      She stared past the waist-high concrete urns supporting lime green boxwood topiaries and petite petunias drooping down the sides of the containers, all in pinks. Freshly planted last week on a day like this one, colors chosen to match the establishment’s painted wooden sign which dangled above the steps from a wrought iron arm and thin black chains.

      Victory B&B in lime and hot pink scrolling letters on a black background. One thing her chubby hands were good at was holding a paintbrush.

      Victoria stared past all this. Past all she’d worked so hard to build over the last ten years. She wove her curl in and out of her fingers and twisted the teacup with the other hand and stared out to the sidewalk beyond Victory B&B’s front steps.

      At the pulsating jackhammer in the gloved hands of one Mr. Braxton Hoffman.

      The noise should bother her. The metal-on-asphalt thumping of the thing. Noises—any noises—usually do perturb.

      Like the ruckus from the establishment next door.

      Match Valley had sprung up so quickly in the once-undeveloped and certainly unpopulated crevice that the founders never gave much thought to the layout of the town. Their thoughts were elsewhere. 

      Like in their wallets.

      In their dreamy schemes.

      And perhaps down their pants.

      No one thought that perhaps a pet store brimming with a dozen differing howling, squalling caged and lonely species—especially come closing time when Andrea left for her little bungalow the next town over—may cause Victoria’s B&B some issues.

      Especially the piglets. And pigs were a hot-ticket item this time of year, glory be and save us all. Closing time for Andrea was prime time for Victoria’s clients to arrive, and those caged critters voiced complaints loudly through the grates and walls confining them.

      Match Valley’s founders had also overlooked the issue of placing the boutique spa smack between the pet store and the filling station/garage/tire shop. Victoria experienced the effects of this error firsthand. She’d traded services—a magical night at the B&B for the masseuse’s newlywedded granddaughter in exchange for an all-inclusive spa afternoon for herself.

      Imagine the occasional whiff of pet shop excrement punching through the lavender and sandalwood. Imagine the soft tones of the calming lyre floating down from the spa’s ceiling speakers punctuated by the shriek of pneumatic drills and hissing hoses.

      Victoria imagined all of this. Then she experienced it in full force when someone in the mechanic’s shop lit something on fire. A minor explosion, really. No one was hurt, but it’d startled Victoria right off the massage table and into the street dressed in nothing but a thin, pink robe and lime green slippers.

      Gussy heard it too and ran into the street from Andrea’s pet store, oinking and grunting, leaving her fresh litter of piglets behind as she ran up and down the sidewalk trying to calm herself.

      That dumb sow, for several seasons now, was forever nibbling at Victoria’s potted petunias. No matter which color or variety Victoria planted. Pink seemed the pig’s favorite, though. And the hotter the pink the better.

      Gussy’d locked eyes with Victoria that day. She’d never forget it. Herself in the spa’s robe the color of the pig’s flesh. Gussy with a green bow around her neck. Victoria in those green slippers. Victoria’s one curl flopping next to her cheek; Gussy’s curly tail shivering in anxiety. Victoria broke the stare first, like an awkward meeting with a crush, and retreated to the spa as the sirens from Match Valley Fire Department sprung to life. The sirens likewise sent Gussy trotting back to the pet store to her brood of babies and Andrea’s fine care.

      And that was how the town planning went in Match Valley. Bed and breakfast. Pet store. Spa. Mechanic.

      How Victoria wished the mechanic’s spot housed the construction crew instead. She’d likely spend more time at the spa to catch a glimpse of Brax Hoffman. But no use dreaming of that here. In Match Valley.

      Because in Match Valley the gravity cracks do the matchmaking.

      The soul pairing.

      The love sparking.  

      The construction crew just beyond her glass doors were well-paid, highly skilled and, if Victoria were honest, clearly well-formed. Brax stopped the jackhammer and leaned the tool against his ample thigh to inspect his progress on the street repair. He removed his gloves and ran his hand through his sandy blond mop. He pointed this way and that, barking directions at the members of his team.

      The most recent gravity event had chunked out a rather deep pothole directly in front of Victory B&B last week. Though no civilian vehicles were permitted beyond the National Guard’s perimeter, the town needed smooth roadways for emergency personnel. The next crack would come soon.

      Somewhere in Match Valley’s five square acres, the phenomenon would spark.

      The next floater.

      The next faller.

      Glory be and save us all.

      Victoria’s heart fluttered. It’d been six days. The Valley was due for another crack. Another chance at lifelong happiness for whoever stumbled—or orchestrated themselves—into the path of the phenomenon.

      Phenomenon, the scientists had first labeled it. A mouthful. “Gravity cracks” is what the common folk dubbed it. Powerful pulses of energy escaping minuscule cracks in the earth’s core. When two people are caught in the area of the pulse, one at the front of the crack, one at the bottom; one floats and one falls. And, as the universe would have it, those two turn out to be soulmates.

      The first couple was hiking the Valley before it was Match Valley.

      Then the next pair, geologists. And the next, a couple of fine members of our armed forces. All ages. All races. Word got out.

      People got pushy and greedy. Pushy for a soul mate.

      Greedy for free enterprise.

      Fast-forward a fast ten years later (much to the chagrin of the FDA, NASA, and the NSA), and several hundred couples now happily married, cohabitating or otherwise entwined, keep spreading the word around the world.

      And every one of them says it was worth it.

      Worth the trip to Match Valley.

      Worth the money and time and minor scrapes and breaks—for when the gravity crack sealed and the floater fell or the faller realized just how strong the earth held to him or her, there were inevitably a few injures. A broken bone here and there. Stitches.

      But all worth it.

      Victoria continued her curl weaving, cup twirling, and wishful staring. Brax readjusted his gloves and repositioned the jackhammer. Then he looked up. Past the urns dripping pink petunias. Past the dangling B&B sign, past the glass doors. Toward Victoria’s dainty desk.

      She startled, pulling a little too tightly on her own hair and spilling cold tea all over the Queen Anne and onto her slacks. She jumped up, hoping the glare against the glass didn’t afford Brax the same clear view she had of him.

      But he chuckled. A smile that would melt the mightiest glacier spread from his thick lips all the way to his ears.

      He saw her clumsiness.

      Then he fired up the jackhammer again and Victoria sulked off to the kitchen for a towel. She wiped the damp off her slacks and returned to the foyer to clean up the desk. She sopped the tea from the underside of her desk calendar, which reminded her the B&B was at full capacity. She tossed the sopping towel over her shoulder and retreated to her bedroom upstairs to change clothes.

      She was a rarity. Not because of her wild curls or her bright readers—she had an armoire full of reading glasses in all shades and styles to hide her nose behind. Not because of her all-too-specific decorating style. She was quirky, she knew. Her B&B was the last to fill, but she didn’t mind because her guests gave her the best ratings at the ends of their stays—whether those stays ended with true love or a good-hearted try.

      Victoria was a long-time Matcher. Only a few others in the community had a bedroom in the Valley. Fewer still owned homes here. Most business owners, construction crews, and founders lived elsewhere. The gravity cracks freaked them out. And once you’ve experienced a crack for yourself, life seems to take you away from the Valley—you and your one true soulmate—and onto, well, a life.

      The Valley wasn’t big enough to house everyone even if they’d wanted to stay. Only one small side street had residential housing, and most people didn’t stay there long. The cracks rumbled and crumbled the foundations of the small homes out that way and sent any squatters to the next county over—or another state altogether.

      And the perimeter established by the National Guard a decade ago held firm. Match Valley was to be a tourist phenomenon town, closely guarded, expensive to access, and quaint. Most people felt smothered living inside the Guard’s circle. But Victoria was the quirk of the town and didn’t mind the confinement. At least not for now.

      Victoria thought herself lucky to have a bedroom here. Her business afforded her the opportunity to stay put and have a front-seat view of mighty gifts from the universe. Couples in love. Floaters. Fallers.

      For the most part, she was happy to serve the love birds and love-birds-to-be, and she normally enjoyed the hopefulness of the young—and the old, sometimes—as the ground began to shake and each single, unattached human rushed outside, hoping a random gravity float would entwine their soul with another’s.

      Everyone hoped to be the floater. Most didn’t want to be the one sucked down to the pavement or grass or, lord help the pitiful few, the creeks. (No resident or business in the Valley was permitted a swimming pool for obvious reasons). But when the cracks were so random, one couldn’t be picky in finding a soulmate.                            

      She tossed the dishtowel into the hamper and chose another outfit—one that was meant for tomorrow. Jeans with bejeweled butt pockets. A bright orange camisole and a breezy white button-up tunic to go over the top. Once redressed, Victoria chose a flaming orange pair of readers and ventured a look past the lacey curtains down to the street. The jackhammer chewed through asphalt. Brax at the helm.

      First a flutter of excitement. Then a shiver of fear.

      What if the next crack caught Brax? What if the universe deemed him one-half of the next divinely appointed partnership? Well, that was what she’d hoped for. For her to float up off the ground eight or nine feet, tunic flapping loosely around her. Brown curls stretching and bobbing above her head in all directions. For the other half, the grab of gravity, to grip Brax tightly to the earth, the phenomenon quantum-entangling two souls forever. High and low. Match Valley’s newest flaming-hot couple.

      But what if it happened right now? If the gravity crack did what she’d been hoping it would do for months now, Victoria would be stuck to the ceiling of her B&B while Brax writhed atop a pulsating jackhammer.

      It had been a week since the last float.

      The town was due for a crack. That’s why the B&Bs were all booked tonight. Men and women and old and young. All colors. All sizes. All persuasions.

      All hoping.

      Victoria tried to shake the thought, but it clung to her brain. She bounded down the steps, two at a time, back to the foyer. One look at the ceiling and she knew she had to act. Quickly. She’d sat behind her Queen Anne plenty of times and knew the signs. When the chandelier’s crystals swayed and twisted, it wasn’t the breeze playing. When they shivered and shook, a crack was coming.

      A close one.

      Her boarders knew it too, could sense it. She heard the doors upstairs open and high heels and work boots and sneakers padding down the wooden steps.

      She swung open the entry doors, the jackhammer’s thudding pounding off her ears. She waved her arms at Brax trying to get his attention, but it was no use. He was zoned in to the repair work.

      All up and down the street, people were filing onto the sidewalks, spilling into the middle of the road, and crowding on the grassy areas. Running down the street to a more spacious opening. Anywhere where a gravity crack might float one body and fall another.

      The diner emptied. The B&Bs across the way spilled out their occupants. Andrea, still single, but still hoping, joined the tourists and shop owners in the street, forgetting to close her door behind her. A couple of beagle pups and a tabby cat scattered among the humans’ legs. And Gussy, grunting and making a beeline for Victoria’s front steps and the potted petunias, glory be and save us all, joined the chaos.

      Victoria’s customers came pushing out behind her, completely ignoring the giant sow munching on pink petals. All were laser-focused on finding their own spaces, spreading apart, mingling with the crowd, and hoping for a float.                                  

       Victoria couldn’t tell if the ground shook under her from the footsteps, the jackhammer, or an emerging energy pulse.

      She didn’t have time to figure it out.

      Brax was in danger.

      “Braxton!” As the rumbling intensified and the sign above her shook, impulse took over and with a mighty rush and push, she plowed into Brax’s shoulder, knocking her orange readers off her nose, sending the jackhammer spinning and spitting asphalt dust in one direction as the machine went dead, Brax stumbling five feet in the other. He landed with a thud on the concrete. Hard. Clearly stunned.

      Her next step missed solid ground and kicked in the air a foot off the ground.

      The tail of her white tunic floated free. Her curls, even the wayward one, floated above her head, above her face.

      And then all of her rose from the ground in weightless delight. Victoria saw everything in slow motion. The heads turning upward to watch her take flight. The jackhammer unmanned. Brax still on the ground. Stuck. The beagles chasing the cat.

      She looked up to the sky as the gravity float twisted her to her back and face up. The spring moon hung out of the baby blue like a snowman’s belly. Cotton puffs dotted the horizon beyond the town. Her arms, weightless, floated above her torso toward the sky in thankful praise. She could stay like this forever. Floating.

      Weightless. Breathless.

      Because Brax was beneath her. Stuck to the ground.

      Her Brax.

      Her soulmate.

      Even the universe knew it.

      As the phenomenon lessened, Victoria’s altitude did as well. Slowly at first, like a deflating parachute, then more quickly. Victoria braced for the fall, hoping the first responders were on their game and ready for whatever injuries she and Brax may have sustained during the gravity crack. She tried to relax her muscles. Just go with it. Resist the urge to turn face-down. She’d seen that happen—lots of broken noses that way.

      And that’s the last thing she wanted to break.

      She landed with a thud onto the broken asphalt below, a sharp chunk of concrete meeting with her wrist. She laid there on the ground face-up, holding her arm. The pain should’ve been searing, but euphoria bathed her nerve endings.

      She lied and waited.  

      Waited for Brax to free himself from the fall and gravity’s strong tug. Waited for the cheers that would erupt from the crowd. Any second now.

      Any second…

      But all was silent.

      No cheers.

      No Brax standing over her, smiling with those epic lips and holding out his strong hands to help her up.

      No nothing.

      Nothing except the grunts and squeals of Gussy the pig.

      She rolled over, still cradling her injured wrist, and sat up. Her hair had fallen from it’s scrunchie, half of her curls dangling down her cheek. Her white tunic hung half off her shoulders. The jewels on her butt pockets dug into her rear. Her arm hurt.

      The euphoria was wearing off.

      And Brax was way too far away. Just someone in the crowd. Half of the faces aimed at her with big eyes and hands over mouths.

      Confusion clouded Victoria’s thoughts. Were all floaters this disoriented after the phenomenon? Panic settled in her chest.

      Brax had been on the ground… He should’ve been…

      Now he stood in the crowd. Just another onlooker.

      Not even cheering.

      Then she traced the other half of the stares. To where he’d been standing. To where she’d rescued him from the fate of the jackhammer.

      To where Gussy the curly-tailed pig lay tight to the ground, grunting. Unable to untangle herself from the pull of the gravity crack, her stocky legs kicking the air. Her freshly polished pink hooves trembling. Her curly tail quivering.

      But her eyes were locked on Victoria.  

      Confusion’s fog cleared in one miserable swoop and Victoria let out a cry. Sobs shook her shoulders. She reached to push up her readers but remembered they’d been lost.

      “Victoria, we’ve got help coming.” Someone had finally broken free and tried to reassure her.

      Andrea made her way to her pig. “Gussy, Gussy. Be still. Let Momma help.” But Gussy still struggled and as she finally regained control of her legs, the pig stood and took a few awkward steps toward Victoria, knocking Andrea out of her way.

      Gussy walked up to Victoria and sat on her haunches. She nuzzled her flat snout against Victoria’s shoulder and blew out a string of snot onto her orange camisole. Victoria made eye contact with the pig. Gussy still had petunia petals hanging from her jowls. Her ears flopped and twitched in the breeze. The sow’s breath was humid and reeked of compost. Andrea tried to call Gussy to her, but the pig was locked on.

      “Victoria, let me help you.” It was Brax. Behind her. Trying to help her to her feet.

      She’d imagined this very moment since the first time she’d laid eyes on Braxton Hoffman three years ago—and every moment after. When they’d bump into each other at the diner. Or at the post office. Or even in Andrea’s store, window shopping for a furry companion.

      She imagined herself the floater, back to earth. Him the faller, risen to aid his beloved soulmate. To nurse their gravity crack injuries together.

      Forever soulmates.

      But not like this.

      Never ever had anything or anyone other than a human been caught in a gravity crack.

      Leave it to Victoria, the Quirk of Match Valley to be the first.

       She allowed Brax to assist her. He slipped his strong hands under her arms and carefully guided her to her feet. The pig repositioned itself to continue staring. Brax turned her to face him. His kind face. Not quite scruffy. Not clean shaven. Lips to eternity. Kind smile.

      The crowd thinned, all shaking their heads, most unspeaking. No doubt planning to pack it up and head back to their cities and farms and suburbs. Lest they, too, should fall prey to a fluked-out gravity crack and become entwined with a pig.

      Brax placed her orange readers back on her too-wide nose, one earpiece lopsided, one lens cracked, as the tears raced down her cheeks. He brushed them away with the back of his dirty hand.

      She didn’t mind.

      Dirt would be her thing now. She looked down at Gussy. She was soulmate to a pig.

      Brax patted Gussy’s broad forehead and leaned in close to Victoria. “Does this make Andrea your mother-in-law?”

      Despite the tears and pain and the awfulness of the moment, Victoria laughed. Snorted a little, which sent Gussy into grunts and snorts of her own, rising to her polished hooves and twirling in excitement. Her piglets spilled onto the street from the pet shop, six of them circling Gussy’s dangling stomach. Andrea begging them to return to the shop.

      But Gussy turned her curly-tailed butt to her once-owner, firmly asserting her universe-given duty to follow Victoria for the rest of her days.

      “And I guess these are my step-children.” Victoria wiped more tears on the sleeve of her shirt as Brax led her to the ambulance where paramedics waited to tend to her wrist. She turned to him as they walked, Gussy and her brood following closely behind. “This isn’t how it was supposed to be. I know I tried to manipulate things, but this isn’t how it was supposed—”

      Brax stopped her. Gussy stopped and sat. The piglets circled them.

      “You’ve been in the Valley too long, Vic. Real people can find love without stumbling into gravity cracks, you know.” And he shoved her broken readers higher up on her nose. “It happens all the time.”

      She reached up to find that one curl in the mop that had fallen from the top of her head. She needed to twirl something while the EMTs splinted her wrist.

      “I didn’t think you’d, well, if it didn’t happen in a gravity crack, I didn’t think…”

      He took her hand in his, forcing her to let loose of the curl. “I’d rather do my own choosing.” He nodded toward Gussy. “The universe isn’t all that dependable.” And he kissed her on top of her head.

      A rush of warmth rushed Victoria’s face, and fresh tears ran down her cheeks, streaking makeup and dirt.

      “Well. Then. Glory be and save us all.”

      Brax and Victoria bid the paramedics and remaining onlookers a good day and disappeared into Victory B&B’s dainty daisy-center yellow foyer with its dancing crystal chandelier and Queen Anne desk positioned just so on the fleur-de-lis wool rug.

      While Gussy showed her bitty ones how to nibble the very best of the hot-pink petunias.