Eve of the Butterfly Effect
On New Year’s Eve, the grocery store was so busy, even the express line curved to avoid blocking food aisles. Reyna thrust her mental periscope up out of the world of her imagination, taking a status check of her surroundings. Beyond the plate glass windows, only headlights and the tall lamps in the parking lot pierced the darkness. It had been dusk the last time she glanced outside. Anxiety jolted her to full awareness.
Scents of celery and shrimp tickled her nose. What had been white noise she concentrated against became a cacophony: impatient voices, dinging cash registers, and crackling PA announcements, entangled with insipid Muzak. At least the store was no longer recycling “White Christmas” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” in an endless loop of similar fare.
Only two carts remained ahead of hers. She inserted a phrase on her manuscript and jammed the draft and pen into her purse. This had been her last chance to write this year, and the time in line had been productive. At home, her husband Ted would be going crazy with last-minute preparations for the party, including choosing the music he wanted to play. They had just a few hours before the guests would arrive.
Socializing tonight would be fun. She and Ted gave each other time alone, perhaps a bit too much, she for her writing and he for business and gaming. Though they worked and played well together, finding topics of conversation could be difficult. Every new topic was a gift to their marriage.
Her current story was in final revision, and it troubled her to be entering a new year without writing plans. Standing here, she soaked in details. Why, she might come up with an urban dark fantasy set in a supermarket.
The woman in front of Reyna, perhaps five years her senior, had the air of a fading hippie in her embroidered denim coat over wide-bottom jeans. As if aware of Reyna’s scrutiny, she twisted around, waist-length, silver hair swinging, and peeked into Reyna’s cart. “They were out of my sparkling cider. You were lucky to find any eggnog.”
“I know.” Reyna spread protective fingers over the plastic jugs of eggnog. “I bought enough two days ago for tonight’s party, but we made the mistake of sampling it and needed to replenish our supply. Won’t matter if there’s too much. My husband and I have a tradition of waking late on New Year’s Day and having a brunch of party leftovers.”
The piped music tinkled another tune, its beat immediately recognizable. Reyna crinkled her forehead in disbelief. Voices paused. The notes dropped into an expanding pool of silence. Then, murmurs arose:
“They didn’t. We’re in an acid nightmare.”
“I’d like to hunt down and shoot whoever produced that version.”
The shopper at the head of the line completed his purchase and scuttled away. The cashier turned toward us, rolling her eyes heavenward. Reyna wondered how many times she’d been subjected to this during her shift.
Was that a xylophone? A flute? Bells?
The silver-haired woman met Reyna’s gaze, wide-eyed with horror, and they both shuddered. “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”–as Muzak?
Moving up beside the clerk, silver-hair spoke Reyna’s thought aloud: “Soon as I get home, I’m digging out my Iron Butterfly and playing the real thing to drive the ‘taste’ of that travesty out of my ears.”
How many persons’ moods had this fluttering butterfly affected? And would it change the direction of their thoughts and actions? Ah. Reyna suppressed an evil grin. She wouldn’t play Iron Butterfly tonight. She had a better idea.
She’d close down their background music after their party and set up the stereo with the volume cranked high. On New Year’s Day, she’d sneak out of the bedroom and surprise her husband with the rousing welcome of “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” At brunch, she’d tell Ted what she’d heard here. They’d have a perfect springboard for reminiscences, a quick skip over present horrors, and the music’s reminder to walk together in love into a new year.
Aly Parsons leads a writers’ group she founded in 1980 that includes professional and unpublished writers. Her publications include: “Cold Hall,” Sword of Chaos, DAW, 1982 (EBook, 2014); the Afterword to Catherine Asaro’s Aurora in Four Voices, ISFiC, 2011 (Audio, 2014); and “Hot Buttered Rum Fantasy,” SFWA 50th Anniversary Cookbook, 2015. Aly is a graduate of the Odyssey workshop for writers of fantasy, science fiction, and horror.