It was a twenty-minute walk to get home from the bus stop Naomi had disembarked at, and she navigated the sidewalks distractedly, churning through the conversation she’d just had. Who had that man been? How had he learned so much about her? Sure, the fact that she attended Camosun was no secret. She’d been on campus earlier that day, even. And the résumés were a dead giveaway that she was looking for a job. But that stuff about her “special skills”… Hardly anybody knew about that! It wasn’t something she went around telling everyone she met. Special people got treated differently, even when their abilities were totally harmless, like that hose-fingered woman the man had mentioned, or just about completely useless, like hers was. Sure, what she could do sounded cool, but how had it ever helped her accomplish anything? Other than winning at Hide and Seek, of course. And how had he known about that? Had he been watching her since she was a kid? Then again, if he knew what her ability was, it wouldn’t take a genius to come up with that use for it. Maybe he’d just been guessing and got lucky.
Moving on autopilot, Naomi turned into the cul-de-sac she usually cut through to get to her house. She stepped off the sidewalk to cross to the other side—
—and a flash of blue caught the corner of her eye at the same moment as she heard someone yell, “HEY!!” She swung her head around to see a beat-up old sedan barrelling straight towards her. In that frozen instant, she took in the expression on the driver’s face: not shock, not panic, but focus. He wasn’t leaning backwards, like he would be if he was stomping on the brakes, trying to avoid a collision; he was leaning forwards, hunched over the steering wheel like a race car driver.
But before Naomi had time to interpret that lightning-bolt perception, she felt the beginning of a scream burst up from her lungs, squeezed her eyes tightly shut, and skipped.
A purple darkness buzzed across her eyes, washed up and over her skull through to the tips of her hair, and dripped down her back and shoulders. It was a sensation she had never even come close to describing adequately, something not tied to her physical senses, not tied to the world of language. It flashed across her consciousness at the speed of thought…
And then she reappeared, exactly six minutes and eighteen seconds later. She was only halfway through her scream, and halfway through falling over in fright. The remainder of her shriek escaped from her mouth by its own power and she toppled backwards onto the pavement, skinning her elbows. As quickly as she realized what had happened, she frantically scrambled back towards the sidewalk, breathing hard from the sudden burst of adrenaline.
Like it always did, the skip had left behind the barest hint of that in-between sensation, somewhere in the bottom half of her brain, like the slowly fading aftertaste from a strong drink.
Naomi took a second to calm herself and looked around the cul-de-sac. The car was gone, and the sidewalk was empty. Apparently six minutes had been long enough for any bystanders who had been watching to decide that their eyes had been playing tricks on them: they must not have just seen someone get run over, after all.
Of course, they might reconsider their interpretation of what they’d seen if they had noticed Naomi reappearing out of thin air. And that would bring all kinds of awkward questions and explanations and those half-sympathetic, half-judgmental stares that Naomi had seen directed towards so many other specials, the ones who couldn’t hide their abilities, or couldn’t control them, or out of some bizarre masochism chose to flaunt them publicly. Naomi didn’t want to be one of those people: she didn’t want to feel those stares. Better to just get on her way, hope no one had noticed her reappearance, and forget about this little incident. It had just been an accident anyways, right? And she hadn’t gotten hurt, not really, so…
Then again, there had been that look on the driver’s face. Had it been an accident? It had only been the briefest glance, in that moment before she’d skipped. Maybe her memory of his expression wasn’t quite right. That was probably it. No need to get all paranoid. The creepy guy on the bus had just set her on edge.
Naomi stood, wiping off her pants and rubbing bits of gravel out of her elbows. A couple of her résumés were lying nearby; the rest seemed to have blown away in the wind. Wedged partially into a crack in the sidewalk was the man from the bus’s business card. She picked it up and looked at it for the first time. It was plain white, with almost no decoration other than two lines of simple black text printed on one side:
IAN INNIS, OWNER
SPECIALTY SERVICES AND CONSULTING
And beneath the words, some minimal contact information. It was probably the least interesting business card she’d ever seen, bland and featureless, much like the man who had given it to her. She had no use for it; she never wanted to see that man again. But as she straightened up, for whatever reason—maybe some deep-seated, tiny grain of curiosity, or maybe just an aversion to littering—she tucked it into her pocket instead of throwing it to the wind.
This time Naomi looked very carefully both ways before stepping into the street again to cross to the other side and resume her walk home. As she passed over the scene of her narrow escape, a subtle movement at the open end of the cul-de-sac caught her attention, and she looked over just in time to see someone dressed in beige round the corner of a house and disappear, the sun glinting off of a gold watch on their wrist.