2019 was ending with a bang. An overcrowded party, a DJ, and lots of drinks was a good enough finish for Zane. Yeah, he wanted to stay and see the ball drop, but he was tired. After thanking his host, he drove home, barely managing to stay awake. In his own bed, it wasn't hard to fall asleep.
Zane squinted in the bright sunlight pouring through the window. He gazed up at the smooth white ceiling, picking out all the niches and scratches. 2020. This was a big year for him. He was hoping to get promoted, maybe married, and buy a house in LA. Zane rolled over daydreaming. The small wooden sewing table next to his bed caught his attention. Zane furrowed his eyebrows. Where did that come from? He shrugged, still groggy from sleep and closed his eyes. They immediately snapped back open. It was so quiet. Where were all the cars? The screech of brakes, the honking of horns, the revving of motorcycles? Zane looked at the window. Sunlight streamed through filmy white cloth instead of his blue room-darkening curtains. He sat up. His jaw dropped. Where am I? This was not his room! Zane sprang up and went to get dressed. Upon opening the dresser, he found a stiff white shirt, red and white striped, baggy trousers, knee-high socks, and suspenders. Frantically, Zane searched through the drawers. All the same.
He sighed. There was no way he would be seen in these ridiculous things! He was leaving on his dirty clothes. Zane opened the door and walked through unknown corridors until he located the stairs. He found the ground level bustling with strangely dressed people and infused with delicious aromas.
"Are you Frank?" Zane spun around to see a short, plump lady approaching him. "Well, speak up."
"N... no." he stammered. "I'm Zane." The lady's eyebrows rose and her eyes widened. "What an interesting name." She studied him. "And what funny clothes!" She gaped at his joggers.
"Where am I?" Zane asked. The lady snorted. "Why Barbara's Bakery of course!"
"How did I get here?"
"Well, I don't plumb know! I reckon you walked here, just like everyone else!"
Zane frowned. He walked up to the counter, the lady trailing behind him. He looked through the glass at the cakes decorated in frosting. There were cakes with Happy New Year! written on them and cakes with balloons. One cake in particular caught his eye. It read 1920! Zane spun around. "What day is today?"
"Why, January first, 1920! New Years Day!"
Zane felt dizzy. His head swam. How is this possible? This must be a trick! What a horrible trick. He blinked and looked back down at the lady. He smiled warmly. "Did Jake and Casey put you up to this?" he laughed. The lady frowned. "Who?"
Zane's smile faded. He leaned against the counter to keep from falling over. "Thanks for your time." He walked over to a booth and slumped against the table. Peering out the window, all he saw was unfamiliarity, perplexity, and misunderstanding. He didn't recognize anything. It was as if he was an alien in a foreign country. Zane laid his head in his hands, closing out his surroundings. A rustle across from him startled him, and he opened his eyes. A beautiful young woman sat opposite him. Yes, she was dressed strangely as well, but there was something relevantly familiar about her.
She leaned closer. "You're from the future." It wasn't a question, but he nodded anyway. "I thought so. So am I." Zane looked her up and down. He made a face. The woman laughed. "I know, I know! I don't look like it!" Zane smiled.
"So, what's your story?" he asked.
"It started about four years ago, and it's happened every year after. By now, I expect it and prepare. I just roll with it. As you can see, I dress the part and everything!"
Zane nodded. "The past four years?" He felt miserable.
"Yes, and I always look forward to it. I help Barb in the kitchen; it helps the day go by faster. I go to bed New Years night and I wake up in my own bed, in my own home. It only lasts the day."
Zane sighed. "I just don't understand. How does this happen?"
"I don't know either. But, at the end of the day, I believe you will regret going home." She stood, grabbed his arm, and pulled him to the kitchen. "Here." she shoved an apron in his hands. "Barb! We've got another helper!"
The short, plump lady appeared, covered in flour, and grinned. "The clown! Thanks for helping. Frank was supposed to come, but I suppose he bailed. Well, any help I can get sounds like berries to me!" And with that, she stomped off, raising a cloud of flour. A crash from outside stopped Zane in his tracks. He ran to the window, accompanied by Barb and the woman. A large man swayed and smashed into a garbage can.
"Why that boozehound bimbo! Can't he ever stay away from the saloon?" She stormed out the door. "Hey, James! Why don't you ankle it, chump? Dangle!" Zane vaguely heard her say to the man. He turned on the young woman. "Berries? Boozehound? Chump?" She laughed again. "You'll get used to it. Come on. Help me in here."
Zane felt like a foreigner, unable to speak the native language.
In the kitchen, it was bustling. Cooks and cleaners were racing around. Waiters and waitresses spun around the counter and crowding people. Zane smiled.
The young woman got him right to work scrubbing dishes, pouring drinks, boxing cakes, and serving food. Before he knew it, half the day was gone. He leaned against the counter, utterly exhausted. This forced endeavor was draining his limited energy. The woman approached him, her forehead sweaty and her hair frizzy. She poured two cold waters and offered him one.
"Thank you... By the way, I never caught your name."
"Nice to meet you, Holly."
She grinned. "Ok you, back to work."
Zane launched into his work, laughing, joking, and enjoying the people and environment surrounding him. When the bakery closed for the night, he felt a slight disappointment. He sighed and flopped on a stool, the rest of the staff enveloping him. Looking at all their smiling faces, he realized that in one short day, he had made a family out of the few employees.
He tossed and turned all night. Is this what he wanted? Yes, he wanted to go home. But, he did regret leaving. He found himself greatly looking forward to next year and the pleasure and excitement of it all. Eventually, he drifted off to sleep.
The room was dark. Zane opened his eyes. He was staring at the same smooth, white ceiling. He rolled over. No antique sewing table. The sound of screeching brakes, honking horns, and revving motorcycles seemed unfamiliar. Blue room-darkening curtains blocked the sunlight. Zane jumped out of bed. Opening his dresser, he found skinny jeans and hoodies. He walked down the hall and descended the stairs. His couch, his TV, his kitchen. No stools and counters, booths, or crowds of people. Where were the good old days? He sighed. 2020.