by Mia Martins, Age 14, USA
Artwork by Katie King
“This year, Kelly, is the year. I can feel it in my bones.”
Mark stopped to stoop down by the trickling stream that ran quietly through the copse, its bubbling barely penetrating the human ear. He knelt into the silt, not caring as the mud stained his expensive khakis. Mark rarely stopped to care for material things. Dipping his hand into the stream, he brought the water to his mouth, and whispered a reverent “Thank you,” before sipping the water, savoring the coolness as it slipped down his throat.
The full moon reflected off the water into his ice-blue eyes, turning them silver in the night. He looked so unnatural, Kelly thought. He looked how he told Kelly all the other kids at his school thought of him–a freak. His passion for the supernatural almost consumed him at times, this Kelly could bear witness to. He looked fevered, almost fanatical. He drank with too much relish.
“Come on, Kels, let’s go.” Mark stood up, his silver eyes flashing like a sword coming down upon another. He grabbed his equipment and played with it eagerly, only looking up to glance at Kelly.
“Just a little bit further,” he said. “We need to get the the middle of the copse. That’s where the magic is gonna happen.”
Kelly didn’t even know the meaning of the word copse until she had met Mark. Apparently it meant a small thicket of trees. A miniature version of a forest. Copses, Mark had told her, were guaranteed places of magic, where the supernatural was sure to abound.
Kelly almost lost him as he sauntered into the shadows, his eyes glued to his GPS, waiting to get the coordinates right.
Kelly thought she could have been trick-or-treating with her older sister right now, instead of following Mark into a copse in hopes of spotting a spector. But she owed Mark. And she would follow him to the ends of the earth.
Mark had started talking. She hurried to fiddle with her hearing aids, tuning it until at last his voice came though.
“…and do you know what that idiot Jake said to me today?”
Branches whipped into Kelly as she put up a hand to shield herself from them. Mark barely noticed. He let the branches snag at him. His face and arms were covered in angry red whip lines; his uniform torn. Kelly couldn’t afford to let her clothes get torn.
Mark peered closer at his GPS and took a sharp left, leaving Kelly to veer after him. He mocked Jake’s voice, making it into an ugly sneer. “He said, ‘Gonna try and find a ghostie tonight, freak? I stopped believing in fairy tales when I was five.’ And then everyone laughed.”
From the way Mark snapped the branch overhead in one powerful movement, another person might have thought he was angry at Jake. But Kelly knew he wasn’t. He was just fed up with actually never having found his “ghostie.”
This was evidenced when Mark grumbled, “He hasn’t even looked into. He doesn’t know. Everyone at that school is so blind. All it is is money for them, stupid rich kids. They don’t care what else the world could hold–as long as they’ve got bills in their hands, it’s all good!”
Mark’s GPS beeped loudly, and he stopped dead in his tracks, leaving Kelly to bump into him. He turned around suddenly to face Kelly head-on, and asked, “Is school going well for you, Kelly?” as if it was a normal conversation, and they had run into each other by pure chance.
Kelly nodded vigorously, without bothering to ascertain whether or not she was lying.
“Good,” Mark said, setting his bag on a rock. He pulled a long-handled instrument out of it, which looked like a metal detector. He turned it on, and it started to hum loudly, warming up to its environment.
“I’m getting such good readings here.” Mark fiddled around with a black box as he waved the metal detector in the air with the other hand. He closed his eyes and took a long, lingering breath in through his nose.
When he opened his eyes and smiled, it was all wrong. His silver eyes gleamed through his messy black hair that flopped over his forehead and eyes longer than his school dress code should have technically allowed. His smile, the result of the best orthodontics and dentistry money could buy, was all tooth, too white and too straight. He looked too perfect. Even the mud on his clothes to the fading blue and pink around his eye, the result of his last fight, added to his roguishness.
“We’re here,” he said. “The middle of the copse. It’s perfect. Doesn’t it just look magical?”
Kelly, sitting on a moss covered boulder, had to agree. The stream they saw at the beginning of the copse had pooled into a tiny pond, almost no bigger than a puddle. But it was deep puddle–Kelly saw movement in it from time to time–and she half expected a monster to jump out of it. Vines hung down from overhead, and little white flowers dropped from them periodically, like a floral snowfall. They floated in the lake, and got caught in both Kelly’s and Mark’s hair, making them look like elaborately decorated royalty.
Kelly knew how much he wanted this, something that would give him an edge on life. Something to make him feel more important than all the other kids at his school, something that would give him a secret to keep, one that wasn’t his own.
Mark climbed up next to Kelly on the boulder, pulling a blanket out of his backpack and drawing it over them both. They laid down, and Mark said, “Legend says that the spirits will come out on Halloween night, at one in the morning. Most people think it’s twelve, but that was actually lost in translation. It’s one.”
Mark rambled on while they tried looking up, deciding whether the white dots they saw above them were the flowers or stars. But eventually Kelly fell asleep. It was three in the morning when Kelly woke up, and she woke up to the sound of Mark crying.
Kelly wondered how long he had been crying. His pants were still damp from the stream, and he didn’t seem to notice that he was shivering.
“They aren’t coming, Kelly,” Mark said through chattering teeth. It was so cold, that as the tears ran down his cheeks, Kelly could swear she saw them turn to icicles before they hit the ground. “I must have done something wrong.”
Mark always thought he did something wrong. Kelly knew the truth. She tucked the blanket around him tighter and signed carefully and slowly for Mark, spelling out every word: N-e-x-t-y-e-a-r.
Mark nodded and gulped, and turned to lay on his side as he huddled under the burlap. Kelly knew it would happen next year, too. It had happened like that for the past two Halloweens.