A strange boy. An even stranger girl and a friendship that surpasses even death.
They stood there unchanging, unsmiling in the dead dry branches of the tree in front of her house. Their faces as brittle as the skeletal branches they perched on like carrion birds preparing for a feast. Preparing to make a feast out of her. She had to pass them every day, to get to school and each day they seemed to move closer lean more towards her. One day she knew she would be within their grasp and their mangled claws would be anything but kind on her pale skin.
Sarah was little, chubby and pale but cute. Most days she was flushed from running, no one really knew what it was that had her in such a tizzy. She would have been popular and well liked if she wasn’t so- odd. As it was her classmates were vaguely creeped out by her as if her very presence filled the air with an intangible smell; bitter and faint- the smell of fear and it made them feel it in turn. On the other hand adults pitied such a beautiful child- healthily flushed and plump. How could she be anything but sweet? The other children would beg to differ. Sarah was distant and cold, her large luminescent eyes always looking far off- scared and glossy. She had a quick temper and was always on edge. When she raised her voice everyone backed off even the older kids.
Worst of all to the kids were the tales she told; of always, always being followed by the unblinking, unmoving but somehow always drawing nearer. She told them of the whispers; if she lingered in the dark, how they tug on her hair and pinched her until she got the light switch and they’d retreat. The amount of detail and the way her face would drain of color as she spoke and her gray eyes widened in absolute terror had all the children giving her wide breath. At first it been fun, to get spooked but Sarah was ‘too good’ and it was hard to shake the feelings she summoned in them- it clung to their hearts like quicksand; like a spider’s web ensnared unsuspecting prey.
“What are you staring at?” Jamie asked
“Them” Sarah replied
He was a new student and didn’t know about the rumors surround Sarah. He found her wide eyes, round face and overabundance of curly hair endearing. In his eyes was the most beautiful girl he’d seen at his new school. Even if she was acting a little strange she must have something on her mind, he thought.
“Them?” he asked
“Yes, Them. They don’t like you” she spoke quietly not looking at him once.
He sat down next to her and watched her. She moved very little and seemed at once troubled, scared and angry. Her eyebrows were set in a frown that seemed permanent, her little mouth pursed into a thin line. She finally turned to him and looked into his eyes, and pointed up into one of the hibernating trees, it was tall and old with many winter withered branches.
“There” she said, her breathe condensing in the winter air, “Can you see?”
Jamie looked across the street at the tree, and then up at its branches. He concentrated for a while, his young face twisting into a frown.
“No, I’m sorry. I don’t. What am I looking for?”
“Ahh I see”
They spent the rest of the break in silence; it was a nice sort of silence. And somehow they found themselves scooting closer to each other. It was only for warmth they both thought, embarrassed. Sarah didn’t try to tell him any of her stories about Them and Jamie didn’t ask. For one afternoon she was a normal girl who had one friend in the world- someone to look at her as herself no the troubled, pretty girl who told tales and she had to admit it felt nice.
The next day Jamie didn’t see Sarah; he looked for her at school but no one could tell him anything. The next day was the same and the next until Jamie lost count how many days since he’d seen her. His thoughts occasionally drifted to Them. And he would shake off the ideas that tried to from. He didn’t know why Sarah said those things but he could recognize that she it was her truth and he wouldn’t have contradicted her.
Jamie came home to see both his parents were home early. Sitting in the kitchen; they talked in hushed rough voices, huddled together- heads almost touching. He heard parts of what was said, “child…little girl…missing…worried…just moved here…Jamie…school…going to do…”
But what stuck in the midst of the hurricane of words was “Sarah Middleton is gone”
Jamie ran up to his room, not caring if his parents heard him. What did they mean “missing, gone?” he thought even as something caught his eye at his window; a shadow, a figure. There wasn’t a ledge under his window. How was someone perched there… he wondered. There was a tree, though; one quite similar to the one at the school. It too was gnarled and withered but still old, large and imposing. Unconsciously Jamie moved to look out the window and he let out a relieved laugh.
He saw a familiar chubby face, wide eyes and little mouth but this time the features were not arranged into a scowl but a carefree and slightly teasing smile. It was Sarah but how did she get up into the tree branches? Slowly Jamie noticed differences about the girl who would have been his friend. Even in the moonlight she looked paler and somehow translucent; her wild hair moved with a wind that he couldn’t feel. She was dressed in a fluffy black dress, black lacy socks and shiny black MaryJanes. She waved and he opened the window and stuck his head out.
“What are you doing up there? My heard you were missing, where did you go? I thought you were…” he blurted, his eyes stinging with the threat of tears.
“They got me” she said ruefully but didn’t look mad or even sad; just like she was having a great time hanging around in that tree
“Them?” he asked in a tense whisper
“Yea, Them. But there aren’t all that bad. It’s never lonely now”
“I would have been your friend. You didn’t have to be lonely”
“You are my friend. I was so happy when I walked home that day I didn’t notice that they had closed in. and the rest is history…” she said and dissolved into peals of laughter
“Yes I am, as long as you stay my friend.”
“Come inside” he gestured
She smiled sadly and patted the tree trunk fondly, “I’m stuck in this guy. Well any tree but this one’s a real joker,”
“I’m a winter spirit. Them, what I was seeing, were the autumnal spirits. Things were meant to be this way.”
Sarah told him about the season spirits and how she would grow stronger as the winter came until it peaked and the season passed and she would fade until the next year. She would help regulate the season with the others of her kind.
“I hope this is the longest, coldest winter ever!”
“Be careful what you wish for”
“At least promise me a snow day”
“I’ll see what I can do” she said with a grin as she slowly faded away to silvery light and then disappeared.
The next few days were filled with memorials and candle light vigils for Sarah. Jamie didn’t cry. He knew she wasn’t lost or gone and best of all, he knew she was happy and not in pain. He wished her family could have had the peace of mind of that knowledge. When the first snow fell some days later they found her body, it was frozen solid covered in a blanket of snow as if someone had tucked her in.
I wrote this a long time ago and didn’t feel like changing it now. It reflects my writing style and mindset back then. Hope all the readers enjoyed it. Any criticism is welcome.