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I glance behind me, and there he is.

Barely two centimetres from my jacket, his right knee lifting in sync with mine. He’s looking up, but he isn’t looking at me. He’s watching his breath as it floats up in steamy whiffs and rises into the dry air. I turn my head again when I almost trip over an ice block, but then he steps on my heel.

I snap my neck around and glare at him. The glare isn’t terribly effective since I’m wincing because I think I pulled a muscle in my neck; he’s looking down anyways.

I could say I remember the first day he was there behind me, somehow tied to me with an unwanted invisible rope. But he could have been there months before I felt warm breath on the back of my jeans. And there he was, skimpy freckled nose inches from my body. He’d walk there as if he was just an extension of me, just until I reached school. Then I’d turn in and he’d keep going. I never knew whether he was following me or just happened to be going the same way.

He did the same thing every day, and I got to know him –though I never knew his name. He always wore a Spiderman backpack: bright red shoulder straps and shiny plastic. During the hotter days, he wore pants, t-shirt, sneakers. In winter, he did the whole getup –or his mother made him. Toque, scarf pulled up to his nose, puffy snowman jacket, giant boots, elephant gloves, ski pants up over his jeans and pulled over his boots. His snow pants swished when he walked so in the winter I always knew he was there.

I never wore snow pants. As a teenager in high school, I weathered it in jeans and that’s it. My legs were freezing, especially on the really cold days; iced so much they numbed. On those days I was envious of the swishing behind me.

But mostly, I was annoyed. This little elementary school kid who tails you to school. I guess it would have been more tolerable if maybe he distanced himself so as not to tread on my heels. He followed so close, he always rubbed his toes on the back of my foot. On the hot days if my choice of footwear was flip-flops, he would rub off some skin. He bugged me, a lot. He was this tiny mosquito that buzzed in my ear and made my skin itch like crazy. I desperately wished to swat him away –or worse- but he would never leave.

I could have told my friends; they would have laughed. Stalker kid trailing high school chick. It could have made a great story; an even better joke. He was a nuisance to the point of fury, but I think I liked him. In a weird, incomprehensive sort of way. He was an innocent little boy.

Sometimes when I walked I’d be listening to the swish swish of his ski pants and consider. Where were his parents? He was young; I walked on a busy street with murderous intersections (which meant he did too). Where was he going? He walked on my heels every morning every day. But after I swerved, he followed a straight line to nowhere.

Maybe he was a figment of my imagination; a simple strange character in my daydreams.

But one time for the entire twenty-five minute trudge he sniffled. Without turning I could imagine the snot dripping from his nostrils, drawn out by the elements. It disgusted me, and my skin burned heat in annoyance.

The next day I was in bed, drowning in tissue and blowing like a horn.

No, he was real.

Then, one day, he was gone.

I didn’t notice it at first. It was winter, and it was cold. The kind the makes you think hell is a plain of ice and the warmth of fire is heaven. The clouds are nonexistent and there’s wind that tears at your innermost organs, freezing you to dust no matter how many layers you stack on. My eyelashes were frozen shut; my entire body a tin soldier sentenced to torture. I wished I would have at least worn leggings under my jeans. At that moment, even snow pants could be a prize more worthy than a classy new iPod. I didn’t care what other people thought of them; I was just cold.

Then, I heard it. Or didn’t hear it. The swish of the little boy’s ski pants as he trudged down the sidewalk and stepped on my heels. I stopped, turned. Completely around so my neck wasn’t twisting and I stood.

He wasn’t there.

Empty sidewalk and snowplow tire tracks on the dirty snow.

I don’t know what happened to him; he never reappeared. Maybe his mother found out what he was doing at eight each morning. Maybe he moved somewhere warm where the swish of ski pants was an alien dialect. Maybe he didn’t look both ways when crossing that intersection back there. Maybe he’s buried somewhere and his mom sobs but she’s proud of him because he always wore his ski pants. Or maybe he grew up and realized that following older girls by their heels is actually really rude.

I like to think he never grew up. I like to think Peter Pan flew in his bedroom window and invited him to Neverland with an outstretched hand. That’s where he lives now: among the Lost Boys and the rest of Peter Pan’s troupe, where they can and will do anything. Even step on girls’ heels, if they feel like it. It isn’t rude to stalk; it’s fun. And they trudge around in bare feet like Huck Finn and defeat Captain Hook with wooden swords.

Sometimes I wish he’d visit me. I’d hear the swish of his snow pants and feel his sneakers raking my heels. Maybe, I’d ask his name.

Maybe, he’d walk beside me, and we’d talk.



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