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Yellow Sneakers and Green Creatures
Ever since you were old enough to walk, you knew about the one spot down by the creek. It’s not much. A rotten log laying inches from the water, hidden by trees and overgrown weeds. It’s yours though. It’s where you go to hide away from the world and to catch up with yourself. It’s yours.
It’s where you go every day after school, after Aubree Wolscott has tormented and picked on you, calling you names and making fun of the sparkly yellow sneakers you wear. It’s happened for as long as you can remember and still, you don’t understand why she’s got it in for you.
You’re sitting on the log after one particular awful day where you found used toilet paper stuffed into your locker. As you wipe away the long held back tears the first sounds of rustling reaches your ears. It’s probably just a wild cat. There are more than enough of them down here. But for some reason you glance up towards the thick weeds. There’s another rustle, closer than before and your stomach does a back flip.
Something’s there. Something bigger than a cat.
You know it like you know the color of the sky. But what is it? Memories of stories about killers preying on children push themselves into your mind and you stand. You need to leave. Now. It’s the smart thing to do. But the rustling comes again and your curiosity has you inching across the mud and rocks to the weeds. What is hiding in the bushes? An image of Aubree flashes across your mind and horror washes over you. If she has found your hiding spot…
In one movement you dash the prickly weeds aside causing a body to jump. You stumble back when you get a good look at it. It’s not Aubree. You’re not sure what it is, it’s hideous though. It’s taller than you with thick, wooly green hair covering its entire body and yellow eyes gleaming on either side of a tomatoe shaped nose. Purple color nails curve out of the feet and hands--claws-- and a long black horn is spiraling out of its forehead. You notice the long orange tail curling behind it before it opens its great mouth to show pointy needle-like teeth. It speaks, saying something in a language you don’t know-but somehow still understand. It’s greeting you, asking what you’re doing. You’re not supposed to talk to strangers, but before you know it, you’re answering in English, asking what it is. It responds, saying it doesn’t matter and instead asks if you want to play a game. You’ve never had someone to play a game with before. You aren’t sure if you know how to. But you say sure, why not?
A month goes by and every day you play with the Creature-that’s what you’ve started to call it, since it won’t tell you what it really is. You’ve never been so happy; the Creature is your friend and shows you things you never knew existed. Things like underground caves and magical clearings full of silky orange flowers. He is patient with you, waiting while you struggle to cross the Stonebridge he danced over. Sometimes after playing, you and the Creature sit on the log and watch the river go by. You never touch but every now and then, when you’re brave enough, you ask what it is. The Creature never answers; instead it tells you things you never knew. Like how reflections came from inside the earth, where a whole other world is or how the stars are made of fairies that spend the day living in burrows in the woods. You go to sleep dreaming of those stories and what will happen tomorrow. For once, everything seems perfect.
At school, a Halloween costume party is announced and everyone is expected to bring a friend. On the playground Aubree sneers and says you can’t come, who would you bring for a friend? Anger overwhelms your commonsense and before you know it you’ve told her you do have a friend and you’re going to bring him. She only laughs, not believing you, which only makes you ache more to prove it to her. Because you do have a friend. A true friend.
When you ask the Creature to go to the party, its gives a low growl of laughter and asks why it should. You say it’d mean a lot to you. It snorts and gives its tail a flick, but agrees to go. You know you look like a jack-o-lantern; you’re smile’s so wide. But you can’t help it. Now you can prove to Aburee, now you can make her see. You’re not a friendless loser.
On Halloween morning, Aubree wants to know if your friend is going to the party. You say yes. He is. She still laughs but there’s a look of uncertainty on her face that gives you a twinge of satisfaction. Soon she’ll see. The day goes by as slow as a day can. When the night finally comes, you’re more than ready.
Dressed as Little Red Riding Hood, with your yellow sparkly sneakers, you stand out on your front porch waiting for the Creature to show. A small breeze plays in the branches overhead, like the breath of a ghost, carrying the smells of crushed leaves and carved pumpkins. You’re so excited you can barely breathe. There’s a soft thud as the creature leaps down onto the porch. You have your jack-o-lantern grin on again as you silently descend the steps. Aubree will now see.
At school, the gym is littered with ghosts, zombies, princesses, vampires and mummies. No one is dressed like the Creature though and you feel yourself swell with pride. It gets better when you see Aubree. Her eyes are wide, her mouth forming an O and she doesn’t notice her fruit punch spilling on the floor and down her princess costume. It’s worth every comment, every snide and every sneer.
She’s not the only one, stares poke you like needles as you and the creature work your way through the different game booths. You lose at all of them while he wins. You don’t mind though, this is perfect. Everything you wanted.
Soon the only thing left is the photo booth. Together you and the Creature stand in front of the cheesy graveyard backdrop. You can’t help but think how lucky you are. Tonight, you are invincible, the world is yours and it’s all because of the Creature. Standing there, you turn to smile at him as the camera flashes. That’s when it happens.
You don’t realize what happens until afterwards-when it’s too late. The flash was too much for your Creature. The ground shivers as he lets out a great, earth shattering roar and lunges for the camera. You only see the blood that comes from the face it rakes its claws across. And all you can do is stare as screams fill the gym and people scuttle for the exit like bugs.
The Creature’s eyes are wild with blood streaming out of them. They have no relation to your Creature as chaperons and teachers charge, waving weapons of chairs and cafeteria knives. They know. He is no costume. With the grace of a deer, he leaps out the nearest window, spraying you with glass. It doesn’t matter. You rush to the hole to see if he’s…
People shout. Screams fill the air and the sounds of crying try to dig their way into your ears and imprint themselves on your memory forever. It doesn’t matter. You push away from the frame of the window and hurry out the door, into the night.
You pass crowds of costumed kids and adults as a hand reaches out to grab you. Dodging it, you hear more shouts and orders to stop. You keep going. It doesn’t matter. Pavement flies and you can barely breathe as it transforms into the grass of your back yard. The only reason you find your way through the trees to the river is because you know it by heart. You still stumble over the log and have to put a hand on the rough bark to steady yourself. The log is damp and soft and the chilly river water has risen to cover your sparkly yellow sneakers.
It doesn’t matter.
You try to see through the dark and the weeds that surround you. Nothing. You open your mouth to call its name, when you remember. You don’t know its name. Because he said it didn’t matter. Of course you still call. But it’s wordless and has no meaning. He’s gone. And you’re left behind. It feels like someone is stabbing you in the chest and you slump onto the log, trying to breathe as hot fast tears appear on your cheeks. You know, without asking, that he’s gone and you’ll never see him again. He won’t come back for you. The taste of blood fills your mouth making you choke as you realize how wrong he was.
It does matter.