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Genre: (Upper) Middle Grade Speculative Fiction
Title: The Time Between
When you're a girl
who's almost thirteen you get used to a whole lot of freaky random
"stuff". Stuff that, even if you're not a foster kid, you keep to
yourself. This dead deer in my lap is one of those things.
I was about halfway
home from school, ready to cross the road by the church, when I heard horns,
skidding tires, and a sickening thud. The driver got out and checked the
damage, as impatient moms in SUVs waited to turn into the church parking lot. I
could see them through their tinted windows tapping their phones with glossy
pointed fingernails as the deer jerked in spasms in the ditch.
She was just another
carcass to them, an inconvenience if they noticed her at all. Someone needed to
care and something about it stabbed the dark untouched area of my heart, the
spot I only know is there by the way it changes the parts around it.
Her eyes, a glossy
brown like mine, reflected my face back at me. We'd both been going somewhere,
alone. I didn't know what to do so I sat down here with her, holding her head
in my lap and stroking her long tan face with its delicate black nose and
Every now and then I
got a whiff of the apples on the tree across the road, rich sweet and thick. It
was an old twisted tree with branches every which way. A bit of stone fence ran
along underneath it, as ancient as the tree and well on its way to becoming
sand once again. It wandered off back toward the busy part of Sudham, with its
tall brick storefronts slicing off toward the ocean.
I've never had a pet,
not even a belly-up goldfish to flush down the toilet, and I wasn't sure what
to do but she seemed glad I was there. Maybe I imagined that part, but it might
be true, who knows. Finally, with a sigh and a shudder, her head dropped to the
side and she went limp across my legs.
I stood up, stiff and
cold from the ground. I saw two fawns, twins, watching me from deeper in the
woods. Since it was late in October they were plenty big enough to take care of
themselves. They needed to stay away from the road, so I picked the last of the
apples and threw them into the trees. Then I walked toward them to scare them
But they didn't run.
They stood there, waiting. I took some baby carrots out of my lunch sack and
went past them. When I turned around they were there at my elbows, nudging my
“Listen you two,” I
said, holding out a couple carrots for each of them. “You're going to have to
take care of each other now. Stay back in here and away from the road.”
They twitched their
ears and their long white tails, checking for more carrots. Somehow the whole
thing made me feel guilty and ashamed even though I hadn't done anything.
When I got home I
found a wrapped box propped against the front door, with fancy ribbons on both
the top and the bottom. A nice touch because I could peek without being
obvious, you know?
On top of the tissue
was a card: Have a magical birthday - Dad. Underneath was an honest-to-God
magic wand. JUST like Harry Potter's. For real. Well, it was a wand anyway and
duh, who would buy a regular wand? That would be the worst gift of all time.
Now my dad's been gone
forever, since before I was born really. I know, without anyone telling me,
that if he showed up he wouldn't be welcome. No big teary love-fests here. So I
stuck the wand in my backpack and stashed the box behind the summer clothes in
my closet. When I looked for the box after dinner it was gone.
Like it never was.
The wand was still in
my backpack though - the backpack of a girl who hasn't had a good yearbook
photo since second grade, on the eve of picture day.
I snuck into the
bathroom and waved it around my general face area. I had no idea what words
might turn bushy black hair and braces into something magically beautiful.
Whatever I said
obviously wasn't the right choice, because nothing happened. At least not right
Overnight my hair
twisted itself into dreads so tight I couldn't get a comb through it. And, yes,
there were several new zits on my nose. At school the photographer adjusted the
lights to take the glare off my oily face and braces while his assistant patted
me on the head and pretended to fix my collar.
smile," he said. "Don't worry, they don't call me the airbrush
magician for nothing."
By Mrs. Dyson's class
fourth hour things really started to go sideways.
The fact these words
swooped across the chalkboard in loopy orange cursive didn't make them any less
intimidating. Nor did the fact I got a text at lunch that my friend Aubrey, who
won't be thirteen for another six months, started, leaving me the only one who
Dyson said, rapping her fingers on the projector board. Her eyes narrowed to
two dark bottomless slits. “Cindy, are you not interested in fertility rites?”
I could hear the
giggling behind me and I knew that my ears were now fire-engine red as surely
as I knew there was no good answer.
“I'm sorry,” I said,
stretching my lips and cheeks so I could talk around my new braces without a
spitty lisp. Ignoring my achy hip bones I sat up straighter even though it
meant the chairback cut into my spine.
I didn't bother to
look around. There were no friendly faces in World History or any other subject
for that matter. All the friendly faces, including Aubrey, were at Sudham's
other middle school across town.
“Very well,” she said
after giving me a long stare. She turned around to tap the homecoming sign over
the chalkboard. It said Homecoming — A Cinderella Story in swirly script over a
football and a glass slipper, then Go Sudham Flames! In front of my eyes the
banner wording changed to a bizarre whirl of symbols.
The next time I
blinked it was gone.
Like the gift box.
I looked around out of
the corner of my eye. No one seemed to notice anything but then they probably
wouldn't notice an elephant sitting in the corner since they're all using the
phones hidden in their laps.
“As I was saying,
fertility rites go back to the dawn of man. We're all participating in one
right now even if we call it by another name. Fall has always been a time of
giving thanks to mother Earth for the harvest, the fruits of the land and
labor. These fertility rites grew into different forms of worship, first with
the pagan gods and goddesses and then they assimilated into the religions we
know today. Who can tell me about Halloween?”
This softball lob to
the duller tools in the World History drawer brought the predictable answers:
pumpkins, costumes, scary things, skeletons. Yadda yadda yadda.
“Yes, all those things
you know today have roots back in the Middle Ages or earlier,” Ms. Dyson said,
walking back over toward my desk. “This is also the transition time as the
season moves toward winter, from light into darkness.