By Leah Cypess
She doesn't like to walk on the
sidewalk. I've seen her mincing delicately on the pavement, trying not to touch
it until she reaches the next stretch of grass. Then the ground beneath her
feet is familiar, even if she can sense the concrete below the thin veneer of
Nobody else knows what's wrong with
her. My neighbour, Mrs. Kerenson,
said that she's probably autistic, which means (she explained condescendingly)
that she doesn't respond to
the real world. Mr. Kerenson agreed, and said that
Laura is living in a different world.
They're wrong. She was living in a
different world. But she's here now, and she'll have to get used to it. The same way I did.
I've been trying to avoid her.
After all, you never know what kind of people get sent out here; murderers,
thieves, heretics. But today we came face to face. I was walking on the grass,
indulging myself; and she was on the grass as usual. It was a narrow strip of
grass, so we stood there and stared at each other.
Each of us knew what the other was.
We can always tell, when we meet.
"I thought you might be one of us,"
Laura breathed finally. "I heard my
`mother' say that you were a little strange."
that you are very strange," I countered.
"That's because you've been here
longer than I have."
I met her bleak gaze and said, "I've
been here ten days."
"Ten..." Her mouth opened in
horror. "But then -- you've been here less time than I have!"
"How long have you been here?"
"I don't know. But
longer than ten days. How can you bear it?"
"I have to." I looked away from her
and added, "I never had magic."
"Oh!" Her little gasp of pity told me what I hadn't dared ask
directly; she had possessed magic,
worlds away. So she hadn't been banished for lack of it, like me.
She committed a crime, and this exile is her punishment.
The pavement, that she hates, is
I don't know what came over me
then. What spurred me might have been her pity, or her criminality, or just my
own frustration. I stepped forward and pushed her, hard; hard enough to make
her step back off the grass. Her foot
came down on the sidewalk. I pushed her
again, and she fell, lying in a heap on the concrete squares, her mouth open in
a little `o' of shock and bewilderment.
I walked away. When I looked back,
she had pulled herself onto the grass and was crying.
believe I did that. I'm not a cruel person. I know I'm not. Not even in human
form. So why...?
I went over
to her and apologized. She listened, expressionless. When I was finished, she
said, "You think I'm a criminal, don't you?"
guess I am. The -- the Justices said that I am. But I didn't hurt anyone!"
you do?" I asked, morbidly curious.
matter?" she demanded, staring at me.
said, ashamed. "I guess it doesn't."
sitting on the boardwalk, and a bunch of kids were playing tag on the
beach. We watched them for a few
minutes, for lack of anything to say to each other. I found myself wanting to
join them, something that never would have occurred to me two days ago.
afraid," Laura said suddenly. "I heard that we forget. That soon we'll be
children like any other children, and eventually we won't even remember the
She looked at me pleadingly, sure that I would give her
reassurance. But while a part of me was afraid, a part of me wanted to be in
the game, to be like all the others.
child like any other wouldn't be so bad," I said finally, slowly. "It's growing
up that worries me."
I've become very close to Laura. I
should have known that I would; we're both going through the same thing, even
if I am guilt-free and she's a criminal. We discuss Faerie often. My memories
of it are fading, but hers seem as distinct as ever. Sometimes I don't even
remember the things she describes.
It's a mercy, this forgetting. And
when I'm with other children -- sometimes even when I'm alone -- I am content
to let it be that way, to let my old life fade and disappear. But when I'm with
Laura, I feel that I've lost something wonderful, and that I have to keep the
memory no matter how much pain it causes me.
Laura thinks about the human
children whose bodies we stole. I never thought about anything like that
before, but now we discuss it often. Did they disappear? Did they go to Faerie?
Or are they still here, in our minds, subjugated by our stronger possession?
I thought that they might take over
our bodies in Faerie. But Laura says that's not possible. She claims that she's
seen the bodies of the changelings, the banished ones, and they are quite dead.
That means that my body is dead, too, but it doesn't
bother me. I don't even remember what my body looked like. This body felt thick
and heavy at first, but now I'm used to it.
Anyhow, the adults are happy that
we talk so much. They think that it will do Laura good. My mother -- my body's
mother, anyhow -- makes sure to drop a few encouraging words every night.
Laura finally told me what her
crime was. Her brother killed another boy and was sentenced to Earth. She tried
to rescue him, so she was sentenced too.
I'm amazed at her gall. Going
against the Justices for the sake of a murderer -- even if he was her brother!
And she should have realized that nobody can escape justice.
I told her that, and she pressed
her lips together and said, "Don't be so sure. I still haven't given up."