“¿Qué quiere usted de nosotros?”
The thing—Jared couldn’t think of the seven-foot collection of twigs as anything other than a thing—stopped its slow shamble across the road. Jared hoped that no car came whipping around the corner like the Spanish drivers usually do. While it was scary-cool to see this creature every morning on their walk to school, it was a whole new terror to have it looking right at him. No way of denying the reality of the situation like his mind tried to do by noon each day.
At night in the safety of Paula’s bedroom they talked about what they saw, convincing each other that it couldn’t be real.
“But what if it is?” Paula had asked the night before. “We must be able to see it for a reason, you know. And I’m going to find out.”
Jared had tried to talk her out of it, but obviously to little success.
“Me llamo Paula,” Paula continued, pulling Jared back to the present.
He wanted to run back the way they’d come, up the long stairs to the villa their two families were sharing for the year but fear—and yes, some curiosity—held him immobile.
Paul nudged him.
“Um, ah, me llamo Jared,” he said.
The twig creature swiveled its body and started towards them.
“Can we run?” Jared was certain he did not want any of this to be happening.
Paula gave an almost imperceptible shake of her head. Her eyes were wide and the hand she put on Jared’s shoulder shook, but he doubted it was from fear. Paula was fairy-crazy and her dream had always been to talk to a fairy, to visit wherever they live and then to come back to talk about it. Jared had never admitted to her that everything she worhsipped gave him the creeps big time.
And now, here they were—Paula’s dream and Jared’s nightmare.
When the thing started talking, it didn’t at first seem to be any sort of language at all, but as it got closer, Jared recognized a few Basque words from his once-a-week classes.
“Do you think it even knows Spanish?” Jared asked. “Maybe it like knows Base Language?” That was the language they used on that new show about a trading market stationed at the nexus of two wormholes. It was his favorite show and since one thing was true, why not the other?
“That’s science fiction. This is a fairy tale,” Paul hissed back at him. To the creature she said, “Creo que somos los únicos que le ven. Si podemos ayudarle en algo, solo tiene que decirnoslo y lo haremos.”
That did it! Jared didn’t read many fairy tales, but even he knew that you didn’t promise to do whatever a fairy asks. This was going to be big trouble for both of them. They were so going to miss the start of school, if not the whole day completely. If not die.
The creature kept coming at them, still muttering in Basque. Two steps before it crashed into them, it stopped and stared down at them.
“Anything?” It spoke unaccented English from the weirdest mouth ever. Its face was made up of twigs and small branches that spread up out from its neck where they were tied together by a vine and thinned out, ending in a kind of spiky haircut. The mouth was four smaller twigs sprouting out sideways and overlapping in the middle. These psuedo-lips moved just like normal lips did, but there was no mouth behind them, just more twigs and branches rising up. It was wrong, all wrong.
Jared swallowed hard and willed his knees to stop shaking.
“Well, anything that won’t cause us or anyone else harm, of course,” Paula added, fixing her earlier mistake. Jared gave a huge sigh of relief.
“Why are you so frightened?” the thing asked turning its full stare on Jared.
The eyes were even worse than the mouth. Not eyes at all, but eye-shaped blotches like marks that appeared on some types of bark, and yet they moved and had an impossible depth and intelligence to them.
“Me?” Jared squeaked, his voice cracking for the first time in three years. “I, uh, you see-” he couldn’t find the right words. Actually, he couldn’t find any words.
The thing smiled.
“I forgot how I must look to humans. It’s been a long time since anyone has seen me. Don’t worry, boy. I’m not going to hurt you.”
For some reason, that didn’t help. It just made Jared even more nervous. Why him? Why Paula? Why could they see this thing when no one else could?
The same question must have occurred to Paula at the same moment but being less afraid, she asked it out loud.
“Good question.” The twig-thing paused. “You know what? You can do something for me.”
Uh-oh. Here it was. The request for some hazardous quest, or something equally bad. Jared squeezed his eyes shut.
“Come talk to me every once in a while. You can usually find me over there near that bush. It offers a good view of the road and the train tracks and I like to spend my days there watching the world go by. It’s a good life, but it does get lonely at time.”
Jared opened his eyes. That was it? Talk to the thing? Keep it company?
“Sure! Sure!” he said before Paula could answer. “Of course! We’ll come by this afternoon in fact, but right now we’re late for school.”
“That won’t do at all,” the thing said. “Off you go! I look forward to this afternoon.”
Jared grabbed Paula’s hand and dragged her around the twig-thing and away. Although she kept looking back to watch it shamble along its usual path, she let Jared drag her off.
“That’s so cool,” she whispered.
Jared didn’t say anything but under the fear that was beginning to dissipate he had to admit that yeah, Paula was right. It was way cool.