I wasn’t supposed to, but the memory still clings to me in full color: their grass-green eyes, pale skin polished bright as the sunrise, lolling blue tongues between poppy-red lips. My parents—part flowers, part lace-wing flies, the aspects of immortal children—they left me here.
And taking her instead, a sniveling mortal.
They left me here swaddled in her clothing, white as a chalk outline around my flailing body. They looked down on me—small, helpless, heart eternally tied to them—and they turned their backs.
I remember crying—trying to call them back to me. My skin turned a molted purple. Her humans came to pacify me, not knowing the difference, not understanding that they did not belong to me. I did not stop crying.
Her humans brought me to their shamans, their curanderos, their specialists. I did not eat. I did not sleep. I only cried.
When I had cried for seven years, I realized that crying would not make them come back—ever. Their scent had faded despite everything I did to suck it into my lungs, pour it out through my tears. So I let my body fall silent, hushed the green heart beating inside of me, let the human world make what it would of my abandoned shell.
But I never forgot.
“Who did you kill?” The boy in the mall grabs my hand, dark almond eyes bugging out just a little. With his thumb, he traces the single line that slashes across the middle of my left hand.
“Excuse me?” The humans normally let me slink through their world without taking sound or touch. But these conventions are lost on the boy who stood behind the counter of the novelty store. I try to yank my hand back, but he holds on.
“My great-aunt had a mark just like this. Back in Thailand, the old villagers would say that children who had this mark cut off someone else’s life the day they were born. It is a sign of very bad luck.”
“Yeah well, I Googled it once.” I say, trying to free my hand, take my earrings and leave. “It means I’m retarded and contagious.”
He smiles, the corners of his lips almost eclipsing his eyes. “My great-grandmother died a few minutes before my aunt was born. They had to cut her free. But I don’t believe that she was unlucky. And I don’t believe that you are retarded.”
“Can I have my hand back, please?”
“She could talk to clouds and sing fish into nets and she looked just like you.” The boy keeps his eyes on my face as if the revelation might turn me to stone or make me break into a million pieces.
I didn’t do either, I only get very, very cold. Like me? There is nobody like me here. I slowly stick out my long blue-black tongue for him to see. He is mistaken.
“Just like my aunt,” he says. “A hundred and three years old and not a hair different from you. She was a ghost too.”
“I’m not a ghost.” I say. I am very much alive, my molecules disintegrating just like his. Suddenly, I have to know what happened to his aunt. He speaks of her in past tense. Maybe she died. Or. Maybe her real parents finally came back for her. I need this boy to tell me how she managed it.
“That’s only what your kind is called in Thai. A bad translation, maybe—everything frightening and supernatural is a ghost. In English, you might be something more like a fairy. But not like Tinkerbelle.”
I shake my head. Not like Tinkerbelle. “Tell me. What happened to your aunt?”
“She disappeared. Right here in this very store. Right where you are standing now.”
“What do you mean ‘disappeared’?”
“Flickered away into nothing.” He flicks the air with his free hand, as if the gesture explains things. “I was three. I saw it happen.”
“And she just abandoned you here in this mall?” I turn my face to where he must have stood and felt the energy of a tiny boy who could not stop his tears any more than I could.
His mouth flinches at my casual use of the word ‘abandoned,’ so I know the energy is still tied to him. Why would he choose to work here? To be around the heavy, choking sadness all day, day after day? But then, of all people, who am I to ask these questions?
“Tell me who you killed,” he says, squeezing my hand, giving the words an almost intimate quality. We are school children exchanging secrets. “Whose life did you cut off with your own?”
“I didn’t do it,” I whisper back. I have never considered that the human child was probably dead, never considered anything other than my conviction that they wanted her more than they wanted me. “They took her and left me in her place. I didn’t want them to.”
“Your parents?” He asks. I flinch the way he did when I said the word ‘abandoned.’ The boy doesn’t ask me any other questions, but he doesn’t let go of my hand either. If anything, he rubs the single crease harder and harder as if he could wipe it off.
“Do you know how she did it? How she left?” I ask desperately. He considers me for a long time.
“In the old stories, there’s a map.”
“Do you have it?” The tears from my seven years of calling them threaten to spill over onto the plastic and glass counter. He rubs it faster and faster, crushing my bones in his grip. But it doesn’t hurt.
He looks down at the hand mangled in his own. “Now I do.”
“Please.” It was all that I could say.
“Promise to take me with you.” The energy of the crying child next to me grew, its heat pulling a sweat to my clammy skin. “No tricks.”
“Yes. I promise. Show me.”
He grabs a pair of handcuffs from a display wrack and handcuffs our wrists together. The metal bites into my skin. “These are iron.”
“I’m not Tinkerbelle.” His smile does not reach his eyes. The crying child’s energy vibrates through my body. So much sadness—iron and blood in his tears, in my own, abandonment growing in us like cancers, the scraping and scraping of old wounds. As if mere iron could poison either of us.
“Give me your other hand.” I give him my right hand. He fits my palms together—the long simian crease of my left hand flowing into the heartline of my right. We lean over my glowing palms. Mountains, valleys, rivers—land forms of all kinds begin to form. I can glimpse us soaring together over the lines in my hands, feel our destination more than I can see it.
“It was right here, in your own hands this whole time,” he says a second before we let go of our molecules.
We close our eyes and flicker out like dying candles.