Lonely, the ghost of Autumn leaned against her tree and stretched her legs along the edge of her grave. A breeze sipped uselessly at her warmth, though she still tucked her arms into her dress. Her bones clawed from the earth, brown with the rot of years. Autumn envied them. Her eleven years remained untouched by the passage of time.
She prayed most nights, when the stars were out and the animals scuttled by in small packs. In the beginning she prayed for life. Then, as the years rolled by and she began to know the animals by name, she prayed only for a friend. She prayed for anyone to know she was there beside the tree. Anyone other than the devil-man who had put her there.
That October day, with her arms tucked in her dress and her eyes scanning the fogged horizon, a boy answered her prayers. At first she thought he was the devil-man, but his feet fell lightly and without malice. She dared to peek around the tree and saw that he was young, her own age at most. He had scraggly brown hair and boots that looked too big for his feet. He had red lips that looked pretty in the setting sun.
The boy saw her and Autumn was very nervous. She stepped timidly around the tree, her hands clasped at her waist. She wished that she could change her clothes. Her dress was tattered, her flesh grimy with dirt. Her hair hung in a mess of knots and bugs.
“Hello,” said the boy.
Autumn had not spoken in many years. “Hu-low,” she managed.
The boy stared at her, scrutinizing. He wore a striped shirt and torn jeans and had a long stick in his hands. “Are you lost?” he asked.
“No,” she said curtly. “Are you?”
“I’ve got a compass,” he said. He showed her his compass.
Autumn stepped softly toward him, but not so far from the tree that the shadows would come.
“I heard you crying,” said the boy.
He went to her, swishing his stick high and low. Up above, a squirrel scurried along a branch. “Why are your clothes so dirty.”
“Because I live in the woods.”
The boy smiled. “Nice place to live. Do you get cold at night?”
He extended a hand. “My name’s Davie.”
Autumn liked his name and politely told him so as they shook hands. Dirt crunched out when their palms met.
“It’s really David,” he said. “But I like Davie better.”
“Me too.” She pushed her hair behind her ears. “Would you like to sit with me?”
Davie hesitated and then leaned upon his stick. “Are you sure you aren’t lost? I live just outside the woods.” He pointed into the distance. “You can’t see it from here, but off that way.”
“I’m sure,” she said.
Davie looked at her doubtfully, and Autumn feared he might leave.
“Please, stay,” she said hurriedly. “Just for a few minutes?”