Even though we got on the bus together, I refused to sit with David and his friends. With Phoenix or Elle nowhere to be seen I walked down the aisle alone, holding my breath like it could somehow make me look smaller, like it could make up for the fact that my hips almost brushed the seats on each side. The bus was silent, dozens of gazes on me. I found an empty seat halfway down and gently settled into it. I ignored David’s friends’ jokes about secret relationships, because we weren’t in primary school anymore. I blocked out their kissing noises and their laughter and just stared out of the window and watched the world go by.
I was so angry, angry at David for not believing me and for confronting me. I hated that he no longer trusted me and had found a different explanation, a way around the truth. It made my blood boil with rage but my heart sink in despair; the last time I lied to him it was about the location of where I’d buried his toy car. We were seven.
He must know that his explanations are tiresome, that he’s wrong. I sat alone, as trees zipped passed the window, my bag occupied the seat beside me. My music played loudly in my ears to calm my foul mood. I curled my feet up and rested my chin on my knees. Thinking way too hard and about too many things, I closed my eyes.
But, behind my eyelids was the darkness. A chill shot through me, making my veins feel as though they were lined with ice. In the music room, lights went off. In my house, lights went off. Enveloping me in complete darkness. In my mind I tried to reach out and I was greeted with nothing but a space of vast emptiness, a pair of red glowing eyes and that familiar desolate voice called out to me, “Ivy...”
My eyes snapped open. My breath was quick and shallow, echoing in my skull; my expression similar to that of a deer caught in the headlights. I pictured what my face would look like if I were to look in a mirror at that second; drained of colour and looking rather sick, lips trembling, eyes staring but not seeing, a single bead of sweat sliding down my left temple, hands clenched into tight fists. Even if my bag wasn’t beside me, I doubt anybody would have actually wanted to sit next to me.
I caught David’s eye and he mouthed, ‘Are you okay?’ I ignored him and looked down at my knees. Something was wrong, something was always wrong. My skin shivered, the hairs on my arms prickling up onto their ends as a strange, but familiar, coldness ran down my spine. That’s when the bus turned down the road that took us through the forest on the edge of town on our way to school as it would every morning and stopped. The driver twisted the key; the engine revved manically but wouldn’t start.
I frantically looked toward David, but he was groaning about the distance school was from here, along with the other students, no longer worried about me. I felt dizzy, like I was going to pass out, and watched the other students moan about a ten minute stroll.
The driver ordered us off the bus and told us to walk. While the other students got up and filed out of the bus, I was frozen to my seat. My knuckles clutching the strap of my bag, it took me a few more seconds to push up on my trembling legs and walk to the front of the bus.
The trees stood utterly still, statues in a living museum where no leaf dared to fall. A cloud hovered momentarily over the sun, creating new shadows and dark patches around me. The whole place was alive and crawling with wildlife, my eyes focused on a spider’s web glistening in the morning sunlight, rain droplets shimmering like diamonds on the thin strands. It was then when I noticed the fly ensnared within the strands, struggling to escape, trapped and unable to get out, aware of its fate.
Eyes glimmered from tree hollows, watching me and waiting for me. The wind wailed between distorted trunks, carrying the grotesque stench of rotting wood. I spotted a tree not too far away that had four streaks running diagonally across the trunk, claw marks. Just ahead of me there was a patch of feathers scattered across the fallen leaves, I swallowed, wrapped my jacket tightly around me and got off the bus.
The moment my feet touched the tarmac, my stomach dropped with fear, I wanted to run to the safety of David’s arms. Where he would be able to hold me against him and protect me from the surrounding danger. However, David was oblivious to the change in atmosphere and was walking down the road laughing with his friends, not bothered about me.
I felt the wind wisp through my loose hair, like a person with long bony fingers was about to grab a handful of my curls and drag me away. I managed to get my feet to move at a brisk pace, though they were heavy and stiff. A creeping sensation ran up my spine like the cold tip of a blade pressing lightly against my shivering skin.
As more clouds glided across the grey sky, they swept all light away from the eerie stillness of the forest below. A chilling mist crept closer and closer, threatening to engulf me and the other students, and cold wind blew from behind which brought the mist closer but also made my hair fly into my eyes. I was momentarily blind.
I took bigger steps, my hands twisting with the string of my hood and my teeth gnawing down on my sleeve. I tried to brush back my tumbleweed of hair but it was far too tangled, I broke into a run. Branches were reaching out trying to grab me, their long twigs scratching my arms; my feet were hard to lift from the ground as the mud clung to them desperately. I couldn’t see my classmates anymore. Had I gone the wrong way?
My head shot towards the sound. For a second I panicked until I registered the voice and ran full speed towards it.
Then my world went into slow motion, and as I turned my head slightly to the right I saw it. I saw a shadow.
In that moment, I felt cold. I felt the true meaning of fear. I felt as if there were a thousand eyes, hidden within the mist, watching me.
I ran across the forest floor, “David!” I cried frantically, “David, wait!”
He immediately stopped trying to steal his friends’ hat, in attempt to reveal really bad morning hair, and turned to face me, anxiety and concern set deep in the lines of his forehead.
I hissed, “David there’s something out there, I think it’s following me.”
David was, at first, stunned but then he scowled. His gaggle of friends, who were stood behind him, caught one another’s eyes humorously and a few burst into fits of laughter.
“Ivy…” David began; his tone severe.
I interrupted him before he could draw breath to continue, “I mean it David!” I said stubbornly, “There was something in the trees, I saw it watching me!”
“What did it look like?” A boy with soft brown eyes and a friendly smile asked.
I shook my head, “I don’t know, but it had big black eyes, just a shadow in the bushes.”
“Did it ever occur to you that it was just a shadow in the bushes?” David glowered.
I frowned at him, “How many ‘shadows’ have you seen that stand taller than you and have the distinct shape of a man?”
One of David’s cockier friends called out, “Dave mate, your bird is off her nut!”
A chorus of laughter erupted from the crowd.
Another boy, shorter than the last, chimed, “Dude, what has she been smoking and where can I get some?”
The only people who weren’t laughing now were David, the kind boy and I. I gritted my teeth and practically spat, “Nothing, I haven’t taken anything. And I’m not his “bird”!” I could feel myself going red.
“Ivy, this has got to stop,” David burst out, “You can’t keep letting your imagination run away with you like this.”
“I didn’t imagine it!” I snapped.
“You can be such a baby sometimes!”
“Don’t you dare talk to me like that!” I snarled, my jaw set.
“Why not? You’re acting like a child!” He exclaimed with equal frustration.
“I know what I saw.” I said quietly, firmly.
“And what exactly was that?” A long legged, pristine, blonde Barbie on the netball team piped up, “A goblin? A vampire perhaps? Are you sure it wasn’t just a giant rabid squirrel?” She mused. Her friends, all clones of her, hooted cruelly and David made no attempt to stop them, in fact he was smirking.
“No,” I retorted, “It was much bigger than a squirrel.” I was publicly being made fun of and David just stood there and watched me struggle through my mortification, laughing along with them.
“Are you positive?” The girl said, she was chewing on a piece of gum and reminded me of a cow chewing the cud. Her tone was that patronizing I didn’t even dignify it with a nod of my head. With my lack of reply the girl stuck her nose into the air, “Must’ve been the vampire then.”
I looked at my feet to try and hide my burning cheeks, then I stared David in the eye and he must’ve seen something that scared or worried him because his smile vanished.
I turned to the kind boy, who I now recognized as the guy who complimented my music on the bus last Friday, “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” He replied with a slight upturn of the lips, but that was all.
David reached his arm out towards me, “Ivy…”
I stepped back out of reach, “It’s okay David. You have done enough,” I shook my head and marched passed David and his herd, laying my hand on the kind boy’s arm in thanks again before I continued up the lane.
I despised David for his lack of confidence and the way he could make me feel, friendless, embarrassed and alone. I hadn’t finished cursing his name when he ran up beside me.
“Ivy, I’m so sorry,” It looked like he had been, was about to or was crying. I felt as much sympathy for him as he had previously just felt towards me when I was the main joke amongst his friends.
“No you aren’t David, if you were ’sorry’ you wouldn’t have acted the way you did.” I didn’t look at him when I said it.
He noticed, “Look at me?” When I didn’t he stepped in front of me so we were face to face, “I acted stupid, I know I did. I didn’t mean it, any of it, really Ivy I didn’t.”
I refused to meet his eyes.
“Ivy please,” He took my right hand in both of his, “I’m sorry.” He wrapped his arms around me tightly and held me close, I didn’t return the hug, I was too angry and upset and my arms remained limp by my sides. “I’m sorry,” He crushed me desperately to him but still all I felt was betrayal, I wasn’t ready to forgive just yet.
Eventually David held me at arm’s length, “I’ll do anything to make it right with you, anything,” He pleaded.
I knew that he was sorry; I could see it in his eyes, but still my ‘screw loose’ would be the talk of the school for many days to come and he hadn’t defended me. I thought about my answer for a few moments, “I’ll tell you what; you can take your hands off me and leave me the hell alone.”
It took him a long while but he reluctantly let go, his hands dropping to his sides. I watched the pain on his face, I knew he had seen how much of a struggle it was for me to walk away, I knew he had seen the tears. I knew he had seen the same pain in his face reflected back in mine, and still he let me walk away, watching the tears fall onto my cheeks and drop onto the pavement in front of me.
Then he laughed a wicked laugh that chilled me right to the bone, and went back to join his friends.