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(2) Boy Next Door

DYLAN CORVALL HAD ONE PURPOSE and one purpose only: get into an art course at university and change the world through photography. His father’s purpose was to reign over their small town of Hains. Admittedly, it was admirable – but, Dylan thought, slightly small-minded. Why change the lives of four thousand people living together in one dead-end town when you could change the world?

Tonight was meant to be the night that kick-started his life, the fire that would light the cannon and catapult him into his future. He had a three-step list that would ensure he captured every aspect of the town –

1. Go to the graveyard and capture the dead.

2. Hit up Hallow-Hains festival and photograph the living.

3. Document the streets while the town trick-or-treats.

But there was Bethanie, her black clothes only serving to make her seem brighter, as though she were a sun during a solar eclipse, her previously unseen corona bursting to brilliant life. Her mere presence set his plans alight.

Dylan watched from the doorway, transfixed, as she made herself comfortable on the padded window seat in his room. He forced himself to stop staring, to move, and took a seat on the edge of his desk chair.

“You mind explaining what this is all about?” he asked.

Bethanie gazed over at him, then down at her watch. It looked expensive. “We have twenty-one minutes until Hallow-Hains begins. Thirty until my friends start wondering where I am. Fifty until they decide I’m not coming and get on with their day without me. If we–” She stopped, a frown appearing between her eyebrows. “What are you wearing?”

Dylan looked down at his jeans and favourite shirt – dark grey, a Bauhaus album cover on the front, the word ‘undead’ on the back. He felt it appropriate, considering it was Halloween. “It’s a Bauhaus shirt. You know, the gothic-rock band from the eighties?”

“You have a costume, don’t you? For tonight?”

Dylan frowned. “What’s wrong with this?”

She sighed, standing up. “Nevermind. The day is only twenty four hours long – fourteen, now – and we can’t waste a minute of it. Come.”

She was on the stairs before he could blink, headed back down. “Where are you going?” he asked from the top. “You just got here.”

At the base of the staircase, Bethanie stopped and looked back up at him. “I think a more appropriate question would be, where are we going?” She headed for the door.

Feeling mighty like he was connected to Bethanie by a string, he moved after her, his camera swaying around his neck as head made his way down the stairs. There was a moment, when Bethanie opened the door, that the light spilled in around her like a halo – a brilliant silver aura contrasting with the darkness inside the house. Quickly, he raised his camera, and – snap.

When she turned back around, his camera was swinging from his neck again. “Did you just–”

“What?” He was standing before her now at the threshold to the outside world.

“Take a photo…of me?”

“Of course not. That would be weird.”

She looked perplexed, the expression creating two little frown lines between her neatly maintained brows. It was endearing, Dylan thought, and then dismissed it. He moved on past her down the path, missing when she muttered, “Yeah. Weird. Right,” as if she needed to convince herself of it.

Before Dylan knew it, they were in Bethanie’s osmium grey Volvo. She was like a wind-up toy that never wound-down – always moving, moving, moving.

“First up: the river,” Bethanie said from the driver’s seat five minutes in.

They were driving down a road surrounded on all sides by dark forest, the pine trees pointing like arrows to the sullen sky. It wasn’t an uncommon sight in Hains. Most roads were at least spotted with some patches of forest, and more than seventy per cent of the year was overcast – Dylan was certain. But just looking at the trees reminded him of another road, one that lead to silence rather than the crash of water.

“Actually, there’s a stop I’d like to make before that,” Dylan said, still slightly overwhelmed by the fact that Bethanie Cousins, high school it-girl and distant neighbour, was seated right beside him. It wasn’t like he was crushing on her – although that wasn’t entirely true, most everyone did at some point – but she was the kind of figure you saw only from a distance, emanating an ethereal glow like some higher being.

He had to remind himself: she was no goddess – just a girl.

She smiled slightly at the road, a tiny wink at the corner of her mouth. When her eyes flashed in his direction, they were grey-blue and curious. “Okay, Dylan. Lead the way.”

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