Written for Trifecta. "When you die, you will come back as a snake," said the strange new girl with strawberry hair and oriental eyes, as if she were casting a spell on my brother while we waited under crispy red trees for the school bus. Ramona had moved in with her grandmother in July and she wore only black, even on the stickiest summer days while the rest of us were up to our chins in the community swimming pool.
My brother, Chase, vexed Ramona by claiming that Mrs. Augustine was not her real grandma. Ramona spent the whole bus ride staring at Chase, giving him an eye so evil my mother would have covered his buzzed blonde head with a blanket. She was superstitious about things like that.
Ramona didn't have one friend. She stalked my brother at recess, watching him like a cat waiting to pounce. Sometimes I didn't notice it was my turn on the monkey bars because I was busy watching her watching him.
One morning, when my breath cut the fog, Chase asked Ramona to stop staring at him. She whispered, "never," and goosebumps prickled the back of my neck. I wanted to confess our troubles to mother, but Chase forbade me. He believed in courage over weakness, silence over scandal.
On Halloween, Chase dressed up as death and I turned into a black cat, whiskers and all. We begged mother to let us go trick-or-treating on our own. She walked and we needed to run. We wanted more candy than houses in our neighborhood. We wanted to hedge our childhood with sugar. Even then, we sensed it would be over soon.
The first thing the driver saw was a black cat in the road. Not me, but a real black cat. She swerved to avoid it, like pulling your hand out of boiling water. The last thing she saw was a skeleton flying through her windshield. A little boy, wearing all black and white bones.