A New Friend by Caitlin MacEwan

Agnes was a normal child, give or take. She liked school enough, but liked playtime more. She loved every holiday, with Christmas just outranking Halloween. She wasn’t afraid of the dark but she still kept her nightlight on after her nightly fairy-tale. If she’d been good during the day she was allowed to play outside after dinner with her friends. Most nights her family watched TV, but some nights they played board-games (though certain ones were banned - Monopoly, Snap, Frustration).

She always took the long way back from school. Her mother didn’t finish work until four, which left her with some time to meander; she got to explore and poke things with sticks and she always tried to feed the ducks her leftovers from lunch.

As winter came closer the walk home got a little darker. Not totally dark, because then she’d have to take a lift with Susy from down the road, and she didn’t like Susy. She’s sure it started over who won the 100m at the first school sports day (Agnes) but she wasn’t sure how it had lasted the three years since.

It had been two weeks since Agnes’ second favourite holiday, and she was wearing a coat, gloves and a hat to protect her as the autumn chill finally set in. She headed to the duck pond with determination when she saw a strange movement from the corner of her eye. The path was normally pretty empty. Her shortcut went behind the council houses with high-fences and all she usually saw was the occasional cat (which she could never win over).

Agnes didn’t know what to do… She wasn’t doing anything wrong, but sometimes adults had different ideas about that and she didn’t want to get yelled at. She just wanted to make it to the ducks.

Her walk slowed to a stop. She had to at least have a peek. She leant forward, looking curiously into the small group of trees and bushes where the movement was.

‘Hello?’

Agnes saw the movement again, and felt a small thrill. It looked kind of big... maybe like a wolf or a bear.

‘It’s okay. I’m very friendly,’ she assured, stepping closer.

Another movement, and then the creature moved out from behind the trees, just in front of her. It became very clear to Agnes that it was not an animal of any kind. It was as tall as her mother, at least, and it didn’t entirely have a shape. It looked as if black liquid was rolling off it, but it didn’t have a puddle so it must have been able to soak it back up somehow. The outline was constantly changing as the blackness pulsed, almost like it was made of waves. It had eyes that were a denser black than the rest, and those eyes seemed to consider Agnes in return.

Now Agnes was in a pickle. She knew how to talk to adults (please, thank you), and what to say to teachers (miss, sir), but what did you say to monsters? She didn’t think her mother would have a rule about it, but she was only five stars away from getting her new doll (with hair that changed colour in water) and being rude could lose you 15 sometimes. What if being rude to this monster was the same deal? Could you even be ‘rude’ to a monster? Maybe she shouldn’t chance it...

Agnes fidgeted, looking over the monster and twisting her mouth. She took a step back, then another. The monster didn’t move exactly, but it tilted and kind of rolled towards Agnes to follow her.

Then, suddenly, the monster had company. It was the same type, only bigger, reaching up to the tree branches. She saw it move, fold over a bit, and look down at her with the same dense eyes as the smaller monster.

Agnes relaxed. She didn’t know what was rude to an adult monster, but the smaller one was clearly a kid like her and kids didn’t have rules, as long as you didn’t throw things or make someone cry.

‘I’m Agnes,’ she stepped closer again and the smaller monster tilted towards her a bit, the black-sea of its body moving a little quicker, ‘Can you speak?’

She thought she saw it tilt its head.

‘Maybe not. It’s okay. I’m friends with Dominic and he can’t talk at all. We have to learn sign language – the whole class! Do you know sign language?’ Agnes demonstrated a bit, and then gasped with delight as the small monster in front of her grew arms, just to copy her movements!
‘Great! Good job. That’s just saying ‘good morning’, I can teach you more…’ Agnes trailed off when the big monster reached out some of its darkness, tugging the small monster away.
Well, look at that - all parents were the same!

‘Well, uh – nice to meet you. I guess you have to go but maybe we can play again later? I can teach you more signs. Wait! Take this.’

She reached into her bag to get out her laminated sign-language sheet, with all the basic signs on it. She offered it over and the kid monster took it. Its arms disappeared into its body, and when they reappeared they were empty.

‘Keep it safe,’ Agnes said, waving goodbye.

The small monster repeated the movement and Agnes grinned. Both monsters shifted their strange bodies and then they both turned off into the shadows of the trees. She made sure they were definitely gone before she started back on the path to the duck pond happily.

She felt confident that she wouldn’t get in trouble for talking to a kid – you’re meant to be friendly and teach each other stuff. Especially if the kid is a bit weird. If anything, it might earn her a star!

***

Caitlin MacEwan is 25, lives in the Highlands of Scotland and has been writing for over 15 years. She writes short-fiction, poetry and is currently working on a few longer projects. You can find her on twitter @snufflur or on Flickr @grufflump.

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