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People just didn’t understand Alden.


He blinked out of his daydream to see his teacher standing above him. Her face always looked like she’d just bitten into a lemon, but it was extra twisted at the moment, a fire in her dumb brown eyes.

She snatched the paper from beneath his arms, the one where he’d been doodling a knife-brandishing Jason surrounded by severed body parts. It was the horror movie scene he started picturing in his head when she first started talking about George Washington. She smashed the paper in her fist as her lips pressed together so hard they made her face white. She sputtered out short sentences. “Principal’s. Office. Now.”

Alden pretended he was a serial killer being interrogated by the cops as the principal yelled at him. Blank faced and calm so it would be over quickly. It worked.

The walk home from school felt too short. Normally, rounding the blocks of shoebox houses to the last one by the fields took forever. He knew his parents were going to be mad when he showed them the write-up, especially because he’d just pinky-promised his dad he wouldn’t draw anything else gory at school.

He sighed, slowing his steps.

People didn’t understand Alden. He heard adults whisper weird words with stupid meanings behind closed doors, and gotten used to the strange looks when he talked out loud about the things inside his head. He didn’t care, though. The world was boring, so he made it fun.

His mom’s car wasn’t in the driveway when he reached his house and he silently cheered. She was the one who demanded to see his folder when he got home from school. His dad was in the kitchen, making dinner. He walked in and tossed his backpack across the table. “My teacher’s a bitch,” he told his dad. “I’m gonna go play outside.”

“Don’t swear.” His dad turned before to see his outfit.

Alden insisted on wearing whatever the hell he wanted to wear, whenever the hell he wanted to wear it, regardless of parental protestations. This morning’s outfit had been a big yellow raincoat and rainboots - his Georgie outfit, he called it.

“You do know it’s not raining, right?”

“It’s part of my costume,” Alden informed him. He grabbed a toy knife out of the toybox in the hall, and his favorite Jason mask out of the pile nearby. It was the one too big for his face, but he decorated it Michael Myers style with markers - not from the old, stupid version of Halloween, the one from the movie his dad let him watch if he promised not to tell Mom.

Alden’s backyard was huge, at least an acre, and it ended in an old playground that once belonged to his neighbors before they moved. It was rundown and the swings creaked with rust, making it the perfect setting for his horror movies. He stomped through the high grass toward it, whistling the Halloween theme song now stuck in his head.

The skies were overcast behind the tall trees surrounding him. He imagined them reaching down to grab him and the skies pouring rain as he stalked through the grass with his machete, looking for his next kill. He’d decided it was an evil teacher with dumb brown eyes that tortured little kids in her cellar.

He was almost to the playground where she enticed her victims when he heard someone behind him. He turned around, thinking it was his dad. It was actually a fat man with tiny glasses. He wore a sweat-stained polo that smelled like onions.

Alden’s movie fell away. He was now just a kid standing in his yard wearing a raincoat, holding a plastic machete from last year’s Halloween. He scowled, annoyed that his fantasy was so rudely interrupted.

“Hey, buddy, cool Freddie mask.”

Alden just stared, unamused.

“Did you see my dog come through here?”