Fly was an odd kid, even by odd kid standards. I met her in sixth grade, when our alphabetically ordered last names landed us in adjacent seats, and she turned to look at me with a cheerful, gap toothed smile.
“Hi!” She said.
“Hi.” I replied quietly.
I was shy and intimidated by my first day in middle school, but she wasn’t the least bit nervous.
“I’m Eden, but nobody calls me that. They call me Fly, so you can too!”
“Um, thanks. I’m Stephanie.”
“We should be friends!”
But Fly and I never really became friends. She’d talk at me during class, walk behind me in the halls, even go so far as to follow me home some days, but I never felt a “click” with her. As far as I could tell, no one else did either.
That didn’t stop her from smiling though. She was always smiling, always cheerful, always in a good mood. Even when she was sitting alone at lunch or picked last in gym class, always smiling, and it always seemed so genuine.
The rest of us thought it was weird.
She did manage to get a single invitation over to my house once, when my mom saw her standing at the foot of our driveway after school one day while I hoofed it towards the door.
“Why don’t you invite your little friend in?” She said as I came inside.
“That’s just Fly, she’s weird, she’s not my friend.”
“She looks like she wants to be. Have you given her a chance?”
I looked out the window at the girl, who was smiling and shuffling her feet and hanging about on the sidewalk outside my house, like she was hoping if she just waited long enough, she’d be asked inside.
“Kind of?” I mumbled.
“Come on, kiddo, she might be really nice!”
I groaned, but relented and opened to door to shout at Fly. “Mom says you can come in for dinner!”
Fly’s freckled face lit up and she wasted no time in running in.
At the table, my parents made polite small talk with her and asked repeatedly if she should call her parents to let them know where she was.
“No, it’s really ok, they don’t mind! Mom works nights and dad’s sick a lot, so they don’t mind if I eat at a friend’s house.” She said.
Dinner wasn’t all that bad, she wasn’t messy, she stayed pretty quiet unless someone spoke to her, and she offered to help with dishes, but then she just would not leave. She even sat on our couch to watch some TV with us! Mom tried to subtly hint that it was getting late and she should go, but Fly remained, oblivious and smiling.
We only got her to go when Dad finally said he’d drive her home so she wasn’t walking in the dark.
“That’s ok! I’m fine walking.” She said as she slung her fat backpack over her shoulder. “Thanks for dinner, it was super, super good!”
We watched her go until she disappeared around the corner and then I breathed a sigh of relief.
“See?” I said to Mom. “Weird.”
“Don’t be mean, Stephanie Anne. I think she’s just lonely.”
Whatever Fly was, I didn’t really want her around.
I eventually went on to make a new group of friends, which didn’t include Fly, and while we didn’t go out of our way to exclude her, we certainly didn’t make any attempts to involve her. Fly would still wave to me and say her usual, chipper hello, but she seemed to understand that we weren’t buddies.
At least, I thought so.
It started with the strange, skin tingling sensation of being watched on my way home from school one afternoon. It was early winter and the days were getting shorter, so the sun was already starting to set. I stopped and turned, scanning the empty street behind me, but it appeared that I was alone.
The moment I turned back around, though, the prickling certainty that someone was watching me started up again. I took a few more steps and then whirled around in time to see a flash of pink disappearing down a side street.
I ran back to the corner just in time to see Fly ducking around the side of a house, her pink jacket bright against the dark siding.
When I got home, I complained to my parents that Fly had been following me, but they tutted and told me she was probably just on her own way home. I grumbled a bit more, but ultimately let it go. After all, they could very well have been right.
At school the next day, Fly offered her usual smile and wave, but I pretended I didn’t notice. I wanted her to know without a doubt that we were not friends. She seemed to get the message and stopped waving, but if it bothered her, she kept it to herself.
And, still, she never stopped smiling.
Winter hit hard that year and snow fell in thick, heavy blankets over our town. We had a few back to back to snow days and I spent many of them outside, sledding and building snow forts with neighborhood kids.
Usually I wouldn’t have thought twice about seeing footprints in the snow around my house given how often I was running around outside, but as I was leaping out the door for another day of winter fun one morning, I noticed something unusual.
We’d had fresh snowfall overnight and I’d been very excited about being the first to stomp my way through our yard, but there were already tracks at our front door. I frowned down at them, wondering if one of my parents had come out when I was still in bed, but they had assured me they’d let me have the honor of going outside first.
I dropped my sled beside the door and I followed those tracks along the front of the house, around the side, and then to the back, where they stopped in a small, cleared out circle beneath our family room window.
In the circle, a few sticks held loosely together by twine to resemble a crude doll had been left.
I shivered despite the warmth of my jacket and kicked snow over that strange doll-thing before jumping on it, packing the snow down good and tight, for good measure.
I had no proof, but I was sure Fly had been lurking around the house.
I didn’t mention the tracks or the sticks to my parents; I doubted they’d take me seriously if I did. They continued to view Fly as a harmless, lonely girl looking for a friend, but I knew she was up to something, and I was going to catch her and prove that she wasn’t the innocent kid they thought she was.
I just needed to think of a good Fly trap.
A thump outside my window woke me up in the middle of the night. I bolted upright and looked across the room, where my curtains were pulled shut, blocking out the night. I held my breath, my heart beat starting to quicken, and I waited.
I slid out of bed and took one step, and then two towards the window. There was a voice, quiet and muffled, and I froze.
She was talking to herself, or maybe to me, I wasn’t sure, and it kept me rooted to the spot while I listened to her whispers.
Finally I managed to force myself forward and I grabbed my curtains and threw them aside so that I could look out.
Fly was sitting beneath my window with one of her stick figures in her hand. When I yanked back the curtains, she looked up, pale in the moonlight save for her large dark eyes, and we stared at one another for a long, tense moment before she sprang up and ran off.
After slapping the curtains back into place over the window, I jumped back in my bed and buried myself beneath my comforter. Whatever Fly was doing, whatever her intent, I was thoroughly creeped out. I decided that if I wanted it to stop, I’d have to make her myself.
I’d tell her in school the next day, make sure everyone heard how she’d been stalking me and how weird she was; that would do it. She’d be so embarrassed and ashamed that she’d have to leave me alone!
Even with a plan in place, I had trouble getting back to sleep. Every sound outside had me wondering if it was her coming back to sit below my window again.
Fly wasn’t in school the next day, though, or the next, and no one knew where she was. As much as I disliked her, I was still curious about why she wasn’t coming to class. Maybe she’d been too scared to come after I caught her, I thought, or maybe she’s just waiting, hoping I’ll forget so she can come back.
It unsettled me, having to wonder where she was and what she was doing. At least when she’d been in school, I’d been able to keep an eye on her. Now, she could be breaking into my house and doing who knows what to my things! The thought alone was enough to have me shaking with fear and anger.
It seemed I was going to have to give her a taste of her own medicine.
After class, I went up to our teacher and told her that Fly had asked me to get her homework assignments and bring them over to house, but I’d forgotten her address. Mrs. Oldson was very grateful and willingly provided me with both Fly’s work and her address.
Unsure of what exactly I hoped to accomplish, I hurried home after school, grabbed my bike, and set off to find Fly.
She lived only a few miles away from me in a nice little neighborhood of white picket fences and two stories houses. Christmas lights twinkled from snow laden roofs and frosted windows. I checked her address again and peddled my way towards her house, trying to figure out what I’d say when I confronted her.
Fly was standing outside in her lawn when I arrived, her hands tucked into her jacket pocket, staring at her house.
I skid to a stop on the slippery sidewalk and let my bike fall noisily beside me.
“Hey!” I said, trying to sound aggressive.
“Hey.” Fly said quietly. She didn’t turn to look at me.
“Why have you been following me?” I demanded, cutting right to the point and stomping up behind her. “Why were you outside my house?”
“Sorry.” She said.
I grabbed her arm and made her face me with all the anger an eleven year old could muster, and then all my bluster and bravado came to a screeching, confused halt.
She was still smiling, but it was a forced, pained expression, and tears were slipping down her cheeks.
“Fly?” I asked.
“Fly.” She repeated through her grit-toothed smile. “My mom gave me that nickname. You know how come?”
“No?” I said cautiously.
“She started calling me Fly ‘cos I was just a nasty little add on to the shit heap that’s her life, just buzzing around and being a pest.” She choked on a giggle-sob.
I loosened my grip on her arm and she looked at the house again.
“Sorry about following you and stuff.” She said. “It’s just…your family was so nice. You were nice, too. I just wanted to be around it. It was fun to pretend for a little.”
“Pretend?” I had involuntarily taken a step away from her. The way she was talking made my hair stand on end.
“Yeah. I could pretend we were friends, that your parents liked me. I even made these dolls out of sticks like we were playing together…it’s dumb, huh?”
She shrugged and wiped the sleeve of her jacket across her nose. “Cos your daddy didn’t drink a lot and fall asleep on the floor and pee himself. Your mom didn’t go out with different guys every night so they’d buy her presents. They cook you food and let your friends come over and they don’t hit you, do they?”
“N-no.” I stuttered.
The smell of smoke was slowly starting to fill the air and I sniffed nervously, my eyes slipping to the house. A thin stream of gray was spiraling up from under the front door.
“My parents didn’t like me. I know you didn’t either, I know your friends didn’t, nobody did. But you still let me have dinner with you that one time and it was just so…nice.”
Smoke was rolling out from beneath the door and pressing against the windows now.
“Fly, your house!” I shouted.
She nodded. “I know.”
“We need to call 911! Your parents!” I was getting frantic.
I could hear the crackle of flame, growing louder and hungrier within her home.
Fly just stood there, her eyes shining and wet, watching the fire grow.
“My parents are inside.” She said.
And the whole time, as wounded and broken as the expression was, she never stopped smiling.