The pavement hammered underneath Innogen’s feet as her huge boots clapped onto the concrete, her arms pumping alongside her. And then, at the end of the block, she stopped, turned, and waited for the thirty seconds for her cousin to catch up. And then, they were off again, Innogen picking up the pace, running to the corner, and then waiting again.
“What did you do?” Enk asked, half-yelling.
“I don’t know!” she shot back just as fast, taking the tone accusingly. “I just thought about the rite and-”
“No! I mean, last night! You said you’d done-”
“Oh!” Innogen rounded the corner. “I lit the candle!”
“A candle you’d blown out?”
“… That’s it?”
“Hey, what?” Innogen shot back, looking over her shoulder.
Enk clutched at his chest, drawing his breath and slowing to a stop. “Good grief, Innogen,” he muttered, looking up at her. Planting his hands on his knees, and drawing his breath. “We’re … I’m…” A pause, and he looked back and around. “Wait, we’re here. Why- why were we running?
Innogen looked back, down the street, at her cousin’s house. “Wow. Really? I thought.” she stopped, circling around him. “I thought you’d moved at some point. Ever? Never? No?” Another pause, blithely ignoring that grand question.
“Zombies. There are zombie hamsters in my yard. There are hamsters in the yard. Innogen! There are zombie hamsters in my yard. Poked up through the snow and… and… shouldn’t… Innogen, am I… that is strange, isn’t it?”
“Well, it’s mid-February, it should snow a few times, and I mean, we’re kinda far north-”
Enk rubbed his forehead and slumped on the metal fence that marked the line between public property and his house. Well, his mother’s house. Once, it’d been solid, flat treated metal, but you couldn’t keep a fence like that in these parts without wind eventually flattening it, or the snow building up around it and doing the same thing. Sometime when Enk had been seven, the fence had been replaced, and it stood out in his mind with the most stark certainty as basically the only thing that divided six year old Enk’s life from eight year old Enk’s life.
The fence stood, in its own way, as a symbol of his youth. Mostly because while he could remember holidays rising and falling, drawing up on the horizon then vanishing instantly the day after they were over, while he could think and remember the fence in rain, snow, hail, short windows of sunlight, and so on, over and over again, he could never really put his finger down on which year was five, which was four, and which was six. Seven, though, was the first time the fence had changed.
For just the briefest instant, the howling wind, the urgency of his cousin’s sudden non-normal development – or their shared hallucination – and the tiny, half-skeletonised, half-decayed pack of hamsters that shuffled boredly around the front yard, cutting soft trails in the snow, was blown aside. Replacing it was the sudden realisation that for everything else that had gone on around him with a witch mother and a cousin who could probably have been wrestling bears in her tweens, he was a remarkably, nay, breathtakingly boring person. That same realisation then sent a shockwave through him as he realised that at the same time, that was probably the first time he’d ever felt anything of that emotional weight.
Really, it was a big day all over the place.
“Weird that there are so many of them. I mean, I only ever had six hamsters.” Enk mumbled, looking down at the front yard.
“Oh, my god, that’s adorable.”
“They’re zombie hamsters!”
“No, it’s adorable that you thought you only had six hamsters.” Innogen said. “C’mon. I wore these boots for a reason.” she said, planting her hands firmly on the fence. Gripping, she swung both her legs in one confident sweep, arcing over the fence and planting her feet with a crunch into the snow.
Braced for anything, she stepped forwards, only to find that zombie hamsters were still hamsters – and continued their bored shuffling around in the snow, bumping head first into the tree again and again. Stomping forwards, up the path, Innogen moved like the world had to get out of her way – and get out it did.
Enk watched her moving, then at the gate. “Hey, Innogen,” he said, putting his hand to unlock the gate and step through, “Why’d you-”
Innogen didn’t break stride – just called over her shoulder. “Didn’t want to risk any of ’em getting out. Might be able to sprint or something.”
Enk looked at the hamsters. He looked at his fence. He looked at the gate… and bit his lower lip. Fuck, it was cold. He was wearing his gloves, and yet, his cousin had vaulted this fence at a higher point, barehanded.
Planting his hands, he scrambled over the top, inelegant foot trying to catch purchase between two of the rectangles of the fence’s design once or twice, before it finally caught – and then he was over. Bumping down onto one knee, then slipping and nearly skidding, then almost hitting the path chin-first, Enk caught himself, only to gather his breath and wits in the same moment.
A tiny, dessicated skull looked back, completely ambivalent to his existence, and shuffled on past his waiting face. Scrabbling to his feet, the boy that called himself Hank, whose mother called him Enk, and who the school bullies had called “Wank,” ran after his cousin, up to the front door.
Behind him, the tiny hamsters continued in their wheeling, following the old runes scrip on the soil under the snow.