By Anuja Mitra
When I asked Ivy what our Halloween prank was this year, she said “to make something eternal.”
Nearly everyone we’d known from school had left, but leaving was a habit people had in our town. Gone was the buzz we’d felt around Halloween as children; spinning around the sidewalks at night, the moon closer and more mischievous than ever. Now all the evenings felt brittle, like autumn was slipping by faster than we could keep up.
To hell with everyone who’d abandoned us, Ivy announced. We were going to paint the town red. That is, the tree by the gate of our old playground. We were going to paint spooky faces on the tree.
I’d wondered, why a tree? But Ivy just shrugged. “A tree never has to die.”
It didn’t, not like us. Deforestation was no threat; they’d stopped felling trees when the town had stopped trying to attract anyone new. A tree couldn’t leave, couldn’t forsake us for the city like our friends. As long as there was sun and good soil it would go on living as life changed around it.
We worked until our arms got tired. The wet paint was luminous in the dark, making our masterpiece stand out better than we’d hoped. I admired the wailing mouth and its jagged teeth, the oversized eyes in the pumpkin-like face.
It was garish and stupid and perfect — as real and proud as lovers’ initials, declaiming to all who drove by: someone was here, someone always will be.
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Anuja Mitra is a writer from Aotearoa New Zealand. Her short prose has appeared in Lamplight, Year’s Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction and Fantasy, and A Clear Dawn: New Asian Voices from Aotearoa New Zealand. Her Linktree and occasional commentary can be found on the dying platform that is Twitter: @anuja_m9.