Simon St. George
It was autumn. October. It was the edge of a wicked season, and Christmas was a far-off thought. The amber-crimson colors of fall, and its pumpkin-spice smells, surrounded Simon St. George like a vast, bewitching fire. There had never been an October that felt so perfectly suited to Halloween.
There was a chill in the air that was worse than normal for this time of year, and a fog hung around the Bay, and the houses in the Bay, with a cruel persistence. The trees seemed to hunch over in sadness and wish for their leaves back to keep them warm. All the pumpkins in Ebony Hollow's fields seemed rotten, and to ache from their own rottenness. The factory smoke from over the hill swept down into town, and the gray daylight seemed to give way after only a few hours to a deep, intense nightfall. No one wanted to be out much. And no one could sleep.
Simon St. George had only the faintest sense of all this. The idea that something wasn't quite right just skittered over his mind between thoughts of tomorrow's Halloween masquerade and a girl in town whose name he did not know.
For him, Halloween was more than just fun and games. The masquerade was something everyone had to go to at his school, a tradition, and everyone had to be in costume. Simon wasn't sure why he needed a costume; he seemed to disappear in a crowd easily enough without one.
No matter what he did, no one seemed to notice him or take him very seriously. He was an average kid, a bit smallish, which made him easy to ignore. He had an upturned pug-nose, and blond, wiry, slept-in hair that made him look even younger. But he often kept his head down, so you never got a really good look at him; to the other boys, if they thought of him at all, he was something of a mystery.
Simon went to an elite academy that was called the Lighthouse School for Boys, because it was just for boys and it was made from a giant old lighthouse. It was a boarding school, where children slept and ate and lived, at least for most of the year. It was perfect if your parents wanted you to be strong and independent, or if they didn't have time for you. Simon St. George had parents who didn't have time for him. They paid for his school, but he didn't know who they were, hadn't seen them since he was two years old, and he didn't like to talk about it, if it was all the same to you.
At this moment, it was hard to see the Lighthouse School. There was just its shining light, laboring to cut through the mist. On most days the Lighthouse School could be seen from almost anywhere in town, because it was on a high promontory cliff and it was huge. In this same way, the school had dominated Simon's life. It was the only home he had ever known.
He stood at the corner of the misty street and stared at the little novelty shop on the opposite corner. He could just make out the shop window filled with strange, hand-painted masks, and the daughter of the shop owner at the counter. Simon had hardly ever said a word to her, but she kept his secret, that he liked to collect toys and marbles, because her shop was where he bought them. He was thirteen. She was maybe two years older.
Simon watched the girl adjust the masks hanging in the window. He gathered up his nerve and stepped off to cross the street.
As he did, the foghorn bellowed at the edge of the bay with a low moan. And something else happened. Simon turned to look for traffic, and saw at the next corner, crossing the street going the other way, a very tall figure, hunched over as if from a deformity or sickness. He wore a long trench coat with the collar pulled up tight around his neck and an old hat pulled down close, so none of his face could be seen. It was just a quick moment, but as Simon looked, the wind picked up and blew the man's coat open. Although the man quickly tightened it around him, Simon could swear he saw a clawlike foot and a thick tail slapping the ground, a tail like the largest snake on earth.
It was hard for Simon to get a good look through the fog. The man was no more than a shadowy profile. In the next second, the figure had moved on, around a corner, and couldn't be seen, and the idea that some sort of creature was roaming the streets of Ebony Hollow was too ridiculous to investigate.
So Simon caught his breath and went inside the novelty shop, feeling around in his pocket for money and feeling around in his head for something to say to the girl behind the counter. He stood at the doorway and managed to catch her gaze for about a second, and that was it.
His eyes scanned a glass case that held a series of tiny knight figures made of metal, a kind Simon collected. He didn't know why he liked them, but he did. No one else his age ever wanted these.
He bought a little black knight and a Halloween mask that matched it, and he was just starting to talk to the girl about the masquerade when he was interrupted.
With a bang the shop door opened, and a group of boys from his school herded in, noisily, arrogantly pushing Simon aside as they argued over costumes. The girl almost instantly forgot about him, and after trying to be heard over their voices, Simon left the boys and the shop behind. Today just wasn't his day.