The party was in a large clearing in Fallsdale woods ringed by trees Ed had never seen before. Gnarled and gray and splotchy. That was odd. Ed grew up in these woods and he thought he knew what all the trees looked like. Come to think of it, it was odd that he’d never seen this clearing before. He didn’t have any trouble finding it.
“Ed!” said Kristen when he arrived. “Come. We started a fire.”
She didn’t need the say it. The bonfire blazed in the center of the clearing like a hungry mouth. It licked at the darkness and spit sparks into the sky.
“Hey, Ed,” said a girl sitting by the fire.
“Oh. Hey, Marcy.”
Looking around, there were about a dozen people here, talking and laughing and drinking from milky-white bottles. Two guys were throwing pine cones at each other and hooting like they’d just invented the best game in history. But Marcy was one of the only people Ed recognized from school. She used to be class president, but he heard she hadn’t been to any of the meetings in a while. In fact, Ed couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen her at school.
“See, you know people,” said Kristen. “I don’t know what you were so worried about.”
Ed didn’t remember saying he was worried. He hadn’t been. But he was now. Something about these people made him uncomfortable. They way they all looked at him. The way they looked at Kristen. They way they all swayed with the breeze, as if they were stalks of grass in a field. Ed told himself they were probably drunk or something. That’s what he told himself.
“Come,” Kristen grabbed him by the hand. “Let me introduce you to everyone.”
She walked him around the circle. She told him people’s names, but they fell out of his head almost immediately. She added in a few details about everyone, but they didn’t seem to make much sense.
“This is Razor,” she said of a short black girl covered in tattoos. “She’s been resonant for, what, six years now?”
“Seven,” said Razor. Ed didn’t ask what that meant. They moved on.
“And of course you’re already friends with Bagel,” said Kristen. Ed looked. It was one of Ryan Sutherland’s friends. The one that had elbowed him in the stomach the day before. Apparently his name was Bagel.
“Yeah,” said Bagel with a sneer. “We’re good friends.”
Ed didn’t say anything. He just followed Kristen back to the fire.
“Hey, Ed,” said Marcy. “You want a drink?” She held out one of the white bottles.
“What is it?” asked Ed. “Beer?”
Everyone standing around laughed as if he’d just said something dumb. Something quaint.
“No, silly,” said Kristen. “It’s mahsa. Distilled and fermented moonlight!” She threw her arms up towards the sky.
Ed looked up. He didn’t see a moon. Ed wondered if Kristen had sent one of these people to climb into the sky, rip down the moon, and puree it into this stuff.
“Have some,” said Kristen. It wasn’t a request.
Ed shrugged and took the bottle. He twisted off the cap, pressed it to his lips, and took a swig. It tasted strange and warm, but it froze in his throat. He realized that everyone was staring at him. Like they were waiting for something to happen. Ed took another sip.
“Damn,” said Bagel after a minute of silence.
“See?” said Kristen. “What did I say about him?”
Ed didn’t know what they were talking about. He didn’t ask. A few seconds later everyone stopped staring and went back to their conversations. Or their pine cones. Kristen floated around the group, slipping in and out of conversations with anyone and everyone.
Ed sat there in silence. He decided that he didn’t like the mahsa much, so he put it down. Marcy tried to talk to him a few times, but he couldn’t follow what she was saying. How many of those bottles had she had?
Ed considered trying to talk to these people. That’s what Marisol would have told him to do. She said he was compulsively antisocial. But it didn’t seem that interesting. What would they have to talk about? He supposed he could talk to Bagel about football. But Ed didn’t much like talking about football. He didn’t have much to say. And he didn’t much like Bagel. So he just sat there, alone. He didn’t mind. Eventually something would happen. Or the party would end and he would go home. Either way it was what it was.
Some time later Razor walked over and sat down next to him.
“So Ed,” she said. “What other kind of crazy things can you do?”
“Yeah,” said Razor. She leaned in and rubbed her shoulder against his. “What else can you do?”
“I dunno,” said Ed.
“He can take a punch,” said Bagel from behind Razor. “He can take a punch like nobody’s business.”
Razor rubbed her hand along his arm, as if feeling his muscles.
“I think strong guys are very sexy,” she said.
“Show us.” Kristen’s voice cut through the sound of chatter and the crackling of the bonfire.
“Huh?” said Ed. All eyes were turned on him again.
“Show us how you can take a punch,” said Kristen, walking towards him. She wore that grin again. “Arnaud, come over here. Stand up, Ed.”
Ed stood up. One of the pine cone throwers walked up to him. He was even taller than Bagel. A bigger. Ed thought he might have fit into one of this guy’s pant legs.
“Arnaud is going to punch you in the face,” said Kristen. She ran her finger along Ed’s cheek. “Is that okay?”
Ed shrugged. Kristen’s smile widened.
“Go ahead, Arnaud,” she said. “Punch him as hard as you can.”
“As hard as I can?” Arnaud asked. “Are you sure?”
“Yes,” said Kristen.
“Yeah, knock the fuck out of him!” said Razor. She had a hungry look in her eyes.
“Okay,” said Arnaud with a resigned expression. He pulled back his fist, and then slammed into Ed’s face.
Ed took a single step back.
“Damn!” said Razor. “I mean, damn!”
After that it was on. Everyone wanted to see what Ed could do. People lined up to hit him. Someone asked him to climb a tree and then fall out of it. Ed didn’t mind. It’s not like it hurt. Finally, someone asked him to see how long he could hold his hand in the fire. After two minutes it was obvious that nothing was going to happen, so he pulled it out.
“Okay, people,” Kristen said. “Ed’s not a captured animal. Let’s leave him alone for a while.”
Razor’s face sank, and Ed hear someone say, “I wanted to kick him in the balls.” But everyone dispersed back to their separate activities. Ed sat down on his log near the fire. He was happy to no longer be the center of attention.
He saw Kristen detach from talking to Razor and walk over to him. Apparently “let’s leave him alone” didn’t apply to her. Not that Ed was complaining. “Move your arms,” she said. He did, and she settled herself into his lap. Ed swallowed heavily. He hoped she didn’t notice what was happening on his lap just an inch below her thighs. But from the wicked look she game him, she knew.
She took his hands between hers and started to rub them.
“They’re like ice,” she exclaimed with delight. “Two minutes in the fire, and they’re like ice.”
“Yeah,” said Ed. “They’re always like that.”
“I want to do something to you, Ed,” Kristen said. “Badly. Can I do something to you?
Ed swallowed again. “Sure.”
“Oh good. I’ve been wanting to try this for months.” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a tiny knife. No, not a knife. A sword. It looked like something off the cover of a fantasy novel, only it was only two inches long. She took Ed’s middle finger in her left hand, and placed the edge of the blade up against it. She leaned her head against his face. He could smell her hair. Like cinnamon and candle wax.
Then she pressed the blade into his finger. It was very sharp. She let out a sharp breath as the blade cut cleanly and smoothly right through the flesh. Kristen took Ed’s finger between two of hers, and a second later she pulled the tip right off. She held it up to the firelight and looked at it.
Ed looked down at his middle finger, now missing the tip just above the last knuckle. It didn’t hurt. There wasn’t any blood. He couldn’t even see any bone. The cleanly severed area glistened in the firelight, like a sheet of crystal. Or ice. Then Kristen pressed the severed joint back onto the finger. There was a sizzling sound. A moment later Ed’s finger was back to normal. He flexed it. It felt fine.
“Thanks, Ed,” said Kristen, cooing. “That makes me happy.” She turned to meet his gaze straight on. The bonfire was behind her, but somehow he saw it reflected in her eyes. “Ed, I want something from you. Can I have it?”
“Um…what is it?” asked Ed.
Kristen’s face hardened. “If you don’t want to give it to me, just say so.” She stood up and turned away.
“Wait!” he called. “Yes, yes you can have it.”
She spun slowly back around. “Good,” she said. She walked towards him. Slowly. “Do you know what I want from you, Ed?” She asked. “Do you know what it is that I want?”
She put her hand on his shoulder and leaned in. She brought her lips very close to his ear. For a long moment she stood there. He could feel her hot breath tickling his skin. He could hear her breathing in, and smell her rich, warm scent right next to him. His vision blurred. It was like there was nothing else in the world but her. Like everything else melted away.
No. Not melted.
“Do you know what I want from you, Ed?” She whispered. Ed tried to speak but it caught in his throat. “Do you know what I want?”
She placed her hand on his chest and said one single additional word. He could hear the smile in her voice. The hunger. It terrified him. It excited him. So much in that one single word.