The wind coerces the trees into a wild dance. Fog-like mist blows furiously through everywhere; it feels windy and foggy at the same time. The incredibly indecisive autumn leaves with their orange, orange skins drift gently, and then whirl furiously, and then just hang midair.
“Make up your minds, already!” I sneer, having no time for their antics today.
In response, they fling themselves straight into my face.
People say the reason the trees are so fat in these mountains is because they eat anyone who displeases them. But the wind is on our side—at least, it’s usually fighting the trees.
It’s not long before I see Leif walking along the road ahead of me. His bright plaid shirt practically flares through the fog.
“Olivia! Leif! Wait up!” Gunner comes running up behind me, and Leif stops to wait for us.
We walk in silence and I hop along the soggy leaves on the trail. Swishing leaves underfoot is the great autumnal delicacy that I alone know to enjoy, for I do not fear them.
“Where should we go today?” Gunner asks, with a kind of bouncy eagerness that means he has something he’s bursting to tell us. It’s Saturday, and we have the world to ourselves.
“Fort?” Leif suggests, and we agree.
They say when the leaves have reached their orangest, they go out and avenge the trees—that the leaves bring offenders back to their masters, and this is how the trees eat.
Leif and Gunner say that old hound of Mr. McGregor was swallowed up by a little torrent of bright orange leaves after doing its business on one particularly fat tree trunk. But I was there too, and I was the only one who saw what really happened. I saw a Queer swallow that hound whole.
As we walk, I look for Queers among the mist. Ever since the day I threatened to go on a hunger strike if Mom and Dad ripped out the little wild sapling that had sprouted up in the backyard, I started seeing dark, feathery shapes stalking about in the perpetual mist of the mountains. They almost look like giant crows, but a bit less solid and more ruffly.
I call them Queers.
The leaves are orange now. It’s Queer season. But I don’t see a single one all the way to the Fort.
We get to our humble shack on the mountainside and Gunner spreads his arms, announcing to the world, “Prepare to be amazed!” Whipping out a pair of large blue glasses—more like goggles—he demands, “Check it.”
“Sweet,” Leif comments, drawing out the word to show he’s clearly not amazed. “Just what I’ve always wanted. Big, ugly glasses.”
“These, my friend, are no ordinary big, ugly glasses. They are supernatural big, ugly glasses. I call them . . . “ He pauses for effect. “SuperSpecs! Now we can see the Queers just like Liv!”
“Where’d you get these?” I ask, taking them and looking them over with interest.
“Bribed that science genius kid Odenson. Anyway, I’ll show you how it works. You put ‘em on, and then you flip this little button on the top, and then you’ve gotta play with this knob on the side here to bring it into focus—“ Gunner stops so suddenly for a second I think he might be choking. “Liv?” I am surprised he gets any sound out at all. He isn’t breathing. “Have . . . you seen any Queers around here recently?”
I shake my head slowly. “I haven’t seen them at all yet this year.”
He shoves the SuperSpecs into my hands in a sloppy, trembling motion.
I put on the glasses and glance around the room at my friends.
Except there is only one. There is Gunner, and then, by the window, is a Queer.
But—I hadn’t seen it. Why hadn’t I seen it?
“Your gift has been revoked.” It speaks in an omnipresent whisper, everywhere at once. In my head, but I can tell Gunner hears it, too.
It sort of flutters and if I could see its eyes, I know it would be glaring. It takes one step forward, and I know why it has come.
“The trees do not like to be taunted.”