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The purple kite frolicked in the air behind Karsten's head as he ran through the grass. The sun's golden rays warmed the nape of his neck and marshmallows clouds danced across the sky.
His new shoes were damp and dirtied from jumping in a puddle, but he didn't care. It was a perfect summer's day; perfect for ice cream by the lake or hiding in an alleyway stuffing his mouth with stolen goods from Mrs. Dane's bakery.
As he leapt through the field, inhaling the rich Hollywood air, something deep inside him dimmed. He wished he could share this wonderful day with someone. During the dying afternoon hours before bed, he would watch the other neighborhood children playing in the street or at the park with their siblings, wanting to be a part of their world, jealous of their kinship.
At eleven years old, he had not seen much of the world, but he knew it must revolve around Fern Rosenberg. He saw her sitting on the swing set across the park, swaying against the gentle breeze. Her head was down, nose in a book.
Ever since her family moved in next door six months ago, he couldn't understand why she never played with the other children, often sitting alone reading a book. He remembered his mother telling his father she and her family were survivors of a horrible camp in Poland. The girl barely survived, fleeing the country with her aunt and uncle to start a better life.
He never had the courage to talk to her, usually succumbing to inaudible mumbles before he walked away embarrassed.
Karsten blew out a breath of self-encouragement and arched his back. He was going to do it today. He walked across the park, his stomach rolling nervously. Fern didn't acknowledge him until his figure cast a shadow across her book. She looked up, her eyes thinning against the glare. "Hello. Can I help you?"
Karsten opened his mouth but no sound came out, his tongue turning to cement. A veil of transparency fell over Fern's eyes; she was losing interest.
"Um, my name is Karsten. I am in your math class at school."
"You sit behind me. Don't you live next door?"
"I often see you play by yourself on the street sometimes," Fern said. "Why don't you ask other kids to join you?"
"I don't know how."
"I'm too scared they will say no."
"Surely that doesn't matter. You can ask me now."
Karsten looked at the kite dangling from his fingers, wondering if asking her to play was a bad idea. "You want to fly the kite with me?"
Fern's lips rose into a smile and she laughed. "I should be reading. My uncle will quiz me when I get home, but I would very much like to fly the kite with you."
Karsten watched Fern rise from the swing and gently lay her book on the grass next to her bag. She repositioned the clips in her brown hair and grabbed the kite string from his grasp. Her hands were soft. "The wind is picking up. Are you ready?"
The children bolted across the park, watching the kite bellow in the air. Other neighborhood children joined them, giggling at the sight of it kicking and twisting like a captured bird. Karsten and Fern spent the rest of the afternoon under the warm sun, walking home muddy and exhausted. They decided to cut through a park, crying out in delight at the sight of a mother duck waddling with her ducklings. She saw the children and scuttled away, her babies following in haste.
"Let's follow her!" Karsten cried. "Maybe she has more."
Fern followed him with the kite in her hand, chasing after him through the thick underbrush. "Slow down!"
She saw him disappear deeper into the brush, his heavy footfall breaking through the silence of the early evening. In a blink of an eye he was gone. Fern kept running. She jumped over a log, nearly running into him as he stood still staring at the ground. "Oomph! Karsten, I nearly ran into you." She pulled at his sleeve, noticing his face had gone white. "What is it?"
He pointed a shaky finger to the lush ground, his eyes wide. Fern followed his gaze and noticed white fur, speckled with blood against the twigs and other debris. She took a step closer and let out a scream.
Lying in a leafy tomb, a woman lay dead, her blonde hair messy and dusted with leaves. Her cold blue eyes frozen, her red lips open in an eternal scream.