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“It was simple and unbound, as far from the roads as the sky. Only the necessary creatures were in attendance.”

 -from Necessary Creatures, by Dalton Fine

 

The population of Gilmore is less than three thousand. Here you go from first grade to the twelfth with the same people. I had known her all my life. But only at the edges. I’m not sure anyone knew Winter Caldwell more than at the edges.

She was a pretty girl, but pale, and we weren’t friends but we were friendly; she had hazel eyes and golden hair. Lips like two pink petals. There was a time I would’ve given anything to be Winter Caldwell.

Once a month, in Gilmore, vendors gather in the square. There’s a thin, white-haired man who sells rare and out-of-print books. He’s a bit disorganized. Gives you a receipt scribbled on whatever coffee-stained envelope is at hand. Books are stacked on the floor. Magazines spill out of boxes.

I was sorting through the debris and found a book I had as a child. Necessary Creatures was written in 1947 by Dalton Fine. It's a story about a princess who lives in a forest. One day the woodland creatures hear the princess crying, and the animals convince her to kiss the darkest tree in the forest. She opens her eyes, and a handsome, fair-haired prince is standing there.

It was in good condition, and it was mine for twenty dollars. I took it home, and turned the pages as if they’d break. In the middle of the book, tucked away like pressed flowers, there were two lined sheets of paper. Diary pages, with writing in a loopy, cursive script.

 

Aug. 7, 1978

Dear Diary,

Boy am I glad to be home. Camp was awful. It was hot and there were bugs everywhere and the food, I wouldn’t give it to a dog.

Still, if I hadn’t gone I would never have met Billy. Billy’s not one of the regular people, he was just there Thursday through Sunday. For two weeks though! One night, after dinner, they made me wash dishes. Billy came up behind me. He put his hand you-know-where and told me I was pretty.

He’s supposed to call tonight. I gave him my phone number and he’s supposed to call, like any minute. Ring you stupid phone!

 

Aug. 8, 1978

Dear Diary,

Guess what? BILLY CALLED! We were on the phone for hours. My mom kept asking who I was talking to, but she finally went away.

He is soooo smart. Billy’s in college. That’s why he was only there Thursday through Sunday. He read me some things over the phone. A little piece of a poem. It was about trails. Like how everybody leaves one. I didn’t really understand it.

But anyway, the BIG NEWS is: we have a date! I’m meeting him tomorrow, at the lake, at two. I wish it was already here!

 

The last entry is dated November 17. It is a different handwriting style. It’s printed. The loopy script is gone.

Dear Diary,

Everyone leaves a trail. Each word reveals a point along a path.

That was part of the poem.

I understand it now.

 

Below that, Winter Caldwell wrote her name.

On November 18 of that year, along with the rest of the world, Gilmore awoke to the news from South America. The pictures of the Jonestown Massacre took our breath away, and overshadowed the local story of a drowning in Lake Spire.

We were points along a path. Not friends but we were friendly. There was a time I would’ve given anything to be Winter Caldwell.

Dark trees make darker princes, in Gilmore or Guyana. Either Dalton Fine was wrong.

Or the necessary creatures were in attendance.

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