Week 23: The World Watchers (Prompt: A Story about a birthday)

“Jake! Jake! Jacob Patrick Mackenzie!”

It was only on the third one that Jake turned, spoken in the kind of hissing shout that’s louder than shouting but that parents use when the situation requires them to pretend they’re being quiet. He found two sets of identically disapproving eyes glowering at him.

Don’t wander off,” Debbie whispered forcefully. “You don’t know what’s out there.”

Jake glanced contemptuously into the wood behind them. He knew what was in it — trails for BMX bikes, rocks for climbing, abandoned cars for playing. Worlds for a young boy, but nothing dangerous.

At least, not on any other night but this one, supposedly, according to the ridiculous stories Debbie and Mom and all of their friends believed in. According to them, there was an old legend that that was the world watchers lived, and on this day, to celebrate their birthday, they came out to play. For some reason — Jake never really understood what — it was important for them to be there during that night. Something having to do with keeping the world watchers safe during their party.

(The story kept changing, which was how Jake knew that it was false. It was how he’d figured out about Santa Claus too.)

In any case, they had been there every year and they started dragging Jake with them once he was old enough. At first he’d thought it was cool because he got to stay up all night, but now, approaching teenagehood, he wished he was at home, or with his friends, or at the skate park — in short, anywhere but there.

Jake slouched back towards the adults with their candles. He sat and stared ferociously into the night, eyes crossing and uncrossing. He was wondering if he could actually hear the seconds slowing down when something bit his finger. Hard.

Jake almost shouted with surprise and was about to shake his hand, but the surprise died in his throat. The thing crouching on his finger was so small he could barely focus on its tiny face. It was glowing softly like a firefly, but it was no insect. Its eyes were full of light, and inside them were worlds. Jake had no trouble understanding where the name “world watcher” had come from.

Jake stared at the thing for a long time, taking in its alien features, fluttering things that could only be called wings for lack of a better word, and furiously intense gaze. Finally, he bent his head to his hand.

“Happy birthday,” he whispered.

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