When I was writing Spirit World, I did a few shorts so I knew the background on my characters. This one is for Mars, Irish, and V.
Kenny doesn’t remember coming to the orphanage. He has always been there. And for all he knows, he always will be.
Every day he stares out his window, through the bars, to the other kids playing basketball. He notices the asphalt is broken and the weeds poke through. Wonders what it feels like to run on it. Knows that it’s pointless to wonder. They would never let him play. Not anymore.
He used to play with them, but when he was six, he asked them about the strange voices in his head, and what they did whenever they heard the voices. They ran away and told The Ladies.
The Ladies gave him his own room with special windows, because he scared the other kids.
He is ten now, and allowed to come out for meals and supervised recreation, but he doesn’t. The other kids call him “Crazy Kenny” and sing mean made-up songs. So he stays in his room and reads.
The Ladies get him any books he wants from the library. They feel bad he doesn’t have any friends, but they’re scared of him too.
He reads mostly ghost stories until a new girl, who doesn’t know his nickname, comes up to his window and says, “Hi.”
He says nothing. He doesn’t usually talk to the other kids and has forgotten how.
“I’m Irish. The other kids won’t let me play. Will you come out?”
He does. They sit on the broken asphalt, playing jacks.
He practices talking with her. Discovers she makes him good at it.
The basketball rolls through their game and a kid yells, “Hey, Crazy Kenny!” holding his arms out for the ball.
Kenny throws it back, but then Irish asks, “Why did he call you that?”
He shrugs. “Ghosts talk to me.” He had figured that much out from the library books.
“Really?” She sounds amazed, not scared.
It’s a first for Kenny, so he tells her all about Sam and Lily, the two ghosts who talk to him.
She listens, laughs in all the right places.
He’s happy. Maybe for the first time ever.
She tells him stories about her favorite planet, Mars. How she would like to live there one day, what she thinks it will be like.
Really she just wants to escape. Her life has been very wrong lately. That’s why she loves his stories, and why she loves to tell hers.
A few weeks later, a knock sounds on Kenny’s door. It’s Irish, telling him The Ladies have found an uncle, and she’s going to live with him.
His world crashes.
For a solid month, Kenny stays in his room.
When he comes out, he asks The Ladies to get him some books on Mars.
He reads them all, the factual ones, as well as the made-up stories. The ones with people living there are his favorite. That way, he can imagine he’s there too. With Irish.
He sits re-reading Podkayne of Mars and hears another knock at his door. It’s a lady. Not one of The Ladies. Not as old as them either.
“Hello, Kenny,” she says. “My name is Vermillion. Can I come in?”
She sits in his comfy chair by the window. He sits on the bed, legs dangling over the edge.
“I want to talk to you about the voices you hear.”
He rolls his eyes. He’s heard this before. The Ladies used to send strange people in here all the time to talk. He thought they had stopped.
“Your friend Irish told her uncle about you, and he called me.”
He almost cries, afraid they’re going to send him away for scaring Irish, even though he didn’t. “I’m not crazy,” he pleads.
“I know you’re not. I’ve come to help. Irish’s uncle had a brother, Calvin.” His name chokes in her throat. “He was gifted like you. Like me, too.” Her eyebrows lift while she waits for him to understand what she’s telling him.
Slowly, he accepts the truth. “You believe me?”
She doesn’t answer his question. Instead, she asks a new one. “Would you like to come live with me?”
“Why?” He’s still suspicious.
“Because I can teach you all about the Spirit World.”
He’s intrigued. “Will I get to see Irish again?”
“If you like.”
That settles it. But he has one more question. “Can I call you V?”
She considers it. She’s never really felt like a Vermillion. And she wasn’t Millie anymore either. “Yes, I think I would like that very much.” She stands and holds out her hand. “Are you ready, Kenny?”
“Call me Mars.”
And they walk out the door.