Leo the Mer-Guy! Chapter Seven: The Pagoda

Walking deeper and deeper into the neighborhood, Leo kept his head down, pulling his costume closer to his body to protect against the chill. It was properly dark now, the world dulled into an indigo blue. He veered away from other kids, shying away from their glances.


This might be Leo’s worst Halloween ever, even worse than eighth grade.


He was so preoccupied with his own misery, staring down at his beat up sneakers, that he didn’t notice the sidewalk arced to the left.


He thumped down off of the curb and into the grass, tripping and falling to his knees with a grunt.


He stood back up, heart beating hard, face red and flustered, brushing dead leaves off his legs.


In front of him, there was a huge, kidney-shaped pond, the edges littered with wheaty fronds and lily pads.


On a pavilion sticking out into the pond was a pagoda of sorts, an octagonal, wooden structure with benches and bird feeders.


It was all really pretty, and might be the only thing Leo liked about the neighborhood, but that wasn’t what caught his eye.


No, it was the people who inhabited the pavilion.


There were about six or seven kids huddled in a tight circle in the middle of the pagoda. They were all wearing long, black robes, with hoods covering their heads. Someone was holding a flashlight to illuminate their faces from below in eerie, yellow lighting.


And they were chanting.


It was rhythmic, monotone, and quiet, like the foot stomping at the beginning of “We Will Rock You.”


Leo knew he was acting like the ditzy girl in a horror movie, but his fascination propelled him forward. He crept toward the pagoda silently, sticking to the grassy area. Nearing the railing, he looked up from the bushes at the gathering.


Their faces were clearer now. One person had a lot of piercings. Another person had rainbow hair. A whopping three–three! of them were wearing band t-shirts from bands Leo was obsessed with.


Now he could make out the words of their chants.


“Do it for yourself, do it for your health, self love, self peace.”


That was not what Leo expected, but when the words sank in, they pulled a wry smile up onto his lips.


It was a good message.


But most importantly, it was weird.


These kids were out here being weird as all getup and they didn’t care.


Leo was officially obsessed.


Theo Poling is a Creative Writing and Arts double major at the University of Michigan. In their free time, Theo enjoys fostering cats, baking, and going on hikes. Theo is transgender, nonbinary, and bisexual, and is passionate about representing LGBTQ people in positive ways in genre fiction. Theo's series, We Exist! is a weekly serial that publishes short story chapters about empowered queer protagonists in science fiction and fantasy settings, where queer people have previously been excluded. Check out the newest installment of We Exist! every Thursday.

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