by Casey Shelley
Being an only child is a complex burden to bear. As the keeper of all heirlooms, traditions and long-standing legacies, there is no room for error. Landon understood at a young age that being the youngest surviving Rexwood dubbed him as most important. He also understood the danger this could impose on those around him. By seventeen years old, he had perfected the art of living discreetly.
On June fifteenth, a month before turning eighteen, Landon, unfortunately, met her. It was during his after-hours stroll to retrieve supplies at the convenience store. Beneath one of many illuminated streetlights marking his path, she stopped in her combat boot tracks.
“Hey, I know you!”
Landon continued walking swiftly past the leather-clad girl. He tried not to look, but her porcelain skin demanded attention. “No, you don’t.”
“Yeah, man—we’re neighbours. 11 o’clock, right?”
Landon’s feet became stone. “What?”
“Same time as my curfew—I come, and you go. Every night.”
“Yeah, okay,” Landon pushed on, avoiding the streetlights.
“Might as well go together,” she huffed as she jogged in his direction “you could clearly use the company.”
Landon and Mel quickly fell into their late-night ritual. She’d wait faithfully beneath the first streetlight, reminding Landon that he was no longer alone in the dark. Her teeth were crooked and blindingly bright. Her tongue, like the knife tucked in his boot, was sharp.
“Alright, Mr. Landon-full-of-secrets-Rexwood,” Mel’s hands were cupped around her mouth for the announcement, “ It’s time to talk.”
“What do you mean?” Landon pushed back his long, black hair with a swollen hand, “That’s all you do.”
“We’ve been hanging out for, hmmm… three weeks now, and you’ve avoided every question I’ve asked.”
“I’ve explained my need for privacy.”
“Fine. Answer one question and I’ll back off.”
“Why at night? Why don’t you go out in the day to get stuff? Like, ever?”
“Too many people,” Landon’s polished tone matched his outfit, “ Satisfied?”
Mel shrugged. “Fair enough. For now.”
On their fourth week of late-night sessions, Mel considered Landon to be her best—and only—friend. Landon felt the same but hadn’t voiced it. Instead, he agreed to Mel’s relentless pleas to stray from their path and spend Friday night sitting around a bonfire in Lackamore woods.
“Trust me, it’ll be a good time,” Mel, fearless as usual, led the way through a maze of trees. “I know some good scary stories. For real.”
Landon sighed. “Me too.”
The duo maneuvered through twisted branches until they stumbled into a clearing. Indented dirt and discarded beer cans indicated the presence of a makeshift fire pit. Luck was in their favour as Landon always carried a pack of matches in his trench coat pocket.
“Just need some wood,” Landon revealed his fire starter, “And quickly, I don’t have a lot of time.”
Mel shook her head. “Don’t start with that. We just got here.”
A brief search of the woodland led to a pile of thin branches that had seen better days. Large logs, placed by previous visitors, made perfect stools. Landon slid the match carefully down the striker, igniting a wave of heat.
Mel laughed. “Light it up!”
Landon didn’t respond. He was frozen by the sight of Mel’s face framed by flowing red locks. Somehow, in that moment, she shone brighter than the flames.
“What’s wrong with your hand?” Mel’s voice shook with alarm as dark red veins worked their way up Landon’s fingers.
Landon knew before she asked. He could feel the heat pulsating through and the pressure enclosing around his left ring finger.
“The Rexwood ring…” he managed to utter, wincing at the burn.
Mel’s face scrunched. “What?”
“It’s time… I thought I’d have more… but…”
“Time for what? What are you talking about?” Mel raced to Landon’s side, reaching for his hand, and scorching her own in the process.
“Don’t!” Landon jumped up and hid behind the nearest tree. “AHH!”
Mel couldn’t control her tears as she followed her friend. “You tell me what’s going on. RIGHT NOW, Landon Rexwood!”
“It’s the ring,” he held his hand out, revealing fingers so engorged with venom they were ready to burst “the Rexwood family seal. I’m supposed to pass it on before I turn eighteen.”
“Pass it on?”
“To the one. The ring tells you when…and who… I didn’t know exactly how it would go but …” Landon writhed on the ground in agony. “It’s you.”
“Me? Pass it then! I can’t watch this!”
“No! Leave, Mel. Now,” Landon hollered “I won’t do it! The Rexwood curse dies with me!”
Mel wanted to understand, but she didn’t have time. Their lips met and set fire to Lackamore woods. Some would say it didn’t last long enough to count, but Mel knew better. As the years passed, the lush woodland became a DO NOT ENTER pit, leaving it a haven for out-past-curfew teenagers.
“Wow, this is sick. ” A raven-haired teen studied the ring found among the rubble, sliding it onto a naked finger. It fit perfectly. He would have shown his friends, but they dispersed at the sight of a minivan arrival.
“Blaze Rexwood, get in the car right now!” Mel screeched from the driver’s seat, wondering if her son would ever learn.