childhood magic

It would have been different if, say, Selphie told us the story, her brown curls bouncing and her green eyes faraway as they were whenever she thought of a story. If it had been Tidus, we wouldn't even had been scared. Wakka would never have done such a thing and Sora—well, if he made up a story, his grin would give him away.

Unexpectedly, though, it was Riku that told us about the haunted alley. His silvery hair tilted with his head as he looked to the side, his turquoise eyes looked as if he completely believed every word that was falling from his mouth, and we were hanging onto them all like they were pieces of candy, fresh given for Halloween. He pronounced every word with such utter self-confidence that we had to believe him, not to mention that he was the oldest (a bare few months over Wakka) and therefore the source of all knowledge.

We were sitting in front of his house, shivering a little in the unusually chilly air. The soft carpet of leaves made a good seat as we stared raptly at Riku, who seemed to be enjoying the attention. He was seven that year, and Sora had just turned six. I celebrated my birthday with him, as usual, since I didn't know when it was. Wakka would turn seven in a week, but for now Riku was unquestionably the oldest, and he was speaking like he thought he was some wise sage. He might as well have been.

Halloween was coming up, just a few days away, and that was what sparked Riku's tale of the haunted alley. His eyes glittered as he spoke. "You all know that alley down near the old Robins place," he said, and it wasn't a question. I spared a glance at Sora, who had turned his head, a confused look on his face, his blue eyes drinking in every one of his best friend's words. I shrugged, having no clue where the alley was.

"And of course you know what happened there." We hardly dared to tell him that we didn't.

Finally, brave Selphie spoke up. "I thought that's what you were going to tell us," she whined, her green eyes looking disappointed.

Riku shot her a look that was between thankfulness and a glare. "Exactly," he agreed. "All right, I'll tell you."

Selphie looked eager. Tidus and Wakka were trying to disguise their grins. Sora found no shame, though, in smiling readily. I stared at Riku thoughtfully.

"It's haunted," he revealed, receiving happy gasps from us girls and big grins from the guys. "By the ghost of the cat."

"A cat?" Tidus said skeptically.

"A monster cat," Riku amended. "Ready to attack any trick-or-treating little kid to walk by."

Sora's blue eyes were shining with the thought of an adventure. "We have to see it!" he added cheerfully.

I saw the glint in Riku's eyes and I knew what he was planning. He had wanted to see the cat, of course...and he knew that Sora could convince the rest of us. "It'll be dangerous," the elder said quietly, a serious look on his face.

"I don't care!" Sora argued, and I hid a giggle. His spiky hair was sticking up at odd angles as he glared indignantly at his best friend. "I can take it."

The silver-haired boy regarded him solemnly. "You may be too young."

"What?" cried Sora. "No way."

"All right then. But the cat only comes out on Halloween," Riku pointed out. "And we'll have to lose Ashe." That was Tidus' sister, who was taking our group out instead of our parents.

Selphie's green eyes were wide with excitement. "Oh, I think we can do that," she assured Riku, with a wink at me. I frowned at her, unsure what she was planning (and why she was dragging me along), but I shrugged. I was up for it.

We were standing out in front of Tidus' house, waiting for Ashe, all dressed in our Halloween best and quite excited...and maybe just a little nervous. Selphie and I exchanged glances as we bounced up and down on our heels impatiently.

Riku and Sora had worn matching knight costumes, complete with aluminum swords. This was before they decided that matching costumes were dorky. The two brave knights, creatively named "Sir Riku" and "Sir Sora", were swinging their swords in a mock battle, but I heard Sora mutter under his breath, "Take that, Sir Cat!" and I had to stifle a giggle again.

Tidus and Wakka were stationed on the other side of the steps. They happened to be matching, too, although that hadn't been purposeful. They were both superheroes, and right at that moment they were taking turns jumping off the porch, pretending they could fly.

Selphie and I were seated on the steps, talking as we smoothed down our princess costumes. She was dressed as a flower fairy princess, but I had decided to go traditional with a pink dress and toy tiara. Everybody was clutching plastic jack-o'-lanterns protectively as we waited.

Ashe finally walked out the front door, dressed like a pop singer. Her sparkly dress shone as she walked down the steps while we stood up hurriedly. She smacked her gum and began walking. We fell into step behind her, whispering about the cat.

We collected a lot of candy before going near that alley. Suddenly, Selphie burst into tears, and I gave her a strange look. "My-my princess costume!" she wailed, and even I had a hard time trying to figure whether she was acting or not.

Tears streaming down her tanned face, she pointed to a muddy spot on her dress. Ashe heaved a sigh. "I guess we could go into that store and get some water," she said dully.

I caught on, and when Ashe had her back turned, I faked a trip, right into a huge mud puddle. The guys laughed—okay, so maybe my acting skills weren't top-notch, but Ashe would never know the difference.

She turned around and groaned. I took that as my cue to burst into tears, hoping that my disguise would cover up her knowledge that I was a bit of a tomboy. "My perfect outfit!" I cried.

Suddenly, Riku let out a yelp. I looked over and saw that his sword was lodged in a brick in the nearest building. Ashe looked like she'd like to sink into the ground.

Sora and Tidus, not to be undone, got into a short, mock fight that ended in Tidus' cape getting a big rip, and Sora's helmet getting a huge dent. Wakka threw his blitzball at the wall of the bank and got hit in the face.

Ashe took Selphie into the building, and I counted off thirty seconds before dashing in, still sobbing. Ashe turned around. "Kairi, I told you to wait!" she scolded, but she started cleaning my dress, too. Selphie escaped, and after a little bit Sora came in, looking put out that he had to leave the adventure. I slipped by him with murmured thanks and skidded into the alley.

"It's been growling!" Riku exclaimed, a worried look on his face.

Tidus was against the wall. He had pulled Riku's sword out and was holding onto it for dear life. "It's now or never."

Wakka looked at us. "Sora won't want to miss it. I'll go get him, ya?"

I smiled. "Yeah. He'll definitely be annoyed if we do this without him."

When Sora returned, he gripped his sword (this is what reminded me of this, because he had the same expression as right now, holding his Keyblade) as if it were a real blade. Tidus handed Riku his sword back. We were all sweaty and scared and happy.

Wakka came running back into the alley. "We have a minute, ya?" he panted. We barely nodded our heads as we crept nearer.

I heard a strange sound, like a cat. I gripped the nearest thing to me, which turned out to be Sora's arm, tightly. He glanced at me kind of awkwardly, but then brandished his sword. "I'll protect you, Kairi!"

Riku shot him a glare and stepped up on the other side of me. "I'm the one who knew about the cat. I should protect her."

"No way!" argued Sora.

"Quit arguing, ya!" hissed Wakka, his eyes wide, pointing in the shadows.

A pair of great big yellow eyes popped out at us. I let out a tiny shriek and held on all the tighter. Riku dropped his sword. Sora took several steps back. Wakka held onto his blitzball, ready to throw it. Tidus had produced his toy sword from somewhere, and then had dropped it. Selphie was staring curiously at the eyes.

"Get back!" Tidus said in an annoyed tone.

Selphie pouted. "I can take care of myself," she whispered haughtily, leaning down.

Suddenly, I heard a piercing yowl. I felt myself fall backward (still not letting go of Sora's arm, which was turning blue by now) and hit the hard pavement. Everybody shouted my name at once.


I didn't open my eyes, afraid that I might see a two hundred-pound monstrosity sitting on me, ready to devour me. I felt them draw back from me.

Then Selphie spoke. "You idiots," she said in a know-it-all tone. "It's just a cat. Here, kitty." She continued to call the cat.

What is she, nuts? I thought, but I opened my eyes. A gray cat was sitting primly on my stomach, weaving its tail around its legs. Its eyes were surrounded in fur as black as midnight. A little startling, maybe, but the cat was obviously quite alive. I sat up, and the cat scurried away, hissing a little.

"It's a stray," Riku pronounced, his voice a little hoarse.

I looked around to see my best friends next to me. Sora was petting the cat. "I think we should keep her."

"Her?" asked Tidus.

Selphie grinned. "It acts like a her, doesn't it?" Her wide eyes gazed down at the cat, who was rubbing against Sora. "I agree with Sora."

I found my voice. "Me too."

"Where should we keep her?" asked Wakka practically. "We can't just keep her here, ya? Or at home." His eyes were narrowed in thought.

"The island," said Riku reverently, reaching forward to pet the cat.

"Perfect," I agreed. "Nobody goes there but us." I suddenly realized that I was still holding on to Sora's arm and I let go. "Sorry."

Sora glanced over at me but didn't say anything. "I think we should name her Treat, for trick-or-treat."

"Halloween," argued Tidus, shaking his blond head.

"Trick," Wakka put in helpfully.

"Ghost," Riku added.

"Princess," Selphie said hopefully. The guys snorted. I reached over and took the cat from Riku, setting her gently down in my lap, on my mud-stained dress.

"Spook," I murmured.

And it was unanimous.