The Witch of East Valley High School

October Jones was a force to be reckoned with. She walked the halls of East Valley High School with her head high, her armful of books organized and well-contained, her eyes somehow staring both straight ahead and above the buzzing crowd of students. She walked with a purpose, every step determined and forceful. The slight bounce of her body as she walked was not one of peppiness, but the reactionary force brought about by the smacking of her soles against the linoleum. 

Yet along with all this confidence and power, she had the unfortunate circumstance of having parents and genetics that were working together to create a systematic irony within her very being. October Jones was 5’11” and utterly unable to hide the fact that she had bright green eyes and carrot-colored hair. Or, as many have pointed out over the years, pumpkin-colored.

I will never forget the first time I saw her, the first time any of us saw her. She was new to town, it was freshman orientation and none of us could believe our ears when the pale, lanky new girl stated that her name was October. Her hair was so orange she could barely be called a redhead. Her all-black outfit only added to our growing collective concern that we had a witch in our midst.

Even as a freshman she exuded confidence. Her poise came across more cold than graceful — she almost never met anyone’s eyes and rarely said more than five words at a time. Even in class, October Jones was a brisk wind. She left us on the edge of our seats, never quite sure what she would do, even though she always did the same thing. October came to school always wearing black, or dark jeans, or dark purple, or navy. Never yellow, or red, or orange. Not even green. She spoke to no one, raised her hand once per class and ate her lunch— a peanut butter sandwich— alone. When the day was done, she went straight home. She was far more predictable than her namesake. 

In our Midwestern town, the chill of the October month knocked on our doors a different day each year. Sometimes September would suddenly turn frigid; sometimes Nov. 1 would have a high of 70. But October’s falling temperatures and ever-earlier dusks always came eventually.

I never saw October Jones arrive late to anything. And that included fall. Somehow she knew before any of us exactly when to switch from shorts to pants, from sandals to boots. Not that I ever mentioned that observation to her. What I would have meant as a lighthearted compliment, a “tell me your secret” kind of moment, she would have taken as just another stab at her name. No one mentioned anything about fall or Halloween to October. No one.

And this was why: by our freshmen year of high school, October Jones’ skin was already so thick that no one could bear to raise her defenses any higher. Anything so much as a snicker turned her eyes into daggers and sent her arms into a protective crossing over her chest. Her heart had enough of her existence’s blaring ironies by the time she was fourteen. And since all of us assumed she had a long road ahead of her, we did our best to keep the comments to ourselves, sharing looks and whispering jokes when we thought she wouldn’t notice. High schoolers always think they’re clever enough to know when the object of their snickering won’t be listening.

In reality, October Jones spent most of her life listening. She sat in the back of classrooms, observing everyone around her. She never took notes. It was as if she could absorb information through her skin. That girl could repeat any fact she’d ever heard and recount any scene she’d ever watched. 

But for the thirty-one days of October, she had everyone else’s attention. Because for thirty-one days, without fail, October Jones wore the brightest colors imaginable. 

Bright yellow boots, sky blue shirts, magenta sweaters, bright green pants, any and every bright shade of purple. All of the colors that belonged in the other months. All of the colors no one else was wearing.

Our freshman year, some people thought she was trying to start a new trend. One boy supportively dug out a bright blue pair of jeans and a lime green polo. But when he tried to strike up a conversation with October, she frowned at him, her eyebrows furrowed. 

“You’re trying to be funny?” she said. She was definitely not laughing.

“No!” Arthur Darnell replied, his cheeks turning red. “I thought it was some sort of . . . I don’t know . . . a tradition! Maybe where you come from you wear bright colors for fall!”

“Where I come from?”

“I mean —”

“You think I’m weird?”

Not even Arthur was brave enough to answer that question. He wasn’t even brave enough to lie to her. He simply walked away.

For the rest of our high school experience, everyone but October wore bright clothes in the warm months and everyone but October wore fall colors in October. When October missed school on Halloween four years in a row, no one said a word.

Our senior year, I finally asked her where she spent every Halloween. We were sitting in the library in mid-November and with no one else around, I thought I had a chance at a real answer.

She seemed startled that I was speaking to her. “What?”

“I totally get why you wouldn’t want to be here,” I said. “But where do you go?”

Her lips parted, but she bit her tongue. I could see her trying to determine my end goal, calculating the odds of this turning into a joke at her expense.

“I’m honestly just curious,” I promised.

She still hesitated, but eventually, her lips curled into a small smile. “I go to the children’s hospital for the day and hang out with the kids.” She reached over to her backpack and pulled out a long, skinny, plastic wand painted to look as though it was made out of wood.

Her green eyes sparkled when her smile grew, her orange locks framing her face. “They think I’m a witch.”