My teen years were awkward, but I got through them thanks in no small part to a trio of really weird friends.

Kerry Nelson believed she could control people with her mind. People would occasionally look over to see her staring at them, eyes bulging, mouthing things like ‘leave the room, leeeeave the roooom’. Conveniently, the only things she ever asked of her human puppets was ‘leave the room’ or ‘look confused’, and when people inevitably complied, she’d turn to me and say, wistfully, “Only for Good, David. I must use this only for Good.”

Peter Miller had one leg shorter than the other. We used to call him The Leaning Tower of Peter. He hated that, but whenever he’d give chase he’d slowly but surely curve away from us and we’d escape.

My thing was spots. My puberty years were spent with a face like a plate of beetroot gravel and with wads of bloodied kleenex in my pockets.

The weirdest of us, though, was Compass. His real name was Tommy Ward but everyone called him Compass because he could always find due north. He was incredible. We’d blindfold him and spin him around for a full minute, then he’d pause, cock his head like a sparrow and point “that way.” An actual compass was consulted and every time, he was bang on the N, not one degree off. He said it was due to some sort of hereditary blood condition that made him more susceptible to magnetism, but I preferred to think of it as a superpower.

It was a pretty good party trick, and everyone at school enjoyed it the first time, but it wasn’t one of those frequently required talents like throwing, kicking or growing a convincing beard, so both Compass and his magical, inexplicable gift disappeared into the welcome bosom of our shared obscurity.

The four of us would wander into the woods and when we wanted to find our way home, we’d turn to Compass and he’d look sheepishly at his feet and point. What we lacked in great ‘So we were lost in the woods‘ stories, we gained in getting home in time to play about two hours of Battletoads in Compass’ basement. At least, that was the case until Compass’ mother died. Then we started getting lost.

Compass had never really talked about his dad, who was always courteous to us when we blundered into his house at night. He’d be sat in the lounge with a glass of red wine. He’d nod at us and say ‘boys’, and then look appropriately confused at Kerry when she started mouthing something at him and bulging her eyes. As far as anyone knew, there were no problems.

We were in the woods one night, a few weeks after she’d passed. Which way, we asked Compass and he pointed. We walked for an hour but found ourselves no closer to home. We asked Compass again, which way? He paused for a second and pointed in a different direction. We were lost all night, wandering for hours as the night got darker and colder. We started to glance worriedly at each other. We noticed that Compass had been quieter than usual and kept plucking his t-shirt sleeve down to cover a red mark on his upper arm. Finally we asked Compass one last time, which way, and after he pointed, Peter took a chance and walked off in the opposite direction, albeit walking off in a slight curve. We followed him and Compass scampered after us, pleading, pointing the other way. Before long we’d arrived at the entrance to the woods. Compass ran home, and we never spoke of it again.

We started to stay later in the woods. We’d still let Compass point the way, but then we’d allow ourselves to get lost, keeping him with us, holding onto a little more of the evening. After a few months of late nights, Compass ran away, and we never saw him again. The police combed the woods for a few weeks, but we knew they’d never find him.

Years passed and eventually his dad moved away. Compass just became one of those stories that people stopped believing. As for us, my skin cleared up, Kerry stopped with her weird mind control schtick and Peter got a big shoe, which we used to crack walnuts. We’d all become something approaching fine after a long adolescence in the wilderness.

Occasionally, we think of Compass and hope that’s he hasn’t grown out of his teenage parlour trick. We look out beyond the woods, which seem so much smaller these days, and we think of him. We don’t know where he is, but we hope he knows where he’s going.


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