Cecelia sat in silence, thoughts swirling in her head. Outside the window of the red Honda Pilot she was in the forest sped past, but she barely noticed. She had so many questions right now! Questions that needed answers!
Of course, Cecelia always had questions of one kind or another. Curiosity was just in her nature, her father had once supposed. She agreed. Curiosity was in her nature, and it was, without a doubt, the best thing about her.
This, however, was just plain frustrating. She’d only seen the two creatures for a split second, just barely long enough to realize they weren’t human, before they had disappeared into the woods by the side of the road. Every part of her had wanted to chase them, to answer the immediate queries that had popped into her head upon seeing them, to learn more, but she couldn’t. She was in a moving vehicle and, obviously, trying to jump out while it was still moving would inevitably kill her. Not to mention how simply asking her father to stop the car and let her out would take far too long and raise more suspicion than she wanted to deal with.
It had been a tempting idea, though.
Some part of Cecelia wanted to tell her father and brother about what she had seen out of the window of the car, but she knew that would be a bad idea. They wouldn’t believe her and besides, it just didn’t feel like the right time. She’d just have to keep quiet for now.
The two moving trucks behind them followed along dutifully as their car wound slowly around the many curves of the road they were on. They had recently bought a house up in the little town of Oakwood, California, which finally allowed them to move out of their cramped Santa Cruz condo. It also, rather conveniently, allowed them to have multiple bathrooms, something the family hadn’t had for a long time. Cecelia appreciated this greatly.
“Everything alright, Cici?”
The voice startled her from her thoughts, and she jolted slightly in her seat, stilling herself with a sheepish smile when she saw the source of the voice. It was her big brother, Leroy, looking at her over his shoulder with a semi-worried expression on his freckled face. She nodded vigorously.
“Really?” he asked, furrowing his brow slightly as she nodded. “You’ve been staring out the window really intently for, like, the past thirteen minutes.”
Whoops. She hadn’t realized she’d been looking for that long. She chuckled nervously. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
Leroy still felt that something was off, but sensed that now was not the time to question his sister any further. Ah, well. He’d just have to be patient.
“You kids excited to see our new home?” Their father inquired from the driver’s seat. He didn’t turn around in his seat, but Cecelia could clearly hear the excited smile in his voice.
She nodded her head vigorously. “YEAH!” She cheered, making Leroy flinch a bit in response to the volume of her voice. Her father chuckled.
“A little quieter next time, ok sweetie?”
Cecelia looked away sheepishly. “Whoops… sorry, Dad.”
Leroy fidgeted a bit in his seat. “I guess I’m excited?” He said, very clearly uncertain. “I’m… gonna miss the old house, y’know?”
Cecelia scoffed a bit. “Aww, c’mon! Are you seriously sad about leaving that cramped old thing behind? This one’s gonna be so much better!”
Leroy chuckled lightly in response. “I guess… it’s just…” He trailed off.
“Just what?” Both Cecelia and her dad asked in unison. Leroy simply shook his head.
The rest of the ride to their house passed in relative silence. Leroy had slipped on his headphones and was listening to music now, and Cecelia quietly attempted to count as high as she could before the car got to their final destination. Occasionally, her mind would wander back to the figures she had seen, but she had gotten past 100 in her counting now and was determined not to lose her place. Obsessing over what she had seen could wait for later, like when she was in the shower. The shower was a great place to think.
Finally, the heavy silence was broken yet again by her father. “We’re here!” He announced in a cheerful singsong voice. The family’s car pulled up in front of a large house with gently sloping stairs leading up to its porch. It was painted green with brown wooden accents. There was also a balcony, which was accessible by a large sliding-glass door on the second floor. The whole house was surrounded on all sides by towering trees, and just a ways up the street from the house, the road became a little bridge crossing a creek that appeared to have come from the direction of their new backyard. On either side of the house, as well as across the street, there were other buildings, presumably the homes of whatever neighbors they had.
The moment Cecelia’s feet hit the ground outside of the now-parked car, she took in a deep breath of the clear, sweet mountain air. Every bone in her body suddenly felt very alive. Before her father and brother could even get a chance to unbuckle their seatbelts, she had already snatched up the backpack in which she carried her personal items and started sprinting towards the front door, only stopping once she had practically crashed through the front door in her haste to explore the house.
Leroy came sprinting up behind her, panting and out of breath. “Why…” he huffed, “Must you be so fast?”
Cecelia laughed and playfully punched him in the arm. “Oh c’mon, I’m not that fast!”
There was a moment of silence as Leroy tried to catch his breath. Cecelia tapped her foot somewhat impatiently, waiting for her father to catch up to them and unlock the door so they could go inside the house. During this time, it occurred to her that something around here felt… off. Not exactly in a bad way, just strange in a way that Cecelia wasn’t used to. It made her hair stand on end a little, but at the same time felt like a calm, safe presence was washing over her. It made her a bit uneasy, but she brushed it off. She was here! Now! And there was absolutely nothing to be afraid of.
Eventually, their father made his way up the stairs, followed closely by the moving men. He unlocked the door, and Cecelia immediately darted inside, taking in the homey feeling the building left her with. Within seconds, she was up the stairs and had already claimed her bedroom, which overlooked the stream in their backyard and the back patio of the house. Leroy calmly took the room next to hers, and their father took the primary bedroom, which, conveniently for him, gave him his very own bathroom. Cecelia was jealous. One day, she resolved, she would live in a house with a bathroom of her very own. For now, she and Leroy would have to settle for the bathroom across the hall.
There was also a nice half-bath downstairs, a living room, a kitchen, a dining room, a garage, an extra guest room upstairs, an office (which was decidedly the room with the balcony), and an attic. The whole house felt roomy, yet cozy and welcoming at the same time.
When all the furniture was done being placed, and all the electronics like lamps and computers had been properly hooked up to the house, Cecelia took to unpacking and decorating her room. She threw her bedsheets onto her loft bed and set about making her bed, making sure the white sheets and sunflower-printed comforter were as straight as she could get them, after which she fluffed up her pillows and set down her favorite stuffies, one of which was a stuffed isopod whom she had dubbed William.
Once her bed was set up, she went about stocking the desk under her bed with school supplies and placing books on her bookshelf. She set down her beanbag chairs in a sunny corner of the room, then put all her clothes in her dresser. After that, she tacked up various images to the bulletin board she kept in her room and hung pictures and posters on her wall. The final step was to make a sign for the door of her room.
It took her a bit to ponder what to put on the sign, but after a few minutes she settled on writing “CECELIA’S ROOM – PROCEED WITH CAUTION” in all caps, styling it like those “no trespassing” signs she’d seen on multiple occasions throughout her life. Then, she took out a roll of Scotch tape and stuck it to her door.
Admittedly, now that decorating her room was done, Cecelia was beginning to feel a bit bored. She flopped down in her beanbag chairs and took out a book titled 100 Mysterious Things, which was one of her absolute favorite books in the world, given as she loved anything to do with adventure or the unknown, but she quickly lost interest. It was only when she flipped to a random, oddly familiar page that she stopped, and began to read what the book had to say.
“Oakwood, California is a town that is just barely on the radar for many, but has been classified as a paranormal hotspot by cryptozoologists and ghost hunters alike. From the many sightings of ‘carnivorous deer’, to the strange sounds coming from some sections of the surrounding wilderness at night, Oakwood seems to harbor many strange secrets. Whether or not someone will ever fully unearth what this strange town is hiding has yet to be revealed, but one thing is for sure: whatever Oakwood’s story is, it’s sure to be a fascinating one.”
As she finished reading the paragraph detailing the town, it began to sink in. Oakwood… Oakwood was… here. This was Oakwood, California. The place listed in the book… the place she lived now…
She threw the book about three feet away from her in her own shock, and laughed nervously to herself. Normally, she was willing to suspend her belief for this book, but none of what was on that page about Oakwood could’ve possibly been true, right?
It’s nothing, Cecelia. It’s just a book. She told herself, taking a deep breath. Oakwood is a perfectly fine, reasonable town. It’s fine. This is fine.
She remembered the figures by the side of the road, but quickly brushed them off, standing up and stumbling downstairs, finding her father and mumbling to him that she was going for a walk before stepping out the door and quickly making her way down a little trail across the street. The sign on the trail pointed to a nearby gas station on the edge of town, and she followed it, trying desperately to clear her head.
Outside, light filtered down through the leaves, dappling the forest floor with flecks of gold. The trail was fairly level, and gradually went downhill as she went, finally depositing her at the gas station.
The station was one of those Shell gas stations, and was located by the side of a road leading further into town. It had about six gas pumps and a built-in convenience store, which Cecelia hesitantly entered.
“Hello, what can I do for you?” asked a large, stocky man behind the counter. He had skin the color of mocha and long brown hair so dark it was almost black, plus a big, bushy beard that practically formed a mane around his neck. He was wearing a baseball cap with the Shell logo on it, and had a red shirt with a name tag on it covering his torso. The name tag, upon closer inspection, read “Eric”.
“Oh! Hi there. I’m just browsing.” Cecelia said with a smile. She felt safe around this man. Something about him felt very genuine and friendly in a way that she quite liked.
He nodded and chuckled. “All right. Feel free to ask me any questions you might have.”
Cecelia smiled again and darted off down the aisle, looking through the magazines, drinks, chips, beef jerky, sweets, ice creams, and various other objects the station had in store. Eventually, she settled on a pack of bubble gum and a can of sour cream and onion flavored Pringles, which she brought to the counter. There, Eric tallied up the cost, which was $10.00, and she handed him some of the cash she always kept in her pocket. Once she had paid, she bid Eric farewell and left, strolling happily back home.