OTW Book 1 – Chapter 1

Cecelia nervously stared out the window of the family car, trying to fathom what she had just seen. That cliff they had just passed… had she really seen what she’d thought? She could’ve sworn there were two figures there at the top, just kind of standing there and watching the road. She hadn’t seen them for long, of course, and couldn’t make out much during the time that she had seen them, but Cecelia was near certain they were there, even if she’d only witnessed them for a moment. 

Probably just hikers, she told herself, still looking out the car window as the trees passed them by and the car moved up the winding mountain road, That’s the only sensible explanation here. Though she wasn’t a particularly logical thinker (that title was reserved for her big brother), she knew that there was a reasonable explanation for what she had just seen, with that explanation being hikers. It is not ghosts and it is not a pair of bigfoot, she thought sternly, Those aren’t real, just like Dad says, and you’ve clearly been watching too many spooky documentaries, also just like Dad says.

You’re ignoring the important question here, a little voice in the back of her head piped up, Is it bigfoot, bigfoots, or bigfeet?

Shut up. I’m not about to make this like the time I got into a debate with myself in the shower over whether or not the singular noun of Mentos was Mentos or Mento, and whether or not the plural was Mentos, Mentoses, or Menti.

“Hey Cici, you okay? You look really… uh… distant.”

Cecelia was jolted back to reality at the sound of her brother’s voice, which was laced with concern. His green eyes were filled with worry when she looked at him, and he was twisted around in his seat to face her, a position she could only assume was very uncomfortable. “Oh! I’m fine, just spaced out. Sorry, Leroy,” she sheepishly assured him, putting on a small smile to sell her point and doing her best to look him in the eyes. This was, technically speaking, a half-truth, given as she was feeling a bit puzzled and nervous, but she felt otherwise okay, making it true enough that she didn’t feel guilty for hiding anything. Besides, she didn’t want him to worry too much about her. She’d be okay.

Though he didn’t look fully convinced, Leroy nodded in understanding and didn’t press any further. Instead, he just turned around in his seat and shut his eyes again like he had for most of the ride, slipping the headphones he had had around his neck back onto his head and returning to the song he was listening to, humming along to the music. The notes filled the car, washing over Cecelia as she relaxed into her brother’s voice. He’d been writing songs for quite some time now, but was always shy about sharing them, so she liked listening to his singing voice on car rides such as this one to make up for it. His voice was absolutely beautiful – like the ones she heard on the radio sometimes, just younger – and she instantly found herself feeling far calmer as she listened to the relaxing, slow melody he was humming. 

“You two excited to see our new home?” their father, Brad, asked from the front seat of their car. His eyes were focused on the road, so Cecelia couldn’t see his face, but his own excitement was apparent in his voice.

“Heck yeah!” Cecelia whisper-shouted, pumping her fists in the air as best she could in the cramped space that was the car.

Leroy had a slightly more subdued response, as per usual. “Yeah, I guess,” he informed their dad, slipping his headphones off and placing them around his neck once more, “I’m just gonna miss the old house, y’know?”

Cecelia wanted to scoff at this and tell her older brother how silly she thought that was, to inform him how great it was that they were finally getting out of that cramped old townhome, but she didn’t. She was fourteen years old now and she knew better, and besides, despite all her excitement to be moving to someplace new, she missed it a bit, too. It was a good home while it lasted, even if it had only one bathroom and was tiny and cramped and usually smelled like sawdust. It housed so many good memories for their family, along with the bad ones. Bad ones, like when- Cecelia pushed the thought she knew was about to enter her head from her mind before it even got there. She would not think about that. It hurt too much, and it always made her angry. It was in the past and it wasn’t worth her time, anyways. What had happened wasn’t fair, yes, but it was over now, and there was no reason to think about it anymore. Stop rubbing salt in your own wounds and focus on the present, just like Dad advised you to.

“Yeah, I get that,” she finally piped up, nodding her head slowly, “I kinda miss it, too.”

“I guess at least this one has multiple bathrooms,” their dad piped up with a little laugh.

“Finally,” Leroy grumbled, though a slightly joking tone was also in his voice, “I was getting tired of waiting for someone to finish her long, drawn out showers.”

Cecelia snorted indignantly. “Not my fault it’s nice and warm!” she retorted, scrunching up her nose a bit, as though it would help drive home her point.

Leroy rolled his eyes, but didn’t argue. It was pointless, anyways, he seemingly decided, though Cecelia couldn’t read his thoughts. Their fights over the shower were now a thing of the past, and Cecelia could finally bask in the warm shower water tonight without having to worry about Leroy being mad that he had to wait anymore. Plenty of showers for everyone, end of story. In the meantime, she’d just go back to staring out the window. 

It was a few minutes of mindless staring before the family reached the house they were supposed to be moving into. Cecelia wasn’t quite sure what she’d been thinking about during that time, or if she had even been thinking at all, but when Leroy tapped her shoulder and she turned to look at him, she knew she had spaced out for a bit.

The house was a decently large two-story structure nestled beneath the redwood trees that surrounded it. It had been painted a soft sage green and had brown timber accents that moss was covering slightly in some spots, making it look as though the forest was slowly taking back the wood that was taken from it. There was a spacious porch with gently sloping stairs and a gravel path with rocks on either side leading up to it and a balcony that was directly above it, which had a large sliding glass door leading into a room inside. The entire building already radiated a feeling of home and… well, something else, though Cecelia was unable to figure out exactly what ‘something else’ meant in this case. Not like it mattered that much anyway.

The neighborhood they were in was a very pretty one, with lots of lush green foliage everywhere the eye could see. Eight other houses flanked either side of the road, each with its own semi-unique appearance. The road formed a small bridge not too far down the street, going over the stream that came down from the sloping hill behind one home that trickled down to cut through the neighborhood. The sun was warm and the mountain air all around Cecelia was clear, crisp, and sweet. Lifting the backpack she carried all her personal items in and placing it over her shoulders, she took a step towards the house, eyes filled with curiosity as she looked at her surroundings. They were on a street called Turtle Creek Drive, which probably had something to do with the creek she could hear in the background, and their house number was 987, which was displayed in metal numbers in some sort of serif font to the right side of the door on one of the pillars holding up the balcony. 

“Don’t go crashing straight into the door this time!” Brad called after her, hurrying to grab the house keys and following after his daughter. One time, when they had rented a cabin out for the summer when Cecelia was five, she’d gotten so excited that she ran straight into the door in her haste to get inside. That was almost nine years ago by now, and she still hadn’t lived it down.

Cecelia sighed and slowed down, coming to a stop at the base of the stairs and waiting for her father and brother to catch up. Leroy was the first of the two to come stumbling up behind her, panting heavily from all the running. He was never the most athletic kid and tired out quickly, a trait he’d inherited from their father, but he’d made a pretty good effort to run after her, and seemed to be slightly proud of his slight athletic improvement. Cecelia looked up at him and smiled playfully. “Slowpoke,” she teased, earning an eye roll and half-smile in response. If she couldn’t live down the cabin door incident when she was five, then Leroy wasn’t going to be able to live down his slowness, and neither was her father.

When Brad finally plodded up to the porch and unlocked the door, Cecelia was, once again, the first one to move, darting inside to look around. The front door led into a room with a fireplace, which was probably the living room, that had a stairway right across from the door leading to an upstairs hallway with railings overlooking the door. On either side of the staircase, branching off from the living room, was a kitchen and dining room combo with a backdoor leading out to a porch much like the one out front and a downstairs bathroom complete with a shower. Through another door branching off from the living room was the garage, which contained the washing machine and dryer, and in the upstairs hall there was another bathroom, the room leading out to the balcony, and three bedrooms, one of which had a master bathroom. Everything was made of dark, earthy tones of wood and warm gray stone except for the kitchen and bathrooms, which were made of white tile, and the whole building felt spacious yet homey in a way Cecelia quite liked. 

She was vaguely aware that her father, Leroy, and the moving men who were bringing in the family’s furniture were all doing things in the background, but she paid little to no mind. “Dad?” she muttered as she helped bring some things in from the car, “Can I go on a walk?”

Cecelia wasn’t quite sure exactly what her dad had said, but next thing she knew she was walking down the street past a house with a front lawn full of gnomes and flamingos and was making her way down a little trail in the woods leading to a nearby gas station, so she was going to assume the answer had been something along the lines of ‘yes’. She knew she’d have a couple hours before her room would be furnished enough for her to unpack all the smaller boxes and put her stuff where it needed to go, so she was happy to be doing something else in the meantime. She had about 10 dollars in her hoodie pocket, which would be enough to buy her some potato chips if she felt like it, and she was fairly certain the gas station would have snacks, so she was confident in the likelihood that she would, in fact, feel like buying food.

Light streamed down through the trees, dappling the forest floor below her with shadows as the 6:00 pm sky slowly darkened into dusky purple-blue with the slowly setting sun. Ferns on either side of the trail brushed gently against her legs as though the forest were greeting her with a gentle touch, and the cool evening breeze caressed her face, numbing her nose a little bit as it hit her skin. Roots and twigs lay in her path, and she nimbly stepped over them, sometimes hopping and jumping and internally laughing at how silly she figured she was being. When she got to the gas station, which was in a little clearing by the side of a road leading to the center of town, that internal laughter turned into a soft, brief wheeze of amusement. The gas station was a Shell gas station with 6 pumps and a little store that clearly had snacks in it, just like most gas stations. The only difference – and the thing that had struck her admittedly very classic sense of humor for the age she was at – was the fact that the softly glowing sign reading ‘Shell’ had the ‘S’ no longer working, leaving it to read as ‘hell’ instead. ‘Classic teenager humor’, as Dad would say, she mused internally. ‘You’ve been looking at too many memes. You should watch some actual comedians with me sometime!’ is what he would probably say. Not that he was one to talk, of course, given that he was the one who thought responding to ‘I’m hungry’ with ‘Hi Hungry, I’m Dad!’ was funny.

As she pushed open the door to the gas station and stepped inside, Cecelia was immediately greeted by the man behind the counter. He had mid-toned skin that was a sort of rich tan color like brown sugar as opposed to hers, which she’d once described as ‘a distinct shade of mayonnaise’ in an essay about herself (she thought she was being funny, though the teacher who gave her a C- seemingly didn’t agree) and dark brown hair that was long enough to reach to his shoulder blades and a big, bushy beard larger than that of Cecelia’s father that she immediately assumed took him hours to wrangle every morning. He was wearing your average white polo shirt that almost every gas station employee had probably worn at one point or another, and his name tag read ‘Eric’. He looked friendly enough, with his warm smile and big brown eyes, and as she walked in he chirped “Hello there! What can I get for you?” in a warm voice that immediately reminded her of a warm summer day spent picking berries in the forest somewhere.

“Oh!” she responded, doing her best to match his cheerful demeanor, “I think I’m okay on my own, thank you.”

Eric nodded in understanding and turned his attention to a squirrel on a stump outside while Cecelia went to browse the shelves and see what she wanted. As with every gas station snack supply, there were two types of snacks; sweet snacks and salty snacks. Sweet snacks were things like gummies, strawberry licorice, and chocolate, amongst other things, and salty snacks were beef jerky, chips, and the like. There was also an ice cream cooler and lots of Gatorade and sodas, but Cecelia was paying less attention to that. Instead, she picked up a can of sour-cream-and-onion flavored Pringles and brought it to the front of the store where Eric sat at the counter. She handed him the chips and her ten dollars and watched as he rang her up before handing her her food. “Thanks for stopping by,” Eric said with a smile as she left. Right away, Cecelia knew she would want to come back to the gas station for more snacks and maybe a little chat over the course of the next few days. For now, she simply smiled politely and wished him a good day before heading back home, trying to think of how she would hide her chips from her constantly snacking father and brother.

When she pushed open the door to her home, Cecelia muttered a greeting to her father before scurrying upstairs to set up her room. Her bunk bed was already set up, as were her bookshelf and dresser, so she just had to put her bedsheets on her bed and her books on her shelf. Stuffing her chips under her bed for safekeeping, she then set about making her bed and setting up her room.

Once Cecelia had finished her work setting up her room, she stepped back to admire her work. The walls of her room had been painted a soft blue color by whoever had lived there before, but luckily for her, the color perfectly complemented the rest of the objects in her room. Her bedsheets – which were white with black spots – and sunflower print comforter stuck out perfectly against the blue, and the mid-tone cocoa brown wood on all the furniture in her room added a nice touch as well. Her assorted pillows and stuffed animals lined the lower bunk, and in front of the window overlooking the backyard with its porch and little trail up a hill towards who-knew-where in the woods was a desk with her computer and school supplies. Her bookshelf was lined with all her books, with the two black-and-white beanbag chairs she liked to sit on tucked close next to it. The top bunk held even more pillows and stuffed animals, and her dresser, which was next to the door entering her room, held all her clothes. There was only one thing left to do, and that was to make a sign for her door.

Taking out her markers, pencils, and a piece of paper, Cecelia set to work drawing up a sign for her room. It had been a tradition for her and Leroy ever since they were little to make signs every couple of years or so for their rooms. Now that they had moved, it was clearly time for new signs to be made. This time, Cecelia’s was inspired by those ‘no trespassing’ signs she was around 80% certain everyone had seen at least once in their life. Carefully, she wrote the words ‘CECELIA’S ROOM: PROCEED WITH CAUTION’ in black marker, then took out her tape and taped it to the front of her door. She noticed that Leroy hadn’t made his yet, but she hoped he would later. For now, she would just go back to her room and hang out for a bit.

When she got back to her room, she opened her window and breathed in the cool, fresh air from outside. Over time, ever since… certain events had occurred in her life, Cecelia had learned to appreciate the little things whenever she could. Warm hugs, tasty marshmallows evenly roasted over a campfire, the sound of waves lapping at the beach, looking up at the stars, the scent of the evening forest… the list just went on and on. Of course, being human, Cecelia’s life still moved so fast that she was rarely able to will herself to take a second to make moments like this one, but that only made them sweeter, didn’t it? Gems wouldn’t be rare if they popped up everywhere all the time, and these moments wouldn’t be special if they were constantly happening all the time. Maybe it was a good thing that her life moved so fast. It made stuff like this even more valuable when they did happen. She just wished- no. No, she didn’t wish that. That was the past now, and this was the present. She needed to live in the moment, just like she’d told her father she would when she was in fifth grade.

“Cecelia! Leroy! Dinnertime!” called Brad’s voice, jolting her from her thoughts. She could hear Leroy in the next room over scrambling to open his door and get downstairs, and she followed suit, forgetting to shut her window and instead focusing on going to get her food.

After dinner, Cecelia returned to her room and remembered to shut her window at long last before flopping down on a beanbag chair and looking up at her ceiling in ponderous silence. Dinner had been mac-and-cheese (a favorite of hers from when she was younger), and now she was feeling nostalgic. Unfortunately, Cecelia and nostalgia tended not to mix well, and as such she dragged herself to her bed and took out her phone, curling up under the covers and looking at memes until her eyelids started to grow heavy. I should probably sleep, she thought to herself, looking at the clock. It was only 8:30, but she was already all showered and in her pajamas, so she might as well hit the hay and see what happened tomorrow morning. Plugging in her phone, she laid down on her side and shut her eyes, waiting for sleep to take her. She nearly immediately regretted it, though.

Cecelia wasn’t the kind of person to dream very often, so she immediately knew something was off when she found herself standing by a creek in some foggy semblance of a forest, surrounded on both her left and right sides by figures she didn’t recognize, except for Leroy’s, which was clasping her hand in his.

Well, this certainly got weird fast, she observed as she looked around. Like in most dreams, the surroundings weren’t very clear, and neither were the faces of those around her. She was only able to tell that Leroy was Leroy because he was wearing his usual red-and-white checkered jacket and his flame-colored hair was like a beacon of who he was sitting atop his head like a hat. It was eerily silent and still, like something had scared all the life out of the forest, and as she looked around she noticed that each of the other figures with her looked sort of concerned, even if she couldn’t quite make out their faces in the fog her brain was creating over their features.

On her left side were the two figures she’d seen by the side of the road. One was wearing some sort of mask with antlers and a mane of fur attached to it, and they had on a red plaid shirt, just like the one she’d seen them in earlier that day. They were tall and strong-looking, but other than that it was hard to process much of what they looked like. Next to them was the other figure, who was shorter and slimmer and in a blue-gray cloak with gold trim, the hood of which was pulled up over their head so that Cecelia had even more trouble distinguishing their face than she had with any of the others. To her right, just past Leroy, however, were two figures she certainly didn’t recognize at all. One was the size of a border collie with a snakelike tail and a mostly black, gray, and white color palette. It had two heads, neither of which had very clear faces, and each one had a purple collar with a letter on the tag that she wasn’t able to see due to the blurriness of the whole dream. The other was gray and blue with a long neck and long tail but very short legs, and it looked to be around 7 feet tall. It stood on four legs, but like all the others was unclear.

It was then that a loud sound startled her. An angry shriek of pure, unbridled rage that jolted her right back into consciousness, heart pounding in her chest as she sat up in fright, bumping her head on the upper bunk of her bunk bed before she began looking around in a panic, disoriented and trying to figure out what was happening. And then it hit her.