OTW Book 1 – Chapter 2

OTW Book 1 – Chapter 2

Mac-n-cheese made Cecelia glad she hadn’t eaten her gas station snacks yet. Even if it was the Kraft kind made with cheese that could barely be called cheese, it was a longstanding favorite that she wouldn’t dare miss out on. Eating would fail to do justice to the way she consumed the food. She hoovered it. She absolutely hoovered the cheesy goodness.

Leroy, who happened to be a much more delicate eater than she was, watched her with concerned green eyes. Their father was very focused on his own food, doing the thing where he ate slowly and looked like he was contemplating the meaning of life, so that just left the two siblings to stare awkwardly at each other from across the table.

“You’re going to choke if you eat that fast,” Leroy cautioned in a gentle voice. Cecelia just shook her head.

“It’d be pretty hard to choke on mac-n-cheese. It’s slimy and squishy.”

Leroy did something with his phone for a second before looking back up at her and slowly nodding. “Okay, you’re right. Pasta isn’t a choking hazard.”

“Told you!”

“Mhm.” Leroy thoughtfully chewed some of his food. He tapped again at his phone screen, swallowing and taking a deep breath. “I did a little scrounging on Google after we got here. Did you know that not a single oak tree has naturally grown in Oakwood? Every oak tree here is descended from trees planted by settlers.”

“You’re such a nerd.”

“Oh, come on! I’m just sharing a cool fact with you!”

Cecelia scooped the last of her mac-n-cheese into her mouth and quietly excused herself from the table, putting her dishes by the sink and heading upstairs. When she left, Leroy was still pouting over his sister’s apparent lack of interest in his fun facts. He might’ve also called her a square under his breath as she passed by, but she couldn’t be quite sure. Not that it mattered, anyways.

Her bedsheets smelled of Tide detergent, still fresh from the wash a day ago. Touching them made her realize how absolutely bone-tired she was. Damn. Who knew sitting in a car for hours would be so exhausting?

Maybe if she closed her eyes for just a brief moment…

Something was wrong. The stop sign sitting in the stream bled rust and something black into the otherwise clear water. Everything around Cecelia was foggy, though whether with actual fog or just her brain failing to generate all the details around her, she couldn’t tell. Something in the air didn’t smell or feel quite right, like something had curled up and died nearby and then just… disappeared. The trees echoed with silence and a sense of something foreboding.

Curiosity made her legs move forward against the will of Cecelia’s common sense. She was suddenly vaguely aware of other figures around her, but she couldn’t quite turn her head to see them. Something not quite audible to her tried to reach her ears, but failed and fell back as she reached her hand forward to grab the stop sign pole. Something black and gooey was on it, corroding the metal underneath. She would’ve touched it had a soft paw not landed itself on her wrist and gently pushed her hand back into her.

Looking up for the source of the warm contact, wet with the water of the creek, Cecelia’s eyes met something gray with a long neck and dusty teal markings. She couldn’t quite see its eyes, but she knew it had a gentle look on its long snout. Something about the way its ears swiveled and then flicked back felt familiar in a far-away, future sense. 

“Come on, we should go,” a gentle voice with a British accent urged. Did it belong to the weird dog-thing? No clue. A part of her wanted to refuse and dig in her heels, but the second it started to move its paws away towards the other oddly familiar figures she became increasingly aware of, she followed. Someone else grabbed her hand in theirs, and the feeling was like she was suddenly missing someone she’d never even met.

One step out of the creek, and that was when the noise came. A god-awful sound like the death of a thousand wild souls all at once, raging against the tide of the world. Things snapped into sudden clarity for just a moment. Bright eyes and masks and golden trim and twin heads, but above all else, the face of her brother standing a few feet in front of her, only to watch her be torn away by the waking world.

Banging her head against the upper bunk of her bed should’ve been enough to wake her up fully. To make that horrible, horrible noise stop following her from her dreams, but it permeated Cecelia’s reality, too. That awful, awful sound like the worst kind of rage and grief in the world followed her back to reality like a lost puppy, piercing her ears like a sword. Immediately, Cecelia’s body tried to do the thing it always did when things were too loud; twitch its wrists and shrink in on itself.

It was only when Cecelia was able to grab her headphones and phone from her bedside that she was able to stop the tic attack she was having. Music had always been a good regulation tool for her, blocking out unwanted sounds that tried to worm their way into her mind and eat at her nerves. Pick a random playlist, shuffle, and finally feel the intense distress start to slowly ebb away again Coldplay’s “Yellow” came on. A hand on her chest monitored the way her heartbeat gradually slowed down to its normal pace again, until she could barely keep her eyes open again and she’d gone through at least 30 different songs.

Sleep dragged her back into its clutches, this time dreamless and peaceful, but the wailing from outside didn’t stop until dawn’s rays began to illuminate the world again.

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