OTW Book 1 – Chapter 3

OTW Book 1 – Chapter 3

When her radio alarm clock yanked her from her sleep, Cecelia nearly threw it across her room in fright. The only radio station in town – whose host sounded like he’d crawled straight out of the 1940s – apparently really wanted everyone in town to know about the weather forecast for next week and the ‘local anomalies’ that would come with it. Needless to say, as much as Cecelia loved hearing about anomalous things, she turned it off pretty quickly so as to avoid scaring herself any further.

Breakfast was toast, which Cecelia made for herself while looming in front of the toaster oven like a phantom. She was the first one up today, as per usual, but for some reason she felt a lot less safe being in the kitchen alone than she usually did. Dread still clung to her mind like cobwebs, sending shivers up and down her spine. In fact, she nearly fell over in fright when the morning silence shattered unexpectedly.

“Cici? Are you alright?”

It had only been Leroy’s voice, and yet Cecelia had nearly bolted like a frightened fawn. The sound that was normally a source of either comfort or annoyance had nearly ripped her heart from her chest in sheer alarm. “Jesus Christ, man! Don’t sneak up on me like that!”

Leroy, who really didn’t feel like getting too deep into whatever was going on with his sister today, put his hands up in a position of surrender. “Sorry, sorry. I figured you could hear me. My bad.”

Like a bolt of lightning, Cecelia dashed across the kitchen floor and nearly knocked her brother over like a bowling pin, crushing him in the kind of hug she always gave after she had a bad dream. For a second, she feared he’d just push her away, but after letting out a startled “gah!” warm hands began to gently rub the top of her head just like they used to when she was little. If she wanted to talk about it, Leroy would listen, no questions asked. That was just the kind of brother he was.

“Did you… maybe hear anything in the middle of the night last night?”

“No? I don’t think so, sorry. I had my noise machine on, though, so maybe that’s why,” Leroy spoke like he was trying very hard to avoid making his sister feel like she was going completely crazy, but the expression on his face said loud and clear that he was at least a little weirded out by the question. Who could blame him? He was probably wondering if she was okay.

The hug sustained itself until the toaster dinged rather insistently to let Cecelia know that her food was ready. She drenched it in warm butter and a little bit of jam and settled down at the dining table. The chair legs screeched and screamed across the hardwood floor as Leroy pulled up a seat next to her, bowl of Froot Loops and trusty spoon in hand. There was a quiet moment where he took her hand and squeezed it gently, reassuringly, in his before he began to eat.

“Honestly, what’s the deal with putting cereal in milk? Why don’t people put it in orange juice? Or carbonated water?”

“Eww!” Leroy playfully poked her shoulder. “What kind of monster would put cereal in orange juice? That sounds like an awful flavor combination.”

Cecelia shoved the last of her toast into her mouth, chewed, swallowed, and followed up with “Okay, what about apple juice?”

“Somehow, that’s worse.”

The milk-and-cereal discussion had somehow turned into a discussion about what was and was not appropriate to call a sandwich by the time the siblings had gotten in the car to be driven to school. Cecelia was to be dropped off first at middle school (Leroy was a grade above her and already in high school), which gave her a sort of jumpy, wiggly feeling in her stomach. Had she been in sixth grade, maybe going to a new public middle school wouldn’t be so bad, but this was eighth grade, and she honestly wasn’t sure if she was going to be able to assimilate. All the cliques had probably already been formed two years ago.

She could barely focus as she got out of the car and headed to her homeroom, too full of anxiety to really notice what was going on around her. Completely contrary to the kind of person she usually was, Cecelia tucked herself away in a corner and hoped things would be fine.

The girl who slid in across the table from her had bright pink hair and a look on her face that said she’d rather be anywhere else but at school. She wore dark, baggy clothes and an even baggier jacket over that, matched by dark eyeshadow and black nails. She had headphones in, but when she noticed Cecelia was already sitting at the table, she gave her a polite nod. 

Then, there was the question of the second girl, who looked about ready to explode from anxiety. Long black hair cascaded down her shoulders, framing her almond-shaped eyes that were accentuated by round glasses. She had tan skin with a few freckles here and there, almost like dark raindrops on her face. Cecelia watched her sit down rather hurriedly, adjusting her pumpkin orange sweater and immediately pulling out a copy of The Hobbit to immerse herself in. Seeing someone obviously more frightened about this than her made Cecelia feel a little bit better all of a sudden. Enough to break the almost deafening silence.

“So… Is The Hobbit any good?”

The girl next to her squeaked and nearly dropped her book, startled. She looked like a deer in the headlights for a moment before a smile warmed her face like a sunrise. “Oh! Yeah, it is. It’s a classic, but its high fantasy setting makes it feel almost timeless.”

“My sister is super into that kind of stuff. Plays Dungeons & Dragons every weekend and everything. Pretty neat, but not really my thing,” the girl with pink hair said, offering up just a tiny hint of a smile. 

The girl in glasses laughed softly, brushing some of her hair out of her face. “Oh, yeah, I totally understand. Nerd culture isn’t for everyone.”

Dungeons & Dragons? Don’t you have to do, like, a ton of math to play that one?” Cecelia asked, head tilted like a curious dog.

“Not that much math! And it’s totally worth it.”

Cecelia and the pink-haired girl glanced over at one another, then smiled simultaneously, each one coming out of her shell at least a little bit.

“Well, my name’s Cecelia. My family just moved here yesterday.”

The pink-haired girl made an ‘o’ shape with her mouth. “So that’s why I didn’t recognize you. Usually I’m pretty good about remembering people. The name’s Violet.”

“Tessa,” said the girl in the sweater, adjusting her glasses on her face. “Don’t worry about being new, Cecelia. I was homeschooled up until now. We can be new at school together.”

Cecelia practically threw herself into the backseat of the car, nearly crushing Leroy in the process. Saying that the first day of school had left her ecstatic would’ve been a massive understatement. She could barely listen to the conversation between her father and brother on the way home, too busy thinking about the new friends she’d made.

What she needed was a good walk to process all of her excitement. The second the car pulled into the driveway, she was out with a noticeable pep in her step. Cecelia had barely dropped her backpack next to her brother’s and gotten some water before she burst out of the back door and into the woods beyond. The trails called her name like an adventurous siren song. Who was she not to follow them on a whim and see where they took her?

In the quiet shafts of light that filtered through the trees, Cecelia found her brain circle back to the first thing she’d seen in Oakwood. Those figures she’d witnessed might’ve come up a trail just like this one to the hill she’d seen them on, or perhaps they’d braved the lush underbrush and trudged through the ferns to get there. Had they seen the car go by? They must’ve. Did they know she saw them, too? Who or what were they? Sinking into her thoughts by a little stream the trail guided her to, watching the water swirl and eddy around the rocks, she filled her mind with countless questions and thoughts. Between her incessant internal monologue and the way the light glinted off the water, Cecelia was hypnotized.


Heavy feet landed on a twig on the other side of the stream, causing Cecelia’s head to snap upwards like a startled deer. There they were. There they were.

Two figures – one in red plaid with antlers and the other in a gold-trimmed cloak – stood parallel across the water to her, looking as startled as she was. You have gotta be kidding me! The girl opened her mouth to speak to the figures. “Pardon my language, but what the hell?”

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