The Screech Owls – Chapter I Part II

Novel: Fantasy Horror

“We should go,” he said aloud, and looked around yet again, though nothing had changed in the landscape. “There’s bound to be someone somewhere.”

But there was no path. The ground was dry dust all around, the trees were clustered all around, there was nothing in the distance. He looked up at the sun, but he had no idea whether it was rising or setting.

“What way do you think?” he asked Cole.

Cole didn’t even think about it. He pointed into the trees. “That way.”

“Why not.” He picked up the ridiculous hideous helmet and stepped in that direction.

“Your ax.”

Edward stopped and looked back at it. It looked like it weighed eighty pounds. “Yeah right.”

“We’ll need it.” Cole’s eyes went as wide as when he was crawling away from Edward. “They’ll come tonight.”

“Who?”

“The screech owls,” he whispered.

“So…owls? I don’t think I need an ax for that.”

Cole looked down at the ground and shrunk into the oversized shirt.

“I can’t even pick up this thing.” Edward walked over to the ax and grasped it to illustrate. But when he lifted it he nearly fell over backward because it came off the ground easily. He held it up in front of him and felt the weight of it, clearly heavy and destructive, but so easy for him to lift. He could feel his muscles tense and relax as he swung it. It whistled shrilly through the air, as if shrieking. Cole covered his ears.

“Alright,” Edward said. “Let’s go.”

He tried not to think as they trudged through the woods, questions like how was he here and where was here and what would he do next. He focused on the kid. He had to get Cole to civilization, food, people, warm clothes. Before nighttime. If it was this cold with the sun up, what would the temperature be once it went down?

It had been summer in Tennessee.

So this wasn’t Tennessee.

He blinked away tears of frustration. Don’t think.

He focused on the chill. The sun seemed to radiate the cold, blasting it at him with rays of ice. The walk was warming him, but not enough. The cold was a welcome distraction at first, but when his teeth were set to chattering he had to stop and put his armor back on. He found almost immediately what the thick shirt had been for – the metal dug into his shoulders and sides until he was rubbed raw in several places. Still, it kept his body heat in.

After an hour they stopped to rest. Edward’s mouth was sandpaper. They needed water. But Cole didn’t complain.

He’s a good kid.

“Are you sure this is the right way?” he asked him.

“Yeah. It’s a long way though.”

“How do you know?”

Cole looked at him with those fearful eyes, and Edward had to change the subject.

“It’s supposed to be summer, isn’t it?”

Cole nodded. “It was 86 degrees yesterday.”

“Not very summery here.”

“Yeah.”

“That’s okay. We’ll find someplace to rest tonight.” He gazed at the black trees. He had chopped a branch off of one earlier, just to inspect it. There was no way they were making a fire out of them; the trees were petrified. He held his gloved hands to his freezing ears. If they didn’t find a place to rest tonight, they were done for. The sun was clearly on its way down now. They had maybe three or four more hours of daylight.

Cole took the neck of the shirt and pulled it over his head so it looked like he was wearing a hijab. It looked silly, but he was small enough for it to work. Still, he shivered, and he looked miserable.

“Okay!” Edward jumped up, and winced as the armor hit his aching shoulders. “Let’s get going. Shelter’s not gonna find us.” He nearly winced again at his cheery tone, but he had to put the face on, for the kid. Cole got up with the neck of the shirt still wrapped around his ears and nodded.

Four hours later Edward’s shoulders, elbows, and back were rubbed raw, the sun was low behind the trees, and they had found nothing. Cole kept jumping at shadows and casting anxious glances behind them.

“It’s okay,” Edward told him. “We’ll find something.” His voice sounded like an empty lie even to himself.

“It’s not that,” Cole whispered.

“What then? The owls?”

Cole stopped and looked behind them again. He bit at his lip as if preventing the words from leaving his mouth.

“Look,” Edward said. “I see something up ahead.”

He actually did. Some sort of formation through the trees. It didn’t look like much, but it would distract Cole. They passed through the trees and as they closed in on it they could see the remainder of some construction. The sky was blood-red with sunset when they got to it, and the entire location was cast in a sickly crimson hue. It was no shelter, only stone walls crumbling to dust, stone floors with cracks running through it like gaping veins. Remnants of columns here and there, but so eroded it was impossible to ascertain any sort of historical time or placement from them. Not that Edward remembered that section of Art History.

There was nothing that they could set fire to. Edward plopped down against a wall and started to undo his horrible armor, but again Cole had to help.

“I think this is our shelter tonight,” he said with an icy smile. He didn’t care if he froze, would damned well welcome it, but he had wanted to save the kid. When he shook the armor off, Cole gasped at his wounds. He was actually bleeding from his left shoulder.

“You should have said something.” Cole gave him a very serious and very disapproving look. “We could have switched off with the shirt.”

“You’re too little. You would have frozen.”

“I’m not that weak. Not anymore.” He looked back at the way they had come. “I’ve never walked so far. Not that I can remember.”

“If only it had been more scenic.” Edward looked to what must be the east and saw that a full moon was rising yellow through the trees. Cole sat close to him and they watched it rise as the last rays of the sun faded, exhausted and unable to fight the cold any longer.

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