The Screech Owls – Chapter I Part IV

Novel: Fantasy Horror

Edward looked down at Cole. He was so tiny. There would have been nothing he could have done against the things alone. Except run.

“Will more come tonight?” Edward asked.

“I don’t know.” Cole hugged his arms around himself. “I don’t know why I know what I know, and why I don’t know other stuff.” He looked down at the body before them. “I know he won’t bleed.”

Edward paused, looked down at the body still encased in armor, resisted an urge to vomit. He didn’t want to see what was in the armor, but he had to check, didn’t he?

Did he?

He bent down and put his hands around the horned helmet, and after taking a steadying breath slid it off.

There was a man inside.

“Oh, God,” Edward said.

“It’s alright,” Cole said. “They aren’t really human.”

Edward dropped the helmet as if it had stung him. “What does that even mean? Of course they’re human.”

“Look at the wound.”

Edward swallowed hard, and bent down again, looking closely. It was hard to tell anything in the dimness of night, but he didn’t see any blood. He picked up the helmet again and inspected the gash just right of the top of the head. The guy’s brains should have fallen out. He looked at the man again, and perhaps he could see a gash, but no blood.

He felt light-headed. He returned to the wall and leaned against it, wondering if he really would vomit.

Cole followed him. “Are you okay?”

“No,” he said too harshly. “I’m not fucking okay. I don’t know where I am and I’m fucking killing people that aren’t really people and I’m not okay.”

He closed his eyes. And it was so fucking hot. After the fight he was dripping sweat. He couldn’t think, like the heat had bored its way into his head.

But he took deep breaths and calmed down. He turned to Cole, who hadn’t moved.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I shouldn’t take it out on you.”

“It’s okay,” Cole said.

“Come on. Go to sleep.”

“What about the…”

“I’ll keep watch.”

“But you need to sleep too.”

“I don’t think I could if I tried. You sleep.”

Cole had no argument for that. He curled up against the crumbling wall and fell asleep as Edward watched over him, trying to keep his thoughts clear. But it was too quiet and too dark. There weren’t any sort of insects chirping or droning, there weren’t any leaves to rustle in a breeze. There wasn’t even a breeze. The only sounds were Cole’s soft snores and the occasional rumble from his stomach. If more of those things were to approach, he would be able to hear them a mile off.

Was it still all a dream? Could he still wake up at any moment? If he let one of those things kill him, would he wake up? Was he protecting Cole for nothing? He shook his head and wiped sweat from his face. He couldn’t assume anything. He had to take care of the kid.

Why? Why was that so important? He didn’t know Cole at all.

He looked down at the boy. He had curled up in a ball at first, but on falling asleep had stretched out from the baking heat. He had to be wiped out if he was able to fall asleep in this weather.

As the moon set the heat faded, until the sun lit up the gray sky and brought the cold with it. Cole started to shiver, until Edward searched the prone body and robbed it of its clothes. He draped the shirt over Cole, but that startled him awake, crying out as if he were coming out of a nightmare.

“It’s just me,” Edward said. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”

Cole looked at him, then down at the shirt draped over him. “This…”

“I got it from the…er, body.”

Cole threw it off of him and crawled away from it as if it were made of spiders. “It’s from them?” he shrieked.

“What? What’s wrong with it?”

“I don’t want it.”

“Then you’ll freeze.”

“Fine.” He was still watching it as if it might leap up and attack him.

Edward sighed and pulled off his own shirt, throwing it to Cole. Then he picked up the one Cole had cast off.

“You’re going to wear it?” Cole said, incredulous.

“Is it gonna possess me or something?”

“Well…no, but…”

“But what?”

Cole looked away, his cheeks growing red. “Nothing. I didn’t mean to get all squeamish. It’s not like we have a lot of stuff to go around.”

“Well I’ll wear the gross one, okay?”

Cole nodded and put on Edward’s shirt.

Edward thought of breakfast and felt the void in his stomach. “We’re going to get hungry today,” he said. “Let me know if you need to rest.”

“I’m doing alright. I didn’t know if I could do all that walking yesterday, but I did it.”

“Then lead on.” Edward picked up his armor and ax and they started away from the ruined wall, stepping over the bodies. His stomach rumbled, and he diverted his attention from it by asking “How long were you in the hospital anyway?”

“Months. I kind of went in and out of hospital a lot.”

The obvious next question was what was wrong with him, but Edward didn’t want to know. Instead he asked “What do you even do in a hospital all day?”

“I played games mostly. Minecraft and Final Fantasy. And I wrote stories.”

“What kind of stories?”

“Um…like about stuff I’d rather be doing. Adventures and stuff. Like Treasure Island.”

“Like pirates?”

“Sometimes, yeah.”

“You ever see The Goonies?”

Cole hadn’t. Edward said he would show it to him when they got out of here. He made sure he said when, not if. They talked about books and movies and Minecraft, anything but the dead woods, which were sickly in the early light. There was no morning fog or dew on the black branches, and there were no songs of birds. Their footsteps in the dust were the only thing to keep their voices company.

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