The Screech Owls – Chapter I Part V

Novel: Fantasy Horror

Cole didn’t complain, not about the environment, not about the lack of food, not about the extreme thirst he must be experiencing. So Edward tried not to complain as well. Still, the conversation turned to food.

“I sure could go for some french fries right now,” he said.

“I want ice cream,” Cole responded.

“But it’s freezing.”

“Then…ice cream on hot apple pie.”

“Okay, I’ll go with that. Or some – ”

He cut off so abruptly that Cole jumped like a startled cat.

“You hear that?”

“What?” Cole looked around nervously, but then he heard. “It sounds like…”

“Water,” Edward finished.

It was a stream, thin and barely covering the rocks in it, but it was water. Cole was so eager he nearly ran into it, and Edward had to stop him.

“Careful, don’t get your shoes wet. It’s too cold for that.”

The water was ice-cold in his hands, and dirty and brackish, but it was heavenly regardless. Once they drank their fill Edward made sure Cole dried his hands and stuck them under his shirt to warm them. Then he looked up and down the pitiful stream.

“You led us right before. So now what? Up or down river?” He was worried Cole would say they had to cross it and leave it behind.

But “Down” Cole answered as if he hadn’t needed to think about it. “But it’ll be dark soon.”

“Let me worry about that.”

Cole’s face said he was going to worry about it anyway, but he nodded.

They headed what seemed to be north down the stream. The sound of the water trickling over the rocks was a welcome relief from the oppressing silence. Still the dark trees were all around them, dead, closing them in as if this were a labyrinth. Cole knew the way, but Edward found doubt creeping into his mind. Sure they had found the stream, but what if that was only luck? Suppose Cole was just picking a random direction. Suppose he wasn’t even doing it consciously. Suppose he caught a vague idea in his head to go left and he thought it was certain that they should go left. After all, if they were going the right way, shouldn’t they have found somebody? Shouldn’t they have found food?

You’re just irritable because you’re hungry, he told himself. The water had helped, but still he was feeling weaker with every step. He mentioned leaving behind his armor, but Cole balked at the idea and said they would need it.

Edward looked to the west, where the sun was going down, blood red. The trees cast long shadows like bony fingers over them. “You ever write about adventures like this, Cole?”

“Not quite.” Cole looked at the sun too, but with dread.

“Maybe this is one of your stories?”

“Huh?”

“Think you could write in some dinner for us?”

Cole giggled. “It was the first time Edward had heard him come even close to laughing. “Not my story. My stories actually have stuff happening in them.”

Edward looked at the shadows of the trees over the dusty land and the pitiful stream. “There is a hell of a lot of nothing, isn’t there?” He let his armor and ax fall to the ground. “Sorry, Cole. I can’t go any further today.”

“I’m tired too,” Cole agreed, and they huddled together at the base of a tree.

“You can say when you’re tired,” Edward said. He realized now that they had only taken breaks that day when he had needed them. “Or hungry. Or whatever. Whatever you want to talk about.”

“It won’t change anything, talking about it.”

Edward thought of the razorblade against his wrists, and winced. “Maybe. But maybe talking is okay too.”

“Is it?”

Edward looked up at the sky, looking for stars. A normal world would have stars lighting up about now. “I don’t know. I guess I never tried it.”

“I just got used to it, being tired and hurting. I mean, before this place.”

Edward wanted to say he understood, but he didn’t really. Cole’s had been a physical exhaustion and pain. Did his own experiences really compare?

“Are those things really coming again tonight?” he asked Cole.

“Yeah.”

“How do you know? How do you know all this stuff, like what way to go?”

Cole thought about it. “It’s like it’s deep down in my head. All foggy. Like someone shoved it in there but didn’t explain everything.”

“Like it’s in your subconscious?”

“Something like that. If I think too hard about it, it slips away. Like why we should go downstream.”

“And the things in the armor?”

“I don’t want to think about that.”

“But we have to. If we’re going to be fighting them every night, it would help to know more about them.”

Cole gripped Edward’s shirt and curled up in a ball beside him. “You don’t want to know about them,” he whispered.

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