The Screech Owls – Chapter I Part VII

Novel: Fantasy Horror

They didn’t talk much that day. All their little energy was concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. Edward put on his armor – minus the helmet – though his shoulders weren’t quite healed. The pain of the armor cutting into them detracted from the pain in his stomach.

Twice they found ruined walls, remains of buildings, stone that in an alive world would be overgrown with vines and weeds but here were only bare stone. It was tempting to break for the day in their foundations, but they had to keep going. They had to find food. The ground several feet around the stream was gravel and rock. There was nothing moving but the water in the stream, which remained thin and shallow. They paused to drink it and Edward chanced a look at Cole. His face was pale, his eyes dark and sunken and hopeless.

Shortly after midday they came upon what was nearly a house, minus a roof or door. There were even window openings for a second floor on one of the walls, and a staircase that was crumbling to nothing. They went inside and collapsed, and they both fell asleep instantly.

Cole woke Edward again in the night. The things were outside, shuffling through the gravel by the stream, warbling and trilling.

God, he hated the things. The only things that lived here but weren’t alive, the things that wouldn’t leave them alone. They were already starving to death. Wasn’t that enough?

He stood and picked up his ax. Cole grabbed his arm. “Quiet. They might not find us in here.”

Edward shook him off and went to the open door. Cole hissed his name but he paid no attention. He stepped out into the night and shouted.

The things turned to him, and came. They didn’t trip over their feet this time; they walked smoothly and quickly towards him, and aimed truer. Edward ducked the first one’s swing and struck it, but when it went down it wasn’t all the way. It swung again and struck him in the thigh. He fell hard on his knees as Cole screamed from the doorway.

He snarled at the pain in his leg, and as the thing lifted its ax to strike, he thrust his own ax into its side. It fell and he hit it once more on the ground, and it lay still.

Edward yelled an animal yell and swung his ax around him, happening to strike another thing that was nearing him. More came. Edward cut them down, laughing. That’s what I think of this fucking forest, he thought. That’s what I think of trying to fucking die and coming to this shithole instead. That’s what I think of no water and then no food and no fucking anything.

They fell to the ground and didn’t move, but he brought the ax down on them, again and again, until he was no longer laughing, until he was all wide eyes and snarling teeth.

Cole screamed again, and he was brought back. He turned and saw one of them in the doorway. Beyond it, in the walls, Cole was crying for him.

He ran towards it, falling over rocks and feeling the pain in his leg again as he raised his ax. But he ignored the pain and hit the thing squarely in the neck, and it went down.

“You okay?” Edward called.

Cole was huddled against the wall. He sniffed. He was crying, but tried to hide it. “Yeah. Are you…” He left the sentence unfinished.

“They got me, but I think the armor held.”

“Let me see.” Cole unstrapped the leg armor, and Edward got it off with a lot of wincing and gritted teeth. From what he could tell in the moonlight, a large dark bruise showed on the side of his thigh, but no bleeding. Edward felt it with his fingertips and hissed in pain, but it was pounding more than stabbing pain.

“I think my femur’s okay,” he said. “Good thing I had the armor on. I think it spread out the blow.”

“You need to be more careful,” Cole scolded him. “I thought you were…” He cut off again, and an owl titter from far off finished for him.

“I’ll be fine. I was just caught unaware. I thought one hit would take it down, like before.”

“You shouldn’t have gone out there. They might not have found us. They’re going to get worse.” He was close to tears again.

“Hey.” Edward put his arms around him and Cole gripped him tightly, bumping his leg so that his wound stabbed him, but he swallowed the pain. “I’m sorry. I was just fed up with all this.”

“You can’t let it get to you.”

Edward barked a laugh. “I should be the one telling you that.”

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