The Screech Owls – Chapter II Part I

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I’ve realized chapter two should probably start when they find the food, but we’ll go with this for now.

Novel: Fantasy Horror

They spent the rest of the night wide awake, the screech owls roaming in and out of the floor beneath them, trilling and coming close to the stairs, but not climbing them. In the morning Cole found words on the wall, right beside where the two of them had huddled together. They were etched into the stone, but old and faded, the reason they hadn’t noticed them at dusk. They weren’t in English, and yet Edward understood the words perfectly. At least the words he could read.

Don’t take……GO BACK…….

And then below that, in Chinese,

Keep going.

“Which one do we listen to?” Edward mused aloud.

“We have to go forward,” Cole said. “It’s dangerous, but there’s no other way to go.”

“You speak Chinese, Cole?”

Cole shook his head.

“Me neither.”

“I don’t even know English. We were learning it in school but I was sick so often. My friend Rudy brought me the notes and homework for all my classes but I couldn’t keep up.”

Edward nodded, but stopped when he realized what Cole had said.

“What are you talking about?” he said. “You’re speaking English right now.”

Cole gave him a weird look, an eyebrow raised. “I only speak German.”

“But you’re speaking English.”

“No, I’m speaking German and so are you.”

Edward looked back at the wall, at the Chinese and the unknown language. “Fucking A,” was all he could think to add to that.

They followed the stream. Occasionally Edward would climb a tree – amazed at how quick and deft he was at the job – and look around. He never saw anything except more trees, except for one day when he did see something far off – a wall, rising above the trees, perhaps three days away. He scurried back down to ground and told Cole, but Cole had no knowledge of a wall or what could be beyond it. Still, Edward was excited, even if Cole wasn’t. Maybe there were people behind the wall. Maybe the wall was for keeping the screech owls out. Maybe they would be showered with food. They were starting to run low on supplies, and getting sick of hardtack and cold bouillon soup. Edward let himself think of hot meals again: fried tofu and palak paneer and Stripple, and fresh greens. He rattled off these to Cole and Cole said didn’t he want a roast or steak.

“I’m a vegetarian,” he said. “When I’m not eating bouillon or those weird cakes, that is.”


“I mean I don’t eat meat.”

“Oh…what about chicken?”

“Chicken is meat.”

“But it’s…what about fish?”

“I don’t eat fish either.”

“Okay, but I want some roast chicken and lamb.”

“You can have my share of it.”

“But we can both have some chocolate, right?”


The next day Edward climbed a tree again, and could see buildings peeking above the wall. It was too far to tell their condition, but he let himself see them as well taken care of, stones and shingles and windows all in place. They would be there before they knew it.

Cole went to sleep easily that evening. They were feeling the lack of adequate sleep, taking turns on watch in the night. Edward was aware that as a teenager he required more sleep than Cole, but he couldn’t bring himself to cut down on Cole’s hours. He was in a constant fog of sleeplessness, but again tonight as he drifted off to sleep listening to the screech owls he told himself he just had to make it to the wall. Beyond the wall was food and beds and security.

And then what, for him?

He cut off his thoughts at that. He would decide his fate later. Cole first.

He was woken by Cole. A low howl sounded from the stairs. The things were taking to the stairs so much more easily. Or maybe it was just that they found more houses with stairs and had only assumed the screech owls would be confused by the steps. Either way, he would have to get rid of it quickly. Shaking off sleep, he stood and picked up his ax, and Cole stepped back.

When the screech owl entered the doorway, Edward struck it in the chest. He had meant to hit the neck, but it was hard to see the things, with the way they drew in all the light. It pawed the ax aside and swung its own weapon, and though Edward dodged, next it shoved him in the chest with an open palm. It knocked the wind from him, like a log had been tossed onto his chest, and he fell backwards, his ax clattering on the stones.

It brought down its ax, and he rolled aside to avoid it. It hit the floor so hard that sparks flew, and Edward grabbed for his weapon. But as he raised it the screech owl dug its ax into his side.

Cole screamed.

Edward cried out as his ribs snapped. His vision darkened, until the screech owl was a shadow within shadows, as if the moon had dived behind a cloud. He still had the ax raised. He brought it down on the thing’s head, cracking the helmet. It wasn’t fazed; it brought its ax back around, and Edward grabbed its arm and pushed it out the doorway, to the floor, and finally cut off its head.

There was another, just reaching the top of the stairs. Edward heard its trilling and knew it was calling the others, like wolves to a hunt. Edward didn’t feel his wound anymore. He was in the darkness and he fought the thing and won as if it were the first day.

“Edward,” he heard, and he turned and readied his ax to strike…


He changed the course of his weapon just in time, narrowly missing the boy. It clanged on the stones so that the light of the sparks hurt his eyes.

Cole stood there like a deer in headlights, not quite comprehending and not at all sure of what to do.

The screech owls twittered their way into the house downstairs.

Edward gasped as his pain hit him again, and he had to drag his ax as he grabbed Cole and rushed them both into another room, furthest from the stairs. Once they were in there, he fell against the wall beside the doorway, taking rasping breaths and clutching his side. Cole hid in the corner, as if afraid of him. Certainly afraid of him.

The things were climbing the stairs. Too many of them. Edward wouldn’t be able to fight even one of them like this. He searched the room with his eyes, but there was only the window.

“Cole,” he whispered. “You have to go out the window. Climb down the stones.”

Whatever was holding Cole away broke and he crawled over to Edward. “What about you?”

Edward grinned at him. “Don’t worry about me. Just – ”

“No. It’s my fault. I screamed.”

“Don’t think about that. You have to run.”


Edward pushed him away, but the boy clung to his arm, and the things were coming, searching the rooms, closer and closer.

It was too late. They were just outside.

Edward gripped his ax.


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