Chapter 1: Introductions Are Needed
Hello, I'm John.
I wish I could tell you something interesting about myself as an introduction, but I'm really just a boy. Sixteen years old and only getting older, I guess. I live in the forest with my dad. It's nothing amazing. There are plenty of families who grew up here. We're just one of them.
It's kind of like a widespread village. Finding your way around here can be tough for a newcomer, but navigation becomes easy once you've been here for a while. We're only a few minute's walk from our neighbor's house, and the school is near the center of the forest, easy to reach by everyone. If we feel lonely, there's the main village that's actually just a huge market surrounded by smaller homes and inns. It's a two hour walk, though. Most of the tradesmen have caravans and even jeeps to get them to their stores, but with little to no roads, and even fewer places to buy a car, the rest of us have to go by foot.
But yeah, you'd probably be more interested in the other kids. My life is dull and routine. I spend all of my time at home, or more likely in the woods. In fact, I don't talk to the others much. Most of my friends are online, and I don't mind that. As nice as the forest is, it's gets old after a few years. It's even more fun learning about the big cities, and about other cultures through people on the internet.
Oh, but there is one thing that's interesting about my life! Well, you'd probably laugh. Most of the other kids did when I told them. But I dunno, maybe I trust you? You seem like you'd listen.
You see, there's this legend. Or really, many legends with the same idea. They all say that there's a spirit that lives in the forest. Some say it's a frightening monster that eats small children who wander too far from their homes. Others say it takes those children, keeps them as pets. Another legend mentions how the children aren't eaten or kept at all, but instead transformed into little demons to help the spirit watch over the forest.
I wonder why all those stories had to do with lost children. I think it was just to scare us. But old man Harley had another legend that was more to my taste. He said the spirit was in fact, a singing bird. One's whose song could bring life to the dead, and heal those who were hurt. The bird takes care of the forest and keeps the plants lush and the animals breathing. Without it, the forest would fall.
I have my own reasons for believing in this particular legend. A personal one. It's kind of a long story though. Go ahead. Grab a seat. Maybe dad will bring us some cake or something. You can have as much as you want. I am not really fond of the stuff. Anyway...
One day, when I was five or six, I had gotten mad at him, my dad. I wasn't sure why. Maybe it was stress? Everyone was a little high strung that week. All the children were kept on lock down, only allowed to leave the house with a guardian. A kid had gone deep into the forest and never came out. I know. Another lost child story. Go figure.
I don't know who he was, but his absence gave the folks around here quite a scare.
Maybe it was by that kid's influence, but that night I decided to run away. I wasn't used to being told to stay still. I hated every second of being stuck at home. And besides, the forest looked welcoming that night. In fact, it was almost as if it was trying to lead me inside. It was in the middle of the summer, and the covering of the leaves kept the forest floor cool. There were fireflies flitting about too, so it wasn't dark.
The trees seemed to part as I walked deeper in, and there wasn't the tiniest peep from any of the forest's horrors. It was peaceful, for a while. My dream of running away was chased away as I watched the fireflies. After all, my attention span wasn't the best at that age. I don't think anyone's is. I wandered off the path, hunting down small bugs and animals. I almost caught a rabbit, and was shocked by a deer who trotted off into the distance as I came too close. I'd never been in the forest in the middle of the night. It was more exciting than the day.
I kept going until the trees became unfamiliar and the grass, thicker. The fireflies began to disappear, and the darkness set in. It got harder and harder to see or walk. I thought it was still safe, but I had begun hearing sounds. A snort here and a growl there. They all scared me, making me want to turn around and go back home. But there was a problem- I didn't know where home was anymore.
I was too young to know much about reading the forest for signs of life. No one ever told me not to go where the grass grew too tall, or where the trees became twisted and knotted. Some of those without leaves looked like black hands reaching up towards the sky, as if in agony. It was a nightmare, but a fascinating one. Why did the forest change the further you went in?
I looked up to where the trees were reaching, and my eyes flew open in horror. Storm clouds were brewing, and I could see the lightning strikes from only a few miles away. Panicking, I started searching for shelter. The leafless trees would be of no help, and from what I could tell, there wasn't a house in sight.
Soon, after breaking through some tall grass, I came across what looked like a small temple. Vines crawled up the sides, and dirt caked it's entrance. If it was used for anything before, it certainty wasn't used for anything then. Sweet relief flooded my mind, and I desperately made my way towards it.
The first drop of rain for that night fell, and with it, any hope of returning home to my father. Without much thought, I slipped into the small cave, or ruin, or temple, or whatever it was. It was hard to see inside, but I could tell there were little inscriptions on the wall. Pictures of birds and children that lit up as the storm grew closer. They really didn't do much to help me in my fear.
Taking deep breathes, I leaned against the wall. I waited, watching as the rain got heavier and the lightning began to strike all around me. As a child, storms were horrible things. The loud noises hurt my ears. The fog made it impossible to see outside. I was scared. I started crying, though soft as it was. My dad always told me about not making a lot of noise in the forest. I had to be quiet if I didn't want to get eaten.
For a moment, I thought I was safe in the little cavern, and I stopped sobbing. I rubbed at my face with my muddied sleeve to try and dry the tears. I attempted to stand, but the roof of the temple was surprisingly low. I hit my head on it, yelped, and rubbed at my aching scalp.
Then, I heard a squeak. I thought it was just a mouse. What other animals would make there home in somewhere as dark and dank as this? But the sound came from above. My young mind wondered if mice could climb up walls. I looked up.
I then thought, 'When did mice grow wings?' and then asssumed that they were asleep. I was wrong. Suddenly a barrage of bats came flying down from the ceiling. I screamed as they flew into my hair and my clothes. The shrieking was loud, almost louder then the storm outside. I was forced out of the temple by the small beasts, into the chilling rain.
My gasps and yells, I thought, couldn't be heard over the gushing wind. I ran, back into the forest and away from the bat-filled temple. The further I got, the darker it seemed to get, and soon I was bumping into trees and tripping over rocks.
At one point I fell over a giant tree root. I didn't get up, I just curled into myself and began to sob. I was wet, tired, cold, and more than anything, I was scared. A confused child, barely older than an infant, lost in the forest. I didn't know it then, but the chances of surviving were near impossible. I didn't know that I was deeper than anyone had ever gone. No one would think to look for me here.
I stayed there for a long time. I never opened my eyes, but I pushed up on my glasses, which had grown slick as the rain continued to slide down my skin. The cold seemed to set my veins on fire as the shivering made it's way to my heart.
But even in panic, I could make out the sound of growling. At first, I thought it was thunder, or the wind. But it got louder, coming from all sides. I opened my eyes, looked up, and ceased breathing. I was face to face with a wolf, it's huffs of breathe creating clouds of chilled air that curled around my face.
Chalk it up to not knowing how to count very far, but I had no idea how many there were. Just that there were a lot, and they all looked hungry. I wanted to run, but the fear kept me frozen. I was like a deer caught in the headlights. And where was there to run? I was surrounded.
Pain exploded in my side as one of the wolves came down on me with it's paw, knocking me into the mud. I screamed, but it wouldn't have done any good. They were all on me in seconds. My skin was being ripped apart by teeth and claws, and damn it, I was only a child. You could only imagine what it was like, being torn apart by monsters when you hardly knew what they were. I thought they were demons.
My voice grew hoarse as I begged them to stop. Blood loss soon had me weak and delusional. I could taste the stuff in my mouth, feel it dripping down my face, my arms, my stomach... But the pain kept coming. Maybe it would never end.
As I cried and cried and cried some more, the assault began to slow. I thought I was dying. I had stopped yelling for help long ago, knowing that it was pointless. One by one the wolves left, and it didn't occur to me then that it was a strange thing. Leaving the prey, uneaten and whole, to lie on the forest floor where it could be stolen by something bigger. I didn't move. I couldn't. It hurt too much to even think.
My eyes were closed, but my ears were open. I stopped sobbing, because another sound pierced it's way through the forest. It started off low, barely audible through the storm, but as it got louder, I identified it as a song. The sound calmed me, warmed me, and the fear and the rain and even the intense pain all left me at once.
With a shaken breathe, I opened my eyes, once again. Instead of wolves, my vision was blurred with orange. A lot of sparkly orange. It was hard to tell what it was because my glasses had fallen somewhere during the onslaught. But the song. It was coming from that thing. And though it had wings, or at least, I thought those huge fuzzy things were wings, it must have been human too. Small hands had laid themselves on my cheeks, and the creature was studying me. It's song reverberated through the forest, silencing everything. I think the storm stopped, and maybe all the creatures had fallen asleep.
That's what the song did to me. Soon my eyelids got heavy, but I tried to keep them open. I wanted to see this creature, know what it was. Back then, I couldn't recall the legends. That wouldn't happen until much later. All I knew was that some pretty orange bird-thing saved me, and I had no way to thank him.
Struggle as I might, the combination of the pain, the warm feeling of those hands, and the entrancing song was just too much. I opened my mouth to say something, but I can't remember what I wanted to say. Maybe it was a thank you, or maybe I wanted to ask if I would be alright.
I woke up in front of my dad's cottage the next morning. He was bent over me, checking me for damage. My wounds were healed, but my clothes were still torn and bloodied. My glasses were nowhere in sight.
Through my sleep-addled mind, I tried to tell him about what I'd seen. I don't think he believed me, just like no one would, but maybe I'm fine with that. It's my little secret, about the spirit in the forest. I wanted to meet it again. Just one more time.
I haven't succeeded. Sometimes even I think it was a bad dream. But no, I can remember the pain of the wolves, the fright, and icy rain breaking through my skin. It was real. All of it. And even if the memories weren't enough, I went back in that forest years later. I found the hidden temple, which I now know was over-shadowed by what had to be the biggest tree in the forest! It's trunk extended past the canopy, and it's covered in the most greenest and shiniest moss I've ever seen!
I'm telling you, this place exists. I go there all the time. I think it's home to the spirit, and maybe one day it'll show itself to me. But the temple is proof that everything that night happened. The spirit exists. It has to, for how else would I have survived?
I never did forget its song. And I'll never forget it's kindness that one stormy night.
Chapter 2: Meetings
Wow, I really enjoy writing this. Sorry for any mistakes. I edited it, but I can never seem to catch them all. Thanks for reading, yo! Next chapter might be in a few days, since I'm mostly done with that one too.
I love summer.
Everything from how much brighter the forest seems to shine to the fact that there's no school. No school means more time to explore, and more time to spend in the places I enjoy most.
This morning is special. It's the same day I was saved when I was young. Ever since I found it, I spend this day exploring the area around the temple. My friends always question me about it, but my dad doesn't pay any mind. I normally stay out until it gets pretty late.
This time, I decide to do something I've actually never done before. I don't know why. I've learned from experience that spending the whole day in the forest without food is just a bad idea. So this time, I packed fruits. More than I would probably eat, but not more then I can carry. That doesn't really say much. If I can carry a hammer around all day, a sack of fruit is nothing.
Anyway, I mostly pack apples. They don't grow in the forest, so whenever the merchants come selling the stuff, I get a ton of them. Along with those are plums, bananas, and cake. Which is not a fruit, but dad insisted. Something about how young boys should be enjoying their deserts.
But before that, I feel a little restless. My piano is growing dusty. I haven't played it in so long. I decided the night before to try and play something, just to see if I still had it in me. The instrument hasn't been touched in years, but my dad spent a lot of time working up the money to get it for me, as well as the lessons.
Setting the stuff I have gathered on the floor, I sit at the piano. Running a single finger over the keys brings back a lot of memories, and yet I can't seem to recall a single song.
I frown. I guess I could just wing it. I'll Play whatever comes to mind. Note after note, I'm sure to come up with something.
So I press a key, and then another. Soon my fingers are moving effortlessly across each one. There's a melody in my head that I think I know, but I haven't thought about it in a long time. I close my eyes, letting my fingers do the work as I try to recall the tune. Sweet, but rough and lively. A sound that seems to imitate the very forest itself.
I recognize the tune after a few seconds. It's the song from that night. The one the spirit sung to me as I laid bleeding on the forest floor. I'm surprised that I can play it, let alone remember it almost as if I had heard it yesterday.
In fact, I think I can hear it. I stop playing, but I swear the song doesn't until a second later. I almost knock over the stool as I stand to look out the window.
There's nothing there. Which isn't a surprise. Maybe it was my imagination, or wishful thinking. I swear I heard him, but he wouldn't be here. Or at least, I don't think he'd be here. I've never seen any sign of him at my house before. I don't think he ever strayed that far from his own home.
Without another thought on the matter, I continue gathering my materials. I have a long trek ahead of me. The temple is quite a walk, and I have to start moving before the sun got too high and it becomes too hot to travel.
Once I've got my stuff all packed and ready to go, I sling the sack over my shoulder and begin making my way out the door.
“Dad, I'm leaving!” I yell, because I have no idea where he actually is. Maybe he is still in the kitchen? Who knows, my dad is kind of weird in how he'd randomly disappear from time to time. Whatever the case may be, there's no answer, nor do I smell anything cooking. So I leave.
The forest is warm, as usual. Despite the almost endless shade, the sun still makes the whole world feel like an oven. I tried to leave early enough, but even in the wee hours of the morning it's still blazing. That's okay, I'm used to the heat. I like it more then the cold. Of course, a cool breeze would be nice.
I stroll down the familiar invisible path that leads to the temple. It isn't really a path at all, but I've found ways to find my way there. There's a few trees I've marked with a pocket knife to help me along, as well as a few notible landmarks. I know I'm close when the trees begin to die. I used to be frightened by it, but in the past few years, the dark trees have begun to bloom. Leaves now cover most of them except for the one's closest to the temple itself. It's like the forest is healing, though from what I don't know.
I jump over familiar rocks and obstacles, and duck under low swinging branches. I'm careful not to bother any of the creatures that live in the forest, both those that are harmless as well as the ones who'd want a taste of my flesh. I could have brought my hammer for protection, but I already have enough to carry.
The temple is empty when I get there, as it should be. It's not like someone is just going to move in over night. Sometimes I wish they would, though. It'd be a nice change of pace. But it really is too small for a human.
I look up towards the towering tree. It's leaves seem to be glowing in the sunlight, and it stands out among the others which remain bare. I can hardly see them since they are so high. But they always seem brighter around this time of year. It's an amazing sight, staring up into the emerald lace in the middle of the day. Each leaf had it's own silver lining, like clouds.
There's always crows around it as well. I think they have a bunch of nests up there. They're kind of strange too. Whenever I come, they'll spend a long time watching my every move before they finally leave me alone.
I don't spend too long staring at them. Instead, I make my way over to the other side of the tree. I have to be careful not to drop any food as I climb over its giant roots. It used to be a lot harder to pull off before I had my last growth spurt, but now it's much easier.
I land on the soft grass with a thump, and then I stroll over to the small pond I discovered the same day I rediscovering the tree. It's filled with all sorts of life. Looking in, I can see tadpoles squirming about in clumps. And where there are tadpoles, there are frogs. Dozens of them can been seen hopping about, hunting for flies and whatever other critters buzzing around. The pond seems to serve as some kind of watering hole for the whole area, because it's not rare to run into a deer, a possum, or even a skunk taking a drink. I got sprayed by one once. The smell took forever to wash out.
But beyond those things, the reason why I feel so drawn to this place is because this is where I feel its presence the most. The spirit. Not that I'm a medium or anything. I think it's because, every now and then, I'll see a flash of orange, or a stray, oddly-colored feather. He must live in the tree, I bet. With the crows, even. And maybe the animals are drawn to the pond because of him.
I take off my shoes, and settle myself beside the water. I dip my feet in, and lay the rest of me onto the surrounding grass. This spot is nice, because there's a huge clearing of leaves, allowing me to see the sky. It is mostly clear, except for a few stray clouds. I spend maybe a minute or two just studying their shapes. Clouds are really fascinating things. And beautiful too. Sometimes people joke around, telling me that I always have my head in the clouds because I'd rather stare at those then anything else. I don't mind. The sky is an amazingly endless thing. Sometimes I wish I could fly into it.
My eyes begin to see spots because the sun isn't too far away from my line of sight. I close my eyes and take a breathe, breathing in the smell and taste of the forest. It's natural and clean, at least during this time of year. I almost fall asleep, but the sound of something ruffling off to the side shocks me back into a state of alertness.
I sit up, the suddenness of my movement scaring a frog into jumping back in the pond. I almost turn to apologize to it, which is silly but whatever.
Then I see it. That little glimpse of orange, and maybe a flash of feathers. I almost miss it, but it went somewhere above my head, into a mess of leaves. My heart flutters because even if it's happened before, it's a rare occurrence for me to get any sort of glimpse of the creature. I grin. How exciting! Maybe this time I'd meet him for real!
“Hello?” I say as I stand, eyes never leaving the treetops. “Hey! Are you up there?”
As usual I'm met with silence. But I'm sure he can hear me. He's magical right? He can probably hear everything that goes on around here.
I'm also not sure why I think it's a boy. Could be a chick. Or do spirits even have genders? I'll just have to ask him/her/it whenever he/she/it show's themselves.
“You can come down you know. I'm not dangerous.” More silence. I wait, hoping for a sign of life. Anything really. Movement, sound, or even a rock being thrown at my head. Anything would be fine, I just want acknowledgment that the spirit is still here. Or that it was listening to me. But there's nothing. Just the leaves rustling and the frogs croaking. A crow squawks from the left, it's beady eyes forever staring.
“Are you shy?” I whisper this, because it's been a few minutes and for all I know it could have left. There's a sinking feeling as I realize that I may have once again missed my chance, but the disappointment is brief. There will be other times.
“Maybe I'm just not that interesting.” I keep that continuous whisper, though it hardly matters. The frog is back, and I manage to poke at it with a stick without making it run away. “I'm sure something like you probably has a lot of powerful and magical friends. Why talk to the human kid?”
I pause again, as if waiting for a response. I don't expect one, but listening out couldn't hurt.
“Do you wonder why I seek you out all the time.” I sigh. “It gets lonely sometimes. The forest is lonely. I don't have a lot of friends, you know. I thought it would be cool having a spirit friend. But... well, you don't seem so interested.”
I could be just talking to air now, but who really cares? No one is here to hear me, so it's not like anyone would think I'm crazy. Besides, it helps fill the silence. This was much better considering I was actually expecting a conversation partner for once. It's a ridiculous notion to entertain. Even if it does know that I exist, there's really no reason for it to confront me. Sometimes I think I should give up. I know I won't.
I continue staring out into the pond with thoughts of maybe going home early. But my stomach is complaining already. More time has passed then I thought. I reach out for an apple. I should probably eat something before making the journey back.
The sack is significantly emptier than it was when I arrived. I haven't had anything, so this is... uncalled for. I look in the bag to see if maybe something had gotten inside. There is nothing but food. I check around for animals, but there's only more frogs. There's a lot of them, too. It's like the place is owned by frogs and crows.
But yeah, frogs don't eat apples. Or at least, I don't think so. I check around again, looking behind me and up above. Nothing.
“Damn thief...” I grumble to myself, not actually knowing who the thief was. But then as I settle down, something catches my eyes. Something orange.
There, behind the tree root, is a tuft of hair. I open my mouth, shocked but hushed. There is a crunching sound coming from them. It's slow, like they too are trying to keep quiet. I've never seen that shade of hair before, and it has a slight glow. But it's so open, and seems too easy. It could be right there. It could be a trick. It could be anything. I'll take a chance, because I don't get many. Pulse in my throat, I stand, careful not to disturb the grass beneath me. If I can just get the jump on it.
I try keeping my footsteps soft and soundless. Judging by the continuous sounds of chewing and biting, I doubt it has detected me. I take a moment to judge the height of the root. I also begin to realize that this was a spirit. What if I just went through it? Is it tangible?
But it did touch me that night. It's solid, I think. Has to be. But I don't think there's much time to wonder more about this. I need to make a move, or it may fly off.
In one fluid motion I practically sore over the root. I hit my target head on, but I it's not nearly as smooth as I had intended.
“What the fuck!” It yells, and for a moment I think I might have actually jumped onto a person. I straighten myself, rolling off the other body, ready to apologize. Or really, about to scream at them for stealing my food.
But it isn't human. Humans aren't orange and they don't have wings or fluffy feathers around their neck. It looked like it could have been some form of humanoid, but it didn't even have legs! Just... A tail. Like a genie or something.
My hands grab onto the other's shoulders as I gasp out words that don't make sense. I don't even know what I'm trying to say. The figure jolts, and I think he's shocked. Then again I can't see his eyes because he's wearing... shades? And yeah, he's definitely a he. Or he at least looks masculine, and oh my god, I've seen him. I've finally met him. Disbelief and excitement are the only things I can comprehend at the moment. Pinch me awake, because this has to be a dream.
He doesn't seem nearly as ecstatic as I am though. It's a moment before he reacts to my assault, and his reaction is to flee. He starts tugging against me, trying to escape my grip. For a spirit, he's actually pretty lithe and... scrawny. I think I expected more of a fight than this, assuming I expected a fight at all.
“Let go!” Even his voice sounds human. No weird auto-tune or echo-y majesticness that you see in movies. He even has a slight southern accent.
“Wait! I wanted to talk to yo- Ow!”
I'm interrupted by his tail, which smacks against my face repeatedly as he continues trying to escape. I free one hand so that I can hold it at bay, but he only switches over to using his fist instead. It makes me laugh, because his methods are so earthly. His mortality is actually a refreshing change to what I had imagined.
“I swear to god,” he starts, his voice a low hiss, “If you don't let go I am going to tell these frogs to piss in your cereal, now get off!”
My nose crinkles. Can he actually do that? I don't let go either way, but the thought of milk and piss kind of throws me off because that's just gross. I decide to voice that thought.
“That's gross, dude. I just want to talk. Stop squirming!”
“Talk?” His wings begin to flap. “I don't have anything to say to a human! Fuck off!”
“Would you just sit down and listen! Geez, you are being difficult! Come on. I'll... you can have more of my apples!”
I didn't expect it to work, but that gets his attention. He freezes, and stares me down. His tail is flicking about in irritation, but at least he isn't trying to escape. I still don't let go.
“I want all of them. My services are expensive, so you better pay up.”
I loosen my grip in confusion, but it's soon shrugged off. Okay, bird-dude has a weakness for apples. Noted.
“Fine. Fine. Take them.” I then grin triumphantly and remove my hands from his shoulders with hesitance. Before moving back over the root and to the sack, I pause to make sure he isn't going to make a break for it. Even when I'm somewhat reassured, I still rush to get the food. By the time I'm back, he's curled up on the soft ground, arms crossed and wings folded. He really is glowing, but it's faint in the sunlight.
I relinquish the goods, and he snatches the sack out of my hands and empties the contents onto the ground. I watch in silence as he picks out all the apples, and even two slices of cake.
He goes back to watching me warily before he bites into one of his (my!) snacks.
“What do you want?”
I smile in what I hope is a reassuring way. I'm not sure what to say, so there's yet another awkward moment of silence. Years of waiting, and I never once thought about what to do when I found him. I laugh sheepishly as I search for the right words.
“I just... wanted to meet you. At least once.”
He pauses in his munching to stare. Even with the shades, I can tell that he thinks I'm probably completely insane. He turns around so that he's facing away from me.
“Well, we met. Now go away.”
For a benign forest spirit, he really isn't very nice. I huff, and step over to him, peeking over his shoulder. The polite thing to do would be to try and introduce myself.
“I'm John. John Egbert. What's your name?” Do spirits even have names?
“Shit, what the hell? Are you deaf? Did a monkey take a huge dump in your ear? I said go.”
“Wow, you're really gross. Shouldn't you be talking in like, poems or something?”
“Is that your name?” I'm grinning again because this guy is kind of hilarious. I'm pretty sure there's some proverb or something out there that mentions how disturbing the spirits is a bad idea, but right now it was only amusing.
“No.” He says simply before taking another bite of the apple. “Why won't you leave?”
I shrug. “Well, I've waited for this for a long time.” He glances at me with an eyebrow raised. Yeah, I guess that does sound weird. Maybe he hadn't noticed me practically stalking him.
My neck is beginning to hurt from the way that I'm standing, so I take two steps so that I can plop down on the ground beside him.
“...You're a weird kid.” He says. I only shrug.
“So are you. You don't look much older than me.”
I watch him eat for a second. He's right, I am a little weird to not be freaking out about this right now. Most people would. But I've gotten used to the idea of his existance for years. I'm more surprised at the fact that he's here then that he exists.
“Wanna be friends?”
He's looking at me with that weird look again. That one that says 'wow, how high do you have to be?' But it soon softens into something else. He looks down at his fruit, and I think he's going to say no. He must want to. There's probably all sorts of rules involved with this that I don't know about or something. That's normally how the movies go. Human meets divine being, divine being does not want to meet human.
“Keep feeding me and we'll see where this goes.”
I feel myself brighten up with those words. Maybe he wasn't as much of a hard-ass as I thought. I clap my hands together in excitement.
“Cool! Now, what's your name? Or do I make one up for you?”
He sighs and devours the rest of the apple, seeds, stem and all.
“What? Dave is an awesome name. You should be jealous. You wish you had a name as flawless as Dave.”
“Haha! I do, I do!” I grab his hand and it feels like I'm touching the sun. It's so warm. “Nice meeting you, Dave!”
It takes him a second, but he does return the gesture, shaking my hand in an awkward manner.
Spending the day with Dave has got to be one of the greatest highlights of my life. And what's great about it is I think he actually wants me around!
He starts off kind of distant, and at first I thought he was a little mean. It only took a few hours of talking to him to make me realize that no, he's just crude. And maybe shy. I don't think he's spent much time, if any, with humans before. He sometimes seems unsure of himself, like he doesn't know what to do or say around me. But he's surprisingly welcoming.
We spend the day talking about everything and nothing, as cliche as that sounds. Really, I do most of the talking. He kind of just sits there and listens, though he doesn't hesitate to make snarky little comments here and there.
“I think I want to marry her. The actress I was talking about? She's really pretty and talented, and I think we'd click really we--”
“You're a virgin aren't you?”
“You don't have anything else on the mind but movies and video games. You have to be a virgin.”
“Hey! Just because I don't get out that much doesn't mean-”
“So are you getting laid?”
“...No, but you're not either!”
“I'm a bird. Do you see a dick on me?”
“No. Don't birds have something though...?”
“Dude, no. I don't have any sort of bird genitalia. Sorry to disappoint.”
“Wow, that sucks.”
“Tell me about it. At least I've never had to take a piss. You realize how awkward that would be? Like, would it just come out of my tail or something?”
“Ew! Haha, oh man. Could you imagine?”
He's much more talkative then I expect. Sometimes he goes on these long tangents, most of which I have no idea what he's talking about. But he never really talks about himself, just the things around him. It's disappointing. I want to know more about him.
“Sun's setting.” He's looking up at the sky. I follow his gaze and realize that yep, the sky's filled with the familiar oranges and purples that come with the evening. I know I have to head home soon, because even leaving now, it'll be dark by the time I get back. I look back down at my feet before I finally stand.
“Will you be here tomorrow?”
He looks at me. Unreadable as always, and I wonder if those sunglasses come off. I really want to see his eyes.
Without a word he lifts himself from the ground, wings stretching and then they're riding the small gusts of wind breaking through the trees. Before I can say anything, he's disappeared within the leaves.
I wonder if that means no. Maybe this was indeed a one time thing, even though I really don't want it to be. But can I complain? It was still perfect, and it's been practically my life's goal for a while now.
I pocket my hands and try to commit every single detail of this day to memory. I don't want to ever forget, and I don't want it to seem like a dream years later.
I'm about to leave when I hear rustling from above. I look up to see him peeking in between the leaves.
“Bring food.” He says simply before disappearing again.
The walk back is long, and I'm a little sore from sitting on the ground all day. I really didn't move much during my time there. Maybe next time we could do something more active. Like play in the pond or chase frogs or something. Would he like something like that? I hope so.
Dad's waiting for me outside when I get back. He's sitting in his favorite chair, pipe in one hand and newspaper in the other. Who even reads the newspaper this late in the afternoon? And where did he get it? So weird.
“Have fun?” He says between puffs of smoke. I wrinkle my nose at the smell.
“Yeah!” I think there's a huge smile on my face that I have to subdue, because he looks suspicious. I don't really care, maybe it's good if he suspects I'm being an actual teenager for once.
“Well, that's alright...” He sets the pipe on the little table beside his chair. “Dinner's still on the table if you want anything. And take a bath. You're covered in dirt.”
I look down at myself and chuckle. Sitting on the forest floor did get me messy. I give my dad a mock salute before heading inside. I'm instantly greeted with the smell of dinner, which makes my stomach growl. This turns my smile into more of a frown. Dave ate all my food. I'm starving!
I decide to bathe first. I reek of forest. But once that's done, I set myself at the dinner table and devour everything in front of me. I glance over at the large basket of where we keep our fruits and decide that I have at least a few days worth of apples for Dave. I guess I should consider adding him into the food costs now. I'll have to get a part-time job soon.
Once I finish eating, I go to my room and flop down on the bed. I'm already in pajamas from after I bathed, so I can just pass out right here.
And I would have if I didn't see that familiar head of orange hair outside. I lift my head to get a better look, and for some reason I'm not surprised to see Dave curled up in a tree beside my window. I really didn't think he traveled far in the forest.
He looks like he's sleeping, so I don't try to call out to him or anything. But I'm happy. The only reason he'd be here is because of me. It's a nice thought, because I want this friendship to be mutual. This way, I know he acknowledges me. And I know that he wants to stick around.
I fall asleep just a few minutes later, the last thing I see is Dave almost falling off the tree in his restless slumber.
Chapter 3: Changes
Woah. Okay. This chapter is long.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The sun wakes me up, its rays disturbing me in my sleep. I try to stay in bed for as long as possible, but it's futile. I'm not very good at falling back to sleep once I wake up. This sucks, because I actually can't seem to sleep in. The latest I might be able to do so is around nine. I still don't understand how some kids can sleep 'til noon, or even until the after noon.
With a grunt, I rise. I scratch at my hair, which is sticking up in every direction. It takes a lot more effort to get off of the bed. The wood floors are cold against my feet, which makes me shiver but wakes me up a bit more. The summer's heat hasn't warmed my room yet, so the night's chill still remains.
I look blearily at my clock, but the glowing numbers are hard to see. I swipe my glasses from the bedside table and put them on. It is only a little pass eight. I groan and fall backwards onto the bed. I hate mornings.
The worst part is that feeling I get when I wake up. Maybe everyone gets it every now and then. That feeling of 'you have stuff to do!' but you don't know what it is. It's a nagging little twinge in your head, something that wants to be noticed and will continue to poke at you until you find out what it is. So, anyway, I recall the events of the former day to remember what it is I have to do. Then it hits me.
With a thought, I'm back on my feet and sliding towards the window. There's nothing in the tree visible from my room, but I smile anyway. I almost trip over a few things as I run to my closet and drawers, pulling out anything to wear. Then I throw myself into the bathroom for a morning shower.
I don't spend long in my daily routine. Clothes are thrown on sloppily, and I skip brushing my teeth and just gargle some mouth wash. I run a hand through my hair to make it look somewhat managed, not that I can ever really straighten it anyway. The last step would be surviving breakfast. Dad actually cooked, so I am doomed to stay home longer than I had hoped. I can smell the typical bacon and eggs coming from the kitchen. My stomach grumbles, and I follow it's lead towards the food.
Dad is sitting at the table, coffee in hand and eyes on the TV. He glances at me and smiles.
“Good morning.” I say quickly while filling my plate. He nods, and mutters a small greeting back. It's hard to get his attention when the TVs on, which is good. He'd probably notice my anxiety otherwise.
I eat quickly, barely tasting anything that goes in my mouth. I'm excited and wound up because Dave is waiting for me. Or at least, I think he is. If he was here last night, he has to be as excited as I am to hang out! Or maybe he just wants more fruit. I don't really know, actually. But the point is, I'm about to make a new friend! Hell, in a way I already have. I just have to make him come out of that sun-kissed, feathery shell of his.
“Are you going somewhere today, John?”
I pause mid-bite and look at my dad, who's staring at me inquisitively. As I slowly swallow my food, I try to think of a way to word things without lying or giving off too much.
“Just up north. I uh... I'm going to check something out.” It isn't very convincing, even to my ears. I try to appear calmer about the subject than I actually am, but of course it doesn't work.
“You seem excited.”
“It's... a really cool something! And it's secret, so I'm not telling!” I stick my tongue out in a childish manor to make him think it's just some kid thing. Try not to lead him into figuring out my secret, or really, Dave's.
He looks at me for a bit longer in that steely way dad's do. He knows something's up, but he trusts me. I know he does. And, hey, I'm not doing anything bad. Just going to hang out with my awesome new bird bud, that's all.
“...Be careful, son. I'm proud of you.” Without waiting for an answer he goes back to sipping at his coffee and watching his favorite show. I let out a sigh of relief.
After I finish inhaling my breakfast, I grab a new sack of food, this time putting as many apples in it as I could fit. I'm sure they're his favorite. Yesterday, he ate all of those before he even looked at the other stuff. I still pack other things, including oranges a few wrapped slices of cake. This time I'm sure to bring extra, so we both have something to eat.
Dad gives me another look as I walk to the door with my loot, but the only response he gets from me is a smile. I wave and tell him that I'll be back for dinner.
I'm about to walk out, maybe a step or two away from the threshold, when my dad finally says something.
“John, can you stop by the town for me? I'm running out of cake mix.”
You've got to be kidding me. I turn to him, shoulders sagged and eyes disbelieving. “T-the town? It can't wait?”
“Both Jade and her dad are leaving for another trip tomorrow. The store won't be open for quite some time. It isn't too much trouble, is it?”
I feel like yelling out into the sky in frustration. That was some detour he was asking me to take. It wasn't like the town was just around the corner. Sure, it isn't completely out of the way, since it was kind of in the direction of the temple, but it's still far and made my walk at least an hour or two longer.
As I shut the door, I throw an entirely mature and silent tantrum. I kick at the dirt marking up the path to our house, watching it twist up and blow away in the breeze. But then I waste no time in beginning my trek. I have to stop by the town first, because no shops would be open by the time I leave the temple. The anxiety is almost unbearable. Can I really wait that long to see Dave again? Will he get tired of waiting for me?
I enter the forest, still with puffed cheeks and narrowed eyes. It's a little damp. Maybe it rained the night before. Whatever the case, I hurry on in the direction of the town.
The walk wouldn't be so long if I wasn't carrying the sack of food. There's a river that is in direct path towards the town, and normally I would just hop over the rocks and use them as a makeshift bridge to cross it. Instead, with the added weight, I have to walk around.
The river ends in a lake. Once I circle around that, it's straight west to the town. It's easy to get there from this point, because there's all sorts of landmarks and signs to help my way along. I pass by a few houses too. It's easier to spot them as I get closer to the town. The area is more convenient for living.
By the time I reach the entrance, I'm a little out of breathe. I spent most of the trip speed walking and sometimes breaking out into a run. I stop for a moment to catch my breathe, and readjust the sack that's now lifted over my shoulders. I hesitate when I do see the town. It's more crowded then normal.
The sign that hangs over the entrance is broken again, which is strange. Normally when the town gets a lot of attention, they fix it up. And today it seems to be getting a lot of attention indeed.
From the entrance I can see the parking lots and parking decks that line the streets. They're only really used for annual festivals, when people from the cities come to spend a little time getting out of their houses. As per usual during these events, every parking spot seems to be taken. But there's nothing going on, nothing that I know of. Whatever the case may be, the development is unfortunate for me. Almost enough to completely disregard my father's wishes.
Not to sound like a country boy or anything, but the city folk are nothing less than bothersome. They were all so ignorant when it came to the workings of the forest, and more than that, lazy. They complain a lot about how there aren't many places for them to explore. The path's are hard to follow, and once your in, there's no benches or anything to sit and rest your feet. The only roads that go past the town are dirt, so driving becomes a mess if they ever decide to do so.
They don't understand that it isn't a park or anything, and they're complaints make me sick on occasion. But it's okay, because that just means they stay away from it, which works great for the residents who live inside. We don't have to put up with their shit often. And when we do, there's plenty of things to keep us busy, like poorly built roller coasters and cotton candy.
I reluctantly step into the fray, not at all surprised to see it packed around the inns and pubs. Good luck to the tourists, I think, because the only people who went to those places were seedy as hell. None of the hotels around here kept up with the maintenance. Most were rat-infested and over-priced to make up for the loss of business that came with housing thieves and drug dealers.
I finally spot my destination as I get further into the town. It's a store belonging to the Harley's. Just a simple convenience store. But it's packed, filled with people searching for supplies for their stay. They're all really noisy too. They scream over each other in frustration, because the products are going fast. No one would have expected this much business during this time of the summer.
Braving the storm is something that I am now regretting. Pushing past the crowd in order to find a basket is hard enough, let alone getting to the baking stuff. I take a glance around first to see that Jade is manning the store today, with a few other employees roaming about trying to restore order to this chaos. Their efforts are pointless.
I find the cake mixes, luckily untouched. I guess no one is planning to bake during their visit. Once I grab a few dozen boxes, I begin to wait in line. I'm stuck in between a woman yelling at her nuisance of a child, and a man who's complaining loudly on his cell phone about the lack of service he's getting in the sticks. I wordlessly hope that the line moves faster.
And it does. Within a few minutes the woman and the child leave, and I'm finally at the counter, placing my overabundance of cake mixes. Jade grins at me knowingly as she starts to scan them. She's just as bright and happy as ever despite the rush, and this eases some of my own irritation.
“Hey, John! Been a while.” She says, beaming and overbite proudly showing.
I laugh. “Yeah! I haven't been in town for a few weeks. Sorry about that.”
She nods understandably. Taking a glance around, her smile eventually stills, and she settles back into scanning.
“Mayor's in today.”
“Yeah, of the city!” Her voice sounds excited, but I can tell it's for show. Something's off. “Some sort of huge announcement that have half of them coming here. It's really frustrating!” The man behind me gives her a dirty look, she shoots him one back.
“I can see that.” I sigh. “And you have no idea what it's about?”
She shrugs. “The city has had their eyes on this place for a while now. Maybe they've finally bought it?” Her tone makes it seem less unsure and more certain. My stomach drops.
“That sounds likely...” I mutter. There's a lot of insinuations there. It doesn't take much to imagine what a city would do to a small town like this. One that could be bought off because we barely have a leader or even a police force ourselves.
“Do... Do you think they'll try to make it into another city? Build it up?” It shouldn't worry me as much as it does, but I just have this feeling.
She continues doing her job, and I have a bit of an internal struggle on the subject. I've noticed the forest has been healing for the past few years. The areas that were once barren and dark now hold trees with ripened fruit, as well as new homes for the animals. What would happen if they started tearing all that down? The places closest to the town might be okay, but how far would they go?
Would it hurt Dave? Since he seems to be the reason the forest is thriving at all, does that mean it has an affect on him too?
She scans the last box. I pay up with my allowance which dad would give back later. And then I grab the bags.
Oh shit. Of course I didn't think to maybe bring a bigger sack or something. All this stuff was a handful! How was I going to carry it all to the temple with me? Going back home to drop off the cake mixes would waste too much time. I'll just have to deal.
“I'll see you later, okay Jade?” I say in between balancing the bags. She sends me a worried glance, but waves me off in order to deal with angry cell phone dude. I walk away, tongue sticking out in concentration as I try not to drop anything.
I should probably head straight to the temple, but people are gathering. They're all headed towards the center of town, at the plaza. Solemn faces mixed with excited grins all hurry towards the scene. There's guards I don't recognize, enough of them to seem like a small army. It doesn't take much to realize that's where the mayor is making his announcement.
I use the strings of the sack as a rope to tie across my torso so my hands can be free for the bags, then I walk in the direction of the crowd.
The area is packed, but that isn't really a shocker. What is nerve racking is the faces of those that work and live around here. I've never seen an image more upsetting then the hopelessness all the adults seem to have adopted. Not in my town. Even with the crime rate and drama, it was a pretty friendly place.
I could see Jade's dad on the other side, and he looks just as troubled as anyone else. There's also a woman crying near him. I recognize her as the lady who owns a flower shop that sits at the center of the plaza, right across the street.
I try not to notice the bulldozer.
I can feel my heart sink. Maybe it's the atmosphere, but everything seems a lot worse than implied. I want some sort of reassurance that everything really isn't as bleak as it seems. Sure, it would suck if we got bought, but seeing these empty gazes makes it look like the end of the world.
“Um, sir?” I lightly nudge a man beside me, he grunts and gives me a look.
“Hey, uh... W-what's going on?”
I can tell he's not from the city, and once he's sure I'm not either, his gaze softens. He sighs.
“They bought us, kid.” He doesn't say anything more than that, and he turns his eyes back towards the center. I swallow and do the same.
I set my bags down and wait for something to happen as more and more people appear from every edge of the town. I try to catch a word or two from the gossiping wives, but everything is so hush hush that I give up. At some point, four black suited men come to stand in the center near a microphone and what looks like a battalion of city police officers.
The murmuring stops in waves, and the silence soon echoes it's way into the crowd. One of the suited men stand in front of the microphone, and he waits for everyone to be quiet. I don't think he looks very nice. He looks kind of angry.
The man taps his foot impatiently and twists a knife in between long fingers. He sneers, and I swear every single one of his teeth are like blades. Is it even possible to do that to yourself? His gaze is piercing. Pale skin makes his black hair and dark eyes stand out. It's haunting, and a little freaky.
“If everyone is done talking,” he begins in a cold tone, “I'd like to get started.”
At the point it really does go dead silent. Even the birds have stop singing. No one takes a breathe, and we're all like statues.
The man waits for nothing and clears his throat, crossing his arms. “I'm Jack Noir. Your new mayor. And this is your new city council.” He gestures to the three men standing beside him. “There's going to be some changes around here. This place reeks. It's dirty and run-down, like an old whore.” Some people give him scathing looks, but no one dares to speak.
“Don't you think you've lived in nowheresville long enough?” His smiles then, but there's no warmth to it. No humor. Instead a physical chill can be felt. “You people barely know what it's like to really live. That's fine. It's what to be expected of those who've lived like animals for the entirety of their lives.”
He steps up, taking the microphone with him, and leans forward towards a little girl. The girl hides behind the legs of her mother in fear.
“But don't worry. Nothing will really change. Only improve. Sure we'll have to kick out a few shops in favor of one's that will make more of a profit. But hey, at least you'll have more places to spend your money then that ratty old convenient store. And more money to spend, with the new jobs we'll bring.”
He steps away from the child then. “Think of the children, would you? This really isn't anywhere to raise them. Barely prepares them for the real world, don't you think?” He laughs. “You should see them struggle at the colleges you send them to. The city eats them alive every year. Shouldn't that come to an end?”
He turns only slightly to look at the flower shop and the bulldozer. The woman who was crying suddenly wails, the despair hitting everyone who gives even the smallest of shits for this town.
There are screams and yells as the bulldozer crashes into the building. Mr. Harley has to hold the woman back for running towards her store. The townsfolk look disgusted, but those from the city only enthralled.
I feel sick.
“I hope this doesn't cause any tension within our now growing numbers,” Jack continues in an almost sarcastic tone. “You should be happy. This means more protection, and a better lifestyle as well. And instead of living in that ratty forest, there will be residential areas built inside the town walls, too.”
There's silence as he waits. I'm not sure if he's expecting an uproar or an applause, but he shifts awkwardly for a moment before pocketing his knife and turning his back.
He walks off, guards close by. The crowd parts for him, and they're giving him a mixture of dirty looks and hopeful stares.
The only thing I can think of is to tell Dave. I don't know how he effects this forest, or how it even effects him, but he needs to know. Through the crowd and pass the entrance, I run.
I make it to the temple in record time. Despite the distance I still manage to jog most of it. I'm panting when I get there, and I drop the sack and bags so that I can bend over and catch my breathe.
“Phew!” I laugh through the sharp pains in my chest, making me cough “You should move closer by! This is a workout, you know!”
I mentally jump for joy when I see him pop out of his tree. Part of me (a lot of me) feared he was going to go back to ignoring my existence. Dave gives me an appraising look before he glances down at the sack. He picks it up, peeks inside, and gains a satisfying grin.
“Your offering is much appreciated. I'll be sure to give all your unborn children wings and silver spoons.” He picks out an apple and wastes no time in chowing down. I chuckle.
“Do you even get full? Geez, you eat a lot for such a little guy!”
He frowns. “I'm not little. Just because I don't have legs doesn't make me small.” He takes another bite, and then precedes to talk in between chews. “And to answer your question, no. Omniscient beings apparently have bottomless pits for stomachs.”
“Wow. That's weird.” I wonder for a moment where it all goes, then, if he doesn't ever have to use the bathroom and never gets full. But this isn't what I'm here for. I wait for him to finish the apple.
“Hey, Dave...?” I say tentatively. He gives me a suspicious look as he goes digging for another treat. “How... exactly does the forest effect you? Like, will it hurt you if something happens to it?”
He floats in place for a moment, then he shrugs it off before answering.
“...I don't know.”
“Huh? How can you not know?”
“This job doesn't come with an instruction manual, Egbert,”
What is that supposed to mean? Shouldn't spirits be born into this sort of information? The fact that he doesn't even know only frightens me more.
He must have noticed the change in my composure, because he tries to reassure me. Or something.
“It... might? I mean, I think I've been healing it.” He ignores my little 'you think?' “I guess the effects could reverse if something happened. Why do you ask? You're not planning on burning it down or something are you?”
“Not me.” I shift under his gaze and stare at the ground. “The mayor from the city further north came to town. The one nearby. Not far from the lake...?” I look at him to make sure he knows what I'm talking about, and he gives a slight nod.
“They're planning on building it up. I don't really know what that means in full, just... they'll probably have to destroy part of the area to get it done.”
He scratches at his neck, and man, does he look unsure. I wasn't very bothered by his human-like qualities before, but now it seems to be a nuisance.
He then shrugs again. Like it doesn't matter, or that it isn't his problem.
He sounds irritated, but I'm quickly losing my patience with him. This is his forest, isn't it? Shouldn't he care?
“Dave, this could be really bad! What if it really hurts you? What would happen?”
He turns away. “I don't know. Maybe I'll disappear.”
I feel something twist in my stomach. “Would you stop saying you don't know?”
“But I don't, Egbert. And why do you care so much anyway? It's just a bunch of trees. And I'm just a winged freak. You should just go back home and forget about me, anyway. Especially if something happens.”
I glare at him. “Even if this place doesn't mean much to you, it does to everyone else around here! You're really going to let them just... move on in like they own the place?”
“Well what do you propose I do, Egbert? It's not like I'm some all powerful being. I can't summon a tornado on their heads or send a plague to your houses. Sorry if you were expecting some miniature god, but I'm not much more then any other creature in this damned place.”
The feathers around his neck seem to puff up, and normally I'd be pointing that out and maybe laughing about it. But is this guy for real? I don't know why it bothers me so much. Maybe it's because this he saved my life. How could he not care for the well being of his home? How is it there's nothing he can do?
“Can't you fix it somehow? Drive them away?”
He groans. “I don't know!”
“You could try.”
I balance on my heels and peek up at him, since he seems to be floating a bit higher then before. I hope I'm not scaring him away. Geez, I feel like I really am dealing with a stray bird. Bother it too much and it'll just fly off.
“Can't you like, make a bunch of Rhinos come and attack them or something?” He raises an eyebrow. “Okay, so maybe not rhinos. I guess we don't have those. But what about the wolves? Can you control those?”
He flinches at this. “It's hard keeping control over a pack. Too many minds. And it might not even be worth the trouble.”
“But...” I'm not sure if I sound or look as hopeless as I feel. I'm so confused. Dave isn't anything like I expected.
I'm sure he can tell. He tilts his head away, and he looks ashamed. He stares at the leftover apple in his hand, as if it could talk for him. But of course, it doesn't. So he's forced to do it himself.
“I really don't think I have any power over this, alright?” He floats back down, and settles on the ground. His tail wraps around him as a protective cover.
“...If worse comes to worse I might try some things out. Right now, I'd rather just eat my way through your damn food and wait it out. Sound fair?”
I nod slowly, but my eyes are still downcast. This seems to annoy him more, and before I can even comprehend how, he's now floating in front of me.
“Egbert. Look at me.”
I do, but my face must look pathetic because he snorts, and I think he's rolling his eyes too.
“Everything will be fine. The forest is a big place. How much harm can they even do? The people will probably start a mass uprising before they let them take over completely. Pitchforks and everything.”
“...Hehe, right. Burn them at the stake!” I'm kind of reassured by his words. Not by much, but that sick fear building up in my stomach is fading. At least it shows that he... kind of cares? Or at least he's willing to put some thought into it.
“Good. Now get the fuck over here and stop sulking.” He's by the sack again before I finish blinking. I think he can teleport or something, which is really cool.
“Don't eat everything! I bought some for me too.” I settle down beside him and rummage through the sack for some oranges.
“What? Didn't we establish yesterday that all the food you bring belongs to me and me alone? Do you even know how offerings and sacrifices work?”
“That was yesterday! Today, we're sharing. Don't give me that look! I bring the food, I call the shots!”
His face is actually akin to some sort of poker face, but he's staring at me anyway so I call him out for it. He shakes his head and continues eating. We sit like that for a while, in silence and enjoying our food. It isn't until the sack is mostly empty before he speaks again.
“What's the plan today, anyway?”
“Wanna go for a swim?”
He looks over at the pond. “It's filled with frog piss.”
“What's your obsession with frog piss?”
“You are such a baby.”
“Oh, I'm sorry. A chick then.” I grin.
“Alright. That's it. You just earned yourself a splash war. Prepare to die.”
I almost think he's kidding, until I see him suddenly throw himself into the pond and actually splashing me with water. I give him a disgruntled look, glancing between my now soaked orange and his smug grin before I throw it to the side and follow him in. I stop at the edge, because I really don't want to get my clothes wet. I mean, they already are, but still.
He crosses his arms impatiently as I peel off my shirt and shorts.
“Come on Egbert.” He splashes at the water with his tail. “I ain't got all day. I've have important bird things to do. Cars ain't going to shit on themselves.”
I laugh and walk back a few steps so that I can run and enter with a grand canon ball off my own that does an exceptional job of getting him soaked. At this point, the fight is on. It seems like every living thing evacuates the area as to not be caught in the fray. As I use my legs to kick up water into his face, he uses his wings to counter with waves of his own. For a while, I forget about Jack Noir and the oncoming changes. And I remember how lucky I am, because who anywhere gets to experience this?
Eventually I wear myself out and crawl back to the edge of the pond. I lay back in my favorite spot, the soft grass tickling my ears and neck. I'm panting and laughing because this is all really silly and childish, but that's okay. It's fun. Dave seems to be having fun too, and that just makes it better.
I turn my head to look at him, and I feel my smile widen at the sight of him trying to flap water out of his feathers. He attempts to peck out small plants and stuff that have gotten stuck inside his wings during the fight. I can't help but dissolve into more fits of laughter.
“What are you laughing about?”
“You!” I'm sure he wants me to elaborate, but It's hard to talk with the snickering.
I can vaguely make out his frown through my tears and squinted eyes, but I do catch when he moves close. When he's in front of me he stares. I'm finally settled enough to stare back, even if I'm still grinning like a fool.
With a sigh, he turns around and flaps his wings. It takes a second to figure out what he's doing and I quickly move my arms in front of my face to try and block the water.
“Hey! Haha, stop that! Dave!”
“Sorry, Egbert. These babies are in maximum overdrive.” After that, he flaps harder. In a minute or two, I'm soaked again. I wish I had brought a towel.
I look up at him after wiping off all the water that's dripped into my eyes. He's grinning and it makes me giggle. It's so dorky! Compared to his normal expressions, anyway. I don't think I've seen him smile like that yet.
I feel another drop of water, and then another. Is he going to try again?
“Daaave! You can't use the same trick twi-” Wait, Dave isn't moving. Then where is the water...?
I look up and gape at the sky. When did it get so cloudy. Dave's looking up too. We glance at each other consciously.
“Save the food.” He grumbles, picking up the sack. He takes a small glance at the other bags, but has no interest in them.
“W-wait!” I get dressed since there's no point in caring about dry clothes now, and then scramble to pick up the bags as the rain becomes heavier.
“Where are we going?”
He looks at me then, smile gone.
“You're going home. You can't follow.”
My mouth opens in shock.
“Dave... It's starting to pour! There's no way I can make it home in time.” I frown, but I can see what he's saying. It's not like there's many places for me to hide.
It looks like he's going to say just that, but then his mouth closes. He looks up at the rain, then into the forest, then back to me. He seems indecisive about something.
I wait for a moment, once again unnerved by his stare. “I can just... go underneath there until it stops.” I glance over at the small temple, which is really more like a long box that dips underground. For a while now, I kind of associated the thing with children. It looks like a temple. All decorated with stone carvings and pictures that tell stories I still don't understand. But it barely comes up to my waist. What's it even for?
Dave shakes his head.
I think he's going into the forest, but he surprises me by instead floating into the temple. I pause at the entrance. It's dark and cramped in there. I've never gone further in. Actually, I haven't gone inside it at all since that one night. By the time I found this place again, I thought I was too big.
With a little reluctance, I crouch down and scoot in. It's definitely a lot smaller than I remember, to the point where it's easier to just crawl. The gritty floor makes me cringe, and I can feel rocks and bits of dirt squeeze in between my fingers. I try to drag the bags along with me.
The only source of light is Dave, so as I go further in I'm forced to keep up with him so that I can see where I'm going. The floor slopes down at some point, and it's then that I know we're heading underground.
I look to Dave's sides as we crawl. Well, I crawl. He can just sort of fly around horizontally. Lucky him. Anyway, his glow lights up the walls, and I try to keep up with the inscriptions on them, but it's hard. The light is barely enough to read by.
They're all just pictures, anyway. Like hieroglyphics. Dave eventually turns to check on me and notices me staring intently at one of the pictures.
“...I kind of lied when I said I didn't have an instruction manual.”
I look at him, and I'm kind of jealous that his tail allows him to move so freely around this small space.
“The walls basically tell me what to do. I haven't figured it all out yet.”
“Really...?” I shift my weight so my knees aren't so sore. There's a hundred questions in my mind, and I'm not sure what to ask. Everything he's said implies that he hasn't been around for as long as you'd think he would. Does that mean he has parents? And if so, what happened to them? Especially if they weren't around to raise him.
I want so bad to ask about every little detail of his life, but would he answer? So far, he's done nothing but try to abscond from information about himself. And hey, this is only my second day knowing him. It's not like he's going to tell me everything in one go.
So I just watch the walls as I crawl, trying to pick up anything at all that would tell more about who or what Dave is. It's futile. He keeps moving forward, which barely gives me anytime to look.
At some point, the ground slopes up. It's a little hard to move without slipping down, but I manage. I see a light just past Dave. We're almost out of here, but where we're even headed I don't know.
I end up crawling out of a hole, grabbing onto a marble floor to lift myself up. That's the first thing I notice, the floor. It looks like something you'd find in a mansion. Only it has another property that wouldn't be found in a human's house, and that's the fact that it glows slightly. It's like the stone's themselves are reflecting the sunlight. Combined with similar material that makes up the roof, the new place I find myself is really...bright.
It's hard to describe everything in one shot. There's stone pillars that reach up to a ceiling that looks to be miles away from the floor. I crane my neck to see it all. There's chandeliers too. Crystal ones that chime as the wind blows from gold trimmed windows, which seem to be the only opening other then the hole. There's no door that leads outside, just a bunch that go further inside. The place looks huge, and I'm kind of scared that I'd get lost if I were to go further in.
“Where are we...?”
Dave shrugs. “My home.”
I look at him disbelieving. But then I realize it was a little foolish to think that he actually lived in the tree. Spirit or not, that couldn't have been a comfortable place to sleep.
“It's further into the forest.” He continues. “I guess you never went far enough in to see it.”
“No, I've never gone past the pond...” I walk over to the side to run my hands over the stone walls. They're smooth to the touch, but also warm. Like they're alive. It's a comforting feeling, and leaves me a bit drowsy.
“You shouldn't be here, Egbert.”
I look at him then, and he's shifting in the air, as if from one foot to another but without the feet. He's nervous.
“I'm not supposed to let humans in.”
He shrugs. “Just a rule.”
“Oh...” I bite my lip. “S-should I leave then?”
He looks thoughtful, and his eyes scan the building as if waiting for something to happen. But nothing does, so he just shakes his head.
“I think you're fine.” He sighs. “But try not to touch anything. Would suck if this place exploded or something. I don't know much about it.”
I take my hand off the wall. “Will do, Captain!” This brings a smile to his face.
“Alright then. You can stay until the rain ends.” He looks up. “Then I can try and fly you out. The path will be flooded soon.”
I nod and try to find somewhere to sit. There aren't many places to do so, though. Just a few stone surfaces covered in little goblets, vases, and plants. I'm careful not to touch them as I settle down.
From that point on, we mostly sit in silence. He's curled up in what looks like a nest of pillows and blankets. He's not sleeping, just staring up at the windows. I can hardly see outside from the bottom since they're so high up, but I can make out the clouds and rain.
I jump a bit. It's been quiet for a while, so his voice is like thunder on a silent night. And it's then that I notice how empty this place really is, because the sound bounces off the walls with a slight echo.
“What's school like?”
I blink at him. What?
He appears irritated. “Yeah. School. That thing normal kids go to for hours a day to do... whatever. Fuck it. Don't answer that.”
I laugh, and at that point he buries his head under a pillow.
“Wait! I can tell you...” I'm still snickering, and he doesn't budge. I slip off the table and walk over to his nest.
“It's just strange! You're a spirit. What do you care about school?” I shake my head. He's probably just curious.
“It's not really that great.” I sit by the nest, even though he hasn't said a word, I keep talking. “Most of us don't even like it. We go there and learn. Sometimes we get chances to hang out with our friends before classes or for lunch, but it's actually really boring otherwise! Well, unless you like one of your classes. Or your teachers are interesting.”
I stop there, unsure if he's even listening of if I'm making sense. I don't know if I should explain what teachers are, or classes. How much does he know?
He continues not to move or speak for a while making me think that I was really talking into the walls.
“Why do you go if you don't like it?” He twists a bit so he can look at me.
“Hm? Oh. Well, we have to.” I grin at him. “We have to learn stuff to go to college and get good jobs.”
He turns away again, which I'm guessing means he's done talking. I stare at him for a moment, wondering why he even asked. That was weird, but Dave does a lot of weird things. And maybe he's just interested in what it's like to be human.
I smile at that thought. Humans are so simple and dull. But to someone like him, they're a whole different species. He must get lonely, being so different from us. I doubt there's any other spirits around.
“Hey, the rains stopping.” He says without moving.
“It … is?”
I look up, but I can still see it's pouring.
“Was that a 'made you look' joke?”
I'm about to call him out on his lame attempt. But then the rain really does let up.
“Ready to go?” He floats up, not really giving me a chance to answer before swooping me up, bridal style no less. I squirm in his grip.
“H-hey! What about my bags?”
He looks at them and shakes his head before flying over and lifting each one with his tail. Without a word, he takes off. Going up, up, up... and then through one of the open windows. Being flown around like this feels so funny, and I try to move so I can look down to watch the floor of the temple get further and further away, and then to watch the ground get closer. Not once do I feel scared.
Once we reach the ground he sets me down and hands me my bags. I grin at him happily, and he just crosses his arms and nods towards the forest.
“It's getting dark. The way back is that way.”
“Kicking me out?”
“Sorry, Egbert. The Strider residence closes at sundown. If you have complaints about the hours, please take it up with my secretary.” He absently waves over at a nearby crow perched on a tree. I laugh.
“Alright, alright.” I walk up to him and nudge his shoulder. “See you tomorrow?”
“Bring food.” He says as steals the sack, which still holds a few snacks. Oh well.
I smile and wave as I run return to the forest. Since the conversation before, I haven't brought up Jack Noir or his plans. Nor do I really want to. Maybe Dave is right, and it won't effect him as much as I think it will. I really hope he's right.
Tell me what you think at my Tumblr. Because I have no idea what I'm doing. :D
Chapter 4: Bonding
Woah, you guys are awesome. Let me just love you all down.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The days pass without notice, and soon a month has gone by. It barely seems like a day or two. In mid July, I'm spending every day at Dave's. I haven't entered the temple since the second day, but there hasn't been a need. The sudden drought has left us without another drop of rain in ages. To make things even more uncomfortable, the heat has been rising steadily over the past few weeks. It's actually hard not to get a heat stroke on the way to see Dave. I've started carrying bottles of water to help take the edge off.
Dave has also been helping a bit. As he's become more open and trusting over the past month, he's started meeting me halfway. And even better, instead of going to the temple we will sometimes go to the lake. It's trickier, since the lake is popular to residents, so there's always the chance of someone seeing us. But the heat makes it almost unbearable for anyone else to leave their homes, anyway.
So the lake becomes our new hang out, and we spend more time swimming around and chasing local wildlife than anything else. He's laughing a lot more, too. Which can be hilarious, because he'll caw in the middle. The first time it happened, I had to bribe him with more food to get him out of his tree, where he was hiding in embarrassment.
But life isn't perfect, and trouble is making itself known. Things haven't been going so well for the town. I've gone there a for a few visits, and each time it's completely different then before. More buildings have been knocked down to make room for department stores and businesses that I have never heard of. Factories are also being built, their huge pipes clouding the night sky with smog. Sometimes I can't even make out the stars. It's scary that things are changing so fast.
They've built bridges, and have started on a few roads going into the forest. Cables are being laid down everywhere for various purposes, and it won't be long before they get to us. Dad doesn't even have a car, though he's always wanted one. I wonder what a driveway would actually look like in front of our house. I'm going to miss the trees.
I don't think we'll be able to use the lake for the whole summer. It's already impossible when the men start working on the bridges, let alone when they start setting it up as some sort of recreational area. Or so that's what I've heard.
Dave says he doesn't feel it, but part of me thinks he's lying. He gets tired more often, and even starts panting while we play around the lake. This never used to happen before. He seemed like an endless ball of energy. And he claims that he still is.
Whatever he says, I make an effort to help him out without being too overbearing. I keep our games short, and offer breaks in between. I know that he'll decline if I ask him, so I just tell him that I've gotten tired instead. At first, he was still reluctant. But lately he's taken these offers without a hint of resistance. I'm worried, because that means he probably is getting weaker. But he refuses to admit or show it.
Right now we are in the middle of one of those breaks, by the lake of course. No one is working on it today. The water is almost too warm for it to be refreshing, but it still cools us off as it evaporates from our skin. As usual, he's preening his feathers. I'm laying back and staring at the sky, watching the clouds pass.
When he finally stops, he does the same. And for a while, it's quiet. The only sounds come from the birds, or the creatures sloshing around in the water. A small breeze would roll by, tussling the leaves.
Dave points up to one of the clouds.
“Looks like a giant dick.”
I give him a weird look, but then follow his gaze and- yep. That cloud looks like a penis. Balls and all.
“I'm not really surprised that caught your attention, Dave.”
“Dude, how can you not notice it? A flying dong in the sky? Come on. It's as plain as day.”
I point to another cloud. “That one looks like a bunny.”
He stares up for a moment, and by the movement of his eyebrows, I think he's squinting.
“No, it looks more like a race car.”
“What? How do you see a race car from a bunny? Dave, are you looking at the right cloud?”
“Yes, I am. There ain't many up there. And trust me, it looks like a race car.”
I shake my head. It looks nothing like a race car! I can see the ears and everything. But I decide not to ruin his vision. It grows quiet again after that, and I keep trying to think of anything at all to chat about. It's rare for us to run out of topics, but today my head just feels... scrambled. A mixture of worry and anxiety.
“Want to come to my house?”
The words come out without me thinking. Dave looks at me, eyebrow raised. I don't blame him for the incredulous look. I'm actually just as surprised as him that I even made that offer. There's normally my dad to worry about. But...
“Dad's gone for the day. It'll just be us until nightfall.”
“...Wow, Egbert. I'm impressed.”
“Inviting me into your home already. Geez, aren't we moving a little too fast? Where's my dinner and a movie? You can't just expect a lady to accept such a scandalous request when she's barely had her cherry popped.”
“Oh my god, Dave.”
“Just sayin'. Need to be a little more smooth than that.”
“So are you coming?”
“Of course. Lead the way, sweet prince.”
I laugh and sit up, brushing dirt off my knees before I stand and go to grab my clothes. I'm still a little damp from the swim, but that will help keep me cool for the walk.
Dave's floating about and ready by the time I'm dressed. He puts a hand on his hip and sighs in mock impatience. I stick my tongue out and begin walking towards my house.
“Hey, Dave? Have you ever heard of video games before?”
“Oh no, your human technologies confound me. Of course I know what video games are. Do you think I live in a tree?”
“But you do-”
I snicker and hop over a few rocks. He flies above me, crows swarming him in waves. They always follow him when he moves, like a flock of bodyguards poised to defend. The swishing of their wings brings the critters out as well, and they all peek out from their hiding places in trees and in the grass. It's like the woods are watching him, ready to act on a moments notice.
The sight of it is amazing. It's hard to explain without being there yourself. The forest looks the most alive around him, wherever he is. It's easy to fall in love with it all when he's near.
He never takes notice to any of it. I guess it's because he's lived this way all his life. And maybe while I see it as beautiful, he probably sees it as a hindrance. He always acts like living here is more of a burden than a gift, and that's something I want to change.
He stops when he's a little ways ahead, and waits for me to catch up. The light catches his wing, making the feathers shine and glimmer, and the glow is even more pronounced. It's distracting. He's giving me a weird look, and his lips quirk up knowingly right before I walk straight into a tree.
I rub my throbbing nose and tilt my heads downwards in embarrassment. Okay, that was dumb. I raise a hand to flip him off, and his amused chuckle only makes me flush more.
“Fuck you! Ugh, it hurts. You broke it!”
“I broke it?”
I groan and shake my head. “Forget it!”
I can hear him flying down and towards me. I feel a warm hand on my wrist, and he forcefully pulls it away from my face. Then he uses his other hand to tilt my head up.
“Stop whining, it's not broken.”
“Feels like it.” I resist the urge to rub where it hurts, which would probably only make the pain worse. There's a cold feeling as he pulls away, and I scratch at my wrist where his hand was before.
“You're such a baby. Suck it up and keep walking.”
I frown at him, but he's already turning to head down the path.
“Can't you heal it or something?”
“Not for free, babe.” He turns to send me a haughty smirk, and I kind of have the urge to punch him. Jerk.
As expected, when we get there, the place is empty. Dad's long gone, and the house is ours to play with. Dave doesn't waste time in making himself comfortable, and he curls up on the couch, slouching on the armrest like he owns the place. It's hard for him to sit in a position that isn't uncomfortable for his wings, so he shifts every now and then, and folds them around him like a giant blanket.
I immediately start rummaging around our entertainment center, trying to pick out video games that both me and Dave would have fun playing. Wait, has he ever played anything? Better start off easy.
I put the game in the Wii, which is my system of choice. I can feel him watching me, so I turn to give him a reassuring grin and I toss the Wii remote at him. He catches it and stares at it like it's gonna bite him.
“No worries, I'll teach you how to play!” I say with smiling smugly. He pouts at me, which looks adorable from my angle. It's kind of weird, but I am often hit with the urge to pet him.
“I don't need a teacher. My skills are unparalleled.”
“You're holding the remote backwards.”
“Fuck you.” He frowns and turns it around in his hand. I hold in my laughs, because he actually was holding it right. This is going to be fun.
I sit by him and load up the game. He raises an eyebrow at the colorful start.
“...This just screams chidlish happy funtime.”
“Quiet! Do you want to learn or not?”
“I said I don't need a teacher.”
“Yeah, yeah...” I roll my eyes and set up the game. A few minutes in, and I have him beat. He's having a hard time figuring out the mini games. He glares at me when he realizes that the controller is actually backwards, and continues his futile attempts to win.
“This is so stupid. You gave me the broken one, didn't you?”
“No, that one works fine, Dave. You are just really bad at this.”
“That's pretty lame. Only losers accuse their friends of cheating at Mario Party. It's not even that hard.”
“Fuck this. I quit.” He drops the controller and crosses his arms. On the screen, Yoshi just falls off the platform and I win another round.
I do nothing to resist laughing at Dave's childish behavior. It's no surprise that he sucks at something he's never done before, but he takes it personally anyway. With a huff, he's up and gone. I should probably watch to make sure he doesn't break anything or do anything silly. Instead I turn off the game system and stand in place. How does one go about entertaining a floaty, bird-dude? Obviously, most things involving technology are out. Even if he knows what things are, he doesn't know how to use them.
TV always works. Surely there's something on he wouldn't mind watching. Or, wait, what about my movies? A large smile spreads itself across my face because that is a perfect idea.
I go looking for him. He isn't hard to find in our small house. He didn't go far either, drifting around in the hallway, looking at pictures and paintings both hanging on the wall. He seems curious, and lifts a few off the hooks to get a better look. I watch him for a while, and then I stealthily make my way over to his side.
“What are you looking at?”
He glances at me before going back to the picture.
I peek over his shoulder to see. It's a picture of me, my dad, and a group of some of the townsfolk. I don't recognize many of them, so I look back to Dave.
“See something you like?” I grin at my own joke. There's something heavy in the air, and I want it gone. He doesn't respond. He just turns away and goes further up the hall.
“Hey! Shouldn't you ask before you go snooping around other people's stuff?” I say this as I see him slip into my room. I've never had a friend over before, so I don't really try to stop him. There's nothing in there really to hide, and maybe I do want him to see a little bit about who I am. No one really takes enough interest in me to learn.
He pokes at the computer, flips through some of my books before throwing them off to the side, and plays a few notes on the piano. I watch all this in silence. It's funny seeing him so curious about the most mundane things. I chuckle at him as he curls up in my bed, the blankets wrapping around him and making him look like a bundled up child.
“Egbert, I might have to steal your bed. This is awesome.” He buries his head underneath the blankets, and I wander over to lift them off him.
“Hey! You'll get your bird smell all inside. How can I expect to sleep at night with you stinking up my bed?”
He bops me on the head with his tail.
“I smell fine. You're the one who's stank up the whole place.”
“No I didn't.” I frown and sniff my arm anyway. I don't really stink, do I? I shower every day.
He stares at me and then sighs in exasperation. “Nevermind, Egbert. What else do you want to do?”
I stop sniffing myself and remember the movies. Elated, I rush over to my cabinets, the ones where I keep my whole collection. I start picking a bunch out, mostly action movies. He's peering over my shoulder as I try to pick between Batman and Spiderman.
“What are you doing?”
“We're having a movie marathon. You obviously haven't seen anything, and that's really sad! I need to catch you up.”
“What kind of movies are we watching?”
“Shush! I'm trying to concentrate. Go back into the living room and wait. I'll be there in a second.”
He gives me a suspicious glare, but listens, and goes to wait on the couch. I finish picking out the movies, and I try not to drop the stack while walking back. I decide on my way there that we also need popcorn.
“Hold on.” I say as I set the DVDs on the couch. He's doesn't comment, but picks up a few of the movies to study them. I slip into the kitchen and go looking for the bags of popcorn. I throw two in the microwave and then return to Dave.
He has his glasses tilted onto his head, and his eyes are squinting at the back of one of the boxes. They're orange. Like, really orange. Even the whites of his eyes are actually orange. Shouldn't be a surprise, but the iris itself is a darker shade then the rest of him. It's tinted red, and it's actually shocking.
I'm also pleased to see that his expression is much more open without them. With the shades, it would just look like any other time he stares at things, which is unreadable. Now, I can plainly see that he's...confused?
I stare for a moment before I walk over, and peek at the box.
“Does it sound interesting to you?”
Instantly, the shades are back on his face, obscuring his eyes from view once again. It's a shame. He really does have nice eyes. I'm entirely aware of how creepy that sounds, so I don't bother telling him.
“Are you sure? I can pick another if it sounds boring.”
“Seriously, it's cool. Just put it in.”
And so I do. The movie isn't anything special. It's not even really my type. There's more action and fighting than plot, tons of explosions and much more tough guy talk than necessary. But Dave does seem entertained by it. At least, he does for half of the movie.
“So this is what you do all day?” He turns his head towards me. “Are all movies this pointless?”
I laugh and shake my head. “I told you we could watch something else! This isn't really any different than the description you read. There's nothing really going on. Something about an assassin and an ex cop, but that's it. You sure you don't wanna switch for something else?”
He stares at me before nodding his head. “I think this is killing whatever braincells I have left from talking to you for the past month. Go ahead and switch.”
I swat at his arm lightly in response to his comment. Then I reach for the movies still lying between us. There's five picked out, and I doubt we'll actually get through them all in one sitting. I pick up Con Air, because he has to see that while he's here, right?
While I'm putting the movie in, I suddenly remember the popcorn. Before pressing play on the menu screen, I scoot back into the kitchen, holding up a finger to tell Dave that I need a minute. With the bags that were sitting in the microwave, I have enough for a sizable bowl. I also grab some sodas and a few apples, since I'm not sure if Dave even likes popcorn.
Surprisingly, he does. He's grabbing fist-fulls of the stuff before the movie even starts. He's snatched the apples for himself, letting them sit on his lap. The movie begins, and he's silent, leaning over the armrest and gaze unmoving from the screen.
As we watch, I see him shift from the corner of my eye. He crosses his arms, grunts, and turns to me again.
“This isn't any better than the other one.”
I give him a look, my hand stuck in the bowl of popcorn as I size him up. He wouldn't be the first friend to question my favorite movie, but since he hasn't seen much else, I thought that he'd be able to appreciate it's brilliance. Apparently I was wrong. This has to be his first movie, minus the one we stopped half-way through. How is this not good enough?
“This is my favorite movie, Dave. Maybe you should wait a bit more? I'm sure you'll like it! It's really good!”
He sighs and shakes his head, then slouches in his seat and steals back the bowl of popcorn. “If you say so, Egbert.”
So I wait, and for most of the movie he's still quiet. I have to hit him a few times, because he keeps making jabs at Nic Cage. He say's the guy only has like one expression in every scene. I try to point out that, no, Nic Cage is actually a wonderful actor. He says that if that's what they call a wonderful actor, civilization still had a long way to go.
It's the end of the movie that gets me. It's been quiet for a while, but here I am sniffling. Dave notices, looks at me, and snorts. I can tell he's trying not to laugh, but I give him a scathing look anyway.
“Shut up! This is the best part.” I growl out. “You heartless asshole. How come you're not moved by this?”
This makes him double over in snickers, and he covers his mouth to try and hide the sound.
“You cannot be serious, Egbert.” He looks at me again, and then tilts his head back to laugh. “Oh my fucking god, you are. It's not even that sad!” He caws then, and that's when he stops laughing. He covers his mouth again and sends me a glare.
Tears of nostalgia soon turn into tears of mirth, and it's my turn to laugh. I'll never get over him doing that. I point at him and return the favor, my eyes closing due to the force of my giggles.
He grumbles. “Shut up. You'd caw too if you only had crows to talk to for most of your life.”
My giggles die down. “Alright, alright! That was totally manly and awesome.” I continue grinning at him and he just shakes his head.
“Well, your movies suck. Please tell me you have other things to do around here. Your guest is bored, Egbert. How can you expect to entertain the ladies if you can't even entertain your best bro?”
I blink then. “Best Bro?”
There's this weird awkward silence that really shouldn't be that awkward. I never really thought about it before, but considering I've never really had anyone close enough to be deemed a 'best bro' before, it really does make since that Dave is it. The thought makes me smile.
“...Woah, Egbert. I said best bro. Not loving wife. No need to get with the dopey grins. You need to put a ring on it first, man. Take it slow.”
His quips make me laugh and I throw a pillow at him. He doesn't even dodge it, he just lets it hit his face and stays completely still as it slides off.
“Dude, that's animal cruelty. I'm suddenly revoking our broship.”
“No, no! I'm sorry.” I snicker. “Do you want me to rub your beak to make it better?”
“Fuck that. It's going to take a basket load of apples to cure this injury. And birds don't forgive easily.”
I roll my eyes and fetch the apples for him. Again. I don't even notice until I get back that he didn't even start on the ones before. I frown at this, but he takes them from me anyway. Greedy bastard.
The rest of the day pretty much goes like that. We watch a few more movies. Dave just makes fun of most of them, but there's a few he likes. I notice he has a thing for comedies, which is kind of cool. Suits him. He doesn't laugh during them, though. In my opinion, that just kind of kills the point of watching something funny. But whatever flaps his boat.
I'm surprised when we actually make it through the whole stack. It's getting dark, but dad isn't due back for another few hours. Just like most of my days with Dave, I don't want it to end. So instead of sending him off, we watch TV. We flip from cartoons and anime to watching some of the music channels. Dave loves these, although I can only tell by the way he goes quiet, and how his wings and tail twitch to a beat whenever a song he takes a liking to starts playing.
I'm gritting my teeth through Kesha when I feel something soft on my thigh. I look over, not expecting the conked out Dave laying beside me. It's the edge of his wing I feel, and he looks entirely put out. His lips are slightly parted as he breathes in softly. I've never been this close to him asleep before. I guess it's really no different then watching someone else sleep, but there's something really nice about his expression. It seems so unguarded and peaceful, even with the shades covering his eyes.
Without thinking I move my hands towards the ruffle of feathers around his neck. I run my hands through a few, and wow, they're really soft. He shifts, making me think that I might have woken him. Instead, he settles down, leaning slightly towards my touch, and he make a soft cawing noise.
I let this go on for a bit longer, testing different spots to see if I can get him to make more sounds. The TV is completely forgotten as I find out that the feathers are even softer where his wings meet his back. Feels a little weird, petting Dave. But it's kind of like finding a puppy or a kitten. You just want to snuggle them and revel in their adorableness.
Of course, it's really that side of Dave that I find adorable. The bird side. It's almost like having a pet! Sure, he's acts like a human. But he's not. And plus, the sounds he's making are really silly. It reminds me of the small chicks that pop out of their eggs in spring, though it's much deeper than that. You can hear them, loud and clear, in the woods during the season.
I sure am glad he's asleep.
I would enjoy this moment a bit longer, but the sound of a doorknob moving halts all my movements. There's that split second of “oh shit” as I realize that it's late and dad is home. In a moment or two he will be walking through the front door, and a second after that he'll be walking into the living room.
I don't have much time to act.
Without warning I nudge Dave, hard. He squawks and sends me the most incredulous glare he can muster with his shades on. I can hear the door opening, and I instantly begin shoving him towards my room.
“John? What the fuck-”
“Quiet! Just go!”
“John?” My dad's voice pipes up from the entrance.
I can feel Dave tense beneath my grip, and I give him a pleading look. He doesn't need it. He's darting towards my room before I can blink.
I heave a sigh of relief as I watch him disappear inside just before my dad enters view. I send him my most convincing smile and wave at him. He's looking at me strangely.
“Did... you have a guest?”
I gulp. Okay, so he might have heard me or Dave. I try to play it off.
“W-what? No! I've... been here alone all day! Haha.”
He actually looks disappointed. Woah, okay. I thought I was being a good kid. His eyes graze over the mess in the living room, and I kind of feel bad for not cleaning up after Dave.
“Movie marathon?” Dad asks without really asking. He knows the drill. I nod and begin picking up stray popcorn kernels as well as the bowl. Luckily, Dave had devoured anything else that could have been eaten, so there were only a few soda cans laying on the coffee table.
“Um, living room's all yours!” I say nervously as I slide towards the kitchen to put away the dishes and trash. He doesn't say anything, but I can tell he wants to. I'm scared as to what that is, but right now I can only think of Dave and if he's still in my room or not.
I race back, but not really. I don't want to alert dad. So this results in me walking calmly to my room, but I feel like I'm rushing because it can't get closer fast enough, and what feels like a minutes is only a second before I open the door.
I hide my relief as I watch Dave, who's settled down on the edge of my bed and staring out the window. He turns to me and tilts his head in question. I grin and nod, tipping my head back nonchalantly. I kick the door closed before I speak, because even if I don't think dad can really hear me from here, I'd rather not take any chances.
“Everything's fine! Mission hide the birdie is a success!”
His lips twitch into a smirk, and he lifts his hand in offer of a fist-bump. Kind of like a secret hand shake, only it's not really secret or complicated or anything. Anyway, fists meet and mischievous grins are shared. There's something about hiding the existence of Dave from everyone that just makes me feel excited. I guess I don't have many secrets to keep.
“How long can you stay?”
He shrugs and curls up again in the bed. He uses one of his wings as a pillow, the other as a blanket. It's amazing, how he can cradle himself like that. But I've already figured out that the wings don't have much to do with how he floats. He can just do it.
“I can leave if you need me to.” He says, finally. He shifts to look at me. “I know you need your beauty sleep.”
I shake my head. “I don't want you to leave.” I cringe a bit, because wow, that sounds needy. He doesn't seem to notice though. “Can you maybe stay the night? My dad never comes into my room, so it should be fine.”
He's quiet again, thinking. He does that a lot, too. It can be pretty annoying, because I'm forced to wait in the awkward silence as he tries to figure shit out. And then he's just staring, and somehow I can tell it's at me and not at some obscure spot by my shoulder. Like I have the answers, which I obviously do not.
“That's fine.” It's then that he moves, curls more into himself like a snake. “Just think of me as your pet bird, all chill and shit sleeping at the end of your bed. If you kick me, I'm biting you.”
I'm more pleased then I expected to be. I think it's because this is the first time I've ever had a friend sleep over.
“Alright! I just need to get ready for bed.”
I slip into the bathroom after grabbing a pair of pajamas. It's going to be a little humid tonight, or so says the news man, so I don't bother with the shirt. I wash up and brush my teeth, and stupidly enough fix my hair.
Throwing off my clothes into the laundry bin near the door of my bathroom, I put on the pajamas and then return to Dave. He's somehow managed to get a hold of a few of my magazines, and he's staring at them, his shades sitting on the nightstand beside my bed.
I plop down beside him, and he briefly glances at me before going back to the magazine.
“What are you reading?” I peek over to steal a glance. His eyebrows are furrowed hard in concentration, which is stupid because he's looking at a Game Bro magazine. I hate the whole lot of them, but dad keeps getting free one's in the mail.
I glance between Dave and the magazine, trying to figure out his interest in the subject.
“Dave? It's really not that great.” I try to talk some sense into him, because, really? Who even reads this crap. “The guy who writes the reviews doesn't even play any of the games. It's really bad! I think the whole thing is a prank...”
“I can't read it.”
I gape at him. “Huh?”
“I can't read, Egbert.”
Oh. That's a bit of a shocker. But I guess it should be expected. How would he have ever learned to read if he's always lived in the forest? I ponder this for a second until an idea hits me. I grin and turn to him. He raises an eyebrow in apprehension.
“I can teach you. To read, I mean.” There's something about teaching a magical being that's oddly iconic. His eyes widen slightly at the offer, and he looks at the magazine in his hands before going back to me.
“I don't really need to learn...” There's an edge to his voice. It's a familiar one that I first noticed when he had asked about school a while back. It's a weird something that comes back whenever he mentions or asks anything about human culture. It only makes me want to teach him more.
Before he can object, I'm up. I go over to my desk and pull out a few sheets of paper. I think teaching him how to write first would be a good idea, so I hurry back and begin with the letters of the alphabet.
He's reluctant to try at first, but after a few minutes or so, I have him writing out all twenty six letters as well as a few numbers. I then start on small words, including his and my name. I'm lucky, he's a fast learner. Although there are times where he makes totally unnecessary jibes at the lesson, I can tell he sort of enjoys it.
This goes on for a few hours, and now it's pitch black and the stars are clearly sparkling in the sky. I yawn, only now realizing that it's late and I'm tired. Dave takes one look at me and sets the papers and magazine off to the side.
“Bed time?” He doesn't wait for me to answer, but I nod before he goes to the spot he deems worthy of his bed. I thought he was going to sleep on the edge, but he changed his mind.
I didn't even notice that he had made a nest out of some of the random objects in my room, and that the nest consisted of a lot of shiny things as well as soft. There's spare blankets, a mirror, and a few pillows that make up the entirety of the thing. I briefly consider showing him how to make a pillow fort, but that will have to wait for another time. Right now I'm just holding in my giggles at seeing him act like a total bird.
“Sweet dreams!” I say as I lay back and place my own glasses next to his. I grab the blankets, because I don't care how hot it is, I will forever sleep under them. It is the only and most comfortable way to sleep, even if I wake up icky in the morning.
It doesn't stop him from looking at me weird as I settle in, and I just send him a sheepish grin before disappearing underneath.
I think he falls asleep first, because I spend a little more time gazing out the window beside my bed. The stars really are bright, which is always a good thing. Despite the drought, I'd rather it not rain for a while longer. Falling asleep is easy with only the sound of the forest and Dave's breathing to loll me under.
Fast update mostly because this chapter is kind of filler. Stuff will happen next chapter for sure. I hope you guys are enjoying it so far. C: Let me know if any of my writing bugs you!
Chapter 5: Truths or Lies
You guys rock, once again. Here, have another early chapter for being awesome. It's not TOTALLY edited yet, since I kind of want it to have a better flow. But I have to go to work soon, and I want this up today so I can work on something else. I may finish editing it tonight though. C: But seriously, isn't this like 3 chapters in less then a week? I wonder how long this strange motivation of mine will last...
Edit: Initial edits now done. May still be mistakes cause I tend to miss things. :T
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Dave is still there when I wake up.
I wonder if he's slept at all. He's staring out the window again and sitting at the edge of my bed, thoughtful and still. He doesn't notice me, not even when I reach over to put on my glasses. I shift a little further down until I know I can reach him, and then I send a hard kick to his side.
He jumps and looks at me, all puffed up feathers and startled expression. He's still not wearing the shades, so his features are as clear as day. His eyes, wide from the shock, narrow down in irritation. I snicker lightly at his reaction and wave.
“Morning!” I greet brightly. I am normally not a morning person, but I like seeing Dave here. Honestly, I'm surprised he's up before me. But early bird always catches the worm, I guess. And at least he didn't leave.
He takes a few seconds looking at me before he snorts, and shakes his head. “I never thought your hair could get even more ridiculous, Egbert. Way to go.”
Frowning, I let a hand drift over to my dark locks. Not that I can see, or really even feel a difference, but I know he's right. I always look silly in the morning. Like my hair decided to have a fighting match with the pillow as I slept. And it always lost. It was a hassle getting it to behave in the morning, and I barely put any effort in that.
Nothing like Dave's hair, which is apparently perfect and bed-head free. There's no way he didn't brush it or something. Or maybe Spirits just have perfect hair. Fucking figures. Lucky.
“Hey! Give me a break.” I say with a pout. “I just need a few minutes to get ready, is all! Go... do your bird shit or whatever.”
He chuckles and goes about rifling through my stuff some more.
I trust him not to break anything, so I go about my morning routine. There's no rush anymore, not like there was the first few days of me meeting Dave. He's become such a normal part of my life, now. And he's even in my house! I've never thought of that possibility before, but it's so much fun seeing him interact with human things. I start to think of what other things I can teach him.
I come back to my room, from the bathroom, once I'm dressed and ready for the day. Dave seems to have found my candy stash, and his greedy ass is now helping himself to some Oreos and chocolate bars. I cross my arms and glare. Okay, I thought I could trust him.
“'Sup?” He says simply as he takes a huge bite.
“Are you going to eat everything I own?”
“No, man. Just the food.”
“Dude, you should feel honored. I'm a benevolent spirit, remember? Offerings mean good harvests and... I dunno, that the volcano won't destroy your town. You're supposed to keep me happy and well fed, Egbert. Think of the children.”
“Dave, there isn't even a volcano near here!”
“How do you know that's not only because I am a happy bird-god? I will totally conjure up the most sicknasty volcano in the middle of your fucking house. Don't tempt me.”
“Shut up, Dave. You're being lame again.”
“Striders can't be lame. Only cool.”
He opens his mouth and then quickly shuts it. He doesn't say anything immediately after that, but his shades are off and I can tell that he's troubled by something that either him or I said. I wonder what a Strider is. He notices me staring and quickly moves to swipe his shades from the bedside table and slip them on.
“Keep staring, Egbert. You'll make me swoon.”
I roll my eyes, but as ever, I keep every little reaction he has in a secret folder inside my head labeled 'Shady shit Dave does.' I know he has his secrets, if that isn't obvious enough by now.
“So, wanna head back into the forest today?” I snatch up the snacks, somewhat afraid he'll eat them all. He sends me an annoyed glare.
“I guess. If you want to.” He then lays back on the bed. “What do you want to do?”
“Fine. We can go back to the temple, if you want. I haven't been home in a few days.”
He shrugs and gets up, floating over to the window. We haven't been to the temple often lately, since we normally prefer to meet at the lake. I didn't know he wasn't going there either.
“It's so out of the way, and it's not like I can't sleep in the trees...” He stretches his arms above his head and yawns. “Besides, the closer I am to here, the less I have to wait for you.”
The remark causes me to smile, but I try to beat it down because he'll just laugh if I end up with a goofy grin again.
“Alright, wait here.” I say before going out to check around for dad. There's no smells coming from the kitchen, so I know he didn't make breakfast. TV's off, and no sign of him outside. Another strange disappearance, because I know he doesn't have work. I'm still content with the state of the house.
As I'm heading back, I notice a manilla folder sitting on a coffee stand near the hall. There's no label. It's probably business related stuff that belongs to my dad. Against my better judgment and because of hurried curiosity, I open it. It's filled with files of villagers from the town, each of them with their own profiles containing history and family. It's a bit confusing, why it's sitting here on the desk. Or why dad would even need that information. I thought he just sold hats or something.
There's nothing on the front or back of the folder, so I flip around to the first page.
Town Restoration Team
“In an effort to take back what is ours.”
That's all it says, but it doesn't take much thought to gain an idea for what it's about. I reread the words a few times, letting the implied meaning sink in.
I glance back towards my room, not seeing hide nor hair of Dave near the door, I flip through the pages again, now studying the faces of the townsfolk. Dad's the first entry in. Just a short description of what he does and a picture of him lines the top of the page. At the bottom, some history about his family. It mentions my grandma, who I've never met, as well as my deceased mother and me.
It says here that he's the leader. I swallow the lump that's lodged itself in my throat. The leader? Leader of what exactly? Nothing here explains what the group actually does. But obviously, this must be why dad's been so absent lately. In and out of the house on the most random of days, even when I know that he doesn't have work.
I flip closer to the back in a futile search for more. There's a page partway, mostly blank but with a few decorations lining the sides. I flip to the next page, and realize that it splits the folder between members of this elusive group and those involved with the city.
I'm looking at Jack Noir, and the description for him a little more invasive then the townsfolks prior. At a glance, there's history of former gang activity, as well as political corruption. No real surprise there, but the fact that my dad has all this on file...
Heart pounding, I'm really not sure how to take this information. The meaning of it all is so clear, yet completely eludes me. Is it rebellion? Or maybe something a little less chancy. Whatever the case, dad wouldn't just leave something like this here without thinking. I know him better than that.
Did he want me to find it?
“John!” Dave yells from my room, making me jump and drop the folder onto the floor, papers scattering around my feet. “You gonna keep me waiting? I know your dad's not around.”
“C-coming!” I quickly gather all of the fallen material and stuff them back into the folder. I stumble into the room, head still a little buzzed, but I grin at Dave innocently, discovery temporarily forgotten.
“You ready to go?” I say.
He gives me a weird look. “Been ready. Are you?”
“Uh, just let me get some supplies. I'll need to grab snacks and water...” I trail off as I step out of my room again. Dave follows anyway, which I don't mind. The amount of apples we now have is ridiculous, if only because Dave eats them up like they're the most amazing thing to have ever existed. A bag is easily filled with everything we could need for the day.
I'm almost done when I notice that Dave picked up a sack of his own, and is now filling it with even more treats.
“Really?” I say, simply. He smirks at me, and swings the full sack over his shoulder.
With a sigh, I'm out the door. I'm surprised briefly by the amount of crows lounging about. They're pecking around, curled up in our patio chairs and taking up a lot of space on the lawn. I realize that there's no way dad didn't notice them on the way out, but it's not really something to freak out about. At least, he probably thought they were just resting or something from a long flight.
They all gather around Dave when he exits the house, and he tries to swat them out of the way as he floats up.
“Fucking birds...” He grumbles.
“It's like they think you're their mama or something!” I'm laughing a little too hard at his attempt to get them to leave him alone.
“Oh haha. Okay. Mama Dave says you guys need to fuck off.” He swings the sack, but every single one of the birds dives away in time to avoid being hit. Dave sneers at them. “It normally isn't this bad. They're mad I haven't been home in a while.”
“Really?” I tilt my head up at him.
“Yep. Like annoying babysitters, they have to make sure I don't stay away for too long. It's annoying as shit.”
I chuckle. “Well I guess we better get you back then! It must be way past your curfew.”
“Tch. I'm a grown ass bird, I ain't need no curfew.”
“Uh huh. Sure you don't.”
We head into woods, sacks poised and crows trailing us in flocks. He continues to ignore them, and I try to strike up a conversation. It's soon evident to me that marching through the brambles is much more enjoyable with company. I've always had to endure the long trips alone. And Dave is great for making the time fly by, our travel being filled with laughter and jibes. Sometimes we'll settle into a comfortable silence, but it's never for long. When it does, my thoughts sway towards that manilla folder back at home.
Before I know it, I'm standing in front of the small temple, and watching Dave fly over the root towards the pond.
I follow him there, having to toss the sack over the root before I can leap over myself. Of course, it all seems untouched. There's a few more frogs than normal, but no change. Dave's already settled himself by the pond's edge, and the crows have all disappeared into the treetop.
I go to my normal spot and lay down, turning my head so that I could watch Dave. I didn't notice before, but he's breathing a bit harder than normal. I wonder if the trek was worse for him. I sit up a bit and rummage through my sack, pull out a bottle of water, and hand it to him. He stares at it before he takes it, debating whether he wants the help or not.
“No need to act like a mother hen, Egbert...” He says this as he takes a few gulps of water. The bottles half empty when he stops.
“You look tired. Sorry for trying to make you feel better.”
“I can take care of myself. Not a fragile little lily like you humans are.”
“Hey!” I lay on my side so I can see him better. “We're not that bad.”
“Whatever. You're just obviously jealous of my mangrit.”
He laughs, if possible, sarcastically, and downs the rest of the bottle. Despite the grin on my face, and the content smile on his, I can't help but feel pressure weighing down in my chest. I'm thinking about the folder, and how even though I don't know the true efforts being put towards the cause, there's people out there who are fighting back. I haven't done much on my own, except donate a little money towards the people who've lost their shops. But seeing my dad involved with something that could be much bigger...
And then there's Dave. Dave who's actually being physically affected by everything. I get annoyed whenever I think about it. He's treating it all like it's nothing. I've seldom brought it up in conversation before, but he's always managed to steer clear of actually talking about it. He keeps saying he'll come up with something if he needs to, but from what I can tell he hasn't done a single thing.
J could bring it up now, but that would possibly put a knot in things for the rest of the day. I haven't been pushing it enough, though. I know Dave can help, I just have to get him to want to...
“Dave. Have you tried doing anything for the town yet?”
His reaction isn't anything I didn't expect. The smile fades and his wings drop, the feathers brushing against the ground. His jaw is set tight, and I already know this conversation isn't going to go well. It never does, but someone has to push the subject.
“John, you're ruining this date.” He attempts to joke around, to lighten mood. But for once I'm dead set on getting answers. I'm a little tired of waiting for him.
“You're not as strong as you used to be.”
“Fuck you, Egbert.” His tones a little more serious, but I don't budge. “I'm just as amazing as I was before this shit got started. Nothing's changed.”
“Then why won't you help everyone else? No one likes seeing our home being destroyed.”
His head snaps towards me then, and I can feel him glaring through the shades. I apparently struck a chord, but I don't avert my own, and meet where I think his eyes have to be. His tail flicks about angrily, and I'm reminded of a snake bearing it's fangs. It makes me feel like a mouse, wanting to crawl back into my little hole and never come out again. I swallow nervously, his sudden anger being a little overwhelming, more than I expected.
“Fuck everyone else. Why don't they just handle their own shit? I don't want any part of it.”
Through clenched fists, I'm trying really hard not to get mad. It's impossible when he himself refuses to face this like an adult. He keeps running away. Why?
“They are handling it.” I take a deep breathe, aware of the bite in my own words. “They're doing more than you. And you're more capable than them.”
“Well good for them! What do they need me for?”
“It's not enough.”
He gives a dramatic sigh and turns away.
“I don't care about them. They're human. They'll get used to the changes over time. So will you. So drop it.”
“But what if we don't get over it, Dave?”
“Then that's your problem. I don't care.”
I feel my own rage building. It irritates me how much he doesn't care. Like he wasn't born here himself. How can someone with powers like that not use them for the good of the people around him? When I was a kid, he was the hero. And yeah, he may not be invincible, but I know he can help. He isn't even trying, and I can't force him to try either.
What makes everything so much worse about it is that I've looked up to this guy longer then I've known him. Growing up, I've had this idea that there was something out there watching over my home, keeping it safe. But instead I get this lazy, ungrateful and hateful little bird.
It hurts, like when you realize that your favorite super hero isn't really real. In the past month, I haven't thought about it as much. I've been too used to the idea of Dave being no more then a 'best bro.' Seeing him as human when he's obviously not. I don't like to think I've made a mistake in thinking that way, but I feel like he needs to be punched in the face with the reality that this place is his responsibility. It has to be. Isn't that how this stuff works? He's supposed to protect us.
Maybe that's how I can help. If I can just get Dave to understand, then maybe we'll get the boost we need.
Determined, I stand up. I try to think up every possible excuse why he doesn't want to help us. It can't be because he doesn't care. If he didn't, why did he save me so long ago? Maybe he's scared. Maybe he just needs a little push. But first, I need to know why. If I can just get him to tell me...
He watches me wearily, and I walk the few number of steps it takes so that I'm in front of him. I don't know what I can do to convince him, but I have to try. I love my home. I don't want it to change. Not ever.
I meet his glare with one of my own, but I try to keep my voice calm as I speak.“What's the real reason you don't want to help us, Dave?” A roll of the eyes, and he opens his mouth to speak. I don't let him. “Don't say you don't care, either. I want a real reason.”
He stops then, and I can tell that his eyes are narrowed, his eyebrows having disappeared somewhere beneath his shades. He floats up, and kind of paces, arms crossed and shoulders shaking. I don't think I've ever seen him this pissed before, at least, not this openly so.
His wings tremble before he lets himself down enough, so that he's level with me. “For all I care, this forest could burn to the ground. I want it gone.” There's something oddly cruel in his demeanor, something that reminds me of Noir and it makes me feel sick. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, good fucking riddance to it all.”
Numbness takes over where anger used to be, and disbelief. “You don't mean that.” I say. He doesn't. He's just speaking out of anger.
“John.” He says sternly. He looks up, at the crows, and they stare back unmoving. “I really, really, hate this place. You don't even know.”
“Why?” I demand, stepping forward. “Why would you hate it? You're lying. You've never had a problem with it before!”
“You've known me for a month! How the hell would know?”
I try to think of a retort, but he's right. What do I know about him? I avert my gaze, and there's no words to describe my disappointment in him, and more so, my disgust.
He stares me down, despite me no longer meeting his gaze, and my silence only fuels whatever he's feeling right now.
“Here's a little secret, John.” He moves close enough that I can feel his breathe, which doesn't help me feel much better. “I know every single soul in that town. I get bored here, there ain't much more to do then study them. And they ain't worth shit. They're just as selfish and fucked up as your new neighbors from the city.” He laughs bitterly, and shakes his head. “It's like once you hit a certain age, you've suddenly gained the right to be an asshole! That's just how people work.”
“Fuck you, Egbert.” He turns away. “Fuck all of you.”
I'm speechless, to say the least. Never once did I think Dave felt this way. It has to be a lie. Some tough guy act. There's no way he's that heartless. Suddenly I feel like I don't even know him. Was the past month nothing? I know it isn't a long time...but... I thought we were friends.
It hurts. It really hurts. But instead of tears, I only feel mad. Deceived. He's lying. There's no way he's that merciless. It's only been a month, but I know he isn't...
It's been quiet for a while, though I've hardly noticed. He looks at me, unreadable as always.
“Why'd you save me?” I stare, focusing on that last glimmer of hope. I see the anger fade from his face, his body.
A little more confident now, I let my voice raise. “Why did you save me? When I was a child, you... You saved me from the wolves. Didn't you? Why would you do that if you didn't care?”
“Egbert...” It comes out softer then anything else he's said, and hey, there goes my fear. I knew he was lying, and now I've caught him. He's staring at the ground, with crossed arms as if trying to hide behind them. I can feel my lips twitch into a smile.
“I wasn't trying to save you.”
Time seems to stop with his words. Wait. Back up. That can't be right. Like a play deviating from a script, those words don't belong here. No, that can't be right. That doesn't even make sense.
“What?” I can feel my smile fading.
“You heard me. It was an accident. If anything, I was trying to do the opposite of saving you.”
I blink, confused. This really didn't make any sense at all. It has to be a trick, has to be another lie. You can't just save someone by trying not to save them.
“What do you mean? How do you accidentally save someone, Dave?”
“You wouldn't understand.”
“Try me.” My eyes narrow in defiance.
His jaw sets, his teeth showing as he angrily grinds them. “It doesn't get much more simple then that. I didn't know what I was doing. Thought I did, but I was wrong. You weren't supposed to go back home after that.”
I'm retracing my memory as he speaks. No, no, no, it doesn't add up. Everything I remember, it all couldn't have been wrong. Dave saved me, he...
“You're lying. You called off the wolves.” Panicked, I try to prove him wrong.
“Yeah. I'm also the one that told them to attack.” He says, matter of fact, making my blood run cold.
“An experiment.” Is all he says.
“No, Egbert. Shut up. I don't know what sick little fantasy you've had stuck in your head for the past few years, but you need to get it out.”
I really don't know what to say. I can't even make sense of what I'm feeling. There's no name for this emotion. It's anger and disbelief, with a side of betrayal and an extra dose of hurt. Anything and everything wrapped up in heart break. There's no way the time spent meant absolutely nothing to him, but right now I can barely focus on that. It hurts.
I do the only thing I can think of, instinct taking over where thoughts have been lost. My fist is already clenched, and I feel it make contact with his face long before I realize I've even done it. It's hard, and his shades go flying, slamming and breaking against a nearby tree. He looks shocked, eyes locked on the broken aviators.
“Fuck you, Dave...” I back away, trembling slightly from too many feelings. “Fuck you.”
He doesn't respond, and it's hard to look at him but I do. I need to see if he'd change, if there's any regret in what he's said.
No, there isn't that. Something wrong, something sad and broken, but no regret. No apologies.
Nothing's said, and I really don't have the energy to try anymore. Not right now. Okay, great Dave, you hurt me. Is that what you want? Is that what you wanted all along? So you hate us. You want to see us burn. Is that why you've strung me along all this time? Made me think I found someone I could call friend?
I don't say any of it, and I'm too angry to rationalize his or my feelings. So I just leave.
The walk back is long, annoyingly so. Every sound is like a hammer to my already aching head. I don't want to be in the forest anymore. I want to be home. I want to be in bed. Anywhere but here. My feet drag along the forest floor, and halfway I realize I've forgotten to take back the food. What a waste.
It's still light by the time I get home. I've never been back so early before, not when hanging with Dave. I don't think dad is in, judging by the silence when I open the door. I walk towards the couch and practically collapse on it. I'm so tired, I don't want to think.
So I turn on the TV to get my mind off it all. Don't think about Dave. Don't think about how useless you are to the town. Keep it positive. All's not lost. Maybe dad will let you help with whatever he's doing.
Silently, I console myself without really knowing what's going on on the television. It's a habit I picked up long ago. No one likes being sad, so why not cheer yourself up? As long as there's no one around to do it for you, you'll have to handle it yourself.
Using every trick I know of, I try to keep the more troublesome thoughts at bay. It works for a while. I calm down, and the pain from before isn't as prominent. I'm still annoyed and in shock about what I've found out, but I'm beginning to get over the urge of banging my head against a tree. I still don't ever want to see a crow again, but that'll pass too.
I keep going over that night in my head. The memory is fuzzy, but never gone. The highlight of my life, and it was an accident. I'm not sure what's worse. The fact that it happened that way, or the fact that I lived long enough to find out. I still don't understand how he did it. And I'm tired of thinking about it already.
I get up to head to my room. Maybe a nap will clear my head. I'm not sure what to do about anything yet.
On the way there, I catch sight of the folder again. Strangely enough, it lifts my spirits. I was so happy when I found it this morning. At least something is being done. I can be sure that I'm not the only one who's worried, and determined to keep things the same. Maybe it'll help if I see who's involved in the effort.
So I pick it up and flip through it once again, this time taking care to actually note familiar faces. It's mostly everyone in the town, and all adults it seems. I find out things about people I've hardly seen, the sort of skills they possess that could help. I stop at Mr. Harley, who's grinning with a similar one to me and Jade's. Sometimes, I wonder if our families are related. We look a lot alike. And Mr. Harley was rather friendly with my nanna, or so I've heard.
I flip over to the next page and my jaw falls open at the sight. That's Jade. That's actually Jade. She's involved with this? She was only a few months older than me! Even with the shock, I'm smiling again. If she's in, then maybe my dad will let me join too.
Speak of the devil. It's the second time that day I'm shocked into dropping the folder. Once again papers litter the floor, and I turn to face him. He doesn't look surprised, not even as his eyes scan the mess. I have to take a moment to get over the suddeness of his appearance, and the fact that I didn't even hear him come in. I smile sheepishly, and rub at the back of my head.
He looks back to me and chuckles, shaking his head.
“What a mess.” He states. “And those were in Alphabetical order, too.” I frown. Oh, didn't know there was much of an order to things. He laughs when he see's my apologetic expression. "It's fine, John. You're home earlier then I expected."
I swallow, not even wanting to think about the reason I'm home right now instead of hanging out with Dave. Being here in middle of the day does feel funny.
“What is it?” I ask, nodding towards the fallen papers.
He pauses, pulls out a pipe, and doesn't say anything at first, just tilts his head towards the couch before going over to sit down. I follow him readily, and plop down on the sofa, eyes already trained on him.
“It's an effort, John.” He begins, already in the process of lighting the pipe. “As you can probably tell, a few of the folks have gathered together to try and decide what to do with the town.” His face goes stern then. "Since we should have a say in what to do with it. Don't you think?"
I nod frantically. There's a welcome fluttering in my chest, fed by hope and ideals. This is the best news I've heard all day, and what I've been wanting to hear since this morning.
“What do you do?”
“So far, anything we can. Which isn't much, right now. But as our numbers grow, so will our drive-”
“Can I join?” I cut him off, without really meaning to. I want to help really bad, more than anything. I've been itching to act for a while now, but with no way to do it. And this could be it.
He looks at me then, and I already know the answer before he nods. “Wouldn't have it any other way. Read up on those files, they'll do you good.” He nods again before smoking his pipe, and already excited with the job, I go to do just that.
I take the loose papers and folder into my room, flopping down on my bed. I've gladly forgotten mostly about the events with Dave earlier, opting instead to focus on this new, more positive development.
I open them and begin to read, trying to memorize every face, connections they have with others, and history. There's a lot more information then I thought, the family history also going into town's past itself. About an hour or two later, I've learned a lot about where I live.
One story that I've pieced together is about a fire that had overtaken both the town and the forest in the years my dad was still young. It comes up in the bios of the elderly, like Mr. Harley and one of the women I recognize who used to sell pastries on the side of the road. The story mentions how the whole place was destroyed, and how, even now, it's healing. The town was rebuilt, and the trees and plants grew back. By the time I was born, mostly everything was put back to normal.
The thought makes me think about Dave again, which makes my stomach turn in an uncomfortable way. I really don't want to think about him right now, but it's inevitable. Remembering the broken trees near where he lives, and how the state of that area has been improving over the years... It must have to do with the story of the fire. That must be what the forest has been healing from.
I take a mental note on those thoughts, knowing that they may come in handy later. With that, I flip to the next person, placing the last file in the folder, being mindful of last names as I go. The next person's last name would be under 'S'.
I glance over the description shortly before looking back at the name, Dirk Strider, and then the photo.
It takes a few times, a double take, a triple take, and then a fourth time just for good measure. So much for not thinking about Dave because what the actual fuck. He even has shades. Pointy and different, but god damn it what?
I take a moment to get over my shock, staring at the picture a bit longer then necessary. Dirk Strider. I've never seen this guy before, not once in the village. I would have connected him with Dave instantly if I had. They look exactly alike, obviously minding the colors. Face shape is siimlar, with pointed edges. They have the same smirk too. This is impossible. I'm shaking because my head is being bombarded by about a thousand questions and I can't read the description fast enough to at least get some of them answered.
Dirk Strider, a man of age 27, was born and raised here in the village by his parents until 10 years ago. Currently, he is stationed in the city, working as a engineer and part-time mechanic. Once word of our situation reached him, he was more than willing to aide us in our efforts.
Dirk is handy with machines, and went to school in the city for four years to get his bachelors degree in engineering. He is also very skilled with a sword, and enjoys collecting puppets as well as parts for his personal projects. He has numerous online identities and businesses on top of his other jobs, but refuses to say exactly what those activities are.
At the age of 17, Dirk's parents left him and his younger brother alone. Soon after, said brother, who was then at the age of 6, ran away. The body was never found. Dirk also refuses to clarify on this matter as well, claiming it personal information that he does not wish to share. We do not know the details of what happened at present time.
I let out a breathe I didn't know I was holding. Fuck. Fuck. What are the chances? I put the file down for a moment, trying to take in what I've just read. Lost brother. Lost brother. It sounds way too perfect, like the beginning of a bad film. How does that even work?
I look back down at the paper, needing proof. My eyes find exactly the spot I was looking for and I continue to read:
Dona Strider – Mother (Whereabouts unknown)
David Strider (I) – Father (Whereabouts unknown)
Dave Strider – Sibling (Presumed Dead)
I'd apologize for the angst but I'm not sorry.
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