XO Chapter 1 Ox

Today my aunt and uncle are visiting. The ones I never met.

I'm waiting impatiently for 3 P.M., simply out of curiosity.

The weather sucks. The sky is gray, but it's not raining.

There's a lot of light, but the colors are all faded and I don't feel like doing anything except for staring at the trees outside.

I jump up when the doorbell rings downstairs.

I run down the stairs and when I finally reach the living room, I examine the newcomers.

My uncle is a slightly tall man, well-dressed. He's not very muscular, but he seems intelligent.

His wife also has really neat clothes and make-up, in fact she's wearing a tailleur that looks very expensive. She looks nice. Smart.

Their child is a little girl who looks just about ten.

She's a thin, short little thing with a slightly dazed face that clashes with her cute white-and-blue dress.

It's pretty obvious that she's adopted, because we all have a pretty dark skin, while she looks more like the paper sheets I write on.

From when I'm in the room, she does nothing but stare at me. She stares. Stares. Stares. Stares. And stares.

My parents call me and I'm immediately hit by an open fire of "Look at how much you've grown up!" and "What a handsome boy you've become!", but my little cousin says nothing.

We're studying each other, like birds of prey with a common target.

In the gray light, she looks like a ghost.

A faded, hostile ghost.

"Conrad, this is Celes. Be nice to her, alright?" Mom tells me, stirring me from the staring contest.

I don't know how long I'll be able to respect that order.

We sit on the couches in the living room, me near the child.

Our parents are chatting happily, so they don't hear her ask me "Can you bring me in the woods?" with the most serious face.

I'm appalled.

The woods terrorize most of the people I know, including me, all thanks to the horror stories told by the grown-ups, that wrapped it in mystery with the rumors of unexplained disappearances and bloody murders.

"No, I can't." I reply while I shake my head. "It's too dangerous, especially for a kid like you and an idiot like me."

"Then I'm going alone."

Wait, what?

"Nonononono, you can't. No." I say with a higher pitch and the most resolved voice I can. What is she thinking!?

"Then come with me."

Lil' shit.

My willpower, as steadfast as butter, gives in under her insistence. I surrender.

"Ehm... excuse me, Mrs... Mrs. aunt Alina?" I say hesitantly . So cringey.

"Yes?" she answers with a smile and half a laugh. "Ah, and "aunt Alina" is alright." she adds.

"Ok... Celes insists to go see the woods. I told her it's dangerous, but she doesn't want to listen to me. I thought I'd take her to the border, then go back." Deep down, I want to see the woods too, even if I learned not to go there the hard way.

The four adults confabulate for a bit, then uncle Malcom replies "You can go, but do not enter the forest for any reason."

Celes wears a triumphant grin, then she drags me away, to the door.

In no time, we're at not even ten meters from the woods.

I start having a cold sweat.

Nine meters.

Eight meters.

Something that happened many years ago comes back to my mind.

Seven meters.

Six meters.



Noises everywhere.


One meter.

I stop Celes.

A red flash passes through the trees and I hold her little hand tighter.

A face-not-a-face that looks like the moon peeks from behind a tree, tall and black.

Celes tries to get closer, but I lift her up and run towards home.

It couldn't have been what I think.

I run until I reach the door.

I'm out of breath, my lungs burn and my arms, legs and back hurt.

I take huge breaths that never seem enough in an attempt to recover, then I slam my open hand on the door.

During all of that, Celes laughs.

When they finally open up, I run inside and I speed-walk upstairs, to my bedroom. To my nest.

I ignore the questions. The kid will answer those. They probably won't think she's that crazy.

I close the door and flop down on the bed, then I get my computer.

I stare at the black screen for a while, admiring my reflection.

Black hair, curly as hell and sloppily tied. Visibly greasy skin (Ew). Purple bags underneath my eyes.

I suddenly get up. I go to the window and snap the curtains shut, then go back to what I was doing.

I start fucking around on the Internet and I get distracted only when Mom knocks at the door.

"Conrad? Come say bye to the uncles!" she tells me without opening up.

I sigh and get up unwillingly.

I get out of my hole and go downstairs with her.

My uncles look shaken, while Celes is smiling as if they just gave her a huge lollipop.

The goodbyes are pretty hurried, but they manage to give us a decent smile. I love them already.

When they go, the child waves bye-bye at me.

And she laughs.

xO End of Chapter 1 Ox