ToE – The Store and the Trip Back – Part 1

6 days before the expedition into Everwood Forest, morning

Axel had the strangest feeling that he was being watched. He span around to check, but saw no one behind him. Must have been his imagination. However, it was enough to send him out of his daze.

Axel often drifted off into the confines of his mind if not tugged at every so often; while gravity prevented him from literally floating away, there was little to prevent him from doing so figuratively. Gravity’s effect on the plastic bags he held still remained however; its light pull reminded him of what he was doing. The bags were filled with food products and the like, so he figured he was in the midst of returning home from his routine morning grocery shopping. A quick observation of his surroundings confirmed this; he was walking along the usual path he took home. As he looked at the trees looming over him, he was reminded of the dream he had the previous night.

In Axel’s dream, everything in Everwood Town had a slightly blue tint. The trees around town were stretched and skewed unnaturally. Every branch seemed to writhe and spasm when they were nearly out of view; just in the corner of Axel’s eyes. The buildings, while mostly accurate, were…off in one way or another as well. Not that he was looking at the buildings very closely, though. Who has dreams about looking at buildings? Not Axel, at least. And strangest of all, his legs seemed to move on their own! While in reality, his movement was never inhibited by his unawareness (his legs moving across the ground and his head remaining in the clouds), in his dream they really did move without any input from him. In fact, when he wanted to stray from the path his legs followed, he found that he was unable to; his legs weren’t even under his own control. He tried forcing his legs to change direction by grabbing one with both arms, but to no avail. So, he kept walking aimlessly…until the earth began to shake.

A high-pitched wail pierced Axel’s ears. He turned around and saw a huge monster in the distance, so huge in fact that despite it being far away, it already appeared to tower over him. It was a horrendous sight, really; worms infested every orifice of its being. Parts of its body were even stitched together with worms instead of thread. Its eyes were gouged out; worms amassed there, too. But Axel did not pay too much attention to its horrid appearance. And as the monster began to sprint towards him, it was only due to a basic recognition of danger and not fear that made him run away.

As the monster neared, bits of exposed muscle interspersed with worms throbbed and pulsated. Axel again struggled to regain control of his legs and was eventually victorious. However, his dream still did not allow him to run properly, so he was forced to half-walk half-jog away as if parts of his body simply refused to work. Thanks to Axel’s inability to run, he tripped over his own feet and landed face-first in soil, which appeared to stretch into the horizon. Realising he was done for, Axel wished to turn around and face the beast that was about to end him. However, the restrictions of his dream were once again enforced; he was physically unable to turn his head, nor get up. So all he could do was watch the monster cast its shadow over him and wait as it grew in size. Straining his eyes upward, he saw the blue tint of his surroundings melt to a dark red. He shut his eyes and submitted to his fate. Even thinking about it that morning made him shut his eyes again.

Axel had a generally uninviting posture; he almost always slouched, and placed more weight on one leg than the other when he stood. His slouch seemed to emphasise how he looked down at people, both in a sense of condescension and intimidation. At least, that’s how it looked; he certainly never meant to condescend towards others or intimidate them either. And since he was one of the tallest people in Everwood Town, he gave off this vibe to a lot of people. He never dressed to impress; he usually wore the same old monochrome outfit, today wearing a grey hooded jumper, grey beanie, black pants and black shoes. People often told him that he spoke too quietly, which he usually dismissed with a comment about how ‘it’s hard to know which volume to speak at’ because he has a ‘heightened sense of hearing’. But really, he just couldn’t be bothered to speak clearly sometimes. In fact, his sense of hearing was probably a bit poor, since he couldn’t always hear or understand others. He also often had some issue with smelling, blocked nose or otherwise, since he was usually the first to catch a cold in winter. Plus he had a tendency to accidentally bite his tongue, which probably didn’t help his sense of taste. And since he had a weird sense of space and avoided touching others, it could be said that his sight was the only sense of his that wasn’t messed up in some way.

These days, Everwood Town had zero contact with the world beyond the forest. It wasn’t even known if it was like that in the past (the people of Everwood cared little for their town’s history). So Everwood Town was only a small, close-knit community. The town’s compact layout reflected well on this. The major buildings, of which there were little: grocery store, school, medical centre, etc., all of which were small-scale, were encircled by residential houses, again, of which there were little. There were few children and fewer teenagers. There were only two other people around Axel’s age, who himself was seventeen.

When Axel finally dared to open his eyes again, a female voice called out from behind him.

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