ToE – The Store and the Trip Back – Part 3 (final)

Everwood Town was named after the phenomena the trees encircling the town demonstrated. That is, they never changed their appearance. The trees were the same size and shape at Axel’s birth as they are presently. Legend has it that one of the founders of the town said: “These trees do not appear to age, nor grow. They are not affected by the seasons. They do not know of Time’s embrace, for Time has not known theirs. These trees are everlasting. It is my wish that this town — Everwood Town — will go on to live in prosperity, like these trees, forever.”

“…Hey. Heeeeyy!”

“Huh, what?” Axel sputtered. He tried to remember what he was doing when his friend, Evan, made it clear.

“Did you just completely zone out?” he gawked. “We’re in the middle of eating lunch!”

Axel glanced around. The two were sitting on a picnic bench with their respective lunches. “Hm, so we are.”

Cripes! he thought, it didn’t take me long to break my promise to Jess. I’ll have to make a second effort.

“Sorry, I was supposed to pay more attention to stuff,” he added.

“Supposed to?” Evan asked with a trace of suspicion.

“Yeah, I promised Jess I’d make more of an effort to care about things.”

“Promised!? Axel, what’s this all about?”

“Oh, we were talking about this dream I had, and she was telling me that it was a nightmare and I should have been scared…”

“Woah, hold up,” Evan stopped him. “I won’t go over how lame you are for talking about your dreams to Jess, but did you just say she told you how to react to your own dream?

“Yeah, I guess. I mean, I can kinda see where she’s coming from, since there was a huge monster trying to kill me.”

“No Axel, don’t take her side!” Evan refused to back down. “She told you how to feel! Worse, she was whining to you about how to feel!”

Axel raised an eyebrow. “Whining, really?”

“Yeah…you said she made you promise, didn’t you?”

“I only said I promised, so not necessarily…” Of course, she did make him promise, but Axel was sceptical about Evan’s jump in logic regardless.

“Whatever, she probably did anyway,” he scoffed.

Evan Whitfield was slightly shorter than Axel, and probably reached to the top of Axel’s nose. He had short-medium length blonde hair which often stuck up, his fringe having the tendency to be all over the place. Axel’s hair style would be similar to his had he not worn his beanie so often, which kept his hair pressed down (and gave him serious hat hair).

“You know, whining is one of the 10 deadly sins…or was it one of the 7 commandments…hey, does ‘thou shalt not whine’ ring any bells?”

Whining isn’t a deadly sin or a commandment, Axel thought, and you got the numbers for both wrong. Three strikes, Evan…Woah, what?

Axel shocked himself with his own cynical thinking. He had never seriously felt frustrated at Evan before, at most amused by his ignorance. Was he just feeling grumpy? Or had he considered Evan’s words more carefully than ever before? He was trying to pay more attention, but still…

Too distracted by his own thoughts, Axel merely shrugged in response.

“Well, it’s probably one of the two…” Evan trailed off. “Huh. Where was I?”

“Uh, Jess was whining and therefore anything she says should be rendered invalid?” Axel responded with sarcasm.

“Yeah, that’s it…though you just said exactly what I was going to say. You and me, we think alike.”

Axel suppressed the urge to grimace. Had Evan not noticed he was mocking his argument?

“But yeah,” Evan continued, “don’t worry about whatever Jess has to say about caring or paying attention. You’re fine.”

Sure, Axel thought, coming from the guy who completely lost his train of thought a few seconds ago. He tried his best to smile in appreciation, but Evan seemed unconvinced.

“Come on, now…” Evan spouted out words of encouragement. “Oh! I know what will make you lighten up.”

Evan began singing what appeared to be a tuning note.

“Ignorance is bliss, ignorance is bliss, the teacher’s a fool and the teaching’s amiss…” he nudged Axel. “Ask us no questions…”

Axel didn’t seem too enthusiastic, but joined in regardless. The song was a long-standing tradition of theirs. “Unless you want lies…”

“For seeking the truth is what we despise!” the two sang in unison. A grin emerged on Axel’s face as Evan began the roll call.

“Evan Whitfield, reporting!” Evan called out, saluting Axel. “I’ve never seen a question worth answering!”

“Axel Heronicus, reporting. All the world’s a stage, and I’m asleep in the audience.”

Evan laughed with absolute joy. “That’s the spirit! Excellent! Now that the formalities are done with, let’s continue eating.”

“Yes, let’s.”

And the two did just that. But in the back of Axel’s mind, there lingered the smallest bit of doubt about his friendship with Evan.

That night, Axel’s Dream Monster invaded his sleep again.

It emerged from the blue-tinted trees of Everwood Town’s dream-duplicate once more, but this time kept its distance. It howled and moaned, but never approached. Axel stood wondering, too cautious to approach but not enough to run away, and instead used the time to examine the beast closer, making the most of his promise.

How did he not see it before? This monster was hideous…and dare he say it, pitiful. The night before, Axel had thought nothing of how worms had infested the beast’s eye sockets. But he could see it now; it was living, breathing hundreds upon hundreds of small, wriggling creatures hell-bent on decomposing it from the inside out. The worms were eating through its skin! Hell, muscle was exposed! Was there anything left of this poor creature, or was it just bits and pieces of skin and muscle being worn by a horde of worms at this point?

Axel couldn’t help but feel sorry for the creature, even if it had mauled him in another dream. He imagined the absolute agony it must have experienced with every fibre of its being at every second. He imagined how it must have writhed in pain as a mass of worms burrowed underneath (and through) its skin. And he imagined how in his previous dream, if the creature had any trace of free will left, it must have only wished to exact pain on him not out of unfounded malice, but to let him experience a mere fraction of the pain it itself was forever inflicted.

Axel was not attacked by the dream monster that night. And yet he was confronted with pain beyond comprehension.

Axel woke up the next morning terrified.

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