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“What happened next?” one asked, slowly inching out of her covers in anticipation.

“Yeah! What happened to the girl?” the other said.

The woman’s eyes smiled; a warm, safe smile lined by crow’s feet and ripening age. She turned to two linen-wrapped beds, where her favorite little people began to rub their eyes and wiggle deeper into their covers. For a small moment, it seems the land was so quiet that every creature savored only the noise of rain, who softly tapped the windows and saturated the earth. The woman closed her eyes, taking in the scent of petrichor and sweet candles, and turned to the sleepy lumps of bedding. Knowing exactly what she was doing, she said, “That’s a surprise I’ll save for another day. It’s already past your bedtimes, and we’ve got a big day tomorrow, so let’s get lots of rest.”

Before they had any time to groan or whine, she pecked the two children on the forehead, gently swiping their caramel curtains of hair to the side. She pulled the lamp string until it bounced and blew out each melty candle with a soft puff of air. Slowly creaking the door closed, she took one more glance at her sleepy heads and muttered “goodnight, I love you,” shutting the door.

Slowly she crept down the hallway, avoiding the creaky spots of the floorboards. The house was dimly-lit and silent but the inaudible hum of electricity and pattering of rain, as the moon reached its peak. Wandering through the doorways of the kitchen, counters overrun with dishes begging to be cleaned, she navigated to the sunroom. Tall-windowed, edged with orange strings of lightbulbs, and only a bit cluttered.

“Thanks, Oakley, I know I was forgetting something,” she chuckled. She took a seat next to Oakley, who was reading up on his favorite romance series alongside a cup of chamomile tea. She smirked at the sight of him wearing his bread slippers, or “loafers” which she gifted him last Christmas. But naturally, her smile faded, and the rain only amplified the following silence. She gazed outside, watching the black trees dance in the wind, which began to pick up quite a pace. In growing nervousness, she fumbled with the ring on her left hand, circling it around her dainty knuckle. Oakley observed her in the corner of his eye.

“Hey,” Oakley said, reaching for her hands, “the kids are going to be fine. Really.”

“I know,” she sighed, pausing for a moment. “I mean, I know, but I don’t know. I just hope they’ll be safe… they’re going to be so far away, and all alone too.”

“I understand, I’m a little nervous as well. But everything will be alright, there’s nothing to fear anymore,” he said. “And if anything does go wrong, we’ll be there to protect them; we’ll be better than our parents.”

“Right,” she nodded slowly, sinking deep into the couch. Her eyes drifted closed, the echoes of rain and frog chirps blurring as she reminisced her own high school years. Bitterly, the memories of her childhood, strange and legendary, began to seep in.

She remembered her long school days, rays of sun filtered through class windows and the orchestra of tapping pencils on desks. But all the homework and struggle for social status, which seemed so important at the time, slowly evaporated as everyday life got stranger and stranger. Mysterious disappearances, beings lurking in the dark, the very fabric of physicals altered in the tiniest of ways. Little by little she began to notice the strange differences in her hometown all alone, and cold loneliness followed. But along with flashbacks of loneliness, came the deep pit of fear in her stomach; the fear of them. Memories of them that have engrained themselves into the core of her being, the core of Oakley, the core of her childhood friends, and the core of her very own hometown.

She remembered awkward encounters with other rejects of her school, and how conversation became more and more common. Fate was pushing them together through blossoming friendships. She remembers the growing realization that her new friends too were taking notice of the very strangeness of their town, and how parents didn’t even seem to bat an eye. The way the stars in the sky didn’t move a muscle, the way people were disappearing without public notice, the constant hum in the air, the indecipherable radio signals. The days they spent skipping school, digging up clues with her friends, uncovering something so much bigger than they were. Something monumental. Something deep-rooted in every inch of their town’s dry, boney soil, unrelenting power pushing at the seams, waiting to explode.

She remembers the final night.

“I’M NOT AFRAID OF YOU!!” Screams fight for dominance.

“NOT ANY LONGER!” Over the screeching winds.

Hands linked together like a chain.

“ME NEITHER!” Gravel rising above the asphalt.

“YOU SHOULD BE AFRAID OF US!!” Gashes in the earth.

Galaxy-shredding screams rip holes through the air.

“IT’S OVER.”

She opens her eyes. The echoes of fuzzy police sirens and heart monitors slowly ebb into the distance as reality settles, like mist on the ground. The gentle rainstorm has drifted to a new home, leaving a concert of frogs to fill in the silence. A single hand runs over a page beside her, curling the edge of the page gingerly, audibly taking care not to crinkle the book in any way. Despite everything, things are just as she left it. Her kids are upstairs, dreaming of their first day of school. Her husband is beside her, drinking chamomile in the house they own together. The world is completely still, as pure as it’s ever been for years. She’s here. Comfortable, warm, and safe.

Oakley closed his book with a muffled snap. “I’m heading upstairs, I can barely keep my eyes open. Goodnight, Elle,” he mumbled.

“Goodnight,” she said.