20. (Un)ending Torment
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Surprisingly, Erin’s parents didn’t even say a word to her once she got back home that night. She could tell they’d been made aware of the incident as school as well as her “excursion”, but there was no confrontation awaiting her once she came back home. The only difference was the silence. Sure, she and her parents never talked much, but tonight, they were being even more quiet than usual. It was enough to unnerve Erin a little bit, but she wasn’t crazy enough to bring up the school incident. For now, she’d just have to count her lucky stars.

Unfortunately, it seemed Sarah didn’t get the same luck. She looked a bit down, the next day, when Erin made it to class. It wasn’t that noticeable, but Erin could still tell her friend was a bit more subdued than usual. She’d probably been thoroughly scolded by her mom, and Erin made sure to be as nice as she could to get her back to her cheerful self. She also told Sarah that she was there if she wanted to talk, which seemed to cheer her up a little bit.

Otherwise, the morning went by as usual, with Erin and Sarah going through their classes and occasionally trading a few words. It seemed everyone had, for the most part, put the “Giant wolf” incident behind them. It made sense, to Erin. Rare were those who had even glimpsed the creature, so for most of the students this had just been an exciting day rather than a terrifying one.

Around midday, as the bell announced the end of the morning classes, every student quickly gathered their belongings and left to go eat their lunch, Sarah and Erin heading to the park next to the school, towards their usual spot.

Sarah’s mood had improved a little bit by then, and she actually seemed a bit excited for some reason Erin couldn’t discern. She also had to make a conscious effort to keep up with Sarah’s pace, who had the expression of someone who desperately wanted to talk about something.

They arrived in the small park near the school a few minutes later. It was the same park where they’d first talked about magic which, to both of them, felt like it had been ages ago, even though only a few weeks had passed.

Yellow and orange leaves were decorating the ground underneath the few trees that populated the park. A cold wind was blowing, and the sky was cloudy, but the weather was still bearable for Erin and Sarah. They finally reached their favorite spot, a bench, slightly isolated from the rest of the park. Not that they needed the isolation, as the park was mostly empty.

“Okay, what’s going on?” Erin asked once they’d sat down, her lips curved into an amused smile.

“Was it that obvious?” Asked Sarah, before shaking her head. “Never mind that. I’ve got news!”

“News about what?” Erin asked, now curious.

“Becker. He teaches history to my friend’s class, and she told me he’d taken the next Friday off,” She answered

“Really? That’s odd, he’s never done that before,” Erin commented, eyebrows raised in mild surprise.

“He’s never taken a day off?” Sarah asked, surprise plain on her face as well.

“Not that I know of. He always tries to blend in as much as he can. If he did it too often it’d probably raise a few questions, I guess,” Erin answered, pulling a sandwich out of her backpack.

“That’s… No, actually, I should have seen this coming,” Sarah sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. “Anyway, that makes it even more strange. I doubt he’s just going to spend the whole day watching TV or something,” She went on, absentmindedly retrieving her lunch from her bag.

“He might be planning to go back into the forest,” Erin mused, munching on a piece of her sandwich. “The trip to the Center is pretty long, he’d need more than a weekend to get there and back. Still, sounds like he’s really getting agitated if he can’t wait for fall break, it’s only in 2 weeks.”

“Yeah,” Sarah agreed. “I wonder if he knows more about what’s been going on in the forest or if he’s just desperately fumbling in the dark.”

“Knowing him, he probably knows a lot more than he lets on. At the very least, he’s got a bunch of theories, not that he’d ever tell us.”

With that said, Sarah and Erin quietly finished their lunches, enjoying each other’s presence before returning to more casual topics. They then made their way back to school, escaping the cold fall weather and taking refuge in the barely heated hallways of the school building, sheltered from the wind. The day went by with no incidents, until the bell rang for the last time of the day.

The two friends parted ways with a smile and a hug, each returning to their respective homes.

- - -

Erin was quietly walking, making her way back home. She’d opted against taking the bus today, deciding a walk would give her some more time to think. Plus, a bus filled with children and teenagers tended to be pretty noisy, which didn’t make for the best environment when one wanted to be introspective.

She wasn’t thinking about anything in particular, just letting her mind wander while taking in the scenery around her. Eriz had the advantage of being very close to the Alps, which made for very beautiful landscapes. As she contemplated the mountaintops, Erin’s thoughts went to mull over how much she had changed in just a few weeks.

Before she’d become friends with Sarah, her life had been neatly organized. She’d had a plan for every possible situation, contingencies in case things went wrong, and a very neat schedule which she faithfully respected. Then came the old man and his bracelet, and all of her careful plans had been thrown in disarray. It felt like she didn’t fit in her own life anymore, like it had been destroyed, and there was no way to pick up the pieces.

She’d only recently begun to grasp how dull her routine had been, how she’d just been going through her days more out of habit than anything else. Things were much less predictable now, but she was much happier. Of course, everything didn’t always go her way – the Amarok incident was proof enough – but she still believed things had changed for the better.

Erin also kind of wished she could walk around without her transformation spell active, but the fear of people connecting the dots and figuring out who she was kept her from doing so.

As she kept reflecting upon her life, Erin looked ahead and spotted her home in the distance. Lazily, she pulled her keychain out of her schoolbag, looking for the key that would open the front door. As she got closer, however, something felt off about the house. Something was missing.

Once she was nearing the driveway, it finally clicked. Her car wasn’t in its usual spot. In fact, it was completely missing. She usually parked it on the side of the street, as it was very wide and few people passed their home anyway; The road only led to a few other houses and then concluded in a dead end.

Her car wasn’t there, and neither was it parked in the driveway. Confused, Erin stopped and looked around, trying to spot the red color of her little Ford. Had she driven to school this morning and forgotten about it? No, she was certain she hadn’t, she hardly ever drove to school. She hadn’t gotten her license that long ago, and the bus was free for students, while gas tended to get expensive very quickly

Uncertainly, Erin resumed her walk, approaching the front door an unlocking it. She didn’t know what was going on, but she still had a bad feeling about this whole thing, and she wouldn’t get answers by standing outside.

Pushing the door open, Erin entered the house and headed towards the living room, backpack slung over her shoulder. The familiar sound of the television greeted her ears, indicating that someone was home. As expected, she could see both her mom and dad sitting in their usual spots on the couch. She was almost certain they’d heard her coming, but they didn’t even glance at her.

“Hello, I’m home,” Erin hesitantly said. “Do you know where my car is? It’s not parked outside.”

“Go check your room,” Her father said curtly with his gravely voice, eyes fixated on the television.

The feeling of unease that had been spreading through Erin turned into dread. Turning around, she hurried through the corridor and slammed her bedroom’s door open.

It was empty. Only her bed and wardrobe were still there. There were no traces of her small desk or the small computer that used to be on top, her bookcase and all of her books were gone, too, and even the shelves that used to house many of her belongings was nowhere to be seen.

Erin’s blood turned to ice. She was frozen, her feet barely past the threshold of her room, staring at the barren walls and empty space. It was as if she’d never even lived here.

“I told you there would be consequences, Ryan,” She heard her father’s voice say from behind her. She hadn’t even heard him approach. “Did you think we hadn’t heard about your little adventure at school the other day?”

“I’m as unhappy about this as you are, but your attitude has to change,” He went on when Erin stayed unmoving. He only waited a moment before closing the door, leaving Erin alone in her room.

Dimly, she heard two sets of steps moving away from the door, but she still didn’t move. Her eyes were wide, her heart beating a mile a minute. She couldn’t think either, her brain refused to process what she was seeing, her emotions were all over the place.

Abruptly, something shifted in her mind, and she launched herself at her wardrobe. Throwing the doors open, Erin noted that all her clothes were still there, but that wasn’t what she wanted. Falling to her knees, she pulled the wardrobe’s false bottom away and felt relief when she saw its content had remained untouched.

Without thinking, Erin unslung her backpack and pulled it open. It was thankfully almost empty, as she’d left most of her schoolbooks in her locker, and she began quickly stuffing it with everything she’d kept hidden in the hidden cache.

First came the clothes she’d bought with Sarah. She tried her best not to crumple them, and made sure they took as little space as possible in her bag. She then pulled out a small wallet, which contained some money she’d saved up over the years, and stuffed it inside as well. It wasn’t much, but it would have to do.

Finally, Erin picked up the stuffed animal Sarah had gifted her. Slowing down a bit, she took the time to look at it, turning it left and right in her hands, looking at the small tiger and its beady eyes. It was staring back blankly, its tiny limbs spread as if waiting for a hug. It was the first present she’d received from a friend in years, and probably the most important one to her. Delicately, she put it in her backpack, carefully stacking it on top of the clothes.

Everything barely fit inside the bag, and she struggled to close it without damaging anything inside. Standing up, Erin checked her backpack was secure before leaving her room, practically running out.

She kept going, passed through the living room, her eyes staring at the ground. She heard her parents call out to her, her father in what she believed to be anger, but she didn’t slow down. She sped up, threw the front door open, and broke into a sprint.

Tears were pooling around her eyes, her vision blurring. Sadness, anger and fear were warring inside her head. Out of frustration, she angrily cut off the magic keeping her transformation active, still running. Sobs wracked her frame, and her shoes didn’t fit anymore, but she ran until she couldn’t.

Trying to regain her composure, Erin wiped her eyes and got her breath under control. Tears were still running down her cheeks as she started moving again, walking sullenly.

She didn’t want to think about what had just happened. It hurt too much. The only thing she wanted was to get as far away as she could, and she knew exactly what she needed to do.

There was only one place she could go to.

Announcement

Becker's

I'm joking I'm joking sorry :((

I feel a bit horrible for writing this, but this had been brewing ever since chapter 2. I promise things will get better, and I'll work on some feel-good chapters, too.

Also hope I didn't get too poetic with the descriptions, and that Erin's emotions were conveyed correctly. It's something I want to work on.

Also Also Also I made a Patreon! It's still kind of empty, but I want to see if some people are interested in pledging before I develop it too much. I'd love to create a small Discord server and release chapters early there if that happens though. I've set up goals if you want to go check them out.

Thanks for reading! Next chapter is already at 250 words, so hopefully I'll get it out in the coming days (maybe not though :s)

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