In a small remote village, the town schedules their entire lives around sunlight. Anyone bold – or stupid – enough to be out at dark, are never seen again. Darold’s little brother, Edmund, doesn’t understand why they should be afraid of the otherkin and tests the boundaries.
Otherkin is November’s flash fiction that’ll bring readers into a fantasy-horror themed creature feature. Experience the story in written word, audio, artwork and soundscape.
All Fun and Games
Normally I don’t find myself wandering through the forest at dusk. The sun setting means it is about to be dark, and that has everyone fearful. Being in a forest at night, hearing, “Catch me, catch me. Don’t think you can. Guess I’m free! Hee! Hee! Hee!” sung softly, echoing through the trees, is enough to send anyone running. No one good is in the woods as the day reaches its end. Luckily, I know whose voice it is, and I cannot just leave him for what lurks at dusk. What kind of brother would I be?
“Quit playing around!” I call out. “Mother is going to be mad at us. It’s past dusk.” I step over the slippery ground, carefully avoiding the creek, so I don’t fall into the cold water. My boots are covered in mud; overalls, dusty. This was a trio of all the things that put grey hairs on our mother’s head.
“Edmund!” I call out again. This is downright childish. Edmund knows the dangers of being out in the dark. He is a child, but that doesn’t make this any easier. A splash comes from the creek, catching my attention. It is too dark to see what hit the water, but the ripples are coming in my direction. “Edmund?” I ask, taking a step closer to the sound. With another step, I spot a half-wet rock in the water. In the dim light, the narrow shape looks like a strange mask.
“Cut it out!” I say.
Rustling comes from the nearby shrubs. That has to be Edmund. I step away from the creek and hurry over to the noise. The sound continues, and I can make out branches of a bush shaking around. Gotcha. I slow my pace, creeping up to the bush as the plant continues to move. It’s an arm’s length away.
“Edmund!” I shout, jumping over to the other side of the bush. Nothing. The bush continues to shake. Is Edmund inside?
“CAW!!” A high-pitched scream erupts as small hands snatch my forearm.
I spin around, gasping. Beside me is a small blond kid in a tattered knitted shirt—my brother.
“Edmund!” I slap his head. The bush stops moving. “What the hell is wrong with you?” I ask.
Edmund smiles, raising one hand, which holds a string. “I got you good.” He pulls on the thread, causing the bush to move.
“Very funny. We’re so late. We have to get home, come on.” I snag my little brother’s hand and march down to the creek.
“We’re just playing,” Edmund says. “Look how far we got today!”
“Yeah,” I say. “We can explore more tomorrow, just before dusk. This was way too risky.”
I understand my brother’s enthusiasm for going farther up the creek. Our goal is always to see how far into the forest we can go before dusk. Since we are on a strict time limit, the game of exploring the woods is a real thrill. He just took it too far today.
“Mother is going to be boiling with rage,” I add.
“No, she won’t,” Edmund says.
“Yes, she will. For all we know, they’re prepping a search party for us.”
“They’ve never done that. The otherkin would get them,” Edmund says.
My brother has a point. No one ever seems to do much when someone goes missing in the forest. Once darkness hits, it is too dangerous to try and send in a search party. In the eyes of the village, the lost turn into the deceased. Victims of the otherkin.
“All right,” I say. “You got me there. Just please don’t pull that kind of stuff again. Otherwise, the otherkin will get you too.”
The two of us follow the creek back down to the village, leaving the thick forest to enter the rocky wilderness. A couple of lights come from the houses down below, while the rest is dark. Lights off by dusk is the wisest thing anyone can do. We reach the gravel road and walk into town towards to our home. I cannot help but think how mad Mother is going to be. She will have my head because I was the older brother. ‘Little Edmundie’ cannot possibly do anything wrong.
Edmund scratches his head. He says, “I’ve seen one.”
“What?” I ask.
“That’s a big pile of horse crap,” I say.
“It’s true!” Edmund argues.
“No way. You’d be dead.”
“No one has survived seeing one. People simply go missing.”
“Then how do you know they’re real?” Edmund asks.
“Because we can hear them. They imitate human voices. Plus, we’ve found their nests and feathers. Oh, and then there’s the obvious fact that people go missing,” I say.
“Not all of them,” Edmund replies. “They’re not much different than us. They’re like ‘kin’ more so than ‘other.’”
I shake my head. There is no point in arguing with my little brother. He has a mind of his own, hence the fiasco tonight. He is convinced he’s seen an otherkin. The boy has an active imagination, and there isn’t much else to say about it.
“You’d have to be out super late,” I say, still humouring him. I am not sure why—probably because he gets under my skin. “You couldn’t have seen one.”
“No, sometimes they are awake during the day.”
“No, they’re not.”
Edmund and I hike home. Our home is one of the houses with the lights on. By the time we reach the front door, it opens. Both my mother and father step out.
“Darold, Edmundie!” my mother says, rushing up to us. She gets down on one knee and takes Edmund by the shoulders, examining him thoroughly. “By God, what were you two doing?”
My father puts his hands on his hips. “Do you have any idea how late it is? You could have been killed!”
“Yes,” I say. “I am aware. Edmund wandered a little too far again.”
“Heavens, no!” Mother says. “This was well past sunset. Edmund, you got lost.” She wraps her one arm around Edmund and the other around me, bringing us both in for a tight squeeze. I look up at my father, who stares down at me, saying nothing. With a glare like that, I know he is blaming me for this stunt.
A distant chatter clucks through the skyline. It is high-pitched, almost like the sound of a little girl laughing.
Father exhales and waves his hand. “Let’s get inside.”
“That’s earlier than normal,” Mother says, standing up.
“We haven’t seen much other wildlife over the past few weeks,” Father says. “They’re hungry.”
The four of us hurry inside. Father locks the door and reinforces it with planks of wood. Mother extinguishes all the candles, leaving us to wander in darkness. This is the usual routine. We make sure everything is off the floor so we can quickly get to our shared bedroom. It is much safer sleeping in a group than in separate spaces because otherkin are cowardly and prefer easy pickings. Father keeps his musket with him. Mother is by his side, with my brother and me between them.
Muffled shouts and cries pick up outside. They are the usual sounds we hear most nights when the otherkin come out. They try to mimic people, hoping to lure someone out.
“Don’t do that again,” Mother whispers.
“Yes, Mother,” I say.
A thud comes from above—we look up. Dust falls from the ceiling with the heavy thumping as chattering and laughter pick up. The sounds bring back the memory of when I first heard the haunting chirps of the otherkin. Now, it is just another day in my life. Today is just another day of survival. The thumping stops as several big gusts of wind pick up, then the sound fades. They had to have flown away.
My father exhales deeply. “I hate when they peck the roof.”
The rest of the night is uneventful, and the four of us get some sleep. We usually get up at about sunrise, when the otherkin return to their nests. We attend to our daily tasks at the village’s farm, eat, and continue our work throughout the afternoon. After dinner, my brother cannot wait to get out of the village, go to the creek, and see if we can make a farther hike up to the forest. Maybe this time, we can find an animal corpse—leftovers from an otherkin’s meal.
“Darold,” Mother says, “please don’t stay out that late again. Come back before dusk.”
“We will,” I say.
After that, Mother approves and we hurry outside, following the road into the forest.
Edmund and I walk up the creek as usual. This time, I keep a closer eye on the kid, making sure he doesn’t get any wise-ass ideas. The last thing I want is to get another lecture from my father about responsibility. Edmund is lucky. He is the baby in the family and doesn’t have to hear about responsibility. The two of us wander through the creek to where the long, mask-like rock rests in the stream. Today, it’s just a rock. In the daylight, the shadows don’t cast the same visuals. Either way, this was the last point we reached. We’ve made good time.
“I need to pee,” Edmund says, stopping in his tracks.
“Just go behind that tree.” I point to a large tree behind us.
Edmund hurries from the creek, carefully stepping around the slippery mud and up to the tree. He moves around the trunk and out of sight. A whizzing sound follows. Then silence.
“Edmund?” I say. “Come on out—no games this time.”
“Catch me, catch me. Don’t think you can. Guess I’m free! Hee! Hee! Hee!” he sings.
“Cut it out!” I hurry up to the tree trunk as my brother peeks around the other side.
“Hi!” Edmund says.
“Don’t sing that song. I’m so tired of your jokes.”
“Excuse me?” I ask, eying my brother. He has to be lying.
“I didn’t sing that,” Edmund repeats.
“You mean, right now? Don’t mess with me.”
“No, it’s the otherkin.”
“C-a-ch me, c-caw-ch m-m-aw . . . ” A voice picks up in the forest.
Every hair stands up on my skin. “Edmund,” I say. “That song was never you, was it?”
A branch snaps loudly in the tree above, causing debris to fall. I brush leaves and wood splinters from my face until my hand comes into contact with something soft. I snag it off my face. It is a grey feather.
Instincts kick in. I snag my brother’s hand and skid down from the high ground. Scraping comes from above as bark tumbles down onto the dirt behind us. We reach the creek and sprint down through the forest, carefully avoiding the mud and slippery rocks. A thud comes from behind as a large squawk roars through the woods. Thumping echoes our footsteps; the sound is heavier and is accelerating.
Don’t get us, don’t get us. My heart is racing while I tighten the grip on my brother’s hand. My knees ache as my legs slam down the slope towards the village.
“C-C-AW-TCH M-AH!” a high-pitched scream screeches behind us. “C-C-AW-TCH M-AH!” It sounds so close.
Please don’t. Please don’t. Is it right behind us? I honestly don’t know. The trees ahead are farther apart. We are on the outskirts of the forest but still too far from the rocky wilderness and the village. The stomping increases and I can hear the sound of ruffling feathers. I cannot help it. I have to see what was behind us. If this is it, I need to see my nemesis.
Ahead, a man appears from around a tree on the shore of the creek, musket in hand, pointed at me. I quickly tumble to the ground to avoid the gun, still holding onto my little brother. We splash down into the creek.
A deafening pop roars, and the being behind us squawks. Several gusts of wind pick up as I roll onto my back in the shallow creek bed, wiping my face clear of the mud and water. A silhouette of a humanoid with wings and sharp talons for feet is right there in front of me. The sun is blocking any details as it flies above the trees, further into the forest, eventually disappearing.
My little brother cries. He is beside me, on his knees, covered in mud and water.
Further down the creek, the man with the musket stands as smoke escapes the chamber. Father: Victor of the otherkin.
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