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 Jack 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 didn’t find myself wandering through the forest at dusk. The sun setting meant it was about to be dark, and that has everyone fearful. Being in a forest at night, hearing the soft singing of, “catch me, catch me. Don’t think you can. Guess I’m free! Hee! Hee! Hee!” echoed through the trees.
Hearing the silly song would be enough to send anyone screaming for their lives. No one else was out in the woods. Unfortunately, I know whose voice it was, and I couldn’t just leave him. What kind of brother would I be?
“Quit playing around!” I called out. “Mom is going to be mad at us. It’s past dusk.” I stepped through the slippery ground, carefully avoiding the creek, so I didn’t fall into the cold water. My rubber boots were covered in mud, overalls dusty. This was a trio of all the things that put grey hair on our mother’s head.
“Jack!” I called out again. This is downright childish, I thought. Jack knew the dangers of being out in the dark. He was a child, but that didn’t make this any easier.
A splash came from the creek, catching my attention. It was too dark to see what hit the water, but the ripples came in my direction. “Jack?” I asked, taking a step closer to the sound. The closer I got, I spotted a half-wet rock. In the dark, the narrow shape made it look like a strange mask.
“Cut it out!” I called out.
Ruffling came from the nearby shrubs. That had to be Jack.
I stepped away from the creek and hurried over to the sound. The ruffling continued, and I could make out branches of a bush shaking around.
Got’ya, I thought as I slowed my pace, creeping up to the bush. The plant continued to move at a consistent pace as I came arm’s length from it.
“Jack!” I shouted while jumping over to see the other side of the bush. Nothing. The bush continued to shake. Was Jack inside?
“CAW!!” came a high-pitched scream as small hands snagged my forearm.
I spun around while letting out a yelp. Beside me was a small blonde kid in a tattered blue coat – my brother.
“Jack!” I slapped his head. The bush stopped moving. “What the hell is wrong with you?” I asked.
“Ow,” Jack said while raising his one hand with string. “I got you good.” He pulled on the string, causing the bush to move.
“Very funny. We’re so late. We have to get home. Come on.” I snagged my little brother’s hand and marched down to the creek.
“We’re just playing,” Jack said. “Look how far we got today!”
“Yeah,” I said. “We can explore more tomorrow, just before dusk. This was way too risky.”
I understood my brother’s enthusiasm for going further up the creek. Our goal was always to see how far into the forest we could make it before dusk arrived. Considering we were on a strict time limit, it created a gamification aspect of exploring the woods. He just took it too far today.
“Mom is going to freak out,” I added.
“No, she won’t,” Jack said.
“Yes, for all we know they’re prepping a search party for us.”
“They’ve never done that. The otherkin would get them.” Jack said.
My brother had a point, no one ever seemed to do much when someone went missing in the forest. Once darkness hit, it was too risky to try and send in a search party. The lost quickly turned into the deceased in the eyes of the village.
“Alright,” I said. “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 followed the creek back down to the village, leaving the thick forest, and onto the grassy foothills. There were a couple of lights coming from the homes down below. The rest of the village was blacked out. Lights off by dusk was the wisest thing anyone could do.
We reached the gravel road and walked into town, leading to our home. I couldn’t help but think how mad mom was going to be about all of this. She would have my head because I was the older brother. ‘Little Jackie’ couldn’t possibly do anything wrong.
Jack scratched his head, saying, “I’ve seen one.”
“What?” I asked.
“That’s a big pile of crap,” I said.
“It’s true!” Jack argued.
“No way. You’d be dead.”
“No one has survived seeing one. People simply go missing.”
“Then how do you know they’re real?” Jack asked.
“Because we can hear them. We’ve found their nests and feathers. Oh, then there’s the obvious fact that people go missing,” I said.
“Not all of them, they’re not much different than us. They’re like, ‘kin’ more so than ‘other.’”
I shook my head, there was no point in arguing with my little brother. He had a mind of his own, hence the fiasco tonight. He was convinced he saw an otherkin. The boy had an active imagination, and there wasn’t much else to be said about it.
“You’d have to be out super late,” I said. “You couldn’t have seen one.”
“No, sometimes they are awake during the day.”
“Not from what I’ve heard.”
Jack and I strolled on home. Our house was one of the houses with their lights on. By the time we reached the front door, it had opened, and both my mother and father stepped out.
“Darold, Jackie!” My mom said, rushing up to us. She got down on her knee and took Jack by the shoulders and examined him thoroughly. “What on earth were you two doing?”
My dad put his hands on his hips, saying, “do you have any idea how late it is? You could have been killed!”
“Yes,” I said. “I am aware. Jack wandered a little too far again.”
“Heavens no!” mom said. “This was well past sunset. Jack, you got lost.” She wrapped her one arm around Jack and the other around me, bringing us both in for a tight squeeze.
I looked up at my dad who stared down at me, saying nothing. With a glare like that, I knew he was blaming me for this stunt.
A distant chatter roared through the skyline. It was high-pitched, almost like the sound of a little girl laughing.
Dad exhaled and waved his hand, saying, “let’s get inside.”
“That’s earlier than normal,” mom said while standing up.
“We haven’t seen much other wildlife over the past few weeks,” Dad said. “They’re hungry.”
The four of us hurried into the home. Dad locked the door and reinforced it with an additional plank of wood. Mom extinguished all the candles, leaving us to wander through the darkness. This was usual, we made sure everything was off the floor, and we could easily get to our shared bedroom. It was much safer sleeping in a group rather than separate rooms.
Dad kept his rifle with him, mom at his side and my brother and I between them.
Shouts and cries began to pick up outside. They were muffled, but they were the usual sounds we heard most nights when the otherkin came out.
“Don’t do that again,” mom whispered.
“Okay,” I said.
A thud came from above, causing us to look up. Dust fell from the ceiling as heavy thumping picked up.
Chattering and laughter came from outside. The sounds brought back the memory of when I first heard the haunting sounds of the otherkin, now, it was just another day of life. Another day of survival.
The thumping stopped as several big gushes picked up until the sound faded.
My dad exhaled heavily. “I hate when they peck the roof.”
The rest of the night was uneventful, and the four of us managed to get some sleep. We usually get up at about sunrise, when the otherkin returned to their nests. We attended to the village’s farm with our daily tasks, ate, and continued our work throughout the afternoon.
After dinner, my brother couldn’t wait to get out of the village and get back to the creek to see if we could make a further hike up to the forest. Maybe this time we would find an animal corpse – leftovers from the otherkins’ meal.
“Darold,” mom said. “Please don’t stay out that late again. Come back before dusk.”
“We will,” I said.
After that, mom gave us the approval and we hurried out of the house and followed the road leading into the forest.
Jack and I walked up the creek as per usual after dinner. This time I would keep a closer eye on the kid, make sure he didn’t get any wise-ass ideas to pull a prank on me. The last thing I wanted was to get another lecture from my dad about responsibility. Jack was lucky, he was the baby in the family and didn’t have to hear about responsibility.
The two of us wandered the creek up to where the long, mask-like rock rested in the stream. In the daylight, the shadows didn’t quite cast the same visuals. Either way, this was the last point we were at the previous night. We made good time.
“I need to pee,” Jack said, stopping in his tracks.
“Just go behind that tree,” I pointed to the large tree behind us.
Jack hurried away from the creek, carefully stepping around the slippery mud and up to the tree. He moved around the trunk and out of sight. A whizzing sound came from behind the tree. Then there was silence.
“Jack?” I called out. “Come on out, no games this time.”
“Catch me, catch me. Don’t think you can. Guess I’m free! Hee! Hee! Hee!” came a soft voice.
“Cut it out!” I hurried up to the tree trunk as my brother peeked around.
“Hi!” Jack said.
“Don’t sing that song. I’m so tired of your jokes.”
“Excuse me?” I asked, eyeing my brother closely.
“I didn’t sing that,” Jack repeated
“You mean right now? Don’t mess with me.”
“C-a-ch me, c-caw-ch m-m-aw…” a voice picked up in the forest.
A metaphoric spider crawled down my back, standing every hair up on my skin. “Jack,” I said. “That song was never you, was it?”
A branch snapping came from the tree directly above us, causing debris to fall. I brushed leaves and wood splinters from my face until my hand came into contact with something soft. It was like a leaf, but grey. I snagged it off my face to see it was a feather.
With no words, I snagged my brother’s hand and skidded down from the higher ground. Scraping came from above as bark tumbled down onto the dirt behind us. We reached the creek and sprinted down the forest, carefully avoiding the mud and slippery rocks. A thud came from behind as a large squawk roared through the woods.
Thumping echoed our footsteps, they were heavier and picked up in speed.
Don’t get us, don’t get us, I thought, tightening the grip on my brother’s hand. My knees began to ache from my legs slamming onto the descending ground.
“C-C-AW-TCH M-AH!” came a high-pitched scream behind us. “C-C-AW-TCH M-AH!” It sounded close, the stomping was unsettlingly louder.
Please don’t, please don’t, I thought. Was it right behind us? I honestly didn’t know. The trees in front of us were further apart, we were in the outskirts of the forest but still too far from the grassy hills and the village.
The stomping increased again, and I could hear the sound of ruffling feathers.
I couldn’t help it, I had to see what was behind us. If this was it, I had to see my nemesis. I turned my head to look back, just one quick glance.
My foot slipped on a rock, and a tumbled forward, still holding onto my little brother, falling directly into the creek, my face had to hit a rock because I slid into something hard. This was it, we were the otherkin’s next meal.
A deafening rifle roar echoed as the being behind us squawked. Several gushes of wind picked up as I rolled onto my back, wiping my face clear of the mud and blood.
In the sky, I could see a silhouette of a humanoid with wings and sharp talons for feet. The creature was too close to the sun, and I couldn’t make out any more details as it flew above the trees, further into the forest, and disappearing from sight.
My little brother cried, he was beside me, on his knees, covered in mud and water.
Further down the creek, I saw a tall man with a rifle as smoke escaped the chamber. Dad. Victor of the otherkin.