Through the weeping household stalked a small black cat—just past kittenhood, and more gamine than gangly. She darted past the skirts of a grieving wife as the woman buried her face in a... [+]
It was almost a miracle, seeing the moon break through the storm. It was almost as if some untold deity valued the twins.
“Rowan,” Annabelle began, her voice drowning out the wind. “Pa said he’d be back by moonlift tonight.”
“Maybe he meant moondown. After all, holotexts can mess up in their autocorrect,” Rowan said, but concern was gnawing at him.
Pa had told the twins that he was going to the marketplace in search for a cube so he can finish his project. The only thing Rowan knew about it was that it could create artificial sunlight, something necessary for survival in these harsh winters.
“He hasn’t holotexted us either, he promised he would!” Annabelle’s complaints echoed Rowan’s thoughts. “Something’s wrong.”
Rowan shook his head, but he knew Annabelle held truth to her words. Pa was missing, there was no doubt about it.
“Should we get the village to help?” Rowan asked.
“No, they never liked Pa,” stealing her hand back, Annabelle crossed her arms. “I’d rather find him myself.”
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?”
“It’ll be fine, Rowan. I'll go alone if you don't want to,” Annabelle shrugged, hinting at Rowan's fearfulness.
Rowan watched Annabelle pack for her trip. She made sure she had enough winter clothes to survive the cold, as well as packing dry soup and four bottles of Pa's hot water.
“Maybe he just got held up and he'll be back soon,” Rowan said. He didn't want Annabelle leaving him alone.
“Or maybe you’re too scared to tag along with me,” Annabelle teased her brother.
“Of course not!” he retorted. “Maybe there’s a logical explanation.”
“Nothing about you is logical, Rowan.”
“Come help me find Pa, or else.”
“Or else what?”
Annabelle stood up. She began to tip-toe into Rowan’s bedroom - she was going for his paintings.
“Anna...” Rowan warned, pointing at her. “Don’t you dare.”
The wind howled then, causing Annabelle to jump.
“Even the wind doesn’t want you going through my stuff!”
“The wind doesn’t care!”
The wind slammed against the small cottage again.
“This is a terrible blizzard,” Annabelle noted, crossing her arms. “Please come with me, I don’t want to go alone, and you know how to track us back home.”
“Can’t we just wait for Pa to come back home?”
“He’s not coming home in this storm, Rowan.”
Their boots crunched in the snow. Why Rowan agreed to go with Annabelle, he didn’t know.
“Which way is the trading village?” Rowan asked, wrapping his coat tighter around himself.
“I think it’s this way. It’s about a day’s walk, right?” Annabelle asked.
“Yes, I remember now - Pa took me down to the village when you and Ma were gone.”
Annabelle nodded, following the path.
The village welcomed the twins with open arms and warm fires, but they had no information as to where Pa was.
Rowan lay in bed that night after listening to their host rant about taxes and how the government was definitely planning on sending the young'uns to war.
Listening to Annabelle’s soft snores ensured Rowan that she was asleep, and he slid out of bed onto the cold, wooden floor.
He had to find where Pa was.
“Rowan!” Annabelle yelled. “Wait up!”
“Catch up, I’m not waiting for you,” Rowan said, dragging the backpack through the snow. Last night, he had gotten no sleep and instead gathered supplies he would need. He might regret that later, but it was a spontaneous decision and there’s no going back from it.
They had left the village an hour before sunrise. After thanking the homeowner for letting them stay the night, they took a newspaper with them.
“JANUARY 3RD, 2163: DUAL- HEADED MONSTER RETURNS
A villager from East Windham reported a sighting of the frightening creature labeled 'The Two-Head' stalking his village."
Rowan read the article to his sister. “East Windham was attacked the day after by the monster.”
“Do you think Pa might be near East Windham? He used to be obsessed with the two-head,” Annabelle suggested.
East Windham was in ruins by the time the twins arrived. The cottages and brick buildings were dust.
They were quiet as they surveyed the damage, picking through ash and rubble. Whatever the two-head was searching for, it didn’t find.
Is Pa here? Rowan wondered, scanning the ruins for any sign of a mop of brown hair and Victorian goggles.
The answer came as a scream.
The twins picked their way down the hill towards the sound. There, they found a woman sheltering her child from a fight in the shadows. Rowan could make out three heads.
One of them wore goggles.
It looked like the two-head was there, too.
“Do something!” the woman hunched down whimpered, her baby cradled in her arms.
“Rowan, you need to do something!” Annabelle was crying. Rowan could see how terrified she was.
Rowan was scared, too. What could he do? He was only a kid, and he’s never fought anything.
The child wailed, clutching to his mother’s hair.
He had to do something.
“Do you have the bottles of water?”
“Now isn’t the time for soup,” Annabelle said, but she dug through her bag to find the bottles anyway. She handed two of them to her brother.
Taking the bottles, Rowan twisted the caps off. Steam came from the bottles, making the scene in front appear opaque.
Rowan trembled as he approached the shadows. As he grew closer, he could hear grunts and the clang of metal.
Rounding the corner, Rowan prepared to throw the boiling water on... nothing. Instead, he discovered Pa working on what appeared to be an artificial sun generator.
It was a rectangular copper box with a silver tray in the middle, wires extending into two large cylinders on top generating a small bit of light.
“Pa...?” Rowan whispered, screwing the lids of the bottles on.
Pa turned around, his goggles masking the green eyes Rowan knew so well and had inherited. “Rowan?”
Rowan dropped the bottles, running to hug Pa. “Why did you leave for so long?”
“I found my old blueprint of the artificial sun generator and I found the cube as well, so I figured I’d stay a little longer,” Pa said. “Where’s your sister?”
“I’m right here,” Annabelle said as she appeared from the shadows.
Rowan sensed that something was off. “What’s going on?”
“Helping you get over your fears,” Pa said.
Pa stood up. “Your sister and I wanted to see how long it would take for you to go out and explore the world. You’ve been scared of everything since Ma died, so your sister and I devised a plan to get you to find me.”
Rowan’s eyebrows furrowed. “So you pranked me?”
“That’s exactly what we’re saying,” Annabelle said, but Pa disagreed.
“No, no, we’re turning you into a brave man.”
“I’m not brave, Pa,” Rowan crossed his arms, shaking his head. “You can’t make someone brave.”
“But we did. I know that my artificial sun generator looked like a two-head, but you still had the courage to fight it,” Pa said.
“I honestly thought you’d make your sister fight the two-head,” the woman who had been protecting her child came forward. “We’re very proud of you, Rowan.”
“You were in on it, too?” Rowan asked, confused.
“And so were we,” the old man from the village said. “In fact, everyone in the radius of a mile was in on it.”
“So what destroyed East Windham?” Rowan asked. “The newspaper said-”
“The newspaper was fake. The village was destroyed by an earthquake, but no one had lived here in over two decades so it was the perfect place to create the illusion of a two-head,” Pa said.
“So the two-head doesn’t exist? Why did the newspaper say that it was back?” Rowan asked.
“It’s all fake.” the old man said.
Rowan’s breath came out in short, frosty clouds, similar to the ones above him. Attached to his hand was Fynn, his black fur coat flying in the cold wind.
“Aunt Anna said she’d be back by moonlift,” Rowan’s son yelled over the sound of the blizzard. “Do you know where she is?”
“Guess we’ll have to find her,” Rowan said with a smile.
“But I’m scared of the storm!”
“Guess we’ll have to find you some courage.”