“Muuuum, I’m hungry,” moaned seven-year-old Mikey from the backseat of our old, beat-up sedan. A second later, his grouching was backed up by a loud rumble of his empty stomach, which drowned out even the engine’s roar and radio’s cracking. We had lost the signal about thirty minutes ago, but no one had yet bothered to turn the device off.
“We’ll soon arrive at Redforest,” stated mum, clutching the wheel with so much force, her knuckles turned white. She threw me a frantic look, and I gulped, feeling the way too familiar fingers of dread twisting my insides. Lately, a simple “I’m hungry” terrified me more than a horror film night.
“Josie will check if we still have some chocolate bars left in the glove compartment,” Mum added, brushing away her greasy, dark brown hair at the back of the messy bun. She caught her little finger on an old, dirty medical patch that covered half of her face and hid four jagged, healing claw marks underneath.
And to think that only a week ago, mum wouldn’t have let us leave the house with a speck of dirt...
But there was no house like there was no food in the glove compartment. The last chocolate bar had vanished about an hour ago in the abysmal depths of Mikey’s stomach. But I rummaged through the box anyway - more for mum’s sake than in hopes I would, by some miracle, find anything there.
Mum threw me another quick glance, and I shook my head only ever so slightly, pursing my lips. I felt her panic rising - the acrid stench of her sweat filled the car, slowly irritating me, ergo, Mikey.
“What’s that smell?” The kid asked, straightening in his seat. His big, green eyes gleamed eerily in the semi-darkness that surrounded us, and his nostrils flared in a funny, animalistic way.
A baaaaaad sign.
I rifled through the pockets of my long, brown sweater a bit more frantically now, and discovered a scrunched, half-eaten granola I had completely forgotten about.
“Gotcha!” I exclaimed excitedly, waving the thing in the air triumphantly, to which mum exhaled a sigh of relief and visibly calmed down. The smell of fear subsided, and Mikey’s eyes lost their eerily glow.
I turned around, smiling as I ruffled the mop of his greasy, reddish-brown hair. “Don’t choke, you greedy guts!” I laughed, looking straight into his human, green irises. Mikey held my gaze for precisely two seconds before he glanced away. He did that a lot lately. But lately, we all did a lot of weird things.
“Thanks, Jo,” he said quietly.
“Don’t mention it,” I waved him off and turned back around.
Mum peeked at me, murmuring a soundless “Thank you,” her eyes full of unshed tears. I smiled weekly and shrugged.
One fire put out - a billion to go.
As she focused back on the road again, I sighed, leaning my head on the rest at the same time that we passed a gaudy sign "Welcome to Redforest. Population 500.”
I closed my eyes.
I had never been happier at the sight of such hideousness.