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The Strange Town in the Middle of the Forest by Max Szredni (48)

CHAPTER EIGHT (continued)

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            Domei went inside, shutting the door quietly behind him. He did not know where his joyful energy was coming from, but it was undeniable, causing the world to shine all the brighter in spite of his recent hardships. His body was an icicle, the albino rat's red eyes and fat slithering tail kept spontaneously reappearing in his mind, making his spine to jolt and his stomach to churn in disgust, his entire body ached, his wrists burned—and yet, somehow, Domei simply felt fresh, as if Life were rewarding him for the trials he had persevered through over the past few days.

            He visited the washroom and gave himself a much-needed scrubbing and tooth-brushing, then went to the kitchen. It took forty-five minutes for Domei to whip the cream and prepare the blackberry coulis. Each time he looked at the whipped cream, he was reminded of the rat's sleek coat, and he had to restrain himself from hurling the bowl against the kitchen wall with the repulsion and loathing that would shake him. He hurriedly sprinkled a dash of nutmeg and cinnamon atop the dish, then placed it on a tray and ran upstairs to his sister's bedroom.

            "Happy Seventh Birthday, Mil!"

            Mil bolted up from her bed, dazed and scared. Then she saw who it was—and the dessert they had brought her.

            "Is that—"

            "—cream-and-coulis? Why, yes it is," Domei smiled, enjoying the perplexed look on her face.

            "But—it's morning!" Cream-and-coulis was always served at night after dinner. Always.

            "So it is."

            "Caretaker Fein—"

            "—left this morning, so they can't say anything about it. I could serve you worms for all they would know or care. Now eat up before I get that tray from the kitchen."    

            Before Domei could say "worms" again, Mil lunged for the dessert, ripping the tray from his hands.

            "Try not to puke," he advised her.

            "Mmph," she retorted, mouth stuffed with dessert. No, Mil would definitely not be mad about yesterday, Domei thought.

            When she was finished eating, he pounced on her bed and play-wrestled her. She screamed delightedly, and he let her win (seeing as it was her birthday). Then they both sat on her crinkled sheets, exhausted.

            "Hey, Dom!" Mil said, "guess what?"


            "The paint is gone from your head!"

            Domei grinned, glad he had finally managed to get rid of the stain. Then his face became serious—like an adult's—and he turned to Mil, binding her eyes to his with a gravity she had never witnessed in him before.

            "Mil, I need you to listen to me now."

            Confused at the abrupt change of atmosphere, Mil nodded her head.

            "Tomorrow there is going to be an event happening. Some—well, a lot—of people are going to go to it. Do you know about it?"

            "The ekzootion?"

            "Yes—the execution. Listen, Mil, I don’t want you to go. You don't want to see what is going to happen there."

            Mil was not the least bit thrilled at his request. "But I want to! I do want to see it! Everyone is going to be going!"

            "Just some."

            "You said 'a lot'."

            "Well, not that many, is what I actually meant," Domei lied. "Either way, it doesn’t matter. Mil, it's not like one of the festivals, or anything like that. People are probably just going to stand around watching the—thing, then go home."

            "Watching what thing?"

            "Somebody...getting hurt."

            Mil's brow crinkled. "Why would anyone want to go to that?"        

            Domei shrugged. "People are strange in this town. I need you to promise to me, Mil, that you won't go."

            "It’s not fair though!"

            Domei did not respond. He knew he wasn't being fair; he just couldn't stand the mental image of his sister watching the hanging.

             Mil looked at the empty bowl of cream-and-coulis on her dresser, then at her hands, clearly in the midst of some kind of internal conflict. "Okay fine, I won't go."



            "Do you promise?"

            "Yes, Dom...I promise," she said, exasperated. She looked like she was about to start tearing up, so Domei grabbed her by her vulnerable sides and tickled her, determined not to let the day's joyous mood evaporate.  She squealed and pushed him away, running around the room in an attempt to evade his chasing fingers.

            "Hey, Mil?" he asked, trying to tackle her.

            "What?" she screamed, dodging him.

            "Do you want to maybe go to the fields later—run around outside?"

            Mil paused. "The clearfield?" she asked, nose wrinkling.

            Domei thought of the white rat and clenched his fists, goosebumps erupting across his skin. "No, a different field," Domei said. "Somewhere else. Somewhere better."
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