It hadn’t been so bad during the summer, when it first started, but now the mornings were cold, and she knew that soon there would be frost on the ground around her when she woke. Already this morning, she could see a faint hint of her breath against the sky as she made her way back to the house.
Crows crowded the dead branches of the elm tree that got struck by lightning last spring. They watched her silently as one, their heads tilting in unison to follow her path.
After the third time she’d found herself curled up on the floor of the forest with no memory of how she got there, she’d invested in a set of workout clothes. It was hard to fall asleep in sneakers, but she’d gotten used to it.
Daisy had never been a liar, but something about what was happening made her feel like she should keep it to herself. Even if that meant pretending to be enthusiastic about running. She told herself she was just sleepwalking, a perfectly normal habit, but deep down inside she knew that was a lie, too.
In the beginning, Daisy had anxiously searched the news every time she woke up in the woods, but so far there’d been no reports of any crimes on those nights. So far. The longer it went on, the more she started to think that the absence of blood on her hands didn't mean she wasn't hurting anyone. This was the third time this week and it was only Wednesday. A small, but growing, part of her was beginning to feel that even if she was doing something really bad, it had to be better to know than not.
Just as Daisy reached her back door, a crow let out a loud caw. Startled, she turned toward the sound. It came, not from behind her, but to her right. The bird dipped its head at her before flapping its wings and flying off. As she watched it go, she caught sight of Caleb Brown, standing still as the dead elm tree, next to his own back door. They locked eyes, and Daisy held her breath. Caleb had a way of staring through people, like he could see past whatever front they put up into who they really were. It was why she, like most kids at school, avoided him. He hardly ever spoke. He didn’t need to. He said it all with the tilt of his head or a cutting glance.
Daisy tried to come up with something to break the silence. But everything she thought of, even good morning, felt fake and too thin. It wasn’t a good morning and he would know that the minute she said it. Caleb’s grey eyes watched her, but for once they seemed expectant instead of judgmental. He was waiting for her to speak and suddenly she felt the urge to confess everything. It pulsed inside her mind like a heartbeat. Tell him. Tell him. Tell him. Maybe he would have an answer.
She sucked in a breath, whether it was to tell him where she’d been or because she needed oxygen she would never know, because just then a crow called out in the distance, and then another, and another, until she had to turn and look. The dead elm shook with the weight of all the crows preparing for flight. They burst from the branches like black leaves in a windstorm, falling up instead of down.
Daisy knew it was just birds being birds but her heart pounded in her chest, nonetheless. When she looked back to see what Caleb thought of it all, he was gone. She was surprised to find that instead of relief, all she felt was alone. Daisy looked at the empty dead tree and shivered. If she didn’t go inside now, she’d be late for school.
At lunch, Daisy headed to the library for a nap. Whatever she was doing the nights she went out to the woods, it wasn’t sleeping. Exhaustion was becoming an old friend.
She knew he’d be there even before she rounded the stacks that kept her favorite carrel hidden. She could sense him in that skin prickling way you could tell you were being watched, even when you couldn’t see the watcher. As she honed in on that sensation, she realized that she’d always sensed him that way, in the back of her mind. It was just that before, that feeling told her to stay away. And this time, it lead her to him.
Caleb leaned against the desk, his arms crossed. He was relaxed in a way she’d never seen him before and that, more than anything stopped Daisy in her tracks. His grey eyes met hers and held her in place. Despite the faint stirrings of panic in her belly, she noticed the way his dark hair fell over one eye but not the other. She wondered if it was intentional.
Caleb cocked his head to the side and frowned. Just when she thought she might die from the silence, he spoke. “I saw you,” he said, in a surprisingly low voice.
Then he did the most unexpected thing of all. He smiled.
Come back Wednesday for part two by Lacey!
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