xiv. memories

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It was stormy that night; no matter how many times I pulled the pillow over my head and shepherded countless cotton balled sheep across fences, I couldn't sleep

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It was stormy that night; no matter how many times I pulled the pillow over my head and shepherded countless cotton balled sheep across fences, I couldn't sleep. The rain lashed without mercy upon the windows. The screeching that shocked me upright was the dragging of wooden fingers against the glass from the tree outside. Everything was terrifying when you were five years old.

    The heavy duvet did nothing to quell the trembling that took over my body. Every shadow became a monster skulking from the depths of the storm, creeping under my bed and waiting to drag me into the abyss.

    I wouldn't have any of it.

    My bare feet pounded against the wooden floorboards, which were silent back then, and I bound across my room and down the hall. The stairs didn't creak when I crashed down them. The faint glow of the kitchen light pulsed in the downstairs hallway; ebbing and flowing with each blast of wind that played with the electrical lines.

    Something held me back, peeking around the corner of the stairwell. I heard voices from the kitchen, and frowned. Nobody was supposed to be awake. It was nighttime — in fact, it was probably so much past everyone's bedtime, I would have bet that school was only a few hours away. I heard my mother's soft murmuring; that was normal at least. Maybe she couldn't sleep, either.

    My foot hung over the next step, quavering in my indecision.

    Then came another, lower, rumble. My foot jumped back up to press against its twin. My breath caught in my throat and I shrunk back against the wall: There was someone in our house.

    A man.

    There were never men in our house. Auntie didn't like them very much, and my mum was always telling me that she never had enough time for me, let alone anyone else. She would pinch my cheeks whenever she said it, and tell me that she would only ever have eyes for me. I had hated when she'd pinch them, but never had enough heart to tell her. Her smile was too big, her eyes too watery, when she'd tell me that.

    I'd just hug her, instead. At least she couldn't pinch my cheeks when we embraced.

    A clap of thunder made me jump; I was down the last two stairs and the kitchen hallway before another breath could squeeze from my lungs. Storms always frightened me. I pressed against the wall as I got closer; the voices, though soft, were loud enough to make out, then.

    "... One day, you're going to have to come to terms with it, Winn."

    My frown deepened. Only Auntie ever called mum that.

    I heard a sigh, and a scraping of legs on the floor as someone shifted in their chair. "Maybe I won't have to. Maybe things will be different for her."

    There was a clink of heavy glass against the tabletop.

    "Perhaps," the man intoned, his voice thick with skepticism. "Perhaps, in time, things will change, and the fate of the world won't be so easily toyed with."

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