“Up here, hurry!” The little girl, one or maybe two years older than me, stood on top of a small hill, waving at me with a glowing sparkle in her eyes. I climbed up the steep hillside until I stood right in front of her.
“Close your eyes and count to ten. And don’t you dare look!” she ordered me.
“Got it,” I answered. Covering my eyes with my hands, I began to count, “...eight, nine, ten - coming!” I opened my eyes again and looked around. The large playground was empty - not a single soul as wide as I could look. A wide, lush green lawn covered the area and the sky was crystal blue if you ignored the few feather clouds high above. I stood in the middle of a large, men-made hill. Not too many places around me were suited to serve as a hiding spot. I searched the bushes behind the two swings - no one there. Next, I walked to the other side, where a huge bucket was almost completely buried in sand. The part that wasn’t underground created a cave, large enough for a few children to hide in it - no one there.
Maybe she’s hiding in these houses?
I turned around and crossed the lawn until I reached two little huts. A massive door made out of black wood blocked my path - one that didn’t fit this small playground-house at all.
Huh, how odd. I swear these doors didn’t exist before. No, I’ve never been here.
My mind got paralyzed by the thoughts that overflowed inside my head. With trembling hands I pushed down the handle. The door creaked open. An odd darkness spread in front of me, with only a few weak shadows hinting at some walls.
“Hehe~ you’ve found me.”
I stepped further into the room until I was able to see the source of the familiar voice. She was sitting on a brittle chair, playfully swinging her skinny legs since they were too short to reach the ground.
“Let us play some more - I’ll search next,” the girl proposed with a large joyful grin on her face, her gaze fixed down at her swinging feet. My eyes began to hurt, as if they were about to tear up. My chest tightened - I wanted to run away but I couldn’t.
“Who are you?” I asked after a few seconds, my throat almost too dry to speak. The world around me began to crumble as the girl slowly lifted her head and responded with a pained smile, “I could ask a similar thing: what are you doing here?”
Unable to move my body, she crumbled away just like the walls around me.
Wait. You haven’t -”Nathan.”- I don’t -”Nathan!”
My eyes shot open, instantly watering under the sunlight which fell through the dusty windows. My heartbeat pulsed painfully through my head and I was drenched in sweat. The blurry face of my best friend hovered only a few inches above me. I focussed on her ruby-red eyes and took large breaths - in and out, until my body began to calm down.
“Another dream?” asked Lory, curious and with a hint of concern.
“Yea. It was nothing though, I was more startled that you woke me up like that - it’s scary,” I tried to divert from the topic. However, it was a bad lie - one that Lory instantly saw through.
“Really? Didn’t seem like it. Also, did you just call me ugly?” she asked with a smirk.
“Huh, no. Well maybe just a little bit.” I joked, glad she didn’t poke for more answers, and earned a rough smack against my shoulder.
“Anyway Nathan, Miss Cera called us for breakfast so you should probably hurry.”
“Why do you suddenly use my full name?”
“Just so I can annoy you.” Lory grinned over her shoulder as she left the room.
The large rectangular dining hall appeared as unappetizing as ever. The smell of old grease and yesterday’s cooking lingered in the air. Miss Cera’s plants, which she had bought herself a while ago, were the only accents of colour in the otherwise bleak room. One got used to this cold environment pretty quickly though - or rather, there was no way around it. The other kids were already done having breakfast by the time I came down. Miss Cera, our director, was talking to some of the kitchen staff when her gaze noticed me. She pointed to the long wooden table where Lory was waiting with whatever leftover foods she could save for me. Appreciating my friend's efforts to keep me from starving, I showed her the biggest smile that my face could handle, which probably wasn’t big at all, before gulping down the dry bread and tasteless sausage. Miss Cera, who joined us a couple minutes later, watched me with an amused expression on her face.
“Spoiled brat, what would you do without Malory always looking after you?”
“He’d stay in bed all day and die after a week,” Lory mumbled. While I swallowed my last bite I looked at this weird girl that’d save me food just to coldly betray me seconds later.
“What would you do without me running errands for you, Lady Cera?” I shot back at the tall middle-aged woman in front of me. Her black hair was tied into a bun, which made her sharp and pale face look even more strict.
“I told you to drop this ‘Lady’ thing, kid. Oh and since you brought up the topic yourself - Mister Wilsom needs both of you to accompany him to the pharmacy today.”
“Why is it always us who have to go with the old man?” I murmured, especially to myself. While I didn’t have any personal issues with the caretaker, his appearance and grumpy tone always managed to make me uncomfortable. Seems my thought had escaped my mouth a bit too loud as Miss Cera answered, “Well originally, I intended to go alone but some business came up. However, I’m uncomfortable sitting on low stocks of medicine in case anything happens here. So stop whining and do as you’re told Nathan,” she shot me a swift piercing glanze.
“Yes Lady Cera! Sorry Miss Cera!” I saluted, then left the room together with Lory.