I stared at the rain lashing the car window, the scenery flashing by so fast it made my eyes water. It was one of those dark days where eveything seems grey-the sky, the sea, even the trees were all the faded hue. But I'd much rather look at the monotonous landscape than my aunt who sat in the drivers seat next to me. Because I knew that if I met her eyes, I would see pity.
Eventually she spoke. "I know you've had a difficult time lately, Zoe."
I reluctantly turned towards her. "Mmm," I said, hoping I could get away with noncommital noises.
No such luck.
"And I know you didn't want to come to stay with me, but your mother thought a bit of time in the countryside and an oppurtunity to distance yourself from... that boy... would be good for you. Help you clear your head." Aunt Shylah continued unwisely.
"With all due respect, Aunt Shylah," I said quietly. "My head is already clear. And I don't think staying at your house in the middle of nowhere for a week is going to change that fact."
After that, we drove in silence again.
"Zoe? We're here." Aunt Shylah tentatively shook my shoulder, jerking me out of my doze.
Furious at myself for letting down my guard, I blinked hard and sat up. Aunt Shylah leaned over me. The car had stopped.
"Here?" I asked, disgruntled.
"Here," Aunt Shylah repeated.
Rubbing my eyes, I slipped past her and gazed around.
We stood in front of a large wooden house. Honeysuckle, ivy, and other vines decorated the sides, hiding the building from view. Forest surrounded the overgrown front yard, and the green spread for as far as the eye could see.
A small place in my heart, the place that still appreciated beautiful things, constricted. But I turned away and muttered, "Can we get out of the rain, please?"
Slightly crestfallen, Aunt Shylah nodded and popped open the boot of the car.
Silently, I gathered my luggage and tread slowly up the weathered cobblestone path. Aunt Shylah followed, unlocking the door and holding it open for me as I crossed the threshold.
Somewhere under my facade, I felt bad for Aunt Shylah. It was obviously not her idea to care for a depressed teenager for a week. But here she was, no doubt pressured into it by my mother. The least I could do would be to show a little appreciation. It was hard to show any warmth these days.
"This is the kitchen," Aunt Shylah said, gesturing through an open door at a large, cluttered room hung with herbs.
"The lounge..." A space almost solely inhabited by books.
"The downstairs bathroom..."
I lost track of all the rooms she showed me. After a while, she moved upstairs and stood next to a door on the landing.
"This is your bedroom. I guess you're tired after the drive? Maybe you could have a little lie-down and I'll wake you up for dinner."
I nodded, too tired to protest.
Aunt Shylah's footsteps retreated down to the kitchen and I heard pots and pans banging.
I leaned my forehead against the cold wood of the door.
I was fine.
I was totally fine.
Why did Mum have to send me here anyway?
Okay, maybe I did need a break, but did she have to send me to stay with my aunt who lived alone in a valley about a million miles away from any other humans?
No. She did not.
Sighing inwardly, I turned the handle and walked into the small guest room.
The walls were cream with a glazed pattern of flowers, with faded black curtains. A double bed took up most of the space. I flopped onto it, throwing my backpack and suitcase onto the floor and brushing my hair back from my face with a long exhale.
Leaning my head back against the headboard, I promised myself I'd only sleep for a half-hour. I would wake up in time for dinner...
My eyes drifted shut.
The scratching on the window woke me. I sat straight up, heart pounding, only to feel a rush of relief when I saw it was just a tree branch.
It was still light outside, but when I checked my cellphone, it said 5:14. I had about a half hour until dinner.
Making an impulsive decision, I threw my legs out of bed, and walked to the window, sliding it open and sticking my head out. The rain had finally stopped, leaving a cloudy sky and a damp feeling in the air.
Pushing the window as wide open as it would go, I climbed out, clinging to the branch and clambering over the limb. Only when I was nestled in a little alcove beside the trunk did I realise what a stupid idea this was.
I'd only wanted some fresh air, without having to go through the interrogation that surely waited for me downstairs.
But I could fall and break my neck. Or another body part. The tree was tall, and the ground far away. It was a miracle, really, that the branch I'd scrambled along hadn't broken. Now I'd come to my senses, there was no way I'd be able to get back.
So the only option was down. Slowly and carefully, I began my descent, my bare feet holding no purchase on the wet bark. I slipped and clutched the boughs tightly, shaking a million tiny raindrops out of the leaves.
Finally my toes brushed the grass, and I sunk to the ground.
Well, at least I got out, I thought, flicking my hair out of my eyes.
Now I was out, I could at least make the most of it.
I began to walk, winding through the trees, cutting my feet on brambles.
After a long time, I came out at a beach. Sand stuck to my wet feet and as I crested a sandbank, I caught sight of the turquoise waves of the ocean.
I just stood there, taking it all in. A little voice in the back of my mind whispered to me, "These weeks might not be so bad after all."
Eventually I remembered Aunt Shylah. I began to hurry back, but paused, suddenly uncertain. Was it the way with the large rocks, or the way with the stream? Or just the way through another part of the forest?
I decided to wander through the woods and hope I'd stumble upon Aunt Shylah's house.
I stumbled on a house, all right.
But not the house I was looking for.
Whoa, I thought as I padded over the pine needles. I was certain I hadn't been this way before.
Sitting down, I sunk my head into my hands.
I'm going to die out here, I thought. All alone.
"Zoe..." The wind whispered.
My head jerked up.
All was silent.
Must have been my imagination, I decided.
"Zoe..." the voice came again. It was so faint and eerie I could barely make it out.
"Who are you?" I yelled. "Aunt Shylah? Is that you?"
But for some reason, I was pretty sure it wasn't Aunt Shylah. This voice sounded girlish and childlike.
I got up and began to run towards where I'd heard the sound.
Thorns lodged themselves in my skin, and tore at my clothes, but I didn't feel it.
I had an overwhelming compulsion to know who the voice belonged to.
I stopped short in a clearing. It was small, and fenced in by trees.
I spun around in a 360, and my eyes locked on a battered wooden sign, weathered letters on it spelling out 'Alice's Wonderland'.
A shiver crawled up my spine.
Broken, dirty toys scattered the ground. Some's plastic was melting, like they'd been in a fire.
And beyond them was a treehouse. Burnt and blackened, it was simply a hollow shell now.
I stepped closer, ready to investigate furthur, when a voice that was most definitely Aunt Shylah rang out, shattering the spell.
Blinking, I turned towards her voice, mind numb with confusion.
When I turned back, the sign, toys, and treehouse were gone.
My first story on here! Yay! I've already uploaded this on Wattpad. :D Please tell me what you thought! (It gets better, by the way. I just re-read this, and I'm shocked at how bad my writing was, since I wrote this like half a year ago.)