Aly Lunsford

            Volume 42 ~ 2019

 

                  

 

 

 

Withering Hero

 

     I couldn’t tell if I was shivering in the bitter cold or if I was shaking in fear. Seated on the back of a trailer, my backside and thighs were irritated from the hay bales. Orange and yellow tree tops loomed over the trail, covering the stars like a blanket. The haunted hayrack ride was still too scary for ten-year-old me, terrified of the people jumping out, screaming, and chasing us. I felt something warm and fuzzy cover my ears, followed by a toasty set of arms scooping me up and plopping me into a lap. I looked up, saw the worn, exhausted face of my grandma. She gave me her typical smile, kind and warm. I didn’t feel cold or afraid. Not after she told me,      “Don’t worry babydoll, they can’t get you.”

     “Okay everyone sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on three and I’ll record it,” Grandma said with a huge smile.       My initial thought was, ‘I am too old for this,’ but I can’t say no to that smile. Together all of her grandkids sang the song as she recorded it.

     These are the last memories I have of my grandma before she fell ill. She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Only 4 months to live. She was forced to hang up her Whinne the Pooh, Tinkerbell, and Tweety Bird scrubs one last time. Her illness made her say goodbye to the many friends she collected during her long career at the nursing home. Not having a job never stopped her from making money. Now jobless, she participated in cancer walks to raise money for cures.

     Every few weeks, Grandma’s head looked different. It was covered in colored stars, a big purple and yellow anchor, the words ‘Stay Strong’, a purple cancer ribbon. Her hair stylist shaved the little bit of hair she had left in shapes they chose together, then filled the space in with sharpies.  She became a figure of hope for other cancer victims. They could still be beautiful, even though chemotherapy had stolen all of their hair.

     Grandma’s personality stayed strong, unlike her body. On my brother’s birthday, Grandma took the piece of cake with the letters ‘ap’ on it. Her mouth spread from ear to ear as she pulled the p off and stuck it onto my brother’s piece. He looked up at her. He was trying hard not to laugh when she whispered, “I peed on your cake,” giggling like an ornery child. A trend began. P’s showed up everywhere! In the fridge, in his bag, on the bed, in the mailbox. The two of them purchased and placed the letter wherever they could to try to catch the other off guard.

     The smell of food filled the entire house. Sitting in another room I could identify ham, turkey, potatoes, and green bean casserole all from scent alone. I could hear my mom, “Momma you should be resting!” The only response she got was a laugh, and knowing Grandma, I’m guessing a hug. The sun reached the middle of the sky and dinner was ready. All our family and friends sat at a long table comprised of four normal length tables. For the first time ever, dinner rolls weren’t flying everywhere. No one was yelling, or even talking as we shoveled food into our mouths. Before the meal actually started my mom warned us about Grandma’s container, that she used when she didn’t have the strength to pull herself up out of bed to use the bathroom. Right on cue, Grandma pulled a tall, clear container full of sweet tea colored liquid from under the table. She casually unscrewed the lid, and took a big gulp. My cousin and brother moved away as fast as possible, almost splashing thick brown gravy onto the ceiling, white clouds of mashed potatoes on the wall, and tan stringy turkey onto the floor. The room filled with adults’ laughter. My mom announced, “It’s just tea. If anyone needs a drink feel free.”

     After beating her prognosis by a year, Grandma became a compulsive buyer. She bought solar clackers, teddy bears, art supplies, crafts, food. I knew she was almost out of time when I was taking smelly clothes out of my duffel bag and stumbled across a red, stuffed bear. The bear had two different styles of buttons for eyes, a sewed nose, green scarf, and star buttons down his stomach. This bear had been made by my great grandma and passed down to Grandma. I knew she wouldn’t of gave me this bear unless she knows she is out of time.

     Grandma’s house was a home away from home for everyone. She always had a plate of food prepared for guests, even when she wasn’t expecting them. She had three chairs and a giant couch in the living room, for us to sit comfortably. After she passed, we found her notebook with the title ‘My Funeral.’ My whole family sat down as my grandpa slowly opened the book. It was a schedule of events. Musical prelude, intro/ words of welcome, prayers, scripture readings, sound recording, reading of obituary…. My grandpa read them aloud, but as soon as he got to the word obituary, his voice fell silent and It read ‘Dear family, I miss all of you but I won’t ever be gone. I will always be with you and watching over you. I hope this helps relieve the stress you all feel when my funeral happens. Love you! Grandma Sue.’

     April first or more like April second, at two in the morning, my dad came into my room, gently shaking me awake. “I need you to come to the living room,” He said with a grim expression. Slowly, I walked up the three stairs, through the main hallway, the kitchen, and finally stopped in the living room. Everyone was there already. Mom was bawling and Haylee was holding her. “We just received the call. Grandma Sue passed away,” Dad said so Mom didn’t have to. I stood there shocked for what felt like forever. Then the tears hit. I ran to my mom and sister, joined the hug, and bawled with them. We split so we could quickly pack our bags and left for her house. A woman who was told she’d only live for four months shocked everyone by living for four years. A few days later, came the funeral. The funeral home was packed, people had to stand in the back or sit in another room and watch via television screen. I had forgotten the recording of us singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” until the pastor went over to the sound system and pushed some buttons on a computer. In order for us to comfortably visit her she asked to be cremated and her ashes to be put into a bench. She wanted us to sit and relax while visiting her or anyone else in the cemetery. ‘There aren’t enough benches out there, what if I wanted to visit someone? I’d have to stand the whole time,’ she had written.The wick of my grandmother’s life ended. Her big, bright personality, snuffed out like a candle.







 

Pain is      

 

The text that says your brother has the worst depression the specialist has seen in a 14-year-old boy,

Learning that every time your younger brother cuddled up in your bed like a scared, lonely puppy wasn’t because of childish nightmares, but because of his insomnia and psychosis,

Trying to keep your promise, that anything said between you two would remain there even if it means watching him drink and smoke.

Pain is the short, well dressed social services lady, who comes into your home as if she owns it each week,

The weight your father loses from eating only instant mashed potatoes and plain hamburger meat because he is too worried about his son to eat a real meal,

Crying  with your older sister and mother every night because of your worries.

Pain is the suicide notes, the message to your mother that reads, “I messed up! I desperately need help!”

Pain is hearing your parents talk about your brother’s overdose, and his two week absence if not forever,

Your brother’s multiple suicide attempts, this one, his closest to success,

The first conversation you have with your brother since this all started,

Your brother’s big brown eyes, eyelashes longer than most girls’, filling with tears.

Pain is the conversation about how much your brother matters, you wouldn’t know what to do if anything ever happened to him,

Your brother’s room, occupied again, crying even after his return, he said he was better.

Pain is the text that says your brother ran away,

Your locked guns, medication and knives

The anxiety you feel when school starts again and you don’t see your brother there,

The fear that when you aren’t home with him, he will find the key to your gun safe.

Pain is the feeling of failure as the person who idolized you almost died at their own hands.







 

Honest Me

 

I’m a Libra,

Ironic because everything about us should be equal,

On the scales of personality.

For me, they couldn’t be further outweighed.

I love others, not myself.

I can’t treat others the way I want to be treated because I don’t care how others treat me,

I only care how others treat others.

I’m outgoing, but have no confidence in myself.

I yell at people for being “too hard on themselves,”

But I can’t read my own writings without saying “disclaimer” first.

I have a deep love for animals, but love hunting.

I love my family, but can’t stand my aunt.

I love the lake, but can’t swim.

I tell others to trust me when I can’t trust others.

 

I learned,

In order to find love I have to love myself first.

In order to follow the golden rule, I need to let others treat me the way I deserve to be treated.

To truly be good at something, I need to believe in myself.

I learned hunting prevents overpopulation,

I can overlook the wrongs my aunt did and love my whole family.

To love the lake, I don’t have to be able to swim,

In order for others to trust me, I have to trust them first.







 

Mother

 

     I look into a mirror that shows the future me. Ravishing brown hair with shiny grays dispersed throughout. Lines from smiling and worrying. I close my eyes, take in the aroma of lavender. When she lost her mother, her voice was kind but broken. When her daughter threw tantrums like a toddler, she yelled out of worry. When her children raced or played any sports, she sat in the stands yelling cheers even when she knew they couldn’t hear her. I open my eyes and the mirror isn’t a mirror. It’s my mom standing, smiling her contagious smile. Mom pulls me into a loving hug, the smell of lavender fills my nostrils.







 

Cursed

 

     “Auntie, can I go hang out with Hannah, Jaremy, Michael, and Bob, at that pizza place I really like, that I can never remember the name of?” Kia asked at 5:30 p.m.

     “Honey, I have supper planned already,” Kia’s aunt said with an empathetic smile.

     “Fine, whatever! I’ll be in my room if you need me!” Kia stormed down the hall to her room and slammed the door.

     Kia flopped onto her bed and glared at the ceiling. Her anger was interrupted by the sudden outburst of her phone ringing. She looked down at her phone and saw it was her best friend, Hannah. “Hey,” Kia pulled her phone to her ear, still fuming.

     “Dude, where are you?!”

     “Auntie said I can’t hang out tonight.”

     “Sneak out! It’s only once a year you get to come down her to visit your aunt and to see me!”

     “Oh my god! That is brilliant! Can you meet me at the park near my auntie’s house and give me a ride there?”

     “Def can do!”

     Kia jumped out of bed and quickly pulled her clothes out of the closet trying to figure out what to wear. She decided on a pair of ripped jeans, purple turtleneck sweater, and a pair of converse that were so old they looked grey instead of black. She threw on a little makeup to make herself at least semi-decent looking. Her hair was thrown up in a messy bun with little hairs by her ears that were too short to fit into the bun. Using her straightener Kia made the little short hairs lay cute.

     Kia slid her window open and slipped onto the grass. When both her feet were on solid ground, outside her auntie’s home, Kia took off sprinting toward the park. She had this ridiculous fear that the dead leaves on the ground, crunching loudly under her feet, would get her caught. Out of breath she made it to the park. The swings were all occupied by children getting in one last laugh before supper time. A Redfire metallic grand prix was parked in the parking lot behind the swings.

     “Hey!” Kia slid into the passenger seat of the car.

     “Took you long enough,” Hannah said smiling.

     “You're the one who invited Jaremy, knowing full well I think his freckles are so cute. Or his hair that is so many different colors, I can’t even name the color.”
     Together the two girls burst into laughter. The car went backwards, then across town. The girls stepped out of the vehicle and went inside.

     “Kia!” A short freckle faced boy with hair a mix of blond, brown, and ginger yelled as he ran over and hugged her tightly.

     “Hey Jare Bear,” Kia said smiling.

     “Dude! I told you to not call me that anymore! My name is Jaremy!”

     “Whatever,” Kia’s cheeks were red as cherries, and not from makeup.

     In total there were five people there. The evening was going well until Kia got a notification on her phone. Her auntie’s neighbor. ‘Hey I saw you sneak out. I know you aren’t home but your aunt’s house is on fire! You should get here ASAP!’

     “Hannah! Can you take me to Auntie’s now?!”

     “Of course, let’s go!”

     The two of them jumped into Hannah’s Grand Prix and sped to Auntie’s. On the way, Kia explained. The two were greeted by a horrific sight. The place Kia called home once every fall, was bright as a flashlight. The whole block filled with black smoke, and people started to peek out their windows to watch what was going on. Kia ran over to the firefighters that were standing around the blaze, “Why aren’t you putting it out? My aunt is inside!”

“We can’t put the fire out, it is too far gone. We searched the house and didn’t see anyone,” the firefighter said to her. There was nothing anyone could do but watch the place burn. Years seemed to pass before the fire was out. The night began to turn into morning as they all just sat outside, citizens from all over town came to see what was going on, and the firefighters were protecting the neighbors houses from catching fire as well. After the fire marshal went into the pile of black rubble, Kia overheard him telling the police chief, “The owner of the home is nowhere to be found. There’s no sign she was even home at the time. A hair straightener was left on in one of the bedrooms. The device caused the whole house to burn.”

     “NO NO NO!” Kia yelled, collapsing to her knees, the dam breaking as tears streamed down her face. “I killed my auntie!”

     “No, Kia, you heard him. He said that your auntie was nowhere to be found. Maybe she went out to find you?” Hannah said holding her.

     “No she’s dead! If she was in there they’d never find her body anyway, due to the fire!”

     The rest of the day was a blur. Kia called her mom. “Mom, Auntie’s house caught fire and she is missing. I need to be picked up from Hannah’s.”

     “Honey, I’m not where I can come right now. I will be there tomorrow afternoon. Star strong. Dad and I love you lots.”

     “Hannah can I stay here for the night? My mom won’t make it to get me until then.”

     “Of course. Come on, I’ll let you borrow some clothes.” Together the girls went upstairs to Hannah’s room.      “Here take these and go shower. You know where the towels and everything is so help yourself.” Hannah handed Kia a pair of black sweatpants and a shirt that was grey and said ‘Be More Chill’ above a pair of sunglasses. Kia stepped into the steamy shower and just broke down. She stood under the water bawling for a few minutes before quickly washing her hair and body.

     She got out and plopped onto Hannah’s bed. “Here Kia, I made you a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I also brought a bottle of water,” Hannah’s mom said as she handed Kia a plate and a bottle of water.

     “Thank you,” Kia took the food and slowly lifted the sandwich and began to eat it. Hannah sat beside her best friend, as Kia ate the rest of her sandwich and drank her water. She got done and laid down to go to sleep. She had multiple nightmares about her auntie throughout the night.

     The sun rose in the sky, breaking the darkness. Kia and Hannah went downstairs and ate cinnamon rolls Hannah’s mom made the night before. They silently ate at the table.

     After breakfast the two just watched ‘Vampire Diaries,’ until Kia saw her family car pull up to the house. She went and waited on the porch. “Are you okay?!” Kia’s mother yelled as she ran to her daughter.

     Kia nodded her head and hugged her mom so tight she was surprised she didn’t break her mother’s back. They broke and Kia gave Hannah a hug, then Hannah’s mom. “Thank you two so much!” Kia wiped tears away from her face. Hannah’s mom nodded and hugged Kia’s mom. As she walked to the car Kia noticed bugs that were on the sidewalk near her just dead. She thought nothing of it and got into the backseat of the chevy monte carlo.

     “Kia, I’m glad you’re okay. I love you, hun,” Her dad pulled onto the road.

     “Me too. Love you too.”

     That was all that was said. They didn’t even listen to the radio as they began to drive home. A truck stupidly was passing while going up a hill, while Kia’s family was coming over and down the hill. The two hit head on. The front of the vehicles crushed and looked like the nose of pug. Kia filled with pain, blackness, then she lost consciousness. .

     When she came to, she overheard a particularly interesting conversation. “Lucky girl. She first managed to not be home when her aunt’s home caught fire and her aunt went missing, now she is the only survivor of an accident. Three others died on impact.”

     “I don’t know if that is considered luck,” another voice responded. The door opened and the soft click of heels was heard as a woman walked into the room.

     Kia opened her eyes and was blinded by white fluorescent lights. “You’re awake!” a short blond nurse ran to Kia. “How do you feel?”

     “Like I just about died,” Kia mumbled.

     “Fair enough. I will go get you some pain killers and water,” The nurse said with a bright smile, before walking back out the door.

      There was an announcement that said, “This is not a drill there is an armed man in the building! I repeat this is not a drill and there is a man armed in the building!”

     Kia tried to sit up and block the door somehow, but the pain was too much, she couldn’t do it. Right outside her room there were four gunshots, each one followed by a loud thud on the floor. Kia was frozen in fear, even after it was silent outside. After a few moments a big buff police officer came into the room. “Are you okay, kiddo?” he asked looking at her with worry. Kia silently nodded. “Good. Just stay put for a while.” He left her and he heard him talk to the room next door in the same manner. Kia thought she might as well rest for a while then she could leave. Kia fell asleep and dreamed of the happy days she had with her parents and her aunt.

She woke up and looked up at the clock. It was three in the morning. Kia sat up, the pain less than earlier and tolerable now. She walked across the room and opened the door slowly. She stuck her head out, and saw blood on the floor in four places and splatters randomly around the big puddles. There was no sign of people. Gently, Kia slid the I.V. out of her arm and stepped into the hall. Slowly, quietly Kia snuck out the front. A moth flew right in front of her face, causing Kia to feel annoyed. As soon as that emotion hit the moth dropped to the ground lifeless. “What is going on?! Why is everything and everyone dying when I am around?!” Kia yelled crying for the poor insect.

     Death was like a good friend of hers. It never left her side. “It’s auntie. She wasn’t found. I caused her disappearance!” Kia decided she needed to go back to the place where this all began. She called an Uber and went back to her aunt’s home.

     Kia smiled and used her mom’s Paypal on her phone, paid the Uber, and walked up to the pile of ash. Kia looked where the garage had been, there was no sign of metal that had been melted or burned, so that meant that the only car her aunt owned was gone. “If the only car Auntie owned is gone, that means she wasn’t home when the house caught fire!” Kia said to herself thankful. Kia made her way to where her aunt’s room was, knowing there was a firebox full of money and other valuables. She found the black box that was her aunt’s firebox, when she bent down to pick it up, she saw something across the room, where a desk used to be. What she saw looked like an open book. Cautiously, she made her way and picked up the object. Sure enough it was a book.

     Kia kept her finger on the page that was open and closed the book, to read the cover. She blew it off and read ‘Hughes’ Grimoire.’ “Why does it have my mother’s maiden name on it?” Kia opened it and saw the page it was at. ‘Death curse. Curse anyone you wish, so that anything around them just dies.’

     “Holy shit… Auntie practiced witchcraft,” Kia said shocked. “Not only that, she used it on me.”