I know, I know, I promised a novel, but sucks to be you! I can't have that until about next year so you'll have to deal with this thrown-together-anthology. To my friends and family, here. All my worst stories. You're welcome. Merry Christmas. Or Hanukkah. White Day. Whatever.


5. Us




 Mom had twins - us. A little boy, and a little girl. We were always together - two. No one separated us - we. 
 She realized soons he couldn't take care of two children and our dad was already working four shifts while juggling school in the mix. So she wanted us to live with Grandmother for a while.
 When we first visited Grandmother, she gave us the impression that she was not to messed with. She looked old with crinkles and wrinkles and a bun of old grey hair. She lived in an old house on an old road in an old town left off the map. 
 And when she saw us coming towards her, she immediately read off a series of rules she had printed earlier that day. Mom stood by with a look of agitation on her face when she did. Grandmother didn't notice. We didn't really pay attention to the rules, but one stuck in our minds when she said it.

"No going outside after five, when the sun disappeared behind the woods."

We hated that rule. We cried and complained to her about it the whole time we were there.
 "But it's the best time to catch fireflies! What about campfires, and moon lit swimming? What about sleeping under the sky and star gazing."
 "There are no animals here." She said in retaliation. "There is no air for campfires, no ponds for swimming, no clear sky for sleeping under and no stars to gaze at."
 She was right. Each twilight we sat by the big window in the living room and watched as the big yellow ball slowly sank under the waves of clouds, quickly turning dark. 
 We tried to see where the stars would peak out back home but they were too dim to see above the smoky clouds that engulfed the sun too. We heard no owls or deer or nighttime creatures in the darkness. In the tiny patch of trees near the house no firefiles swarmed like they did at home. We sat and we waited but nothing changed. 
 Grandmother passed by our bedroom door with a frown on her crisped face. 
 "I told you - there is nothing to do out there. Now get to sleep. It's already late." 
 We sadly shuffled in our sheets. Grandmother kissed our heads and flicked on a night light. Dancing fish tapped on the ceiling in harmonious movements, luring us to sleep.
 "Goodnight." She called before closing the door. We heard her go back down the staircase, to her rocking chair in the living room, and rock and rock and rock. 

 Mom came the next morning, picking us up without an exchange of good morning or good day or how are you to Grandmother. Six months later she dropped us off with her mom, who kissed us tenderly before leaving for three more months. 
 This became our routine every summer for four years. We wanted to see if one day the clouds would part and we would see the stars that would shine on a pond not far from our house, or if the specks of fire would flare up before Grandmother sent us to bed. Nothing ever did show. 
 Until, one night, a quarter after nine in our usual watchful time, we spotted movement between the trees. It was quick - so quick we barely noticed it when it flickered between two trunks. It was a reddish blackish yellowish whitish color. We began to jump with excitement.
 "Nana! Nana! Nana! Fireflies! They're here! They're here!" We cried in delight. Grandmother rushed to our room. As she looked out the window we expected to see her smile with our same happiness.
 Instead, her face hardened. Her wrinkles deepened with fury, her eyes ablaze. She closed the curtains with a loud snap. 
 "Come, away from the window. No, follow me instead." She said hurriedly. We only stared at her back when she ran into the hallway. Then her voice, more terrifying than ever bounced against the thinning walls of the old home.
 We scurried to our feet, bringing our blankets and teddy bears to wherever Grandmother lead us. It was at the end of the hallway. 
 "Your new bedroom." She said before pushing us into a dark, dark room. There were no windows in this room. I felt weak. Grandmother plugged in the nightlight as we laid in a rickety old bed designed for someone dead. She flicked it on. The fish danced on the ceiling, exposing big cracks. We huddled close. 
 Grandmother closed the door without a goodnight.

 When Mom came to pick us up with the other Grandmother, we told her what had happened. She gasped as we retold the flicker in the trees. Other Grandmother shot her a silent glare, shushing her. 
 "Say goodbye to Nana," she said with a strong voice that rebelled against her daughters expression, "make it count."
 We hugged Nana goodbye. She hugged us back. Grandmother seemed to hug my sister just a bit longer. Mom almost itched to pull them apart. Then, we got into the car, and we drove away from the old house on the old road, leaving the little old town behind us for the next five years. 

 We returned when we had reached half the age of our mother. Our birthday fell in November but Grandmother always celebrated it with us. We were considered teenagers now, an accomplishment to us but more worry for our mom. She had been young when she had us - only fifteen years old. Our father oddly tried to be there for us, but he had been swamped with work and business travel so we haven't heard much of him.
Though, he did send a small gift for our birthday. We wanted to open it as soon as we blew out the candles on a store-bought birthday cake, but Grandmother stopped us.
 "Now, now," she tutted with a wave of her finger. "Wait until after cake."
 So we did. We waited, and we ate, but afterwards she still wouldn't let us open it.
 "Now, now," she chuckled with a click of her tongue. "My son will want to see your pearly smiles when you open your present. Go, and brush your teeth."
So we did. We waited and we brushed our teeth. But when we came out of the bathroom with minty toothpaste stuck to our cheek and smiling pearly whites so wide it hurt, she hid the present under her arm as she rocked and rocked in her little rocking chair.
 "Now, now," she murmured, "Close the curtains, lock the doors, make sure the house is secure. We wouldn't want a thief in our midst, hm?"
 So we did. We kicked every door and closed every curtain so tightly no outside breezed seeped in. We raced to the living room again to find that the lights had been turned off and Grandmother stood in the middle of the floor. The presents torn wrapping was illuminated by the flicker of five candles on a cupcake. I felt a slight pang of tiredness just looking at them.
 "But Nana," We said, "we already had a cake. We already blew out the candles, we already made a wish."
 Her face was dimly lit with the candles. It looked almost...sinister. Her expression was serious but her eyes were carnivorous. When she smiled she smiled for herself. Not us.
 "This is your present. A cupcake. Isn't it nice?" 
 We slowly approached her. She patted a seat beside her. She wanted us to part. And we did. 
 For the first time in our lives, we parted. My sister sat to the left of our Grandmother. I sat to the right. 
 Something changed in the room. We - I couldn't tell what it was. She knew. Her eyes were wide with fascination as she looked into the darkness. She didn't seem to be bothered that we weren't sitting next to each other as much as I was. It scared me.
 Grandmother lifted the cupcake in her hands. The five candles wobbled with the movement. 
 "What do you wish for, daughter?"
 What she meant by that I didn't know. We both wished for a good birthday. We wished for that every birthday. But now, my sister looked at Grandmother in the eyes as she said her wish out loud.
 "I wished for what you wanted, Mother."
  The weakness I felt only grew stronger as my sister turned to the candles. She didn't glance in my direction but I felt as if she was speaking to me.
 "I wished I was me."
 She blew out the first candle. A sudden pain erupted in my chest. I groaned, clutching it. What was this - a heart attack? A stroke? I looked up for a fearful look and dialing phones. 
 Grandmother only smiled. My sister continued.
 "I wished I was I and not us." 
 She puffed out the next flame. The pain in creased ten fold and I staggered to my feet in desperation for the door. No one tried to stop or help me.
 "I wished to be independent."
 My eyesight was hazy. Everything blurred under salty tears and failing vision. The door was becoming more of a dark mass than escape. My feet couldn't support my weight, and I fell to the ground.
 "That's it! That's it!" Grandmothers voice cheered my sister on.
 "Now Elena!"
 Elena? My sister was not Elena, but she didn't notice. Or...she knew. I watched as she smiled gingerly when Grandmother called her that.
 "You only weakened me, brother. You only held me down with your weight and pathetic body. You are holding me back."
 The pain was tightening around and in my limbs, my chest, my stomach, my neck, as if a ripe was curling around them and squeezing the life out of me. I choked. Gasping for breath, I laid my eyes on my sister. She was about to blow the lay candle out when we locked out gaze. I pleaded silently in my mind. She hesitated. Grandmother noticed. 
 "Elena, do not let this mortal fool you! He has drained your power, your potential! Blow out the last candle! Do it! Do it now!"
 My sisters eyes turned to stone. Cold, and dead. 
 "Yes, Mother."
 Just as she leaned in to blow out the last flicker, the door burst open. The mixed colors of light we saw on that day flooded the room, coating all three of us in a haze of white, red, green, brown -
 Then my mother stood in the doorway. I didn't have time to process what was happening until she swooped in, grabbing me and dashing back out. She left my sister and Grandmother fighting in a cloud of red and black against the swarm of colors. I was thrown into the back of the familiar family car, where the other Grandmother sat in the drivers side. 
 "Go! Go, now!" Mom screamed as she got into the passengers seat.
 "Get away from here!" 
 And we did. 

 I. I woke up in the hospital Just me. Not my sister.
 The walls were white. The floor was white. Everything was white. The monitor beeped steadily
 But it was cold. I turned on my side. My mother sat asleep in a chair. Other Grandmother was holding my hand on the other side. She didn't say anything, only looking at the paleness of my skin.
 "That must have been one hell of a scare." She said.
 I blinked.
 "Thank God your sister found you when you did, otherwise you would have ended up like Nana."
 Confusion registered in my brain before the door opened and my sister entered. My father followed behind. He was carrying a tray of bleak food and orange juice. They both wore grateful smiles.
 My sister sat in my bed. Mom moved to greet Dad. Grandmother scooted closer to me.
 "You have me such a scare!" My sister muttered as she hugged me. I felt weak and useless so I couldn't hug her back. She noticed, pulling away quickly.
 "When I found you in the living room, next to Nana, I though something horrible had happened.." Her eyes were swollen  with tears. I could tell they were fake.
 "Nana had a heart attack, and you must've been there, trying to save her. She's gone now, but I'll bet she'll remember you in the afterlife, the way you tried to save her."
 Her eyes were cold. They were dead. She was lying, she had to be, yet I couldn't do anything. Nana was dead. I tried to save her. That was the story.
 Mom and Dad were dabbing their eyes. Even Other Grandmother seemed to have a hard time adjusting to this. My sister sniffed and smiled at me. 
 "We might as well just carry on her legacy." 
  Her smile was ice. Then, a sharp pain stabbed me in the chest. I cried out in shock before two more stabs pierced my heart. My eyes went hazy, my body numb. It was happening all over again. 
 My gaze locked with my sisters delighted expression as she back out of the way when nurses and doctors rushed to my attention. Fluids flooded me, shocks to my chest. The pain only increased. My sister cocked her head. 
 The monitor slowed it beeps. 
 Then it stopped.  

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