I stared down at their graves, my face felt blank. Emotions boiled underneath my skin as I gazed at the names carved into the stones. The ground was still freshly shovelled and wet. Steadily becoming soaked by the gray drizzle that was pouring down on me from the dark clouds above. I sniffed, wiping away a tear that was about to fall as I stared at the first grave. James Oliver Johnson, it began. Died at age 43, Husband of Anne Marie Johnson, father of Marina and Esme. He will be missed. A tear made its way down my cheek. The grave said almost nothing about him. How he loved how the leaves changed color. How he would drink tea instead of coffee, how he could paint, how he seemed to bring joy to everyone who was with him. Or how he would leave the house and not come back for hours, until he returned, smelling of cheap beer and mumbling things to himself. The longer I stared at the grave the more the world blurred and faded into a memory.
She shook with giggles as her father tickled her and they rolled around on her small princess bed. He was laughing along with her, his green eyes alight with happiness. She was a little girl, maybe six or seven but she was old enough to remember. It was raining that night and thunder boomed distantly. Her father had come in to help chase away her fears. She felt safe, protected, loved. But she knew that it wouldn’t last. A door banged closed downstairs and she could hear a picture fall off the wall. Her father faltered, stopped, and started to get up. Her small hands clutched at his arm and he looked down at her.
“Daddy, don’t go.” Her voice was tinged with tears, she was scared for him. He smiled sadly at her and wrapped his arms around her small body.
“It’ll be okay buttercup,” He kissed the top of her head. “I’ll be alright.” He kissed her forehead and helped her settle in amongst her blankets. He brushed some hair away from her face and kissed her cheek.
“‘Night buttercup.” He said to her. “I love you.”
Her grey-green eyes looked back at him and she said, “I love you too Daddy.” He smiled at her one last time and walked out, closing the door softly behind him. She lay still as she heard him go downstairs and begin to speak in a soft voice to someone. But that’s when the screams and yells started and she curled into a ball. Her little fists over her ears, eyes closed tightly. Trying to forget.
I brushed away more tears that had begun to flow down. I looked down at the next grave. Anne Marie Johnson. Died at age 40, Wife to James Oliver Johnson. Mother of Marina and Esme. She will be missed. It wasn’t very different from the other gravestone, but it had also left out things. Like how her hair was the color of sunlight, how she would throw her head back and laugh. How she had taught me how to read nursery rhymes and play piano. How she would curl up on the window seat in the kitchen and read with her cup of coffee. Or how she would cry when she got drunk. I felt reality lose its hold on me again as I was transported somewhere else.
Her mother is staring at her. Her normally clear grey eyes are tinged with red. She can’t decide if she’s been crying, or if she’s had too many drinks.
“Well girl, it’s just us isn’t it?” She laughs, a bitter, barking sort of laugh. She knows then that her mother is drunk after all. She doesn’t know how to reply to her mother so she just nods quickly. Her mother’s eyes narrow at her and she looks sad.
“Are you afraid of me?” She thinks for a while. She remembers how her parents yelled at each other at night, how it would give her nightmares when she was little, and now she was a halfway person. Spending one part of the year with one parent, and the other half with the other parent. She remembers how, when her parents yelled at each other during meals, her sister’s eyes filled with fear. She recalls how she was scared that one morning she might not wake up and be there for her sister. She stares at what her once beautiful and accomplished mother has become and whispers, “Maybe.” Her mother’s eyes fill with tears. She looks so regretful that she wishes that she could take back her words, but nothing can be done now. She turns to walk away but hears a small voice say,
“I’m sorry.” She looks back at her mother and murmurs, “So am I.”
I’m almost sobbing now but I try to steady my breathing. I try to remind myself that crying is for the weak. But the tears keep flowing anyways. The third gravestone says, Esme Olivia Johnson. Died at age 13, Sister of Marina. Daughter of Anne Marie and James Oliver Johnson. She will be missed. It was just like the other graves, the same structure, but it too left out so much. Like how Esme played soccer, or how she was going to be an actress. How her golden-red hair flew in the wind or how her eyes filled with emotion. How Esme always knew what to say to anyone. How she wore bright clothes and smiled, or how she was always happy with her friends. Or how Esme tried to be brave and fight back. My fingers trail over the top of her gravestone, slick with the rain and smooth. My river of memory swept me up again and I didn’t try to stop it.
Esme’s laughing at some joke that her sister made. They were having a girls night, eating popcorn and chocolate, painting their nails, talking about boys, and watching romance movies. She stared lovingly at her little sister, thankful for these moments when they didn’t live in fear. They’re both wearing pajamas, consisting of overly large t-shirts and worn sweatpants. Esme popped some M&Ms into her mouth and sighed as she chewed them. She rolled her eyes at her little sister but helped herself to some of the candies as well. The Princess Diaries played in the background and they both laughed at something funny, most likely the hairstyles of various characters.
“This is awesome.” Esme remarked. She nodded her head.
“Yeah it really is.” She sighed. Their father was off with some buddies and wouldn’t be returning for a while, and their mother was asleep upstairs, this was before the divorce. The house was quiet and strangely ominous. Neither girl knew what would happen in later hours.
“Hey,” She nudged Esme’s shoulder with her own.
“Love you.” Esme smiled up at her sister.
“Love you too.” And then the memory dissolves.
My fingers leave her grave and I choke back a sob. I see a vague figure in the distance and I look away. It will be time soon and I was trying to run from it, I wasn’t ready yet. I walk the next few steps to another fresh grave. My boots sink into the mud slightly and I wrap my arms around my shivering body, trying to stay warm but I know that I’ll just get colder. The words on the stone say, Jack Arthur Barrows. Died at age 16, Brother of Micheal and Aspen. Son of Martha Jane and William Conner Barrows. He will be missed. It said nothing of how he was the star of the basketball team, how he loved to skateboard, how his black hair and green eyes always looked perfect. It didn’t say how Tristan had captured my heart when we were middle school friends or how he always planned the best dates after we started going out. It didn’t say how I could always tell him what was going on. I hesitantly squatted down and touched his carved name. Then I’m gone, and the memory is all I know.
She’s dressed in a sparkly red gown with her blonde hair curled. It’s the ninth grade dance and she’s nervous. Her best friend Jack asked her to it and she made sure that she looked nice. She had searched for a black dress at the store but when she saw the red she knew that it was the one. Jack loved the color red. It falls down to the ground and she’s wearing flats that she’ll probably end up ditching. She paces for a moment before coming to a stop. She’s waiting by the doors for Jack to get there. But then she sees him and her heart skips a few beats. He’s dressed in a suit coat and a white button up shirt with the first few buttons undone. His green eyes shine in the party lights and she starts walking towards him. When he sees her his eyes widen in surprise and he begins to stride towards her. They meet in the middle and hug. She smiles up at him and he at her. They stare at each other for a moment too long.
“Uhm. . .” She searches for words. He smirks at her.
“You look great.” She blushes at the compliment and hates it.
“You look great too.” She tells him. He grins and does a spin.
“Why thank you!” A song that she loves starts to play and she sways to the beat.
“Want to dance?” Jack asks. She nods and he takes her hand. Her heart skips another beat as their fingers intertwine. His eyes never leave her as they dance the night away, forgetting their soon sore feet and aching knees. It gets late and the crowd gradually starts to thin. In the fading light, as they slow dance, Jack bends down and whispers the three words that forever change her world. Their lips meet and the memory starts to reluctantly fade.
This time when I resurface I can’t hold it back and I kneel there and weep. I missed him so much. That smile that would light up my day, his hands that I would hold in mine, those deep eyes that sparkled with mischief. When I’m done I look to my side and see that the figure is closer, more defined. I could just make out a black coat. I shiver in fear. It can’t be time yet. I needed more time. I approach the next grave, it's slightly smaller than the rest and the stone is paler with flecks of black in it. I read the words on it through my teary vision. Aspen May Barrows. Died at the age of 16, Sister to Jack and Micheal. Daughter of Martha Jane and William Conner Barrows. She will be missed. It left out how she was my best friend. How she would always support me and comfort my insecurities. How Aspen could write like there was no tomorrow and was so very smart. It left out how Aspen was beautiful with dark hair and eyes like the moon, and how she believed that everything happened in life for a reason. I sat down and traced the carved letters with my fingertips and closed my eyes, allowing the memories to wash over me.
Aspen hugs her tightly, smelling faintly of rose petals and hibiscus.
“Be safe.” She murmurs into her best friend’s ear. They were thirteen and she was going to fly to Pennsylvania where her grandparents lived, and stay there for a week. It was the first time she was going to fly in a plane and her stomach fluttered nervously. Aspen had flown before and promised her that she would love it. Aspen pulled back and she heard the call for her plane to start boarding.
“Well. . . I need to go.” She stared at her friend sadly. “Call me?”
Aspen laughed. “Every day.” She promised. They hugged again, this embrace longer than the first. Both girls didn’t want her to go.
“Don’t bail out.” Aspen said mischievously when they pulled away. They both laughed. They had come up with the inside joke on a sleepover two years ago. It was late and they were both rather delirious. But it had stuck and they used it often when either one was nervous about something. She smiled gratefully at Aspen.
“Thanks. Love you Asp.” Aspen smiled and winked.
“Heck yeah you do! But- I love you too.” She squeezed her best friend one last time and Aspen turned and walked away.
I open my eyes to the sight of the gravestone yet again. There had been five graves. My father, mother, sister, boyfriend, and best friend. And they all had broken my heart. I thought that I would be out of tears by now but they still welled up in my eyes, just there for me to brush away, irritating my eyes. I look up and see a deathly pale man in a dark suit and coat standing next to me. He smiles at me, a sickly, yellow toothed smile.
“It’s time my dear.” He said, his voice creaking slightly as if after years
of silence. I scramble up to my feet.
“Please,” I said, my voice sounding weak and teary. “Please, just give me some more time. I- I need more time. I-I can’t. . . I can’t f-face them yet.” He snorted, looking down at me as if I were a rat, one on which he was about to pounce.
“That’s what they all say, but alas,” He sneers at me and checks his watch. “It appears that your time has run out. There’s nowhere for you to run Marina.” I flinch slightly as he says my name.
“I don’t-t want to b-be her anymore.” I said, my voice becoming choked with tears. “M-M-Marina be-betrayed them all.” I pointed to the five graves, ignoring the tears that streamed down my cheeks. He looked at me with pity.
“Ah, my dear girl, I know a way you can forget.” I narrowed my eyes at him, not wanting to trust him, not wanting to hope that it might be possible.
“No,” I said, my voice trembling. “I deserve to live with this.” My voice became steady, but more and more filled with shame. He chuckled for a moment.
“Oh but, my dear, you aren’t going to live.” I stared at him in horror as tendrils of darkness flow from the cloth of his suit and coat and start to creep towards me. I can’t run away and I scream with frustration, getting down on my knees and I watch as I start to fade.
“Mom. . . Dad. . .” I murmur with my last breaths. “Esme. . . Aspen. . . Jack. . . I-I’m coming.” And then my eyes close and cooling waves of darkness carry me away, into oblivion.
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loved the way you wrote this story it was amazing. And for those three words; it has to be 'I love you' right?!?! :) Although I'm really curious about what happened at the end.
Hi Alvin! Thank you so much! Getting feedback from people about my stories is always so amazing and special for me. Yes, you're correct, 'I love you' are the three words that Jack told my mc/Marina (as she was revealed to be in the end). Well, that's partly the point (xD lol) but if you want to know, simply ask. I'd love to hear any theories that you may have and provide answers :)
Sure no probs! Well, my theory would be that the creepy man is part of some cult or organization and is trying to manipulate Marina. Sorry sometimes my interpretations are bad lmao. I mean I would love to know your perspective ;)
Huh, that's an interesting theory! I've never heard that one before xD lol I've always thought of the man as Death and he has come to take Marina away because of her crime, aka, being responsible for the deaths of her loved ones. But that's just me.
Hiiiiiii everyone! So I'd just like to say some stuff about this short story: 1. I wrote this a while back 2. It actually got me into an advanced writing/english class at my tutorial 3. Any guesses on what the three words Jack said to Marina? 4. I hope you all liked this and that it made you cry! XD
This has to be one of the best stories I've ever read! What can I say? Simply magnificently written! And yes, I did end up teary eyed with this story. So profound and thought-provoking, it makes us delve right into the life of the characters and makes us wonder all the way the through, the guilt intertwined with such sweet memories is a juxtaposition that truly brings this story to life. And the way you personified Death, seemingly ruthless and unforgiving paving the way for the character to finally face those she "betrayed". I can only wow...
Thank you so much! I will not deny, I'm getting some happy tears as I read your lovely message. I cannot express my gratitude at you kind words. But all the same, thank you thank you thank you!!! I'm so glad you enjoyed Guilt, and even more glad that you recognized the character Death for what/who he is. Some people have had other interpretations and while it's interesting to hear their take on the character, I had the original intent for the character to be Death. Again, thank you so so much for reading and enjoying my story!!
This was such a touching and heartfelt story. I love the way you switched between third and first person. It was very smooth and well done. The ending really caught my breath, and I took a solid minute thinking about what could have possibly happened. Great story and keep writing!
Thank you so much Eve! I really appreciate your feedback. Glad you enjoyed Guilt!