This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

Valentina was watching her.

Rose could feel Valentina standing over her, boots crunching into the snow as blackness squeezed the air from her lungs and left its cold fingerprints against her neck. Valentina was five feet above Rose as the snow crumbled and she clawed, and then everything stopped. It was the strangest feeling: like the world was fading from her ears and eyes, like she was being pulled from it and dropped in water.

Except Rose was dead. That was what happened.

Valentina was staring at the spot where she disappeared.

Silent. Still.

Suddenly Valentina ran. Away from the nine-year-old body, into the restaurant where the family had gathered for Christmas dinner. They flooded out, knotted with blind panic. She watched as they dug through the snow desperately and found Rose buried in the ground, bruised, blue, dead.

The last time Valentina saw her body was when they carried it off on a tray to the ER.

~ ~ ~

Valentina never hated Rose.

In fact, Valentina could honestly say that when Rose was born, Valentina didn’t hate her. She was the one who stayed up all night through Everly’s thirteen hours of labor. She was the one who called their parents, and she was the one empathizing when they ignored her to talk to the nurse about Everly’s condition.

The moment Valentina saw Rose, she loved her. She’d tried to hold her, but her parents had gotten in the way. They’d pushed her into the nurse and cooed over that baby like it was the most beautiful thing they’d ever seen. When this happened, Valentina had to admit she was a little upset.

She couldn’t help but think about the day she gave birth.

The day nobody, not her parents, not her lovely sister ever deigned to show up.

The day she made a whole life. There was no pushing. There was no crowding. There was no passing the baby around.

Because in her family’s eyes, nothing related to Valentina mattered.

All those feelings she’d repressed for her sister’s big day came surging back, sitting on the bench next to a tearing-up family, stony.

So, if you’re wondering why an aunt would ever even think about killing her niece, and if you’re wondering where this all started, then here it is: the day Rose was born. The day Valentina watched as her family kissed the baby’s forehead, stewing in envy and grief.

~ ~ ~


To be fair.

That might not really be where it started. Truth be told, Valentina was set up to hate Rose long before she was ever born.

While growing up, Everly was allowed to stomp on Valentina in pretty much any way her evil little heart desired. Like the time she hacked out a chunk of Valentina’s hair when she was six (it was the boy next door), or in middle school when she blew up her science fair project (faulty wiring), or in high school when she T-boned her car into their house during Valentina’s sweet sixteen (brakes were bad).

The two were adopted sisters—more than that, they were twins. But somehow, Valentina was always the one left behind. Sundays out in the town meant her parents buying Everly whichever kind of ice cream she want, and Valentina a cheap roadside candy. As they grew older, Everly stocked her wardrobe with expensive clothing and diamond jewelry. Valentina's consisted of tired, faded pants and neon polos.

Everly was constantly jealous of Valentina. The love of two rotten parents wasn't enough for her. She wanted Valentina's life: her soft, beautiful features, her A-list boyfriends, her evergrowing, constantly belitting popularity. How was it fair that Valentina only owned trash, but no one ever knew because her friends lent her their trendy clothes? How was it fair that she was invited to every party in their small little town, that she aced every class and Ivy Leagues were already scouting her out?

It wasn't. At least, not to Everly.

And Valentina suffered for that.

~ ~ ~


Maybe it started with Night.

Night was Valentina’s only child.

The family didn’t know her too well. They knew that Valentina divorced while she was pregnant, and Night had been diagnosed with anxiety from a young age and constantly got sick. At the few family reunions she managed to attend, Valentina’s entire attention fixed on her. She was unbearably breakable for the younger kids, pathetic and pitiful for the older ones, disgusting to the adults. They didn’t outwardly say it—no, outward everyone was nice and polite enough. But Valentina saw it when the adults gave the other kids wrapped skateboards and Nintendos, and Night got housing magazines or phone books.

To Valentina, Night was the sweetest child ever made. When she got sick, she wrote thank-you cards to people and asked Valentina to deliver them. The postman, the garbage truck driver, her teachers, her pediatrician, even their dog Cinnamon. And Valentina had the largest collection, each one holding a spot on their fridge.

After years of rejection, Valentina finally understood what it meant to have a family.

Night was her world.

The week of Night’s tenth birthday, she had a fever at 109 degrees and was coughing up blood. Valentina drove her to the hospital with ice packs stocked in the back. The doctors told Valentina that Night’s immune system was just too fragile. She wasn’t going to make it.

The grief was worse than anything Valentina ever knew.

At the funeral, Valentina sobbed into her own arm, trying to speak to the crowd that had gathered, including all the people Night had sent cards over the years. Her family bowed their heads respectfully, but simply out of respect. It was clear none of them cared.

Valentina cursed each of them, her insides writhing in hatred, her eyes brimming in vengeance.

~ ~ ~

Rose was a sweet girl.

Truly. She was. She always split her Christmas cookie with Night and gave her some of her presents. Every Christmas eve, she would play the piano and Night would sing, and someone almost always cried. She taught Night how to make a sled and even got her out some days. Sometimes, Valentina felt like Night was the happiest when she was with Rose.

Valentina killed Rose. There’s no denying it now.

You knew it from the very beginning, but you didn’t exactly know how. The whole family had driven out to a park called Winter Wonderland, and Rose asked Valentina if she wanted to build a snow fort while the family ordered their food. There was a problem in the restaurant—understaffed or something like that—and the two of them dug a hole so deep that when Rose tripped and fell in, she couldn’t climb out.

And when a kid launched into their huge pile of snow, and the whole thing collapsed on Rose, an avalanche burying her screams, Valentina felt like a statue. She watched the kid run off, deaf to the screams, she watched the Winter Wonderland sign light up in the dark night sky.

God, how she missed Night.

And that was all she thought about as the screams subsided. She thought about Night’s face and her school projects and braiding Night’s hair. She thought about how angry she was all the time. She thought about how it wasn’t fair, that her daughter died and nobody ever paid the consequences.

Someone deserved to be hurt.

Was that Everly? Would it please Valentina when Everly’s screams wrenched into her gut as she found Rose’s body? Lungs not breathing? Heart not beating? World spinning, stars falling, sky swallowing her up into its vastness?

Who knew.

Maybe it would.

~ ~ ~

Revenge is an awful thing.

There’s no knowing who it’ll infest.

There’s no predicting the next victim.

You just have to watch your back, because it’s there—creeping in the darkest corners, wading in the murkiest waters.

Waiting for someone to sink its teeth into.

Because wherever it started, whoever you want to blame, the revenge was poison.

And it spread like wildfire.

December 26, 2022 22:47

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Portia Grace
02:56 Mar 21, 2024

I enjoyed this story so much, your style is so unique, and the story unfolded so naturally.


Emma Ponn
03:32 Mar 25, 2024

Thank you!


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Delbert Griffith
18:50 Dec 31, 2022

Very dark, but written in a way that made it seem believable. Nicely done, Emma.


Emma Ponn
02:02 Jan 01, 2023

Thank you so much, Delbert :)


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