Compare life to that of a roller coaster ride. Each has its own unique share of ups, downs, and unexpected curves that cause your stomach to turn over. Each rides at its own pace, and ends when you least expect it. Some aspects may be pleasant and enoyable, while others leave you wondering why you jumped aboard. And once it's over, you are left with only memories.
Life is an adventure, fragile as it is. Accidents, illnesses, and even natural causes bring lives, young and old, to an official end. When a young life is claimed seemingly as quickly as it has begun, the question of why is never answered. But all lives end sometime, and some will shrug off the thought of death, while others may worry about where they will go after life on earth. Everyone has a different perspective on life, and some may experience more tragedies than others. And already, Ryan Wheldon was one of those people.
Ryan's life from point-of-view had differed from everyone else he had known. He and his family had experienced their fair share of tragedies, maybe even a little too much. Being only ten years old, he had been through more than most children his age had. As he stared out at the beauty of the sun setting gracefully over the lake, he smiled at the many memories he had had with his family, and frowned at the horrible flashbacks of death that came back to haunt him. Though his life had not been much of a smooth ride, he was still grateful for it, and always would be. Nothing could stop him from believing he had been born into a great family, and was living a life like any other kid his age.
Ryan watched as the waves rolled in gently, crashing into the shoreline like a tiny tsunami. Already, he'd been at the beach for around three hours, and he savoured every moment he'd spent here. The sky was beginning to transform from it's dull blue colour to gorgeous rays of pinks and yellows, and he often caught his mother, Theresa, snapping pictures of the breathtaking sight. He was glad she'd chosen to spend a family evening together on the beach to watch the sunset and to celebrate Shirley's fourth birthday. Nothing could have been more perfect than this.
Shirley seemed to be enjoying her birthday so far, and it was quickly coming to a close as the minutes ticked by. Being the baby of the family, she often liked to receive the biggest birthday parties, and sometimes, the most attention. The family had been excited to hear that Shirley wanted to spend her birthday at the beach, since it was a place they had all particularly enjoyed. No one else had bothered to show up, so they had the place all to themselves, which was even better. Shirley enjoyed her birthdays best when others were not around to pester her.
She sprinted along the shoreline, her five-year-old sister Jodi at her side. Their fingers were entwined as they entered the water, shrieking with laughter as the water splashed up their legs and sent a cold rush through their bodies. The two sisters tumbled over, allowing themselves to sink beneath the surface. Ryan watched with a grin on his face as his two younger sisters continued with their rough play in the lake, and he wondered if they'd ever settle down. Jodi and Shirley had been more rough than Ryan and Cody had when they were younger, and he imagined it would be that way until they grew a little older.
He felt a sudden urge to jump into the lake to join his youngest siblings, but he felt he shouldn't bother them in their imaginary world. His sisters dove underneath the water, and they began to play one of their favourite games, one that all four siblings had always enjoyed during their childhood; The Shark Game. The game had earned its title very simply, as it was a game identical to Tag, but it had to be played in the water. Jodi swam quickly after Shirley, as Shirley squealed loudly in attempt to escape "the shark". More flashbacks returned to Ryan's mind as he remembered all the times he had played the game when he was around their age, and he grinned again. It had always been enjoyable, especially when their father had been around, and watching his sisters swim around like little fish gave him the urge to join in their fun.
Ryan watched as his sisters invited eight-year-old Cody into the water to play with them, and he dove beneath the waves as if he'd been born a professional. He'd always been a better swimmer than anyone else in the family, and it was no surprise that he'd headed back into the lake for more fun in the water. "Ryan, come join!" he called out, finally taking a moment to bring his face above the water to take in some air.
Within seconds, he had disappeared once again, and Ryan slowly trudged through the sand and crawled into the water to join his siblings. The sky had grown a little darker, which increased the difficulty in the game, but they preferred it that way. Theresa had situated herself in a lawn chair to simply watch her children engage in their activity, and she felt relaxed. It had indeed been a long day, sending her three oldest children off to school early in the morning, and caring for Shirley at home all day. She was proud to have lifted some of the stress off her shoulders, and an evening spent at the beach was truly calming. She was happy to see that her four youngsters were enjoying themselves here, but they'd soon be heading home to wrap up the day.
Theresa felt as if the small town they lived in was lucky to own a beach. Besides a corner store, grocery store, gas station, and a post office, there were absolutely no businesses. The town was sparsely populated, with a population of about one thousand or less. The majority of these people spent their summer days tanning and relaxing on the beach situated on a dead-end road in the quiet part of town. Besides the beach, the only fun places that could be found in the town were the parks, where most children spent their summers. But the lack of businesses never bothered Theresa, as she enjoyed living in a quiet area rather than a city which never seemed to sleep. It seemed as though her children enjoyed the place, too.
Their town had existed for quite some time now. Most of the buildings had rusted with age already, and even some homes in the "ghetto" part of town were being torn down. One of the oldest buildings in the area was the public school in which Theresa's children attended, which had been built in the early 1900's. A newer school was set for construction soon, which Theresa hoped would be an impressive project upon completion. Already, her children were complaining about the rust along the outside of the building, and the ancient architecture had bothered them as well. They'd have to attend that school until they passed the eighth grade, and then they could move on to the brand new high school nestled in a quiet area of the bustling city next door. They couldn't wait for that day to arrive.
And as Theresa reflected back on all the things the town had to offer, she remembered that today had been the final day of school, and it was out for the entire summer. So far, she and her family hadn't made any plans yet, but she hoped to come up with something soon. For the past few months, her children had been begging for a vacation to an island, and she was seriously taking it into consideration. She was still trying to figure out whether she could afford the trip or not, however. But for now, they decided they'd spend some family time together at home before going ahead and making more plans.
"Watch out, the shark's coming!" Shirley hollered, slapping the water with her bare hands as if to signal a warning to Jodi.
Jodi let out an ear-splitting screech as Cody stalked her, and as he came nearer, she struggled to get out of the way as if she would meet her fate if she didn't move. The game seemed much more real when it had been Cody's turn to be the shark, since he'd been such an excellent swimmer, and they were happy to have allowed him to join them. "I'm coming to get you," Cody growled, his voice unusually low.
"You'll never catch me!" Shirley said dramatically, like she was in some sort of horror movie.
As it turned out, Shirley hadn't exactly been the greatest swimmer out there, and as Cody came closer, she nearly cried in frustration. "Ryan, help me!" she screamed, her arms flailing about.
Theresa had been startled by hearing her daughter scream for help, but she allowed her nerves to slowly calm themselves as she realized her children were still playing the game, and Shirley wasn't drowning. "Help! The shark is gonna eat me! Ryan, save me, please!"
She pretended her life were literally dangling from a thread, and she'd slip away any moment. Ryan leaped in her direction, extending his arm so he could pull her away. "Don't let that nasty shark eat you," he told her, humour glinting in his eyes as they met with Cody's.
The sky had gradually changed once again, and it was almost at its darkest. Theresa was barely able to make out their tiny silhouettes in the dark, and she made the final decision to head home, due to the fact that they'd spend literally all night here if she'd allowed them to. "Time to get out!" she hollered.
"Five more minutes?" another voice called back, and it took some thinking before Theresa recognized that the voice belonged to Cody.
"No, it's getting late," Theresa insisted. "Out of the water."
She could just make out the sound of four small groans, and they obediently made their way back to the shore, shivering at the sudden chilly breeze in the air. They hugged their towels for dear life, embracing the warmth and comfort they had to offer. The girls quickly tossed their clothes back on, instantly soaking the fabric of their dresses, while the boys refused to search for their shirts until they'd become used to the sudden change in temperature. It had indeed been much warmer than they remembered, but now they came to the realization that the sun was temporarily gone, and they wouldn't feel its intense heat beating down on them until tomorrow. Snuggling against their towels, Ryan and Cody scooped up their t-shirts from the extra lawn chair, and proceeded to the van.
Theresa had made sure to park extra close to the entrance, knowing it would be difficult to convince Jodi to leave the beach behind. She'd always been a stubborn little girl, and as Theresa glanced over her shoulder, she realized that Jodi was hiding behind a tree, refusing to leave the spot she stood in. "You three jump in the van," she instructed her remaining children. "I'll be right back."
Ryan helped buckle Shirley into her seatbelt, and he climbed into the passenger side, watching the scene before him with a grin on his face. He watched as Jodi sprinted through the sand away from her mother, while Theresa helplessly attempted to catch her daughter and bring her back to the van. Ryan could just barely make out the sound of Jodi screaming, and he watched as his mother threw her hands up in frustration, shaking her head. He knew it was frustrating for her to have to deal with this, but to him, it was quite entertaining. He ran a hand through his sideswept brown hair, chuckling as Jodi tripped and Theresa finally succeeded. Jodi was flailing like a wild animal as Theresa carried her away, and it seemed as though her behaviour was becoming ridiculous. Throwing the back door open, Theresa sighed as she plopped Jodi down on the back seat, and buckled her seatbelt for her.
Jodi's blue eyes had now become a little red from her fit of crying, and she resembled a small demon child. The blue in her eyes really stood out now, and it freaked Ryan out a little just by looking at her. Having blue eyes didn't run genetically in the family, which made Jodi unique in her own way. No one else in the family had them, including their deceased father. Instead, they'd all been gifted with deep, chocolate brown eyes, almost to the point where they were black. Jodi felt both lucky and special to stand out in her own way, but Shirley had also been gifted with something else the rest of the family hadn't, which was blonde hair. It was similar to Jodi's hair, but Shirley had sidebangs unlike Jodi. The two sisters didn't look much alike from their differences, but you could still tell they were related.
As Theresa hopped into the driver's side, allowing a relieved sigh to escape her, Jodi remained silent, focusing dreamily out the window at the glorious landscape in front of her. The van's engine roared to life, and off they drove, headed in the direction of their home. Jodi's eyes now shone with interest as she watched the giant trees gradually disappear, and she could feel Shirley's chin resting on her right shoulder, watching with her. They were at the ages where everything seemed to interest them, no matter what it was, and something as simple as watching everything move at an incredible speed out the window was fascinating. "The trees are gone!" Shirley observed as they entered a residential area in town.
"No, there's one in that yard," Jodi corrected her, pointing at a small pine tree nestled in the middle of a yard, blocking the view of the house.
Shirley nodded. "But the forest is gone."
"I know," Jodi stated matter-of-factly. "But there's still trees in yards." She sounded almost like an expert in nature, who could answer any question asked.
"Do you know what types of trees they are?" Ryan smirked, whirling around in his seat to face his siblings.
Jodi's face went blank, and Ryan couldn't help but release a chuckle. "I thought so," he said.
The van suddenly began to bump around uncomfortably, and the four children were instantly able to indicate that they were in their neighbourhood already. The roads were poorly paved, and various potholes covered nearly every inch of the street. And it had been just their luck that they'd found a suitable home to live in, but it just happened to be located on the worst road in town. Ryan shifted around in his seat, sighing.
"I want this to be fixed," he said as the van swerved sharply into the driveway on their right, the third house on the road.
"Well, last I heard, there are going to be some major changes in this town," Theresa stated. "The mayor said the roads will come first, and then a new elementary school is set to be built. How does that sound? Soon, this road is going to be fixed, and we can come home smoothly."
"Sounds better." Ryan glanced up at the one-story house they lived in, and another flashback came to mind. He didn't know why, but all his memories seemed to be flowing back to his brain that night. He remembered the day they'd moved into this house, the small, three-bedroom house on Birch street, the street that dead-ended just down the road. The home could definitely be described as cozy, but it was a little cramped for a family of their size. The living room was crowded with a little too much furniture, and the children's bedrooms weren't meant to be shared, but there had been no other choice for them. The kitchen cabinents were in dire need of replacement, due to the fact that they were wearing down with age, but the cost was outrageous. Theresa had promised that the place was only temporary until they could buy a newer place, but now it had been their home for just over three years now.
The only reason they'd moved there in the first place had been due to their father, Justin's death. The house had burned to the ground, which had forced them to pack up what hadn't turned to ash and leave. Ryan would never forget that date, June 16th, just two weeks shy of Shirley's first birthday. It was saddening to think that both Jodi and Shirley would never have any memories of their father, who'd only been twenty-five years old when he died. The anniversary had just passed, and it had been a depressing date for the family. It was impossible to ignore the loneliness they still felt for him.
On that dark, starry night just three years ago, Ryan remembered the tragic event as if it had occurred only yesterday. He'd awaken to Theresa's screaming at only 2 a.m., and when his dark eyes had fluttered open sleepily, the smell of flames and smoke filled his nostrils. Theresa had somehow felt her way through the house to arrive at Ryan's bedroom doorway, and he'd scurried to the exit just as quickly as he'd awaken.
Only weeks earlier, his father had gifted him with a tiny necklace, with a silver cross at the end which glinted with expensive, bead-like features. Ryan remembered stating, "But Daddy, boys don't wear jewellery," upon receiving it. Justin had explained that he'd bought it for a special reason, one that intended to haunt Ryan forever. Justin had specifically explained that he was to keep the necklace as a memory of his father in case he'd died before Ryan grew up. And sure enough, three weeks later, there was his fate. Ryan had grasped the necklace tightly in his seven-year-old hands that night as he struggled to locate the exit to the burning house.
Theresa had managed to carry Cody, Jodi, and Shirley to safety, but somehow, she'd lost sight of her oldest son. It hadn't taken long before the entire house was engulfed in flames, and only Justin and Ryan had remained in the house to fend for themselves. Even now, Ryan still had a problem in which he collapsed upon feeling extreme heat in the atmosphere, but he'd miraculously managed to remain stable that night. After another ten minutes had slowly flown by in what seemed more like years, tragedy had made its way into the picture.
Injured from the block of burning wood that had clocked him in the head, and struggling for a fresh breath of air, there had been no hope for Justin to survive. "Help is on the way buddy, I love you," were his final words. His voice had been raspy and barely audible from what Ryan remembered.
Although Justin had been right, and they had both been rescued, he couldn't help but carry the heavy weight of guilt with him for days. Justin had passed away in the early hours of morning in the hospital. Ryan had often found himself crying too much, unable to stop the memory of his father prior to his unfortunate death. But of course, there were many hurdles he'd have to overcome in life, and this was one of the many he'd go through.
And that was precisely how they'd found the tiny, cramped house nestled on Birch street. It had been the only house available in the town, so the children had had no other choice but to bunk together in the limited space of the bedrooms. Ryan and Cody shared the largest room, which was situated directly across the hallway from Theresa's bedroom, and next to the boys' bedroom was Jodi and Shirley's bedroom, across the hall from the bathroom. As Ryan stepped into the comfort of the brown-bricked home, he couldn't help but feel like the family didn't belong there. Perhaps a larger, more suitable home would be perfect for the family, like their last home.
Ryan slumped down onto the beige sofa, flicking on the television. He'd barely been home all day, and as he surfed through all of the channels, he found nothing he'd particularly enjoyed. Cody plopped down next to him, a cute smile on his young face. "Whatcha doin'?" he said nosily.
"Nothing, really," Ryan shrugged. As Cody leaned over Ryan's lap to snatch the remote from his hands, Ryan suddenly caught sight of a mark on his brother's arm. On his left arm, there was a purple splotch, one that was quite noticable, and appeared to be large. "Cody, what's that?" Ryan asked, his heart pumping quickly with fear.
"What's what?" Cody gazed at his older brother curiously, and his eyes scanned the room searching for anything that might be out of place.
"What's that purple mark on your arm?" Ryan stared blankly at the splotch, observing it. It was quite ugly, and looked like a giant bruise. He couldn't believe Cody never saw it.
"Purple mark? What are you talking about? Where..."
"On your left arm," Ryan interrupted. "Look at it. It's frickin' huge."
Cody examined his arm, searching for the purple splotch with his heart nearly in his throat. It sounded serious, from what Ryan had described, and it didn't take long at all before his eyes finally landed on the mark. Ryan had been correct, it was huge. Cody's dark eyes went wide, and he let out a loud breath as he realized he'd been holding it.
"What is that?" he questioned.
"I don't know," said Ryan. "Did you hurt yourself in the water or something? Did Jodi punch you again?"
Cody forced a grin. "No, she never touched me. No one did. I didn't even hurt myself at all."
"You don't even feel that?"
"No." Cody was still staring at it in horror, and he tried to remember exactly what had happened in the water. From what he remembered, nothing had even happened. None of his siblings had even been near him, and nothing had hit him. How could he have possibly received it in the first place?
"What's going on?" Theresa entered the room, strolling on over to the couch.
Without hesitation, Cody extended his arm out to show Theresa, and she gasped. "Did you hurt yourself?" she asked carefully.
"No," Cody repeated.
"Are you sure? How would you have gotten it?"
"I don't know."
"I'm no doctor," Theresa began, "but make sure you tell me if it gets worse. If it starts to hurt or anything. I'll take you to the doctor if that happens."
"Okay." Cody began to feel uncomfortable now. He was worried that he would have to go to a hospital, and everyone knew how much he feared hospitals. He was terrified of needles, and definitely feared bad news. He would look at people in the hospitals who had diseases that could cause death, and was afraid that he'd be told he had the same thing one day. He wondered how those people felt, having to deal with that. What really had him thinking was, how could they always get through it with an ear-to-ear smile on their face? They were always smiling, and were tough through it all. Even kids who were Shirley's age!
"It's time for bed anyway, so if anything happens in the middle of the night, I don't mind if you wake me up." Theresa would always be willing to do anything for her children. She'd get up at the crack of dawn to watch cartoons with them, she'd be their "medical assistant" when they fell ill, and she'd even risk her life for them. She couldn't even count how many times she'd gotten up in the middle of the night to care for a sick child. But, of course, she didn't mind, although sleep was very precious to her. But she was a loving mother, and her children's needs always came before hers.
Ryan was suddenly awaken by a bright light shining into his bedroom, and the sound of faint, whispering voices coming from the bathroom. He rose into a sitting postion, rubbing the sleep out of his tired eyes. Glancing over at Cody's bed, he realized that it was empty, and his brother was nowhere to be found in the bedroom. It was quite obvious that Cody was responsible for the light shining into the bedroom, as he was up to something, but Ryan was also capable of indicating that Cody wasn't the only one in there. Stumbling out of bed, Ryan tip-toed across the hallway, despite the war in his mind. The angel side of his mind convinced him that sleep was more important than snooping on his brother, while the devil side argued that curiosity killed the cat, and the situation seemed far too suspicious to leave alone. He decided that the devil side was indeed correct, and out of his own curiosity, he peeked around the corner of the doorway.
Curiosity killed the cat, right?
He was rather surprised as to what lay before his very eyes. Cody lay sprawled on the floor, pale-faced, arms wrapped tightly around his stomach. Theresa knelt beside her son, continuously shushing him and examining him with her seemingly magical eyes. Ryan also happened to notice that Cody's entire left arm had turned purple. It was the same arm where the purple splotch had been earlier.
"What happened?" Ryan mumbled, rubbing his eyes again.
Theresa's gaze left Cody's horrific arm, and met with Ryan's eyes. "I don't know," she said.
Cody was sobbing on the tiled floor, as he was in an incredible amount of pain. It was like a thousand needles had plunged through his skin in unison, slowly tearing apart his insides. His head pounded like a drum, as if a musician had brought along his entire crew to form a drum circle in the centre of his brain. "Shouldn't we get him checked out?" Ryan asked.
"I suppose we should." Theresa's eyes darted back to Cody. His strong hatred for hospitals jumped in the way, but by now, the family was left with no choice. Cody would have to face his worst enemy.
"You'll be alright," Theresa said in a calm tone. Ryan wondered how she could be so calm during a time like this. "Look, I know that a hospital isn't exactly your preferred destination, but that's where we'll have to go. I promise the doctors are nice there, and they'll do whatever it takes to meet your needs. You'll be better in no time."
"No," he groaned.
"You will benefit from this visit," Theresa said soothingly. "The doctors will make you all better. They can properly diagnose you, and they'll do whatever it takes to make you better. I promise you. Ryan, go get the girls for me, please." She whirled around and shot Ryan a serious look. Knowing this was a medical emergency, he rushed off just across the hall to Jodi and Shirley's room.
Theresa continued to calm Cody down while Ryan attempted to wake his sisters. He decided to tap Shirley first, since she was the easiest to get up. He gently tapped her shoulder, trying not to bump into the sideboards of her bed, which prevented her from falling out of bed at night. "Shirley," he whispered quietly.
Not even making a sound, Shirley rolled over, and gazed up at Ryan. She wore a puzzled expression on her face, because Ryan had never woken her up during the night before. Something was up. "What?" she mumbled sleepily.
"We gotta go to the hospital," said Ryan. "There's something wrong with Cody."
Shirley squinted at the brightness of the bathroom light shining in her face from across the hall. "Like what?" she inquired.
"We don't know," Ryan answered. "That's why we gotta go." He lifted Shirley above the sideboards and placed her on her feet on the floor. "Go see Mom," he said, and ushered her out of the room. Now he had to go through the trouble of waking up Jodi.
"What happened, Mommy?" Shirley asked, bouncing into the bathroom. She clutched a teddy bear in her small hands.
"I don't know," said Theresa. "We've got to go to the hospital to find out."
"Now?" said Shirley. "But Mommy, it's night time!"
"I know that, honey," Theresa said calmly. "But this is an emergency."
"I don't wanna go," Cody moaned. "It's too scary."
"It's the only way you can get help." Theresa was beginning to get frustrated.
"Yeah," Ryan agreed, entering the room with Jodi. "Unless you want to suffer."
At last, Cody let in. The pain increased as time passed, and the hospital would offer their thoughts on what could be wrong. And if they found what was wrong, they would fix it. Theresa scooped Cody up from the bathroom floor and carried him to the living room couch as she waited for her other three children to get themselves ready to go. With her mind in full panic mode, she knew she must get Cody to the hospital soon, before something even worse happened.