a year for a life

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
the story is about a girl who wants her family back, but they're all dead.

Submitted: June 06, 2017

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Submitted: June 06, 2017

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A Year for a Life

 

You can only cherish your family for so long, before they are all gone.

- Marie Nova

 

The lies I’ve told carry the burden of my promises. Unto death the guilt shall overcome.

- Joe Starrling

 

The shadows crept from room to room, slipping into the children’s dreams, reminding them about who they really are, lonely and afraid. The blankets muffled the cries of some orphans and the salty trace of tears was intertwined with the wafting trail of burnt porridge.

A young girl hugged her stuffed bunny close, ignoring the matted fur and stains it had withheld throughout the past year. Once in awhile she would roll to her left and her right,  sniffing as the tears dribbled down her eyes, onto her tattered sheets.

Catherine regarded the girl with pity, her gazing softening, stretching her arm as if trying to touch the girl's shoulders. Catherine had come here for a few years already, and hardened from the food and harsh words. The only thing that ever warmed her heart was the painting of the sycamore tree that hung from the wall. Dust masked the painting, letting only a few streaks of color to show itself.

But, it was enough for Catherine.

The bright yellow sun was like a beehive, with honey dripping down onto the leaves, which reflected the light like stain glass.

Memories rushed into her mind every single time she gazed at the painting- the memories of her dead family, and mainly, her dear little brother who she cherished the most. Catherine had promised her brother to stay with him forever. Now, he’d been gone for many years, a hole was emptied in her heart just for him. She missed a loving hand that would touch her wet cheeks after her tears, the roar of laughter and pride that was emitted by her parents. But, those were all in the past, and now, all she had was her mother’s favorite painting.

  Closing her eyes, Catherine sunk into her sheets and rested her head on the hard pillow, and drowned in her dreams.

Her dreams were different than usual. She was in a brightly lit corridor with seven doors stretching across the wall. One at a time, the doorknob clicked and a hand reached out. Her mother strolled through the door. After that, the rest of the family members also appeared in front of their own doors. The only one that didn’t open was her little brother’s, which was at the very end of the corridor, locked shut. She was sucked towards the corridor, and she let out a silent plea, Brother, come out, where are you? Don’t leave me by myself. Come out… please...

Suddenly the world flipped and she was on her back, staring at the molding ceiling.Brother…  Catherine wiped the tears from her cheeks with her trembling hands.

Pushing herself up, Catherine looked around and saw that everyone just started waking, some yawning, their eyes moist, and others still lay motionless on their bed, silent. She curled under her sheets. She glanced out the window, and saw a soft light leaking through. The clouds had a tint of pink and yellow, like cotton candy in the sky. The color soon became richer as the golden sun, rose higher and higher.

The trees leaned from side to side. Their red leaves whispering and humming, sometimes blown off onto a pile of dry leaves on the ground. She sighed and closed her eyes, letting the warmth of the sheets to seep in. it felt like she was next to a small fireplace, the ember rising steadily.

The large bells at the tip of the orphanage released it’s sonorous call, rousing all the girls in the room. Catherine crawled out of her bed, and went to the bathroom, to dress out of her striped, purple pajamas. She combed her hair in front of the mirror, the hazel strands curling as the light flickered uncertainly above. The reflection she saw of was a girl who was lost, unable to look forward and see into the future. Her light grey eyes were dull, her face pale, and her arms like twigs that had broken off a tree. Catherine turned away, and entered the cafeteria.

The smell of burnt porridge greeted her, drawing her attention to the long, wooden tables with a meager bowl placed in front of each seat. Catherine walked to the very corner, pressing her back against the wall, and pieces of paint pulled off, scattering onto the ground. She kept her distance from the throng of kids that only grew thicker and thicker.

She sat down quietl , sipping the hot substance down her throat. Her tongue was sizzling from the heat, but Catherine held a yelp down. Everyone had already took their seats, laughing and smiling with their friends. But, Catherine wasn’t a part of it, she never was and never would be. A shadow crossed her face as she saw a girl, feeding her baby brother. Catherine shut her eyes, and turned away.

It was soon break time and all the kids were filing out the door. After Catherine was sure that they all were gone, she swiftly slipped out the back door, and strolled through the graveyard.

The air was moist and it smelled like petrichor, as it had rain throughout the night. The wind picked up the fallen leaves, twirling them around its finger. The crackling echoed through the forest.

She sighed, wandering in the graveyard, oblivious to the puddles she stepped in, soaking her shoes with mud. She stopped in front of a gravestone that had the words, Maria Cornerstone, 1943- 1984, carved onto it. When she read this, her eyes stung, and she buried her face into her palms. It was her mother’s gravestone. No matter how many times she saw it, she would always break down into tears. Along the lane, there were more gravestones, all sharing the same family name.

Her little brother's gravestone hunched feebly in the wind. Her brother died a year before, after all of her family members. He was the last to go, and the hardest one for her to accept the fact that he left her by herself.

She had tried to kill herself, hitting her wrist repeatedly with a stone. Catherine had thought that if she were to die, the misery and guilt would leave her, and she would be able to join with her family. But, she was also afraid to die, and stopped herself before the injury went too far. She had hated the world, and shut herself in the room by herself, hiding into the dark depths of her sheets. The first few weeks were nightmares. She saw her brother come back to life, only to leave, and followed by a trail of tears.

She had screamed in her mind, but it always tormented her, and cut her head open, tearing away all good thoughts. She had come to the graveyard everyday to meet them.

“Catherine”, a voice suddenly remarked.

Catherine spun around, and found herself face to face to an old man. His eyes were hollow like an endless hole. He smiled, showing his teeth that were yellow, and growing at awkward angles. His wrinkles stretched from his eyes to his forehead. He held out his swollen hand, that was filled with dirt and sweat.

She leaned back and stood, looking down at her feet, like she never saw that old man. He reached his hand farther, until he was touching her shoulder.

“Everyone wants something, and you want a family.” he offered, his voice low.

“So? Is there something wrong with that?!” Catherine clenched her hand tight, until it was as pale as snow.

“No,” he uttered quietly, “and I came here to offer you a deal. If you sacrifice years of your life, I will give you a family member in exchange for it. I must leave, so here, take this with you. Think about it.” and he left, as if he turned into the fog, that rose into the sky.

She gripped the paper, crushing the edges. Catherine stared into the space where the man had dispersed from. She was gawking, her eyebrows rising. Finally after a few minutes, she looked down and read what was written on the little slip of paper.

 

You want your family. You want your life.

But, which is more to you?If you wish to have them,

Then here is a deal:

You must lose at least a year of your life

For in exchange, for each you’ll have one family member

Will you accept the deal or not?

If you do, come back.

 

What the heck was this about? Catherine bit her lip, color changing to a deeper shade of red. Walking back to the orphanage, she let out a sigh, and thought, It wouldn’t hurt to come back. It might just be a silly game.  

The next day, Catherine took off, slipping past the huge crowd that jostled each other to get into the cafeteria. She followed the shadows and found her way to the graveyard, seeing the old man sitting down, leaning against a wind bitten grave stone.

“Hello,” she whispered, “are you okay?” Hearing no response, she trudged forward and lightly tapped the old man on his shoulder. When she withdrew her hand, mud stuck on.

“Sir?”

He jerked his head forward and exclaimed, his eyes widening, but then settled down. Uncertain if the old man forgot that Catherine was still there, she stretched her hand to tap him once more, when he softly said, startling her, “You came. What do you ask for? Yes or no?”

The words confused her, so she expressed what she had in mind.

“I want my family and I would do anything to achieve such a gift. As you had said before, all I want is to be able to reunite with them. I agree to the terms of the deal. So, can I have my family members?” she asked as politely as she could.

He looked at her but at the same time, he didn’t. His sight wandered like an abandoned dog as he answered, “It’s not as easy as you think. First, you must leave a drop of your own blood into the soil, and yell out the words, ‘Give them back, their wretched soul, let them out of your grasp. Leave them be and let them stay with me, for I’ll give them life and time to you’. Then you must swear the amount of life you will sacrifice and they will come. But, only by one by one.”

Catherine stared blankly at the old man, her brows furrowed.

“How does the losing your life thingy work?”

He sighed and answered, “you are going to live for 77 years. You give your family members and amount of years, that must exceed one year. Then for example, if you give away two years, then you would only live 75 years, and pass away. Instead of becoming older, your future becomes shorter. “

Catherine nodded, tilting her head down. But the frown was still painted on her face, as she was still puzzled of what was happening.

“When they come back, what condition will they be in? Will they have feelings?”she questioned. He stared at her in the eyes for moments that lasted hours.

“They return back to the state before they died they do not age, and yes, they have feelings.” he answered.

She walked over to her mother’s graveyard and sat down. Nearby was a dried up rose, its color already seeped into the ground. Catherine slowly picked it up, pulling the rose to her index finger. She swiped down hard, and a trail of blood dripped down, dyeing the soil red. She chocked a bit in pain, but coughed it out.  This feels silly, she thought and she turned around and scanned the perimeter to see if there was anyone in sight. No one. She pondered about the next step, her mouth opening and closing. Finally she decided to yell the words and right when she finished saying “time to you”, each gravestone started rumbling, startling her. She fell back, her hair touching the dirt.

Catherine thought, calm down and say how much life time you give them. Her heartbeat slowly, returning to the steady beat she always wore.

“12” Catherine said, saying her age.

She stared at her mother’s gravestone, and at the same time, she thought of her dear little brother. Her mother’s gravestone vibrated, like the dead crawling out, into life.  An ethereal light appeared, striking the gravestone like lightning. A long slender arm pushed through and her breathtakingly beautiful mother crawled out. Her mother's face looked like a flower, blossoming red.

Catherine cried in the inside, flowing tears of joy. Mom! Tears flowed down her heart, and felt some of the weight from the years before rising.

“Is that you, Catherine?” her mother said, gazing at her with blithe happiness. Catherine nodded back to her, straining to keep herself from not running.

“Mom. It’s me.”

“Cathy!” her mom rejoiced, as Catherine finally fell into her arms. “I missed you so much. I’m so sorry I left you! I’m so sorry... ”

They both stifled back sobs as they embraced each other.

“Mom,” Catherine said, “what do you remember?”

“Oh Cathy, I remember everything, from the day you were born until now.” her mother said, smoothing out Catherine's hair.

“Mom, are you okay with me doing this? Is what I’m doing wrong?”

“Cathy, as long as I’m with you, I'll be happy.” her mom said, smiling.

Encouraged, Cathy walked hand in hand with her mother as they headed towards the orphanage. Realizing that it would be a bad idea, she headed toward her old, abandoned home that she and her family once happily lived in, years ago.

Inside the small house, the rusty nails fell out of their respectable places, loosening the wooden boards. Water dripped from the roof and endlessly echoed. Mold creeped along, thriving in herds. When Catherine touched the wooden boards, She gulped in pain as it left splinters in her fingers.  

The stale air crowded all smell, even the smell of dirt. It was like a fog, covering everything. The taste of hopelessness hung onto the walls, and dust and cobwebs made their homes in the corners.

Catherine sighed, but she was used to these poor conditions. After all, she'd lived in the orphanage for a few years. Catherine went to fetch some blankets in the closet. She examined the faded pink and blue blankets. It was a bit torn up and moth bitten but is was better than nothing, Catherine carried them to the bedrooms, and placed them near her mother. Her mother’s eyes were full of concern, her brow furrowing and her sky blue eyes shining.

“Cathy, do you need my help?” she whispered.

“It’s okay mom. You should sleep and get some rest.” Catherine said while wrapping her in a warm blanket, and kissed her goodnight.

“I love you, Cathy” her mom whispered, and closed her eyes. Catherine smiled, and whispered back, “I love you too” while leaving the room.  I now have a family, she thought, and one that loves me.

Catherine laid down, and fell into a peaceful sleep. It was night.

It was soon morning and the birds called out, singing. Catherine forced open her eyes, and pushed off her blankets. She trudged over to the kitchen to see what she would have for breakfast. She was meet with the silence, as she remembered that she had left the orphanage and her mother was alive. Sighing, she searched the house, and found of wad of cash in her dad’s bedroom.

I need to go back to my room and get the painting, she thought, but first I need to buy some food. She checked on her mother who was sleeping peacefully, her wrinkles fading, and whispered, “I’ll come back”, and strolled out the door, out into the open air.

Catherine clutched the cash tightly, not daring to lose them to the wind. The wind lightly bit her face, brushing past her face. She was soon in front of the market, and the smell of fresh apple pie wafted across the area. Catherine drooled, but resisted the urge to buy it. She walked down to the apple stand and bought a bucket full of apples, carrying them in her arms.

In the house, she left the apples on the counter, and immediately went back out the door.  Catherine exhaled as she trudged to the orphanage. She made her way through the grass that were coated with dewdrops, her beaten up shoes drenched. As she passed through the graveyard, staring longingly at her brother’s gravestone.

Catherine gently opened  the doors, tip toeing through the hall, and walked into the rooms. Lucky, no one was there, as it was sunday morning. She snuck out the painting, and crept out the orphanage. She didn’t even turn back once.

When she passed through the graveyard for the hundredth time, she decided to stay. Seeing the wilted rose, she followed the same procedure as she did last time. Again the gravestones rumbled as she shouted, “24”. She said, doubling her age. Since I have so much life left ahead of me, I might as well give away lots.

Catherine held in a breath. “Let it be my brother, let it be my brother” repeatedly played through her mind. But instead, the hand that came out, grasping the air was none other than her Aunt Marielle.

Catherine cried in the inside. Why did her aunt come back and not her brother! Tears flowed down her heart as she struggled to look at her aunt.

“Is that you, Catherine?” Aunt Marielle said, eyeing her suspiciously. Catherine nodded back to her though she still averted her eyes.

“Yes ma’am.” Catherine muttered.

Suddenly Aunt Marielle smiled and placed her hand on her shoulder and said, “you’ve been lonely, haven’t you?” Catherine gulped and chided herself.  Why did I treat Aunt Marielle so bad. She loves me like everyone else. I should be happy.

“Aunt Marielle, Mother is already home.”  Home, I finally said it.

“Yes, I know. Let's go home.” Aunt Marielle helped carry her mother’s favorite painting and followed her to their house. Catherine’s mom was already awake, awaiting their footsteps. When her mom saw her aunt, she cried and they wrapped their arms around each other. A tear fell down Catherine’s eyes when she saw this. She quietly slipped through the door, determined to raise another family member.

The sun was high up in the sky, and gray clouds could be found nowhere in sight. Catherine skipped towards the graveyard, and sat down on the dirt shouting “16” after saying the vow. She giddily waited until she found herself face to face with her cousin, Sandra.

“Sandra!”

“Cathy!” Sandra shouted, embracing Catherine. They laughed and laughed, smiling. Sandra and Catherine skipped back to their home, and her cousin reunited with Catherine’s aunt. Catherine was jubilant the whole time, singing Christmas songs even though there was still a season left to wait.

Together they went out to buy food, however Catherine made them wear disguises much to  their disapproval.

“I don’t want to!” Sandra had said, flatly refusing to wear the sunglasses that was coated in pink and white polka dots. “I will not!” instead of feeling irritated, Catherine felt more joyful because though she wanted a loving family, she doesn’t want one that always agrees with was she said, nodding and smiling as though she was the last person alive. Catherine released a sigh of relief and gave Sandra a different sunglasses that was painted blue.

When they returned home, Catherine’s mom made a delicious dinner, varying from turkey to pies. The delectable smell wafted all over, hovering in the corners. Thank you for letting me have this experience once more, Catherine thought. They ate until night and collapsed on theirs beds in a deep slumber.

The next morning, Sandra was up early, shaking Catherine's shoulders. The sky was still dark, and Catherine felt groggy and sleep deprived.

“Let me sleep...” Catherine grumbled, sinking deeper into her sheets.

“C’mon. It’s morning, bright day! Let’s go outside.” Sandra whined. After a few minutes, Sandra was able to persuade Catherine to be up, and together they ran to the graveyard. Sandra grasped Catherine tightly throughout the process. After saying “10” Sandra looked anxiously at her uncle's grave stone, giggling when she saw it vibrate. Catherine was glad that her uncle came back, as he was a nice and fun person, but she was downcast, for she wanted her little brother to come back.

“Hello.” Catherine said politely to her uncle Shan, hiding her feelings. Her uncle only stared and then turned to his daughter, grimacing and backing away. After all the shock settled in, Catherine faced her uncle and asked, “Are you okay? You don’t seem well.” Seeing Catherine step forward, her uncle inched back, avoiding Sandra’s quizzical gaze.

“Daddy?” Sandra voiced, reaching her arms out to him. Catherine uncle flinched, and shot Catherine a bitter scowl, and ran into the forest. Sandra’s face was ashen, and she looked at Catherine, horrified, and yelled, “DADDY!”, but the only answer was the whistle of the wind.

Catherine brought Sandra home after she couldn’t bear to feel the screams erupting for her. Her shoulder was soaked with tears, where Sandra had cried on, and she felt weak. Catherine’s knees trembled and she  thought, why did Uncle Shan leave Sandra? She closed the door behind her, and hurriedly explained the morning to her attentive mom and sobbing aunt, ignoring her hollow voice.

“I’m going to find him.” Catherine announced after one last look at Sandra’s dry, red eyes. Catherine left before any of them could say otherwise, and searched the direction where her uncle had ran.

After an hour of looking in sheds, behind fences and behind gravestones, Catherine nearly gave up until she heard a constant muttering of “why”. She crept across the garden and spotted her uncle, hunched in the corner, eyes glazed. Creeping up to him, she leaped and held a strong grip on his right arm, daring him to escape.

“Let GO!” he thrashed, but tripped and fell onto his back. “What do you want with me? Why bring me back? I have enough of this life! At least leave me be!”

“NO!” Catherine shot back, “tell me why you ran away!” her uncle suddenly calmed, and locked her gaze and said, “How about a night time story?” and he began to tell:

I had what I wanted, a house, a family and a job. Caught in the marvelous dream, I started wasting money and selling lies. By the time I'd stopped gambling, half the money we had went down the drain, and I was devastated. ‘It’s all my fault’ was what I thought day after day, and soon it drove me crazy, even hungrier for money. One night, I was driving my family back home after drinking bucket fulls of wine. My wife did not notice and my daughter was busy playing. I was just barely over the speed limit, and the next thing I knew was that we had crashed, into a supply truck. I survived, by myself.

“I knew I shouldn’t have drank that wine, but I still did, and that cost the life of all I ever had. So, I killed myself out of guilt, just like that, quick and painless. I drove 150mi into traffic, and took another 25 grieving souls with me.”  His eyes were gleaming when he said this. “I’m sure they were happy.”

Catherine stared shocked at her uncle.

“But why? They were innocent? What did they do to deserve to die?” In her own mind, she screamed, Why did my parents and brother deserve to die?! He answered with a laugh, “ You're too young to understand. Everyone’s lives are full of guilt, and waiting for someone to save them. That what I did. They must have be thankful.”

Catherine furiously shook her head, and saw the images replayed in her mind. The new children who came to the orphanages, her past neighbors whose children died. Their faces were all swollen with pain, hopeless for their future. She was one of those, and she will not tolerate her uncle.

“Leave,” she barked, “and never come back again!” her uncle then twisted out of her grasp, and left. Frustrated, Catherine went back to her house after seeing her uncle vanish. She was silent, and ignored the stares of curiosity.

“I’m going back to the graveyard.”

Sandra nodded but a shadow crossed her face. “How many years do you have left?”

“I’m sure there’s plenty.” Catherine insisted. But, Sandra’s question unsettled her and she felt a stone in her stomach. “I’m sure there's plenty...” she repeated.

Catherine walked over to the gravestones, standing right between her father’s and her brother. She whispered the vow, and cautiously said, “14 years”. She stared expectantly and waited until her father’s broad shoulders came into sight. Catherine smiled and jumped into her dad’s arms. They spoke and laughed at each other as her dad lifted her up like the old times when she was a child. Tears fell down her cheeks.

“Daddy?” Catherine asked.

“Yes, my darling?”

“I miss Michael.” Catherine said, closing her eyes to imagine her little brother.

“I know how much you love your little brother. I’m sure we’ll meet him soon.” her father said encouragingly.

“Okay, I’m ready.” Catherine sat down, and repeated the vow. But before she could finish, the old man approached her from the shadows and said, “My dear girl, you only have a year left. Do you remember the deal? You can't have him.”

Catherine’s hand flew to her mouth, and her felt her breathe leaving, leaving her stricken with pain. No, no, no, no, no, no!!!! This can’t be happening!!!! Catherine gasped and tears rushed out of her eyes, like an endless waterfall. What did Michael and I do to deserve this? what?

When the old man saw Catherine fall to her knees, his gaze softened and he lightly touched her shoulder and said, “Here, how about I give you another deal. I’ll grant you your wish to have your brother, but you can only stay with him for a day.”

“Only a day? That’s it after all the waiting?. What will happen after that day?” Catherine muttered, her gaze lost. She clutched her knees, shaking, murmuring, “Michael… Michael…” The old man helped her up from the ground and responded solemnly, “You’ll be gone, from this world.” He hesitated but instructed Catherine to repeat the vow.

“One year”, Catherine said feebly, her arms fell to her side, defeated. She waited silently, still, like a corpse.

Her brother stumbled out the grave, and fell into Catherine’s arms. Catherine sobbed, hugging her brother tighter and tighter. She pulled herself up, and said, “I missed you so much Michael, so much.”

She rested her head on his shoulder, and felt the soft chubby hand, brush off the drying tears.

“Sis, don’t worry, nothing bad will happen. We’ll stay together forever. Remember? You promised me.” Her father turned his face away, and Catherine stopped, still.

Seeing the unease from her brother, she smiled and said, “Yes, forever. I’ll be with you forever.” Catherine was guilty of the lie, but tried to hide it.  

“Let’s go now.” she said, reaching for her brother’s hand.

He clung to her tightly, watching her with the soft blue eyes, and pale white cheeks. She walked him back home, saying, “Today will be a fun day. What do you want to do?”

Michael answered, jumping giddily, “I want to go to the circus! There is cotton candy and animals!”

Catherine nodded but said with a warning, “but you’ll have to walk. Are you okay with that?”

He nodded furiously, and gripped her hands as they went on the path to the circus.

After a while, Catherine saw Michael stumbling, his steps becoming slower and slower.

“Are you tired?” Catherine asked, but he vigorously shook his head, his face red with sweat.

“I’m fine.” Michael said, placing emphasis on the last word.  Catherine sighed and pulled him up over her shoulders and set him down. She pretended to fall back, and listened to him scream in fright and excitement.

“Don’t be scared, I won't drop you. I never will, so trust me.”

His small face pinched, but soon relaxed and he said, “Tomorrow, can we do this again?”

“Yes.” Catherine answered, her voice cracking.

“Promise? You said I could trust you.”

“Promise.” Catherine's voice was dry, as she forced the word out. “But, that’s tomorrow. Today is today.”

Catherine leaned forward once more, and ran with Michael screaming on her shoulders.

It was a priceless experience. They ate cotton candy, stuffing handfuls into their mouths every time. The sweet wisp of sugar clung onto the roof of Catherine's mouth, and she laughed hard when she saw the cotton candy smeared all over her brother's face. They sauntered over to watch circus shows, sometimes gasping when the performers played with fire and threw knives.

Finally, they strolled to the beach. The sky turned dark, and the streaks of red, orange and yellow, falling over the beach, disappearing off the horizon. Darkness engulfed the sand, and extinguished the fire that burned in Catherine’s heart.

They hugged each other tightly, their toes digging into the sand, and Catherine whispered, “That was fun, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah.” Michael said. Catherine squeezed tighter and sighed.

“Michael, I’m sorry.” Tears glistened in her eyes, and the stars reflected the light.

“Why?”

But Catherine didn’t answer, and stared out blankly to the sky. She felt her life seeping away, and felt like an empty shell.  She hugged her brother for the last time, whispered thanks to the old man, and said faintly, “I love you, forevermore.,” and leaned into her little brothers arms, with warm tears falling down her cheek as she closed her eyes and fell into an eternal slumber. I’m sorry… I couldn’t keep my only promises… Michael… Michael... I love you…  

 


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