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This July has been an unusual month for everyone. Mrs. Joanne’s magnolia tree fell down unexpectedly. Danny, who cleans our pool, had some leggy little creature crawl into his ear and lay eggs. Lara’s school picture was on the milk cartons for a week before they realized she wasn’t missing. July has just been strange.
Even my sister Ella has gotten caught up in July. She’s only eleven years old, but she has soft little white hands and the prettiest pair of raccoon eyes. Ella’s never been much of a sleeper, so her skin tends to cling to her skull in the right places. It makes her look a little older and quite a bit smarter than she is, since Ella thinks even less than she sleeps.
My sister seems to have acquired an admirer. It started on the 4th of July, we think, though there may have been prior efforts to reach her. Aunt had just come home with a sparkler for each of us when she started shouting at my sister through the front doorway.
“What in God’s name is this, Ella? What in God’s name is all this?”
Ella came tearing down the stairs and I stood from the kitchen table to join the commotion. When I got to the door, I saw Aunt and Ella staring down at a meticulously organized array of dead wasps on the top step.
In slightly crooked letters, it read “ELLA.”
My sister looked back up at Aunt with drowsy composure and shrugged her shoulders. Aunt ordered her to sweep it up, and by that evening, there were no wasps on the front steps. But we weren’t allowed to use our sparklers.
A few days later, I went out to get the newspaper and almost put my bare foot down on the petrified carcass of a fat squirrel. It was fully intact but very deceased, and between its stiff paws it clutched an acorn with my sister’s name shakily engraved on it. I buried the squirrel under the bushes and didn’t mention it when I gave the acorn to Ella later that day.
It was Ella herself who found the third gift: a huge trout that reeked of decay. It was only when she lifted it by its tail that a plastic keychain dropped out of its mouth and onto the stairs. I gutted the trout and incorporated it into Aunt’s dinner while Ella delightedly played with her new toy, the electronic keychain that flashed her name in tiny lights.
As this went on, July grew progressively more peculiar. The pharmacy two blocks away was robbed by a man wearing a rubber pig mask. There were four house fires, days apart, each documented as being the result of flammable curtains in kitchen windows. Mr. Dole would assert that he never owned curtains, only shutters, but the reports stayed the same.
Aunt started locking our doors once she found the four dead rats lined up on our steps, one letter of Ella’s name on each of their furry backs in white paint. Ella was beaten for that incident.
After that, I started getting up early to check the front stairs before anyone else could. I was the one who swept up the “ELLA” made out of what looked like human teeth. I didn’t tell her about it, and the next day, Aunt and I came home from the store to find my bedroom window smashed open with a large rock.
Since nothing had been stolen, Aunt assumed it was somehow my sister’s work. Ella slept in the basement for two nights because of that, but I doubt she slept. Later, she would swear to me that someone with a croaky voice had been comforting her from inside the walls. “Cruel woman will sleep in cellar next time,” it told her.
July is almost over now and we haven’t seen Aunt for several days. Ella also hasn’t received another gift.
Though, judging by the rotten stench seeping out from under the basement door, I think she’s about to.