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I hurt deep in my chest as a reminder when I tried to sleep which I couldn't do more than an hour or so at a time. It was warm, like fifty-five degrees, raining, and Mom would come to the door but I kept it locked and when she knocked I wouldn't answer. Eventually, she would leave, and I would be alone with my thoughts; a crazy jumble of scenes that were true but distorted into things that weren't true and in my head I could hear the voices so clear it was like I was hearing them for the first time. Over and over they played, with my teeth gritted past pain and my eyes hours out of tears, but my breathing still hitched in my lungs and I gripped the covers until I forgot what they felt like.
Yesterday, two weeks before Thanksgiving, we got the call from my uncle, Grandma died in her sleep. He left the message on the answering machine.
"Kathryn, Mom died. I went to see her this morning and I picked up the paper like I always do. You know how Mom likes to read the paper with her oatmeal. I made it like normal with milk instead of water and a spoonful of honey and brought it up to her. I called her name while I was coming up so she knew it was me and I walked in. She was asleep so I put the oatmeal on her dresser, on top of the paper and put my hand on her shoulder and-- she was cold. Call me."
I didn't bother to check the message when we got home. I was halfway up the stairs when I heard the beep and two from the top when Mom screamed. She must have dropped the phone because there was a loud thump and when I ran down to see what happened she was sitting on the floor with her back against the refrigerator crying.
"What the hell was that?"
"Your-- oh God."
"Grandma-- she-- she's-- passed away."
"She died. This-- this morning. Uncle Elroy found her."
"But she was fine. We saw her yesterday. She was FINE."
"She was fine, Mom."
"He-- didn't say."
But I knew it didn't matter what Uncle Elroy had to say. I knew what happened; what killed her. And I knew it was no one's fault but mine.
This is the part I don't like to talk about. Just sitting here, alone, when it's dark outside. Really, it doesn't really matter if it's dark or not because that's only part of the problem. I said it was my fault my grandma died and I truly believe that. I was a junior in high school when it happened, but the thing happened when I was a lot younger. I think maybe it attached itself to me or something. Followed me maybe. Whatever it was, it wanted me dead, of that much I'm sure.
Except it couldn't hurt me directly. I mean, it couldn't just make my heart stop or make me walk in front of a bus. It didn't work like that. It did everything it could to make me hurt myself, though. And it could do pretty much whatever it wanted with anyone else. People get hurt all the time, sure. People have accidents, get bruises, break arms, whatever. And they go to the doctor or the hospital and they get better.
Unless they've met me.
And hey, I'm not going to try to tell you to believe anything, but what you want to believe. If anyone else told me this I'd be the first one to call bullshit. I go to church, but I don't really believe in God. I guess I don't care and that makes me agnostic or whatever. But believe what you want. I'm going to tell you what happened the way I remember it and you can decide for yourself if it's true.
It's true for the people who aren't here anymore.
I found out later that day Grandma died in her sleep. It was pretty much how my uncle said except for the part he left out. She was like eighty-five years old, but she was in good health. She exercised regularly, walking around the neighborhood and at the mall with her friends, watched what she ate. I mean, she was eighty-five. Most people don't live that long. But I'm serious when I say she was healthy. She even had all of her teeth she took such good care of them. Brushed like two or three times a day and flossed and all that. Saw the dentist regularly.
So what happened to her just doesn't make any fucking sense. I feel crazy even saying it. They were gone. Her teeth. Every damn one of them. Gone. No blood, no broken pieces. Nothing in the bed or in the room or in the house. She didn't swallow or choke on them. I mean, how could she? They were healthy. She still had all her teeth when I saw her the day before. Every time she smiled.
That's not even the worst part. Her gums were black. Completely black. And the nerves were, well, hard, like thorns, so they stuck out like little needles. I saw pictures from the coroner. Said he'd never seen anything like it in twenty-five years on the job. Said he couldn't be sure, but it was like they crystallized, like those spikes you find in caves where water drips limestone deposits and they form over hundreds of years.
I really don't know what any of this means except to say I didn't believe a word of it. I saw the pictures, sure, but that didn't make them any more real for me. Mom took them and hid them somewhere. I've looked all over the house—I know where she hides stuff like Christmas presents—even outside and the garage and the shed and there's nothing. Maybe she destroyed them.
I would have.
Why would anyone give those to a grieving family?
I should have figured it out. It wasn't the coroner's or the doctor's or my uncle's fault. It did this because it wanted to do it to me. Since I was six years old it followed me both times we moved, once a whole state away. I tried throwing it away, I buried it in the backyard once, smashed it with one of my dad's hammers. It was on his dresser the day he died and it was the only thing I had left to remember him by.
I kept it next to my bed until the day I figured out it was responsible for the deaths of everyone I loved.
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