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When you are a child, you want to be an adult. You want to grow up as fast as possible, and you want to be just like your parents. You don’t want to be in school, you want to have a cool job, like fireman or fighter pilot. You don’t want to sit in the back seat, you want to drive the car!
You watch and observe your parents with the utmost scrutiny, and try to mimic their behavior. You might even catch yourself talking like them, walking like them, and falling into their same old habits. You may even carry a few of their superstitions with you into your adult life.
Then, when you’re an adult, you want to be a child. You have a job that you hate, a car that keeps breaking down, a house that you can barely afford, and bills. Lots and lots of bills. Life becomes an ever-repeating cycle: you haul yourself out of bed, you work the nine-to-five, you come home, you order pizza, and you go to bed.
And when your parents have lived long and fruitful lives, they will leave you. They will disconnect in a flash, just like that, just like the stray spark that lit an old wooden cabin on fire. They abandon you. And when you’re standing there, as I was, in that house, amongst the ashes and the decaying, splintering walls that once contained you long ago, you are a child again. You are holding your confused daughter’s hand, but you are the real child.
And I stood there, as paramedics and firemen crowded around me. I didn’t move an inch. The wind blew in through the gaping hole in the ceiling and blew right through me, as if I were a ghost. My wife came and took the kids outside at the chief fireman’s request, but I stayed inside,
I stayed inside as they left, and sat down on the bed. I closed my eyes, and let my mind go back.
I was back in the woods, in the backyard of that old wooden cabin. The cabin was in its prime, practically glowing with a fresh coat of paint being carefully applied by my father, who was on the roof. I was out back, tossing a ball around with some friends. We were shooting the breeze between tosses, until we were interrupted by my mother’s call coming from the house.
There she was, opening the back window and setting a freshly baked pie on the sill. She smiled with that familiar, loving, toothy grin. She watched gleefully as each and every one of my friends stopped what they were doing and turned in the direction of the pie. And, like moths to a flame, they all ran up to the window, hoping to be fed. I followed close behind.
“Alright now, boys, you all will get your pie, just as soon as it cools,” she said, pulling the plate away from them, “All of you all go around front and come in through the front door like gentlemen, except you, Johnny. Your father wants to talk to you.”
“Okay, ma,” I said, nodding.
My friends all gave me chiding looks, “Daddy wants to talk to you, Johnny, you’re in trouble,” they’d say.
I gave them all punches on the arm and ran out to the front of the house. I screeched to a halt in front of the ladder that my father was descending.
“Watcha need me for, dad?” I asked, impatiently.
When he reached the ground, he smiled and patted me on the back, and led me to the garage. As we walked he said,
“Son, every day after school you and your friends go out in my back yard and play with that old baseball, and I’m gettin’ tired of it.”
My heart sank, “Oh, um, I’m sorry about us bothering you. We can go deeper into the woods, or to one of my other friend’s back yards…” my speech was cut short when he picked something up from a table.
“It’s not the place I’m tired of, it’s the game. Now you tell me boy, what is a baseball without a bat?” and with that, he turned around and presented to me a brand new bat, wrapped up in a red ribbon.
He handed it to me. My hands took hold of the bat, but my heart was busy beaming around in my chest. I couldn’t believe it. The bat was absolutely beautiful, light and limber, and fit perfectly in my hand.
“Now, go back out there and start playing that game right,” my father said, ruffling his hand through my hair.
I turned around, pivoting on my heel like the blown away child I was, and saw my mother standing behind us.
“Mom, look!” I spoke at last, holding up the bat.
I did a practice swing in the garage, and accidentally knocked over a toolbox.
“No, no, no, honey,” my mother said, grabbing the end of the bat, “You have to spit on the bat, and make it lucky. You’ll never miss a shot again.”
“Okay,” I said, doing as she suggested.
“Now, run along, child,” she said, satisfied.
So I did, and I went out back and played with my friends. As the batter, I never missed a shot. I helped my team win a few games, too. It felt good. No, it felt great. Mama was right.
Come to think of it, my mother was always right about every little superstition or trick she taught me as I grew up. Everything, from having a restless night if you don’t finish making your bed, to putting acorns in windows to keep out a storm, and even the old “throw the first fish away and you’ll have good fishing all day” tale.
I grew up with those tales, those superstitions. I was always blown away when my mother’s predictions came true. They served to reaffirm my childish belief that my mother was some sort of celestial entity in human form.
Unfortunately, my mother’s clairvoyance was not without its downsides. One morning, I was sitting with her in the living room, listening to her stories, when suddenly she stopped speaking. Her gaze left me and turned to the window. In the sill was a robin, pecking away at the wood.
“Honey…close that window,” she said very quietly, color draining from her face.
“But mom, there’s a bird in there,” I protested.
“Just do it, child,” she snapped, her eyes never leaving the robin.
“Alright, ma,” I sighed, getting up and moving to the window.
I waved my hands, trying to shoo away the bird, when it took to the air and flew past me. It got into the house, much to my mother’s dismay.
“No! Get out of my house!” my mother shrieked, waving her hands frantically at the bird.
Eventually the terrified robin made its way out the front door, which my mother locked with haste. I followed her to the door, and asked her what was wrong.
“Honey, if a robin enters a room through a window, death will surely follow,” she said, her eyes wide with fear.
“What? What does that mean?” I asked, beginning to feel my heart rate quicken.
“Just…just go into your room, and close the door. Lock it with your right hand. Sit on your bed, don’t look out your window. Don’t touch anything, don’t drop anything, don’t answer nobody’s call,” she said. She spoke so fast and so quietly that I could barely understand what this all meant.
“Mama, is someone gonna die?” I asked, my voice going hoarse.
“Listen and do as I say, child. Now go,” she said, but I wouldn’t budge. “Go!” she shouted, making me jump.
I turned around and bolted back to my room and locked the door. I stayed up there all day long, until the sun had set behind the trees of the forest surrounding our house. I watched from my bed as the colors of my walls changed as the hours passed, from white, to yellow, to a deep red, and then to black. And as the air grew colder, I sat there motionless, with my chin resting on my knees.
Was my mother right? Was someone going to die tonight? Surely a bird flying through a window doesn’t mean Death is dancing at my door, right? Right?
My mind became a blur, hours ticked by like minutes as a cold sweat developed on my back and forehead. Paranoid thoughts bombarded me, hitting me like a volley of arrows from the archer of fear. My stomach convulsed as I weighed my mother’s words, “…death will surely follow.”
I tried to listen for her, to find out what she was doing. A light shone through the crack under my bedroom door, and remained there for the entire night. I heard the occasional shuffle, the creak of a wooden floorboard, and at times what sounded like whispering.
Was she talking to herself? Yes, yes, she must be. Father was at work in the factory and wouldn’t be home until early in the morning. But…but isn’t that what crazy people do; talk to themselves when no one is around to hear? Is my mother crazy? Can I even trust her?
Maybe I’m the one who’s in danger here, I reasoned. Maybe I’m the one who’s gonna get it!
No! No, you’re overreacting, I scolded myself, if your father could hear you thinking about your mama like that, he’d give you five across the back of the head.
But one of us has to be right! Either my mother has fallen off her rocker, and I’m going to get it, or my mama is right, and someone else is gonna get it.
My mind bounced back and forth between these thoughts and, although I try, I cannot remember what happened next. I must’ve fallen asleep at some point, collapsing under the stress and pure paranoia. It was a lot for a child to take, and suffice to say I did not handle it well. Being all alone in a dark room wasn’t all that fun, either.
The next thing that I remember, I was awoken in my bed by the county Sheriff, Mr. Blake. He gave me time to recollect the night’s events, and when I was well-enough awake, I asked him about my mother. He sat down beside me, and told me that my mother had been taken away to the hospital due to a nervous breakdown.
“What made my mama flip her lid like that? Is she okay? Does my dad know?” I asked, still a little groggy.
“Son,” Mr. Blake breathed a heavy sigh, “Your mother had a nervous breakdown when she learned that her husband, your father…passed away in an accident at work.”
Those words hit me like the final arrow in the archer’s quiver.
“She lost her mind. She…she said that she knew it was going to happen, that there was an omen in her house,” the Sheriff continued, “I had to call for backup, and we had to sedate her, and send her to the hospital. I’m so very, very sorry, son. Your father loves you, even if he can’t be with you now. He would want you to know that.”
I sat and listened, looking down at the rays of sunlight pouring in through my window. After a long night, there was finally sunlight again. I had my answer, and it was a grim one. My mother’s prediction came true, just like all of her predictions have.
Even though I didn’t want to believe it, even though I wished that it hadn’t happened, even though I’d scream and cry and fight, and deny, deny, deny, I couldn’t escape it. Mama was right.
This pasta has received a rating of 6/10 or higher and has moved on to the finals of the 2015 freestyle pasta challenge.
Written by Tyber Zann