January Fiction: The Final Story (short story)

by Emma Ryan, Age 14, USA

The fiction prompt of the month for January was “superstitions.”

 

The Final Story

They’ve always called me superstitious, even mad. They’ve always called the happening a “coincidence.” But I know better–and so does Uncle Van, if he is still alive.

It occurred late at night. Not a particularly blustery, terrifying or paralyzing night. On the contrary, it was rather ordinary, with a light dusting of snow on the pavement. After a round of holiday excursions, an uneventful evening with just the family (such as it was) was quite welcome, though others might have called it depressing.

We were all gathered around the fire, on the last night of the old year. Julie, the veritable pride and joy of the family, was there, and so were my father and mother, little Ross, and a small army of aunts, uncles, and cousins. And then of course, there was Uncle Van.

Uncle Van was semi-legendary in the family. Nobody knew much about him. Why he had shown up at all was a mystery in itself. He looked quite young, but he was old. No one knew how old. His hair was graying only at the edges, and his step was brisk and lively. His age was only betrayed in his old, old eyes.

Uncle Van possessed a certain genius for storytelling. I confess that I had spent many of the previous weeks making eyes at Julie, who had come to stay for the holidays. But for hours, Uncle Van had held us under a spell, and we sat as wide eyed and open mouthed as any naive babe and listened to the tales of myth, mystery, and magic that he told us. Even to this day, I have never heard such stories as I heard that night, while the snow pelted softly on the roof.

As the fires burned down to embers, shadows played on Uncle Van’s face, forming weird shapes. He seemed to tower above us all, like a pagan god over his helpless subjects. His ageless eyes smouldered and burned like twin coals, as we listened, transfixed, to his final story.

He was confident that it had really happened. Of course, we all knew better. But under the spell of those eyes, it was hard to be practical.

By the end of the story, his voice had sunk to a whisper. “Nobody outside the family of Trent ever believed their tale. But they knew, and now you know. The best advice I can give to you right now is never to try what they tried.” He glanced around.

I glanced around, feeling as if I had been released from a spell. My father gazed into the fire, unblinking. My mother laughed, nervously, it sounded to my ear. “Simply a superstition.”

Uncle Van’s eyes burned into her, but he said nothing. In the silence, he rose and walked out of the room. “Thank you for the stories, Uncle Van,” Julie murmured, and he  acknowledged her with a slight bow.

She turned to look at me, with a smile on her lips, but something in her eyes sent a chill of fear over my body.

The conversation waned. Uncle Van’s last words seemed to have put a damper on our enjoyment, and the rest were not slow to retire. Julie and I alone remained, and I quietly enjoyed her company.

But when I turned to look at her, I was shocked by the brilliance of her eyes. “Let’s try it,” she whispered, but her voice was unnatural, and her tone bordered on hysteria.

“Don’t be ridiculous.” The volume of my own voice scared me. “It is after all, only a story. There’s nothing to be afraid of. Don’t be such a silly.” But she was afraid, and I was too.

I grabbed her wrist as she approached the fire. But none of my admonitions would prevent her.

She did it with her back turned to me, and I couldn’t see exactly the movement of her hands, because I felt too sick to move. But somehow I knew she had done just as Uncle Van had described.

She turned to face me, and I saw her silhouetted in crimson and gold, her lustrous eyes and the waves of luxuriant hair that flowed over her shoulders.

“Don’t you see?” She laughed in my face, as my shoulders sagged a little with relief. “Not a particle of harm done.”

I believed Julie as we kissed each other good night. It was easy when she was around. But as I lay in the dark of my own bedroom, threads of ice wrapped themselves around my heart, and I stared wide-eyed into the darkness. I never heard a sound, though she slept a few doors down.

I was not surprised in the morning, though my greatest fears were realized. Julie lay in bed, with the face of an angel. Yet her heart had stopped beating.

Of course they didn’t believe me when I told them what she had done. “Coincidence,” they said. But Uncle Van knew. He left that very morning, and we have had no news of him since.

A superstition? I think not.

*

Emma says: “I love to write because of the power I receive from the words I create, and because I have the ability to lose myself in a different world.” Emma’s Blog

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