Chapter 1

It figures! So it’s the weekend before Memorial Day and do I get to sleep in? No! I get to wake my butt up at 8:00 a.m. and its Saturday for goodness sakes! What teenager in the world gets up before noon on a Saturday? I mean seriously. 8:00 a.m., that’s like being grounded or something, isn’t it?

So why am I feeling the dread of having to wake up so early this morning? It’s not like it’s gonna kill me or anything. I’ll get to sleep in soon enough once school is out for the summer. I can’t wait either. Not only is it the end of my junior year at high school but my birthday is right around the corner. I am so anxious too. I’m positive 17 years of age will finally bring me the excitement I have been waiting for my entire life. Well, that is what I am anticipating.

My early morning awakening just happens to be my duty as a child to help my family with their silly little tradition of going to cemeteries and primping deceased family member’s gravestones with vast rainbows of color. The only two I can ever seem to remember is that Great Grandmother Martha loves her Marigolds and Great-Great Grandmother Doris loves her Calendulas. Hey, I know it’s not much and someday I may have to carry on the tradition but until then, those are the only two I can seem to recall. Oh well!

 Again, I’m asking myself why I have the honor of getting up this wonderful Saturday morning just to ride around to grave plots to plant flowers for family who don’t even appreciate the time, effort and money spent on them. I’m mean seriously. They are dead, are they really going to care one way or another.

As I slowly begin to drag myself out of bed, I envision that I’m an extra cast member from Night of the Living Dead.  Now I’m not talking about the newer remake because that scared the crap out of me because of how fast they can sneak up on you. No, I’m talking about the original one where you can be two feet in front of the brain eating zombies the whole time and they can never reach you. That’s more my speed.

Maybe my lack of enthusiasm this morning is due from my staying up late last night instant messaging my cyber pal on Facebook or it could very well be my warm, and cozy handcrafted quilt that my grandmother had made me for my 9th birthday, that is making me linger way too long in bed this Saturday morning. 

I know all too well the aftermath I will succumb to if I don’t get out of bed. My grandmother will be here and up the stairs in a flash to get my lazy butt up for me. Reba, my grandmother, is a remarkable woman for someone of her age.  Though she does show some signs of aging with her short, white hair and her big rimmed bifocals, she still wouldn’t be considered grandmother material especially by any of my friends. That’s for sure.

She’s also a great story teller. Wow, does she have stories. She is overflowing out her ears with them.  She has something new to share with me at every visit.  I try my best to pay close attention each time in hopes that she will remember a new one to tell. I guess it’s because of her old age that she tends to repeat a few over and over.

Today, I’m prepared to listen intuitively, when she tells me again how famous my Great-Great Grandmother Doris was around town for her cabbage and green pea casserole.  “If ever there was a day a neighbor was down with the flu, your Great-Great Grandmother Doris would trek herself through rain or snow to the poor bedridden soul that was in dire straits of needing her flu fighting casserole.  People would be up and around in no time, spouting off how miracles seem to follow Doris where ever she spreads her warmth and generosity.” My grandmother brags about my great-great grandmother every chance she gets. I admit it. I love every tale.

My grandmother also tells me that she has some old journals that date back several hundred years, all with information about the Wilkinson Family Legacy.  Well, Wilkinson is my mother’s side, I’m a Wilkinson-Randolph, and so Randolph belongs to my father’s side, which my mother rarely talks about and so I’m kind of unfamiliar with them. My father left us when I was really young and I honestly don’t remember much about him. I can tell how much it hurts my mom so I really don’t bring the subject up. That’s how it has been all these years. I’m fine with that.

Someday my grandmother promises to entrust these old journals to me in order to carry on throughout the on-coming years since she is indeed ready to hang it up once and for all. Of course, I always think she is exaggerating. I can’t get over how she seems to be so tired and exhausted from life itself. For goodness sake, she is retired. She doesn’t have to go to school, or work at the Wilton's Nature Shop three days a week, nor let alone try to find time for homework to get done. My goodness, what if she ever had to walk in my shoes for a day? Surely she would be so exhausted and realize how rough I have it, wouldn’t she?

Finally realizing my mother has been calling for me from downstairs, I decide to make it the rest of the way out of bed and run over to the closet to whip the first thing I see off the hanger. I step aside to escape the ricocheting hanger that jumps off the bar and lands on the floor next to my feet. I slip on a shimmering emerald sundress with an empire waistline. I finger comb my long, auburn hair, throw it in a circle pattern on top of my head, knot it and secure it in place with pony tail holders.

I glide over to my desk chair to seek out my cream colored crocheted cardigan that my grandmother had given to me for my 16th birthday last year. Not necessarily the Nissan that I had secretly wished for before blowing out my candles that my mother had strategically placed on the homemade carrot cake she had made.

I’m just about prepared for the early morning outing, although I need to give myself a once over in the floor length mirror that attaches to my adjourning bathroom door. Surely, I am going to find a boyfriend this summer.  I mean, I’m going to turn seventeen. I’m way over due.

 As my eyes linger for a moment with a hint of satisfaction at my reflection, I murmur aloud “Oh, Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall” I sigh, “Why, oh, why, is my life so dull?” I do a little twirl with my dress, only to abruptly stop to appear over my shoulder to get a good view of my backside. As my hands slide down the sides of my hips, I exclaim “yeah, I’ll work on that too” and grab a hold of my butt, roll my eyes in disgust, turn full frontal to the mirror again, smile and blow a kiss to the image in front of me.

A knock at the door causes me to cry out “I’m coming”. My mother’s name is Tabitha. Tabby, as my friends call her and so do I, more often when my friend Jules is around. I can’t help it she just isn’t the type to call her Mom. Tabby appears through a small crack at the doorway and reminds me that Grandma is helping out today at the Church Social Dinner at 4:00 pm.

“Oh what a wonderful day, this is going to be. Yippee!” I sarcastically remark.

“Oh, stop” Tabby sang from the bottom of the stairs already. “You love going places with your grandmother and me. You know you do.” Tabby chuckles under her breath, but I can still make it out. I know it is really my mother and grandmother that ideally love hanging with me. I mean who wouldn’t. I’m just such a wonderful kid in their eyes.

I somberly creep down the stairs to the kitchen, singing softly “Oh How I Hate My Life”. I head over to the kitchen table where Tabby has a bowl and spoon waiting. I am all but 2 seconds from sitting down when the door bell rings. Tabby looks at me and ticks her head to the side as if to say - can you get that? So I yell, “Come on in, Grandma” but not budging from my now seated position. Like my grandmother needs me to open the door for her. Really?

“Well, I could’ve done that, Nessa” Tabby corrects me as she starts towards the door to greet our guest.

“Come on Mom, I told you I don’t like to be called that! The name is Vanessa, you know, the one you decided to bestow upon me at my birth day.” My voice elevating higher in a tone to make sure Tabby could hear me on her way to the door.

“Ma!” Tabby rejoices. “Come in. We are just eating breakfast. Just give us a few.”

“Sure, sure, take your time” Grandma insists. Grandma walks over to me with her arms outstretched. I begin to brace myself for her great big bear hug I am about to be overtaken with, all the meanwhile slurping my milk from the bowl without skipping a beat or missing a drop. I’m just good that way.

“Hi, Grandma.”

“Oh, I see you are wearing the cardigan I made you. You take such good care of things, sweetheart. So tell me, how’s school going?” Grandma inquisitively remarks. As she waits for my reply, she sits down next to me and pats my knee a couple of times like I’m not paying attention to her.

“Fine.”

“Just fine?”

“Yep.”

“How about boys?”

“Huh?”

“You know, boys? The ones with the “Y” chromosome, the ones that make us weak in the knees and…”

“Ok, Ok!” I shriek in disgust. “Mom, I’m ready” I bark as I get up to put my dishes in the sink.

“Ahh, excuse me, the dishwasher is empty” Tabby alerts me with a sarcastic tone only a mother can have.

I roll my eyes without a witness and turn to put my dishes in the dishwasher. “Yeah, Oh How I Hate My Life” I sing softly.

Everyone heads towards the door. 

“So which one we taking?” I ask to the air as I look at my mom’s Titanic or Grandma’s rocking piece of heap.

“Grandma’s. I just have to get the water.” Tabby answers as she starts grabbing the jugs she had filled earlier and kept on the edge of the porch.

I make my way to the backseat of my grandmother’s car, while Grandma walks towards her trunk.  I am secretly thankful we are taking her vehicle.  It is a slightly smaller car then ours.  Hers is green in color, with a light tan interior. Kind of a cold, hard cheap looking vinyl is more like it. The car is clean as in regards to no clutter, but dusty in every nook and cranny the eye can see. The smell is that of a dusty-smoky, old person’s car.  Whether it is of Ben-gay or eucalyptus, I am not in the mood to decipher. I should still be in bed right about now. I am just grateful I can stow away in the back without possible recognition today.

First stop, the cemetery on the hill. It is quite large and overpopulated, and I am so amazed that even though we come and visit only once a year, my mother and grandmother always remember the way.  As our car comes to a stop, and they both pile out and migrate towards the rear, I slowly adjust my dress and crawl out the back door.

It is a cool day but by no means too cool for the article of clothing I am wearing. I do my part by carrying a flat of marigolds over to Martha’s site. After dropping off, I head for a stroll. I love to explore the stones and dates. Overflowing with curiosity, I begin to imagine and deduce what kind of life these people led and why they passed on. As I make my way up and down the rows of the old and new, I always end at the old maple tree towards the back end of the cemetery.  Grandma is always within view but never in vocal range, which is definitely a good thing.

“Hi Max. So what have you been up to lately? It’s our yearly visit. Whoohoo!” I whisper secretly to the stone I now stand in front of and graciously begin to kneel as if he was a member of the family.  Max Harper. Born 1934, Died 1953. That’s it. Not beloved son, not an American flag, not a single flower, all alone, here by a tree. A few yards over towards the road there is another neighbor. Zachory Riff, born 1903, died 1957. At least he was in his fifties, I scuff to myself.

I often wonder the cause for Max’s early death. Nineteen isn’t that old. My grandmother once told me that he is all alone at the outskirts because he must not have had any family back in his day, that or he was a criminal.

Somehow, this is one story my grandmother could not be more wrong about. I’m certain.

“Note to self, research the story”. I stand and turn towards the sound of the humming vehicle approaching just a few rows away when I feel a tug on my leg. In fact, it is more of an almighty jerk which awakens my senses and begins to bring chills up and down my spine.

One moment I am in lala land and now with a bone chilling paralysis, I am completely frozen with fear, unable to even move forward.  I try to get a grip on reality and pull my left leg in place but can’t budge. I am even too afraid to look down but have to, knowing I can’t stay like this forever.

All that my eyes allow me to see is purple air, like someone just spun around in a circle and dusted the air with one of those huge purple pixie stixs. My vertigo wants to kick in and I feel like I’m not alone, as if someone is watching me.

My heart begins to beat out of rhythm from all the adrenaline that is rushing thru my veins. I’m unable to think clearly. My head begins to throb as a piercing pain penetrates my lower calf. All of a sudden a rush of coolness blankets my body while the wind picks up and begins to loosen strands of hair from my ponytail holders. Memories of time ago begin banging softly at the back door of my mind but these are memories that don’t belong to me, so I refuse to let them in.

Again I try to regain control of my body and try to focus my willpower into moving my leg but to no avail. I can persistently feel an even stronger force holding me in place. I can almost make out a creepy feeling of fingers walking themselves up the back of my leg and resting in place behind my knee as I continue to struggle.

I hear a honk, instantaneously, my leg releases from this invisible force that I’m unable to explain.

“What the freak?” I gasp in pure fright, but I waste no time, I sprint to the car without a second glance back even after I reach for the door.

“Looks like the clock stroke midnight my dear” Grandma chuckles, “or did you see a ghost?”

I don’t even register an acknowledgement to her remark. I search my leg for any signs from its previous restraint, but I see nothing. I cautiously try to compose myself as best as I can and gain control of my sanity, well at least what is left of it.

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