This story is by Andrew Dai and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“I can see the village now, I’m sure everything is fine down there.” Ember told Cam as their village entered his sight. They had finally returned home after four long years of war.
“H-have the violets bloomed this year?” Cam asked, his scarred eyes looking emptily into the distance. “Yeah, they look beautiful this year.” Ember told him.
The entire village was waiting for them elderly, women and children all ran to welcome back their returning sons, husbands and fathers. Hearing his fellow comrades from the war reunite with their family, Cam asked “Ember, can you see my father anywhere?” “No, I haven’t seen him ye – Marry, James!” Ember was cut off mid sentence by his wife Marry and 5 year old son James who had run over to embrace him. But when Marry turned over to look at Cam and her expression saddened. “Cam, I’m so sorry. There was a dog, a-and…”
Cam sobbed furiously as he knelt in front of his fathers grave. While Ember stood beside him, tears streaming down his face as well. As they were leaving the cemetery, with Ember’s arms around Cams in order to guide him, Ember couldn’t help but feel fate had screwed over his friend. While leaving himself with a happy ending. “Buddy, I’m going to do everything I can to help you.” “Just having you here is enough.” Cam said with a smile.“
Cam moved into Ember’s house since it would be difficult for him to get by on his own. And although Ember insisted for him not to do so, Cam was determined to help the family on their farm.
At night, Cam once again dreamt of that day. The sun was blindingly bright; the sound of birds screeching overhead as they tried to escape the battlefield. He was battling an enemy soldier when he heard something behind him, he turned around to see the silver glint of a blade, slashing at him, then everything went black. He woke up screaming, Ember and Mary immediately rushed down to reassure him. Looking at his miserable friend, Ember’s fist clenched with rage at this unfair world.
One day in Autumn, an exhausted Ember was at a marketplace buying food, he saw an ad for a spiritual medium named Skinner taped on a wall. He stared at it, deep in thought, when the manager appeared out of nowhere and snatched the flier off of the wall. “I swear to god, when I find whoever has been putting all these stupid advertisements on my territory, I’ll make him squeal like a pig! You!” He turned to Ember, “you’re not actually considering this spiritual bullshit are ya?” “No, of course not.” “Good,” the manager growled, “cause every penny you spend somewhere else is a penny that ain’t goin to me!”
As he made his way back home, he passed by the cemetery and saw in the distance, a figure holding a walking cane in one hand and a bouquet of violets in the other. Cam had gone to visit his father. Embers clenched his fist as he made his way to the address on the ad.
From the outside, it was a small run down shack with a purple banner next to it. He immediately knew this was a bad idea, but he remembered Cam crying at his fathers grave and thought, if there was even a chance it might work, he owed it to his friend to try.
“Welcome, child, to the home of I, the grand Psychic Skinner. You seem quite tired, what can I help you with?” She was a middle aged woman with curly hair and a warm smile; she had a book in front her with symbols Ember couldn’t understand. A far cry from the skinny old lady Ember expected to meet. Ember told Skinner of her plight and she said she would be willing to help, but at a price.
“My soul?” Asked Ember. “Oh heavens no, your money of course, do you think I pay my rent with souls?” “Any price if it means giving my friend his happily ever after, but before that, how can I be sure you’re legit.” “Well perhaps a demonstration is required.”
Skinner closed her eyes sat still for a few minutes, Ember looked at her in bewilderment, when suddenly her whole body started twitching, her eyes opened, but they had no pupils, her books pages started flipping but her hands weren’t moving, her nostril fumed and she started speaking in a the voice that wasn’t hers. “Hello Ember, it’s me, Mikey Moss, we fought together during the war. please tell my parents I miss them.” Then Skinner gasped as pupils returned and the book pages stopped turning. She looked exhausted and appeared to have no recollection of the event. Ember was convinced.
At night Cam woke up from the same dream he always had, he was drenched in sweat, but tonight he hadn’t made any noise when he woke up. He tried to drift back into sleep, but something felt off.
“I know you’re there,” he called out after carefully observing his surroundings for a bit.
He heard someone uncomfortable shifting and then Ember’s voice muttering “j-just checking on you.”
“Have you been watching me sleep, to make sure I’m not having nightmares?” Cam said, his voice rising.
“Just trying to make sure you’re doing alright.” He muttered under his breath.
“How long have you been doing this?! Is this why you always seem so tired?!” “Yes, b-but I-” was all Ember could stutter out of his mouth.
“I know you’re trying to help and I appreciate it, but this obsessive need to make sure I’m alright has gone too far!” Said Cam as he stormed out of the room with his walking cane in hand.
Cam’s birthday had arrived, feeling guilty for what he had done, Ember promised Cam he had a surprise prepared for him. “Please tell me it’s not something crazy.” Was Cam’s reaction, and unfortunately he would be proved right.
Ember read Cam a letter that Skinner had written, claiming it was a letter Cam’s father wrote while possessing her body. Ember hoped it would help Cam find solace, but when he read the letter, Cam’s face contorted with anger.
“Where did you get this,” he asked through his gritted teeth. “A psychic wrote this letter while being possessed by your father, I was there when she wrote it, she really was possessed, her voice changed, there were pages moving on their own and -” “That could have been a performance! Look!” his voice’s tone turned deeper as he talked “even I can change my voice, and this probably someone with actual practice. I’m sure turning her book pages is some trick circus performers can do. That’s all besides the point, in the letter he calls me “son”, but my father always called me “boy”. This wasn’t him, you’ve been scammed because you’re obsessed with making me feel better!”
“Dear god, how much did this cost?” Asked Mary, her face pale. “Too much…” Ember said, realizing he had been scammed, he also started to sweat profusely.
“Listen, I’m really touched that you’ve gone so far to help me, b-but I told you just having you by my side would be enough, I-I didn’t want this!” Cam’s voice was cracking as he spoke.
In the end, they would never Skinner, she disappeared from the village after scamming them. As the seasons passed and the violets bloomed and decayed, Ember slowly rebuilt his wealth after the scam, but they would never fully recover, and though it took years, Cam would eventually overcame his grief and trauma.