This story is by Colleen Ashley Karl and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I could feel the warm summer breeze caressing the back of my neck as a bead of sweat dripped down my back. Another mid-August scorching day. The school year would be starting up soon and another short summer vacation would have come and gone. The thought of returning to that prison left a bad taste in my mouth. Sighing, I picked up my cool glass of lemonade and took another swig finishing the last few drops of pure refreshing summer sunshine. I loved spending every summer with my aunt in the country. She actually listened to me—unlike my parents who seemed to not understand a single thing about me. All my life it seemed like no one understood me. Like I was just born to live a short life in the background and then eventually die. Sometimes I’d tell myself I’d die young. Would be better than living a lie—pretending I was happy.
“Mia! Where are you?” My thoughts were interrupted by the sound of my aunt’s voice. “There you are! Why don’t you come inside and have an ice cream with me before your parents get here?” She forced a smile as if she was trying to hide the fact I’d be leaving with my parents again soon. I wish she was my mom…
“Sure! Thanks, Aunt Sara. I really appreciate you allowing me to spend my summers with you all these years.” I smiled back and stood up from the porch step I’d been sitting on enjoying the last few hours of sunshine before leaving this beautiful old Victorian country home.
“Of course, love. I enjoy having you here. Now come on, we don’t have a lot of time left!” She bounced back thru her screen door as I followed behind. Inside her old house, the floor boards creaked beneath my feet as I stepped in and towards her kitchen. The sun would set soon, and the house would begin to darken. And, my parents would be here just past sundown to steal me away from my safe haven. “Ok, I have fudge pops or ice cream sandwiches. What’ll be your pleasure?”
“Hmmm fudge pop for sure!”
“I was thinking the same thing! Cheers!” She took two fudge pops from her freezer, unwrapped them, and gave one to me. As we usually do, we ‘clinked’ pops, like the custom of raising and clinking glasses. We sat down at her table enjoying our frozen treats as she looked at me forlornly. It felt like she was looking straight thru me as though I was not there.
“Something wrong, Aunt Sara?” I asked her.
“Oh, no! Nothing, dear, I’m quite alright. I’m sorry I lost myself for a moment there.” She forced another smile as she held my gaze for a few seconds and then quickly darted her eyes away. “Why don’t I show you something before you leave? Would you like that?”
“Oh, yes! Another secret room in your house or treasure from another world from your travels?” I asked with excitement escaping my mouth. Aunt Sara was always sharing stories of her travels with me. She was a best-selling author after all.
“Something like that. I have a very special book I encountered on one of my trips to Indonesia. Why don’t you go and find it for us and I’ll mix us up a fruity drink? It’s the one at the very top of the bookcase—brown with gold lines across the binding.” She pointed towards her bookcase in the hall by her mantle. I hurried out to search for the book as if searching for a lost treasure. I could hear my aunt in the kitchen gathering a couple of glasses and ingredients to mix into a fruit punch for us. Using her step stool next to the bookcase, I climbed up and ran my fingers across the bindings of lined up books on the top shelf. It was much easier to find than I’d expected. It was the only dark colored book with gold lines—a very old and warn looking book. As I pulled the book from the shelf it was much heavier than I’d anticipated and full of old dust. My legs wobbled on the stool and I lost my balance. Tumbling down the book fell to the floor with a few pages falling out. “Mia?! Are you okay? What happened?” My aunt ran into the hall, but it was too late. The room began to spin and the last thing I could remember before blacking out was my aunt’s voice saying: “It’s ok. Everything will be better now. Don’t be afraid. I’ll see you again soon.” Then the world fell to darkness.
When I came to, I was lying in a bed of white sheets in a brightly lit room I did not recognize. I called out for Aunt Sara, but no response from her or anyone. My voice seemed to echo endlessly thru the walls of the small room I was now in. Sliding my legs out of the bed, I sat up and began to walk about the room looking for something familiar. I realized, there were no doors or windows. I was trapped. I screamed in fear and began to cry.
As I was screaming, the bright room began to fade and darken. Then I heard a voice, “Everything will be better now. Don’t be afraid. I am here.” The sweet reassuring sound of my aunt’s voice comforted me, and all at once I felt light-headed and collapsed to the floor.
The next thing I can remember was waking up to the sound of my parent’s car horn just outside. I was on the floor in my aunt’s hallway with her sitting on the floor next to me with tears in her eyes. “Oh Mia! I’m so sorry! I should have been more careful! You should have a choice. I shouldn’t have forced it on you, but then I wasn’t expecting you to fall and the book to be opened by accident. You see…this is a very special book. A book that will take you to another world. You only had a little glimpse of it. Just the beginning. I know you don’t want to go back with your parents. And, truth be told, I don’t want you to go either. You have a choice. You can stay here with me forever. Or you can go back with your parents. But, I just can’t stand to see them hurt you anymore. There isn’t much time, but you can choose to leave and go back to your normal life, or you can go to elsewhere with me. Another world that we can create together.” She seemed almost hysterical to me now. Tears falling more rapidly down her face and then I noticed she was holding our glasses of fruit punch in her hands.
“I don’t understand what you mean. I don’t have to leave, but my parents are here? Won’t they come inside soon to see why I’m taking so long?” The thought of my parents never laying their hands on me again gave me hope—hope that I had a chance to escape their torture.
“Yes, that’s why you need to make a choice. Stay with me. Or go back to them. I won’t try to make the choice for you again. I was selfish.” She looked distant again as she stared down at her floor.
“Aunt Sara, you know I love you and want to stay with you, but I don’t understand. I can choose to never go back with my parents?” This was a lot to take in with my strange experience with the fall and the book and now my aunt is telling me I don’t have to leave. That there is another world she can take me to. Just how hard did I hit my head when I fell? The fruit punch fizzed a little unnaturally for normal juice. I noticed a strange white spec that seemed to be something still dissolving in the red liquid.
“My love, the choice is yours. If you choose to stay with me. You will need to drink this fruit punch. You don’t need to be afraid. I will drink it with you and we’ll leave this world together.” I wondered for a few minutes what this new world would be like. Would I finally escape the grasp of my abusive parents? I just need to drink this special juice and leave with auntie.
“I choose…you.” I lifted the glass of fruit punch to my lips and drank it all down. It had a funny taste to it and I could feel my heart rate slow. My head began to spin, and I felt an awful sensation take hold of me. I looked up at my aunt as she finished her glass as well with tears still streaming down her face.
“Together, my love.” Everything went black and I felt my body fall to the floor.