|The Hanged Man
Author: Scythe1313 PM
Savannah Harris doesn't quite get the spring break she thought she would.Rated: Fiction T - English - Horror/Suspense - Words: 3,297 - Published: 02-04-13 - Status: Complete - id: 3098349
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The Hanged Man
"And finally, before I let you go," Mr. Thomas, our world history teacher continued, "In all this talk of world wars and macro-history, we can't forget our own personal histories," he flailed about passionately. Nothing unusual there. "Our family histories. How many of you know your great-grandparent's names? Your great-great grandparents? Further back than that?" Nobody raised their hands. Steve Henderson let out a loud snore from the corner. Mr. Thomas deflated. I felt bad for him. Nobody in this room could care less. He sighed.
There was a great clatter as the students all competed to see who could evacuate the room the quickest. I circled the large, red 58% on the last paper I was grading, and straightened out the stack of them.
"They didn't do too well this time," I informed him.
He gave a wry smile, "I'm not surprised."
He gave me a pleading look.
"Please tell me you know your great-grandparents' names?" he asked.
I blushed, "Um…"
He straightened and brandished an admonishing finger at me.
"As my student aid, your project over spring break is to find out. Report back to me when we return."
"Sir, yes, sir!" I gave him a mock salute, and grabbed my backpack. This should be interesting.
Cody, my sister's new husband, looked at me, sincerely interested.
"That sounds really cool. I'd love to help out. I should know about the family I married into, shouldn't I?" He jokes.
"I would've thought you would be too busy being a newlywed to help with your little sister-in-law's silly project." I tried to joke back. If it came out a little more bitter than it should have, he didn't seem to notice. He's a little dense that way. His smile, however, was a little strained. I perked up. Trouble in paradise?
"I always have time for my new little sister," he said. I gave him a piercing look.
"Everything okay? With Jemma, I mean."
"Yeah, of course," he began to say, but then he stopped, and hesitated on the verge of spilling his guts. I decided to tip him over the edge.
"Hey, I won't tell her anything. Brother-sister privilege," I somehow managed not to wince as I said it. Damn, I'm good.
"It's just," he hesitated again, and then pushed on bravely.
"We've only been married two months, and, uh, she wants to try to get pregnant." I blinked. I didn't know what to say to that.
I knew she always liked to play with dolls, but for chrissake they're twenty-five and they've only been married for two months even if they were high school (and college) sweethearts. They didn't even have a place of their own yet. Not that the family home wouldn't have had room for a new baby, but only just. Five bedrooms, a yard, and a wrap around porch, with a wooded area beyond the yard. The place had been in the family forever. The baby could stay in Jemma and Cody's room until he or she (probably she, knowing this family) was older, but they would have to get their own place eventually.
I ruthlessly clamped down on my feelings.
"You'd make a good father," I told him.
I didn't know what else to say. It was true He always had had that air around him. Kindness. Kids react to that sort of thing. I know I always did when Cody and Jemma were fourteen and I was six. I would drag him out into the clearing beyond the yard. The special place I only ever shared with Cody and her. Not that he knew that. Or even that she existed. I would be Arwen, and he would be my Aragorn, and we would get married while Jemma and Mama argued about curfew.
But now we're seventeen and twenty-five, and he was staring at Mama's wall of photographs behind me.
"I'm not sure," he said.
I shouldn't have felt better for that.
Mama's study, which was Gran's study and Great-Gran's study and probably Great-Great Gran's study, was where we went looking for family history. I started on the left and Cody started on the right.
He found it on the highest shelf on the oldest bookcase.
"Hey, Savannah! I think I found what we're looking for."
I headed over to him.
It was a family tree. It stretched back generations, too many to count in just a glance. My eyes were drawn to the bottom. Mama's name, Diana, along with her date of birth, 1967, was there. Dad's name, John, was there, but there were no dates. In fact, none of the men had any dates or even last names. It was a family tree through the women. Matriarchal, I thought they called it.
My name was there.
My sisters were all there.
But it was the next name that was like a punch in the gut.
I felt dizzy. Cody was talking, but the words were muffled somehow. I couldn't understand them. He took hold of my arm and led me to the chair. 2000. I was five, Jemma was thirteen, and Cheyenne may or may not have been born. Destiny was eighteen.
Why was there a date of death for my sister when she had only moved away?
Destiny always read to me. Our favorite was Lord of the Rings. We would go out to our clearing beyond the yard and she would read to me. I don't remember what she looked like anymore. Mama threw out all of her pictures after they argued and she left. I remember her voice though. She had a deep throaty alto. She loved to sing. She would always sing the songs in Lord of the Rings rather than read them. She said that was how they were meant to be.
No matter how much I lost when she left (or died?), I will always have her voice.
Jemma didn't meet Cody until the year after Destiny left. In a dazed voice, I explained all that I knew. Obviously, I didn't know even the little I thought I had worked out between Mama and Daddy's stony silence and Grans' ominous mutters of, "It's in the blood. She should have known better."
Cody was shocked. No one had ever mentioned a fourth sister. We put the family tree back. We both needed to think.
Mama was sitting on the porch smoking after dinner that night, like most nights. I joined her as I did sometimes. Mama and me were never particularly close, not like her and Jemma, but we got along okay. We both like to look at the stars though, and we'd sit on the porch and look at them together.
"Mama," I said. She raised her eyebrow and took a drag. We didn't normally speak.
"Do you ever think about Destiny?" Mama shuts down.
"No, and you shouldn't either."
She stubbed out her cigarette and went inside, slamming the door shut as she did. That was about what I expected, but it was worth a shot.
I knew Daddy wouldn't give me an answer, if he even knew. He might not have. He was traveling on business anyway and wouldn't be back for a few months at the earliest. I needed to go back to the study.
Nobody but Cody and me were around the next day. Mama was at work, Cheyenne was at school (her spring break wasn't until next week), and Jemma took Gran to her check-up. She was always healthy as a horse for an almost ninety-year-old, but Mama insisted on check-ups anyway. We had easy access to the study. We took out the family tree again, and decide to make a copy of it. We thought we were being silly, then, but we did it anyway.
Gran, Great Aunt Anna, Great Aunt Marie, Great Grandmother Cassandra, Great-Great Grandmother Leanne. They were all there.
Cody was huddled close to me in order to look at the tree. I tried to focus on my sister rather than his muscles. I mostly succeeded.
"Man, your great aunts really lived a long time. Look at this 1897-1987, 1905-1995, and your great-grandma was 1892-1982. Wow, they had to have been like," he trailed off. I did the math in my head.
"Ninety. They were all ninety," we looked at each other, uneasy.
"That's not the only weird thing. Unless they omitted all the sons, there weren't any. There are husbands listed, but there aren't any male children. Not a single one."
He tried to make a joke. "Wow, I knew your family leaned towards girls, but damn. I better resign myself to not having a son, huh?"
It fell flat somewhere down in between us. I turned my eyes back to the tree.
"Look at these dates of death: 1987, 1995, 1982. The same years Jemma, me, and Destiny were born. Only Cheyenne doesn't fit." I said it, but there was at date of death on there that fit. 2000. But she wasn't dead so it didn't matter.
He realized it too, and he looked like he wanted to give me a hug. I turned toward the bookcases on the other wall.
"We should make sure there isn't anything else besides this."
It turned out that there was. It was a scrapbook, or maybe properly a genealogy book. I don't really know. We made copies of that too, and I took them with me to my room.
I studied all the information we had gotten obsessively for the next few days. Everyone noticed, I think, but they all had their own concerns to worry about. Mama was busy planning a party for Gran's ninetieth birthday on Friday. She was bustling around planning menus and calling old friends and cleaning. Jemma got roped into helping, although she didn't seem to mind. Cheyenne was busy with school (science project or something). Cody was avoiding everyone. Especially Jemma. I was way too happy about that for someone preoccupied with figuring out what the hell happened to her sister. Gran was the only one of us who seemed content. She sat peacefully in her rocker, doing crossword puzzles to "keep her mind sharp."
After days of mulling over the info, I sat down across from her.
"Hey Gran, what were your mom and aunts like?" I asked.
She looked at me and gave her crooked grin that had frightened me as a child.
"They were fine examples of the bloodline." I gave her a weird look. I always wondered if Gran was all there mentally. She wouldn't say any more.
Later that night, I curled up in the back den that no one but me used. I wanted privacy for this. I pulled the scrapbook out of my bag, and flipped to the page I had left off on. It went pretty far back, but I was fairly sure Gran or one of her sisters was the one who started it. The information gets more complete from their generation on. Destiny had a page, but someone had taken a black sharpie to it and blacked out almost everything. On the bottom, in a hand I recognized as Mama's, there was only one word written, "Traitor."
I didn't know what to think. What in the hell was Destiny a traitor of? The family because she left? But that didn't ring true if she had died rather than left. As I was mulling this over I idly flipped to the front of the book. The cover page had "Family" written across the top of the page in fancy gold lettering. Beneath it there was a Tarot card. The Hanged Man. The hairs on the back of my neck rose. Gran used to do tarot readings for us as a kid. She was into that kind of stuff. I remembered the meanings associated with this card well. It came up in my readings all the time as a kid. Wisdom and happiness await, but only through giving something up. Sacrifice. I hated this card. Why the hell would someone put this on the cover page of a scrapbook?
Just then, I heard a noise outside and startled. This den opens up to the back of the house. Someone, two someones, were standing there. Jemma and Cody. I could see and hear them from where I was, but they couldn't see me. I should have left, but I didn't. I was too curious about what was going on with them.
"Jemma, I just don't think this is the right time for this. I mean, we just got married, bringing a baby into it is a big change, and we're barely settled yet. We should wait a year or two at least," Cody said, shifting uncomfortably.
"Cody, I want to be a Mama. This is important to me. Don't you love me? I don't see what the problem is." She was leaning in close to him, speaking intimately. I blushed. I really shouldn't be seeing this.
"Of course I love you, but we need to be practical too. We have plenty of time to have kids. There's no rush." She looked at him with an expression I couldn't place, which quickly morphed into one that I definitely could. Anger.
"Shows what the hell you know!" she shouted, and she stormed off. Cody took a couple of steps forward as if to follow her, dumbfounded, but then he stops, and his eyes met mine. Busted.
He moved toward me instead, and I get a little thrill of delight that he chose to come to me rather than go after her. He sat down next to me and said, "Eavesdropping isn't polite, y'know."
I blushed. "I was here first! But, um, sorry anyway. I didn't really mean to." He slumps down on the couch.
"Want to talk about it?" I ask.
"No. Talk to me about something else. I don't want to think about it." So I did. I told him about everything I'd found in the scrapbook, including the tarot card and Destiny's page. When I was finished, we looked at each other. Neither of us had a good feeling about all this.
Gran's birthday party went well enough, if you enjoyed that sort of thing. I didn't much so I spent most of the time in the back den, venturing out occasionally for food. But I did chat with a few of Mama's coworkers that I'd grown up seeing at these sorts of things. I was in a pretty good mood when Cody came in after everyone had left. That changed when I got a good look at him. He looked like a wreck.
"What the hell happened to you?" I blurted. He cracked a little smile. I felt better for seeing it. He slumped down next to me on the couch the same way he seemed to be doing often lately. I should start charging him hourly for these sessions.
"Jemma and me are trying for a baby. I mean, y'know. Last night. Um, yeah…" The hands he had running over his face muffled his voice. I was really glad he couldn't see my expression. Wow, and I thought nothing could be worse that sitting through the wedding. Guess I was wrong.
"So, uh, you okay about that?" I really didn't want to be having this conversation. His head snaps up.
"No, I'm not! I said this was stupid, and it is! I was just so sick of fighting about it that it just seemed easier. God, I'm a moron." He looked tired and unhappy.
And I kissed him. It was stupid and impulsive, and he didn't respond at all. Too shocked to.
"What the hell?" he asked. And I ran. I could hear his footsteps following me. I went to the basement, intending to barricade myself in, and then I stop.
Because I walked in on some kind of…ritual? When the hell did this become a bad horror movie?
Jemma was in the middle. She was naked. Like, actually naked. And covered in blood. Mama was standing off to the side with a knife. Her favorite kitchen knife. And Gran. Gran is covered in blood. Her wrists were slit, but she was sitting up. She looked at me, and then her eyes slide to my right, and I realize that Cody followed me down. Gran laughed.
"What the hell are you staring at, boy? You want a baby don't you? The only way that happens in this family is through sacrifice. Five living family at a time, and only five." She smiled, teeth bared. They were bloody. Cody got his wits about him first. He bolts for the door. It was locked. I don't know how, but it was. I looked at Mama. She had a gun now instead of the knife. She fired, and Cody dropped like a stone. I screamed and ran to him. She shot him in the head. I looked at Jemma. She was looking away, but she didn't seem surprised, and she made no move toward him.
"The men can't know, Savannah. Nobody can." Jemma spoke. She was still staring at the far wall. The dots all connected in my brain.
I turned to Mama, "You killed Destiny."
She looked at me evenly, "She told her boyfriend after we explained things. She was a traitor." Gran was still chuckling in the background. She smiled her twisted smile.
"You won't tell, will you girl?" I stared into her eyes. I shook my head, and went to my room. The door was open again. I heard another shot later.
"Miss Harris! How was your break?" Mr. Thomas asks.
I don't think there are words adequate to describe my break so I say, "My Gran and brother-in-law died. Car accident." He looks horrified.
"Oh my god. I'm so sorry. If you need anything, just let me know." He's nice, Mr. Thomas.
"I wrote a story. A way to cope, y'know? I can't decide on the ending, though. Do you think you could proofread the beginning and give me some advice? I know you aren't an English teacher, but…" He smiles.
"Of course. I'll read through it tonight. I'm glad you found an outlet." I give him the folder with my story, and get on with my work.
I stretch and put my red pen down. Hell of an imagination, that girl. It's the least I can do though. She's a good kid. I make my usual morning cup of coffee and settle down with the local paper.
Teen Commits Suicide
Late last night, the body of Savannah Harris, 17, was found by her mother, Diana Harris, 45, in her bedroom. Earlier this week her Grandmother, Agnes Vane, 90, and Brother-In-Law Cody Marks died in a tragic car accident.
The article continues, but I don't read further. My eyes move to the folder she had handed me the day before. It couldn't be…