I needed a card to give to the father that has never been. The father that I always wish who could be the one to pick me up. So, I'm shuffling along in the store's endless stock of paper. Paper with lovely notes and sympathetic empathy. I wish I felt something other than apathy. Like little ducklings, my siblings and I follow my mother down each aisle in attempt to find a suitable card for this man I share my genes with. Picking up my three hundredth and eleventh card, it serves nothing more than the others. It read:
You help me in times of trouble,
You strive to make me better,
You're the best dad in the world.
Dad, you're number one!
I place it back with all the others; if anything, I don't want to be a liar. Honesty is the best policy. My mother and siblings have lingered to another aisle as I scan for my three hundredth and twelfth card. The dark lavender blended in with all the others, but I grabbed for it anyway. The message was strange, something too personal for an empty card. I read it again and again, trying to understand the meaning. This card has already been written to someone. A name has already been signed. The only artwork embellished on this card is the gold calligraphy, beautifully illustrating each letter. This card has meaning, but not the meaning I had in mind. The card reads:
I know in now there are mostly Athers.
The half fathers, half demons raising the youth.
But you have still remained the Father I have always loved.
You will always be my Father; my sweet, loving Father.
No Ather can entice you.
A brisk Autumn's night frosting the thickening air. She darted as quickly as she could, before the sun silenced the twilight. Faster, faster, faster. The sun kept plummeting deeper and deeper into the now black hills. The orange sun, so bright it blinded her eyes momentarily; but she can't stop running. And finally, she made it to the graveyard. She passed through the cemetery's rusty, open gates and the sunset returned to where it should be. She choked on the deep breaths she couldn't take in. Blood lasts on her tongue, but she swallows it back down. She drops the silver sword with a thud and makes her way through the stingy mud to the tombstone she has never wanted to see.
All that is engraved into it is the name. The name she has always loved to say over and over again. Atticus, she says in her head. She doesn't dare speak in a place so eerie and bleak. Atticus. From under her belt she takes out a dark piece of parchment. Deep lavender paper, soft and smooth, written wonderfully with her steady hand and her shinning gold ink. She looks to the sunset through the cemetery's low stone wall and sees it still hanging in the sky, unmoving and static. She looks back to the grave and lets out a whimper.
"Father," she whispers into the fall's quiet breeze. She unravels her cloak and lays it beside her feet. She reads her letter to herself again.
Love. The word she admires in her head. Annabelle tucks a strand of her thick blonde hair behind her ear. Tears don't form in her ducts because she has trained them not to. But in a panic of desperation she collapses to her knees. The sun drops only centimeters in the pink-orange sky. Annabelle returns her gaze to the gravestone and lets out another shrill whimper.
In that same panic of desperation, Annabelle begins to dig violently through the dirt. Soil and worms cake underneath her fingernails as she goes to work, removing the brown earth. Her long blonde hair covers her eyes, but doesn't faze this repetitious, senile behavior. She digs and digs and digs. Until something comes into contact with her numbing claws. With what seems like no effort at all, she pulls up a weak, thin body.
Hair miraculously flows from the head of this deceased human; white and grey streaks still vibrant with a supernatural life. Its skin lies taut and grey across the bones and the face. She looks into nothing, no eyes, only empty sockets once meant to watch the rapid sunset. But the sunset isn't rapid in here. In the graveyard.
"Father!" she screams wildly as she pulls up the man's torso. Apparently, Annabelle hasn't completely mastered her control of tears. Salty discharge overflows out of her eyes like a water fall always meant to be prosperous. She shakes the body, but the jaw only opens wider with each shove and tug.
"Father, wake up!" She kisses the grey, dry face. His jaw only loosens wider. "Atticus!" she screams into the sunset's on-looking stare.
Nothing. No movement. No stir from this eternal sleep her Father is now experiencing. The sunset drops another few inches and her heart leaps in her chest. The darkness, the dead of night, dangerous for anyone still foolish enough to be lingering outside when the sun goes down. So dark, a single flame will not be able to tell you where you are. The dead of night is where the Athers do their parenting the most. A sleepless and bloody punishment. Any child cursed enough to have an Ather is already unfortunate enough to greet death. That, Annabelle knows full well.
"Atticus!" she screams viciously again, but the body doesn't arise or twitch. Atticus is dead. Her Father is dead. Annabelle's Father, the last remaining Father, is dead. The fatal wounds in his neck provide enough evidence for that. She drops the body back into its grave and stands up. Annabelle reaches for the piece of paper and scans over her message again.
She lets the wind carry the letter into the grave before her. It slams against the tombstone and opens, her gold ink shimmering beautifully with the descending sunset. She fixes her dark emerald cloak and finds her sword. Before she leaves the graveyard, the cemetery that slows the sunset's time, she stares at the man who once served as the world's greatest father. He is dead now, Annabelle was sure of it. She had to be sure of it. Her sword is still stained from the day she last used it on her Father's righteous throat. Her thick hair wipes away her tears, and she permits one last whimper to leave her.
"Father," she whispers to the carcass, "Father, I tried. Please…wake up." A shiver races up her spine. "I tried," she says in the weakest tone.
Annabelle turns to the rusted gates and marches out. The sunset begins to drop like a boulder behind the rolling hills. She looks out to the blackening valley below and gives a grievance sigh. Within seconds the sun's orange flame is snuffed out in the sky. All that is left now is the darkness. No stars, no moon, only the black. Snickering is heard from a distance, but she cannot see a thing. The lamp she brought with her doesn't light up anything but her twisting face.
Without looking, Annabelle starts to run. She is in an all out sprint through the darkness. It doesn't take long for her to trip and land with a clang on her face. She turns over and feels her sword digging deeper into her leg. Now its silver brilliance is tainted with her own blood. The blood of the Father and the blood of the Ather.
Annabelle knew deep down it would all end this way. Before she came out of Hell, out of her Mother's womb, she would have to face a shameful death. But it was to start this race of how the children are going to be raised. The tradition must take place at some point. The Athers must continue to be marvelous, terrifying, and true. The snickering closes in on her painful cries as her figure is twisted into who she really is. The lamp captures her festering, porous skin and her beady, yellow eyes. She knew all along. The life of the Ather is the life of the Father. Her son is going to make a proud parent one day. She laughs along with the increasing snickering because she knows this is only the beginning. Annabelle scolds the absent sun and beckons the oncoming black.
"Yes," Annabelle giggles to herself proudly. "I tried. And Father—I succeeded."
I store the card into my bag and search for my roaming mother and siblings. My father deserves this card. Oh yes, he does deserve this. His tombstone will be looked at in awareness now. The deep slashes into his throat will be admired in awareness now.
The life of the Ather is the life of the Father.