by Lilly Shaw '20
“Well, there goes another one.”
I opened my window and gazed up at the grey sky, clouds fitting together like puzzle pieces, expecting to see the misfortunate soul on its way up to heaven. The scent of warm vanilla filled the room, and the flame of the candle went perfectly still as if it was paying its respects to the tragedy that had just occurred.
My name is Mack. The year is 4576, and I lost count of the days but I’m pretty sure we are about halfway through October. I used to live happily with my loving parents, and my not-so loving sister ( the feeling was mutual). I was the quarterback of my high school football team, kept a steady 4.0 GPA, and maintained a healthy relationship with my girlfriend, Taylor. Now, I know this may seem like the perfect life for a high schooler, and I’ll admit, it was pretty amazing, but all of that good has been ripped right out of my hands. I lived in a society with no struggles. I had access to food at all times, a clean source of water, and a beautiful town with perfectly mowed lawns and flowers growing in the cracks of the sidewalk. I now live in a society where cereal boxes and SPAM fill most of the shelves of the grocery store, people are leaving buckets on their porch during rainstorms as a source of water, and the sidewalks are so overgrown with moss that it feels like you are walking on pillows. My main focus is no longer how I’m going to ask Taylor to our senior homecoming, or who I’m going to ride with to the white-out game next Friday night. I want to know what is happening to my world, and why is it that as a tree falls in the distance, my mother fell in her own house. Why as a small forest fire sparked, my dad and sister were caught in a burning building on Main Street. While as a tree rotted from the inside-out, my beautiful girlfriend caught an ugly disease, slowly taking her life internally. Yet I and 19- crash- make that 18 other people remained untouched.
I sat down on the floor of my bedroom, twisting the loose screw keeping together my dad's old pocket knife. I switch the blade up and carefully carve a diagonal tally mark into my wall, marking exactly two months since the last person in my life left. I slide on my sister's pink bunny slippers, throw on my dad's old jacket and open the doors to see my broken neighborhood. It is the most unsettling feeling to stand on your porch and vividly remember seeing kids scootering down the sidewalk and women laying in hammocks reading a book, then to stand on that same porch and look out into unlit houses with rusty cars sitting untouched in the driveway and vines creeping up the pillars. Gates border the town as if we are the only town to exist. I walk, dead grass crunching beneath the slippers.
“Hey, Mack! It's so great to see somebody getting outside instead of hiding away from reality!”
I turn to see little old Ms. Martin watering the wilted flowers. “Thank god,” I thought to myself, “A familiar face.” “Are you living alone, dear?”
I explained to her now everybody in my family has been affected by this tree-epidemic. “A boy like you shouldn’t be living alone. It’s too dangerous & you are too young.
Let me stay with you!”
She gazed up at me with her rosy cheeks and her silver, circular glasses falling onto her nose. I’ve known Ms. Martin since I was just a young boy. She was a hairdresser backin the day, and my mother would always bring me to her salon in the barn right next to her house to get my hair cut. Her house was always the hotspot during Halloween because she was the only one with full-size candy bars. If anybody was in need, she was always there with open arms.
“Of course, I would love the company,” I assured her, and I was telling the truth. At this point, I would let anybody into my house just to not have to sit in my own silence every day. I trusted her.
I brought her to my house and showed her around. I lead her into my parents' room and showed her my mother's pearls and fancy perfume bottles. I opened my dad’s box of baseball cards and let her flip through them. While she was learning more about my parents by looking through their things then everything they’ve told them in the 20+ years they’ve lived here, I looked at myself in the eyes in my mother’s lit-up vanity. I saw my 8-year old self standing there as my mother combs my hair nicely for Easter dinner. I saw my dad kneeling in front of me, tying my tie because I always did it wrong. Oh, how I would love to be reunited with them.
I showed her my sister's room, where she would be staying. I didn’t want her to stay in my parents' room, because I felt that it would seem like I was trying to replace them, which I never could. I could probably replace my sister, though. I spread her baby-pink bed sheets over the mattress and laid down her feather-filled comforter. I lit another vanilla scented candle and placed it on the nightstand.
“I hope I’ve made it comfy enough for you, Ms. Martin.”
“Oh, it’s perfect, dear.” She smiled and took a seat at the end of the perfectly made bed.
Days and nights went by. Having her stay with me was a great choice. I had someone to drink coffee within the morning, someone to accompany me on walks through the empty neighborhood, and someone to share my thoughts with. It’s also nice to be able to play monopoly with someone besides my sister's stuffed animals. During one of our walks, we noticed something. When we looked into the distance, it’s like we were staring into the ocean. There were no visual interruptions. We could see as far as our eyes possibly could. She turned and looked at me, and I looked right back at her. We walked around the rest of the town with panic in our eyes. No trees in sight. Eventually, we made our way back to my house. Guarding my driveway, where the two Crimson King maple trees that I used to climb when I was a little boy. She acted like she didn’t know the truth. That when one of these trees goes down, so does one of us. So, I also pretending like I didn’t know the tear-jerking truth.
That night, we did our usual routine. We ate dinner at the dining room table and then went into my bedroom to play a game. I let her choose the game tonight. She carried The Game of Life into my room and plopped it down on my bed.
“How ironic,” I thought to myself. She started to set up the game.
“Here, can you finish shuffling the Career Cards? I need to go get something, I’ll be right back.”
She threw the cards at me and left the room. I looked out my window to see the leaves of the trees blowing in the wind. She carried the candle that I had lit for her into my room and placed it next to my candle. I thought it was odd, considering I already had one lit, but I didn't question her. She sat down next to me and chose a blue car. I
took the green car and we began our game. About 45 minutes later, I was a married scientist with twins attending night school and she was a single mother with four daughters about to buy a house. She was ahead of me, about to retire at Countryside Acres, when she threw her game-piece on the ground.
“What are you doing? You were about to win!”
“No, Mack. This is the true game of life.”
She unlocked my window and lifted it up with her shaky arms. Turning to my desk, she grabbed my candle and the other candle she brought into the room. She turned to me again. She looked me in the eyes but wouldn’t talk to me. The only sound she made was a small whimper. She turned back and tossed the first candle at the roots of one of the trees. Then, she grabbed the second candle and threw it at the leaves. I didn’t even have time to yell about her. I jumped down the stairs and busted through my front door, but there was nothing I could do. The giant maple tree that framed the right side of my house was burning down right in front of my eyes. I couldn’t tell if the burning sensation in my chest was due to adrenaline, the heat of the fire, or if this tree was the one that was going to kill me. I ran back up the stairs to find Ms. Martin laying on my bed. Her eyes were lifeless.
I climbed out of my window onto my roof. I looked up into the sky to see if I could see Ms. Martin traveling to heaven. The clouds are gone, and all that’s left is a dark purple sky. I look down. The tree that was once standing there is now a pile of ashes. The candles that were once filling up my house with a welcoming scent now sat in shattered pieces. Then it hit me. I was alone. I was alone, and I didn’t have any more matches.