Friends & Family
“Are you ready?” Brayden demanded with a smile as I slid into the passenger seat of his Cavalier.
“Ready for what?” I asked as I buckled my seatbelt.
“This is the last official day of school before Summer Break, Eli!” Brayden said with an exasperated sigh. “You should be beyond excited! Next year, we’re going to be Juniors, man! We’re almost done with this place.”
Brayden’s excitement was infectious, and I couldn’t help but to laugh along with him.
“You’re so fucking weird, Brayden.” I teased him as he drove around the southern side of the lake. It wasn’t a long drive to school, but ever since Brayden had gotten his license, we always rode together. We had been friends since he and his mom had moved in down the street when we were little kids. It started off simply enough. I was wandering around with my mother when we saw the U-Haul pull up out front. My mother immediately went over to introduce herself to the dark-haired woman that stepped out of the truck, while I ran around and practically tackled the boy with brown hair. Brayden screamed the first time I hugged him, but he quickly relaxed, and we’ve been friends ever since. Our mothers could rarely keep us apart, and it even got to the point to where we didn’t even ask to sleep over at the other person’s house. It had become expected…
If you had one of us, you had both of us…
“Mom’s going to let me work at the amusement park this year!” Brayden said excitedly as we joined Anisa and Corban in Study Hall.
Anisa looked up and smiled at us as we sat down next to her and Corban.
“It’s about time!” The raven-haired girl said with a roll of her eyes. “My dad has been making me work there for the past two Summers! It was totally lame last year!”
“Hey! You met me last year at the park!” Corban said with a scoff.
“Like I said,” Anisa said with a groan.
“Hey!” Corban whined. “You said that I was the best thing that happened to you!”
“No, I didn’t!” Anisa said with a smug giggle. “I said that you were the best thing to happen to me in life, so far.”
“Aww,” Corban said before he realized that Anisa was still teasing him. “You’re not very nice.”
“I know,” Anisa said. “But, you still love me anyways.”
They continued with their back and forth for another minute or two before Anisa changed the topic of our conversation.
“Do you have any plans this weekend, guys?” She asked with a hint of excitement in her green eyes.
“I work Friday and Saturday,” Brayden replied with a shrug.
“What about you, Eli?” Anisa asked me.
“My mom doesn’t really want me to get a job, yet.” I said with a shrug. “But, this is also the weekend that my Aunt Madison always come for a visit.”
“I thought your birthday was Sunday this year?” Brayden stated.
“It is,” I replied.
“Okay,” my best friend said with a sigh of relief. “I thought I had gotten my days mixed up.”
“You got lucky this time, Brayden!” I teased him with a laugh. “Better not let something like this come close to happening again!”
Brayden rolled his eyes and poked me in my side.
“When’s Aunt Mattie supposed to get in?”
“Tomorrow afternoon,” I said. “She’s usually early for these things. Last year she arrived two weeks early.”
“At least, she wants to spend time with you, Elijah.” Anisa scolded me playfully.
“I know. I know,” I relented. “I love Aunt Mattie more than air, she’s just… odd.”
“What do you mean?” Corban asked.
“It’s kind of hard to explain,” I said. “Things just seem to happen around her. Things that don’t happen around normal people.”
“Maybe, you’re just overthinking things, Eli.” Anisa said dismissively.
“Maybe,” I said with a shrug.
A cheer erupted throughout the high school the moment that the last bell rang throughout the building. Brayden and I high fived each other for making it through another year before we ran for his car. Someone in the parking lot was playing “School’s Out” over their sound system while students tried to leave. Brayden and I laughed as we watched several people start dancing to the music. Everyone’s spirits were high, and the impromptu party proved it.
Brayden dropped me off in front of my house, and I made my way inside to find that I was the only one home. I ran upstairs and changed into some track shorts. I had the urge to run, and it wasn’t too hot out to hamper me from doing so. I changed into a different t-shirt and pulled my shoes on before I stepped out the door.
Once my phone was strapped to my arm, I hit play on my music and put my headphones in. The heavy metal blared through the tiny speakers as I stretched out to limber myself up. Then, I took off down the block at a slow jog to help me warm up.
I loved to run. It was the one time that I could truly let my mind wander without feeling like I was being lazy. I only ran in the afternoons during the school year. During Summer Vacation, I usually ran in the early mornings. The earlier I left meant that I could run longer with the cooler temperatures.
As I ran, my mind drifted to the conversation I had earlier with my friends about Aunt Mattie. I really did love the woman dearly, but she still did things that were unexplainable sometimes. One of my mother’s flowers had been dead in the pot until my Aunt Mattie touched it with the tip of her finger. Suddenly, the plant returned to its full glory and even sprouted multiple flower blooms. That wasn’t the only thing she’s done, either.
Not by a long shot.
I remember sitting with her one evening while she studied a book, and I glanced over to see that the spoon in her cup was moving itself. Instead of saying anything, I had decided that I had stayed up too long and needed to go to bed. There was also the time that her and my mother were just talking in the kitchen during Aunt Madison’s last visit. I was just about to turn into the kitchen when I felt a strange sensation brush against the back of my mind. I was overcome with a wave of dizziness that forced me to sit down on the steps for a moment before I was able to stand again. When I got into the kitchen, Aunt Mattie was gone, and my mother could only say that I just missed the older woman.
None of those events had made any sort of sense to me when they happened. Sure, I had the usual wild imagination as a little kid, but I was only days away from turning sixteen. There was no excuse for me to be letting my imagination run away with me anymore. Still…
I made a mental note to keep an eye on the woman as I turned to head back towards my house.
MY mother and my four-year-old brother were at the house when I got back home. I let myself in through the backdoor and was nearly knocked to the floor as my brother ran into me and hugged my leg tightly.
“What’s up, Elliott?” I asked the little boy as I ruffled his hair.
“Mom took me to the park,” he said excitedly as he smiled up at me. “I got to make a new friend. His name was Diego…”
My little brother continued to tell me all about his new friend as I went to the refrigerator and grabbed myself a bottle of water. Elliott of course, continued to tell me every little detail of his afternoon at the park. I only half-listened to him in case he asked me a question, but I mostly tuned him out and thought about Aunt Madison’s strange quirks. My mother entered the room wearing jeans and a white button up shirt that clung tightly to her slender body. She smiled when she saw me sitting with Elliott.
“Did you have a nice run, Elijah?”
“It was okay,” I said with a shrug. “I only went about three miles, today.”
“That’s better than you were doing last year at this time,” she said with a smile.
“Much better,” I agreed. “When is Aunt Mattie coming to visit?”
My mother laughed brightly and ruffled my hair as she walked past me with her own bottle of water.
“I think she said she would be here sometime tonight,” my mother answered with a shrug. “Why? Do you miss her?”
“Always, mom.” I said with a giggle. “I mean, haven’t you tasted the birthday cake she makes for me every year?”
My mom laughed and crossed the room to hug me.
“Go take a shower while I figure out what we’re going to do for dinner, tonight.”
“Yes, ma’am.” I replied with a grin.
Aunt Madison was seated at the kitchen table with my little brother perched on her lap when I came back downstairs. I smiled happily as I took in the sight of the old woman with her long gray hair tied up in a single braid sitting there. Even with her crazy quirks, Aunt Madison was the glue that held our entire family together throughout the years. She made it her personal purpose to visit with each of us and share any news that she thought the remainder of our family needed to know. She had a smile on her face, and she wore her usual dark dress that reached down to her ankles with a white shawl draped across her shoulders. Elliott had apparently decided to decorate Aunt Mattie’s hair with a few dandelions he had brought in from the yard, but Aunt Madison wasn’t bothered by it. She loved all of us as much as we loved her.
“You better be coming over here to give me a hug, nephew!” The woman teased me without even looking away from Elliott. I chuckled lightly and crossed the room to give her a hug. Aunt Mattie set Elliott on the floor as she stood up and looked at me. “You’re getting taller, Elijah.”
I smiled and hugged Aunt Madison tightly. Her perfume smelled like different spices and I couldn’t help but smile as she held me tightly for a moment. Her blue eyes seemed sad for a moment as she gazed at me, but she quickly smiled and turned her attention to my mother.
“I can’t believe that he is going to be sixteen, already!”
“I know,” my mother said sadly. “He’s grown up much too fast for my liking. I couldn’t be prouder of him, though.”
I blushed at my mother’s praise as I sat down next to Madison. Elliott smiled at me, so I scooped him up onto my lap. My little brother cuddled into my chest and sighed happily at me.
“There’s the moments like those, too.” My mother said directing Aunt Mattie’s attention to us.
Aunt Madison smiled when she saw me holding my brother and reached over to squeeze my knee.
As I sat there listening to Aunt Mattie and my mother make small talk, my mind drifted back to the nightmare I had the night before, and the strange woman that had been in my dream.
‘Come to me, Elijah.’
Even the memory of her voice sent chills down my spine.
‘The world needs you,’ she had said in the nightmare right before all hell broke loose.
I turned my head towards the sliding glass door that led out to our backyard. The sun was setting, and the shadows were stretching across the lawn, but I could have sworn I saw something move near the fence.
‘Come to me…’
It wasn’t the woman’s voice. It sounded deeper and it felt darker. A chill went down my spine as I felt someone watching me.
Elliott slid from my lap as I stood against my will. I saw my little brother say something, but no words came out of his mouth. All I could hear was strange ringing sound in my ears, and that eerie voice.
‘Come to me, Elijah…’ The words seemed to blend together as if they floated towards me on air. ‘The world needs you…’
I reached for the door handle to open the door, but suddenly Aunt Mattie was there. She placed her hand on mine to stop me, but she glared out into the yard.
“It’s not time for your meeting yet, Jarik.” She said darkly. “Unless, you want to die before you even get a chance to speak with your Master?”
‘Your time is coming, witch.’ The strange voice sounded.
I felt the presence vanish almost at the same time that my aunt reached up and patted my cheek. The next thing I knew, I was seated back at the table with my little brother leaning back against my chest. I glanced around the room in confusion for a moment before I sat upright.
“Hey!” Elliott complained as he slid off my lap.
“But…” I looked at the door then back at Elliott as he glared at me. I could still feel where my aunt had touched my cheek. “I was just… Then, I was here…”
“Are you okay, Elijah?” I glanced up to see my mother looking at me with a strange worry in her blue eyes. The same expression that Aunt Madison shared when I looked at her.
“What?” I asked suddenly. “This can’t be right. I think I might have fallen asleep for a second.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve been getting as little sleep as your mother says you have.” Aunt Madison’s tone told me that she clearly knew about my nightmares.
“You promised you wouldn’t tell her,” I snapped as I fixated my mother with an icy glare.
“You’ve had me worried, Elijah.” My mother said quietly. “You refuse to talk to a therapist about any of it…”
“You want me to talk to a therapist about seeing my mother’s funeral every fucking night?” I shouted angrily as I jumped to my feet. The tears burned as they fell from my eyes and I could feel a strange tingling sensation in the air around me. My mother’s eyes were wide in shock. I had never told her the details of my nightmares for a reason. I couldn’t even bring myself to look in the direction of my Aunt Madison as I turned to leave.
“Elijah, wait…” I felt my aunt grab my shoulder, but I shrugged away from her touch.
“Don’t touch me,” I said with such resentment in my voice that I nearly broke down crying on the spot. I had to get away from them. MY mother. Aunt Madison. Elliott. I couldn’t let them see me lost control. “I have to go…”
I took a step forward and everything felt like it suddenly lurched around me. The kitchen was gone. My family was gone. Instead, I was standing next to River Lake. I turned around quickly in disbelief as I expected myself to wake up at any moment. I fell to my knees as the sobs continuously wracked my body. I heard myself scream as lightning flashed in the sky around me, and a heavy rain began to fall.
All I knew is that I would never be able to look my mother in the eyes again after I had screamed at her. It didn’t help that I told her only a small part about my nightmares. How did I even get to the lake?
“What the fuck is going on with me?” I screamed into the air.
I fell to my side and just let the rain wash over me as I continued to cry helplessly. The storm raged on…