On paths lined with last fall’s brittle leaves, we walk to the edge of our property where we first kissed: under the tall oak, near the creek. We clear the leaves and sit on the grass that pokes through. Just before us, mushroom-flesh charred cups, turned upright, push their stems through a decaying limb. The air thickens with an earthy scent. You search your phone and discover they are Devil’s Urn, and when the wind blows, the spores scatter with a hissing sound. You turn to me with that I-don’t-believe-it’s-true-but-let’s-find-out-look. Laughing, we pluck the cups from the limb and blow over the tops, hearing sssssss as the shadow dust inside the cups stirs. And we make a wish—the same one as always for the past five years: another baby, a sibling for Marie.
Turning my palms upward, my grandmother read the lines. She loved to tell a good fortune. I was only four years old, but I remember the way the edge of her manicured nail slid into the grooves of my palm, lulling me to near-sleep. She said that I’d have two children, and I marveled at how much my grandmother knew. And I’ve remembered. I’ve always remembered. You know how this fortune has haunted me. Though our child grows and plays and sings her nursery songs, we want more: an inheritance from a fortune.
In the other room, just past 3 a.m., we hear Marie stir. Happy sounds. Laughing. Talking. She bounces a ball across the floor. “Marie,” we tell her, “go to sleep.” But the stirrings continue. So we tiptoe across the hall, push the door open, and see Marie facing the wall, jabbering. Maybe she likes the shadows that fall on the smooth surfaces. But there are no shadows. Maybe she keeps company with the dust particles. But no light shows through to make dust sparkle. We watch her eyes as she talks and smiles. They move. They see something we cannot.
My fingers close in around Marie’s shoulders, pushing her back from the wall—and you catch an edge of a wisp of something like a shadow. We run, following it past the first dirt path, taking the second to the edge of the property—to the oak, near the creek. Now, the moon shines, and we see a hazy, three-foot shape. Like static, it moves. Dust-like spores fill in the middle. We’re breathing heavily; the air around us makes an unmistakable ssssss sound that slides into my late grandmother’s voice: “Sssssssoo,” it says. “What I couldn’t tell you—what I meant to say was this: You’ll have two children: one that’s alive and one that’s dead.”
You take my hand and turn the palm upwards, tracing the lines with your nail, spores settling on my fingers. Hand in hand, we take the second path back, open the door, and let our dead child in.
Cecilia Kennedy taught English and Spanish courses in Ohio for over 20 years before moving to Washington state with her family. Since 2017, she has written and published over 50 short stories in journals, magazines, and anthologies online and in print.