I am a 27 year old in Little Rock, Arkansas. This short story was originally written for NYC Midnight.
It Creeps, What's Behind the Darkness and It Came from Hell are just a few novels that my aunt, Julia Collier, are known for. She has won many awards, including the coveted Pulitzer Prize in 2012 for The Day the Black Birds Fell. Her unique and terrifying twist on the true event, in which 500,000 blackbirds mysteriously fell from the sky on New Year’s Eve in Beebe Arkansas, captured audiences all over the world. It flew off the bookshelves the day it was released. Yes, my aunt was incredibly successful. She was the reason I got into the editing business in the first place. As a child, I would stay with her in the Summer while my parents vacationed overseas. “No place for a child.” They’d say. “Maybe next year.”
Next year never came. So, I would stay with Aunt Julia. Most my days would be filled with horseback riding, swimming in the pond or reading under my favorite oak tree in the backyard. Night time was my favorite though. After dinner, we would go to the den. She’d have her coffee, I’d have hot chocolate, and we would read whatever book she was working on. It was my job to find any errors. Whether it be spelling, grammar or sentences that didn’t serve any purpose. We made a game out of it. Anytime I found an error, I would get a marshmallow. Anytime I was wrong, I had to rewrite pages out of an old English book that my aunt kept from grade school. I loved this game. It kept me sharp and I loved when I could outsmart her. Sometimes she would purposely write “your” instead of “you’re” or “their” instead of “they’re”, just to see if I would notice. I always did.
My parents had no idea that I was reading Aunt Julia’s books. They would have never allowed it. It gave me nightmares. I never told her because I didn’t want our game to stop. I would dream of a large ominous creature in my closet. I could see a silhouette, feel their dark presence and occasionally, I would see red eyes glowing in the night. In the morning, I would feel so grown up for making it through the night without waking her. What I would do to be able to wake her up now.
She has been in the hospital for four months now. It’s as though she had gotten sick overnight. One day we were sipping coffee in her kitchen and laughing, the next I was rushing her to St. Anthony’s Hospital. It all happened so fast. She was getting worse and worse every day. Still, we waited and hoped that she would be next to receive a heart. I prayed, just in case there is a God. I often hoped that her name “Julia Collier” would help her get ahead on the waiting list. Then I would feel awful for thinking that just because she was a great writer, she was more deserving. Honestly though, she was more deserving because she was my aunt. She was all that’s left of my family. I needed her. I stayed in the hospital with her as much as I possibly could. Before she had gotten sick, she had begun to work on a new book. I decided that it was time I started to edit it, just in case she was to wake up soon. Halloween would be here before we knew it and because horror books were what my aunt wrote, that was usually when we tried to release them by. I hadn’t even read the rough draft yet. My aunt felt very strongly that this book was going to be another great one and she wanted to surprise me when she was finished. However, all I had been doing the past few months was waiting in a hospital. I felt it would be nice to start working again. It would give me something else to focus on.
I picked up her laptop and clicked on the folder that said, “A Deal with the Devil”. I looked over to my aunt who was lying in the hospital bed, hooked up to the noisy machines that helped keep her alive. For me, getting to edit her book was the closest thing I could get to having a conversation with her right now. I was thrilled to “hear her” again. I decided to begin with the document titled “Notes and Research” so that I knew what I was getting myself in to. I began to read.
“-Girl has heart defect and expected to die. Makes full recovery. Father diagnosed with severe coronary heart disease. Dies within a couple of months at hospital. Monroe, Michigan 1987. Contact the girl, Allie Clark.
-Set of twins both have Hepatitis C. Doctor says they are cured. Parents get very ill and are hospitalized within a week. Norfolk, Virginia 1982. Contact the twins, Lisa and Patricia Welch.
-Man is dying and needs new kidney. Doctors do not expect recovery. Man makes full recovery. It is unknown how. Son gets kidney disease and dies in hospital within a month. Marietta, Georgia 1991.”
I stopped reading there and looked over at my poor aunt. Had she been trying to find a cure for her disease? That must have been what gave her the idea to write this book… As far as I knew, her heart issues hadn’t started until she was hospitalized 4 months ago but based on these files being dated 6 months back, she must have known before. Why wouldn’t she tell me? If she was having issues, she should have been going to the doctor and getting treatment. Why would she just wait for something to happen?“Knock knock!” Her doctor cheerfully said as he walked into the hospital room.
“How are you doing today Alana?”
“Did you know my aunt was sick?” I snipped at him.
“Excuse me? What do you mean?” He kindly asked as he went to check my aunts’ stats on the machine.
“My aunt. She was sick for months before she had her heart attack. She knew about it which means you knew about it.”
“I’m sorry Miss Collier but your aunt was not sick. She had just had a yearly checkup, and everything was fine. More than fine actually.”
“Then why was she doing research about people needing transplants? You think it was a coincidence?” I asked. In a much nicer tone.
“Well now that you mention it, I remember that her friend was needing a liver. Your aunt used to ask me about it all the time. Things like what her chances of survival were and how long I thought she would be on the waitlist. I explained to her that every case was different and without me knowing the patient or seeing the file, I couldn’t even begin to guess. Your aunt didn’t seem to think she had very long to live though.” Doctor Rogers was writing down notes about my aunt as he spoke.
“Oh. She never told me about a friend being sick. I’m sorry. I guess I was just worried that she had been keeping her health issues from me. I always worry about her.” As I said this he nodded reassuringly but then a nurse pulled him out into the hallway, for another patient I assumed.
I watched him leave and then got back to my work. I scrolled through my aunts notes about different patients needing transplants and how they were all cured mysteriously. Usually only the top stories she researched would ever end up making it to her book, but I decided to clean up the list a little and organized it by year it took place. At the very end of the list was a note that said “Call Elias Jones. He can help get Ava moved up on the waiting list. He helped the man in Georgia and the twins in VA. Could not confirm for the girl in Michigan.” Then an out of state number was listed. I decided to call.
“This is Elias Jones. I have been expecting your call.” He said this before I had a chance to even say hello. He sounded old. Maybe in his 80s.
“Um… yes. My name is Alana Collier. I believe you have been speaking with my aunt, Julia Collier?”
“I know who you are.” He said confidently. “You’re her editor, yes?”
“Yes I am. I’ve been working on her book and…”
“She does not want you to do that.” He interrupted.
“What do you mean? I edit all her books. I’m trying to get a head start. Very soon she will get off the waitlist, will receive a new heart and will wake up. She will want the book ready.”
“You do not understand.” Elias said almost under his breath. “She is not going to get off the waitlist and she is not going to wake up. This was her choice and she wanted you to stay out of it.”
I felt like I was being scolded. “The doctor said…”
“Well the doctor was wrong. There is only one way that she will ever get off that waiting list and I was instructed to not let it happen. She also made it clear that it’s best that you don’t meddle through her things. That’s just the way it is.”
“Well I don’t accept that! Who are you to tell me not to go through her things? You’re a stranger! If you know a way to help my aunt, you better goddamn do it! I don’t know who you are, or better yet who you THINK you are, but I am not only her editor but her niece and will do anything it takes to get her awake and healthy again!”
“You will do anything?” He asked. Almost as if he was challenging me.
“Yes.” I said, exhausted. “Please, help me.”
“Alright. If that’s what you really want, I will make the deal.” Before I could ask what deal he was talking about, he hung up. What the hell was this guy talking about? Who was he? It’s hard to imagine my aunt doing any kind of business with him. We’d have a lot to talk about when she woke up. I don’t imagine I’ll hear from the guy again. He’s obviously insane.
Feeling very irritated about the conversation I had with Elias, I decided to recline in the hospital chair to take a nap. I had just started to doze off when suddenly there was a loud crash at the window. I jumped up and ran to it. Outside the now shattered window, was a blue jay. Dead. Lying on it’s back. Red blood all over it’s once blue feathers. “What the hell?” I whispered to myself. Jesus that scared the crap out of me.
I decided that I needed coffee. I walked down the hospital halls looking for the lobby. Why were hospitals always so cold? It literally smelled like death in here. How was a person supposed to get better in a place that was so utterly depressing? I got to the lobby. All over the walls were pictures of angels and saints. All hung in gaudy gold frames. There was also a sitting area with two red couches and six green chairs that looked like had been there for decades. I wonder how many people sat in those chairs waiting hopefully, only to find out that their loved ones had died. Next to the ugly seats were bibles on every end table. I have always found it interesting that people turn to God in moments like these. The past four months of sitting next to my aunt has only made me angrier with him. My aunt needed a new heart. For her life to be saved, someone else had to die. How was any of this fair?
I found the coffee maker. I was just about to pour the water in the machine when the hospital lights went out. “You have got to be kidding me.” I said, a little louder than intended. Then sighed. Didn’t hospitals have generators for situations like this? In the corner of my eye, I could tell that someone was walking into the lobby.
“This is ridiculous right? Nothing says the hospital is keeping our family safe like having the power shut off for no reason.” I joked to the other person. Just trying to make small talk. I turned to continue talking to them, but no one was there. No one was in the lobby at all. I know I saw something out of the corner of my eye. God, I really am losing it. Just then, the power turned back on. I finished making my coffee and headed back to the room. She still wasn’t awake. Not sure why I sometimes expected her to be. I sat down in the recliner. God, was I sick of this stupid chair. I would love to be back in my own home, in my comfortable bed but it felt wrong to leave her. When my parents died, she slept in my room every night for months while I cried myself to sleep. I wasn’t going to leave her. She had never left me.
I went over to her bed and reached out to hold her hand. I felt a squeeze. Just then, her eyes began to open. “Aunt Julia? Oh my god, you’re awake!”She started to smile, and as quickly as she did I felt as if I was losing my breath. I wanted to speak to her, but I couldn’t. I was so lightheaded and my chest, it was throbbing. I felt like I had been stabbed in the heart. What was happening to me? Suddenly, my legs buckled, and I collapsed. My aunt, who had been bedridden for over four months was suddenly standing over me. Yelling and screaming for help. How was she awake? What was happening? My vision was going in and out. I was trying so hard to stay awake. To understand.
“Aunt Julia?” I barely got out.
“Alana, my darling. What did you do? Please tell me you didn’t talk to that man. I didn’t mean for this to happen!” She said through her tears.
“What…what is happening?”
Right before everything faded into darkness, I heard my aunt whisper “Alana, you don’t know what you have done. You made a deal with the devil.” She held me until there was no more.
© 2018 Sarah Spradlin