The Undeath of Beth (a short story)
Tommy told her to stay away from the edge seven times. But Beth didn’t listen. He couldn’t very well stop her from being a fool when she was clear on the other side of the barn, could he?
“Mom told you to be careful,” he repeated. Usually, using the “M” word was the only thing that could make her listen. Many moms can make us behave with just a faint warning from the past. Tommy and Beth’s mom was most definitely that kind of mom.
But Beth wasn’t like you or me. Beth was, and still is frankly, a misbehaver from toe to hairtip.
Tommy, too, was no sample of sweetness, and frankly still isn’t, but he fancied himself packed with sense. Or, as he liked to call it, Sensibles — because that made him sound blessed by spirits.
They were in the barn that Mom told them to stay clear of. They were doing things Mom told them not to do inside the barn (the one that she told them not to be in). All in all, it was a disaster waiting to happen.
The roof, as it was, wore more holes than Mrs. Whisker’s swiss cheese. Sunlight poured into some areas of the barn, and not at all in others. The resulting shadows could move, dance, fly or do just about anything else your imagination allowed them to do.
Old piles of damp hay emerged from the floor like warts. They stunk the place up in that dreamy, moist cloud of decay that’s somehow pleasant if you’re in the mood to enjoy it.
So, inside this nest of wretchedness, Beth fell from the second floor.
It was a short fall, as most falls are. But Beth’s brain, being a rocket, managed to pack a lifetime inside three seconds.
When she first lost her balance and her right foot didn’t feel the floor in that special way it does when we’re grounded, she thought, “I wonder if my funeral will be sunny.”
She saw her parents sobbing. Her little casket perched above a hole in the ground in such a way that it could be shoved off its pedestal and slid straight down into the Earth.
She spotted Tommy playing her Nintendo DS while the priest spoke about what happens to girls who don’t listen to their mothers. Tommy winked at her, which meant he knew she was watching her own funeral. Then he dove back in to try to beat her high score in MarioKart.
By the time she was pondering the barn from an angle she’d never considered before, namely upside down while twirling, her thoughts had turned to the barn.
It upset her, as she fell to her death, that they would likely respond to her accident by tearing the old place down. Which would hardly be a reasonable way to face such a tragedy!
After all, if one girl could die in an abandoned building at any time then couldn’t all empty buildings be killers-in-waiting? Why not tear all of them down? The barns, the warehouses, the schools…
That’s where Beth’s head settled as she saw the ground below her get significantly closer at a good clip. She wouldn’t really miss school. Not only because she’d be dead and wouldn’t be around to miss it; but also because school was her least favorite way to measure the day:
Jump in mud
That’s a thousand times better than any school day, even one with a substitute teacher.
She caught a glimpse of Tommy the moment she hit the ground. He was yelling something. Probably, “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!”
Beth felt bad for her brother. He’d probably feel guilty when she was gone. He might not even play video games for three whole days. Okay, maybe more like two days. But still, their parents would…
Would they blame him? Would they blame Tommy? Would it be like the time Tommy let the dog out by accident and she got caught in the fence?
So Beth did what any other sister would do in her situation. She hit the ground hard. But as she hit the ground hard, she thought, “How strong are these floorboards anyways?” And, as if to say, “We’re not very strong at all, Beth,” the floorboards cracked under her butt, dropping her straight into a muddy soup below the barn.
Time slowed down to normal, as did Beth’s brain. Or what passed for normal, as there was almost nothing normal about what had just happened.
Tommy was still hollering above her, his fingers clenching his hair. Finally, he managed, “ARE YOU OKAY?”
“I think so,” Beth said, a little short of breath.
She didn’t really hurt anywhere at first. But later on, when the excitement had died down, she found a large splinter in the back of her leg. The scar would always be there to remind her to mind her brother.
On the long walk home they decided to keep the whole thing to themselves. Most parents will grimace at such a decision, but tough luck. The brother and sister had a secret and it welded them together in all the ways brothers and sisters should weld.
“Did your life flash before your eyes?” Tommy asked as they walked up the steps to their back porch.
“No, but the future did. And I’m having none of it.”
That, Beth thought, will be my secret for me, myself and I.