I flip through the dictionary, my hands sliding across the puckered, wrinkled, yellowed pages, looking for a new story idea. My nose senses the slightly musty old-book smell, and my shoulders fall, releasing a knot and a breath I didn’t know I’d been holding. That is, until I come across this phrase by accident.
seed, go to- sēd, gō tō; to decline in looks, status, or utility due to lack of care
My brain scans the words, and suddenly, a fog descends onto it. I watch, helpless, as a single tear falls out of my eye, and lands on the ancient book, smudging the ink slightly. A second, a third, and more and more drop too, as I remember the night I almost lost my brother.
I remember how the first seed of an idea sprouted in my mind, and how I thought I was so smart. First, I told James, my best friend, and once I knew he was on board, we told my little brother, Charlie. I had meant it as a fun way to celebrate the end of James’ and I’s fifth grade year, and my brother’s third grade one. We fooled our parents with the classic sleepover trick, with my brother and I “staying over” at James’s house, and with him “staying over” at ours. We got a ride from James’s sixteen-year-old brother, who agreed to pick us up when we called, in exchange for all three of our allowances for two weeks. It totaled about $30, but we didn’t care. We were so excited, it felt like a soda can exploded, came back together, and exploded again in our stomachs, with all of the fizz still intact.
When we first got to the junkyard, all we did was stare. We had never seen it before, and our eyes were lit up like a blazing fire, curiosity sprouting like seeds in fertile soil. All we had heard about it were warnings from our parents and legends from our older siblings. We gazed upon the wrecked cars and mountains of overused car parts, and, when we thought we had seen it all, we ran in. No one was on duty, and no one had been in years. The junkyard was no longer in use, and it had, as I might say now, gone to seed. Since then, it had long been used as the bravest and most daring kids’ playground. We climbed around on the old, rusty cars for a while, until our hands were practically caked in the orange-red material. Once we got more bored and more courageous, we moved on to our favorite activity: king of the hill.
When we were scoping out the junkyard before, we had all noticed one mound of car parts in particular, and all three of us ran over there together immediately once the idea was suggested. We quickly and expertly laid out the rules, and already, even before we started the game, my heart pounded in my ears like a bass drum and it seemed like nothing could stop my leg from jiggling like it was.
“Ready…set…run!” shouted James, and we all three started scrambling up like lemur monkeys. The ancient metal scraped against our hands, arms, and legs, but none of us could feel it; we were all far too intent on winning. James and I, being older and more experienced, quickly created a lead on Charlie, and we certainly let him know.
“Come on slowpoke, you’re not even trying!”
“Surely you can go faster than that!”
Charlie’s face turned from about a salmon pink to a fire-engine red as his pace doubled and his breathing got heavier. He quickly started gaining on us, and I saw a flicker of hope cross his face, but James and I only redoubled our efforts, leaving him behind yet again. James and I too heaved breaths in and out, and I turned to James, now realizing he was my main competition. I looked at his face, and I saw a hint of a predatory gaze. I set my mouth into a frown, and impossibly tried to go even faster, my legs working like pistons, since I realized that James was going to be just as cutthroat. We were side by side, and I could see the top of the hill, just within reach, until suddenly…
A scream rang out below us. Both of us stopped immediately, and turned around, as our eyes drank in the gut-piercing sight. Charlie was lying on the ground, next to a sharp, rusted piece of metal, bleeding heavily, and not moving. Ice water was poured into my blood, and my mouth tasted like I had just eaten an Extreme Sour Patch Candy. James and I raced back as fast as we could, but we were now feeling our cuts, and they stung like they were being submerged in a tub of lemon juice. Once we reached the ground, we ran up to him, and there was blood. A lot of blood. To me, it looked like there was too much blood. Far too much blood. And at that point, my mind was put into a blender, and the black conquered my vision.
After that, I woke up at home, and I remember my parents telling me what happened. They told me that James had called 911, that Charlie got away with only a severe concussion because of the skill of the doctors, and that they WERE GOING TO PUNISH US VERY SEVERELY. And oh, they did.
The humor of hindsight and the sickly-sweet sense of dread in that moment brings me back to the present, and I realize that there is almost a small little stream of ink on the page. I quickly wipe my eyes, and, without thinking, I sprint into my brother’s room. I see him intently studying at his wooden desk, probably for his driver’s license, and I grab him and tackle him onto his bed.
“Shh…” I say, crying, again, this time onto his shoulder. After a couple seconds, I feel him relax, finally giving up on trying to figure me out this time.