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poetry and short stories - they/them - harry potter (hufflepuff) - amateur guitarist - the beatles -
music - podcasts (esp night vale)
I drew my profile picture.
What if every song, book, poem, or painting was just a metaphor for food?

Message to Readers

A new short story! It's a bit longer than what I usually publish, but I hope people still give it a chance.

Extraordinary Only in Death

December 23, 2018


    They say you have a higher chance of being struck by lightning than winning the lottery. That day, my uncle did both.
    "My God, is it still going out there?" Mom peered out the blinds.
    "Guess you're not used to that, huh?" My uncle laughed. "It rains much more here than it does in California."
    Sam turned towards the window. It was only five in the afternoon, but it was already getting dark. Thunderclouds stacked on top of each other like football players wrestling for a ball outside, moving across the sky slowly, ominously. Every few seconds, lighting would flash, lighting up the outside world, and the deep, purring rumble of thunder soon afterwards.
    Yes, my uncle's name was Sam. Uncle Sam. He got a laugh out of that, and insisted we call him that, since it was just so hilarious, but it felt strange. Didn't sit right on the tongue. So we went with plain old Sam, my brother and I.
    The wind rattled the shutters outside. There was a flash, the kitchen alight with white fire, and a booming growl a few seconds later.
    "I'm forgetting something," Sam muttered under his breath.
    My mom glanced up. "Hmm?"
    He ignored her and turned around, scanning the kitchen. "Potatoes, cornbread, salad, stuffing--- oh!"
    Mom stared at him. "What?"
    And again, a little more insistently. "What?"
    "We're out of gravy," he said, running a hand through his hair and cursing softly.
    "It's fine," Mom said. She glanced out the window. "We can just run to the store when the storm clears up."
    He nodded, but there was still a shadow over his face. Sam looked surprisingly youthful; smooth face, laugh lines, some folds, a bit stretched at the corners--- but he was youthful. That was, until he frowned. His forehead scrunched up, and his brows creased together so far that it looked like he had a monobrow.
    We went back to our respective roles; Mom continued to read, adjusting her glasses every other second as if to say "look at me, I am an Intellectual", and I went back to homework. Sam returned to cooking, but his worry hung over the room like a cloud swelling with rain, waiting to burst. My eye twitched. Every last scraping noise he made echoed miserably around the room, seeping into the textbook and blurring the words.
    Eventually I couldn't take it. "Sam," I said, "I got a lottery ticket for you."
    He perked up immediately, and my mother stopped reading and stared at me.
    "Oh, honey, I don't think---"
    "Yeah?" Sam said, ignoring her.
    "One of those scratch things. Here." I leaned over, digging through my backpack, and tossed it to him.
    Sam pulled a penny out of his pocket and began scratching away. I sank back into homework.
    Until five minutes later, when I was jolted out by---
    "No way."
    Without glancing up, I said, "What?"
    Sam tossed the card over to me. I adjusted my position and squinted at it.
    My eyes widened.
    "Oh. My. Fu---"
    "Jess!" My mom said sharply, throwing me a scowl from her corner of the kitchen.
    "Mom, he--- the card--- he won!"
    "What?" She peered at me.
    "Two-hundred-and-fifty-thousand dollars. Sam, you---" I broke into a smile. And then a jagged laugh. I threw it back at him and jumped to my feet.
    "Not so fast," he said, but his lips were squirming with a barely concealed grin. "We need to make sure. It says that we have to go back to where we got it to claim the prize, if we even won."
    "The gas station," I blurted. "Down on Richardson."
    "Great," he said. "The grocery store's down there too, I'll get gravy while I'm at it." He flew to the door and began slipping on shoes and a long gray coat.
    "But--- the storm!" Mom said, her face slack with shock. Her eyes were blank, like she was only half-there, still processing what had happened.
    "But two-hundred-fifty-thousand dollars." A split-second crack, and his face was alight. And then he slipped out the door and shut it with a bang.
    A long silence. Outside, thunder roller over the trees and clashed with the sky, and the kitchen was static with electricity.
    It was only an hour later that we found out.
    It was the hospital that had called us. Struck by lightning outside the gas station, they said. Dead before he hit the ground. Funnily enough, he had claimed his prize just thirty seconds earlier, and was rushing home to tell us. 
    My mom cried the rest of the day, and the night, and burst into tears at random intervals throughout the next couple of weeks. My father didn't know Sam as well, but seemed a little more broken afterwards. Even my brother wailed, though that might just have been because everyone else was.
    And me? I didn't feel a thing. 
    I suppose I shouldn't be saying this. You're supposed to be sad when someone dies. You're supposed to cry and attend the funeral with puffy eyes and shaking hands. I just felt numb, like there was a hollow spot where the grief was supposed to be, or like the mourning forgot to kick in. Reasonably, I knew I should be distraught, but that didn't change the fact that I wasn't.
    I hated myself for it, for a while. This couldn't be normal. Did I have some sort of disorder, some kind of condition that made me like this? But it couldn't be; my grandmother had died only two years earlier, and I cried so much you could've used my tears to grow a forest. Maybe that was it, I thought. I knew how stupid it sounded, but maybe I had simply run out of tears. Maybe I had a finite supply of grief, and it had all been used up.
    Since we had bought the ticket, the money was given to us. We donated half of it to charity and saved the other half up for college.
    It wasn't until ten years later that a therapist told me why I had felt so numb.
    I had been having severe anxiety, and decided to give therapy a try. After all, it couldn't hurt, could it? On the third week, the subject somehow came up, and I ended up spilling the whole story to him.
    "Different people have different responses to death," Dr. Caldwell explained. "I'm sure you've heard of the five stages of grief--- denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance?"
    I nodded.
    "Well, not everyone goes through the stages in that order. Some only go through one stage, or skip certain stages. Some don't go through the stages at all, and have entirely different reactions. I once had a friend who responded to the death of his father by bursting into laughter. That didn't mean he was a terrible person, it was just his way of coping. Your way of coping might be going into emotional shock, or the numbness that you describe."
    "But..." I trailed off, staring at the ground. "But it wasn't like that with my grandma, or my dog, or anyone else. I cried for them."
    Before Dr. Caldwell could respond, I blurted out, "And it was my fault. If anything, I should feel the worst about Sam."
    He tilted his head. "Why would it be your fault?"
    I was indignant. Wasn't it obvious? "I was the one who gave him the lottery ticket, just because he was bothering me and I couldn't focus."
    "Hm," Dr. Caldwell said, writing something down in his notepad. "You may be holding onto feelings of repressed guilt and grief. This may explain your response to your uncle's death. I would take you through this, but we don't have much time left. Until next week, I recommend reaching out to loved ones and those who knew your uncle well to overcome these feelings."
    I thought about that when I got home. I lay in my tiny bedroom, the walls leaning into me, the ceiling just a few inches too low, and wondered. Repressed guilt. Could that really be it? And who was I supposed to reach out to? My mother seemed like the obvious choice, but every time I thought about bringing it up with her, a knot grew in my stomach. My father had come down with a fever, and my brother was working around the clock, too busy to talk to me.
    In all honestly, I didn't think I was ready to talk to anyone about it.
    So I chose something else entirely.

    Our uncle left his property to us in his will. He had never married, never had any kids. We had no idea what we were going to do with it, but somehow it felt wrong to sell it, so it was essentially abandoned.
    I bought a plane ticket first thing the next morning and flew out only a few days later. Pulling up at the driveway, I set eyes upon the house for the first time in ten years.
    The lawn was extremely overgrown, clumps of weeds everywhere. The house itself was something of a cottage, all one story besides an attic; small but charming. I got out of the car and breathed in the humid Ohio air. For a second, I was fifteen again, visiting Sam for the holidays. I drew in a breath and told myself I would bring it back to Chicago with me.
    The interior of the house looked exactly the same, except that everything was coated in a thin film of dust. I was careful not to disturb anything as I walked through. It felt somehow wrong to be here. The house was always alive whenever I visited as a kid, despite only one person living there. There was always music playing, something on TV, and he usually kept the windows open. Of course, he hadn't on that day.
    I don't know why, but I was drawn to the attic. I had been up there only once, but it wasn't hard to find the trapdoor. I pulled on the string, hoisted down the ladder, and began to clamber up.
    I don't know what I had expected to find. It was a typical attic. Old furniture, photo albums, boxes full of childhood toys. There was one corner that appeared to be a collection of paintings, but although that looked intriguing, it wasn't what I was here for. I could feel it in my gut.
    And there--- a box in the corner with a faded label proclaiming "letters". I tilted my head and opened it up.
    There was a stack of papers inside. Letters, to and from Sam. I drew my head back. If I read them or even dug through them, wouldn't it be... invasive? Even if he was gone, it felt wrong. But the thing in my gut insisted. This was the box. 
    I shifted through the papers, glancing briefly at them just to check. The pile was impossible large and the box impossible stuffed, like he had kept every letter he had every received, every piece of junk mail, every notice from companies. He probably had, now that I thought about it.
    But there--- at the bottom. Crinkled, with a huge crease going through it diagonally, and slightly yellowed, but still legible. A tentative breath escaped me, and I smoothed the paper against the attic floor.
    It was a letter from Sam to my mother, from nearly thirty years ago. He would've been in his twenties. According to the letter, he was in New York, trying to find a job and make ends meet. Most of the letter was fairly mundane, but there was a part at the end that caught my eye.
    The strangest thing happened yesterday. I went to see this psychic (I know, I know) and she told me that I was somewhat extraordinary. Or that my death would be, anyway. She said that I would beat the odds, that I would win the lottery and get struck by lightning within the same hour. I think it's a metaphor. Perhaps I'll stumble across an excellent opportunity, or I'll be very fortunate, but it'll be my downfall? And don't tell me that it's BS, because I was talking with this professor the other day
It ended there. He must've half-written it and forgotten about it, never sent it.
    I leaned forward, putting my head in my hands. How? How could a psychic in New York predict his death twenty years before it happened? Before I was even born? How could it be possible?
    But of course. I threw my head back, staring up at the wooden ceiling. A smile wandered to the surface. Of course.
    Uncle Sam. The psychic was right, he was extraordinary. He had always wanted that. He used to tell us about his fantastical plans for the future, how he would invent something that would change the world, or learn how to paint and become the Picasso for this generation, or how he would dive into politics and become president. Sam died before he could do any of that, but maybe the universe made up for it in his death.
    An extraordinary death.
    I smiled to myself. Maybe this wasn't my fault. Maybe this was coming since that day in New York.
    He beat the odds.
I'd like feedback of any kind. What did you think? What was good? What could be improved? Was the therapist scene realistic (I've never been a therapist, and I don't know a lot about psychology)? Did it make you feel anything? 


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  • Juliana

    This is amazing; it's very put-together and complete. You did so well with showing, not telling. The characters have personalities, the story has a point, there are locations, there is a climax, it's subtle etc. I can't wait to read more of your work!

    6 months ago
  • Quille

    SOO good! Sorry the review's taking longer than intended. I'm enjoying this piece very much :D

    6 months ago
  • Majestically Awkward Manatee

    Very strong hook! I loved the story! Great job :)

    6 months ago
  • paperbird

    part two is up!
    by the way, i realize these continuous notifications might get kind of annoying. if you would like to stop receiving them, please leave a comment on one of my pieces telling me :)

    6 months ago
  • Mangolover

    This is really amazing! I love this piece!!! The first line really had me there & was a great captivator :D Great job & keep writing!! (Is it possible if you could extend/make a part 2 to this??)

    6 months ago
  • RainAndSonder

    @Quille No problem, thanks so much!

    6 months ago
  • Quille

    Review on its way, but it might take a little while! :D

    6 months ago
  • paperbird

    part one is up!

    6 months ago
  • paperbird

    strong hook and the story didn't disappoint. this was so well-told, well-constructed, well-characterized. i love the idea of beating the odds, and of winning the lottery and being struck by lightning. your conversations were uncanny, and yet they read so truly. i love too the idea of the old letters, and the wandering teenager exploring unknown ground.

    6 months ago
  • JCWriter

    What a first sentence! I couldn't help but keep reading. :) This is amazing!

    6 months ago