When we were little, we played in the forest, always careful to avoid the area of the Stone. Even small, we realized the Stone didn’t belong there, jutting up alone in a verdant landscape. Vines, bushes, and the typical brush that took over never encroached its space, as if it were alive and protected.
The elders sent disapproving stares our way when we returned from playing in the forest, but we never understood why. Not until much later.
I’d forgotten about the Stone, the way you forget about certain elements of your childhood that never grew in importance. The entire long journey home I gave it no thought. Instead, I was focused on the health of my parents, wondering how it was that they both could fall deathly ill simultaneously without even a shared symptom.
The shades were lowered and the curtains drawn in my childhood home as I drove up the dirt driveway. It was as if the house had fallen asleep, even with the sun glowering down upon it. Despite the 90°F temperatures and cloying humidity, I shivered, and then wondered about the fact that “The House of the Rising Sun” was playing on the oldies station, which was the only one that came in clearly in my beaten-up Mazda.
My brother, Timothy, stepped onto the porch, looking haggard and much older than his 25 years. I hugged him. He felt like skin and bones instead of the robust farmer I’d seen at Christmas.
“You’re here,” he said, his voice devoid of emotion.
“Well, yeah. Should I have gone to the hospital?”
“They aren’t there. They’re inside.”
Inside? I thought they were on their deathbeds. Unless this meant that they were not going to make it. But they were only in their late 40s. Couldn’t something be done?
“Why aren’t they in the hospital?”
“There’s nothing those doctors can do for them.”
“I say,” said old man Winston, his blue eyes piercing and partially shrouded by thick brows, giving him a fearsome appearance.
I stepped back at his arrival, choking back a startled cry. While a part of me wanted to argue with the old man, he frightened me enough that I remained quiet. Timothy avoided my gaze as if he knew what I was thinking.
“We weren’t sure you’d come back,” old man Winston said.
“They’re my parents.”
“Yeah, well some haven’t returned.”
Again I glanced at Timothy. That mysterious statement terrified me for no discernible reason. “Who hasn’t returned?”
Old man Winston merely shook his head while his thick black shoes scuffed along the hardwood floor. “We don’t have much time left. Subdue her so we can take her to the Stone. Your folks can only live with her sacrifice. We are running out of elders.”