"Auntie?" I shouted through the sliver of screen visible where the window was open. There was no answer. The flecks of snow had thickened to flakes that had a tinge of yellow to them. The color was odd and pretty all at once and I couldn't decide if it reminded me of something sick or of something lit up just barely by sun. Dying light, I decided, remembering a poem Auntie had read to me. And then I got afraid.
Slowly I made my way onto the sunporch. With just a push on the back door, it opened wide and I gagged on the sulfur smell the fire sometimes caused. I stared toward the corner of the yard where the shed stood, but the air was so steamy I could only see a few feet in front of me. Fear cracked my voice as I called, "Auntie? I can't see you. Auntie?"
Cautiously I took first one step, then another, the fog growing hotter. "Auntie?" I called again, my voice now a squeak. I took a few more steps and then just stood there gawking at the gaping hole where the corner of the yard used to be. For what seemed like forever I stood there silent, when I could have been shouting for help, when I could have been saving Auntie.
It wasn't until flames burst up from the pit that the first scream escaped my throat. I screamed to Auntie, I screamed to the fire. I screamed so that God would have to hear, would have to listen.
I don't know for how long I stood there, but by the time a fireman picked me up, my mouth was as dry as dust and hardly any sound came out. "She's gone," he said. "The ground gave way." He carried me out the alley to the front yard, my skin singed from the smoke, my eyes stinging.
"My fault," I whimpered.
"No," he said. "There was nothing you could do. Hush now."
But I knew it was my fault. Already I knew. It was my fault because Auntie had told me the curse's secretthat it lived inside each one of usand for that the curse had taken her away.
Copyright © 2014 by Natalie S. Harnett
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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