The bare, white tree trunks created long shadows on the snow glistening in the winter night. My feet could not carry anymore and I dropped onto my knees in the frosty and hardened snow. My ten-year-old feeble body sunk in deep. Above me the blue and green northern lights swayed in the sky like a slowly flowing river. Through it, the silvery stars twinkled like pearls on the bottom of the river. Some of us believe that the souls of the passed live in northern lights. Would I become one of those lights? I looked down to my hands that were turning blue. They were stained by red blood. The smell of freezing air and the stench of blood mixed together and I could not tell whether it was really cold or burning hot.
Blood was dripping from my chest and stomach on to the pure white snow. The surrounding forest was quiet and serene, unmoving. My breath escaped into the air in a swirling cloud. Then the rising tree trunks around me started dancing as if they were falling down on me, bowing their tops towards me. The world spun around and turned black. Somewhere in the forest the witch started playing her drum again. This was the first time I could hear it, though, but my dad had insisted that she was real for many years. Dad had told me that the witch’s playing had made him go insane. I was blind and fell face forward into the frozen snow. I was sure, I was going to die like my parents and my sister had died a while ago.
I was wrong, though. I woke up in the hospital, wrapped in bandages. The medicine made my head feel blurry. Beside my bed, there sat a middle-aged police man with a rough face and a young female officer next to him.
“I know you must still be in shock but we need to ask you a few questions. Do you think, you can answer them?” I stared at the man unable to speak.
“We need to know who did this”, the woman said and pointed at my injuries with an empathetic look on her face. I shook my head. I could not speak, I did not know how to speak anymore.
They did not give up. They came to see me everyday but I never found my voice. How could I have told them what had really happened. My whole family had been butchered. I was the only survivor. And it all could have been avoided if some outsider had known what was really going on behind the closed doors…
One week earlier
The porcelain family heirloom plate made a loud sound as it broke into pieces when it hit the floor. Mom’s hands were shaking when she bent down to pick the pieces scattered on the ragged cotton carpet. She gathered them inside her beige apron as I stood in the doorway and held my breath. We were both listening to hear if dad had heard the sound. Yes, he had.
Dad rushed into the kitchen and looked down to mom who sat on the floor with her lap full of broken pieces of porcelain. I did not know what to expect. Would he yell and be angry? Maybe he would burst into laughter and break another plate as if it was a game. Maybe he would start to cry and complain that mom was mistreating him. That was how dad was. Unpredictable.
This time dad settled on spitting on the floor and looking at me with a wide grin on his face showing all of his teeth, yellowed by excessive tobacco use.
“Look at what a clumsy woman I married. She’s no good.” Then dad kicked at the door frame and walked away. I nervously plucked the lint from my shirt with my fingers. Tears glistened in mom’s eyes. She had been scared so bad a sharp piece had slipped in her hand and there was now a thin line of blood glimmering on the palm of her hand.
Dad beat mom up often and did not care that me and my three-year-old sister had to watch. I never could fathom why mom did not even try to defend herself. Dad could yell profanities, beat her, pull her hair but mom never said a word. She was pathetic, like a deer petrified from the fear even though the hunter’s gun was pointed right towards its chest. Mom just sat and waited in silence. She did everything dad ever asked, catering even to his weirdest whims without ever questioning them. Sometimes I asked mom why she put up with all of it. She just kept repeating:
“You’re too young to understand. I take care of your father. He’s not okay. You see, he’s sick mentally. The sickness has been passed down in his family for generations. We need to help him. He can’t control himself, so we need to forgive and be patient.”
Mom was right that dad was not okay. It did not take long for anybody to figure out he was not like others. Dad insisted for years that there was a witch in the forest, surrounding our house, and the witch was playing a drum and the music drove dad insane. He could get up in the middle of the night and venture into the forest in his underwear to “silence the bloody witch”. I could never hear the sound of any drum. When I asked mom whether she heard it, she simply shook her head and for a passing moment I could see fear in her eyes.
Dad had many states of mind. In one moment he could be a lovely and warm person, funny and light-hearted. Sometimes he was mean and bad-tongued, sometimes cold and stern. Then sometimes he was violent and short-tempered. Sometimes dad slept for days. The surrounding forest felt thicker and thicker everyday as if swallowing our family inside until the world around us did not exist anymore. Mom home-schooled me and so I never left the house. I stared out the window at the black and thin trees that slowly turned into slender and feeble old men in the snowy night. They were like eternal soldiers guarding our red, wooden house. It was as if the winter was everlasting. The temperature would never rise and the snow never melted away.
It was my tenth birthday. No one remembered my birthday. No one congratulated me, I got no breakfast in the bed, no cake, no presents. Outside the howling wind tore trees down by the roots.
Windows rattled and the rooftop creaked. There was an ominous smell of a snow storm coming down the chimney and mixing with the ash in the fireplace. Dad got really mad at mom when he found out that mom had gone to the city by herself. Mom claimed that she had only bought a sack of potatoes and some bread but dad kept counting the coins and saying that a lot more money was missing. He beat mom real good.
By the nightfall, the storm cleared. Big, calm, pale white moon rose in the sky. I was just falling to sleep when mom came into my room.
“Here, I brought you this, darling”, she whispered as she raised a little present in her hands. Her one eye had swollen almost shut and turned painfully-looking upside down in her head. I felt afraid staring at the glistening and bulging white ball. The present was wrapped in beautiful pink wrapping paper and tied with a red bow. Mom sat on my bed and offered the present to me again.
“Don’t be afraid, darling. Mommy’s alright. Now go on and open your present.”
I reached and grabbed the present, tore it open. In it I found a pretty, yellow dress with ruffles. I suddenly felt like words got stuck in my throat. This was why mom was now half-blind. She wanted to give me a gift. She had not forgotten my birthday, after all. Dad had probably forbidden her to get me a birthday present and that was why she kept the dress a secret. She had spent all that missing money on this. Tears burned in my eyes.
The next morning it was as if the sky itself was dying. The horizon was red as if blood was pouring down to earth. It was the day my family died.
The disgusting hospital stench left me with no appetite. I had fought for my life for eight days. Medicine took away the pain but it could not banish the horrifying memories that haunted me. I could not get the image of my mom lying on the floor in a pool of blood, that kept growing, out of my head. I could see how she reached her hand towards me but I had to turn my back to her and run. I saw my dad lying in a bed upstairs, his body pierced by dozens and dozens of cuts left by the knife. And my sister… She had looked as if she was just sleeping in her little bed. She had been stabbed only once, that had been enough. The chubby cheeks had turned pale and she reminded a porcelain doll.
At first, the police stationed a guard outside my hospital room, in case the murderer would come after me to finish what was started. The police did not have a clue what had happened. Only when a week had passed and it was clear that I would survive, they came to me and said:
“Your wounds. There’s no defensive wounds on your body. As a matter of fact, the doctors tell us that it seems your cuts were most likely self-inflicted...”
The doctors were not wrong. My mom had not been wrong either. My dad was sick and it was hereditary. I simply could not stand and watch my mom being beaten anymore. I could not bear that my sister would grow up in the hellish nightmare I had grown up in. I had survived ten long years. The only way out of insanity was death. That is why a laced my parents’ evening tea with sleeping pills. Dad had drank a lot and slept tight. He was unable to as much as raise his hand when I stabbed him over and over. His fat belly stuck out under the shirt. It juggled up and down and turned more and more red when the knife sank into his flesh.
I had lost control completely with dad. But when I looked at my sister, I could not do the same to her. She was crying in her little bed, staring at me with huge eyes filled with terror. She did not fight back when I slowly pushed the knife into her chest.
Mom was still standing but she did not fight back either. She did not beg. She just reached her hand in an effort to touch me but I turned around and left her bleed to death. I had broken two knives already. I grabbed another one, smaller one with a sawed edge and hit myself in the chest but my hand refused to push the knife deep. I slashed my chest and stomach unable to make myself inflict fatal wounds. I gave up and started making my way deep into the forest. Then I heard it, finally I could hear it! The witch was playing her drum. It drove me insane.
Around me the trees created shadows on to the snow and above me flowed northern lights like a bright river. The stars were shining like pearls on the bottom of the river. They were like forgotten souls screaming in the vacuum of space. It was as if three new stars were born right before my eyes. They were only pearls flowing in the sky now.