They were a happy family. They were large in number: Grandma and Grandpa, two aunts, two uncles, eight cousins and one dog. They were very close, too. Cousins were like sisters and brothers, and aunts and uncles were like mothers and fathers. There was Uncle Matt with his two daughters, Uncle Chris with his two daughters, Aunt Joan with her two daughters, and Aunt MiHae with one daughter and one son. Zeke was the only boy cousin, but that was okay with him. His favorite color was pink.
This happy family was the Stuarts. They loved to be together. In the summer they would all go to Grandma and Grandpa’s house and do puzzles and eat popovers and play with the dog (she belonged to Uncle Matt). When the cousins went outside to play, Grandma would bring out a big stack of plastic cups with a jug of water and markers to write their names. The cousins would pluck a cup from the top of the stack, write their name on it and fill it with water (some of the younger cousins needed help with this part.) They would take a sip and then continue to play their games. Because the railing on the porch was slim, all the cups had to be placed in a single file line. If you walked over to the porch you could see a row of names: Mae, the oldest (she was ten) then Franny, Lea, Zeke, Pearl, Alice, Erin, and the youngest, Bea (she was very small, and had to have help spelling her name. Sometimes she forgot the e and just wrote Ba.) When the cousins played, they could hear chickens: the birds liked to hang out in the woods behind the house and peck at the compost. Sometimes Zeke would chase them and they would squawk even louder.
After they were done playing, they would go inside and sit around the living room. More often than not, they would beg Grandpa, “Oh please, tell us the story again about how the end of your nose got chopped off!” or “I want that one about the parrot you were babysitting who flew away!” Grandpa would sit on the couch and the cousins would sit criss-cross applesauce on the floor, and Grandpa would tell them the story. There were always giggles when he recalled how he never found that piece of his nose, or gasps when he described the parrot flying out of the open window.
Another of the Stuart’s favorite activities was to go on walks. They would walk down the big hill, over the duck bridge (stopping, of course, to feed the ducks some corn) and through a path which led them to the abandoned train tracks. Grandpa liked the train tracks because the surrounding field was covered with fiddleheads, which he picked and put in a bag, and brought home to wash and cook. Grandma liked the fields because there were some cows around a barn in the distance that she could gaze at. Zeke liked quacking at the ducks.
On one of those days, on one of those walks, the Stuart family trod happily along the train tracks. Grandpa stopping for fiddleheads and Grandma admiring the cows and Zeke chatting animatedly about ducks, they made their way along the path. Erin squeaked and the Stuarts all stopped. “What is it, Erin?” asked Uncle Chris.
“Raindrop–on my arm!” She babbled. Everybody looked up at the darkening sky. Clouds were churning and spinning above their heads. The sky, blue moments before, was grey and smoky.
“It looks like we should walk a little faster then!” noted Uncle Chris. Everybody nodded. They walked on.
Something was wrong. All the Stuarts felt it. “Wait,” said Aunt Joan, “Where’s MiHae?” They all looked left: no Aunt MiHae. They all looked right: not there, either. Aunt MiHae was gone. The murmurings of the Stuarts were masked by the louder murmurings of the wind, which was blowing with intensity and threatened a storm.
“We’ll go ahead and look for her,” said Grandma, grabbing Grandpa’s arm. “You all stay here.” As the rain fell at a quickening pace, the Stuarts saw Grandma and Grandpa walk briskly into the foggy clouds.
“I wonder where she’s gone,” Uncle Matt muttered, trying to mask his worry for the kids’ sake. He needn’t have worried; none of the children had noticed their aunt’s absence. The family stood in a gloomy circle, Zeke flapping his arms like a duck and Mae ignoring her sister Alice’s whines about the temperature. The aunts and uncles exchanged looks, trying to speak to each other without words.
Slowly, the shaky forms of Grandma and Grandpa became visible through the heavy fog up ahead. Squinting their eyes, the Stuarts saw the outline of MiHae between them. As they became clearer, the aunts and uncles could see the tracks of tears on Grandma’s face and lines of cold shock on Grandpa’s. The bitter whisper of harshly-spoken words were shadows on MiHae’s lips. These details were lost on the kids. Zeke and Bea ran to their mother, and the Stuart clan held out their arms to welcome her back. “Where were you, Aunt MiHae?” asked Alice in a small voice.
MiHae gave Alice a weak smile. “Oh, honey, I just got a bit lost.” She turned, and the family walked on along the train tracks.
As they marched, the winds lessened. The rain reduced to a gentle drizzle, and the clouds broke to welcome a soft blue hue to the air. The feeling of family closeness and summertime returned as concerned looks were replaced with warm smiles. When they arrived at a grassy patch, Lea showed her cousins the cartwheels she had been working on all school year. Mae noticed that Lea’s legs weren’t straight enough, but she didn’t say anything, as to not upset her six-year-old cousin. Zeke couldn’t do cartwheels because ‘“ducks don’t have arms.”’
They reached a barn with a particularly large number of cows, and MiHae turned around. “Hey mom look, there’s some-” But she broke off, a look of disgusted horror spreading over her face. Her eyes widened, staring at something just over their shoulders.
“What’s she looking at?” Franny whispered to her dad, tugging at his jeans. Uncle Matt had no answer for her; he just watched MiHae as she slowly backed away from the pack.
“Mommy?” Bea’s timid voice rose up out of the group, searching her mother’s eyes. MiHae, eyes still wide, reached out to her kids.
“Come on, kids, we’re leaving. Come on!” She grabbed Zeke and Bea’s arms, tugging them away from their family. The wind swirled faster and faster, a storm darkening the sky even more quickly than before. Rain fell in sheets, soaking all of the Stuarts so they were heavy and limp. Grandpa reached to touch MiHae’s arm.
“You okay, honey?” MiHae recoiled at his touch.
“You!” she shrieked. Her scream broke the heavy air hanging over their heads. Suddenly everything existed in a hyperreality, the sounds louder and colors more vibrant than before. “Get away from me!” MiHae began running, Zeke and Bea’s arms still clutched in her taut, white-knuckled hands. As she sprinted away from her family, the sheets of rain turned into a downpour. Buckets were poured from the heavens, and the trees tossed and turned and tore up their roots. Confused and dazed and scared, the Stuarts ran after the three small figures in the distance. They could just see Zeke and Bea through the grey rain, running with their mother but heads turned back watching desperately as the space grew between them and their cousins who were siblings and uncles and aunts who were parents. MiHae looked only forward, never glancing at her pursuers. She ran with inhuman speed, clouds of dust behind her racing feet replaced with dark storm clouds, churning and twisting and drenched. The clouds were sobbing, and so were Grandma and Grandpa and Uncle Matt and Uncle Chris and Aunt Joan and Mae and Franny and Lea and Zeke and Pearl and Alice and Erin. Still they ran, and they watched as the winds pulled up the rusty metal tracks from the ground.
The gale whipped around them and soon it swept them off the ground and into the sky. The pursuers flew through the air, spinning and twisting like the clouds that surrounded them. Uncle Matt, seeing a ray of bright sun leaking through the cover of clouds, pulled them upwards toward the source of the light. When they broke through the blanket of grey, they came upon a calm paradise. The sky above the clouds was bright blue and clear, and the sun shone softly over the entire sky. Kneeling on the plush clouds, Grandma and Grandpa and the aunt and uncles and the cousins looked through the break of clouds into the storm.
MiHae ran on, her hair stuck to her face with rain and her children pumping their small legs to keep up with her pace. Bea was in tears, her salty tears mixing with the fresh rainwater and making puddles on her cheeks. Zeke’s face was limp, emotionless, like a mask. And MiHae ran, and ran, and ran, and ran. And the Stuarts watched, and watched, and watched, and watched.
They never stopped watching and she never stopped running.