Despite the many requests by the doctors at the hospital for my mother and us to be tested, she insisted there was nothing wrong with any of us. “Look,” she screamed as she showed them she didn’t have any black marks on her arms and neck. We were fine and we were going home. And it was true she didn’t have any black marks on her body. She admitted she didn’t look well but considering she had just lost Stan it was understandable. I stood by her nodding in agreement because she was right; she didn’t have “any Plague”. What she would find later is that she was a little feverish with a general sense of malaise. Again she just figured she was upset by the series of events and needed some rest. The malaise was followed by fever, chills and horrible headaches. She locked herself in her room for days leaving me to tend to the twins. We could here her moans of pain and would only see her when she went for another failed attempt at using the rest room. She asked me to go to the store to get us some food and a laxative for her. I was more than able to handle the task, as I’d been raising the three of us for years to allow my mother her irresponsible, selfish lifestyle.
As I walked to the store to do my duties I thought briefly that maybe I should just run away. It would only be a matter of time before the doctors realized that I caused Stan’s death. And as soon as Mother died they would definitely be on to me. I felt bad that I had hurt someone and I even cried in my few quiet moments alone since we came back from the hospital, but another part of me was glad to be rid of Stan. But something told me they wouldn’t understand and I would be taken away from my sisters and they needed me. No, I couldn’t run. I can’t tell anyone what I’d done. My sisters needed their big sister to take care of them and they were too young to run with me.
I didn’t see the smoke until I walked into the front door. Damn it, which one of them had gotten into the matches. The fire alarm batteries had been drained for months. I had told mother but she told me to change them. Of course even on a chair I was too small to reach it, so they just went unchanged. I heard my sisters both crying in the living room. I dropped the grocery sacks and ran to the room which was now full of smoke. My mouth dropped when I saw what was happening. Standing in the middle of the room were the shapes of two men completely covered in leafy vines. The figures gyrated as they tried to break free. Their muffled voices were saying something about Stan, a package, where were they. Between them and the source of the fire was one sister blazing in flames. My first reaction was to get some water or the extinguisher under the kitchen sink. Then I noticed while she seemed to be on fire she was actually unhurt. It seemed she was the actual source of the fire. She looked up at me and put a finger to her mouth telling me to be quiet. She then looked down at the floor and concentrated as if stoking the flames around her to light the green vines encasing the strangers. As the men began to scream with pain I quickly snatched up the twins and ran to the front door. They began to cry for our mother. I told them she would be out soon enough. I didn’t go back in to try and save her. I had to look after the twins. A neighbor had seen the smoke when I first entered the house and had called 911. I heard the sirens as I sat the girls down in the front yard. The left side of the house began to glow bright orange as the firemen ran into the house to try to save the others. We were put into an ambulance with our mother who in her current state didn’t even now there had been a fire. Another ambulance carried the burned bodies of the strangers covered with a strange burnt plant matter. I had overheard one of the paramedics explaining to another that they were both alive but one probably wouldn’t make it to the hospital and the other might make it through the night.
Since we seemed fine a very nice nurse, I can’t remember her name today, said she’d stay a while after her shift to watch us as they tended to our mother. How long before the doctors or police figured out what had happened? And what would they do to us? Who were those men and why did they want Stan and that box?
When the doctors had realized my mother had Typhoid Fever they immediately quarantined us all. While I felt fine and the twins showed no signs of illness either I could here the doctors talk in the hallway about our household. Plague and Typhoid affecting two people in the same household was unprecedented. Apparently the two strange men, both now dead, were low level mob hit men that were carrying enough firepower to start a small war. They couldn’t understand how the men were covered in so much burnt plant matter (which the coroner had noted) and a “specialist” was coming in the morning. My mother died just after 2:00 am of complications from typhoid after she didn’t respond to antibiotic treatment. I was informed by a nicely dressed woman wearing a surgical mask and latex gloves when I woke up in the morning. I cried and she held me tightly like my mother did so few times. Even though I knew I was responsible, my young mind could not handle the unknown prospect of my future and the future of my sisters. While not as powerful I did feel guilt as well. I was a good girl after all. I wanted to be good.
The woman sat there and stroked my back and dried my tears and cradled me for an eternity. She told me we would tell my sisters together when I felt strong enough. A voice came from the doorway behind the woman. It was a man’s voice with a heavy accent, “Well hello there little lady. May I have a word with you?” I looked up to see a wild haired bespectacled man in an old brown suit standing in the doorway. He too had on a mask and gloves. I unburied my head from the woman’s shoulder and looked up at him with tear filled eyes. Even though he was masked I could see his smile in his eyes.
“May I?” He asked again. I nodded. I had just met the man who would become our father.