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November the Thirteenth, Two Thousand and Five This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

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I awoke on the morning of my tenth birthday in utter confusion. From the murky green-coloured carpet to the peculiar paintings that hung on the walls, I became aware of the terrifying situation I was in: this was not my bedroom.

The sun had not yet come up, and outside it was pitch black, save for a thin shred of moonlight peaking in through a gap in the curtains. Looking around at the old, oaken furniture, dark brown and red wallpaper chipped and curling at the edges, the low, stuccoed ceiling; the room felt unfriendly and cold, and I cringed at the thought of being alone. I shifted my feet in discomfort, making a mess of the unfamiliar sheets that confined me. Eyes locked on one spot on the ceiling, my temples throbbed as my heart started to pound faster and faster.

I had been kidnapped in the middle of the night by tall men with white moustaches dressed in all black suits. My imagination went wild. They must have broken in while everyone was asleep, killed my parents, killed my brothers, killed my sister, and then made off in the middle of the night with me in their trunk, unconscious, tied up and gagged. And they were probably watching me now. I pulled the strange quilt up over my shoulders and clutched it nervously to my chin. My eyes darted from side to side, dampening as fear grew.

A light rustling came from nearby and I flinched and jerked my head. Josh, my indolent, kindergarten brother, shifted positions in his sleep in the bed next to me. The sight of him instantly triggered my memory, having forgotten all about the family vacation. We had arrived in Parksville, Vancouver Island the night before, and were spending the long weekend in a little condo near the water. Catching my breath, doused with relief, I raised a sweaty palm to my forehead and smacked it. “Duh,” I chuckled to myself. Within minutes I was asleep again.

I awoke for the second time that morning well rested and happy to be alive. Shivering as I pulled off the warm, cozy covers, I hunted around the room for a shirt. After slipping into the same one I’d taken off the night before, I sat up on the bed and stared hypnotically at the small black alarm clock on the night table. Sunlight came in through the foggy window in brilliant rays, and I could see all the little dust particles float around in the air where the light shone. It was just after nine o’clock in the morning.

And then I remembered it was my birthday.

Bouncing off the bed like it was some kind of spring-loaded catapult, I leapt up and darted out of the bedroom and into the kitchen. The granite counter tops glistened in the light coming in through the many windows. Beaming gleefully, enthralled with the idea of finally reaching the double digits, I continued to dance around the house, prancing on and off of the antique furniture, moving from one room to the next. I was having so much fun being ten years old, it was a few minutes before I noticed something. Silence. Stopping mid-gambol, my immense smile lingering on my face, I paused and listened for a second, intensively, to the still, crisp atmosphere. The stone tile floor was cold and I couldn’t stand in one place for too long, so I shifted my feet. This was too quiet for nine o’clock in the morning.

Thinking I’d start the day off on a delicious note, I went back into the kitchen and fixed myself a toppling bowl of Frootloops. Sitting at the kitchen table, slouched over my breakfast and looking out over the tops of a million pine trees, I enjoyed three whopping servings of cereal and milk. By the time I had finished, still nobody had woken up.

I was about to start running through bedrooms to wake up my siblings when I heard something coming from my parents’ room that caught my ear. Raising a curious finger to my chin, I silenced myself to be able to hear.

They spoke in soft, stuttering whispers, and they did not at all sound cheerful. Condolence, by the sound of it. Sobbing. One of them was crying, probably my mom. All of a sudden my birthday did not feel nearly as special as it had ten minutes ago.

After a considerable amount of time spent eavesdropping on my parents’ muffled conversation, they emerged from their bedroom. Swollen, bloodshot eyes, frazzled hair, wearing yesterday’s clothes; they looked like they’d been up all night. They came out and asked me to wake everyone up and get them into the living room.” ‘Happy birthday’ was not the first thing they said to me.

Still in our pyjamas, all six of us sat squished onto the three-person sofa facing an empty stone fireplace. It took my dad about ten minutes of cushioning the story, in an attempt to soften the blow, before they finally broke the news that our Aunt Clara, who lived in Texas, had died that morning around five o’clock. After they’d finished sharing with us what they had gathered from being on the phone all night, the room grew dead silent. Nobody said anything. We all just sat there and looked at each other, mourning thick in the air like smog. Everyone was in tears. Everyone except me.

When my mom finally broke down and returned to her room, followed by my dad, I addressed my siblings.

“Guys,” I said, looking around at the tear-stained faces. “I don’t get it. We’ve met her like four times. I don’t understand what the big kerfuffle’s about. People die.”

“Eli,” I got a sharp glance from my sister. “It’s mom’s sister. Shut up.”

“Yeah,” I replied, avoiding her eye contact. “Who we hardly even knew. Fantastic timing, huh? Didn’t she just make the day?” And with that I got up and sulked back to my bedroom, eyes filling up with tears for the second time that morning. She couldn’t have died a day later?



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