The Family Gathering is a scary ghost story about a girl who hates birthdays. Especially her fourteenth birtday.
I have always hated family gatherings. I hate my birthday most of all. Year in, year out, it’s always the same. Everybody goes through the motions. Everyone plays their part.
My mom bustles about the kitchen, preparing finger food and greeting the guests with a fake smile plastered across her face. My dad always drinks way too much and staggers around, laughing too loud and slapping people on the back too hard.
My grandmother smothers me with kisses and I shudder with disgust as I feel her hairy chin brush against my cheek. My uncle bombards me with questions, asking if I have a boyfriend yet and if not, why not? My Aunt tells me all about her daughter and how well perfect she is and how she is doing at school. She always takes pains to mention me how smart she is and how she is so much smarter than me.
My little cousins race around the house like cockroaches, stomping on the floor, jumping on the stairs, squealing and hollering at the top of their lungs. They climb over furniture and crawl under tables, pulling and tugging at everything in sight. Nothing goes untouched by their grubby little hands. Around and around they go, like rats on a wheel.
I honestly can’t believe I’m related to these people, but I have to hold my tongue. I don’t want them to resent me more than they already do.
The table is lined with soggy sandwiches and stale chips. Bottles of wine are followed by bottles of whiskey and vodka. They all sit around the living room, gulping down their drinks, swapping stories about the good old times and boasting about themselves. I cringe as I listen to them laughing and cackling like a bunch of hyenas. It’s enough to drive anyone insane.
I get up and leave the room, desperate to clear my head. I know that, in his jacket pocket, my uncle has a packet of cigarettes and a lighter. Surely he won’t miss one, I think. I can hear all the adults in the living room singing a song, so I go to the kitchen to sneak a quick smoke. Surely nobody will notice.
There’s a strange smell in the air that makes me wrinkle up my nose, but I don’t pay much attention to it. My little cousins are already in the kitchen, up to mischief, as usual. They give me a startled look when I come in, as if they’ve done something naughty and they’re afraid I will catch them.
I put the cigarette between my lips and head over towards the window. I flick the cigarette lighter and suddenly a jet of flame shoots across the room to the old gas stove. There’s a deafening explosion and the room erupts in flames. The whole house is on fire.
I hear the screams and cries. I smell the burning flesh. I feel the intense heat as we are all consumed in the inferno and I close my eyes and sigh with relief as it all dissolves into silence.
Until next year.
When I will be fourteen again.
Over and over again.