I used to go with Pique to this special meadow, only a quarter mile from our home. It was Pique’s golden meadow, for it was acres wide as far as the eye can see of tall golden grass. It was a beautiful sanctuary. A peaceful place. One spot in particular, beneath a giant hollowed tree, were curious blossoms that if you didn’t catch in time, would already be well on its way to dying. Each year, the blossoms would fight against nature--that fed them so little nutrients--and still they would bloom, even if only for a few days. The petals were the color of washed out yellow; their stems prickly and thick. Pique loved them, thought they were the most beautiful things she’d ever seen.
But I hated them. To me, they were hideous, and they had a foul stench that permeated the air around them.
Father would take home some special plant food he’d salvaged from work and in a vase, he’d pour out the food, swirl it in the water and let Pique arrange the blooms to her liking. The special food could only sustain the dreadful plant for another day or two, but it was another day or two that Pique would find joy in them. That was enough reason for my father and apparently enough for me, because every year I’d take her to the same meadow to pick the same blooms, and together we’d bring them home.
Pique was only seven the very last time we went to pick those blooms. I refused to take her after that because the last time, she died…
I remember that day clearly. The sun was too hot and the ash colored clouds did little to alleviate the discomfort of the heat. It was the kind of day you had to be careful not to be out too long, for any exposed skin would burn in a matter of hours from the sun’s biting rays.
My face was raised up to the sky, soaking in the sun through the breaks in the thick clouds. I knew we didn’t have much time. I’d just settled beneath the leafless, aged tree when suddenly I heard Pique shriek.
The fear that seized me squeezed the air out of my lungs and the world went into a slow motion panic. When I reached Pique, she was lying on the ground, crying as she cradled her arm.
“Pique! What happened?” I screamed at her. But it was the slow slithering of the hissler that answered me. My eyes locked in horror at the departing hissler, noticing the rattler on its tail missing. In a sudden rage, I picked up a rock and threw it, barely missing the hissler’s head. Pique moaned at my feet. Inside me, my conscience agonized between prolonging her suffering by going after the creature or getting her immediate attention which would mean letting the hissler escape. But of course my decision was clear; the hissler would live if my sister did too.
In my arms, I crushed Pique to my chest and I ran as fast as my small, skinny legs could, back to the house. Each wheezing breath she took and incoherent moan fueled the blood in my veins. I could see the hissler’s venom working its way inside of her, shutting down her organs, robbing her of life. There wasn’t much time.
I was already screaming by the time the house could be seen in the distance. My mother ran out from the back, a questioning look on her face until she saw Pique’s tiny, limp form in my arms.
“Hissler! Pique’s been bitten!” I screamed.
My mother, knowing what to do, ran back inside and the rest…seemed like a fuzzy dream. The world sped back up, this time it was so fast it felt like a flicker of a series of moments, each moment leading up to one dying breath from Pique’s pale lips, to the next.
The healer finally arrived, just as Pique’s heart gave out. I had been anxiously watching her chest, waiting for her to take her next breath but it never came. Someone screamed. It took me a second to realize it had come from me. My father was forced to haul me outside because I wouldn’t let go of Pique to allow the healer work.
But I couldn’t just stand outside, pacing and grieving, and doing nothing! I couldn’t just wait for them to tell me the healer had given up and that Pique was truly gone. Gone! It was all my fault! I should’ve run faster. I should’ve never let her out of my sight!
So I took off. I ran back to the meadow—turning every rock, kicking and smashing every last bloom…until I found the hissler.
Its rattler was missing and I knew it was the one. The one that had bitten my precious, fragile little sister. The rock in my hand, the size of my shoe, rose up. I wanted it to see what would be the death of it. Its body slowly raised above the ground, hissing at me with its grotesque split tongue, darting in and out. It struck so fast I was lucky I hadn’t blinked. And I threw the rock, catching the hissler right in the center of its bared fangs. But I didn’t stop there. Rock after rock after rock flew from my angry, vengeful hands.
I don’t remember how many rocks I threw but I remember my arm feeling sore. When it was over, not much was left of the lifeless hissler, but a thick strand of pulp that I dragged back home by its tail.
We used to have cuckles back then. I opened the gate to their hen house, threw the hissler inside and watched the cuckles peck at it until all that was left were pieces of tiny skeleton.
I wasn’t even sure how much time had passed when my father came outside to get me. There were tears in his eyes and I thought for sure the healer had failed, and Pique had died. My father hugged me fiercely, burying my face in the crook of his arm, and he said with breathlessness, “She’s alive, Aeva. Pique’s alive!”
His chest absorbed my heaving sobs; his strong arms comforting me, soothing me until I was spent.
My father found the hissler’s remains the next day. He mentioned nothing about it, but his eyes and face spoke of his fear over my ruthlessness. I could tell he was worried for me. But deep down, he would've done exactly what I’d done…