A Better Place

The fever ran rampant as of late, infecting any potential victim it could like some rabid mongrel. Birdie was one such victim. At fourteen-years-old, Birdie McBride was dying. She lived with her grandpa, Chester McBride, who was seventy-three years old, and whom she prayed with every night on their knees – he prayed for fortune and she prayed that she would live long enough not to be buried by Chester. Birdie’s ma was buried in the backyard and her pa was buried in the front. Even in death they lay divorced from one another. Birdie McBride often stood in the hallway between the windows looking out at either grave. She knew she was dying, but to be buried at home would be the ultimate form of degradation.

In years past, when the fever was widespread, doctors and citizens alike were hell-bent on discovering a cure. The field of medicine attracted con artists like the scent of blood attracts sharks and Birdie’s folks did not hesitate to capitalize on the fears of the sick and the desperate. After all, many people in town needed medical help, so much so that their needs rendered them more gullible than usual. The couple ran a successful business as self-described doctors, selling what they claimed to be the cure for the fever. In actuality, their “cure” was just some snake oil concoction that did little to remedy the sickness. They cheated sick people out of money for years and lived lavishly for a while, purchasing cars and fancy clothes and the like. That is until word spread around town that their medicine was ineffective and they developed a reputation as con artists. Soon, the couple was met with stares and scolds from nearly every corner of town, even being banned from some businesses. With their reputation in ruins and their money spent, the couple’s relationship became strained. Most times, Birdie’s ma wandered through half of their home, while her pa roamed the other half without ever seeing each other. Their notoriety together, even in their graves, attracted the scorn of the town, with people meeting the graves with jeer or spit or stones. Because of this notoriety, Birdie was sure that when she dies of fever, she would not be buried with her kin, for to be buried with them was to share the roots seeped with their sins.

One evening, Birdie felt particularly feverish, perhaps more so than ever. Her liver and kidneys functioned when they would, but her heart persisted doggedly to beat. Birdie’s nose ran with blood and her skin bore a translucent yellow tinge as she dragged herself through the house like a cadaverous apparition. Tonight was the night; tonight, she knew she would die. When she entered the kitchen, she discovered her grandpa dining on leftover stew at a small table. In her dwindling physical state, she believed it to be appropriate to discuss her burial plans with her grandpa for the last time.

“Pardon me for interrupting your supper, Grandpa, but I don’t feel well. I fear I won’t make it to the morning in my condition.”

Chester turned to face his granddaughter, raising his eyebrows half-mast at the sight of her, “Don’t talk like that sweetpea; you just need something to warm your belly. Why don’t I fix you a bowl of stew?”

Birdie gazed at the floor, “I ain’t hungry, Grandpa. I doubt any food can cure me, let alone a doctor. I can feel it, grandpa. I can feel death upon me.”

Chester shifted in his seat, tilting his head as he did so, “You sure you don’t just need some sleep? Maybe a nap will do you some good.”

“I’m positive.” Said Birdie.

Her grandpa nodded, “Well if you really feel that way, I suppose we should make arrangements. Have you picked a spot in the yard yet? Maybe beside your mother or behind your father?”

Birdie met her grandpa’s stare, “That’s the issue, you see. I don’t want to be buried in the yard. I’m not like my parents and I don’t want people to think that I died sharing my parents’ beliefs. I want to rest peacefully, without the burden of dishonour.”

“Birdie, you know we can’t afford to bury you in a graveyard. We just don’t have the money.” Said Chester. “Besides, what difference does it make? You won’t know or care where your body is when you pass.”

“Please Grandpa. We can even dig my grave on some field; any field.”

Chester bit down on his lower lip, “Sorry Birdie, law doesn’t allow it. I’m telling you, a home burial isn’t so bad. As much as you don’t like your ma and pa, they are your family after all.”

Birdie’s brows furrowed as she balled her fists, “The past and the future are the same to you aren’t they? One forgotten and the other not remembered; you choose to ignore what they did and you have no more notion of dying than the bowl of stew in front of you. I will be damned if I am buried next to criminals.”

Birdie turned and stormed off as best as her body could allow, trundling to her bedroom, where she sat marinating in her own sickly decay. A tear began rolling down her cheek as she listened to her grandfather shuffling about to prepare for the inevitable. She let her eyes wander around her room like a housefly, searching for any way to circumvent a backyard burial. Back and forth her eyes beamed until she became dizzy. From what she could see, nothing in her room existed that could prevent her home burial. With a sigh, Birdie grabbed her diary from her nightstand beside her bed and began to pen a final entry and clear her head. As she began to write, she noticed that the left-sided page had a sketch of trees and bushes on it. Birdie wiped her tears while she looked closer at the drawing, raising her eyebrows as she did so. She had an idea. Birdie waited for hours until she could wait no longer. With her pen, she had crossed out what she had been writing and restarted on a new page, which now read, “In a better place”. Birdie then tore the page out and placed it on her Pillow for her grandpa to find in the morning.

She grew even yellower and her heartbeat sputtered like an old engine. As she put her ear to her bedroom door, she could no longer hear her grandpa and figured that he must have retired to bed by now. There was no time left for compromise or survival, and so Birdie made for the front door.

Birdie gazed at the midnight streets, wondering which direction to run. She winced as she lifted her right leg and began hobbling into the night like a wandering nomad. The stars swung counterclockwise in their course and the North Star winked above her, guiding her path. Birdie walked for hours; she walked all night. She walked until her toes grew numb and she coughed up blood. The trek led her deep into the grassy foothills outside of town, where only beasts and wild things roamed and withered. The landscape looked just like her drawing, with trees wafting in the wind and bushes rustling. From where Birdie stood, the town was a kaleidoscopic sliver in the glare of the rising sun. She had come too far to turn back, even if she wanted to.

Birdie sank to her knees, staring at the dirt below her. It was time. She raised her arms and began to claw and dig desperately at the ground like a dying mole. After a minute or so, digging turned into dragging; her fingernails filled with earthen grime as the life slipped out of her. Satisfied with the palm-sized hole she had dug, she lay down on her back and scattered the crumbs of dirt across her torso. Birdie closed her eyes and clasped her hands, whispering a prayer to the sky above. Then, she waited.

-by -LikeASimile- on reddit. 

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