Proudly did I sit upon my throne, a seat forged from blood and bone.
My skin marred with evidence of war, I was scarred and bruised. I was wounded and battered but it was a war I would never lose. The taste of blood on my lips, my fangs were sharpened by flesh. Eyes flashing with moonlight, a wolf howled inside my chest.
They made me a ruler and a King, I made them suffer and bleed. Feared more than fear itself, I was born to lead.
The moment I saw her, my eyes filled with fear. She scared me more than my demons, for them I learned to bear. Her eyes were wild with hope, although I knew it wouldn't be long until she knew me for the monster I was. Fate had finally done wrong.
She could never know, I would hide it well. For how could she learn to love a monster that could never love himself?
"Your grandfather is dead."
Those were words I never wanted to hear, but had been anticipating for too long.
Those words were the reason that I sat on a plane flying above German farmland, on my way to arrange a funeral I didn't want to attend.
I felt someone nudge my arm and I opened my eyes to see my older brother, Zak, staring at me. I took out my headphones,beven though he didn't speak verbally. He pointed to the date window on his watch.
''Happy twenty-third birthday, '' he signed, smiling.
I sighed. ''It doesn't feel like a happy birthday, '' I signed back, my shaky fingers displaying just how exhausted I was.
Zak sat forward and pulled something from his backpack. I noticed as he handed it to me that it was a bag of peanut m&ms, my favorite kind of candy.
He winked at me before leaning back in his seat.
l opened the bag and poured out a handful and handed them tobhim. He took them gladly.
''How are you?'' Zak asked me once he finished them off. His sharp eyes had been studying me the entire trip.
He knew the answer.
I nodded, signing that I was fine. I looked past him to my mom and dad, who sat in the middle row. Her tear-stained, red-rimmed eyes were staring blankly at the back of the seat in front of her. I sighed, knowing how hard she was probably taking her father's death. They had been close, especially after my grandmother died when she was young.
My mother and father were both German and moved to the United States after they were married.
After I was born, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and my grandfather quit his job and moved to Florida to help take care of her since my dad worked all the time.
The man practically raised me After he moved back to Germany, he fell ill and was unable toncome back to see us. We had only made a few trips to see him
since that time.
I couldn't believe he was gone.
I shook my head, trying to rid myself of the sad thoughts. I looked back out the window as my eyes filled with tears,nblurring the sight of the setting sun.
It was late into the evening when the plane landed in Frankfurt.
We got a rental car and drove a little over an hour into the country to my grandfather's cottage. Driving up to the cottage was hard. I was used to the porch light being on, ushering us up to the house. This time the house was dark and uninviting.
As we got out of the car, I took my luggage and wheeled it up to the side door. I could hear Remi, my grandfather's Schnauzer, barking as I retrieved the key from underneath the doormat.
I unlocked the door and flipped on the light.
Remi trotted over and sniffed me, her tail wagging quickly. I smiled grimly as I leaned down to run my fingers through her fur, which had grayed since I'd seen her last.
Zak came in behind me, his suitcase and backpack hitting the doorway as he squeezed his way inside. In that moment, he looked more like an eight-year-old boy than a twenty-six-year-old man.
"Would you mind turning on some lights?" My mom asked as she came in.
I stood up and walked into the den and turned on a few lamps. Taking a deep breath and fighting tears as I looked around the room, I made my way upstairs to the guest bedroom that I normally stayed in.
Everything was the same as it always had been.
The green walls hadn't been painted in decades and the dusty, floral curtains were in serious need of being replaced. The
wooden floor squeaked under the pressure of my footsteps as I
made my way across the room to turn on the lamp.
The lightbulb blew as I did so and I sighed, my mind continuing to turn over every worry and sad thought in darkness.
I sat my suitcase down on the floor and laid down over the duvet. Soon, the jet lag caught up to me and I drifted off into a restless sleep.
The next day was no better than the last, except for the first few moments when I woke up and had forgotten where I was and why I was there.
That blissful ignorance soon disappeared as I heard my mother's voice floating up the stairs. I got out of bed and went downstairs. My mother and father were both sitting at the old, oak dinner table clutching steaming cups of coffee.
"Good morning," she said. It sounded more obligatory than it did loving.
"Good morning" I returned, stopping short from asking her how she was. I knew how she was.
"We're going to the mortuary in a while to make arrangements, she informed me. "You're more than welcome to come. "
I fought back tears as I poured myself a cup of coffee. "I'll pass."
The kitchen was quiet as I poured cream into the coffee and stirred it. I picked the mug up from the counter and held it tightly. The warmth from the ceramic cup was a stark contrast to the cool air in the house.
"I want to have the funeral here." she said softly Looking up from my drink, I saw my dad reach across the table and take her hand in his as he nodded reassuringly.
"It sounds like a good idea," he said, giving her a grim smile.
I looked around small cottage with apprehension. It was far too small to hold a funeral, but I wasn't going to argue with my mom about it. It was her decision to make.
"Stop it," she said.
I snapped out of a trance to find myself looking at her as she returned the stare. "What?"
"Stop looking at me like that," she said defensively.
I fumbled over my words. "Like what?" I asked, my eyebrows furrowing in confusion.
"Like you're assessing which stage of grief I'm entering," she snapped.
My mother stood from the table quickly, the chair sliding loudly against the wooden floor as she did so. I watched in disbelief as she stomped up the stairs.
I looked to my dad, who still sat at the dining table, and he sighed and shook his head as he took another sip of coffee.
"I wasn't," I said defensively. "You were."
He stood up and placed his mug in the sink and began to rinse it out.
"I understand that you see this stuff everyday and you study it in school---"
I began to speak but he raised a hand to stop me.
"---but don't negate your mother's feelings or brush it off like you would a client. He was your grandfather, try not to reason your way out of grieving yourself."
With those words he walked away and left me to stand in a cold kitchen holding a steaming cup of coffee. I shook my head as I placed the mug on the counter and crossed my arms. I tried to take his words at face value, understanding he had said them to help me.
But it still stung.
As a second-year graduate student who was studying
counseling, I was familiar with grief and loss. I interned at a practice that had people dealing with those two things walk through the doors everyday.
I wasn't negating her feelings, but I would admit that I was assessing them.
Huffing, I came to the conclusion that my father was right and I reached out to grab the mug and take a sip of my coffee. I heard someone coming down the stairs and I prepared an apology before turning around to see it was only Zak.
He pointed up the stairs with a questioning look on his face and I just shook my head, not wanting to explain what had happened.
He shrugged and came over to pour himself coffee.
I sat down at the dining table and he followed suit, drinking his coffee black. I grimaced at the thought.
He looked at me, knowing I wanted to talk about something.
I sighed and placed the mug on the table.
''Do you think I overanalyze things?'' I asked him.
He fought back laughter as he placed his own mug down and signed back. ''You asking me that proves that you do.''
I scoffed and rolled my eyes as he laughed.
"You're lucky,'' I signed. ''You don't have to deal with people. You don't have to deal with emotions."
Zak was a data analyst for the military. He looked at computersball day, everyday.
''Psychology was your choice,'' he reminded me.
I sighed Why does everyone in my family make valid points atbinopportune times? We finished our coffee in silence and watched as our parentsbleft for the mortuary. After they left, I began to clean, knowing there would be wellbover a hundred people in that house in the next days.
Zak helped at first, but ended up on the couch reading throughbmy grandfather's old books.
Noticing a few things in the house that took up space like unnecessary plants and space heaters, I took it upon myself tobtake them up to the attic to make room for the guests thatbwould be filling the space soon.
I carried one of the large space heaters up two flights of stairsband into the attic, dropping it with a thud once I crossed the doorway.
"Thanks for the help, Zak," I muttered sarcastically, rubbing thebmuscle in my back I was sure I had pulled carrying the heavybequipment.
I looked around the dusty attic, my eye drawing to the part thatbwasn't so dusty.bI walked over to the bookshelf that was lined with old books, most of which didn't look like they had been opened in years
But there were three books on the second shelf that were dust-free and looked like they had been read recently.
My eyebrows furrowed, remembering thebbookshelves in mybgrandfather's living room.
Why wouldn't he keep books that he was reading downstairs?
Feeling particularly nosey, I pulled one of the books down and looked it over. It had an olive green-colored cover with gold and black depictions drawn all over it. The edges of the pages were bright
red and worn, so I knew it was a book that had been thumbed through frequently. I turned it over to look at the title and snickered at what I read: The Occult Truth of Lycanthropy.
"The old man always did have an active imagination," I mutteredbunder my breath, smiling as I put the book back on the shelf.
I wiped dust from my hands onto my jeans and turned the atticblight off as I left the room. I could hear the sound of my parent's car driving up the path
and all thought of the book was gone as I made my waybdownstairs.
The next day, the casket containing my grandfather's body wasbbrought to the house, along with several arrangements of sympathy flowers that were placed around the housebstrategically by my mother.
We all showered and got ready to receive guests.
I wore an itchy, black shift dress with a pair of l God-awful black pantyhose. I put a long, burgundy cardigan over the dress so Ibcould stay warm in the house and a pair of black riding boots that hid the warm, rainbow-colored fuzzy socks on my feet.
I was on my way down the stairs when I heard the doorbell ring and I stopped. The sound of guests speaking German to my mother as theybarrived early for the funeral filled the foyer.
Closing my eyes, I took a deep breath. You can do this, Ella.
They're just old people.
I hated old people, especially those that I was somehow distantly related to. They always claim to remember you when you were two or three, or some other embarrassing age, and they can never believe how much you look like your mother.
I couldn't stand it.
Zak, on the other hand, loved the attention. Unfortunately, there were always a few that never gave him the right kind of attention.
As the evening progressed and more and more people arrived, Ibwas weaving my way through a sea of white hair and a cloud of century-old cologne when I heard it.
It was the sound of a man raising his voice in German.I looked to see where it was coming from and I felt a wave of anger rush over me as I realized he was speaking to Zak.
Walking over quickly, I put myself between Zak and the olderbman whose finger was in Zak's face.
"He's Deaf, sir. He can't hear your voice at any volume, so pleasebquiet down," I said, speaking what German my parents hadbtaught me.
"He's ignoring me!" The man shouted, ignoring my request. I rolled my eyes.
"No," I corrected again. "He can't hear you."
"He's stupid then," the man said angrily.
I raised an eyebrow. "Communication is ninety-three percent non-verbal," I said. "Just because he can't communicate the way you'd like him tobfor the remaining seven percent, does not make him stupid."
"Besides," I said, switching to English. "You can't understand me now. Does that make you stupid?"
The man looked at me with furrowed eyebrows before dismissively waving his hand and walking away.
"Small-minded asshole." I muttered as he walked away.
Zak gave me an amused smile and I shook my head.
I envied him for not letting things get under his skin.
I almost began to sign to him before something caught my eye. In the crowd of aging people, there was a group of five menbthat I hadn't noticed before.
Built like soldiers, they were dressed in tailored black suits and they immediately stood out because of their age. I didn't figurebthey were any older than their early thirties
They watched the crowd with sharp eyes that made me curious. I wondered who they were, and, more importantly, how they knew my grandfather. They made their way through the crowd, getting closer and closer to the casket that sat on the other side of the room Walking slowly, keeping myself parallel with them, I was tryingbmy hardest to be inconspicuous.
I was so focused that my mother's voice cutting through thebcrowd frightened me.
"Thank you all for coming," she said in her native language.
The men stopped walking as everyone turned their attention to my mother.
"My family and I thank you for your condolences," she continued, placing her hand over her heart for emphasis. "Before we begin the funeral, we would like to open the casketband allow everyone the opportunity to say their goodbyes to abwonderful man.
My mother and father motioned for Zak and I to meet them inbfront of the casket, I assumed to welcome everyone and givebhugs to complete strangers.
I made my way through the crowd and over to them.
Once we were all gathered, my father reached out and openedbthe casket.
I froze as my mother screamed.
The man in the casket was not my grandfather.
As soon as this realization hit me, his eyes opened.