Emily Rae Robles

the paradoxymoron

The Worst Thing In The World

Growing up, Mariah, Travis and I never knew we were an unhappy family.  Our two-dimensional life was painted from a palette without dark colors.  The corners of our thoughts held no darkness; the details of our portraits had no shadings.  It was a wonderfully unfulfilling existence.

My sister was the first to be serenaded by reality’s alluring corruption.  It first struck in the middle of a warm, sunny day (all our days were warm; all our suns were incessant.)  She was dancing along the side of our playground as she so often did, scooping up the gravel that never scraped our knees, spinning on the merry-go-round that never made us sick.  Then, in a moment that was unexpected because it had never happened before, she stopped.

We were not used to pauses.  This one nearly jolted us out of our prison of happiness.  “Mariah,” we stuttered nervously (we had never before encountered the uncertainty of nervousness) “Mariah, where is your dance?”

If we had experienced more and not existed less, we might have asked, “What’s the matter?”  But to us, matter was like the rest of our world: a word without a purpose.

“Elijah,” my sister answered, addressing me with a look on her face that I would only later be able to describe as peculiar, “what do you think is the worst thing in the world?”

My brother and I looked at each other with seeds of worry burrowing into our faces.  Worst?  We could not comprehend the word.  I tried to extract some context from her unintelligible question, perusing my mind for extremes or universals.

“Aging?” I responded finally.  “Everyone in the world ages.  Is that what you mean, Mariah?”

She frowned.  “No,” she said, “I don’t think so.  Age happens no matter what.  Don’t you think there are things out there that interrupt the always?”

We considered.  Our worlds had never before been pushed off the grid of normality.  Mariah’s questions were the first.  A thought struck me, as thoughts had never before done.

“Questions,” I said, sure I was right.  “You asked a question and it interrupted our always.  That must be the worst thing in the world.”

Again, Mariah’s brow furrowed.  “Are there bigger things that could be interrupted?” she asked.  “Our always isn’t as important as a grown-up’s always, and maybe there’s something even more important than that. We have to find the most important thing in the world so we can save it from the worst.”

I looked at my brother.  He looked at me.  Mariah had always been eccentric, stopping to investigate the normalcy of our world when we simply wanted to live it, but this was a new idea.  It was almost like a purpose.  Whatever it was, it was big–and we had been taught to fear big things.

Travis, to my annoyance, asked if he could help.  Mariah nodded, then sent me a glance that scraped away some of the doubt on the surface of my wonder.  I sighed, then shrugged my shoulders.  She beamed at me with the excitement of a new adventure.  A sliver of doubt worked its way into my mind, but I tentatively smiled back.

We had a tacit understanding that we would not approach the adults.  They possessed the two qualities we wanted to avoid: age and the ability to ask questions.  Certainly the questions were not the sort that would disrupt our always—we had been born into a world that constantly queried where we were, what we were up to, had we brushed our teeth that morning—but our suspicion pushed us towards the side of caution.

Our first decision was to break the rules.  We agreed that the most important thing in the world was probably somehow exempt from the rules, possibly even hidden behind them, so we decided to break through the traditions that had sheltered us so long from what we had yet to discover.  We learned to lie.  We investigated the forbidden areas of play, from the towering tree in the backyard to the enclosed cellar beneath the house.  We found nothing.

Mariah was dejected, as far as anyone who had yet to discover the worst thing in the world could be dejected.

“I think we’re doing it wrong,” she said, as we sat on the bed of gravel.  “Nothing is big enough yet.”

“That tree was big,” Travis put in.

“That tree had no effect on the rest of our world,” Mariah argued.  “It just stood there.  It’s like this gravel.  Pointless.  Unimportant.  No use for it.  Why do we even have trees or gravel?”  She picked up a small rock and turned it thoughtfully in her hands.

“Be careful,” I said automatically.  Our mother had warned us against gravel for as long as we could remember.  Mariah stopped suddenly and looked at the rock with a strange look in her eye.

“Be careful of what?” she asked.  “Why do you think Mother tells us to keep away from gravel?  Or out of trees? Or close to the shore in the lake?  Why all the rules?”

We had no answer and no desire to find out.  But Mariah had always been different.  She examined the rock closely for a minute then brought it down hard on her bare arm.  A dash of red broke across her fair skin.  Travis screamed.

“What is that?” I cried, certain that whatever was worse than aging and asking questions was about to happen to us.  “What did you do, Mariah?”

Her mouth was open slightly.  Her right eye twitched.  She didn’t look like our sister anymore.  She looked like something…worse.  Bringing the rock, now tinted with red, up past her head, she began to attack her arm with a viciousness that must have come from the same place as her questions.  The red liquid began to drizzle across her entire arm until we could no longer see the skin.  Travis screamed, and something like water began to flow from his eyes.

“You’re breaking yourself!” he cried.  “There’s a big red monster inside of you, Mariah!  Don’t let it out!”

I stared and stared as the monster dripped its way out of what used to be my sister.  I took Travis’s hand in my own.  We sat and watched as Mariah disappeared under the monster’s grasp.  Finally, after the most time we could remember remembering, she stopped.  The monster refused to stop, though.  It poured from her arms, her legs, her face—everywhere she had pressed the gravel.

“I think we’ve found something worse than questions,” I whispered, picking up a piece of gravel with a quivering hand and wondering at its demonic powers.  “Answers.”

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February 5, 2011 - Posted by | stories, writings | , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. […] .  I’ve posted “Christine,” “The Worst Thing in the World,” and “Smile,” so pick your favorite and vote!   I will love you […]

    Pingback by Vote for my stories! « Emily Rae Robles | March 5, 2011 | Reply


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