In Each Generation A Child In Our Family Commits Suicide, And Nobody Knows Why


If you were to look through my family history, you would find many strange occurrences, most of which my parents tried to keep as a secret from my younger brother and I. Unfortunately, in a family with… circumstances… such as ours, it’s rather difficult to shield your children from the cruelty of life.

In a family like ours, there are no secrets.

I’ve gathered little information on our condition over the years. Most of it came from my grandmother, whose lips became looser as she got older.

“Your great, great, great uncle Thomas was the first,” she told me once, as she sat in a lounge chair on her front porch, smoking a cigarette after swearing me to secrecy – my parents were trying to make her quit. As her shaking fingertips flicked the ash away with expertise, she fixed me with a hard gaze in her hawk eyes. “He ran out onto the train tracks and just stood there, watching the train come at him. They had to pick up pieces of his body across the county line. Ever since then, the story has repeated itself, in different ways and with different characters.”

As far as I know, that’s where the curse began. If I had any skills in genealogy, I’d try to see if it went back farther, but I’m useless and, besides, records have a tendency to go missing after a few generations.

Nonetheless, however it started, it’s continued. There’s one in each generation. When my mother was ten, it was her younger sister, Elizabeth. She jumped, but I’m not sure off what – my mother won’t talk about it, and that’s one subject my grandmother doesn’t like to touch. I’m not sure I really want to know, anyway.

Growing up, it hung as a shadow over my head. Mostly because my parents were always afraid that it was going to happen to me, or my little brother, Max. Of course, with my morose disposition and general introversion, I suppose I was the greater concern.

Perhaps it would help you all if I spoke plainly:

In each generation, a child in our family commits suicide.

And nobody knows why.

My parents starting bringing me to a child psychologist when I was about six or seven.

If it had been any other family, you would have thought they were overly-protective and insanely paranoid. Unfortunately, they had every reason to be worried. Until the time I was about five, I was a very active, outgoing child – at least according to my mother. Then, seemingly overnight, everything changed. I stopped taking an interest in my peers and in school. I preferred to sit in my room, reading or drawing. Getting me to talk was like pulling teeth.

The psychologist could find nothing wrong with me. That, of course, was intentional – I found it was quite easy to appear like a normal child in front of the good doctor. You see, I knew enough about the curse to know that I was a target – my older cousins had told me in a petty attempt to scare me. It worked, by the way. I was terrified. It seemed inevitable to me that I would at some point in the near future kill myself. I didn’t want to, but the more I thought about it, the more I found myself obsessed with death. It was constantly on my mind. And that scared me even more.

My parents – desperate to break the curse that followed our family – rejected the advice of the doctor to just let me be, and decided to have another baby. They thought that having a younger sibling to watch over and take care of might help bring me out of my shell. Of course, this meant they would have to worry about another child, but it became patently obvious when Max was born that he was destined to be a little ball of sunshine all his life.

From the moment I set eyes on Max, I loved him. I loved him even more than I loved my parents. And I was determined to protect him, for as long as the curse allowed me to live. I never wanted to see his beautiful smile fade away into dust.

Max was a delight as a little brother. He was sweet-tempered and didn’t have a mean bone in his body. Oh, he liked to play pranks on me, of course, but his only goal was to make me laugh. And he always knew when I needed to laugh.

Of course, the laughter stopped when I turned eleven, and the nightmares began.

At first, I didn’t tell my parents. I didn’t think I needed to. After all, they were just nightmares.

But as they got worse, I knew I couldn’t keep it a secret any longer.

The nightmares always started the same. I was standing at the window in my room, looking out into the back yard. Standing in the tall grass at the edge of the field, I’d see a figure. It was indistinct – tall, black, with glowing eyes that seemed to burn in its face. It looked towards me and then walked into the house.

Then, all of a sudden, I’d be at the back door. The thing would walk in, but it wouldn’t see me. Instead, it would begin to walk through the house, starting with the downstairs. I would trail behind, waiting to see what it would do.

I’d watch as it dragged its nails across the walls, leaving little scratches in the paint. It would find its way to my parents’ room – they slept on the first floor – and it would tap tap tap against their door, three times. Then, it would seem to lose interest, and it would move up the stairs.

It would wander through the halls, scratching paint, humming to itself, something in strange minor tones. It would stop at my brother’s door, and sniff at the wood as though trying to scent him. My flesh would crawl as it tapped experimentally on the door, and I wouldn’t relax until it moved away.

Finally, it would come to my door.

It’d scratch, it’d tap, it’d stare. Then, finally, it would open the door and slip inside.

Then, I’d wake up. At first, I’d wake up in a cold sweat, nervous and upset, but mostly okay. As time went on, however, the dreams became more intense. The monster/shadow/whatever it was became agitated. Its scratching began to leave gouges in the walls, it howled as it tapped on the doors. When it came to my room, it started to scream, pounding against my door, beating its body against the wood as though it was trying to kill itself.

That’s when I began to wake up screaming.

That’s also when I began to notice that there were scratches on the walls, deep gouges in the paint that told me that my dreams weren’t entirely captive in my imagination.

When I told my parents about the dreams, they came to the same conclusion that I had – the curse was coming for me, and they had to prepare.

They never left me alone after that. My mother became my constant companion. She sat in my room with me while I watched TV, worked on homework. After a few days, she stopped letting me go to school – she wanted to keep me home until this whole ordeal was over, whenever that was.

The worst part about it, though, was that they didn’t let me see Max anymore.

My dad took care of him most of the day. He would take him out exploring in the woods near our house. There was a swimming hole somewhere out there and Max absolutely adored swimming. He was damn good at it, too. Dad kept him out of the house as much as possible while my mother guarded me obsessively. It hurt that they didn’t want me near Max, but I couldn’t blame them. After all, what if I somehow infected him with my bad luck?

So I kept to myself. I let my mom move a bed into my room and sleep next to me each night. I tried not to sleep too much so my screams wouldn’t disturb her. I lived in a hell that I couldn’t keep private – it was affecting my whole family.

I prayed day and night that somehow it would change. I wanted Max to live a normal life… even if that meant I was going to have to give up mine.

It happened about two weeks after I first woke up screaming.

A slight sound roused me from sleep at about three in the morning. I glanced over to see that my mother was still sleeping soundly next to me. I noticed with shame that she had dark circles under those eyes. I’m the cause of that, I thought.

But then the sound floated up to me again and my attention was drawn away from my mother.

It was laughter, I realized – Max’s laughter. What was he doing up so late? I was suddenly filled with apprehension. I practically leapt out of bed, intent on racing to my brother’s rescue, not that it sounded as though he needed any rescuing.

I paused as my hand touched the doorknob, suddenly pulling back as though the metal had burned me. What if it’s a trap? I thought, fear starting to poke holes in my earlier bravado. The thing from my dreams could be luring me down, lying in wait for me to make one wrong move…

But then I heard my brother again, calling for me by name, and I realized that I didn’t care. So what if it was a trap? I couldn’t leave Max to some dark fate on a whim. Besides… maybe it would be better this way. If I were to die that night, then Max could have a normal life without a cursed sister, without exhausted parents. If I was dying for that cause… well. I could live with that.

As quietly as possible, I slipped out the door to my room, praying that my parents would forgive me for what I was about to do.

As soon as I entered the hallway, I cocked my head and listened hard. Max’s voice sounded far away, as though he was calling to me from the first floor. I crept down the stairs, but Max’s voice still seemed so far away. I moved through the first floor, tracing my hands along the wall where the thing had gouged out the paint, wondering what was waiting for me.

I heard Max’s voice again, a little louder this time.

“Shelby! Shelby, come quick, I’m in the basement!”

I had made my way into the kitchen, which housed the basement door. It was ajar, and a soft light streamed from inside. I peered down the dark stairs, but I couldn’t see my brother. Still, I knew that something was down there.

“Shelby, hurry up! Thomas wants to play. I want to play. You’ll play with us, won’t you, Shelby?”

A shiver crawled up my spine. What if this wasn’t my brother? But… it sounded like him. And I couldn’t take any chances – if he was down there and something happened to him, I knew I’d never forgive myself.

Taking a deep breath, I started down the stairs.

The first few steps I took slowly because I was still very afraid, the sinking feeling in my stomach telling me that I was sealing my own fate.

The next few steps I took slowly because it felt like something was blocking the way. My legs seemed sluggish, as though they had been weighted down. I was practically sloshing through the air, trying to reach the bottom of the stairs.

I was about halfway down the staircase when, suddenly, everything went dark and I started to scream.

When I opened my eyes, I was in my father’s arms, being pulled out of the swimming hole in the woods.

I was soaked all the way up to my chest, and I shivered as he pulled me into his arms. My mother was screaming, my father was answering her, and I was dreadfully confused.

“What happened?” I asked, grabbing my father like a lifeline.

“Your mother woke up and you were gone… the door was open and we came out here on instinct. We saw you walking into the water, trying to drown yourself…”

“No!” I gasped, certain they’d misunderstood. “You don’t understand, I… I must have been dreaming….I thought I was walking to the basement!…”

“Shelby?! Shelby, where is your brother, he wasn’t with your father when we woke up, and…”

“Max?” I asked, fear gripping my throat.

“We thought he may have followed you,” explained my father.

I shook my head. “No, I… Max is in the basement. That’s why I was…”

My explanation was cut off by my mother’s scream. My father’s gaze followed to where she was pointing, and he gasped, his entire body going rigid. I turned to look, but he clasped his hands over my eyes. Still, it was too late, because I’d already seen what had caused them such alarm.

My brother was floating face down in the water.

My brother was five years old when he died.

I still remember the tiny coffin my parents bought for him. It was so small, it looked like a doll’s coffin. I liked to imagine it was, because then I could forget what was really inside it.

My poor, baby brother.

His death did something to my parents, made them… different. They both became distant, closed off. They didn’t talk much to each other anymore, or to me.

They blame me for what happened, I think. Only in their heart of hearts, in secret places they don’t allow anyone to look. But I can feel it all the same. That if I hadn’t taken up so much of their attention, so much of their time, maybe they could have saved Max before it was too late.

When Max died, I made a promise to myself that I’d never have children, never even have sex with man to eliminate the very possibility of children. It’s almost lucky for me that I am a lesbian. A few of my partners have wanted to adopt. I leave them if they so much as mention it. I won’t subject a child to a family like this.

Sometimes, in the dead of night, I pull out the pistol that I bought for protection when I moved to the city. I look into the barrel and wonder if it would hurt, tasting lead in the back of my throat. I wonder if it would be as painful as drowning. I always put it away before it gets to that point, but every time I lock the gun safe, I hear Max calling out to me once more…

You’ll play with us, won’t you, Shelby?