Beam this story into your brain.
My grandmama hoards her granddaughters in her backyard zen garden.
All girls. Like me.
All seven-years-old. Like me.
All statues. Almost like me.
But soon, I will be solid and still as the rest.
In bed this morning, I scratch my face. A fresh heaviness weighs down my right hand. Opening my eyes, I stare at the granite infecting my fingers and palm. Identical in shape and size to the left, yet solid and still and grey. And spreading.
It’s to be expected. The end of my beginning. Today’s my seventh birthday, after all.
I want to scream. But my throat tightens and not a sound do I make.
“Goody-goody-gum-drops.” In the kitchen, Grandmama claps her hands, kissing one of my cheeks and then the other. Wetness from her lips burns my face. It smells like bile and phlegm. Grandmama’s all snowy hair, and pale wrinkles, and white sweaters with daisies and dogs.
“Soon, Lily, you’ll be with me forever and ever.” She smiles and her creased forehead stretches like playdough. Her accent thick and guttural, a remnant of the mother country she left long ago. “I’m so excited!”
What I want to say is, “Don’t touch me, you crazy bitch.” But Grandmama says I must respect my elders, which I guess is her. And seven-year-olds aren’t supposed to say “bitch.”
So I just nod.
Half an hour before lunch, my left leg hardens and turns grey as a rock. I grab an umbrella and limp out the door. The sky’s clear and blue with the sun right smack overhead.
With each step, my stone foot clunks against the asphalt.
“No! You can’t leave!” Grandmama cries, gathering me in her arms. “I would hate you for it. I’d just hate you!”
Cradling me close, she returns to the house. In the fifty-seven times I’ve tried to walk out, Grandmama always nabs me before I reach the end of the drive.
I still hold the umbrella, point the tip at her face.
“Why, Lily? Why?” Tears slip down Grandmama’s cheeks as she sets me on the kitchen tile. And just as she does, my other arm transforms to stone. I drop the umbrella. “Why would you want to abandon me? That would hurt me so, so much.”
What I want to yell is, “Leave me alone, you goddamn psychopath!” But that would not be respecting my elders, which could be her. And seven-year-olds shouldn’t know the word “psychopath.”
So I just stare.
My torso is already stone by afternoon tea. Grandmama sits at the kitchen table while I stand, my malleable leg nearly buckling under the fresh density of my body. I lean heavily into the ivory wall.
“What should we name the baby?” Grandmama asks, sipping from her porcelain cup. She glances at the purple flowers on the saucer. “Lavender, perhaps? I do so like Lavender.”
I nearly nod. But then, for the first time, force myself to stop.
“Oh, pooey.” Grandmama’s shoulders slump, her lip pouts. “Two of your sisters are already named Lavender. I forgot I did that a couple hundred years ago. Let’s think again.”
What I want to shout is, “Choke on your tea and die, you manipulative piece of shit!” But I think that’s well beyond disrespecting my elders, which I’m not certain is her. And seven-year-olds are too innocent for such horrible thoughts.
So I just lean.
As the sun sets and the new moon rises, Grandmama carries me into the backyard and places me on a plot of grass near the porch steps. Hundreds of my sisters solidified in silence stand in rows behind me. Some tall, some short. Some curvy, some straight. All stone.
Nearly every part of me is smooth and grey as marble. All except for my eyes.
But the heaviness creeps closer.
“There, you didn’t really want to leave me, now did you?” Grandmama smiles, caressing my granite cheek. “Now you’ll stay with me for always and always.”
What I want to scream is, “Go fuck yourself!” I’m convinced she’s not my elder. And you have to actually be alive to be seven-years-old anyway.
So I imagine it. My throat-ripping, searing, tearing, awakening to the birth of sound.
But all I hear is the wind.
Grandmama turns and skips to the fishless pond, kneels on a rocky slab along its edge. Pressing the sleeves of her daisy sweater up past her elbows, she dips her arms into the water, reaching deep. Out she pulls clumps of clay, piling them on the rock.
She hums a low tune. It carries through the grass, vibrates up my granite legs. As she hums, she molds the clay, shifting and forming it into two small legs and two small arms and ten tiny fingers and ten tiny toes. The head she saves for last, detailing every curve of the ear, angle of the chin, slant of the eye.
“There, there,” Grandmama soothes. “It’s alright.”
With her nail, she cuts lines into the clay forehead. The heaviness reaches my lids, but I strive to keep seeing.
Leaning forward, Grandmama kisses the small figure, first one cheek then the other.
“Daisy, my beautiful Daisy.” Grandmama claps her hands when the tiny fingers move. “Such a pretty baby girl.”
The clay baby kicks her legs. Grandmama scoops her up, cradling her in her arms.
“Hush little love, don’t speak or cry. Grandmama will hold you till you die.” Her song floats through the air, swirling around the statues filling her stone garden. All my sisters vibrate as one with the last note of the lullaby.
As Grandmama closes the back door, my eyes go still and I can blink no more.
But within this body of stone, I can finally scream.
I scream and scream until I can scream no more.
And when I stop, I feel it.
The granite around my throat — the invading, obtruding, unyielding stone — cracks.
Cassandra Schoeber is a dark fantasy writer but sometimes weirdness and horror creep into her stories, wreak havoc, and eat innocent bystanders. She has published one novella, Ravenous, as well as several short stories, including: “Let It Snow” (Silver Apples Magazine); “Hidden in the Shadow of a God” (Fantasia Divinity Magazine); and “He Knows” (Short and Twisted Christmas Tales).