We called ourselves autumn people, after our favorite book and our favorite season. We held meetings in abandoned buildings and forgotten spaces—a wet-smelling house with sunken floorboards, a crumbling warehouse with crows perched in its broken windowpanes, and Leah’s stale attic full of boxes and dust.
We ran through the forest trails of our city’s “urban wilderness,” a preserved 1,000-acre park situated paradoxically in the middle of downtown. We scooped up ochre leaves and wove them into crowns, naming each other as daughters of the season—Pomona, Carpo, Ceres, and Demeter. We stayed out later than our parents wanted, laughing at ghosts half-seen in the shadows, darting after them between the trees. Our sisterhood made us strong, and we chased death.
Until, one autumn, death caught us first.
For Leah, it was her beloved dog, a regal beast who had been as tall as us until we reached our teens. He was our guardian and our familiar at once, watching intently as we frolicked in Leah’s backyard, nuzzling our fingers when our hands clasped each other’s, and lying warmly at Leah’s feet when we convened in her attic.
Leah and her parents buried him in a small plot in the backyard overlooked by two trees that would blossom a blushing pink in the spring. She arranged a circle of rocks around the grave and sat within it, soaking the earth with her tears.
For Ellie, it was her grandfather, regal in his own way but distant. She knew him through his books, organized neatly in the library she would escape to during every family gathering. It was the warmest place in that cold, echoing house—the only room with a chair that would swallow her in its folds, unlike the others, which were so stiff it seemed like they were trying to push her off them.
Ellie stared at him in the plush black box, dressed in his finest suit, and thought he looked more like an extinguished candle than a person. She wondered what his favorite book was and if it ever lit a flame in his heart.
For Gina, it was a girl she admired furtively, stealing glances in the cafeteria line and at volleyball practice. Her name was Stephanie, and her flame was extinguished on her walk home from practice on a night when rain chose not to fall but to hang in the air, waiting breathlessly, as though it knew what was going to happen.
Gina imagined a face appearing through the mist, followed swiftly by a knife. She saw Stephanie’s body, lifeless. She couldn’t reconcile the vision with the way she had imagined Stephanie before, life flowing out from her sparkling eyes and her bonfire hair. Gina’s dreams had shifted into nightmares, and they came to her every night.
For me, it was my brother. The weight of dreams and disappointments dragged him down, but he only rebelled in small ways—cigarette smoke lingering on his jackets, musky buds filling his pockets, cacophonous CDs, and inconspicuous tattoos. He learned to brush off the expectations that didn't matter and pick up the ones that did, managing to be the essence of cool and yet remain the prodigal son. I looked up to him and he carried me. In early November, I found a note on his desk and his body in the bathroom.
I tried to forget his deep voice reading The Hunchback of Notre Dame as we lounged on springy moss in the summer. I tried to forget the countless pints of Cherry Garcia that he brought home because he knew it was my favorite. I tried to forget his eyes lighting up every Christmas, brighter than his little sister’s, waiting in anticipation as I ripped opened that year’s new video game.
Leah, Ellie, Gina, and I traded our ochre crowns and our goddess names for degrees and jobs. The abandoned buildings grew silent and the attic gathered more dust. The ghosts became recognizable, with faces we could trace with our fingers and names we breathed in the darkest nights. We no longer needed to chase after them to find out who they were.
Until, this autumn, we decide to face death.
We gather in Leah’s attic, wiping dust from boxes and salt from our faces. We gently place the crowns on each other’s heads. We speak our names—Pomona, Carpo, Ceres, and Demeter. We sit in a circle, we hold hands, and alive in our grief, we are autumn people.
Alyssa Hatmaker is a freelance games journalist who's working on a young adult horror novel in her elusive and flighty spare time. Her articles have been published at Destructoid, PC Gamer, Unwinnable, Rely on Horror, and elsewhere. When she's not writing about games or humans and their monsters, she's usually holed up in her kitchen baking with magick. You can follow her on Twitter @lyssness or visit her portfolio at amhatmaker.com.