The Picnic

Barbara finished spreading out the blanket, making sure the corners and edges were flat against the dew-laden grass. She then retrieved the picnic basket (a family heirloom passed down from her grandmother) and carefully set it in the center of the spread, opening it to reveal the painstakingly-organized contents. Color-coordinated plates were fastened on one side of the basket by sturdy straps, plastic silverware on the other side, also held in by straps, and packets of chalk-white napkins were next to the silverware. The middle was stuffed full of quality food, from imported gourmet cheese (her husband Frank's weakness) to a Mason jar of homemade strawberry jam (a recipe perfected over four generations on her mother's side).

It was Sally's favorite.

Barbara smiled. She tipped her head back, feeling sunshine warm her face, took a deep breath, and let her mind wander. Pleasant thoughts of Sally being born and exchanging vows with Frank flitted across her mind, each presenting its own unique perspective on her life.

Suddenly, a sliver of worry wormed its way into her head.

Where had Sally gone?

She stood on shaky legs, trying her best to ignore the horrible scenarios by then dominating her mind.

"Sally? Where are you?"

"Sally? You come out here right now!" She hated being so harsh with her daughter but safety was more important. She was supposed to be where she needed to be.

And then, almost as if it were scripted in a TV show, Sally came bounding out into the clearing. Her strawberry-blond pigtails danced around her head as she hopped, skipped, anD jumped across the weed-dotted ground.

Barbara breathed a sigh of relief. Her little girl was safe.

But where's Frank?

"Frank? Where have you gone?"

She remembered him saying something about scouting out some nearby ponds for fishing, but he had been away far too long for that. He should have been back by now.

"Frank?"

He's supposed to be where he needs to be.

Frank appeared from behind a huge winding oak. He stepped clear of the tree and focused his broad grin on Barbara. A walking stick, fashioned from debris he found in the woods, dangled from one of his hands.

Barbara smiled back. Now she was happy. Now her whole family was where they needed to be. She reached into the picnic basket and began to unpack the food. She unsnapped the plates and pulled out three, setting them down on the blanket.

Oh dear, there's blood on my hands.

Barbara wiped her fingers on her pants and continued with her unpacking. The napkins came next, followed by knives and forks, and finally, the cups.

"There, that's good," she mumbled to herself and glanced up to see where her family was.

She was alone in the park.

"Frank? Sally?"

There was no reply other than a few sporadic birds chirping from their hidden perches in the trees.

Barbara sighed. The day wasn't going as she had planned. Her family was nowhere in sight and she now had blood on her hands and pants.

She decided to continue unpacking the basket.

A loaf of whole-grain bread came next, followed by a small jar of pickles and a bottle of ketchup. A pair of eyeballs, staring but see nothing, rolled into the empty space in the basket left by the bread.

They were Sally's.

Sally sat down on the blanket next to her mother. Her hair was matted with blood, clumping the long braids together in grisly decoration, and her dress was torn, thin strips of the delicate fabric hanging by mere threads.

Barbara looked over at her daughter. She unscrewed the jar of strawberry jam and set it down in front of Sally. "It's your favorite," she said with a smile.

Sally, twin black sockets where her eyes used to be, tilted her head toward her mother. A warm breeze ruffled her torn dress.

Frank sat down on the other side of Barbara. His expression was blank and spoke of the sad state of his condition. Two hollow cavities were set in his face where his eyes, once a shade of baby blue, used to be.

"Frank," Barbara said with a smile. "Good, you're here. We're just getting ready to eat." She pulled out a plate and a small jar. A pair of eyeballs with baby-blue irises rolled around in the bottom of the jar, leaving faint trails of blood as they moved.

Barbara looked away from the ghosts of her family. Their time was nearly over. Soon, she would discard the remnants of their existence: the memories, emotions, and of course, the soul, and move on to the next ones. Over the centuries she had many families, far too many to count, but had to admit to herself that this one, her husband Frank and daughter Sally, were special to her. She liked their eyes, especially when mixed with her homemade strawberry jam.