We are honored to share with you the heartbreaking “Ebenezer, Ebenezer” by Ariel Chu today—the standout Winner of the Spring Flash Fiction Contest. “Ebenezer, Ebenezer” softly leads the reader through loss and death, the heartache of a family robbed of their daughter, their sister. Poetic, tender, affecting—Chu’s writing demands your attention.
““You’re still hung up on that?” I asked. What I should have said was I want you here with me, not lost in some afterlife. But I was still in high school, and my sister should’ve been too.”
Jenny’s six feet under, getting eaten by mushrooms. Three months before she died, she told our parents to scrap their funeral plans. She’d found a biodegradable shroud on the Internet, infused with fungus that could decompose flesh. She wanted to be buried in that thing, sans coffin, sans fanfare.
“It looks like a friggin’ potato sack,” I told her, squinting at her laptop screen. She punched me from the hospital bed, but not hard enough to hurt. On the drive home, our parents cried—again—and begged me to “be sensitive.” Then they ordered the potato sack, which arrived on our doorstep a week later.
My sister was a teenage decompinaut. She was fascinated with the process of dying, being fed to the soil, getting reconstituted into That Which Gives Life. She tried to get me into it. Maybe she thought it’d help me process grief. At that point, though, everything was a big joke to me. I had to skip lightly over all my feelings so they didn’t suck me into some muddy, unforgiving hole.
She’d also started wearing the burial shroud over her hospital gown. That way, she said, she could “grow into it.” The shroud really was too big for her, but what unnerved me the most was the fungus. It ran in white veins across her body, a dormant flesh-eating monster.
“You look like a discount Muppet,” I told her one afternoon. She glared at me ineffectually. I’d snuck some of her favorites into the hospital room: Slim Jims, black cherry seltzer, three back issues of Cosmo. All things considered, she was in a good mood.
“I’ve been having the weirdest dreams in this thing,” she said, tearing at a Slim Jim. “Like the mushrooms are talking to me. Today I woke up, and this name was echoing in my head: Ebenezer, Ebenezer.”
“You’re more of a Tiny Tim.”
“Shut up,” she said, hurling the Slim Jim wrapper at me. “I’m just thinking that, I don’t know—I could be an Ebenezer in my next life.”
I wanted to say that the mushrooms were eating her brain. But she was serious; I could tell. I wanted to say something about how it wasn’t helpful to hear about her next life, or how seeing her in that fungus costume made me want to vomit. Instead, I rolled my eyes and asked her if she wanted to play Tetris.