An Untimely Guest
By Rachel Ruggero
My grandparents’ house was alive with the sounds and smells of Thanksgiving when I arrived. The house was noisy and full of people. My parents and my twin brother were already there, and I could smell the turkey in the oven, nearly done. “Hi, Alyssa,” my aunt said. “Would you mind setting the table?”
“Sure,” I said, counting out forks.
“Don’t forget Great-Aunt Cecelia’s place at the head of the table,” my mom interjected. “Did you realize that tonight is the twenty-year anniversary?”
“Oh, wow,” I said. “I hadn’t thought of that.”
We’ve had this same Thanksgiving family gathering pretty much forever. But the year I was ten, shortly before we were about to have dinner, my Great-Aunt Cecelia—my grandfather’s sister—called to ask if we needed anything for dinner. I had actually been the one to answer the phone, and I told her we could use some vanilla ice cream. She’d replied that she would stop at the store on her way to my grandparents’ house and that she would be a little late for dinner. Well, we started eating without her, and we were almost finished when my grandmother realized that Aunt Cecelia had never shown up. We called her house, we called the grocery store, but she was nowhere to be found. It was as if she had disappeared into thin air. We haven’t seen or heard from her since that night, but we still set her place at the dinner table every Thanksgiving. My cousin William still holds the opinion that Aunt Cecelia was abducted by aliens, but the reality is, we have no idea. Anything could have happened.
“All right, everyone!” Mom called. “Time for dinner!” Everyone trooped into the kitchen, and we all sat down, leaving Great-Aunt Cecelia’s seat at the head of the table empty.
We were just passing the mashed potatoes when we heard footsteps outside, and the back door swung open. We all stared, shocked, as Great-Aunt Cecelia walked into the kitchen and stomped the snow off her boots.
“It’s really coming down out there now,” she said as she crossed the room. “Sorry I’m late,” she added, taking a carton of ice cream out of a grocery bag and putting it in the freezer.
Could it really be … ?
Aunt Cecelia turned around, noticing that the room had gone completely silent. She looked from face to face around the table. We all looked like we’d seen a ghost—because, honestly, we were all wondering if that was exactly what we were seeing. “What’s wrong with all of you? Why are you looking at me like that?”
My grandfather was the first to recover. “Cecelia?” he whispered. “Is that really you?”
Cecelia looked at him like he’d gone crazy. “I just saw you on Tuesday, Edward.” She tilted her head, studying him. “What happened to your hair? And …” she looked past him at the rest of us “… wait, why do you all look so old?” She frowned. “I think I need to sit down.”
She dropped into the empty seat we’d been saving for her for the last twenty years, and my grandmother suddenly asked, “Cecelia, where have you been?”
“Did you disappear on purpose?” asked my mom.
“Disappear?” She stared at us like we’d lost our minds. “I just came from the grocery store—”
My uncle leaned across the table. “Aunt Cecelia,” he said gently, “you do know you’ve been missing for twenty years, don’t you?”
Cecelia stared at him. “Have you gone crazy? I was just at the grocery store. I talked to Alyssa just half an hour ago … where is she, anyway?”
“Right here, Aunt Cecelia,” I said.
“No … it can’t be … you were only ten half an hour ago …” She shook her head, bewildered and completely lost for words.
“It’s been twenty years?” she asked. “No. Not possible. Some kind of joke—”
“Not a joke, I’m afraid,” my uncle said.
“We’ll show you the family photos to prove it,” my mom said. “But for now, we should eat before this dinner gets cold.”
It was the quietest Thanksgiving in years. Great-Aunt Cecelia ate as much as anyone, though she kept looking around the table, staring at each one of us. The most baffling part of this was that she only looked about fifty years old—the same age she’d been when she’d disappeared. She didn’t seem to have aged at all. Where had she been all this time? But did it really matter if she had any recollection of the last twenty years, as long as she was back now?
When we finished eating, my aunt put the pies in the oven, and Grandma brought out the photo albums. We’d always taken a family photo at Thanksgiving, and we showed Aunt Cecelia the pictures, starting with the year she’d disappeared.
“You talked to Alyssa, said you were going to the store, and never showed up,” my mom told her.
“But how … ?” Cecelia just shook her head.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” I said quietly.
After that all there was to do was eat pie and ice cream. Then, abruptly Aunt Cecelia stood up and said she was going to head home. We walked her to the door and watched her climb into her car, which was surrounded by snowdrifts. Three inches of snow covered it.
We all returned to the kitchen. “Oh,” Mom said, “Cecelia left her glove.”
“I’ll go catch her,” I said, taking the glove and going to the front door. I froze.
Where Aunt Cecelia’s car had been was a pristine sheet of white snow—no drifts, no tire tracks, no cement visible. It was as if Aunt Cecelia’s car had never even been there. But sitting on top of the snow lay the match to the glove in my hand.
Rachel Ruggero is a homeschooled junior in high school from Nashville, TN. She enjoys creative writing, playing piano, guitar, and keyboard, reading and spending time outdoors. She is planning to study mechanical engineering or computer science in college.
Each time the CLT is administered, the forty students who scored the highest on that test are invited to make a contribution to the Journal. Congratulations to Miss Ruggero on her high score! If you enjoyed this story, you can find more content from our top students here. You might also enjoy our podcast on education and culture, Anchored.
Published on 22nd March, 2022.