Rune County Coroner’s Office Autopsy Report, Case #4
Date of autopsy: 5.28.23
Location of autopsy: an airport in the western half of the United States, where our narrator waits in line for an overpriced turkey sub on wheat
Name of deceased: Avery Unruh
Length: 5’ 11’’
Weight: 176 pounds
Recorded time of death: 5:14 p.m. — 7.31.22
Marks and wounds: 1) charred throat 2) stress fractures along front of cranium 3) loose, open-hanging jaw 4) back molars chipped and ground flat
Probable cause of death: an argument that never happened…but needed to
Manner of death: homicide (our narrator is likely the murderer but was already acquitted by a jury of family and friends)
The Rune Reporter “Remembering:” section, page C2:
[Avery Unruh], , regrettably passed away [from our narrator’s life] on [Sunday, July 31, 2022] in [Unimportant, USA]. [She] is survived by [a leather cord that might’ve been a necklace or bracelet] and [several sessions of counseling]. Funeral services will be performed by [the narrator and the narrator’s friends] in [a quiet parking lot] on [June 15, 2023] at [9:47 pm]. Only the people who truly understand will be in attendance.
Parting words for Avery:
You smelled like a garden witch. Like you lived in a brown house with eye-shaped windows and a creaky veranda. You smelled like you dabbed sticks of vanilla behind your ears every morning and seasoned your soup with shaved nutmeg. You smelled like dust and rainwater and vegetables growing in a shaded backyard. You smelled like clusters of plums and apricots and dragon fruit you’d toss into your potions and pies. You smelled like moss softening the sides of a treehouse and sunshine passing through kitchen curtains and mismatched quilt patches selling at a flea market. You smelled like you should’ve been living on the East Coast, in an old Victorian house, high on a hill above a town where children whispered about the tang of your pastries and women whispered about the whiteness of your teeth and men whispered about the tinkling of your laugh.
But you and I are not from the East Coast. We’re from Rune County—from Unimportant, USA, where children grow out of wilted roots and parents have to dig the sand out of their eyes to see the sun they labor under.
Perhaps that’s why you started growing a forest of birch trees on your arms. Out of the skin sprouted thin, striped trunks, first on the right arm, then leaping over to the left. The more birches on your skin, the more terrain you had to escape to. Of course, you never told me how you procured the trees— garden witches never reveal their secrets. That’s why I had to find out from a friend of a friend that your birches didn’t come from cones or seeds or saplings; they came from a kitchen knife floating in your sink. You picked it up one night and began hacking at your own flesh.
Truth be told, the first draft of this eulogy was written in all capital letters. It was screaming at you, slinging curse after curse at your name (us word witches have nasty, nasty magic). But then I passed another garden witch in the airport, and her familiar scent reminded me that I can’t resent a garden witch for being herself. I can’t resent you for doing what your kind are known to do: lock themselves in their brown houses with eye-shaped windows and creaky verandas, waiting until their local word witch stops knocking so that she can peek her head outside and accuse the word witch of never knocking in the first place.
I said I was sorry, but now I’m not sure what for. I drained the ink in my veins to help you heal. I only left when I realized you weren’t going to do anything with it.
And now, for the first time in my word witch life, I think I’ll just say what I want to say. No extended metaphors. No allegories and alliterations (starting now). No poetic language to soften honesty’s thorns. Thorns be damned; here’s the truth.
I don’t want to spend the rest of my life writing about you.
So let these words be the last ones.
Johanna Ziegler is earning her B.A. in creative writing with minors in social media marketing and film studies at the University of South Dakota. She serves as the assistant editor for Hey! Young Writer and is a contributing writer for MJ Canyon Productions, with her latest short film “Church!” set to release summer 2023. She has been previously published in The Albion Review and Northern Eclecta, and her short film, “Places That Are Mine,” recently made official selection at the Valkyrie International Film Festival and the South Dakota Film Festival. Her hobbies include curating oddly-specific Spotify playlists and collecting Barbie memorabilia! Follow her on Instagram: @johcecilia22