“Star’s look nice, huh?” Denver’s eyes wander to Lea’s in a silent plea. Her head perks to the noise, but she barely acknowledges him. Gripping the fabric of his jeans on both knees, he lowers his gaze. That was the last attempt he had in him. Now there’s just silence clinging to the stale tension separating them.
He furrows his brow. For a long time, the voices were only whispers.
She’ll kill you.
Biting down on his bottom lip, Denver glares across the yard—the graveyard. This was Lea’s idea. She wanted to see their sister’s grave before they moved. At the time, it seemed a good idea. Now, the Autumn chill is more foreboding than any night before.
And the voices aren’t helping.
Standing from their long-occupied bench, Denver pockets his hands. He can’t sit still anymore.
Their sister—Penny—was his twin, but everyone assumed she was Lea’s; nothing could break the bond between the two of them.
She’s plotting behind your back.
Kill her first.
Just run! I want to live!
He knows he shouldn’t listen, but a trickle of fear is splitting icy veins along his amygdala. A deep inhale, then another. His feet draw him to the left and again to the right before he’s setting into a steady pace—from one end of the bench to the other. Lea still ignores him. This is typical behavior.
She has a knife.
Kill her. Kill her!
“—AH!” Denver’s exclamation surprises her. His trembling fingers fumble for the earbuds in his pocket. That’s when her calm hands clasp around his, placing the earbuds in for him. Her palms press to his cold cheeks, tears welling.
Then they drop, deadweight at her sides. A glare replaces the brief smile.
“Can’t you control yourself?” The words, colder than the night air, stab through his chest, where a collection of wounds are already on display. His eyes quiver as he backs away from her.
He didn’t kill Penny. His memories of her death are muddled, but he knows he wouldn’t. Couldn’t. Even if everyone else thinks he did.
She steps around him, stumbling down the dirt path leading home. And, even with her innate ability to hurt him, he follows her. He wouldn’t forgive himself if something happened to her.
She killed her—
Before the onslaught can continue, Denver thumbs the volume up on his music. Louder, louder, louder! When it feels like the music will burst his brain out through his eyes; he stops. He doesn’t want to think. And even if he wanted to, he couldn’t. Since Penny died, his thoughts haven’t been his own despite the voices being quiet.
He can’t hear the leaves crunch underfoot as he walks, he can’t hear the wind biting through his thin military jacket, and he can’t hear the wisp of a foreign breath behind them.
But Lea can. Her eyes survey the path home, blocked by thick mist and darkness. The moon was consumed by clouds hours ago, but she had just kept willfully sitting there. If their parents hadn’t decided to take them away from Penny…She sighs.
Slowing her pace, she waits for Denver to drift to her side. But he’s matching her every step, purposefully keeping his distance. The indescribable sorrow he must feel is evident in the purple bruising of his otherwise beautiful eyes. His lack of sleep is likely the cause of his “relapse.” It’s the word her mother keeps using, pretending it’s an addiction they can cure.
She knows better than to convince herself of that.
Returning her gaze to the sidewalk, Lea chews her bottom lip. She glances from the sidewalk at her feet to the winding cement across the street.
And then she’s screaming.
That, Denver hears over his music, but he tears the earbuds free anyway.
“What?!” his surprised cry echoes after hers, his fear tending to hers, a loving embrace. When she doesn’t reply, he passes her. Lying not ten feet from them is a body, its breath ragged. But from this distance, he can’t discern its genus. So he just continues forward. The voices crescendo as his fear accelerates.
She’s killed again.
You have to stop her.
Or she’ll kill us, too!
With a few steps closer, Denver feels his heart seize. Whoever is lying there is now twisting horribly. Bending, cracking, groaning. Not a fan of horror films, this is a sight unseen for him.
“Denver?” Lea calls after him.
“Call the police,” he chokes out. His feet meld to the walk beneath him, refusing to continue that last few feet across the road. But Lea huffs, a fog of breath mixing with the mist around them. Turning to the side, she rolls her head over her shoulder, then tucks it into her scarf. With eyes closed, she releases a sharp breath through her nose. She knows fear feeds into his hallucinations.
He’s not frightening her this time.
“I was just surprised. That’s all. It’s probably an animal. A deer, or something,” she reassures him. But it passes over noise-consumed ears.
He isn’t sure if it’s the voices or his own subconscious, but he continues to ignore it. From his jacket pocket, he withdraws a switchblade. His parents had made him promise he’d stop carrying it. They’ve always been convinced he’ll one day use it on Lea. None of them have faith he’s not a danger to anyone—save for himself.
When the blade catches the soft glow of the streetlamp, Lea dives forward. Her hands clamp around her brother’s wrist. “Hey!” her warning finally breaks through. His eyes slide to meet hers.
“When it charges, run.”
“Denver. It’s a dead deer.”
“Listen to me”—He shoves her behind him as the corpse lifts, waist first—“and run.” In a split second, the black street that separated him from his assailant eases into a thin line. Blue as the jays that drink there in the spring, the river that runs behind their home glimmers. Trees glow with the sun. Grass tickles the skin of his once jean-clad legs. Boots to sandals. And the monster, Penny, with arms wide.
His mind chants.
His mind begs.
“Run,” Penny says through sickeningly wide lips.
“Run!” he agrees. And then his blade sinks into her yellow frock. Through tanned skin—through flesh—through bone. Her warm, beautiful scent of summer gives way to a warm, nauseating scent of bile. Blue eyes engorged with sunlight become white orbs blinded with hunger.
“Denver!” There’s a satisfaction in hearing Lea concerned over him. It’s shallow, but it’s imprinting. Ripping his blade free, he delves it in again, higher. From shoulder to throat.
Hack it dead!
Bleed it. Bleed her! Bleed them.
He shoves the corpse to the ground where it squirms. Breathe. Breathe. He inhales sharply, trying to calm the fear overwhelming him. But it’s short-lived. A clawed hand clamps around his ankle. Then another. A firm tug.
“Mom!” Lea’s voice rings out, phone to her ear.
He slams to the ground.
“Denver’s having an episode, we…a-an episode.” Lea presses her free hand to her face. “No, I’m okay. But he’s not. I think he’s seeing those things again.” She looks at her flailing brother over her shoulder. He’s on the ground now, shuffling backward. When he’s like this, she always keeps her distance. If she doesn’t, she’s afraid she’ll end up like Penny. Glancing away, she clears her throat. “S-spending the night at Penny’s grave was a bad idea.”
Knife still firmly in hand, he thrashes. It cuts through. Two detached hands now dangle from his jeans. In disgust, he swats them aside. His heart pounds. His eyes vibrate. His teeth grind.
They’re plotting. Always plotting.
Kill her while you can.
Taking a moment to catch his breath, he tightens his grip on the knife.
That yellow frock.
Penny liked the dark. She liked horror films and horror-adapted romance films. Yet, she wore yellow. Only yellow. Explicitly yellow. That’s why they clashed. One who is yellow can never mesh with one who is green. All that’s left is brown—Lea. But brown and yellow could be tan. Sun-kissed skin. Sand. Brown and green can only be brown.
Even so, even through the violent words and the fighting, Penny and Denver’s relationship was different. They were connected. As tears blur his vision, he pushes himself to his hands and knees.
And then from the corner of his eye, he sees another.
The misty blue street is swallowed by inky black—only the monster and Lea remain, dangling in the darkness. The monster lumbers from the bushes, knife in hand, and races for her. With her back to them, she stands there, chatting with her mother. Her blonde hair lengthens, her voice rises in pitch. The brown jacket tucked around her stains yellow. Blue flashes from beneath her lashes.
“Penny!” He lunges. He catches the monster’s ankle with both hands. It gives him a hard shove. But he’s not letting go. Lifting his blade, he sinks it into the monster’s achilles. It screams. Whirling on him, its foot contacts under his chin. The impact is great. Real. Painful. He yelps as his teeth clack.
“D-Denver?!” Penny’s voice envelopes him. Not this time. No, he’ll save her.
The monster moves to kick him again. He wraps both arms around its leg. He tugs. It slips. And they end up on the ground together. But the monster isn’t giving up. It’s roaring in anger, slurring, moaning, growling.
“Mom.” Lea clutches her phone with both hands, stumbling backwards. “C-call the police.”
“I’ll kill you.” The all too human voice shouts. Bending over her brother, holding him by the throat, is a very real man. But she’s frozen. Denver lashes out, losing hold of his switchblade. And then headbutts the man. His eyes are blazing with fury, determination.
He’s not the meek little boy she remembers him to be.
The monster raises its knife, aiming to stab through Denver’s shoulder. With a newfound strength, he shoves its arm aside. He rips the other hand from his throat, kneeing it hard in the ribs. With it wounded, he bites the knife free from its hand. He doesn’t care about the taste, the disgust—they have to live.
Grab the knife!
With a choked breath, he clutches the fallen knife. He stares the monster in the eyes. For a moment, those white orbs melt to black. For a moment, they shine with the light of the streetlamps. And then he strikes. He stabs the knife down into the monster; he thrusts until the hilt meets flesh.
It gags, blood oozing from deep within.
The buzz of the streetlamps eases into his mind. It flickers until the inky black world relinquishes to the misty blue street. He stares at his bloody palms. His eyes focus on the red splatters before shifting to the thing beneath him. His heart meets his throat. Gasping for air, he jumps back, landing hard on the sidewalk.
“He—” he whimpers, but the words stick.
It’s enough to awaken Lea from her shock.
“Oh god.” Her arms clutch his shoulders from behind and for the first time in months, his childhood nickname leaves her lips. “Dennie! What the hell?! Where did that creep come from?!”
“That’s—” He still can’t produce a full thought. Penny’s smell envelopes his nose as he sucks in a sharp breath. And then she’s washed away with the cold moisture soaking through their clothing.
“Is he dead?” Lea’s words snap him into place. The voices die back to a hiss. His thoughts are full, complete. And in the blur of his memories, the face of that man is clear.
“He killed Penny.”
“It’s okay,” Lea promises. Those dark bruises under his eyes are puffy with tears. She’d been forced to bring him to the graveyard with her, but now, she’s glad he came. With guilty hands, she tucks his head against her chest. He won’t hurt her. He would never hurt her. “It’s okay.”
In the distance, sirens wail but his focus is on the now lifeless deer across the street. Where the breath heaved through its trembling chest, it’s now still. And beside it, Penny, in her yellow frock. Her blue eyes slide to meet his. She smiles.