By Colin Scharf
Editor’s note: This is a work of fiction in the spirit of Halloween. Proceed at your own risk.
My sister’s body was too heavy to carry out of the forest, so I sat her in front of me on my four-wheeler and drove us over the hill back to the house.
Katerina bounced between the boundaries of my outstretched arms as I steered the quad over dead leaves. Her head lolled around as if it might detach from her body.
To the crows circling the fiery trees, Katerina might’ve looked like a dancer. To my father, skinning a button buck in the garage as I parked the Polaris, she looked asleep.
To me, Katerina looked exactly like me. We were twins, after all. Milk-pale skin laced with sapphire veins, white-blonde hair veiling grey eyes.
Except Katerina’s eyes were closed forever. She was dead. She’d flipped off her four-wheeler and lay in the goldenrod staring up at the granite sky.
I closed her eyelids and wiped the blood from her nose. There wasn’t much, which surprised me. I wanted there to be more blood. Blood tells you something bad has happened.
The four wheelers were our father’s idea. He’d wanted boys and instead our mother gave him two identical girls. What good were girls to a man who only knew about drinking, smoking, shooting? Still, he tried.
He gave us pink shotguns, pink camo, pink four-wheelers. He brought us on hunts because we had that twin thing — we always knew where to find the kill.
We might’ve grown into a pair that could out-drink, out-smoke, and out-shoot the boys. But then Katerina died, and I grew smaller; a sullen girl who’d once held her sister’s dying body.
I’d been following Katerina up the hill in our back field that day when suddenly her ATV lifted off the ground and began flipping over backwards. Just like that, as if she were performing a circus stunt, her pink four-wheeler bounced end over end down the hill past me.
Katerina, my exact duplicate, spiraled through the sky. Her white hair billowed around her face like a halo. In my ATV’s side-view mirror, I watched her disappear into the quivering yellow grass
Overhead, the clouds bunched into a fidgeting black mass. I listened for thunder, watched for lightning, hoped for rain — something to strike me out of that numbed state. I imagined a bluish pole of electricity blasting down and ripping us backward in time.
But there was no rain. No thunder, no lightning. The black mass overhead condensed itself into a definitive shape: human-like, but longer, wider, pointed at one end. A cloaked figure in a strange, elongated hat, with two red flames burning in the center of what I knew to be its face. The very same figure that had been appearing outside our bedroom window since we were children. It called itself Dneirf.
In a Motel 6 outside Omaha, I wiped blood from my nose while a pretty man named Benjamin slept with his head on my chest. Nimajneb in reverse, which is how I called men like Benjamin. Their forward names held too much weight. Their reverse names passed like shadows over water.
Nimajneb’s breath came in long, deep draws. His eyelids fluttered in dream. He uttered small, pained sounds. More blood dripped from my nose. I tipped back my head to stop the bleeding. Nimajneb moaned in his sleep. We’d known each other three, maybe four days. Long enough for the comfort of a shared bed yet brief enough for the mystery of his life to matter very little to me.
I nudged Nimajneb. “I want a baby.”
He opened up his eyes. They glimmered like emeralds. It pained me to look at them. I knew the light would soon be gone.
“Your nose is bleeding,” he said.
I blotted the blood. “I want something to hold,” I said. “Something to care for.”
“You picked the wrong guy.” Nimajneb sliced the air with scissor fingers. “Snip, snip.”
“Pins, pins,” I said.
“Snip, snip,” I said. “In reverse.”
“You’re so weird,” he said. “I love you.”
He kissed me. More blood ran from my nose. Shadows gathered in the corner of the room. Dneirf had arrived. I held Nimajneb tight to my body, as if I could save him.
After a period of blackness, I found myself exhaling into Katerina’s mouth. I’d learned about CPR in Health class. Maybe that’s all she needed — some of my air. After all, she wasn’t bleeding that much.
Crows screeched in the trees. Dneirf circled overhead. I breathed into my sister.
My sister was a blue baby. Born with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck, our parents would joke about gestational jealousy. “You didn’t want a sister,” they’d say. “You wanted us all for yourself.”
I didn’t want to kill my sister. I didn’t want to kill my parents, either.
But Dneirf did.
Throughout my childhood, a nightmare recurred: a red room, a rope, something small and hard, thrashing against my chest. I’d wake with bruises on my chest.
Those nightmares had increased in the days leading up to Katerina’s death. I realize, now, that they weren’t nightmares. They were memories.
Whenever I want to see my sister, I just look into a mirror. We’re mirror twins: Katerina was right-handed; I’m left. She’d say something, and I’d mirror it perfectly in reverse.
“My name is Katerina.”
“Aniretak si eman ym.”
Reverse was our twin game. We’d light candles, sit on our bedroom floor, and she would read passages from books to me. She liked the Bible.
“We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother.”
I spoke the phrase in reverse. Shadows pooled in the corner behind Katerina.
Katerina dropped the Bible and asked another question.
“How am I going to die?”
Two red flames appeared inside the blackness behind her. Something touched me: a hard finger, pressing the bruises on my chest.
“How am I going to die?” Katerina repeated.
I flipped the words. “Eid ot gniog I ma woh?”
Mirrors, windows, water — any reflective surface, really, makes me wonder what I got that my sister didn’t. The zygote split, two embryos formed, two fetuses developed, two identical girls emerged from the same woman, separated only by the receptors in my body that opened me up to visits from Dneirf.
Katerina never saw him. She’d sleep soundly while I watched him make slow circles over our bed, some giant manta ray, his red eyes always fixed on mine, his voice humming in my ear.
Enim rouy, he’d rasp. Enim rouy.
Nimajneb thrust his body against mine. “You make me feel,” he moaned, “like I’ll live forever.”
Behind him, an oily shape oozed into the room. I covered my face as blood seeped from my nose. Images of Nimajneb’s life floated into my mind: little league baseball, birthday parties, his first car, first kiss, first love, first glance in my direction just a few days earlier.
“I couldn’t stop,” he panted. “Couldn’t stop looking at you.”
“Uoy ta gnikool pots t’ndluoc,” I said.
He ran his hands over my skin and through my hair. “You’re like a porcelain angel.”
Dneirf descended. Blood gushed from my nose. Shadows enveloped Nimajneb’s naked body. He gasped. A short, high-pitched yelp. I held him. It was the least I could do.
“Yrros m’I,” I whispered.
Nimajneb’s body slackened, and soon he was nothing more than weight slumped against me. His head rested on my chest. His beautiful green eyes stared blankly at mine. I brushed them closed.
Every so often, my father would call. The conversations were always the same: drunken, one-sided affairs that swung between remorse and guilt. “I miss her every day” in one breath, and “You knew better than to ride without me” in the next.
One day, he called gasping: “I feel it,” he groaned, “chewing me up inside.” Soon, Mom and I were spreading his ashes around the field where Katerina had died.
Some time later, I was spreading my mother’s ashes over the same field. Wind picked up the grey residue of her being and spread it amongst the field.
The coroner said my father died of a heart attack and cancer had taken my mother. But I knew different. Everyone I knew died like Katerina: on the inside. No blood, no bruises. Dneirf passed like a parasite through their bodies. I pictured blood spreading like ink in water, organs shriveling into strange black fruit, blood slowing, calcifying.
I’d lost count of the people I’d brought to Dneirf. Then again, I never really had control of my own body.
In the months that passed since Dneirf took Nimajneb, my belly began to swell. A little girl grew inside me. I feared for this child: what darkness would curse her? What horrors would she face? What could I do to protect her?
And what if Dneirf had chosen Katerina instead of me? I’d be her, then, ashes spiraling among the goldenrod sea. And she’d be — what? Like me? Alive?