October 5, 2018

TWINS by Gerri Leen

I began to find ways to twist the pain into magic,
to suffer and writhe and build the power inside me...
You the first born: sweet faced, blonde hair, peaches-and-cream skin, eyes blue as cornflowers. Mother swore you smelled of roses and lilies and the sweet sharpness of verbena. I followed, a twin but not identical: sallow and raven haired, with eyes of deep umber and a perpetual scowl—smelling of oakmoss and rooms unaired after summer rains. She named you Arabella and me Dominica.

Father likes my woodsy smell and the way my hair glints like a crow's; he says my eyes remind him of cedar. He loves me—he never forgets I exist the way Mother does.

If only she could have heard your laugh—seen how brightly your eyes shone—when you showed me your first kill. "Their wings come off so easily," you said as you tore slowly. I pitied the poor flies, but I could feel the power of what little blood you called forth.

You graduated from flies to bigger things. Blood magic is a gangrene, eating more and more, rotting a person from the inside. Animals began to go missing from the neighborhood, but when they found the bodies—dogs and bunnies and cats hacked and skinned and even burned—you were never blamed. You swished your cherubic curls and looked at me. You never lied, though. You never said, "She did it." You inferred it and let the way we differ do the rest.

I was punished so often I began to find ways to twist the pain into magic, to suffer and writhe and build the power inside me—and keep it secret from you. After each whipping, you'd come to visit, bringing salted water and bread that was rotted underneath but looked fine from the top. To the villagers you're an angel. To me you'd whisper, "Maybe next time it'll be something you love."
Some days are good ones, though. Today I skip home, giddy from a well-praised essay while you earned a rebuke from our teacher so hurtful you ran crying from the room. I laughed at you and it felt good.
I stop at the sight of blood trickling down the small slope of the path.
You stand to the side, murmuring, "Again" and "Again" as Mother stabs the scythe into Father.
It's clear he's dead, and I scream. I barely sound human.
You laugh. "Should I have Mother blame you or some stranger? She'll say whatever I tell her to." You close your eyes and let out a moan that sounds like...pleasure. "Human blood is so much stronger than animal blood, sister."
I don't think; I don't even utter a word. I stride, one, two, three steps and grab you. "So is pain. Let's see which of us is stronger." And then I use my power fused in agony and despair to somehow...meld.
You scream in rage. Loud and long, your anger fighting my sorrow, and I realize I may not be as strong as I think.
As you focus on me, Mother drops the scythe and says, "Arabella, my darling."
Even now, you're her favorite? "Look behind you, old woman," I want to yell. "Look at what your golden girl made you do." But it's all I can do to hold onto you, to feel our bodies fusing, but not in the way of sideshow twins. We're becoming one person, not two joined by flesh.
Who we end up looking like will probably depend on which of us wins. You're not going easily into oblivion. Your will to live may be greater than mine. But my will to make you pay is enormous.
Despite that, as power coalesces around us, half sweet mist and half miasma, I feel something inside me giving up.
I can see, as the mist clears, our body has long black hair drifting to our waist and sallow skin, I try to speak and there's no trace of your dulcet tones. I imagine our eyes are amber. And yet...you push me aside easily from within us. And I realize too late you don't care what you look like. I haven't jailed you; I've given you a stronger vessel—all my power to add to your own.
I can't fight you, either. My strength was in the melding of us, not in ruling our new form.
"Where's Arabella?" Mother screams.
We laugh because it's you who's controlling us "Right here, Maman." It's your pet name for her.
You think she'll see you in me. I laugh at you because I know you'll only infuriate her.
I see the scythe descending and refuse to raise my magic against her, and you don't expect it. You've been her favorite for so long, you can't imagine she doesn't see you in here—in my body. You have no experience with being looked at and hated.
Welcome to my world, sister.
The scythe cuts through our abdomen. I know how to twist this pain to make us stronger, to survive.
I know but you haven't learned how yet, and now, more than anything, I want us to die. I want our mother to destroy you, thinking she's killing me, so I do nothing to fight her.
Her blade hits repeatedly, and I imagine this is the pain Father knew.
"Use your dark magic now, sister," I whisper to you, as we drown in the blood that rushes out of organs and veins and into cavities that aren't made to contain it.
The blood bursts forth, spilling onto the ground.
I wonder if the harvest will be blessed or blasted by this pool of red power.
Mother slips to the ground, calling out for you, not even touching me. I don't answer back but you do, our voice harsh like the caw of a crow. "Maman, it's me."
"It is her," I say.
She doesn't hear you in my voice. My words, as always, mean nothing.
It's a small victory, but almost enough to sustain me as we bleed out as one.
Gerri Leen lives in Northern Virginia and originally hails from Seattle. In addition to being an avid reader and an at-times sporadic writer, she's passionate about horse racing, tea, and whisky. She has work appearing in Nature, Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, Daily Science Fiction, Grievous Angel, Grimdark, and others. She's edited several anthologies for independent presses, is finishing several novels, and is a member of SFWA and HWA. See more at http://www.gerrileen.com.
Cover: Amanda Bergloff
Check out 


Guy S. Ricketts said...

So original and engrossing, a unique take on the battle between twins. And these twins have unearthly powers. I enjoyed their private war, and loved the outcome in the ending. Great story, Gerri.

Gerri Leen said...

Thanks! <3