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Henry’s graduation photo still hangs in the living room. That was two years ago—back when we didn’t know what was coming. His sits on the left, mine on the right of Mom and Dad’s brick fireplace.

In the pictures, we’re all stiff shirts and smiles, dark hair peeping from mortarboards.

“Carrie.” Mom’s voice is as soft as ever, but underneath its blanket is the Henry-shaped hole that’s always there now.

“Mom.”

We hug, her lilac-sweatered arms squeezing me with illogical strength. Mom is angular and slight like Henry. I take after Dad: robust and ruddy-cheeked. When Henry and I used to tell people we were twins, they always raised an eyebrow.

“Happy Thanksgiving.” She pulls away and cups my cheeks a little too tightly, flattening my curls with her palms.

“You too, Mom. Where’s Dad?”

“Kitchen. Turkey duty.”

“Of course.”

At the stove, Dad’s face is more flushed than usual. He’s halfway down a glass of red, probably not his first. “Hey, Baby!” The Henry-shaped void is in his eyes. He’s tried to fill it with wine, but it remains.

That doesn’t dissuade me from the same strategy. I slosh the Merlot up to the top of my glass and flop down on a kitchen chair.

“Roads busy?” He pulls on his baseball mitt oven gloves and checks the juices running from the meat.

“Yeah. A little icy. The rain'll clear it, though.”

“You got those snow tires yet?”

“Sure,” I say, though I’ll pay for the lie with a lecture when I leave tomorrow.

He presses his lips together. I guess he already knows. Our family are more sensitive to secrets these days.

“That bird ready?” Mom’s footsteps clatter on the flagstones. She’s wearing her Sunday shoes. I don’t know why—it’s just us for dinner. Pastor Fry doesn’t come anymore.

“Almost. You’d better get the potatoes plated up, sous chef.”

This is their joke. Dad always cooks the meat. Every year, he claims the glory. Mom likes to give him chance to drink alone, I think.

While Mom and Dad bustle with food, I set the table with shiny glasses and plates. I work swiftly so no one reminisces that Henry and I used to do it together. When the silver cutlery gleams from each place, I retrieve my bags from the living room and reveal my masterpiece.

Mom is kind enough to gasp, as though in awe. Truthfully, it’s a workaday centrepiece—a scrawny pumpkin ringed with stubby, ivory-coloured candles. She places it on the table with unwarranted ceremony.

“Carrie, take your things upstairs before we eat,” she says, nodding my discarded rucksack. “I don’t want Dad tripping over them carrying the roast.”

From the landing, I can hear them bickering about the colour of the meat. The smells of corn and hot oil drift up the stairs. Henry’s bedroom door is closed. I pause to touch the brass handle. Even in the warmth radiating from the kitchen below, it’s cold. With a sigh, I move on to my own room. It’s just as I left it—yearbooks lie on the desk; old jewellery nestles in glittering pots and jars; old scarfs hang over the back of the door. I drop my bags, resisting the compulsion to bounce on the soft mattress.

Back in the kitchen, the table lists under the weight of excessive, rich food. It’s way too much for three, but no one comments.

We don’t say a prayer. Mom has no Pastor to impress, and after Henry... it doesn’t feel like God would listen. We serve ourselves to slices of meat, buttery potato and corn and Dad pours the wine.

“Happy Thanksgiving,” says Mom with a narrow smile, and Dad and I respond as we clink our glasses together.

My first mouthful, there’s an urgent volley of bangs on the door. Mom glances that way, brows drawn down. She doesn’t like answering the door of late.

I jump up. “I’ll get it.”

On the doorstep, he’s shivering in a denim jacket darkened almost black by rain. He’s so much thinner, paler. And he has a bruised cheek.

“Christ. Henry! How the hell—?”

“Shh.” Henry glances behind him and pushes past me inside. “The door, sis. Quick.”

I stare at him, my face numb, until he slams it closed himself. His cold fingers circle my arm. He’s panting as he pulls me down the hallway.

“You shouldn’t be here,” I yammer. “How did you get out? I mean… hi.”

“Close the blinds,” he says as we enter the kitchen.

Mom half-rises with a scream as her son sweeps across the kitchen and smothers her in a hug. With shaky hands, I pull down the kitchen blinds, and darkness seeps into the room.

“Henry, what are you doing?” Dad’s sitting rigid in front of his dinner, and his voice has the gruff edge it gets when he’s in shock. “Have you escaped?”

“I don’t have long.” Henry sits at the table, his fingers twitching out a delicate rhythm. “I just needed to see you all, before I leave.”

My legs give way as I reach his side, and I flop into my chair.

We’re all four of us sitting at the table, in our traditional places with the dishes of food steaming between us. It could be a normal Thanksgiving. Except for Mom’s watery eyes, and Dad’s clenched fists. And Henry’s hollowed-out features.

He gazes at Mom. “I didn’t do it, Mom.” When he puts a hand on her, the muscles of her forearm tense under her pale skin. “I didn’t kill that guy. They planted my fingerprints on the gun.”

“So you’ve said before.” Dad speaks slowly, eyes stuck to Mom’s face. “But why would they do that?”

It’s like the weight of both their stares is pressing down on Mom. She sobs, clamping her hands over her eyes.

“On my life, I’m innocent.” Henry jumps up, stalks across the kitchen, checks behind the blind, then drops it back into place. “You believe me, don’t you, Carrie?”

“I—”

“Come on. You know they’ve had it in for me since I hacked the Truth and Media Department security systems. My name’s been on a list for years. The things I read in those files, they had to silence me somehow.”

“Henry, that’s not right,” I say. “There’s no such department. I thought you understood that.”

Mom peeps from behind her fingers, tears falling. “You came off your meds, didn’t you?”

“Jesus!” He thumps the table hard enough to topple a wine glass. “This is not about my meds. Put that phone down.”

Dad’s finger freezes over the screen, his gaze catching Henry’s. No one moves. The only sound is spilt wine pattering on the floor.

Henry leans against the sink, eyes welling. He shakes his head and a tear breaks free. “None of you believe me.”

Mom and Dad stay silent.

“Henry,” I say, heart hammering. “This isn’t about believing you or not. This is about getting you the help you need. That man who… died, he wasn’t doing anything wrong.”

I didn’t kill him.”

I put my hands up. “Okay, okay. Just… let Dad call someone. It’ll all be fine. I promise.”

Henry darts towards Dad, swiping the phone from his hands. There’s a crunch as he crushes it under his boot. Before anyone can react, Henry wrestles a gun from his jacket. He runs a finger along its barrel. “No one’s making any calls. Okay?”

Dad’s jaw is set, his eyes glittering. Four sets of rapid breaths ricochet around the kitchen.

I have to keep trying. “Henry, please. Don’t make this worse for yourself.”

 “Worse? Good one, Carrie.” He lifts the gun. “You sound like them, you know?” For a nanosecond, I think he’s going to shoot me. I swallow bile. Then he lowers the weapon, and starts pacing in front of the cooker. “You have no idea what that place is like. Locked up twenty-three hours a day, looking over your shoulder every minute. The murderous bastards I've been forced to bunk with. You reckon I’m crazy?”

“How did you get out?” Mom’s been so quiet I almost forgot she was there.

“Never mind, Mom. I just came to say goodbye.”

“Goodbye?” Her voice aches in my heart.

“I’m not going back to that hell hole.”

At the front, someone kills an engine I haven’t noticed running. As though it sparks him to life, Henry jumps up again, pocketing the gun. “Gotta go. I love you all. Please… one day, believe me.”

There’s a rap on the door. “Open up!”

“Shit. It’s them.” Henry darts across the room and yanks open the back door. He gets maybe three steps into the yard. A boom rips through the raindrops. Henry screams. We all do.

I get there first. Henry is writhing on the ground clutching his chest. Rain splashes on his face. His mouth is open in a silent cry. His eyes are wide, but I don’t think he sees me collapse at his side and grab his shoulder.

“Henry…”

The rain washes him down. Blood runs onto the patio, soaking my knees red. I reach out to his face. He feels so cold.

Someone grabs me, pulls me up. I sob and try to protest, but it’s no use. I’m yanked inside and whirled around. The door slams and a key scrapes.

“Please sit down, Carrie,” a man in a dark blue raincoat calls from the dim hallway.

How does he know my name? He’s flanked by two others pointing guns at us. Behind them, the door hangs askew on its hinges. The one who pulled me from the yard moves close behind, guiding me down into the chair.

Mom sits opposite at the table, her face frozen, eyes wide. Tears stream down Dad’s face. He’s shaking, his mouth twisted in grief.

Outside, voices speak in sharp tones, but I can’t hear the words. There’s a muffled yell, another shot, then silence.

The raincoat man steps into the kitchen, the spotlight inside the door casting stark shows under his eyes.

Mom begins to whimper, “Henry,” over and over.

I glare at raincoat man. “You killed him?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“Who are you?” I want to sound fierce, but my voice shatters. I swipe at the tears with shaky fingers.

“I could tell you. But what would be the point?”

He looks at one of the men behind him, who lodges the gun in his waistband, and pulls a black case from his pocket. Unzipping it, he slips out a syringe and a vial. His partner does the same while the man behind me trains his gun on each of us in turn. Mom, Dad, me… Mom, Dad, me.

“I know who you are,” says Dad, glaring at raincoat man. “He told us he found out about some secret department. That’s you, isn’t it?”

The man with the syringe grabs Dad from behind and plunges the needle into his thigh. Dad yelps and hits out, but the guy steps out of range. Mom squeals, and when I turn the other guy is doing the same to her.

“No!” I lunge, trying to knock the syringe out of his hand, but it’s too late. First Dad’s, then Mom’s head goes slack, their eyes unfocused.

Hands pull me down as the men begin searching cupboards, throwing papers in plastic bags, stealing our phones and my laptop.

Raincoat man stalks around the table towards me. “You won’t remember anything, sad to say.” He lifts his own syringe. “You’ll forget you even had a brother.”

The needle swoops and pain stabs my leg. It’s cold, and then it’s gone. The numbness pulses out from the site as my vision blurs. I struggle to lift my head. Mom and Dad are collapsed in their chairs, faces slack, eyes closed. They look like they’ve fallen asleep in the middle of dinner.

“Truth and Media…” My lips feel swollen, my throat too. My lungs convulse.

 A swift nod. “Pleased to make your brief acquaintance.”

At the other end of a long, dark tunnel, raincoat man lifts Henry’s graduation photo from the wall. He peers at me as I fight to stay conscious, and shakes his head.

There’s a buzzing in my ears, then nothing.


November 29, 2019 12:44

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