A whisper. That’s what woke Meg. Her eyes snapped open with panic and she held her breath a moment, waiting for the voice to speak again. The clock ticked melodically on the wall, the floorboards of the old house creaked as it settled, and raindrops hit the window like tiny pebbles.
But none of this had awakened her. She was used to these sounds. They reminded her she was home. Two years hadn’t been long enough for them to become foreign.
No, it was that small, urgent voice that broke the familiarity of it all.
That voice she knew she couldn’t possibly be hearing.
That voice whispering her name.
“Meg,” it called again. She sat up this time, her heart beating furiously. She could feel the blood pulsing, making her head pound.
This couldn’t be happening. Not again.
She fixed her gaze on the window, which was blurred by the water that streamed down to the sill. Something was out there. It moved closer to the glass, heralded by a faint orange glow.
Meg pushed back the covers, gently resting her feet on the cold floor. Entranced, she crept towards the window, watching the light grow stronger. She dropped to her knees, inching her face closer to the glass, trying to make out who was just beyond the fragile barrier. Her lips parted and her breath began to quicken, fogging the pane.
Frail, white hands reached out and stroked the pane of glass. Closer now, Meg could see the locks of black hair that clung to the pale forehead of the woman in front of her. She could see the dark, wild eyes, and the deep red lips which seemed to snarl at her. But she was frightened by the hands. Those white hands, reaching out, gripping the frame of the window, and fighting to open it.
“No,” Meg said, crawling back towards the bed. “No.”
The window was open now.
The woman looked at her and smiled. And then everything was dark.
“Meg! Meg, can you hear me?”
Meg’s eyes fluttered open, her sight adjusting to the dim light. She was back in bed now, on top of the covers. She could feel her nightgown, wet and clinging to her body. Someone’s fingers gently brushed the hair away from her face and neck. The touch was comforting.
She recognized her brother’s voice before her vision cleared enough for her to see his face. When she jerked upright, Michael caught her by the shoulders, attempting to keep her down.
“Easy, sis,” he cautioned. Her gaze darted to the window. It was closed now, but the floor beneath it glittered with drops of rainwater.
“Did Mom and Dad wake up?” she asked Michael fearfully. He shook his head.
“No, I’m the only one up, and I wasn’t asleep anyway,” he said, sitting down beside her on the bed. “So what happened? Nightmare? It must have been pretty bad if you were trying to climb out the window.”
Meg swallowed hard. "I saw Angie.”
His smile disappeared and he looked back at the window. “Look, you’re really tired. I mean, you had a really long flight today and…”
“I saw her, Michael! I know I did! She was right there outside the window!”
“That’s impossible, Meg. You’re just imagining it,” he said firmly. Meg fell back on to the pillow, her lips tightening in frustration.
“Don’t be mad,” Michael said softly, taking her hand. “I’ve missed you.”
She managed a weak smile. “I missed you too.”
“Try not to think about it, ok? And you might not want to sleep in that thing,” he suggested, touching the wet sleeve of her gown. “Goodnight.”
He was almost out the door when she stopped him.
“Michael, you won’t tell Mom and Dad, right?” she asked. “They’ll just worry.”
Michael glanced back at her.
“Your secret's safe with me,” he said lightly, disappearing into the hall and closing the door behind him.
Meg sighed heavily, sitting up and pulling the wet nightgown off, pausing to stand in front of the mirror.
She had always been smaller than Angela. Her curves were less defined, and her figure was nowhere near as full as her sister’s. Still, everything else was the same. The same white skin, the long, curly black hair, and the exact same dainty, almost fairy-like face. They shared so much that it seemed, at times, they were one person.
But perhaps that was part of being twins.
“What happened to you, Angie?” she asked softly. “What really happened?”
The sun shone down through the trees, illuminating the pathway banked by mounds of red and yellow leaves. They made a pleasant crunching every time Meg took a step. She was so glad to have escaped the house today.
Michael had to leave fairly quickly that morning. He worked a part time job at a grocery store on the weekends; the same one he’d worked every summer during high school. Meg almost felt happy that things hadn’t changed very much with Michael. She’d been worried that spending two years away at college would make her a stranger.
The wind was picking up and Meg stuck her hands inside the pockets of her jacket. Except for the wind, it was eerily quiet there in the forest. A twig snapped, and her eyes began to dart around her. She heard the dead leaves rustling, moved by something that wove its way amid the trees. Meg backed up against a nearby tree. Whatever it was, it was somewhere in front of her.
“Angie?” she said softly.
She’d seen her sister here before. It was just after Angela disappeared. Meg had come back to the path alone. She felt almost as if something had beckoned her there. She was deep into the forest when Angela appeared. But it wasn’t the same Angela she’d talked with that Friday.
This girl was pale, ghostly white, except for those blood red lips. She had extended her hand to Meg, a gnarled, crippled hand with claw like nails, asking Meg to follow her deeper into the woods. It frightened Meg so badly she turned and ran, ran as fast as she could until she was back home. She had promised herself she wouldn’t run again if Angela reappeared.
“Angie, are you there?” Meg asked.
It wasn’t Angela, but she knew the figure, just the same. The last time Meg had seen him, he was a lanky teenager who came to the house every Saturday. Now he was tall, and muscular, but still had the same bright smile. Two years had done a lot for him.
“Caden,” she sighed with relief.
“Hey Meg,” he replied, coming towards her. She wrapped her arms around him eagerly and felt relieved in his embrace.
“What are you doing out here?” she asked.
“Looking for you. I called your house and your mom said you’d gone for a walk,” he told her. “I guessed this path was the one you would take, so I took the shortcut from my place.”
For the first time, a genuine smile reached her lips. “I’ve missed you, Caden.”
“And I’ve missed you,” he admitted. “Come on, let’s go up to the house, we can have some hot chocolate.”
“But I really wanted to walk the path,” Meg said.
“There’s nothing on the path but a dead end.” Caden stopped walking.
They were at the fork now. To the left was more forest, to the right was a dirt trail that led to Caden’s house. Meg tried to remember if she and Angela had made it to the fork that day, or if they had just turned around before and gone home. Did we follow the path all the way to the end?
Caden waited silently for a long time.
“It’s getting cold, Meg. You don’t need to get sick.”
His voice pulled her from her thoughts.
It was getting chilly, and she wasn’t so sure now that she wanted to keep going. She wasn’t so sure she wanted to risk seeing Angela again.
“Alright,” she said. Caden smiled and gave her shoulder a squeeze. They turned to the right and headed towards the house.
The house hadn’t changed, even though Caden’s aunt wasn’t there to see to its keeping. Caden had lived there for so many years, he knew exactly how to take care of everything. Meg sat at the kitchen table while Caden heated some cocoa on the stove. The house had never sported a microwave, that wasn’t the way things were done in this part of the country. Everyone took for granted that they had plenty of time. In Meg’s opinion, that was their mistake, taking things for granted.
“So what have you been up to these past two years?” Meg asked.
“Well, college. But that was always the plan, right?,” Caden added some sugar to the coffee mugs nearby. “Almost got my bachelors in graphic design, and I’ve been working on a small business partnership with a fellow classmate of mine, and… that’s about it.”
He didn’t return the question, so Meg asked the one she’d been dying to.
“Caden, when was the last time you saw Angie?”
Meg remembered the police coming out. She remembered talking with detectives, talking with her parents, talking with lots of her friends and teachers, but she didn’t remember talking to Caden. Not until almost a year later. He came to see her, but they didn’t talk about Angela. They talked about lots of things, just not the most important.
“I saw her that Friday at the highschool graduation,” he replied promptly. “Hot chocolate is almost ready, do you want any marshmallows?”
“Did she say anything to you?"
“Here you go.” Caden poured the cocoa into one of the mugs and handed it to Meg. “Be careful now, it’s really hot.” He poured the rest of the cocoa into his own mug and sat down in a chair beside her.
“Caden, why don’t you ever want to talk about Angela?”
“I don’t see the point, Meg. You’ve spent two years away, trying to forget about Angela, why would you want to come back and…”
“Because I have to know what happened! What really happened!” Meg shouted, standing up from the table. Caden leapt to his feet and reached out to her.
“Calm down, Meg,” he said gently. He took her mug and set it on the table, pulling her close. “Look, Angela is gone. It doesn’t matter what happened. If you try and think about it now, you’re just going to hurt yourself. Please, just forget about the whole thing. For both of us.”
Meg sighed. She knew Caden. And she knew that was the end of the discussion.
“Yeah, ok,” she whispered, pulling away. “I better go home.”
“You didn’t drink your hot chocolate.”
“I’m sorry. I’ll come back tomorrow and we can have some then, ok?” she offered. Caden sighed, but smiled at her.
“Ok. Let me drive you home.”
“I can walk back; there’s plenty of light out. Besides, I enjoy walking the path.”
Caden looked her squarely in the eyes.
“The path is dangerous for you to walk alone, Meg. Anything could happen and there would be no one there to help you,” he pointed out. “Now I’m driving you home.”
He wasn’t being cruel. He wasn’t being controlling. He was just scared, like her parents were. Again, Meg gave in. She had wanted so long to be there with Caden. Now that he was right there with her, something didn’t feel right. But she wanted it to. Very badly.
Meg decided to go through the back door when Michael’s car was parked out front. He was home from work for the evening and would most likely be in the kitchen grabbing a snack to hold him over until dinner. Meg was glad he was back; things were less awkward around the house when her brother was home. He had a way of settling them all down. She opened the back door, stepping into a side room where her family did their laundry. A short hallway would place her into the kitchen. She had only taken a couple of steps before she heard the voices.
“She tried to go walking on the path today,” Mom said, her voice revealing a strange frustration. “You remember what happened last time!”
“So what did you do?” Michael asked.
“I called Caden! He said he would try to head her off before she got to the fork.”
Meg pressed herself against the wall, trying to keep a safe distance from the doorway, but wanting to be close enough so that she didn’t lose any of their conversation.
“Are you sure that was a good idea, Mom?” Michael asked. “Seeing Caden might have been worse.”
“Well I’d rather take a risk on Caden than risk her going down that path alone. This is terrible, Michael! We can’t keep her in the house forever. I don’t think she should have come home this soon.”
“If you ask me, we didn’t bring her home soon enough!” Michael said. “You honestly think that the past two years did anything to help her? She’ll never be able to erase Angela from her memory. Maybe we should tell her …”
“Shut up, Michael!” Mom screamed. “Don’t even suggest that! Do you honestly think that telling Meg what happened will help anyone?”
Michael was quiet for a moment. Meg backed towards the laundry room, but not before catching Michael’s answer.
“Alright, I won’t tell her anything. But you’re right, Mom. You can’t keep Meg in this house forever, so you better figure out something to tell her.”
Meg grabbed the knob of the back door, opening it and slamming it shut.
“I’m home!” she called out loudly.
A whisper. That’s what woke Meg. Her eyes snapped open with panic and she held her breath a moment, waiting for the voice to speak again.
That voice she knew she couldn’t possibly be hearing. That voice whispering her name.
She was shivering, shaking with cold, even though she was buried beneath layers of warm covers. She jumped out of bed and ran out of her room and towards the front door. Michael came out into the hall as she gripped the doorknob.
“Meg, where are you going?” he called.
She pulled the door open and ran outside. Michael was in the doorway almost instantly.
“Meg! Meg, come back!”
Her heart was pounding furiously as she ran. Every few steps she would stumble over a tree root, or a cluster of leaves clinging to a low branch would catch her shoulder. It seemed even the forest tried to keep her from her destination. But she was determined. She was going to find out what was at the end of the pathway that everyone was so desperate to keep her from. She was going to find out what really happened to her sister.
The number of trees became fewer and fewer, the path becoming wider and wider until it opened to a small clearing. The trees circled around the clearing as if they were creating a shield, a haven from the rest of the forest. They were evergreen, and so still maintained their brilliant color even though they were surrounded by the barren bodies of friends. And there, just a few steps into the clearing, the forest floor disappeared, and in its place extended a large, flat rock.
Meg approached it carefully, as if she were afraid it would give way under her. It was surprisingly smooth. She made her way carefully to the edge and looked down. A great valley spread below her, a valley of red and yellow and orange patchwork squares, rising and falling like a blanket spread over a slumbering child. This was why she and Angela often walked the path together, to see that beautiful blanket change color each season.
Meg remembered making it to the end of the path that Friday.
Meg remembered standing there, looking down at Angela’s body.
At all their plans of going to college together, chasing their dreams together, lifeless in the ravine.
She remembered it all. But she didn’t want to.
She fell to her knees, screaming in agony. Tears filled her eyes, and her chest burned. But then, someone had their arms around her, pulling her away from the edge, holding her tightly.
“Meg! Meg, it’s alright,” Caden said. “I’m here now, it’s alright.”
“I remember what happened,” she cried. “What really happened. I pushed her, Caden!”
Caden stroked her hair, trying to calm her.
“You were so upset, you didn’t know what you were doing,” he argued.
Meg wrapped her arms around his neck, burying her face into his chest.
“She told me it was your baby.”
“I know,” he said solemnly. “I stopped you from jumping after her. Don’t you remember?”
“I don’t want you to hate me!”
“I can’t hate you, Meg. Not anymore. I tried to,” Caden admitted. “But when I came to see you, and I saw what you’d done to yourself … I just wanted you to come back. We all want you back.”
“Do you think she can forgive me, Caden?” Meg asked.
“I think she already has,” he said. “I think she wants you to forgive yourself.”
Meg opened her eyes. Caden was still holding her close. They were walking along the path, back towards her home. Her parents would be awake, waiting on the porch, looking for her to appear. Michael would be there too. And he would run to meet them.
And for a moment, they’d be a real family again.