she’s putting up her clothes when her brother walks into the room, but he doesn’t say anything, just picks up a hanger from her bed and twists it around and around until it’s not a hanger, not a shape at all, anymore. she wants to ask if he’s okay but she knows the answer is a solid no and so she chomps down over her bottom lip and her top teeth stick out like they belong to a rabbit, or a hamster, or a very old man named hector. her brother takes the hanger and wraps the wire, now wasted and outstretched, around his wrist once, twice, three times and then he looks up at his sister. she smiles and her teeth fade back into her mouth, back into the neat rows her braces worked so hard to achieve.
“are you okay?”
he shakes his head, “no, are you?”
and she takes the unraveled hanger off his wrist and shakes her head too so now they’re sitting in silence, but the silence is louder than any words or any songs or movies or plays or the sound of crickets outside. in the silence, they both hear too much.
“do you want to go get food?”
“i’m not really hungry right now.”
“i know, but you should still eat something. i can drive.”
she laughs and then realizes he was serious, even though he’s barely old enough to sit in the front seat, much less actually drive the vehicle. “you can’t, it’s not allowed.”
“and what’s allowed, then? who makes the rules?”
she doesn’t know.
“i do. i’ll make the rules.”
“then let me drive?”
she nods. it’s not like she’s in any shape to drive them anywhere. “ok. this time only, though. next time, i’ll drive us there, wherever that is. what do you want to eat, though?”
“i don’t know, what do we have money for?”
“let me check.”
she gets up and walks into the next room, takes the drawer from her mother’s dresser and pours out the contents on the bed. there’s plenty of jewelry, but she doesn’t want to sell it yet. she paws through the tangled necklaces and janky rings until she finds what she’s looking for, wrapped with a pink rubber band and hidden in a men’s sport sock.
there are two one hundred dollar bills.
she thought there would be more.
“let’s go get sushi!” she decides before her brother, always more logical, could object. there was no real money for them to buy sushi, especially not now when the prices were so high and mighty, but she wanted sushi and it was one of the only things she wanted that she could have. “go get in the car,” she calls into the next room, “and i’ll be right there.”
“okay, sounds like a plan!” her brother walks into the garage and hears the door closing behind him. when she’s sure he’s gone, she folds the money into tight squares and tucks them into her shirt, beside her small knife and the bigger one, too. money and knives and sushi. that could be her autobiography’s name, she supposes, if she ever makes it to a place with paper, a computer, pens, whatever she needs to write again. but writing is the least of her concerns at the moment. there are bigger fish to fry, and they are knocking at her window as she turns towards the garage, ready to join her brother in their (perhaps futile) search for sushi. the knives bounce against her stomach as she walks and she is glad she wrapped them so well, but it’s the irony she finds in something so sharp bouncing along almost happily that makes her smile. she’s still smiling when she gets to the car.
and then she stops smiling.
her brother isn’t where he should be, not sitting in the driver’s seat of the car her parents gave her on her seventeenth birthday, three months before they-
her brother isn’t where he should be.
“where are you?”
she opens the car door.
“this isn’t funny-”
there’s still no one there.
“you have three seconds before i get in this car and lock the doors, videri.”
videri does not answer. she climbs into the car and locks the door. the keys were in her brother’s pocket, therefore she can’t do a thing but sit there and wait to see if he’s coming back or if he, like her parents, is gone. not dead. gone. and not disappeared, either, because she knows where they went. rather, she knows what they’ve become.
there’s a knock at the window, and then, before she can duck, the glass shatters.
she scrambles, feeling the sharpness and the blood against her face, her hands and neck, seeping through her top, a shirt gifted to her by someone she loved. the content dog, once a light brown, now seems to snarl through red, coppery stained teeth. she can’t do anything about it because she’s not thinking about her ruined clothes or the glass in her hands; she’s not thinking of the crunch she heard from her fingers as she moved too quickly, how they bended too far back, hung in angles too sharp and yet, like overcooked pasta, stuck to the seats of the car if she left them there too long. she’s not thinking of the inevitable, she’s processing what she should do next, and she’s climbing over the piles of junk in her car. there’s a jar of mixed nuts- one that brought a lot of jokes from her less mature friends- and a gym bag full of horrific smelling attire. she doesn’t laugh at the mixed nuts and she ignores the smell of her sweaty socks for the overbearing smell of fear, stemming from the gristly face staring back at her through the window.
it looks like her brother, but it’s not.
it’s hands claw, curled, through the gaping, glass-less hole where the window used to be stationed, and she has to scoot backwards quickly to avoid being further ribboned, further sliced into long, apple and potato skin pieces. she feels tears start to drizzle her cheeks, mixing with the blood swishing like paint down the roof and walls of her body, but they too go unnoticed entirely. she can be sad, she tells herself, if she’s not dead or-
well. she can only cry if she’s alive to do it, so she continues towards the back of the car and then, as best she can, squeezes herself into a roly poly shell of a person, her hands making rice crispy noises under the weight of her body and her bones, knees and ankles and shoulders, joining in that painful chorus. in the dark between the outside world and the cocoon she has made for herself, this split second between alive and not, she can hear someone calling her name.
she keeps her head down and she doesn’t answer and she feels her heart catching in her throat and for a moment she wants to look up and see her brother, his kind of sad eyes but mostly amused smile, looking back at her but he’s not there and if that’s the last thing she remembers, that will be enough.
she never should have sent him to the garage on his own, that was her first mistake. she should have known there would be someone out here, someone waiting to snag another innocent body and turn them, almost all at once, into a creature only recognizable in flesh but never, not ever, in mind in heart or in soul.
there’s a minute now where she imagines herself to be somewhere else, somewhere peaceful on a beach or an island or maybe a beach on an island but as long as it’s far from here and as long as it’s safe, she doesn’t care. it doesn’t matter because she is where she is but just for that minute, the while that lasts a second too short, she is safe. her family is a family and she is eating sushi and there are not two knives and two one hundred dollar bills pressed into her ribcage.
another window breaks above her. before she can uncurl and get her knives, there is a hand and it reaches towards her and tears at her hair, yanking her upwards and through the window and then the cement of the garage is cold underneath her, scalding and freezing all at once. there is the face of her brother, the monster he has become, in her view and his teeth are so sharp she can’t imagine him any other way and this, she realizes, is good because she can’t kill him by remembering who he was. in order to remember him that way, she has to-
she tears the knife from the careful wrapping and clutches it between her fingers, the ones of the hand she hadn’t crushed easily as peanut butter crackers in the bottom of a suitcase, and she steps forward.
“you wanted me to make the rules? ok. i’ll make the rules. you hide, and i’ll find you.”
she stabs her knife into the creature’s left shoulder, the one that, when belonging to her brother, she used to cry and laugh on, with, for. as the knife plunges, she doesn’t expect blood. she expects a shudder and maybe a second to run away, but she doesn’t expect this monster to blink up at her with familiar eyes and then, all of a sudden, sit down in a heap.
“videri?” she holds her hands out. her brother blinks again and holds his shoulder.
there’s him in the midst of that and she wants her brother back but then, before she can help him off the ground, the monster is back and it whips a leg around and kicks her in the shins and she stops herself before falling, grabbing her second knife and slicing underneath the first one, making two holes where there was one. the monster’s eyes are blank again. she grabs both of the knives and pulls them together, creating one hole again and this one is bigger and the monster howls, backing up into the wall of the garage.
she slams the monster’s head into the shelf, one filled with fishing poles and old albums that their parents used to play on anniversaries and other special occasions but mostly left in the garage to rot because, as they said, this was not the age for records and their adjacent players. the monster stops moving. she unhooks the key ring from the pants it’s wearing and she scrambles back into the car, broken windows and fingers and heart and all.