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❮ read Act Two

Act Three: Twelve Years


Tayla Walsh | revac film’s&photography ime, in its time, can break down any wall. It had taken very little time, this time. And in this new time, that obsequious little cunt had been shoved back into the coal-black nightmare where the thing from the closet had exiled her, twice. But now she was back!

Mother was simple to manipulate; when she made her horrid little speeches—her back turned as she folded laundry, or unstopped the toilet, or signed another report card—she would stare daggers at her, but speak none. No, instead she used that insipid, sickly-sweat voice and its spineless affirmations. All to maintain the illusion.

She was already stronger than mother. She’d learned the greatest strength lay in one’s mind, complimented by so many force-multiplying tools.

But the brat. The brat had graduated from an annoyance to a threat. With two years of cognitive development Marjorie had become much more perceptive, and worse, much better at vocalizing those perceptions. Before long her advantage in age and intellect would no longer be enough to keep little sister in check. And, unlike mother, Marjorie served no purpose. Mother provided the income, most of the domestic work, and a legitimacy the world would not allow an underage girl—she’d never be permitted any choice concerning her fate. The state would assume custody of her, either handing her off to the father that did not want her, to some other family the state would pay to keep her, or shove her into some child warehouse, society’s oubliette, where she would become just one of many grey cogs in the state-run machine.

There would be much less space to manoeuvre, and certainly no affection to exploit. And while she did not doubt her capacity to manipulate any of these possibilities in her favour, none of them presented as much promise as this current one. So, if it could be preserved, then she must do whatever was required to do so.

This meant getting rid of the brat, and ensuring no finger would be left to point back at her.


Simplicity. Keep it simple; sweet dreams were made of this. And simplicity came to her only a few days later. As the children around her geared up for the Easter break, she let go her troubles and trusted that silent thinker existing in the sterile, mechanical numbness of her mind, to consider and calculate, plot and percolate.

And it did come to her, during the last day of school, that Thursday before Easter. It meant she would only have two days to plan, but she already had everything she needed, short of supplies for the hunt, and mother would be only too happy to help with that.


“What a wonderful idea! An Easter Egg hunt? But only for Marjorie? Don’t you want to be part of it? I’m the one who should set that up.” April added in this last part hoping (knowing?) her wonderful daughter would insist on doing it herself.

“You spend every day doing things for us. This way, I get to do something for both of you. Marjorie has fun and you get to relax and enjoy watching your kids having fun.”

The kid makes sense, April thought, already relaxing into the promise of a Sunday off.

“Besides, I’m making this egg hunt into something special. With each egg will be a hint to find the next one. I’ll be there to help her sort out the clues, so she will find them all.”

“That sounds so fun!” April praised, almost wishing her daughter could have been her older sister, rather than the brother she’d had, who teased her relentlessly until he moved out on his own.

“I just need one thing,” she said, looking up.

Uh oh, April thought, there goes my day off.

“What’s that, hon?”

“I need a ride to the store to pick up some plastic eggs for the hunt. I have everything else.”

“Is that it? Get your sister and get your shoes on,” said April, fetching her purse to retrieve her phone to call for a ride. “We’re off to the dollar store!”


It was that simple. The plan was set. April relaxed in the living room as her daughter made the family breakfast. Then, at her insistence, April told Marjorie about the Easter Egg slash treasure hunt. Marjorie squealed with excitement, until she learned big sister would accompany her, not mom. But even this red flag was forgotten when mom handed Marjorie the first clue on a small square of paper:

Through the windowless door, over where water trills, look behind the bottle of pills.

Marjorie screwed up her face in thought. “Kitchen?” she said.

“That is a good guess,” her sister noted. “But the kitchen does not have a windowless door. Where else could we hear water?”

Marjorie scrunched up her face again, then smiled. “Bathroom!” she shouted.

“That sounds even better,” April encouraged. “Maybe you should try that!”

“Mom thinks you have a good idea. Should we check it out?”

Marjorie nodded emphatically; the fun had pushed away any concerns about big sister. So they ran to the bathroom.

“Hey!” April shouted after them, “no running in the house.” But it was a good-natured scolding, baring no teeth. She sighed and sank back into the couch. She’d been promised an hour, maybe two, for the egg treasure hunt, and she planned to soak up every moment. But after such a rich breakfast, she found herself nodding off in front of the TV.

A nap! she thought. An even better idea!


April woke to screaming. Her dream tried to incorporate this into the sexy fantasy she was having, a handsome, dark stranger who’d come to offer a massage, by adding some children playing on what had until then been an empty beach. But the screams of these children were not shouts of joy and play. They were screams of terror, and there was only one of them.

April got up from the couch, still woozy from sleep. She took a few tentative steps, then another scream of terror and pain snapped her wide awake. The screaming was coming from the back yard, along with some kind of roaring sound.

She could feel the heat the moment she stepped through the back door. The shed was engulfed in flames. Her daughter was screaming at the door, trying to push into the flames. The sleeves of her shirt were on fire. Her hands were burning as April watched. On instinct she tackled her daughter and smothered her arms with her own body. The fire ate its way through her shirt and stung her stomach. It burnt her hands as she beat it out.

But still the screaming continued. Even when the flames were out her daughter kept screaming and struggling to get up. Finally, April put her hands on either side of her child’s face and forced their eyes to meet. There was a moment as they looked at each other. “Marg,” she shouted, turning her eyes away from April and howling a guttural, broken cry. “Marg is in the shed!

Time seemed to come apart. April processed the words, then stood up. She looked down at her daughter, her face covered in soot from the flames, the flesh of her arms burned raw, the tatters of her sleeves blackened and still smoking. Somewhere, where time still functioned, April could feel nerves in her hands and stomach announcing the pain of their burning. Where time functioned her shirt had started to smoulder. The fire would continue to work its way slowly up her right side until someone came up to her with a blanket and smothered it out.

But where time was broken, April ran for the shed. She tried to run through the doorway, into the inferno, but there was something there, some invisible force, that would not let her keep going. She saw—though the doctors and firefighters told her later this was impossible—she saw her daughter, Marjorie, standing in the far corner, burning like a human torch, screaming for her mother to help her. Where time existed her face began to cook. Her hair caught fire. Then a force came and pulled her away from the shed, while the burning apparition cried out for her: “Mommy! Mommy!


At the hospital, in the burn unit, they were given adjacent beds. April had been inconsolable, so she now swam in the twin oceans of pain killers and sedatives, not much more than a drooling, crying ruin.

Later in the evening the Fire Marshal came to the hospital, flanked by two police detectives, to explain they had found the body of a little girl in the ruins of the shed. April told them a bizarre story about a human torch talking to her. The doctor explained April was heavily sedated and he would break the news when the sedative levels were reduced enough for April to be coherent.

The detectives seemed annoyed at this roadblock, but perked up when the doctor informed them April’s older daughter was also in the hospital, and she was awake and lucid. So they flanked her bed, with the Fire Marshal standing uncomfortably at the foot.

“Marjorie’s dead, isn’t she,” she said, looking at no one, tears leaking down her face.

“We found a body in the shed,” the Fire Marshal explained, wringing his hands.

“That was Marjorie,” she said softly. “I saw her burn.” More tears.

“Can you tell us what you remember?” one of the detectives asked as he pulled out a notebook. This man was older, with a balding head and a stomach growing over his belt. She marvelled at a person with pen and paper.

The other detective had pulled out a smartphone. He was holding it out towards her, but not aiming its camera. He was audio recording the conversation—much more sensible than trying to write it down.

“We were doing an Easter Egg treasure hunt. It was my idea.” Now she let the tears really flow, her lungs hitching, her face screwed up with guilt.

“No, honey, no,” the detective with the pen corrected. “It was an accident. But it’s our job to understand how it happened, so the Fire Marshal here can make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Lies. She could read them like a children’s book. But they suspected her mother, or at least, they had not yet ruled her out. Time to put a stop to that! “I don’t know what happened. I mean… I’m not sure…”

“That’s okay, sweetie, just tell us what you saw. Every little bit helps.”

“Marjorie!” she whispered, letting the tears flow again, sobbing quietly for a few moments. Then she gathered herself to speak.

“The last clue said to look in the shed, so we went there. Marjorie ran in to look. I stopped at the door because I smelled something. I said ‘wait’ as I flicked on the light switch. But a giant, hot hand picked me up and threw me back onto the grass. I landed so hard I couldn’t breathe. But I heard Marjorie screaming, so I got up and ran to the door of the shed. I tried to go in but the flames burned me. I could see Marjorie at the other side of the shed. She was… she was on fire, batting at her face with her hands. I killed her. I killed my sister! Killed her! I killed her!

She continued, getting more and more disturbed, until the doctor had a nurse inject something into her IV drip. Then she became quiet, turned her head to the side, and closed her eyes.

“Doctor?” said the nurse.

He checked her pulse and breathing, then reported, “She’s fine, just exhausted. We should let her sleep.” The detectives and Fire Marshal took the hint, and everyone left her alone. When she was sure the room was empty, she released the kink in her IV line and let the sedative flood her body. It felt wonderful!


Later that night, as the eastern sky began to show a promise of dawn, she lay quietly, far too excited to sleep, the effect of the tranquilizer all but gone. Her burns hurt terribly, but she avoided using the morphine drip she controlled with a button on her bedside. The pain was exquisite, beautiful, like what an athlete must feel after winning a competition. The pain was part of the victory, and so it was as sweet as the win. Mommy was single, now with only one child, forced into grief by circumstance, but trapped by duty to be a mother to her remaining daughter. What fun they would have in this new asymmetric family, with the ever-available nuclear option there when necessary: a few tears, a sobbed “Marjorie!”

The Fire Marshall would no doubt do more digging, only to find an old wooden shed with spilled paint thinner and arching wires from old electrical components when the light was switched on. The explosion had been an excellent touch, the cherry on top, but totally unexpected. She assumed it had something to do with the mix of paint thinner vapour and atmosphere, an interesting bit of chemistry she would have to learn about during her library time at school. The plan had been perfect: a quarter of a sleeping pill at breakfast for mother so she would doze off on the couch, but not so much she’d be unable to wake up; the flashlight Marjorie had coveted from her big sister for months, now placed in her hand to ensure trust, to make sure she would race into the shed without first turning the shed light on; and finally, pretending to run into the shed until mother stopped her. The burns on her arms and face, her burnt hair and missing eyelashes and eyebrows, guaranteed a finger of accusation would never point in her direction.

She rested her head against the pillow, closed her eyes, and smiled just beneath the surface of her skin. The outside face was relaxed, but with a hint of distress. Must not break the fourth wall until the accident was confirmed. Best to act the broken sister for some time after that; but then, well, everyone knows how resilient kids are!


Two days later she was back in her own bed. A drugged-up mother, tranquilized almost to catatonia, kissed her forehead and wandered out of the room. She mumbled something that might have been “good night” before closing the bedroom door.

Idiot! she thought to herself. I never close my door at night any more. Do I have to get up and open it a crack like I always leave it, or will the stupid cow have enough brain cells left to remember she closed it?

Her dilemma was interrupted by a noise from the closet. The knob was turning, but whoever, or whatever was inside did not turn it far enough to release the latch. This went on long enough the initial fear that had trilled down her spine and out to her limbs began to ebb. Finally, the knob was overcome and the door creaked open. But this time, rather than a void within the darkness of her closet, there appeared to be something like a giant spider, its limbs curled up on itself like dead spiders do, all but one limb, which slowly retracted from pushing the door open to join who knows how many others in the coiled mess on the floor.

It remained this way, motionless, its limbs clearly a dark, mottled brown, not like the blacker-than-blackness they had been before, until finally it shuffled, turning towards her. Some of its limbs were moving, others dragging uselessly, its face winking back any light, but feebly, like a mirror with a nylon stretched over it. Then it began to stutter itself forward, its limbs, those that worked at all, not moving with coordination, moving its body in fits and starts. Cracking sounds came from them, like before, but this time she was certain she could see dust fly out with each crack, like snapping old, dried-up twigs.

Once out of the closet it became more like a mammal, but she could not guess what it was supposed to be. The closest she could imagine was to dogs she’d seen on TV, German Shepherds, with some kind of genetic problem with their hips and back legs. They seemed to drag their hind quarters along rather than step.

After some time it made its way out of sight behind the foot of her bed. Then, for quite a long time, nothing. The lack of sound went on so long she started to wonder if it had simply crawled to the foot of her bed and died.

But no, it was not dead—if that word meant anything here. A hand eventually came up and curled its fingers over the top of the footboard, ejecting little puffs of dust as its fingers cracked their way over the footboard’s top. A second hand appeared, eventually, and the thing pulled itself up. It no longer seemed capable of standing upright, and instead bowed over like an old man.

Still, it crawled onto the bed, cracking and snapping, spewing what looked more like dark clouds than dust. Now she could see it more closely, these clouds seemed to fade out of existence, much like an image on the internet increasing its transparency. The bed moved as it crawled over her, like something barely the weight of a cat might cause. And her fear. What fear?

Finally, it hovered over her face. But this time she did not look away. She looked directly into its face, its mirror of a face, to see herself falling, flailing her limbs, falling away until swallowed by a cloud of nothing. Her cries continued after she had disappeared, fading, fading, until the sound, too, was lost in the nothingness.

She stared into its face and saw nothing. She no longer had a reflection. She put her hands on either side of the head of the man whose face was a mirror, and smiled.

“When I look at my reflection, the mirror flinches,” she told it.

The thing blew away in a wind that wasn’t there.


*photo credit: Tayla Walsh & revac film’s & photography