E. here. I just got the rights back to a piece of flash fiction I had published exactly one year ago today. I figured, instead of hiding it in a collection somewhere, I’d give it away for free. I hope you enjoy.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
The dawning sun made its way through the cracked blinds of Maria’s bedroom window. A black tick-tac-toe pattern of shadows filled the furthermost wall, framing a painting of a tortoise. Millicent, her younger sister, had done it in watercolors a year earlier. It was rudimentary, childlike, forever watching from its place on the wall.
Maria rose from bed, rubbing her eyes and yawning. She squinted at the light of the day.
Maria was shocked to find that on her nightstand sat the Stewart’s Family photo album. In a quick motion, she pulled open the drawer and brushed the album into it, treating it like something poisonous.
Maria told the painting on the wall, “Good morning, Mr. Tortoise,”
The tortoise, though its mouth never moved. said, “How did you sleep?”
Maria smiled. “Like a rock, as usual. Can’t wait to see what the day brings.”
The girl stood and observed herself in the full body mirror that hung on the wall adjacent her bed. Her long black hair, straight and waist long, looking almost purple, shimmered in the light coming through the window. Her eyes were a fiery amber. Juxtaposed against the darkness of her hair, they shined like jewels in the deepest night.
Maria, smiling as she stroked her lovely hair, asked, “When do we begin today?”
The tortoise’s voice filled the room and Maria found it just as soothing as always. “Any moment now.”
“Does it always start like this?” The man in the gray fedora asked. He pushed his black-framed glasses further up his nose, leaning in closer to stare at the young girl.
“Everyday without fail,” the guy in the lab coat said.
“And she never looks in the photo album?”
“What’s in it?”
“The usual family photos. Pictures of vacations at beaches, amusement parks, and landmarks. The one that stands out the most is the picture of her with the family at a campground. It was the last time Millicent and her were together.”
“Really… ” Gray Fedora wheeled his chair to the left to look upon the smaller child in the space next door to Maria.
The solid white room held no pictures of tortoises hung from walls. In the middle of the area sat a gurney. Atop the makeshift bed laid an emaciated female child. Her black eyes were sunken and hollow; her head completely devoid of hair. Wires ran from everywhere on her person, disappearing into the white walls.
Millicent clutched her stomach. “I don’t feel good.”
Thoughts of Maria flooded her mind. Smiles and words, fire and ice. She grabbed at her bald head, tried to tear away the electrodes, but they were embedded too deep in her scalp, and she was far too weak. “Please… make it stop.”
The wooden box speaker on the wall barked at her, “Just hold still.”
Weakly, she said, “Please… ”
The voice cooed. “Look at her Millicent. Maria needs you.”
Millicent stared through the two way mirror at her older sister. Maria was oblivious as Millicent watched. Day in and day out, the same routine. The pain would come soon, and Millicent would be unable to stop the agony.
Lab Coat said, “This is when it gets interesting.”
Gray Fedora watched as Millicent’s eyes locked onto Maria’s through the two-way mirror. Millicent’s hollow black bulbs burst with radiant light, golden and blinding. Millicent bucked and writhed on the gurney. A trail of white mist flowed from her pupils, snaking through the air towards the glass.
Gray Fedora said, “Can’t she just get up?”
Lab Coat smiled. “She hasn’t the strength. The ritual decimates her.”
In the opposite room, Maria’s eyes went solid black, like collapsed stars. She continued to pet her flowing hair, uncaring of what was happening. The thin ropes of mist slithered through the mirror. Maria’s eyes were vacuums, sucking up the mist.
Maria’s skin began to undulate and crawl, growing vibrant. She glowed a bright pink. Her hair lengthened six inches.
Maria’s voice was calm and unshaken. “Mr. Tortoise?”
Lab Coat spoke into the microphone, “Yes?”
“Very well, Maria. Drink your fill.”
Gray Fedora focused back to Millicent. The young girl’s sporadic shaking and tossing about had stopped. She laid there, her head cocked to the side, staring at her sister through the glass.
“Maria,” Millicent pleaded, moaning more than talking. The girl heaved. She vomited black tar over the side of the gurney. Tiny white specks stood out against the ink-like substance on the floor.
Gray Fedora pointed to the mess. “What are those?”
Lab Coat shrugged. “Teeth, I suppose. The ritual does that to her.”
“My God. Why?”
“It’s their daily ritual. They feed on one another. Over and over. Maria got sick just after Millicent was born.” Lab Coat handed Gray Fedora a Polaroid of the two girls at a campground. A much younger Millicent looked very vibrant and healthy. Whereas Maria looked crushed and drained. “It’s been going on like this for as long as the parents can remember. One of them would get sick, while the other seemed to get healthier. But, we find Maria is a more willing subject. She likes the feeling her younger sister provides her. Maria demands it. It’s also why she won’t look at the photos. Maria doesn’t know why the album frightens her, but it’s quite obvious. She’s blocked Millicent, and in turn, doesn’t want to be reminded of her.”
Gray Fedora removed his hat just long enough to swipe at charcoal hair. “And the parent’s are alright with this?”
Lab Coat laughed into his fist. “The parents are the ones funding the experiment.”
Gray Fedora continued watching, awestruck.
Such beauty set against such horror.
Not one without the other.