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  Table of contents Issue Twenty-seven THE OTHER GIRL

by
SARAH LIDDLE
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S

he puts her hands to mine. The cold slate separating our fingers just barely prevents their touch. Her name is Riley, or at least that’s what I’ve always assumed because that’s my name, and why would they be different?



Her brows are pinched; the gloss of tears in her eyes looks hopeful, like she’s waiting for me to tell her how to fix this--whatever this is.



What do you want me to say? But as always, my lips can’t move without her, and I’m resigned to silence. She leans closer and squints, pouring over each detail of my body. She inspects me as if she were about to kill me, like I’m a helpless little girl trapped beneath the blade of her knife, naked.



I stare back. She’s beautiful--more beautiful than me. Her lips are in a perpetual pout, even when they smile. Her amber hair hangs loosely from her scalp, keeping her face in its shadows--those thick eyebrows, that focused stare. There are scars on her skin; they are scattered, but in patterns, patterns that suggest repetition. Intention.



I can’t understand why she’s looking at me like this. I feel like her eyes are peeling away at my skin, layer by layer, spilling my blood out onto the floor. My body begins to tremble, but only slightly. I don’t think she can tell.



Tell me what’s wrong. I demand, trying to shake my discomfort.



But she can’t hear. She never will.



She pulls her fingers away from mine and loosens her muscles with a sigh. I do the same. We both stand, pausing for another moment to examine each other. Her lips wrinkle in disproval.



She turns off the lights, then pauses another moment before reaching for the door handle. With the curtains drawn, she’s barely visible. She looks around--a brief inspection of the room, making sure nothing is out of place. Not that it ever is; she keeps few belongings, all of which are rarely touched. Satisfied, she tightens her grip around the door handle.



Please don’t leave.



But she always leaves. I feel the familiar sensation of my vision disintegrating to darkness, the shiver of my disappearing touch, the monotonous hum of deafness. When it happens, I do what I always do. I wait for her to return.



endmark





When she returns, she approaches me for another inspection but is shortly interrupted by a knock at the door. Two knocks, actually. Loud and brief. She goes to answer it and returns with a man. His hair is greying, and his skin hangs loosely from his skull, eyes sunken into his cheeks.



She leans in for a kiss. It’s grabby, aggressive. She yanks his shirt over his head, but he pulls away and puts his palm on her shoulder.



“How old are you?” he asks.



Twenty four, you pervert.



“Does it matter?” Her smile flickers, but she reignites it quickly--a cocky smirk this time.



“Shouldn’t it?”



Asks the old man half-naked in a little girl’s apartment.



“Older than eighteen,” she snorts. He raises an eyebrow, then finally concedes a breath of laughter and shrugs.



Riley, I don’t want to.



He has a bush of curly chest hair, most of it black. I see the way he watches her--eyes unblinking and focused. He examines every movement without expression.



Please don’t do this.



She takes a step back as he takes one forward, lifting her shirt. He pulls her into him for a sudden, shattering kiss. As her eyes close, I’m sentenced to darkness, hearing only the muffled sounds of their lips’ embrace. A stale taste enters my mouth--like warm beer and cigarettes.



I don’t know why I’m the only one. I’ve seen dozens of others occupy this room with her, but none have reflections to join me. I’m sure from where they stand, they see a copy of themselves in the mirror, but I’m the only one that exists on the other side.



She opens her eyes as their lips pull away, and finally, I can see.



But I wish I didn’t.



This is rape, isn’t it? To watch this man inside me, rubbing my skin back and forth across the carpet as I’m screaming, Please, Riley, I don’t want this. But there’s no way in hell she wants this either, right? His stretched skin flapping at hers, his protruding stomach, his warm sweat. Get him off.



He wheezes when he breathes. If she makes a sound, he shakes his head. When he finishes his mouth freezes open, twitching, and the wrinkles in his forehead squeeze together.



No one asks him to fall asleep here. I’m certain of that. But the old man passes out on the bed afterward, his breath vibrating lightly against his lips in almost-snores. She sits awake, cross-legged beside his sprawled and naked body.



She stays that way for hours, eyes never leaving him, not even when the wind beats against the windows--throwing debris against the glass. Trees scratch the surface, pebbles nip the slate.



At one point, something heavy heaves into it. I don’t see it happen, but everything inside me coils in surprise, though her body doesn’t flinch, and neither does mine. She doesn’t even look, but I sneak a glance at the window. A dent whitens the surface--a new sandy divot sending cracks shooting out from it, though not enough to shatter it.



I look back to her, and when I do, she’s already staring at me. The intensity of her stare startles me. She smiles. That bitch.



I hate you sometimes.



endmark





One night, she grabs the journal sitting on the nightstand. She’s written in it every day for the past few months, but tonight she only stares at it, sifting through the pages. At one point, she pauses on one in particular and holds the book up to her face so she can squint at the words I’ll never see. I have guesses though--things about a father who killed a mother, who raped some other girl. Things I’ve learned in the last couple of years here. Things I didn’t want to.



Riley remains a statue in her empty room, and the night is quiet. There are no stars outside the bedroom window, but no clouds either. It’s as if the sky were a black blanket hung over the earth. I imagine being a child, shielding my eyes with the comforter of my bed to try to protect myself from unknown evils lurking in the shadows. A woman--a mother--bursts into the room and sings to me as my tears wet the sheets.



It’s a strange thought. I’ve never had a mother. I’ve never been a child.



A ripping sound startles me into the present. Riley holds a torn page in her left hand, the rest of the notebook in her right. She reaches to rip another page and lets the two sheets fall onto the floor. She watches their journey--how they twist and turn in resistance to gravity. The silence in the air is a symphony of white noise, of incoherent whispers of the night.



She rips the journal again, but this time by the handful, yanking it with what sounds like a growl. And again--fistful after fistful of wrinkled pages until the journal is reduced to the empty hardcover and spine clinging to tiny scraps of the paper remains that look like shredded flesh.



We smile.



I feel the tension release from her muscles. She looks down at the carpet, an autumn forest with words covering the floor instead of leaves--both dead.



She kicks her feet, extracting them from the sheets of paper they’ve been covered by. She takes off her clothes and turns off the light. There is no glow from life outside her window, and the room sinks into complete darkness. I cringe, realizing she’s leaving the mess on the floor. I hear her crawl into bed, shuffling beneath the covers. We fall asleep.



endmark





In the morning she dresses for work, stepping over the torn paper as if it were part of the carpet. Her hands are shaky. A half bottle of white wine sits on her dresser. I don’t remember where it came from or how long it’s been there, but she chugs the rest of it and throws it to the ground, shattered glass mixing with the shredded pages. I cringe again.



endmark





She returns late. She’s in a panic to remove the paper. She grabs it in handfuls and throws them into the bathroom wastebasket. It’s not fast enough. She gets on her knees and begins using her arms to sweep the rest under her bed. Shards of glass catch her right arm and draw blood. A few drops fall to the carpet.



“Fuck,” she growls.



I hear footsteps creak up the stairs, approaching the bedroom.



Oh God, what now?



Riley finishes pushing the shredded paper into hiding and stands up. She blots her arm with toilet paper, staring at the door as someone pushes it open.



I sigh, realizing that it’s only Sam, her sister. She’s in pajamas and holding a pint of ice cream, a spoon stuck upright inside of it. She nods at Riley, then leaps on the bed and clicks on the TV. Riley walks over slowly but doesn’t sit.



She alternates between glancing at Sam and the rest of the room, fidgeting with each turn. Suddenly I can see everything in horrendous detail: the crack on the window, the blood on the carpet, the edges of paper peeking out beneath the bed. They pull at my flesh. We glance at Sam. Does she notice them too?



Finally, Riley sighs and puts her hands on her hips.



“You’re not here to watch TV.”



“No.” Sam shrugs casually. Riley reaches for the remote and clicks it off.



“What is it then?”



She shrugs again, then says with a mouthful of food. “Just want to know how you’re doing.”



Riley scoffs.



“You don’t answer my texts.”



“So?”



“Come on, Ri. I’m just worried. You know.”



“You should worry about yourself,” Riley sneers.



“Seriously, man. I just like to know you’re not dead or anything.”



“I don’t know why it would matter.”



“Alright, cut the shit. You want to sit in here all your life and feel sorry for yourself? Fine. No one’s telling you to give a fuck about me. But you don’t get to tell me whether or not I get to give a fuck about you.”



Riley glares. “Fine,” she smirks. “Well, you know now. I’m not dead.”



Sam rolls her eyes. “Really though,” she sighs. “Are you okay?”



The words are an electric shock--a stunning pulse that races beneath my flesh.



Riley looks to me for a moment. Her face is frozen open, and we stare at each other, eyes blank.



She turns back to Sam with a condescending grin and shrugs. “I’m always okay.”



Sam glares at her as if trying to read words printed on her skin. Perhaps they would tell her what she was supposed to do. She sighs and stands, opening her arms for a hug. Riley pretends she doesn’t notice, but Sam approaches her anyway.



When Sam hugs her, my body only feels the empty air of an infinite space I can’t escape. I feel the pressure on my skin of shattering expectation--the grasp, the body, the touches that should be there but aren’t. And I wish I could reach out, to receive the hug that Riley ignores, and I wish I could feel what it’s like to live in that space where others did. But I don’t think it’s possible. I’m so alone here.



Just hug her back.



But Riley stands still, arms at her side as she waits out the remainder of her sister’s embrace. Sam releases and sighs. She grabs her tub of ice cream from the nightstand and opens the bedroom door, turning to make one last comment before she leaves.



“Just make sure you’re alright, okay? Don’t do anything stupid. You’re not like him, you know? You don’t have to be.”



But I’m not like him. I’m not.



“I’m fine,” Riley insists. Sam forces a smile, nods, and leaves. I hear her return the ice cream to the freezer and exit through the garage. When the silence promises that we’re alone, Riley grabs a coat and leaves too.



endmark





In the depths of the night, she rips through the bedroom door; it slams against the wall, and the hallway light leaks into the darkness. Her fists clench at her side, and her body shakes. I see her face in flashes as she passes me, pacing the room. It’s flushed; the skin between her eyebrows is strained and folded.



Riley?



She looks at me, releasing her hands. She brings them to her face. Her fingers bend and writhe as if preparing to claw at something invisible. She shakes her head and throws them down to her side.



Where are you Riley?



She smiles, makes eye contact. The moment is so strange. It’s almost like she sees me--not just as the reflection of herself, but as the figure beyond the mirror. The tension in her face sinks and her eyes darken.



I open my mouth but it’s frozen, and she bursts away from me, retreating to her panicked pacing, alternating between clenching her fists at her side and making empty grabs at the air.



I’m scared now. My vision begins to falter--repeatedly swallowed and spit out by clouding darkness that threatens to consume it. I fight to see her, but I only catch glimpses--the snarl in her cheeks, the threatening glare as her eyes dart back at me, the tug of her teeth against her lips--but then I’m thrown away again, deeper behind the mirror into the blackness.



Please help me.



It’s a dumb thing to say. But she comes to my rescue, despite her ignorance of my pleas. My vision clears, and I see her race to the mirror, falling to her knees. We touch fingers again, her arm raised above to head as she leans into me.



“Please stop,” she says, tears falling.



She lowers her face into her arms. I hear her panicked, choking sobs, along with incoherent whispers begging for help, someone, please help.



We look up again and lock eyes. She shakes her head, quieting herself. She pulls her arm up to her mouth, bites down on the skin.



I scream, I want to scream but it’s trapped inside me. She emits a soft groan, her face red. She doesn’t release her bite, not even as blood begins to pool around her lips and drip from her wrist.



Riley, please let me go.



She cries loudly now; each sob holds a scream muffled under the body in her mouth. I taste the copper against my lips but feel nothing. My body is weak; it can’t support itself. It acts only by the strings that hold us together, and I dangle limply beneath them.



At last, she releases, throws her arm away from her. She looks at me, eyes widened. I think they’re panicked, but she smiles.



It’s one of those horrible smiles. There’s something competitive about her stare, the glint of challenge, like she’s daring me to do better. Her breath is fast and heavy. She glances down at the wound: saliva mixed into the blood left covering the opening.



I notice the wound doesn’t break from the patterns--the patterns of scars. She shakes her head. This needs to stop. You can’t do this forever.



She doesn’t wash it out. She lingers for a few more minutes, alternating between smiling at me or watching the blood and spit begin to dry. She smears some of it on her other arm, but she doesn’t wash that either. When it’s sufficiently stifled, she shuts the lights and retreats to bed. It’s too dark to see her, but her snores suggest she’s asleep in minutes. Easy.



endmark





This one isn’t as old, but his face curls tight in indifference. His lips never make it farther than a half-smile up his cheeks, and his eyes are black, though they’re in slits, so it’s hard to distinguish them from an empty eye socket, dark and devoid.



This should be easy.



It’s a strange thought. Something I don’t really think about thinking--not before it happens.



He doesn’t break eye contact with me as he takes off her clothes, his head angled away from her face. He winks, strangely, and I have to pause, trying to determine if it really happened. He looks at me the way Riley did that one day--looks at me like he knows I exist.



But his face recoils. That hard, blackened stare wavers, and his eyes widen now. It’s the first time their whites are exposed to the light. The shadows of his lashes streak over his eyelids. His lips tighten. It’s as if he’s seeing something horrendously grotesque. I glance at Riley, but there isn’t even a blemish on her skin that would hint as to why he’d have such a reaction.



He seems to stifle it, however. He grabs her by the waist, his fingers squeezing tight around her skin. He rips away a black dress, pulling it over her head and throwing it across the room. Her hair escapes its ponytail and falls across her exposed back.



He removes his own clothes and shoves his mouth against hers. She keeps her eyes open as their heads crunch unnaturally to fill the gaps between each other. I can see her grinning.



I don’t want to, I tell her. But it doesn’t matter what I want.



She moans, begs for more, but doesn’t close her eyes, doesn’t stop smiling.



“Ready?” he mumbles, looking down at her. He pushes a strand of her hair from her face. Her eyes lock on, and I see the way she looks at him--the way she looks at me, the way he looks at me. Her lips part slightly, revealing a sudden, elongated breath.



“Are you okay?”



She closes her eyes.



“Riley?”



Riley?



“What?” she snaps, and we can see again. She glares like he’s just woken her abruptly on a cold Saturday morning. We look around at the bedroom, how messy it looks.



“You good? Hey, what’s wrong?”



She shakes her head. Her teeth tighten and pinch the interior of her cheeks, the edges of her tongue.



He repeats it. Those awful words.



Are you okay?



The mirror between us tightens, contracting and distorting the images on the other side. Motion gets hazy--like watching her underwater--and I see her grab his shoulders, playfully, and then whip her knee into his testicles. He doubles over; the blurry outline of his body condenses.



He wails in pain, but she interrupts his shouts with a punch to the face--I know it by the thud of her knuckles against skull.



We close our eyes.



Thank God.



His screams are swells--resonating echoes with volume in waves. If the darkness is a blanket, then his shouts are the lullaby. Mother tucking me in. Telling me everything’s okay. That we can sleep now. We can always sleep.



But we wake up at there’s blood on the carpet. Dumb bitch didn’t think that through, did she? Blanket on the floor, blue glow from the nightlight scratching at her face. She has wrinkled cheeks that make shadows on her skin. She stares as her body falls limp, hits the ground with a dulled thud. There’s blood on the carpet.



There’s blood on the carpet. His throat pours. The slash of a knife--who had the knife?--sends it spilling like it’s been waiting for a very long time now, barricaded behind the dam of skin. Waves vibrate through the slate of sliding blood on his neck with each choked breath and gurgle of drowned air. His eyes are wide again, slivers of white outlining the black holes.



Riley places a hand on the wound, letting the red coat her fingers. When she pulls them away, they drip quietly like summer rain. She smiles. But did she stop smiling in the first place? I don’t remember.



At last, his thrashing gasps for air cease, and his body becomes still. He’s dead before the blood dries. She places her fingers on his eyelids, pulls them wider instead of shut. His mouth is still open. He becomes an eternal still frame of awe--a snapshot from a dusty Polaroid of a man seeing his surprise party at the moment it erupts.



She crawls over to me, reaches again for our fingertips to touch. Blood smears the mirror. I don’t know why, but part of her looks proud. That smile. God, that smile.



endmark





You have to believe me, it wasn’t me. It was her. That girl on the other side of the mirror. Panic sets in as she recoils her touch. I don’t know what will happen to her after this, but even more so, I don’t know what will happen to me.



Do I die if they take her away to prison? Can I die? After all this.



But it’s not fair. I couldn’t stop her.



I tremble but my body’s contained to stillness as she stares. Her eyes droop, and the skin of her face is weak, but her grin holds. She was so beautiful once.



There’s something that hits me--a fleeting thought that I want to ignore. Blood dripping down her smooth skin, a shine as it reflects the moonlight. It traces the crests of her flesh. It’s an elegant necklace cascading down her--a brook trickling through stones, a liquid web of a tarantula. I don’t want to think this, but she looks like a goddess, standing before me like that. I feel my heartbeat faster.



I want to close my eyes but I can’t.



Please.



She raises an eyebrow, licks the blood off her thumb.



Please, just let me go. Close your eyes. Let me stop.



She wipes her hand across her chest, smearing the blood across it. The pressure of tears swells inside me, unable to push free.



Please. Please.



I’m surprised when she listens, when her eyes sink shut, and I’m thrust into the sweet embrace of absolute darkness.



Thank you. Thank you thank you thank--



It doesn’t last. When we open our eyes, she holds a fist in the air, preparing to strike. I see the panic in her eyes. The thought hits me again, with more urgency this time: do I die?



It’s not fair. It was her. It was her who killed him. I didn’t want to. She pulled my hands, she trapped my skin. Her.



She screams. But maybe it’s more like a cry--her clawing from the bottom of a pit to be pulled out, set free.



We release our fists from stillness. Together, we pound mine at the mirror. There’s a sudden clamber of the shatter; it lingers after the impact as the pieces scatter against the wall and slide to the floor.



It’s dark for a while, but soon broken light speckles my vision from places I can’t quite see. It’s like being trapped under an infinite blanket, only this one has holes to let the light in that you can’t quite find. But I close my eyes, and after some time I find that it seems to slip away.



I pick myself up. Blood drips from my fist, tiny pieces of glass submerged beneath the flesh around my knuckles. I rinse them in the sink, removing the glass that can be easily extracted and saving the remains for tomorrow.



I crawl into bed. There’s a text from my sister. I glance down at it.



Are you okay?



But of course I’m okay. I’m just fine, in fact.



   
   

 

endmark



Sarah Liddle studies writing and math and the University of Colorado, Boulder, and works as a prose editor for the university's undergraduate journal, Walkabout. She also has work published in Litro Online.



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