Horror Four: Rising Moon
Ever wanted to think about nothing?
 by Ethan Cooper
Whispers in my ear.  No way to close these doors.
- The Shadow Tome

The wind blew lazily from the north and the skies were clear despite the predicted rain on this particular Monday, October 9th.  All was not well in the city of Nightshade.

In that little innocent house on the corner of Cedar and Washington--the one with the white, carless driveway and the well-kept front lawn, with the G.I.Joe Big Wheel on its side right in the middle, the one with the carefully tended marigolds lining the front walk leading to the crisply painted front door and the unlit porch light hanging ever so neatly--there was silence, at least there would be for a bit.  But who could tell what the future held?

Inside, Shani Dermur read her sister's diary of the past months:

Anticipation.  It all fits so well into that one word.  He'll be here any day now.  I can feel it.  So can everybody.  Like a mental link, we all know it won't be long now.  I don't portend to understand this link, but it is there.  I walk the house, not saying anything to anybody, but I can know, even feel their thoughts.  And they know mine.  Only smiles are passed.  But we know each other.  We--I can't wait.  But soon this endless tarry will end.  Soon, so soon.

Dad walks through the house trying to keep himself busy--quite unsuccessfully I must say.  Mom doesn't do much of anything.  She is of her own mind in situations like this, and she handles it in her own way.  Little brother and not-so-little sister feel the ever growing expectation of great things to come.  They are young, but keen in their understandings of the situation.  I watch them scurry about the house, and I find myself smiling at their youthful energy.  It gives me hope.  As for me, my feelings seem to perplex me for reasons unknown.  Do I feel joy?  Do I feel sadness?  Hope?  Fear?  Yes and no to all of the above thank you very kindly.  But it doesn't really matter, does it?  The schemes have been in motion now for too long, and they could not be stopped even if anybody wanted to.  The Coming will happen.  Perhaps I will know myself and my feelings better then.

He is near.  I dreamt about him last night.  He was in a perpetual darkness, surrounded by ink.  His innocent frame was floating before me, just out of reach.  I yearned to touch him--feel the texture of his skin beneath my fingers--but he was always just out of my grasp.  Then he called to me in whispers.  It wasn't so much that I heard his words, but more like I sensed them--almost in a physical way.  It was wonderful.

He was in my dreams again.  I thought it would be the same as last night, and it was for awhile.  But then some twisted part of my mind decided to intrude into my dreams.  I can't actually call what happened after that a dream, but neither can I call it a nightmare.  I only know that he was in front of me as before, loving and close.  And then I felt fear as I never had before.  There was nothing to be afraid of, but that didn't stop it from overwhelming me.  I had to get away.  I turned and ran from him.  I ran with the surge of adrenaline that one only gets when their senses tell them that death is trying to disembowel them with that crooked scythe of his.  You know how that is?  Your only thought is of moving your body as far from where you are as is possible--and as fast as possible.  I only ever remember having experienced that mortal type of fear when I was little--walking through the dark house in the middle of the night to get a drink of water and things like that.  And here I am, past my teens, running like a scared grade schooler.  Once, and only once, I looked over my shoulder.  He wasn't as I saw him before--he had mutated into something hideous.  I don't even remember what he looked like, but I think it might have been all the abominations my mind could fathom rolled into one.  I woke then.  Not screaming and sweating like you see in the movies or read in those cheesy horror novels.  Oh, my body jerked as if I had been yanked from sleep, and my eyelids flew open, but my soul was at ease.  My heart wasn't racing, and the fear was gone.

Thank God it was only a dream.

Tomorrow is the day.  Yes, he will come tomorrow.  How I know this, I do not know, but I am confident.  The wait is over.

Life.  Glorious life.  The sun, bright.

The One has come.  The whole family has waited so long.  Excited doesn't even begin to sum it up.  He is here to stay.  He belongs, already a part of the family.  In reality, he had been even before he came.  But now it's official, written in flesh, signed in tears, stamped in pain, and delivered with joy.

Shani scanned the clean, crisp pages in her hands.  These next entries were scattered, discontinuous.  Reading on:

Bustling activity continuous.  It will not end.  Faster, faster all the time.  But happiness lurks behind all the pandemonium.  He is innocence personified.

No time now.  Just wanted to write that I think I love him.  I know my family does.

It's been awhile since I last wrote.  Things have changed.  Something feels wrong.  It's him.  Not much time now.  Will write when I get a chance.

Cold ran through Shani's body, contracting muscles.  So this was where it had begun.  She had seen signs, but this was the start of it all.  Curious questions raged.  Perhaps answers were further on:

I finally have free time.  He keeps the whole family so busy, it's hard any more.

I hesitate to write what I know I must.  I have convinced myself that recording my thoughts is the only way to express my observations and still keep my sanity.

This sense of wrongness is something I cannot shake.  Maybe it's just my imagination, lack of sleep causing delusions.  I see him look at me, and there is happiness--for a second.  Then that shadow descends, blanketing me, my thoughts torqued into disarray.  Clouds darken my mind.  I don't know what to think.  So tired.  Maybe if I got a decent night's sleep...

I was lost in his eyes today.  They swallowed me--I could feel the hunger, the craving for my soul.  No.  Not soul, but mind.  It was my mind he wanted.  It's hard to explain.  I'm scared now.  But I must continue.  People would wonder about me if I let on to what I think.  Got to keep this a secret.  But it's hard to be subtle.  Especially when I'm near him.

I am in danger.  He knows.  I must have let something slip.  Some minuscule expression--frightened eyes, bent eyebrows--I don't remember.  It's too late for regret now.  Must think.  Lately it seems hard to think.

Shani found that her hands were slick with sweat.  The pages between her fingers had soaked up the sweat, leaving marks.  But all she noticed was the much later date on the next entry:

I hear him at night now.  Pounding, screaming, never-ending.  He is relentless.  At first, I thought I was dreaming.  You know, one of those half-awake dreams where reality is so closely infused with the fantasy that your mind can't sort out what is what.  I was foolish in my delusions that he was innocent.  My mind told me that he couldn't be the one doing this.  Him, the innocent of all innocents.  It just couldn't be!

How wrong I was.

I am able to resist.  He will not get to me.  I have sworn it to myself, sealed my pact with
blood--the wounds on the palms of my hands will attest to this.  That is all that has kept me these past few months.  But can it keep me much longer?  I pray that it does.  If not, I am lost.

Another gap here.  Almost three months missing.  For some reason, that was more frightening that Shani would have imagined.  Continuing:

The madness of it all.  The torture unending.  How I have survived these weeks I will never know.  The pain helps.  Not much, but at least there is something.  I must fight the numbness.  That's where the pain comes in.  He uses the numbness, and I fight back with self-infliction.  There is sanity in the fiery hot of a wounding.  The numbness brings only the opposite.  And so I fight--with the only weapon I have.

I have resolved to write every day.  I have not been faithful with that lately.  I blame myself and my weak will.  For awhile there he had the upper hand.  I will not fail in that manner again.  I will persevere, and I will not bow.

I would rather die.

Nothing to write about today.  I wage onward.  My mind asks me, "Is it worth it?"  I have no answer.  Maybe I never will.  Maybe more tomorrow.

I am undone.  He is winning.  I was a fool for thinking I could dodge his probes.  They struck me in the night and worked their perversions.  I lost a week.  Seven days!  I remember nothing.  A big blank is there where there should be memories.  I feel abused.  But it is my fault in the end, isn't it?  I was arrogant in my self-confidence.  I don't know if I can go on.  Maybe it would be better if I surrendered.  Sometimes my body cries out for the numbness, the comfort and warmness calling softly to me.  I don't know what to do.

Shani looked over her shoulder.  She was alone in her room--no one to watch her peek her nose into her sisters mind.  She glanced at her watch.  11:54.  Almost midnight.  She would have to hurry.  Her sister would be home soon from wherever she had mysteriously gone to.  With ever growing terror she peeked some more:

The gauntlet is thrown.  I have committed myself to the task.  He has pressed me, and I can wait no longer.  I will not sacrifice my mind to his evil willings.  I will do what it takes to save myself.

No matter the cost.

My family would never understand.  They would be shocked to learn of my dealings.  They are conveniently oblivious to the diabolic schemes that permeate his mind.  They are ignorant of his ravishing ways with my mind.  He has taken what is mine, and in return he leaves nothing but numbness--which is nothing at all.

So I must prepare myself for the task ahead.  My body is covered with wounds of my own doing.  To stay myself from his thoughts I have had to inflict more often recently.  Even more so tomorrow I suspect.  For tomorrow comes the reckoning.  And it will be the end of one of us.  When the witching hour strikes, I will do as I must.

I never thought that I would feel as I do.  As I prepare to perform my deed, I feel sadness.  This is curious, unexpected.  Not unreasonable though when all is considered.  I just never thought it would be like this.

Of course, I also never thought I would have to kill my baby brother.

Floods of realization engulfed Shani.  It was all so clear now.  Connections swirled through her mind, transparent ideas being brought to light.  Then the fear came.  It was like a cold icy hand of a corpse being dragged across her neck.  She shivered uncontrollably as her mind tried to cope with the shock.  What was her sister about to do?  The unthinkable.  No, it wasn't possible!  But it was.  There on those light yellow pages, the ones with the outline of a daisy at each corner, there was the proof.  Her sister was going to...

It just could not be!

Then one more entry caught her eye:

To my sister.  My beloved sister.  Forgive me.  I love you, Shani.

The words seemed to have eyes of their own, staring back at Shani.  Tears streamed.  Easily they came.  They ran for a few seconds, until it grabbed her.  Grabbed her with its hardened hands and shook her from her emotions.  It hit her violently, and she physically shook from the blow.

She had to stop her sister.

You see, she was the only one that could do it.  Their parents had left early that morning.  They had not returned as of yet.  Normally, she would have been a little worried about their prolonged absence, but she hadn't been.  She hadn't given it a second thought until now.  For some reason, it just hadn't bothered her.  But now things were different.  Things were bad.  Much worse than bad in fact.  Things were out of control.  She could see that much.  Now she questioned them being gone for so long.  What could have gone wrong?  Was there some other reason for their delayed arrival?  Was this her sister's doing?  So many questions, and so little time.

Shani heard a noise.  The front door being opened.  He watch told her that it was 11:59.  Almost straight up midnight.  The witching hour.  She had the sinking feeling that the answers to her questions would be answered all too soon.

Shani was in her own room, the door closed, so her mind bludgeoned her with questions.  Who had opened the door?  Was it her parents?  Her sister?  There was no way to tell short of opening the door.  And if it was her sister...  Shani shuddered.

There were footsteps now.  Closer.  Passing the door, down the hall to the left.  Receding now, fast.  Savior or slayer?  Answers would not come until Shani opened the door.  She realized this.  And so the door opened.  Later, Shani would not be able to recall that she had got off the bed, laying her sister's diary down neatly in the center of the covering quilt.  She would not remember walking, calmly, unthinking, over to the door, grasping the doorknob in her right hand, twisting it silently.  Nor would she remember her arm pulling the door open.  But all that did happen.  And there she stood, in the doorway, staring down the hall to the left.  The door at the far end of the hall was just closing.

The door led to her baby brother's room.

Shani walked down the hall, pausing in front of the door, her senses alert, her head inclined toward the door.  It was silent in there as was as she could tell.  She reached for the handle, but brought her hand up short, uncertain suddenly.  This is insane! her mind told her.  No, correction.  Her sister was insane.  She had lost it.  Something had pushed her over that impossibly high cliff--the one with the ragged, life-taking rocks below, and that long fall that ended not in death but with the loss of ordered though processes.  Insane!  My sister!  Kill my brother?  My baby brother!  She wanted to deny it.  But that's impossible!  That doesn't happen in real life!  That's only for those late night movies!  No, it just wasn't possible. Then how do you explain the diary? her mind asked.  Shani had no reply to that one.  Her mind began to scream at her, frantic.  Look, girl, it was all there right in front of your eyes!  There in that diary--words of evil, the insane thoughts of a demented mind!  You can't deny what you saw!  You cannot!  Your sister, your only sister is in that room right now  preparing to do the unthinkable!  And what are you doing?  You're standing here like a frightened two-year old!  Aren't you listening?  Your brother is going to die!  Did you hear that?  DIE!  As in DEAD!  If you don't get your fourteen-year old butt in there and stop her, it will be YOUR fault!



Shani couldn't hold back the tears.  I don't want that, she thought.


It was that last sentence screeching in her ears that shook her from her hesitation, her muscles contracting as if she had been startled.  Her hand touched the doorknob.  Still silence behind the door.  Wait.  What if it was already too late?  What if the deed had been done?  Horrid visions of slaughter flashed in her mind--her brother dead, slashed through repeatedly, her sister's hands covered in blood, a knife on the floor.  She felt like vomiting at the mere thought.  No.  Not now.  No, couldn't do that now, no time for being weak and frail--that could come later- -if there was a later.

As her hand began to twist the doorknob, her mind flashed: Hold on a sec, dear, on second thought, maybe you should just go for help you being so young and all, I mean, you're just a puny little girl barely in your teens, skinny and weak and dumb, not even old enough to drive a car or go out on a date with a guy or stay up really late or see an R-rated flick or anything grownup like that, and mom and dad won't even let you go to the mall or to the movies or even to those church picnics without somebody else to tag along, all you're good for is taking care of the baby and fighting with your younger brother, other than that, you take up a bed each night and consume food, really you're basically just a big fat ugly black hole which sucks money like there's no tomorrow, and remember how you always pester mom and dad about new clothes and new this and new that when you know perfectly well that you have everything you need, and what about how you treat your sister, always jealous of everything about her--beauty, clothes, boyfriends--and you've always treated her like she's white with leprosy--UNCLEAN!  UNCLEAN!--you would have screamed that at her many a day if you had thought you could get away with it, she's your sister, your only sister, and it's all your fault, maybe if you had acted differently from the beginning, treated her the way sisters are supposed to treat each other, been NICE to her instead of brutal, maybe, just maybe things would be different, but no, it's too late, oh it's much too late for that, my dear, all bets are in and that obese female type person is clearing her throat for the big belch, and your baby brother is going to live a maximum of--oh, about TWO SECONDS before your sister knifes him in the heart, and you caused it, and there's nothing you can do, nothing at all, what were you thinking you could do--run in there and save the day?--give me A BREAK, girl, you got delusions of grandeur and it's gonna get you six feet deep, with earthworms as the only things to talk to, and they'll just be munching on your toes--crunchitty crunch--so why don't you just take your sweaty little hand off that doorknob and go call that next door neighbor who's a policeman or even 911, ‘cause they're all trained in this psycho stuff, and they'll make things right where you made them wrong, because there's nothing, absolutely nothing you can do you snot-nosed, sniveling little--

Shani shut the voice up by turning the doorknob the rest of the way and pushing the door open.  Somehow she managed to keep her eyes open as the door swung inward, giving her a full, uncensored view of her brother's room and all its inhabitants.

Needless to say. Shani was not prepared for what she saw.  It was beyond...feasibility.

Shani's mother had set aside this room when she had first known she was pregnant with Shani's older sister.  All three of the older children had used it in turn, and now it was in use for the fourth time.  There was just enough room for everything--crib and playpen and all the other miscellaneous crap that babies needed to survive their infancy.  The door on the right side wall led to the master bedroom, just right for those middle-of-the-night wakings.  A window on the far wall let cheery sunbeams sneak in and paint the floor in the afternoons.  And it had all looked so right when Shani's parents had repainted the walls.

Now the walls were painted with something else.

Streaks of crimson everywhere, criss-crossing, weaving, overlapping.  It was like they had been applied by somebody who had pricked their finger and wiped it on the wall.  Hundreds, maybe thousands of streaks.  The streaks dripped, sliding down the smooth wall surfaces.  In some places, the red was so thin, that their combining with the light blue tint of the wall gave off an almost purple hue.

Just spray paint, right? Shani asked herself.

Of course, her mind spat back.  That's all it is--spray paint--red spray paint to be precise!  Sure!  Your sister came in here and decided to redecorate!  Nice touch don't you think?  Reminds me of Post-Cubist-Neo-Modern-SLASHER!  No, really, it does!  Now just tell me one thing if you please--ARE YOU STUPID OR SOMETHING?!?!  That stuff on the walls is BLOOD!  Like DUH!  And it's gonna be flowing tonight, baby!  Righty-O!  Maybe even from you--

Shani cut the voice off, but this time it was only because her eyes had come to rest on the left wall where her brother's crib was.  She couldn't see him through the blanket that was draped over the sides of the crib.  Was he in there?  Oh, God, she prayed, let him be alive!  Her only thoughts were to see him safe.  She stepped into the room, walking towards the crib.  The wall above her brother's crib caught her attention.  The streaks of blood there were more orderly.  They spelled out something, but tears clogging her eyes prevented her from reading what they spelled.  She wiped her hand across her eyes and read the jagged letters:

 Die Ravisher!


Shani stopped the scream in her throat.  Just barely.  Her hand had gone over her mouth to stifle it. Her hand trembled against her lips, but the rest of her body was strangely under control, perhaps shocked into that state.  Those two words inscribed upon the wall's surface in that child- like scrawl brought up a well of sheer repulsion in her soul.  Then a new feeling came, one she hadn't felt in awhile.  It was anger.  Sheer, uninhibited rage overflowing.  She rushed toward her brother's crib.  "Brian!" she cried.  Her brother's name somehow echoed in the confines of the room.  If her sister had done anything--

But her youngest sibling was right there.  Asleep, he was asleep!  He was breathing softly, silent and beautiful and angelic in that crib, his blanket surrounding him with infantized, diaper-clad Mickeys and Minnies.  He truly was innocence personified, wasn't he?  Shani loved him--her feelings welling deep within her.  She smiled--couldn't help it.  She wanted to touch him--hold him, cradled close, but the thought of waking him stopped her.  Her heart slowly crept down from her throat and back to where it belonged as she realized that her fears hadn't been realized.  Her brother was alive.  For a moment everything was under control.

Then the fear was back, ripping, raking through her mind.  It wasn't safe, not at all.  A single question shoved itself to the front of her thoughts: Where is my sister?  Shani knew she had been here--the walls spoke of that.  But now--now where?  Excuse me, her mind said, aren't you forgetting something?  There's more than one door to this room!  Now, just how much do you want to throw on the table that she's in your parent's bedroom?  Shani knew it was true, felt it.  And that meant she had to move fast.  She reached for her brother, her hands only microseconds away from his small body before her ears picked up the noise.  The noise was coming from behind her.  Don't turn around!  Just get Brian and get out of there!  But her body was quicker than her thoughts this time, and her head was already turning.  Shani whipped her head to the right, away from her brother, toward the far wall, toward the noise.

The noise was a result of the door to her parent's bedroom opening.

Shani stood unmoving for an instant, watching the door swing open, her body and her mind telling her to run, but she was held fast.  Her mind shrieked: She coming through the door!  Forget your brother, and leave before she comes after you!  You can make it, you know you can, girl, the door to the hall is right there, just a second for you to reach it and escape, okay?  Yeah, that's right, 'cause I don't know about you, but I want to live long enough to grow up and get married and have kids and other adult stuff like that, and that just isn't going to happen if you stay here and let your sister work her evil, I mean do you really have ANY idea what she could do to you?  She's so sick she could disembowel you with a pencil or saw your fingers off joint by joint with a pair of rusty scissors and not bat an eye!  Get my drift, honey?  So let's just stroll on out of this slaughterhouse as fast as those skinny little legs can carry us, okay?  That's a good girl.

This time, Shani found herself following the advice, moving toward escape as fast as she could.  It was a move of self-preservation at its base levels.  The save-Shani's-life-at-any-cost adrenaline rush was in full effect here, boys and girls.  It was a nerves tight, breath quick, eyes darting, short dark hair flailing across eyes, save-me-God-please-don't-let-her-see-me dash toward the hallway.  Shani hadn't known she could move as quick as she had.  She was out in the hallway before the door had swung another two inches.  Shani didn't know how she had done it, but she was oh so relieved that she had.  She leaned up against the wall next to the nursery door, breath quick, sweat descending.  Her ears picked up a creak inside--someone stepping from her parent's bedroom.

Why have you stopped?  Get out of here! came to her first.

Next: You're leaving your brother to be mutilated by your own sister!  That evil witch!  But then again, who is really going to be the witch here?  Your sister for killing him, or YOU for not defending him?  You know the answer, now SAVE HIM YOU GUTLESS WENCH!

Shani wanted to scream, break down and cry, laugh, go mad.  Those voices!  Constant voices!  What to do what to do what to do?

You're wasting time!

You will die!

Brother will die!

Save yourself!

His death on your head!

Your blood flowing!



Choice, choices everywhere and not a decision to be seen.  Shani closed her eyes against the battle inside her head.  The war didn't stop, but something inside Shani snapped--as if two people had been pulling on a frayed rope which had suddenly broken in two, sending them sprawling backwards.

Torrents of guilt flooded over her.  What am I doing?!?  I left him to DIE!  She's going to kill him!  I've got to get in there!  Her thoughts were somehow her own again.  She had a purpose, a mission--and it was ever so clear in her mind.  Clearer than it had ever been.  She had a instant appreciation for clear thinking.  She opened her eyes.  Save Brian! flashed through her.  With that, she stepped back into the nursery, shoving the door wide.  She stepped inside and said her sister's name.


It hadn't been loud, just commanding.  Regardless, it had the desired effect.

Nicole was over by Brian's crib, kneeling in front of it, her back to Shani.  At the sound of her name, she looked up.  Shani could only see the back of Nicole's head swiveling and jerking, confused, looking for the source of the voice.  Then, as if a sudden realization had come to her, Nicole turned her head around, standing up simultaneously.  Her eyes came up, locking with Shani's.

"Shani?" Nicole said hesitantly.  It was only a whisper, as if that was all she could put out.

Shani tried to reply, but nothing would come--her sister's appearance strangling her vocal cords.  Nicole was thinner than Shani had ever seen her.  Her skin seemed stretched across her bones, joints obvious, ribs protruding, muscles small underneath.  Her legs looked as if they should not be able to hold the weight of her upper body--they trembled slightly under the strain.  She didn't look as if she could stand completely upright.  Her torso was slightly hunched, and her left shoulder dipped a little.  It was as if it was taking all her strength just to keep from collapsing to the floor.  Obscenely, she was dress all in white.  But her clothes were ragged, torn everywhere.  Her shirt was ripped in great slashes, exposing her collarbone.  One sleeve was completely off, the neckline only being held together by a single thread.  The other side of her shirt was off-the-shoulder, the smooth skin beneath revealed.  Her midriff was bare, bellybutton exposed, white strips of material hanging down in front of it.  She wore shorts--at least that's what they were now--shredded holes polka-dotting the material as if it had been blasted with a shotgun.  But it wasn't her sister's clothes that stunned Shani.  They were nothing compared to the rest of her body.  Nicole's skin was covered with tiny cuts.  Hundreds of little slashes, tiny red rivers flowing from many of them.  There were so many!  Littering her arms, marring her legs, painting her abdomen, and polluting the surface of her neck.  The whole of her body seemed to swell with the thin gashes--each no longer or wider than a toothpick.  Shani could see that some of the wounds had healed once but had been reopened to bleed again.

"Sister," Nicole managed.  Was it a plea?

Shani's eyes locked again onto her sister's face, and noticed for the first time that there were no cuts there.  Her face, in start contrast to the rest of her body, was clear, pure and unblemished, pretty as ever.  Her long blonde hair falling down, framing her face, stray wisps touching her cheeks.  For a second, Shani felt that touch of jealousy which had risen up many times before.  The question: Why did God make her gorgeous?  Why her and not me?

The question flew from Shani's mind as Nicole continued to stare her down.  Her eyes were bloodshot, but somehow it didn't affect the stark contrast of her face to the rest of her appearance.

"You should not be here.  It is dangerous."

Shani actually agreed with that one.  It was extremely dangerous.  She could see a knife in Nicole's left hand.  Her hand was actually a little behind her, the blade resting against the back of her leg--almost out of sight, but not quite.

Shani waved her hand around.  "Did you do all of this?"  The question was rhetorical.

"You need to leave.  Now."


"It is dangerous."

"Where are mom and dad?"  Shani was now sure they were not among the living.

Nicole didn't quite flinch, but her eyes jerked, eyelids fluttering madly.  Shani wasn't quite sure how to interpret that reaction.  Nicole's voice pleaded , "Leave now...please!"

"And Mark?  What about him?  Where is your brother?  Where is our brother?"

Eyelids spasmatic.  "Shani!  I'm begging you.  Leave now.  I--I am trying to save your life!  Go!  Just go, or...or--"

"Or what?" Shani asked.  "You'll kill me just like you did them?  That's it isn't it?  You killed them, didn't you?"

Nicole shook her head.  "No--"

"Yes, you did!  You killed them!  You murdered your own family, you--"

"No, I didn't.  They--they..."  Nicole looked as if she were trying to remember something, her eyes swinging down to the ground, her brow bent.

"They what?"


This surprised Shani--her sister had said it so convincingly that she wanted to believe it--but no, no it could be.  Nicole had slit the throats of her mother, father, and younger brother and now their bodies were lying God-knows-where in little pools of red, their mouths gaping in traditional dead-like fashion.  And if she had her way, Shani and Brian would soon be joining in the fun--a corpse family reunion in all its putrid glory.

Now the anger was back, hotter, redder than before.  "You killed them, you witch!"

"No...No...I would not hurt them!"

"You're a sick person!  You hear that, Nicole?  Sick!"

Nicole was shaking her head now, violently, her left hand momentarily bringing the knife into full view before pulling it back.  "No...NO!  I could never hurt them!  They're my family!  I love them!  Can't you see that?  That's why I sent them away!  I didn't want them to die!"

"Away?" Shani asked, curious suddenly.

"Yes, away from here.  Not far and not for long, but they are safe."

Could it be true?  Shani hesitated.  What if her sister was telling the truth?  Perhaps Shani was worrying for nothing.  "What do you mean, you sent them?"

"I--I cannot explain it.  But I know that they...are...safe..."  She trailed off, her words forced.  She appeared to be fighting some inner struggle.  Her eyebrows twitched and her eyelids spasmed like the wings of a hummingbird.  Her left arm twitched ever so slightly.  Shani thought about diving for the knife, but after a moment, Nicole's face cleared, muscles relaxing, beautiful once again.  Was that a smile on her lips?  Shani looked down.  The knife was in view again, but now there was blood on the tip.  Shani was puzzled for a second, but then the reality of what her sister had just done hit her.

God, please don't let me throw up right here!  I don't know if I can take much more of this!  "What about Brian?" Shani asked, her eyes straying to the crimson-tipped knife again.  The blade is serrated!  Where did she get that thing?  Shani knew that it wasn't from the kitchen.

"The ravisher must die," Nicole answered simply.

"No!  You're crazy!"

"You don't even know how right you may be.  Nevertheless, he must--will die."

Shani took a step forward.  "Why?  WHY?  Why do you want to harm him?  He's your brother!"

Nicole's body began to tremble.  Then words exploded from her mouth, words conjured from that place where rage is king and fury is queen.  "Why?  I'll tell you why!"  Nicole waved her right hand toward Brian's crib.  "Because he--that is not what it appears to be!"

This was madness.  "He's only your--"

"--baby brother?  That is true.  It is my brother.  But it is also something else."

"Your talking nonsense!"

"Something evil."

If the situation had been a little less tense, Shani would have laughed.  An overused cliché like that--she could almost picture the late-night horror movie, bad special effects and all.  "Don't give me that garbage!"   Shani took another step towards her sister.  "Brian is not the problem here!  You are!"

Nicole shook her head, taking a step back.  "You don't understand!"

"Something is wrong with you, Nicole!  Something serious.  Don't you see that?  Normal people do not act how you are acting.  I read your diary, and I had to realize that--"

"You read my diary?" Nicole asked.  Her eyes were wandering, seemingly distracted or perhaps just unfocused.

"Yes I did, and I think that you need help.  Professional help.  I'm worried for you, and I want to help."  Shani looked down at the knife.  It was hidden again.

"You read my diary?" Nicole asked a second time, this time her eyes on Shani.

Shani answered cautiously, "Yes."

"The entire thing?"

"All of it."

"So that means you read the last entry?"

Shani would never forget that last line.  "Yes."

Nicole looked as if she was going to cry.  Some invisible weight appeared to be grinding her down, and her weariness was apparent.  Her head quivered slightly, the ends of her hair waving back and forth.  Her voice was quiet when she spoke, "I meant what I wrote.  You can believe that or not."

Shani felt a feeling of warmth inside her.  It was a closeness, a kinsmanship that only members of the same family--that only sisters can have together.  No one else can have this feeling, no one else can be this close, Shani thought.  "And I love you too."

"Do you?"  Nicole's eyebrows raised, hopeful.

Didn't she know that already?  Shani asked herself.  Of course not, moron, you haven't told her recently have you?  HAVE YOU!?!  As a matter of fact, have you EVER told her?  If you have, I'm sure you can't remember.  Why, you're probably up for Sister of the Year you selfish little brat.  A fine sister you've made!  And it's too late to do anything about it, isn't it?  Yes siree, you screwed this one up like a natural!  Why, you could write a book!  One of those self- help deals!  I can see it now: "Shani's Way: How to Destroy Relationships with Family Members in 10 Easy Steps."  It'll be a crash-boom best-seller, you betcha!  Probably outsell old Mister Limbaugh's books by a mile!  You could even go on Letterman.  Hey!  He might even devote a whole segment to you--Stupid Sister Tricks!  Wowsers, I can't wait to see that!

Shani listened to the voice, letting it run its course.  Are you done now?  she asked.

That's all for the moment, but give me a second and I can think of something else with which to obliterate your self-esteem!  It's really not all that hard you know.  You know what, I bet even YOU could do it if you tried!  Now there's a dandy idea if I ever heard one.  Whaddya say?  Want to give it a go?  Come on, it'll be gobs of fun!  Yipee!


And the voice was gone.  Her mind was silent.  Good.

"Of course I do.  I'm your sister."  Shani took another step forward.  She was only three feet away now.

Nicole continued to look wary, as if wanting to believe.

"Nicole," Shani said firmly, "I love you!"  And she meant it with all her heart.  She realized that she had never said anything like that before and had meant it so much as she did right then.  Nicole had been blessed with one of those smiles that tended to spread to other people.  A serious version of one had etched itself across her face.  Her words came out fast and incomplete, only phrases at best.  "I--I--You don't know how long I've wanted to hear you say that.  I know that sisters aren't supposed to need to say things like that to each other, b--but I wanted--I needed to hear that."

Shani let a hint of a smile creep across her lips.  She couldn't help it--there was a joy present in the room that had definitely not been there only seconds before.

Nicole eyes jerked erratically, her voice wavering, but she looked relieved.  "I can't even--I mean I don't know what to--it's like I always wanted you to--but you never--and I never--and then every thing got so complicated with Brian--I got so confused that I--"  Nicole stopped suddenly, then she burst into tears, her right hand coming up to her eyes, her head turning slightly to the side, her hair flinging to hide the rivers of liquid flowing down her cheeks.  Shani closed the gap between them.  She wrapped her arms around her sister.  Nicole collapsed onto her knees, pulling Shani down with her, crying on the offered shoulder.  Nicole's right hand clawed at Shani's back, pulling her close.  Her left hand, hanging limply to the ground, was still fused to the knife.  Shani saw it from the corner of her eyes, a metallic gleam shining in her retina, but made no move to take it.  Shani just held her sister as the outpour of suppressed emotions continued.  Nicole's body shook, and Shani held her as tight and as close as she could without causing her sister pain, but Nicole pressed near, apparently ignoring the agony that the pressure on all those open wounds would cause her.

All that mattered to Shani was her sister and the emotional hurt she was experiencing.  The wetness of Nicole's tears on her shoulder were insignificant.  It wasn't important that Nicole's clothes were torn, barely clinging to her body.  The wounds Nicole had inflicted on herself could be dealt with later.  It was of no consequence that those same wounds were smearing bloody streaks across Shani's clothes and skin.  It didn't matter what Nicole had done before.  That was in the past.  Their parents were safe.  Mark was safe.  Brian was safe.  Nicole was safe.  Shani was safe.  Everything would be all right.  Shani could see that now.  She loved her sister, and her sister loved her.  In the end, that was all that mattered, wasn't it?

And so Shani held her sister.  She was patient.  She would hold her sister for as long as her sister wanted her to.  She would be there for her sister, to lean on, to cling to, to cry with--no matter the reason.  This was a turning point.  Shani knew that much--she had felt the transformation wash over her.  Things would be different from now on.  No more fighting with Nicole--no more arguments, no more bitterness, no hate--get thee from me most putrid of emotions, no more vomit does this dog want to eat!  She felt free, clean.  It was wonderful!  Could she fly at that moment?  She thought she might if she let go of her sister.  But that wasn't going to happen.  She would never let go.  Never!  Not ever again.

Shani smoothed her sister's hair as Nicole's weeping subsided.  Shani realized that her cheeks were wet with tears of her own.  When they had come, she didn't know, but she did know that they were good.  They were a right in a world that was so blatantly wrong.  And the release that came with them was a wonderful thing.

Nicole exhaled deeply and looked at Shani.  There was a smile there.  That was another good thing.  Nicole's eyes seemed brighter, less bloodshot, despite the fact that she had been crying.  Nicole tried to stand, but her legs faltered and she stumbled, grabbing onto Shani for support.  Shani helped her up, gently.  Shani saw that Nicole still held the knife.  Her bloodstained hand was gnarled around it's handle as if welded there, the muscles on her arm tense from the strain.  She didn't appear to notice that she was still holding it.  It was as if it was now a part of her flesh, a serrated extension growing from bone and skin.  She had obviously forgotten that it was still in her hand.  As they rose, Shani kept her eyes on the blade, but her eyes were distracted as she noticed Nicole's left shoulder.  There was a mark there.  It was partially covered by the shreds of Nicole's shirt.  It was not a wound, but--

Shani placed her hand lightly on her sister's shoulder.  "What's this?"

Nicole turned her head.  "What's what?"

"This," Shani answered, pulling the material away.  Her mouth dropped a little.  "When did you get a tattoo?"

"A tattoo?  Never!  Why did you ask that?"

"Because you have one on your shoulder."

"A tattoo?"

"Yes."  Shani's mouth dropped a little more as she gazed at her sister's engraved flesh.

"Well, what is it of?"

"I--I don't know."  And she didn't.  But there it was, just behind Nicole's shoulder:

Bow to Gaegaronokl
Bow to Gægaronok
Questions came furiously.  What was that?  Who was Gægaronok?  Why did her sister not know of the tattoo?  How had she received it?  Was her sister lying?  Was this all a hallucination?  Just what was going on?

Her finger strayed to touch the little icon.  She felt the uneven skin for only a second, but it had its effect.  A feeling--no, a memory had come to her.  How to describe it?  Old.  Yes, old and ancient.  So ancient so as to boggle the imagination.  But there was also something else.  Something dead.  Dead and rotting.  A feeling of repulsion filled Shani so suddenly that she felt her stomach heave.

"Shani, what are you do--ooooooing!!" Nicole hissed as Shani's hand involuntarily tightened on her shoulder, digging into the fresh wounds there.  But Shani couldn't let go.  Control of her hand was hers no longer.

"Let go!" Nicole yelled through clenched teeth.

Shani pulled at her arm.  "I can't!"

With unimaginable strength, Nicole grabbed Shani's wrist with her right hand and yanked.  The violence with which she did it took Shani by surprise.  Shani's hand slipped off as if it had been coated with grease, and the force of the action took her from her feet.  She crashed to the ground awkwardly, only her body's natural reflexes saving her from a broken tailbone.

Nicole favored her left shoulder with her right arm.  "What's wrong with you?"

Shani attempted to stand.  "I...I..."  She couldn't speak.  She could taste bile in her mouth, and it was making her eyes water.  There's a switch, Shani thought.  She's asking what's wrong with me?  A few minutes ago it was the other way around.

"Here, let me help you," Nicole said.  She limped closer.  The limp was quite pronounced.

"I'm sorry, Nicole, I don't know what happened there.  I just couldn't let go."  Shani stood beside her sister.  She was a head shorter, and had to look up to meet her sister's gaze.

Nicole averted her eyes.  "We need to talk."

"Yes, we do."

"About a lot of stuff."

Shani surveyed the room and its slaughterhouse decor.  "Yes, I think you could say that."

And then a cry filled the room.  Brian was awake.

For a second the two sisters just stood there unmoving.  Shani wondered what her sister would do.  That knife was still in her hand, no longer hidden.  Nicole may have forgotten about it, but Shani certainly had not.  Shani watched her sister turn her head toward Brian's crib.  Nicole didn't move.  When it was clear that Nicole wasn't going to do anything, Shani walked over to her brother.  He stopped crying as soon as he saw her.  She smiled.  He giggled, jogging all four of his limbs in delight.

"Hey there, handsome," Shani said.

"We need to talk now," Nicole said from behind Shani.

"In a second, Nicole."  Just let me spend a few more seconds with the cutest brother in the world.

"There isn't much time, Shani.  This isn't over you know."

Shani hadn't heard her sister.  Brian stopped giggling.  He noticed his pacifier was lying on his chest--Shani was surprised that it hadn't fallen off during his slumber--and curled his fingers around it.  Then with a laugh, he threw it toward Shani, bonking her on the chest.  She jerked back at first, but couldn't help from bursting out laughing.

"What's so funny?" Nicole asked.

"Oh, just him."

"Okay, let's talk now."

"Okay." Shani reached down to tickle Brian's tummy.

"Gægaronok!" Brian said cheerfully.

This time, Shani's mouth fell to the floor.  Whoa now!  Easy there!  Now if that doesn't beat the heat, I sure don't know what does!  Now you've lost it, sister.  Just took an oar out of the water, and that only leaves you with one!  I think we just burned that last bridge to the rational world! But wait, we wouldn't want things to get out of control!  OOPS!  Too late for that!  The train just got into the station at Insane Central.  All aboard for colorful lights, uncombed hair, restricting jackets, and slobbering mouths!  You think your little brother is talking strange words in unknown tongues?  Hoo boy!  Have we got an applicant for the Nightshade City Mental Ward here, or WHAT?

Then Nicole's voice cut through Shani's mind.  "Did Brian just say something?"

"No!" Shani said a little too loudly.

"GÆGARONOK!" Brain said again, screaming it this time.

Inexplicably, the room was completely silent for exactly five seconds.  Shani stood there with her mouth open, her eyes gaping at her brother.  She could feel the strength going out of her legs. She didn't know if she would be able to stand erect much longer.  Her eyes flashed from Brian to Nicole and back and forth.  Brian just lay on his back as he had been, examining the ceiling with all the interest of an architect.  Nicole was shaking, noiselessly shivering from some unknown coldness with seemed to be channeling through her.  Her eyelids fluttered and her arms flailed, the knife in her left hand digging more wounds in random places on her left leg.  Droplets of blood from the knife's jagged edge plopped silently to the floor, discorporating on impact into sprays of red rain which sprinkled the carpet beside her feet.  Shani was horrified, but at the same time amazed at the quiet of it all.  Maybe there was something wrong with her hearing.  Shani didn't know, and didn't have the time to dwell on it long.  But for those five impossibly long seconds there was nothing.

Then hell itself entered the room.  And it was there to party.

"RAVISHER!" Nicole screamed, no longer weak.  The knife was in front of her now, brandished menacingly and skillfully.  Her countenance had become something that was anything but frail.  Her muscles rippled under her skin.  She advanced a step toward Shani, her steps true and unwavering.  Shani saw wounds all over her body reopening with every movement she made. "You will die now!"

Nonononono, this isn't happening! Shani's mind raged.  What happened?!?  She was fine just a moment ago!  This is insane!  What causes this madness?  Oh God, help me!

"Nicole?  What are you doing?"  Shani had tried to speak in a calm, authoritative tone, but her voice came out squeaky and rather mouse-like.

"Move away, Shani," Nicole said.  They were said evenly and with force.  They were words with danger behind them.  Shani could have imagined Death himself speaking those words.

"What are you going to do, Nicole?"

Nicole advanced.  "I'm going to purge this house of the evil which infests it."

Shani backed up, her back banging against Brian's crib.  Nowhere to run now.  Nicole was closer now.  Shani knew at that moment that this was the end.  Her sister was too far gone to be saved.  She stalled, "I--I thought you wanted t--to talk about something."

"The time for talk is past.  Now, move out of the way!"

"No!  You are not going to hurt him!"  Shani spread her arms wide, blocking the crib with her body.  She thought furiously, groping for an action to take--anything that might get her and Brian out of this alive, but her mind balked:  What, now you need MY help?  That sure is rich!  Always telling me to shut up!  Well, if you think I'm at your beck and call twenty-four hours a day, you have a few things to learn, my girl, because you got yourself in a mess this time, and it looks to be a might dangerous, and you know I'm not the Rambo type, and with me being female and all, I just can't get into that macho save-the-day-and-get-the-girl-in-the-end junk which never really happens in real life, no way no how, little Miss Brainless, so even if you do mind, I feel like getting my cute little butt out of Dodge just as fast as my even cuter little legs can carry me, I think I'll just sit this one out, yep, gonna jest lay back in that old comfy chair you call your skull and have myself a deep slumber till this blows over or your dead, which ever it is, and if you want my guess, it's gonna be Door Number Two if you please, Monty, anyway, have fun with this one on your own, and don't forget to write, that is, if you don't get dismembered in the next thirty seconds!  Have a nice day, knobby knees!  Okay?  I love you, bye bye!

"This is your last chance, Shani!  Move out of the way!"

"Nicole, please!" Shani cried!

Nicole was only an arm's length away, now.  The knife was only six inches from Shani's face.  She could see the jagged bottom edge of the blade, blood smearing the shining metal on both sides.  Too close.  There was no room for movement.  Only three inches now.  Shani could actually smell the blood on the blade, and she imagined that she could even taste it in the air.  Two inches.  Then Shani did something she had never done before.

She kicked her sister in the stomach as hard as she could.

The strength and resolve had come from some hidden well deep inside Shani.  The tension between the two sisters had never before come to physical blows.  That might have been considered unusual, but fighting was just not tolerated in the Dermur household.  Although there was no doubt that Shani had felt the urge to strike her sister more than once before, until now she hadn't had the nerve.  She knew that bigger sisters could usually beat the living snot out of little sisters if they ever were of the mindset.  And Nicole would have been no exception to this idea.  She was young and healthy, keeping her body in shape with many hours at that fitness center a couple of miles away and daily bike rides to Nightshade College every weekday.  Anyone could look at Nicole and tell from those well-toned muscles that she wasn't deficient in the strength and endurance departments.  And anyway, she was over six years older than Shani.  That alone had been enough to give Shani pause.  But now things were different.

It was a difficult maneuver on account of the knife so close to her face, but she jerked her head back, hair swinging into her mouth, pivoted on her left foot, arms flailing for balance, and shoved her foot upward and forward.  Shani's right Reebok slammed into Nicole's stomach with enough force to knock Nicole from her feet.  Nicole hit the ground harder than she should have, but she hadn't let go of the knife, and the result was that all of her weight was placed on her right hand, which crumpled unnaturally beneath her back.  Nicole's head snapped sideways, her right temple impacting with the ground.  On account of the thick carpet there were only dull thudding sounds as her various limbs hit the floor.

"Stay away from my brother, you monster!" Shani said, spitting hair from her mouth.  "I won't let you harm him!"

Writhing on her back, Nicole's face was enveloped with pain.  With what appeared to be a monumental effort, she pulled her right arm out from underneath her.  She sat up, her right arm hanging uselessly at her side, her wrist bent, fingers twisted in almost cartoon-like distortions.

Shani didn't care.  For the moment, the figure on the floor was no longer her sister.  She was something else.  "Get up, and I'll knock you back down."  She wasn't actually sure if she was capable of carrying out that particular threat.  She could feel her knees beginning to shake, and her arms were unsteady, her body overdosing on adrenaline.

Nicole lifted the knife in front of her, then looked up at Shani.  "You don't know what you're doing!  You don't know what he's doing to you!"

"He's not doing anything!  You are!"

The Nicole's voice was quiet.  "You wouldn't object if you knew what he's done to me.  His crimes and abuses against me are unspeakable!"

"That's insane!"

"You can only say that because you haven't been ravished!  You don't know what it's like!"

"He hasn't done anything to you, Nicole!  For heaven's sake, he's your baby brother!"

"In form, yes."

"Give me a break!"  Shani threw up her hands.

Nicole shifted her legs sideways.  Was she going to stand?  "Get this through your head, Shani!  He has laid waste to my soul!  He has stolen myself from me!  The things that make me ME are no longer there!  Don't you understand?  HE RAPED MY MIND!!"

But Shani wasn't listening, shaking her head.  But what could she do?  She didn't think there was a way to grab Brian and get out of the room before Nicole could get up.  But what options were there?  Do harm to Nicole?  Kill her?  Shani repulsed at that idea.  Even if Shani was possibly capable of carrying out mortal violence, she would not.  She wasn't able to do something so against, so contrary to her nature.  Maybe she could disable Nicole--hurt her enough to incapacitate her.  Then, after she escaped, she could get Nicole the help she needed.  Oh God, where are my parents?  I'm not strong enough for this!

Nicole shifted again, putting the hand with the knife on the floor, muscles tense in that arm, ready.

"Stay down," Shani said.  What's she gonna do?  Please stay down!  I don't want to hurt you again.

When Nicole moved, it was so quick that Shani was caught entirely off guard.  Even her scream of surprise mingled with sheer terror was delayed a full second after Nicole had leapt forward on all fours and slashed at her legs with the knife.  Shani stepped back, reflexes taking over as soon as they had realized that they had been caught napping.  Shani looked down.  The legs of her 501s had been cut open just above her knees.  On each pant leg there was a gash that went almost from seam to seam.  Shani could see her kneecaps through the raggedy holes, outlined with torn blue and white threads which intertwined randomly.  No blood though.  The searing blade had somehow missed her flesh.

Whoa!  Now that was a close one, baby!  Good thing baggy fashions are in, if you had gone for the Second Skin Fit 969s, you'd be on the waiting list for prosthetic limbs right about now!  Never be able to wriggle those adorable little toesies or wear short shorts again!  Yep, all ten little piggies would have bought the farm!  Get it?  Piggies?...Bought the farm?  Hey, that's pretty good all things considered!  I mean, you do realize that we're about to die and all?  But hey, don't let it get ya down, sweetie!  Keep a stiff upper lip, okay?  Everything's not going to be all right, but who really cares?  Not me I assure you!

As this particular thought crossed Shani's mind, Nicole sprang forward again.  Shani went down, her elbows grinding into the carpet, the friction burning her skin, Nicole's body on top of her.  Shani tried to struggle, but the she felt something at her throat.  The knife.  It was light, like the touch of a feather.  But a feather wasn't as likely to carve a wide gaping smile on the curve of one's throat like Shani sensed that the knife was about to do to her.  Her breath caught in her chest, and that was when Time decided that he was going to stop rushing forward and that he just might do a bit of crawling.

With death so clearly near, there was a freak moment of clarity where Shani sensed everything around her.  She was on her back, her arms away from her sides, fingers clawing at the floor, pain in those two limbs from friction burns, small carpet fibers ground into the skin beneath her fingernails.  Her right leg was trapped beneath her bent left knee, held there in place by Nicole's body.  Nicole was crouched over her like a puma, her left hand threatening Shani's throat with razor-sharp death, her right arm both supporting her upper body and pinning Shani's arm to the floor.

Shani could feel the closeness her sister was radiating.  Nicole's face was near, tangled hair going this way and that way, hanging limply, a few tendrils tickling Shani's nose.  Nicole's breath came fast and uneven, her chest going in and out wildly, eyes jerking, blinking, but clearly focused on Shani.  The smell of sweat and blood permeated the inches of air between them, sweet and rich, enrapturing.  Looking into Nicole's eyes, Shani suddenly wished she could shut her eyes and close them forever.  But she didn't.  She realized that she wouldn't be able to throw her sister off.  The strength just wasn't there.  Even with her sister in her obviously weakened state, it just wouldn't work.

Then Time decided that he didn't like crawling after all; rushing, running at a dead sprint was where he felt at home.

"I'm sorry it had to be like this, Shani.  But I can't let you work Gægaronok's will, even if you don't know what you're doing."

Shani was afraid to talk for fear that the movement of her neck would cause the knife to work its twisted wonders on her previously unmarred skin, but in the end she mouthed her words carefully.  "Who is this Gægaronok?" she said, hoping that she could keep her sister talking.

Nicole's eyelids spasmed at the mention of Gægaronok.  "There is evil everywhere in this world.  In every town and in every city in this nation there was, is, and always will be something dark, something black, something that kills.  And our city is no exception.  The bane of this city just happens to be Gægaronok."

"W-What is he?"  Think, Shani, think!  Use that puny brain of yours and get us out of this mess!

"He is nothing.  He is everything.  Who is to say?"

Shani felt a buzzing in her arms and in her legs telling her that blood circulation in all four limbs was being blocked by Nicole's weight on top of her.  To cap it all off, it was hard to breathe.  "B-But what does this have to do with Brian?  He isn't this Gægaronok!"  Nope, sorry, I'm drawing a big blank here.  I'm lookin' out across this desert wasteland you call a mind, and all I can see is a couple of bleached cattle skulls and a whole mess of tumbleweed.  Sheesh!  How did you make it out of the second grade?  Face it, Shani, were dead meat!  Better get the casket measurements down!  Let's see, what could we write on the gravestone?  Hey, let's do something that rhymes.  Maybe a short poem.  You know, sort of like those ones they have on those gravestones at the Haunted House at Disneyland?  Those sure are funny, aren't they?  I'm sure if we put our heads together, we could come up with one just as good as those.  Let me think...

"Brain is his servant."

"But he's only five months old!"  There had been pain in her chest when she had said that.  Sharp, poking pain.

"Age makes no difference.  Servants of Gægaronok are ageless."

"He's only five months old!" Shani repeated.

"I told you!  That is irrelevant!"

The knife was pressing down now.  Not hard yet, but the pressure was there, enough to dent her neck.  Shani could feel the pointed serrations poking at her.  Hey, I got one for you!  Listen to this:  Here lies dumb old Shani, a lot too ugly, and waaaaaaaaay scrawny.  She was gutted by her sister, but who cares, we've never missed her.  So, whaddya think, Shani my girl?  Isn't it just peachy?  And so true to life too!  Not as good as that Poe dude, but it's just the kind of statement you want to make when you leave this life behind, isn't it?

"Forgive me, Shani, as I now do what I know I must.  But Brain cannot be allowed to live.  He became dangerous when Gægaronok gave him the power of the           ."

What was that? Shani thought.  Nicole's lips had moved at the end of her sentence, but no sound had come.  "The power of the what?"

"The           ."

Again the silence.  It was like earmuffs had been placed over Shani's ears for only a second, just long enough to obscure whatever it was that Nicole was saying--if she was saying anything at all.

Nicole smiled at Shani's confusion.  "Don't try to listen for the word.  There is no word.  Not a written, nor an audible one.  But that doesn't change the fact that it is.  Now, sister, I do love you, but I can't let you interfere anymore."

Shani noticed a single drop of blood hanging from what was left of the neckline of Nicole's shirt.  As Nicole breathed, the drop fell, impossibly slow.  Shani could see it undulating, revolving and changing in midair.  She felt it hit her neck, just above the blade of Shani's knife.

I have my sister's blood on me, was Shani's last thought before something snapped her head to the side with skull-cracking force and she lost consciousness.

All was peaceful for an instant, black and calm, but then the world came swirling back with tornado intensity.  A dizzying sensation twirled, encircling her head, jack-hammer feet dancing across her head.  Shani opened her eyes instantly, remembering where she was.  She sat up, but the action brought on a veil of dark across her vision that threatened to send her back to the void.  After a second, the feeling passed, and Shani looked up from the floor.

She was still in the nursery, lying on the floor by the wall opposite Brian's crib.  Nicole was there, by the crib, kneeling, her back to Shani, her arms at her sides, her head bowed.  Shani couldn't see the knife.  Oh crap, there it was--on the floor behind Nicole, about six inches from her feet.  It was actually imbedded in the floor!  Where is she getting the strength to do this stuff?  She looks like she's got her own casket picked out, yet she's got the strength to shove that knife into the floor!  WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?!?  SOMEBODY TELL ME!!

Then Nicole's voice caught Shani's ears.  She was chanting, low and serious.  And that was when Shani saw what Nicole was kneeling over.

It was Brian.

Shani would've panicked and screamed at that point, but it was obvious that he wasn't dead.  Only his feet were visible and she could see one of them wiggling.  He was alive, but for how much longer?

Shani's mind knew the answer to that one: Not long, puss-brain, she's going to take that there knife and let it do the red river polka over his pudgy little body, and you can't do a single thing to stop her, can you, girlie?  Yeah, that's right, 'cause you already tried to and you failed, MISERABLY might I add, so don't even think about trying anything else 'cause that'll just go down in flames along with the rest of your life, which wasn't all that much anyway, I mean look at yourself, you've never even been kisse--

--Don't listen to that idiot, Shani, you KNOW how to get out of this mess, don't you?  Yes, yes, you do!  You aren't go--

--d by a boy, don't know what it's like to hold a guy's hand, and you can bet that little bootie of yours that, with things going just as peachy as they are, you sure aren't ab--

--ing to want to do it, but you must!  You must!  You have no choice in the matter!  You are going to have to--

--out to ever have a boy--

--kill your--

Nicole chanting, her body writhing. . .



The silver-red spotted knife in the floor. . .

--Never ever never ever ever ever--

--Do it now!--

Brain wriggling. . .

--Ha ha!--

--Right now right now now now--

The newly risen moon tossing silver in through the window. . .

--Tee hee tee hee!--


The voices were silenced, gone suddenly without reason or warning.  And Shani knew.  She knew what she had to do.  The question was whether or not she was capable of doing it.  The door leading to her parents room was only three feet away, but Shani's eyes told her that it was more like fifty.  She pushed back to the wall, watching her sister, waiting for the moment when she would turn around and see that Shani was conscious.  But she didn't.  Nicole did not suddenly spin around with a big "AH HA!  Caught ya, didn't I" as Shani stood up, her body pressed against the wall to keep from falling down.  Nicole didn't even perk up her head as Shani slid right towards her parent's room.  In fact, in the end, Nicole never gave any indication that she noticed that Shani had exited the room.

Shani was frantic as she saw the interior of her parent's bedroom.  Nothing appeared to be out of the ordinary--Nicole hadn't caused any damage here.  There were no streaks on the walls, no DIE RAVISHER! scrawled anywhere.  The room looked normal.  Now that she was out of the nursery, a calmness was draped over her like a warm coat on a icy day.

Shani rushed to her father's dresser and dropped to the floor, her head pressed close to the carpet.  Oh, where is it, where is it, where is it?  She peered into the darkness beneath her the dresser.  Was it gone?  Yes, that was it.  It was gone.  Her father had moved it, and now there was no hope--the last line of escape had been severed like a crude backyard amputation.

Shani's mind spat:  Seeeeeeee!  I told you!  I think you'll learn to listen to me more--

Wait, what's that?  Back there in the shadows.  Could it be?  Yes!  It was there, gloriously there!  Ohyesohyes, thank you, God!

Shani reached her hand and pulled out the object which had been hiding underneath neatly folded shirts, jeans, and socks.  It had been rarely brought out to see the light of day, and never before had it been used for the purpose Shani had in mind.  Never had it looked so sinister, so enshadowed.  Was that a word?  If it wasn't, Shani thought it should be.

But she didn't need just this one object.  She needed other things, other objects--without which the object she held was only useful as a baseball bat.

Shani reached for the bottom drawer of her father's dresser.  Please don't let it be locked! she thought as her fingers clasped around an ornately shaped handle and pulled.

The drawer didn't budge.

Heh, bet you thought your luck was going to change?  Think again, moron.

Shani pulled harder.  Had there been movement that time?  Shani's arms strained against the handle, her fingers informing her that if she pulled any longer, they were going to pop out of their sockets.  Then with a crack, the drawer shot out of its socket, flying from the dresser, yellowed papers scattering like huge playing cards.  Shani managed to bring the drawer to the floor with a loud crash, the contents within clattering loudly.  Shani looked at the dresser, she saw splintered wood arraying the wood which surrounded the hole where the drawer had been.  There was a lock on that drawer!  And I just broke it!  No way!  But there it was, the obviously sturdy metal of the lock was bent and twisted as if some universal force had been at work.  Shani almost bent down to study it, but this was not the time.  Instead, she probed her fingers into the drawer's contents, searching for what she knew was there.  She saw the box she was looking for.  Her fingers were trembling as she picked it up and fumbled with the lid.  The lid came off, but it tumbled to the floor when Shani couldn't seem to keep her fingers pinched around it.  Butterfingers!  But it didn't matter--what was inside the box did though.

There they lay, neat red cylinders, capped with metal on one end, and crimped plastic on the other.  Shotgun shells, Shani thoughts told her.  Instruments of death.  They lay there like little soldiers in formation, ready to be put to use, to do their duty.  Okay, guys, time to earn your pay.

There were only two shells in the box.  Shani hoped that they were enough.  She grabbed the shotgun.  Her knowledge of firearms was extremely limited, but she had seen her father load this particular weapon before.  There was a tube beneath the barrel.  Shani inserted the two shells carefully, feeling them drop into place.  Shani put the butt of the gun against her hip and pulled down on the grip (she didn't know the true name of it) beneath the barrel.  She shoved it back up, knowing that now the weapon was loaded.  Who'd have thought that all those cops and robbers shows would pay off?

Uh, excuse me for interrupting, but exactly how long have you been in here, sugar?  Thirty seconds?  Two minutes?  Um, you haven't forgotten that you brother's probably going to be sporting a new bodily opening any second now!  Now is not the time to admire your prowess around firearms!  GET IN THERE AND STOP YOUR SISTER!!

Shani moved.  Shani held the gun in her right arm, its weight against her hip.  It felt heavy and unwieldable.  Am I going to be able to aim this thing?  But there was no answer to that one.  You see, she was already through the door.

Shani's first thought was that she was too late.  Nicole had the knife raised above her head.  The blood dripping from it was thick and gushing, dribbling on her upturned face, her hair trailing vertically downward, interwoven blonde and streaks of red.  Her garments were now almost more red than white.  She had used the blade again, drawing more of the fluid of life from her veins.

But Brian was still there, void of bloodstains, pure and undefiled, legs kicking.  Shani couldn't see his face, but she was sure it would give the impression of no care in the world, no sense of impending doom or eminent danger.


Startled, Nicole bounced to her feet with extreme ferocity.  She turned, her hair twirling, sticking to her neck, covering her left eye.  Was that part amazement, and part relief on her face?  "Shani!  You--"


Shani had expected her sister to show fright, but she didn't.  There was nothing like that at all.  Not even the faintest hint of self-preservation.  Instead, she smiled.  Just stood there and let loose with a smile, perhaps the most perfect smile Shani had ever seen.  It was a good smile--and that was perhaps the worst thing about it.  That smile had an effect on Shani.  One that disturbed her as much as warmed her.  It cut her like a focused beam of light and stirred her emotions.  It awoke compassion and pity, and she ached because of it.  The ache came from deep down, where there lurked the hurting of the type that no leading pain reliever could ever numb, the type that was just as much physical as it was emotional, the type than made one yearn for comfort.

Suddenly, Shani was tired, weary beyond description.  She wanted to just slump to the floor and close her eyes, drift off, let the warmth of sweet surrender envelop her in its wispy arms, rocking and swaying sensuously.  Down, down, she wanted to float, into the ever ever.  Yes, that would be so wonderful.  Her eyelids fluttered.  The shotgun really was heavy, it hurt her wrist and her hip to hold it.  The barrel faltered.  Wouldn't it be nice to--

Don't drop it! the voice screamed at her.

Wha--What?  Shani was alert suddenly, shaking her head.  What almost happened there?  Looking up, she saw Nicole still standing in front of Brian.  The smile was gone.

Nicole spoke, blood dripping from her chin.  "No, Shani.  I cannot do as you say.  My course is plotted--as is yours.  But I am truly sorry that is too late for you.  You've been victimized by the evil of the           ."

No, it couldn't be true.  "Nicole, I afraid you're wasting your words."

Nicole's eyebrow raised.  "Am I?"

Shani glanced down at the weapon in her hand.  It was a .12 gauge.  She knew that much.  Her eyes returned to her stained sister.  "You're crazy."

The dagger came up.  Nicole's right arm stayed at her side, still mangled, useless.  With a sense of finality, she mouthed the words "Am I?"  Then she spun and fell on Brian, knife flashing.

Shani realized what her sister was about to do even before she moved.  As her sister dropped, Shani was amazed at how clear everything was.  Her sister moved with lightning speed, but Shani saw every movement, every muscles contracting, stretching.  If the situation hadn't been so grave, Shani would have shouted in wonder.  Nicole was beauty in movement.  Not even her current appearance couldn't change that.

But with Shani's clarity of vision, the moment also brought strange aberrations to the world.  For one, the room went black and white.  No blues, no reds--just contrast and brightness, no Technicolor to brighten the night, just inky blacks and pale shades of gray.  Nicole looked like she'd had lost a fight with a gallon of India ink, splotches splattered about her form.

And then of course, there was the creature which rested on Brian's head.  Actually, Shani could see that it wasn't resting there.  Imbedded was a better way to describe the situation.  The creature was thin, a skinny, elongated body protruding like a gnarled branch from a withered oak tree.  Shani could only see a head-like shape protruding from a body which flowed with watery fluidity.  It's gray-black marble textured form rose from Brian's mouth and nose and eyes like steam from a witch's cauldron.  At each contact point, Shani could see little tentacles quivering, attaching themselves to Brian's flesh, roots digging deep.  And then the face of the abomination turned toward Shani.  She stared, helpless as the creature screamed.  It was a deep, short roar which left her ears ringing.  Then the creature was gone, vanishing it red smoke.  With clawing horror, Shani realized that the creature, if there had ever been one, was not what had made that hideous sound.

It had been the shotgun.

The firearm jerked with all the explosive energy of a hand grenade.  Unprepared for the blast, Shani lost her grip on the stock, the butt plate slamming into her side.  Shani felt a cracking sound, a rib probably.  No sound came from her mouth when she opened it to scream.

But Nicole's scream made up for her.  As the shotgun fell weightily to the floor, Shani saw the force of the blast shove Nicole's body away, offsetting her descent upon Brian just enough so that she fell on his far side, a gaping hole appearing in her chest.  She was unmoving on her back there, still and dead, a gigantic red stain growing on her chest, free flowing and unhindered.

Oh, God!  Please, no!  Shani thought, rushing over to her sister.  She's not dead!  She can't be!  She just can't!  But she was.  No one could survive a hole that big in their gut.  Shani knelt beside her sister.  Nicole, Nicole!  What happened to you?  What caused this?  Why?  "WHY?" was her singular cry before she embraced her sister's lifeless form, sobbing, her body afflicted with convulsions of anguish.  Her tears continued for a long time.

Sometime during that period of grief, for a reason that would never be determined, the window to the room shattered inward, transparent shards spraying the room.  Shani didn't notice, despite the reality that there were two glass splinters sticking out of her left shoulder.

After an eternity, or perhaps only a few minutes, Shani heard Brian crying.  She lifted her arms, disentangling them from her sister.  Brain stopped crying instantly, his bright eyes beaming at her, no worry, no knowledge of death there.  There was innocence there, wasn't there?  Wasn't there?  Shani reached out a finger.  Brian grasped it, all five of his wrapping around her one.  His hand slipped off slickly.  Shani gasped.  There was blood on her finger.  Now there was blood on Brian.  He's innocent no longer.

Brian giggled, waving pudgy fingers in the air in a little wave.

Shani didn't feel like smiling.

"Gægaronok rules!" Brian smiled, wiping his hand on his chest, leaving red smudges.

Oh my--  Shani screamed, then her body took over, her mind shredding at whatever was left of her sanity.  She fell backwards, tried to stand, then fell again.  She crawled backwards, thoughts scattered, jigsaw pieces that didn't fit.  Nooooooooooo!  She backed across the room, unable to stand.  She hit the wall, her hands floundering to keep her stable, failing.  She pulled her feet up under her, hands caught in hair attempting to cover her eyes and ears at the same time.

But her mind hadn't shut down:  Well, well, well, my little scaredy cat!  This is surely an interesting development, ain't it?  You thought you had it all figured out it didn't you?  You and that peanut-sized rock you call your brain had everything all logical and the like, didn't you?  Your sister was crazy, and you were the sane one!  Humph!  Well, things have certainly gotten a whole lot more WEIRD, haven't they?  Hey, EINSTEIN!  Get a clue!  Now, I've got a couple of ideas you just might want to listen to.  Actually, just one that's worth the honorable mention.  Chew on this--you and your sister are cut from the same cloth, in other words--YOU'RE BOTH OUT OF YOUR MINDS!!!!!  Well, actually, your sister is a bit on the dead side right now, but you, you've got a whole life ahead of you.  Yippee!  Won't that be fun?  I hear the walls are made of rubber where we're going!  Boingy boingy boingy!

Brian had turned on his stomach now.  He was looking at Shani.  "Bow to Gægaronok," he said, pink drool hanging from his fangs and pooling on the floor.  He had fangs!

Yo, Shani!  Listen to this for a newsflash!  Ever wonder why Brian didn't cry during this whole little oopsie with your sister?  Any normal baby would've bawled its living eyes out!  Hmmm, now there's a something to ponder over morning coffee!  And how about her tattoo?  Just WHERE did she get that done?  But wait, there's more!  How about the big question that all of America is dying to know: How did Nicole get around for five months, mutilating her body, WITHOUT ANYBODY IN THIS LOSER FAMILY NOTICING ANYTHING?!?!?!?!  I have a sinking feeling that it wasn't Oil of Olay!  That's the $64,000 question, dear, and you know what?  You don't want to give me the answer you know is true!  That's the color of it, ain't it, cupcake?  Well, if you can't even do that simply task, then you can rot!  I'm outta here!  I can't say it's been a blast, toots!  But then again, who really cares, 'cause I wish that I'd never met you, you worthless piece of human refuse!  I HOPE YOU DIE!!!!!

Brian was smiling, sickening Shani.

Then her eyes caught sight of the knife.  It was sticking out of the wall, right below the word DIE.

Shani acted on impulse.  Summoning the strength from an inner pool as yet untapped, she tore to her feet and ran toward the opposite wall.  She turned her head, not wanting to look at the evil known as Brian.  Instead, as she ran, the shattered window passed through her vision.

The moon had gone out.

Then Shani was pulling the knife from the wall.  The handle was sticky, but it felt right in her hand, as if it had been shaped for her specifically.  She spun to face Brian.

She spoke to the unseen creature that she knew must be there.  Come on you monster!  I don't know what you are, but I do know that you killed my only sister, and you'll kill me if you get a chance, and that's just not going to happen, you see, because I'm about to rob you of your human host.

Shani advanced.

"          "

The numbness came instantly, but Shani was ready for it.  Oh no you don't! Shani thought, pricking her thumb with the point of the knife.  The pain was faint, as if it were actually happening to someone else, but the numbness faded swiftly.

"          " "          " "          " "          " "          "

The assault was so severe that the knife fell from Shani's hand.  When she looked down it was gone, whisked away by a gremlin perhaps, or maybe it was there, just unseen.  No, you killed my sister, I'm going to kill you!  I won't let you do to me what you did to--

"                                                              "

Shani found that she couldn't feel her hands, but her wrists tingled, as if the circulation was being cut off.  I hate you!  You killed my sister!  I HATE YOU!!

"                                                              "

Shani stumbled, losing her balance, her legs only phantom limbs now.  They were there, but she couldn't tell just by nerves alone.  Her ears began to tingle, but then it was like they had been painlessly cut off.  The world was silent.  Somehow, she managed to move her neck muscles, rotating her head to face Brian.  The numb engulfed her body by then.  Sleep, yes that's what I need.  Just a little sleep is all.  So tired now.  I'll get some sleep, and I can deal with all this later.  Maybe Nicole and I can go to the mall tomorrow, or maybe a movie.  That would be fun.  Haven't spent much time with her lately, but maybe we can do something tomorrow.  Maybe...

There was a jarring nothing that came, then a final:

"                                                              "

Brian giggled, then smiled.  There were no fangs there, maybe there never had been. Regardless, she didn't think about it again.  The truth of the matter was that Shani Dermur never thought about anything.

Ever again.


this page and it's contents copyright (c) 1997 by ethan cooper