This story is by Erica Roberts and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The twins had been riding in the bike trailer, eating fruit snacks and laughing at their dad struggling to bike them up a small hill, when the car hit them.
Lex woke up in the hospital a few hours later. Keira did not.
Six weeks later, Lex stood face to face with her sister. Each girl held up a hand. Lex could feel warmth radiating from Keira’s palm. It almost felt like they were touching, except for the mild vibration of the force field standing between them.
The field was thin, almost imperceptible. It looked flimsy, like the plastic that covered microwaveable meals. Lex knew from the night she had seen Keira standing outside her hospital room, when she ran headlong at the field to hug her sister and bounced off of it, that it was all but flimsy.
That night, Lex was not able to see the field. But now, standing this close to it, she could see the field shimmering, waving like the air above a grill on a summer’s day. She could touch it now, too. It was electric, crackling and vibrating beneath her fingers.
Lex looked over Keira’s shoulder. Her closet, her desk, her toy bin. Keira could have been standing in the room with her. Lex knew she wasn’t, though. Weeks ago, after some practice, she had been able to pass through the field and enter Keira’s realm, and it looked nothing like the side of the living.
Everything shimmered over there. Anything she had touched gave her a tiny shock the way her clothes did when they were fresh out of the dryer. Her ponytails had floated behind her as she walked, never quite bouncing on her shoulders like they should have.
There were lots of kids. Too many kids. They all marveled at Lex, watching her with large, unblinking, milky-white eyes.
Keira pulled her to the corner of a playground. Lex moved slowly, overbalancing. Walking through this place felt like walking through a freezing lake on tiptoes.
She sat down slowly on the charged swing and she and Keira took turns pushing each other.
After a while, Lex stood up. “I have to go back, but I’ll come back tomorrow.”
Keira looked sad.
Tell Mommy and Daddy I said Hi. And that I miss them.
“I will. Trust me, they miss you more.”
Lex trudged back through the foreign world with its thick, static air to the force field. In her world, the force field shimmered. Passing through it was easier than she had thought. On this side, though, the field was solid and still like a brick wall. She thrust a hand through the field. It felt like pushing through cool butter. Her hand in her realm felt degrees warmer than the rest of her body. She continued to force her way through the force field until her entire body, warm and tingle-less, re-entered her own realm with a soft plip!
When Lex had opened her eyes, she was sitting cross-legged on the floor as she always did when she visited Keira. She got to her feet just as her door opened.
“Food’s ready,” her mother had said, unsmiling. She hardly ever smiled anymore.
Lex thought of her parents now. They had become zombies, walking around the house all day, barely speaking to Lex, hardly ever speaking to each other.
Except when one of them was crying.
Just last night, Lex heard her father sobbing in the bathroom.
“I just want my daughter back,” he blubbered over and over.
Lex looked from her fingers to Keira’s face and shook her head.
“This won’t work,” Lex said.
Why not? You have the doll now.
Lex held the Thing 2 doll she had pulled from Keira’s realm up to her face. Keira had loved this doll. She never went anywhere without it. It lay in the middle of the street, amongst the blood, glass, and metal from the crash the day she died. She had been buried with it.
Lex knew her parents would think she was crazy if she showed up with Keira’s doll. They already thought her crazy. Ever since Lex bounced off the force field and told her parents that she could see, hear, and eventually play with Keira, they pitied her. They smiled when she told them things Keira would tell her, then gave each other the look over her head.
“It’s just a dream, Peanut,” her dad would say. “You’re just keeping Keira alive in your head.”
She’s not just alive in my head, Lex would think.
Lex shook her head again. “No. It’s not enough.”
“They won’t believe me about the doll. They’ll think I’m trying to trick them. They might even think I stole it from you at the funeral!”
So what are you going to do?
Lex thought for a moment, then looked up at Keira, wide-eyed. “I’ll bring you.”
“Yeah! That’s what they want anyway. They don’t want this doll!” Lex tossed it aside. “They want you back. They want to have two daughters again. So I’ll bring you back.”
Can you even do that?
Lex shrugged. “Why not? I came to your side just fine.”
Keira looked worried. Will it hurt?
“It didn’t hurt me.”
Keira took a deep breath and closed her eyes. Okay, let’s do it.
Lex pressed against the force field and her hand broke the surface, her palm kissing Keira’s.
The sensation was immediate. Lex’s arm seized as an electric current snaked through it. The hairs on her arms and neck stood up. Her fingers tightened around her sister’s wrist and she began to pull.
She felt the familiar warmth return to her hand as she pulled Keira through the field. Lex’s eyes were squeezed shut with effort. This was much more difficult than the doll. Keira was heavier and the other realm didn’t seem to want to give her up.
Keira screamed. It was audible, not just a buzzing in Lex’s head.
Lex’s eyes flew open. Keira’s arm up to the shoulder was in Lex’s realm. The skin on Keira’s arm and hand had changed. The fingers were crooked, the nails broken and bloody. The arm bent backwards at the elbow. A tattered striped shirt appeared, and the beginnings of a strap to blue denim overalls. Keira’s head broke the surface. Her face, a second ago identical to Lex’s, was now swollen and bruised. A jagged wound split her forehead in two. She was coming back the way she had died.
Lex had half a mind to let Keira go. To push her back. But their hands were glued together. Keira screamed again. Lightning bolts shot across the force field, crackling loudly and lighting up Lex’s room. Lex closed her eyes to the blinding light. Sweating and grunting, she grabbed Keira’s upper arm with her free hand, took a large, laborious step backward, and Keira toppled out, landing on the floor like a bag of sand.
The plip! that had announced the entrance of Lex and the doll into the living realm was nothing to the sound of crashing waves that announced Keira. The lightning ceased immediately and the force field disappeared. No shimmer, no static, just gone.
Lex watched Keira climb to her feet in jerky movements. Her body squelched and cracked. The beautiful white dress she wore in her realm was replaced with dirty, blood-soaked overalls and blood-filled sneakers.
Keira stepped forward drunkenly.
Lex backed away. Keira was grotesque. The wound on her face was caked with crusty, brown blood. Her right eye was swollen shut. Her face and arms were covered in deep cuts and bruises. Her arms and legs were bent unnaturally.
She held out her arms. Her limbs creaked.
Lex whimpered. “Keira?”
Keira reached out and touched Lex’s face with rough fingers. She smiled. There was a space in her mouth where her front teeth had been knocked out.
Lex touched Keira’s face softly, then threw her arms around her sister’s shoulders.
Hand in hand, Lex and Keira walked down the hall and into the living room. Keira’s feet clunked on the floor at an odd rhythm, her steps too heavy.
Lex’s parents sat at opposite ends of the couch, watching TV, not speaking.
“Mommy. Daddy. Look. I told you she was here.”
As her mother and father looked up, Lex looked at Keira.
Smile, Lex thought at her.
Keira did. Lex turned to her parents again, beaming, her toothless smile identical to her sister’s.
Her parents rose slowly from the couch. Their mouths hung open. Their faces screwed up in confusion and horror. Her father made a choking sound.
“It’s okay,” Lex said, holding up her free hand reassuringly. “She’s different, yeah, but she’s here.”
Keira waved a crooked arm. “Maaam,” she said through a throat full of dirt.
That’s when her mother started screaming.