Kate and Sylvia Bernard were twins. The only difference was Kate’s birthmark just under her left eye, shaped sort of like a stretching cat.
Kate loved to go exploring, particularly the woods in the back of their house. She preferred to do this alone, but the thing about twins was that they weren’t meant to be alone.
Kate sat at the edge of the pool, running her fingers through the water. Her mind was drawn carefully blank. She hummed a tune quietly. It was a song their mother used to sing to them before she passed away of cancer when the twins were very young. It had been Sylvia’s favorite song.
Kate continued to dangle her legs into the pool, running her hand through the water, humming. She disconnected her brain from her heart. Her heart had gone numb a year ago, after the accident. Sylvia had drowned in the ocean when they were on vacation at the family beach house. When she’d died, their father had withdrawn into his books and studies and Kate barely saw him these days. But that was just fine with her.
Kate had her own way of dealing with the loss of her twin. After Sylvia had died, Kate had stopped eating and just wandered their house aimlessly. If Kate found something that had belonged to Sylvia, she ordered it destroyed. If she found a small animals in the woods, she killed it with her ivory-and-obsidian knife.
Kate ought to be locked up in an asylum, but her father didn’t seem to notice her spiral to madness. The servants did, of course, but they kept their mouths shut for fear of Kate’s anger. Kate was irrational and unreasonable ever since Sylvia died.
Kate and Sylvia had had another sister, Amy. Amy was three years older than the twins and she had moved to New York City with her fiancé Benjamin Howard. Ben was nice enough, rich, a lawyer. Kate thought he was good for Amy, but he wasn’t part of the family. Not really. Kate knew he loved Amy, but she didn’t feel like he really understood their family. He didn’t feel Sylvia’s death as they did.
Kate hummed louder, swirling her finger faster through the water. Without warning, Kate dropped her weight into the pool, opening her eyes underwater. She held her breath, trying to imagine what Sylvia felt as she was dragged to the ocean floor.
After a few seconds, Kate surfaced. She had considered joining her twin in death, but she had never been able to make herself go through with it.
Sylvia would want Kate to live.
Kate sighed and hauled herself from the swimming pool, fully clothed. Her dress was soaked, her leather shoes probably ruined. Kate didn’t care about them, though.
“Would you like a towel, Miss?”
Kate looked up with her dead, flat eyes to see one of the family maids. This one was a kind, elderly woman named Ellie.
Kate tried to smile, but it looked mangled and grotesque. “Thank you,” she said and accepted the offered towel.
Ellie left her as Kate wrapped herself in the towel.
Her hair hung like limp spaghetti. She grabbed another towel from the rack by the pool and wrapped her long blonde hair in it.
Suddenly she doubled over, clutching at her stomach. Her heart clenched, leaving her breathless. Kate gasped for air, the pain lancing through her.
Sometimes she managed to block out her feelings and the blow of the loss, but sometimes it was too strong and hit her like an anvil. It was worse when she was by the pool or really any water source. She couldn’t even take baths anymore without crying. She had to wake showers, and even then her heart hurt.
Kate sat down and shut her eyes, rubbing viciously at her temples. Her head ached fiercely, but not as badly as her heart.
Sylvia. Kate felt heat prick her eyes. She wiped away her unshed tears furiously. Her twin was dead. Had been so for a little over a year. There was no way to bring her back, so it was useless to be this crippled by the thought of her death.
Even so, Kate couldn’t catch her breath for several minutes as images of Sylvia flashed through her mind. Kate missed her twin so much. If the world, Mother Nature, or destiny, or whatever had meant for her to be alone, they wouldn’t have given her a twin, yet alone two sisters— one that moved away and one that died.
Kate was never religious. She didn’t believe in God or angels or the devil, but some higher power clearly had it out for her. First, they took away her older sister, then her twin, then her father. Everyone was either escaping Kate through death or distance or withdrawing into themselves. Everyone was always escaping her. Even the servants fled when they saw Kate coming. She was cursed. Kate was bad luck.
Kate sighed, staring at the rippling pool water. Tearing her gaze away, she went inside the change into dry clothes.
Standing before the mirror, brushing the tangles out of her hair, Kate fingered her birthmark. The only difference between her and her twin. That’s why Kate hated mirrors. Every time she looked into one, she had to catch her breath and remind herself it wasn’t her sister she saw. That was why Kate wore her hair long. When Sylvia was alive, they had both kept their hair cropped short.
It was also why Kate hated the color pink. One summer, Sylvia had decided to experiment and had dyed both their hair hot, neon pink. Their father had nearly had a heart attack he was so angry. But the color had faded and Father’s fury was forgotten.
Kate didn’t think much of the voice in her head at first. She had been hearing Sylvia’s voice in her mind since her death, but Kate knew those had just been memories.
Kate, turn around.
Kate turned, frowning. That had sounded very near and very real.
Seeing no one in her room, Kate squeezed her eyes shut. She needed therapy, but father was too busy to hire professional help. Kate doubted if Father even knew he had another daughter still living there.
The air seemed to shimmer by Kate’s bed.
Kate blinked, sure she was imagining the image of her sister that appeared.
This is just another figment of my mind, designed to hurt me. Kate thought.
“Kate,” the vision said aloud.
The girl by the bed was translucent, a see-through kind of blue. She was wearing the swimsuit Sylvia had drowned in and her hair hung just below her ears.
“You grew your hair out.” The girl said, this fake Sylvia.
Kate’s heart pounded painfully in her chest. “You’re not real.”
“Of course I am, Katie.” The poor copy of Sylvia said.
“You’re just another torture my mind has in store for me.”
“Kate, you’re not seeing things.”
“Syl’s dead. You’re not her. I’m crazy.”
“You’re not crazy, Kate.”
“Of course I am.” Kate said. “You’re not here— that’s impossible.”
Kate laughed, bordering on a mental breakdown. “What is this torment? How can my mind punish me so? I am blameless in Sylvia’s death.”
“Kate, listen to me.”
“It wasn’t my fault.” The tears came now, torrential.
“I know it wasn’t, Kate. You couldn’t have done anything.”
“I miss you so much.”
“I know.” Sylvia’s image watched Kate sadly as she crumbled to the floor, sobbing. She went to Kate and sat on the floor. “Do not weep for me, sister. I can’t bear to see you so distressed.”
“I can’t stand to live when you are gone,” Kate sniffled. “This past year has been hell.”
“I know, Katie. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
“I wish you were here.”
“I know. Me, too.” Sylvia stayed on the floor with Kate, but her gaze wandered the room. As twins, they had always shared a room. But now it was just Kate’s. It seemed empty, too big for one girl. All of Sylvia’s belongings were gone and her bed had been moved out, presumably burned. Except Sylvia noticed Kate had kept a tiny thumbnail picture of them together in the lower left-hand corner of her dresser mirror. Sylvia’s rotting heart ached for her twin. It must have been horrible, knowing half of you was dead.
“Are you really here?”
“My spirit is.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t save you.”
“There’s nothing you could have done, Katie. This isn’t your fault. As you said before, you are completely blameless. Though I have to admit, being dead is quite lonely.”
Kate bawled harder. “It’s lonely here, too.”
“You have Father.”
“He barely comes out of his study. And Amy is still in New York.”
“What of the maids and Cheese?”
“I gave your cat away.” Kate said, an image of the fluffy orange feline popping into her mind.
“You gave away Cheese? Why?”
“He reminded me too much of you. It hurt to look at him.”
“He wasn’t me, though, Katie.”
“I know,” Kate said miserably. “Nobody and nothing could replace you.”
Sylvia looked at Kate then, really looked at her. She focused on the shadows under her twin’s eyes. “You look tired, Kate. Are you sleeping?”
“You must be exhausted. Get some rest.”
“Because then I think of you and last summer…”
Sylvia got really quiet and then said softly, “You could join me.”
Kate looked up quickly.
“Don’t tell me you haven’t at least thought about it.”
“I’ve considered it,” Kate said. “But then I tell myself you’d want me to live… and I don’t.”
“We could be together again, like the world intended. Mother Nature doesn’t mean for twins to be apart.”
“I know, I know.” Kate said helplessly. “I want to…”
“It’s not so hard.” Sylvia said.
“I can’t believe you’re actually here. I never thought I’d see you again.”
“We could be together forever, in eternity.”
“I’m afraid to do it, Syl.”
“I’d help you.”
“I… I-I can’t.”
“It’s not so hard,” Sylvia repeated.
“I love you, sister. Twins were made to be together. Twins were created to complete each other. I miss my other half, Katie.”
Kate took a deep breath, hiccupping through the tears. “How do I know this is real? How do I know it’s really you asking me to do this.”
“Do you want me to prove it?”
“Your full name is Kathryn Danielle Bernard. Mother used to call you ‘Kat,’ but you hated that because people used to meow whenever you entered a room when we were in middle school. You’re eighteen now. Your birthday is April third, 1998, just like mine. You were born thirteen seconds before me. It was a Saturday. Your favorite animal is the wolf because they hunt in a pack and they are very loyal. Your favorite color is green. Your lucky number is seven. Your favorite singer is Melanie Martinez, but your favorite band is Motionless in White. Your favorite season is winter because you love snow and hot chocolate. Your favorite food is scalloped potatoes and your favorite candy is basically anything sour, but you especially love WarHeads. Your favorite movie is Titanic because you laugh when Jack died. Your favorite TV show is Supernatural because you’re totally in love with Jared Padalecki.”
It could still be a trick, Kate’s mind warned her. If it truly is a figment of your imagination, of course she’d say those things because you know those things.
Kate pushed her doubt aside and spoke before Sylvia’s ghost had to keep going. “Okay, you’ve proved it.”
“I miss you so much it feels like I’m missing a limb, Katie.”
“So please. Will you do it?”
“Join me.” Sylvia nodded. “We can be happy again.”
Happy. That was all Kate wanted, to be happy and reunited with her twin. Sylvia had struck on the promise that would make Kate do about anything.
“I’ll do it.” Kate agreed. “But I can’t do it alone.”
“I’ll be with you the whole time,” Sylvia said. “The whole, entire time.”
“Thank you, sister.” Kate’s mind suddenly thought of her father. It would be cruel to take a second child away from him. But behind that, a bitter voice said, Your father? That’s what you’re thinking about? Don’t worry about him. He barely even notices you’re here. He won’t care if you die. You know Sylvia was always his favorite, after Amy, of course. He won’t realize you’re gone until a long time from now. He won’t come out of his office long enough to give you a funeral and a proper burial. He won’t listen when the staff alerts him of your death. He won’t even hear it when they tell him. It might catch his attention, your obituary in the newspaper, but otherwise he’s utterly oblivious He couldn’t care less about you. And Amy. Your big sister. She’s off in New York, too busy with her fiancé, wedding planning, and her job to call or write. She won’t know until Father knows and then, it’ll be too late for her to attend your funeral. You’ll finally be with the only person who ever actually gave a crap about you.
“I’ve been waiting a long time to come to you, Kate. But I wasn’t strong enough to show myself yet.”
“I’m glad you finally appeared to me, Syl.”
Sylvia smiled weakly. “Tonight.”
“I’ll be back tonight.”
“You’re leaving?” Kate couldn’t stand the thought of being away from her twin one moment longer. “Again? Please don’t. I couldn’t bear it.”
“We’ll be together forever after this. We’ll never be apart again. I promise. I’ll be gone for only a few hours. Back before you know it.”
Kate nodded. “See you tonight, Sylvia.”
Sylvia vanished from the bedroom.
Despite what Sylvia had said about being back before Kate knew it, it felt as if time dragged. It was the slowest five hours of her life. Kate sat by the pool again, wandered through the woods without a particular destination, killed and skinned a rabbit for fun because she was bored and impatient. Then she sat on her bed, deciding to read.
Finally, thankfully, it was nightfall.
Kate stood in her bedroom, staring at the window at the starless night.
“It’s time,” Sylvia’s voice came from behind her.
Kate turned, her back to the darkness outside the bay window. She had selected a sheer white nightgown for the occasion. Kate had always loved horror movies and the melancholy ghosts always wore white dresses.
“Ready?” Sylvia asked quietly.
Kate’s nerves buzzed as she nodded.
Sylvia reached out a spectral hand, and Kate took it. Sylvia led her outside silently. With the crescent moon watching, Kate stood at the edge of the pool.
Sylvia let go of Kate’s hand. “It’s a beautiful night for suicide,” she said dreamily. “Almost a poetic scene.”
Kate glanced back briefly at her dead twin. Her heart constricted painfully. Returning her gaze to the water, she stepped down into the deep end of the pool.
The water shimmered, glittering green-blue under the moon and the dark eminence sky.
“I’m scared,” Kate said.
“Don’t be. It’ll be fast.” Sylvia hovered at the end of the pool, above Kate. She knelt down to place her hands on Kate’s shoulders. Without warning, Sylvia pushed Kate under the water, holding her head so she couldn’t surface.
Kate gasped in shock, water flooding her mouth and choking her. She struggled involuntarily, her lungs burning.
It’ll be over soon, Sylvia’s voice whispered in her head. Just relax…
We’ll be together again. Happy, Kate thought. She desperately wanted to be a twin again, to be reunited with Sylvia. She needed to be with Sylvia again. She let her mind wander, forcing her muscles to cooperate and stop fighting. Her eyes closed and then all she knew was blackness.
“Hey! Hey! Kate! Miss Kathryn!” A dim voice shouted above Kate. Suddenly strong arms lifted her out of the pool. “Kate?”
Kate blinked. There was a man leaning over her. He looked vaguely familiar.
“Kathryn? Are you okay? Kate? Can you hear me? Somebody get help! Kate!”
“Am I dead?” Kate mumbled.
“Were you trying to kill yourself?” The man demanded. “Gave us all a freight. Kate! Open your eyes, damn it!”
Kate opened her eyes obediently. Sitting up, her head spun and she looked around dizzily. “Where’s Sylvia?”
“She gone, remember?” The man said kindly.
A mad appeared with a towel and first aid kit. “How is she, Chester?”
Chester, Kate thought, finally recognizing the man. Chester Bradbury, the cook.
The maid came to kneel beside Kate and she realized it was Ellie. As the maid tried to dry Kate with the towel as best she could and bandage a bloody cut on Kate’s arm she hadn’t noticed, she listened to Chester.
Chester lowered his voice, speaking only to Ellie. “Something’s not right here, Ellie.”
“What do you mean?” Ellie asked.
“When I saw the lady drowning… I could have sworn I saw someone above her…”
“Holding her under?”
“Did you get a good look at them?”
Chester paled. “It looked like… Sylvia.”
“Sylvia? Sylvia Bernard?”
Chester nodded. “That’s crazy, right?”
“Of course that’s crazy,” Ellie snapped. The servants here were majorly superstitious.
Kate felt her body being lifted up and carried.
“Better get her to Mister Richard.”
Kate sat in a chair in her father’s office as Chester and Ellie told Richard Bernard, their master, what had happened to his sopping wet daughter. Kate was dripping water everywhere, probably ruining Father’s leather chair, for the towel she’d placed on the seat was completely soaked through. Kate stared at the floor, tracing the pattern of the run with her eyes.
Kate ignored her father’s voice directed at her.
“Kate,” he repeated.
Finally she tore her gaze from the carpet and looked up at him. “What?” she asked defensively, surprised her father had taken the time out of his busy schedule to meet with her and the two servants.
“Do you want to explain what happened?”
“Chester already told you.”
“I want to hear it from you.”
“I was going to meet Sylvia, Dad. She came to me. She’s lonely. She said she wanted me to join her. She—”
Father held up a hand, cutting off Kate. “That’s enough, Kate.”
“No more. Kathryn.”
“Ellie, have Stewart hire a psychologist to work with Kate.”
“Of course,” Ellie said. She left to find the secretary, Stewart Donald.
“Sylvia’s not here, Kate. She’s dead and she’s never coming back. You’re dismissed.”
Kate knew he wouldn’t believe her. She would just have to try again another time. Her twin needed her. Sylvia was counting on her.