I sit at my desk this darkest hour with the imminent confession at my fingertips: that I have no sister. Or perhaps the more accurate statement would be that she has no sister. It’s always been about her, so why attempt to change that now? I’ll write it once more for emphasis, triple underscore: SHE HAS NO SISTER, no me.
I write this now not in the spirit of sibling dispute where cries of disownment, divorce or familial exile echo within the hollowed chambers of the communal heart, no, I write with trembling hand, my mind still rejecting that which I now know and must dutifully record, if only for my sister’s sake. The sister I do not have. This I write, as the sister I am not. Help me.
An abstract heaviness descended upon our house sometime in January, a sense of brooding decay that spread through the very walls. I could feel it in the floorboards and in the plastered ceiling, the faintest fluttering, a shuddering growth of something lying in restful stasis, waiting. It wasn’t the house itself. Don’t mistake me. Rather it was something that had taken up residence alongside the rest of us, among us, around us and between us. And in time, this something began to grow inside us.
I tried taking extra shifts at the video store to avoid being at home, tried basking in the fluorescent light and heavy-handed mass-media ambiance of the retail environment, but even when I was away from the house I could feel doomful tendrils pulling at me, a subtle fog sweeping in from forbidden seas to seal me off from external stimuli.
The house, the house, nowhere in the house was this … presence … more pronounced than in my sister’s bedroom at the center of the second floor. Maybe it was the lack of windows, a sense of centrifugal isolation. No windows, only a door and four identical walls covered in vertically striped wallpaper accented with pastel flowers that seemed to shift about in the sickly light of that 75 watt lightbulb overhead. I tried different lamps and lights at different times when the weirdness began, before I lost the will to interfere, but there was something wrong with the walls, just like there was something wrong with everything else.
My sister knew it too, but by then she wasn’t strong enough to leave her bed. She, the hapless invalid to lie sick and stricken, myself the hopeless imbecile to wander voiceless and vexed.
They believed at first that she was merely ill. Merely ill! Sleep disturbances, she complained about dreams. And I want to point out that I’d been complaining about dreams myself all along, times before my sister’s illness became manifest. I’d been plagued with dreams about some amorphous creature’s descent upon this house like some silent amoeba, absorbing us in slow, pathetic digestion. But no one took any interest in that. Only when my sister began having regular nightmares, now that was something to take note of, because I suppose intense regularity in the case of nightmares is of greater analytical value than, say, a single vicious (or viscous) dream repeated only a scattering handful of times … I digress.
And then, of course, her physical ailments began, my sister’s: the headaches, the nausea, the frightening mood swings. After a time I was afraid to visit her bedside while she was awake, so agitated she would become at the sight of me. I sat by her instead while she slept, not touching, not speaking, only watching, so as not to disturb her, only to share in suffering silence with her the slow-creeping horror that was spreading through me.
I suffered too, I’d like to point out. However petty in comparison to that which my sister suffered, I’d like to make a note of it here at least — let this be as much a record of my petty selfishness as everything else. Yes, a sort of living despair took hold of me, which was not obvious at first, because I have been known to suffer depressive episodes in the past. However, this was a nameless Grief that spread through me like a virus, like putrid oil gathering in my organs until I was become this perilous black thing and nothing else. I stopped being able to see colours, in fact found my sensory experience in general muted. I was shrouded, muffled, my consciousness walling itself off as if to protect itself in some last resort effort.
No one noticed any change in me, I know this. Except my sister. I’m certain she could see it, feel it. She was aware of it even more than I, fairly incapacitated by the wrongness of it, of looking at me. At the time I believed that it was her recognition of this mutual enslavement which caused her to rage incoherently when I was present, a perception to be shared silently between us and not communicated to anyone else.
About three weeks of this, my sister’s illness. Indeed, the doctors paid no mind either to my commentary on the situation or to my lesser symptoms, instead seeming wholly concerned and baffled by my sister’s continued deterioration. She seemed lucid less and less, at one time screaming about a blue man hanging in the air, and for a moment as I stood behind the doorframe just out of sight of her, I thought I could see a humanoid shape suspended above her and to her left, my right, and I sank to the carpet with my fist in my mouth to quiet the press of insanity upon my lungs, because, God, I did not need to be calling attention to myself while she was screaming like that.
From the sound of it my sister’s night terrors and waking hallucinations were taking on more and more terrifying and abstract forms, and in time becoming the archetypal images of a vague horror that only she could know. Though with my slanted state of mind and sickened body, I could feel a distant recognition tremble within me too, shadows of comprehension I was only too happy to avoid by working at that damned video store.
Interesting that of the seeming random images that moved through her while she slept, her parched lips keeping breathless narration in sounds that were only sometimes words, I listened to her in times while keeping watch at her bedside, and a certain recurring theme cropped up between her sighs. I recognized it too, could swear I’d dreamed the same or similar, or even if I hadn’t — help me, I’m losing my grasp!
The second floor of a building, brown carpet and walls, a network of short hallways, doors with numbers. It might have been a hotel. It might have been an office building. It might have been a school. It may have been, and probably was, all those things in its various dream incarnations. The only consistency was the desperate quality of those dim hallways and the room number 253. And just as my own thoughts conjured it again and again, so too did my sister call up the image of that room.
Rumors of mental illness, my poor sister; schizophrenia. And in more hushed tones yet: possession. Maybe I started that rumor myself? I can’t be sure anymore whether the idea popped first into my tortured mind and then into the mouths of others or vice versa. Perhaps it did. Perhaps I delineated from psychology into demonology, grasping, grasping. My own state of mind was deteriorating even if no one else noticed for my sister’s accelerated condition. Accelerated or accelerating? I wasn’t sure about that either, but it seemed that something needed to be done, something beyond the power of those impotent medical men administering their anti-psychotics and tranquilizers. I could still hear her screaming, and I couldn’t be sure anymore that I wasn’t screaming with her …
I cast about for some mode of assistance that hadn’t been tried yet, flailing intellectually, ineffectual as a diseased animal on the side of the road. At the video store where I was somehow still managing to fill shifts, my near-sightless eyes settled on a bulletin board flyer. A class schedule for the local community college? The words refused to make any sense on the page, letters defying any attempt to assemble them into anything intelligible. My warped visual apparati fumbling over the text as oversized hands fashioning the stuff of language into grotesque forms.
Except that suddenly I plucked a gem from that monstrosity of self-created word salad. For whatever reason the word EXORCISM coalesced in front of me and seared into my retina. And the room number 253. This was it, I was certain, this was what was going to save me and my sister.
I must have torn the flyer from the wall, because I had it with me when I was later inexplicably drifting through a brown-carpeted room filled with row upon row of folding metal chairs. A mundane orientation event at the campus. Non-descript folding tables to match the folding chairs. There were other people present, potential students perhaps, but I hardly registered them except to try reflexively to imprint my own features upon their faces, only getting so far as to imagine my sister’s horrified expression demonically clawing its way out of various facial orifices.
That’s right, she’d gone to this school. Hadn’t she? Doubt was creeping in. Hadn’t I? My having gone to school here was certainly debatable, its questionableness its only certainty. My thoughts oozed from sickly pores, the only life-substance that remained to me evaporating off a clammy exterior. Silently, I fell into step behind the others who very well could have been the same person, myself included. How deeply ingrained in us are our common social behaviourisms, those learned habits to be repeated in obsequious half-slumber. My very essence mingled and intermixed with those of the others within this collective organism, concepts of individuality falling from me like some metaphor too terrible to reveal.
I might have lost myself entirely had not time and pacing brought me before my veritable guru on the mount whose singular presence recalled my intellect, at least partially, from anonymous places. I was myself, whoever that was at this point. Between my tongue and lips, words refused to form, jumbled syllables beginning to crowd the conduits of my collapsing synapses, “… sore mix escro mio rim cos micro sex risc moxe exo scrim …”
This woman’s gaze pierced through the veil of babbling ruin, honing my intent to a sharp piercing context that I had only to force to the surface: “Exorcism,” I breathed. “I need an exorcism. My sister–” Yes, she even more than myself …
My sister’s name, this woman spoke my sister’s name with such material apprehension I could only start back. How could she know? I repeated my hopes, holding before me the crumpled class list I’d stolen from the work bulletin board. The woman touched my wrist, invoking my sister’s name a second time, as if the speaking of a name could conjure forth the personage itself: my poor sister lying in her sickbed, her dreams eaten away by figures and faces that threatened to spill forth and devour my own waking consciousness.
Yes, I was but a few steps away from descending into that same place of abject madness and despair. Words flowed from me pooling in the space between us, between the woman and I, words on my sister’s desperation, a shared desperation I feared would soon consume me entirely, a yawning mouth spreading wide its jaws before my clouding vision. My poor sister was already slipping away as the seconds slipped through the grasp of my convulsing fingers, slipping out of sight down the gullet of this foul nameless thing that was bent on swallowing us both. My poor sister. And I.
“Do something. An exorcism. Anything. Please help her. Please help me. Help us.”
The woman’s hands were on both of my wrists now, and she shook me. Not hard, but the vibration had me recalling myself, the brown carpet, the folding chairs, the academic advisor who looked me in my eyes still chewing on the syllables of my sister’s name. But the way she looked at me, the certainty of her expression … She was addressing ME with that name.
I shook my head. Not me. Not me, but my sister, withering away to nothing under her bedcovers.
Still the woman insisted on calling me that, and I felt a deeper madness begin to rise within me. She pointed to the class listing on which those chaotic black letters swarmed together to be read quite plainly and I tried to look away, eyes rolling back into my skull as if to escape the phenomenon of vision and latent comprehension. The concrete betrayal of bold typeface sent wave upon wave of revulsion through my trembling body — INTRO TO MICRO ECONOMICS. I, myself, had my thumb ready on the page to indicate those very words, words that no longer held any promise of salvation, only further distortion of perception. Had the world gone mad? Was the fabric of my reality remaking itself in subtle ways beneath my very fingertips?
I would have rushed to be with my sister then, would have gone to cry at her bedside that there was no help to be had for either of us warped and doomful souls. But the bed was empty. Of course it was. Of course it was! Intro to Micro Economics. Of course I’d go to my sister’s room. I had no room of my own to go to. I wanted to think I’d been passing fitful nights on the downstairs couch listening to the muffled screams of my sister descending upon me through the upstairs floorboards, but all this time I suspect those screams were mine, were hers, screams that came from my sister’s throat, oh yes, the both of us screaming with one voice. Intro to Micro Economics. The both of us flinching at one another’s presence because it’s the same face that looks out at us through the mirror, features becoming more foreign and depraved with every glance that we could only wish it to be someone else, to be a sister who by all rights shouldn’t exist. Doesn’t exist.
Of course the advisor would call me by my sister’s name. For all she knew we were the same person. Maybe we were. I don’t have a name of my own. I owe my likeness to her. I owe my state of being to her.
The pen I cling to, writing and writing this most desperate of confessions, it no longer feels substantial between my fingers. Or is it I that lose substantiality in comparison to the writing instrument?
The stuff of my reality is slowly unmaking itself. I have to record this, make some sort of mark upon the surface texture of existence.
Who am I? I must keep writing. What am I? Not her sister. Not her sister. Oh, she is here, is there. But not I. I?
I can no longer distinguish my pen from the distended appendages that emanate from my wrists, fluttering at odd angles, attempting a differentiation of pigment upon some vague surface. The horror.
What am I? Some fever dream. The thread connecting us deteriorates. Am I her then? Certainly she isn’t me. There is no me to be. If there’s a shell to crawl away into, it’s her, but …
Tenuous. My thoughts. Writing. All this time, all this time, my sister, she knew! I am but some writhing abstract concept on a distant memory of brain-canvas.
The connecting thread, the correlation, the concept itself … snaps–