I should’ve been there to see you. A college visit where I would flirt with your sorority sisters, talk to boys at a frat party, walk around campus to see the haunted buildings. But I was here following your ghost instead.
The diner was typical small-town fare; scuffed wooden floors, sticky linoleum counters, sleepy residents. Sitting at the bartop was a skinny man with a pentagram on his sweatshirt.
“Mind if I take a seat?”
He looked at me, long inky hair dripping over his mono-lidded eyes. “Go ahead.”
The waitress poured me coffee.
“My sister went to college here.” My voice was conversational, though mentioning you was crucifixion.
“I live here.” His voice was raspy, like he spoke too much. “But my sister went there, too.”
“Go Witches.” I raised my nondescript mug.
He clinked his mug against mine, sleeve unearthing a cartoon ghost on his skeletal wrist. “West coast?”
I raised my eyebrows.
“I’m psychic,” he said, and I nearly believed him until a smile sliced across his face. “You’re wearing a University of Oregon sweatshirt.”
“So I’m not a local,” I admitted.
“Visiting your sister?”
Your hands weighed on my shoulders, pushing me into a slouch. “My sister’s gone.”
He zipped up his hoodie. Over his heart: a red Baphomet patch. My eyes caught on his goaty features. The dangle of his goatee, the curve of his horns. His pointed fingers and crossed legs. He ricocheted around my skull.
“Mine, too.” The tall guy handed the waitress money. “Covering him. Keep the change.”
“See you tomorrow, Edgar,” she said.
“Is this a date?” My mouth was possessed by you for a moment.
“We should go on a walk.”
I followed Edgar from the diner. He walked down the uneven sidewalk with ease, stepping over the trenches in the cement. Orange leaves did a danse macabre in front of the dingy buildings.
He stopped in front of a glass storefront to look at me over his shoulder. The display featured a paper tree toppled over, its side crunched flat. “You were listening to Marilyn.” Then he leaned against a telephone pole. The wood sloughed off in hangnail splinters. “You know mine. What’s yours?”
“Klein.” I held my hand out. Your heart ring sparkled on my pinkie.
He shook my hand. On the side of his thumb was a tiny pentagram, a blotted home job. “We can start a club for guys with dead sisters.”
The word dead skittered around in my stomach. “We should.”
“C’mon.” Edgar inclined his head in the direction of the tallest building in town. A looming cathedral with a cross slicing through the clouds. It churned my stomach. “The place of interest.”
“I’m not really…”
“Oh, me neither.” Edgar slid his hand from mine, down to my wrist, to wrap his twiggy fingers around my bones. “My parents are Catholic. I’m…” he looked down at his pentagram, then pulled me down the sidewalk, past the shops, into the stone-laid entrance to campus. Within the gates were brick buildings and trees with yellowed leaves. “Look familiar?”
I shook my head. “Blythe and I had a fight before we left for college.”
A bit of you disappeared from earth each time I used your name. If I said it too many times, you would be obliterated. I avoided looking at the posters with your face and name. They were too profane.
“It’s a nice place, isn’t it?” Edgar asked.
“Yeah,” I said, thinking about the senior picture our granddad used for the poster.
“Do you wanna go somewhere cool?” Edgar didn’t wait for my answer before walking away, leading me wherever he wanted to go. I wanted to let him do that.
I wiggled my wrist from Edgar’s grasp.
“Sorry.” He shambled to a stop in the middle of the sidewalk.
I took his hand and pulled him into the grass with me. Edgar’s face was in sharp focus for the first time as the wind blew his hair back. His features were small and sharp, nose a flat bump, knife cheekbones.
“I didn’t want to get run over,” I said.
“You never answered me.”
“Do you wanna go somewhere cool?” Edgar’s voice struck my spine like lightning to a tree, leaving me charred.
“Show me the way.”
We walked through the rush of students, in their woolen coats and heavy Jansports, holding hot coffees with chilled hands. They didn’t realize we weren’t students. We dug our way into the campus’ belly. Somehow we ended up in the woods skirting the university.
“Are you trying to kill me?” I half-joked.
“I wouldn’t have asked you to come with me in front of people. Do you think I’m stupid?”
My face burned against the wind. “I think you’re a strange man leading me into strange woods.”
Edgar stopped in the midst of the woods, staring off into the distance before refocusing on me. Leaves fell around his face in shards of flame. “My sister and I played at this creek when we were kids.”
“Do you ever want to start over?”
“All the time.” He hunched in on himself. “I live in my hometown.”
“I live in my van.” I didn’t know why I told him, but I did.
Edgar leaned against an elm tree. “You can stay at mine today.”
I looked down at our intertwined hands and tried to force meaning into it.
Edgar pulled me to a creek and sat on the bank. The dry grass crunched beneath him. “We would play here on the days we got along.”
I imagined Edgar as a kid with an equally goth sister. Splashing around in matching black rain boots and long rain slickers, pointing at schools of feeble tadpoles, fighting with stick-swords. I sat next to him and dipped my boot into the creek. The creek crawled over rocks, swirling dead things downstream. It was the only damp part of town I’d seen. Everything else suffered a dry rot.
He picked up a stick and poked at the mossy rocks. “She was a lot cooler than me.” Edgar turned over a rock. “When she died… I hear people in Boston were mourning her. I had people calling me Carrey Liu’s brother, and they’d known me since I was a kid.”
You’d been like that. I had people who only knew me as Blythe’s brother who would tell me things they assumed I didn’t know. All they knew was that they couldn’t make fun of you for being weird anymore, and regret that they spent your entire life doing that.
“She was supposed to graduate last year,” Edgar said.
I looked at your ring. “I’m sorry.”
Edgar turned to me. Light squeezed between branches to land in patches on the ground. I worried it would set the grass on fire. “Do you wanna talk about yours?”
I kicked a rock to the other side of the creek. “We used to be camp counselors, and she did all the arts and crafts stuff. I have, like, ten friendship bracelets.” I showed him the cubey little letters and hearts on my wrist. “She was always rewinding our VHS tapes of Jacob’s Ladder and Candyman and IT. You… you’d probably like her a lot.”
“She would’ve gotten along with Carrey,” Edgar said. “She loved that spooky shit. Me too, but…”
“We were twins.” The back of my neck prickled. I looked for what was watching me. The woods breathed in the same cadence as you.
I shook my head. When we were young, we tried to make ourselves look as different as possible. I buzzed my head. You grew out your hair. Do you remember how we looked like opposites for years? You left your student ID in your room and it lived in my wallet. You’d shaved your head for a cheerleading fundraiser. It was the most you’d looked like me.
Edgar stood and held out his hand. I corseted our hands together.
Had you sat with boys by this creek when you went here? Had you found someone who cared about you before you were gone? Your friends back home were by your coffin. But no one from college came.
Edgar took us back to the diner in silence. Was he thinking about Carrey’s funeral?
I unlocked the van. It was a cyclone of clothes, books, and cassettes. Everything I decided I needed from grandad’s house to make the trip to your college.
I put in the keys but didn’t turn them. “Directions?”
Edgar gently unfolded his sun visor. His eyes caught on something. “Is this you and—?”
The picture our granddad took at our high school graduation. It was the second time I saw him cry. You’d straightened your hair and I wore a suit.
“Yeah,” I said.
“You look happy.”
I started the van. “Give me directions, man.”
Edgar folded up the sun visor and gave me directions to his house. It wasn’t far in a small college town. His apartment had the type of threadbare furniture that Granddad got from thrift stores. You would go with him and leave me home to read. He always liked you more.
Scattered around the apartment were books and notebooks. The titles related to Judeo-Christian mythologies. They were something our parents would read. The first sentence I read was: demons have a habit of attaching themselves to the vulnerable.
And there was a crystal ball on the dining table.
“Will you tell me my fortune?”
Edgar raised his eyebrows. “Would you believe what I said?”
I shrugged. “You’d be surprised what I wouldn’t.” I bent down to unlace my boots. “No one believes how fucking weird my life is.”
Edgar unlaced his giant goth boots. “I’d believe it. Whatever you’d say.”
“I don’t know man.” I stretched back up to my full height. “It’s the type of shit you write a book about when you’re fifty, if you get to be that old.” I unbuttoned my flannel. “Tell me my fortune.”
Edgar sat at the table and gestured for me to sit across from him. When I did, he eyed me and rubbed at his jaw. I was more self-conscious about my stubbly beard than Edgar learning about my past.
“Do you like tarot cards?”
“Just give me what you give everyone else.”
“Well, I have a premonition of your future.” Edgar unzipped his hoodie, letting it fall away from his skinny body. “You’re going to share a tiny apartment with a sad skinny guy and… hm, sleep with him.”
You would’ve laughed and turned down Edgar’s advances. I’d slept with seven people in the year since you’d been gone.
“Do you do this with all your clients?”
Edgar leaned forward. “Only the cute ones.”
I stood from the table. Edgar’s face flinched into emotion for a second. “Pretty cute yourself.”
Edgar’s pale face colored. He looked different with a blush. Less vampiric. “I don’t know what’s happened to me.” He threaded his long fingers through my coarse hair and pulled me closer. “You’re hot and mysterious and surrounded by ghosts and I’m—into that. Very into that..”
Kissing Edgar was chilly, and I had the fleeting thought he would bite into my lips and suck my blood. I shivered against him.
I was so lonely. And Edgar’s skeletal gothness felt familiar, in some strange way.
We stumbled into his bed and tangled ourselves in his threadbare sheets. Edgar’s room was probably as occult as the rest of his apartment, but I was too busy looking at the assorted memento mori decorating his body than the ones filling his room. He was a ghost I could touch.
I bit down on his shoulder to hear his lovely death rattle of a groan.
“Blair,” Edgar choked out.
I unearthed my teeth from his bone-colored skin. “How did you know my name?” Panic rose in my voice. You were the only person allowed to call me Blair, and you were gone. Were you involved in the occult journals and books around Edgar’s apartment?
“I… have a thing.” Edgar skittered away like a dying animal. “I, um… I have the gift.” He admitted, like it was a terrible disease. For a second, I was a child again, by your side as our parents walked us through the sick, pointing out those who would soon be dead and telling us what will happen to their spirits. Occult superstitions.
“You see ghosts?”
Edgar scratched a coffin on his forearm. “I’m a human Ouija board. It’s not really… something I can filter.”
“Who’s talking to you?” I asked, though I had an aching suspicion.
“I think they’re your parents.”
I stopped breathing. Our parents weren’t a large part of my memory. Granddad adopted us out of that situation by the time they died, told us gently that we didn’t have a mom and dad anymore when we didn’t have them in the first place. They didn’t do Mom and Dad things. We didn’t blow out birthday candles, or eat sugar skulls, or light the menorah together. Granddad had to introduce us to Abuela, who didn’t know we existed. Our mother never cared to tell her.
Edgar crawled towards me on his knuckles. “Are you okay?”
I’d been visiting our parent’s death since you’d been gone. The pictures, the police statements, the hearsay. All the photos were black and white, but the color of their blood soaked through like wine in a tablecloth.
You had separate pictures of our parents. Our mother’s high school graduation photo, our father’s first mugshot. They lived together in my wallet, behind your student ID. A family at last. Sometimes I would imagine the love that was absent from our lives.
I blinked at Edgar, his sharp face stabbing into focus. He attempted a smile, and I wondered if this was the same man with the biting wit I met earlier. His hair jagged across his face and obscured his eyes. It made him look young. For a second, I lived with the zapping horror of him being underage. The ghosts dissipated.
“Where did you go?”
“Back with my parents.” I couldn’t think of anything better to say.
Edgar’s eyes flicked behind my shoulders. “Does it make you uncomfortable?”
My parents had watched over me my whole life, then, like good parents should. Or they’d split their time between you and me. I didn’t know which one made me hate them more. “You’ve talked to them more recently than I have. But they were never parents to me.”
He stretched out his back. “Ghosts normally ruin the mood.”
“I’m guessing you don’t have a lot of—”
“I don’t.” He got off the bed and opened a drawer in the large antique dresser. “Would you like something of mine?”
The idea of wearing Edgar’s dark clothes stabbed a shiver through my heart.
Edgar rooted through the drawer. “Ghosts… they haunt places. Things. The Warrens—fucking liars, but at least they’re getting us out there—did a lot of investigations. Do a lot. Whatever.” He wiggled into a sweatshirt. “The Amityville Horror, the Perron family, Snedecker, Enfield.” Edgar poked his head from the sweatshirt. “That Annabelle doll.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Objects. That’s what ghosts and demons do.”
“They don’t really haunt people.” He kept digging through the drawer. “Demons, sure. People are their vessel into the real world.” Edgar threw on a pair of sweatpants, then handed me a sweatshirt. “You’re the Annabelle doll and your parents are the demons.”
“I’m unsettled you think I’m a doll.” I nestled myself into the Edgar-scented coffin of the sweatshirt. Our parents have always been demons, in one way or another. It was nice to hear that from someone who knew his shit. “A sex doll or the creepy Raggedy Ann type?”
“I think you’re a person.”
I picked at my cuticles. “Are you…” I didn’t know if I was going to end the sentence with mad or serious, then decided to scrap it. “I’m apparently haunted as hell, and you’re a medium. Are we natural enemies?”
“Can I kiss you?” Edgar asked. He twisted the stake in my heart, more hot affection gushing from the wound. “Would you kiss your enemy?”
I shook my head, breath coming in bursts.
“Am I your enemy?”
I dragged Edgar closer by the back of his icy neck. My fingers wormed their way into his hair. Our mouths met; Edgar kissed me with a tender gentleness I didn’t deserve.
“Not enemies,” I agreed when he pulled away.
“Sit with me.” Edgar pulled me to the living room. He had a habit of pulling me around like a ragdoll. We sat on the threadbare flannel couch in front of the coffee table covered with occult books. Edgar threw his legs over mine, nearly sitting in my lap, boney ass jabbing into my thighs. “Are you ready for bad news?” His eyes flicked over my shoulders, then he leaned in to kiss my cheek.
“I don’t know.” Our parents weighed crypt-heavy in my mind.
“I don’t see your sister’s ghost.”
Corpse-cold guilt gushed through my veins. “She’s not dead.”
“I had a feeling.” Edgar’s eyes went cold for a second before melting. “What happened to Blythe?”
“Don’t say her name. Please.” I lowered my head between Edgar’s neck and shoulder. “She disappeared. Walked into the woods one day. We buried an empty coffin.”
Edgar wrapped his arm around me.
“But your sister—”
“At least I know what happened to Carrey. Even though she was stabbed. It’s better than staying up at night obsessing over what could have.”
I squeezed my eyes shut and breathed in the cool smell of Edgar’s neck. He smelled like candle wax and black coffee. Edgar wasn’t much warmer than the outdoors. “I know what happened to her.”
Edgar’s raspy breathing filled the silence.
“Our parents were in this sort of demonic death cult. You know the Manson family? It was like them.” The thought of our childhood stabbed through my heart. “But instead of murdering other people, they ended up killing themselves. To bring the twin demons to life.”
Edgar went stiff. “You’re a vessel.”
My research since you were gone made it seem like the commune didn’t exactly endorse child rearing. Ex-members who escaped wrote books about it. One of them mentioned having the child beaten from her. Our parents were chosen to procreate. We were created from conception to serve one purpose, and then we failed at that. I took a certain cruel joy at the idea of betraying our evil purpose.
I hated that my history was inescapable. Our parents haunted me. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t gut myself of my purpose.
Edgar got off my lap. He bent over the coffee table and reshuffled artifacts until he found what he wanted. A sliver of lower back skin sliced from his black clothes. A perfect plot for a tramp stamp to drive people mad with desire.
“Are you sure you’re ready?” He turned, holding something in his hands with reverence. The unsurety in his face made me want to ask if we could go back to bed. Just to hold each other. But this sacred thing was important. I could tell from the cupping of his hands.
“Always,” I said, and I tried to mean it.
It was a Polaroid picture of you and a Chinese girl beaming at the camera. You looked at me through a Ouija board planchette. The other woman had the same sharp features as Edgar, but a brighter smile.
“Blythe,” I breathed.
“I didn’t think about it until—” Edgar cut himself off. “Carrey said she had a friend who was into the same sort of stuff she was.” He shifted his hand and the light shifted off the glossy picture. “She wanted to have the gift like me, but it’s not something you gain. Or want.”
I couldn’t stop looking at your face. I’d forgotten your smile, the way your face squished, how your eyes crimped up. It was sacrilege to forget something so simple.
“They lived together. In their sorority.”
My stomach curled into a rotten fist. “Did Blythe stab her?”
Edgar walked away from me. He looked through his blinds.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean—”
“Yeah. She did.” He turned to me and crumbled like old marble.
I stood from the decaying couch and wrapped my arms around him. For that moment, I was half of a whole again. I didn’t care that we were strangers brought together by tragedy. To be half of something greater than myself was more than enough. “I’m sorry,” I whispered, and held him close. His bones pricked me. I nearly expected them to draw blood.
Edgar rested his head against my shoulder and gasped in clawing breaths. He wasn’t crying; just breathing, on the knife’s edge of crying.
“We need to go to the woods,” I said. It was very Edgar-esque of me to say. Cryptic. “There’s something… something there. It wanted me.”
Even in the apartment, far from the woods, I felt the pinprick of eyes on the back of my neck. The eyes of something greater than myself.
“You know how you can see ghosts?” Something itched beneath my skin. My skeleton wanted to escape my body. Something in my soul wanted to crawl into the world. “Sometimes… I feel demonic things. I don’t know. Occult shit draws me in, and then I…” I looked at Edgar’s thumb. “I’ve spent my whole life running from this thing.”
Edgar shifted so he could look at me, then his eyes flicked over my shoulder.
I gave in to some deeper instinct and shoved Edgar’s thumb in my mouth, flattening my tongue against his pentagram tattoo to taste the ink. His skin tasted like coffee and papers. If I tried hard enough, I could taste the ink’s tang.
“Did something in me call to you?” Edgar asked.
Edgar slowly removed his thumb from my mouth, letting my teeth scrape against his skin. He cradled my face in his hand, wet thumb pressed against my cheek. “We’re a strange pair.”
“I’d like to fall in love with you.” I was dizzy, like Edgar’s tattoo drugged me. “We could be something. A better version of the Warrens.”
“We could be,” Edgar agreed. Our promises weighed heavy in the air. We lived so fully in the past that the future wasn’t something to us. “Are we going to the woods?”
I didn’t want to. Desperately. I wanted to stay on Edgar’s couch with him. But I needed to go to the woods. I needed to go to you.
Edgar and I had sex in the back of my van in the university parking lot. The trees observed us through the windows with impassive silence. There was an air of finality to it. It was like we knew one of us would die before we got to sleep together again. We emerged from my van as the sun began setting, breath fogging the air. Edgar slipped one of my shitty pocket knives in his pocket and took out a cigarette.
“I didn’t know you smoked,” I said.
“Only after sex.” Edgar shrugged. “This place’s too dry to smoke any other time. One stray ash…” Edgar flicked on his flashlight and shone it into the woods. “A better version of the Warrens,” he said, like he was trying to convince himself.
My heart scuttled in my chest. I took Edgar’s hand.
The walk to the woods wasn’t far: across the cracked asphalt and into the scrubby autumn trees. It wasn’t as inviting as earlier in the day, full of nightmares instead of memories. Whatever it was in the woods tugged at me in the darkness, a siren’s song of the dead.
At that moment, I knew I wouldn’t leave the woods alive.
Edgar shone the light into the vast darkness of the trees, tall and jolted like broken scarecrows. Their shadows ate the grass beneath them, world crumbling crumbled as we walked into your grave. The creek groaned in the night. Edgar’s flashlight glinted off it like shards of broken glass.
You stood there, Ophelia rising from her riverbed, clothes ripped, eyes rolled back, hair wild like a caged animal. Something that shouldn’t exist.
“Blair.” Your voice was a death rattle. “Why did you abandon me?”
I didn’t expect seeing you to hurt so much. Your hair had grown out to be the same length as mine. We were different sides of a mirror. Even though your eyes were rolled back, there was something in them that made me want to set the world on fire for you.
“Why did you abandon me?” you asked again.
“You killed my sister!” Edgar’s voice echoed in the still night. I didn’t expect his rage.
“Blood is blood.” You stepped closer to me, feet dragging against the rocks in the freezing creek. Walking on broken ankles. “We’ll be what we were meant to be. Don’t you want that? To be together again? Did you miss me?”
I breathed in deeply, chilled air stabbing my lungs. “You’re not Blythe.”
“Aren’t I?” You smiled like you, and I knew, in that moment, that you were still in that body with the demon. But there was no way of getting you out.
“Whatever you are isn’t Blythe.” I held Edgar tighter.
You stumbled forward out of the creek. “Don’t you want to fulfill your purpose? Don’t you want to come with me?” Your eyes were wild, shining in the flashlight beam, as your body lumbered forward. Once, you were human. But you weren’t anymore. “We can be here forever. And ever. We’ll never fight. You’ll never miss me again. We’ll be a real family, with mom and dad.” You smiled at me with sharp teeth. “Isn’t that what you want?”
Our parents floated behind me, haunting me like a building. I’d never escape any of my ghosts.
My whole life, I had wanted my death to be insignificant. Something average, like a car crash, a heart attack, an aneurysm. Unremarkable. But I didn’t get what I wanted. We rarely did in our family.
I looked at Edgar. “I wish I could’ve known you longer.”
His eyes widened. “What?”
“But, you know… you lit a spark in my heart.” I let go of Edgar’s hand, even though he scrabbled after me. “Blythe is all I have. I was made for this.” I walked over to you and took your hand instead. Wet and cold like thawed roadkill. Up close, you looked more feral than human. Hair came loose from your scalp in chunks. Open sores oozed on your skin. “I’m ready,” I told you. “I’m ready for… what I was born to do. What we were born to do.”
You smiled at me. Roots of your teeth were exposed. “We need blood for this to work.”
“That’s why I brought a sacrifice.” I looked at Edgar. “I’ll do the honors.” I strided to Edgar, walking up to him. “The knife. I need it.”
Edgar looked at me, a terrified animal, and shook as he handed me the knife.
Then I kissed high on his cheekbone. “One stray ash,” I whispered. “It won’t take long,” I said, louder. I unsheathed the knife, knowing I wouldn’t jab the chilled blade into Edgar’s flesh. “Blythe? I don’t know if I can do it.” I called louder.
You shambled up to me, coming close to Edgar. An aura of rot surrounded you. I knew you were dead from the moment the demon entered you, even if your soul was still in there.
I took in a steadying breath and stabbed into your stomach. When we came to blows, I always won. You got things handed to you because you were everyone’s favorite. Me, I had to fight for everything I got. I wrapped my arms around you and dropped to the ground. The knife dragged in your stomach. You smelled like the rotting meat we ate in the commune.
Edgar dropped his cigarette into the grass. He was right. Everything in this town was dead. The woods went up in flames. But for good measure, he flicked on his lighter and tossed it into the fray. Then he paused and looked at me.
“Leave,” I commanded over your shrieks. I carved the knife through your stomach, bloated with starvation. We’d briefly been sick like that before, when grandad first got custody of us.
The flames spread through the dry grass.
“I wanted you to love me, too,” Edgar said.
“I’ll come back to you.”
Edgar faded into the darkness. Flames crawled up the trees and shrieked into the sky. I held you in place with my weight and the sharp point of the knife. Your wails filled the air. Mine joined yours as the flames consumed us. Twins once again whole in death.
Magnus Singer is an Ohioan author and a recent graduate of Ohio Northern University, where he obtained his Creative Writing degree. His poetry has previously been published in Polaris Literary Magazine and the graveyard zine. He grew up reading on top of gravel piles at his family farm, but currently resides in the city with his boyfriend and his emotional support seal plushie, Mochi. You can find him on Twitter @AmTheLemon, and on Instagram @magnus_s.writes.