Michelle Hedges (2009)

[Shaun Roberts: shadow twin]


‘Where’s Mummy and Daddy?’ was her first thought, as the nauseating smell of disinfectant washed over her. It smelled like Grandma’s toilet. Lizzie opened her eyes and squinted in the insipid yellow light of the single bulb; she looked around the pale green room. Thick hard leather straps cut into her wrists and ankles. It was at this point Lizzie began to scream - a high-pitched child’s scream of pure terror; and in they came, wearing their white coats and hats, trying to calm her with their needles. After the needles the darkness came to claim her away again. There was peace in the darkness far away from this terrible place, where the grown-ups in the white coats and hats with their needles couldn’t reach her. This was where Lizzie fled to when the light became too bright, too real; this was her sanctuary, where Tom was.

Six years, she reflected standing in the secured waiting area; she had come as a terrified 12 year old six years ago and now she was leaving. ‘Cured’, the doctors had said. How do you define cured? How do you fix something that was never broken in the first place? Her anger at the injustice still prickled under the surface.

“Ssh,” Tom whispered gently calming her. She could smell him.

The sun filtered weakly through the dirty barred windows, drawing Lizzie’s attention to the vase of brightly coloured flowers on the coffee table. The flowers were an obscenely cheerful lie for the benefit of the families who came for duty visits with their relatives. Lizzie waited for the heavy steel door to slowly open. The past danced close by, as memories of this particular door flooded back ...

Her parents had stood by the door, while the men in white uniforms had dragged her screaming through the opposite door. Crying and begging her parents to take her home, she’d tried to make them understand why she had done what she’d done. No-one listened, no-one understood, everyone had condemned her and they locked her up to be ‘fixed’.

The loud buzzer jolted Lizzie from her reverie and the door swung outwards into the sun-lit reception area. The taxi stunk of lemon upholstery cleaner and a faded pine tree air freshener dangled from the mirror. An occasional whiff of something gross filtered out of the carpets.

“All good, love?” The taxi driver’s teeth flashed white in the rear-view mirror.
Lizzie felt her head nod.

The taxi slowly rolled away from the kerb as Lizzie stared numbly out of the window at the redbrick building with the white bars across the windows. The building looked almost quaint from the outside, completely belying the hideous infractions on human rights which took place inside. She watched as the building that would always haunt her nightmares retreated into the distance.

Lizzie stared unseeingly out of the window as the taxi made its way through the bland grey labyrinth of the city streets.

“You must be looking forward to getting home,” smiled the taxi driver conversationally.

Lizzie stared at the back of the man’s head. “Yeah,” she grunted.

She’d had lots of practice at telling people what they wanted to hear. Tom had taught her how to do that; it had been a way of surviving the last six years. Lizzie sighed, ‘home’ felt like a giant black maw, open and ready to suck her back to her parent’s cold empty world. She shrugged, so be it. The darkness would always be there for her she mused as the taxi stopped at a red light. She regarded the empty-eyed nameless people waiting to cross the intersection - like dogs at a starting gate waiting for the rabbit to appear so they can rip it to pieces. The street buzzer sounded and the great unwashed mass of people moved forward as some seething writhing many-limbed monster jostling with itself for first place. Lizzie leaned back and closed her eyes. No, the darkness wasn’t so bad at all. Tom was in the darkness with her. She felt the taxi jolt as it moved forward, her mind drifting to the past again ...

The orange light in the hall flickered and dimmed, casting shadows through the little window in her door. The light across the green hospital linoleum made it look a putrid shade of mustard. Lizzie felt the tears prickle the backs of her eyes. She hadn’t minded the light before, but now she knew what it meant when it darkened; its energy source was being drawn away. The light only did that when the people in the white coats and hats were doing bad things on the ‘special’ table. A chill rolled through Lizzie at the thought of the special table. The one that made your muscles bend and twitch in excruciating pain. The orange light dimmed again, Lizzie whimpered as she huddled in the corner of her room under a thin blanket.

The taxi eased past the road works as Lizzie stared at the bored face next to the stop/go sign. The dark eyes held her gaze as the taxi accelerated. She remembered another set of dark eyes, imploring dark eyes, beseeching her to help him. She could see them now, the eyes of her twin brother staring up at her from his thin white ghost face, imploring her to help him stop the horror growing within him. It did not matter how many years passed, her brother's eyes still burned in Lizzie’s mind. It was the eyes that had made her do it, she thought, as the past wrapped around her once more ...

An evil septic thing had taken up residence in her brother’s young body, feeding off him, slowly draining him until nothing but a shell remained. His eyes were the last thing she saw as she placed the pillow over his face and gently laid her small body across it. A single sob wrenched itself from her lips as the tears poured silently down her face. She felt his grip tighten on her hand as his body tensed and his legs kicked out. This was when the darkness came to her and swept her away from her own anguished screams of utter despair which brought her parents rushing to the room the twins shared.

The taxi hummed along the motorway heading north, carrying her closer and closer to her parent’s house. Lizzie contemplated jumping out, an extreme way of avoiding her parent’s eyes she thought. An image of her mother’s look of horror swam before her. She couldn’t remember exactly at what point she had seen that look, but there were traces of it still in her mother’s eyes, just as an empty haunted look dogged her father. She was so grateful that she had Tom to help her be strong. Her parent’s grief had blinded them to a perverse gift Fate had bestowed on them six years ago; but no matter how much Lizzie had tried, her parents and the doctors would not listen, and then the shadow had appeared . . .

She screamed for mummy and daddy when she saw the shadow flicker out of the corner of her eye for the first time. The shadow terrified her and she pointed and shrieked as the strong thin woman with the cold bony hands held her down. The shadow shifted in and out of focus, like an elusive wisp of smoke as she felt a sharp jab of the needle in her leg again. A wave of nausea hit her and the room swayed wildly as she saw the shadow drift closer to her. The darkness came then and once again enveloped her and sheltered her.

The taxi veered onto the off-ramp and the driver swung the vehicle towards Lizzie’s parent’s suburb. There had not been so many changes in this quiet part of town, and Lizzie felt a pang of regret as they drove past the small corner block of shops the twins and their friends would meet at, laughingly exchanging lollies and gossip before dawdling to school. The past called Lizzie’s attention again as memories washed over her . . .

The shadow had been appearing to Lizzie for about six months when one night, as she was huddled in the corner of her room, it appeared by the door. Lizzie shook with terror as the shadow, a thin wispy grey mist, had drifted slowly towards her. No-one heard her screams, or - if they did - no-one came to check on her. Lizzie could feel the darkness hovering beside her as the shadow drew closer and closer. Just as the shadow reached her, the darkness once again comforted her in its inky embrace.

“It’s all right, Lizzie,” said a familiar voice in the darkness.

Lizzie trembled, “Tom?”

“Yes, Lizzie, it’s me,” said her brother. She could feel his presence pressing in on her.

“Tom, what’s happening?” stammered Lizzie.

“Come on Lizzie, move over, there’s room for both of us,” said Tom.

Lizzie felt a jolt. It was as if she had been shunted to one side within her body. She suddenly felt cramped in her own body. “Tom,” she wailed, “what’s happening?”
“I’m here, Lizzie,” said Tom’s voice through Lizzie’s lips. “This way we can always be together.”

Lizzie’s heart gave a momentary flutter and a faint sheen of perspiration covered her palms as the driver turned the taxi into the old oak-lined street of her childhood.

“It’s all right,” said Tom in her head, “just like always, if it gets too much for you, rest in the darkness and I’ll take over.”

Lizzie nodded as the taxi slowed to a halt.

That is how she had survived the treatments at the hospital and the times she had spent on the special table. Lizzie had sheltered in the darkness while Tom had endured the pain as their muscles writhed and twisted. After the treatments, Tom would find solace and healing in the darkness and Lizzie would suffer the people in white coats and hats with their needles.

She paid the driver and climbed out. Standing on the sidewalk, she saw a shadow move across one of dark empty windows as the taxi drove off. Slowly, achingly she moved up the path towards her old life. As she reached the door a large shape appeared and she looked into her father's face. He attempted a glimmer of a smile as his hollow eyes regarded her.

“It’s good to have you home,” he said, his arms falling loosely around her for a brief moment.

“It’s good to be home Dad,” lied Lizzie. “Where’s mum?”

“She’s just out picking up some groceries. She’ll be back soon. We kept your room ready for you.”

Lizzie nodded and began to climb the circular stairwell which graced the entry hall. The plush carpet cushioned her feet, absorbing any noise of her passing, and a slightly ozone smell from the air conditioning lingered faintly in the air. At last she reached the seclusion of their room. To her horror she realised her parents had kept the room exactly as it had been six years ago: a sick memorial to the twins as they had once been. Lizzie felt the darkness once again flutter next to her, a comforting familiar friend as she stared at the toys, the books, the dolls and the cars that sat neatly in their places waiting for her and Tom to play with them.

“It’s all right Lizzie, you just rest. I’ll look after everything,” said Tom as she sank gratefully into the darkness, leaving Tom with the body for now.

© Michelle Hedges

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