by Britny Brooks
Isla waited for her sister from her side of the bathroom door.
It wasn't unusual for Cara to sneak out with shadows under her eyes and an air of purposefulness once the house grew quiet. Isla knew exactly when her sister would slip into their jack-and-jill bathroom and she would make sure that she was already there with the door slightly cracked. Sometimes her sister would hum to herself as she splashed water on her face or twisted her hair up into a bun before leaving. Other times she only took a peek at herself before pulling a sweater over her head and turning off the light.
It didn’t matter to Isla what her sister was doing in front of the mirror or where she might be going after she slipped out the window; it was the nature of their silent ritual that drew Isla to the door night after night. Once when her sister was out of town Isla couldn’t shake the fear that Cara was standing in front of an unfamiliar wall of glass with a lost stare waiting for her. Then, before she could think about more about the dream, the bathroom light popped on and Cara shuffled in.
Shock flared hard like a match being struck as Isla saw her sister. She dug her fingers into the carpet, not sure if it was to keep from rushing to help or to keep from fainting. The blood dripped slowly between Cara’s fingers and into her cupped hand as she pinched her nose. It wasn’t anything serious, but the deep color and way that Cara’s breath came heavy and rasping made Isla’s stomach clench and her mouth dry.
As Cara gingerly felt through the blood under her nose she bit her lip unconsciously, then spat out the stringy mix of fluids into the sink with an annoyed glare at her reflection. Isla couldn’t see into the bowl of the sink but the flecks and spatters on the rim were a dark, chocolatey red.
Cara held her reflection’s gaze as she massaged the bridge of her nose and a small bubble popped. Isla felt a peculiar impatience kindle within her as she gazed at the blood still on her sister’s face. She wanted Cara to wipe it off already. In her mind’s eye, she watched as hundreds of versions of herself confronted her sister and washed the blood from her.
Cara was still standing in front of the sink considering herself.
In Isla’s mind, each version of herself became more violent than the last. In the midst of her rushing thoughts, Cara was an island. She couldn’t be sure, but now the reflection of the blood in the mirror looked much darker than before and the angles of her sister’s face were harsher.
Finally, the muffled sound of the running faucet broke through and her mind began to clear.
Cara was trying to wipe away the blood, her hands like fish jumping in and out of the water. Isla watched as the shadows behind her sister’s reflection shifted from dusty black to a rich velvet. All of a sudden, she wished she knew how long she had been sitting there. Cara continued wiping the blood from her chin and mouth. She took a deep breath, then spat more clots into the sink. The porcelain was stained with droplets of herself that ran in jagged lines towards the drain.
Isla thought of bits of her sister being coughed up, her throat began to burn, and she couldn’t watch anymore. The edge of the door cut her sister in half as Isla tried to get up and the sudden movement left her lightheaded. In the mirror, the skin above Cara’s lips was a raw pink. The remaining blood was washed-out and thin as Cara brought her face to the stained water cupped in her hands. The floor beneath Isla seemed to shift beneath her.
In the bathroom, the faucet had stopped running and everything was plunged into darkness. Isla’s skin was clammy and her muscles shook as if some enormous strain had finally been relieved. She slowly became aware that her hands had been covering her eyes. The afterimage of Cara’s red waited behind her eyelids when she blinked.
In the dark, the room spun a little harder and the image of her sister came unbidden. She was so pale, and the lights above her hovered like ghost orbs. Isla felt now that there was something just on the other side of the door, discarded and waiting. Pins and needles travelled up her legs as she got to her feet and her mind replayed what she’d seen over and over, faster and faster.
Cara’s blood seemed to move on its own, twitching and writhing in the sink. The shadows behind Cara’s reflection moved as if the light above her was not still and constant. The knob stung against her skin as she pushed the door to the bathroom open. Isla tried to remember Cara’s face as she watched herself in the mirror. Isla shuffled closer to the sink, hand holding on to the counter for balance.
In the dark her skin is gray, and she can barely make herself out from the shadows surrounding her. Cara had been looking in the mirror as if searching for something. Isla’s breath came out like a sob as she rubbed her palms into her eyes. She wants to go back, turn around and go to bed, but she knows she can’t now. She is already here and the thought of not knowing what she might find is as terrifying as discovering the answer. She forces herself to gather the courage to look deeper into the mirror. Orbs of red and green dance in the darkness around her.
In shadows of the mirror, the pale bones of her sister’s skull stare back at her.
Britny Brooks has a passion for novellas, spider plants, short story collections, and tiny houses. She during the day she is an editorial assistant for a publishing house in Philadelphia and the rest of the time you'll find her reading or playing video games under a pile of cozy blankets. She has fiction in The Airgonaut and Ghost Parachute, and you can find her on Twitter at @Britny_Brooks