By Lauren Hester
Sylvie was glad she was inside, away from the wind that rattled and howled at her window. It was that time of year when fall starts to show signs of winter–the caressing coolness became a bite on exposed skin, and the reds, yellows and oranges faded away to dull browns and bare, exposed branches that clutched at the sky. Sylvie sat in her twin bed, swaddled in blankets against the chill, with a book propped on a pillow. She absentmindedly stroked her long, damp hair, bringing it to her nose to inhale the fresh, lingering scent of baby shampoo.
That’s when she saw her. She wasn’t sure she saw anything at first. It could have been a shadow cast by car headlights, or her cat Tabby coming to snuggle next to her. Sylvie squinted. There was a small, round shape at the foot of her bed. The eyes glowed slightly. But they weren’t cat eyes.
The shape moved, slinking into the lamplight. Sylvie saw that it was a little girl, but not a little girl, raising herself up on the end of the bed, looking at her. She had long, dark hair that hung in wet, limp strings around a sunken face, and big, yellow-rimmed black eyes that bulged slightly under a furrowed brow. The eyes were cold and dead, there was no light within them.
The girl didn’t move like a little girl, but slid onto the bed, snake-like, using her skinny arms to pull herself toward Sylvie. Her skin was gray and saggy and looked slightly moist, though the room was cool. She stared into Sylvie’s eyes, stretching out a grey, bony hand to lay on top of Sylvie’s book.
“Hello,” she said, in a small voice. She licked her lips, then the inside of her mouth, and made a sucking sound before she swallowed.
“Hello.” Sylvie’s voice was a hoarse whisper. As strange as she looked, Sylvie couldn’t shake the feeling that the girl looked familiar. Her features were not unlike what she saw in the bathroom mirror, not a half hour ago. The hair, though sparse, was the same dull brown, the nose had the unmistakable pert, upward turn. Sylvie recalled leaning over the sink, using a small, pruny pink hand to wipe the fog from the mirror. Her eyes were such a dark brown they were almost black.
Sylvie gripped the book tightly. The girl’s hand was still on it, moisture spreading outward from splayed fingers. She gave what Sylvie supposed was a smile. The corners of her mouth turned up slightly, but the bottom lip gaped open, revealing small, widely-spaced, nubby black teeth.
“What are you reading?” she asked. Sylvie tore the book away and clutched it to her chest.
“None of your business.” The girl raised her sparse eyebrows at this. Her eyes followed them, rising up out of the sockets slightly. She reached out again. As her hand got closer, Sylvie pushed further away, until she could get no closer to the headboard. She panicked, reeling at the thought of one of those grey, wet fingers touching her.
“Littlehouseontheprairie!” she cried. The girl’s hand froze in the air before returning to her own lap, where it lay like a dead thing.
“What’s that about?”
“A girl named Laura, who travels across the prairie with her family to find a new home.” The girl’s eyes–as much as they could–lit up at this.
“Laura…that sounds lovely. That should be my name, don’t you think?” Sylvie shrugged, still crushed up against the headboard. “I’m trying to find a new home too,” the girl added, looking around Sylvie’s room.
“Who are you?” Sylvie asked.
The girl’s head jerked back toward Sylvie, limp hair swinging. “Of course you don’t know me,” she spat, cocking her head until the ear almost reached the shoulder, staring without blinking, before grabbing it with both hands and righting it with a sickening crack.
“I can’t control my body all of the time. Not like you.” Sylvie, uncomfortable at her accusing tone, looked toward the comforting golden slat of light shining underneath the door.
“Now, now,” the girl said, suddenly upbeat, “let’s not tell mom just yet.” Sylvie noted this, the way this girl–Laura–said “mom” with such familiarity.
“Who are you?” Sylvie asked. “I want to know who you are, or I’ll scream.”
“Don’t you recognize me?” Laura asked, hurt. “We used to be very…close.” Sylvie felt a creeping sense of familiarity in the back of her mind, the one that said she looks like you. But how could she possibly know this girl, this thing?
“That’s a lie,” she said. “You’re not even real!”
“That’s right,” Laura said. “I’m not a real girl, because of you.”
“You’re a filthy liar!” Sylvie cried. The girl slithered on her with amazing speed, pressing a cold finger to Sylvie’s lips. The slimy wetness spread down her throat and through her chest in long, grasping fingers, as if Laura had thrust her whole hand down Sylvie’s throat to tickle her insides.
“I don’t lie,” Laura said quietly. “You don’t know the truth.” A few tears squeezed out of Sylvie’s eyes, leaving hot trails down her cheeks.
“We used to be very close,” she repeated. She slid her clammy hands over Sylvie’s face as she spoke. “We were to be sisters, you and I. The best of friends. We were together, warm. So warm…” Laura rubbed her hands over Sylvie’s chest and arms, soaking up her heat. “Then I got weak. I felt sick. I cried out for help. But I got weaker and weaker, while you got stronger, until one day–” She paused, her face so close to Sylvie’s their matching noses almost touched. The corners of her mouth pulled back into a snarl. “–You ATE me!” Laura gnashed her teeth, delirious with warmth, running her hands over Sylvie in a manic massage.
Sylvie’s mustered a scream in her frozen throat that came out as a hacking cough. Laura laughed at this, her rotten breath coursing over Sylvie in rapid, shallow pants. Sylvie saw her reflection in the vapid black pools of Laura’s eyes, saw herself in this girl, and knew that this could not be. She would not let this be. Fighting the screaming pain in her frozen muscles, Sylvie shoved Laura off her chest. As if boneless, she tumbled end over end, sliding off the bed with a hard thump.
“Sylvie? What’s going on in there?” Sylvie started at the brilliant flood of light from the bedroom door. Her mother stared at the floor where Laura had fallen and gasped, her hands over her mouth. “Sylvie! What have you done?!”
Sylvie crawled slowly to the edge of her bed, wincing as the blood flooded back into her limbs. Her cat Tabby lay senseless on the floor, where Laura had fallen moments before. His golden eyes stared blankly at the ceiling.
After a long, terrifying moment, Tabby shook himself awake and darted out of the room. Sylvie barely heard her mother’s admonishment, so stunned and confused she was by the turn of events. She sat back in bed, pulling the covers up around her chin. Black, golden-rimmed eyes blinked at the foot of the bed. Laura’s hands slid up on the comforter, long grey fingers clutching it briefly before she slid out of view.