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Author's note: I'm not sure what exactly inspired this piece, but the setting is based on an island we stay on during the summer.
We didn’t really want to go, even if it was what Mom had called “a nature haven”. We had a project to work on, and we couldn’t really bring a computer with us to the cabin. But no one ever asked us, so we just kept quiet and stared out the window. The forest passed by in a blur of green and brown. Sometimes if we stared hard enough and sort of narrowed our eyes, we could focus on individual objects, and follow them with our heads as they disappeared out of our line of sight.
Once Johnny cried out and pointed to a shape flitting away through the trees. It had been a deer, but we weren’t paying attention enough to see (and didn’t know how he could, either, since he was reading). We had been staring at the trees that looked orange, or perhaps even an orange-ish red, with thin peeling bark and green near the top. We learned later that they were madrona trees, but we didn’t know their name then and called them the peeling-bark trees.
Johnny was in the back, reading, and we could hear him turning the pages rapidly as he sped through it, as most books. It was a suspense novel, quick, easy. For him, anyway. He was a college-level reader, even if he was only three years older than us and a Sophomore in High School. He’d brought many books like the one he was probably going to finish before we got there. Vacation books. Cheap paperbacks you could buy in any convenience store, like the “dime novels” printed out once a month in the thirties about Wild Bill and Detective Pete and other western or private eye thrillers.
We had brought The Wind in the Willows, Peter Pan, and a few other “children’s classics”. We had a name for everything, categorized everything, divided everything into little baskets of thought. We once read that women thought in circles, whereas men thought in straight lines. It made sense to us, though when we’d tried and asked Johnny whether or not he thought in straight lines, he’d looked up distractedly from Les Miserables and told us to go away. That was last year. This year he’d moved up to even harder novels like The Canterbury Tales, in original Olde Englishe format. We gave up on the second line of that version and resorted to reading about half of the translated format until we got bored with it. We really wished that Chaucer had finished writing all the tales and said who got the free dinner in the end because he or she told the best stories. We thought that, personally, the knight should have gotten the dinner because his story had such beautiful poetry it almost made us cry.
We’d been thinking and staring aimlessly into space for so long that we barely even noticed when the car lurched to a stop, the key pulled from the ignition to clank on the key ring against the other keys and the doors opened. Johnny was pushing past us and Mom was crying happily,
“We’re here! We’re here!”
“Everybody out and help unload.” Dad said, opening our door. “Katelyn, Katherine, that means you, too!” We sighed and hopped out, breathing in the fresh pine air and smiled at each other. Being twins didn’t mean we had to be polar opposites, but it didn’t mean we had to be the same body, heart, and mind, either, even though we usually acted that way. We were like the Yin and Yang symbol—fitted together perfectly, and had some of each other in us, but were still our own person and could be easily identified apart.
I carried Katherine’s bag and the cooler, and Katherine carried my bag and the dry food bag. Bread, chips, crackers, cookies; snack foods and baking goods. Even though the cabin had the very basic needs such as flour, oatmeal, and some hot chocolate mix if you were lucky, we still had to bring our own food. Our family wasn’t pioneers or Laura Ingalls Wilder during a long winter. The nearest store wasn’t too far, but Mom said she liked her privacy. I secretly agreed, though Katherine said that she thought it was a little creepy feeling like we were the only ones in the forest.
We were unpacked quickly, even though we had baggage for five people, not including food and extra things like Dad and Johnny’s fishing tackle. We were all anxious to get settled in, though not as anxious as Mom. She had already opened the cabin with the keys hidden under the small porch and was wandering through the small space, touching things here and there. Katherine and I had only been here once, when we were three, so I didn’t remember very much, although Katherine said she distinctly remembered eating bread, fresh from the oven, which was odd. Usually we share the same memories since we’ve been nearly everywhere together. We had nearly the same schedule except for gym and science, both of us being in advanced classes, and we were on the same out-of-school basketball league. I felt bad for our teachers, coaches, and fellow classmates, who were constantly mixing us up even though we rotated outfits. Yep, we shared the same closet, which was fine with the both of us. We had the same style, except I wanted to wear tunics all the time, even if it was Katherine’s turn with one of the two tunics we owned and the other was in the wash. I like to subtly dress like someone from medieval times, but only subtly. If I could have worn a cloak with the hood pulled up, looking very mysterious, I would have, but that would have been way too embarrassing. I couldn’t deal with embarrassing very well. Even though we’d been constantly stared at by new kids and teachers and called “Kathlyn” all our lives, I was still getting used to it. Katherine liked the attention more than I did, but I was clingy. I couldn’t be without her. She’d never admit it, but she was the same way.
“Smells good here, doesn’t it, Kathy?”
She breathed in deep. “Yeah. Like a mixture of cut grass, fresh gum, and those little pine air fresheners you keep in your car.”
We laughed together, even if it wasn’t that funny. We both understood. Katherine was a good joke-teller. Like I said, she liked attention. Once we’d both tried out for the school play, though it was Katherine’s idea. We ended up both being trees. Go figure.
I snuck a glance at Katelyn, though there was really no reason to be sneaky. She was looking all around her, taking in the sights. It was pretty here, but dead silent. It was creepy, almost. Usually you’d be able to hear at least some birds, or the wind through the trees, but right now it was silent. Dead silent.
“Creepy, isn’t it?” Katelyn asked in a hushed voice, reading my mind as usual.
“Yeah.” I agreed. “Perfect opportunity to pop in some headphones.”
I went inside to get our iPod—we shared one—and hurried back out to the porch, where I found Katelyn sitting calmly. She’d found a table and was sitting on it, dangling her legs. It was old but sturdy, and painted in red. The paint was peeling, and I noticed part of the paint had been picked away so that it looked like a bunny. I wondered if it had happened on purpose.
“Here you go.” I handed her a headphone, put in my own, and cranked up the volume on Taylor Swift. We leaned back against the wall of the cabin and relaxed. Guitar chords flooded into my ears, and I felt at peace.
I must have fallen asleep, because when I opened my eyes again, Katelyn was gone, and the iPod was playing soundtrack from Angels and Demons, which at time can be really freaky or really calming. I woke up because it was one of the freaky tracks, and the loud noise startled me. I’m usually a really light sleeper.
It was cold out, and the sun was beginning to set, turning the sky into a watercolor painting. I shivered and headed inside.
“There’s the sleeping beauty!” Mom cried. The front door leads straight into the kitchen, and everyone was gathered around the small table, munching on chips and salsa. “I was just about to send your father out to bring you in.”
“How long was I asleep?” I asked, placing the iPod on the table and wrapping my arms around Katelyn to warm myself up.
“Only half an hour.” My twin answered for Mom. “We didn’t do much. I started Wind in the Willows, and Johnny helped Dad barbecue.”
“It’s outside.” Johnny explained, though it was hard to understand because his mouth was so full. I hadn’t asked him where the barbecue was, but he felt so “advanced” that he needed to explain everything to everyone. “That barbecue is so aged, it will take the steak at least another hour to roast.”
Johnny liked to use big words, as he showed as often as possible. “Bummer.” I muttered, stealing a chip from underneath our older brother’s nose and snickering as he cried out in indignity. “I’m hungry.”
“The rest of dinner will be ready soon.” Mom said from the stove. “These potatoes are almost done, and I was just about to recruit you two to make a salad.”
Katelyn and I groaned simultaneously but rose without complaint. I hunted around for a bowl and a knife while Katelyn pulled the lettuce and other ingredients out of the ancient, humming fridge. Johnny and Dad discussed fishing tactics while Mom mashed the potatoes and Katelyn and I chopped carrots and tomatoes. I overheard Dad and Johnny mention something about “tomorrow” and asked, half-interested,
“Oh? Are you guys going somewhere tomorrow to fish?”
“We were all planning to go, actually.” Mom replied, setting the mashed potatoes on the table. “There’s a lake not too far from here. You girls probably don’t remember, but we went swimming there the last time we were here.”
No, I didn’t remember it, but it sounded nice. I wondered if everything would look familiar once we got there. I considered mentioning my musings to Katelyn, but Mom interrupted my train of thought by saying loudly,
“All right, Johnny, no more slacking for you, young man! Silverware’s in that drawer behind you. Start setting the table, please!”
We set out early that morning, once we’d had a quick breakfast of cheerios and had packed our picnic lunch. We listened to music in the car ride, mostly The Beatles and Michael Jackson. A weird mix, we know. We wondered if the two amazing artists ever met and sang together. We thought it would sound pretty cool.
The lake was only about fifteen minutes away, but Johnny succeeded in annoying us three times within the first few minutes of the ride. That was when we decided to ignore him and turn on our music.
Looking outside, we noticed that the roads were very busy, and wondered if the beach was going to be crowded. It was hard to get a decent spot to put your towel down on a beach packed full of sunbathers. And then the water would be full, too, with the little toddlers splashing in the shallows, the older kids our age doing cannonballs in the deep section, and the motorboats roaring across the middle of the lake, causing noise and large waves to come crashing into the dock. Then, sometimes, the big dock would rock (like what the teens do on the little dock past the big dock, but not as bad), and you might stumble a little or even fall. But we never fell. We were pretty good around water, having had numerous swim lessons when we were little, but had quit swim team last year to try dance. We were good at it, being skinny and flexible.
Our van pulled into the gravel parking lot, the tires crunching along as Dad looked for a parking spot. We were right—it was packed, and hard to get a spot. Finally, we parked way “out in the sticks”, as our mom put it, and piled out of the car. It had gotten hot in a short time, and we loosened the towel around our neck as the sun beat down upon the predictably crowded beach.
“Come on, let’s get our stuff and get a spot!” Mom yelled over the noise. Dogs barked, people yelled, and the surf endlessly pounded the sand. We grabbed a noodle and followed Dad, carrying the cooler, to the predictably crowded beach. Luckily we found a spot big enough for five of us, not that we’d need it. We’d be in the water the whole time with Dad, and Johnny and Mom would be reading on their towels.
It was actually a nice beach. The temperature of the water was just right, and we had fun jumping over the waves and building a huge sandcastle. And then we saw it. The sand hill, not too far away, that several kids were sliding down or climbing, far away enough to make them look like ants on an anthill. We grinned at each other. It was a giant, natural slide, and it’d be fun to get dirty and dusty, then to go wash off in the water.
We went to ask mom. She barely looked up from her book, saying,
“Of course, girls. Be careful.”
“We will.” We chorused, as if rehearsed, and then raced each other to the sand hill.
Katelyn won the race. She did. But I was a better runner than her, so I said we tied. She’s got the skinny legs—like me—but we both put a lot of strength into them from dance. We both looked up at the sand hill, grinning in anticipation.
“I don’t think it’ll work that well if we slide down, but we could jump down.” Katelyn suggested. I rolled my eyes, if barely. Always trying to be safe. But I agreed with her. Plus, you could get a sand burn on your butt, or whatever it’s called when you scrape your backside on a hill of sand.
“Come on!” Katelyn cried, taking the hill at a run. We had to go up on the right-hand side, since people were coming down in the middle and on the left-hand side, so we struggled up, using scraggly plants for hand-holds. Finally, we made it to the top. I was anxious to go down, but Katelyn was looking even further up.
“There’s a cave up there.” She said, pointing to a small cave several yards above our heads. “We should explore it.”
“Later.” I said. “I want to try this.”
“Remember what Mom said—be careful.”
“I will.” I called over my shoulder, and threw myself down.
I should’ve gone slower. But I started out too fast, and any structure the hill used to have had been worn away by countless kids climbing up it. The sand slid away at the touch of my feet. It was all I could do to stay upright, and even that I couldn’t do. I could hear Katelyn screaming behind me, but everything was coming at a blur, and the kids, stopped to stare fearfully at me, passed by in a blur. I was tumbling now, by head barely missing the feet of a kid who was scrambling to get out of my way. I tried to drag by hands to stop myself, but that scraped them up. Besides, I was going to fast now to be stopped. My throat was sore, and I wondered if I had been—or still was—screaming. I couldn’t stop. The sand had run out and now I was rolling, like a broken doll, past rocks. The sand hill was on a slight cliff, was I—
Wind whistled past my ears. There was nothing beneath me, nothing to hold on to. I was falling into a void of blue.
“Katherine! Katherine!” I screamed into the wind. The other kids were shocked, silent. She had started out to fast, hadn’t been able to keep her footing, didn’t I tell her to be careful, didn’t I warn here—no, she could do no wrong. It was my fault. I should’ve gone with her. Where was she now? She was at the bottom of the hill, sliding through the rock. My mind was racing too fast for me to comprehend, she was going, going, sliding—gone. No. No!!
“Katherine! Katherine, no, no, no!” I began running down the hill, as carefully yet as fast as I could go, but I fell and went sliding down on my butt. Several other kids had gathered around the edge of the cliff, but the oldest one there, a guy who looked about fifteen or so, pulled them back.
“Careful.” He cautioned them. “We don’t want to lose you, too.” He turned to stare blankly at me. “I thought you fell over the cliff.”
“Not me, my twin sister.” I sobbed. “Please, we’ve got to do something.”
The boy turned to a seven-year-old who looked like him. “Jack, go get help.” The teen turned back to me and cautiously put a comforting arm around my shoulders. I did not shrug him off but welcomed the comfort.
She was gone. She was gone. Could we save her? I didn’t want to look over the cliff at the jagged rocks, the dark blue depths, or worse, a broken body lying on the rocks below. I pressed my hands into my face and wept.
Where is Katelyn?
Try to breath.
Water rushes in.
Where is Katelyn?
We’re in the emergency room. I sit next to Johnny. We’re both silent, and numb. Mom and Dad are in Katherine’s room, having a conference with the doctor. I’d like to see Katherine, but I’m too scared to. What if her head is cracked open? What if her lips are blue, she isn’t breathing? I know I’m not thinking rationally, since she’s here in the hospital, so they’d be able to fix a little thing like not being able to breathe. Or would they?
“Do you think she’s going to be all right?” Johnny asked me, his voice muffled. I looked over at him. His cheeks are wet, his eyes red. He wipes his nose with the back of his sleeve. Though a genius, still a boy. For some reason, I’m not crying. Still in shock, probably.
“I don’t know.” I said. “She fell pretty far, and into the sea. Isn’t there something to do with falling into water from heights?”
“Yeah.” He said quietly. Usually I’d expect him to start spouting some science junk, but he doesn’t. He’s probably thinking the same thing as I. We don’t want to think about it, though. We only want to know if Katherine is all right. Suddenly, I jolt up, feeling refreshed and alive, but a split second later, that feeling is replaced with rapid fire, spreading up and down by body. This has only happened once before, when Katherine went to dance while I was sick and she pulled a muscle doing the splits. My leg started to hurt, too, and I didn’t know what was wrong until the dance studio phoned Mom to tell her what happened. I’d only thought that sort of thing happened in stories, but I guess we were so connected in mind that we were connected in body as well.
“What is it?” Johnny asked, scared that I might be hurt, too, but my eyes were wide open, staring straight ahead, my body stiff as a board, jolting and twitching. My back hurt—oh, it hurt so much!—and I could barely feel my legs. But I knew that Katherine had to be going through a lot more, so I struggled through my pain down the hall to the closed door of Katherine’s room.
When I burst in, my parents were yelling, the nurses and doctor were talking frantically to each other, and Katherine was spasming in her hospital bed. Her back and legs were splinted and bandaged, and her head was swathed in cloth.
“Katelyn, what are you doing in here?” Mom cried, finally noticing me.
“What’s wrong with Katherine?” I demanded. “What’s wrong with my sister?”
“She woke up earlier than we expected, and the pain is causing her to go into shock. She could further injure herself!” The doctor explained in passing. “We’ve got to get her calmed down!”
“Let me do it!” I begged, suddenly having an idea. Without waiting for a reply, I ran up to her, sat on her bed, and gripped her hand.
“Katherine…” I murmured. “Put some of your pain on me, Katherine. Calm down, Katherine, please, or you’ll hurt yourself. Please, Katherine.” Within a split second, my body was suddenly wracked with an overwhelming pain, and tears welled up in my eyes. Mom ran to me and wrapped her arms around me. I screamed in pain. My back—she was hurting my back! Mom jumped away, and frantically turned to the doctor.
“What’s wrong with Katelyn now?”
“I…uh…I don’t know! She didn’t fall off the cliff as well, did she?”
But I had accomplished what I’d wanted. Katherine was calmer, though I could see her teeth were still clenched in pain. But she was better than before. I was still worried, however. How long would I be able to keep her pain within me? I didn’t even question how I was doing it, because I was sure I wouldn’t be able to find the answer. I slumped back on the bed, exhausted. Everyone in the room was staring at me.
“I’m all right.” I muttered. “I just…uh, seeing her made me, ah…yeah.” I know I wasn’t making much sense, but the doctor attributed it to shock and rushed me out back into the hall where Johnny was pacing anxiously.
“I know you’re worried about your twin, but we’ve got it…under control. Please, wait out here and we’ll notify when she’s feeling better.”
Under control my butt. For all his fancy doctor talk, he didn’t know what was wrong with Katherine, let alone me. I didn’t even know how I could help Katherine with her pain like I was. I supposed it was some sort of twin magical power telepathy thing that I’d only read about in books. I eased myself into a chair, ignoring Johnny as best I could.
“Yes, she’s doing okay.” I lied. “She just woke up.” I held my head in my hands, trying not to show my pain. Katherine must’ve gone to sleep, for it didn’t hurt as much anymore. Either that, or they gave her a sedative.
“Mom said if we had to stay any longer, I was to take you home, remember?” Johnny asked, patting my back. I winced, swallowed hard, and nodded.
“All right. I—I’m pretty tired.” I could only hope Katherine would be all right while I was gone, but I had to get some rest. “Can’t we wait a little longer? Maybe Mom and Dad will come out with an update.”
Covering a yawn, I curled up over the chairs and promptly fell asleep.
Everything is white, so white. I’m tired, and it’s not because of the drugs they gave me. Katelyn must be asleep, like Mom and Dad are on the chairs near the door. I can see their faces, they’re exhausted. I am, too. When I fell, I think I hit some rocks. I’m not sure, it’s all hazy, but I know it hurt a lot. I don’t know about much after that, but I remember being in some sort of vehicle, like a boat or car. Sirens were wailing, and they hurt my ears. I didn’t wake up again until I was in the hospital. The drugs had worn off, and everything hurt. It hurt so much. Agony, up my back and in my head. Hurts.
Katelyn was pretty amazing. Katelyn….my twin, the shy one, the quiet one. My sister, my best friend.
There’s a bright white light before our eyes, and voices echo across a wide expanse that is slowly getting narrower. Sometimes we can see trees, other times the bright pink and rich oranges of sunsets, and then there’s violin music, and heavy metal, and the smell of fresh winds tossing at our hair, and now a sweet scent like what you would smell in a bakery kitchen. It’s like paradise.
We turn behind us, hesitantly, as if there’s something there holding us back, but it isn’t very strong now. We hug, and then pull away, staring deep into our eyes.
“Are you going to leave me here?” I ask.
“I’m afraid I have to.” I reply. “We’ve always been together, and now you’re going to have to be independent and carry on without me.”
“Why?” I ask, confused and half-angry. “It’s no fair, I want to go with you.”
“No, you don’t. You’ve got so much ahead of you, and you can still carry me with you. I’ll always be here for you, but inside you. Keep me in your heart.” I am fading away now, feeling the pull towards that light. The expanse is very narrow now, just nearly a crack that I can jump over. But my face is also wet with tears. We’re going to be separated. We’ve always thought alike, acted alike, yet we are still different. I’ve got to tell her, before it’s too late.
“You have your own personality, and now it can have the chance to truly shine without being associated with another.” I say, though my voice is very faint. I can barely see her now.
“But I’d rather be with you for the rest of my life than alone!” I call back. “Don’t leave me! Katherine!” There is a great pull, a terrible ripping noise. I can hear her voice, echoing through the white.
“I love you…good-bye…my twin…”
I woke up with a jolt. I’d slept longer than I’d meant to, I think. I opened my phone, still groggy. Yes, just as I thought. It’d been an hour. There was something I’d meant to do…somewhere I was going…if only I could remember.
There was a persistent beeping in my ear, and now it grew louder. I turned this way and that, trying to find where it was coming from. It sped up, beeping so fast that I could barely distinguish one beep from the other. Now it was slowing down, going very slowly, and—suddenly, it stopped.
I jumped up, my eyes wide with shock. I remembered my dream. Only it wasn’t a dream. That pain I’d been carrying for her before, that great burden—it was gone. I felt a calm bliss, though it was quickly fading away now. I knew what the beeping was, and ran down the hall.
Johnny, Mom, and Dad were blocking my view from the bed. The doctor I couldn’t see, but I could hear his voice, speaking very softly.
“Why didn’t you wake me up?!” I screamed, shoving them aside. I saw her face, and stopped, the tears streaming down my face. She looked so peaceful, lying there. There was a slight smile on her face, her lips slightly parted, as if she’d fallen asleep while singing. That was it…only asleep…
I stumbled out of the room, falling against the wall of the hall. I pressed a hand to my chest. It was pounding so frantically, but somehow, those simple warm heartbeats were a consolation. I knew she was in there. Katherine, my twin, was inside me. I would keep her in my heart always, just as she’d asked me to. I would do what else she’d said, too. It was good advice. I couldn’t dwell too much on her. I knew she was there, but now I could be just myself. No more Kathlyn. Now there was just Katelyn.
I looked up. There was just a ceiling, but I imagined blue sky, with great rolling clouds, tinged with silver underbellies. Katherine was up there, doing all she wanted to. And I could hear her voice now.
“Katelyn, you silly. Didn’t you hear what I said? You’re free now. And yes, in time, you will get over it, over me. And then maybe, you’ll weep from time to time, but you’ll be just Katelyn, not one of the twins. You’re you now, not us.”
And she was right, of course. Who knew me better than my twin? I would keep her in me. I would never be alone. She would back me up. But I wouldn’t be overshadowed. I’d be me, Katelyn, the shy one who was good at dancing. She would always live within me. Katherine, my twin.