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I decided to write this piece because I want to show what jealousy can make people rationalize and do.
I hate her. I hate her perfectly long and always straightened blonde hair. There was never even a strand slightly out of place. My short brown hair that I’d sloppily cut myself jutted out in all directions, looking as if I hadn’t even bothered brushed through it. I did. I hate how her long nails are always perfectly manicured and polished. They make girls jealous and ask where she’d gotten them done, only for her to reply that they’re her real ones. Mine were stubby and short, plagued from years of me nervously biting them. No, I’m not jealous.
I hate how when she walks into a room everyone perks up, entranced by her presence like lost sailors to a beautiful but vicious siren. I hate how I don’t know who she is anymore. I hate that Lana is my sister, and I feel like she’s a completely different species than me. I’m just Maria, her younger sister with a reputation for being weird to some and kind of crazy to others. She, on the other hand, is one of the smartest students, friends with everyone, and all the guys physically start drooling when they see her. I’m not jealous.
In the little hick town we live in tucked in between the Alaskan mountains, Lana was something akin to a celebrity around here. But to me, she’s something like those shady celebrities that are involved in Scientology. She looks perfect on the surface and everyone loves and adores her, but there’s something sinister lurking underneath. No, I’m not crazy.
The great grades she gets? She bribes her classmates to do her work, silently slipping them some cash under the table. Her friends? They’re more like groupies, completely in love with her, following her around as if she’s their God. The boys? They’re the worst of it all, every single one at our high school has a crush on her. The way that they fight over her, profess their undying love and shower her with gifts and attention, all in the same day, is insane. They’re not the only ones obsessed. Every single person here only talks about her, as if there’s nothing else to say if It’s not about Lana. The cashier at the grocery store talks about her, the mailman, the 2-year-old down the street‘s first words were “Wana”.
Everyone here’s under her spell, except me. She wasn’t always like this. I know her. I knew the grumpy Lana who had a short temper, but still cared for me nevertheless. I knew the Lana that would love to make fun of me but in a sisterly way. I knew Lana. I don't know who she is anymore.
This imitation of her never looks anyone directly in the eye, never sleeps, rarely speaks. She always makes excuses for it. She says she’s just shy, she wasn’t hungry, she isn’t tired. It’s not her. How can everyone be so obsessed with someone who doesn’t even speak to them? No one believes me. I’m not crazy. I swear I'm not. They act like I'm crazy, but that’s because they’re all trapped by the curse just like her. I'm the only one that can see something is wrong. the only one who’s still normal.
I knew from that day 5 years ago, that she was gone. She was 11 and I was 7, we had been playing outside in our backyard during a snowy day. Our parents allowed us to do this almost entirely unsupervised since we promised to not wander off into the sprawling expanse of woods right behind the house. I’d been doing regular things kids our age do doing after having a week of school canceled due to snow. Making snow angels, having snowball fights, sledding down the steep hill in our backyard, that type of stuff. Lana was at the age where she didn’t want to play with her annoying little sister anymore though, so she had been ignoring me the whole time.
I noticed that she would occasionally glance behind her shoulder at our house, as I was constructing a snowman alone. I was scouting for pebbles to form the mouth for my snowman when suddenly, Lana hopped off from where she’d been perched on a rock, and sped towards me. “Maria,” Lana called as she quickly approached. I turned slightly, surprised to see that her piercing green eyes were now abruptly facing mine. “What?” I asked, confused as to why she was not ignoring me anymore. “I want to take you somewhere, it’s something cool I promise.” She said as she snatched my arm, trying to pull me by my sleeve towards the eerily silent forest.
“Lana!” I objected as I attempted to squirm away from her surprisingly strong iron tight grip on my wrist. I tried planting my feet into the ground, but they kept slipping out from under me.“We promised mommy and daddy we wouldn’t go in here, what are you doing?” I pleaded, giving up my attempts to escape her grasp as she picked up speed, dragging me into the dark green foliage that was now surrounding us. “Oh calm down they won’t find out,” She stated bluntly, “They stopped checking outside of the window a while ago, and I came here yesterday too and they didn’t notice.” She looked at me and added,” Don’t be a crybaby.”
I held my tongue, trying to seem unbothered by the terrifying woods. She continued to lead me deeper into the forest, which now was enveloped in darkness, all light from the sky above blocked as the trees began to stretch higher. “L-Lana,” I whispered, trying to not disturb the heavy silence that weighed upon the forest, “Where are we going?” Lana looked over at me smirking, ”You’ll see.”
We continued to trudge along with the crisp snow crunching under our matching pink snow boots that she hated. I thought about trying to run away back towards our house, but nothing looked familiar anymore. All I could see were trees and trees. “Are we lost?” I asked, feeling my eyes began to sting as my vision became blurrier. Lana turned to face me, eyebrows furrowed, “Stop asking so many questions!” She yelled. I felt my face burning like it always did when she yelled at me.
For the rest of the walk, I said nothing else. The only sound was the Crunch, Crunch, Crunch, of our footsteps. Eventually, Lana stopped in her tracks. Ahead of us, there was now a clearing in the trees, where it was illuminated by the light from the once again visible sky. “Here it is.” She said. I didn’t understand why she took me all the way out here just to show me this. “What?” I asked, “Why are we here?” She looked at me like I was stupid. “Haven’t you heard about the rumors about these woods?” I still couldn’t even tie my shoes at that age, let alone hear about these rumors.
“No.” I replied. She motioned for me to follow her. “They say there’s something weird about this place,” She paused, surveying the clearing. “Supposedly there’s something evil in these woods, dark energy I guess,” She walked behind me, leaning in closer for effect, “Gypsies used to live here, doing all sorts of weird rituals until they were driven out by the townspeople.” She swept her hand across the woods, “Some stayed behind though, so they killed the ones that didn’t leave. Then the gypsy’s cursed the woods, killing anyone who dares to step in!” She yelled, right as she pounced on top of me.
The impact knocked me to the ground causing me to shriek and attempt to push her off, struggling to catch my breath as I shakily stood up. All my fear dissipated as I saw Lana splayed out over the snow, clutching her stomach as she heaved with laughter. “That’s not funny!” I screamed, kicking snow at her. She didn’t even notice. She was too busy rolling around to care. “What’s wrong with you?” I kicked again, this time at her face. “Did you just bring me here to scare me?” I yelled.
She finally stood up, no longer laughing, and wiped the snow from her face. “Don’t kick snow at me.” She snapped, her eyes burning holes through me. I averted my eyes. Lana started walking towards the opening in the trees, looking back at me. “Sorry for yelling at you, come here.” She said, adding a puppy face for effect. I slowly followed her, a feeling of uneasiness in the pit of my stomach.
She walked to a tall old tree, twisted and mangled. It looked like the oldest one in here.“When I came here yesterday, I found something.” She knelt to the ground, taking a seat, and brushed a layer of snow away from the roots of the tree. I looked down to the ground, examining what she’d unearthed curiously.
“A box?” I asked, puzzled as to why there would be one here in the middle of the woods. “No.” Lana said, rolling her eyes. She unlatched the side of an aged brown box, intertwined between the roots of the tree. It revealing a book sitting within.
The book was made of leather, the bottom worn from the harsh elements of the Alaskan winter. The borders were decorated with swirls of black and brown, and at the center, a large star shape was carved into the front. Lana grinned as she ran her fingers over the star. “Pretty, isn’t it?” I stared at her, feeling something shift in the atmosphere. The weight of the forest was becoming heavier.
“C’mere Maria.” She said, patting the space next to her. I tentatively sat down, glad we were both wearing our snowsuits and that she was here. Lana opened the book, revealing it’s worn pages that contained strange writing and drawings. The page had what looked to be a dark shadow scribbled into it.
Lana squinted at the book, attempting to decode what it was saying. “It looks like this says h-homo..” She trailed off, attempting to pronounce the foreign words. “..Umbra? Like an umbrella?” I laughed at her stupid joke, glad to have something to distract myself from this sinking feeling.
Crunch. The sound behind us made us both jump up abruptly, whipping our heads first at each other, then to where the sound originated from. We jumped up from the ground to check when suddenly, everything turned black. It was as if a blindfold had been put over my eyes. Maybe it was a blindfold. I screamed Lana’s name over and over. It felt like passed hours passed by while I stuck my arms out, blindly searching for something, anything solid. “Maria!” I heard someone scream.
Then just as abruptly as everything disappeared, it snapped back to the bright white snow and vibrant green trees. Nothing seemed out of place, but I was bawling. I frantically looked around for Lana, tears spilling from my eyes while I screamed her name. Why did I keep screaming her name?
The sky was getting darker and darker each second that ticked by. My throat was beginning to get hoarse and I started to think I'd be lost in these horrible woods forever. Then I saw her. She was standing behind a tree hunched over, her back turned to me. I ran up and embraced her, relieved that I’d found her. “Lana! Oh, what just happened?” I blubbered pathetically, unable to formulate my thoughts into a sentence.
Lana weakly embraced me back, petting my head, and motioned to follow her as she stood up. It seemed like she’d been crying. She seemed to mumble something but I couldn’t make out what she’d said. It seemed like her throat was horse too. We just silently walked to the direction of our house that I desperately had been trying to find.
I wiped my eyes and surveyed her, wondering if maybe she was just too shaken up to talk about the strange experience right now. But no. She was walking wrong, too slow, too tall, and without her usual slouch. She wasn’t rolling her eyes or making her snippy remarks. She was just silent.
When I looked down at the ground, the setting sun was casting a shadow of her. The Lana in front of me never stopped walking forward, back straight and eyes level. Her shadow on the ground was moving erratically, arms and legs sticking out frantically. I blinked, thinking I’d been seeing things, but my eyes didn't deceive me.
I knew that wasn't Lana. I’ve been trying for years. No one believes me. My parents just say I’m over exaggerating and that I have a wild imagination. I was just very young they say, me and Lana were just playing hide and seek in the woods they tell me. I got lost and almost died, and Lana tried so hard to find me and felt guilty for years and to reopening the wound they say.
They’re wrong. That wasn’t what happened at all. They didn’t see the book or the darkness. I know it’s not really my parents anyway. Their shadows move when they’re sitting still on the bed with Lana, crying with her. My friends say I’m unhealthy obsessed with her, but I see their shadows, they’re moving out of sync, my deal friends trying to escape their prisons.
Nowadays they don’t talk to me anymore, they’re cursed. Lana tells me she’s herself and that I need to stop because I'm tearing the family apart.
She tells me the book in the woods was just an old Encyclopedia. That thing is lying. I saw the book. It was nothing even close to that. They all try to feed me lies, make me believe their absurd stories.
Everyone’s shadows in this town don’t obey the movement of their owners. The people here aren’t themselves anymore, I know I'm not imagining it. They speak at a different pitch, walk differently, and only talk about Lana.
She did this to everyone.
Their eyes look glossed over and empty. I’m not crazy. They’re wrong, I’m not crazy. I know I’m not. I know I’m not. I know I’m not. I’m gonna fix them all. They’ll see I was right all along once their curse is broken, and for once, everyone will love me just like they love fake Lana. I’ll save them from their prisons in the shadows. They’ll praise me just like her, tell I'm pretty, like her, I’ll be the better sister. They’re all just cursed that’s it. There’s nothing wrong with me.
I step into the woods, searching for the book that caused this all those years ago. There’s no longer any snow here, and it feels strange being without my sister. The gas can in my left hand is making it hard to walk though since it’s weighing me down considerably. I can’t hold it with my right since I have a couple matchbooks in there. I’m going to save everyone. I just have to find that book again.
The raging fire in front of me roared loudly, engulfing every single tree in its path, consuming them like it was nothing. I was entranced by its beauty. It was strange how easily something that stood alive for decades could die. A large flaming tree slowly began to fall down in front of me, so I started to run away quickly.
Now everything will go back to normal. Everyone is free. As soon as I was a good distance away, I doubled over hands with my hands on my knees to catch my breath from sprinting for so long. Something caught my attention. The fire was producing a large shining light from behind me, casting my dark shadow in front of me. I stood still. My shadow was moving by itself. Maybe I am crazy.