By Margaret F. Chen
Four years, to the day, after her husband, Jim, had left her, Abby drove home from work to see a strange creature sitting in her circular driveway, a large dog with three heads and a long, spiky tail. Its black eyes became immense and glittering when it spotted her, and a harsh, low-pitched growl emanated from behind a set of very large, sharp teeth. Abby backed the sedan away, and drove quickly to her friends’ house, twin sisters named Taylor and Tessa; they lived nearest by, and both had once also been friends with Jim.
Taylor and Tessa lived on the other side of town, a hilly neighborhood, near the mountains. Quiet, shadowed streets fell steeply away here, into the darkness of the surrounding forests; it always seemed hushed and still. Even when children ran up and down the streets or shouted at each other from their bikes (the streets were empty of children now), their noises were muffled and absorbed by the huge, silent trees.
Taylor and Tessa lived in a tall, white-clapboard house. When Taylor opened the door, dressed elegantly in white pants, a sleeveless green shirt, a filmy, pink scarf knotted around her neck, Abby could see the usual myriad of long, winding hallways, snaking away into separate darknesses, behind her friend’s shoulder.
There’s a creature in my driveway, Abby began, trying to describe the thing, and Taylor gave a small start, nervously smoothing down her already perfect, brown hair. We’ll call the police, of course, Taylor said, don’t worry, you can stay with us. She murmured something over the hallway phone, and then Abby followed her to the North Wing, where Taylor said she and her sister were having tea.
It seemed as if they were forever going down one hall, and then another, and then another. Abby couldn’t remember the house being so large—she also didn’t recognize this portion of the house. The halls were not exactly dark here, but washed in a kind of tea-colored half-light so peculiar to old houses with many rooms and narrow hallways.
In the North Wing, Tessa perched on the edge of a sofa, wearing exactly the same outfit as her sister, and Abby had the strange impression that Taylor had somehow transferred herself over to the sofa without her noticing.
Tessa said, putting down her coffee cup, smeared with pink lipstick, I think it’s time we told you. And Abby asked, Told me what?
Jim’s here, Taylor said. Abby turned to look at her, as the voice had come from her direction, but Taylor’s face was still, like a doll’s, the eyes like black glass.
The blood rushed up to Abby’s face. That’s not very funny, she said. For how could Jim--her Jim--be here? Her friends knew very well he had left the state; they, being wealthy, were the ones who had hired the private detective. Tracked him and his young secretary down to a hotel in Vegas.
Tessa giggled. Oh, he’s been here all along, she said. But he didn’t want you to know until now. Abby found herself following Taylor again, down endless hallways, with Tessa now walking behind her.
They went down one steep flight of wooden stairs, into a sort of the basement, and Taylor stopped at a white-painted door, which seemed to lead down another flight of stone steps, to a dirt-floored cellar. At the bottom, in a small circle of light, Abby could see something—-a pair of black shoes. They looked like Jim’s shoes, but she couldn’t be sure.
I want to leave, she said. This is a sick joke.
But the sisters continued to stand there, grinning at her, pointing down the stairs, looking more and more like clones of each other. Since when had they been so identical? Taylor had always been the taller and prettier of the two, but now, their faces looked exactly alike, and there was no difference in their heights. Don’t you want to see Jim? They said, He’s waiting for you! They burst out laughing, their eyes immense and glittering, and Abby took this opportunity to push them both out of the way. A substance like thick, wet paint came off on her hands. Patches of silver scales gleamed on their arms where she had rubbed off the color. Abby was back up the stairs, now, on the landing, but where could she go?
All the hallways looked the same.
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Margaret F. Chen currently lives in San Diego, where she is working on a Certificate with Emphasis in Fiction at the UCLA Extension Writer's Program and raising two children and three cats. Her stories have appeared The Shine Journal, Monkeybicycle, and A Long Story Short.
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