My sister is sleeping just behind this door. My hand trembles. Ripples undulate in small circles within the glass of water I hold onto as my knuckles pale. The door looms in front of me. I hate this room. I’ve hated it ever since my sister went to sleep.
The door beneath my palm is cold. I knock, even though I know my sister won’t hear it. I swallow and push. A rush of stale air assaults my senses, and it’s like stepping outside on a wintry morning. I step into the room, and the darkness envelops me as I tread over the line into shadow. The dim light from the hallway is barely enough to see by. I grasp around for the empty glass, nearly knocking it off the nightstand. I steady it and take it up, replacing it with the full one. My attempt at resistance fails, and my breath hitches in my chest as I peer over at my sister slumbering in her bed.
I falter and stumble backward. Dust escapes the armchair as I sink into it. I stare through the dense cloud. Sofia may appear to rest peacefully, but I can imagine her nightmares.
It’s been months since Sofia first went to sleep. There’s an empty glass and a full one because she wakes just enough to keep herself alive. The bare minimum. Eats, drinks, showers. We only know she does these things because of the evidence she leaves behind—empty cups and plates, damp towels. When she’s not doing those, she sleeps. And since our mother has been away, it’s my responsibility to make sure Sofia has what she needs.
I can’t bring myself to come into this room more than necessary, so a layer of dust has fallen over everything like a fine blanket. My reflection in the small television set across the room stares at me. I wait for the television to flicker on, to pull my sister or myself inside of it like in a particular Murakami novel. To be trapped in an inescapable room of white that feels as though it’s in the bowels of a ship rocking nauseatingly on the seas might be a kinder fate than this.
While I’m staring at the television, shadows move somewhere in my periphery. My gaze snaps to Sofia, but she remains motionless. There’s movement in the room, but I can’t pinpoint where it’s coming from. Not until I spot the shadows on the walls.
Silhouettes take shape in dancing forms with no discernible source. They’re hazy like television static or a piece of black and white artwork done in pointillism. It’s as though they’re cast by the very dust in the room, and I can almost make out wisps of clouds made from the particles.
I peer past them to see the shadows forming into imposing figures on the wall. Fists. Angry, sharp curves of faces. Open, furious mouths. The shadow figures float over my sister’s bed, screaming down at her with silent foul words, their lips moving around vulgar promises. The shadows of those demons coalesce with hers, the movements violent and obscene. Sofia remains perfectly motionless except for the faint frown and the furrowing of her brow.
I can’t take the sight any longer. I snatch up the empty glass and tear from the room. After I slam the door shut, I lean against it, needing something solid to ground me. I feel a tear slip and slide down my cheek.
I couldn’t save my sister from those monsters. Now I can’t save her from their ghosts.
Chelsea Thornton is a writer from Texas. She is a reader for The Forge Literary Magazine, an MS warrior, and a tea addict. Her short fiction has been published in Maudlin House, Bewildering Stories, Idle Ink, and elsewhere. You can find her on Twitter @chelseactually or online at chelseathornton.com.
photo by DAVIDCOHEN and Jr Korpa (via unsplash)