Author John Gragg makes his debut in this short science fiction piece.
I buried my brother this afternoon. Shortly after that, he killed me.
Staring into the full length mirror in my brother’s office, I admired the Armani suit Alex used to wear. It fit me very well. You see, Alex and I were identical twins. But identical in body only. In every other respect, we couldn’t have been more different.
A spider crawled across the mirror. “Dead son of a bitch” I said as I smashed it. I thought about Alex’s dream.
When we were young, Alex was always studying, always made the teachers’ list at school. He turned in lost money. He always told the truth.
On the other hand, I always found trouble.
When I was eight I got suspended from school for fighting with Clarence Knutson. A strange voice in my head egged me on. “Go ahead. You can take him.” So I fought.
I stole candy from the Seven- Eleven whenever the idea popped into my head. “Take it. You want it.”
As we grew, Alex and I developed a telepathic link. Don’t ask how. I read someplace that it happens with identical twins. I first noticed it in the seventh grade during tests. I would be writing down answers and had no idea where they came from. Later we compared answers and our tests were identical.
Then, around high school, we started exchanging thoughts.
He knew I was planning to steal Harry Planters bike, sell it and keep the money.
“Eric, if you try to take his bike, I’m gonna’ tell Mom.” He thought to me.
“Shove it up your ass.” I thought back.
He took the high ground and ratted me out. I was grounded for a month because of him.
In his mind I found him kissing Angela Holliday just before home coming dance and I made sure everybody, especially Angela, knew about it. “You just couldn’t keep quiet.” he thought to me embarrassed by the heckling he received
“Hell no. That was way too good to keep quiet.” I expected him to do something in revenge Instead he took the high ground and did nothing.
Mother liked him best. Everything he did made her proud. Nothing I did made her proud.
I hated my brother. Really hated him and often wished he was dead.
Mother was a Cajun, born in the Louisiana bayou. She met our father and moved up to here to the small town of Parkville, Missouri. One time, Dad mentioned that she had been happy to leave Louisiana. Something about voodoo and her being a witch woman. Apparently, people had been getting nervous around her. It sounded like crap to me.
One day in junior year, Alex said “This mind reading thing is driving me up a wall. I’ve got to tell Mom about it.”
“Man, don’t do that. She’s going to be screwing around in all our stuff. Anyway, it’s none of her damned business.”
“Sorry brother, I need to tell her.”
Just as I figured, she got involved. She told Alex that she could help. They spent time in private, talking. Chanting, if you can believe that. And a bunch of other bullshit.
She offered to help me but I laughed at her. I thought all that mumbo jumbo was crazy. This went on for over year and it came to a head after graduation.
One day she was being very insistent about trying to help me. “I can help you Eric,” she said. “You and Alex have this link but he says you’re angrier with him than ever.”
“Go to Hell, Mom.” She just wouldn’t stop bugging me.
Dad was in the next room and heard me. He right crossed me so hard I almost blacked out. He wasn’t a large man but he used to be strong, probably from all those years as a truck driver. Now he’d grown older and wasn’t the man he used to be.
I got to my feet, pissed as hell about the sucker punch and ready to kick his ass. Then Alex stepped up beside Dad. I heard him in my mind. “Back off Eric You’re my brother and I love you, but I’m not going to let you hurt Dad.”
That night I threw some clothes and essentials into a back pack and at the age of eighteen, took out the back door when the folks were asleep. As I left, Alex thought to me “Don’t take off, man. Stay here. We can fix it.”
The whole family had turned their backs on me. That was the last time I ever saw my father or mother.
I don’t know why I went south but the further I traveled, the less I heard Alex calling to me “Eric, stop screwing around. Come on back.” As if I’d return just because he asked.
I got into trouble on the Arkansas /Missouri border over a stolen gun so I headed east into the Ozark Mountains to dodge the law. I was good at hunting and fishing and stealing so I didn’t starve. I moved a lot, never staying in one spot long.
One day, while holed up in the Mark Twain National Park, some old man with dirty, tattered clothes entered my camp. He stank something fierce.
“Boy, I got me some sweet taters that I reckon I’ll trade with ya’ if you’d share some of that catfish you got there.”
I didn’t like sharing and I didn’t like strangers but he was standing there right in front of me, silent as a statue. He was speaking to me in my head, exactly like Alex.
He smiled and said. “I’ve been lookin’ fer you. I could feel you like a rain storm comin’ in from Colorado, all tense and electrical and …exciting. “
Pervert. I thought as I got ready to kick his ass.
He laughed as he tapped the side of his head. “Ain’t nothin’ like that. You got yourself a gift, boy. If you knew how to use it, you would a known I was coming but you didn’t. So I’m gonna’ help you.”
He smiled a big, toothless smile. Without thinking, I smiled back.
He said his name was Lou and that he was a born mind reader. I was limited. I could only read Alex’s mind. Lou read anyone’s. He said that’s why he lived in the forest
“People think the damnedest thoughts. Get too many people together in one spot, like the city, and there ain’t no tellin’ what stray thought you’d catch. You can’t block ‘em all out. One old boy musta’ read too many of them western stories because he was thinkin’ about scalpin’ his wife and then burning’ her at the stake, injun’ style.
“Another feller did bad things to his daughter. Sexual things. Hurt that poor girl something awful.”
I didn’t care. I didn’t experience promiscuous thought invasion. Alex was my only concern.
Lou and I spent time working on my skills. He taught me how to block Alex out of my head so he wouldn’t know I was around, but I wanted more. I wanted to sneak into my brothers head. Screw up old goody two shoes as much as possible. I couldn’t do that if he knew I was inside his gray matter. One day I told Lou what I wanted.
He was sitting on a tree stump eating a pork chop that I had stolen from a camper along with some other groceries, including beer. The old man gnawed on the bone for a second then said “Son, all you have to do is slip in whilst he’s sleeping. Just walk on into his head whilst he’s out for the count. Then you got free run of the barn and he don’t know jackshit.”
I told Lou it couldn’t be done, but he bet me the last can of beer that tonight, while I slept, I’d dream about a large animal from my past.
When Alex and I were young, our parents took us to the zoo where there was a children’s horse ride. For a dime the child could ride a horse around in a corral for five minutes.
Alex loved it. I thought the horse was huge with teeth big enough to take off my hand. “Nope! I ain’t getting on that.”
Alex called me a sissy. Mother insisted that the animal was safe.
Dad had paid the admission- no refunds- and got pissed at me. He picked me up and slapped me right onto the saddle. I cried in fear as the horse began moving. After the second time around, I fell off and hit the ground hard, bawling in humiliation.
Angry at my lack of guts, my father grabbed me and pulled me out of the corral. Alex laughed and hooted at me until Mother hushed him. I think that’s when I first really wanted to hurt him.
Just as Lou predicted, I dreamed about horses chasing me. I hadn’t dreamed of horses in years. When I woke up, he was sitting by the fire, grinning.
“Big animal? “ he asked over his cup of coffee.
“Horse.” was all I could reply.
Soon after that, I hitch hiked my way back to Parkville. As I approached town, I guarded my thoughts carefully as the old man had taught. I saw Alex in my mind, then I placed a wall around him on all sides. Then I built bricks up the wall to reinforce the wall. Even if Alex knew I was coming, he couldn’t feel me through that.
Years had passed since I had run away. I stopped by the Parkville Library where I caught up on local events. Mother had died of cancer a couple of years earlier and Dad had died almost a year later in a car accident. No big loss. Alex had built a successful import business with a large office in the downtown area. The next day, I started wandering around the business district. I would be just another homeless person.
I spotted him parking a new Beamer in a space with his name on it. The moment I saw him, successful and doing well, the hatred flared up inside my stomach like a straight shot of Jack Daniels. I decided at that moment to kill him. That night.
So I waited around the business district unnoticed until Alex probably figured he had put in enough hours and left for the evening. The day before I had stolen a kid’s bicycle and followed him to a nice loft home in a newly developed area.
As he lay asleep that night, I stood outside the bedroom window of his loft and wove my way into his head. Just like Lou had taught me, I imagined myself a snake, slithering past layer after layer of brain matter and into a level where his thoughts ran chaotic and uncontrolled. I would have liked to have crawled through his dreams and screwed with his unconscious mind but I was impatient and wanted to kill him immediately. Before something went wrong.
One thing scared Alex more than anything; spiders. Black, hairy, spiders. And that’s what I sent him. Wave upon wave of spiders attacked him in his dreams. They crawled all over him. They climbed into his hair. They scurried over his naked legs and they spun webs around him. I felt his heart pounding faster and faster. I felt the sweat on his forehead, dripping off his scalp and his breathing became more and more difficult.
I sent him a spider into his mouth. At the same time another spider crawled onto his left eye and a third onto his right. He couldn’t close his eyes so that he was forced to watch as each spider prepared to bite his eyes out. He knew that all three were going strike at once, and when they did- he screamed. He screamed so hard he snapped. Literally.
The autopsy recorded he died in his sleep from a brain aneurism.
Three days later I cleaned myself up and presented myself to the authorities for the disposition of his body. I told them I was on the east coast when news of his death reached me. He had no wife and the only other living relative was… me. The attorneys advised me that I inherited the business and a large sum of money. Nice perk. I had only wanted to kill him.
Today I buried him. The sun was shining and the breeze was warm. I stared into the mirror in the office that formerly belonged to him but now belonged to me. I looked good in Armani.
With no warning, the image in the mirror changed. The skin on my face turned black, charred. My hair was partially burnt away. I could see my teeth through flesh.
Then I looked into the eyes. They weren’t my eyes. This was my brother. But I had laid Alex into the ground a few hours ago.
He reached through the mirrored surface. Thin, wispy, smoke-like hands passed through the suit and into my chest. I felt those two hands inside me, grabbing me like they were clutching my lungs. Suddenly I was pulled. Alex had pulled me into the mirror.
No. He pulled my soul through the mirror. Like I had split into two parts. As I passed through the glass surface, I saw my body fall to the ground. I had just died.
Going through the glass, a terrible burning sensation engulf me. Like the air itself was on fire. Filling my lungs. The burn was so painful I couldn’t pull in enough of a breath to howl. My tongue felt swollen, infected. The stench overwhelmed me. Sulphur, vomit, excrement and decaying meat all mixed with other, less potent odors.
Alex released me. I fell to the ground, choking and vomiting but I had nothing inside to puke.
As I laid on the ground the sound of laughter attacked me, razor blades slicing into my flesh. I looked up and saw Lou standing a few feet away. I tried to stand but stumbled, landed on my face, cutting it on the rocky soil. I tried again. The second time I got to my feet. That was when I saw we were near the edge of a cliff, overlooking a vast, blood red landscape.
Directly below the cliff, a hundred feet or more, was an enormous fire pit. Flames erupted from it. Small, blackened figures, like dolls, danced maniacally among the flames, displaying yellow claws and teeth. As I looked over the horizon, I saw other figures out there. Monsters inflicting all methods of torture, cutting, burning, and tearing men and women like me.
I watched one monster with a giant single eye and a huge ugly mouth bite the head off a newborn baby as its mother, umbilical cord still attached, laid on the ground and watched. She screamed for it to stop, but the monster continued chewing on the head holding the still squirming body of the baby in front of the mother.
I turned away, unable to watch any more.
Alex spoke to me. ”We’re in hell. You know that don’t you? Your soul and my soul, for all eternity, condemned to this … this…Why Eric? Why did you kill me?”
I looked at my brother’s soul and grew angry that he asked. I grabbed him by the burnt, charred shirt he wore and pulled him close to me. “Because I hate you. I hate you for being the goody, goody. I hate it that Mom loved you. I hate that Dad hit me and never hit you. I hate because that is what I am.”
Something occurred to me. ”I know why I’m damned. I killed you. But why are you here? What did you do to deserve being sent here?”
I pulled Alex even closer, the smell and taste of his burnt flesh invading my senses but he remained silent. Instead he looked over to Lou. I followed his glance.
Lou stood off to the side, laughing. He wasn’t dressed like a homeless, penniless tramp. Now he wore a long tunic with loose fitting trousers. A sash cinched his waist. The entire outfit was the color of blood. Where the trousers ended emerged inhumanly large, hairy feet. Pointed, sharpened talons protruded from the coarse, odd shaped toes.
I looked at his face. He laughed and in his narrow slit of a mouth, instead of the toothless grin I had grown used to, there were teeth, long pointed teeth.
He stepped toward us and I was frightened, even though he did nothing frightening. Then he spoke. “Alex. Eric. I can’t tell you how pleased I am to have both of you here with me. I had hoped, but not expected, that the turn of events would bring you here.”
He was different from the ignorant redneck I knew. He spoke with culture and articulation. “One sets goals, plans the work and works the plan, yes? Then if one is lucky, the goal is achieved. This day, I consider myself lucky.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Yes,” he said softly. “Hell is what I’m talking about. It has been such a long time since I have had a set of twins such as you. Identical in appearance, polar opposites in personality. I simply had to have you.”
“Why us Lou? What do you want with us?”
“ Maybe you don’t know it but I collect things. Shot glasses from all fifty states. Cocoa Cola cans. Super hero t-shirts… Human souls. I especially like those.
“It was your telepathy that provided me the opportunity. I knew you, Eric, would kill your brother, if I set the stage and -. Here you are.”
“But why is Alex here? He’s the good one.”
“Very simple. Eric, you knew that if Hell truly existed you were always destined for here. Alex’s soul on the other hand, should have gone the other way. But the instant you killed him, his destiny changed. After he died and before he received his final judgment, I went to him. I informed him that you killed him. I told him a few other things about you. A couple of things may not have been true, but most of them were. We talked about retribution. After his funeral, you gave him the window, so to speak, for him to pull you through.
“Alex killed you in revenge when he took your soul. And people who kill for revenge, Don’t. Go. To. Heaven.” Then Lou raised both hands, arms straight, palms facing toward us.
Suddenly I felt a strong push, as if a wave of heat smashed into us. We were both driven to the edge of the cliff. Alex and I still clasped each others shirts.
We stared over the edge of the cliff into the fire below. The heat baked us and I had no idea how I’d survive a fall from this high up. Lou made a slight gesture with his hands. A second wave hit us and we were shoved off the edge.
As we fell we still held each other. The fire below blackened our skin. My eyes were on fire even though I could still see. I looked at my brother and he looked at me. I never saw hatred like that before in anyone’s face.
He pulled me close. “Forever” he shouted, “If it takes forever, I’ll get you for this.”
As we entered the flames and my tongue melted and fire filled my lungs I knew …It would take an eternity.