This is my story of a psychopathic serial killer…with a twist It’s still missing chunks but I am slowly filling in the blanks.If you see this @@@ it means I need to fill in the blanks still
Just an inch separates them. His fingers rest upon the bubble, the pressure against the glass ebbing and flowing in the same rhythm as his heartbeat. Yes. No. Stay. Go.
The breath goes in and out; just the slightest movement proves that life still resides within this tiny body. He feels his heart twist and turns away before the tears can splash against the surface of the incubator.
Quick rapid steps bring him out of the sterile room and into the hallway teaming with life. He stares blankly at the figures moving purposefully through the halls: nurses rush to bedsides; doctors stroll, surrounded by eager fresh faced interns; families link arms and enter wards, armed with flowers, cards and silly stuffed toys. He wishes he had purpose. His heart, his soul, his reason for being, was gone.
A nurse lays a hand on his arm and places a bundle of items in them. She smiles tenderly before walking back down the hall to her station. He gazes at the bright patterned maternity dress, small pink wallet, and black onyx carving of a polar bear. Her focus item, her worry stone. He imagined he could see the worn impression of a constantly circling thumb along the bear’s back. Images of her walking through their small apartment, clutching the bear, and talking to her expanding belly flitted chaotically through his mind.
He stumbles to a chair and collapses under the weight of memories and sorrow. The bundle of items shift and a small envelope tumbles from within the folds of the dress. He picks it up, turning it over in his hands, as if expecting it to disappear. Trembling he pulls the letter out and opens it:
If you’re reading this, I’m gone. I was hoping to be around for a little longer, to help with the baby, but it wasn’t allowed. I’ve broken many rules in my life, the biggest one falling in love with you. I wish I could explain but knowing just a little places you in grave danger.
This doesn’t make sense and I’m sorry. The only way to protect you and our child is by keeping silent, for now. I need you to do perhaps the most difficult thing a father can do: disappear. Leave the baby and go. Your life, and our child’s, depends on it.
I will always be with you, though you may not see it that way. And I will try to protect our baby as best I can. Leave my bear with our child. It will give some protection.
As his eyes take in the final word, he feels the air around him begin to thicken. Everything trembles, slowly at first and then more rapidly, violently. A howl echoes down the hall, becoming louder and more distinct as it comes closer. He hears his wife’s anguished voice shrieking, “RUN!”
The rumbling of the earth drowns out the screams of panic. People run past him, blindly searching for safety. He grasps the onyx carving in his hand and pushes across the hall to the Neonatal ICU. Running to the incubator holding his child, his beautiful daughter, he thrusts the bear in through the access ports. He watches as she reaches out and grasps the carving, her tiny thumb stroking the same spot her mother used to.
“Goodbye Jill” he whispers. A shadow fills the window of the door to the unit, shapeless and dark like a malevolent fog. He waits until the shadow passes and then slips out, never looking back.
The group surrounded her quickly. Jill looked each girl full on in the face. She hoped by taking a detailed account of everyone present some of the girls would back off, not willing to face the inevitable consequences. A few looked at the ground, abashed, but stood their ground.
“So freak. Are you ready to take what you’re owed?”
The leader, a lithe brunette with malice glowing in her eyes, gestured to two girls who came forward and gripped Jill’s arms tightly. She struggled a bit at the restraint and glared at the small mob.
“Jules, Abby…you know what to do.”
The two girls advanced with precision, taking equally spaced positions within the tight circle. Jill noted these girls were members of the school wrestling club and quailed inside. She tensed, preparing her body for the worst.
The punches came at steady intervals. First on the left side then the right. A few to the head but most of them to her stomach. Jill clamped her lips tight and stared balefully at her attackers. Her body began to sag as her knees crumpled.
The sudden kick forced the air out of her body in a whoosh. She crumpled down to the ground and curled into the fetal postion. Tears streamed down her cheeks but she refused to vocalize her pain.
“Get up, you stupid bitch!”
“Come on cry baby. Face us!”
“Did you soil your diaper, baby? Want me to call your mommy?”
The taunts continued but she blocked the sound out. Her arms wrapped around her head as protection and she waited for the next move. It never came. She could hear the shuffling of feet and mumbles from the group of girls as they left her, bruised and battered on the playing field.
Cautiously, Jill raised her head and glanced around. The school yard was deserted. She must have missed the bell ringing to end lunch. Jill got to her feet, wincing at the pain in her stomach. She pulled up her shirt to see the beginnings of large bruises encircling her body. A sudden cramp in her abdominal muscles sent her to her knees. She felt the warmth spread down her legs and saw with horror a steady flow of blood staining her pants.
The pain of the beating would be no match for her total and complete humiliation if anyone found her like this. Stumbling back to her feet she half ran, half shuffled off the school property and into the small stand of trees bordering the rear. She paused under a large maple tree to catch her breath.
The sobs she had buried within finally broke forth. Her body convulsed, the sharp stabs spreading all over. She could see more bruises shaped like fingers wrapped around her upper arms. Her silence had enraged them, she knew, but stubborn pride kept the sounds from escaping her lips.
Shaking, she began to pull off the blood stained pants. She would rather be naked than to have the damp sticky fabric cling to her legs. Her underwear was no longer the pure virginal white her mother insisted on buying. She pulled that off as well.
What am I going to do? Jill sat gingerly on the ground, her knees pulled tight to her body, cradling her head in her arms. The crack of a twig brought her head up. She glanced around, trying to source the sound.
Nothing. Her eyes closed wearily. She considered waiting until dark and then sneaking home. It would scare her mother and possibly result in more punishment but Jill decided she’d take that over walking in broad daylight.
The feeling of cloth against her bare legs caused her to start. Her head snapped up, blue eyes wide in panic. At her feet was a crumpled pair of jeans. A few sizes too big but clean. She looked around, searching for whoever left them.
The woods were silent except for the occasional twitter of birds or a rustle of wind through the leaves. Shaking, she pulled on the jeans and headed home, sending a silent prayer of thanks to her benefactor.
Jill crept in the house, the mysteriously donated jeans pooling about her ankles and sagging around her waist. She shuffled as quiet as possible to the bathroom and closed the door.
Letting the jeans drop to the ground she stared at herself in the mirror. Beyond an easily explained away scratch on her cheek, her face was unmarred. Clever. The girls wanted Jill to know who was in charge, but not to leave visible evidence if possible.
Her stomach clenched again in a spasm and blood ran down her legs. Jill moved over to the toilet and sat, letting Mother Nature continue with its process of making her a woman. At almost 15 Jill was certain she was among the last of the girls in her school to finally get her period.
She wondered if she could convince her mom to let her stay home the rest of the week. It was almost summer, school was finished in a few days so what would she miss? Cleaning herself up as best as possible she started rifling through the bathroom cabinet, looking for a pad or tampon. She had no idea what her mom used, if anything. Maybe she didn’t get her period anymore.
The sound of the front door opening and closing caused Jill to pause. As much as she didn’t want to face her mom right now, she knew hanging out in the bathroom all night wasn’t an option.
“Jill? Jill, are you home?”
Taking a deep breath, Jill called out. “I’m in the bathroom…uhm, do you have any pads or tampons or anything?”
The footsteps stopped outside the door. A soft tap echoed in the room. “Are you okay? This is…the first time, isn’t it? Do you need anything?”
Glancing at the jeans on the floor Jill grimaced. She’d need clean clothes. That meant opening the door, not something she was ready for yet.
“I’m…okay. I need a change of clothes though.”
“Okay, I’ll get you some. And there are maxi pads in the top drawer of the cabinet,” she continued softly. Jill heard her mom move away from the door and breathed a sigh of relief. She felt dirty and exposed and extremely vulnerable. Not exactly the Hallmark moment you always saw promoted on TV commercials.
Climbing slowly into the tub she turned on the shower full force and let the hot water wash away the pain of the day.
A small pile of clean clothing was left outside the bathroom door. Jill grabbed it and locked herself in again. She stared at her body in the mirror, watching the bruises take shape almost like magic. Dark and angry they blossomed along her torso. Around each upper arm was a web of purple, the results of the two girls holding her. She tossed back some Advil and got dressed.
Fully clothed she looked no different than she did this morning. She exhaled and opened the bathroom door. Sounds from the kitchen propelled her footsteps in the opposite direction. She wasn’t quite ready to face her mom for “the talk”.
It wasn’t as if Jill didn’t know what was going on. She’d learned about where babies came from and all the mechanics involved in the fifth grade when her then best friend Angela brought a tattered copy of “Where Did I Come From” to school. Jill’s heart clenched as she realized Angela had been on the outskirts of the group today. Not participating, but not doing anything to stop it either. They weren’t close friends anymore but she never expected that.
Pushing open the side door to a screened in porch, Jill flopped down onto the porch swing. She needed to talk to someone who would listen without judgment. Alex immediately came to mind but as a guy, would he really understand?
Jill and Alex had formed an unlikely friendship four years ago. She was too tomboyish to be accepted by the girls and he wasn’t manly enough to be accepted by the boys. Their shy personalities and interest in astronomy were a perfect fit. Jill told Alex everything. He was a great listener and always gave her good advice on how to deal with her mom.
The creak of a floorboard snapped Jill’s head up. Her mom had pushed open the door and was standing hesitantly on the threshold.
“I made some dinner, if you’re hungry. Steak and salad. Oh, and watermelon smoothies for dessert. A perfect summer meal, don’t you think?”
Jill didn’t answer. She just stared off into the woods beside their house. Her mom shifted uneasily and backed into the house. “It’ll be in the kitchen…when you’re ready.”
Flinging her head onto the back of the swing Jill closed her eyes. She wasn’t sure if she would ever be truly ready. Somehow, everything changed, more than she thought it would. Her body felt different. Her skin felt different. She didn’t feel like her anymore.
The closed in porch began to feel too confining. She had to get out of there.
She needed to be out of the house. Now. Thundering down the stairs, ignoring her mother’s startled shouts she burst through the back door and kept running until she reached the meadow bordering the back of their lot.
Jill disappeared from her reality into a place that was simple, clean, and fresh. From the manicured lawns of civilization she entered another realm of towering sheaths of grass, so tall she was completely engulfed. She weaved along the paths created by the wildlife of the meadow until the grasses opened up, revealing the Oak in the center. As soon as her hands touched its faded bark, the tension slipped away, floating on the spring breeze.
She leaned back and stared up into the tree’s never ending maze of branches. To be a tree. How much simpler that would be.
“What have we here?”
A man stepped around the tree, his clothing in tatters, and his face obscured with years of growth. He grinned, revealing blackened stubs of teeth. Jill prepared to flee, her heart racing in fear. He saw the flight in her eyes and grabbed her arm.
“Not so fast my sweet,” he said, pulling her closer to him. Frantic Jill lashed out, her palm connecting to his cheek with a crack. He reached out with his other hand and then stopped. Horrified, he watched his rough hewn stubs of fingers elongate into delicate feminine hands. They recoiled up to grasp his face, a face that was morphing and changing before Jill’s eyes. Stifling a scream she watched as his features melted and shifted into a perfect clone of her.
The girl opened her mouth as she fell convulsing, the scream of terror that of a man. All Jill could do was stare at the life she had somehow destroyed.
**Note: this section will eventually be changed to Jill’s POV**
“Did you see it?” I asked. She turned her head, the moonlight highlighting her skin and making her ice blue eyes glitter. I felt the flush rise to my cheeks and prayed the night would provide camouflage.
“The shooting star.”
“Oh. Uh, no. I didn’t.” Her gaze shifted back to the inky sky, becoming distant. I wondered what she was thinking about. She had been distracted, flustered, defensive even, for months. I opened my mouth to ask her what was bothering her but she suddenly rolled over and slid off the hood of the old Chevy parked in my father’s field. Sitting up, I followed her shadow as she pushed through the tall grass towards the house.
“Jill! Wait. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing!” The distant cry floated on the cool night breeze. I pushed off the hood and followed, tripping over hidden ruts and almost breaking an ankle in a gopher hole.
“Umph!” My cheek made contact with the dirt and I lay there, stunned, in a moment of eerie silence. Then just as suddenly the crickets began chirping their midnight serenades. I felt rather than saw Jill crouch down in front of me.
“Are you okay?” Her breath danced across my exposed cheek and tickled my ear. I shifted as my groin became firmer. The subtle throbbing was synchronized with my heartbeat. Her hand touched my shoulder and I felt a jolt of sensation course through my body. Breathing deeply, I struggled to a sitting position, trying to angle my body so my physical response to her presence was shielded.
The moonlight sparkled on the tears clinging to her eyelashes and I forgot my own embarrassing situation. Thinking only of soothing her hurt, I grasped her shoulders and pulled her tight to my body in an embrace.
“Oh…” she whispered, recognizing the implications of my state. I pulled back and brushed a tendril of hair from her eyes.
“Talk to me Jill. What’s wrong?”
“I’m not sure…I’m afraid…I can’t risk…” She trembled as she tried to force the words out. The clouds drifted in front of the moon, covering us in darkness. I felt her relax as if she felt safer. Our shadows suddenly reappeared and the moon bathed us in an unearthly light. I saw myself reflected in her eyes and took a chance, leaning in to brush my lips softly against hers. She stiffened and started to pull back then relented with a low moan, deep in the back of her throat. I felt heat suffuse me and then a tingling sensation that began at my fingertips and travelled rapidly throughout my body.
Gasping in shock, Jill pushed me back. I stared up at the sky, my body jerking uncontrollably. It felt like my skin was melting, as if my bones were shifting, elongating here, shortening there, within my body. Jill screamed as she crawled over to me. Her hands grasped my shirt in a death grip.
“No no no no no no no nononooooooooooo” her voiced grew more urgent with each no, rising to a crescendo. I could do nothing but lie there as my body revolted. My back arched a final time, bending my body impossibly, and then I collapsed into the earth. Jill leaned over me, tears dripping down her cheeks, her nose, her chin, splashing onto my face. I forced my eyes to hers, struggling to focus on them.
My reflection was no longer of me. I only saw her.
“Alex? Oh my god, Alex?!” Jill gripped the front of his shirt, staring at herself, a perfect clone. Her eyes were wide, tears coursing freely down her cheeks. Alex just stared back at her, not fully comprehending what happened. Confusion and fear filled his eyes.
“What have I done?” Jill whispered. “What kind of monster am I?” Gathering Alex up in her arms she squeezed him close. “Change!” she shrieked. “Change back! Oh God please change back,” she sobbed as she collapsed and they both fell back to the ground.
Jill extricated herself from Alex’s limbs and sat, head in her hands. Slowly, Alex brought himself up to a sitting position and stared at his left hand, twisting and turning it. Suddenly he grabbed Jill’s left hand and held the two side by side. They were identical, right down to the mole in the crease between the thumb and first finger.
“What…what did you do?” Alex’s voice, slightly higher pitched but still his, came from within the clone’s lips. That, it appeared, was the only thing that hadn’t changed.
“I don’t know, “She mumbled. She met his gaze, trembling. “I don’t know.”
Alex struggled to stand, his body no longer the familiar vehicle it once was. Jill was reminded of that scene in The Last Unicorn when Schmendrick changed the unicorn to a human girl and she stumbled about, unused to her new form.
Is that what I am? A magician? She watched fearfully as Alex wandered about the field, stepping tentatively, as if not trusting his feet to hold him. Clouds rolled in, obscuring the light of the moon.
“We should get under cover. I think it might start raining.” Jill gathered up their few belongings and took Alex by the hand. He followed blindly, his face blank. Jill glanced at him as they walked; trying to gauge what was going through his mind.
Or should I be thinking of him as her now? Is Alex still Alex inside, or is it all me? Jill bit her lip, wondering what they would do. They couldn’t hide forever. Her mom and Alex’s would be worried when they didn’t come home that night. It was already much later than they were usually out.
Jill took Alex to the thicket bordering his family’s property. There was a small cave that would serve as shelter for now. As soon as she had Alex settled she turned to leave. She could feel rather than see him tense.
“I’ll be back, I promise. I need to go and give my mom an excuse for why we’re not home. I’ll tell her we planned on camping out.”
Jill ran as fast as she could through the fields to her own home. The house was dark. Sending up a silent prayer Jill crept inside and gathered up some food and blankets. She scrawled a note, pinned it up on the fridge, and then left the house as silent as she had come.
The trip back to the cave was slower now that she had to carry all the supplies. It gave her time to run through what happened. Her mind instantly returned to her encounter with the man in the woods a few months ago. When she’d struck him and he changed the transition itself was much more violent. The thrashing and convulsing went on for what seemed like hours and it was clear he was experiencing extreme pain.
Jill had run once the change was complete, hiding under some bushes until the groaning and screaming stopped. She instinctively knew she couldn’t leave a clone of herself in the woods for someone to find. If the clone had died, she would have to dispose of the body.
Staying behind trees as much as possible, Jill crept back towards the clearing. She reached the oak tree in the middle, the tree she always came to whenever she needed to sort her troubles, and peered around the trunk.
The clone was lying at the base, her body contorted into an impossible position. Her mouth hung open and her eyes stared off into the sky. Jill fought the urge to vomit. She swallowed and inched closer, one foot extending to push at the body. It was still. Summoning every ounce of courage she could, Jill reached down and laid a finger at the base of her throat to see if there was a pulse.
At her touch, the skin began bubble. Horrified, Jill stumbled back, crab-walking away a few steps before falling into the dirt. Slowly, the entire body began to disintegrate, melting into an unrecognizable blob, eventually absorbed back into the spongy ground.
Stumbling, Jill focused back on the present. The man had died, then melted at her touch. Alex was still alive and she had touched him again after he changed. What was the difference? Why did she have this power? As she approached the entrance she paused and looked at herself lying on the floor.
Twenty-four hours ago she had been brooding about the man, trying to figure out a way to tell Alex so she could share her secret with someone. And now she feared she had killed the only person in the world who would have stuck by her, through thick and thin, no matter what.
Jill sat in the cave and just watched Alex sleep. She…he, HE she reminded herself. No matter what changes occurred, Alex was Alex. Her friend. Her best friend. Her…only friend.
“And I’ve killed him,” she whispered. At the sound, Alex stirred, opening his eyes. Eyes that were mirror images to Jill’s own, now. He looked at her, concern reflected in his ice blue orbs.
Alex lifted a hand and scanned the length of his body, beginning at the fingers and working his way slowly to his toes. Sighing he turned to Jill, “So…I’m still you.”
“Do you think I’ll change back?”
“I…I don’t know. I don’t think so.” Jill stood and walked to the entrance of the cave, her back to Alex. She stared off at the sunrise. Behind her, she could hear Alex moving around and then felt him approach her. A hand was laid on her shoulder.
“We’ll figure it out. It’ll be okay,” he said. Jill spun on her heel and gripped him by the shoulders.
“How can you say that?” she shrieked. “Alex, you look.Like.ME! We can’t let anyone see you but how do we explain where you went? Oh my God! I’m a monster! I can’t be human. Humans can’t clone themselves. I can’t be human, I can’t I can’t I can’t!”
She fell to the ground sobbing uncontrollably. Alex crouched beside her and tried to gather her trembling limbs into his own.
“It’ll be okay,” he repeated. “We could leave, go someplace no one knows us. We could say we’re identical twins.”
Jill considered that. Would living that way be possible? Could she keep such a secret? Could Alex? Thoughts of her first clone, the man in the woods, came flooding back. She had to tell Alex about him. He needed to know everything.
“Alex…there’s something I need to tell you. You’re not the first person I’ve…changed. A few months ago, there was this man in the woods. He was probably homeless, just passing through but I ran into him and he…tried to attack me. I struck him on the face and he…changed. Like you. Except it was horrible.” Jill stopped and looked Alex in the eye, tears rimming her lids. “He thrashed around and convulsed…and he screamed. Oh, the screams. It was terrifying. I ran and hid.”
“Where is he? Did he run away?”
Jill shook her head. “No, it went really quiet so I crept back to see what happened. He was lying on the ground; contorted into this tortuous looking pose…he was dead. I was dead. It was like I was looking at my own death. I tried to feel for a pulse and he…dissolved. The body just melted and was absorbed into the ground.”
Alex pulled back, his hands releasing their hold on Jill’s arms. She could see the fear in his eyes, knew that the fear was reflected in her own. He held his hands up in front of his face, staring intently at the skin, trying to judge if it was changing at all.
“Maybe…maybe I’m different. I’m still alive right? And as long as I’m still alive, there’s hope.”
“Hope.” Jill echoed. She absently twisted a piece of grass between her fingers.
They had to leave immediately. Jill watched Alex out of the corner of her eye as he gathered up the few belongings he still had. His clothing hung limply on his new frame. Jill had never realized how much thinner and taller she was than him.
They had been “camping” for two days now. Jill knew their parents would expect them home sometime today, to at least check in. They couldn’t do that, not now.
She wondered how Alex felt about leaving. Was he as terrified of starting a new life as she was? He must be. Jill stuffed the extra clothing into her backpack and then paused.
“You should get changed,” she said tossing one of her shirts and a pair of jeans over to Alex. “Your clothes don’t really fit you anymore.”
Alex looked down at himself, his long blonde hair cascading over his shoulder. Jill gripped her own long blonde braid and swallowed down the lump in her throat. Even though he looked like her, she still saw him somehow. The essence that was Alex still came through regardless of the exterior. Wordlessly he pulled off his old clothing and let it fall to the ground as if he was letting go of his previous form. As he pulled on Jill’s clothing, she could see the tears falling down his cheeks.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, knowing he was feeling the loss of self completely now. He brushed the tears away and shrugged.
“We should stick to the woods until we get to the main highway, then try and hitch a lift to the nearest city with transportation routes out.” Flipping the loose hair back over his shoulder, he muttered, “Maybe being a girl will help us get a ride faster.”
Jill fell in beside him as he walked. They were both lost in their thoughts. Jill scanned the area around them, vigilant for any witnesses. She also kept an eye on Alex. Memories of the man in the woods lingered around the edges of her thoughts. What if Alex suddenly died? What if her touch did something else?
Alex stopped suddenly, his entire body going tense, before he collapsed to the forest floor. Jill felt her heart leap into her throat.
“Alex? Alex!” she shrieked as she collapsed to her knees. Her hands reached out to grasp him, shake him, then stopped. What if she made him disappear, like that man? Alex’s eyes fluttered open and he met Jill’s terrified gaze. He opened his mouth to speak but convulsed again, his limbs thrashing against the ground.
Helplessly, Jill watched, too frightened to try and intervene.
The seizure stopped and Alex opened his eyes again. Ice blue orbs met ice blue orbs, Alex’s filled with pain and Jill’s with tears. With great effort, Alex whispered, “I love you.” His eyes rolled back into his head and everything stilled.
Sobbing Jill collapsed onto his body. She pressed her lips to his, murmuring “I love you” back to him. As she pulled back she could feel his body begin to soften. Like the man in the woods, her first clone, Alex’s body slowly dissolved. He was absorbed into the ground leaving nothing but the clothes Jill gave him to wear not two hours before.
“I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do,” Jill repeated over and over and over. She looked off into the distance, trying to decide. Stay or go?
And then she realized, for good or ill, she was already home.
Jill curled up on the corner of the couch, keeping her eyes down on the floor, and listened to her mom talk to the chief of police and Alex’s dad. Every so often snippets of conversation broke through.
“It doesn’t make sense. Alex could swim. He could swim really well…”
“I’ve got everyone out combing the riverbanks…we’ll find him”
Tears welled up in her eyes. Alex, oh Alex… As she wiped the tears off her cheeks she caught sight of an old picture of her as a child. It was her first and only visit to the ocean. She’d been fascinated with the waves. Jill remembered sitting on the sand, staring out to sea, thinking there was something more for her out there. It had been a weird thought for a four year old.
“Jill? Jill, honey, Alex’s dad is going now. He just wanted to say good-bye.” Jill’s mom crouched next to her daughter and laid a hand on her knee. Feeling a fresh wave of nausea come over her, Jill swallowed hard as she looked up to meet Mr. Hoover’s eyes. He smiled down at her.
“I know you’ve been through a lot, Jill. We’ll find Alex. I’m sure he’ll be okay.”
Jill nodded mutely and then turned her face away; hiding the guilt she knew must be there in her face. She’d stumbled into her house two hours before, falling into her mother’s worried arms, sobbing out a tale that sounded unbelievable to her ears but was easily accepted by everyone else: She and Alex had decided to go swimming in the river, at a point called Pirate’s Hook. It was usually a safe bend in the river to swim but there had been a huge storm last week and the currents were moving faster than usual. They had thought it was safe but Alex had been caught by a current and pulled downstream. Jill looked for him for as long as she dared before coming home to find help.
Jill kept the details simple and stuck to them. She dared not deviate. How could she ever tell anyone the truth?
A low murmur shook Jill from her restless doze. She rolled over and stared towards the door to her room. Her mother hadn’t closed it completely as she’d left and the light from the hall created a slender pool of light on the floor.
She pushed up and sat with her legs dangling over the edge of the bed. Her body screamed with exhaustion. She debated sliding back into bed when the scent of baking bread filled her senses. In response her stomach growled.
She decided to get a little something to eat and moved towards the door. The sound of her mother’s voice rising in pitch brought her to a standstill.
“I’m worried,” her mother’s voice flew down the hall, the normally soothing tones tinged with fear. “You don’t understand. Everyone in town is looking at me oddly. And Jill – Jill’s not the same.”
Jill swallowed thickly. Her mother was discussing her.
“She’s withdrawn into herself. More so than usual – Alex was everything to her. She’s taken his death hard. – I spoke to a doctor. He’s given me all these warning signs for something called Dysthymia. – It’s like depression but worse.”
The voice trailed off to a mumble. Jill pulled the door open and eased out into the hall. She crept slowly, attempting to avoid the creaky floorboards and stopped at the door to the kitchen. Pressing herself up against the wall she tried to quiet the thudding of her heart. Its pounding roared in her ears, blocking out her mother’s quiet voice.
“Maybe he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, maybe he’s a quack. I know you never trusted his opinion. – - But you haven’t seen her for almost ten years. Why should I take into account your opinion?”
Jill frowned at the anger building in her mother’s voice. Who was she talking to?
“She’s withdrawn, not eating, sleeping way more – - I know the difference between her acting like a teenager and maybe becoming depressed!”
Her voice became strangled, the fury oozing off every word. Jill peered around the doorframe. Her mother was pacing along the kitchen floor, one hand clenched into a fist the other wrapped so tightly around the phone Jill wondered if it might shatter.
“How dare you! How dare you!- – Jill is my daughter. I will be the one to make the final decision.” Her mother stopped dead at whatever the voice on the other end said. Her voice became eerily calm. “You gave up all rights to her well being the moment you walked out that door Andrew. You are dead to me. Don’t call here again!”
She clicked off the phone and slammed it onto the counter. Her body shook with repressed sobs as she slowly sank to the floor. Jill stood around the corner, her body tense with shock.
Andrew was her father’s name…her dead father’s name.
“Jill. Please, can we talk about this? It seems like such a rash decision…”
Jill spun on her heels, t-shirts and sweaters clenched in her hands. “How can you say that? I told you I wanted to do this six months ago. I went ahead and passed my GED. I applied and was accepted to the University of California!” Jill paused and took a deep breath. “I know you’ll miss me. I know I’m young to go off to university. But I can’t…” her voice broke before continuing, “I can’t be here anymore. You don’t see the stares. You don’t know about the whispered conversations…”
Her mother moved forward and pulled Jill into a hug. “I know,” she murmured into her daughter’s hair. “I do know. I see the looks too, Jill. I’ve overheard the suddenly halted conversations. It’s just…you’re my baby. I’m not ready for you to leave.”
Jill sniffed and blinked back a fresh onslaught of tears. She tightened the grip around her mother’s waist before pulling away and stuffing clothes into her suitcase again. She could hear her mother sigh and then turn to leave.
“Lunch will be in the kitchen, if you want.” She said over her shoulder. Jill turned and met her mother’s worried gaze. “Thanks, Mom. Give me a few more minutes, okay?”
As the door clicked softly closed, Jill collapsed to the floor and buried her face in the sweater she clutched in her hands. It smelled smoky, reminding her of the many nights she and Alex took off to go camping together in the woods.
“Oh, Alex. God, I miss you,” she whispered into the sweater. She scrubbed the rough wool across her cheeks, eliminating the fresh stream of tears. She had to get a grip. There was so much left to do and she was leaving for California in two days. She tried to cram the sweater into a duffel bag sitting on the floor and realized she’d have to dig out another bag.
Crawling into her closet she pushed piles of clothing and shoeboxes aside, looking for a large, army green duffel her dad had used for fishing trips. A tower of boxes stacked haphazardly leaned drunkenly to one side and then toppled onto Jill’s head. Startled, she stood suddenly and cracked her skull on the half empty clothing bar. The collision jostled the bar up into a shelf at the very top and a shower of items rained down.
“Shit,” Jill mumbled as she stepped awkwardly over the piles of miscellaneous crap she’d hoarded away for one reason or another. Her foot became tangled and she pulled it up to unravel a long, dark denim pant leg. At the sight of the jeans she felt her heart begin to thump.
The jeans. The ones that magically showed up when she needed clothing that horrible day. The pain and embarrassment came flooding back. She felt every blow, the sting of unshed tears as she struggled to stand up to that group of bullies, the damp warmth as the blood from her first period soaked her clothing.
She held up the jeans and looked at them, wondering once again where they came from, who left them, why that person didn’t help her physically. Her fingers absently traced the stitching along the back pockets as she became lost to her memories. The sound of crinkling paper brought her back to reality.
Surprised, she dug out a messily folded piece of paper, on which she could see the words “Dear Jill,” along the top edge.
(A few years later)
*Flash* *Flash Flash Flash* *Flash*
The bursts of light left spots dancing before Jill’s eyes. She blinked and covered her face with her hands.
“You okay?” Evie called from her position behind the tripod. Jill could hear her moving closer and uncovered her eyes.
“Fine. Just not used to flashbulbs I guess.”
“Seriously? I’m still blown away some modeling agency hasn’t snapped you up off the streets.” She crouched and angled her camera up. “Just look off into the distance or something.”
Jill tried to relax but she felt her skin crawl every time the flash went off. Evie shifted on the floor, repositioning herself every few shots. Finally she stood. She reached out a finger and brushed a strand of Jill’s hair off her cheek, the tip caressing her jawbone. Jill met Evie’s gaze, her eyes like melted chocolate, and saw the desire. Before she could move, Evie cupped her hand on Jill’s face, leaned in and softly kissed her.
That familiar sensation coursed through Jill’s veins and she pulled back in dread. Staring at Evie, she studied her face for signs of transformation. Evie, her cheeks flushing with embarrassment, turned suddenly and busied herself with her camera.
“Stupid, stupid, stupid.” Jill could hear her mumbling under her breath. She moved forward and laid a hand on her shoulder. Evie stiffened and then faced her. Rolling her eyes she said lightly, “Guess I misread the signals. I’ve never seen you with a guy and we’ve been spending so much time together…I thought I saw…something.”
“It’s not that. Well, it is, maybe…I was worried about…something. It’s hard to explain.” Jill’s mind was racing. She avoided physical contact as much as possible, labeling her as odd and eccentric by the people in her classes. Evie was the first person she’d gotten close to since Alex. Jill felt so alone in this new city, she craved friendship but she was also terrified of what she might do unknowingly.
“Jill, you can tell me. We’re friends.” She paused. “Aren’t we?”
“Of course. And if I can, I will…I just don’t know if I’m ready to talk.” Jill offered a small smile. Evie smiled and began preparing for the next shot. Impulsively, Jill caught her hand and pulled her close. Cupping Evie’s face she gazed into her eyes and brought her lips to hers.
It was time to take a chance.
Evie pinned up the 8×10’s she printed off. She stood back to observe her work, a pensive look in her eye. Jill sat off to the side, silently observing the artist at work. She was fascinated by Evie’s ability to take photographs that evoked such emotion. Even a simple shot of a leaf curled up on the sidewalk screamed “Look at me! I am important!”
Evie moved closer to one of the images, her nose scrunching up. She brushed a lock of hair back, first tucking it behind her ear, then taking the entire mass of thick auburn waves into her hands and holding it like a ponytail before dropping it to cascade down her back. Swiveling on a heel she tapped a fingernail on her teeth, lost in contemplation.
Jill wondered if she should speak up, voice her opinion. Several times she opened her mouth, only to close it once more. She watched as Evie pulled an image off the board and held it in closer scrutiny.
“This one? Hmmm…I like the shadows over here but there is a glare on this side that reflects poorly off the left side,” she mumbled and then dropped the image to the floor, forgotten. Jill bent to scoop it up.
It was a striking image of her. Her hair looked alive as it floated about her shoulders and there was something reflected in her eyes. Pain? Worry? Jill wasn’t sure. She tried to remember that moment when Evie took the shot but nothing came. Hearing a sudden shriek, Jill looked up and saw Evie grasping an image and waving it about her head like a flag.
“THIS one! If I don’t win the Annual Student Photography show with this I’ll know the judges truly are blind.” She grinned like an excitable five year old on Christmas morning. Jill moved over to take a look. It was a beautiful picture, like all the rest. But to her, it looked no different than most of the others pinned up on the board.
“It’s great Evie. But what makes this one so much better?”
“The eyes. You have the most amazing eyes, Jill. So pale, you can barely see the blue at times. They glitter like ice when you are angry and sparkle like magic when you laugh. “She sighed. “I wish I had your eyes. Which one of your parents gifted you such majestic beauty?”
Jill paused for a moment before replying. “Uhm, neither. My mom had brown eyes, kind of like yours but not as rich and velvety looking.” She grinned and playfully traced a finger down Evie’s face. “And my dad…my mom said he had African blood in his background, even though he was actually quite pale skinned. He had brown eyes too, from what I remember. He died when I was seven,” Jill clarified at Evie’s questioning look.
“Both your parents had brown eyes? Genetically, that’s almost impossible. Especially since yours are so pale. Dark pigments are dominant generally.” She stopped at Jill’s stricken look. “Oh, not that I’m saying it couldn’t happen…just that…”
“So, I might have been…adopted? My mom isn’t my mom?” Jill sank into a chair, all the confusion she’d felt as a child and as a teen about not fitting in, about not really belonging, rushing back. And her mother’s distance once she became older…Jill could picture her mom coming up and wanting to say something, she could see the indecision, the fear.
“I’m sorry Jill. I didn’t mean to cause anything.” Evie crouched next to her and wrapped an arm around Jill’s shoulders. She softly kissed her cheek.Tears began to run down Jill’s cheeks.
“I know. I just never thought…who am I?”
That night, Jill dreamed about Alex. She hadn’t thought of him consciously in over a year but she knew his memory was subtly influencing every decision she made about her life.
In her dream, she was in the middle of the field behind his family’s home. The grasses stood tall and swayed gently in the evening summer breeze. Fireflies danced about her, swirling up into the sky, blending into the star filled night sky. She stared up at the stars, so many it seemed as if there was no space between them. The sky was glowing, becoming brighter and spreading down towards her. Closer and closer until she could touch the glow with her outstretched fingers. It infused her with warmth. Spreading from her fingers, through her body and into her core, it pulsed.
A light touch upon her shoulders and she discovered Alex standing behind her, his hands resting upon her shoulders then sliding slowly down her bare arms. The pulsing became a throb. She turned to face him and realized her clothes were gone. Alex’s hands continued their explorations along her body: down an arm, up the torso, across the chest, and back down again. His image began to flicker in time with the throbbing inside her. He’d be Alex and then shift to the clone of Jill *throb* shift back to Alex, flicker to Jill.
She tried to track the pulses, so she could focus on Alex as himself, remember him for who he was before that tragic night but the pleasure and warmth that erupted with each feather light stroke on her skin distracted her attention. She gave herself into the flow, staring off into the space that encompassed them: the space that was all and nothing.
The touching increased, becoming faster, firmer, and insistent. The pulses began to ramp up, building into a climax of sensations. Alex shifted into Jill and then Jill became Evie. Her long pale blonde hair went dark, the brown oozing and flowing from the roots like molten chocolate. Jill’s attention sharpened and she looked Evie straight in the eyes, deep within a soul that was older and wiser than she knew.
She saw the desire, flashing like an electric current, and the pulsing quickened yet again. Evie drew her closer, gliding her fingers down Jill’s back and resting gently upon the curve of her backside. Her lips parted and the question hovered, physically unsaid but echoing within Jill’s mind.
“Are you ready?”
Jill opened her mouth to reply and with a jolt felt herself crash upon her bed, pulled from her dream. Her heart pounded and muscles she wasn’t even aware she had were throbbing with pleasurable pain. Staring up at the ceiling she spoke to the darkened room,
Jill stood outside Evie’s apartment and stared up at the third floor windows. Was this really what she wanted to do? Was this truly who she was? The dream still lingered in the back of her mind and she could feel her heart begin to race as images trickled to the surface of her memories. She felt that warm glow stirring within and knew, that yes, without a doubt, this was where she was supposed to be.
Evie had said she might be in the shower when Jill arrived (images of Evie’s wet body, warm and slick from the shower percolated in her brain after that little bit of information was shared. Jill surprised herself with her scope of x-rated imaginings) so she told Jill the trick to get in without being buzzed up. Jill scanned the panel then hit 0-3-9-#-#-* in rapid succession. The door *buzzed* faintly and the Jill heard a *click* as the lock disengaged. She pulled the door open and entered into the foyer.
Evie had lucked out with a small studio just off campus. It wasn’t in the best looking building but it was relatively cheap and private. Plus, it was located on the opposite side of campus from the fraternity houses so noise issues were minimal. Jill glanced around, taking in the old heritage-style doors on the ground floor apartments. Evie had told her to look for a bright green door at the end of a hall. It concealed the stairwell entrance.
The lime green door was partially hidden by an over grown fichus. Jill shoved the branches aside and pulled open the door, grimacing at the greasy feel to the doorknob. She entered the dimly lit corridor and discovered the most amazing wrought iron circular staircase. Evie had spent many a night lamenting the difficulty getting anything larger than a bread box up it but she also dreamily looked off into nothing when she describe the coils of flowers snaking up the handrails and the intricate twists filling the space where a standard staircase would have spindles. The pictures Evie had taken truly didn’t give it justice.
Jill climbed quickly, the anticipation building as she imagined how this evening might proceed. She wanted to take that next step with Evie, she was ready to take that next step. Did Evie still feel the same way, was a question filling her with dread. It had been a few weeks since the incident in the studio. During that time Jill had avoided Evie as much as possible, trying to sort through the feelings she’d been experiencing.
The third floor was painted a soothing sky blue. Jill felt some of the tension leaving her as she walked down the short hall to Evie’s door. She stopped and just looked at it, her hand paralyzed as it was lifted to knock.
Was this the right choice? Was this who she was? Jill took a deep breath and dropped her hand down to tap on the door. As she connected with the wood panel an ear-piercing scream filled the hall.
Jill froze, her heart beating rapidly in her chest. That sounded like a woman screaming. A small window located in an alcove to Jill’s left was open. She glanced outside and saw a couple fooling around on the grass next to the house. The woman shrieked as the man picked her up over his shoulders and then mock-body slammed her to the ground. The two rolled about the ground, laughing and play fighting. Jill smiled wistfully. Would she ever get to have a relationship like that?
Calming herself, she moved back to Evie’s door and went to knock once again. To her surprise, the door was ajar. She pushed it open further and then stopped at the sound of voices.
“You’re such a tease. Don’t give me that bull shit about not feeling it. You were feeling it pretty good that night.”
Jill didn’t recognize the male voice that floated out to her.
“I’m serious, Trey. I don’t feel that way about you. It was a drunken mistake. Let’s just move on, okay? Get out of my place, I have shit to do.”
Jill noted the forced calm in Evie’s voice. Clearly she had been trying to get him out for some time. She debated entering the apartment or just holding off until the guy left. As she turned to go back downstairs she heard a low growl, “F*ck this shit.”
“Trey? What are you doing? Don’t! Get off! GET OFF!” Evie’s voice became a high pitched shriek with her final words. Jill’s choice was made, she burst through the door and ran in to help defend her friend.
The scene she encountered was one of her worst nightmares. Trey already had Evie pinned onto her bed, thrusting viciously into her. Jill could see the pain Evie was experiencing with each violent movement. She tried to shift out from under him but was no match for his two hundred pound, well-built frame. Her broken cries filled the room.
“Get off her!” Jill shrieked. Evie met Jill’s horrified stare and screamed, “Run, get out Jill!” Jill’s entrance brought Trey to a momentary pause. He took in Jill’s angry face and then let his eyes lazily take in her body, lingering obscenely on her low cut neckline. Through all this his hips were still mindlessly thrusting. A sly smile crept across his face.
“Perfect, a tasty treat to finish off,” he grunted, and then tensed as he came. He pushed off Evie, ignoring her sobs and moved towards Jill. Jill could feel the anger building inside. As he came closer that familiar tingling began to dance through the air like a current. This time, however, she welcomed the strange power she had been given. This time, she was ready.
Ignoring Evie’s weak cries to run, she stepped forward and grasped Trey firmly about his upper arm. His smile curved into a Cheshire grin, “Oh, you want it huh, baby? Seeing your friend get you all hot and bothered?”
Glaring at him, Jill spat, “F*ck you.” She could feel the power shoot out and watched as his body tensed. The morphing was grotesque to watch as his six foot plus frame shrank down to Jill’s five foot nine. She watched dispassionately as the change completed.
Evie however began to scream. She watched with horror in her eyes and then looked at Jill, terrified. Jill had no time to explain. Within moments, Trey was reduced to a perfect clone of Jill.
He collapsed to the floor and breathed raggedly. Jill wondered if the strain would prove too much for him, like it did for the man in the woods, or would he be like Alex, and linger a few days.
Looking at Evie, who was frozen on the bed, staring at him and back at Jill, she made a choice. She grabbed the discarded towel from Evie’s floor and a box cutter from a shelf, wrapped it about the clone’s head and then sliced its throat.
She could feel the shift within herself as she made her choice. Her sense of innocence and fumbling through the world was gone. She had a power, and if necessary, she would use it, regardless of the cost.
Evie looked at her with horror filled eyes.
“What are you?” she whispered, the terror clinging to every syllable. Jill’s face blanched and her insides twisted as the full impact of what she had done hit her. The power was still there, lingering around the edges. It was a part of her. No longer could she let her fears control her, inhibit her.
“I don’t know what I am,” she said, her eyes pleading with Evie to trust her. “But I did what I had to. I used what I was given.”
“I thought I knew you,” Evie murmured sadly.