So I’m going to try writing a little on both of these stories (as well as turn my attention back to INCARNATE when I am feeling up to it — it’s emotionally daunting), and share my progress as I go.
Alice woke in the dark. She thought she’d heard something, and the truth was, she may have been a little weirded out still from seeing Emily’s eyes rolled back in her head up in the attic. She’d been having a nightmare, reliving that moment, only in her dreams, there was a woman’s face in the mirror. What had Emily called her? Jessie?
“Em?” she whispered. “Em, are you awake?”
Their parents had told them that they could have their own rooms, if they wanted, but neither of them really wanted to be alone in the new, very old, house, with its creaks and smells and unfamiliar shadows. Besides, even if Alice sometimes complained about having to look after her little sister, she was her best – if sometimes only – friend. It was a lot harder to play hide-and-seek by yourself, Mum would always say if they ever complained about each other.
She didn’t hear her little sister’s telltale breathing; nor her ridiculous fake snore that she used when she was trying to pretend to be sleeping, but really, she was just ignoring you. Maybe she’d gone to the bathroom, Alice thought, and tried to go back to sleep. She closed her eyes tightly, like her Dad told her, and started counting Robins.
“Well, there was the original, Dick Grayson,” she yawned. “And then he left to become Night-Man, or Bat-Wing or something, I can’t remember.”
Her Daddy might have cared about all that comic book stuff, but Alice couldn’t remember half of the things he told her. She just liked seeing his eyes wild with excitement as he told them stories of multiple dimensions and alternate realities, and something called retconning, which must be something terribly awful, because he always seemed annoyed and angry whenever he mentioned it.
“Then there was Jason Todd, who everybody thought was a clone of the first guy. I mean, not really a clone,” she said, muttering to herself as she tried, in vain, to get back to sleep.
“Then he died, and Daddy won’t tell me how, so I’ll just move along. Besides, Daddy says he gets better in one of those awful retcon things, so I guess that’s okay.”
“Then there’s Daddy’s favourite, Tim Drake, and he’s a,” and here she dropped her voice to an even quieter whisper, “bad-ass ninja dude, who was trained by an ass… um, ass-in-ninn… assassin! That’s it. And then there was finally a girl Robin, and go figure, they killed her off just ‘cause she disobeyed the Batman, only Daddy says not to worry, ‘cause they retcon that, too, and if they can bring good characters back from the dead with this retcon thing, then I think it’s a good thing, no matter what Daddy says.”
Alice squinted her eyes tighter, and rolled over on to her other side. This wasn’t working.
“Carrie Kelly,” she said, almost harshly. She’d almost forgotten about Carrie Kelly. Her dad gave her a copy of Dark Knight Returns for her 10th birthday. Her mother had thought that it was inappropriate, but Alice had loved it, and so, she found her favourite Robin. Carrie Kelly wasn’t adopted by Bruce Wayne, didn’t train under him – she just put on a Robin outfit and set out to help the decrepitly aging caped crusader. Too bad she was only ever in that one book.
“And then there’s Damien,” Alice said with distaste. She didn’t like Damien Wayne, and had asked her Dad why Batman had to have a kid anyway. The stories were confusing, and she didn’t understand them at all. “And then Damien died… well, okay, he didn’t really die in Grant Morrison’s run…”
He had tried to explain this Grant Morrison guy to them a number of times, but it all seemed very confusing to her. Did Batman die, or didn’t he? And then her Dad would launch into a big discussion of how you had to understand Jack Kirby (whoever he was) to understand Grant Morrison. Alice didn’t pretend to understand Jack Kirby any more than she understood Grant Morrison – she had, in fact, had no idea who they were or why they were so important to her father, but they clearly were, and so she listened to him talk. She thought that he was the smartest person in the world when it came to comic books, and she could listen to him talk all day if she could.
She’d run out of Robins to count, and sighed into her pillow. Emily wasn’t back from the bathroom yet. What was keeping her? Alice wondered. Now she had to go pee, herself, so she tossed her feet out of bed and tiptoed across the wood floor, trying her best to avoid the creaky spots. She hadn’t figured them all out just yet, but give her another month and she knew she could be every bit the bad-ass ninja that Tim Drake was – only she’d always be Carrie Kelly in her heart.
When Alice stepped out her bedroom door, she was surprised to find her little sister sitting cross-legged on the floor beneath the hatch that led to the attic. Her eyes were closed, but her lips were moving. Alice watched her, frozen, her bladder suddenly crying out. She twisted one leg over the other and did what her parents had called the Pee Pee dance, unable to bring herself to take even one step toward her sister, who suddenly giggled, as if someone had said something terribly funny. Of course, she’d have to give in, eventually, or else pee right there in the hallway, which she definitely wasn’t going to do. The bathroom was at the end of the hall, and Alice guessed that she could make it past Emily without waking her if she just scooted behind her. But as she passed by Emily, she thought she heard a voice – a far-away voice – say Alice is going to pee herself, which made Emily laugh, though she still had her eyes closed and seemed unaware that Alice had passed her. Alice barely made it to the toilet, and if there was a little bit of piddle in her underpants, well, she wasn’t going to tell anyone.
Alice sat on the toilet and stared out at her little sister. She didn’t know what to do. She’d heard that it was dangerous to wake sleepwalkers, and she supposed that was it – Emily was sleepwalking. Her Mum told her that she had what she called night terrors when she was just little, and that they had been afraid she was going to hurt herself. But this was different – it was like Emily was dreaming, half asleep and half awake, talking to her imaginary friend. And that other voice – that far away voice – why, that must have just been Emily, too, speaking for her imaginary friend. Alice had just been too spooked to realize it until now.
“Yes,” Alice said. “Because there are no such things as ghosts, or spooks, or… or…”
Emily turned her head at the sound of Alice’s voice, and opened her eyes. Alice began to tremble at the sight of her little sister, her head turned sideways like a doll, her eyes showing nothing but whites. Her lips felt all dry and sticky, and she was suddenly breathing in deep gasps.
“Hyper… hyper…,” she tried. “Hyper-activating.”
That wasn’t it, she knew it, but her brain wasn’t giving her the word she wanted, so instead she focused on breathing.
Emily rose a finger to her lips, staring blindly straight at Alice, and whispered:
In reply, Alice began to scream.