At the bottom of the basement stairs, I see the girl. Her hair is matted in flat blankets, her dark eyes are wide planets. Her thin smile is fierce. But worst of all, she is me. Me. The same age as me, eight years old. The same sandy brown hair. The same eye color. Except she is bedraggled and naked. I want to scream but she looks up at me with pleading and yet piercing eyes.
Don’t you dare scream, she says. And yet her mouth did not move. Her words are inside my mind. I see her body is streaked in dirt.
What happened to you? I ask. Who are you?
You know who I am, she replies
She falls onto her knees and walks around me in circles. She is walking in circles on her knees. She arches her back and lets out a hiss.
My heart beats hard, fast machine-gun bullets.
Don’t scream. Don’t scream. Again those wordless words. In my mind. My mind. I would run up the stairs but being near her I feel alive, though shaking.
Then she crawls over to my feet in white tennis shoes and kisses them.
Please. She says. Please.
What do you want from me?
I want you to let me out. Now.
But how can I let you out? I am you. Are you my twin? Where did you come from?
She smiles with eyes that smirk at me and make me feel tiny.
You know what I mean. You know how to do it. There are the stairs. Take my hand. Hold me. Walk with me out of here. When we get to the top of the stairs, we’ll walk out as one person. I will be you. You will be me. Which of course you know, we already are.
What? Why would I do that?
Because. She says. You don’t want to leave me down here, do you?
But if we walk out together I would die. This time my mouth doesn’t move but she knows.
You won’t die. Look you aren’t even here. She puts a finger on my forehead and her finger pokes right through my head.
Then I scream. I scream and I scream and I scream. But she grabs me. Placing her hand over my mouth. Ties me to a chair and drags me under the stairs. She takes all my clothes, even my hair ribbon, and puts them on herself. Straightens her hair and ties a bow. Skips up the steps, crosses the threshold and slams shut the door.
I hear my parents on the other side. They embrace her as their daughter (as me!) and demand that she take a bath. She bares her teeth at them as she smiles. I stamp my feet and cry. No one responds. No one ever opened the door.