We look the same and we always have but we couldn’t be more different from each other. I think that’s the best place to start with this. Some identical twins have a lot in common. They like the same foods, the same things on television, some even spend their entire lives dressing in the same clothes, but we were never those girls. For as long as I remember, it’s been hard for even our own parents to tell us apart were it not for our very different personalities. Our own mother can’t tell the difference between our voices over the phone to this day. We even have the same laugh, but after that we diverge. I’m extroverted and would much rather be outdoors than inside where she is bookish and reserved. As far as personality traits go, Lily and I have always shared very few.
We both have our father’s nose and our mother’s heart shaped face and her high cheekbones. The same raven-black hair falls in waves past both of our shoulders and the same emerald green, almond shaped eyes sparkle with hidden flecks of gold that you can only see if you take a look up close.
Still, there’s a connection between us that can’t be explained. We just feel it. Know it’s there. It’s a thing with identical twins no matter how truly different they really are. Some say it’s a sort of telepathy, if you believe in that sort of thing.
That’s the reason I knew something was wrong before I had proof. I knew when I woke up in the morning that something was happening and that it was big. I even knew when I finally got up the nerve to send her a text, she wouldn’t reply to it; not right away. I had a feeling I wouldn’t hear back from her for at least a week–possibly a few days more. I also knew it wasn’t because she didn’t want to, but that she couldn’t and that was a very strange feeling to wake up with because Lily and I rarely go for more than a day or two without checking in even though we live halfway across the country from each other.
This particular morning, the feeling of unease is everywhere around me and even somehow inside me. I feel it in bed before I even open my eyes. Like an itch you can’t scratch because you know it will just make the rash worse and trying to ignore it altogether will drive you mad. The worst part about the itch was knowing I could reach out to Lily at any time and I would do that right after breakfast, but it would be days before she could contact me back. Not would but could. I have no idea how I know this but somehow I just do and the feeling is incredibly unnerving.
Whatever happened is bothering me so much that I burn the pancakes and have to start them over three different times.
“Vibes are off today, Emily,” my wife Jasmine begins. She sits patiently waiting for me to serve her a plate of good ones, pancakes that aren’t burnt, at the table in our kitchenette, “I just changed that bag last night you know, and if you keep doing that I’ll have to take it out again before we even get to eat. What’s up with you?”
“Not me,” I reply, “it’s Lily. Something’s up with Lilly.”
“Oh? What’s going on with her?”
“That’s just it. I don’t know. It’s just a feeling, babe. Hard to explain,” I say.
“A twin thing?” She asks.
“Exactly. It’s twintuition. It’s like–”
“–Intuition,” she finishes for me, “I get it. Did you try calling her or texting her yet?” Jasmine asks.
“No, but it’s because I’m afraid she won’t answer right away and I don’t want to have that fear be real.” I admit. “That’s weird isn’t it?”
“Very,” she says getting up from the table. She picks my phone up from the counter and grabs me by the waist, moving me away from the stove and spinning me around. She pecks a small kiss on my lips and lifts one of my hands, placing the phone into it. She gives me a little shove toward the kitchenette table and pulls out the chair for me.
“You’re going to sit here and write a text to your sister and I’m going to finish making breakfast.” She tells me.
I sit here looking at my phone for a while, unsure of how to start. Finally I type:
Anything wrong? Worried about you.
And I hit send.
Eight days pass before Lily texts me back and it’s a flood of texts in the morning from an unknown number. One after the other.
Sorry I didn’t get back to you right away. You were right about Eric. I didn’t tell you a lot because I thought you’d be ashamed of me. Or mad. You’ve always been so much stronger than I am.
I packed and left the night before your text. I was afraid to reply because I thought he might be able to read it somehow. He definitely was tracking the phone so I left it at the bus station that morning.
It took me a few days to get set up, but I’m in Echo Bay now and this is my new number. Just got one of those burner phones from Walmart. It’s nothing special but that’s on purpose.
I’m staying in a bungalow on the beach. Very cute. Just a few miles from you and Jasmine, actually. It’s nothing permanent, just an AirB&B. I figured coming here would be safest for now to figure out what to do next.
I never told him where you were and he’ll try to find me if he can. He’ll follow me to the end of the Earth. I should have told you about him. The whole truth. Now I finally can. If you’re not busy, come by today and I’ll tell you the whole story.
The last text she sends puts tears in my eyes and I call her right after I read it and we make plans…
I’m pretty sure if I stayed he’d have killed me sooner or later. Probably sooner
I meet Lily for lunch at her bungalow in the afternoon and she’s right, it’s very cute. She, on the other hand, still looks like a mess and the bruises haven’t fully healed. That bastard really did a number on her.
“He wasn’t always like this, you know,” she tells me, “in the beginning he was really charming…it took a long time to figure out that person wasn’t real.”
She doesn’t eat much, mostly just moves the food around on her plate with her fork. She goes quiet and drifts away from the conversation a lot which is strange for me because she was always the one with more focus. I’m the daydreamer. She’s the grounded one. That’s how we’ve always been. A few times while she’s sitting silently, she begins to cry. When I hold her hand, it turns into a wailing sob and I reassure her that none of this is her fault. That this sort of thing happens to a lot of women. That they feel trapped and never try to get out. Never try to escape. They don’t make it out. I reassure her that she’s still strong because she saw what was happening and she did something about it. She left. I reassure her quietly that although it shouldn’t be this way, that it shouldn’t happen, this still happens to lots of women anyway. She’s not alone. She escaped it. She’s a survivor.
“We can help find you a lawyer if you want,” I offer at one point, “we have money saved. We can pay for it,” and she immediately shuts the idea down.
“No. I’m not doing that,” she says adamantly, “I just want to be done with it. I came here to heal. I don’t know if I’m staying or not yet…”
She pauses for a moment and then adds: “I just need some time to figure out where I’m supposed to be.”
“But if you let him get away with it, he could do this to someone else,” I say, “you do realize that right? You need to do something. He needs to pay for this.”
“But what if he gets away with it?” she asks, “what if I report all of it and he sits trial for it…and what if I don’t win?”
“What if you do?” I ask her. She gets really quiet then, “promise me you’ll think about it.”
“I will,” she says and it’s almost a whisper, “I just need some time. I made it away and I’m safe. I don’t know if I want him to know where I am. If I do this then he knows I’m here and when he does, if I lose, he will kill me. You understand that don’t you?”
She doesn’t want to let me take pictures of her bruises but I insist on it and somehow actually win that argument. She tells me she’s been trying not to even look in mirrors right now. She doesn’t want pictures of her looking like this on her brand new phone because what if she decides to take a picture of something beautiful, like a sunset, and she opens the camera and the photo gallery is right there and she has to look at this instead. I tell her that she’s still beautiful no matter what happened to her. All that matters is what happens next. So I take the pictures for her with my phone. She takes off her shirt and there are more bruises everywhere underneath and we take pictures of those too.
I manage to keep my own feelings bottled up for the entire afternoon until she takes her shirt off and now before I realize I’m doing it, I’m crying also.
“Shhh,” she whispers, “you can’t cry. You’re the strong one.”
I shake my head and tell her that we’re both strong and then we’re both sobbing and she presses her face against my chest and I press my head onto the top of hers until she steps away from me and tells me that I have to stop crying on her because I’m getting snot in her hair. We both laugh.
It’s not funny. Nothing about this afternoon has been, but we both laugh anyway and our laughs still sound the same.
I spend the entire day with her and as the sun goes down we leave her bungalow and take a walk along the beach.
“What’s that out there?” She asks, pointing out at a spot in the water. The sun has nearly set and the only thing we can see is a great dark space on the horizon. The place where I live is old and still has a working lighthouse; it’s more for nostalgia than anything else now. As if on queue, the light sweeps across the darkness revealing a large, not so distant island that mostly exists as an outcropping of rocks.
“The locals call it Mermaid’s Roost,” I tell her, “lots of the old-timers, the superstitious ones, say that’s where the sirens live.”
She smiles at that. I realize it’s the first time I’ve seen her smile all day and it’s an incredible feeling. It’s too soon to call it healing but it’s the beginning of just that and I can feel it radiating from her. It feels warm. She lifts her phone and opens the camera.
“It’s gonna be my first picture,” she says, “I was waiting for something beautiful. I wanted the first one I took to be of something beautiful.”
“It’s why they put the old lighthouse here in the first place. Supposedly there’s dozens of old ships that sank out there,” I tell her.
“They heard the sirens singing and rammed their ships against The Roost to be closer to them.” Lily says, “The legend is that they’re still out there and you can still hear them if they want you to. If they want you to come out to them…when men hear them from the water it’s because they want to smash the ships. When they hear them from the shore it’s always a trick; a call to swim out to the rocks. Most of them don’t make it. They drown. If they do make it that far, the sirens kill them and eat them. Also they’re not mermaids at all but birds with the heads of women. Weird right? The men always die either way. They’re from Greek mythology, you know. Surprising anyone believes anything like that out here.”
“That’s right,” I say, struggling to hide my surprise, “but how do you know about all of that?”
“There’s a book about it at the house,” she explains, “I’ve been here for about three days. I’ve read the whole thing twice. I didn’t realize it was a local thing. That explains two things…why it was in the house to begin with, but also why it wasn’t written very well. I thought it’s probably self-published or a vanity press sort of thing,” She shrugs and says, “I didn’t realize why it was at the house until now. I like it anyway. It’s just about the only thing there is to read in there.”
I’m flabbergasted, “Three days? You got here and waited three days to text me?” I heard the rest of what she said but that’s the only thing that registers.
“I was scared,” she says, “scared to tell you about everything.”
“I get it. I’m not mad or anything but Jesus, Lily, you’ve been this close for three days? I’ve been worried sick about you for over a week!”
“I know,” she whispers and grabs my hand, “I’m sorry.”
“We should probably get back before it gets too dark,” I say.
“Stay with me tonight? Say you will? Call Jasmine and tell her you’ll be home in the morning?”
I say I will and that we need to start to head back to her place. We’ve walked about a mile so it will take us a while to get back and this isn’t the kind of beach that’s made of gentle slopes of endless sand. There’s sand of course, but it’s also full of rocks to trip and bust your head open on in the dark.
When we’re halfway there and the sky is a deep, dark purple bruise she stops and looks back at Mermaid’s Roost. The shadow of it still looms on the violet horizon, like a giant sleeping in the sparkling black blanket of water. Her eyes grow wide and seem to fill with tiny golden diamonds, like flecks of light reflected by the stars. Her face glows with an uncharacteristically innocent wonder.
“Emily,” she whispers, “do you hear them too?”
And I think she’s fucking with me so I say “sure” and tell her to hurry up because I’m starving and I want to order us a pizza and call my wife to let her know what’s going on. Also that my feet hurt. The truth is that I can barely hear her when she asks the question in the first place.
“It’s beautiful,” she says quietly and I agree because I think she’s talking about the town or the beach or the moon or the stars or anything else–anything real–and not some local legend that she can hear over the sound of the waves and wind that I can’t.
When we get back to the bungalow, she pauses in the doorway and stares for a long time back at the island of rocks. It’s distant, but big enough that you can still see it, if only just barely when the light from the lighthouse sweeps across it in the dark.
The house is awash with the chill and the sounds of the sea wind when I wake up. We went to the master bedroom around 11:00pm to watch a movie. The plan was for us to stay in the same bed like we used to do sometimes when we were little girls. The house has a guest room and I could have slept in there, but Lily begged me to stay with her, so I did.
It’s 3:00am and the cold is what’s roused me from sleep but it’s panic that pulls me fully awake now. She’s not here with me. I know she’s not in the house. I know this the same way that I know she turned the TV off when she left, so a loud commercial didn’t wake me. I know this because it’s what I would have done if I was trying to sneak away and I didn’t want her to stop me. I know all of this the same way I knew she was in trouble but I didn’t know how or why over a week ago. Twintuition.
I’ve never had a feeling like this one before. It’s strong and clear but also deep and dark like the water outside. I know from the moment I wake up that I won’t see her alive again, but I search the entire house for her anyway. I go from room to room checking every closet, beneath both the beds and even behind the shower curtain in the bathroom. When I get to the living room I see the reason the house is so cold; she didn’t shut the door behind her when she left.
“The Legend of Mermaid’s Roost” is laying open on the counter and she’s used seashells to hold the pages open to where she’s circled a passage in black marker.
“When men hear the sirens singing, it is always without a doubt an attempt at temptation. Their beautiful and deadly song is said to be a lure calling sailors ever closer to the rocks of Mermaid’s Roost to smash their ships along the stoney shore, but the sirens don’t stop there. Their singing has not only been heard by men at sea, but by those who walk along the shores after dark. They call out to the men on the mainland trying to convince them to swim out to the Roost; a distance just over half a mile. According to the legends, most of those that attempted to swim the distance to the island would get caught in the undertow and drown. If they managed to make it the entire way, the sirens of Mermaid’s Roost would rip them apart with their talons and eat them alive while they screamed for a mercy that would never come. Death is always the fate of men who hear the song.”
“According to the myths, women almost never hear their enchanting calls from across the bay, but for those that do the call is never a deadly temptation, but rather an invitation to join them. To sing with them and lure men to their untimely ends. Those women that do hear them may choose to join their deadly flock if they wish to do so. According to the local histories this is rare and the women that choose to join them are never seen nor heard from again.”
At the bottom of the page, a note in her handwriting simply reads: “Figured out where I’m supposed to be. Thanks for today. I love you always.”
I rush outside knowing there’s no reason to hurry because I’m already too late to stop her. She’s already made her choice and I don’t need my twintuition to tell me that because I can hear her.
She’s singing…Mermaid’s Roost is over a mile away and I know it’s her voice because it sounds so much like my own. It’s quiet from this distance but the preternatural nature of her chorus spans the space between us with ease and clarity…but this song is not my invitation to join her…
It’s her last request.
When I offered to pay for a lawyer so she could make him pay for putting his hands on her, she was afraid she wouldn’t win but that fear is gone now. She’s found a whole flock that’ll be willing–that lives for the sole purpose of picking better men than him apart, and they will, as they’ve done to so many before him…that is if he even survives the swim.
He’s too far from here to hear her song but he’s not too far for me. I don’t know exactly how to reach you, Eric Warminster, but I know where you live and there can’t be more than one man with that name where you are. In the morning I’ll make a few calls until I find you and when I do, I’m pretty sure that Lily was right when she said you’d follow her to the end of the Earth. I’m also pretty sure you won’t know the difference between her voice and mine over the phone…our own mother can’t most of the time. I don’t even have to face you and I already know what I’ll say to get you out here too. I’ll taunt you and belittle you. You’ll come. It should be easy enough…we have the same laugh…
…All I have to do is tell you to meet me at the beach after dark. That’s her whole last request. Get you to the beach and she’ll take care of the rest.