The following excerpt is from a short story written by senior English/Gender Studies major, Sam Stanley. Rich in sensory imagery and compelling characters, “Sisters” was inspired by “binge-watching scary movies.” The rising action unfolds in a “dilapidated jungle gym,” an ordinarily innocent setting that proves to be surprisingly dynamic, mysterious, and even sinister. Read the excerpt below.
Carla slipped out through the back door, digging a box of Morleys out of her bag as soon as the door closed behind her. In one hand she grasped a pink lighter, which she switched on immediately, finger brushing the flame. She inhaled too sharply and her vision blurred, face suddenly wet with tears, cigarette smoke furling out of her nose.
After a moment of mild distress, she went over to the dilapidated jungle gym that she had so loved as a kid. In her small square backyard, it had added some adventure to her childish outdoor excursions, and gave her a platform to imagine she was traveling the world, as a pirate, as a queen, as a wizard.
She stubbed her cigarette out in a pile of butts on the wooden platform of the jungle gym, then crawled under onto a patch that was more dirt than grass. Still, it kept her out of the view of her family, who would eventually notice her absence.
“Stop smoking Carla, it’s bad for you,” Carla said in a throaty voice. She stretched out in the dirt, black camisole top rising to expose her midriff. “No, mother,” she grunted in an even deeper voice. “Carlos needs his nicotine fix. You aren’t so different.”
The evening air picked up, and Carla shuddered as it crept up her arms. She hugged herself and curled into a ball, sucking in air slowly.
I could just sleep here, whatever, Carla thought moodily. No one needs me in there. She unknotted the flannel tied at her waste, pulling it over her arms like a child sized blanket, and after about half an hour of mumbling and sighing, she was asleep.
Inside, the night fell suddenly, and Carla’s family, being from a small town, knew the day was over when the night came. Each of her four siblings huddled in their beds, and spoke in whispers to one another, inquiring about their older sister. The grandfather clock in the hall began to toll, and at one point a big-breasted pigeon of a woman bellowed Carla’s name into the backyard, received no response, and went back to chain smoking and reading Cosmos in her own bed.
The night wore on steadily, an edge of tension creeping in and around the house, but soon all were asleep except little Mika, sitting up in her bed and squinting out her window. Carla never went too far, she knew. Carla would want her to make her a peanut butter sandwich for her when she came back. Mika, being only six, pulled her hand-me-down Lion King comforter over her shoulders and moved towards the window, looking down on her little square yard.
A dark figure was standing next to the jungle gym, a figure which stood too tall, too still. Mika put her small hand on the plexiglass, wondering why Carla seemed so tall. Why wouldn’t she come inside and get a snack? Mika made the best peanut butter sandwiches, Carla always said.
The figure seemed to expand then; taller and taller, and then it put its darkness on the jungle gym. Mika could only see black, and then it was gone.
The next morning, Carla was gone.
Mika slipped out of bed dressed in her pink footsie pyjamas, curly blond hair poofing around her tired eyes. Immediately she went to the window and pressed a small hand against the plexiglass. The sun was rising from beyond the jungle gym, orange light cutting the image into fragments, and Mika waited, waited for her big sister.
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