Siblings don’t always get along. It’s just one of the great unspoken truths of life. Whenever more than one person is bunched together in a house, related or not, there’s more than likely to be a few contentions.
I was an only child until I was seven years old. I can’t remember my childhood vividly, but I know that the existence I shared with my parents was as comfortable and normal as childhood got. We lived, the three of us, in a small isolated neighborhood, at the end of a street in a two-story house with a small garden.
Then my sister was born.
My Mother had an irrational fear of hospitals, so the birth took place at home. This wasn’t unusual - she had been born at home, and so was I. So this new birth wasn’t expected to be any different. I remember laying awake at night, listening to my mother’s screams as a new life slowly edged its way out of her body, bloody and squirming. My father and the doctor comforting her, telling her that the head was almost out, that it would be over soon. The screams continued for hours with the growing pains of new life, until quite suddenly they stopped.
Then there came a silence. Not just any silence, but a cold, horror-stricken silence of adults, broken only by the squalling of a new-born baby.
The doctor murmured a quiet prognosis to my distraught parents before he swept out of the house, his face drained of blood. I watched from behind the banister as he left our house, never to return.
My sister had been born with a medical condition so rare that you won’t read about it in any medical journals, or see it in documentaries. It’s one that the community rarely talks about, one that only occurred in one out of a few thousand births worldwide. But it exists.
As she grew up, my parents tried to deal with my sister’s condition the best they could. They could have easily dropped her off at the nearest hospital, but instead they chose to love her and care for her as they had done for me. I don’t know whether it was the power of filial love or just pitying obligation but they never gave up on her. Despite everything that had gone against her in life, from the moment of her birth, they gave her a pretty name, one befitting of an ordinary girl: Rose.
She never saw the light of day beyond our house. Our parents shut her away under the reasoning that the world outside would fear what they didn’t understand. They explained to curious neighbors and relatives that my mother had miscarried her second child. And with the burial of an empty coffin, the world was satisfied enough to mourn the loss of a child.
This meant that for hours on end, I was left alone with my sister.
As much as I tried to, there was always something that deeply disturbed me about her, even as a child. Her dark eyes would shift in their sockets at the slightest movement, staring quietly upwards at the ceiling above her crib, completely motionless and silent for hours on end.
Her skin was so pale, criss-crossed with dark blue and black veins, that she resembled a broken doll more than a human; something inanimate.
When she started walking, they weren’t the usual lumbering baby steps most toddlers take. Rose learnt to walk faster than anyone in the house when she was better. You would hear a quick crackling of footsteps from upstairs, or behind you and turn around to see either nothing there or her standing there motionless in an entirely different spot. Or either her limbs would be so stiff that she would lumber like a wind-up toy.
I tried to marvel with my parents. But she was like nothing I had ever seen before in my life and she scared me. Something that should never have been alive in the first place, but I always chastised myself for having that thought.
After all, she was my sister. And you couldn’t feel anything but love for your little sister.
The world became confined to just the four of us in that house. Mom and Dad always tried to hide the painful truth by making our childhoods ‘fun’. On Friday nights, we would have ‘luau’ barbecue nights, complete with Dad in floral patterned shirts strumming a ukulele, trips to the zoo, movie nights. In a way, they were still reeling from it as well. By doing what they had done before, they probably thought they could ease Rose into their life from her traumatic birth. They were trying to make it a little easier on me too, with all the enforced isolation slowly cutting me off from everything I had known before.
But the darkness that had come with her birth still lingered in our house. No matter how we tried to have fun, there was always some unease whenever she was in a room with us.
I was too young to understand better, so there were just times I pretended she didn’t exist. I refused to hold her, even when offered or even change her. She couldn’t be my sister, my young mind reasoned, she looked more like a monster than anyone in the family.
As much as I tried to shake off the thought, it cemented my sister in my eyes: she was a monster.
Then the unthinkable happened.The drunken driver of a Subaru Forrester decided to take a U-turn on a busy street and smashed the back of our parents’ car while they were still in it. Mom’s neck broke instantly on impact, while Dad died a few days later in hospital from the extent of his injuries, irreparably brain-damaged.
It was only then that I was left truly alone with my sister.
Even though I was still reeling from having to formally identify my mother’s body in the coroner’s office, I had the sense now to realize that I wasn’t the only one mourning. Rose needed me now more than ever in the wake of our parents’ deaths. I didn’t want her to be shut away either. It was what my parents would have wanted for us.
So I did what I could for her. I gave her daily medications at the required times, I fed her, took her to the toilet on the stair lift my parents had installed earlier, read to her, sang to her and told her stories about life before she had come along, her birth and her infancy. Being non-verbal, she’d just squeak and giggle at the sound of my voice. Her vocabulary was little more advanced than a one year old’s. Her condition had stopped her brain developing.
My life now revolved around three main areas- school, work and taking care of Rose. It was everything my parents had done for her and more, but keeping up the constant veil of secrecy that surrounded my sister was a struggle. It meant that my social life was practically non-existent, but by then, Rose had become the only company I needed. Her babyish nature had become oddly cathartic to come home to, in spite of all the stress she brought to my life, I had learnt to appreciate her company.
So why, I found myself asking, was I still afraid of her?
Was it the world had made me this way, the world that our parents had so naively tried to protect us from by shutting out?
Or had it always been me?
Rose hadn’t done anything wrong. She would stare blankly out the window, humming and giggling to herself. I don’t even think she knew where she was. I felt guilt. How could I have been so selfish? It had always been me I had thought about my whole life, how she had been impacting my life. She hadn’t meant any harm.
I realized then that I had never thought about her own well-being.
From then on, I really learnt to care for her. She wasn’t a chore anymore, or something to keep hidden. She was Rose, my sister. This girl was the only true family I had left and now I was determined to love and provide for her until the day I died.
However, despite the towering plastic bottles of multi-colored pills that made up the kitchen counter, Rose’s wheezing grew worse, coughing up blood into her oatmeal. It had been a miracle for someone like her to even live as long as she had, but the reality was that her condition was deteriorating. Rose’s body was already beginning to break down, confining her further and further to her wheelchair as she grew weaker by the day.
As much as I tried, the whole ordeal was really starting to test my patience. Rose refused to eat one night, probably cranky with pain and sleep deprivation. She rocked back and forward in her seat, letting out a long, low moan. It seemed to be drawn from the darkest depths of her throat, her stringy hair falling over her face until her moaning, gaping void of a mouth was the only distinguishable feature. I had enough, slamming my fists on the table harder than I needed to.
“God damn it! Can’t you just shut the hell up?!” I found myself screaming at her.
She looked up in shock at me from the sudden volume and anger in my voice, her wide eyes already brimming with tears. Rose quickly hid her face with a sob behind her unruly strands of hair while I turned away again out of guilt.
I wanted to love her, I really did.
And probably deep down inside it was true. I hadn’t meant to frighten her like that. I knew that if our parents were still alive, they would have never approved of my outburst towards her. They had given their whole lives to Rose, protecting and nurturing her.
Those same pale veiny patches of skin hardened now, to the point they resembled scales.
At night I lay awake, wondering if the sudden quiet from her room meant if this was the night she died. Whenever she wheezed now, I could allow myself to breathe in relief, just knowing she was alive. But something had to be done. I was going to make her better, no matter what it took. I would be there for my sister, now that she needed me more than ever.
It was another morning behind the shuttered curtains. I was feeding Rose her breakfast as normal when there came a tinkling crash from the other side of the house. Rose made a curious squeak, oat paste drooling vacantly out the sides of her mouth. I dabbed it away with a sigh, patting her head.
“Shh, it’s okay. It’s probably just the neighbor’s cat again. You love kitties, remember Rosie?”
I slowly edged myself up from the table.
“I’ll take care of it,” I told her.
The neighbor’s cats had found their way into our backyard on more than one occasion, knocking over flower pots or trashcans. I just wanted them out before any incident could occur, one that would bring unwanted attention to Rose. By this stage, her condition left her fragile and I wanted her to avoid any unnecessary stress.
As I prepared myself to go out, I opened the door to see the carpet sprinkled with freshly fragmented pieces of broken glass. My blood chilled with the sudden cool breeze from the broken window nearby the back door, probably with the hammer that was gripped in the hand of the balaclava-clad man who I found myself face to face with, along with three others, who I correctly guessed were his accomplices.
I threw up my hands.
“Please!” I begged them, “my sister’s inside, she’s sick. You can take anything you want, do anything you want to me, just please, please, and don’t hurt her-“
“Shut the hell up!” the man harshly barked, sending the hammer careening into my lower ribcage.
A throbbing pain exploded across my torso as I tried to scrabble for the nearby phone to call the police. The man seemed to realize this and send his foot into my back, forcing my spine down into the ground.
He turned to one of them, a female.
“You check the other rooms for the goods - money, wallets, anything. By the looks of him,” remarked, “they’re loaded. We’re bound to make a mint.”
She nodded and with a wave of her hand, rushed out the door behind us with another man in the direction of the kitchen.
I should have been more concerned for my own safety at that moment. They could have easily killed me, but there was only one person I wanted to protect at that moment.
“Rose!” I screamed out, desperately clawing the air. I knew that they wouldn’t understand. They would torture her, even rape her if they were feeling sadistic enough. My stomach churned with the possibilities, but my body was helpless to do anything, pinned to the floor by the steel-toed boot of the masked man.
There was no noise from the kitchen. My heart sank for her, wondering if they’d already found her.
All the while, my assailants talked and joked quietly to one another, about how much they would take from our house.
Suddenly, a loud cry resounded from the kitchen.
“What the fuck-! “
The sudden exclamation trailed off into the high-pitched screaming of a woman, joined by that of her accomplice. A third voice joined in, but it was one that made us all clutch our hands to our ears. It didn’t even sound human, but a shrieking that seemed to get higher and louder until it shook the porcelain ornaments on the wall.
The masked man’s eyes bulged out of his sockets.
“Angie?” he exclaimed, quickly removing his foot from my back and running in the direction of the kitchen, brandishing his hammer. His other accomplice followed his friend with a crowbar in one hand. My vision was still blurry from a bunch to the head, but I pulled myself up and followed suit, desperate to protect Rose. I knew from the tone that they had already found her.
Now I was wondering what had found us.
My heart was pounding in my ears, along with the clutching pain in my chest. I looked wildly in the open doorway, skidding only to grab myself by the doorframe.
“Rose-“I began, only to stop, along with the two other burglars standing staring in the room.
My sister had already eaten the lower torso of the female thief and was now chewing on a bloody breast she’d torn off. Her mouth was stained dripping red with blood, raw flesh splattering out of her mouth as she noisily chewed with her needle-like teeth. Her form had expanded until it had almost filled the room, spiked and bony with elongated limbs, her dress torn into shreds around her ankles. She was forced to sit cross-legged as she tore into the dead body, uncaring that she had an audience.
The male thief’s body was nearby, the head torn clear off the shoulders and the bloody neck stem staining the kitchen counter a deep red with blood, spurting quick bloody remnants from the severed jugular that jutted out.
The two men stared up in terror at my sister, eyes expanded and weapons already shaking in their hands. The masked man stared in mute horror at the remains of his girlfriend, her expression frozen and unmoving with horror, flecked with her own blood from the deep tear from her crotch to her sternum that my sister was eagerly eating her large intestine out of.
Suddenly, the first man’s eyes flared with rage and he let out a primal roar, launching himself towards my sister.
“Die, monster!” he cried, raising the hammer towards her skull.
“No!” I cried out, my hand instantly raised to block him.
But the blow never came. My sister reacted instantly, her bones contorting in all directions as she let out a low, rumbling roar. She caught the thief by the hand, her fingers all but encompassing his waist and raised his feet off the ground. He was screaming and sobbing by this point, her fingernails already pressing deep into his back.
Her lower jaw unhinged like a snake as it edged closer and closer towards his screaming skull, forcing him to stare deep into her black voids of eyes and the thick, pimply red tongue that laved over double rows of sharp teeth.
Then in one swift motion, she enveloped him, his head exploding to fragments inside her mouth’s powerful grip as she sucked his spilled brains out from inside her mouth, eagerly gulping them down.
The other thief was too stricken with terror to react, transfixed by the death and terror that suddenly surrounded him. He and his associates had broken in expecting an easy steal, only to encounter something from what was probably their wildest nightmares. He could have ran, but by then my sister had already noticed him.
And I knew that he didn’t stand a chance.
In what seemed like a second, she had crawled over several feet from the breakfast table and broken his neck with one hand. He flopped soundlessly like a ragdoll in her shrinking grasp, before crumpling to the floor, his eyes rolled backwards into his skull.
Her hunger satiated, my sister’s body returned to a normal, albeit completely nude state. I couldn’t help notice how much rosier her skin looked, or how her concave ribcage had suddenly filled out with her raw meal. She let out a happy trill at the sight of me standing there, shaking the blood out of her hair and her body like a dog that had just returned home from a thunderstorm, sending droplets staining the walls before toddling over to me.
There, she nuzzled her head into my chest and threw her blood-soaked arms around my chest, holding me as if she would never let go.
I should have ran. I should have been afraid.
A lifetime’s suspicions confirmed in a single morning - my sister wasn’t a human. She had probably never been human.
As my parents and I had always known.
But I couldn’t.
Instead my arms worked their way around her waist, pulling her closer to me when every neuron in my body screamed to get as far away from her as possible. My hands stroked her thinning white hair as she gurgled and snorted contentedly with my touch.
She had heard my cries. Sensed I was in danger. That was partially why she had eaten the thief- out of the bloodlust my parents had worked so long to try and suppress with doses of their own blood and flesh in pill form, as I did now with a syringe. My sister had craved it from the moment of her birth, dictated by her condition to seek it out. But it was more than just that.
She had protected me from them. Protected herself. Like me, she had sensed that I was weak and needed her help.
I could never resent her, not even if I really wanted to. Not even when she chewed my flesh or lapped up my blood. At that moment, I would have gladly let her devour every square inch of me, right down to the bone.
I realized at that moment who we both were, and how we were the only ones we had in the world, together at last in that single, perfect moment of bloody bliss. How much she truly meant to me.
My sister was a monster, and I loved her.