Servante of Darkness
Horror Story of the Month
The Blame Game
by Lori R. Lopez
His voice bore a note of disapproval. “This is your fault. The least you can do is go first.”
Warily they eyed the beast as it paraded past eyeing them.
“We all know who’s to blame, and it isn’t me!” was her retort.
“How do you figure that? I wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t lured me under a false pretense.”
“What makes you think it was false? Mummy and Daddy really are dead. There just won’t be a funeral. There’s nothing left to bury. They’ve been eaten by Waldo.”
The sullen conversation sounded like a dark comedy routine. Except nobody was joking. They were dead serious; drop-dead serious, implying “I wish you would . . .”
They were also twinned — asymmetrical halves of a whole; a pair of mismatched wombmates.
Edie and Eddie had been born three minutes apart, yet there was a profound chasm separating them, so deep and vast it could never be bridged. Raised by the same parents, in the same environment, they developed as different as two people could be. Like they were not even related.
As children, flowing black hair distinguished Edie, and glowing white skin. Graceful, confident, she mastered every skill attempted. Eddie’s hair was a drab shade of blond, severely cut. His complexion beige, eyes brown, he was a tad pudgy and uncoordinated, often moody. Her orbs were green, with stunning twinkles.
Edie loved to do anything that made her brother look stupid or culpable. Humiliating him amused her. Getting him in hot water was a game. She played it well, taking advantage of his kinder nature, his refusal to get even. For years he shrugged off the offenses, acting like none of it bothered him. The pain, however, would neither tumble nor blow away. It was absorbed as internal scars beneath the surface, then manifested in peculiar visible traits. Uncontrollable embarrassments like rashes and nervous warts. Having to count to ten before crossing the street, entering a doorway, walking up or down stairs. One day his twin went too far — she involved a red-haired girl he had a crush on in her twisted game.
Eddie asked Missy, which was short for Melissa, if he could walk her home from school. To his chagrin, the sister he couldn’t trust caught up and tagged behind them.
“Hi, Missy! Aren’t you pretty today!”
The eleven-year-old responded politely: “Hello, Edie.”
“Don’t you have something else to do?” hissed Eddie over a shoulder.
“Nope! I have all the time in the world.” Edie grinned broadly.
Eddie knew, he just knew there would be trouble.
As if she were psychic the albatross blurted, “Did you know my brother wets his bed? He can’t have company because his room smells like pee.”
The boy stopped cold, blood rushing to his face. He whirled and yelled at his sister, “I hate you!” Then fled, for he couldn’t bear to face the girl he liked. He couldn’t summon the courage to talk with her, or any girl, since that crushing moment. Edie wasn’t a girl. She was a monster. He strove to avoid her, yet on occasion they would have to speak.
Eddie hardened, constructing a wall around himself. Protective armor. He abandoned further efforts at understanding her, establishing truces. As far as he was concerned, she was an aberration. His nemesis.
It baffled and dismayed their parents, broke their hearts into shards of grief that brother and sister could not get along. What went wrong? The girl and boy had been loved, taken care of. Shouldn’t they be close? They were twins. You might think them enemies the way they fought and loathed each other. Were they conjoined they would have ripped asunder, their mutual dislike was so extreme.
Poor Eddie lay at night staring into the dull starless void of the ceiling and wondered if his obverse hailed from another planet. That seemed the only explanation. She feuded with him over everything, whether the topic mattered to her or not. And aimed an accusative finger rather than bonding, possessing no sense of unity or loyalty.
Due to the intenseness of their relationship, they decided at eighteen in a single rare consensus to spend the rest of adulthood at opposite ends of the Earth. Barely had they survived childhood, and the ill will was bound to increase according to Eddie. Surprisingly his sister agreed. From that day forward, the twins charged in contrary directions to put as much distance between them as possible.
Eddie conquered the majority of his habits with the sibling from Hell out of his life, but in sleep he recited the alphabet. Awake he could not, for his mind went blank. There was an additional stigma that lingered, a disturbing characteristic as shameful as the bedwetting . . . and this one he successfully concealed.
The inevitable happened. The arch-rivals came face to face having circumnavigated the globe. Demeanors had altered. He sprouted a beard. His hair was sooty, untamed, hanging down to his shoulders. Her mane was axed, reduced to a bob and bleached. He was weathered, bronzed. She had managed to grow paler, exuding an alabaster sheen. They still resembled strangers. And she said her name was Divinia.
“Who arranged this? Mother?” Green eyes, rimmed heavily by black, penetrated to his soul.
“Are you following me?”
That made her snicker. “How could I be following you? I’m standing in front of you!” she disputed.
“Well, you think you’re so clever. I’m sure you’d find a loophole — a wormhole,” he stammered.
Banter was not his strength. In her opinion he didn’t have a strength, only weaknesses including virtue. “I see you’re as pleasant as ever. Some things never change,” she grimaced.
“You’re right. Like how callous you are.”
“I can’t help it. The sight of you nauseates me. I would prefer to jab my eyes with a thousand pins than gaze at your repulsive mug.”
He opened his mouth then clapped it shut, believing that if you didn’t have anything nice to say, you shouldn’t say anything.
“Aren’t you going to dare me to?” she needled. “You’re pathetic. We could have so much nastier spats if you held up your side. You’re no fun. That’s why I can’t tolerate you.” Divinia was seeing red, eyes scarlet as if bloodshot. Lips painted black (Eddie assumed) peeled from vivid white teeth that nearly blinded her brother.
“Who are you?” puzzled the man with a shaggy mop.
Edie, alias Divinia, scarcely recognized him. She circled sharklike, wearing a sneer. “You’re the one who changed.” She cupped a whiskered chin. “I bet you were saving lives,” she taunted. “Pulling children from burning houses. Rescuing puppies in floods. Shepherding goats to donate for needy villages. Admit it. You have hero written all over you.” She pinched his cheek. “It’s disgusting. You’ve gone from a Goody Two-Shoes to sainthood!”
Heck with it. “You’re even more abominable than I remembered,” he marveled.
“I’m just being myself.” She smirked, winking. A pointy tongue flicked in a devilish manner. “You tend to see the best in people.”
He shook his gourd. “I can find nothing of value in you.”
“Not even a teeny tiny shred?” Impishly the woman gestured, thumb and forefinger framing a sliver of space. “Oh well, that’s because we’re unbalanced. We were divided by equal measure, split like an atom, and yet one of us is all good, one of us all bad. Guess which one I am?”
“You are not my sister. There must have been a mix-up at the hospital,” he declared.
She tipped her noggin to laugh. Then scathed, her expression odious, “That almost hurts.” An index finger to her jaw, the nail tinted black. “On second thought, I’d have to care to care, wouldn’t I?” Divinia glided into his personal zone. Their noses touched. “The truth is, brother, I could not care less if I tried. About you, your pitiful life, and our dear departed parents. You, they, mean zilch to me.”
“Right. Got it.” Swallowing, he yearned to retreat a step but refused to yield to her leverage. He concentrated on thwarting the magnetism, resisting the familiar impulse that compelled him to submit — rattling his cranium, clouding his faculties, allowing the witch to win her little games. It had to be a twin syndrome. And she was the dominant element in the deuce. The man’s brain throbbed. “Get out of my head!” Shouting, he pushed her.
She swooped toward him. The argument escalated to a scuffle. Eddie swung a fist. It was self-defense. Edie had her hands locked around his throat, talons digging into the flesh. Although he ordinarily wasn’t inclined to punch a female, this was no lady. And she was misbehaving worse than usual.
Ducking, Divinia released him as she cackled and mirthfully darted. “Go on, hit me! For once let me have it!” she teased.
He restrained himself. The wicked took delight in corrupting the innocent.
“Thought so!” Contemptuous, she swiveled her back to him and strutted off. The harpy paused to state, “Next time you tread on my path, you had better be prepared to kill me.”
The positive sibling watched his negative saunter away, and prayed they would never again meet.
Seven years later she tracked him down. He received an invitation in the mail to attend the funeral of their parents, victims of Botulism. Turned out, it wasn’t something they ate. It was something that ate them.
“Waldo?” he now inquired, concealing his grief. The question was rhetorical; sarcastic. He had no clue why a bell dinged in the rear of his mind.
Beaming, she indicated a dragon guarding the only exit from the vault — a rust-stained reinforced chamber where Edie, an amateur biologist, had orchestrated the birth of a K0modo-Croc for the sole purpose of feeding her family to the twenty-three-foot brute. “That’s his name.” With supreme patience she had bred and nurtured the crosshatchling to maturity.
The twins exchanged unblinking appraisals. Her hair was lengthier and dark, a glossy silken cataract. His russet thatch was clipped, still unruly. A goatee surrounded the guy’s mouth. Her countenance shone, gleaming and white, smooth as porcelain. Eyes and lips were morbid, smudged black. Somberly attired, she wore a small hat with a polka-dotted veil, a short jacket and long velvet skirt. Crimson gloves provided a splash of color.
Eddie rigidly beheld the beast. “What do you give him when he isn’t munching relatives?”
“Cats and dogs. Or I let him starve.”
“Of course.” She was the type to beat a chained animal with a stick, the lowest form of humanity.
Alternately growling and grunting, the scaled behemoth paced on sturdy limbs twice the size of crocodilian appendages, towing a thick sweeping tail. The hybrid licked enormous toothy chops. Eddie and the four-legged monster traded glances.
The creature’s “mother” had miscalculated his speed. The dragon outmaneuvered and confined her with the intended meal. Divinia’s doubtless cruelty was evident in the reptilian orbs that leveled morose hooded glowers, flung in a thrashing motion of rolled eyes. It was clear he had suffered at her hands and regarded her with a blend of disfavor and fear, much like a tormented circus cat or elephant. There was an inner sadness, yet the resignation of a caged animal was absent. Waldo was in control.
His creator lost the flippant smile, subdued by apprehension as she viewed the mutant stalking to and fro in an agitated pattern. Divinia’s intellect groped for an exit strategy. The vixen would use her brother for bait. She needed to overpower him. That should be a cinch. It had never been a problem.
“So all these years, you were plotting to destroy me?” her sibling carped.
“Not only you. Mom and Dad.”
“Who does that?”
“Apparently, I do.”
“It’s insanity. I had hoped you were capable of more!”
“Oh, I am. After I finish with you, I plan to destroy the world.” She was obviously jesting.
“I never knew you were so nefarious.”
“I told you I’m bad. I’m even a bad influence. I rubbed off on you. Calling me nefarious. Ouch.”
“Is this a grudge? Is it something I did? Something I said? Something they didn’t do?”
“Quit trying to label it, Ed. I don’t need a reason! Evil simply is. I’ve evolved. Can’t you be supportive?”
“You killed our parents. What did they ever do to you?”
“I don’t know. Maybe they liked you better?”
“Yeah. There’s no maybe. They did. But why would you care about that?”
“I didn’t. Well, I didn’t think so. I just despised them, for everything. What they did, what they didn’t do. I don’t know. It’s complicated. I resented that they wanted me to be like you — this boring, predictable, lame duck of a dork!”
He nodded. “Thanks.”
“I don’t see you shedding any tears for them.”
Hugging himself to hide a surge of trembles, Eddie clenched his teeth. The man bitterly relaxed his jaw, lids shuttered. She was right, it was complicated. He had endeavored to erase the travails of youth by scurrying to the future and not looking back. Needing to heal, sort things out, he vainly believed his parents were impervious to time or treachery. He had only thought of himself. “Most of the trip here I was numb. I wasn’t sure how to feel,” he uttered. “They were always in the middle. I couldn’t be close to them because of you. Either they were punishing me for something that wasn’t my fault, or they were tired of hearing us squabble and penalized us both. I couldn’t get them to see me without you. Finally they had the attitude of people who realize they made a mistake and couldn’t fix it.”
“They kinda gave up, huh?”
He focused on her in astonishment. Was that a trace of sympathy?
“Man, they sucked. They got what they deserved.” There it was. Her warped ideology.
“They didn’t deserve this!”
“Make up your mind. And Waldo was hungry.”
A chill raced through him. Eddie reproached, “You’re sick, you know that?”
She performed a mock curtsy. “You flatter me. Obsessed, perhaps. And what have you done with your life that’s so terribly noble?”
She had an instinct where to thrust saber-edged words. “Nothing. Absolutely nothing.” He had become disaffected, wandering job to job. Then got stuck in a rut that he couldn’t climb out of, accepting employment at a candy store, fancying it would lead to happiness. “I considered it the greatest gig in the world. Watching the faces of kids pressed to the glass counters, eyes bright, goggling at shelves of sweets. The smiles of rapture, drinking in whiffs of confectious perfume. It seemed magical.” After awhile the sugarcoated veneer wore off, revealing tooth decay and maladies underneath. His stomach would lurch, repulsed by gruesome images. “Picturing the consequences, I couldn’t sell candy to children with a clear conscience. I felt like a drug-dealer, like I was pushing narcotics,” he confessed. “I was in debt to the owner, so I had to sneak from town at night. A fugitive.”
“Wow. If you’re hoping for compassion, you’ve come to the wrong sister,” she remarked. “Funny, isn’t it? People worry about sugar being bad for them. Smoking and processed foods. White bread and rice, gluten . . . caffeine and sodium. Chemicals, food dyes, fat and cholesterol, meat . . . unhealthy stuff. Then one day you get locked in a room with a giant man-eating lizard, and those fears sail out the window! Or would if there were a window.”
“Yeah . . .” He ogled her askance as if she had an extra head. Something was definitely wrong with her, he didn’t deny that.
Waldo made a series of chuffing noises, rocking on four limbs. The dinosaur tail bashed a wall like a demand for attention.
Jolted, Edie waved a hand to implicate her sibling and appeased, “I brought you dinner. A juicy snack.”
The dragon crouched onto his belly, eyes shifting, and whined, then slid toward Eddie.
“That’s right, take a big bite. You’ll like it,” coaxed his mistress.
Braced to flee, the critter’s uncle lifted his palms. “She’s softer,” he bargained. “Yummier. More appetizing!”
“Take a massive chomp! Bite him!” urged Divinia, gesticulating, her tone shrill.
The mutant scrambled obediently. His maw jacked, rows of sharp teeth glimmering. Eddie lunged aside. The gaping muzzle swerved after him and clamped together loudly, nipping a swatch of denim. Eddie sprinted for the door. The monster scuttled to intercept. Reversing, the man barrelled out of reach. Divinia chortled with glee and merrily applauded.
Eddie was determined for once to be the victor. “I AM NOT A CHEW TOY!” he roared.
Three sets of dagger-glares met in shocked silence.
The brute snorted.
“You’ll have to convince my pet.” Edie giggled, muffled by a glove. Then stabbed a finger at her brother and shouted, “Gobble him up!”
The creature rampaged, halting in frustration as Eddie skipped hastily out of danger. He stumbled beyond the dragon’s jaws, flinching every time they slammed, in a jerky ballet of mad dashes.
The beastmistress poked forth her foot. Eddie sprawled. His visage flaming, he picked himself from the floor — as mortified and awkward as when she humbled him in childhood. He staggered, loping clumsily, faltering. The croc snapped at his heels in pursuit.
Exhausted, man and monster squared off. Eddie cautioned himself to avoid eye contact, to not provoke his adversary. Then reminded himself that his foe was human.
“Eat him!” the woman shrieked.
Addressing her, Eddie spread his arms. “Here I am. It’s on you. I don’t blame him. The blame is yours.”
It slowly sank in. He would win the game. Her lips shaped a ring of protest. “NOOOO!”
A tail swung, lashing his legs. Eddie collapsed. The dragon trampled him, planting a forepaw on his chest. An extensive yap grinned. The breath was foul.
“I hope you didn’t add anything else, like fire,” the guy quipped, peering down the monster’s trap.
Mighty jaws clashed with tremendous force.
Eddie blinked, stunned by the impact as air fanned his features. A reptilian eyeball trained keenly upon one of the man’s orbs. Catlike, the vertical iris enlarged to a disk, transmitting a ripple of intelligence. A connection.
Waldo veered abruptly, churning past the humans, tail dragging.
Eddie released a bated gasp.
“Wait!” moaned Edie. The female’s self-assurance had dimmed to a conflicted tangle of enmity versus relief. She had toiled for ages on a ridiculously elaborate scheme to make her family pay for the crime of existing, an extravagant vendetta that appeared to have no logic, no actual atonement or prize. She craved instead a hollow thrill, the intangible reward of satisfaction. Above all, she ruthlessly desired to triumph against her twin.
He straightened. “Why?”
The word toppled her smug tower of indifference like wood blocks. “Why?” She stormed to him in fury. “You and I will never glimpse reality with identical perspectives! How can you expect me to share what you won’t comprehend? There is no why, so quit asking me!”
“There must be.”
“Fine, if you want to be obstinate, why do you have to be so decent? Why can’t you be flawed and vulnerable like everyone else, with passions and jealousies?” she vented. “I’ve had it with you acting like you’re holier than me! Brother Eddie Of The White Hat Society!”
The man frowned. “I don’t. I’m not.” He lowered his eyes. Then divulged his darkest secret. “I don’t wash behind my ears.”
She scoffed, incredulous: “You’re kidding! That’s all you’ve got?”
He fidgeted. He was a clean-freak. It seemed heinous to him. “I, um, I don’t love Lucy. I don’t even like her. There, your turn. Tell me why.”
His sister parted her lips for a subsequent hostile retort, then a red glove flew to her mouth. A memory of playing in the sand. A minor thing, so insignificant, yet it overshadowed her entire childhood, and festered in her heart as an adult. Green eyes bulging, glazed, moist with tears, she stretched an arm to touch the vision.
They were toddlers, squatting side by side. Eddie hummed and scooped sediment into a pail. He patted the bucket of sand, wielding a plastic shovel. Edie fed her doll, pouring sand into the baby’s puckered cavity.
“Where is it?” she demanded.
Her brother had a toy lizard. It was green, and he called it Waldo. He would hide it from her. Edie wanted that lizard, so she’d grab Waldo and run. Their mother and father scolded her, taking the lizard away, giving it back to Eddie. That made Edie mad.
“Where is it?” she yelled, and smacked Eddie’s pail with her doll. Knocked over, the sand spilled. He wailed. She spotted a tail protruding from the bucket and seized it.
Their mother and father confiscated the toy, restoring it to the rightful owner, then chastised her. “Why can’t you be good?” Their words echoed in her ears for decades. Why? He wanted to know why? She wanted to make him weep and have no comfort, no consolation. She wanted him to drown in his sorrow while being eaten by a very huge, very hungry lizard.
That was why.
“You had the cool toys. I got dolls. I hated dolls. I wanted the lizard,” she murmured.
Eddie was flummoxed. “I didn’t have a lizard. I had a turtle once. Lancelot. Somehow he escaped. I cried for a week.”
“No. I buried him in the dirt.”
Eddie refuted, “Liar. That wouldn’t suffocate him. He could tunnel out.”
“I cracked his shell with a rock, then placed the stone on top of his grave.” She enjoyed the anguish in her sibling’s crumpled aspect, as she had relished his mourning at nine years of age. “I’m not referring to a live lizard. It was rubber!”
He didn’t remember. Their parents didn’t remember. And it had meant so much to her.
Speaking of the lizard, where did he go? She glanced about. Her dragon had vanished. An icy heart leaped to her throat.
A crocodile tear, shimmering with emotion, splatted the tip of her nose. Divinia peeked upward. “Oh no.”
Waldo grinned down at her. Cruel acts, like kind ones, could reverberate on and on . . . around the world, across the universe . . . and ultimately bounce back to the source. Edie would get what she wanted. Her just desserts. A rebellious abused creature sprang from the ceiling and bit her head off. He gulped her body in ragged chunks, savoring a messy feast.
Eddie leaned on a wall and queasily witnessed the carnage, forgetting to slip out when the beast was distracted, preoccupied too, haunted by his thoughts. She was gone. He grappled with the fact, struggling to digest it. One of the most regrettable losses in death was knowledge, along with talent and beauty. Youth was especially tragic. And hope. Her death was a waste, as was her life. He didn’t wish to gloat. A fraction of him was missing, but he wouldn’t miss it.
The mutation slurped down a last leg, rejecting bloody scraps of cloth, a squashed hat and veil, then pivoted to his audience.
The man’s tension eased. “Waldo.” Smiling nostalgically, Eddie nodded. Human and reptile gandered each other respectfully, without malice or condemnation. The game had ended. Victim and pawn emerged into the light of freedom.
Companionably they traveled to the middle of nowhere, searching for a modicum of peace.