When she wakes, the air smells like feathers and shit and something damp and heavy. It’s like being inside her cousin Mark’s barn on the edge of town, where the chickens cluck and scratch even in the darkness, filling the empty space with a meaty, sharp odor that persists even when the doors are open and they’re out pecking around in the field, searching for bugs amidst the cow patties. She wonders, for a moment, if that’s where she is, but it doesn’t smell quite right, and nothing feels right, either.
There’s a glow against her closed eyelids, and her body feels heavy, awkward. She hears shuffling, feathery noises, and, somewhere, the nervous gobble of a turkey, which subsides into silence after a moment.
Mary-Beth Black can’t remember most of the previous night, which is no surprise. After the school’s attempt at a nice, tame Halloween party where they supervised the students in the lower school on a sedate trick-or-treating expedition around town before the sun set, it was time for the blowout party at the Lane twins’ house. Their parents were out of town, as usual, and their perfect house and their perfect stable glowed white under the headlights as she pulled up with Madison and Blaine.
She wanted to spit, or hurl, she wasn’t sure which, looking at their immaculate split-rail fencing and neatly-trimmed hedges, the Halloween decorations right out of Martha Stewart. She privately resolved to leave her beer on one of the antique tables without a coaster or spill Cheetos on the carpet and then grind them in before she left, leaving a mark that even the maids wouldn’t be able to get out before their parents got back.
‘What’s up?’ Madison’s Afro was pulled back from her head with a colourful cloth, and she was wearing jeans that accentuated her mile-long legs, with a form-hugging tee. It might have been cold that late in October, but she didn’t seem to care, and the guys appreciated it – too bad for them that she was gay.
‘Just wondering why we keep going to this party every year.’
‘Because, my little onion, we can lift a bottle or two of the good stuff and then go drink in the park,’ Blaine said, with a grin and a single raised silky eyebrow. He’d inherited his looks from his Indonesian mother, and was almost heartbreakingly pretty.
‘Fine,’ she said, getting out, slamming her door, and stalking into the house.
She made a beeline for the booze, not even stopping to exchange niceties with some of the people from school she could actually stand, but Blaine grabbed her arm and pulled her onto the dance floor. She hissed at him, but he just gripped her waist tighter, and she was forced to dance with him if she didn’t want to end up with a massive bruise. For all his delicate build, Blaine was strong as an ox.
Madison drifted through the crowd, oblivious to the fact that all the guys were practically drooling in her wake, and that most of the girls were shooting her dirty looks. A few of the girls seemed to be in the drooling camp too, but she wasn’t sure Madison noticed them, either. Her determined, cheerful obliviousness was a reflection of her inner determination to get into Harvard – she doesn’t want to be distracted by girls.
This is when Mary-Beth’s memory starts to fragment, like it always seems to at parties, when she’s out with Madison and Blaine. It’s not just the drinking that takes her leaping from place to place, though; leaning against the fence outside to catch some air, talking to one of the horses in the barn, passing one of the Lanes in the hallway making out with a senior who looks vaguely bored. There’s something else that makes it all feel like it’s shattering around her, like she’s grappling at thin air.
Her memory jumps to a scene in the Lanes’ library, filled mostly with books that look like they’ve never been read, and a long desk the sisters apparently share for working on homework. You wouldn’t know it, because it’s spotlessly clean, and she can’t help herself. She’s drawn closer, and closer, rifling through the drawers to find something, anything, that will make the perfect Lane Twins less perfect, that will make them seem like humans instead of androids.
It doesn’t take long before she finds it: Courtenay’s diary, which apparently she thought she could hide in plain sight under a stack of old science papers. She flips through the pages more and more quickly, reading, drinking it in like sunshine on her skin on a hot, perfect summer day, and so she doesn’t notice that the door has opened behind her until it’s too late, and she turns, flushing, still holding the diary.
One of the Lane Twins is standing there, motionless, watching. There’s something eerie about the moment, like she’s being eyed by a snake considering when to strike, and she sets the diary down behind her.
‘I didn’t read it,’ she says. ‘It was sitting out.’
The girl laughs, sharply, and approaches, making her step backward, until the backs of her knees run into one of the window seats and she sits with an awkward grunt.
‘Not really,’ she says, trying to sound bored.
‘Too bad. I like it when they’re scared.’
The creepiness factor has increased, and she feels the hair on the back of her neck prickling.
‘Why are you here, Mary-Beth?’
‘You invited me.’
‘Here. In the library. Looking at our private things.’
The door closes, although no one was there to do it.
‘Thanksgiving is coming up,’ she says, unexpectedly. ‘What are you doing for Thanksgiving, Mary-Beth? My family ordered an heirloom turkey. We’re going to go pick it out next week. Do you like turkey? I just love it.’
She doubted that very much – who likes turkey, the way it always turns out dry and flavourless?
The girl advanced on her, looming, trapping her in the seat.
‘Won’t this be fun?’ she asked, leaning forward to touch her forehead.
Her eyes snap open, and she realises that she’s in one of those huge barns she sees along Route 13, the ones that reek for what feels like miles, that make her parents roll up the windows when they drive by. This one has skylights that shine down across a sea of turkeys, funny-looking turkeys, not like the ones you see in store ads. The floor is concrete, covered in loose wisps of hay, and the barn doors are just creaking open, letting in the bright morning light.
‘There we are,’ she hears a rough voice saying. ‘Why don’t you all come out, now?’
The birds rustle and begin to flood out the doorway, into the morning, the farmer opening the door the rest of the way and casting grain across the grass outside. He walks into the barn, shooing out the few birds clinging to the indoors – one must be sick, because he frowns, and carries it awkwardly off to a pen at the side of the room before turning to her.
‘Come on then,’ he says. ‘What are you waiting for? Nice, sunny day. All Soul’s Day.’
She shakes her head, not understanding. Everything sounds weird, feels strange, and when she struggles to stand, she feels elongated toes, the rustle of feathers. She’s hunched forward, spine in the wrong position, and when she stretches her arms out for balance, all she sees is wings, wings like the turkeys, when she opens her mouth to cry out in terror, nothing comes out but a strangled squawk.
‘Come on,’ the farmer says again. ‘Just a few weeks to fatten up before Thanksgiving.’
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Image: Hunter Desportes, Flickr.