She didn't know how long she had been lying awake, eyes wide open, taking in every slight stir of the shadows on the walls. Even if Abbie had owned a watch or clock, she did not yet know how to tell time, and its numbers would have revealed no meaning to her. Blanket pulled up all the way to her eyes, covering her nose and mouth, she lay rigidly beneath her sheets, scarcely daring to breathe.
The room was very dark, her blinds drawn so that even the faint light of the moon and starts did not filter through to her view. But it was not the room's darkness that kept Abbie wide awake, her insides twisting with anxiety. It was not fear of the vague shadows, or of being alone in the stillness of her own room and bed. She was not alone…Madison was in the bed beside hers, her chest slowly rising and falling with her seemingly peaceful sleep.
And that was what Abbie was afraid of…that was what kept her up tonight and every night, until she could no longer force herself to keep her eyes open. Madison was there. Madison was always there, and Abbie almost shook with fear.
Her parents never understood why Abbie dawdled while preparing for bed, why she always pleaded and begged and sometimes even cried, trying to get them to let her stay up longer, to let her sleep with them. They didn't understand why in the morning she emerged from her room with dark circles under her eyes and dilated pupils, with slumped shoulders and a lowered head, why all too often, she left stained sheets in her wake. They didn't understand why at seven years old, Abbie was afraid to go to sleep, why she still too often could not control her bladder in the night.
"There's nothing to be afraid of, Abbie," her mother said, "you really have got to stop being so silly. Of course you have to go to sleep, and you're going to sleep in your own bed too."
" You really have got to start working on getting up to go to the bathroom too," her father added, "you are much too old to be having this problem. Besides, it's not like you're sleeping alone. Madison is with you. You ought to feel a little safer with Madison close by."
But that, above all else, was what Abbie's parents didn't understand. Because it was Madison above all else in the world that heightened Abbie's fear.
Oh, she looked innocent enough now…with her sharp blue eyes closed, unable to glint at Abbie in the manner that Abbie had become accustomed to dreading for what actions they served as a prelude to, and her blonde hair was tousled about her face, half covering its pretty, delicately feminine features. She was curled up with her knees against her chest, her breathing slow and regular, and she looked very much like any other older sister…any other ten-year-old child.
But she wasn't. She wasn't, and sometimes it seemed to Abbie that she was the only person in the world who knew this…the only person in the world who could see.
Everyone else was always fooled by the charm that Madison could dazzle their way so brightly when she chose to, by her small frame and pretty face, by her polite, mature manner of speaking and obvious intelligence. All the grown-ups loved Madison- teachers and Sunday school leaders, coaches and relatives, strangers and people in stores, and especially, Madison's and Abbie's parents. They laughed at the witty things she said, smiled with pleasure to see her smile in return, touched her silky hair and complimented her for her manners and kindnesses, her talent and appearance. It seemed that all Madison had to do was smile and all who saw it fell under her spell, eager to accept whatever persona she chose to show them. Even other children were drawn to Madison, at first, and strove to be her friend, to capture her attention.
But soon enough, they always learned. Soon enough the children, if not the adults, always became aware of what Madison truly was, and then they too were afraid. They too were helpless…they too were trapped.
But none knew as well or feared as much as Abbie. For Abbie had known Madison her whole life. And for most of that time, she had shared a room with her…let herself become defenseless and vulnerable in sleep, with Madison lying only ten feet away.
Every night was uncertain, a gamble as to whether she would emerge unscathed, and every night, Abbie knew and dreaded it, praying for the approach of dawn. But even this would bring little relief, for she was really no safer in the day. Madison was still there.
If Abbie had every tried to explain to a grown-up what Madison was, the things she did, she knew they would not believe her. If she told even once, even just one of the things she did all the time, every day, or even just every week, no one but the other children would believe. Madison had made sure to tell her that.
"No one will believe a little crying, snot-nosed bitch like you, Abbie," she had whispered into Abbie's ears over and over, her hand cupped in a girlish, conspiratorial fashion around the younger child's ear, so anyone watching would no doubt smile, charmed by the sisterly affection between them. "If you ever say a word, just say one bad thing about me, no one will believe you. They would say you're crazy, or a liar, or both. And if you say that anyone else knows too, or anyone else will back you up, I'll swear they won't. They won't. Ben and Sam, Melody and Emily, they'll all look them in the eye and swear I never did a thing. We'll all say you're a liar, and they'll believe us. Who would believe you? They're going to look at you, a scrawny little ugly crybaby who can't do anything right, and then they'll look at me, and who do you think they'll believe, Abbie? Who?"
And they were right, of course. Who would look at pretty, polite, smiling Madison, Madison who was so earnest and confident, so mature, and then at bony, dark Abbie, who always seemed on the verge of tears, afraid of her own shadow…who could look at the sisters and choose to trust Abbie's word? No one, and they both knew it.
"And then," Madison had continued with a knowing smirk when Abbie had not replied, blue eyes glinting with wicked triumph, "when they say you lie, I'll tell them I feel sorry for you. I'll say you're a sad little girl who wants my attention, and maybe I should spend more time with you so you don't make up such horrible lies to get it. And then, when they leave us alone…I'll make you sorry."
And she would. Abbie had no doubt that Madison would.
None of the grown-ups would ever believe that Madison could do the things she had, but she had…Abbie had watched her, almost every day. And with every day she became more and more convinced that Madison would do anything- absolutely anything- and there was nothing anyone could do to stop her.
For one thing, Madison lied with nearly every breath she took. It didn't matter if it was over something big or small- nearly every word Madison said, even if it was something as innocuous as what book she was reading, was a lie. She seemed to take perverse pleasure out of telling untruths, as if she enjoyed seeing how many she could fool with her declarations. The few times she had been caught- and those times were very few indeed- Madison could always be counted on to come up with an explanation, or else she played innocent, insisting that her words had been misunderstood. It was Abbie who often blushed and stammered and averted her eyes while speaking, who was often regarded to be an untruthful child.
Madison was quite the accomplished thief; nearly everywhere Abbie went with her, even if they were with their mother or another adult, Madison pocketed some small item, making sure that Abbie, if no one else, noticed her transgression. At ten years old, Madison had never been caught at this. She kept most of the items in a jewelry box in her closet; some of them, however, she thrust upon Abbie to keep. She said they were gifts, though what Abbie would do with orange lipstick or a glow in the dark tattoo sheet was questionable, and Abbie knew what they really were…incriminating evidence against her, in case Madison was ever caught in the act and couldn't slip her way out of trouble. Somehow it would become Abbie's fault, and Abbie dreaded the day she knew was inevitable in its coming.
There was more, of course, much more. Madison deliberately broke windows and blew up mailboxes, wrote dirty words on walls and spread mean rumors that would get people in trouble or make them lose friends without even knowing why, and she got other children to join her. She normally did not physically hurt other children, but she pushed, pinched, and tripped Abbie on a daily basis, pulling her hair and poking her ribs so that Abbie flinched and jumped and even cried from pain. And every time Madison was stand innocent when eyes were cast their way, seeming just as puzzled as the rest.
But other things were even worse…other things showed just how bad Madison really was. No one Abbie knew did some of the things Madison did, even the big kids, and Madison was only ten years old. Abbie didn't even want to imagine what she would be able to do at thirteen, fifteen, eighteen…
Madison kissed people. Boys and girls both, and Abbie too, and not on the cheek either. On the lips, and sometimes other places too, in a way that made Abbie go cold, shaking, as her stomach squished and flipped repeatedly in her torso. It didn't matter if you wanted to or not- she would make you. Even big girls like Melody and big boys like Sam and Ben…and she'd make them do other things too, things Abbie didn't even want to think about. She knew no one would ever believe her, if she were to tell…Madison had told her so over and over, and Abbie knew it was true.
At night, when Abbie lay in bed, much as she was now, clutching her blanket, afraid to give in and fall asleep with Madison so near, Madison would smile in the darkness as she whispered to her terrible things, her voice just audible. Sometimes she would slip in bed with Abbie and put her arms around her like a loving, comforting older sister, even as she breathed cruelties into her ear.
"Mom and Dad don't really love you, Abbie…they love me more. If they had known how you would turn out, they would have aborted you. Do you know what that means? The doctor rips the baby out of the mother and gives it a shot in the head that kills it. There's a lot of blood, a lot of pain…and they would still do it to you, you know. If you don't do what I say, I'll tell them something so bad about you they'll never want to keep you again. And then it's a shot in the head for you…"
Abbie believed her. It wouldn't be the first time Madison had made someone kill. Hamsters and birds, cats, ants, frogs…Abbie had helped kill them all, with the others, on the verge of tears, almost vomiting from fear, disgust, and self-loathing. Each time Madison had not participated, but rather directed; each time she watched rather than perform the acts herself, and her eyes glittered with sadistic pleasure. She had been talking at night lately about killing people, taking it a step further, and Abbie did not think she was just trying to scare her. Even worse, Abbie wasn't very sure if Madison ever asked her to, she would be able to say no.
Sometimes Abbie felt lucky to just be alive, that Madison hadn't drowned her in a bathtub or smothered her in her sleep. She had gone seven years without seriously injuring her or trying to kill her…and by this time, to Abbie this seemed almost a kindness, an action of affection.
Or maybe Madison was just biding her time.
In her bed Abbie tried to make her breathing as quiet as possible, not willing to wake Madison. It seemed that the older girl was deeply asleep, but Abbie knew what a good actress she was. If she let down her guard for a moment Madison would open her eyes, and it would all be over for her. The last thing she would ever want would be to wake her up…because there was no true prediction of how she might react.
She might be angry; she might throw back her blankets and hiss at Abbie in an icy whisper that was all the scarier because it was so controlled. She might hover over her bed and glare down at her with her eyes boring into Abbie's, narrowed with aggression. She might squeeze Abbie's shoulders until they bruised as the listed every way she would hurt her with distinct pleasure and sincerity in her tone…and she might do some of them, with enough force intended to cause enough pain that Abbie would be suitably afraid.
Or she might do nothing. She might simply roll over and go back to sleep, ignoring Abbie entirely…or else she might smile at her and speak with soft sweetness, with what any observer would no doubt take to be genuine affection, as she asked Abbie if she was all right. Abbie never knew what to expect, should Madison awaken in the night…and worse, she did not know which held the greatest cause for fear.
She lay very still in bed, covers drawn up to her nose in a vain attempt to make herself hidden and safe, to make herself small and beneath notice. It occurred to her after several moments that Madison could use the blanket to smother her, that she might wake up with blanket stuffed inside her mouth and nose, held down by Madison's small hand, and Abbie hurriedly pushed it down to just her chin, unwilling to give the other girl a foothold with which to hurt her more easily. It was for similar reasons that she did not sleep with or show affection to particular toys, dolls, or stuffed animals, even if she very much wanted to. If Madison was aware of what Abbie loved, she would find a way to hide or destroy it, and then Abbie would be blamed. So there was no playing for Abbie when Madison was around. There was no laughing or smiling, no spontaneous actions or childish joy. It was safer.
Meanwhile, all the grown-ups thought of Abbie as a boring, serious, unhappy child, a child who probably wasn't very bright…a child who stood in direct contrast to the bright, smiling Madison, who so generously seemed to watch over her sister and try to help her, to make sure she played and had a good time.
They knew nothing, nothing at all. And as dangerous as that was, it was safer than if they did.
Every night Abbie was always certain that she would be unable to get to sleep, but every night, she eventually grew so exhausted she could not stay awake any longer, even with the adrenaline coursing through her veins, with the fear fluttering in her chest. Eventually she drifted into a restless state that almost took as much energy as it gave.
Abbie's eyes twitched, her breath coming in gasping hitches. Her entire body trembled, cold sweat gathering on her palms, and she rolled around in her bed, short gasps escaping her that were almost cries. Vivid images flitted through her mind of leering faces, dark, shadowy forms, of echoing loud voices and bloodied bodies, staring eyes, partly severed intestines of small animals, of bruised skin and horror-stricken eyes…and the reverberation of a little girl's laughter, light with delight even as it held savage glee.
With a short suppressed scream, Abbie's eyes flew open, and she started to sit up in bed, only to come to a jerky halt when the first thing she saw were pale blue eyes over hers, twinkling brightly. Pink lips curved into a smile, not backing away, directly in violation of her comfort zone, and Abbie trembled, her pulse spiking as she tried to press herself against the sheets.
"Bad dreams, sis?" Madison asked in a solicitous tone, and Abbie could form no response, could barely bring herself to nod. She wanted to apologize, but no words formed in her dry throat. How would it be this time…what would Madison do?
Madison's hand touched Abbie's hair, fingering the dark strands lightly, and she caressed it slowly, her voice gentle, soothing, very much the big sister, comforting her…even as pleasure glinted in her eyes not from her comforting, but at Abbie's fear.
"Go to sleep, little sister…it was just a dream. Remember, I'm here…you'll never be alone. I'll make sure of that…"
Listening, Abbie shook harder.