Login   Sign Up 


The Darker Half Chaps 9 and 10

by Chestersmummy 

Posted: 05 May 2018
Word Count: 2589
Summary: Continuing the story of Anna and Alex - partly set in the present with a flashback into the past when Anna was a child

Font Size

Printable Version
Print Double spaced

                With a sudden jolt Anna sits up in bed and sits staring into the grey morning light.  The air in the room is freezing and she rubs her arms until the friction heats her hands but her body feels no warmer.  She draws back a crack of the curtain and peers outside.  The streets are deserted, even the birds haven’t woken but for her, sleep has vanished so she searches around for her dressing gown, eventually finding it on the floor beside a chair.   She thinks that perhaps a cup of tea will help and goes downstairs to the kitchen.
As she waits for the kettle to bowl she stares at the same window through which she’d thought, no she was sure, she’d seen his face.  Alec, her dearly beloved brother.  Her lips twitch in a bitter smile.  When she was at school other children continually told her how lucky she was to have a twin.   When she tried to tell them what it was really like they just didn’t understand….’but at least you’ve always got someone to play with even though he is a pain sometimes.’   But, Alec was more than ‘a pain’.   Much more.  For instance, ‘playing’ with him had always been impossible.   Ever since she could remember he’d want whatever she had, the same book, the same colour crayon, the same toy;  she’d lost count of the number of tussles, ending in torn books, broken crayons and ruined toys that resulted if she refused to give way and it was no good trying to hide from him because he always found her.   That was another thing others would never understand – that you would want to hide from your twin.   What they did understand was that twins had a special bond, an empathy that was virtually mystic.  As Anna pours the boiling water into her cup, her throat constricts.   It had always hurt, that assumption.   No one had ever understood that in her case it was quite the reverse.   Deep down, she’d always known that he hated her and as she grew older she’d understood why but what she hadn’t realised, until relatively recently, was how profound that hatred was and the lengths that he was prepared to go to destroy her.   She shudders and pushes the memory away.   Not yet.  Baby steps, she thinks, baby steps.  That’s what her therapist tells her.
‘Treat your past life like an onion but peel the layers away in reverse order, from the inside out.  Examine each layer minutely.   Take your time, mull it over and try to come to an understanding, that way that particular part of your history will slowly lose its power to hurt you.’
Nonsense, she’d thought.   Stuff had happened, bad stuff.  But that was in the past and safely padlocked away.  No way was she going to root around in her personal Pandora’s box.   Anyway as it happened it hadn’t been necessary, she’d met Romeo and her life changed.   He’d helped her survive the trial and its aftermath without having to visit the past.    Then quite suddenly everything had changed again.  Involuntarily, she takes a sip of her tea and almost chokes – who was it that said ‘it’s not strangers you have to fear but those you give your trust’?
Sometimes, it seems to Anna that her whole life is a series of disasters - one catastrophe after another interspersed with brief periods of happiness.  Now, once again, she is on the brink and feels a ripple of rage.   Maybe her shrink was right – maybe the only way to bear her future is to confront her past.   
She sits at the kitchen table sipping her cooling tea and watching as the morning sky pales by increments.   Deliberately and with a precision worthy of any surgeon, she begins to probe the outer layers of her memory, searching for its green and tender root.
                It was the unnatural silence that  woke had woken her and from the moment she opened her eyes she sensed that everything was different.    Her room had an eerie glow and felt like the inside of a refrigerator, the cold was bone-chilling and the moment she sat up she started to shiver.  Suddenly she realised what day it was and with a great effort of will, slipped out of bed pausing only to glance towards its end before pushing her feet into slippers and shuffling towards the window.  Parting the curtain, she found an opaque white wall etched with spirographs of frost.  With her nails she scraped a hole clear and peered outside.  The snow gleamed dully, a soft carpet covering everything, even clinging to vertical surfaces.  She wondered how deep it was and marvelled at the transformation that had, so silently, taken place while she was sleeping.  She searched for signs of life and, seeing none, her spirits lifted.   Surely, no one would venture out in weather like this?   She crossed her fingers tightly.  Ever since she could remember her Christmas had been turned into a sort of penance.   Despite ignoring them for the rest of the year, her mother held ‘open house’ for her relatives on Christmas Day and from mid-morning onwards the front doorbell shrilled regularly as a steady stream of elderly aunts, uncles and cousins tottered, limped or waddled into their front room.  Chairs were borrowed from all parts of the house, even from her father’s workshop, and withered, chubby or frankly fat, bottoms were crammed into mismatched seats side to side in a circle.  Anna often wondered why they came,  it couldn’t have been for the food, her mother was no cook and all morning the bilious smell of Brussel sprouts seeped into the lounge as they were boiled to a mush.  Despite this, the oldies loved it and the noise level gradually increased in tune with every glass of alcohol imbibed, eventually putting the parrot house at the zoo to shame.  Moreover, much to her amazement, rising high above the hoots of cackling laughter, Alec’s shrill voice drilled into her ears.  He lapped up all the attention showered upon him and she witnessed a side of her brother she rarely saw.  Gone was his surly discontented pout and while her father was kept busy filling tiny glasses with cherry brandy, port and whisky, Alec stumbled around offering up plates of nuts, crisps and cheese while aunts and uncles cooed over him.
                ‘Thank you my little pet’,  ‘Here, come and give your old auntie a kiss.’  ‘There you are, my boy.  Buy yourself some sweets.’. 
As Anna watched him perform she felt a twinge of grudging admiration, she would never have believed he could be so charming.  Instinctively, he seemed to know what would please them.  With some he was shy, with others he was cheeky or giggled.  And, it worked.  They thought he was adorable.  On his part, it was all show.  When they’d gone, and behind his mother’s back, he’d sneer at them mercilessly but to their faces he was angelic.  Anna decided that he was a born actor and as she slaved away in the steamy kitchen dishing stringy turkey and overdone vegetables onto cold plates, she wished she could be the same.  Instead, she knew very well that when it was her turn to make an entrance, she would stand tongue-tied, feeling huge in comparison with her tiny brother.
But perhaps this year it would be different.  Perhaps this year she wouldn’t have to parade before a group of people she barely knew.   She gazed up at the sky.  ‘Snow,’ she whispered.  ‘Come on, snow as hard as you can.’   As if in answer, the endless grey of the sky released a few flakes that drifted silently downwards. 
Comforted, she turned towards the misshapen snake lying at the end of her bed.  Long ago she’d trained herself not to be disappointed by Santa.  He wasn’t to know.  Maybe, her being a twin confused him.  In any event he always got it wrong.  Christmas after Christmas, her stocking was stuffed with toys meant for boys - cars, trains, the Eagle Annual, how she had longed for something pink and pretty.   It wasn’t until years later that she had realised it was all down to her mother;  bitter experience had obviously taught her that Alec would want whatever Anna was given and she’d lighted upon a solution - give then both the same but Alex had to be kept happy whatever the cost.  
Anna ran her fingers up and down the stocking trying to fathom its contents.    Some of the shapes were easy to guess – the round orange she always got, the packet of nuts and the little diary, usually brown with gold lettering.   The one thing that puzzled her was a larger box with sharp angles almost jutting through the lisle of the stocking, perhaps it was a jigsaw puzzle or maybe a small atlas.   With difficulty, she tugged it out and gently removed its wrapping paper - this year it was scarlet breasted robins perched amongst leaves - and blinked at the rectangular box, colourfully striped in green, white and blue – Meccano!  She grinned.  She was thrilled, she loved Meccano although she did wonder at her mother’s choice.   Alex would find it difficult.  He’d struggle and before very long he’d start grizzling and it would end by his throwing the pieces all over the carpet in a fit of rage.   She’d seen it all before.
Never mind, at the moment all was peaceful.   Drawing her dressing gown closer, she jumped back onto her bed and sat cross-legged on the counterpane.  Opening the box and tipping out its contents, she read the instructions and carefully began to construct a crane.
She was so engrossed, at first she didn’t notice the commotion coming from the other end of the landing.  Slowly, she became aware that someone was screaming.  Her heart started to beat faster.  They were her mother’s screams.  Forgetting all about the crane, she jumped out of bed and ran out of her room, towards the shrieks that were rapidly increasing in pitch.
‘Oh my Gawd!  What’s that?  What the hell is it?  Frank!  Frank!  Come quickly.  There’s something in the lav….’
Her father got there before Anna and she couldn’t see anything except his broad back.   He stood for a moment and then slowly bent down.   Her mother started to screech again and between screams, Anna heard the steady drip of water.
‘Joyce, please.  There’s no need to make such a fuss.  Go back to bed, I’ll deal with it.’
Her father’s voice was thin as if all his breath had been squeezed out of his lungs and suddenly, the hairs on Anna’s arms rose as she realised something terrible had happened.
                ‘Dad, what is it?  What’s the matter?’
Her father hesitated for a moment without saying a word and instinctively Anna took a step backwards as the silence shouted at her.   Then, still mute, her father held out his hand and she glimpsed a spiky mass of sodden grey fur lying limply in the centre of his palm.   Anna stared for a moment before her stomach lurched and she felt sick as she realised what it was.
                ‘Oh no’, she whispered.
                ‘Must have got thirsty.  Went to get a drink, fell in and couldn’t get out.’   He sighed.  ‘Anna, you know I told you always to make sure you locked the door behind you.’
                Anna felt stricken, her father was blaming her!  ‘But I did Daddy.   I always do…..’
                ‘Then how….’  Her father stopped and shook his head.  ‘I thought I could trust you Anna.   Go back to your room.
                She looked at him.  She’d never seen him like this before.  His eyes were cold and didn’t respond to her imploring looks, she could feel tears blurring her vision.  He turned away, taking the corpse of Misty with him and it was then that Anna’s tears began in earnest.   She just couldn’t believe it.  She must be dreaming.  It couldn’t be true, because if it was it meant that she would never hold Misty in her arms again and feel the contented thrumming of its body drifting towards sleep, its tummy full of warm milk.      When she entered the workshop there would be no soft mew to greet her, no furry fireball with tiny claws that sometimes drew blood if the game grew too wild.  Never again would she sit by the fire with a book and Misty on her lap.  All that would be gone.  And, her father blamed her!  For the first time, Anna’s heart broke.  She just couldn’t bear it.  Unable to move, she watched as her father turned away from her and towards the stairs.
                Something flickered at the corner of her vision.  There was a tiny click and the light dimmed.  Somewhere, someone had closed a door.  She looked around.  Where was Alex?  The commotion must have woken him and he liked nothing better than a good scene.  Why wasn’t he present, squirming with delight at the sight of her misery and shame?  A sudden certainty made her gasp.  It was Alex.  He was at the root of this.  Her stomach squeezed out a bitter taste that almost choked her.  She re-played yesterday evening in her head.  She’d teased Misty with a scrap of wool until the kitten had yawned and lost interest.  It had curled up in its bed and she’d picked up the box and put it under the stove so that its dying embers would keep the kitten warm.  Then, she’d switched off the light and left, locking the door behind her.  Locking the door behind her – she was quite sure of this, she remembered it distinctly, it was something she always did.   But something else she remembered was the times when she’d thought she heard a noise behind her as she locked up.  Each time she had looked round, seen nothing and assumed she’d just been spooked by the dark.   But she’d obviously been wrong.   Alex must have been spying on her.  He must have known about the kitten for weeks and had deliberately chosen Christmas Day to act.
                She started to shake.  She’d always known that Alex was vindictive and liked nothing better than to make her life a misery, but this went way beyond that.  She couldn’t believe that her brother hated her so much that he’d deliberately kill a defenceless scrap like Misty but there was no other answer.  She stared at her father disappearing down the stairs and opened her mouth to scream at him.
                ‘It wasn’t me.  It was Alex.  Alex did this.’
                She wanted to send the words flying towards him.  She wanted them to fly like arrows and pierce his rigid back.  She wanted him to stop, turn around and listen.  Her shoulders slumped and with a soundless sigh her mouth closed.  It would do no good.  They wouldn’t believe her.  Alex would deny it and her mother would take his side.  She’d say that Anna was blaming Alex to save her own skin and after all, there was no proof, it would be just her word against Alex’s.
                Listlessly, she’d walked to her room.  She felt drained and wanted nothing more than to be left alone.  She got into bed and drew the covers around her;  whatever happened, however much her mother screamed and raged, she wouldn’t get up again today.  Let Alex do her donkey work.  He’d caused this and she would never, ever forgive him.

Favourite this work Favourite This Author

Comments by other Members

Carlyagain at 17:41 on 08 May 2018  Report this post

I'll be reading and commenting on this in the next few days. Looking forward to it.


Carlyagain at 21:40 on 09 May 2018  Report this post

I enjoyed reading this. It's interesting seeing the story unfold.

There is great foreshadowing, such as:

profound that hatred was and the lengths that he was prepared to go to destroy her.   She shudders and pushes the memory away.   Not yet.  Baby steps, she thinks, baby steps.  That’s what her therapist tells her.

The description of Christmas in Chapter Ten is great. At first I didn't realise that we were seeing Christmas past, so when the kitten dies, I was a tad confused why Anna got back into bed and said she wouldn't be getting up that day. On rereading, I realised that you do indeed flag that she hopes Christmas will be different this year. I'm only mentioning it now in case others find the flashback so vivid that it feels part of the 'present' rather than the 'past'. You have done a great job of bring Christmas alive.

Also, to start with, I wasn't sure why Chapter Nine was mostly in the present tense, while Chapter Ten used the past tense. I guess that Chapter Nine is 'now', with reflections of the past. When reading a novel it will make more sense than seeing individual chapters (or two), so this probably wouldn't be an issue. If it is likely to cause confusion, maybe you could consider subtitling your chapters with 'Now' and 'Then' or something that helps signpost the reader.

There are a few typos or bits that could be tightened, eg:

With a sudden jolt Anna sits up in bed and sits staring into the grey morning light.  (...and stares into the grey...)

It was the unnatural silence that  woke had woken her and from the moment she opened her eyes she sensed that everything was different.   (The unnatural silence had woken her. From the moment...)

As she waits for the kettle to bowl (boil) she stares at the same window through which she’d thought, no she was sure, she’d seen his face.  (While the kettle boils she gazes through the window ...)

In the following, I'd probably say 'Without thinking' rather than 'Involuntarily':

Involuntarily, she takes a sip of her tea and almost chokes

The scene showing her realisation about Alex is great. But you could tighten it to bring out the tension:

A sudden certainty made her gasp.  It was Alex.  He was at the root of this.  Her stomach squeezed out a bitter taste that almost choked her. - She gasped. Alex! Her stomach tightened and a bitter taste filled her mouth / choked her.

The chapters are moving on apace and it is shocking to see how nasty Alex is becoming, even in childhood, especially when we know that Anna is seeing a psychiatrist now. This is a great read. I would say to take care with the flashbacks, as the reader needs a place-holder, and the text could be tightened when you edit. The ending is great - perhaps you could add a bit more with Anna not just threatening not to forgive but wanting to pay him back (but only if she does).


Carlyagain at 21:42 on 09 May 2018  Report this post
Oops. Pressed send a moment too early.

I was just going to reiterate that this is an interesting story and one that makes the reader want to find out more. Good luck with getting on with this, especially as you have just moved and moving/writing don't work well together.

michwo at 21:25 on 12 May 2018  Report this post
This Alex of yours really is a nasty piece of work.  I thought, having read Chapters 7 & 8, something would happen to the kitten, but to flush it down the toilet out of sibling jealousy really does make me wonder where he'll stop eventually.  I had a friend at university who told me his sister once flushed a favourite toy of his down the toilet, or was it vice versa?  What is Alex going to do next?  Will he turn into a criminal known to the police, e.g. Jack Reacher or whatever your retired policeman's called, or just go on getting away with things like this?

Chestersmummy at 14:56 on 14 May 2018  Report this post
Hi Carlyagain

Many thanks for reading my work and for finding it interesting.  Many thanks also for pointing out places where it could be tightened and I will re-work those bits.  When I started to write it I had in mind that the scenes taking place in the present time would be written in the present tense and flashbacks would be written in the past tense and I am sort of keeping to this although I am finding it difficult at times and I am sure there are slip-ups now and then.  I agree that this could be confusing to the reader and think your idea of labelling the chapters present time and past time (or something like that - haven't worked out how I will do it yet!) is a very good one.   Unfortunately all the chapters in this would-be novel were written before THE GREAT SHAKE-UP IN MY LIFE and I haven't written anything new yet but am re-writing it and posting it so that I can get into the swing of it again.  Hopefully, this will work.

Best wishes and thanks for your help.


Chestersmummy at 15:23 on 14 May 2018  Report this post
Hi Michwo

Hope you are well.  Many thanks for reading my story.  Yes, Alex tturns out to be an extremely nasty character indeed and without giving the plot away (partly because I haven't written it yet!) he does become known to the police and Anna has every right to be very frightened of him.   I am trying to sketch out the childhood of a serial killer here and apparently one of their traits is that most have a history of animal cruelty.   My policeman also plays a large part in Anna's story - in a good way this time.

I have read the translation you posted and I marvel at your skill.  It was really well done and the story itself was riveting.
How long does it take you to do something like that and do you automatically change the text at all to fit in with the English taste or is it all verbatim?

Best wishes



michwo at 17:11 on 14 May 2018  Report this post
You must be the one and only person on this website who actually reads what I post.  Even I personally view translating as a form of cheating.  Basically I go for stories that please me in the original language and try to do them justice in mine:  Antoine Blondin because he's wry and has a sly sense of humour (see "A Little Night Music" posted either last year or the year before near Christmas); Édouard Peisson, author of "A False Declaration", because he writes first hand from his experience in the French merchant navy.  And it takes as long as it takes to put it into UK English.  My latest translation I've sent off optimistically to Scribble Magazine in Cheltenham and it's of a short story translated initially from Polish into German: the German title means 'loneliness' or 'solitude' - very well translated it seems to me! - by Doreen Daume who is now dead like the man (Bruno Schulz) whose work she has pretty much translated in its entirety.  He was shot dead by a Nazi officer in Drohobych, now part of Poland, for going through the Aryan quarter of the town with a loaf of bread.  Aged only 50 when he was killed in 1942 he would have been much better known than he is had he lived.  In his case, if it's not too fanciful, I wanted to preserve his memory if only slightly.  A modern German Jewish writer, Maxim Biller, wrote a novella about him not all that long ago:  "Inside the head of Bruno Schulz" and I had a go at translating that, but missed out some of the explicit erotic bits as I'm really quite prudish when it comes to that sort of thing.
Best regards,

To post comments you need to become a member. If you are already a member, please log in .