The sound of laughter drifted through an open door and the hot Australian sunlight beamed down on two bamboo chairs. A man emerged from the house with a can of Fosters beer in hand. A chuckle escaped his lips before he collapsed into the chair. Sweat from his brow moistened the dark circles beneath his eyes. Thick matted locks draped to his shoulder, a memory of years spent riding the ocean waves.

A young woman appeared in the doorway. “Come on,” she whined. “Let me have just one.”

He struck a match and held the flame to the cigarette perched between his lips.

Fascinated by the glow on the cigarette tip she watched him inhale deeply. “It’s not like I’ve never drank a beer before!”

Pale blue smoke floated from his lips and drifted upward. He raised his hands in mock surrender. “Alright, but only one though. If Mum and Dad get home and see you drinking they’ll crack the shits.”

A broad smile lit her face. She clapped her hands together in excitement and raced into the house.

His younger sister always got her way.

The sound of her footsteps faded, and the door screeched and slammed shut. A few moments later, his sister reappeared with a triumphant smile, and plonked herself in the chair beside him to watch a troop of kangaroos graze in the open space behind the property.

A moment of silence fell between them.

When she took the first sip of beer, a long grimace flooded her face.

Her brother pretended not to notice.

“Do you remember when we were little? We used to play make-believe and pretend we had our own house out there in the bush.”

“I remember,” he smiled. “We built tepees out of branches, then one summer Dad found us playing, and built a fire so we could make damper.”

“Damper was awful! I thought Dad must have done something wrong, but later I found out damper was made from nothing but flour and water.”

“Dad wanted us to have the traditional Australian stockman experience,” he laughed. “We should be happy he didn’t make us sleep in the bush and live on rations!”

“I miss those days.”

He nodded his agreement. Most days his past life occupied his thoughts, with his sister always in the forefront of his mind.

His sister’s brow furrowed and she fixed her eyes on the can of beer. “You don’t come home often enough.”

“I know. I’ve been busy.” Years passed between his visits. He kept his distance, and he never told her why.

Eyes downcast, she nodded. Sad memories of their past streamed before her eyes like a movie. He watched them with her, able to imagine every thought in her mind. Images of boxes stacked with Christmas decorations, the excitement and anticipation of the holiday season, with plates filled with grated carrot for imaginary reindeer. They sang carols and tossed tinsel on the tree. He remembered how they chased butterflies and fled from the neighbour’s garden when he caught them stealing his roses.

The memories slipped from his mind as the gentle song of wind chimes distracted him.

In a halo of light, his sister lay with eyes closed, but she sensed his gaze. “I know you’ve been having a difficult time lately, but I’m always here for you.” 

He didn’t want to lie to her, promised himself he wouldn’t, but he envisioned no other way.

A shadow hovered beside him. His voice wavered. “I’m alright, Lilah. If I had something to talk about with you then I would, but what I’m going through, you shouldn’t worry about that.”

Tears burned the edges of his eyes. The shadow disappeared.

“You must to talk to someone, Dale. Seek help, please,” she begged. “I’ve tried to talk to you, but you get angry with me every time.”

His throat clenched as the truth of her words resounded in his mind. You need help. Guilt weighed on him heavily, the nausea caused his head to spin, and a sharp pain gripped his stomach at the memory of his mistakes. How many times did he push his sister away, determined to manage on his own, but he could no longer ignore his failures.

“You can’t help me,” he whimpered. “You can’t stop this.”

“Dale, stop pushing me away,” she sat straight in the chair. Her eyes bore into him. “I know you’ve hurt people in the past and I know it wasn’t intentional, but please let me help. We used to talk all the time, you used to tell me everything, and now you keep pulling back. It hurts me.”

Pain wrenched his heart. He pushed his sister away to save her from his nightmare. He caused her pain, yet his secrets fell from her lips without pause. All his efforts were for naught. He failed again.

He prayed for his Mother to hold him the way she did when he was young - the way she did when the harsh, incessant bark of the neighbourhood dogs woke him from his sleep, and when visions of intruders invaded his mind. “I’m sorry, Lilah. I’m sorry you know what I’ve done. I didn’t want it to happen. I just wanted them to stop! I want to stay here. I don’t want to remember what I did to them. Let me stay here with you!”

The afternoon sunlight faded and the faint prison bars held his eyes. Their metallic scent permeated every crevice. Darkness arrived, sunset colours shifted to night, and outside the window bars of his cell he saw a thick blanket of evening sky.

“Why can’t we stay here?” a hollow voice asked.

“No!” His pale hands grasped the bars of the metal doorway. The rails were solid and real, the icy shafts caused him to shiver, and bile rose in his throat as he inhaled the stale smell of his cage.

No escape.

Memories of Jacaranda trees in his backyard, with sturdy boughs hidden within the thick blanket of indigo flowers flooded his thoughts. More than anything he wished to be home - or anywhere away from this dank cell.

“Why can’t we stay here?” she giggled. “You don’t belong there anymore, living in our beautiful childhood home, with kangaroos and birds and life. You belong here, Dale, not hiding in a memory.”

Images of her innocent, grey eyes, and hair that shone like sunflowers plagued his mind. In this desolate place, her sweet face offered comfort and quelled the turmoil’s grip, but the woman who spoke to him with her pallid skin and hollow eyes, held no similarity to the sister he remembered. In this cell, Lilah’s cracked yellow teeth belonged in a horror film alongside other childhood monsters and beasts.

“No, Lilah, not you. Not like this.” His voice shattered the cell’s tomblike silence.

Whirling, he searched for footsteps he heard. He turned to the metal bars, and clutched them in his fists until his knuckles turned white. With his body pressed hard against the cell door, he prayed for the voice to cease, and then he sank to the floor and begged he might find himself on the other side of the bars, safe from her.

A light hand touched his shoulder.

“Why not like this?” she asked.  

Her dulled eyes met his, but all he saw were red veins, veins that ruptured when his hand closed over her throat years ago. Deep purple marks scarred her gentle neck, and blood oozed from her nose onto her blouse.

“Why not like this, brother?”

Emotional pain ravaged his body as if it were physical. He jerked at his dreadlocks as he fought to free himself from her accusations.

She deserved it, a different voice whispered.

“She didn’t!”

The image of her perfect face reappeared and he slammed his back against the wall again and again. Thoughts of her joyful smile and childlike eyes faded, but he could not escape her presence.

When he heard the rustle of her clothes, he cowered from the invisible presence. She crouched beside him. Cold hands pushed the hair from his face in a gesture of tenderness.

“Don’t hide from me.” Lilah’s voice took on a gentle, accusatory tone. “It’s okay, I want to help you.” The shift in her voice caused shivers to again course through his body. Her voice sounded like a distant echo, and again she spoke words of encouragement. “You can do this. We can do this together.”

You can’t do this. She said so. She thinks you’re useless.


She said it, another voice whispered.

He begged for the voices to stop their incessant torment.

“Shh, it’s okay,” Lilah said. “Come back with me to the days when we were happy, and young, with our whole lives ahead of us.”

The warm Australian sunshine swathed him when she grasped his hand. He sighed with relief, and glanced at his sister. Her cheeks flushed in the heat. Light sparkled in her eyes. Butterflies fluttered around her, drawn to her, as if she wore the scent of pollen.

Swept away by her presence, his terrors subsided.

A smile touched his lips and he watched his sister gaze at the butterflies, but a frown crossed her face.

“I want to talk to you.”


Lilah’s hands trembled and she licked her lips. “I said it before, you haven’t been okay, and I want to be here, to help, but I can’t do that if you close yourself off from me.”

She’s lies. She doesn’t want to help.

“Shut up!” He shouted.

He took a drag from his cigarette, sparks infiltrated the filter with sudden heat, and it dropped from his fingers. The taste of smoke lingered on his tongue, and fury rose within him.

Her wide eyes stared, fearful of his sudden outburst. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you.”

She wants to lock you away. More whispers brought dark, ominous, and unwanted words.

“No, you can’t! I won’t let you lock me away!”

 “I don’t want to lock you away! I just want to help,” her sweet voice sang.

“Oh, you want to help? Then shut the fuck up!”

“Dale, please,” she cried. “I don’t care about the past. I can help you move past this, but you must let me!”

“Why do I need help, Lilah?” He growled. His eyes narrowed, his lips pulled away from his teeth, and his canines glistened with spit.

She stepped back.

Nausea gripped him, he loathed himself, but he couldn’t block the torment of voices.

She is the enemy, the voices screamed.  

“Something’s wrong with you, Dale. It’s like you’re not even here most of the time. And if you don’t want my help then you can find someone else to help you deal with this.” She turned for the door.

He lunged, and his strong hands grabbed her shoulders and slammed her against the wall. Her head smashed against the brickwork with a loud crunch. His hand closed around her neck. Eyes wild, he pounded his fist into the softness of her stomach, oblivious to her bloody nose.

The blood drained from her face. She gasped for breath as her eyes bulged with fear and her hands beat his chest. With an iron grip his fingers clenched, and clenched. The smell of urine flooded his nostrils and he heard the trickle of liquid. Her eyes rolled back in her head. Only then did he release her.

Her limp body fell to the floor and convulsed. The body stilled, and her wide eyes saw nothing.

Silence followed. He stared at his sister’s lifeless form. His limp hands hung beside his body, but his fingers twitched as if yet again grasp her delicate neck.

The memory faded. He launched himself toward the bed and tore at the sheets in search of his hidden razor. When he found it, he clutched the small blade triumphantly, unable to feel the pain of his severed tendons as he cut through skin. He stood in the middle of the room, his chest heaved, and a stream of blood pooled on the concrete floor.

“You don’t want to watch again?” she asked. “Why not?”

Ragged breaths escaped his chest. Her corpse materialised at his feet in a pool of urine. He killed his sister.

His fists beat his forehead. He wanted the voices to cease their relentless torture.

“You couldn’t stand me,” she said. “I was whole, and you were broken, but you will be with me now. You know how to do it.”

“But I don’t want to. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I want to make it right.”

“You can’t make it right. It’s what you deserve,” she hissed. “Look at you. Look at what you are. I wanted to save you from this torture, and you hated me for it. You killed me, Dale. You killed me after I tried to save you, even after I forgave you for the people you hurt!”

“Stop! Stop! Stop!”

He shrieked as his hands grasped his matted hair, and wrenched them from his scalp until thick locks of hair clung to the blood on his fingers. A piece of bloodstained skin hung from the strands.

Fascinated, his head cocked sideways at the sight of the expanding pool of blood beneath his feet.

Blood, more blood.

The rage revived and his blade slashed with renewed vigour. Pain shot through his stomach, arms, and thigh. Blood sprayed the walls and spurted from his arteries. He abandoned reason. The knife sliced across his chest again, and again.

The image of Lilah disappeared – her voice became no more than an echo.

Exhausted, he collapsed on the bed and yearned for silence, and silence settled over him like a cold blanket on a winter’s eve.

Heavy footsteps pounded in the empty passage outside his cell. Someone shoved him, lifted him, and the dull lights of the hallway flickered past him in a monotonous loop.

A sudden glare illuminated the new world around him. He squinted from the harsh light above. A face appeared. Wide eyes stared down at him, as if he were a specimen under a microscope.

“Save me,” he murmured. His voice was hoarse, almost audible.

Faces swam before him, until a strong hand grasped his and squeezed. “Then you’ll have to stay with me.”

The face of his sister hovered above him, but he wasn’t sure who spoke the words. 

Ellen Cook

Ellen Cook has a background in Psychology and has always been a passionate writer. Currently, she is in the process of completing a novel, and is editing a collection of short stories.. 

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