"You're being compressed, that's all." I opened my mouth to retort but it was like my lungs had been filled with lead. It wasn't so painful anymore, but it was definitely uncomfortable. Like drowning when you can't die. I'd done it enough times, drowned myself in the bathtub out of curiosity and sometimes just boredom, and it felt a lot like this. Except this time, I didn't want to do it, and I couldn't see the stained white ceiling through the water and it wasn't where I wanted to be at all, so I struggled.
"You can't talk, during, stupid." I defiantly shut my mouth and squeezed my eyes shut, hoping that when I opened them I'd be able to see something more than the horrible, ever-present darkness. I tried to move, tried to wiggle my fingertips even a little, but found it was impossible. It's not that I couldn't move, so much as there wasn't anything of me tomove. The phantom body I was never entitled to had been taken away from me. I took a deep breath through the nose that wasn't there, embracing the dense darkness coating the lungs I didn't have, and relaxed into blackness.
Someone was prodding me. I screwed my eyes shut tighter, willing them to go away. My whole body felt too tired, so heavy I could fall asleep again and maybe never wake up. And then everything hit and I startled up into a seated position with a crack of every unused bone in my body. Because, I had a body. It felt like before. Not like way, way before, I knew I wasn't alive exactly, but the phantom figure I'd grown to live with was back, and I felt like me again. I glanced up, squinting against bright lights to make out the figure of the person above me.
"Violet?" I choked out, taking in her small, willowy frame and dusty-looking floral dress skating the air by my face. I wanted to press my cheek to her thigh and not let go of her until she let me come back to her, but I didn't, body still too stunned to work the way I wanted it to.
"Wow, the house is cruel," the voice wasn't Violet's at all. It was deep, a man's voice, and I scooted back and away from her instantly, realising this was some kind of trap. Violet hadn't forgiven me, and she probably never would. She'd told me to go away, after all, and then there had only been blackness, and drowning, and then…
"Where am I?" I demanded, voice coming out much smaller than I'd intended it to. My voice didn't sound like my voice.
"You're in the house. Duh. You can't leave."
"I know… that, but, where, exactly. I don't recognise this room." I glanced around, taking in the unnaturally bright ceiling light, the chipped blue walls. the tattered rug.
"Holy shit, this is Violet's room!"
"I guess so. I was hoping you'd recognise it, seeing as I certainly don't. The house really likes you. I mean, you thought I was Violet, right? That's a chick, I'm guessing, which sucks because I'm not a chick." The figure, I couldn't bring myself to call it Violet when it obviously wasn't, sat down across from me, legs in a careless crossed position. I could see its underwear and swallowed, looking away. This wasn't Violet.
"If you're not Violet then… who are you?" I glanced up, but it was gone. "Goddamnit!" I growled, getting to my feet and brushing off. I was so sick of her mind games, even if it wasn't Violet. It wasn't Violet. It wasn't Violet. I kept repeating that to myself but as I wandered around the room, taking in her scent, her stuff, it became harder and harder to believe myself. She looked like Violet, she dressed like Violet, she had Violet's no-nonsense, pissed off demeanour… is it so hard to believe this is just another way to punish me for what I'd done? She'd said I would have to pay for what I did, maybe this was how I was going to pay. Through confusion, and drowning, and mind games. I would take it all, if it meant I could spend more time with her.
"I'm guessing you screwed up with her, huh." I spun at the voice and there she was again. Violet, but not quite.
"More than you can imagine."
"I think I have a pretty good idea." She gave me a funny look, all eyebrows, and nothing I'd ever seen her face do before. It was weird.
"Who are you, then, really. You're not Violet, that's for sure." It smirked, winking.
"You're a smart boy, Tate. You figured it out way quicker than I did. Took me a year to stop following the four seven year old around."
"What?" I was feeling utterly bewildered by this new game.
"Well, a year or there abouts. There really isn't a time concept in the house."
"There is if you keep count. That's what calendars are for, idiot."
"Maybe that's what it was like before, when you lived in the house, sure."
"I don't… I am living in the house," I trailed off, quiet, unsure at the direction this game was going.
"No, no, you're not in the house so much now as you are the house. She told you to go away, Violet, I'm guessing?" I just nodded dumbly, allowing her to take over and play out the scenario she wanted. "Well, haven't you ever wondered where the people go? When they get sent away, they can't just pop back up right away. The house takes them, sort of like a time out. Some people get stuck in time out longer than others, that's why I'm still here, and you'll probably be going back pretty soon." The voice was sadder at the end, there, and I wondered how she was doing it. I mean, being a ghost had plenty of spooky perks but as far as I'm aware vocal alteration wasn't one of them.
"I don't… understand. Who are you? Who sent you away?" Violet smirked, slinking down the wall to a seated position again.
"Get comfy, kid, this is a long one." I nodded, sitting back against the headboard on the bed from which I'd been barred. It felt dangerous in all the right ways.
"Are you wondering how I knew your name? You must be, if you know I'm not Violet. You obviously don't know who I am." It raised a good point, so I nodded.
"You look like her, but you sound like a dude," I clarified, and she smirked again.
"Before you got pulled in here I lookedlike a dude too, thank you very much. I've been here since I was seven, you know."
"But… you've aged." I pointed out, as stupid as it sounded because it was obvious.
"Yeah, that's sort of the worst part about being stuck here, rather than out there. The ghosts that live here don't age, but they're just residents. We're the house, we age. You see?" I shook my head, no, and it sighed.
"Think about it. If no living person moves in, what happens to the house?"
"It gets run down and rusty and the water and stuff stops working until someone moves in and fixes it up."
"Yes, yes, exactly. So if I was seven when I was pulled into the house's mainframe, and that was in 1984, how old am I now?" Holy shit, math. Math was not my thing in high school, and it is not my thing now.
"Urm, well, it's 2012, so…" She pursed her lips.
"Woah. I'm like, 28. Old." She shrugged and I frowned.
"Wait, I lived here in '84." She raised her eyebrows. "At least, no, I definitely did. I was like, six or seven at the time. My mother was getting drunk all the time and we were about to lose the house, but I was still here, I'm sure of it."
"Uh huh, clever kid, like I said. But how old were your siblings?"
I paused, because it was about to get dangerous. If this was Violet playing games, I couldn't mention too much. I could tell her about Beau and Addie, but that was it. That was as far as I could go. But if it was someone else… someone who was seven years old when they died in this house and was pulled in after being told to go away… and it all clicked into place.
"Michael?" It was a shot in the dark, and if the thing opposite me was Violet, she'd have no idea what I was talking about, so I wasn't really spilling my families' dark past. After all, if the thing responded to it, I was only calling it by its name.
"Hey brother," and in quite literally the blink of an eye, Violet was gone and a man sat before me. He was well built, with a strong jaw and cropped hair that curled a little. In frame, he's probably what I would have ended up looking like, if I wasn't frozen forever seventeen. Of course, he was still too pale, death white with too-frosty to be pretty blue eyes, and white hair, eyebrows, eyelashes. He was still different, even if we were twins.
"I never knew what happened to you," I whispered, unable to form speech anymore. The man before me stood up, crossing the room in a few quick strides and coming to sit opposite me on the bed.
"Mother sent me away. I was… unwell. You know as well as I do that you can't come out of that family without a scratch. No one ever has. Other than Constance, but I'm pretty sure she's evil." I laughed, the sound was hollow to my own ears. "You have to understand, Tate, that it wasn't about you. It was about me, and her. I…I loved you, but she made me resent you." I frowned.
"I don't understand…"
"You were my brother, my twin, and I never saw anything different between you and me. We just… were, and that was fine. But as we grew up, as we started to understand the things she'd mumble under her breath when she was drunk, I started to realise things. She never liked me, Tate. She loved you, the golden boy, but I was another of her 'failed' children. You were the perfect child, and she wanted me out of the way. She never said as much, but I knew it. I knew I would never compare to you, I couldn't compete, no way. And I was angry with you, for that. So I tried to kill you. God, I don't think I even really knew what I was doing, we were so young. But I put a pillow over your face one night and she caught me before you stopped breathing and I was sort of relieved, actually, that you hadn't died. That's when I realised you weren't the problem. I didn't want you to die, I wanted her to pay for how she treated me, and Addie, and Beau." He paused, and we both took a moment to think about our other, unfortunate siblings.
"I understand," I mumbled, because I really did. I'd done bad things too, things I regretted, all because Constance had screwed me up bad enough to think I wasn't worth more than that.
"She ran a bath and held me under the water." I felt the blood drain from my face and my stomach plummet.
"She- she murdered you? She murdered Beau, too, later on." He shook his head in disgust.
"That woman is poisonous. I know that now. When I came back, I went straight for her, I was so ready to make her pay, but she was ready for me, too. She told me that you would never forgive me for trying to kill you, and that you hated me already, and that I was dangerous so there was 'no way in hell I was gunna come near her or her babies' and then she just said it, like it was nothing."
"Said what?" I asked, though I already knew what she'd said. The only two words that meant a thing around here.
"Go away," he whispered.
I closed my eyes and we sat in silence for a while. I didn't know what to say, or how to fix it.
"How come you're still here, then? Constance doesn't live here anymore, surely her dismissal of you should have cancelled out her command?"
"I thought so too, really, for a little while. But then I realised, it's not so much who you banish, but why you banish them that sticks. I'm here because Constance said you could never forgive me for what I tried to do to you. You were the only person in the world who truly cared about me, and I care about you. It's your forgiveness I need, Tate." He didn't ask for it, I noticed. He didn't feel like he deserved it, I guess, going by the look on his face.
"Michael." He looked up. "I forgive you. Hell, I've made some pretty stupid mistakes, too, that's why I'm here you know. I love you, you're my brother. We forgive the ones we love." He smiled, and I finally felt like I'd done something selfless and properly, truly right. For once.
"You… that means everything, Tate." He reached out and clasped my hand, and I clasped his right back, feeling a little piece of my fractured childhood mend itself into a memory I never had.