Tessa throws her head back against the top of the couch. If she was in the kind of movie her sister, Maisie, wants to watch, a serial killer would’ve placed a nail there for her on which she could impale herself. The thought of it alone is enough for her to feel her entire body contort, as if attempting to match the cringe on her face. No. No. No. No. “No way in hell.”
For all her claims of maturity, Maisie stomps her leopard-print slippered foot against the carpetーliterally stomps. It produces no sound, the fabric muffling it, but not dulling the force that shakes glass-encased tassels of their mom’s antique lamp and sends ripples through Tessa’s cup of bubbling Fresca.
“Are you five?” Tessa deadpans, dipping her head towards her phone to obscure the smirk her lips have taken on. Maisie would define this as one of Tessa’s worst traits: that Maisie’s anger elicits amusement in Tessa.
“When you’re acting ridiculous, so can I.” Maisie latches onto her own ankle and draws it into her body as she falls onto the couch, arranging her other leg to form the left side of her limb pretzel. A pink and white plaid covered limb pretzel to be specific. “Why don’t you want to watch it?”
“Hmm.” Tapping her finger against her mouth, Tessa flicks her eyes up to the alabaster ceiling and back to her reddening sister. “Maybe because I want to be able to sleep tonight?”
Maisie scoffsーor, well, snorts and guffaws in combination. “And you’re asking me if I’m five?” she comments, before her voice turns to the babying tone she loves to use to mock. “Is the wittle Tessie a wittle scared?”
As much as the placation grates Tessa’s nerves, it also pulls a laugh out of her, like it has for years. She hides it with a grunt and a jab into Maisie’s shin. “No, I just don’t find suspenseful murder entertainting. You know, because I’m not a psychopath.”
Leaning over her legs, elbows to the couch cushions, Maisie inches towards her sister but not enough to make it any further than into Tessa’s periphery. “If I’m a psychopath, then like 50 percent of the world is, considering they like it, too.”
“And I don’t disagree with that. It would explain why the world is so fucked up,” Tessa says, and aims her finger at her sister. “You know, like how they’re abusing migrants in一”
“Like 50 countries, because we’re all in disaster mode, and there’s at least three dozen wars, and people being killed needlessly. I know. You’ve told me,” Maisie finishes, and Tessa rates it as only 90 percent wrong. What can she say? The world really is screwed. “You know what I don’t know, though? Is how you can watch and listen to all of that tragedy, but won’t give your sister the pleasure of watching one fake serial murder thing with her.”
Her sister, with her eyes set into both puppy-dog and side-eye modes, as if that could get Tessa to change her mind (it has). Nope, she will not make eye contact. Instead, she draws the collar of her heather gray sweatshirt over chin, wincing when it grazes the gigantic pimple below her lip. “Because the real isn’t as exaggerated or as scary.”
“Seriously? How isn’t something real as scary? Then you know it can actually happen. Nothing in these movies is really going to happen,” Maisie says, waving towards the TV screen where one of the streaming services has a carousel of horror flicks queued up just waiting for them to watch.
Because Tessa can actually have an impact on the real world. She’s not completely helpless. She has some power, even if just a modicum. The most power Tessa has with a scary movie is the power to turn it off, and that would be if Maisie ever shared the remote, which she never does. And then there’s the fact that with their jump scares and creepy music, the films actually do scare her一especially when she and Maisie are home alone like tonight and the wind is creating its own goosebump-inducing noises like whatever the hell that scratching is (most likely a branch, the non-adrenaline addled part of her brain says). But she doesn’t feel like admitting those exact fears when that is exactly what Maisie is baiting her to do.
“Because, like you said, it’s not realistic. I don’t need everything amped up or predictable for that matter,” Tessa says. “Girls running up stairs away from murderers. Phone calls with no one there. People missing obvious signs that something bad is going down. They all do the same stuff.”
“Fine. Okay. We’ll have it your way,” she says, and her feet land back on the floor, quickly patting across the carpet to match the cadence of Maisie’s speech. “It’s not like your Lifetime movies aren’t predictable or anything, but whatever. That’s cool. All good.”
Laughing, Tessa tips her head back again, watching her sister disappear into the kitchen. “Can’t we compromise? Like a midway point? We could do Signs or, I don’t know Hocus Pocus.”
Maisie yips in response. A clear disapproval if Tessa has ever heard one. “Okay, fine, I get that one might be too kid-ish. Then how about Sixth Sense, or Gremlins, or a marathon of Scream Queens? At least that one’s somewhat funny.”
Tessa waits for a reply. One second. Then three. Then ten. The only sound Tessa hears is the scream of the wind and the creak of the floorboard behind her. “Really? The silent treatment?” Another creak, this one to her right, and in her periphery the outline of Maisie returns. “Let’s not do this all night, please.” Turning towards the motion, the first thing Tessa notices is the tips of her sister’s slippers and their leopard print made of gray and white fuzz. And specks of something else. Is that dirt?
Tessa squints. No, it’s wet, like the slippers have been hit by droplets of rain.
Tessa’s eyes travel up, over the terrain of red-streaked pajama pants and tops. “Maisie, what the hell is on yourー”
Blood trickles from Maisie’s mouth, or Tessa thinks that’s where it’s coming from, because the gray-gloved hand over her sister’s lips is making it hard to tell exactly where the source is.
When Tessa’s gaze connects with Maisie’s, hers are not the only pair of eyes staring back at her. The other belongs to a hulking figure, dressed in camo from head to ankle. The dark green of his eyes is the sole feature visible on his face, the rest concealed by a hunting balaclava. Tessa knows she will always remember that color, striking like a forest of evergreens. For as long as she can remember that is.
“Give me your phone and get over here,” the man growls, but to move would be to be able to respond, and Tessa’s brain is short circuiting, too busy taking in each detail and trying to understand what the fuck is happening to do anything else.
Maisie’s pupils are blown, eclipsing the hazel that is the same as Tessa’s, pained and terrified. Her chest convulses with strained breaths against the man’s arms. Each breath takes her throat to the edge of the thick silver blade he has in his hand. Behind them, Tessa’s eyes slip to the back door, and the glass cut out of the pane above the lock.
Not wind scraping. Tools. A killer. Just like something out of Maisie’s horror flicks. Only this time, the person Tessa will watch get murdered won’t be some almost-final girl on screen. It will be her sister. Right in front of her, and most likely herself soon after.
“No,” Tessa whispers, the rest of her speech lost in the breath that won’t come.
She takes it back. Real life may have the upperhand in unpredictability, but when it comes to realism, the movies got it just right.