“It Feels Better Biting Down” by Livia Llewellyn
An unusual set of twin sisters sit in their home enjoying a beautiful summer afternoon until they hear the hum of a lawnmower next door. The neighboring house has been empty for quite some time, and the girls are curious to meet the new people. They both decide to go investigate since they always make decisions together. In fact, they may as well be one person going so far as to have people call them Sister with no distinction. Sometimes they even forget their own names…And sometimes they forget that they are two separate people.
About the Author
Livia Llewellyn is a critically-acclaimed writer of dark fantasy, horror, and erotica, whose short fiction has appeared in over forty anthologies and magazines and has been reprinted in multiple best-of anthologies, including Ellen Datlow’s The Best Horror of the Year series, Years Best Weird Fiction, and The Mammoth Book of Best Erotica. Her first collection, Engines of Desire: Tales of Love & Other Horrors (2011, Lethe Press), received two Shirley Jackson Award nominations, for Best Collection, and for Best Novelette (for “Omphalos”). Her story “Furnace” received a 2013 Shirley Jackson Award nomination for Best Short Story. Her second collection, Furnace (2016, Word Horde Press), was published this year to rave reviews — Pulitzer Prize-nominee Kelly Link calls her work “astonishing,” and Paul Tremblay says Furnace is “expertly, beautifully written…surely one of the best to be published in 2016.” You can find her online at liviallewellyn.com, and on Facebook and Twitter.
The twins lay on the living room floor enjoying the summer sunshine pouring through the window. They listen to the sudden sound of a lawnmower trying to decipher its location, and one sister regards her twin who is lying beside her reading a book. They each have twelve fingers, ten fingers and two thumbs. They both call each other sister and want others to refer to them in the same manner. Sometimes they actually forget their own names. “We are Sister, a singular entity with twenty long fingers at the ends of our four pale hands.”
Sister decides to go check out the noise coming from outside. Their father had been complaining about the vacant eyesore next door for years, and they want to know who has moved into the house. As they head outside, “we bare our teeth like wolves.” The girls love to do things that make their parents uncomfortable such as smiling in a menacing fashion. The twins’ parents do not enjoy spending time with their daughters. They are gone often for long periods of time, but the twins don’t mind. They intentionally antagonize their parents knowing that their birth had been a disappointment. Their parents wanted one baby, but they got two with “twisty extra fingers.”
Stepping outside, Sister no longer hears the lawnmower. One of the twins drags a chair to the fence peering over into the next yard. She immediately drops down hiding and beckoning her sister to come look. The other twin is nervous, but she does whatever her sister does. The first twin whispers that there is a woman in the other yard, and the two argue the importance of the information. After a moment of arguing, they both peek over the fence together, “in unison.” There is a horrifying lady standing in the middle of the gravel-covered yard. She has no eyes only skin covered dents, a nose without nostrils, and an unnaturally large mouth surrounded by purple lipstick.
Sister decides it is a mannequin, and one of the twins grabs a rock lobbing it at the terrifying creature. She hits the thing directly in the face, and the twins smile at one another saying, “nice.” The woman next door flings her mouth open mimicking the word the girls just spoke, “Niiiiiiice.” It sounds like the lawnmower noise they heard before, Sister screams. The twin who first wanted to look over the fence tries to run, but her sister holds her in place watching the creature. The mouth opens wider and wider exposing “rows of jagged teeth” that move like a saw. Small green dots begin pouring out of the giant mouth flying straight for the twins. “Everything grows hazy and beautiful and kitten-gray, even the screams.”
One of the twins is crying. The other twin looks down and finds two small fingers sitting on her lap, and she realizes they are the other twin’s extra pinkies. The ten-fingered twins demands to have her fingers back, but the other girl wants them. She takes the extra fingers and places them on her own hands. She now has fourteen fingers. They begin to fight, and they bite fingers off of each other’s hands adding them to their own bodies. They soon discover that they can place the fingers anywhere on their bodies. Then they discover that its not just fingers they can remove.
The two girls remove and add body parts to one another until they have molded into one body. Finally connected through body and mind, Sister lies in the grass appreciating the new form. The two girls transformed into one hear their parents return home, and they decide to go inside and show them what Sister has become. They do worry, however, about the woman from the backyard. They are unsure if they will become like she was: mannequin-like, silent, and inevitably dead.
Llewellyn adroitly unfurls a narrative that shifts from the formal, to the lyrical, and in the end, the surreal, while exploring the hidden nature of two twin sisters, the neighborhood in which they live, and a new neighbor. While the neighbor seems to be the embodiment of evil, it provides something the “sisters,” have wanted all along. The twins have the last laugh as they finally are able to pay back their parents for all the love and affection they were denied growing up and growing closer than anybody could have predicted.