Screams. Silence. More screams. Whenever the news anchor spoke, or cut to a clip of a building with flames peeking out the windows, no one said a word. But as soon as a cleaning commercial replaced the chaos, the room turned into a hurricane of squeals and tears and conspiracy theories. Every single one of my “sisters” was freaking the fuck out.
One girl claimed it was a government conspiracy. That the president was trying to use fear to control us. Into what? I had no clue. Another girl suggested it could be an elaborate prank that spiraled out of control. Another one, who wouldn’t stop muttering to the rosary in her hands, swore we were being punished by Him.
It had only been two days since “aliens” had landed in South Carolina, and the entire country was acting as wild as the little women around me. Stores shut down. Teenagers looted those stores. Adults set fire to random shit. Some nutjob in Texas had even tried to deliver human sacrifices to our new visitors.
Facebook and Twitter had been blowing up with ideas on how to deal with the situation. But the visitors hadn’t threatened us. Hadn’t asked us to bow down to them. Hadn’t murdered or manhandled or mind controlled any of us. They’d just been in talks with the president, who said he’d provide us with more information once he felt the situation had been taken care of. So technically, our visitors who looked like us and spoke our language hadn’t done anything. We’d end up destroying ourselves while they watched.
“I’m sick of this reality TV trash. I’m heading out,” I said, slipping into my red leather jacket. “If I’m gone past curfew, I’m probably getting probed, but don’t worry. It’ll be consensual.”
I swung the door open, ready to walk the rat infested sidewalk that led to my dealer, when Belle sidestepped past me, into the building.
Belle, my best friend and drinking buddy, shared my title as the oldest girl in the orphanage. Seventeen, going on eighteen. One year until we were told we’d be thankful we didn’t have parents.
Instead of giving me a hug or at least the finger, like she usually did when we hadn’t seen each other in half a day, she walked right by me. Her eyes were red on the inside and the outside, like she had been itching them all day and crying at the same time.
“Are you drunk already? It’s not even noon.” I smirked, giving her a light smack on the arm, right over her peace sign tattoo. “I mean, I’m not judging. You should’ve called me if you… Hey, hey, are you all right?”
She had sat against the wall of the entryway with her chin tilted toward her neck, out of view of the other girls crowded in the common room. Which was a good thing, because if they saw her, they’d tattle. The little ones were cute, but they could be real brats when they caught us coming home swaying.
“I need to tell you something. Something big,” Belle said softly. She lifted her head to look at me, but her eyes were unfocused.
“Listen,” I said, crouching to her level like she was my toddler. “If you’re… You can always get an abortion. Some people might judge you, but if you think it’s the right move, then fuck what they say, right?”
“That’s not it.” Her voice was raspy, but the words came out in a blur, all in one breath. “You know how we’ve never really fit in and we’re always saying that we hate people and that we don’t understand why they do the things they do? I think I figured out why.”
“Yeah. You know how the assholes at school always saying how we’re not like them? How we’re from another planet? I think they’re right. I don’t think we’re human.”
I grabbed her arm, forcibly, like I could shake the pills out of her system. “How strong was the shit you took? I thought we were sticking to weed. I don’t want you dying on me. What the hell is wrong—”
“I met one of them. The visitors.”
“The visitors,” I repeated.
She nodded, like she was letting me in on some special secret I was privileged to hear. “Remember that time you came home smelling like Jameson and I cried like a little bitch because the scent reminded me of my ex? It was like that.”
I blinked. Blinked again. I was tempted to rip the rings off my fingers and slap her across the face, but instead I shoved my hands in my pockets and muttered, “What the fuck? What are you going on about?”
“They sprayed this… this fragrance on me. And it brought back all these memories.” She wafted her hands, like she could show me the scent. “I remember them taking care of me. When I was really little. Before they dropped me off here. Dropped us off here. Together.”
“Like a stork?”
“I’m being serious.” She pouted, her eyebrows folding together into a solid line. “We have matching birthmarks. We have the same nose. We can basically read each other’s minds. We might be sisters, like we always joked about. And those visitors might be our relatives. It makes sense. Don’t you think?”
“I think you should sleep it off,” I said, rising to my feet and escaping through the front door. I needed that weed more than ever.
A full month of insanity went by. I ignored Belle during the day, along with my other sisters who wouldn’t shut up about the alien invasion, but I had to go searching for her at night. She spent hours outside, stumbling down streets, trying to find another visitor. She missed it when the president appeared on our television screen to make a brief statement, just to say that the visitors wanted to speak, but he couldn’t allow it. Of course, she happened to be home a few days later, when the visitors hacked the television stations.
On every channel, a man with a stringy mustache and ponytail made an announcement. He explained that he was a visitor, but he looked like any other human you’d see on the bus.
“Our home was in danger the last time we visited this planet,” he was saying. “We’ve only returned to collect the family members we left behind to keep safe. They may or may not have any memory of us, but each of them are bearing our mark.”
He tiled his head up, revealing the two brown dots beneath his chin, like a sideways semicolon.
My little sisters checked their phone cameras to examine their skin, like ticks were clinging to them and they could fling the critters away if they caught them early enough. None of them had the mark, of course. But they didn’t have to double check to know Belle and I did.
“Your president believes it would be unsafe if we roamed freely around your country,” the visitor continued. “Of course, that would be difficult for your government to monitor, because we could walk amongst you without you knowing. In fact, we have. We’ve been trying to jog the memories of the relatives we happen to pass by. But we don’t believe it would be fair to continue our search if your president is so kindly asking us to leave.”
He reached into his pocket and pulled out something too small to see. The line of visitors behind him did the same. “The truth is, we don’t need to walk around, collecting our relatives, because they can come find us. You don’t need a spaceship to get back home. You don’t need a teleportation machine or a magic wand. As long as you have our mark, this is all you need.”
It took me a minute to figure out what the flash of silver in his hand was. By the time I realized it was a pocket knife, he had slit his own throat with it.
Then the line of visitors behind him did the same.
“Holy shit.” I fumbled for the remote, trying to shield my sisters from seeing anything else that could scar them for life. “Shit shit shit.”
“Wait,” one of the girls, the smallest of the bunch, said. “Look. They’re going away.”
I forced my eyes back to the screen. It was true. No blood pooled out from beneath their bodies. There weren’t even any bodies to look at. The visitors had just disappeared. Dematerialized. Of course, it could’ve been a camera trick. Could’ve been a magic trick. Could’ve been a lot of things.
“I don’t care,” I said. “We’re turning it off.”
Once the screen faded to black, once I had a second to glance around the room at the shivering children, I realized Belle was missing.
I bolted into our shared kitchen, without taking the time to process where I was going. I didn’t have to. My brain receded into the background, so my gut could control every action. Grabbing Belle by the hair. Shoving her onto the tiled floor. Kicking away the knife she’d wrangled out of the cabinets. Collapsing on top of her, just for good measure.
I had her pinned to the ground, both of her wrists limp in my hands, as she said, “What if they’re right? What if they’re our family?”
“So what if they are? You think slitting your throat is the answer? You’re going to leave these girls? You’re going to leave me? We. Belong. Here. Belle. You fucking idiot.”
Tears erupted from her eyes. Her words came out in shaky gasps. “We’ll be leaving them soon anyway. We’re almost eighteen, remember? And you have the mark, too. We’ll go together.”
“No. We’re staying here. Together.”
I heard murmuring behind me. I looked over my shoulder to see the girls crowded by the opening, some of them giggling but most of them shaking.
“Go check your rooms,” I said. “Grab anything sharp, anything you can cut yourself on, and bring it to me.”
They just stared, mouths dropped into ovals.
From then on, I kept Belle on suicide watch. Baby-proofed the entire goddamn house. Luckily, the Child Care Worker in charge of the building didn’t do her job. Otherwise, she would’ve noticed that all of the silverware was gone and we were all cutting our food with plastic forks.
Surprisingly, Belle didn’t mention the visitors once as the month dragged itself by. A month of newscast after newscast about teenage suicide. If the bodies had been marked, they would disappear without leaving any blood or guts behind. If the bodies hadn’t been marked, they would decompose, just like any other human body.
So on Belle’s eighteenth birthday, I did what I’d been dreading. I’d finally left her alone, or at least, alone with the other girls while I took a trip to the market. We were being kicked out of the orphanage in a few weeks, because we had both reached legal age, so I needed to focus on other things, like getting an apartment, a job, or at least a sugar daddy. I couldn’t protect her forever.
Besides, it was only twenty minutes. A quick walk down the block to grab her a cake that we could sing around. I played out all of the possible scenarios over and over again in my mind, but I didn’t think she’d do it. I really didn’t.
But when I returned, there was a bright yellow Post-it note stuck to the front door, written in Belle’s loopy handwriting. I tried to ignore the sprinkling of blood running across it as I read. It said, “I hope you’ll change your mind. I hope you’ll come with me.”
I thought I was going to vomit, knowing she went through with it. Knowing she was either lodged with those creatures for the rest of eternity or sweating her ass off in hell. I hoped it was the former, that her suicide had taken her on a trip to another time and place, so I wouldn’t have to see her rotting corpse.
When I pushed through the door and walked the hall that led to the common room, I actually did vomit. Once and twice and then a third time.
My little sisters littered the room. All eight of them, minus Belle. Slumped on the floor, limbs overlapping. Leaking blood. Pale and limp and lifeless. Each of them had two dots of Sharpie on their chins, mimicking the mark.
Another Post-it clung to the television. This time, with a smiley face on it. It said: “I knew I couldn’t force you to go. But I might as well try to bring them.”