Sister Sister always takes the front and makes me ride in the back. Sister with her doll that’s a ghost of her, ghost of me, held tight in her hand like she’s never going to let us go, my gaze fixed eternally on the back of her head, O Sister Sister her bunny rabbit ears her bunny rabbit nose. Why is she me if I am not her? She says:

You can’t ride in my little red wagon
Front wheel’s broken and the axle’s saggin’
Whoa-oh

But there she is in that wagon. Red overalls. Red Tootsie Pop. Red mouth grinning. I’m taking the lead, she says, I’m breaking the trail, I’m the you that was you before you were, I’m the salt to your pepper, I will always be the Hostess cupcake at your tea party and you will be the sad afterthought of a stale vanilla wafer, and how can I answer? Even her shadow is darker than mine. I run to the mirror because it’s the only place she never is and I touch my face and it’s my face, mine, and Sister says, I suppose you think that makes you real.

21 Comments

  1. Meg Tuite

    Hi Kathryn,
    One sister ghosting the other? ‘I’m taking the lead, she says, I’m breaking the trail.’ ” I’m the you that was you before you were, I’m the salt to your pepper, I will always be the Hostess cupcake at your tea party and you will be the sad afterthought of a stale vanilla wafer, “I suppose you think that makes you real.” Eerie how Sister is always there, ghosting and putting down the narrator. This is almost musically like one of those creepy nursery rhymes. So well done! LOVE!

    • Jennifer Fliss

      Well, I know you’re a brilliant writer and this is another awesome thing to read. I love the lyricism of this; it’s absolutely meant to be read aloud. I like the use of color. A simple color, red. Sometimes we writers try to come up with some oddball version of a color in our attempts to be so unique. And that’s fine sometimes. But your use of the simple, RED, is so good here. Kid stuff and horror will always be weird and terrifying. I read the song in a kid voice and honestly I wanted to GTFO of there.

  2. Sara Comito

    Hi Kathryn! The rhythm in this is like a jump rope game, but the stakes are high in this creepy power dynamic because if you’re not Sister Sister you’re only the sister, and it means obliteration of self. “Even her shadow is darker than mine.” – Wowee! I felt a little taken out of it with the salt to your pepper because the image strikes me more like a partnership than an overtaking. I like the use of red throughout. Way to take a common sibling experience and ratchet up the creepy!

  3. Len Kuntz

    Kathryn,

    Wow, what a clever piece. It’s creepy in a psychological way, almost as if the narrator has multiple personality disorder. But it could be read in lots of different ways. I like the interlude with the little ditty and the inclusion of all the “red.” And there are so many great images and lines, but this is my favorite: Even her shadow is darker than mine.

    So well done. I wouldn’t change a thing.

    Len

    • Kathryn Kulpa

      Thank you, Len! And yes, I definitely meant there to be uncertainty about whether the sister actually exists, so good catch.

  4. AJ Miller

    Kathryn, I love how you take ordinary sibling rivalry and subvert it into something darker. I can sense the self doubt of the one sister (younger?) as her older sister outdoes her in everything. Even her shadow is darker. Loved that line. I think this is brilliant in its subtlety and I love everything about it. Really great job.

  5. David O'Connor

    Kathryn, I love the title and the repetition of sounds. The music of the nursery creates the horror. Super impressed with this–I’m the you that was you before you were–and the whole flow of the piece. Excellent writing! Love it! More!!

    • Kathryn Kulpa

      Hi David,
      Thanks so much! I love being able to go all out with the creepiness, and I’m glad this piece worked for you.

  6. Aimee Parkison

    Kathryn,

    I loved reading this! What a delight! One of my favorite types of horror tales are psychological stories about children, especially siblings!

    You write this story so well, the perfect horror-sister, dangerous-innocent, child-ghost story to haunt your reader.

    The childlike voice and its song-song inflections are both innocent and menacing in their word play. I love the doubling and the new gothic psychological bent where the boundaries blur between the self and the other.

    This brief flash fiction raises so many, many story possibilities. I like that we don’t know if the ghost sister is real or imagined. Is she an imaginary friend who turns treacherous? Is she a real sister or even a twin who died and is haunting the living twin? I like not knowing because I sense the point-of-view character doesn’t know and the not-knowing fits the point of view so well and adds to the creepiness.

    I think you might send this to Ghost Parachute, MoonPark Review, and/or Milk Candy Review.

    Best, Aimee

    • Kathryn Kulpa

      Hi Aimee,
      Thanks so much for the prompts and for your comments, which are spot on. (Should I say ‘dead on?’)
      A ghostly stillborn twin was one of the possibilities I imagined, and I thought of teasing that out more, but I like leaving it ambiguous–as you said, the protagonist herself doesn’t know who Sister Sister is.
      I haven’t had anything in MoonPark Review yet, so I’ll try there. Thank you for the suggestion!

  7. Jennifer Fliss

    Well, I know you’re a brilliant writer and this is another awesome thing to read. I love the lyricism of this; it’s absolutely meant to be read aloud. I like the use of color. A simple color, red. Sometimes we writers try to come up with some oddball version of a color in our attempts to be so unique. And that’s fine sometimes. But your use of the simple, RED, is so good here. Kid stuff and horror will always be weird and terrifying. I read the song in a kid voice and honestly I wanted to GTFO of there.

    • Kathryn Kulpa

      Hi Jen,
      Thanks so much! I hear this one out loud in my head and I’m glad that rhythm comes through. Your comment about red made me laugh, because I remember writing a story as a kid and describing something as ‘vermilion’ and asking my mom to type it for me and she asked why I couldn’t just use red and me saying no, that wasn’t writerish enough. 😉

  8. Lucy Logsdon

    The musicality of this piece is phenomenal–so brief and yet so beautiful. I love that Sister is and isn’t there. I love the spookiness of the narrator not knowing herself and hearing instead the Other, when she looks in the mirror. I think this piece is really strong and the word choice amazing. The careful inventive language choices are part of what makes this piece rise above and resonate for me,

    • Kathryn Kulpa

      Thanks so much, Lucy! This was one of those pieces that just came out of nowhere, and I’m so glad it resonates with readers. Looking forward to reading your story!

  9. Trent

    Hey Kathryn,

    this would be some solid foundation for a non-written format.
    A micro podcast episode, or voiceover for a short film.

    You could extend the scene it bit, if you wanted to make the basis for a mini series – the backstory
    of this doll she has, for instance. It might be the source of what she is, etc.

    That’s just an embellishment idea, of course.
    This is really cool, as is.

  10. Gloria Garfunkel

    Kathryn, I love the elevation of sibling rivalry to sibling horror, the older sibling in the front seat with the ghost doll that the younger sister relates to as a fellow ghost, as if she will never be quite as real as her older sister who is so much more present even her shadow is darker. I like the exploration of some of the creepiness that can exist between child sisters, the older one often playing mind games with the younger one’s sense of reality. I know I did that with my sister and have heard great stories from friends of how older sisters tormented their younger ones with lies about having special powers or knowledge that could easily make a little sister run to the mirror to see if she is real. Very creepy and well done, the nursery rhyme language and rhythm enhancing the story itself.

  11. Emily Bertholf

    Hi Kathryn. This is a great flash horror piece! My favorite things are the piece of lyricism in the middle that ramps up the tension in “uncanny valley” and the open possibilities of where reality begins and ends here, the intrusion of the unknown. It’s very well done and gave me very similar feels to the scene in The Shining when the little boy is talking with his finger to the boy who is in his throat. Sister Sister also calls up the creepy image of the twin girls, and I also wondered if this was a real sister or a ghost from a lost twin or even an earlier fetus that came first but was didn’t make it to birth. I love the possibilities and it pulls me in to read it and reread it again. On Day 2, my favorite movie was the opening one, Alma, and this is reminiscent of that but even creepier because of the wider implications and possibilities. Great work! I love this as is but if you wanted to expand, I would eat up a whole chap book or collection of little haunting flashes that revealed more of these characters.

  12. Emily Bertholf

    Whoa! Wait! Somehow I glossed over the title as I got sucked in, and just realized how brilliant that is and the additional layers that opens! I could envision this as a much older sister looking back at a photo of her younger self and sister/ghost/bestfriend/alternative persona, and seeing how this fascination or obsession with Sister Sister could reoccur in various stages of life. Still haunted as a young adult? Brilliant the twist in reality and possibilities. Awe struck.

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