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Once upon a time, there were two sisters. They were beautiful, but one perhaps more than the other. 

Arabella was what you would call a classic beauty. Her skin was like new milk, her hair a deep chestnut brown. Her eyes open, her face welcoming, always ready with a smile. Sondy was tall, thin, also lovely, but a little sharp and angular, a tightness around her mouth. Her hair was a blonde not often found in nature, almost white. And her eyes were gray-green, an angry ocean. 

Two sisters, nothing alike. 

The year was 2001, and Arabella was a social worker in New York City. For the past eight years, she had dedicated her life to helping others. Arabella was a matchmaker. Not in the traditional sense, although sometimes in that way too. But if Arabella read a book someone she knew might like, she made a note to tell them. If someone posted about looking for housing, she made sure to put them in touch with the person who posted an ad. Even people she barely knew benefited from her benevolence. 

It seemed to Sondy that Arabella’s generosity bordered on compulsion. Sondy didn’t like helping people. She found others demanding and always said if you give someone an inch, they’ll take a mile. Sondy was very, very rich. She had married young and well. Her life in upstate New York resembled the pages of a glossy magazine. 

Sondy was only ever truly generous with Arabella. She paid her younger sister’s rent for her small two-bedroom Brooklyn apartment, gifted her random cashmere sweaters, and always picked up the tab when they went out for dinner or shopping. The elder sibling by five years, Sondy had been taking care of Arabella for as long as she could remember. Arabella was young and, of course, didn’t know she was loved.                                                                    


Arabella awoke and something hurt. She reached down, the wetness spreading between her legs. Her fingers were covered in bright red blood. The ache was primal, radiating from her thighs to her bellybutton. She didn’t think she would start crying until she realized she already was. She rolled over and called Sondy.


Sondy was tired. Just this morning, she had already gone for a run, done pilates, and gotten coffee with an acquaintance. When she saw Arabella was calling, she knew right away that her sister would make her more tired. 

Arabella told her about the lost baby, her voice thick and mucusy from crying, and Sondy listened. Sondy had a decision to make. She could, if she wanted, help Arabella have a baby. 

Sondy worried that Arabella having a baby would further complicate her life. But she didn’t know if she had it in her to refuse Arabella anything — even if Arabella never knew what she was asking for, or what the cost was. 


Sondy picked up the phone and dialed the number given to her. On the other end was a periodic chime, similar to how the phone rings when you make an international call. The voice on the other end greeted her by name. She said her greetings and one hundred words of devotion. 

The voice waited patiently for her to finish and said “What can I do for you, Sondy?” 

She closed her eyes. Slowed her breath. She made her deal. 


Sondy looked down at her hand. The giant diamond caught every light like it always did. She hated this ring. 

She stripped down for a shower. The sound was always so peaceful, like rainwater against the tiles. Sondy studied her body in the mirror, performing the ritual assessment women have done for centuries. There were a few marks as to be expected, the result of allowing someone else inside her body. Fingernail marks on the fleshy part of where her hips met her waist, bruises on the tops of her arms, and at the base of her neck. Nothing concerning, she noted. Nothing needed covering. 

As she turned to test the water temperature, a dark blur appeared on the wall to her left. She squeezed her eyes shut tightly, as if that would make it go away. 

“Hey,” the voice behind her called. It was a low and musical voice. It didn’t sound like a human voice at all, and that’s because it wasn’t.

“Hey, Sondy. Turn around. Turn around. Turn around! I have an important message for you.”

She didn’t want to turn around, but she knew if she didn’t, the voice would keep calling her. She turned and heard a hiss, then a knocking rattle. It was laughing. This one resembled a centipede. It was about two and a half feet long. 

“Sondy. We’re coming for you, my dear.”


Arabella was always crying. Her big blue empty eyes would spill over at the littlest thing. A visa commercial, or seeing a set of twins walking together holding hands. It wasn’t nice to call her eyes empty, Sondy supposed. Guileless, most people would say. Furtive, is probably what they’d call Sondy’s eyes. 

The sisters were sitting on a park bench, listening to the children scream and the cacophony of city sounds. Arabella was crying and Sondy was getting a tissue from her purse and cooing, “There there”.

Arabella knew Sondy was tired of her crying. She knew it and she couldn’t stop. It was like there was a faucet always turned on under the surface, ready to burst out. Could she help it if she felt too much? Arabella glanced over at Sondy, but Sondy was looking past her, at a clump of bushes. There was nothing over there. 

Sondy snapped back to attention and asked what the doctor had said. 


This time she heard the clicking before anything else. Click, click, click in quick succession over the expensive tile floor. She turned around and it was a beetle the size of a Bichon Frisé, but with the head of a woman. Or an approximation of a woman. The eyes didn’t have irises, and the mouth barely moved. 

“Sondy,” a deep sonorous man’s voice came at her like a wave. “I have an offer for you.” 

Sondy closed her mouth in a tight line and shook her head.

“Sondy, my love, you haven’t even heard the proposal.”

“I’m paying already!” she shrieked and suddenly was alone. A relic was left behind on the counter. A gold key with the word “HOLY” inscribed on it. She picked it up with two fingers and threw it in the trash. Sondy had always been good at outrunning her problems. 


Sondy’s husband Karl wanted a baby. He was unsure why they hadn’t had one yet. But Sondy knew the reason. The thought of having a baby filled her with the same dread as Arabella having one and an extra layer, as well. 

Whether she liked it or not, Sondy was the star of her life. And what would happen when that was no longer true? When someone fresh and pulsing with life started to shine just as her light was beginning to dim? When it became clear that her needs were no longer important? At least now they could always be important to her, even as she crept towards diminishing. And so she continued to bleed, every month.

Growing up extremely poor had made Sondy fearful. She was always afraid there wouldn’t be enough, that what they had would be taken away. Arabella had gone the other way. In her mind, things just always worked out, so why worry? Sondy wished she could be that way but she also knew that things “just working out” for Arabella was largely due to the massive cosmic debts she herself was incurring. 


Sondy had received help when she most needed it. On a C train. Her parents had both died within the last two years and at nineteen, she was the most alone she had ever felt. She also had to care for Arabella, who was still in high school. She reached up and touched the back of her hairline, where she had slowly started pulling out her hair over the past few weeks. She wasn’t sure what she was going to do, but she knew they would soon end up in the shelter if she didn’t do something.

A man sat close by, in one of those double seats that faced her perpendicularly. Without looking up, she knew he was looking at her. The train track clacked rhythmically behind her. She finally looked up. He was in his mid-50s, a ring of graying long hair that was bald on top. He was wearing a leather bomber over a nice button-down. Sondy realized the rest of the train car was empty. 

“Are you all right?” he asked.

She felt like if she answered, her throat would crack in half. He reached into the upper left interior pocket of his jacket. After a pause, he pulled out a small dark red cloth-bound book that looked about a hundred years old. 

“I think you need this,” he said slowly. “I don’t really anymore. It will help you, if you believe. If you let it. It will solve your problems, although not completely and not forever. But you look desperate.”

She was. She took the book. 


Sondy was not a believer, but the instant she had it in her hand, she knew the book was a sacred text. Its energy bubbled and boiled beneath the cloth and paper. Even before she opened it, the book moved around their apartment. If she opened a drawer to get a knife, there it was. When she woke up in the morning, it was on her bedside table. Arabella never saw or noticed it, it wasn’t for her. The book nudged Sondy to use it. 

What was in the book? Simply put, it was an instruction manual for how Sondy was to live the rest of her life on Earth.

The instructions were crystal clear and expansive. The book detailed how to eat and drink, how to behave toward others and herself. It directed her when to rise and how to take care of her body. But most importantly, it told her how to get money. A lot of money. Included on the last page was a phone number that had been hand-written in a careful wide script.Every morning, Sondy had to perform an hour of chants of worship, the corresponding movements upon rising, and another hour at night before bed. 

Every day, for the rest of her life. 


When she was ready, Sondy was to call the phone number, perform her devotions, and ask for what she wanted. The bad things that happened as a counterbalance rarely affected her at first, so she didn’t even see the connection until she was unable to ignore it any longer. She quickly learned not to get too attached to pets, family friends, or outcomes. Every wish came true and every wish had a side effect, a cosmic backfire. 

But since following the book's instructions, Sondy and Arabella thrived. The rent was paid, they had food and new clothes. The high was undeniable. Sondy was able to put Arabella through college, then grad school. In fact, Arabella never wanted for anything ever again. 

Sondy recalled when she had asked for a gorgeous new house on Alastair Lane with a pool, a sauna, granite counters, and a movie theatre. She got it all three weeks later when one of Karl’s coworkers lost his job suddenly and couldn’t afford the dream home he had built. They moved in that month. 


Sitting on the train back from Arabella’s, Sondy read a book. The train was getting increasingly crowded as it charged toward the lush upstate relief. After some time, Sondy noticed movement in the crowd, the legs all facing her seat. There was a very small human hand on the floor. It seemed to be  pulling a great weight dragging behind it. Sondy pretended to keep reading but felt her hairline become hot. She was trying to gauge how far away it was. The figure itself started to come into view. It was hideous. 

Of course, no one else noticed the large millipede with multiple small human hands dragging along to keep up with its many legs. The head itself was horned like a bull and it left a trail like a slug. Once it spotted Sondy, it made a sound like echolocation. Sondy felt faint. No one else could see the messengers that came like spiritual debt collectors for her, either taking something from her or leaving her reminders that her soul no longer belonged to herself. But the tax was exhausting. 


Sondy awoke on a gray, somber morning in the fall. She had a voicemail from Arabella saying, “I’m pregnant! Don’t tell anyone yet, just wanted to share the good news.”

The room quaked as she got out of bed and her head pounded. She felt hungover but hadn’t had a sip of the wine last night. She buried her head in the small trash can by her vanity as she vomited pure white-hot stomach acid. Instantly, she knew. This was the price.

Two lives joined and two lives joined. Arabella would have her baby and Sondy would have to have hers as well.