Birds of a Feather
It terrified her. Tearing down the hallway to escape its long hairy legs and giant blue-green cyclops eye, Lucy woke in tears, screaming. Every time.
Forty years on, fame and fortune as a crime writer, killing characters in all manner of gruesome scenarios, still, nothing was scarier than Lucy’s recurring nightmare.
Hours of sessions with her flamboyant, probing counsellor hadn’t helped. Yes, her big sister Jen bullied her when they were kids. Yes, she’d been furious at times. Yes, she was petrified of spiders. No, she couldn’t watch Arachnophobia. No, she didn’t hate her sister.
Yes, she did hate her sister.
Lucy killed Jen at least once a year. Writing in the early hours, post-nightmare, pyjamas drenched in sweat, fuelled by fear, hating Jen was what added flavour to her plots. Each murder victim shared at least one trait with her sister, making it so much easier to kill them off. If Jen read her books she might have noticed. But she hadn’t. And she didn’t.
This was therapy. Thinking up new ways of topping her sister and getting away with it. That’s how she’d made her mark. She was Queen of the Cliff-hanger.
Clearing out their Mum’s home, together, didn’t feel like a good idea, but she couldn’t say no.
Her novels, all twenty, stood proudly on their Grandpa’s dusty bookshelf.
‘Geez you’ve written a lot of books!’ her sister exclaimed.
‘I never get around to reading,’ she continued, without a hint of guilt.
‘I’m so busy at work, by the time I get to bed I’m too exhausted to pick up a book. Did Mum read them all?’
‘I guess so,’ was all Lucy could summon, realising she wasn’t sure.
Her Dad didn’t. Maybe her Mum hadn’t noticed the patchwork of Jen’s flaws stitched seamlessly throughout the series.
The garage was the last place Lucy wanted to be. She knew there were huntsmen lurking, maybe even in the boxes. Boxes full of God knows what.
‘I’ll do the house if you do the garage,’ she suggested, not wanting to remind Jen of her phobia.
‘Deal,’ Jen agreed.
Exhausted, Lucy collapsed on her Mum’s fraying sofa and closed her eyes. She felt a tickle on her cheek and swiped with her fingertips. And again. Then came a familiar chuckle. Lucy turned to see Jen’s wide grin, her hand waving along one-eyed black hairy creature in front of her face. Lucy leapt off the sofa, screaming.
‘Settle down,’ Jen said.
‘It’s only Grandpa’s old peacock feather! I used to tickle you with this—remember?’
‘God,’ Jen said sombrely, ‘reminds me of a case I worked on. Poor woman. There was a spider on her windscreen. She crashed into a tree, now she’s in a wheelchair for life.’
Lucy realised—chastened by her own hypocrisy—that she had no idea what Jen did. She’d never bothered to ask.
‘Did that thing really make me giggle?’ she asked her big sister.
‘Yeah! We laughed till we cried!’
Copyright © Original story by Elizabeth Hopkin – 2,3,4 February 2018