O, Death: Part XVIII

by Matt P.

Rhiannon Aquino had never been a tall woman. She came to only about 5’1”, which both Siobhan and Antigone had passed—if only by an inch. Her features strongly resembled theirs, but with skin a few shades darker tan and hair a few shades darker black. Her eyes were a bright green flecked with hazel, the green halfway in shade between Siobhan and Antigone’s own. She had a kind face and a determined jaw, and she smiled sadly when she saw her two daughters.

“You couldn’t have done anything,” she said. Her mother’s voice was kind, just like Siobhan remembered it, and slightly sorrowful. Her mother hadn’t sounded like that the last time they spoke, but it had been a perfunctory morning goodbye—so why would she have.

There was a rustling sound and then a thunk, as Antigone fell to her knees. Siobhan felt her sister’s hand leave her grasp, and didn’t reach out for her again. “Bullshit,” Siobhan said after a moment. It lacked the normal bite, the normal heat tat she would have given it. Even to her own ears it sounded like she was saying it to convince herself, rather than out of any conviction. She heard Antigone starting to cry, and it added to what felt like a hand squeezing her own heart.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t want to leave…” Rhiannon said, moving forward toward them with her hands out. Siobhan backed up, her own vision blurring as tears pricked in her eyes. Even with the tears forming she managed to bring up the sword to keep between herself and the woman. Rhiannon just looked down at the sword, and raised an eyebrow—and somehow that made it worse, because it was a gesture she was so used to out of her mother.

“Screw you, you’re not my mother,” Siobhan insisted angrily, keeping the tip of the sword pointed at her even if it wavered uncertainly. “You’re not…she’s not dead,” Siobhan started before correcting herself midstream. “She’s not dead,” she repeated, once again like she was trying to convince herself.

“Everyone dies, Bug,” Rhiannon responded softly. “I always made sure to tell you that. Remember when Haku died, when we were stationed in Okinawa?” Now tears ran down her cheeks freely, and she didn’t try to wipe them away. Haku had been a stray they rescued from a shelter and adopted, who had been struck by a car weeks before they moved back to the United States. It was certainly not a memory they discussed much, for obvious reasons.

Now it was Siobhan’s turn to be silent, because she didn’t have anything to say to that. It was too personal, too real, and too unknown—they hadn’t talked about it in the hospital, hadn’t spoken about it for at least a couple of years. It was too much something her mother would have known and not something anyone else would have. Siobhan stumbled back until her back hit the wall and she could stare in horror.

“Baby, it’s ok. It’s natural, and sometimes it can even be a relief. Life can be so hard…” Her mother’s voice was soft as she reached up and pushed away the tip of the sword. Siobhan finally noticed other things about her as she walked forward, beside her presence. She looked like she was supposed to be dead, clad in a dress of flowing white and walking barefoot toward her. Siobhan dropped the sword with a loud clatter as she started to slide down the wall, and Rhiannon reached out a hand toward her cheek. In that moment Siobhan wanted to do nothing more than to reach out and take that hand, to bury her face against it the way she had a hundred times before when she was young.

And in that moment it was Antigone that saved them both. She stood up, and put herself in between the advancing woman and Siobhan. “Where were you!” Antigone demanded. Tears still stained her cheeks but her voice was now as angry as it was agonized, and it had a clear note of demanding in it.

“Tig, I’m so sorry…” Rhiannon said softly, using the nickname that she always had for Antigone since both of their main nicknames were ‘Annie’. “I had to go away. Please forgive me, you know I never wanted to leave you.” Now her hand reached out for Antigone, but Antigone kept back from it.

“I’m not asking for forgiveness, I’m asking for proof,” Antigone stated, bristling with more anger than Siobhan had ever seen out of her. “You’re talking about things we would all know about, but you haven’t said anything ONLY mm would know. So tell us where you were, or get the hell away from us!” Antigone shouted.

Rhiannon, or the thing that looked like Rhiannon, pulled back at the rage in Antigone’s voice. But as she pulled back her face slowly looked less and less like Rhiannon Aquino. Her features sharpened and her cheeks melted away like she was getting sick. In the end it left her gaunt and almost skeletal, but at the same time powerful and wicked. She started forward again but then hissed as Antigone brought up her sister’s sword and brandished it with intention if not skill.

“You will never stop it,” the creature hissed angrily, as it disappeared in to the darkness around them. Antigone didn’t bother with a rejoinder, just letting it move away in silence. Siobhan looked up as Antigone slid back down next to her, and reached out to take her sister’s hand again.

“Thank you,” Siobhan murmured softly, reaching up a hand to dash the tears from her eyes and cheeks in an attempt to regain her composure. “I think if she had touched us we probably would have been dead, but I just wanted to feel her hand again.” The words caused Siobhan’s shoulders to shake again, which she didn’t want to have her sister see, so she reached up and rubbed her nose to try to stop any sniffles. Antigone obviously did see it, and Siobhan felt her sister’s arms on her shoulders. “I thought I was supposed to be the strong one,” Siobhan sighed.

“Just like when we were kids, Bonnie. Even if I can’t be strong for anyone else in the world, I can be strong for you.” Antigone squeezed Siobhan, and Siobhan would never tell her how much she needed it at that moment. “Come on. We have to finish this thing, and we’re close. Grab your sword, and we’ll go face it together.”