When Abby came home from school there was a lump on Charlie’s bed. Buried beneath a set of Spongebob sheets and matching comforter, Charlie had taken up her favorite position of sleeping with her butt in the air. She’d done it since she was a baby; elbows pulled into her chest, her knees pressed into the mattress, her rear end flying high and her thumb stuck in her mouth. Abby didn’t have to see her to know that was her sister’s exact position.
She dropped her backpack next to the leg of the desk she and her sister shared. Most days, if Charlie had homework, she’d do it at the kitchen table with Aimee and Abby would have the room all to herself. Then there were days like these, where Charlie refused to leave the room and Abby would have to do her best to ignore the six-year-old monster on the opposite side of the room. Squatting next to her bag, she began to rifle through Lisa Frank folders—her favorite was the one with a unicorn on the front—searching for her homework.
The lump on Charlie’s bed shifted.
Abby waited for her sister to pop her head out from beneath the sheets. When it didn’t happen, she shrugged to herself and continued to search for the right notebook—the one with Hello Kitty stickers all over it. She was sure she brought it home.
The lump shifted again.
Abby blinked. “Char?”
Getting no response, Abby rolled her eyes and looked back to her bag, ignoring the next fumbling shift atop Charlie’s mattress. She had learned from her mother; if Charlie didn’t get a response, she’d get bored and stop. But when the lump began to convulse, as though the person beneath it was suddenly unable to breathe, Abby stared at it with a startled expression. It was moving in a nearly mechanical way—oddly jerky, like a gyro in need of grease. Charlie had been diagnosed with asthma after an attack at a local park. Abby remembered how her sister’s face had turned blue, how she had clawed at her neck with wide, desperate eyes. Kneeling on the bedroom floor, Abby couldn’t get it out of her mind, picturing her sister beneath those sheets, suffocating while Abby watched.
“Charlie?” She got to her feet and swallowed against the lump in her throat, taking a few dawdling steps toward the bed. Hesitating, she was afraid to pull those sheets back, afraid of what she’d see. What if she was too late? What if she’d pull the blanket away and Charlie would be dead and blue and it was all her fault?
“Charlie, are you okay?” Her question was strained with worry. The closer she stepped toward the bed the faster the lump panted, as if sensing Abby’s approach. She stopped short, her eyes wide, sure her sister was having another attack. All at once she realized that her mother was home, that all she had to do was yell and mom would come running.
She opened her mouth to call for help.
And Charlie appeared in the doorway.
Abby’s heart shot into her throat. Suddenly she was the one who couldn’t catch her breath. Charlie, on the other hand, peered sleepily at her sister while clutching a juice box to her chest.
“I’m not okay,” Charlie said. “Didn’t Momma tell you I’m dying?”
Stepping around Abby, Charlie crawled onto her bed, that lump of sheets now nothing more than exactly that.
Abby shook her head, backing away from Spongebob’s smiling face and crazy eyes. What had always been a pleasant character now looked positively evil.
Charlie shot her sister a skeptical look. “Are you okay?” she asked, looking suspicious.
“I’m fine,” Abby said quietly. “I just… have a lot of homework.” She turned away, sank to her knees, and pulled her backpack to her chest, desperate not to cry.