Turner rolled his passenger window down and leaned over to look at the little girl that suddenly appeared next to the passenger side of his car. Most of her face was a secret, concealed by shadow and swaddled behind her oversized puffer jacket. The hood stopped just below her eyebrows, framing the only visible part of her face.
Her glossy black eyes resembled the rain slicked road and a thick wave of sadness washed over Turner at the sight of them. The feeling settled in his chest and remained like a phantom weight.
“Are you okay? Where’re your parents?”
She looked right and left as if to search, then simply returned her gaze to his while giving a small shrug.
“Are you hurt?”
She wagged her head slowly.
Turned unlocked the door and pushed it open with the tips of his fingers, “You’re soaking wet. Hop in.”
She continued to stand in place and Turner persisted, “Come on. You can wait here for your family. I’m sure they’re looking for you. It’s best to stay put.”
She dropped her head slightly and stared at the ground.
“My name’s Turner,” he offered as if it were currency that would buy her trust. When she didn’t budge, he sighed and tapped his fingers against the steering wheel nervously, mentally composing his next words.
“Hey, can you keep a secret?” This seemed to recalibrate her focus as she lifted her head and gave an earnest nod.
He continued, “I’ve only told one other person this so I’m trusting you, okay?” Another little nod.
“I’m afraid of the dark. Especially on rainy nights like this.”
Turner lowered his voice, “I don’t like highways either. But I feel less afraid when I’m not alone.”
He blew out a quick breath and continued, “Well, that’s my secret.”
“If scared, why here?” She spoke for the first time. Her tiny voice was hard to hear against the chattering rain.
Turner gave a wry smile, “I’m going to see my mom. She’s not doing well.”
With that, the little girl climbed into his car and stared ahead blankly. She didn’t look any older than five or six. Trails of wild hairs were glued to her forehead by the rain, and she smelled of mold and wet leaves.
“Did you get lost in the woods?” Turner pointed towards the start of the hill that dipped down into the forest off to the side of the highway.
“Not lost. Looking.”
“What are you looking for? Is it your parents?”
She sighed and solemnly shook her head in denial.
“Don’t worry, help will be here any minute,” he gave a reassuring nod before glancing at this phone. “Then we can find your family.”
Help wouldn’t arrived for another 30 minutes.
Turner thought that a double blowout of his front two tires was the dumbest luck. It was the reason he was waiting for a tow on the middle of the highway in the middle of the night, now with a random little girl in his car who only spoke in fragments.
“The rope,” she uttered abruptly.
“The rope,” she repeated and looked at him expectantly.
“I don’t know what you mean,” he frowned in confusion.
“Back there,” a little thumb poked out from her jacket and pointed towards the back of the car.
“You kept it,” she said accusatorily. “Why?”
He swallowed and stammered, “I-I don’t understand.”
“There’s blood on it,” she said matter of factly.
A prickly sensation sprouted at the base of Turner’s neck and trickled down his spine like sweat. He released a trembled sigh and held his hands up in surrender, “I’m not gonna hurt you. I swear.”
She tilted her head and studied him, “You’re scared. Not me.”
Turner remained silent, attempting to rationalize her sudden appearance and behavior. Maybe she was in shock. Maybe something bad had happened to her and her family. It was the only thing that made sense. What she was saying had to be a coincidence. He thought there was no way she could really know his secret.
Turner tried one more time. His words were slow and gentle, “How old are you?”
Turner clenched his fists and began to tremble at the name. He felt nettled and violated, as if she reached her little hand inside the depths of his soul and exhumed some ancient thing that he had long buried.
“Duncan Hayes,” she said provocatively.
Those three syllables worked as a key to the door of his memory, forcing glass-sharp fragments of the past into his mind, cutting away at the seams detaining his emotions. His heart was mere seconds from bursting.
Seventeen years go. The Hayes twins. Abducted. Lured into an RV then transported into the middle of the woods by that man. Weeks later, Duncan escaped, the rope still around his wrists. Cold pelting rain against his bare skin. Stinging. Highway. Blinding lights, tire squeal, the face of an old lady. She saw him. Cuts, bruises, the rope, the blood. 911, sirens. Hugs and tears from parents. That man, found, detained. But not Delilah. Body never revealed. Never found. Lingering mystery.
It wasn’t long after until Duncan Hayes became Turner Hayes. The only thing that tethered him to the past was the rope—his promise and burden to never forget, to never forgive.
Turner closed his eyes and took a deep breath. His voice broke as he uttered the epiphany aloud, “You’re Delilah. My twin sister.”
A belated smile spread across her face, though it was a sad one.
“I’m sorry, Delilah,” he sobbed. His entire body shuddered.
“Duncan?” Her voice interrupted his cries.
“Want to show you where I sleep.”
“But it’s a secret. Only for you.”
Duncan nodded his head slowly and exited the car.
He grabbed his sister’s hand and the two made their descent down the hill and into the forest. A few miles away, the bright orange lights of the tow truck shined through the darkness.
Torché Johnson is a lover of anime, storytelling, and dark concepts. She has combined these three elements and turned them into TheRemnant: This Is Not Flesh & Blood, a web manga she co-writes with her sister on Webtoons. When not writing, she's usually daydreaming about what to write next.