I used to have an older sister. Her name was ‘Eileen,’ though she always preferred to be called by her first two initials: ‘E.V,” or “Evie,” as we’d often spell it.
Evie was a fine sister—on one day she might have stood up for me against our father’s slurred contempt, and on another she’d push me to the ground for rooting into her drawers. She was, in all cases, a fine, normal sister. I loved her, I wish I had told her that.
What Evie loved were movies. Our parents used to joke that she had learned to appreciate cinema before she learned to walk, and I could always see why.
After school she’d lull me into her room to preach about the wonders of movies as foreign to one another as ‘Fight Club,’ and ‘Liquid Sky.’
And Evie was lucky. I was five when she got her first digital camera. I was eleven when she stopped asking me to appear in her ‘short films.’
Our mom did everything to support her hobby. She’d pay for Evie to attend summer camps that placed an emphasis on ‘the creative exploration of film!’ She paid for Evie’s equipment, and come later in life, she even paid for Evie’s film school.
The day Evie left, it felt as though an anchor had been lodged in my chest.
“It’s okay, Emily,” she whispered, “I’ll still visit on holidays and you can always call or text me whenever you like.” Rain pelted down our driveway.
Tears welled in my eyes. “But what if you don’t pick up?”
She laughed, a low, shallow sound. Her hand rustled through my hair before the sound of her footsteps left me in waiting.
As an assignment in her final year, Evie directed and wrote a short film. Though I never saw it, she had told me it had something to do with a boy who found himself lost in the dreams of his father. It won an award and soon after she was formally invited to the ‘Brooksfield Convention.’
“Should I know what that is?” our mom asked, a whisk in her hand and a bowl beneath her.
“No, but I’ve heard a few of my classmates talk about it before. They want to show off my movie!” she could scarcely contain her excitement.
I smiled. “It’s that good?”
“Yeah, they said it has the workings of ‘Jodorowsky.’”
She left for the convention and after a few days with no update, I decided to call. I took out my phone, eager to know how the showing went, but when I looked into my recent calls—she wasn’t there. I checked my contacts, my messages, and still. No Evie.
I trudged into the living room, failing to shake off the grogginess of having just woken up. Mom sat on the couch, invested in a book.
“Hey, mom. I think my phone deleted Evie’s contact? Can I use yours?”
She stole her eyes away from the pages. “Evie? Is that a friend of yours?”
“Ha ha,” I mocked, “yeah, she’s a ‘friend’ of mine. So, could I use your phone?”
She handed it over and I went through the same routine: calls, texts, contacts. No Evie.
“Mom? Is this some kind of joke?”
She sighed, pushing her book back down. “What joke?”
Heat rose through my chest, “Evie, mom! Where’s her number?”
“I don’t know her!” she yelled, before starting to chuckle. “Emily, you sure you didn’t just dream this?”
I rolled my eyes and stomped into the kitchen. Whatever joke she was trying to pull wasn’t funny. I took out my phone again, this time checking my photos. I searched for the image of us at the local fair, for the one of her after she got her wisdom teeth removed, for any of the ones of us and mom. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.
My heart started to race. I ran into the living room and sped through the lines of photos framed on the wall. Almost all were of me, my mom, and other, farther family members.
I turned to the couch, almost screaming, “Mom I’m not kidding around, what did you do with Evie’s stuff?”
She glared at me, her brows furrowed. “Listen, Emily, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Please, just play your little game somewhere else.”
I ran upstairs to what should have been Evie’s old room. Before, it had contained remnants of hers from before she moved out: some old posters, a stripped bed, a few books strewn about. Now it was empty, spare a single treadmill and a few boxes of old clothes.
I started feeling sick.
For the rest of the day I ran around the house, searching every corner, ignoring the complaints of my mom. By two days she started to truly worry.
“Emily, I don’t understand what you’re doing?’ By now I had explained to her who I thought Evie was—an older sister, a devout fan of cinema, someone who crashed her first car a few days after getting it. “You never had a sister. I had you when I was twenty-six, you’re an only child, your father . . . Your father isn’t in the picture anymore.”
“No!” I took a deep breath, slowed myself. “No, you had your first child at twenty-two. Her name was ‘Eileen,’ we called her ‘Evie.’”
As the weeks passed her worry for me grew into panic. She called my father and argued with him in the kitchen about what to do with me as I sat on the top step of the stairs—listening in, waiting for them to mention her. Waiting for them to reveal it had all been a joke. That Evie was waiting outside, waiting at her school, that she had been in the closet all along.
Their reveal never came. Instead, they sent me away for treatment. For months I refused to entertain the idea of the non-existence of ‘Evie.’ The psychiatrists tried diagnosing me with a number of disorders. They assumed some manner of post-traumatic stress, one I wouldn’t confess to. But there was nothing to admit. Nothing happened to make me create any falsehood. I lived a boring life, had only dated a few boys, got C’s and B’s in all my classes.
Eventually I had to heel. I told them Evie was an old imaginary friend. That someone hurt me and it made me want to bring her back. They nodded, wrote in their charts, kept me inside for another month, then cut me loose.
At home I stopped mentioning Evie. I stopped mentioning much of anything. I kept my head down, finished school, and graduated with no honors. There was no party with friends waiting for me, nor university acceptances piling into the mail.
I got a gray, meandering job sorting online orders in the back of a grocery store. I leased a townhouse with a few deadbeats decades older than me, and while they enacted whatever shady plans they had—I studied.
I searched everything I could about the ‘Brooksfield Convention,’ and found next to nothing. As far as I could tell it had never existed. So where did Evie go? I emailed her old film school about the convention and was returned only with their own questions.
‘We’ve yet to hear about such a convention, but are nonetheless interested. How do we submit films to—“
I shut my laptop off. With the years that gone by, my mind wandered. When I wasn’t convinced she was dead or locked away somewhere worse, I started to wonder . . . Was there ever an Evie? Did I really make her up? If so, how could I have so many memories of her? How could I have a scar on my elbow from the time I fell off her bike? Questions contorted in the crevices of my mind, struck me while I slept and hid in the shadows of every room.
I sorted my orders. Earned my paychecks. Lost hope.
Even my roommates, usually wrapped up in their own grungy lives, started to scorn me. They resented me for all the simple things I refused to do—the pointless chores and moves I found less and less meaningful. I was given the ultimatum: step up, or get evicted.
Afterward I shut the door behind me, too tired to slam it. I lowered myself to the porch step, tucked my knees up to my shoulders, and heaved. All the years of feeling a pushing and pulling inside of me spilled out. Tears burned down my cheeks, the world blurred, and then, I spotted it.
A yellow envelope hidden by the doorframe, weighed down by a rock.
I pulled it out and saw it was for me. It felt like a DVD was inside. On the cover, there was no return address. Hand-delivered? I didn’t know people still did that. I tore it open, grabbed the DVD that fell out, and begin to read the note inside.
‘Hello, Emily Park!
We’re proud to have heard about your interest in the Brooksfield Convention! Sadly, we no longer participate in public showings due to certain controversies, but fret not.
You’re in luck! We found your last name on file and are beyond glad to share with you a copy of your sister’s work! We found her to be an amazing artist, and hope you do too.
Thank you, Emily.
Sincerely, the Brooksfield Convention’
A rattling shot rang through my intestines. I thought I might faint for perhaps the first time in my life. An instant head ache took hold as a writhing sickness spiraled the walls of my stomach.
I looked to the DVD in my hand. Evie’s work? Evie?
I drove out, purchased a DVD player and raced back home. By the time I arrived my roommates were out on their nightly prowls. Good for me.
I plugged the machine in, inserted the DVD, and pressed play.
What I saw confused me.
It was just white. A snow white screen. I waited for something to happen, my hands curled under my thighs.
I started to notice a rippling in the corners of the screen—as if the whiteness itself were growing. A faint vibration.
I felt myself getting lost in the movement of the corners till a ruddy spot in the center caught my eye. It was just a speck, a color. Soon the speck grew till I could recognize a figure. It was Evie. So far away she was hardly more than a blur.
I almost yelled her name till I remembered what it was I was watching. A film. Something she likely made in school. But, no, that couldn’t be right. Nothing about this was right.
Evie’s hair was much longer, reaching past her waist, almost teasing the empty ground beneath. She was far skinnier than I had ever seen her. It seemed a gust of wind could’ve blown her over. Her skin was sullen, the shade of a flickering, fluorescent light.
The visage of her grew in size, hurling closer and closer till she appeared mere feet away. Her eyes stared out, dark rings stuck below. Her clothes, or what was left of her clothes, were stained and ragged—patches of her sickly skin poking through the crevices.
I hurled, but only flem rose in the outlet of my throat. I could feel myself wanting to cry, though I had already exhausted that reaction. I thought I would be happy to find just one image of her again in my life, but this wasn’t right. With a shaking hand I turned the TV off.
It was her. Actually her. Not a movie she made years ago. No, no, it couldn’t have been. It couldn’t have been?
I tried and failed to sleep. The next day I called in sick. I sat in front of the TV, debating whether or not I should play it again. But before I could consider it further, my finger had already pushed the button.
And there she was again, Evie. She sat on the ground of her blank prison, staring once more to nothing. The corners of the screen had stopped rippling, now replaced with a stillness I found even more unnerving.
This time, I decided to experiment with the film. I pushed the fast forward button. No reaction. Reverse. No reaction.
I pressed pause and it stopped. Evie stopped. The rhythmic movement of her shoulders froze.
I pressed play. She jolted. I jumped.
Her head jerked from side to side, frantically searching around.
I paused again. Her face was now frozen in the fear she showed a second before, shoulders bared, eyes wide to the endlessness.
Play. She screamed. It was the first sound I had heard her make in years. I almost wanted to hear it again . . . But no. I set the remote aside. I needed to consider all of this.
Evie was real. She was here. I knew now for certain this wasn’t some project, this was a . . . kidnapping, it had to be. It was some kind of live footage, broadcasted from somewhere, made to react to my remote. She was brainwashed by maniacs. But how could they have brainwashed everyone else? No, no.
I turned back to the screen. She was walking forward. The camera kept pace in front of her, always showing the progression of her steps from a few feet away. She screamed again, jumped up and down, started punching herself over and over. She had just started to rip off her clothes before I scrambled to turn the TV off.
Tears started to run down my cheek as I was met with a slamming coming from the front door. I yelped, staring out at the hardwood frame till I was calm enough to step toward it.
I stared out the peephole. There was no one there. I opened the door and saw another yellow envelope lodged below a rock.
I yanked it inside, ran to the bathroom, and locked the door.
‘Hello again, Emily Park!
We see you’ve started viewing your sister’s work! Brilliant, right? It’s been a long time since her story’s had a change of pace, so we figured we’d give her a little heads up about you! Watch the film again and you’ll see a new Eileen, promise!
Thank you for your patronage, Emily
With love, the Brooksfield Convention.’
I typed 9-1-1 into my phone, neglecting to press call. If something happened out there, I could press the button in a hurry.
It took all the courage I had in me to unlock the door and walk back out.
I entered the living room, sat back down on the carpet, and turned on the TV.
Evie stood, staring straight through me. I moved around, hoping her eyes would follow—but they stayed, rooted in their docile place.
On her shirt now was a little sign, held on by a string around her neck. It read: ‘pause me.’
Numbness consumed me. I pressed pause. She froze. I resumed.
She smiled, a toothy grin. She started to shake as though she were crying, but no tears protruded out of her sunken eyes.
“Emily?” she asked.
“Yes, yes! It’s me!” I screamed.
“Emily? Can you hear me?”
“Yes! Yes, Evie! I’m right here, I won’t leave you again!”
“Emily I’m sorry I left, I’m so sorry. Y-you have to pause. You’re gonna h-have to pause the movie. It’ll be like a yes or no game, okay? Two quick pauses for yes, o-one quick pause for no.”
I paused. Resumed. Paused. Resumed.
She laughed. “Yes! Yes! You’ve got it! I’m so happy. I-I’ve been in here for so long. How long?”—she tilted her head, questioningly—“five years?”
I paused. Resumed.
“No, no, okay. Is it higher?”
Pause. Resume. Pause. Resume. Yes.
“Six, no, wait, seven! Seven?”
Pause, resume. No.
Her eyes fluttered. Not six, not seven. She took a step to the side. “I, I want to talk about something else now.”
Pause. Resume. Pause. Resume. Yes.
She left her mouth agape. “How . . . How’s mom doing? Is she good?”
“She must have worried so much, does she still talk about me?”
My finger hesitated over the button.
“Evie?” she probed.
“Oh, well, I hope she only brings up the good stuff. No need to bring up what I did with the car or anything.”
I smirked. Drops of my tears were falling onto my bare knees, spilling over onto the carpet.
“Evie, I want to get out of here.”
I considered pausing a response, but waited.
“I want to go home. I want—” she stopped herself, looking out at something in the horizon, something in my direction. “I’ve had a good time talking with you, Emily. You must be so grown now. I wish I could see you.”
“There’s . . . There’s something they want me to tell you. My movie has gotten stale!” She choked out a laugh. “They say my audience is tired of watching me, I’m ‘too boring.’” She scratched the side of her head. Her body shook.
I shuffled back, almost expecting what she was going to say.
“Emily, they want you.”
I gagged, turned everywhere around me, anticipating I’d find someone tucked away in the corners—stalking me.
No. I pressed.
“Em, Emily, listen. Listen, okay? They, they want you here, alright?”—she stared fully to that thing in the horizon, somewhere toward me, beyond me—“If you come here, they won’t want me anymore! I’ll get to go home! See mom again! See dad.” She gulped. “If you don’t accept, they won’t need me anymore. But, no, no, don’t assume what they mean about that. They won’t ‘need me’ in this kind of movie anymore. They’ll put me . . . somewhere else. They’ll put me into a different kind of movie. I don’t, no, I can’t have that, Emily.” She turned back to my direction. “Do you understand?”
“Will you help me?”
. . .
“Yes? Yes! Thank you! Thank you! Oh my, yes, thank you so much. Okay, okay. Just, you’re probably in front of the screen now, right? Well, just walk toward it.”
I did as she instructed.
“Now, put your hands against the screen.”
I placed my palms onto the glass, feeling a movement within.
“Keep . . . them . . . there.” Her voice drifted away as her visage shifted farther and farther back, till she was again just a speck on the screen.
My ears ringed. My hands twitched. I opened my eyes again and saw nothing. White. White everywhere.
“Evie, Evie are you there?” I yelled.
My body froze. Unfroze. Froze. Unfroze. The sensation was nearly unbearable but I knew what it meant.
“Okay,” I said mostly to myself, “Evie! You’ll . . . you’ll come back, right? You’ll come back for me?”
I waited to feel myself freeze. I waited to feel myself freeze.
I waited. To feel myself. Freeze.
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