Exploring the art of prose


Terrible Things by Adelina Sarkisyan

alt text: image is a color photograph of pink oracle cards; title card for Adelina Sarkisyan's short story "Terrible Things"

Some authors seem to recreate the universe for their readers—to craft a world so complete and convincing that you fall into the narrative as if into another dimension, the basics of reality and physics rearranging themselves in brilliant service of the writer’s vision. In “Terrible Things,” Adelina Sarkisyan accomplishes this feat, offering a tale that feels both intimate and sweepingly cinematic. In a couple dozen pages, she shares an unforgettable story about family, girlhood, and friendship—a specific sisterhood that requires no blood relation, but perhaps a kind of bleeding.

Writing in an unforgettable first-person voice, Sarkisyan explores the beautiful and bizarre—as well as the inevitable and the unexpected—moments that coalesce to form the experience of adolescence. The story’s narrator and her close friend move through a landscape of mirrors and dual mothers, prank phone calls and dead bodies, full of desire and agency. Yet, they also drift toward and away from both themselves and each other with the vulnerability and powerlessness of ghosts. Theirs is a process of uncovering, of testing limits, of attempting to make sense of the absurdity of adult life. Sarkisyan writes in her author’s note, “I find myself endlessly fascinated by girlhood and the psychology of girlhood friendships…. I chose to write this story with a twinge of horror because it feels most honest that way. What is brutal is also what is innocent.”

As “Terrible Things” opens, the narrator seeks herself in the faces of those around her and develops a skill for deciphering the expressions and body language of others to the point that it feels like telepathy. Sarkisyan seems to possess a similar ability, uncovering the nuances of her story and its characters through each carefully observed gesture and line of dialogue. In this way, she morphs every detail into a symbol rich with significance, constructing a story that continues to shapeshift and deepen with each consecutive reading.  —CRAFT



We’re closer than sisters. That’s what she tells me on the night of the full moon. We undress in her bedroom and wrap our hair with twine. This is what sisters do, she says, spreading a deck of oracle cards on the floor in front of where she sits, cross-legged, skin silver with moonlight and glitter eyeshadow. She has two older sisters so I believe her when she explains it to me.

Sisters never keep secrets.



I believe her because I’m an only child. I crave secret keeping and pinky promises. I crave absolute intimacy, a mirror where there once stood a body.

There are no mirrors in my house. Not even small ones women use to check if their noses are oily, or foggy with the smallest hint of a life. My mother hates mirrors, our entire house just one long ceiling we meet under. I’m always wondering what I look like at any given moment. I search for myself in other people’s faces. It’s a gift my mother taught me, whose mother taught her. I can decipher the nuances of frowns, nose scrunches, blinks. Each movement a letter in a language with no name. After a few years, I can anticipate every feeling, placate every mood. Some days, it feels like telepathy. Other days, I can hardly open my eyes.

Every morning at the breakfast table, mother looks at me and without a word, tells me I’m ugly.

I am only protecting you, she says later, every night, always while tucking me into bed.

She’s beautiful enough to not need mirrors. Some people are born lucky that way.



Rebirth, sister screams, holding up an oracle card showing a naked woman pulling another woman that looks like herself from between her legs. For me. You got Death. Isn’t that weird?

Her bedroom is different from mine. There are no obvious remnants of girlhood, no posters on the walls, no pink pillows stacked against each other. I look around but I can’t seem to find what I’m looking for. Everything is where it isn’t supposed to be. A large doll with badly trimmed hair sits on the windowsill, looking out into the darkness.

Let’s try levitating! she shouts from behind me.

I don’t want to levitate but I agree. Something tells me that’s what sisters do for each other, things they don’t want to do. I lie down on the cold floor next to her. She takes my hand, curls her fingers through mine. A sense of dread slinks through me and I wonder if that means I’m levitating. I turn to face her but her eyes are closed, so I close mine too.

Stop moving, she whispers, and concentrate.

There are so many things to think about and I’m afraid I’ll pick the wrong one. I imagine I’m a bird and I flap my wings so hard I leap into the universe and disintegrate into the dust of a passing planet. I imagine I’m beautiful like my mother. I imagine living in this room with this window overlooking the mountains and a mother who doesn’t believe in anything. I imagine holding hands with a million sisters who let me hold their faces like plump cherries.

God damn it, she says, letting go of my hand and sitting up. It didn’t work.

I imagine being angry.



A face pops through the crack in the door. Her mother has brought us cookies, which she places carefully on the white dresser before looking up.

Dig in, girls, she says, and climbs up the wall and disappears.

Where did she go? I ask.


Your mom.


Sister doesn’t look at me. She’s busy writing a letter. In her hand is a large black pen that glides across the paper like a shadow.

Wanna hear a secret? she asks.


Promise you won’t tell?


Pinky promise?

Pinky promise.

Cross your heart and hope to die?

Cross my heart and hope to die.

There’s a dead body buried in the backyard, right under my window.

I want to close my eyes now. I want to be with my mother in our kitchen, drinking warm tea and trying not to blink. I want to hold sister’s face in my hands and taste what lies beneath the skin. I’ve never seen that far before. She looks at me and all I see is my own face, stretched like animal leather, free of feeling, and useless.

I’m writing about it in my diary. Wanna hear?

I nod and sit down on the corner of her bed. I’m shaking. The bed moves under me but takes me nowhere. She puts the pen down and stands over me, her voice deep, like the narrow end of a long tunnel.

Dear Diary,

Sometimes when I’m trying to sleep and the moon is too wide, I can hear it. I think it’s coming closer because it always sounds clearer than the time before. The first time, it was just a low humming, like it had arrived in a thick fog. But last night, it said a name and I knew the name because I say it all the time. It’s one of my favorite names. A secret name. A name between sisters. I think I should be afraid but I don’t know that I am. I think it chose me. Last night, I peered down my window and there it was, the voice, in the deep mud right below, stomping around and making a mess. I told it to hush and quiet down, that I was trying to sleep, and it did. I think the next time the moon is wide, it will tell me what to do.

What’s the name? I ask when she’s finished reading.

She doesn’t answer but she looks at me, and without a word, I already know.



We fall asleep next to each other without speaking. When I wake up, it’s still dark and sister’s belly is rising up and down under the bedsheet. I can smell the cookies, untouched, on her dresser and I’m suddenly starving, dissolving into the previous shape of me, not there at all. I place my hand on my belly and follow its own murmurings. It’s not moving up and down, like sister’s, but down and up, as if sucking its own teeth, then coming back up for air. I’m afraid. I’m afraid because it’s too quiet and I can’t unhear what I heard and below the window there is a dead body and I can’t seem to move. But the sight of the moon is a relief. It’s not wide but a thin sliver behind the trees. If I wasn’t searching for it, I wouldn’t have noticed it at all.

Stop moving and concentrate. While she sleeps, sister’s voice flutters around the room in its own untangled flight. It’s its own person now, it has feelings and a face much wider than sister’s. I wonder how it even fits inside her small throat. It must be starving all the time. It hovers above the cookies and makes piglike noises, then cuts through the air and nestles inside the folds of my ear. It’s warm, like steam from a hot shower, and the little hairs in my ear move as it moves. Close your eyes, it says, close your eyes or I’ll scream. I want to make sister happy, even this ghostly part of her that has somehow found its way inside me. I close my eyes and don’t wake up until the morning.



I’m on the phone with sister, who is practicing her chanting. I’m not allowed to chant, not yet. There’s still too much to learn until I’m ready and sister says she will teach me. I write the words on a piece of paper and fold it away under my mattress. I’m not sure who she’s chanting to but she says it’s important to be devoted, so I never ask. But it doesn’t feel important, it feels wrong. I don’t tell her that. I listen. I’m good at that.

It’s been a week since I’ve seen sister. Mother says it’s not good to keep such close friendships, that I have to be independent, my own person. Otherwise, I’ll just disappear, legs and all. She tells me she had a sister once, a long time ago, before she was even born.

Closer than sisters, she says, twins. My mother was so happy. Twins are a blessing. Then one day, sister just disappeared. Poof!

What happened to her? I ask.

She was weak. I must have eaten her up.

That night, alone in my bed, I imagine I have a different mother. Sister-mother, I call her, because she never had a real name. Sister-mother is plain in the face, with shiny white teeth and a beauty mark above her lip. She always holds my hand, even when we’re watching TV, and when it’s time for bed, she shows me how to wash my face and apply night cream because of something called pores. Sister-mother is not like my real mother; she loves mirrors. She loves mirrors so much, she has one framed above her bed. When I’m old enough, she gives me a small compact, tells me to go into the bathroom, take off my clothes, and position the mirror where I can see between my legs.

A rite of passage, she says, from the other side of the door.

I can smell the smoke of her cigarette and wonder where I’m supposed to be going. I look in the mirror and I see a pink mouth, neither smiling nor frowning. It’s an expression wholly new to me. When I try to provoke it with my finger, it eats it up, right to the knuckle.

Well? sister-mother asks when I come out, her white teeth chattering.

Well what?

Well, how do you feel?

I’m starving, is dinner ready?

In another dream, mother and sister-mother are both alive and the house is separated right down the middle. They can’t decide which side I should live in, so I get two of everything. When I wake up in the morning, I eat breakfast with mother as she looks at me and tells me I’m ugly. Then, in the late afternoon, I hold sister-mother’s hand and help her cook dinner, which we eat in front of the TV. After we wash our faces, she puts on white silk pajamas and perfume from a gold bottle, just in case.

In case of what?

She never answers.



On the morning of the full moon, sister calls to tell me that her mother says I can sleep over again.

She says we can order pizza, as many toppings as we want. She already talked to your mom and your mom said it was okay.

Mother never lets me order food, and despite the nagging voice in my head—dead body dead body dead body—I agree and pack my overnight bag.

Take an extra pair of underwear, mother says, sticking her head into my room, just in case.

Have you ever looked between your legs? I want to ask her, but I don’t. I already know the answer. I can tell from looking at her knuckles: they’re always dry, and in the winter, they even bleed.

Sister-mother would never tell me to take extra underwear. She would tell me to order anchovies or sardines on my pizza, just to make sister gag. She would drop me off in her vintage convertible and wave as she drove away, a cigarette between her fingers. She would leave a red lipstick stain on my cheek that sister would squint at, lick her finger, and rub away.

Sister is free with her body and everyone else’s.

I’m on my period, she says, when I step into her bedroom, see. She lifts her dress and fingers a tiny white string hanging out from the side of her underwear. Mom showed me how to use it. Have you got yours yet? She quietly drums her hands on her belly and her knuckles are smooth and shiny.

No, I say.

But I have, three months ago. I don’t know why I lie. It comes out as easily as anything. But I do know. I know I don’t want sister inside my body. I want to keep my secret. I store it away inside—in my throat, in my belly, in the tiny nook of my armpit—like a witch anointing her familiar. I feel powerful with my secret, like at any moment, I could command it to do my bidding, even kill if I wanted. I think of the dead body under the window and wonder if sister killed it with her own secrets. I imagine them curling out of her mouth as she sleeps, then creeping facedown, like Dracula, down the side of the house and into the deep mud.



Did you keep my secret? sister asks, shoving a slice of plain cheese pizza inside her mouth. Her lips are greasy from the oil and she rubs them together like lip gloss.

What secret? I ask, as if I don’t remember.

You know the one, about…the body. She pronounces “body” like “buddy” and I can’t tell if it’s on purpose. Yes,I nod, chewing aggressively. I’m on my third slice already, pepperoni, and I know I can go for another. Sister is on her second and looks to be struggling. I know what sister-mother would say. Poor dear. No room for her food, swallowed too many secrets, taking up all that space. I smile at my one, tiny secret. It’s so small, I couldn’t even find it if I looked. I swallow the crust and it rolls down my throat, smooth and steady.

Wanna finish my slice? sister asks. I take her slice and giggle. I can’t help it. My body disobeys and I let it. I can hardly control it.

What’s so funny?



I mean it.


I swear.

Swear on your life?

I swear on my life.

Swear to God?

I swear to God.



Sister’s room is different from the last time I was there. It’s painted lavender and the bed has been moved to the opposite wall, under the window. The white glow of the moon folds over the bed and across the floor, and as night arrives, sister’s older sisters come in to watch a movie with us. Sister doesn’t like her sisters, says they’re nothing like me. I think they’re nice. They have long blonde hair, cut straight at the hip, and they wear jeans that widen at the knees. They’re in high school and have boyfriends who call them every night before they sleep.

If we press our ears against this wall, sister says, pointing to the wall between their rooms, we can hear them talking on the phone. They talk about all sorts of things, even sex.

I already know about sex, I say.

You do not. Not more than my sisters. They’ve actually done it, dummy.


So, I’ll probably do it way before you.

How do you know?

Sister looks at me and smiles. I know that smile. It’s the same smile mother gives me every morning at the breakfast table: the “you’re ugly” smile. Is this what sisters do? Remind each other how terrible they are? I look at sister with her sisters. They’re pulling each other’s hair and arguing about who gets to hold the remote control. Sister and I have never fought like this but I imagine if we did, I would pull out strands of her hair, one by one, and feed them to her beloved dead body. Dead bodies love to eat little girl parts. All terrible things love little girls. Watch out, I whisper to sister as she jumps on her sister’s back, or I’ll get you.



Sister’s sisters want to watch Carrie, so we watch Carrie. They turn the lights off and with the glow of the TV on them, look pale and faceless and barely alive. Unlike sister, they eat a lot. While we aren’t looking, food appears: cheesy puffs, watermelon with no seeds, chocolate chip cookies, licorice sticks, cucumbers, three kinds of soda. I try to pay attention but something always gets in the way. When I look back, something new has arrived, purple grapes, and the plate of cucumbers is gone. I force myself to stare at the door but it never opens.

Are you scared? sister asks.

I turn my head back to face her, her eyes wide and shiny. Is your mom bringing us all this food? I ask.


Your mom.


Sister sits next to me as we lean against her bed, and after a few minutes, lets her head drop down onto my shoulder. I can hear her shallow breath like the hum of the ocean, prickling the hairs on my arm. I love you, I want to say. It’s the first time I’ve ever felt compelled to say it and it feels not unlike taming a wild lion. Does she love me? Could she forgive me for thinking of pulling out all her hair? Can a person love someone and wish them terrible things at the same time?

It must be true. I love sister more than anything in the entire world. And the words, once thought, don’t belong to me anymore. They are their own entity and it takes all my strength to keep them inside my mouth. It feels wholly unnatural. The most unnatural thing in the world. But I don’t say anything. Instead, I walk my hand to sister’s hand and clasp her fingers in mine. She holds my hand back and we watch Carrie in her prom dress, Carrie drenched in pig’s blood, Carrie on fire. By the end of the movie, our hands are clasped so tight, I can feel my heart pumping through each of my fingers.



The sisters are asleep on the floor of sister’s room. Sister is in the bathroom. I have to—she’d said, pointing between her legs—before bed. If sister-mother were here, she would tell sister to save her blood and use it for a spell. We did that when we were your age, my best friend and I. We made all sorts of things happen. We even made a boy mad about me.

Sister-mother knows everything. Except shame. When we cuddle in bed, watching sitcoms, she smokes three cigarettes and tells me I have the perfect little nose. When I’m ready, she takes me to buy my first big-girl bra, white with a frill around the straps, and demands I hold it out the window of the car as we drive home. Unlike sister-mother, I am a shame-maker, but I do as I’m told and hold the thing that will hold my girl breasts out the window, watch it flap in the wind.

Shhh, sister says, clasping my hand. Follow me.

I don’t know where we’re going but I follow sister as she opens the door into the dim hallway, walks a few steps to the right, and enters another door, just like her own.

My sisters’ room, she whispers, then runs to the closet and disappears inside.

This is what sisters do, snoop around each other’s rooms. Privacy is reserved for brothers, or brother-sisters, but not for sister-sisters. In a house of girls, you’re interchangeable. Some days, you wake up, and there is a new girl-sister you have to know. And her name is always completely forgettable.

My mom is pregnant, sister says from inside the closet.


My mom.


I look under the bed and inside the drawers, in case there are hidden diaries or letters, but can’t find anything. The entire room is a mess, clothes on the beds, clothes on the floor, clothes hanging from the curtains.

Your sisters are so messy, I say, kicking clothes out of my path as I walk toward the closet.

I think they’re adopted, sister says.

But you look exactly alike.

We look nothing alike.

I sit on the floor and wait.

I dream I’m giving birth. I pull her out of me and she is grown, a whole human, with clothes and hair and fingers. She stands up, drenched in sweat and blood, and she looks exactly like me. She even smiles like me.

Congratulations, the nurse says, it’s a sister.

She tries to place the sister on my chest because she says skin-to-skin contact is important for newborns but the sister squirms and kicks her legs.

Aww, the nurse says, she’s just hungry. Here, let’s try breastfeeding. She holds the sister up to my breast and opens her mouth. C’mon, you can do it, latch on. The sister puts my nipple in her mouth and starts sucking. There we go! Good job. Doesn’t that feel good?

Yes, I say. And it does.



Wake up, sister says, shaking my arm. I found their address book. Let’s make prank calls.

I open my eyes and I’m half-slumped against the floor. My neck hurts and my eyes are wet at the corners. Sister is already sitting on one of her sisters’ beds, the phone in her hand, dialing.

Isn’t it late? I ask.

You’re such a pussy.

Am not.

For that, you have to talk first.

Who are you calling?

My sister’s boyfriend. Just pretend you’re her.

I don’t want to.

You’re doing it.

What do I even say?

Oh hi baby I miss you come over and kiss me all over my naked body.

I can’t say that.


She yelps and shoves the phone to my ear, placing her head close so she can hear as well. A boy’s voice is on the other end. Hello? Hello?

Sister pinches me. I speak. Oh hi baby I miss you come over and kiss me all over my naked body.

Who is this?

I shake my head and pull away, throw the phone back at sister who is laughing uncontrollably. She places the phone against her ear and clears her throat.

Baby, it’s me. Don’t you recognize my voice? She’s laughing so hard, she places her hand on her mouth to keep the noise in. I, on the other hand, don’t succeed in keeping my composure. I snort so loud, it echoes around the dark room, and lands in his room, far far away.

I’m telling your sister about this. Then the phone clicks.

Do you think he’ll really tell? I ask.

Oh, who cares about him?

Can we do it again?

Sure, but you have to talk this time. Really talk.

We decide to play the random number game. Sister punches in seven random numbers on the phone and I have to talk to whoever picks up. We haven’t played in a long time because the last time we did, a man picked up and asked us what color underwear we were wearing. When we didn’t answer, he got mad and said if we didn’t tell him, he’d come over and slit our throats. We disconnected the phone and slept with the lights on that night. Sister said the man sounded like our teacher from the year before. But how could we ever prove a thing like that?

Ready? sister asks.

I nod and rub my palms against the sheets. My heart is beating too fast and the room is darker than it was a few seconds ago. I can’t see sister’s face anymore, just a vague shape of a little-girl body, and its shadows against the white walls. From this room, the full moon is no longer behind the trees but glaring down at us from straight above.

The moon is angry, I say.


The moon.

The moon?

The moon.

Are you ready or not?

I nod again.

Sister dials and places the phone between our ears. Ring. Ring. Ring. Then the phone clicks on. We wait for a voice but there’s only silence on the other end.

Hello? I say, but the line is silent. Hello? Anyone there?

Then we hear it, the humming. It’s far away, at first, but it gets clearer and clearer until it sounds like it’s right outside the window, right here in the room with us.

Hello? I ask again.

The humming stops and the room is once again quiet.

Hang up, sister whispers. Her voice is scratchy, urgent, small. She’s afraid, I realize. I’ve never seen sister afraid. Her face is no longer in the dark. The yellow light of the moon has outed her. Her eyes are wide and flat, and her mouth no longer resembles the smirk it was born with; her lips have disappeared completely, and in their place is a small hole, like that of a doll’s.

I shake my head no. I don’t want to hang up. I’m not afraid.

I know your name. The voice is here, under the bed, in the closet, on the moon, in my white frill bra, in the trees, in sister’s tiny hole-mouth. It’s not a voice at all but a familiar sound. Sister-mother calls it pleasure.

It’s a feeling, dear, in your body. They slap it out of us when we’re born but we can always find it, if we really want to.

We can?

Oh yes, if we really remember.

How do we remember?

You listen. You quiet down and listen real close. That’s the thing about pleasure, it always has something to say.

I know your name, the voice says again.

Who is this? I ask, but the line clicks, and there is silence again. I put the phone down and call out to sister, who is no longer sitting beside me. I listen for her sounds but the room is empty. Sister is gone.

I find her in her room, looking out the window and eating a cookie. When I enter, she turns and looks at me and her eyes are no longer wide and flat but tiny cat’s-eye marbles, swirling round and round.

Am I your best friend forever? she asks.


Pinky promise?

Pinky promise.

Cross your heart and hope to die?

Cross my heart and hope to die.

Am I yours? I ask.

She shoves the cookie into her tiny o-mouth and smiles.



What if, sister says, they dropped a bucket of period blood on Carrie? We’re in her bed, under her covers, a small purple flashlight lighting up our faces.

Gross, I say.

What’s so gross about it? It’s just blood. It’s probably even cleaner than pig’s blood. I’m sure of it. Would you rather have pig’s blood or period blood poured on you?

Why do I have to have any kind of blood poured on me?

It’s just make-believe. Choose, or I’ll never talk to you again.

Period blood, I guess.

You just said it was gross.

Well maybe if it was my own, I wouldn’t mind.

What about mine?

I guess yours would be okay too.

Want to try it?

Can’t we go to sleep?

Wait, shhh, do you hear that?

Hear what?

That noise.

It’s just your sisters snoring.

My sisters aren’t here. No, it’s coming from outside. Outside the window.

I throw off the bedsheet and once my eyes adjust to the blackness of the room, I can see that sister’s sisters are no longer sleeping on the floor. In fact, every remnant of our movie night is gone—cassette, candy, fruit, blankets, sisters. We are alone again, sister and I. Alone in the dark.

Then I hear it, the noise. It’s coming from outside, below the window, in the soft, wet mud. Sister is still sitting beside me, the flashlight in her hand turned off now. I can’t make out her face but her eyes are round and shiny, like two perfect little moonstones. I want to pluck one out and hang it around my neck like a charm. An eyestone. I want to collect one from every girl in school. I want to plant them in the deep mud and watch them grow plumper and plumper until they’re about to burst. I want to harvest my eyestones, blue and brown and hazel and green, and swallow them whole, one by one.

Sister looks at me and blinks furiously. This means she is afraid again. One side of her cheek is sucked in toward her chin, and she is biting the inside of it.

What’s that noise? I ask.

I don’t know, she says, I was making it up before, to scare you.

But it’s a full moon.

It is not!

Yeah, look, it’s right there, I say, pointing to the round, pale marble hanging above the trees. It’s so large, it’s almost bursting. I imagine poking a hole in it with my finger and watching the sap run down. The moon must taste sweet, don’t you think?

But sister isn’t listening, she’s prowling about the room, her legs shuffling so fast it looks as if she’s floating.

The call, she says.


The call. The call. The call. It was him, it, down there.


In the deep mud right below.

You mean?



It wants something.


You talked to it, what did it want?

It didn’t say what it wanted.

Liar liar liar.

I swear.


It knows my name.

I know, it already told me that the first time, remember?

What does it want with my name?

To make a mess.

What does that mean?

It didn’t tell me what to do.

Maybe it’s hungry.

Don’t be stupid, dead things don’t get hungry.

I’m not stupid.

I take hold of sister’s arm and dig my fingers in. We stop moving.

Listen, I say. Listen real close.

I don’t hear anything, sister says.

But I do. It’s the sound of the sweet sap of the moon, spilling down the sky and into my mouth. The sound of sister telling me how ugly I am. The sound of her o-mouth, shiny with pizza grease, smacking up and down. Mother’s teeth in the womb, eating and eating and eating. The sound faces make when they are in love. The sound of sister-mother remembering. The sound of my bra, pushing against the wind, flying out of my hand. The sound of sister’s period blood pouring over my head. Her smooth knuckles against mine. The terrible man coming to slit our throats. The sound of my heart hoping to die. The dead body with my name in its mouth, telling me what to do. The secrets in my body, getting ready and ready and ready.

Do you hear that? I ask.

No, she says, clasping my hand.

That’s because you’re not listening. I take her hand and pull her on top of the bed with me, toward the window. C’mon, it’s coming from outside, in the deep mud. Remember?

I made it all up, okay? I was just trying to scare you.  

Oh, is that what sisters do?

Yeah, she says, breathing heavily, sisters are always scaring each other. Don’t you know that?

I don’t know anything. I don’t have any sisters, only a mother and a house with no mirrors. There is no lying in a house with no mirrors. No lying and no secrets. Sister-mother says it’s a terrible thing to lie. Every time you lie, you forget a little bit more. Remember?

Let’s try levitating, I shout.




Don’t you trust me?


Pinky promise?

Pinky promise.

Cross your heart and hope to die?

Cross my heart and hope to die.

Sisters are a terrible thing. All terrible things love little girls. Below the open window, in the deep mud, the terrible thing is hungry. Sister leans back, digs her fingers into the curtains, the moonglitter bright on her face.

Watch out, I say, I’m going to get you.



Morning never arrives. When I open my eyes, it’s dark and I’m alone. I wonder if I’ve somehow gone back in time, to the night before, and sister is out there, in the dark mud, without me. I call out her name but she doesn’t answer. She isn’t here to tell me the truth, so I create one. That I’m dreaming, yes, dreaming alone, yes. When I pinch myself, I laugh and laugh and laugh.

I smell something new and delirious. A bowl of strawberries on the bed, each half bitten and seeping into the bedsheet. I dip my finger into the puddle of red and press it onto my tongue. It tastes metallic, like bleeding gums. From the puddle, tiny red footprints carry up the wall and across the ceiling, then out the window. I gather the strawberries in my arms and drop them one by one into the mud pile under the window, where they sink through and disappear.

Your mother’s here, a voice says behind me, far away, outside the bedroom door.

I fed the body, I say. But no one answers. It’s dark and I’m alone and I’m dreaming, yes.


ADELINA SARKISYAN is an Armenian-American writer from Los Angeles. She holds an undergraduate degree in anthropology and a graduate degree in social work. She is currently studying Jungian fairy tale analysis. She was a therapist in her former life. Follow her ever-changing moods on Instagram @adelinasarkisyan and Twitter @sheisadelina.


Featured image by Viva Luna Studios courtesy of Unsplash


Author’s Note

I started writing this story as a means of uncovering something about myself—something about my experiences as a girl, in girlhood friendships. I love stories that are phantasmagorical because once the expectations of realism are removed, you can focus on the subjective experience.

This story focuses on the subjective experience of the protagonist—the way she views friendship, motherhood, family, love, loyalty, boundaries. There are no names, no locations, no real grasp on reality. All we see is her, feeling through little moments and experiences, grappling with her identity and her sense of power. There is the saying, “Watch out for the quiet ones,” and this story is in conversation with that message. By the end, it’s the “innocent” and “naïve” one who lives, not because she stays small but because she reclaims her power and revels in it.

In a way, this is a coming-of-age story that isn’t necessarily pretty or soft. I’ve always thought of girlhood as a kind of inescapable terror. Girlhood is where I found and lost myself, where I created imaginary friends, had one best friend after another, was ditched in school bathrooms, sometimes coerced to be cruel. But it was also where I heard the scariest stories of my life, kept pinky-promise secrets, practiced summoning spirits with makeshift Ouija boards, chanted Bloody Mary in mirrors, felt my body threatened by the neighbor boy, had sleepovers with best friends where we prank-called every boy we knew, and where my mom bought me my first tarot deck.

At that age, every best friend is like a sister.

I find myself endlessly fascinated by girlhood and the psychology of girlhood friendships because it is an age of transformation, which can be both empowering and terrifying. “Terrible things” lurk in every corner, whether real or imagined. How we escape this moment is beyond me. (I still cringe when I read my girlhood diaries.) I chose to write this story with a twinge of horror because it feels most honest that way. What is brutal is also what is innocent.

I’d like to say this story is a love letter to the sister I never had, but maybe it is a love letter to my younger self, who did escape.


ADELINA SARKISYAN is an Armenian-American writer from Los Angeles. She holds an undergraduate degree in anthropology and a graduate degree in social work. She is currently studying Jungian fairy tale analysis. She was a therapist in her former life. Follow her ever-changing moods on Instagram @adelinasarkisyan and Twitter @sheisadelina.