And Other Stories


The microwave clock was wrong. Rachel hadn't paid it much attention at first, but after some breakfast, it occurred to her to wonder just how early it actually was. She needed to kill some time either way, but it would help to know exactly how much. She looked over towards it, but it wasn't any help. She almost felt angry about it showing 3:00 AM again, of all the ways to break. She thought maybe the clock was just stuck like that, but it ticked over to 3:01 under her scrutiny. She stepped out of the kitchen to find one of the analog wall clocks. Basically eight AM. Looking a little more closely, the hour hand wasn't quite to the 8, the minute hand was four ticks short of 12, and the seconds hand was sweeping down through four's vicinity. She stepped back to the microwave, setting the time to 7:57. There, synched enough, assuming it didn't just fuck itself up again.

Rachel turned her attention to writing a grocery list. Groceries were a nebulously shared responsibility between herself, her sister, and both of her parents. Meal planning was an uncoordinated mess, but one that tended to work out. It was easy to make the skeleton of a list, looking at what they still had; chicken, beef, cheese, bread, lettuce, onions, yogurt, bananas, celery, juice... Next came a few things specific to her upcoming turns to cook dinner. If anybody else wanted anything in particular, they could always tack it on before somebody went out to actually go get it. She thought for a moment, and then penciled in a banana cream pie at the bottom of the list. Some self-indulgence felt pretty fair, after last night.

On that note, Raven had apparently made herself those burgers after all. She had even cleaned up after herself, which was probably more than Rachel would have done. She glanced at the skillet she had made her eggs in. Shrugging her shoulders, she went to clean it in the sink, and the other dishes from last night's supper. She was still washing some when her sister walked into the kitchen, yawning. Rachel turned to look at her, and Raven's eyes widened a little. She spoke first. "You're up early. And no offense, but you look dreadful for it. You feeling okay?" She sounded more concerned than usual, and stepped over to Rachel's side.

"Yeah, I'm okay. Just some trouble sleeping. And I figured, if I'm going to be awake, may as well be productive. Didn't hurt that I didn't have any unproductive plans to while away the morning." Rachel smiled, wondering if she really looked 'dreadful'. How much sleep had she managed to get that night? At least Raven hadn't said she looked like she'd seen a ghost. Instead, her twin shrugged and nudged her, holding out a hand for the wash cloth. She wasn't exactly going to complain about being bumped off that chore.

"I didn't sleep great either. I kept waking up during the storm, and had a nasty little dream near the end. Honestly, I should probably sleep in a bit more, but mom and dad are going to get up, soon. You, though? You should definitely go back to bed. Don't worry, I'll pass on your early morning chores initiative." She smiled, and eyed the soapy water. She hadn't actually started washing anything yet, not that there was much left to go.

Rachel nodded. That probably would have been the smart idea. She felt pretty tired, but sleep wasn't an appealing prospect at all. "That sucks. I bet you mine was worse, though. Some hideous monster thing crept into my room and tried to eat me. The really awful thing was I was awake." Raven's eyes widened, and her face contorted in worry. She looked aghast. Rachel held her hand up, giving a little wave of dismissal. "It was sleep paralysis, I'm not seeing things. Well, I guess that's seeing things, but it's a dream thing, not a hallucination thing."

Raven rolled her eyes, and a slightly damp fist tapped Rachel's shoulder in a mock punch. "Sheesh. You shouldn't talk like that, Rachel. That dream does sound worse, though, I'll give it to you. And sleep paralysis? Yikes. I guess I can see why you wouldn't want to go back to bed. I mean, you still should." Raven shrugged her shoulders, and turned to actually do the chore she had taken over.

"Yeah, maybe. But then I'd wake up in the middle of the day, and wreck my sleep schedule worse. Anyways, what was your nasty dream about? I mean, if you want to share." She was curious, but definitely would have understood if Raven would rather not recount it. She hadn't wanted to write hers down, after all, though talking about it felt different.

"Oh, yeah. Sure, I guess." Raven started scrubbing at the bottom of a plate with the washcloth, finishing it before going on. "No sleep paralysis or fucky stuff. It was pretty short, too. There was a fire. I got out just fine." She paused for a second. "But you got hurt."

"Oh, ouch." Rachel frowned for a moment. That did sound nasty, in a different way than her experience had been. "Well, as you can see, I'm fine. Not burned to a crisp or monster chow."

"Yeah." Raven was quiet again for a second, as she cleaned the last plate a little more thoroughly than was really called for. "Maybe the monster doesn't like its meals extra crispy?"

"Oh my god." She laughed at that, and Raven joined in with a bit of a snicker. After that, Rachel leaned forward and gave her sister a hug. Raven tensed for a moment, and then laughed again.

"We're all over the place this morning, huh?"

"Yeah. Weird, right? Maybe getting sleep is important, or something."

"Perish the thought. What a terrible world that would be."

They laughed a little bit more, before Rachel let go of her sister and moved back to sit at the little kitchen table. She looked at the grocery list she had started, trying to think if there was anything else that should be added. There wasn't much need, but she wanted to focus on something. Maybe Raven was right, and she really should have just laid back down that morning. Honestly, she was more or less convinced that would be the smarter decision, but she still couldn't bring herself to try it. She set her chin down on the surface of the table, staring forward idly for a few seconds. She yawned, and then blinked away a couple tears. She spoke up afterwards. "Hey, Raven. I've got a grocery list started. Anything in particular you want on it?"

"Wow, you really are dead set on being productive today. Nothing in particular. Well, I guess taco stuff? I don't think we have salsa. That's my big meal plan, I hope I can trust you with that secret. Oh, get some peppers, too." Rachel didn't look back, but after that she heard the sound of the water in the sink draining.

"Oh, sure. I've already got some more beef penciled in too, so that works." She scrawled 'salsa, peppers (grn/ban), other taco stuff' onto the paper and then yawned again. She felt considerably more tired, all of a sudden, like her weariness had been concentrated and settled onto her eyes. She shut them, greeted by a wave of relief as she just let her eyes rest.

She woke up with a start. Not out of fright, more like she suddenly snapped to attention, pulling her head up off the table. She blinked, and looked around. Raven was sitting on the kitchen counter, eating some toast.

"Oh, hey, Sleeping Beauty. I would have moved you to your room, but I figured that'd wake you up. I talked mom and dad into having breakfast in the living room. I hope your nap was okay?"

"Oh, yeah." Rachel rubbed at her cheek, feeling rather embarrassed about having fallen asleep on the kitchen table. "I don't think I was asleep long enough to dream. I don't remember anything, anyways. Ah. Thanks for letting me get a little shut-eye, silly situation as it is."

"No problem at all. I know you'd spot me that kind of favor, too. Although your solution might have been a bit more elegant. Anyways, want some toast? I was going to have another slice, but I'm pretty sure it's what woke you up just now. I think that ought to be some form of dibs." She finished the piece she had been eating, pulled a slice of rye from the toaster, and started to butter it up.

"Oh, sure. Thanks." She took the toast, and started to nibble on it. She didn't feel particularly hungry, but she doubted having a bit more in her stomach would hurt. Plus, it tasted pretty good. After finishing it, she stood up and stretched. Her back popped, and she sighed happily at the sudden release of pressure. Raven clicked her tongue, with a volume Rachel wasn't sure how she could manage. "Yeah, yeah, I should let you teach me how to properly stretch. No real excuses left, I can't even say you're naturally more limber. Let's actually do that, some day when I've got a good night's sleep." Raven grinned, and then they both headed into the living room. Their parents were sitting on the couch, empty plates on the coffee table.

"Good morning, mom, dad."

"Yeah. Glad to see you up. Couldn't sleep last night, huh?" Her father smiled at her, warmly. He was short and stout, fond of calling himself 'hefty'. He had short blonde hair. Rachel and Raven had his eyes, apparently; they were the same shade of blue, at least.

"You should really head back to bed, Rachel." Her mother looked just a little concerned, though she was also smiling. She was a little shorter than her daughters, closer to their height than to her husband's. Other than that, her overall body type was more like his. Her hair was black, like her daughters, and kept pretty short.

"Yeah, maybe." Rachel shrugged, and made her way over to sit down in one of the big reclining chairs. "I don't think I could fall asleep if I actually tried, right now. It might have to sneak up on me. My plan is to go to bed early tonight and wake up late tomorrow. Besides, I already feel a lot better, with that little nap." That wasn't entirely a lie, but it was more exaggeration than she would have liked. She needed to do something to wake herself up.

Her mother frowned for a moment, and then shrugged. Her dad was the one who replied. "Sure, that makes sense. I mean, you're gonna fall asleep at 3 PM, but that doesn't really matter too much these days." That brought a giggle out of Rachel, and a voicing of agreement from Raven. He was probably right; it wouldn't be the first time. It was the first time with such a good reason to not want to go right back to sleep, though, and so she clung stubbornly to her plan.

"My inevitable failure to stay up all day aside, I think I want to get some air today. Anybody mind if I'm the one to make the groceries run? I started a list earlier, if there's anything in particular anybody wants."

Raven was the one to answer. "I already showed that to them earlier. It should be everything now, yeah? It's sitting on the kitchen table." That was followed by nods from her parents, and Rachel smiled in response.

She leaned back, and set the chair to recline. She leaned back, closing her eyes for a few moments. This time, she didn't fall asleep, and that seemed like evidence enough that she wouldn't start to fall asleep driving or anything. Not that she was worried about that in the first place, or she wouldn't be planning to go. Rachel opened her eyes again, and killed a little more time with her family before finally deciding to go get the groceries.

List in hand, she went outside and took a deep breath of the fresh air. It was a little chilly, and stuff was still a little wet, but that just made it more refreshing. She took her time crossing the lawn to the family car, fishing her keys out of her pocket. She got in, rolled her window down, and turned the car radio on to whatever was in the CD player. She was greeted by a sudden burst of bluegrass fiddling, one of her dad's CDs. It wasn't really to her taste, but she didn't bother trying the radio as she pulled out of the driveway.

It only took fifteen minutes of driving to get into town, and that was mostly in a straight line. She wasn't driving very fast at all, but the air coming through the window helped her to feel wide awake. The bluegrass was surprisingly invigorating, and Rachel felt pretty good as she parked in the grocery store's lot, away from the handful of other cars. She rolled up her window, slipped a face mask on, and headed in to get the groceries.

She didn't go straight down the list, trying not to take her cart through the same part of the store more than once, although she only saw a couple other people shopping. She did almost forget the yogurt, but one last double check of the list showed she had everything. Well, almost everything. The list didn't quite extend all the way to the bottom of the paper, and there was a gap before the pie. She thought for a moment on if she really needed to get that pie just because she had had a nasty nightmare.

The answer was yes, yes she did. She made her way to the freezer section, peering into the glass to spot the frozen pies. She noticed a bit of movement in the reflection, and turned away to move her cart out of the middle of the aisle. She didn't see anyone there anymore when she did, though. She shrugged, grabbed her pie of choice, and checked out. She vaguely knew the lady at the cash register, Janet, and smiled at her. Which wasn't noticeable at all, she realized after a moment. They had a little chit-chat about dinner plans as the items were rung up, and then Rachel was off.

Rachel took the drive home just a little slower. She saw a few more cars than she had before, but it wasn't somewhere traffic would really slow anybody down. Other than speeders, but that was a good thing, really. The music was a little less charming this time around, and so she shut it off, just listening to the air pass by the car. About halfway there, she got a nagging feeling, as if she had forgotten something, although she had definitely checked over the list. And Janet wouldn't have let her forget a bag, right?

She got home, and brought the bags inside. Putting everything away in the fridge and cupboards, she was doubly certain she hadn't forgotten anything. The disappointment of not figuring out what was putting her off managed to outweigh the relief of not actually having screwed up the shopping trip, but that wasn't saying much. She took off her mask and went into the living room, settling back into her chair from earlier. There wasn't much that she needed to do that day.

After a moment, she stood back up, and walked back to the front door. She grabbed the handle and pushed. The door moved just a tiny fraction, but along with it came a click. Rachel locked the doorknob and the deadbolt. That must have been it.

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