Partner in the Dark by Tess Clark

The garage lights come on in two sequences. There’s Dad’s table saw. Bottles of rat poison. Millie’s bike, under a blue tarp.

There’s something else, too. A crackling. It takes me a second to realize the tarp, the one covering Millie’s bike, is moving.

Dad asked me to grab his toolkit from behind the red ladder. The red ladder is always here, opened against the attic crawl space. Another hole has appeared, this time in the bathroom wall. Dad says he can fix it. 

My hands are shaking as I squint at the blue tarp, the way it sags and bends over the shape of Millie’s bike. The bike has been under the tarp for six months. Not because Millie grew out of it, or got sick of the color pink. She’ll never grow out of the bike. She’ll also never ride the bike again.

The lightbulb, dangling by a red wire from the ceiling, is too dim to shine over the whole garage, and it’s dusk, a week before Halloween. The nuns at St. Agatha’s don’t let us dress up, they say it’s sacrilege, but I still think there’s something magic about a day when people come out to meet the dead.

The tarp doesn’t budge again, and I think I must have imagined it. Or, rats. Millie and I used to be scared of the rats. They sneak in through the foundation and scratch through the boxes of old clothes, Grandma’s art books. They gnaw at the wires. Sometimes, the lights of our house go out altogether. Rats, Dad always says. Just like the holes that keep appearing all over the house, especially in the walls. He blames the holes on the rats too.

Dad’s toolkit is leaning against the washing machine, behind the ladder. The bike-shaped tarp is further back, close to the door with the brass knob that no longer opens. Above me is another hole, the one into the attic, square and black and nothing. Some nights I hear Dad up there, in the ceiling. Millie used to crawl into my bed on those nights with her freezing cold feet. We’d both pretend not to hear the scratching.

But now Dad is in the sitting room. The TV, a football game, echoes down the back hall that connects to the garage. I focus on the sound of the sports announcer, the clatter of Dad’s glass hitting the coffee table as he finishes his bottle of wine. Behind those sounds, there’s another one, one I’m pretending not to notice.


I cross under the open attic hole and reach for the toolkit. Grabbing the smooth black handle, it feels too light. Something is missing. The hammer, probably. Or one of the screwdrivers. Splotches of white paint stain the dusty concrete floor. It’s the paint Dad uses to repaint the walls, after he fixes the holes. 

The holes started appearing six months ago, right before my twelfth birthday. Sister Cassady says holes can’t “simply appear.” Except they do. Things “simply appear” all the time. Things disappear too. Just ask Millie.

There, sticking out of the bottom of the tarp. The screwdriver.

I don’t know what a screwdriver would be doing under there. Millie’s bike hasn’t been moved in ages. The tarp is crusty with dust. The screwdriver handle hides under the blue plastic edge. Only the silver, pointy end sticks out of the bottom. It’s the Phillips Head.

Dad will kill me if I leave a tool behind. He needs his full arsenal, he says. I wish Millie were here. That’s what having a twin is good for, you know? A partner in the dark. I used to believe the nuns when they said Millie was always with me. I used to search for her, when I walked to St. Agatha’s, listen to the birds for signs of Millie’s squeaky laugh, have staring contests with the Maine coon cat on Furlow Street. 

Go on, Henry, she’d say now. Get the screwdriver. I dare you.

She was big on dares, and I always obeyed. She was three minutes older, after all.

Hands pressed to my sides, I inch toward the tarp. 

Come on, Henry, reach for it, see what’s holding on to the other end—

All at once, the lights go out.

Scrambling for the door, I trip over something, a box of Millie’s old clothes maybe, and fall. My tailbone hits the concrete. The pain comes a second later.

The light flickers back on, and the tarp is closer.

Almost under the attic hole, now. Halfway across the garage.

It doesn’t look much like a bike under there, not anymore. The shape has bulged. Dad’s missing screwdriver has poked a hole through the blue plastic. It sticks out like a finger.

When I try to stand, my legs buckle. The bottom half of my body goes gelatinous. The lightbulb flickers and the tarp slides. Slides across the floor as a terrible mass, in jerky, screeching movements. I’m frozen. The football game is still roaring down the hall. Someone scores. A door closes, the toilet flushes. 

The tarp slides closer. The blue corner touches the toe of my Adidas sneaker. 

“Millie?” I say.

The tarp does not reply. And when the blue plastic slides over me, and I am enveloped in blue darkness, for a second I think I’m under the covers with Millie, listening to the sounds in the ceiling. 

It’s only a tickle at first.

And then comes the scratching. 


Tess Clark lives in Boulder, CO. She is the social media and design manager at Nocturne Magazine. Find her on Twitter @tesslaceyclark.