[Thank you to those who suggested names! All suggested names will appear in the story. ‘Tam’ was chosen because the name meaning (twin) was, coincidentally, a perfect fit.]
[Please read the instructions before jumping in!]
Tam woke up knowing what would be waiting for him downstairs: His parents, his twin brother Ashton, and the identical pancake stacks that his parents made them every year for their birthday breakfast. It was their first cake of the day, they always joked, stacking them like tiers and icing them with maple butter.
They’d end their day with cake as well. The pancakes were for Ashton, who had been born a few minutes earlier, and the dessert cake was for Tam, the second twin.
It was tradition, and maybe one that would end soon—at twenty-one, both he and his brother knew they’d probably move out sooner rather than later. But Tam was determined to keep it alive as long as possible. They’d both got into the same university, right here in Branwin, Ontario, so they were planning to room together when they eventually moved out.
No reason not to carry the tradition on by themselves. Tam could get up early and make Ash his cake, and Ash could make one for Tam in the evenings.
He flung on his clothes for the day, jeans and an already well-worn t-shirt with the logo of his favorite band on it. Trying to get his mess of dirty blond hair in some semblance of order, he combed fingers loosely through it, squinting at himself in the mirror as he tried to make it lie flat. The sunny summer was already starting to bring out his freckles; it was one of the few ways to differentiate him from his brother. Ash never freckled, which they’d always both found a little weird; the only mark he’d ever had were the five flat brown moles on the bend of his arm that looked like fingerprints.
Ready now, Tam thumped his way downstairs.
But he knew something was wrong before he even reached the first floor.
The lack of any kind of baking scent was the first sign, but so was the quiet. His first thought was, absurdly, that maybe he’d woken up before everyone else. It wasn’t the first time that he’d gotten up to find that his clock was set wrong; both the summer thunderstorms and leyline spikes had taken the power out in the past. It was just one of the risks of living so close to the Uncanny Valley.
But the colour of the sunlight streaming in told him otherwise. It was late morning already, and even if Ash had slept in, their parents would be up and getting things ready.
“Uh, guys?” Tam called. Weirdly uncomfortable, he turned the corner into the kitchen.
As he’d thought, his parents were up, but they weren’t cooking anything, and no breakfast was set out at the table. They were sitting there, though, frowning at him, lines of worry between their brows.
“Hey,” Tam’s dad Eric said, uncomfortably. “Take a seat. There’s something we have to tell you.”
Tam didn’t sit. He couldn’t, that feeling of anticipation and nerves grown almost nauseating. He couldn’t eat now even if they had prepared something. “Is it important? I can go get Ashton—”
“Your brother isn’t going to come home any more,” Alice, their mother, said abruptly. She put this awful smile on her face, like she was trying to be reassuring, but her eyes were hard. “I’m sorry, Tam. We always hoped this day wouldn’t come.”
His world spun. Had Ash run away? Had something happened to him in the night? He had been out late, Tam remembered, celebrating his birthday with some friends from his job in the library down in the Valley, but Tam had seen him come home. They’d waved an equally drunken goodbye to each other on the landing.
“What… do you mean?” Tam asked slowly. He fumbled a chair out with numb hands, sinking into it. His legs felt like bloated balloons at the end of his legs, and he thought if he had to stay on them they’d crumple underneath him.
His parents looked at each other and held hands. Normally, the gesture seemed romantic; they always were the sort who had secrets between them that their children weren’t privy to. Now, it was alienating, a barrier to keep him out.
“You know, when Alice was pregnant,” Eric said, “that’s when the Valley opened.”
Of course Tam knew. The Valley might have been a constant presence in his life, but everyone knew the story of its opening, the gate to the monstrous Otherworld cracking open in the middle of Branwin, space warping around it to form a space not quite Otherworld, but not quite their world either. Branwin’s Valley was only one of hundreds of these gates that opened in the world—a world still adapting to its reality.
“You have to understand how scary it was for us,” Alice said. “I was pregnant, and we’d just put so much money down on our house, and then the Valley opened up just blocks away from our new place. We couldn’t afford to move, and nobody would buy even if we could. All sorts of man-eating monsters were roaming around. So… well, we made a deal for safety.”
“A deal,” Tam heard himself croak.
Eric sighed, holding up his free hand as if to forestall an argument. It was a gesture that he did when he felt one of his boys was being unreasonable, and one that Tam felt had no place here. “Safety from the denizens of the Uncanny Valley for us and our children. In return, the witch wanted our first-born child on the night of his twenty-first birthday.”
“We knew we were having twins,” Alice said. “The witch didn’t, I don’t think. We thought that maybe it would be a loophole, that there wouldn’t be an eldest child. Or, if there was… well, at least we’d still have a child left.”
Tam’s breath was strangling in his throat.
“Don’t look at me like that,” Alice pleaded, but her gaze was still hard. Tam could only assume she’d been preparing for this betrayal his entire life. “You have to understand you weren’t people then.”
“We’ve done our best,” Eric said, “to give you both a good life for as long as you’d have it.”
[Please suggest an action in the Comments.
As a reminder, it can be thoughts, words, or deeds!]
[Completed Parts: Instructions | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 | Day 9 | Day 10 | Day 11 | Day 12 | Day 13 | Day 14 | Day 15 | Day 16 | Day 17 | Day 18 | Day 19 | Day 20 | Day 21 | Day 22 | Day 23 | Day 24 | Day 25 | Day 26 | Day 27 | Day 28 | Day 29 | Day 30 | Epilogue | Author’s Notes]