Echoes of Us

By: Kat Zhang


I remember my childhood better than most. Usually, people gain freedom as they grow older; I lost it.

As the recessive soul, I was born weaker than Addie. She triumphed whenever we fought for control of our shared body. She was fated to win and I to lose, the promise of it written into our genes.

By the time we were twelve, I seemed ready to fulfill a recessive soul’s other destiny: to disappear. I never did. But I did lose all my freedoms—the ability to speak, the power to move, the right to be acknowledged by anyone other than Addie, whose body I haunted.

So I remember my childhood well. Because however limited it was, for a long time, those were the only memories I had of liberty.

It wasn’t until I met Lissa and Hally, Ryan and Devon, that I started thinking about my future, and not my past. They were hybrids, too. They knew what it meant to live in secret, and taught me how to regain control over my body.

But now, as we were all forced on the run again, moving from safe house to safe house, I returned to my childhood memories, seeking comfort in the worn softness of their edges.

<What are you thinking about?> Addie asked one night. We were all stuffed in a van, Peter driving, Dr. Lyanne beside him. The rest of us sat cramped, shoulder-to-shoulder in the back two rows, the windows rolled up tight against the autumn chill.

<Pyxis> I said.

All my memories of childhood were Addie’s memories, too. We lived cleaved to each other, hybrids in a country where our very existence was outlawed.

The memory of pyxis came from before we understood all that, which made it all the more precious. Addie and I were three or four years old. Our family had gone camping. Our little brother, Lyle, hadn’t been born yet, so it was just the four of us—Mom, Dad, Addie, and me.

I remembered that first sight of the stars in the crisp mountain air. We’d been a child accustomed to city nights and city lights. The enormity of all those stars had awed us.

<Remember?> I said. <How Dad used to tell us about the constellations when we went camping? Only he couldn’t—>

<Couldn’t think of any stories about pyxis> Addie said. Her smile wasn’t just a physical thing, a curve of our lips. It was a warmth at the edge of my mind, where I felt her presence with the same assurance I felt our heartbeat. <I remember.>

We fell into the memory, calming each other with the past as the road raced by.

All too quickly, a week passed. Then another and another. Addie and I started walking again, the pain in our ankle and the bruises on our body fading along with the sharpest recollections of our last few days in Anchoit. The bombing of Powatt’s hybrid institution—the police raid—the frenzied escape through darkened streets—they’d never stop haunting us completely. But we tried to bury their pain with happier memories.

Addie and I drew everyone into the storytelling. Living at safe houses in the middle of nowhere, there was little else to do. We’d watched the news religiously at first. But the screen spit images of our faces and names, blaring our crimes: the “explosions” at Lankster Square, the Powatt bombing. After a while, the fear and upset crept into our insides and rotted them. Emalia said, They’re just saying the same things, over and over. Can we please turn it off?

So we did. We gathered, instead, in the upstairs hallway, or around the dining table, or on the threadbare couch. If Ryan and I were in control, we sought the warmth of each other’s touch, the press of my cheek against his shoulder, the comfort of having somebody there.

I told them about the day Lyle and Nathaniel were born. Addie and I had only been four, but I hadn’t forgotten the happy, nervous chaos. The baby wrapped in blue and the momentary disappointment I’d felt that it wasn’t a girl.

I didn’t tell them about the day Nathaniel faded away, and it was considered normal, because he was the recessive soul. Or the day Lyle fell sick, and they rushed him to the hospital—a pale little boy too frightened to speak.

That was one of our unspoken rules. No sad stories.

There was too much of that already.

I knew a lot about Ryan’s past, but it was nice to hear it again. The enormous old house in the country, where the Mullans lived before moving to Lupside. The creak of the ancient floorboards, the ever-dusty library, the stretch of field where the grass grew waist-high, perfect cover for war games at dusk. Hally or Lissa interrupted when they had something to add, or a complaint that he wasn’t being entirely truthful. Ryan protested, but he smiled, and I knew he didn’t really mind. His sisters’ interruptions made us laugh, and laughter was a rare commodity now.

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