Upon Orca and Dice Enright’s birth, Pastor Papa took one look at them and declared they’d been formed in the bellies of God and the Devil, brought together to swell Willa Enright’s abdomen only by ease and circumstance, for how were God and the Devil to give birth on this mortal plane save for the casual, swift usage of a human woman’s parts? It was women’s purpose, after all. Pastor Papa didn’t beam over the births—he saved his smiles for Sunday—but he laid one hand on each girl’s forehead and decreed them the fulfillment of a prophecy long told. “Twins,” he intoned, eyes glowing, and Willa figured she’d gone feverish with the birth, “twins are a holy thing, and an evil one. Oh yes indeed! There is a twin for above”—meaning God—“and one for below. This is the word of the Lord.”
It wasn’t no word to be found in Willa’s Bible, but Pastor Papa’s word was the law in Gibbs, Florida.
Someone stuck paperwork under Willa’s sweaty hand, demanded legal names for the county register, the name of their father. Orca? Dice? What kind of names for beautiful little girls—
Willa shrugged. Said the best weekend of her life had been in Orlando watching the big black whales at SeaWorld, playing games at the Vegas-themed bar downtown. She didn’t say whether that weekend had been with the girls’ father. She declined to note a father on the paperwork at all.
The hell do I care about their father? Ain’t I the one laying here doing all the work? Fuck a father. I see their father again, I’ll make him scream like he’s the one in labor.
So maybe, the nurses surmised, the best weekend of Willa’s life had not happened with the twins’ male parent.
They went home to the Green Lawns Bowling Club and RV Park the next day, the three Enright ladies, and Gibbs swallowed them up. It was a carnival town long past; Pastor Papa’s rightful name was Hugh Atwater Gibbs the Fourth, and he’d inherited the town from his father, and his father’s father, and on back to the boom days when the Gulf Coast had flourished in gold-studded citrus groves, stands of tarry pine, and fish camps where a man could buy an hour of delight or a pound of fresh-caught crab with the same currency.
His ministry was his own. None of the previous Gibbses had been men of God.
Instead, Pastor Papa denied them from the pulpit, one hand on the Bible and the other deep in ancestry’s pockets. They had been the Devil’s own fingers, his pappy and grand-pappy and great-grand-pappy. They’d greedily bought up the land beneath Gibbs and scraped it clean as a whistle, welcomed all manner of outcasts and felons and mother-loved runaways, twisted a hollow into the landscape like a fist socking into dough and planted it up with sin. Sin danced to the tune of tinny dulcimers and synth, sin was woven into the lacy thigh-highs of the peepshow girls, sin chivvied around the heels of the limeys as they fought one another to blood for gawking tourists’ entertainment. Sin! The Devil’s path below is rose-strewn and easy, but it is sin nonetheless!
The carnies maintained their own counsel, for wasn’t it Pastor Papa who kept the lights on in Gibbs?
The town’s off-season was spring and summer, when Pastor Papa’s show went on the road. His white tent popped up like a canker sore, a thousand stops between the passion play in Lake Wales and parts northern, night-chilly, strange. When Pastor Papa of Gibbs, Florida rolled through a place in his tour bus of bare chrome and blazing insignia, a trickle of carnies followed. It was all very below-board. He disavowed the performers and the town and his own family, consigning them all to hellfire and flames, and then put out his hand for a wad of cash each night, coughed up from the carnival’s tills. Some of the carnies were used in the ministry’s morality shows, wearing red face-paint and miming the Devil; some could be counted upon to speak in tongues, handle snakes and survive a bite before pop-eyed crowds. Thus the coffers of Gibbs were refreshed, through the word of the Lord and the showmanship of Pastor Papa and, a little, the guileless pleasures of a time gone by.
At home, in the off-season, everyone else breathed a little lighter.
No one could remember which of the Enright twins had been slated for the Devil, and which for God. It came up often enough that, even had Pastor Papa not decreed it scriptural, it would’ve become a truism in itself. Soon enough people figured the girls’ names came from their dooms, black and white, demonspawn and godsgift. Willa, who’d been present for all the particulars, merely shook her head when the girls asked who was who. They asked all the time in their younger years, for people have a terrible habit of telling small children things not even an adult can bear; they used the decree against one another. Mom! Orca stole my sandals and broke the strap! Can the Devil have her now? Can we just give her to Him?
No one was sure, either, how exactly God would come for His chosen, and the Devil for His.
Dice woke once, in the twins’ tenth year of life, to find her sister crouched over her. Orca’s hair hung down, loose rusty curls that matched Dice’s own, and as Dice watched, Orca wound her hair tight about her own throat. Dice watched and watched, morbidly interested to see whether Orca’s eyes would begin to bulge before blood started to seep from the roots of her hair. She fell asleep again, watching, so the outcome must’ve been something else entirely.
Autumn and winter were when tourists came to Florida, snowbirds no longer able to bear the icy streets of Pittsburgh and Buffalo in their truest forms, and so Pastor Papa and his disreputable retinue returned as well. The year was a wheel, Gibbs children learned, attached to God’s chariot as He drove it through infinity. In the summer, the wheel turned down, exposing the world to the Devil’s flames; this was why Gibbs often attained record temperatures for heat. As Tampa was inaccurately said to be the lightning strike capital of the country, Gibbs was accurately named the hottest town in the state.
Orca, something of a scientist, informed Pastor Papa during a Sunday potluck that, actually, Gibbs had higher-than-average temperatures because of its location inland, its flatness, and its lack of trees, due to your grandfather bulldozing all of ‘em. She received twelve dunkings in the river for her trouble.
In winter, the wheel turned up toward God. Winter was God’s season, otherwise why would He have sent His son to Earth for a December birthday? Winter belonged to Pastor Papa.
Oh, the snowy tents of the revival meetings, October through February, come one and come all! A midday luncheon on Wednesday—feed the poor, Pastor Papa believed, and the poor would feed you—and a meeting on Friday night that stretched from sundown straight up to the Devil’s hour, during which the ground shook with the Spirit. New sinkholes opened oftenest on a Friday night. This, according to local doctrine, was a sign of the End Times. Baptisms were only performed in winter, cold water and air a test of the new believers’ faith. Sundays were gentler, a prayer meeting in the morning where names were murmured and beseeched, and a church picnic after, and all through the week the carnies roared. This was their time. From Halloween to Valentine’s Day, winter was the season of fools.
There were the usual suspects: the bearded woman who grew her extravagant mustachios in the mode of Viking warriors, braided and twined with bone beads—the flippered boy, said to be the by-blow of a local silky who’d abandoned him in disgust at birthing a son—the giant, gaunt, gray horse who loped an endless cycle in a ring too small for its plate-sized hooves, bearing an aging ballerina on its back—the strutting high-wire man, doffing his cap between splits.
There was a Ferris wheel to off-set the tent housing girls and boys, lascivious, exposed, exhausted. There was a reader of cards, and one of palms. There was a roped-off section of river with diving platforms. There were many options for good eating, all of them fried. There was another ring, with two horses in it, water-horses raised to savage each other until one dropped and blood blackened the sand. It was good betting, limerunners, better than cock-fights or dogs.
In Dice’s view, it was wasteful.
Dice Enright was, in the memetic language of unkind schoolchildren everywhere, a horse girl.
On the twins’ fourteenth birthday, Dice gifted herself a pony, since no one was going to do the job for her. The carnival’s limey wranglers had fallen asleep at the task of making sure the beasts they bought for the fights were male; more likely Caitlin and Moreau had been drunk when they’d cut their most recent deal, trading a dead limey’s corpse for a fresh one, bite-ready. At any rate, a female had slipped into the pens of Gibbs, and a male had freaked for her scent, gotten loose, done what male beasts did to females. Then there was a baby. The limey wranglers shrugged over it. They knew enough to manage the fights, not raise a dad-blamed toothy baby monster, and no way could they let it stay with its mother. Nobody knew whether motherhood would soften up the limey mare, make her useless for anything but breeding. The Gibbs carnival needed a fighter, not a breeder.
For their part, the twins were eavesdroppers, as girls tend to be and doubly so for girls marked with the hands of divinity and hellfire. Dice didn’t like what she heard. How they going to kill it? It’s not the baby’s fault. Why they ain’t just turn it loose out in Myakka?
Orca rolled her eyes, scratching a mosquito bite in the thick wet night behind the animal tents.
To the side of Willa Enright’s trailer in Green Lawns was an assortment of pathetic, would-be suburban detritus: trikes and busted kites, boards nailed to a cedar tree, a sun-bleached beach umbrella stuck into a large, spreading anthill. Empty LipSmacker tubes, sippy cups half-buried in bad soil—and a kiddie pool. Dice bought horse tranqs off one of the wormy boys who ran the Ferris wheel and spinning teacups, rather than attempt to cozen the adults who handled the carnival’s animals and had reason to dish out ketamine. She moseyed up to the trailer Moreau had stuffed the baby limey into and shot the thing through one of the windows. Then she carted it home and sat it in the kiddie pool, filled to the brim with water from the RV park’s communal artesian well.
“You have got to be fucking kidding me,” Orca said when she saw the pool. She’d started cursing a lot lately, mostly fuck but a few goddamns because it made Pastor Papa’s eyeballs spin, and last week, when she’d dyed her hair purple and Willa began hacking it off with scissors, Cunt! You’re a CUNT, MOM!
Dice said nothing. The foal kept staggering upright on its spike-heel legs, then plopping down again, too woozy from the K to do anything it wanted, like bite her.
“Happy birthday,” Orca said. “I guess you probably didn’t get me anything.”
The thing about limerunners, of course, was that they ate meat. Dice turned into a vegetarian, slinging any meatloaf, fried chicken, or bacon that crossed the Enright kitchen table into the pen the limey foal inhabited. She’d conned a neighbor boy into building her the pen by showing him her tits. They weren’t much to look at; Enright women were bony and long like green beans that needed to be heeled-and-toed. But Nick stared and grinned like he’d never seen nipples before and then built a pen out of scrap wood and PVC stripped from the old chemical plant west of Gibbs.
Dice felt her vegetarianism was making her a better person, anyway. Chickens in Gibbs were only free-range, the fancy-people word, because nobody bothered cooping them. The town was half-commune as it was. Pastor Papa had some detailed, thorough doctrine on property held in kind. As Dice watched the foal gulp down fatty bacon strips and chicken nuggets and sometimes an actual chick, scooped from the main road out of Green Lawns, she felt her soul expanding. Becoming clear, like how they had to run the tap for a few minutes before the water gushed out sparkling instead of brownish. The baby limey was making her virtuous, considerate, downright wholesome.
Maybe she really was the twin who belonged to God.
Orca had long held that she herself was the twin marked by the Devil. She had a habit of searching herself, every inch of her body, for a third nipple or a strangely-shaped mole or a scar with no story behind it. She settled for a series of freckles that formed an upside-down cross on her left knee. This, she reasoned, gave her license to do whatever the goddamn hell she wanted. Nobody could tell her a thing, not her mother and not Pastor Papa, though if kids went to church in Gibbs Pastor Papa exercised his right to correct and guide them. Orca’s mind was too precise for Pastor Papa’s Enright decree to hold much sway, but the whole business was handy. If one of them was bad, might as well be her. It was just words, Pastor Papa’s thunderings, his yammering about prophecies (and who prophesied it? Didn’t you just say your forebears were no men of God, Pastor Papa?); it undergirded life in Gibbs but didn’t require dwelling on. It had nothing to do with Orca unless she needed it for some reason.
Guess I’m the Devil’s daughter, Ma. Grinning around a boyfriend’s bare ass stuck in the air over her mattress.
Satan made me do it. Piously hitting ‘Delete’ on the video she’d taken of Dice singing to that ugly limey yearling in the backyard and posted on Instagram.
I’m possessed. Earnest, staring up at Pastor Papa after falling down in a fit of tongues and thrashing during the Friday revival.
That one lingered, and not just because her lungs burned for days afterward, consequence of her head thrust underwater, held under, pushed down, down, down. Her eyes opened in panic, the meager river current sucking at them, and faintly she’d known that she was kicking Pastor Papa’s legs. Death twitch, like how people were supposed to jerk and dance when they were hanged. Sure, she’d faked the fit, yelled out a bunch of gobbledygook and cussing, but what if it was real like Pastor Papa said?
What would it feel like, the Devil entering her body?
Orca Enright got sleep paralysis, some nights. Her mother had told her this, and Dice, and not one but several guys who had reason to know what she looked like when she slept. Her body rigid, eyes flat open and staring at the ceiling, frozen. Dice once asked what it felt like, and Orca shrugged. Not even her twin needed to know how much she liked it. It was supposed to be scary, sleep paralysis. She Googled to see if other people experienced it like her, and everyone seemed to be in agreeance about how creepy it was, how they used all their willpower to shut their eyes against the hallucinations of figures hunched on their beds, in the corners of their rooms, stretched across the ceiling.
Orca shivered over it. The visions of dark shapes, man-sized, where no man had reason to be—that was proof, right? The Devil wanted her. He’d come for her. Come, Orca mouthed, smirking to herself on the school bus. Her sleep paralysis never ended because she went back to sleep and woke up normal. It ended in strange ecstasy, an orgasm crashing through her while her ability to touch herself was stolen away.
‘Til Satan arrived one night and drove her south, down to the Underworld like Hades stashing Persephone in his chariot, boyfriends were ok. Orca was dating her sixth boyfriend in two years on the night of Dice’s big debut, so Orca figured the sisterly thing to do would be go, Matt Lambert in tow, and watch. Clap politely. Bully Dice into downing some celebratory vodka afterward with the kids who worked the fairway, provided Dice’s dumb ass didn’t completely drown.
“What do you mean, they dive?” Matt said. He stared at the new high-dive, craning his zitty neck up to assess the platform, twice as broad and strong as the normal diving platform. “Your sister dives? But so what does the horse do?”
“Fuckin’…” Matt pondered. “The kinda horse they fight? I’ve seen ‘em fight. Fuckin’ nasty. Like bullfighting except they kill each other.” Matt Lambert, Orca knew, had never seen a bullfight. He probably hadn’t even seen a limey fight. They were supposed to be one of the carnival’s 18-and-above events because they were so brutal. “You can teach those motherfuckers to dive? Off a fuckin’ platform?”
Maybe, Orca thought, fuck wasn’t such a fun word after all.
“My sister’s favorite movie is Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken,” she said, knowing Matt wouldn’t have a fuckin’ clue what she was talking about. “My dear sweet sister could charm a snake into the barrel of your dad’s shotgun. My sister taught her ugly little monster how to dive, because that’s absolutely a smart thing for nice young ladies to do. My sister wouldn’t be content with teaching a warmblood to dive, oh no, she had to go steal a limey foal and raise it like a puppy in our backyard and now, Matthew, here they are.”
There they were.
Dice and her limerunner, whom Orca refused to call by his ridiculous name, were on the diving platform. Sixty feet—Orca knew this because Dice wouldn’t shut up about it—and the limey poised, cool as a cat, when every other water-horse Orca’d seen or heard about was a balls-out lunatic. All teeth and venomous saliva, kill a man as soon as the scent was in its nostrils. Dice was up on his back, waving one hand like Miss America. The carnival crowd was already dying for them. Orca could tell. Every Gibbs carnie who didn’t have somewhere else to be was in the stands, and every townie, and a whole slew of tourists from Tampa and Sarasota who’d heard something special was going down at the freakshow tonight.
“Mizzzzz Dice Enright,” boomed the carnival’s hype-man, Ted Markham, whose cue-ball head and limp mustache Orca loathed with an intensity, “and her diving limey Bubbles!”
Bubbles. Leave it to Dice to name a vicious carnivorous pony Bubbles.
Dice waved one more time, then patted her head. Her reddish curls were barely distinguishable from her skin; she and Orca both went brown in the summer, brown and freckles and brown and sun-streaked highlights and brown creases around Jim Beam-brown eyes. Her hair was tightly braided, and she wore a one-piece swimsuit, cut high around the shoulders and low on her hips. It was extremely un-sexy, in Orca’s view, but she supposed it was made to stay on when Dice hit the water at 15 miles per hour on half a ton of predator. That would be a truly demonic wedgie.
The picture Dice and Bubbles made in the air was beautiful. Even Orca had to admit that.
They soared up, brief and sharp, the icicle edges of Dice’s shoulders and the limey’s split hooves silhouetted against the spotlights. Then they became bullet-shaped, Dice low on Bubbles’s neck and the limey’s head stretched out, his neck long and glistening. His coat was the color of old blood. They plummeted like an arrow shot from one of those monster compound bows Matt Lambert and his friends liked to take hunting, and the limey’s hooves cleaved the water open like a wound in flesh. Orca saw her sister’s head duck to the side as the horse raised his.
The water closed around them again, clean. Hardly disturbed.
Everyone clapped and hollered. Orca smiled. Somewhere in the crowd, she wondered if their mother was smiling too. Willa wasn’t a smiler, and even though Dice was the good daughter, she seemed to have no great appreciation for that fact. But she had to be proud of Dice, right? It was pretty fucking cool, actually. Diving limeys. Fucking Dice. Nobody else would’ve ever thought to do it, not in a million years.
The water lay calm, seeded through with its wisp of current.
“Quooo-ite a performance, folks!” said Ted Markham, breathing into the mic. “Gibbs is proud to have Mizz Dice Enright and her diving limerunner on the roster!” More breathing, expectant and heavy, as though Ted was waiting for Dice’s head to pop up out of the water, her hand to raise and wave again, her skinny arms guiding Bubbles up the bank. “Stick around and feed Bubbles a porterhouse or two for that wonderful performance!”
“Dude,” Matt Lambert said. His tongue tickled Orca’s ear. “Like, how the hell deep did they dive?”
They dove sixty feet through air, Dice and Bubbles. Another twenty through clear water, their intertwined shapes black and lumpy in the viewers’ eyes, and the onlookers couldn’t know it—applause fading, catcalls turning to murmurs and questions—but they were diving still.
At least, Dice was.
The limerunner’s head appeared first, snake-like, ears pinned and eyes glowing gator-red in the falling dusk. The rest of him stood on the riverbank presently, a drowned rat of a horse, godforsaken. Most people scattered back from the sight, but a few homegrown Florida lunkheads went up to him, tried to pet him, figured that since a little girl had ridden him, he was tame.
“Mister Hugh Gibbs, hiiiimpresario and master of ceremonies, would like to remind all patrons,” said Ted Markham jauntily, “that the carnival and town of Gibbs hold no liability for death or dismemberment.”
Orca took Bubbles home because she didn’t know what else to do. It was so in her sister’s wheelhouse, this bullshit (Orca walking quickly, dragging the muzzled water-horse, thinking furious thoughts because otherwise she would cry); it was so far up Dice’s alley the whole concept was lodged somewhere in her major intestines. Take a stupid, hideous animal and keep it like a pet, a pet you had to feed live chickens. Get some idea from a movie that you could do something completely goddamn insane, and then actually do it. Don’t bother to come back afterward, of course. Let your poor sister try to clean up after you.
Orca had never cleaned anything in her life. Her half of the room she and Dice shared was a horror story. Willa, just this side of slovenly herself, came in once a week to yell and tear down a poster or two, then retreat to the lawn chairs outside with her Coppertone.
It wasn’t until Bubbles was shut up in his pen, gnawing a chicken, that Orca remembered she’d kinda left Matt Lambert hanging back at the riverside. “Whatever,” she said to the limey. “He kisses like a lamprey and all he wears are stupid Gators t-shirts. He can die mad about it.”
Bubbles paused in his dinner and stared at her. Blood drooled from his chops, teeth bared around the dangling chunk of hen. Then he spat it out entirely and made a keening sound, the worst sound Orca had ever heard. He kept making it as she backed away, not turning from him. It followed her into the trailer, beneath her sweat-twisted sheets, down to sleep.
It turned out that Pastor Papa took drownings very seriously.
Nobody went into the section of river running through the carnival grounds without his say-so, for water was the fluid backbone of Gibbs theology. Dice had petitioned prettily for her diving-limey show to be added to the carnival schedule, and Pastor Papa had listened, the picture of beneficence and stern love, nodding in a solemn manner every three seconds. If he knew which of the Enright twins was the godly one and which the demonic, he had never said—but Dice never sassed him at meetings, or stole rounds of pies from the Sunday potluck, and didn’t go around with boys, and painted her fingernails pale pink instead of black. The general belief in Gibbs was that Pastor Papa had carried on with Willa Enright, nearly sixteen years before. No parent liked to admit it, but they all had their favorite children.
We live in the time of great signs and omens! Pastor Papa at his cedar-carved pulpit on Friday night, Willa’s face closed fist-like and Orca’s furious, because in Orca’s view it was extremely tacky to use her sister as a talking point in a sermon on Friday night, of all nights, when strangers came to the ruckus and glow of the revival at Gibbs. At least he could’ve saved it for Sunday’s quieter, members-only meeting. Wars and rumors of war, the appearance of beasts great and strange (what, Orca wondered sourly, did he mean the new Jurassic Park movie or the reticulated python that had been found in the Everglades last week), disruption to our environment and the clouding of the minds of men! Pastor Papa was incapable of talking without exclamation. As God’s wheel turns toward the brightest light, so sacrifices must be made!
The wheel of God’s chariot, turned heavenward during winter, would eventually revolve in place. This was the End Times, the opening of Revelation’s book, the cleansing of the earth by Christ’s return. Orca wasn’t looking forward to it.
She squirmed as Pastor Papa went on, glaring down at her, his hands slashing like a crazed choir director for emphasis. He looked like he was doing sign language, but Orca doubted it was in any tongue area deaf people might know. His pronouncements fell on her ears dully. He had to spin what had happened to Dice, of course. Had to provide some doctrinal reason for no body floating up, in the immediate aftermath or hours later. Had to remind all present that the scions of Heaven and Hell lived among them, and that the Devil, yes, even the very Adversary Himself, Satan Son of the Morning, had claimed His prize.
It was all backward. Orca tuned out.
Meanwhile, Dice kept diving. Down and down, down down down, because if there was an original source to the springs spread like nerve bundles beneath Florida’s heat-crisped surface, it was surely located in Hell. The water that cradled her changed from clear and leaf-tinged to shocking blue, then midnight blue, then black. It was cold enough just beneath the surface, and so cold far below that she knew she had died.
She wished Bubbles could’ve stayed with her.
Three days after Dice’s little show-off moment, Orca sat on the edge of her bed and put on eyeliner. She edged each eye in thick black, upper rim and lower, and three coats of waterproof mascara. It didn’t look natural in the slightest—her eyelashes, when she blinked, moved like the legs of a stick insect—but Orca wasn’t interested in natural beauty.
“Ok,” she said to her reflection, which didn’t respond. “It’s go time.”
Here is what Orca Enright knew about the Devil:
He was the Father of Lies, so everything you wanted and knew you shouldn’t want came from Him.
He reigned over a host of demons in Hell, and was responsible for things people called poltergeists and vampires and so forth on Earth.
He was everywhere, like yellow oak pollen in its season.
The Devil of Gibbs—Pastor Papa’s rendering, in cartoony crayon colors and florid adjectives—was also the Father of Witches, which sounded metal as hell to Orca, and was why witches could swim, in old-timey stories. Why people wishing to test an ornery woman for witchcraft dunked her in a pond. Of course, it was Florida, and everyone could swim: thus Pastor Papa’s strictness regarding the river, who went in it and why. Thus his doctrine of sinkholes, the Devil’s pits opening up to trap good citizens and swallow honest folks. Thus his railings against limerunners as cloven-hoofed, fire-tongued, even as he permitted their fights at the carnival after dark. Thus the congregation’s practice of water burial, totally a bundle of county code violations.
What followed Dice into the water was a tale quick on tongues before Orca even reached her destination.
Orca Enright sauntering down the main drag of Green Lawns Bowling Club and RV Park, wearing nothing but an American flag-print bikini and leading that devil horse what drowned her sister, who trotted along behind Orca meek as anything.
Orca liked her sleep paralysis so much that sometimes she tried to bring it on, the way eating a ton of Vitamin C would trigger her period when she was afraid she might be knocked up. It was easiest if she woke up in the mean small hours and then fell back to sleep before her school alarm went off. There was a space there, between night and morning, true good REM sleep and full wakefulness. She’d learned to wriggle into it, will herself into stone, freeze every bodily impulse and turn them inward until they boiled and exploded.
It was a big ol’ gray area, of which Orca knew the world to be mostly composed. Pastor Papa hated gray areas. The good Lord’s word is black and white! Then he’d beam benevolently and nod to an aged, fine-skinned African-American congregation member and again to a gingery Irish-American, to suggest that his church was one of acceptance. That he’d made a metaphor, on purpose. That, good or evil, the only requirement was knowing your place.
Orca’s place was with the Devil. Her airy-fairy big-eyed sister wasn’t going to steal it.
They stood at the river’s edge, she and Bubbles, and though she saw people wandering over from the carnival tents to gawk, she wasn’t concerned anyone would try to stop her. The limey next to her would prevent it, his big-cat teeth and can-opener hooves. She got on him, hating the slick feel of his hide beneath her legs. Nothing like the warm, vital smoothness of the carnival’s other horses, which she’d pet now and then as a younger Orca, dragged along by her horse-girl sister and grimacing about it even though, ok, horses were kind of cool.
Bubbles didn’t throw her, at least. He walked into the river when she kicked him.
The water was so cold that for a moment Orca wondered if Bubbles had kicked her. It reached into her chest like a hand gripping her heart, filled up her nostrils and punched the panic button of her brain, wormed between her legs in a way that loosened them, eased them open, tickled and cooed. Orca had about three minutes, she knew, before she’d lose consciousness underwater; another three minutes and her brain would begin to die. It was between those moments, the doorway she was looking for. If she didn’t panic, if the limey didn’t fight her or drag her back up to the air, they’d go down. Slip through. Swim past the gateway between the normal world of Gibbs and the darker realm of demons, bloody chambers, irresistible power.
It wasn’t that the Devil had made a mistake, on the evening of Dice’s diving debut. The Devil couldn’t make mistakes. But they were twins, after all, alike in face and body and mannerisms. He’d just grabbed the wrong one. He’d know, as soon as Orca appeared before him, who belonged in His grasp.
They swam, she and Bubbles, plowing due south through the cave system that lay beneath the bulb of Gibbs’s river. It was probably beautiful, the blue water and schools of glimmering quicksilver fish, but she kept her burning eyes open and aimed ahead. The icy flow receded around them, until it seemed that her arms and legs were dry, warm. A glance told her that she was still beneath, tiny bubbles clinging to her skin. None rose in the water before her mouth and nose. Cause for concern, but she was still moving, wasn’t she? The limey still churned between her legs, his red-lined half-gills opening and closing in breath. The cave walls shrank around them, expanded, morphed into long tunnels that looked like dead ends until she reached those ends and found another tunnel. She was numb—from cold, maybe, or because she’d died and not even realized it. It was a familiar feeling, one she reached for and drew over herself like a blanket. It was that feeling of paralysis, her mind lively and pulsing inside a body now a tomb.
She would wake up again when she reached her destination.
The tunnel dipped and Bubbles’s front legs sailed over the threshold, and then they were caught in a torrent, a whirlpool, the current that had bulged and subsided throughout their journey suddenly whipping into a frenzy. Orca’s fingers were woven through the stringy mass that made up the limey’s mane and her thighs clenched around his barrel, locked in place in a sort of rigor mortis that kept her on his back despite the wild tumble. She had a sense of plummeting over a waterfall, endlessly. Her stomach swooped and swooned, and that was familiar too: the first inklings of ecstatic sensation, blood and lust pouring through her veins, the feeling that preceded a full jolt into waking.
So another comes.
The voice reached Orca’s ears faintly, as voices underwater tended to. Blurry, non-distinct, not bound by the laws of time as voices in open air. Her body arced, straining toward the source. The source. The mouth of Hell: that was where she’d ended up, exactly where she wanted to be.
Fair-faced, the pair of you. The voice was mirthful. That jibed with Orca’s sense of the Devil. He was always laughing, Pastor Papa chided his congregants, dancing a jig as He dragged souls into His embrace.
Orca wanted the embrace.
Two theater masks of old, He continued, see how your sister weeps? She turns from me in despair, while you… You, child—Orca shivered inside her skin—you descend with smiles. You run giggling to the foot of my throne. Perhaps she would smile if she saw you. Perhaps you’ll cry when you see her.
Orca, cloaked in water, had never felt her eyes more dry.
The whirlpool slowed, deposited her beside a form she knew by heart. Bubbles drifted away from Orca’s legs and nudged Dice’s hand. Dice’s face was frozen, her mouth twisted in a silent shriek; she didn’t turn to look at Orca, but her fingers flexed. They bent and settled on the limey’s bat-leather ears. Orca smiled, inside her mind. There. It was all good. Dice was safe. She and her evil baby would swim back up to Gibbs (their mother would be fine with only one daughter, the good daughter), and Orca would stay below, in the place that had been prepared for her.
I am an eater of hearts, the voice informed her, and something twisted deep within her chest. To truly know a person, one must consume them. Every desire comes wrapped in a different flavor, each delectable and true. Ah! Orca observed with fresh wonder the ice-bound stillness of her body, even as sensation writhed through it. Her mind thrashed, heady, soaring on waves of pleasure. And what a fine bouquet of nutty self-loathing, notes of popcorn grease and hidden tears. A finishing undertone of…
His voice paused, the last words rippling through the water. Orca perched on the edge of agony.
Let us call it ambivalence.
Orca huffed, mentally. People had called her a lot of things, but ambivalent? Fuck that.
I am a granter of heart’s wishes, He said, lovingly. Shall I grant yours?
“God yes,” Orca said, though the words of course didn’t emerge. Beside her, Dice revolved slowly in the water. When she bobbed far enough to face Orca, her face hadn’t changed. But a new awareness burned in her eyes, one of horror and painful love.
Ah-ah. There is a fight within you, child. Are you willing to roll those dice?
He’d said Dice’s name, Orca reflected. Jealousy burned her throat like cheap vodka. When would He say hers?
Very well. A presence oozed into Orca’s awareness on the back of the words. Far below the earth, buried underwater, the light around her grew even darker. A sensation crawled over her skin, like the air becoming electric before a storm. She burst with it, every inch of her popping against paralyzing bonds, eager to be free of the eerie liminality into which she’d forced herself. It is most often true of humans that deepest desires are shrouded. You believe you know yours.
Orca knew. She broadcast it to Him, imagining herself a radio tower, her pulse a wi-fi signal.
You have crossed every barrier with love in your heart, unselfish love, which is anathema to this place. This must return to the earthly world.
“What,” Orca said, and this time the word did emerge. “What?” Muffled, the force of her shock blunted in deep water. “That isn’t what I want!”
I am never wrong, child. Look to your sister. She wears your face in every regard. Look to your heart. It beats more honestly than you know.
No no no no no no no no, no thank you, no sirree Bob, whoever the fuck Bob was. She was supposed to be here. She wanted to be here. Dice could go home, and Orca would stay, and—
Dice’s hand slid from her limey’s mane and laced into Orca’s. Not a muscle on her skinny frame had moved otherwise. Her lips were deep, bruised blue.
Take your sister and her steed. I admit a fondness for the water-horses. They are halfway mine, two feet in the dark places and two in the light. This one—and His voice grew petty—its teeth are blunted.
Bubbles’s teeth seemed plenty sharp to Orca.
Take your sister! The voice slipped into a crackling anger, and the current around Orca and Dice thrashed up once more. Now, before I abandon my sweet nature. I dislike hesitation. As your people would say, half-assed-ness. Do you think to know yourself, child? Cut away those parts that buck, burn out every instance of uncertainty, before you seek my presence again.
Orca almost believed He spat, if spitting was possible underwater.
Be grateful that these antics amuse me. On another day, in another weather, I would keep all of you for my appetizers.
Rage and shame churned in Orca’s stomach. That was the force that propelled her from her paralysis. It pissed her off, that He had stolen even the nubbins of pleasure. She’d worked her ass off to get here, practically killed herself and—
Don’t think to gaze back, the voice warned. The current swept Bubbles beneath Orca, and she grabbed for his mane. She clasped her arms around Dice and settled them both on the limey’s back. A glance over your shoulder, one small peek… You may see something not fit for virgin eyes.
Was that supposed to deter her? God. It was like He’d never met a teenage girl. And to call her a virgin…
Laughter rippled out, and—against all logic—lightning struck across the cave, the bolt burying itself in black water. Enticing, no? Search your heart once more, Orca Enright, and decide whether the feast your eyes might seek is worth your sister’s life.
His gaze, murky and vast, burned into Orca’s spine as they swam upward. It was one thing to descend into Hell: all that was required, ultimately, was letting go. It turned out to be quite another to climb back out of Hell—but Orca did it, weeping invisible tears that joined the eternal current circling the cave, Dice’s body slowly growing warmer against Orca’s chest. That would have to be her reward, Orca reflected glumly, since it wouldn’t be exactly kind to leave their mother totally alone. That was her reward, her sister returning to vitality, Dice’s dumb bitey pony spry and mean as the day Dice had stolen him from a horse trailer, all of them back in the world of the living to function as props and doctrinal proofs for Pastor Papa.
But then, they were proof. No one had done what the Enright twins were doing right now. And no one, Orca decided with morbid satisfaction, was going to tell her shit when they got home.
A chuckle chased them, wrapping around Orca’s bare ankles, intimate as a hand laid on her thigh. She clenched her jaw and bit her tongue and dug her heels into the limey’s ribs to keep her eyes ahead. So the Devil didn’t want her as she was? Orca Enright was not in the habit of taking bait and dares from men. She was flawless. She spurned Him, not the other way around.
She did not look back.