Noting the familiar head bob, Melody rushed to my tattered, stain-riddled sofa and plopped down in front of the laptop, which she nonchalantly swiped from the coffee table and placed on her lap. As she was flipping it open, she paused abruptly, catching herself, and turned toward me, her face painted with guilt.
"Oh my gosh! I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to just... do you mind if I...?"
I shrugged as her voice trailed off; relief washed over her face and her attention returned once more to the glowing screen before her.
"It's, uh... you sort of get used to just, you know, taking without permission, I guess. It's like, uh, survival instinct or something... I don't know."
She cleared her throat and glanced up at me, a bit ashamed.
"So... you, uh, use this thing at all? I mean, is this your writing? Or...?"
I nodded, perhaps a bit sheepishly this time. A twinge of discomfort loomed in my psyche. I had not anticipated another pair of eyes poring over my words. But then, had I known, would I have abstained from portions of dialogue? Had I been knowingly writing for an audience, would my thoughts have taken a different tone? A different form? Would I have instead opted for a more disingenuous narrative—stringing words together simply to entertain rather than... what exactly is the purpose of my writing?
Her eyes darted from margin to margin, her brow furrowed with concentration, her mouth silently speaking the words as she read. Meanwhile, Shilah had again drifted off into the clouds—into the land of dreams and abstraction. Her body expanded and contracted with an unfamiliar calm; her tail twitched to and fro, seemingly sentient.
Melody paused suddenly and leaned back, pulling my attention from the peaceful shadow on my table. She folded her arms tightly against her bosom and exhaled, visibly agitated. Her eyes remained fixed on the screen. It was clear that she had reached a very specific point in my narrative.
"I had a sister..."
She closed her eyes and exhaled again, pained.
"I had a sister who was like you. Trisha. Probably how I picked you out so easily. She was like you."
She shook her head and closed her eyes more tightly.
"She came back one day. Bleeding. Blood everywhere. There was an open wound on her arm. I didn't know what had happened to her, but I knew right away what it meant. She was gone. Dead. But... she didn't attack me. I tried talking to her, but she wouldn't respond. She nodded though, just like you do. She acknowledged my voice; seemed to understand me. She wouldn't respond because she couldn't respond anymore. She wasn't like the rest. Somehow, she was still... present, you know? And she'd returned to where we were staying. As much as it broke my heart that my sister was gone, I still felt, I don't know... thankful, I guess, that she wasn't entirely gone. She was still in there. It didn't make any sense, but she was still in there."
Her eyelids peeled back and she stared at the ceiling, dejected, searching. We sat in near silence for a moment; Shilah's audible slumber provided a low, rumbling ambiance.
Melody set my laptop to her side and slowly rocked forward, resting her forearms on her knees, her head hanging limply from her shoulders. Her ponytail had divided and was spilling all around her head, vaguely resembling a split banana peel; an odd observation for sure.
"This Eduardo..." she mumbled, turning her hands over one another. She looked up at me.
"...and his little troop..."
Her eyes grew intense, her gaze penetrating; vengeful.
"...took her from me."
There was a faint growl in her voice as she spoke. Her eyes were welling up with tears, but she fought their flow.
"Andy's, you know, across the street? Trish and I were..."
A single tear broke her mental barrier and spilled down her cheek. She immediately swiped it out of existence and took a deep, shaky breath.
"We still went everywhere together, you know? Dead or not, we had each other's backs like, like sisters do. Then his group came along one day when we were looking for supplies—food, for me. He had four others with him, all with guns. I was scared, so I hid, and I called at Trish to hide as well... but they saw her... she wasn't fast enough, and..."
Tears were flooding down her cheeks now; amorphous blobs carving jagged paths down her cheeks. She had given up on preventing their course.
"One shot rang out. It was... deafening. Trish collapsed and... she was just... convulsing on the floor, Xander... she was just lying there, helpless, and there was nothing I could do. I was so scared. Then... he came up and just... chopped... He chopped up my sister, Xander. He just chopped up my sister like—"
Her posture collapsed further and she lurched forward, her shoulders trembling as she wept into her open hands. Shilah's eyes fluttered open and she wobbled drunkenly over to Melody. She let out a mighty yawn, then burrowed her face into Melody's stomach, returning, yet again, to her blissful slumber.