Alex and Nick have always shared a body, as long as they can remember. But even in a world where the supernatural is common, this isn’t normal. For years, they’ve pretended to be just one person to avoid being called crazy- or worse, being taken to a priest to be exorcised. They’ve always been curious about how their unique circumstances began, but when a mysterious creature begins hunting everyone involved in their birth, the stakes are suddenly much higher. Now they must uncover their family’s secrets to figure how they came to be, and why something is hunting anyone connected to them- before it starts hunting them, too.
Alex was seven when he realized that he wasn’t normal.
It was a sunny day in summer, and he and Nick had just celebrated their birthday a few days before. They shared a birthday, of course. They shared everything.
On this particular day, they had gotten hold of a hammer, some wood, and some nails. They weren’t supposed to play with Dad’s tools. They both knew that. But Alex had decided that their backyard needed a tree house, and Nick had agreed. So they’d grabbed the necessary supplies from the shed near the big mossy wardstone behind the house, and off they went. The sun beat hot outside the shade of the big tree in the backyard, and locusts shrieked in the leaves above them. At the age of seven, it was the perfect day, the kind of day they both loved.
They’d gotten as far as nailing the first board to the tree- and miraculously managed to avoid smashing their thumbs in the process- when Dad had come outside.
“What are you doing?” he said.
Nick had quickly hidden the hammer behind his back, but he didn’t fool anyone.
“You know you aren’t old enough to be building things like this,” Dad said. “Hand it over, Mister.”
Nick reluctantly handed the hammer to his dad. “It was Alex’s idea,” he said, with a pout.
Dad sighed. “Aren’t you getting a little old for imaginary friends, Nick?”
Nick and Alex just stared.
“Alex isn’t imaginary,” Nick said.
“Right,” Dad said, and shook his head. He gathered up the nails and loose boards that Nick and Alex had scattered all over the ground, and locked them in the shed with a spell Alex and Nick didn’t yet know how to undo.
Alex just stood there, staring out of Nick’s eyes and blinking away tears.
His own Dad didn’t believe he existed.
When it became obvious that Dad wasn’t going to turn around and say, “Just kidding!” Alex started to cry in earnest, in quiet, painful, little sobs.
Nick hugged his arms around himself, and said, gently: “He doesn’t mean it. He doesn’t mean it, Alex, he can’t-”
But the damage was done.
Alex let Nick be in charge of their body for the next few hours, instead of fighting him for it like he usually did. He didn’t much feel like talking. Nick made a point of not talking to Dad during dinner that night, instead pointedly talking to Mom. If Dad noticed, he didn’t say anything.
Eventually, once conversation about the day’s events had petered out, Nick said to Mom: “You believe Alex exists, right?”
Mom’s expression was guarded. She glanced at Dad, who shook his head a little.
“I believe that you believe in Alex,” she said.
Nick scowled. “That’s not the same thing,” he said.
Mom frowned. “I know that, honey.”
“So you don’t believe in him?” Nick asked.
“Nick...” she said, warningly. Which meant she wasn’t going to answer. Which meant the answer was no.
“I think that once you have more friends, you won’t need Alex anymore,” she said, brightly. “What about that boy who came over last week? Asher? He seemed nice. You should invite him to come over and play again.”
Nick gave her a disgusted look. “Alex is going to cry again,” he told her. “You’re really mean. Both of you should be ashamed of yourselves,” he added in his best impression of Mom, with a glare tacked on for good measure.
Then he abandoned his meal and went up the stairs to his room and slammed the door.
That was the day Alex realized that everyone was always going to think he was imaginary. That Nick had made him up. And the most unfair thing was that there was no way to prove them wrong. Alex didn’t have a body of his own. He just had Nick’s. It wasn’t like Nick could point at him, and say, “See?” They lived in the same head. They lived in the same body.
Alex didn’t talk to Mom or Dad for a full week after that. And to make it worse, he realized something after a few days of silence: they weren’t his parents. They were just Nick’s parents. If they were Alex’s parents, they would love him. And they didn’t. So they couldn’t be his parents.
Nick stayed angry at his parents even longer than Alex did. But eventually things went more-or-less back to normal. There was just one difference- whenever Alex did anything, he pretended he was Nick. Neither he nor Nick ever mentioned the name “Alex” to anyone for the next ten years. They pretended Alex didn’t exist.
It wasn’t that far from the truth anyway.