Exclusive Nonfiction Feature: “Blood Brother” by Hannah Melin

……From that high, the cloudless sky was a threatening, disorienting blue. I rocked my head back and forth on the stone floor, feeling gravity’s pull just so I didn’t tumble upwards into a pale aqua abyss. I felt the wisps of my hair sticking to the tacky, drying blood of the altar. The metallic smell was overwhelming; the Mexican sun cooked the gore that ran down the dizzying steps of the temple. Hundreds of feet below me, a crowd screamed in a language I couldn’t understand. I looked up, away from the sky to the face of a madman. He stood above me, his blood-spattered form adorned with a feathered headpiece around which the golden form of Quetzalcoatl curled. He raised a stone dagger to the sky, and the sea of people cheered. 

……“I’m gonna cut out your heart!” he screamed, lowering the dagger into my chest. I shrieked as he carved a rough circle through my chest. I let the pain wrack through me, white-hot shudders that surge from deep below my stomach. The priest drew his knife deeper into me and my blood spurted up his arm, shooting up into the sky. With his free hand, he reached into the cavity that once was my chest, digging through the viscera until his fist closed around my heart. He jerked his arm back, ripping free my still-beating heart and raising it above his head.

……He threw his head back, speaking a word of power to the heavens. 


……I screamed.

……“Jesus Christ, kids!”

……Mom stared at my brother and me from the doorway to his bedroom, a laundry basket pressed against her hip. I sat up and pushed aside the black rubber knife we’d been using, its handle branded with a skull and crossbones that matched the pirate costume we’d salvaged it from. After three solid months of Sam and I using “savvy” as a preposition, Mom bought the costume at Costco. At nine, I couldn’t fit into it, but Sam was three years younger and half a foot shorter.

……“We’re playing Sacrifice,” he said.

……“I’m gonna get sacrificed!” I said.

……Mom sighed and left us to our game, returning to the laundry.

……Sacrifice was our favorite game. It had the highest rate of play frequency when counted with its variation: Wolf Pack. Wolf Pack had the same format, except instead of dedicating each organ to the gods, we’d sloppily consume them. Once every internal organ we knew the name of had been destroyed, we would swap spots and repeat. I always rushed my turn as the priest or the wolf pack. Sam whined about it. He spent too much time dutifully pantomiming the necessary blood spurts while I giggled and screamed. Still, for the life of me, I can’t remember if there was ever a time he refused to play.


……I saw my first horror movie in kindergarten. My best friend across the street (not to be confused with the best friend on the corner, nor the best friend in the house behind me) had a teenage older sister who wore black Doc Martens and listened to Nirvana and was the coolest human being I’d ever seen. One weekend, she let us into her bedroom where we gathered around her 12-inch CRT TV, and she popped in a VHS of Child’s Play. I sat close enough to the screen, eyes wide as I felt the static fuzz tickling my forehead.

……Mom found out that night when I refused to go to sleep unless she threw every single one of my dolls into a garbage bag and triple-knotted it. I fully conceded to her new ruling: no horror movies until you’re old enough to handle them. 

……In fourth grade, I found a battered copy of the Jurassic Park novel on a shelf in Mr. Ramirez’s English class. I asked if I could take it home.

……He shrugged and handed it to me. “You’ll put it down if it’s too scary, right?”

……I had a favorite part before I’d finished reading. The first time I read the scene, I immediately flipped the page and read it again, tracing and retracing the paragraph. Dennis Nedry, stumbling blind as he tries to make it back to his Jeep, the dilophosaurus closing in on him casually, like they know they have all the time in the world.

……He feels a hot slice across his stomach and catches something thick and wet in his hands. Right before the dinosaur takes his skull in its jaws, he realizes he’s holding his own intestines.

……After school, when I followed my mom around the kitchen, moaning and miming my guts falling out like a magician’s silks, she knew the horror movie ban could be lifted.

……It took longer for Sam to get interested. Gremlins had been particularly traumatizing: we had to throw out the VHS cover because he’d cry if he spotted it in the cabinet. With Mom’s permission, we rented a copy of Jurassic Park popping in the movie for him.

……Sam cried when the velociraptors made their way into the kitchen, sniffing the air for Tim Murphy as he shivered under a cabinet. It was okay, though. His big sister saved the day.


……Fake blood is one part water, two parts red food coloring, and four parts corn syrup. There’s no point in giving you a measured out recipe. You could use this for a one-off frat house prank, but you and I both know, deep down, it’s really not fun unless you’ve got gallons and gallons of it.

……And if you plan on having a lot of fun, throw in a third of a bottle of green food coloring and half a jar of Jif chunky peanut butter. 

……I highly recommend you express caution in the level of food coloring you add. It’s difficult to throw off the color entirely, so don’t stress about that. The issue is that too much food coloring stains your teeth and leaves a kind of chemical aftertaste at the back of your tongue. And don’t eat too much of it, corn syrup has way more sugar in it than you think it does. 

……Please put it in your mouth. It’s one hundred percent edible. I think it’s even gluten-free. You can make it organic or non-GMO or whatever you want it to be. If you like Reese’s Cups or Alfred Hitchcock, you can add some chocolate syrup to the fake blood. It works if you’re going for a viscera, mid-decay effect, usually applied to the recreations of Romero-era zombies. I’d even put it on ice cream.

……Sam’s blood is so thin and bright red you would think you put too much food coloring in. He bleeds faster than he should. It’s not the slow, viscous crawl of blood from the first kill of a slasher film, when the cops are searching the empty house for the single murdered body. It’s more like Johnny Depp in Nightmare on Elm Street.

……In elementary school, the sight of Sam’s blood always came with an event to be celebrated. He skinned his knee the first time he rode a bike without training wheels. He scraped his arm when he finally made it to the highest tree branch with me. He was spitting out pink froth after we’d tied a wobbly tooth to his bedroom door (I got to slam it shut). Once he ripped open his palm on a rusty fence when he tried to follow my cousins and me into a graveyard. Our uncle poured whiskey on it and wrapped it with duct tape before we helped him over the fence and chased him around the headstones.

……He gets nosebleeds. Not the type where you have to pinch your nose for thirty seconds and then maybe hold a tissue to it for a bit. It’s the kind where you have to get him a fresh shirt. And fresh pants. And fresh socks. 

……They can be triggered by a rough sneeze, a change in altitude, or a slight impact. I’ve caused them more times than I can count. The hardest part is trying not to laugh. It usually happens when I’ve tackled him or accidentally head-butted him during a wrestling match, and since we’re tangled up to start with, all of his blood gets on my face. His blood has this tendency to run down his face in a kind of jet-stream formation, so it looks like he’s just taken a bite out of a fresh corpse, and most of the time, any soccer parents or Chuck-E-Cheese employees who might be observing us tend to freak the fuck out. They’re concerned that they’ve just seen two siblings murder each other because at this point, I’m covered in as much of Sam’s blood as he is, so I have to be very careful not to laugh while they contemplate calling 911. I can’t laugh, of course, because I have to keep my lips carefully sealed since Sam nose blood is way grosser than other types of Sam blood (it’s warmer and saltier) and there is no way I’m willingly letting it get in my mouth.

……There was a special kind of excitement when the two of us set off real fear. It was the best kind of attention. It was the satisfaction of knowing we’d outsmarted the grown-ups, tricked them into a frenzy. It was something primal and new at the same time. It has to be the reason horror movies make millions on a hundred dollar budget or why people shell out their hard-earned cash to be chased by costumed killers at a theme park. There’s the adrenaline, sure, but at the same time, there’s a sense of superiority. When we’re the ones covered in blood, we’re separate from the rest of the world. We were a morbid alternative to society, and no one else was allowed in the club. It was just Sam and me, aching, giggling, and bloody.


……When I hit ninth grade, it was the first time Sam and I didn’t share a school. Even in kindergarten, his daycare was attached to the naval base’s elementary school. When we were in elementary school, I’d wave to him in the hallways. On Fridays, when the school had a bake sale, I’d buy him a chocolate cupcake with the quarters Mom had given me while we waited for her blue minivan to pull up.

……The summer before his first day of middle school and my first day of high-school, Mom told us we were moving from Miami to Orlando for the better schools and Dad wasn’t coming with us.

……I had this idea that Sam and I were going to band back together. I pictured us like The Outsiders, sitting together on concrete steps (an image I must have stolen from a movie; we never lived in a city). We’d been starting to drift apart in interest. I’d brought chapter books to his baseball games, and sometimes I forgot to look up to see him run the bases. I was convinced that with the divorce, we would have to rely on each other and develop this magical, unbreakable bond that would continue into adulthood. Then, when the inevitable zombie apocalypse came, we would fight back-to-back, taking on the planet with a pair of sawed-off shotguns.

……I thought I was right when Mom drove us to Orlando. We were staying at a friend’s river house. The heat haze made the front yard uninviting, so Sam hooked up his PlayStation to play the newest WWE game. I watched him set it up, the heavy metal music blinking on with the title screen. Without looking at me, he selected “Single Player Mode.”

……Over the next three years, we would go days without speaking more than a couple of words to each other. He usually had an insult to toss out when he passed me in the hall. I’d whine to Mom about him, making passive aggressive comments when he was in earshot. If we spoke to each other for longer than fifteen minutes, it always broke into a fight.

……There was no sass or humor to color insults. The fights were pure heat, breaking into physical attacks more often than not. We fought mercilessly. We didn’t pull punches, and we didn’t hold our tongues. We’d scream and swear and start again until Mom would send us to opposite ends of the house. 

……He made me cry constantly. It’s not that he deserves all the blame—I gave as good as I got. Once he called me a bitch and I bit him on the shoulder. He was only as vicious as I was. Actually, I might have been more vicious. “Dumbass” was his go-to insult, but seeing as I was in Advanced Placement courses, it didn’t really hit home. And I knew he usually wouldn’t hit me too hard. I never got sucker-punched, which I honestly might have deserved a couple of times. But I would cry after every damn fight. I felt cheated. There was no apocalyptic team-up. One summer, we were left to venture to a new town, a new school, and a new life without each other. I watched horror movies on Netflix after everyone else had gone to bed.


……When The Babadook was released in New Zealand, every horror blog I followed was raving about it. It would be months until it got a European release and even longer until it reached the States. Even then, the film wouldn’t have the budget for any kind of marketing. About a dozen arthouse theatres would be showing it in America, so my best bet was to find a digital copy as soon as the embargo broke. I scrubbed through websites until I found a high-definition version and the date was settled: Friday night.

……I connected my laptop to the living room television while everyone got comfortable. Mom and her boyfriend of the time curled up on one end of the couch. My best friend, another horror addict, sat on the recliner. Sam was stretched out on the carpet, a bowl of popcorn at his side.

……He was fourteen and a foot taller than me . He didn’t say anything to me as I started the movie. He didn’t say anything to me at all, usually, unless it was a passing insult.

……I grabbed a blanket and pulled myself onto the other end of the couch. Mom turned off the lights.

……Half an hour in, my best friend climbed under the blanket. The movie had David Lynch-levels of atmosphere with a New Zealand indie film budget. It was the type of movie that makes you stare at the edges of shadows too long just to double-check that they aren’t moving toward you. Mom and her boyfriend scooted in, making sure they can hide under the blanket.

……Onscreen, Mister Babadook slid into the woman’s house, crawling across her floor and scratching at her walls. Three knocks shuddered through the house and an unearthly voice spoke as the woman shivered in her bed.


……“Oh, fuck that,” said my mom.

……Flashing, the fastest the monster had moved the whole film, Mister Babadook crawled onto the woman’s bedroom ceiling.

……“Nope,” Sam said. He rushed from his spot on the floor to the couch, nudging me aside to grab the edges of the blanket. He huddled against me, breathing hard and hiding half his face under the corner of the cloth. 

……We stayed like that for the rest of the film, pressing against each other as the woman shifted into a New Zealand Jack Torrance. I hadn’t realized how big he’d gotten, somehow. Behind my back, my scrawny brother had shifted into a linebacker’s build. I leaned against him, his torso solid and warm. We both cursed and shrieked when the woman strangled her dog and took a knife to her son’s throat, holding our breath for the movie’s ending.

……The credits rolled.

……“Jesus,” he said. “That’s some scary shit, Hannah.”

……“Yeah, Sam. Some scary shit.”


Hannah Melin is a writer working out of Dallas, Texas. Her nonfiction writing has been featured in “Big Muddy,” “HCE Magazine,” “Heart of Flesh,” and “Whispering Prairie Press.” Her fiction has been featured in “Monkeybicycle,” “Night Picnic Press,” and “The Metaworker.”

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