Prodromal

The Bat girls—that’s how local authorities, tongue-in-cheek, often referred to the identical twins, Jhanya and Aaina Bhatt. Properly pronounced, the Indian surname sounds more like BUTT, but calling them the BUTT girls wasn’t very appropriate and didn’t suit the skinny sisters at all. They were so tiny, one butt barely formed between the two of them and, furthermore, they were extremely shy and never once acted like butts—so—in Americanese, they were affectionately referred to as the Bat girls. In the beginning, however, there was deep skepticism followed by the threat of legal trouble if the two teenagers kept calling 911 with their crazy stories. The “real” Batgirl possessed no supernatural abilities or powers—that was the joke—Barbara Gordon was just a good-looking, fictional chic in sexy, shiny tights. The non-fictional Bhatt girls, on the other hand, were not at all attractive and matched their last name: syndactyly, protruding ears, and eyes with less-than-desirable visual acuity. They were two lonely teenage girls wanting attention, that’s what everyone believed—at first.

Six minutes to midnight, seven minutes came between the sisters at birth so that each was born on a different day. Maybe separate birthdays accounted for their distinct personalities, or maybe the fact that identical twins don’t have identical fingerprints, or perhaps it was the yin and yang mystical result of their prophetic first names. Jjanya means “flash of light” and not only was she energetic and happy most of the time but also suffered from temporal lobe epilepsy, the prodromal stage of which gathered like a storm, with a sudden, noticeable, windy shift in her demeanor, cold and hot emotions crashing together, positive and negative charges—days, hours, moments before the lightning struck behind her eyes. Aaina, likewise true to her name, was a deeply reflective personality and very much obsessed with an infinity mirror—a family heirloom from India. The younger sister, though naturally brilliant at math, wasn’t addicted to principles of geometrical optics but to an endless series of revelations coming from her sister whenever she seized and somehow transmitted clear images of the unknown into the mirror. Whenever Jjanya was crying, Aaina was scrying.

Through the years the sisters grew accustomed to (though never comfortable with or desensitized to) the unpredictable episodes. There were times when Aaina couldn’t differentiate with certainty what were the actual symptoms of the disease or the heartbreaking manifestations of Jjanya’s normal human response to abnormal things. This is what she came to know: the older twin’s initial mood always matched the mirror and her symptoms the situation, an accurate foretelling of things that have been, things that are, and things that will be. The prodromal period was the forecast.

Aura

Thee first time it happened, Lena Horne was singing, “Stormy Weather,” on Pandora and Jjanya was arguing that Lena’s last name emphasized a long E vowel and was pronounced, “horny.” Aaina rolled her eyes and told her older sister to grow up. Jjanya rolled her eyes in return—except the rolling, the rapid blinking, the stare into nowhere—obviously somewhere—was involuntary and, frankly, scary. A bitten apple had fallen to the floor with Jjanya’s teeth marks on it; for one prolonged, surreal moment, Aaina wondered if the fruit had been poisoned by a jealous witch. But who would be envious of them? The Butt Sisters—the Bhatt sisters—whatever—weren’t the fairest faces in the land and made Cinderella’s ugly stepsisters look smoking hot.

Mirror, mirror on the wall. The mirror always told the truth in fairy tales, even if the truth was painful to the inquirer. Aaina found herself staring into what appeared to be a sort of televised reality at the time of the aura. She was staring into a storm drain, the same dark scene to infinity. She couldn’t comprehend what was happening. Jjanya was doing the watusi on the floor and—and—the mirror was reflecting not the immediate but the remote. Aaina wouldn’t understand until later when Jjanya could finally speak again. In a matter of seconds longer than an eternity, the older sister convulsed, wet her pants, muttered unintelligible words and, at one point, cried like a lost child.

Ictus

Pupils noticeably dilated, Jjanya stared at the ceiling, smacked her lips, tugged at her clothes, and sweated profusely. Meanwhile, Aaina’s head moved rapidly back and forth between her sister and the mirror, her mouth hanging open in disbelief, her arms and legs paralyzed with shock.

Jjanya blacked out. The mirror blacked out, too, but not before revealing a street sign to Aaina, filthy rats the size of dogs, and a toddler’s smudged hand reaching out. She dialed 9-1-1 for her sister and the unknown child, not fully convinced that what she was seeing was true. She worried that, somehow, she’d lost her mind, that maybe the infinity mirror had bewitched her, that what was happening was a demonic nightmare. The emergency operator believed Aaina’s phone call to be a teenager’s silly prank and scolded her.

Postictal

When Jjanya finally came to, after a period of jamais vu, she touched the features of her Aaina’s identical face with trembling webbed fingers and doubted the reality of reality, the whatness of what, the howness of how, and the thingness of a thing. It was difficult to speak. “Where am I?” she managed to ask, “I remember smelling something strange, something rotten, like sewage.” “Who are you?” she asked again. Fear was on her face. “Who am I?” Weeping, Aaina handed her soiled sister the mirror. Confused, embarrassed, thirsty, exhausted, Jjanya examined the pale image of her own face, a stranger at that moment, multiplied countless times—smaller and smaller and smaller—until she disappeared into another plane of existence, another reality. Entranced, she fell into a deep sleep and, even as she slept, a toddler was saved from a storm drain two towns away, thanks to an anonymous and persistent 911 call.

Many more anonymous calls followed that one, vision after seizing vision, with a one hundred percent accuracy rate—identifying, rescuing, intervening, foiling, preventing—until the sisters were no longer anonymous. Often weary and longing for privacy, the Bhatt girls (also known as the Wonder Twins), never lost their humor or their humility. With a musical, almost hypnotic Indian accent, Jjanya once explained the process to the chief of police as “Catoptromancy with a fancy dancy.” Even Aaina laughed like a hyena at that one.

That’s how it all began, an epileptic search operation, seizures strangely and wondrously perfected and mysteriously connected to people in danger, revealed in flashes of light and mirrors. The Bhatt girls had no choice but to recognize and submit to the law of duality—Jjanya’s epilepsy—a curse on the one hand and a blessing on the other. Aaina’s genetically intimate connection to her identical twin sister gave her eyes to see into a mirror of infinity, every scene both near and far, guided by a heavenly star. Empirical. Ontological. Magical. Real.
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Andrew Dabar