They found the apartment complex three blocks away. It also had not been repaired, yet not demolished. The front door was open, as if someone was expecting them.
“Sixth floor, right turn at the top of the stairs, we used to race up the stairs trying to beat the elevator, Daddy carrying us both, but Mom always got there way ahead of us,” Ana said.
“I don’t remember that.” Bella said.
“Let’s go find out if Michael does,” Paula suggested, and they entered the building.
The stairway was totally dark and the sisters walked up the steps first, holding hands. Paula walked behind them and said, “Nothing that speaks to you first will harm you. They are weak and can only frighten you. Do not allow them inside your mind!”
The sisters closed their eyes and counted steps. Eight steps, turn, eight steps, turn, eight steps, turn, with a larger flat area at each floor. They heard voices, the voices of children now, screaming at them, “Go away!” the voices yelled, “You abandoned him!” “You left him alone!” but the sisters kept going, and they heard the steps of Paula behind them. There was nothing else but the sound of the voices and the blackness of the steps.
“This is the sixth floor,” Paula whispered as the sisters stopped. Ana put her hand out and pushed the door of the stairwell and it swung open.
The doors to all the apartments were open, allowing light to flood into the building. The women blinked at the brightness. “Which one did you live in, Bella?” Paula asked.
“This way,” Bella whispered. “Something is wrong here. This place. I remember it. But something is wrong.”
“I feel it,” Ana said.
“Here,” Bella said. “This one.”
“Is this the apartment where your parents lived?” asked Paula.
“Yes,” Bella said and she went through the door. Before Paula could move or speak, Bella closed the door behind her, and Paula heard the click of the lock.
“Come, we have to do this,” Ana told her, “we lived next door.”
“Bella?” Paula asked,
“Michael is here,” Ana said. “and this is the way it has to be done. Come, the apartment next door is where we have to be.”
The apartment was stripped bare, to the concrete walls and floors, and there was nothing inside. The only light was from the open space of the balcony where a glass door might have once stood.
“We have to go out on the balcony,” Ana said. “You have to do as I tell you to do.”
They went out on the balcony and saw Bella walk out on the balcony of the apartment next door. There was a gap between the two balconies, maybe two or three feet, and Paula felt her fear of high places taking over.
“That rail,” Paula said, “it’s corrupt, the metal rusted, it will crumple.”
“Stand there, please,” Ana said and she pointed to a point neat the edge of the balcony, close to the rail closest to the other apartment’s balcony.
“I understand now why we have the same memory, Ana,” Bella called out.
“Yes, I see it, too.” Ana replied.
“What?” Paula looked down and saw the drop of seventy or eighty feet. Her head swam.
“The night of the flood,” Ana began, “we came out here on the balconies, Bella was standing right there where she is standing now, and she looked over to this balcony. I was standing where you are standing now, Paula. We were tiny children, no more than three years old. But my memory is of seeing a child, an infant, and Bella’s memory is the same. I always assumed we remembered each other. But Bella’s memory is of me being picked up by Michael, and my memory is of Bella being picked up by Michael. Both of our memories are of Michael, picking a baby up, someone standing where I am right now.”
“I don’t understand,” Paula said.
“Michael was my brother,” Bella called out. “And we both loved Ana. I remember this, but there was something else.”
“Neither Bella nor Michael were born of the same blood as I,” Ana said, “but Michael always loved is both equally.”
“Because he loved someone else, much more,” Michael said as he walked out on the balcony with Ana and Paula.
“I’m surprised you made it this far,” Michael said. “I’ve done terrible things to buy the allegiance of many creatures. They should have gotten to you before you left Georgia.”
“Those who helped us did so out of a need to help others,” Paula told him, “that cannot be bought.”
“You had to be taken,” Michael said, “for the ritual to work. You could not come here freely. And the ritual would be worthless unless you were both adults. It’s Halloween night, and if I cannot bring her back tonight I must wait another year. I am tired of waiting.”
“Who?” Paula asked.
“My sister,” Ana replied. “My twin.”
“Yes,” replied Bella. “I remember now.”
“The night of the flood we were told not to come out on the balcony but we did anyway. The rain had stopped, but the waters were rising ever faster.” Ana said.
“We were afraid,” Bella said, “we children, that we would be separated. Ana and I shared a bond, even then, and we both shared that bond with…”
“Dana,” Michael snarled. “Only Ana refused to share her with me. Ana did things, even as a small child, to keep Dana and I apart.”
“You were six,” Paula said, “and she was three?”
“I felt it,” Michael said, “we were meant to be together, even at birth I waited for her.”
“Dana knew Michael’s jealousy was toxic, even as a small child.” Ana said. “And the night of the flood, as our parents made ready for our escape from the flood, Michael took Dana.”
“I thought I was taking you, she pretended to be you,” Michael screamed. “I threw her off the balcony to get her for myself. But she pretended to be you.”
“You all were little kids,” Paula said, “there’s no way you had these feelings and memories.”
“We were always different,” Bella said, “we were always more in tune with the world around us than other kids, or even other adults.”
“But now, if I kill you both, and of course, you too,” Michael grinned at Paula, I can bring her back. She will live in Ana’s body, and the rest of you can wander or leave this earth, but…”
“I never left, Michael,” Ana said. “It’s me, Dana. I’ve had to stay hidden all this time, I didn’t want anyone to know what you did. The night you accidently murdered me, I took over Ana’s body. You have no idea how hard it’s been to stay hidden from you, but we have to get rid of everyone who knows. Our parents still believe I was simply lost in the flood, but now, even they won’t be able to stop…” Ana stepped towards Michael and pushed him hard. Michael’s arms windmilled, he reached for Ana and missed.
All three women rushed to where the rail had broken. Michael’s body lay on the ground below, motionless.
“He’s dead,” Ana said.
“Yes,” replied Bella.
“And now, his spirit will pay the price for summoning those he used to hunt us.” Paula added. “I think we better leave.”
A little more than three years later, Paula scrolled through her phone, looking at potential renters. The sisters were graduating in a couple of weeks and would be gone. Then again, Paula felt that any other set of tenants might be. . . boring. Perhaps, yes, maybe, it was time. The witch had offered her a place in her house, and the two of them were getting closer to being friends than she had ever hoped.
“You want to move to the river, Dana?” Paula asked the large black cat that she had picked up after Brody died last year. Had Dana, the dead sister, haunted her sisters, and Michael all these years unnoticed, or had Dana returned to the right place at the right time? Or had Ana been faking it until she could get Michael to let his guard down. She might not ever know. They had never spoken of it again.
“Let’s go down to the river, cat,” Paula said, “and see if we can be of some use to the living there.”