Anna had expected to hear the melody the townspeople hummed all the times she became conscious after supposedly dying, rather she was greeted by dead silence.
When she opened her eyes, she realized she stood by the door on the front porch of the cabin. She looked at herself, and was surprised that she didn’t look crisped, black, or even burned anywhere. She touched her face, and it felt just as smooth as when oil was rubbed on them. Her hair was intact just like the dress she wore—same as the previous times she knew she was dead. But then the question ran through her mind: was she really dead?
Anna didn’t know what to think. She couldn’t comprehend what had happened. Right now, she didn’t know if being mad at Beck was right or wrong? She hoped that she’d been dreaming since the time she met Quinton. If she was, she would never disobey Ava ever again.
She stretched out her hand to knock on the door. As soon as her knuckles reached the door, they passed through. She swallowed, feeling nervous as the question she’d been asking herself echoed.
She stumbled backwards, whispering, “No . . .” Tears formed in her eyes as she tried to process what just happened. There was no way she was a ghost now. Remembering what the women had said, she wondered if she was part of the sacrifices that failed.
Just then, the door opened, revealing Beck behind it.
Anna’s silver eyes immediately narrowed at him. She eyed him as her jaw clenched before she said spitefully, “You!”
Beck’s eyes were wide as he was agape. “Anna?”
“You lied to me and Ava!” she said, pointing at him angrily and wishing she could poke his chest without her hands passing through him.
“Anna, listen, I didn’t mean to—”
“How could you?” She didn’t understand why she was so mad at him, but it was possibly because she thought he was a nice guy and then he lied to her and Ava what really happened to the so called woods. She felt really disappointed. “How could you do that?” she continued, pointing at him once more. “You knew that we would never—”
“Anna, I can explain.”
She stepped back and sniffed in the mucus threatening to escape her nostrils. “So now that I’m like this”—she gestured to herself—“does that mean Ava’s next?”
Beck seemed like he wanted to give her an answer but stopped himself to get deep in thinking about what she’d said. Anna stared at him disappointedly, understanding that indeed Ava could end up just the way she did.
“And,” Anna continued, “if she can’t break ‘the curse’ some other person that unfortunately gets stuck here will, huh?”
He shook his head immediately. “It isn’t like that. I had no choice. I—”
“Don’t tell me that,” she said, interrupting him. She couldn’t believe he could actually say that when he chose to lie. He chose to act as though he didn’t know the truth. “You did have a choice. You—”
“Beck, what’s going on?” said a foreign voice.
Anna glanced to Beck’s side to see who owned the voice, seeing it was her beloved sister.
“Anna?” said Ava, who seemed relieved that her baby sister was before her.
Tears filled Anna’s eyes once more as she knew that she had failed Ava—big time! She should have listened to her and stayed at the cabin. She should have read the boring book, and not worrying about what adventures awaited her outside the cabin. Now she knew the outcome of her adventurous spirit. If she could take back what happened, she would.
“Ava, I’m sorry,” said the redhead.
Ava mustn’t have heard her as she stretched out her hands to hug Anna with a smile on her face. As she reached Anna, she went through, almost falling to the floor as she lost her balance.
Anna looked at herself then at Ava. More tears formed in her eyes when her earlier suspicion was confirmed by Ava.
Ava eyes became as wide as donuts as she stared at Anna. “Anna . . .” she said, looking both confused and sad. She looked as if she understood what was really going on with Anna.
“Ava,” Anna said, knowing that her sister would be heartbroken, “I’m sorry. I should have listened to you.”
Ava stretched out her hand. She waved it through Anna as she shook her head. “Anna, are you—?”
“Yes,” Anna said, not allowing Ava to complete her question. “I guess.” She, herself, was still in doubt about it. Perhaps it was some effects of the ritual.
“Anna . . .” Ava said as her eyes squinted at Anna.
“Yes,” she answered. “What’s wrong?” she asked when Ava didn’t reply her.
Ava glanced at Beck. “Where did she go to?” she asked him.
“I don’t know,” he answered, shrugging.
“Guys, I’m right here,” Anna said to them, waving her hand in front of them.
Ava glanced back Anna. “Anna, where are you?”
She continued to wave her hands. “Ava, I’m right here.”
Ava stepped down onto the porch, calling out Anna’s name.
Anna turned around with tears falling down to her cheeks. She couldn’t believe that this was actually happening. She hoped it was all a dream. She really didn’t want to be dead. She didn’t want to leave her elder sister with no friends but their brother.
As she tried to walk towards Ava, who had gotten down the stairs, her legs felt heavy to carry. She suddenly became stiff and couldn’t move any part of her body.
Then, a dark cloud appeared in the sky, rendering the sky very dark and very gloomy. It was as if death was hovering above her. The cloud then came towards her in a circular motion like a wind.
Anna struggled to move before it got to her. Once the cloud enveloped her, she screamed Ava’s name and shut her eyes tight, hoping it was just a bad dream she would wake up from at that moment.
Faint voices soon filled her ears when the whooshing of the wind had stopped. She couldn’t make out what the people were saying but it sounded as noisy as a local market.
“Anna?” she heard, which sounded very low. Her name was called, again and again, and each time it got louder.
Anna didn’t understand why she couldn’t respond. She felt paralyzed as she stood transfixed with her eyes shut tightly.
Then, she felt someone shake her left shoulder really hard, making her to gasp and open her eyes immediately. She breathed in and out really fast, as if she were trying to catch her breath, as her eyes danced around to take note of what was around. So many images filled her mind as she glanced while taking deep breaths, so she really couldn’t make out her surroundings. She simply knew that lots of people walked by her and whoever held her shoulder.
“Breathe, Anna,” she heard the same voice she’d been hearing say.
She moved her eyes to where the voice came from. What she saw didn’t help as her gasps increased. If she were alive, she would say she was having a panic attack.
“Anna, just breathe,” said the middle-aged woman responsible for Anna’s raspy breaths. “Breathe.”
Anna nodded, staring deep into the woman’s brown eyes, and tried to focus on getting her breath back.
“Inhale,” said the woman as she gesticulated, which Anna did. “Exhale,” she added, gesticulating again, and the young girl did so.
When Anna could breathe normal, she stared at the woman in disbelief. “Mom?”
“Yes, ginger,” she said, a warm smile appearing on her face. “It’s me.”
Anna’s eyes danced around the woman’s face as she wanted to make sure it really was her mom, whom she was sure was dead. She raised her hand to hold the woman’s face, still staring in disbelief that she could lay eyes on the familiar face. “Mom, is this—is this really you?”
She nodded. “Yes, sweetie, it is. It really is me.”
“Oh, Mom!” Anna said as she threw her hands around her neck. “Everyone misses you: Ava, Bruce, our neighbors. Even Mrs. Potter misses you.”
Anna’s mom released the hug. “She does?”
Anna chuckled. “Yes, Mom. She might be annoying, but she really does miss you.”
“Or she misses the fact that she has one less neighbor to upset.” Anna’s mom laughed.
When the laugh died down a bit, Anna stared her mother with teary eyes. “Mom, I miss you,” she choked.
“I know, sweetie.” She held Anna’s face. “I miss you too. I wish I could come see you sometime but I can’t. I’m stuck here, and so is Dad too.”
Anna looked around. “Where’s he by the way?” she said, noticing he wasn’t among the people who kept walking up and down the . . . . She looked closely, seeing that they were in the clearing where the first purification of the ritual.
As Anna wondered how strange it was that she was back there, her mom said, “He’s around somewhere.”
She glanced at her mom.
“I don’t know exactly,” she added. “I would look for him sometime later.”
She furrowed her eyebrows at her mom. “Why can’t you now? I want to see him now.”
“I know, sweetie. But he shouldn’t be your concern now.”
Anna stared at her mom in confusion. What was more important than seeing her father whom she knew she would never see again? “What should be my concern then?”
“Well, the fact that you’re probably not dead and not alive either.”
“Huh?” Could being dead have made her mom to not make sense again? Anna didn’t understand why her mom spoke in riddles. It had to be because she was dead and knew too much from seeing everything happening at the same time, she thought.
“I know it sounds confusing, but the way you look”—she gestured to all of Anna—“just spells out various kinds of wrongs with the ritual. You’re not supposed to be here.”
Right now, she really didn’t understand what her mom was talking about. Also, she was a bit surprised her mom knew about the ritual even though they stood in the same town. “Mom, I don’t understand. What do you mean?”
Her mom opened her mouth to say something but she stopped herself. Anna gave a questioning look, wondering what was on her mind.
Then her mom said, “You know what? Perhaps, seeing your father is the most important thing now. Let’s go look for him.” She took Anna’s hand and pulled her as she began to walk.
Anna stopped in her tracks. “But, mom—”
Immediately, her mom stopped to face her with a frown on her face. “Darling, I might be dead, but I’m still not going to let your curiosity get the best of you at a time it shouldn’t.”
“But, mom,” she said, disagreeing, “it’s my curiosity that got me here in the first place.”
Mom glared at her disapprovingly. “Don’t make me repeat myself, missy.”
Anna sighed, bowing her head. Recalling that it was because she didn’t listen to Ava was the reason she was where she was, it made her give up on pushing the subject. Based on what her mom had said, she knew she’d eventually get to know what was going on with her. Right now, she needed to focus on seeing her dad once again, and possibly forever.
She raised her head and smiled at her mother. “Okay, fine.” She exhaled loudly. “Let’s go look for Dad then.”