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And she's buying a stairway to heaven

When finally the proud, white house slowly took place before the girls, Annabelle couldn’t stop the smile that was reflected on her lips. She pulled in the horse, and they stood still.

“We’re home,” she whispered, and Alice smiled too. Annabelle didn’t see it at first, because the smile was so small, but it was there. She took Alice’s hand and pressed it hard. “We did it.” The sky was painted in a light shade of blue, and even though the sun was about to go to sleep behind the horizon, it was still warm on their backs.

“We did it,” Alice repeated, and for a second Annabelle thought she caught a glimpse of the girl’s long lost soul. Her eyes shimmered out of happiness, and Annabelle nodded.

“Yes,” she breathed. Then Alice’s eyes went dead again, and Annabelle’s smile faded away. Could she really believe that their misery would come to an end? That it all would be over? The feeling of unreality again crept over her, and she shook on her head as if to chase it away. Who was she, without the evil that had tormented her for so long? She couldn’t remember, and it scared her. Her worried thoughts were interrupted by Alice, who gently patted her shoulder.

“We’re not there yet, Annabelle. We’re not home yet.” Annabelle nodded, and saw how the old oaks in front of them slowly waved them welcome. Her gaze eventually landed on the mirror smooth lake’s dark water, and the old bridge that lay over it. She took a deep breath and let all her misery and problems drown, along with her misfortune, in the deep, dark water.

“Let us go home,” said Annabelle, and urged the horse to trot.

The sound that arose when the old bridge was crushed beneath them was strangely peaceful and perfect in itself, and after they had landed in the dark water everything became so very quiet. Annabelle’s mouth was shaped in a silent cry, and the sound did nothing but vibrate in the black lake. She hadn’t been ready, and she hated to be surprised. She hated to be so defenseless.

Alice, on the contrary, was filled with a strange calm, as the carriage sank to the bottom. She knew what would happen, and she didn’t fear it. This time she was ready to die, and never return. She was ready for death; she welcomed it. She should have died before, so long ago, along with her parents and little brother. She should have burned, just like they did. Her body should have been burnt to ashes just like the others, and her soul should have been set free. It wasn’t fair that she had gotten to live, that she and John were the only ones who had got out of the burning house alive.

She had since that day no longer seen life as the gift it was; for her it was more like a burden she had to carry every second, every day, along with the eternal longing for her family, those she belonged with. She was supposed to have died then, with her family. Therefore, it wasn’t more than right that she died now.

She let a pale smile shadow her lips, as she let the ice cold water rush into her lungs. The pain did Alice nothing, for the joy of soon being reunited with her family overshadowed everything else. She didn’t fight it; death didn’t scare her. Slowly she closed her eyes, only to open them a few seconds later. She could feel her soul come to life, and how life chased away death.

Annabelle. She must save Annabelle. Quickly she turned towards the seemingly lifeless girl next to her. She snatched hold of her, shook her, tried to get her loose. She was stuck. One of the wooden planks that before had built the bridge lay over her legs, and Alice couldn’t imagine the pain she must be feeling. No, no, no... Alice felt panic spreading within her, like a poison impossible to stop, and shook Annabelle even wilder.

Suddenly the girl opened her eyes, and took with her last strength hold of Alice’s shoulders. She shook wildly on her dark head, as she let go of Alice’s left shoulder to point upwards, towards freedom, towards the surface. Then she brought the finger pointing to herself, still shaking her head. Leave me, Alice, save yourself. Death would have taken me soon anyway.

Alice shook violently on her head, and her face contorted with pain. Annabelle couldn’t die. She wouldn’t allow it. Alice took hold of Annabelle again, trying to pull her up. Again Annabelle shook on her head, tried to scream no; get Alice to leave her and save herself. But no sound came out of her, just air in the form of bubbles that quickly floated up to the surface. Annabelle hated the feeling of being so inferior, so weak, but she knew she couldn’t do anything about it. Not this time.

Suddenly she came to think of Killian’s words, on the day which had come to be his last. It’s so beautiful here; a good place to die on. She remembered how beautiful the sky had been that day, and suddenly wished that she could see the sky now, one last time; see the colors that painted her last day. Then she came to think of Katherine, and it felt like she had been stabbed in the heart. Forgive me, Katherine, but I can not run anymore.

Annabelle clenched her jaw as to stop the instinct to take a deep breath. Her body refused to give up. The fear grew within her, as her vision became indistinct; blurry. Meanwhile, the darkness within her made itself reminded once again, just as the pain in her shoulder that she had from the war. She was sick; dying. It was no use to fight, no matter how much she wanted to go home. Her time had come to an end, and there was nothing she could do about it.

Alice suddenly noticed how the water was becoming darker by the second, and suddenly she got the feeling that she was being pulled down. Quickly she threw a glance at Annabelle, who still had one hand lying on Alice’s shoulder. Alice imagined how the water flowed in and filled the girl’s lungs; every second she waited was a second too much. Alice closed her eyes quickly, with panic still growing inside. Annabelle was strong; she was a survivor. She could do it. Alice looked intensely at Annabelle.

“Don’t die,” she mouthed, and began to swim. The cold water that surrounded her eagerly tried to pull her down, because the dress she wore had become terribly heavy with all the water, but she didn’t give up. She no longer thought about giving up. For Annabelle, she thought, when the sight of swaying oaks took shape in front of her.

Within one second she broke the surface, and let the warm evening air fill her lungs. She coughed a few times, emptying her lungs from the lake’s ice cold water, and then turned down again. Her body was threatening to shut down, but she refused to give up. For Annabelle, she thought again as her numbed arms and legs struggled to reach the cart with Annabelle in. Once she was down again she felt the air within her beginning to run out - she hardly knew what was up and down - but forced her eyes to stay open.

What she then saw almost made her faint. Annabelle’s beautiful face smiled at her; a weak, haunting smile. Her skin was inhumanly pale, and had adopted a sickly shade of blue. The girl’s eyes were closed, but Alice still got the feeling that they saw right through her. The hazel curls floated around her head like an aura, and her arms floated around the body which even in death was dressed like a man’s, like the wings she never had.

It looked like Annabelle was sleeping, as if she was in a better place, lost deep in a too beautiful dream. Alice grabbed the girl’s shoulders and shook her hard, as if to wake her from the eternal sleep she had just sunk into.

“Annabelle!” She screamed, even though no one could hear her. Instead all the air she had left was pumped out, and she felt her lungs being compressed within her, screaming for fresh oxygen.

Then Alice screamed again, into the dark water, out of anger and sadness. It was she, not Annabelle, who should have died here. Annabelle hadn’t deserved this. Annabelle had a family who loved her, who were waiting for her to come home. Alice hadn’t. Alice had no one, and therefore it would have been she who had died. It would have been so much better for everyone if it had been Alice who died, and if Annabelle had lived.

With her face contorted in a grimace out of both anger and sadness, Alice threw a last glance at the girl who had once been her dearest friend.

Goodbye, she thought, and reached out her hand to softly touch the girl’s pale cheek. We shall meet again, dearest sister. Then Alice turned away and again swum up to the surface to fill her lungs with fresh, clean air.

Once she could breathe again, Alice couldn’t stop the tears that burned behind her eyes, and so she let them fall freely. What had she done? It had been her fault, all of it. Annabelle was dead and it was her fault. She tried to imagine that Annabelle had been sick and weak, and that she couldn’t help what had happened; something that didn’t work.

She let her gaze travel towards the Johnson’s white brick house, and found herself hearing Katherine’s sweet laughs, and it pained her when she realized that Annabelle would never hear that again. Alice took a deep breath, trying to recover from what just had happened.

Still, the warm sun lay tired behind the white, fluffy clouds; yet the day hadn’t come to an end. With a heavy heart Alice rose from her place, where she had sat leaning against one of the oaks beside the mirror lake, just at the edge of the Johnson’s estate. The soaked, dark blue dress dragged on the ground behind her as she walked, and it was so heavy that she would have liked to take it off. But she couldn’t, she knew that, and instead Alice closed her eyes. Her ebony colored hair blew in the wind, and whipped away all traces of the tears she shed.

As soon as she reached the gravel path, and saw Katherine come running, she felt the tears rose in her yet again. Katherine stopped only a few feet in front of her and frowned, just like Annabelle had used to do. She looks so much like her, Alice thought to herself, and immediately her thoughts were transferred to the dead girl in the lake.

“Belle?” Katherine asked, tilting her head slightly to the right and looking at Alice with suspicious eyes. Alice smiled a crooked smile, and walked up to the little girl.

“I'm afraid Annabelle is not here, dear,” she whispered, still struggling with her tears. Then she cleared her throat. “Katherine, could you tell your mother that Alice is here?” The last thing she said in a very quiet voice, for she was on the verge of tears and she would rather not cry in front of the child. Katherine nodded, and turned around so quickly that the brown curls swirled around her head. The pale, green, worn dress with its many layers dragged after her when she with eager steps ran back into the house.

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