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PostPosted: Fri Feb 15, '13, 1:16 am

I don't know what I've answered to my son, and I don't know what happened afterwards. How I managed to return home without crashing my car beats me. The only thing I had in my mind was the image of the worst event of my life, repeating over and over like a jammed old movie projector. "Brother... Brother..." "Not her... not her... please..." The oppressing feeling in my chest was so strong that it turned into an acute pain. "Brother... Brother..." "Not her... not her... please..." My stomach was churned once more, and I started to sweat, despite feeling a strange chill, even though the day was warm. "Brother... Brother..." "Not her... not her... please..." My eyes were losing focus, and the sounds that reached my ears seemed to be garbled. "Brother... Brother..." "Not her... not her... please..." Then, I became light-headed, and passing out seemed inevitable. "Brother... Brother..." "Not her... not her... please..."

Suddenly, a hot gush of wind seemed to have hit my face. Apart from the oppressing feeling, I was alert again. Surprisingly, I found myself almost reaching my home, although it seemed to have passed less than one second from the moment my son called me. All my reasoning power would not be enough to come with an explanation that would satisfy me. I had to concede that something not natural had happened. Maybe a rare disease affected my mind, I don't know. The only thing I knew was that I wished to go to bed as soon as it was possible, hoping that I would wake up on the following day as if nothing had happened.

As I finally parked my car in the garage, I was surprised by Laura coming out. She came with a smile in her face and kissed me. Oh, it was so reassuring to get some grasp of a pleasant reality after so much suffering. Maybe my life would return to the right track. Now, only the oppressing feeling persisted, but maybe it was caused by extreme anxiety I had felt through all the day. I was optimistic my condition would improve, and that would not be more than a rare incident of hysteria provoked by some unfortunate coincidences and a brief discomfort.

My wife motioned me to hand her the bags with food. I was a bit surprised because she had never done that before, and I think she could read my evident confusion, as she promptly added, "There is a visitor waiting for you, dear."

"Visitor?" That was really surprising. I was not expecting anyone. A bit of a letdown, I must add, because I wished nothing more than to have lunch and take a nap, hoping it would make me recover from that distressing day. I handed the bags to my wife and, moved by curiosity, started walking towards the front door, which she had left open.

"The resemblance is uncanny. Why haven't you ever told me about her before?" Laura asked so with a hint of indignation in her voice. She stayed behind talking with Paul, and I became so puzzled with her question that I didn't even bother to answer.

There was only one thing in my mind, and it was to discover whom the visitor were. If it was not enough, I felt a sharp pain in my chest, as my heart jumped violently. Because everything I had experienced that morning, I was particularly afraid of suffering from an abnormal heart condition, so I hurried my steps.

When I finally caught a glimpse of the living room, my heart stopped. Simple as that, I felt like it had burst inside my chest and then silenced, just a dead weight on my chest. It could not be, no, it absolutely could not be. Those crimson locks... No, it was not possible. It had to be Death. I relapsed in my skeptical confidence and let the supernatural explain that, following the rumored accounts of people in near-death condition saying they had seen their loved ones shortly before dying. Or maybe death presenting itself in a way to attract the victim to its merciless claws.

And Death was there with her crimson hair, pale skin and tiny build, seated on my couch, with Jenny on her lap, gently stroking my daughter's blonde hair and staring at her with love in her shining grayish-blue eyes. It was listening patiently my young daughter tell her some fantastic story about the doll she held in her petite hands. And the devil was smiling... Smiling... That smile… Her smile.

No, that I would not accept. Definitely, I would not accept. She could have stolen her appearance. She could have impersonated her convincingly, imitating her traits and manners perfectly. But Death, being the direst emissary of the Devil, could not smile sweetly like an angel.

I lost all my composure. I had nothing left to lose, as my heart had already stopped and I knew I would not be able to retain my alertness for more than a few seconds, or maybe a minute, but no more. The thought that she might have come to take my daughter as well, or maybe us all crossed my mind for an infinitesimal fraction of a second, but it was enough to make me all jumpy.

"What... what are you doing here?"

I barked at the woman, then silenced. My desperate cry scared little Jenny, and certainly startled my wife, for I could hear her footsteps rushing towards me. The crimson-haired woman, though, remained impassive. There was silence, a deafening silence. I was wondering if my heart, being stilled, was already damaging my brain, so I could not hear anymore. Then, the young woman tilted her head up, slowly, and stared deeply into my eyes, with a grin.

"I was expecting a warmer welcome, brother."

It was her voice. The contact of her soothing melody with my eardrums sent shivers down my spine. My manners became more and more affected, as I convinced myself of the absurdity of the situation. It just could not be her. If it was not Death, it was such an elaborate prank beyond my understanding. I became increasingly frightened, breathing was becoming difficult, and I felt an urge to get out of that maddening situation as soon as possible, so I rebuked her answer.

"How come you tell me such a thing? Who are you anyway?"

My tone was so aggressive that I noticed little Jenny left the woman’s lap, started to weep, embracing tightly her doll and slowly walking away. I am positive that my wife was also baffled at my reaction, but nothing mattered anymore. I was so shocked that not even the death explanation seemed plausible. If I were dying, Death would not be perceived by anyone else, but me. Surely that was not the case.

The mysterious woman stood up with such graceful movements that it scared me even further. It had to be her, but it just couldn't be her.

"Christopher, can't you recognize your sister anymore? It is me, Annette."

The way she smiled, the way she smiled at me... I swear if I carried a gun, I would have drawn it and shot her, so frightened I was. If I were not dead, there was no other alternative than that I had gone insane and suffering from terrible hallucinations. Because I was seeing with my own eyes someone that just could not be there.

I barked back like a wild animal, or a possessed man. Or maybe both. "Liar! Liar! Annette is dead! She is dead!"

"No, I'm not, Chris."

The serenity in that woman countenance as she answered only made me feel angrier. She, who claimed to be my late sister, looked so unreal, and at the same time so real that I was not trying to understand anything anymore. I just wanted that nightmare to end.

Meanwhile, my wife tried to reason. "Dear, stay calm, listen to your sister..."

"My sister? My sister?" My aggressiveness silenced my wife. Without thinking, I spilled out everything that was clogged in my throat for all those years. "I have seen with my own eyes what those damned Peruvian natives had done to my sister! I have seen my sister’s blood splattered on the walls and the floor of their temple! Her entrails bursting out of her abdomen and scattered over the sacrificial altar! Her heart beating weakly through a deep incision on her chest!"

I was panting heavily, and made a pause to catch some breath. However, I felt somewhat relieved because I had finally revealed the secret that I promised to take with me to the grave. My wife seemed to be horrified either by my account or by thinking that I had gone completely insane. I have never told her that I had a sister, not a word about what happened during our stay in Amazon forest. I just wanted to forget all that, and I didn't want to go through the pains of reliving the tragedy every time I was asked to tell the story of how my sister was abducted by a Peruvian native tribe that planned to restore Incan rule in Peru and sacrificed to their gods. Nobody would believe, anyway, they would be laughing at my face while I cried, questioning my sanity, and trying to question details based on their elementary school knowledge while what really mattered was that my sister was murdered.

Everyone was silent. The only sound I could hear was the muffled cries of my daughter, cowering in a corner. That was the worst nightmare I have been through in my life after the day I had found my sister body ripped open over that altar. I questioned if it had not been just a bad dream, hoping that it would wake me up as it usually happens when you become aware that you are dreaming, but it didn't. So, I turned to Annette's doppelganger, only to find that she was looking at me with compassion. It made me furious, so I resumed my rant.

"After seeing that, I drew my revolver and tried to blow my brains out, but my damned father didn't let me do what I should have done. Since then, those images torture me day and night, night and day. And now, this ghost comes here to haunt me, driving me insane by telling she is my sister..."

My voice faded away as anger turned to sorrow, and I started weeping. Why would someone pour salt over that wound that would never close? What have I done to deserve that, my Lord? Lord... Lord... it was evident that I had not completely abandoned my faith and that I had become a skeptical as a revenge for what had happened to my sister.

"Why don't you trust me, brother? I remember that, but haven't died..." The woman added, in a collected manner.

"Shut up! Shut up! She died! She died!" I interrupted her.

"Brother, please..."

I walked slowly towards Annette's doppelganger. I was on my last strength. The day had been terrible, and I just wanted it to end. Or that my life ended, if I were really dying, though I didn't believe that anymore. Although I felt like there was a dead weight on my chest and breathing was becoming increasingly more difficult, if I had suffered a cardiac arrest, I would not be so energetic.

Then, I stopped in front of her, and, trying to catch my breath for a few more words, I added with my voice drenched in sorrow. "I've been a terrible day so far. Won't you have some mercy on me, and stop bringing back those memories that haunt me every day? I just want peace, nothing more. Peace... So, please... go away..."


"Go away! Just... go... away... Leave me alone with the memories of my dear sister..."

I avoided her stare, looking down. That drama has dragged for too long and it was time to put an end to that. I was suffering, my wife was suffering, my kids were scared, weeping. What did the devil want with me by bringing that Annette's impersonator just to make me suffer?

"Christopher, Christopher..." Annette's doppelganger started talking to me with a voice that had no hints of irritation or anxiety. On the contrary, it even remained playful despite all I have told her. "Why can't you believe that I am alive?"

I should have ignored the provocation, but I barked back, drily "Because Annette died!"

"Look," She changed her tone of voice trying to have my attention, but I kept avoiding her stare. "I know it seemed highly unlikely that I would survive, but I did. Why can't you trust me, dear brother? Must you be like St. Thomas? Do you want to touch the scars to believe?"

"What?" The devil caught hold of my soul and forced me to look. The woman was unbuttoning her blouse. It was creepy to watch someone who looked exactly like my deceased sister to take off her clothes. In fact she was not an exactly copy of my sister, because my sister had died at the age of fifteen and that woman seemed to be around her thirties. Exactly how I expected my sister to look like, had she been alive. It was even creepier.

When she finished unbuttoning her blouse, she opened it up. I fell on my knees, crying. I wished so much that it was true, but it was impossible to believe that it was really true. Never in my dreams I had imagined it would happen. The woman had an enormous gruesome scar through her belly and another deep scar right under her left *. It was possible to notice even a depression in her flesh in the parts of the latter scar not covered by her bra, matching exactly the wound that let me see her heart beating when I found her on the altar. It was unbelievable, a miracle of the sorts. It had to be Annette. It was Annette.

"Annette..." My tears became tears of joy. My dear sister was somehow alive. And I could finally put behind all those years of grief and sorrow. It was so unreal that I still feared it was her ghost, and that she would disappear as I tried to touch her. Even so, that would not be so tragic since it meant she remained existing in another dimension of existence. But she took my right hand and carefully placed it over her protruding belly scar. Her skin was warm and soft, and even the scar, disgusting as it looked, was pleasant to touch. It was my sister, my dear sister, alive. Alive!

I leaned my head on her belly and embraced her hips while I burst in tears. Nothing else mattered now. The weight on my heart, the difficulties in breathing, the horror the images of her lying in the sacrificial altar caused on me... it all could be left behind. I regretted many things. I regretted having left her to die on the altar because I was not brave enough to face the reality. If she had been saved even after being found alive days latter by who knows whom, maybe she would have recovered even faster if I stayed with her. Maybe dad would not have died so early had she been with us. Maybe my life would not have been so miserable for all those years. My selfishness had cost me so much, and I failed on my sister when she most needed me.

But there she was. Although she had those gruesome scars in her body, she was still alive. Despite having part of her entrails removed, putting her on a strict diet for the rest of her life, and taking away the possibility of her bearing a child, she was reunited with me. Although she had spent more than one year in coma, recovering from the wounds, and had to start her life from the scratch and all alone, she was still able to smile. Although she had spent years and years looking for dad and me all around the world only to find that I was alive, well, and living in Durham, North Carolina, we would still have lots of time to restore that strong bond we used to have before that fatidic day. Above all, despite having her mind permanently scarred by the horrific sacrifice attempt she was forced to endure, she was destined to a bright future.

I closed my eyes and, unable to control the overflow of tears that were choking me, I settled with repeating her name, despite of my desire to scream. "Annette... Annette..." That was impossible to explain, a miracle of the sorts. It was time for me to swallow my pride and ask God forgiveness, for I have been a vengeful idiot while He was looking for me all the time. He repaid my hate with the most blissful moment of my life. I felt the gentle touch of Annette's hand stroking my hair and saying "Dear... Dear…” And I wished I could stay that way for the eternity.
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