Dead Girl Walking
The heavy onslaught of rain died down to a gentle pit-pit-pit against the long gravel driveway which curved around large, sturdy trees. Heavy clouds still hung in the sky, obscuring the moon and shutting the surrounding woods into darkness. The only light came from the interior of a house encased in trees, leaving patches of grass illuminated below. The trees hung on the edge of the property, the dim light outlining them from the dark sky. The grand old home loomed in the night, the clapboard dulled from sun. The house stood firmly though, regal in its age and well taken care of. The grounds around were neat and the gardens clean and cut. Despite the darkness, the wealth of the home shown through in its care. Everything outside the house laid in a tense quietness as the loud rumble of thunder gave out, leaving the sound of loud, muted voices to take its place, their pitches piercing the night.
Inside the home, two figures stood opposing one another in the gleaming kitchen, the bright, warm light doing little to deflect the current mood. Standing closest to the window, back facing the outdoors, stood a teenage girl. She was austere and well-kempt, her dark hair lying flat against her head and her clothes spotless and pressed with obvious deliberation. Her furious expression was aimed at a man much older than her who carried an air of authority around him, heightened by his parental age. Though slim, he was tall, his stature making his presence immediately imposing in the room, even without his stern expression. His brown eyes were narrowed in a condescending manner as he looked at her and took in her own posture. She tried to push back against his presence by standing straight and looking at him defiantly, but whatever dignity she tried to maintain was counterbalanced by her anger and younger age,
"It's always about her!" she screamed, her voice hoarse and unforgiving. "It doesn't matter what I do, I never seem to be enough to you and I'm left playing second to my own little sister!"
If her outcry affected him, he didn't show it. Though she still had not learned to hide her expression, he did so with ease, looking at her in only a patronizing manner a father could. He rolled his eyes at her and crossed his arms over his chest, leveling her with a tired look, like he'd heard her complaints all before and now had little time to entertain them.
"It's almost like you only have one daughter. She's all you ever seem to care about," she continued on, "It's like I don't even exist."
She stared at him, as if daring him to try and deny her belief, or even push back at her words with ones of comfort. He did neither, instead sighing in exasperation and reaching up to rub the bridge of his nose. He offered her no words and so she scoffed at his display, rolling her eyes toward the living room. Over the arm of an antique couch, one which looked almost too old to touch, was a mess of brown hair and large eyes belonging to a slightly younger girl. She watched the father-daughter pair warily.
Most of her attention remained on her older sister though, trepidation in her eyes.
"Just because I found time to go to your sister's science fair does not mean—" the father started, voice terse.
"Doesn't mean what?" the older girl hissed. "'Doesn't meant anything?' That's all you say! That's all you're ever going to fucking say!"
"Don't take that language with me, young lady!" he shouted, his voice reverberating through the room.
She sneered at him, a look of utter distaste on her face. "You're pathetic," she told him. "Can't defend your actions, so you won't. It's always the same thing with you; I'm always in last place."
"That's not true," he started.
She didn't care to hear what he said, evident by her sudden turn on her heel. She departed toward the back door, never breaking her stride as she yanked the door open. Her father called out to her, his tone agitated at her dismissal, but she ignored him. She paused only momentarily when she met eyes with her younger sister, looking petrified on the couch. Something crossed over the face of the older girl, but it was superficial and passed just as quickly. The door slammed behind her as she exited, the door rattling in its frame. Her younger sister watched the frame of her sister disappear from the line of light into the shadows.
She walked with purpose, anger radiating out from her eyes and posture, toward the trees, wet grass slipping against her shoes. The rain pattered down slowly, leaving dark circles on the shoulders of her shirt and droplets in her hair. She kept walking though, ignoring the unfavorable weather around her.
Exiting the edge of the yard, the grass turned into muddy, debris-riddled dirt, specks landing on the back of her bare legs with every kick-back of her foot. She continued though, her hands coming up to scrape against bark and wet leaves to push branches out of her way. She seemed unobservant of her direction and unaware of her surroundings in the dark. Her eyes were troubled, though her expression still one of fury, her mouth turned down into an ugly frown. Angry thoughts flew around insider her head, only showing outwardly with a grunt and a particularly harsh brush-off of a branch. Her eyes were unfocused as she slammed through the forest, so it was no surprise when pushing through dense bushes, the wet ground underneath her foot gave away. The sensation of falling overtook her, and her eyes widened in shock briefly as she let out a half-shriek. Then, everything went dark.
It was the first thing she became aware of, the faint glow on the other side of her eyelids. Slowly, her eye opened, her view of the faded pink sky of a rising sun, the dark tips of trees acting as an outline to the soft color. She blinked, the image falling away before coming back again, still the same color.
Pulling her arms toward her, she attempted to brace herself to sit up. Her arms came toward her awkwardly and stiffly, a deep soreness radiating outward as they moved. Her shirt was stuck against her, like it had gotten soaked through and then dried on her. Except, she didn't recall how that could have occurred.
Sitting up, her view shifted and she could see the ground, a wide expanse of exposed, grey rock stretching out for several feet. She did not recognize where she was and she frowned, turning her head as she did so. Behind her, a wall of rock, jutting out into the sky high above her. It helped her little.
As she started to stand up, she shifted just so that she noticed a dark stain on the waistband of her skirt. She frowned and rubbed it, the fabric stiff. Brown flecks came away on her fingers. She found the same spots traveling up the side of her shirt, spreading out around her back where she could not see it. Trailing her fingers upward, she followed the stain up her shirt and towards her collar, the brown color looking redder against the white fabric. The trail led into her hairline and she jumped slightly when her fingers landed on an abrasion of her skin, a large gash hidden under her hair. She felt no pain as she prodded the opening, though her fingers came away with brown flecks all the same.
Now standing, she looked down to see the same colored stain, this one much larger, where she had been laying. She frowned at it, not sure what to make of it, before her eyes turned toward the trees and she began to walk. As she walked, she looked down at her bare arms, seeing red scrapes contrasting against her grey-toned skin and more of the dried, flaky substance. She was beginning to suspect blood, but could not muster enough concern over it to continue with that thought. Instead, she kept walking, a fog clouding her mind, disconnected words floating across it. She didn't know where she was going or if she had some place she wanted to go, but she could not find it within herself to worry about it. In fact, she couldn't find much within herself and to be honest, she wasn't sure what she was meant to find. Sometimes a word would come to her—rock, tree, flower—as she walked, but otherwise there was a blankness in her. Maybe it would have bothered her if she could remember if she was supposed to feel something different. And despite her injuries, she did not even feel any pain as she walked, just a constant, present stiffness in her limbs.
The sky brightened the longer she continued, still ambling through the woods. Occasionally, she would stop to sit and close her eyes, resting her head against the trunk of a tree, but she mostly walked unfettered, her pace neither lessening nor picking up. Time seemed to pass without any notice, as she would suddenly realize that the sky was much brighter or dimmer than she last remembered or would fail to recognize the trees around her. She could not even be certain she was walking in a straight line. Time and place slipped passed her as she moved along, sometimes cognizant and sometimes not.
It was dark again when she stumbled upon something odd. She had reached a break in the trees, her feet colliding against a hard surface. She looked down to see a stretch of blackness cutting between her line of trees and the next, stripes adorning it. In her muddled brain, letters floated by her consciousness, eventually coming together to form a word.
That's right, this was a road. A slab of asphalt lain down to lead from one place to another. She looked left down the road, and then right, seeing nothing but it curving behind a line of trees, disappearing from her view on both sides. She heard nothing either, just the chirping of crickets reaching her ears. Stepping onto it, she went right, letting the road take her where it did. Her expression once again went vacant as she carried on down, her arms hanging limply at her side.
Time passed and she was pulled from her stupor by a faint, thrumming noise, once she felt reverberate through her body. The longer she walked, the louder it became, vibrating her down to her fingertips. Off the side of the road, she could see the form of a building—house—lit up with bright colors. It was where the thrumming noise originated from. She felt a rustle of movement in her chest and decided to head toward the house. Coming closer, she could see the dark forms of people moving around, their voices so loud and in such multitude, they melted together into one, single hum in her ears, still separate from the thrumming noise that rattled her.
No one seemed to pay her any mind as she came closer, stepping into the crowd of bodies and melding into them. There were moments when hazy eyes set on her and something in them would flicker as they took her in, but soon those looks would slip away and she'd once again be left alone, another body in the crowd. She allowed herself to be pushed around, her shoulders and hips bumping up against others. Separate voices were easier to pick up at such close proximity, though the words made no more sense than they had earlier. Everyone was still a buzz in her ear as she stumbled into the house.
The interior was much louder than the outside had been, and the lights were much harsher now. She squinted against the sudden, bright intrusion, her head moving this way and that as she became disoriented in the sound and light. Looking around, words rushed to her as she spied upon objects—cup, chair, table—where there had been no words before. She did not know why these things had been forgotten, or why when she looked up at faces, no names came for them. A new sensation came to her in the crowd; where outside the cool, fresh air had still been felt, inside the house was stifling. A warmth filled her body and it was then that she knew she had been cold before.
Still a little disoriented, she came to a stop at the edge of the stairs, her fingers gripping the wood bannister as she did so. She looked around at the faces surrounding her, some eyes meeting hers before flitting off to look at something else. She looked up, toward the top of the stairs where more people stood, cups in their hands as they let out bawls of laughter, the liquid sloshing over the edges, the smell sharp and harsh against her nose. Her eyes travelled over all their faces until something made her stop, her sight zeroing in on one person in particular.
The face was only a profile, a masculine figure dressed in jeans and a dark shirt, his hair short and cropped close to his head. All of these people surrounded and pressed around her, but there was something about him that brought something alive in her. The nothingness she had felt before faded away and she was overcome with such a burning feeling, one that consumed her mind so entirely she could focus on nothing else. It filled her bones and flashed through her body, fueling her thoughts. It drove her so that she did not notice as she began to climb the stairs toward him, her eyes never leaving him. She watched as he said something to the person standing beside him before heading down the hallway, the back of his head before her. She got close as he reached out for a door, his hand going for the doorknob. When he twisted it, she acted, lunging against his back and they both tumbled into the room. He yelped against the sudden contact, twisting around when she landed on him, trying to push her off as her hands wrapped around his throat and squeezed. His actions were weak and slow and soon his attempts to get her off him became nonexistent. It was only when his eyes dimmed and went unfocused did she let go off his neck, the imprints of her fingers leaving harsh red marks.
She let out several, panting breaths, unsure of what had just happened. But underneath the burning, she felt victorious, a haughty smirk overtaking her features. But it faded away quick enough when she looked down, for once getting a good look at his face. She couldn't place why, but it was wrong. She now realized that the nose was too big and he was far too young. She frowned and sat back, the hollow feeling returning, this time with a sense of disappointment. She did not understand what had drove her to such actions, or why, when she looked at him, he suddenly became off when before there seemed to have been nothing wrong about him before.
A ping of irritation went through her and she stood up, her dirty shoes leaving imprints on the tiled floor. She saw now that she was in a bathroom and glanced around quickly, her eyes landing on her reflection in the mirror. She looked the same as she had expected, if not a little pale and dirty. She didn't know why, but she felt an urge to straighten her hair and change her clothes, but it was fleeting like most everything else and soon enough soon she turned away from the mirror. She exited the room promptly, the door clicking shut behind her, the thrumming sound and loud voices consuming her as she came into the crowd again. She left out the same door she came in, not stopping as her feet hit the road, continuing down right.
It was the second time that it happened that she began to piece together what drove her to such visceral actions. It had happened early in the morning, just after the sun had peaked above the horizon. She had wandered into a park, the grass, dried and yellow, crunching under her feet as she walked. The park was near empty, just a few early morning joggers who passed by her with just a short glimpse. She came to a part in the trail where the gravel path swung its way between a line of bushes, running right along a park bench beneath a tree, the branches barren of leaves. At the bend she saw a man with his back to her walking, his dog faithfully by his side, tail wagging. He had been humming to himself, unaware of her presence, occasionally speaking gently to his pet. When she had caught sight of his greying hair and stature, the burning feeling rose up inside her again and she gave no thought when she jumped forward, took his head in her hands, and rushed it against the metal handle of the park bench. He hadn't even had time to scream before his head collided with the bar, making a sickening thunk noise. He fell to the ground, his body half-sprawled out on the grass and the other half on the gravel path. His dog barked as she came closer, its teeth bared at her. She knelt down to turn his body over to get a better look at his face, unsure if it was would all go over like it had last time, the crowing victory dashed when she realized she'd gotten the wrong one again. But when the tips of her fingers touched his jacket, the dog reacted viciously, sinking its teeth into her leg, the sensation of something tugging it catching her attention.
She cursed at the dog, shaking her leg to get it to let go. When it refused to release its hold on he, she kicked out with her other leg, delivering a blow to its ribs. She heard a crunch and the dog let go, a long whimper travelling out of its throat as it slunk back. Satisfied, she turned over the body finally, her expression morphing into one of agitation when she finally saw his face.
This time, she'd gotten the age correct and he'd been the right height. She had been so sure this time, certain it could be no one else but whoever it was she was looking for. But no, his eyes were blue when they shouldn't have been, so she'd found the wrong person again. Disgusted, she had let the body fall back to the ground. She had stood up, wiping at her skirt. It had been confusing once more, not knowing exactly who it was she was looking for, only that she kept finding the wrong one, but always found out after the fact. The burning feeling flickered inside of her and the only way she knew how to deal with it was to lash out with her foot, kicking at the man. That had only been a shadow of what she had felt before, but it was with that action that she now knew what it was that she felt: hatred. It had been pure, absolute loathing that she had succumbed to at the house and again the in the park. Whoever it was that she was looking for, she knew that she despised them above all else. What for, she didn't know and didn't care; she could only surmise that he had to be the cause of what had happened to her, why she was so devoid of feeling until she saw glimpses of him in other people. She didn't even know her own name, let alone where she had come from, or if she had somewhere to be, but she seemed to know him, or at least some part of her she had retained even after she had lost all else of herself knew him. He was the only connection she had at the moment and so she had to find him to know why she was like this, why she couldn't feel anything except when she saw him in other people. She had to find him to explain everything and then kill him.
She had walked away from the man and his whimpering dog, heading off the trail and away again, this realization now in her mind, coming one step closer to figuring out everything, when she had heard a distant scream, coming from where she had been. It had buzzed in her ear and she ignored it, now finally having a goal to reach.
It continued into numerous bodies, failed attempts that she could not care to recall long enough to remember how many it had been since the first man at the house. She spent most of her time away, far off from anyone else, wandering as she was prone to do, her mind fading in and out as it had the first time in the woods when she first came to. Once in a while she would find herself around people, their eyes catching with her for a moment before moving on to something else, always something else to look at. People often seemed to pay her no mind and she couldn't rouse enough emotion to care. Outside of her hatred, she could never find enough energy within herself to feel much else. So she spent most of her time apart, with no way to reach out and no one interested in reaching out to her. It was on the rarer occasions her eyes would land on someone, always a man, along the road, or in a parking lot, or leaving their home, and she'd feel that rage again, building up inside of her without warning to such a degree she did not think before she acted. She'd reach out and grab them, killing them much the same way as she had to all the others that had come before him. If she did not have an object for which to smash their head, she would wrestle them down until she could get her hands around their neck, her anger clouding her sight.
And it always ended the same way too: disappointment. She'd get a good look at their face and the rage would leave just as quickly as it had come, the emptiness coming back once more. She did not know why she kept finding the wrong person, only that she would continue until finally she would see the man's face and know that it would be right. It was frustrating, always ending with the wrong one. A man whose head was smashed through a glass window as he locked up his shop: too much hair and paunchier around the waist than who she was looking for. Another man going for his car after work: he'd had too many grey hairs and she'd slammed his head an extra time against his car door just to get rid of some of the extra rage. It almost seemed as if no one would be right, but she had to keep going. When the rage died off, it left her hollower than before. If she gave up, she'd be stuck like this, without reason as to why she couldn't feel anything other than her rage, directed at a man she wanted to kill but could not find. She could not remember a moment before she had awoken at the bottom of the cliff, only words and fragments floating through the fog of her mind, there and gone before she could reach out and grab onto something tangible. But she knew it was him; even if she could not remember anything else, she knew it was him.
She was walking along a road—a different road, she'd long since embarked off the first one—when she felt something new spark up in her chest. It wasn't the same as the rage before, nor was it the brief bouts of irritation that followed after her disappointment. No, this one was different. It felt like a tickle, starting in her chest and moving up into her brain. She looked around at where she was, seeing no one on the street with her. She was encased by trees again, ones which looked no different than all the other ones she had seen before. But this time, there was something about them. The sight of them made something push up in her head, though she didn't know what. She frowned and kept walking forward, the feeling growing stronger.
It burst through her when she found a gravel pathway leading off of the road, curling up through the trees. She could make out the impression of a house through the branches and that set off signals in her head. She could not say why, but something about this place was familiar to her, and nothing before had ever felt familiar. Curious about this new development, she decided to branch off onto this new path heading up toward the house, wanting to seek out what it was that created this new feeling within her. She walked up the pathway, gravel shifting under her feet, until she the house came into view.
It was old, that feature being the most obvious. The structure seemed largely made of wooden boards, with a brick side holding the house up. The rest of it sagged under its own weight and paint peeled off into long flakes. Shingles had fallen off the roof and now laid broken on the ground, littering the dead flower beds. The garden crunched under her approaching feet, its foliage as forgotten as the rest of the place. The house was dark, looking unwelcoming and even a little foreboding. But regardless of its decaying state, she knew it and so she climbed up the steps and toward the front door.
The front door creaked open when she twisted the handle, unlocked, the glass window glinting in the rays of the falling sun. It was cracked right across the middle, ruining the stained-glass image.
The inside of the house had fared no better than the outside, looking just as drab and forgotten. Standing in the foyer, of what she could see of the furniture was all draped in cloth, dust settling over it all in a thick layer. Her eyes traveled to the stairs where she saw vivid spots on the wallpaper where something had hung before. Now, they were the only reminder of what color the wallpaper had been before, the rest down faded out into a dull color.
A creak of the floorboards above her head caught her attention as someone above walked around. Curious, she headed over toward the staircase and began to walk up them, the wood groaning in protest as she did so. The hallway at the top of the staircase was no different than below, dust greying the furniture. She walked cautiously down the hallway, her light footsteps still making the old wood floor creak. At the end of the hall was a shut door, the lock caught on the frame. Light spilled out from around the door, reaching across to the molding on the opposite side. She stopped in front of the door, her hand coming up to touch it. The paint was worn down as well, leaving bare spots of wood under her fingers. Taking in a deep breath and smelling the stale air around her, she pushed open the door and stepped inside.
The light flooded out at her and she squinted to adjust. Inside, the room was nearly empty, only a bed and dresser adorning it. The only source of light was a lamp on the far wall, the yellow color leeching into its surroundings and altering the colors around it. It made long shadows stretch out and distort on the wall, making the room seem more crowded than it was. A red suitcase sat on top the made bed, the only burst of color in the dreary room.
A woman stood near the bed, her back facing the door when she had entered. But upon hearing the door creak, the woman spun around, a gasp caught up in her throat. The woman's eyes were wide with fear when they landed on her, but soon turned to surprise. The two stared at one another, neither speaking.
Something about the woman niggled in the back of her head, causing her to frown. She looked to be in her thirties, with her dark brown hair cut in a modest bob. The woman's brown eyes were wide and unlike all familiar faces she has seen, this one did not inspire rage in her. She wasn't sure of what she felt.
"C-Charlotte?" the woman finally stuttered out, her voice catching.
She frowned harder. The name was familiar and it dawned on her that she is Charlotte, that people before had called her Charlotte and she had forgotten, much like everything else. Another name rose up in her head, one that was not her own.
"Annabeth," Charlotte said back, her tongue feeling thick in her mouth. Her voice was uncomfortable to her ears as she caught the low echo of it off the barren walls. She remembered Annabeth then, her sister, her younger sister. Loss overcame Charlotte as she looked down at the floor.
"I don't remember falling asleep," Annabeth said, mostly to herself, her voice breathy with disbelief. "You haven't changed at all." Her eyes traveled up and down her once older sister, taking her in. At first, Charlotte felt anger, biting words forming in her head, but before they got out of her mouth, they died, fading away on her tongue. In all the few occasions she had seen herself, she had not altered, even though Annabeth had.
"I didn't know enough time had passed to warrant that," Charlotte told her finally, her hands falling uselessly to her side. She had not realized until now how far away she had been from everyone else, even as she had wandered among them. She had fallen to the wayside as the years had come and gone; while everyone else had moved forward, she had been unable to join them. She had been halted, left to wander aimlessly with no guide and no future, looking no different than the first day she had woken up. Even as Annabeth stood only a few feet from her, close enough to touch, Charlotte knew that if she reached out, her fingers will only pass through. While Annabeth has moved on, she has stayed the same.
"I can't believe you're here, looking just the same," Annabeth breathed, sitting down heavily on the bed. She looked toward the pillow, her eyebrows furrowed in thought. "But I guess that's how it works right? I can't see you how I don't remember you. Why are you coming to see me finally? Is it because I came back?"
Charlotte frowned, not sure she really had an answer for that. She had followed a tugging feeling because it had been new, not because she had expected to see her sister. "Finally?" Charlotte said instead, latching onto the one word that left her questioning.
Annabeth looked forlorn for a moment before speaking. "When you were gone, I always prayed you'd I'd see you again, even if it wasn't real. But why did you come now, after all these years?"
"I don't know," Charlotte answered honestly, her voice hesitant. "I didn't know I was meant to come."
"W-Where have you been?" Annabeth asked uncertainly, her expression confused and hurt. She looked like her younger self again, the one who tagged mercilessly after Charlotte, never giving the girl a break. Before, Charlotte had hated that, hated the younger girl whom had been better in her eyes, better in everyone's eyes. But now the balance between the two had been thrown off kilter; it was Annabeth who was the older one now and Charlotte no longer knew where she stood. She never would have thought that one day she'd want back the dynamic between her and her sister who she'd once been terribly envious of.
"I've been around," Charlotte replied, her voice dull like her surroundings. She cannot find it within herself to express her sense of loss. The feeling dies somewhere between her mind and mouth, her throat a graveyard of her moods. "What's happened since I've been gone?"
Annabeth laughed, though Charlotte had not intended the question to be funny. "So many things," Annabeth says, her voice catching and Charlotte knew that she was going to start crying. Annabeth was always so quick to tears and everyone was so quick to comfort her. But she didn't and Charlotte was left out again as the woman closes her eyes and takes in a deep breath, calming herself, yet another thing that had shifted. "Life's been happening while you've been gone, Charlotte. I—I've moved on to other things. I'm grown-up now, can't you tell?"
She throws out her hands and there's a silent ta-da to the action, a wry smile on her face. "I wish you were real," she added suddenly, humor falling away to seriousness. "I miss you so much, even after all these years, even after I gave up on you coming home."
"I wish I were too," Charlotte agreed without thinking, realizing it's true. Even though she had been here all along, she hadn't felt real in a very long time.
"But yeah, lots of things have been changing. There's so much to tell you, but I don't think we'll have the time."
"Are you going somewhere?" Charlotte inquired, eyes glancing at the suitcase on the bed.
Annabeth quirked a short, sharp smile. "I have to wake up and go back to everything else eventually, none of which is here."
"You don't live here," Charlotte realized, looking around the room. "No one lives here."
"Not anymore," Annabeth added softly. "Dad's gone now. He, uh, passed away not too long ago, and I'm just finishing things up with the house. After you, uh, you disappeared that night, he got really regretful. When you didn't come back, well, I'd never seen him so worried in his life. You'd always yell and then storm off to come back a little while later, that stony expression on your face. He thought the same thing too, so when you didn't—I just don't think he ever recovered from that. He got really sick though about a year ago—you remember his health had never really been good."
Annabeth's eyes trail to a spot behind Charlotte's head and she turns to see a lone framed photograph hanging on the wall. It was faded, like everything else in the house, left out too long in the sun. She immediately saw herself, haughty expression staring into the camera, her chin tipped up just so. Beside her was the Annabeth she remembered, young and vibrant, a large grin on her face. But behind them was a man. He's tall and serious and his hair was the right amount of grey and his nose the right size too. She knew who he was the moment she saw him. He was the man she had been looking for, the man she mistook so many for.
"He never stopped expecting you to come back through that door," Annabeth continued, her voice a hoarse whisper. "Always, always, always, he waited, even after he got sick. I know he never stopped regretting it, hoping you'd come back around so he could take it all back. He hated that he had never shown you what you really meant to him, that he did care about you."
Her sister's words washed over her, draining away what was left inside her. She expected the rage, the fury, the unadulterated desire to see him die, but it never came. She stared at that photo and felt nothing. He was dead as it was, so her fury would have been wasted. "All he ever did was criticize me," she whispered, eyes still on the man in the photograph. "He always put your first, always."
"I never meant for it to be like that," Annabeth said regretfully. "To me, you were always my amazing older sister. I just wanted to be around you. Tell me, before this all ends and you go away again, it wasn't my fault, was it? You died, you must have, that's why you still look like you."
Died. What a hollow, empty word that was now that she had dealt with it. She had been dead all this time, and she hadn't known, she hadn't bothered to care to know. Instead, she had gone off without a single second thought of as to why she was the way she was when she woke up, only later assuming that she'd find the answer in someone else when it'd been with her the entire time. Because she had died, there hadn't even been enough left of her to be bothered. Even now it still felt like nothing to her, even though it meant everything to Annabeth.
She turned back to her once younger sister, seeing her wipe away tears as quickly as she could. There was fear in her younger sister's face, fear of a thought she'd held onto since Charlotte had left.
"It was never about you," Charlotte told her, her voice even. "Don't let him off the hook. He always could have been better."
Annabeth didn't reply, only nodding her head, but she looked relieved, like Charlotte had taken a weight off of her chest. She didn't know how much it would mean, since tomorrow would have to come eventually and Annabeth would go back to the world she knew was real, not this moment in time where she could pretend her older sister had come back to her. Because even though Charlotte had, she could never truly be real here. She had become a fixed point and she knew that, just a snapshot of the past like the photo, unmoving and un-evolving. She was too still to last long, fading away into the past. She couldn't stay here anymore; that was what she hadn't realized before.
"What happened to you?" Annabeth asked quietly. "We looked and looked through those woods, but never found you or any sign of you. And now you're here, still looking like—"
"Her?" She finished, pointing toward the photograph. Annabeth hesitated before nodding jerkily.
"Yeah, like her," she agreed.
"I got stuck," Charlotte explained. "It's why I never moved like you did, but I think I'm good now. I don't think I'm stuck anymore."
Charlotte turned to leave, but she was stopped when Annabeth called out, her voice sounding almost frightened, "Where will you go?"
"Back, I guess," Charlotte decided, her hand brushing the doorframe. "I can't stay here. I don't fit anymore, not like you do."
Annabeth fell silent again, the only sound in the room being her light breathing. "I love you," she said, so softly Charlotte almost missed it.
She left the room without responding.
She found the cliff shortly afterward, the weakest rays of sun lighting her path. This time though, instead of barging through the brush angrily and falling, she carefully climbed down the side to the exposed rock below. Unlike everything else, it appeared to have remained the same. She could not see where she had crashed through though, time having built back all the broken branches and leaves. Her stain of blood was gone as well, wiped away by wind and rain. Otherwise, it looks no different than when she had woken up all those years ago—more years than she had known, considering Annabeth.
Though she could no longer tell where she had fallen, she knew it easily enough because it felt right when she walked over. She gave her surroundings one last look, the trees a dark outline in the sky, before kneeling down. She laid herself out of the rock, her legs splayed out and her arms thrown from her side. She closed her eyes, hoping this time she would not wake up.