“Come in my child. I sense a heavy heart.”
My nervous hand searched for support as I carefully sat in a plush leather chair in what appeared to be a small cramped room.
“You have come to me with a tall order, why have you awoken me from my rest?”
“I’ve decided to come to you with this story because I feel that having survived, I owe something to the missing. If I fail to act, it would be a betrayal worse than what I have already done. I should never have left”
“Are you aware of what you’re asking? The cost may be too great for you to carry”
“I’m not concerned with costs; I only wish to see my sister again. It has been years since I escaped my captors, and the hold over me has finally subsided, its reach, at last, has no extension. My name is Lillian Henry, and it is my hope that with your help, I can at last put my demons to rest and find a way to help my sister. The events of this tale are impossibly hard to believe to most, but with your reputation, these events may not surprise you.“
“As long as you are aware of who you are dealing with we can move onto the next phase of our agreement, but I must hear your tale before I decide how I will proceed”
With that, I began my account of the day my sister disappeared. An account so incredible that it has led me here, to a woman with unimaginable power and influence.
A few years ago, I moved to Barcelona with my sister Leah searching for a fresh start to life. I had just gone through a rough divorce, and Leah, fresh out of college, was ready to start searching for job opportunities to gain more experience in the world of fashion. Why Barcelona? For me, it represented a chance to pursue my childhood dream. I wanted to travel through Europe before I went to college, but I fell for a boy, and left my dreams behind so that I could help create his. For Leah, Barcelona is one of the top cities for fashion in the world so it was a no-brainer.
Leah and I could not have been more different. We were 11 years apart, I had always been the academic, and she spent her time designing, painting, and creating. We also looked nothing alike, as if our mother had an obvious affair and my submissive father had just accepted it and loved us nonetheless. My ex-husband swore that I was just as beautiful as my sister, but just as it was with our marriage, his words and reality just didn’t match up. I have short brown hair with dark brown eyes and a petite stature. I also don’t focus on my looks on a day-to-day basis, because it isn’t my priority. Leah on the other hand had long beautiful hair, she was statuesque, and had the most spectacular blue eyes. The one thing I was jealous of when it came to her was the magnificent sense of beauty and fashion she was born with. It was effortless, natural, and her fun, quirky, personality seemed to accentuate anything she wore. We were different, in nearly every way, and I’m tremendously thankful that we never went through high school together and drew comparisons. Regardless of the envy I had, we loved each other as sisters could and I always did my best to look out for her.
Barcelona was just as I had imagined. With its cobblestone streets, gothic architecture, and beautiful courtyards around every corner, walking in this city reminded me of a Carl Jung quote I had once heard, ‘Who looks outside dreams, who looks inside awakens’. Barcelona was my dreamscape; the journey to get there was my awakening. We spent our early months renting different apartments so we could explore the various neighborhoods. I rediscovered my youth in “El Poblenou”, when I realized that I was perfectly capable of keeping up with my 22-year-old sister, and even outlasted her a few times. Month number two took us to ‘L’Antiga Esquerra de l’Eixample’, where we realized that a gay man really can be a woman’s best friend, and as a result, had the best month of our entire lives.
With comfort in the city truly setting in, we realized that our budget had to tighten and it was time to use our new connections to help us secure work. We found a beautiful house in a quiet area of town called “La Nova Esquerra de l’Eixample”, and slowly but surely, work started to come our way. Leah had secured some work in a popular boutique in the city center, and I found some work at the University registrar office. Things were truly looking up and the two of us were finally getting everything we expected out of the move to this spectacular city.
Months had passed, and the fun-filled nights weren’t as plentiful. We were city girls in every sense, which meant that we worked on a consistent basis. Leah began a fling with a gorgeous man from Madrid, who took up every other free moment she had. My teaching gig at the University also kept me busy. Between lesson planning and marking, my free time was running thin. One day, Leah came home from a long day of work and proposed that we head into the city for a sister-night out. We hadn’t seen our friends, and worst of all, we had barely seen each other. We agreed to head out on Saturday night, and to finally allow ourselves to be the sisters we once were.
We began our Saturday night out with Tapas, followed up by a few glasses of Tinto de Verano, Barcelona’s version of sangria. This is where the night started to turn, I only wish I was talking about the hangover that would occur. When Leah drank, sometimes she would get a little mouthy. It was a combination of her youth, and an ingrown belief that she could move mountains if she so desired. As a proud sister, this ingrown belief pushed her to get top marks in her graduating class. As an embarrassed sister, this ingrown belief she had, created many fires that I had to put out. The two of us toured the streets that night, and at one point, in a drunken stupor, the last thing I remember was an old homeless woman who jumped up in an empty courtyard about 100 meters away and shouted what I believed was “go back to your own country”. Some of the older Spaniards are none to pleased with the amount of tourists who flock to their beautiful cities and crowd their streets. Leah, being the outspoken drunk she could be, retaliated with a ‘fuck you’ and a childish laugh. I really wish Leah had ignored this woman because I am of the firm belief that you should always try and resolve conflict in the most civil manner; you never know who or what you are dealing with.
The next events happened so quickly, that no one within the crowd of people was capable of noticing or even reacting. Although she was about 100 meters away, the old woman moved with impossible speed and appeared in front of Leah in what felt like seconds. She blew a cloud of red powder in Leah’s face, which caused her entire body to go limp and her cheeks to blush a peculiar shade of purple. Before I could react, the woman appeared inches away from my face, and the next thing I could see was the purest white light you could ever imagine; a light I can still see as I speak these words.
“La rubia está despierta”
I began to stir in what felt like an upright position on a plank of wood.
“Así es la morena”
I felt weak as my eyes opened. All I could see was the same bright light as before. All I could feel was cold iron secured tightly on my wrists.
“Bienvenido my children. This is your new home.”
The room felt cold, damp, and had a metallic scent that reminded me of dried blood and rust.
“Leah??? Are you there???”
I promptly felt the force of a fist colliding with my stomach. The strike caused me to vomit on the shoulder of my attacker. I would have keeled over if the chains on my wrists weren’t as tight as they were.
“You cannot speak to your sister. Your sister has no respect for her elders, so I have silenced her voice for the time being. You witness the lack of respect and do nothing, so I have also silenced your eyes.”
The old woman from the courtyard had brought us here, and all I could imagine was the terrible things she was about to do. She began to speak once more.
“You are under our spell. Your people call us witches, we see ourselves as true saviors of our land. This is our home and your souls will forever be trapped here. The two of you will never know the true outside world; you will only know death. This house acts as a portal, and many souls from around the world have come here to rest. It is you who will relive their suffering for all of eternity.”
My eyelids began to flicker uncontrollably. My body began to feel possessed by a strange force and in a flash I was transported to a house bathed in sunlight.
My eyesight had returned. Leah wore a beautiful golden dress fit for an awards ceremony. I had never seen anything like it before. The material resembled a warm golden viscous liquid, and Leah possessed the fluidity to make it look effortless.
“I’m so excited for tonight my darling”
Leah gazed at me with loving eyes, as she danced and twirled with a glass of bubbly in her hands. Confused by her statement, I caught a reflection of myself and realized that I wasn’t in my body. I stood approximately 6ft tall, I had dark hair and I wore a beautiful tuxedo. My mind was fully aware, but I also realized that I was not in control of my actions. It was as if I were paralyzed and forced to watch a strange scene in a film.
“Dance with me”
Leah twirled once more, and sipped from her glass of bubbly.
“I love you. I always will, but it appears our dance is over.”
Leah gazed at me with scorn.
“I was willing to do anything for you, but you have betrayed me with that… that whore. You’ve never experienced the consequences of your actions. Everyone around you has to go through the pain you cause. Maybe now you will know the pain I have felt”
What appeared to be a romantic moment quickly became tense, and Leah’s loving gaze transformed into a look of shame, anger, and sadness. She turned toward the chandelier and launched herself into the air, plummeting to her death from the second floor right into the mezzanine. The feeling of loss consumed my body and I crumbled to my knees. I had never known such sadness, and immediately felt the weight of the emotion from seeing Leah perform such a terrible act, compounded with the weight of sadness from the soul I had temporarily inhabited. I felt helpless, confused, afraid, and sickened to the very core of my being.
Once again the white light flashed before my eyes and I could feel an immense flow of warm liquid streaming down my face.
“That was the first of many my child, there will be others”
I heard Leah’s muffled cries in the room. She must have experienced the same vision, but was unable to cry out just as I currently was. I couldn’t see a thing, and all I could do was feel and watch these visions as I stood and did nothing to stop these deaths.
I couldn’t tell you how many visions I had, or even recount each one as vividly as the first, but Leah’s beauty, and her death would collide in each instance. My desire to reach out and escape this prison would grow with each moment my blinded eyes would flicker. There had to be a way to escape. No matter how bleak it seemed there is always a way. My eyes flickered once more.
Leah stood in an elegant black evening gown, staring at me with candles in hand.
“You’ve finally made it! How was the drive?”
Leah walked toward me and gently kissed my cheek
“I made so much food for us, we should be full for a week! Come! Let’s sit”
Leah walked toward the couch to sit, but a pair of ghostly hands seemingly rose from the carpet and caused her to fall over the coffee table. As she lay there in pain and confusion, the ghostly hands appeared once more, this time placing a tight grip around her elongated neck. I felt myself rush toward her, but my body was paralyzed due to the appearance of multiple hands placing me in a powerful hold around my ankles, upper thighs, and around my seemingly powerful chest. With each moment I struggled, the hands grew more powerful. I watched as Leah’s face turned blue, and the ghostly hands fazed back into the house and out of sight. I walked toward Leah’s body with a heavy heart, and a hopelessness that I feared would last forever. In this moment, I knew I had to act.
These visions grew worse and more frequent, and this house that we kept appearing in seemed to possess a curse that would never be lifted. As I felt my eyes begin to flicker back to reality, I began to question why this witch had put us here. Why on earth did one comment warrant this senseless suffering and pain for two sisters who only desired a better life? Why so much suffering for such a venial sin?
My despair transformed to anger and I began to pound my fists on the ground in frustration. I suddenly realized that I was in full control of my body.
The room felt lifeless and my skin was as cold as ice. I walked over and instinctively checked Leah’s pulse only to realize that there was still life in her veins despite the corpse that lay before me. There was still hope. This world did not hold as much power as I once believed.
I found the nearest exit and ran into what appeared to be the back of the house covered by trees and dense bush. To my surprise, Leah appeared before me wearing a beautiful white dress. I turned my gaze away for the briefest of moments, and looked back to find her lying amongst the brush, lifeless.
I sprinted toward a gate to the right of Leah’s body, and hopped over with relative ease. I had never been athletic before, but I found advantage in the body I had now inhabited in this purgatory. As I reached the front of the house, the warm light of the sun replaced the cold dark night. I stood on the driveway, unsure of where to run, only to catch a reflection from the window in the front entrance. Leah stood in the window bay of the house in a beautiful velvet dress, gazing at me with longing in her eyes. She appeared to be trapped in the house and from the look she had, there was no escape for her. We stood for a minute, staring at each other, as the tears rolled down my cheeks. As we stared at each other, Leah’s eyes caught life and I could see her mouth one word ‘Run’
I ran toward the front step, opened the door and was immediately struck by a strong gust of wind. I powered my way into the front entrance, where I had once witnessed Leah’s dead body wrapped in the viscous golden dress and called out to Leah as loud as I possibly could.
“Leah! Let’s get out of here. I think I’ve found a way. Try and snap out of this, we can fight back!”
Leah continued to gaze out of the window,
“Leah! Snap out of it! It’s the only way! Try and think!”
The wind grew stronger with each forceful word I spoke. As I attempted to enter the room in which Leah stood, a burst of powerful wind carried me out of the house, and launched me from the step and onto the ground. My head hit the concrete so hard that I could feel blood trickling from the top of my skull. Just as I rolled over to my left in an effort to rise to my feet, I saw her, my beautiful sister Leah, dead in her magnificent dress. The old woman materialized from the gust of wind on the steps, and with the snap of her fingers, my body shot upright.
“You have found a way to defeat your purgatory. You have a strong mind my child. You may go”
“I… I… I am not leaving without my sister!”
“Unfortunately I cannot control that. I have the power to place people in this purgatory, but once they are in and their mind is gone, I cannot take them out. She will continue to relive these deaths for eternity. You have been granted new life. Vamos!”
I could feel the world pulling away from my sight, but just as the world turned black, I glanced toward the window to see my beautiful sister Leah staring back at me with love and longing in her eyes. The visions flashed quickly. The viscous golden dress, the black evening wear, the angelic white dress, and the exquisite velvet dress that she wore as she lay lifeless beside me, all blended in a composite of color, that faded to black and out of my reach.
I felt my eyes flicker, and all I could see was an impossibly bright light. The smell of rust and blood had gone, I could feel the heat of the sun.
A crowd gathered around me with a cacophony of language. One friendly English voice piped up and asked how I was feeling. I explained that I had no idea where I was, and how much time had elapsed. They explained that I wandered into the crowd in a bit of a trance, and had collapsed at the market stand; Three years had passed. He then drove me to the hospital where I stayed for nearly a month as they treated my eyes and helped me rehabilitate.
“That is quite the tale my child. The amount of resilience you have is immeasurable”
“I sit here lost, blind, and filled with pain. My sister is trapped in purgatory and there is little chance I will see her again. I came to you with the hope that everything I’ve heard is true and that you have the power that people claim. You can hear the dead, and I only wish that I could reach out to my sister in her purgatory to help her find a way out. Is this possible?”
“You will be with your sister once more but you must come with me.”
“Were are we going?”
“A ritual must be performed, but you must maintain full trust that she will rise from the depths of hell to be with you and to see your family.”
As the two walked down a small narrow path, a chill grew in the air.
“Where are you taking me?”
“I’m taking you home”
Lillian’s heart rate increased as she slowly began to realize the trap. She was now in the company of her captor, who had cleverly disguised her voice as she listened to her recant her tale. Fear targeted Lillian’s core and suddenly her body began to weaken
The question was met with silence as Lillian lost control of her body and was carried off into the dungeon that housed her eternal damnation.
The last thing she felt was cold iron around her wrists. The lasting smell of blood and rust would stain Lillian’s soul as it re-entered the purgatory she had escaped years earlier. As the old woman plunged a knife deep into Lillian’s abdomen, a smile crawled across her face.
“Welcome home my child. You were a fool to believe in your escape. Your venial sin’s have not been purged. Now, you may rejoin your sister. Purgatory is forever”
Fashion Photography. Mauricio Ortiz
Assistants. Chris Snow & Conrad Moir
Model. Santa Uzina
Make-up. Anthonia Bejide
Hair & Make-up. Leslie Anne Barrett & Ellenor Capulus
Additional Photographs. Julie Ribi & Corinna Hull