Amelia is the one who tells her, oddly enough. On their way down the stairs to the basement: I sent my baby to the church, but one in England. How did she end up in Ukraine? Her hands wringing together as she goes. Helena twists all the way around where she’s zip-tied to the pillar, eyes wide. Terrified. When she sees Sarah looking, she bites her lip.
The next time Sarah sees Amelia she’s bleeding out against another pillar, in another place, one scrawled with images of Helena and Sarah holding hands. Amelia presses a photograph into Sarah’s hands and breathes, desperate: Sarah, your sister – Sarah, Helena killed—and then she’s gone.
When Sarah looks up, Helena is standing there with a flare gun. “She lies,” Helena says flatly. “She does this.”
She steps down the stairs, footsteps light, eyes wide and blank. “She said,” Helena says, voice empty, “that I was not your sister. But I am. You can feel it, yes?”
“No,” Sarah says, “I can’t.”
Helena stops. The flare gun gutters in her hand and she sways, a ship untethered. “Sarah,” she breathes, “sestra. My sister. My sister. Did you know I used to sneak into the others’ houses, to see if they had lives I wanted. To see if I wanted to be them. You,” she tilts her head to the side, voice unbearably fond, “were the first one I wanted to be with. And not be.”
Sarah takes a step back. Helena mirrors it, faithfully. Maybe they can keep going like this all the way to the door, and Sarah can slam it in Helena’s face. She slowly moves her hand towards the gun tucked in her waistband. “Why would Amelia think you’re not my sister,” she says, slowly. Her boot catches on a piece of rubble on the ground and she stumbles, but keeps on backing up. Helena is getting closer. Helena looks manic in the dark.
“The others don’t deserve it,” Helena says. “Weak. They couldn’t keep you safe. Their bones break too easy. Killing them is easy. I could kill all of them for you, Sarah, if you wanted. I could kill anyone.”
“I don’t want you to kill anyone,” Sarah says shakily. “Anyone.”
Helena stops, abruptly. “I won’t,” she says. “If I can be your sister I won’t.”
Sarah swallows. Helena takes this as a sign of encouragement, steps forward. Too close; Sarah takes a step back and her back is up against a pillar now and it’s bad, it’s awful. Helena presses herself even closer.
“I can change,” she whispers, like a secret. “I did it before. I used to be an animal living in the woods and then I was a girl who found God.” She giggles to herself. “It was easy.”
It clicks abruptly, like a child’s neck snapping. “You killed her,” Sarah says, shuddering involuntarily. “My sis—” She thinks better of it, Helena volatile, Helena too-damn-close. “The girl who used to be my sister. You took her place.”
It was the right thing to say, apparently; Helena beams, sallow. She takes a step back, folds her hands behind her back, sways from foot to foot like a child seeking to please. “She didn’t deserve you,” Helena says, and then sing-songs: “Too weak.
“She didn’t even fight,” she says moodily. “Just begged. Please please please. They all beg. I wouldn’t.”
She stops, blinks at Sarah. Something of the sudden sharp ache Sarah is feeling must be showing on her face. God help her: she’d felt it. The connection Helena always talked about, wistful and worshiping. Sarah had believed in it. Amelia had said: I had two babies, and Sarah had thought about Helena, and it had felt – warped, but it had felt – like coming home.
And now that girl is dead. And now Sarah’s sister and Sarah’s mother are both dead, and their killer’s face is slowly losing hope and getting dangerous. Sarah’s heartbeat skids into a high speed, thrumming an urgent I don’t want to die in the column of her throat.
“I’m not mad,” she blurts, the lie so hilariously unbelievable she has a hard time not laughing around it. But Helena slumps, easy.
“I know,” Helena says, and Sarah can tell by Helena’s voice that she’s lying back to her. She wishes she didn’t know that. She shouldn’t know that. Helena isn’t anybody to her, why should Sarah know that she was scared? Why should that matter?
Helena is smiling at her, stretched out like crooked stitches around her face. “I knew that you would understand,” she says, “because you are the only one who is like me. You saw the thing you wanted and you took it. And then you were it. Except you were not as good as me, I think, because you took Beth’s clothes off and you were yourself underneath.
“I can teach you,” she says. “Becoming is easy. Like lying. You’re good at lying. I can teach you how to become.”
“Become what?” Sarah says.
Helena swings her arms back and forth, tilts her a shrug. “Anything,” she says. “I could be anything too. We could be anything together, and that would be the only true thing. The together. The rest lying.”
A life spent shedding snakeskins. Helena the only constant. Helena says it lovingly enough that it could be a dream; Sarah hears it, and it’s a nightmare. She lets her hand curl back around her, to the pistol in her belt.
“Or,” Helena says, watching her hand, “or. Or or. Or you can tell me what you want me to be, and I can be it. I can kill for you or I can never kill anybody or anything. What do you want a sister to be, I can be it, Sarah what do you think a sister is I can be that too.”
The words a trainwreck out of Helena’s mouth, cars piling up. The low ache of shame in Sarah’s gut: every time she’s ever changed herself, remade herself into something someone else wanted. Is this what they saw? Did they look at her and say yes not because she was doing it right, but because she looked that desperate?
A trail of bodies behind Sarah, leading off into the forest. She hasn’t snapped anyone’s neck, she tells herself, but it’s hard not to feel like it. Felix said he saw Beth’s body. Felix said it didn’t look like anything, but Sarah knows it looked like guilt.
She takes her hand away from the gun. Helena relaxes. Helena sways, one thing and then another thing entirely. Her hands, empty of gun, twist against each other. Just like Amelia’s hands. Amelia is a stranger, Amelia is just another corpse Helena has made, but she wrings her hands together just like Amelia did.
“My twin,” Helena says pleadingly. “She said we were like night and day. You can be whichever one you want. I can be whatever’s missing from you.”
Sarah doesn’t say anything. Her pulse is a blur in her throat, and she doesn’t know what it is it’s trying to tell her. The pillar takes her weight as she leans against it. Sarah’s sister is dead. Sarah’s sister has always been dead, except for the fact that she’s here, except for the fact that she could be whatever Sarah asked her to be.
“Sarah,” Helena says, scuffing her boots against the ground as she steps forward. Sarah closes her eyes tight and doesn’t answer.