By Wednesday Julie had recovered her energy, and came back home late after school, wearing the pizza place’s hat. Heather was tucked away studying most of the day but came out to prepare dinner as Bill watched another old movie and Julie did her homework on the floor again. The sisters ate with little chatter and went back to their tasks.
“Can we watch something that isn’t older than me?” Julie asked as one movie ended, eliciting a sharp look from Heather.
“Have at it.” Bill accidentally knocked the remote to the floor instead of handing it to her, and she flipped through a few channels before settling on what turned out to be a horror movie. Bill ended up paying more attention then her as she was finishing her Spanish homework. By the time she tossed her notebook in her bag again he jumped at the sound.
“Wow, never thought I’d scare a ghost.” Julie laughed a little and Bill huffed and went back to the movie, “Night, Billy.” She left her bag by the stairs and headed upstairs to sleep.
Bill watched horror movies the rest of the night until Heather woke up early in the morning to make breakfast, then switched it back to the classics.
“From what I can tell we should be able to put you back in your body no problem, Mr. Esler.” Heather spoke up suddenly and he looked at her.
“That’s good, how soon?”
“I’ll need Julie’s help and it’s probably going to take a day so we’ll have to wait until Saturday. You’ll just have to amuse yourself a couple more days. Did you need more to read?”
“Another book would be nice.” Bill smiled and she returned the expression.
“I’ll dig something up for you then.”
Julie thudded downstairs two steps at a time and sat down at the table, grabbing a piece of bread to munch on.
“Eat real food.”
“This is real food.” Julie shoved the slice in her mouth and grabbed an orange off the table, peeling it before Heather could argue with her again. She ate half of it and carried the rest with her as she hurried out the door, grabbing her bag on the way.
“I swear it’s like living with another species.” Heather put one hand on her cheek and sighed.
The next few days passed in much the same way, with Bill not really moving from his spot until Saturday morning rolled around. That morning Heather forced Julie to eat some oatmeal before letting her drink iced coffee.
“I can’t have you crashing on me halfway through.” She herded Julie and Bill out the front door and into the car finally, where Bill sat in the back. They drove over to the apartment building and Julie hit all of the buttons until someone let them in. Up on Bill’s floor they hurried past his neighbor’s still vacant apartment to his, which Julie unlocked quickly.
Julie locked the door behind them as Heather walked around the room, inspecting it. Bill sat uncomfortably close to his body, which was covered in a thin layer of dust.
“How am I not dead? Or at least filthy?”
“If you’re asking why your body hasn’t… soiled itself, Mr. Esler, it’s because it’s locked in… time I suppose. Side effect of having your essence washed out it just shuts down and waits.”
“Kind of like a computer without an operating system.” Julie chimed in. Heather started drawing things in the dust on the shelves and Julie used random bits of mail to make a few rough shapes around the floor. Bill sat and watched them.
“Can I help?” He asked finally.
“All you need to do is sit still on the bed. I’m afraid this next bit will be rather boring for you.” Heather was still drawing stuff in the dust. She hesitated a moment and glanced around, “Where is your restroom, by the way?”
Bill pointed to the almost hidden doorway. His bathroom was minimal in exchange for the larger living area. She nodded but made no move towards it.
“Don’t put anything on the floor over there, Julie.”
“Got it.” Julie was busying herself by his desk.
“Uh?” Bill hesitated to ask.
“When you go back in your body, things get unfrozen all at once. We don’t want you slipping on mail on the way to take care of that.” Heather turned a little red as she explained, tracing an elaborate diagram on the window.
“She means you’re gonna have to go bad, and we don’t want you ghosting yourself for real in the rush.”
“Don’t be crude.” Heather spent several minutes focusing on the opposite wall after that but Julie cast him a quick grin before going back to whatever she was doing. Bill was beginning to wish he knew what happened to his clock when Heather stopped suddenly and clapped her hands. She positioned herself carefully near the door and Julie stood next to her, “Mr. Esler, it’s very important you stay where you are and stay quiet. If you say anything it could affect the spell. You can move a little but stay on the bed.”
Bill nodded, already too nervous to speak. The sun coming through the window told him it was probably close to noon. Heather nodded to Julie and everything slowed suddenly. The air felt thick as he watched Julie slowly burst into blue flames which spread around the floor everywhere she’d left debris. He vaguely hoped they weren’t actually burning all that mail as a low humming noise filled the air. It took him a moment to realize the noise was both sisters. They were speaking very slowly in some language he didn’t understand. The flames died down low but stayed that heated blue color.
His mind went back to the office the other day, and one of his conversations with the secretary. He’d lamented being unable to thank the girls for all they’d done, and that he’d forget all of this. The secretary had been sympathetic, and talked to him about the dangers of introducing regular people to the magical world. He’d apparently been lucky, as most people who got caught up in errant magic didn’t get rescued so quickly. Some wasted away outside their bodies for days, going slowly insane until they were no longer capable of going back. Others got turned into animals or objects and were simply never rescued.
The room was vibrant purples and blues now. He could see strings of something bright flickering back and forth across the room to spots Heather had marked. Looking at them now he could see a pattern. The book he’d bought when he first moved in, the computer, his outgoing mail… the handles on the desk drawers he’d searched for months online for. The window was a big selling point when he’d decided on the place. A big view of the world while he locked himself away. She’d even marked his favorite pen/pencil set, which sat unused on a shelf because he hadn’t found a place in town for ink refills.
The secretary had mentioned how important a sense of self was in these situations. She’d seemed impressed at how solid he was, how grounded to his life. Bill hadn’t thought about it much at the time.
The bright strings were beginning to lead back to him now. They wrapped around his hands and feet and he panicked briefly as one wrapped around his shoulders. Only Heather’s warning kept him still as he became more entangled.
The secretary hadn’t known much about this ritual, claiming it was outside her range. She’d mentioned it was very power intensive but not too difficult. It was apparently flexible too. There were ways to add things to a person, like memories or traits. It was harder but possible. He’d pushed her about keeping memories, but she’d been unwilling to say more than a couple words on it.
The strings of light had almost cocooned him when he quietly whispered.
“Familiahris.” He regretted his decision immediately as Heather’s expression changed from surprise to something unfathomable. There’s was a break in the constant humming and Heather added in another word that made Julie look up at her. The strings blocked his vision and everything went black.