Hey, kind readers, just a short note to let you know that I have decided to post the next five chapters, starting with chapter 31, and ending with chapter 35, one a day for the next five days. You can consider it my Christmas present to you all for cruising along with me on this dark adventure.
Lucy came back the next morning. In the interim Doug had eaten a small portion of solid food and had managed to sit up in his bed propped up against pillows. He looked down at his body in disgust, seeing how thin his arms were. His lateral muscles were all but gone and his abdominals were deflated to the point of emaciation. His upper body was wrapped in bandages so he could not see how bad the damage there was. He sighed in defeat, understanding that it would take him months of rehabilitation to get back to where he was before the shooting. Damn, he needed to be strong now. Not months from now. He had to find Annie. He had to set things right.
Between the kind nurse, Donna Sanchez, and Dr. Vogel, Doug had learned that the first bullet had punctured his abdomen and gone through his stomach. Then it had contacted a rib exiting through the back and had shattered, sending lead and bone shrapnel into his lungs and spleen. The damage had been extensive. The subsequent surgeries to remove shrapnel had been tricky but were successfully accomplished. The second bullet had entered his left chest just above the heart, had missed arteries and had gone straight through his lung where it had exited just below the shoulder blade. The lung had collapsed leaving him on artificial breathing apparatus and in a coma for nearly three long weeks, and only yesterday—after his vitals had improved dramatically—had he been taken off the critical list and upgraded to stable. Doug had always had good instincts and in his conversations with the nurse and the doctor he’d felt there was something more to his condition and recovery that remained unspoken. He sensed it in body language and in the subtle way eyes were averted whenever his questions became too pointed.
Doug had a multitude of questions that did not relate to the state of his health, but neither Dr. Vogel nor Nurse Sanchez could or would answer them. He was told that Dr. Ferguson would be joining him presently and that she was the only one who could address his concerns.
Frustrated, Doug waited for Lucy’s return, watching news television as he did so. Although the crash had happened more than three weeks past, it was still a main topic in the headlines. It had been a terrible tragedy, claiming the lives of two-hundred and thirty-six people. The possibility that it had been a terrorist attack was now the main thrust of the investigation. FAA Investigators were still combing the rural Allegheny Mountain site trying to piece it all together. The destruction had been so complete that there was little identifiable at the crash site, therefore few obvious clues.
There was one tantalizing nugget that had surfaced elsewhere, however, and the news-hungry media had pounced on it like vultures on carrion. It seemed that a male passenger had been pulled off an earlier flight after some sort of incident, and had subsequently been cleared and given passage on the doomed flight. For national security reasons the individual’s identity was being withheld. The press was hungry for fresh details, of course, but the government was not talking.
When Lucy entered the room the report was just ending. She could tell by the look of shock on Doug’s face that he’d been watching the headlines.
“What’s going on?” he said. “Are they going to blame me for that?”
“I see you’re feeling better,” Lucy said smiling sheepishly. She pulled a chair over next to the bed, sat down, and crossed one smooth, tanned leg over the other.
“I want answers!” Doug demanded. “No more bull. I want to know what’s going on, now.”
“Okay,” Lucy said. “I guess you deserve that.”
“Let’s begin with you. Who the hell are you?”
“I told you the truth. The Brotherhood of the Order is an organization that studies and observes paranormal phenomena. But mostly we study human beings with extraordinary abilities.”
The memory fragment in Doug’s mind swelled again and he was close to remembering something important, but all too quickly it receded and he was left with just a dull ache, and more questions than answers. “Why haven’t I ever heard of you?”
“Because we work in secret. Ours is a very old society, founded in the fifteenth century by a renegade group of Jesuit scholars who had begun questioning what they were being taught. They knew that miracles happened; they just weren’t convinced that all miracles were the work of God. Some came from darker places and conveyed much darker intentions. The reason we are secret is because of the world in which we live. If our existence was made public, governments would interfere and try to regulate us. In the beginning the only law was the Vatican and heresy was punishable by death. Now we have to deal with governments—distasteful as it is—most of which are shaped by ideological tenets. The world is filled with spoilers who would try to prevent us from objectively doing our research. In order to be objective our studies need to be completely unbiased and unstained by special interest. That’s why we live and work in secrecy.”
Doug glanced down at Lucy’s bare legs then quickly averted his eyes. “So how do you fit into it?”
“I’m just an employee. I do a job, that’s all. The brotherhood employs many people in a variety of fields.”
Doug relaxed a little but he was still having trouble wrapping his sore brain around the mystery of this woman. “Listen, sorry I snapped at you. Guess I should be thanking you for saving my life, huh? He shaped a wan smile.
“Don’t even think about it,” Lucy said. “I’m just glad you’re alive.”
“So, your organization has been keeping an eye on me.”
Lucy nodded. “Since you were a child. We know what you’ve suffered, and we’ve always kept our distance, even when everyone else was scheming to get their hands on you.”
“So why am I lying in this bed recovering from gunshot wounds?”
“That wasn’t us, Doug. We only wanted to protect you. And we almost failed this time.”
Doug frowned. “How much do you actually know about me?”
“Considerable. What we don’t understand is why you’ve been . . . quiet for so long.”
“Your mind. Your sight.”
Doug’s eyes drew down on Lucy. “What the fuck’s going on?”
“We know that your sight reawakened on the morning your house was destroyed.”
“Who are you people?” Doug exploded. “How the hell do you know these things?”
“Please, Doug, you have to stay calm. It is in our interest to know these things.”
“Do you have a goddamn tap on my mind?”
“If you think we’re the only ones watching you, then think again.”
Doug shook his head, as if he was trying to remove cobwebs from his brain. He sank back into his pillows with a weary sigh. “I’m not all here yet,” he said. “There’s stuff missing.”
Lucy laid a delicate hand on Doug’s arm. Gooseflesh rose beneath her touch and he felt a quick moment of embarrassment. Lucy sensed it and drew her hand back.
“I know,” she said. “You’ve been through quite an ordeal. Be patient. The memories will return in time.”
Lucy’s optimism was infectious and it made Doug feel better. How could he not believe her? How could he not trust her? She seemed so familiar to him and he did not know why. The smile, the sincerity in her voice, all of it together helping to set his mind at ease, even as he lay here at her mercy, a prisoner of her will and whim. The thought was a little unsettling.
“How about this,” he said. “You tell me what you know about me, and if I can remember and you’re wrong I’ll correct you.”
“Fair enough,” Lucy said, “but I’m not sure you’re strong enough for this.”
“Be warned,” she said in a voice that tried to be stern but failed. “If I think it’s too much for you I’ll stop. I just got you back. I don’t intend to lose you again.”
Lucy said, “We know that occasionally throughout your life you’ve foreseen certain events before they’ve occurred, usually tragic events, such as the crash three weeks ago. You have some sort of second sight.”
“I’m cursed,” Doug said.
Lucy shook her head. “No,” she said adamantly. “Being cursed is too simple an explanation for what you have.”
“There’s this . . . thing, this entity that sometimes accompanies my spells,” Doug said. “Like it’s in my mind but somehow more real. I don’t know, I can’t explain it. It even talks to me sometimes. Or I think it does. I saw it for the first time on the day Tommy Ricker broke my nose. It did terrible things to their babysitter and her boyfriend. And I think it took Tommy and Savannah.” Doug hesitated. “Do know about that?”
Lucy nodded. “We’ve been trying to isolate it for years.”
Doug stared at Lucy in astonishment. “Isolate it?” he said.
“Our organization has been keeping tabs on this creature since the fifteenth century. It’s one of the reasons we exist.”
Doug was nearly bowled over with a strange species of relief. That he was not alone in his knowledge of the entity was like having a tremendous weight lifted from his heart. “It’s real then?”
“You know it’s real, Doug. You’ve seen it. You’ve communicated with it. You’re witness to its atrocities.”
Doug heaved a weary sigh. “I think some part of me has always believed that thing was a figment of my imagination and that I was somehow responsible for all the terrible things that happened.”
“No,” Lucy said. “You weren’t responsible. We believe your mind is open to areas other minds can’t even begin to grasp. We don’t know why that’s so. We may never know. It might have been there from birth and the bone shard triggered it, or it might have been triggered solely by that incident. Being able to see this . . . creature, to know of its existence is a rare gift. To know its intentions is even rarer and quite valuable in the right hands.”
“But what is it? Do you know?”
Lucy avoided Doug’s gaze and he knew that she was about to lie to him. “I want the truth,” he said, his voice hard.
“I’m not sure you’re ready for this.” Lucy ran a frustrated hand through her long silky hair. “Listen, Doug, I’m not sure you’d believe me if I told you.”
Lucy sighed with equal measures of resignation and frustration. “Okay,” she said. “We believe it’s a fallen angel.”
Doug stared speechless.
“I told you, Doug.”
“A fallen angel?”
“You mean like God, Satan, devils . . .?”
“Yes, that’s exactly what I mean.”
“Don’t you have to religious before you can believe in all that shit?”
Lucy shook her head. “Disbelief in something doesn’t make it not so.”
“Why is it that I’m the only one who can see it?”
“Who else sees that thing?”
“There have been quite a few in history. Most are now dead. As far as we know there are only two other people alive who have seen the demon.”
“Who are they?”
“Edmond De Roché and his daughter Annie.”
“No,” Doug said. “You’re lying.” His face had gone ashen and his breathing was laborious. “That can’t be true. Why? How?”
“He wants something of yours, Doug, something of yours and Annies. And De Roché has conspired for years to deliver it to him.”
In that moment Doug knew exactly what it was that the demon wanted. In that moment everything in Doug’s life became crystal clear. In that moment he knew why the demon had chosen him.
“Why does he want my child?” Doug asked.
“Because we believe he wants to become human. We believe he has plans for the human race and the only way he can carry out his plan is to become human. You were targeted. And so was Annie.”
“Oh, Christ,” Doug said, “That would mean that our meeting wasn’t an accident. It would mean that the whole thing was set up, that De Roché wanted me and Annie to get together.”
“No, he never wanted that, Doug,” Lucy said. “That part’s true. His hate for you is real. It was a question of need. You and Annie were the combination needed to deliver the right child. You see, a long time ago the Collector made a deal with De Roché, but now De Roché is trying to betray him. It seems he wants everything for himself.”