Five chapters in five days. Here’s the third one, chapter 33.
In the days that followed, as Doug became stronger, he and Lucy talked at length about the Collector. There were things in Doug’s immediate past that he could not recall and his frustration was growing because of it. His last clear memory was of being shot. He remembered Annie and him being driven from their home; he remembered the terrible confrontation with De Roché and his fight with Annie on the beach and their subsequent reconciliation. He remembered the dinner party, getting drunk and wandering into the forest behind De Roché manor and the things he’d seen there. He vaguely remembered the next day at Rachael’s funeral and some incident that had occurred there, but he could not put it all together. He thought that De Roché had been shot but for the life of him, he could not remember any of the circumstances surrounding the incident.
Like a nagging tic at the center of his psyche it remained, however, insisting that time was short and that he must recall those events soon. But it was no use, try as he might his spent mind would not focus. So he lived those days in recovery, talking to Lucy about his childhood and the terrible things he’d been witness to.
“You can’t imagine how it made me feel to see those people die,” Doug told Lucy. “Strangers, friends, my parents. Murdered, all of them. And for what? But worse, to know those children were still . . . alive somewhere and calling out to me.”
It was the third day since Doug’s reemergence into the world of the living and during those days Lucy held vigil for hours at a time at his bedside. She was a comforting presence, but deep in Doug’s heart he felt a growing unease with this woman that was both disturbing and a little tantalizing. His initial impression that she was somehow familiar would not go away.
“Do you honestly believe that those kids are still alive, Doug?”
It was a long time before Doug could reply to Lucy’s inquiry. He had mulled that question over in his mind a million times, but had never been able to come to a reasonable conclusion. “No,” he said finally. “Not in the way we think of life. But there might still be a chance for that little girl . . .” He hesitated, not sure if he was remembering things correctly. Not even sure if what he’d seen had been real. But when he remembered the little girl’s pleading voice he knew that it was.
“You’re talking about the incident in New Hampshire on the morning you and Annie had to run for your lives.”
Doug sighed. “So that was real, huh?”
“The FBI tried to keep it hush for as long as possible but we had people on the inside.”
“I don’t know why they call out to me,” Doug said. “I can’t help them. I’ve never been able to help any of them. Why does he take children? Why does he kill everyone else and take the little ones?
“It’s their innocence,” Lucy replied. “We believe he draws strength from them. Maybe he stores them away like batteries and uses them until they’re drained.”
“When the children talk to me they tell me that they’re in a dark place called the House of Bones. Do you know if that place is real?”
Lucy nodded earnestly. “We think it is. We’ve been trying to find it but it’s complicated. The Collector is a supernatural being. He exists on a separate plane of existence from the rest of us. He manages to cross over long enough to commit his atrocities but doesn’t stay here. We believe it’s possible that his House of Bones doesn’t reside on our plane.”
“So how do we stop him?”
“My organization has been trying to figure that out for centuries. Maybe you can help.”
“Well, the fact that these children call out to you and that you hear them makes me believe that you are somehow closer to his plane than the rest of us. And from what you’ve told me there seems to be some sort of special connection between you and this latest child, Trinity.”
“Yeah, but I don’t know what it is. I don’t even know her.”
“True, but I think that through her, your connection to the House of Bones is more tangible.”
Doug lay back against his pillows with a weary sigh. “I just don’t understand why I’m cursed with such terrible sight.”
“I think it’s about the future, Doug. I think you’re somehow tapped into the future through this creature.”
“But I’m not capable of seeing the future,” Doug said.
Lucy frowned. “I think you might be, Doug. What about the plane crash?”
Doug was silent for a long moment staring at Lucy. “But what about my parents and all the other things that happened? I’ve always believed that I was seeing those things as they were occurring.”
“Maybe not, Doug. Maybe you were seeing them just before they occurred. Tell me you’ve never considered that.”
“I honestly haven’t, but if it’s true . . .” Doug’s voice trailed off and Lucy saw the pain in his eyes.
“No, Doug, you were a child. You could not have prevented any of it from happening. Don’t go there.”
Doug stared at Lucy as something in the dim recesses of his memory again tried to surface, some long lost knowledge or familiarity, and although Doug sensed that it was gaining in strength he was still unable to grasp it, and just like that the fragment fluttered away like black confetti, leaving him with a dull headache and more questions than answers.
“What’s going to happen when the authorities finally get their hands on me?” Doug asked. “They think I’m a terrorist.”
“They’re not going to touch you,” Lucy said.
“You don’t know that.”
“They think you’re dead.”
“You know I’m alive. The nurse and doctor know I’m alive. How many others? Come on, tell me.” Doug had raised himself slightly up off his pillows. “How do I know I’m safe in this hospital?”
“You’re not strong enough for this, Doug.”
He sank wearily back down feeling angry and confused, his sunken and rheumy eyes gazing out at Lucy from a drawn and pallid face. Outside the light of day already seemed to be fading. How long had they been talking? Surely not more than a few hours. Everything seemed somehow distorted and Doug felt a strange sense of vertigo, like he was only partially back from some terrible place. “But I need to know why this is all happening.” He said.
“And you will. Please trust me; right now you need rest more than anything else.” Lucy rose to leave.
Doug put his hand out and gripped Lucy’s arm, holding her, looking her directly in the eye. Could he trust her? There was that veil of doubt again threatening to turn into a solid wall. Who was she really? Where had she come from? What did she really want? This woman who he hardly knew suddenly had all this control over him. No one had ever had this much control over him and the realization of it gave him claustrophobia. He wanted to bolt from his bed and run for his life, but he forced himself to stay calm. He knew that he must if he was going to heal and get out of this nightmare alive.
“Lucy put a comforting hand atop Doug’s. “I don’t know what I can say that will set your mind at ease.”
“I’ve gone through my life thinking I was somehow responsible for . . . everything that’s happened,” Doug said. “And there’s still some part of me that believes I caused it all. I’ve spent my life since then trying to rebuild my self esteem, running from those who would use me for their own ends. Hear me. I won’t be manipulated. I won’t be used.”
“I won’t use you, Doug. I promise I’ll never do that. You’re a good and kind man and you deserve to be happy.”
“That’s what Rick Jennings always said. If it hadn’t been for him I don’t know if I’d even gotten through it.”
“Rick Jennings is your friend, the police lieutenant from Portland, right?” Something in Lucy’s tone put Doug on guard.
“He’s my best friend,” Doug said. “He saved my life after Mom and Dad died. I owe him everything. I need to call him, let him know I’m okay.”
“No, Doug, you can’t. You’re dead, remember?”
A terrible sense of frustration rose in Doug. “It’s killing me that they think that, that my death is causing them pain.”
“I know, but it’s best right now. Please, you have to trust me.”
Trust me. Trust me. Fucking trust me! It was her mantra and his prison. But at the moment he felt too tired, too drained to do anything else.
Lucy pulled away. “You’re exhausted,” she said, an embarrassed, almost apologetic smile on her face. “You need rest. I’m sorry I upset you.”
Doug settled back into his pillows. “Tomorrow I’ll be stronger,” he said.
At that moment Dr. Vogel appeared above him, a round happy face with inquisitive eyes behind small oval glasses in wire frames. “Are you upsetting my patient?” he said to Lucy with a touch of rancor in his voice.
Dr. Vogel leaned down, examining Doug.
“I’m fine,” Doug said. “Just tired.”
“You won’t be running any marathons for a few weeks, I’m afraid,” Vogel said. Looking now at Lucy, he said, “I insist you let Mr. McArthur rest. He still has a lot of healing to do.”
“I was just leaving,” Lucy said. “I’ll come back in the morning,” she told Doug. “We’ll get you through this. I promise.” She touched Doug tenderly on the arm before turning and walking from the room.
“Sure,” Doug said to no one in particular, as he began a rapid descent into oblivion. The lights were suddenly and mysteriously extinguished and everything around him began fading to black. “I’ll get through this,” he whispered to himself. “I need my strength. I have to get out of this place and find Annie.”
When Doug slept there were no dreams. Or if there were he slept too securely to remember them. His absence was empty, in fact, of all thoughts and visions, all reason and purpose, as though whatever lived in his mind was secret even from him.
A black void, that for all he knew could very well have been death descended over him.