“I am a psychiatrist, primarily.”
John didn’t know why he had to sit through this, but his agent had told him numerous times about the importance of interaction with fans. “books don’t sell themselves, Mr. Daye, and you are living in a time where competition is higher than quality.” John hated his agent, but found himself agreeing to him on more occasions than just this. With a heavy sigh, he had taken his seat next to a massive poster of his new book “of the occult” which despite John Daye’s efforts, remained “a slightly queer book, but likeable nonetheless” in the few reviews he had bothered to read. Other critics called his book “whacky”, and frankly, that was quite alright with John. He had meant his book to be whacky.
Sitting on the green cushions of the wooden chair that had been provided to him, John scratched his balding head.
“Yeah, I wouldn’t call myself a writer. A psychiatrist. A nutter, if you prefer”. An off smile appeared on his wrinkly face.
“But this is the third book you have authored. People like reading about the weird things you write. Maybe you should consider becoming a full-time writer. I hate waiting years for your next book.”
“I am flattered” John Daye didn’t look it. He looked tired, if anything.
“So tell me,” the fan continued. John Daye looked at the dwindling line behind the young man, and noticed how people were leaving already. He focused on the one who still stood, with a light in his eyes.
“Is any of it true?”
John looked at the boy, a twenty something. He didn’t answer just yet, taking the front page of the book the fan offered, signing it with little courtesy and adding “enjoy the book, Pete” when he offered his name. Then John’s blue eyes looked up.
“Of course it is true.”
Pete seemed satisfied as he walked out.
Is any of it true? The amount of research John had put into his book was never appreciated, hardwork rarely was; yet, John hated every bit of it. He hated writing, for it was just entertainment at this point. Pete would never know how much John had given up, how much he had bled and sweated, quite literally. Why? Not for sitting here, talking to people who don’t believe what he had written. They couldn’t imagine the possibility of urban cults, living right next door, practicing the kind of sinister beliefs that would make your skin crawl hearing about it.
Pete wouldn’t believe, if John told him, that chapter 23 in “of the occult” was actually true. He wouldn’t believe that John had been there, driving at breakneck speed in his jeep at the very heart of London. He wouldn’t believe how precious a second could be, when there was a family of cultist who preached and prayed only to fire, ready to set their newborn girl in fire in the hopes of pleasing the gods. He wouldn’t believe that John had been only a second behind the police, when his jeep rolled and swayed to a stop next to a burning house, a carcass of a baby lying on the floor, black and charred.
Pete wouldn’t believe the words that came out of the rescued mother; words that John needn’t even think to recall. “The world hadn’t ended today for our sacrifice!” the ashen face of the mother cried over her burning baby.
The power of belief could make people do unspeakable things, and Pete wasn’t a believer, John thought. The idea that the world might have ended had she not prevented it from ending by her evil practice still fueled the arrogance of the fire cultist, as she sat high above the others in the warded asylum provided for her. Her husband, dead. Her child, dead. And still she believed she was the hero the world should be celebrating.
John spat the sandwich he was munching on in a nearby dustbin, while walking away from the building, as he chucked the remaining sandwich the same place his spit went. John was done with the world.
The last house on Maple drive was built rather away from the rest, an architectural planning gone wrong maybe. It was closer to the line of trees that forever cast long shadows behind the house, and farthest away from the playground where the happy noises of children playing often originated from 4 pm till 6. Jeremy Dupitt, all of eleven years old now, was never seen playing with the other kids. Maybe it was that architectural flaw that had created such distance between him and the other kids, or maybe it was his alcoholic father who stayed absent for most of the time, and when he didn’t, Jeremy wished he was. The eleven year old had gotten tired of removing his father’s shoes after waking up late at night, and putting on a blanket over his drunken and lost body, he who preferred to sleep on the couch and not with his son. Jeremy wanted to play with the other children, but the other children knew he had no mother.
The other children didn’t like him, for he was different. Jeremy never smiled, wore shirts not meant for his size and was always gone soon after school, on his bicycle, with no other friends. It had become his habit to ride past his house, the last one on Maple drive, ride to the end of the road and beyond, into the woods. The saddest part was, no one stopped him. There was no one to stop him.
Today wasn’t particularly different. Jeremy Dupitt was on his bicycle, pedaling it noiselessly. The sound of broken gravel was all that followed him as he drew closer to the playground. The big round eyes of the kid registered the few children at play, and he pedaled faster now. He saw the fat thirteen year old who always eyed him as he went past, and today Jeremy felt he had ventured too close. Not again, he thought, as the fat boy shouted at his friends and drew close. Jeremy slowed just a bit, a mistake. The thick arms of the thirteen year old grabbed his oversized shirt, and Jeremy prepared himself already, even before he was pulled away from his bike and fell on the pavement with a loud metallic BAM, his bicycle next to him.
“Oi! I told you not to come here, didn’t I?”
The kids surrounding the fat boy snickered. Jeremy didn’t even know their names.
His head was still spinning from the fall, and his arm was bleeding. The fat boy didn’t seem to care much, and neither did Jeremy, quite frankly. He just wanted to be left alone.
It took fifteen minutes for the bullies to do their thing, before they left, bored.
“Stay away, creepo” a girl said.
“Go where your mommy went”
“Bugger off, f**k” the fat boy said. Jeremy’s eyes didn’t register any fear, even with the dust on his cheeks and his body hurting from the many kicks he had gotten. The fat boy? He walked away pretty fast, putting distance from the creepo.
People fear what they don’t understand. And Jeremy was as closed a book as there ever had been.
Propping his cycle up, Jeremy stood awkwardly, grimacing at the bruises on his shoulder, arm and leg. Fat boy had done a number on him pretty bad. Was there a sting in the eleven year old boy’s eyes? If there was, it didn’t develop because of pain or fear. It came out of loneliness. The mere thought of going to his home now, an empty shell of a house, dark and long shadows beyond every corridor and no one to brighten it up, left Jeremy wanting to cuddle his sobs on that cold footpath next to the now fast abandoned playground.
A minute or two later, Jeremy had still failed to cry in earnest. Now picking himself up and dusting his clothes and checking for his wounds, he wondered what was the point of it all? This question left a series of unanswered hurt – which naturally it would. Even grown men ask that question and find themselves in similar positions. From a kid, though, the thought of giving up when his life had just started created a despair little few know of. Jeremy’s round green eyes had attained a forever lost look – unable to understand his mother’s death, unable to understand his father’s inattention, unable to understand the other children’s hostility. Forget the wounds dripping blood along his elbows and shins, Jeremy hurt from the inside, and in someone so young that hurt becomes permanent. Jeremy was wounded in a more lasting way than the fat boy ever intended.
So Jeremy, believing that this after all was all that life was about (he had been convinced happiness and love was not for him but for the other children), pulled his bicycle up and with a grimace rode it once more. His cycle creaked more loudly than ever, and when Jeremy arrived at the last house built near the trees, he never slowed down. Into the woods he went, the evening shadows might as well be night underneath the canopy, as he had done so many times before.
It was the beauty of isolation, was it not, that only in its company could one be oneself. So it was true for Jeremy also, who finally gave up the facade. On he rode, past the trees that knew no sympathy, Jeremy’s tears fueling his cycle; the more he cried, the faster he rode. His bicycle bumped up and down over fallen twigs and rocks, but Jeremy could not care less. He felt broken and unneeded. He felt useless and pathetic. He felt like he had no place in the world and when his cycle tipped over a massive log, and Jeremy was once again flat on the ground, his spine meeting a rock causing spasms of pain, all Jeremy Dupitt could do was cry.
Tears slid down on to the forest floor, and not even the worms cared. And so Jeremy cried, as he had done so many times before, alone.
But as it would so happen, this time things would be different.
There was a sound of gentle feet on dried leaves, and Jeremy out of instinct wiped his eyes on his sleeves, as if his tears were a token of his weakness and embarrassment, but could not pull himself up. Moving caused immense pain to his back, so Jeremy craned his neck. His eyes swept over the broken twigs and dried leaves and fallen branches and such and then they saw the little girl looking at him with a genuine curiosity.
She tilted her head sideways a bit, so reminiscent of a cat, and looked at him with big brown eyes full of sorrow. For the first time in his life, Jeremy felt….. He didn’t know how to describe it. Hope? He hadn’t felt it before and knew its meaning only from a dictionary, so he did not know.
Finally Jeremy’s eyes cleared up, his tears dry. He looked at her again, and this time he noticed less significant things. She was of Asian descent, perhaps Japanese? For she was wearing a regal looking kimono and yukata, pink and gold with floral patterns. She had make up on, a thick black line of mascara extending from the edge of her slanted almond eyes all the way behind her ears. Her face was pale, unnecessarily so, and her cheeks had blush. Her lips were a perfect rosebud, and this Jeremy could see quite clearly for she was now bending down to look directly into his eyes. For the weirdest reason, Jeremy felt violated; her brown eyes looked so keenly into his green, Jeremy could swear she could see past them, inside his head. But before Jeremy could object, she was already helping him up. With one hand pushing his back up (exactly at a point where it did not hurt, as if she somehow knew) she still looked at him with that mixture of sorrow and curiosity – Jeremy felt as if he was a sparrow with broken wings, which the strange girl meant to fix.
“Who are you?” Jeremy expressed his wonder.
She was mum, her silken kimono moving swish-swish as she pulled Jeremy upwards into a somewhat sitting position. She noticed Jeremy staring at her, blinked once and looked away.
“You wouldn’t believe if I told you.”
Jeremy left it at that. He couldn’t stop staring though.
“I… “, he began once more.
“Why did you stop?”
“Stop what?” Jeremy responded. He was still trying to make sense of things but couldn’t quite; who was she?
“Where does it hurt?” she asked again, ignoring his question.
“I…my back. I think I fell on a rock.”
“Here?” she had found the spot on his spine. It was swollen. Jeremy nodded.
She reached inside her kimono for a small bag strapped around her waist. She retrieved a small bottle full of a green balm of some sort. Honestly, Jeremy thought it looked disgusting, but as the girl in the kimono methodically applied the ointment on his spine, he couldn’t object. The girl intrigued him too much with her mystery for Jeremy to say a word.
“What was that?”
“Just medicine. It’s good with bruises.”
Her fingers felt cold on his back, or was it the green stuff? He couldn’t tell, but when she retracted her hand from under his shirt, his spine already felt like it was warm where he was hurt.
“You carry that around with you all the time?” Jeremy wondered.
She didn’t answer but for some reason her slant eyes crinkled up into what Jeremy assumed to be a half smile.
“I am Jeremy.” he extended his hand.
Her cold fingers gripped his awkwardly, and they shook hands.
“I am Anahasika Misaki.”
“Pleased to meet you, Anahasika.”
This time Anahasika Misaki actually smiled. It was a good development on her serene face, and Jeremy felt a warm feeling inside.
“What?” Jeremy asked, as she continued to smile.
“Oh, nothing. No one ever calls me by my name anymore.”
“Why not? It’s such an unusual name.” Jeremy couldn’t help but add, “I mean in a good way that is…”
She smiled again. Jeremy realized he liked her presence, sitting next to him, her legs folded under her in grace. He wanted to keep the conversation going, but didn’t know how. Before he could think of something though, she spoke.
“Where does it hurt?”
“You already put that balm thing on me. I will be fine now, I guess.”
But she shook her head, her earrings making soft bell like sounds. She placed her palm flat on his chest.
“I can see pain, you know? So tell me, where does it hurt?”
For the strangest moment, it was as if Jeremy Dupitt understood what she meant. Of course, she could see pain, he thought. But that strange moment died, and he wondered how was that possible. What color would pain be? What texture would it have? No, this made no sense, and yet her cold hand right above his heart felt heavy, and steadily heavier. He could feel a pain there, like the pain of straining muscles under a heavy load, and he felt the burden on his heart and for the slightest fraction of time. He wanted to tell her. Where it hurt. He wanted to tell her all.
“I asked you before. Why did you stop?”
Her hand felt so much more warmer now.
“why did I stop what?” he asked, wide eyed.
Had Jeremy ever thought Anahasika Misaki had cold hands? How wrong of him. Her hand was made of fire, and his heart seemed to burn. He did not know how it started, but Jeremy Dupitt found himself crying like he never had. Wailing loudly, his sobs echoing through the trees, he hugged her, and found that she was hugging him back, stroking his hair.
“who are you?” Jeremy asked once more, through a haze of tear laden eyes.
“I am the Lady of the Lake.” Misaki replied.
The auditorium of the Gilman’s institute of arts was quite cold, very dark and definitely large and full of people. The screen behind John Daye showed various projections, most notably of his research on criminal psychology, and as John pranced around the podium, he could feel all eyes on him. John could never understand how so many young adults could be interested in the human condition called criminality.
“I guess you could say,” John Daye said into the mic “when we are interested in the criminal psyche, we often have to extend our interests to his desires” – John pointed at the screen as he said this; he was discussing about an old case – “and reasons that brought out his criminal nature. Mr. Reinhardt here made a notable improvement by associating murder with things that he found repulsive. In his case, his past shrouded by the abuse from his father played an important role. When Mr. Reinhardt was made to think from the eyes of the younger him in the eyes of his victims, he showed resistance to his more base desires, choosing not to kill or hurt. It took years of work, but as of today, Mr. Reinhardt is safe in the society and in himself.”
“Sir,” someone from the top far shadows shouted, “does that mean he is living his life like a normal person now? You know, like in actual society?”
“My final judgment about the matter was that, but the state doesn’t look too kindly upon murderers, I am afraid. He is in prison for life, to this day.”
John Daye flipped a page, the sound escaping loudly through the mic. Before he could say anything though, a girl from the front row asked an interesting question.
“What if a crime is done by a group of people? Like a gang, or a cult, say. I mean, you said you have to understand their desires and their past, but when multiple people are involved, there would be multiple desires and multiple pasts. Their might or might not be any link between them, and yet they commit a crime together. How does that work?”
John Daye scratched his head on the podium, everyone’s eyes on him. Of course all of these smart students had read his books, or at least knew what they were about. It would seem they wanted more personal cases involving what he was famous for. Cults.
“A gang is notably different than, say, a cult.”, he said rather pointedly, “but I will try to answer anyway. Before I do, you should understand that criminal psychology is too intricate a science; there is never one answer to any question. So here, I was talking about Mr. Reinhardt…”
“Sir!” the girl shouted in protest. Daye dismissed her with a wave of a hand,
“Let me finish, miss. You want to know how a group can be convinced to commit a crime? Take what I was saying about Mr. Reinhardt, for example. I told you all that I deemed him to be fit to exist in society and therefore the state put him in prison for life. That’s a 45 year sentence. But when he is released, he still would have a chance at a life, would he not? Now bear with me. Imagine if, for some personal reasons, I lied to the state that he was unfit to exist in society, and hence the state would be forced to give him the same life imprisonment in a padded asylum. The only difference here is that, there is no chance for Mr. Reinhardt to come back to society. Life in a padded cell means life in a padded cell. It’s not a 45 year tenure, it’s till-the-day-you-die. I falsifying my testimony would undoubtedly be a crime, but you believing my testimony without a doubt, and going along with it makes you an accessory in the crime.
And that’s just the thing. Cults are based on belief. The entire group believes in something that makes them commit crimes. In this case, their desires, and their pasts do come into the picture, but most importantly, what binds them together is belief.”
John Daye looked around the group, then smiled.
“Don’t worry, there was a panel of five psychiatrist that gave their testimonies in the case of Mr. Reinhardt.”
Some dry laughter was shared among the crowd. Half an hour later, John Daye was packing his things and the students were leaving the hall. He thought the lecture was a success; the students seemed very interactive and interested and that made Daye leave satisfied.
Waving to some of the students as they greeted him a good evening, Daye started his walk outside the building; an unnatural chill hung heavy in the summer air, and the campus was full of students rushing home or to their rooms or to pubs or wherever. Daye himself picked up his pace, not wanting to stay out when it could rain any minute now. The clouds were growing heavier and darker, so it might not come as a surprise when John felt a slight annoyance when krhe was stopped by a girl, her brunette hair tied in a long straight ponytail behind her, swinging left-right in a false sense of enthusiasm.
Daye looked at her and recognized her instantly. Why, it was the girl who had asked that peculiar question during his lecture. What could she want?
Hey, sir –
Not giving a lecture anymore. I am John Daye.
And he kept walking, forcing the 19 year old something to fall in step.
“Okay. Hey, John Daye. I wanted to ask you something.”
“Sure, sure, can you walk a bit faster though? I hate getting wet.” John’s attention was solely to the clouds now, and ominous it did look; John could practically feel the drops dislodged from equilibrium, about to fall on his balding head any moment now.
“huh.” she smiled, “Okay. I am Claudia Rebecca White.”
Odd, John thought to himself. Who gives their full name like that, he thought. Moreover, it had started to drizzle just so slightly, and John rushed the last few yards to his car.
“…and I wanted to ask you about the Lambs.”
Rebecca crashed into Daye, for the latter had stopped too abruptly. He had Rebecca’s undivided attention now, the rain quite forgotten, then he pointed to the open doors of his car and asked,
“You like pizza?”
Jeremy woke up with a start.
Jeremy couldn’t move his head, all he could do was blink up at the stark white ceiling of his bedroom. Slowly, his hearing returned to him, and he could hear the soft pitter-patter of rain on the window panes of his room. His throat felt parched. Water? He needed some water. The sound of rain was louder now. His brain was the slowest, in the order of things, to start functioning again.
Jeremy remembered the Lady of the Lake.
Had that really happened? He tried sitting up and to his surprise he felt no exertion at all. His back didn’t hurt. In fact, nothing in his body hurt. He felt so perfectly fine. Not at all like he had been thrashed by some elder kids and then almost broken his back about four hours earlier. He checked for his wounds, and there weren’t any. What happened? The Lady of the Lake? No, she hated that name, she told him that. Anahasika Misaki.
And then he remembered everything. He remembered talking to her for a long time, talking about the most peculiar things. After Jeremy was done crying into Anahasika’s lap, she had asked him odd things like,
“Why does the sun hide itself at night?”
To which he had replied, “it doesn’t. Its called revolution. The earth revolves around the sun, and at night, technically, the earth moves beyond the reach of, you know, the light of the sun. Which is why it’s night. I mean. I don’t know how to explain.”
And she nodded with big eyes and a ready enthusiasm to learn.
They had sat there on the grass for a very long time. For some reason, except for the whole Jeremy breaking down and crying in front of her, they shared no personal moments. Only questions such as this, which Jeremy tried to answer as accurately as possible.
As for the questions Jeremy asked, well. It wasn’t hard to tell he was attached to the girl in only the few moments they shared; leave the fact that Anahasika was mysterious and pretty and intriguing and definitely something bordering supernatural, but moreover and more importantly no other person had given their full attention to Jeremy in his life and he was in a desperate need of a friend. So, yes, he was attached, and yes, the questions he asked were personal beyond a doubt. But the answers he got were vague, or no answers at all.
“What does it mean, what is Lady of the Lake?”
“I don’t know, that’s what they call me.”
“Who are they?”
“I don’t know, everyone, I guess. That is to say, everyone who seeks help.”
“Can I call you Ana? Your name is kind of long.”
“I don’t know, people call me many different things. Call me whatever you like.”
“What do you like?”
“A lot of things. Sunflowers. Butterflies. The color of the sun…”
“No, I meant…”
“…and I like the name Ana. It’s so simple. I hate being called the Lady of the Lake. Call me Ana.”
And then she flashed the prettiest smile Jeremy had seen.
“Then Ana it is.” Jeremy blushed.
“So where do you live, Ana?” Jeremy started again.
“Beyond the forest? I don’t know, I think I am lost. But I found you, so maybe not. Hm?”
“What do you mean?”
And she looked at him, the smile vanished in such a way that Jeremy wondered if he had dreamt it.
“You don’t know what I mean?”
But Jeremy did. At times, when Jeremy was alone he could feel the ripples his thought left in his brain, the speed with which they flew too great. They would whizz inside his head, swirling in a centrifuge of his brain, like arrows drifting in wind. It was all too easy for Jeremy to get lost, so lost, in these thoughts of his.
It was only when he sat there with Ana that he realized how hard it was to put his thoughts into words, how hard it was to actually project his thoughts beyond his brain, to give them a shape in the form of communication.
And yet, he did communicate, he did project, and he did think. If being lost can be explained simply as ‘having an infinite space to explore’, then can we not say that to have a friend was akin to finding your way? If thoughts materialize from a labyrinth inside your brain, then the words you speak in the company of a friend are the embodiment of those thoughts that found their way out.
So, Jeremy thought, staring into the white ceiling, listening to the music of condensed water on his bedroom window, only people who live alone, live lost.
There was a seemingly loud noise (louder than the rain in the very least) at the door. Someone was fumbling to open the lock of the front door. Jeremy hopped off his bed, and walked slowly to the hall, where he stood at the corner of the end of the stairs, waiting for his father to open the door.
It took him some time, and possibly many attempts, but Jeremy Dupitt’s father finally entered, drenched in rain and alcohol. The rain flashed blue inside the dark room, and it flashed brighter through the gaps as Mr. Dupitt closed the door behind him.
“hey, Jeremy, I am home”, he shouted to no one in particular, dropped his drenched coat onto the floor. Without bothering to switch on the lights, he stumbled to the coffee table and plopped down on the couch with an exaggerrated, drunken sigh.
After some time of massaging his head, Mr. Dupitt looked around and through strained eyes he spotted Jeremy standing near the doorway.
“Oh, Jeremy, I don’t think I can make dinner. You mind ordering from out?”
His speech was slurred, slow.
Jeremy shook his head to show his approval. And that was dinner in the Dupitt household. The light from the digital clock on the coffee table was all the light that shone in the room, excluding of course, the bright line formed by the gap under the door. The sound of rain was now so very dim, maybe because of the harsh raspy uneven breathing of Jeremy’s father. Jeremy saw his father curl up on the sofa, and he felt that strange heavy feeling in his chest he had felt earlier when Ana kept her hand there.
It had become a custom in the Dupitt household for Jeremy to call a Chinese place and order some hygienic-unhygienic food. Then, Jeremy would wait, looking at his sorry state of a father sleeping in the living room. Then, the food would arrive seemingly in no time, and Jeremy would tear his eyes from his father and go answer the door. The money would be in his father’s wallet and he would have to approach him for that. This was always the scariest part for Jeremy. He kept expecting his father to leap up during that instance one day and announce he was all better now and hug him. But that never happened, and it scared Jeremy that that might never actually happen. Then of course, embracing reality once more, Jeremy would pay the man, and then eat in silence. He hated eating in the dark where his father slept, so he would take the food upstairs to his room. Once done, he would throw the cartons and find the spare blanket to drape it around his father lest he catch a cold. Then he would watch the digital clock change numbers.
And that was so tonight as well. Was this routine sad? No, it was just a routine for Jeremy now. But something had changed tonight. Something was different. That heavy sensation on his heart grew and grew, and Jeremy felt he would burst under the pressure any minute now. So when he watched the digital clock change numbers tonight, he watched it with apprehension and hurt. He needed to say something, Jeremy realized. So he knelt near his father and whispered the first thought that came to his head.
“I love you, dad.”
Had Mr. Dupitt heard his son’s words that night, maybe he would realize that the loss of his wife wasn’t the only tragedy he was going through. But alas, he was deaf from booze, and the only response he could come up with was a snore.
But for some reason, the sensation of Ana’s hand disappeared. Jeremy felt better having said something he hadn’t said in years. He didn’t understand what the Lady of the Lake done to him, but he understood she had done something to him. And that was alright. I wonder if I would see her again, Jeremy thought.
“I should head back home now.” the lady of the lake said that to Jeremy. The clouds hadn’t gathered up yet, so she couldn’t tell whether it would rain. Or could she? Such a mysterious girl, Jeremy thought.
“But you are lost. How will you find home?”
“I will use my power.” she declared so confidently. Her smile was the prettiest after all, Jeremy thought, and he was glad he hadn’t dreamt it earlier.
“Your powers of being able to see pain? How will that help you find your home?” Jeremy’s face was so full of wonder, Ana couldn’t help but smile some more.
But then she stood up from the floor laden with the remains of trees, brushed her pink kimono and swept her short jet black hair behind her ears. And she was off.
“Can I see you again?” Jeremy called after her.
She looked back only once, turning her head just enough for Jeremy to make out her smile.
“Depends on you, I think”.
The rain seemed like an old lover tonight, halting on and off after every few showers. As such, the city had attained a dismal grey tone to it, the roads covered in a wet sheen and all the neon signs of shops had become as bright as a hallucination. John Daye’s head shone the same way the roads did; Rebecca White’s face shone bright the way the signs did. Neither had bothered to speak the first word when they were sitting beside each other in the car, and both seemed reluctant to talk even now, when they sat across each other, separated by a massive round pizza dripping cheese.
Daye silently took a sip of his coke, but inside he was apprehensive. He was worried more than he let on about the resurfacing of the old name. The Lambs. John wondered whether that family had been, after all, his greatest case and decided more than anything, not. There was nothing great about it; it had been a filthy, dirty, disgusting case and John couldn’t help himself to the pizza with his thoughts haunted by the Lamb family.
Rebecca, on the other hand, despite having some connection of some kind to the Lambs, felt no aversion to eat. Pushing the wet brown tresses of hers back, she dug in, pulling a slice off the pizza and leaving a locus of cheese behind.
“What do you know about the Lambs?” John asked softly.
Rebecca, who was busy chewing now, looked at him with very round black eyes, but her mouth was too full and all she could manage was a squeaky sound. Then, she swallowed the entire thing in one go, amidst John’s raising eyebrows, and replied,
“Oh, aren’t they what you based your book on? Of the occult? Bloody brilliant work, if you ask me, sir.”
“John is fine and thank you, but I didn’t mention the Lambs by name anywhere in my book. The case is almost three years old.”
“You are wondering how I know the name Lamb? Dude, John, I know all their names. Patrick Lamb and Alicia Lamb. Of course I don’t know the daughter’s name, I mean…”
Rebecca looked up from the task of putting peppers on her slice long enough to see John Daye gripping the table firmly. The effect only names could produce in John was surprising to Ms. White. But she didn’t say anything and carried on with sprinkling oregano.
“So,” asked John, “what’s your age?”
“That matters how?”
“I am guessing you are nineteen?” Daye said, gravely.
Rebecca knew that hadn’t really been a question, but she answered anyway.
“A couple of months shy, actually.” cheese dripped from the corner of her mouth.
“So you were, what, 16 when the case got closed?”
“fifteen.” she corrected him again, covering her mouth lest she sprinkle all her edibles on him.
“Okay. The only possible way you could have known their names was when it came on the newspapers three years from now. The case was only mentioned once, and I remember only one news channel ever talking about it. It wasn’t well advertised. Why would a fifteen year old girl fixate on a criminal cult?”
The slurping noise that came from Rebecca’s coke was so loud, Daye actually frowned from annoyance.
“Fixate? I don’t understand.”
“Either you knew about the cults existence from before or you recently developed an interest in it. Which is it?”
“Dude! I just like your books. I am a fan.” Rebecca grinned widely.
“My book is fiction. I have mentioned that, I think. I don’t see any reason someone would check the public records for a work of fiction, however big a fan you might be.” so skeptical, John Daye, so humble.
Rebecca apparently had her fill now. Two slices were lying in the box, askew to each other. Daye showed no interest in them, and neither did Rebecca, who was silently dabbing a tissue to her mouth.
“Okay, I have a confession to make.”
Go on,” said Daye.
“I am not actually a student of Gilman’s institute.”
“Hehe, yeah, I kinda just slipped in. I wanted to meet you.”
“How did you find out about the Lambs? Three years back, I mean.” Even as she ignored his question, Rebecca’s eyes were looking dead center. Daye had nowhere else to look, and to be honest, he felt cramped.
“I research these things. I had been working on my book for the better half of a year, and most of my work involved learning as much as I could about those pyros. I even attended a few meetings, got to know some of them. Never got close to Alicia Lamb, she was, so to speak, at the top of the food chain.”
“Cool, I am Alicia Lamb’s niece.”
John Daye visibly shook. But this made sense to him now, yes, of course it did. No wonder the fifteen year old Rebecca had been fixated by her Aunt’s insanity. But it still wasn’t enough. John needed more explanation. Luckily, Rebecca seemed to comply.
“Honestly, my name is Claudia Lamb. But my uncle and aunt ruined my family name, so I guess I wanted to not associate myself with them. You know what the worst part was though? I could never tell. I used to come over to my Aunt’s all the time, and be completely oblivious to the kind of people they were. Worshipping fire at night is one thing, but to be so insane as to believe that burning their own daughter would… ”
John gripped the table again and Rebecca looked down.
“I am Rebecca White now. And, honestly, I am depressed. M fucking depressed. Who can you trust in this world, John? My uncle and aunt were always nice to me, but they were animals inside. Savages.”
John wondered how much hate had the “a few months shy of nineteen” year old girl had in herself and how much more she needed to vent.
“So yeah, I had to meet you.” Rebecca continued, “You are sort of my hero, you see? You ripped their mask off and showed the world who they really were. And yet, you didn’t do enough. Not nearly enough. You might have gotten all information about the fire cult, but you know nothing of the Lambs.”
“What do you mean?” John asked sharply.
“About five years back, Alicia and Patrick Lamb were trying. But they couldn’t conceive; for some reason they couldn’t have a baby. And even I knew they were trying so hard, because my mother would sometimes talk about it over the phone and I would overhear. Every time I would go over to my Aunt’s, she would tell me she wished she had a daughter like me. And I researched okay, I found out from my mom, from their doctors, from their friends. At one point, their case was so hopeless; it was impossible for them to have a baby.”
John was looking steadily more horrified by every word.
“And yet, in a year, my aunt was pregnant.”
“No. What are you saying exactly?”
“I am saying you didn’t research properly, Mr. Daye. I am saying my Aunt and Uncle aren’t the only evil in this world.”
And Rebecca dove to her bag, bringing out her laptop in an instant. As the laptop booted, she looked at the wrinkles on Daye’s face and said,
“Do you know about the deep web?”
What kind of question was that? Yes he knew, but why was she even asking him that? John nodded, but he felt very very uncomfortable now. He could feel him descending back to the days when he was writing his book, and that scared him. That scared him so. Moreover, wasn’t it illegal to access the deep web? In the one hour he had spent with Rebecca, he had already been part of a crime. In truth, two, for hadn’t she said she had sneaked into the university? John was sweating and was glad his head was already cool from the rain.
Presently, Rebecca spun the laptop to face him. Looking at the darkest most secretive part of the Internet, Daye felt a knot in his stomach.
“If you can look past the child porn, assassins for hire and what not, there are other services available in the deep web. Services of the more, shall we say, mystical sort. There are people in today’s world who still believe in magic. I mean, why wouldn’t they, when every movie and every book and every religion humans make is to objectify the belief in miracles. People want to believe in magic, John, and so they do. And here on the deep web, there are people who offer magic to the believers. Look at this.”
And she opens a link. A page instantly appears.
John squinted at the page, and his eyes grew wide. Apparently there existed someone who could “heal” you. Whatever the disease, whatever the problem. Apparently this person could fix “unfixable” things.
“Okay, so I am going to bite. What has this – ” John looked over at the title of the page ” – ‘lady of the lake’ got to do with the fire cult and the Lambs?”
“I would think you would be able to make the connection.”
“I want to hear it from you”, Daye said.
“Fine. So when the doctors couldn’t help Alicia to conceive, nor prayers, where do you think my Aunt went?”
Of course, John knew. And suddenly he wondered how many facts had his book not covered. Of course, Alicia Lamb, desperate to have a child, sunk to levels as low as this. The person who could fix “unfixable” things. The person who could “heal” you. The lady of the lake.
John finally helped himself to a now cold piece of pizza. He had work to do.
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