Lucifer: Chapter 13
A Forgotten Friend
HE DIDN'T EXACTLY know just how to tell his uncle what had happened in the park without sounding like an idiot. Hi, Uncle, just thought I'd let you know, I poured my heart out to this weird lady I just met, and I didn't even ask her name. Funny, huh?
He snorted with disgust, disgust with himself for being so stupid. How could he have not asked her name? He looked down at his hands and noticed that his knuckles had gone white from gripping the steering wheel so tightly. He immediately loosened them. Chill out! his mind told him. Take it easy before you break something! She's got to be out there somewhere, and you'll find her. You found Amelia, didn't you?
Yeah, the pessimistic part of his brain replied. Or more like what was left of her.
He shook his head. "God!" he exclaimed to the air. "Am I going schizo or something?"
He pulled in at the hospital; he didn't even realize that was where he was until he looked up, baffled, at all the cars parked around him. "I suppose I am going schizo," he murmured. "And I think I'm checking myself in."
He shook his head again, trying to think of a reason why he'd be here. If he couldn't he would know he was losing it. Luckily for him, however, one came, and he climbed out of the car and went inside.
There was a woman at the clinic desk, looking at some papers in a folder. For a moment Damien was reminded of Officer Jones, The Perpetual Desk Drone, but as soon as she looked up and gave him a polite smile the thought was banished. Officer Jones, uh-huh. He smiled back.
"Hi," he said, leaning forward on the counter, and hoping she wouldn't get the wrong impression. "I was wondering if there's any way I can get any information on some kind of--disorder."
"Exactly what kind of disorder?" she asked, friendly enough.
Well, at least she ain't thinking I'm crazy like the librarians!
Damien shrugged. "I'm not sure, myself. I only saw what happened. There was this friend--well, not exactly a friend, but a companion of mine, and he had an incident at the Dairy Queen the other day."
From her look he could tell she was thinking that he was actually talking about himself, he must be pulling the old "my friend/myself" bit; however, he said nothing about it, and neither did she. "Can you--recall the symptoms?" she asked, with that smile.
He shrugged. "Sure. Let's see.... I remember he got all pale and sweaty all of a sudden, like he was sick; he nearly passed out on us. He said maybe it was the heat."
"It sounds like heat exhaustion then."
"Yeah, but he acted kind of funny about it--wouldn't accept a cup of water or a cold cloth, seemed even sicker than just that. He said he got these 'spells' every so often. If that's the case I don't really think it's heat exhaustion. Oh, and plus we were all inside, and it was air conditioned. Any ideas?"
The nurse cocked her head and thought, trying to remember things from her college days. "Well...I'd say heat exhaustion, but my second guess would have to be some sort of phobia."
That got him. "Phobia?"
"Yes, you know, a fear of something. You said he broke out in a sweat and turned pale. Was he also hyperventilating?"
"Yeah, come to think of it, he was."
"Well then, I'd say he was having some sort of panic attack. Was there anything there to trigger the attack?" And she smiled sweetly.
Damien gave her the same smile back. "I wouldn't know. I never did get the chance to ask him what his phobia was." Her smile dimmed a little. "Well, thanks for the help. I'll be seeing you around." Yeah, right.
"Thank you for dropping by," the nurse replied, and went back to her work, Damien was pleased to note, with a slight look of chagrin.
"I'm just really surprised you did that."
"Yeah. Me too." Damien took a drink of iced tea from the glass his uncle had offered him, then leaned on his elbows on Father Damien's kitchen counter. He tried not to sigh. If he kept sighing as much as he had lately he honestly thought they might just run out of air. "I just can't believe I didn't even ask her her name!"
Father Damien nodded. "What did you say she looked like?"
"Long blond hair, hazel eyes. Thin. She looked familiar, but I don't know why. I can't remember ever seeing her before."
"And she wanted to know what you were reading?"
"Yeah. I was lookin' at this book I got from the library about paganism and she wanted to know what it was. Funniest thing, huh?" He took another drink, then looked at his glass, and downed the rest. The heat must be getting to me, he thought; thankfully, Father Damien, without asking, filled his glass back up. Damien held it up in a sort of "Cheers" gesture, in reality examining the amber-colored liquid still swirling around in the glass.
"And she said something funny," he added, "or more like a couple things. She seemed to know about cults herself. She said she had a 'relative' who 'knew' about this sort of stuff. And she said that cults snare you and don't let you go--like the claws of a scorpion."
Scorpion? The right choice of arachnid? Father Damien raised an eyebrow, growing suspicious himself. Seeing it, Damien shrugged.
"I really don't know," he admitted. To heck with the atmosphere; he let out a flustered sigh. "I know I've seen her before! But where?"
"You're a singer, Damien," his uncle offered. "You meet lots of people."
"Yeah, but I don't remember them like that! And I didn't even ask her name...." He trailed off and began muttering to himself, glowering down into his glass.
Father Damien sighed and was turning around to clean the counter of bread crumbs the kids had left behind when the doorbell rang. Damien's head popped up automatically, and his eyes followed Father Damien as he walked across the room to the sliding doors at the side of the kitchen. His uncle pulled open one and yelled out, "Hello?"
The caller had rung at the front door so Damien couldn't see who was outside; however, Father Damien took a look at whoever was coming, and must have decided the person was harmless, because he stepped aside a little.
"Hello," he said, sounding puzzled.
"Hi," came Kat's voice. "Is Damien..."
Damien waved to his uncle to let her in, and he did so, still looking at her in a puzzled way. "Sorry," he apologized. "I should've introduced you two a lot earlier. Kat, this is my uncle Damien. Uncle, this is Kat Witchita."
"Oh! You're a singer, too!" Father Damien said, shaking her hand enthusiastically. She gave a puzzled smile herself and glanced at Damien, who smiled back and shrugged.
"Sorry," Father Damien echoed his nephew, laughing. "Once you start listening to all those pop stations, no musician gets past you. I'm surprised I haven't memorized all of Madonna's songs yet." He invited her to sit down on one of the kitchen stools, and she did, next to Damien. Father Damien went over to pour her an iced tea as Damien cleared things up.
"It seems like we've been together forever now," he said. "That's probably why I forgot to introduce you. You two got close the other day when he dropped the kids off, but..." He waited while she accepted the tea with a nod and a "Thank you" and took a drink. "He's been getting me up-to-date with this cult--what they have to do with us. They have a name. It's Scorpio."
Kat raised an eyebrow, looking very much like Father Damien had just moments before on hearing about the "mystery woman." "Scorpio? That's a zodiac sign."
"I know. And I think they rather like it. They tattoo themselves with it." He motioned to his left forearm, as if indicating a scorpion crawling up it. "And they wear a funny sign--Uncle told me it's the astrological sign for Scorpio. It's kind of like--"
"An M with a tail. I know," Kat cut in. "I've read about that before." She took another drink. "But, what exactly is going on here? When you got this necklace you told me your uncle was--I mean--" She cut herself off now, looking slightly embarrassed as she noticed the priest was still in the room. Father Damien just smiled as he set down a plate of cookies.
"It's no bother. I was shot, just as Damien thought I was," he replied. "Right here." He pointed to his left shoulder. He feigned melodramatic woe. "And, I'm sorry to say, the Catholic Church doesn't exactly give out Purple Hearts for things like that." The other two laughed, though somewhat nervously; the subject wasn't exactly a very funny one, and they all knew it. Father Damien picked up a cookie and looked at it thoughtfully, as if trying to see something hidden within its chips. "They thought I was dead so they left me behind, but they took Damien's parents back with them. They weren't so lucky."
"At least they weren't shot," Kat said after a brief pause, trying to raise their spirits a little. She didn't exactly know what else to say. She pointed to the cookies and Father Damien gestured for her to help herself. "So there's always a chance." She started munching on the cookie. "Mm. You make these?"
The priest laughed again. "No, I cannot tell a lie. You've caught me. These are from the B&C. The only thing I can cook is pot roast."
Another laugh from Kat; Damien gave a faint smile while he played with a napkin and traced lines in the condensation on the outside of his glass. The priest got up and started cleaning up the kitchen again. There was another pause, this one much longer than before; the three of them just couldn't think of anything to say. Damien finally cocked his head in Kat's direction and decided to end the silence, saying, "All right, Kat, why don't you ask? I know it's bugging you."
Kat looked at him. "Ask...? What're you talking about?"
"My parents is what I'm talking about. I know what you must be thinking right now. 'Your parents are in a cult? That's kooky!'"
Kat frowned and stared at her hands. "You know I'd never say anything like that, Damien. It's not kooky and it's not funny."
"Sure sounds like it though." He picked up the napkin, which he'd folded into a paper airplane, and let it fly across the room, landing gracefully on the opposite counter. Father Damien automatically picked it up and tossed it in the garbage, then resumed busying himself around the kitchen. Damien sighed and leaned back on his stool, stretching.
"Uncle, if you get any ideas about who our 'friend' might be, let me know, will you?" he asked.
"Mm-hm," Father Damien replied, polishing a plate. As if he would get any ideas. Damien kissed Kat on the cheek, got up, and left the house, sliding the big glass door shut after him and disappearing across the lawn. Kat stared after him, and when he was out of sight turned back to Father Damien, puzzled.
"'Friend'?" she inquired. Father Damien only shrugged.
Damien again started "hanging out" more often--going to public places, such as the beach, the parks, stores, trying to see if anyone would come up to him. It had happened that way with both Derrick and the "mystery woman." That was what he was calling her in his mind, as he had no idea who she could be. But in any case it seemed some strange people were recognizing him lately, so maybe if he made himself more available he'd get some more information--hopefully.
He looked around the library a bit more, too, but decided not to ask the librarians anything about Satanism. He'd asked one, and she'd just looked at him as if he were nuts. Again. After that he would just walk around the room, glancing up at the books and not really wondering about all he could be missing. There was only one thing he wanted to read up on right now, and that was Scorpio.
But, of course, as his uncle had so wisely pointed out, a cult wouldn't just lay out their doctrine for anybody to see. He knew the basics of it already, though, from what he'd managed to find out from his uncle's books on cults and from what his uncle himself had told him; number one, Scorpio was Satanic; number two, it appeared to be male dominated; and number three, it was subversive. Damien mentally added another characteristic--deadly. Of course, if his uncle's wound was any indication, that much was true.
But what about their beliefs? What about any weaknesses, any weird rules that might allow him to gain access to his parents? There was no book he knew of that outlined any of those, and it was for this piece of nonexistent literature that he constantly searched. Almost like a Holy Grail.
He tried not to laugh at the thought of himself dressed in armor and riding a white horse. That was just too dorky. Besides, he didn't even know how to ride a horse. Oh, well. You couldn't win 'em all.
On this day he left the library early and sat on one of the benches outside, where he fed some sunflower seeds to some lucky seagulls that happened to be strutting nearby. He was marveling over them landing on the front steps of the library--he'd never seen them so close to a building before--when suddenly they all squawked and scattered in every direction, immediately flying away. He stopped tossing seeds, puzzled--where had they gone?--to notice a shadow looming up beside him. He jumped up, the seeds flying all over.
The person behind him threw up her arms to avoid being hit by the errant seeds; Damien saw it was just the woman he'd met in the park several days ago. Just? She's who I've been looking all over for! "Hey!" he exclaimed, startling her so that she nearly fell over the bench, backing away slightly. "I mean--hi!" he hastened to say. "I mean--I didn't really get your name before."
She looked at him a moment, arms still up, as if trying to make sure he weren't some kind of maniac, then tentatively held out her hand. "Elise," she said.
"Damien!" He took her hand and shook it enthusiastically. He couldn't contain his excitement. "Wow, this is great!"
A tiny, confused smile started its way up her face as he joggled her arm up and down. "What is?"
"Well--I mean--us meeting again!" He shook his head in amazement. "Wow, this is just--this is just too much. All in one week!"
He suddenly realized he was still shaking her hand, and quite hard at that. Careful, Dami, or you'll rip off her arm. He let go and couldn't suppress a weird, half-strangled laugh. "I'm--I'm sorry," he said, putting a hand to his head and trying to catch his breath. "I think the sun's gettin' to me!" He couldn't understand why he felt so insanely giddy all of a sudden.
This time she really smiled. "That's okay. It gets to us all sometimes."
"Yeah, don't it! Hey, why don't you join me?"
They both sat down, and he started scooping up the remaining seeds and pouring them back into their bag. No use letting them go to waste. "Sorry if I startled you," Elise apologized, her hands moving again. "I just saw you sitting here and again I wondered what you were doing."
"Birds," Damien said, pointing up and smiling. He couldn't help it, but he felt like a total doof for not being able to say anything more intelligent. However, Elise seemed to understand, for she smiled, nodded, and started helping him with the seeds.
While they were scooping them back in their hands touched briefly. They stopped and stared at each other for a moment, then Elise took her hands away and started dusting them off, looking off across the street.
"I know you from somewhere," Damien finally said, his mind still struggling to place her face with a memory. "But I don't know where. Have we met before?"
She cocked her head at him and smiled slightly. "You're a singer. You meet lots of people," she said, echoing almost exactly his uncle's words.
So she knows me? "Yeah, but I don't remember most of them very well. But you, I know I've seen you before, and it wasn't at a concert...." He stopped and frowned, staring at her. "Was it?"
For a long time she just sat there and stared across the lawn, at a few stray seagulls pacing warily beyond their reach, looking for seeds. "No," she said finally, "it wasn't."
"I knew it!" he exclaimed, as if he were a winner on Jeopardy! or something; then, feeling stupid again, he coughed and fell silent, then asked, "Well...where was it?"
This time she turned and looked him straight in the eyes. He immediately felt trapped, as if she knew everything about him. "Come on, Damien," she pressed, "don't tell me you've forgotten me already?"
He stared back, frowning, his brows furrowing. Her eyes...he recognized them. And the color of her hair. And her face, too...only it had been so long ago she'd looked much different, as he did now. Could it be...?
"Elise," he said, trying the name out, seeing if it might help jog his memory. "Elise...?"
Then he began to remember.
In the compound--not being alone at night, never alone, but with others--not his parents, but his brothers and sisters; and other children, too.
In a sort of "rearing room."
Other kids, some quiet, some aggressive, all of them afraid. Afraid of what the next day might bring. The next time they all met in the same room--with the adults.
Scary people in black hoods--
Dogs and guns--
All relying on each other because no parents were allowed, except for brief periods--the only adults the bad ones with the hoods.
Managing--just barely--to make friends.
But never for very long; many kids either didn't last long, or were moved away--to someplace else--a place the adults had ready just for them, and called "special."
For special kids.
The fog started to clear; Elise's features clarified and solidified in his mind, only they were much younger, and much more frightened.
He said the name with a mixture of triumph and confusion, not certain he was getting it right; however, Elise beamed back at him, and a second later they were hugging and laughing together like old friends--which they were.
"So you do remember," she said over his shoulder.
"Yeah! This is great!" They broke apart and started gawking and laughing at each other like two fools. "Wow! You've changed!"
"So have you," Elise replied.
"Wow! This is--I just--I can't get over this!" He crowed like an idiot. Someone else who'd been in there with him. Unbelievable! "This is amazing! But how did you--how did you get back here? How did you get out?"
"That's a long story," she said, not bothering to clarify. However, Damien was so far gone that he didn't even question it. "How've you been doing lately?"
"Great!" he exclaimed. "My uncle--I just met my uncle--and we haven't seen each other in years!" He crowed again. The seagulls squawked again and angrily flapped away.
He finally managed to calm himself down, and just stared at her, shaking his head and trying to get his breath, and trying to make his smile look less idiotic. His head felt light. So much going on lately!... "Man, you look great! But I'm so confused--what are you doing here?"
"That's not really the issue," she replied, and the tone of her voice made him stop and check himself. He could feel something serious coming on, both in the way she spoke and in the tense feeling creeping up into his shoulders. "It's more like what you're doing here."
Now he frowned and smiled at the same time, and that would have been a funny sight to anybody outside the situation. The smile part started to fade away, though, at the look on Elise's face.
"What do you mean?" he asked.
She leaned forward, so her long blond hair fell over her shoulders and shielded the sides of her face from any passersby. He couldn't tell if that had been planned or not. "You might not know it, Damien," she said softly, "but your life's in danger. Right now."
He started. His eyes surreptitiously scanned the streets, and off in the direction of the junior high school he could see a car parked at the side of the road, its driver's side window open and someone he didn't recognize staring out. He looked at it only briefly, before averting his eyes again, looking back at Elise.
He didn't even need to know who they were. "What would they do if they got me?" he asked instead, his own voice barely a whisper.
"Things you don't want to know. We should find someplace better to talk this over."
"Agreed. My place?"
"No, someplace public. The church. St. Anthony's."
He thought that was odd--how did she know where his uncle worked?--but nodded. "All right." They both stood up straight again and he held out his arm, gesturing toward his car. "After you! Boy, we've got a lot of clearing up to do!"
She smiled again--somewhat sadly this time--and walked off. "That's what you think," she replied.