The sun was almost at its peak when they got to the construction site at Wimiler. Detective Danny Kress and Detective Vass pulled into the construction site in a black Ford Explorer, while Oliver and Eden packed the Ferrari behind them. A team of about thirty men laboured under the sun to restructure and renovate a ten-storey condo. Kress recognized Micah Strong from the picture he saw back at the precinct. He approached him with Vass while Eden and Oliver stayed back beside the Ferrari.
Micah turned to the voice, his squared face marred with sweat and dust. “Yes?” He folded a blueprint and gave it to a handyman beside him. “Who are you?” He wiped paint-stained hands on his work shirt.
“I am Detective Danny Kress and this is my partner, Detective Vass.”
Micah’s eyes trailed beyond them to the two figures standing mere feet away. He narrowed his eyes on Oliver and Eden as recognition set in. “Two? Oliver?” He shuttled his gaze between Oliver and Kress, then back to Oliver and Eden. “E.J?”
Eden pointed to her face with a questioning look.
“You remember us,” Oliver said as they walked closer to him.
“I knew it was you when I saw an Ad for your company. How many Oliver Hastings can be in Red Hill?” he laughed softly. “I figured it was you,” he said. “You haven’t changed much, E.J,” he said to Eden who inched close to Oliver reflexively. Micah looked at the four of them curiously. “What is this about?” There was no way they were there to catch up.
“Mr Strong, it’s about Black, Jeff Ro—
“Oh, hell no,” Micah waved his hands, cutting off Kress’s words. “Whatever it is, I don’t wanna hear it.”
“You are not reporters, so what do you want?”
“We have a reason to believe he is targeting the children that were rescued in 2000.”
Micah’s face sank into terror. “What? I – I thought he was dead.”
“His body was never found. Miss Johnson was attacked in her apartment last night and we found a Calla Lily.”
Micah groaned and exhaled as though his whole world had cracked.
Eden wondered who exactly Black was and what exactly he put them through for two grown men to break down in trepidation upon hearing his name. It made her worry even more.
“We want to take you into—
“Look man,” he turned to Kress and exhaled. “I never— I still have nightmares about that time.” He faced Oliver and Eden as though wondering if they could relate. “It happened twenty years ago. I should have gotten over it, but I’m still terrified of my bed because of nightmares that invade my sleep.” He caught his breath and took off his yellow helmet. “I wanted to be a medical doctor before I was kidnapped, but after that, I became terrified of blood. How can I be a doctor when I have panic attacks at the sight of blood? That— he changed my life.”
My God, the anxiety on his face and how his body trembled as he spoke were unparalleled. Eden didn’t even want to imagine what could induce that kind of fear in a man.
“He changed all our lives,” Oliver spoke, fully understanding his distress.
“Mr Strong, I can’t imagine what it must mean for you to hear that Black is back,” Kress said. “But, it’s not safe for you to be wandering around alone right now.”
“We are preparing a safe house for Mr Hastings, Miss Johnson and the rest of you guys,” Vass said. “You have to come with us.”
Micah scoffed. “You don’t know him. If he wants us dead, not even an FBI safe house can keep us away from him.”
“We can try,” Kress said. “It’s not—
“I barely just got my life together. I can’t leave everything behind and go into hiding. If Black—” he clenched his teeth, “if he wants me, if he wants any of us there is no stopping him,” he started to walk away.
“So you are just giving up?” Oliver threw the question at him.
“Yes, because not giving up will not make any difference.”
“Mr Strong, please think about this. Your family and you may be in danger,” Vass said.
He laughed derisively. “Family? I don’t have a family? I guess you didn’t do your homework before coming. I was raised by a single mother. When I went missing, she worked herself to death trying to find me. I bounced from foster care because of PTSD— in any case, I am not putting anybody in danger.”
They saw it on his face; he had given up on living. He had nothing to live for and could care less how his life ended.
Oliver followed him and held his forearm. “Micah—
Micah glanced at him and smiled forcefully. “It is good to see you, Oliver,” he looked over his shoulder to Eden, “and you too E.J.”
“Why do you keep calling me E.J?” she asked. “You called me E.J too,” she faced Oliver, “back at the station.”
Micah cocked his head at Oliver, surprised at her question considering the fuss she made about it when she was little.
“She doesn’t remember,” Oliver told him.
“She doesn’t remember?” Micah laughed half-heartedly. “It is not something you can forget.”
“Memory loss,” Oliver clarified.
“Oh,” he scanned Eden from head to toe and said, “lucky you.” Micah stared at her with a glint of jealousy and left.
“Can we let him go like that?” Oliver asked Kress.
“We can’t arrest or force him,” Kress replied. “But I will have people watch him.”
Oliver relaxed on a high-back grey patio chair on the second floor of his terrace. The silver crescent moon outshone the stars sprinkled over the dark sky. Gulping his beer, he rocked the chair as a blue and red light flashed from beyond his fence. The light was from one of the two police cars patrolling his gate. Two more were behind the house. When he woke up that morning, he had no idea he would be dealing with being watched by cops by nightfall.
He heard soft footsteps approaching and turned his head to see Eden coming to him. Officer Garret stood like a statue a few feet from him, flanked on his right by another Officer, Rossford. After much back and forth, Oliver and Eden agreed to stay together at Oliver’s house under the protection of the two officers chosen by Kress.
He didn’t like being watched but he had to put his reservations aside for Eden. He feared Black but a part of him also wanted to meet him. After twenty years, he was ready to confront him. He wondered what he would do if he ever came face to face with him again. One thing was certain, he would neither curl up like a ball in a corner and cry nor be bullied into mutilating people. He’d fight back and one of them would probably not be alive by the end of the fight. He would have refused the security details if it hadn’t been for Eden’s sake. She protected and saved him twenty years ago. It was his turn to do the same.
“A penny for your thoughts?” Eden lowered herself to the patio chair beside him. “What are you brooding about?” She took the can of beer from him and took a gulp.
“Thinking of how I would love to get my hands on Black.”
“Aren’t you scared of him?”
“I am,” he nodded. “But after twenty years, don’t you think it is time I overcome that fear?”
Eden sipped the beer again.
Oliver expected her to say something, she didn’t. He glanced at her and saw her circling her index finger on the beer can, absentmindedly. “Penny for your thoughts?”
She leaned back. “Just thinking I took the easy way out. Everybody seems to remember what happened when we were kidnapped, everybody but me. You all carry the pain latched to the memory and still struggle with it till today. Me? I erased everything. I feel….”
Oliver took the beer from her. “If we all had a choice to erase our painful memories, we would have. The thing is, painful or hurtful memories make us stronger if we overcome them or they could swallow us if we let them.” He tipped the can and took another swing. “You didn’t choose to erase your memory. Why would you feel guilty about that? I am the guilty one for not remembering you,” he said under his breath.
“What happened back then? Tell me.”
“I told you, you don’t need to know or remember.”
She pulled his arm and stared into his eyes. “Please.”
He held her gaze while he considered her request. It was a painful time for all of them. He was glad she was able to block that terrible experience from her memory. Telling her won’t make a difference now.
Eden sighed. “You are not going to tell me, are you?”
“Why?” she asked in a slightly raised voice.
“Because I don’t want you to remember and if I tell you, you might. There is no point recollecting or dwelling on such horrific memories.”
“Alright. Tell me your side of the story, not the part that concerns me.”
“That’s the same as telling you everything.”
“Then tell me!”
Oliver jolted on the chair at her loud voice. He cast a glance at Rossford and Garret who had the same reaction but tried to stay composed.
“If I don’t know what happened, how can I deal with all this?” she said.
“Your temper is the problem,” he flashed a finger at her face. “It is what we need to deal with. You were so sweet when you were little. Where did that temper come from?” he clicked his tongue.
“Are you not going to –
“Fine, I will. Jezz.” Oliver drained the beer can and crushed it with his fist. He didn’t want to spend his night this way, telling gruesome real-life tales. However, Eden wasn’t going to take no for an answer. “My house was about two minutes’ walk from the bus stop where the school bus dropped and picked me up. Usually, my mum would meet me at the bus stop, but she was late that day. I got impatient and decided to walk home myself. I was about five houses away from my house when this… tall shadow came over me from behind. I don’t know how he knocked me out., all I know is that I passed out before I could turn to see his face. I don’t know how long I was out, but when I woke, I was in a tiny room with an even tinier window. I concluded that I must be in prison. There was no light in the cell. A faint bulb darkened by dust and age-long dirt blinked outside the cell. I went to the cell bar to search for life. It was silent, too silent and cold. I called for help and none came. I was a twelve years old boy scared out of his mind. The second time I screamed for help, a voice answered from behind me. “He will come when it is time for lessons,” the voice said from a corner in the cell. It was so dark I had not noticed the boy. He was about my age and he looked like he had been there for much longer. “He hates noise,” the boy said, staring at the dusty floorboard. “It makes him madder,” he said. I asked him where we were, and he said he didn’t know. He also didn’t know how long he had been in the cell. He told me his name is One.”
“He said it was the name he gave him.”
“Yes. He didn’t know our names, he didn’t care to know and never called us by it. One was the first child he kidnapped. He kept talking about lessons. When I asked him what lesson and who was giving them,” he paused. “He’d shuddered with watery eyes. There was nothing but fear in his eyes, I had to stop asking. Lo and behold, he came hours later. He told me my name is Two in the most unsettling voice and that I should prepare to join the lesson. Whenever we saw him, it was like his face was always clouded in blackness. We were too afraid to stare at him. I don’t think any of us knows what he looks like. We were beyond terrified of him. Time for lessons came and he opened the bars to let us out.” Oliver stopped to inhale and exhale.
Eden almost told him to stop talking. His moist eyes and how he kept rubbing his palms together showed it wasn’t a comfortable topic for him.
“Turned out his lesson was…,” he grunted and pressed his lips together, “he led us through a web of underground tunnels to a room. Inside the room, a man was tied to a steel chair, his head hanging down, half-asleep with all these wires attached to his body and the chair. Knives, nails, scalpels and all kinds of pointy instruments were arranged on a table in front of him. Cutlass, hooks and axes, draped down from chains hung on the ceiling. It wasn’t One’s first time so he knew what to do. He sat on one of the two stools on the other side of the table, pulling me along. Black turned on the electric chair and the jolt of electricity yanked the man from his weakened state. He started screaming, begging Black to stop, asking where he was and why he was doing this to him. He ignored his questions and separated his mouth with this steel thingy. He played the radio and the same thing played on a loop. ‘Drive out the mocker and out goes strife; quarrels and insults are ended.’”
“What does that mean?” Eden asked.
“It’s a bible verse, Proverbs 22: 10.”
“So the man was the mocker?”
He nodded. “Another term for a bully,” he adjusted on the chair. “On my right, he pulled out a scorching red knife from a fireplace and drew out the man’s tongue. When I realised what he wanted to do, I looked away, terrified and repulsed. One whispered to me to look. ‘He will be mad,’ he said. When I couldn’t take the man’s cries, I ran out of the room. In minutes, I hit a dead-end and heard Black’s heavy steps behind me.” Oliver started unbuttoning his shirt as he spoke, “He said, you have to attend your lesson. Mockers must be removed, they must be judged. Then he stabbed me with the heated knife.”
Eden winced. He turned his back to show her the jagged vertical scar on the right side of his back.
“Oh God,” she breathed, tracing the reddish scar. It must have been extremely painful for anyone, not to mention a twelve years old boy. Her heart constricted in sympathy for what he went through.
He pulled his shirt back on when Eden’s fingers tickled him. “When I woke up, he had stitched up and dressed my wound,” he chuckled. “His plan for us wasn’t death,” he paused. “After a while, he came for us again, time for another lesson. He cut out the man’s tongue and cauterised it to stop him from bleeding to death. The man passed out in the process. Black allowed him to rest for a few hours then tortured him again using the electric chair until all the hairs on his body smelled like ash. He ripped out six of his fingernails over the next two days and tortured him for nine days, compelling us to watch and hear the tormenting screams. It was the same pattern for everybody he brought inside his torture room. He’d torture them for nine days, sustaining their bodies on necessary body fluids to keep them alive. He had a defibrillator to bring them back each time their hearts gave out because of pain and shock and he knew what emergency medical procedure would keep them from dying. He made sure they didn’t die before he was ready to kill them and none of them did. He would bring them to the brink of death and pull them back only to push them back there and that would last for nine days. The tenth day was when the real horror began. We’d all stand beside him as he butchered his victims like cows in a slaughterhouse. Three was bold enough to ask him why he always chopped his victims when they were already dead. He said, ‘a rotten root must be pulled out,’ and ‘total alienation of mockers’, those were the two things he said.” Oliver exhaled unsteadily, shaking off the images coming back to his head. “Three came about a week after I got there. Four, about two weeks after and Five— you came roughly two or three weeks afterwards. I am not sure though; night and day were the same. I spent over two months in the cave and never saw the sun. None of us did.”
“I am— was Five?”
He replied with a nod. “Out of all of us, you were the only one that refused to be called by a number. You were so stubborn,” he chuckled. “Whenever we called you Five, you would always say, ‘my name is E.J. Don’t call me Five.’” He mimicked a sharp young girl’s voice, “… at the top of your voice. You reminded us of our names and called us by them. I had almost forgotten my name until you asked. I never forgot again. Come to think of it, your niece has your sharp tongue and the exact attitude you had then.”
“You think she got that from me?” she giggled. “You should see Makayla.”
Oliver laughed softly. “It must run in the family.”
Silence drifted around them for a few seconds before Eden spoke. “That was why Micah called me E.J,” she said.
“That was what we all called you.”
“Some of my childhood stuff, books and toys were marked E.J. I always wondered why it changed. I know I was called E.J, then it changed.” Her sister would have some answers. She decided she needed to talk to her. How come they never told her she went missing when she was little?
“You were determined not to forget your name and made sure we didn’t,” Oliver said.
“Except, I did,” she mumbled. They paused, the cold night air brushing their faces. “What happened after that?”
Oliver was okay with telling her only that much, any further would be too painful and too much for both of them. “Nothing,” he shrugged. “We were rescued,” he said as he rose from the chair.
“What?” Eden hopped after him inside the house. “You stopped halfway. How did we get out?”
“I can’t remember.”
“Sure, you do.”
Eden almost stepped on Snowball as she scurried into her path. “Snowball!” she picked her up and stroked her back as she tried to catch up with Oliver.
Oliver stopped at his room threshold and rotated on his heels to Eden who walked into him. His rigid body bumped her to a halt.
“Except you want to spend the night in my bed which I would love, you should stop here,” he said with a roguish smile.
She blinked at his flirtatious gaze while Snowball fell out of her hand and scurried off.
Oliver reached for her cheek and brushed his fingers over it. What are the odds? The same peanut-sized girl that burned it all down to save him was the only person he couldn’t see her death vision. Maybe because she had seen death herself. Even if she didn’t remember, death remembered her.
“I have told you to stop touching me,” she murmured but didn’t move.
He patted her hair. “At least you are not twisting my arm or slapping my hands off,” he smiled. “We are making progress.”
She jerked her head out of his hand. “You are asking for it.”
“You are like, how should I put this?” He rubbed his chin, “A place of blankness. I touch people and of all the things I could see, I see the moment of their deaths. Those images stay with me. But with you, it’s blank. It makes me feel normal. I miss that. That is why I can’t stop. I mean, I would love not to be looked at like a perv but what can I do when my hand keeps reaching out to you?” He lifted his shoulders and palmed his hands out.
Eden understood him more. It was his cry for help, a cry for silence and blankness. It must have been so difficult for him, but through it all, he grew into a wonderful and successful man. That takes grace, strength and resilience. Before she knew what she was doing, Eden leaned in and hugged him. It was unexpected for them. Oliver was so startled he froze as she patted his back.
How tough it must have been to stay physically detached from the people he loved? For someone who has seen all the horrors she imagined he saw with Black, only to be free and be subjected to a life of watching people’s death? That was more than anyone should have to bear.
Oliver went to work with Rossford while Garret planted himself beside Eden throughout the day. He didn’t step out of her shadow while she worked. She could not wait to see Makayla after working through her morning appointments. She was ready to confront her past. Hoping her sister would be able to fill the gap in her memory, Eden paid her a visit at the café.
“What happened to me then?” Eden asked her elder sister after explaining her last twenty-four hours. “From what Oliver told me, I was called E.J. before. Some of my childhood toys have the same initials. Why did that change? When did I go missing? And why didn’t anybody tell me?”
Makayla had hoped Eden would never have to ask her these questions for two reasons. Firstly, she didn’t have all the answers. Secondly, she blamed herself for what happened to her little sister and lived with that guilt.
She drew in a long breath and clasped her hands around Eden’s on the coffee table. “We were walking home from the park one day when I met a boy I had a crush on and got distracted. I- you were behind me one minute and the next, you were gone. I searched for hours until our parents came to look for us when we didn’t come home in time. Maybe we could have found you if I had gone home in time, but…” her eyes dropped in guilt.
It was the only time Eden heard Makayla talk quietly. Her demur sunk with each word she uttered.
“Mum and Dad searched with the police,” she went on. “Dad pulled strings and got the army involved but nothing. It was like you didn’t exist for three weeks. Then, we got a call that you’ve been found. When we got to the hospital and saw you, you were still unconscious. You had marks and bruises all over your body.”
“Marks and bruises?”
“The doctors said there were signs of physical abuse,” Makayla’s voice wobbled. “When you finally woke up and we called you E.J, you screamed. God, you screamed so loud for so long we were scared you’d hurt your vocal cord. You curled up on the bed, face buried between your knees, screaming. Took us a while to realise you do that when we call your name. That was why we stopped calling you E.J. E.J was what daddy always called you when you were little. Nobody called you Eden, just E.J, Eden Johnson, and you loved it. We figured something bad… a bad memory must have been attached to the name for you to tremble when we call you by it. You didn’t talk for six months and you were afraid to step into the sun. It took you about three months before you could step out of the house during the day. Daddy was always angry with himself for not being there to protect you. Mum? I don’t think she has forgiven herself for letting us go to the park alone that day. Therapy didn’t work because all you did was stare at the therapist, so we decided to just wait and see.” She wrapped her fingers around Eden’s hands tighter. “I didn’t know you forgot. We always assumed you didn’t want to talk about it. No matter how many times we asked, you never said anything.”
“I did,” Eden said. “I knew something happened. I couldn’t remember what but I was sure I didn’t want to remember. An incredible surge of fear passed through me each time I so much as thought of trying to remember. Over the years, I stopped trying and ignored it. Locked it up somewhere deep in my brain.”
“But,” Makayla shifted on her seat, “you said Oliver was one of the kids that were kidnapped?”
“How is that possible?” she breathed. “What kind of odd coincidence is that?”
“I don’t know.” She sucked her lips. “There must be a reason we met just before Black came back.”
Makayla slammed her fist on the table. “That wacko!” She breathed heavily.
And she’s back.
“What hole did he crawl out from and why is he after you again?”
“He is not coming after only me. He is going after all of us, the four kids that survived.
She slammed her fist on the table again and Eden jolted in her seat. “Why?!”
“I don’t know,” Eden said in a high tone, glancing at Garret and back to her sister.
“If I lay my hands in him—
“You will do no such thing. If you run into him, you will run away from him. Makayla, he is a serial killer.”
Makayla exhaled sharply and dropped her arm on the table. She took a few seconds to collect herself. “You’re staying with Oliver?”
“How is his house? Comfortable?”
“His living room is almost bigger than my whole apartment.”
“You didn’t try to cook, did you?”
“It’s not like there is anything to cook there. We always order in.”
“Oh,” she sighed and leaned back. “Good.”
Eden met Granny Wess waiting at her clinic when she got back. She came to buy Miss Roosevelt’s food. After she was done, she went for the exit where she bumped into Oliver at the door. Oliver braced her shoulders to prevent her fall. While he froze, Granny Wess simply thanked the young man for not letting her fall and went away.
“Hey, what are you doing here?” Eden asked him as she watched Granny Wess disappear behind the corner of the building. Thinking his facial expression was because Granny Wess treated him like a stranger, she said, “I am sure she doesn’t remember you again, she often forgets me too.” She turned to Oliver and saw him holding her phone. She gasped and plucked it from his hand. “My phone!” she cried, her eyes glistering at the phone as though she just bought it. “I left it in your car. Thank you. You came here to give me?” She looked up and saw that Oliver had zoned out. His eyes were on his hand and Eden knew that look. He had touched Granny Wess. “Oliver, did you see something? Oliver!” she jerked his shoulders.
“No,” Oliver mumbled to himself and ran in the direction Granny Wess took.
“Oli— where— Oliver!” She ran after him.
The moment he made a turn to the street beside the building, a muffled yet loud bang brought his legs to a sudden halt. He was too late, he knew it. He resumed his sprint down the street and got to the gathered crowd. It was exactly as he had seen it.
Granny Wess breathed raspingly in the middle of the road as the blue Audi drove off. Blood flowed to the asphalt from the left side of her grey hair as passers-by ran to her.
Oliver ploughed through them, raising his hands and shouting, “Excuse me,” at the top of his voice.
He made it through and was about to reach Granny Wess when Eden dropped to her knees beside her out of nowhere. She pulled her up, screaming at the crowd to call 911. She held Granny Wess, calling her but she had breathed her last two seconds ago. Eden cried as she clutched her warm body.
It was all for nothing. It was how he had seen it the first time. The only differences were that in the first vision, the accident happened at night, while this happened during the day. Also, she was hit by a Hyundai in the first vision, this time it was by an Audi and the driver didn’t stop. Although he didn’t completely believe Eden could change the future, he had wished she did. It would let his ability make more sense to him and be useful. He wouldn’t say he was surprised by the turn of events. He was used to experiencing situations like this so he wouldn’t exactly say he was sad, but Eden’s tears and grief broke his heart.
Dear readers, I want to use this medium to apologize for missing last week’s episode. We had to work on the maintenance of the website. We are good to go now and I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode.
See you next week!