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Rebekka Franck - 03 - Five, Six ... Grab Your Crucifix, Page 4

Willow Rose

  Esther picked up her cup and finished her coffee. Then she lifted the pot with a smile. “More coffee anyone?”

  I took a refill and flicked through my notes. Esther took my hand. I lifted my head and stared into her eyes. “There are rumors, you know,” she said.

  “What kind of rumors?”

  “There was one kid that disappeared. Many years ago. She was a local kid that they took in because no one else wanted her. Her mother had died from cancer, leukemia and her dad died even before they came here. They were from Ukraine. Back when it was still part of the Soviet Union. They got out of there once the Union fell and they were able to travel. They moved here. Just the mother and the child. But there was something seriously wrong with the kid. Her mother and father had both worked on the Chernobyl plant when the accident happened and all the radiation was spilled. She was pregnant, the mother. The father died a few weeks after, but the mother survived miraculously. She gave birth to Edwina. But she wasn’t well. She looked strange. A few months after her birth she had a lump growing out of her head almost as big as her entire head. It made her face crooked. Even her eyes were scary to look at. They glowed greenish, the story goes that it was from the radiation inside of her that she had been exposed to while still in her mother’s womb. She looked like a freak and people couldn’t stand being near her. So the mother and child moved away for a new beginning. They ended up in our small town where the mother worked at the local grocery store. She kept the girl at home so she wouldn’t scare anyone, but rumors started about the mysterious woman and her child that she didn’t want the world to see. The young girl would stare from the window at the other kids playing outside in the street, longing to be a part of their play, but once they spotted her they ran away screaming. The mother home schooled her, and she hardly ever left the house.”

  “Poor kid,” Sune said.

  “Oh no,” Esther exclaimed shaking her head heavily. “See, we all thought the woman kept the child away for her sake, so she wouldn’t be bullied, but it was really for our sake. The kid was evil. I don’t normally believe in things like this, but she was definitely possessed with something evil. If it was a demon or what I won’t go into, but that kid wasn’t human. As I said something was terribly wrong inside of her.”

  “How do you know?” I asked thinking this conversation had taken a strange turn.

  Esther sighed. “Once the mother died from the cancer that was eating her for many years, the girl had to be placed in foster care. They found a nice family in Vipperoed, a city close to here. Soon after the family was struck by one accident after another. Not even months later they lost their younger daughter because she fell from a treetop and broke her neck. The parents found her in the yard when they ran to see what had happened. When they looked up into the tree they saw Edwina standing on a branch staring down at the dead girl. They later swore in the police testimony that she was laughing. The kid was that twisted. The family could no longer have her in their home so they gave her back to the authorities. A few months later they were both diagnosed with cancer, leukemia. Just like the girl’s mother. Whoever took the girl in after that was struck by deathly accidents or cancer. They all died. In the end the social workers didn’t know what to do about Edwina. She was getting more and more strange and would pull out her own hair and pee on the floor. Soon she began to suffer from convulsions. Unable to speak, scream or call for help she would later explain that she felt as if a huge body of weight was sitting on her, on her chest, holding her down. Like a supernatural force. She claimed she heard voices, which told her she was damned and that she was going to ‘stew in hell.’ Doctors grew concerned when she explained that the voices were giving her orders, they were whispering to her. Her behavior was out of control. They tried to put her in a psychiatric hospital for months, but it didn’t improve her behavior. The doctors had to give up. Even strong medicine didn’t help. I know all this because my daughter used to work as a social worker. She heard all the stories that were told about ‘the Chernobyl-kid.’ That’s what they called her. It’s said that all her victims dream about her in the moments before they die.”

  I stared at the old woman in disbelief. Never had I heard such a strange story. “So the church took her in?” I asked trying to stay to the facts.

  “Yes. No one else would take her so the county accepted it just to get rid of her even if she did fall in the hands of a sect. Barely a teenager the Priest granted mercy on her and like so many before him he believed that he could help her. I guess he didn’t succeed. The last thing I heard she had disappeared. No one has seen her in many years. Luckily, I guess. I was afraid she was going to kill them all.”

  It was with a strange feeling that I said goodbye to Esther. I promised her that her picture would be in the morning paper. I knew it wasn’t going to be much of what she had told me that I was going to actually put in the article.

  Back in the car Sune exhaled deeply before he turned the key and started the engine. “Are they all completely insane up here?” he asked.

  I laughed. “I’m afraid so.”

  “Let’s get back to some normal people,” he said and put the car in gear.

  I was already looking forward to spending time with the kids and drinking hot chocolate as soon as the article was done.

  Chapter 8

  They held a meeting. The third one today, Hans Christian thought to himself as he sat down on one of the chair in the meeting room at the camp. People’s faces were strained with fear, including his own. The death of their dear leader last night had planted an anxiety among all the church members and especially those who lived at the camp for a long time, like Hans Christian who had been there for twenty-five years.

  He had met the Priest back when he was just Anders, a young pastor with ideas that Hans Christian could relate to. Anders had convinced Hans Christian to join him and his cause. Hans Christian had taken cash advances on his dad’s credit cards and given Anders all of the money. Hans Christian came from a very wealthy family so with the money they were able to rent the property that they had lived on ever since.

  It was an old abandoned school camp where school classes used to come back in the eighties. With his dad’s money they rebuilt the place and soon moved in. Hans Christian had helped recruit new members to build the congregation and raise more money for their cause. Anders had some wonderful ideas and Hans Christian had no problem standing behind them and eventually made them his own. His dad had tried to get the money back and filed a lawsuit against both of them, but eventually he dropped the charges, probably because Hans Christian’s mother had convinced him to do so. She was a smart woman and knew perfectly well that if they should ever have a hope of seeing their son again, then filing lawsuits probably wasn’t the way to do it. Besides too much evil had been between them over the years.

  Hans Christian didn’t feel bad for taking the money at all. No he thought he had deserved it after all that his dad had put him through. Keeping his mouth shut about the sexual abuse of his older sister that he had discovered by coincidence when he walked in on them in the wine cellar. Hans was only thirteen looking for a bottle of wine to bring to a party. His dad was bent over his sister with his sex in her mouth. Then he had taken a bottle and handed it to him. From that day on they had an agreement. He wouldn’t tell about Hans Christian’s drinking and stealing expensive wines from his cellar and Hans Christian kept quiet about what he had seen him do to his sister. Hans Christian had never been too fond of his sister anyway so he figured it was a good deal.

  Later in sessions with Anders he had spoken about this for the first time and repented his actions for hours kneeling in front of the Priest, till his knees were bleeding. Now Hans Christian was a free man, free from the sin and guilt. He still had scars on his back from the beating Anders had provided him in order to drive out all the evil from his soul, but it had been worth it, every striped scar from the stick. Now he was free.

  Hans Christian looked at his friends aroun
d the table. It was the first time he had seen their faces like this. It wasn’t just the sorrow of having lost their leader and guru Anders the Priest, it wasn’t only the insecure future of their church that caused them to suffer and look strained. It wasn’t even the mob of journalists waiting outside the fences, waiting for them to make a mistake so they could write their lies in their papers.

  No Hans Christian knew why they were grabbed by this sudden angst. It was the thought that this might be the Priest’s prophesy that finally came true. Nobody dared to speak about it but they all thought the same.

  The Priest had spoken about it for years. Ever since that night in 1998 when the full moon had shone above Isefjorden just like it did last night. That night when the Chernobyl-kid had looked at him with those green glowing eyes and...

  “So what do you think, Hans Christian?” Isabella suddenly asked him.

  Isabella Dubois. How he hated that name and those icy eyes. Hans Christian had been the Priest’s favorite until she came along and ruined everything. Suddenly the Priest had declared that she was going to be his predecessor that she would take over once he was gone. Hans Christian had loathed her from the beginning. She was a conniving snake. Suddenly Hans Christian was frozen out by the Priest. He was no longer invited to the important meetings where the important decisions were made. He was shoved into the cold and the Priest hardly looked at him anymore. Just because of her. And now since the Priest was gone she suddenly wanted his opinion? Was Hans Christian a part of the leader group again all of a sudden? Did he want to be?

  “Well I guess I think it is important that we keep on as usual in order to keep the youngsters calm. They’re scared to death. We need to get back to normal at any cost.”

  Isabella nodded to his surprise. “I couldn’t agree more,” she said.

  Hans Christian was surprised that she had even asked for his advice and he had never thought she would agree with him.

  “The worst thing we can do is let panic get the best of us. So let’s get back to doing what we normally do and proceed with the ceremonies that we had planned for this week. Anders might not be here anymore, but he still lives on in us. In this place we have built for his cause, for our cause.”

  Hans Christian scoffed at her last words. Like she had ever built anything. She was still a teenager when they had started this place and now she acted like she owned everything. Sure she was beautiful and he got why everybody adored her and listened to her every word. She was like the ice queen in Narnia he would say, but not many would probably agree with him on that. He saw her evil though even the Priest hadn’t managed to do so. She had driven this church too far, he thought. She had made them do things Hans Christian didn’t like. That was when the Priest had started to freeze him out. After the night, with the kid, with those green eyes, oh how he could still see them. He remembered them staring at him. It sent chills up his back just thinking about them. After that night, Hans Christian had declared that if this was the way things were going, then he wasn’t in anymore. To his surprise the Priest had just accepted that and then kept him out of everything. Hans Christian hated him for that. But even more he hated her for turning the Priest against him. The man he had loved for many years. A love that was higher than any other love he had ever encountered. It was deeper, more profound. And now he was gone. Hans Christian didn’t even get to say a proper goodbye.

  Last night had been horrendous. Hans Christian had been the first to run for the Priest’s room once he heard the initial scream. He wanted desperately to call for an ambulance, but Isabella had refused. “No ambulance can help him out of this,” she had exclaimed. “We need to do it ourselves.”

  So they had tried to drive the demon out of the Priest’s body, but with no luck. Terrified they had watched him die a slow and agonizing death. Reduced to nothing but a squealing, drooling monster bathing in his own excrement.

  Just before he took his final breath Hans Christian could have sworn he saw a reflection of the Chernobyl-kid in the Priests’ eye. She was looking directly at Hans Christian and pointing in his direction.

  Chapter 9

  The article almost wrote itself, I thought when I re-read it to make sure I had gotten it all in. It was quite good. I had left out all Esther had told about the Chernobyl-kid and instead just written that one girl once disappeared from the camp and was never seen again, but that it was a rumor and that there were many rumors engulfing the sect. The portrait of the Priest was pretty standard, written based on what I could find about him in early interviews and other articles written over the years. I called Sara at the newspaper in Karrebaeksminde and had her collect everything she could find about him for me. It was an okay article but probably not much better than what all the other papers had.

  Sune’s pictures of the camp turned out to be excellent and as soon as I had gathered everything there was only one thing left for me to do. I called the local police to hear if there would be an investigation of the death of the Priest and if they had the autopsy ready. I spoke to the head of the police department in Vipperoed. He was nice, but couldn’t tell me much.

  “So far we consider the death to be natural,” he said. “There is no indication that it should be otherwise.”

  “What about the autopsy, what does that conclude?”

  The officer cleared his throat and spoke in a strange high-pitched voice. “We haven’t received that yet,” he said.

  “Will there be any charges against the church members for not calling for an ambulance?” I asked. That was one of the things I mentioned in my article as slightly suspicious.

  “I don’t know yet,” he said. His voice was shaking strangely. He was about to hang up when I stopped him with another question:

  “Why didn’t they call for help?” I asked. “What was their explanation?”

  “I really have to go now,” the officer said. Then he hung up. I lifted my head and looked at Sune and the kids playing the video game. It all seemed a little fishy, I thought while tapping my pen on the table. What could their excuse possibly be to not call for help right away once the Priest had fallen sick? Were they that afraid of the world outside? Were they that self-sufficient that they thought they didn’t need the world surrounding them?

  Sune beat Julie in a game and they all screamed, waking up Dad who had been snoring from the couch with the paper across his chest for hours. I laughed when I saw Julie’s dissatisfied look. It was good for her to lose every now and then. She was good at almost anything and she needed to learn to lose without throwing a fit. She crossed her arms in front of her chest, and then sat on the couch with an angry sound. I looked at my laptop, and then wrote in the last statements from the police about not pressing charges, for letting the man die without calling for help. Then I pressed ‘send’ and closed the lid. I smiled and walked over to Julie. I sat next to her.

  “Wanna try to beat me?” I said.

  She growled then looked at me. “Okay,” she said and got up.

  At least five games and two hours later I finally gave up. Even as hard as I tried I couldn’t beat Julie. She was way too good. It gave a boost to her self-esteem and soon Tobias took over trying to beat her.

  I threw myself on the couch with a sigh. Dad had begun preparing dinner, Sune helping him. I went to the kitchen and joined them in some grown-up playing. I enjoyed watching the two men I loved chopping vegetables, discussing recipes and exchanging cooking tricks and ideas. This was really an area they had in common and where I was left completely out. Instead I grabbed the paper and started reading it. Sune brought me a glass of red wine that I enjoyed while they cooked. Every now and then I lifted my head and stared at the two of them feeling like the luckiest woman on the face of this planet.

  Sune grabbed a glass of wine of his own and when he was done chopping onions he approached me. He sat on the chair in front of me.

  “So are you thinking what I’m thinking?” he asked while sipping his wine.

  My eyes left the paper an
d locked with his. “My dad is right there!?” I whispered surprised.

  Sune shook his head. “No, that wasn’t what I meant.” He paused to laugh. “I meant the autopsy. Aren’t you curious as to what killed him?”

  “The Priest?”

  “You know anyone else that died within the last twenty-four hours?” he asked grinning.

  I paused and stared at him ignoring his remark. “Is the internet connection good enough for that up here?”

  “I should think so,” he said. “Otherwise I have ways to make it better.”

  “The police said they hadn’t received it yet. But I would love to read the statements made by the other church members. I would like to read their explanation to why they didn’t call for help.”

  “That’s easy to find,” Sune said and sipped some wine. “I bet they don’t protect their systems very well out here in the country. Don’t think they get many cyber-attacks.”

  “Then by all means go ahead,” I said.

  Chapter 10

  Hans Christian was tired of meetings and discussions. All day long they had been talking about how they should proceed without the Priest. Even when Isabella left the camp for three hours to go whoever knows where, they continued the meetings, discussing how they could keep it all up. In his honor, they kept saying. They treated him like had he been the messiah himself.

  Hans Christian had at one point believed that he was Jesus who had come back to get all of them. Maybe the Priest had even believed it himself. But then he started telling people that he was the reincarnation of the prophet Isaiah. Hans Christian had never cared what he thought he was; to him he was a god. He was the most beautiful human being to have set his foot on this forsaken earth. Back when it had only been Hans Christian and him, Hans Christian had adored everything about him. Every word he spoke, every gesture, everything he did could only come straight from God.