I don’t think the children understood the gravity of what had occurred. They were all very young, the other members of that Sunday school. The oldest would’ve been about 11. The oldest of the, others was about the same age.
Sometimes I think I don’t quite understand the gravity of the situation, myself. I feel like I should be tearing out my hair, sobbing, screaming at the world. Making some sort of a gesture, something to let those who’ve passed know that I care. Not only the most recent death…All of them. Those we’ve named, those we’ve found, those who have vanished without a trace.
All I have is this dull ache in the corners of my consciousness, this knowledge that there is something inherently wrong with the world. And I don’t know if I’ll ever escape from that knowledge. I look back to last year and think about how naïve I was. How little I knew about the other side of the fence, the people who I spent my days diagnosing and treating. Now, I know fully well that there is no fence. People are fragile; it’s one of the hallmark traits of humanity. Fragility, yet resilience in the face of that.
These children, all of them, they were taken before their time. And the only thing I could do about it, was try my best to make sense of it.
The day following the investigation of the crime scene, I’d organized to speak to several other members of the church group, with their parent’s consent. Not many of them were very willing speakers; particularly the older ones, who had enough of a grasp on the situation.
The youngest one however: Timmy Malone. 6 years of age. A blond, sunny little kid…he didn’t understand, and in that, he became the most useful part of my investigation. I’m not the best with children, and I was not altogether there, but it didn’t seem to matter. He spoke a lot.
“So, tell me about your Sunday school.”
”My teacher is Mister Smith. He is nice and smiles a lot and talks about God.”
”What about the kids in your class?”
”There are a lot of people! There is John, and Samir, and…”
”Has there been anything strange about your lessons?”
”No!” That would’ve been far too easy. Of course.
”Tell me about the church.”
”It’s really big! The windows have all the colors of the rainbow, and at lunchtime, the bell goes ‘bonnng’…The Crying Man says that a monster lives up there and rings the bell, but I think he just saw that on TV.”
From the mouth of babes.
”Who is the Crying Man?”
”He lives at the church. He doesn’t like the sun, he says it hurts his eyes. Did you know that it’s a biiiig ball of fire a million miles away? The Crying Man told me that! He said it was another world, one with a lot of little boys and girls that have been very bad.”
”I don’t think that’s true…What else has the Crying Man told you?”
”The Crying Man is really nice, but he is very upset. People don’t like them, and he doesn’t like them. He wants them to all drown.”
”In forty days and forty nights of rain! Like the story of Noah. Mister Smith told us about that. I think the Crying Man heard him. He hears a lot of things in the church. He told me that Samir and Michael were saying bad things about me when I was outside playing with Heidi and Mark. He said I shouldn’t be friends with them anymore.”
”…Has the Crying Man ever hurt you, or touched you in a way that made you feel uncomfortable?” Standard procedure, which I fell back on while I was trying to process what I was hearing.
”He’s really nice! He wouldn’t hurt any good boys or girls, he said. He said only the bad ones would drown, and the good ones would be able to come with him when he went to talk to Jesus.”
”Has Mister Smith ever heard about the Crying Man?”
”No, the Crying Man told me to never talk to Mister Smith about him, otherwise he would have to go live somewhere else! And mommy and daddy couldn’t know, because they would tell Mister Smith. Promise you won’t tell him, Mister Doctor! Please?”
”Why didn’t you tell me this when I asked if something strange was going on at your church?”
”He’s not strange, the Crying Man says everyone else is strange. He wears a mask to stop them making fun of him.”
I didn’t tell “Mister Smith”, but I did tell the police department who requested his utmost cooperation in whatever they had to do.
And so, in layman’s terms…we raided the church. Under cover of darkness, a group of Homicide detectives burst in through the doors and scoured the building with flashlights. And it was only when we made it up to the bell tower that we found something. Forensics later pushed that something up to ‘something, a straight, black hair and a fingerprint’. It wasn’t much, at least, not for the police, but even just the piece of paper gave me renewed hope, and…something in my mind clicked just looking at it. Rather, what was written on it.
”IX – RITUAL OF THE MIND”
This isn’t a game for the police. This is a game between us and them.
I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X. Ready or not, here I come.