(AN: Hello again! It's been many years, things have changed, and my desperate attempts to re-ignite my desire to write have led me back to this old story: The Death's Head. We had a little about it in Angel of Darkness, but now we're going to hear a lot more about it in this little story. It will not be a feeble attempt at a psychological thriller, since that's not my forte at all. But it will have a lot of the world-building that I have been planning on for years.)
(Most of my original drafts were lost, but they exist in some fashion on backups. But the story has underwent MUCH revision before it has come to the state where it is in today.)
October 22nd, 2005. Night-time.
Doctor Edward Cecil Lewis, professor of biology at Indiana State University. But tonight, he was a friend being called from his house in the dead of night by none other than the police. He pulled his car up to the address where the dispatch officer on the phone had told him to come: 111 South on 9th street. Fear had gripped him from the moment he answered the phone all through his drive into downtown Terre Haute. Now, when he stepped out of the car and saw the lights of the police cars flashing and yellow tape strung up around the entrance of St. Benedict Church, he started to really worry. One of the officers approached him, and after confirming it was him, led him through the police tape and up to the steps of the church. As soon as they approached, Dr. Lewis gasped in horror and covered his mouth.
Lying on the footsteps of the church was a man of about mid-to-late 30s. Possibly of Middle Eastern or Iranian descent from first glance, he was dressed in high end casual clothes. But he was dead. The body lay lifeless upon the steps, immobile, gazing blankly up into the night sky, and a pair of horn-rimmed glasses lay broken by his side. But most disturbing of all was his chest. His clothes had been torn open and his chest had been slashed and cut with crude and vile markings that were dark with drying blood.
There had been a wallet on hand, but they needed a confirmation of who the jumper was: for so they believed, based on the report of a 12-year-old child who had called the police after claiming to have seen this man jump from the towers of the church. Dr. Lewis gave them a quiet confirmation: the man was indeed Dr. Adam Salem. When they had checked his wallet for identification, they found his name listed as an emergency contact. After identifying the body, Dr. Lewis was told to wait by one of the police cars while they cleaned up the scene and took Dr. Salem's body to their Forensics laboratory.
There he waited, dumbfounded and in shock at what he had just seen. It felt as though a large hole had been punched out of Edward's body with this revelation. What's more, it did not make sense. He had been in regular correspondence with Dr. Salem, professor of Jewish Studies at Andrews University, and in all that time he never gave any indication that he was mentally unstable. They had spoken to each other five days ago and nothing seemed out of the ordinary or suggested that he might do himself harm.
"The police are wrong. Dr. Salem's death was not suicide: it was murder."
Dr. Lewis turned around to the speaker, and was surprised and more than a bit discomforted to see a man standing close to him. He hadn't heard anyone approach, nor had there been anyone near him while he waited. Moreover, though the man wore typical day-wear - a coat, jeans, and a collared shirt - he was an Arab. It had only been four years since the Great Disaster of 9/11, and everyone in the United States was still uncomfortable around these people, whether or not they wore their traditional garb. The man seemed not to take notice of Dr. Lewis' reaction, but instead repeated what he had said before.
"What do you mean?" asked Dr. Lewis. "How do you know that?"
"I don't know all the answers, but I will have some of them soon," the man replied in perfect English. "Meet me out front of this very church in seven days time: at the last toll of the noon-day bell. If I am not there, then something has gone wrong and I will leave you a message by the altar inside."
The man gestured to the church and Dr. Lewis looked in that direction. He turned around, saw a flash of golden light, then looked around for the Arab man. He had vanished almost as soon as he had appeared. Dr. Lewis looked around this way and that, hoping to find some trace of his mysterious visitor, when all of a sudden one of the police officers approached him.
"Dr. Lewis?" she asked. "Officer Johnson, I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to come with me to the police station."
"What's wrong?" he asked. "Am I in trouble?"
"I need to ask you some questions about Dr. Salem," she replied. "It won't take long."
Dr. Lewis grumbled internally. Though ISU wasn't but a skip and a step away from St. Benedict, it was late in the middle of the night, and now he would have to be detained even longer. He wondered if he would even get back to his apartment before dawn. But he obliged the request of the police officer, and so got into his car and, with a police car in front and behind, made his way to the station.
An hour passed in the waiting room of the police station. Dr. Lewis watched as the minutes passed and the odd vagrant or criminal were brought in for detention; but he seemed to have been forgotten in the midst of his grief. The more he lingered on the sorrow of what had happened, the worse it seemed to get. His last words to Dr. Adam Salem, only a few hours ago, suggested no trouble with him at all. And then the strange Arab who told him about his death filled him with worry. He wracked his brains, trying to make sense of the death of his friend when suddenly a uniformed officer called him from the waiting room.
He followed the officer into another room with a large dark mirror on one side and a single metal table in the center of the room, with one chair on each side. The officer told Dr. Lewis to take a seat: once he did, the officer left the room and said that Officer Johnson would be with him shortly. Once more Dr. Lewis was on edge; this felt awfully like an interrogation. He tried to keep himself cool, yet he could not help but be painfully aware of the dark shadows of the mirror. Idly he tapped his fingers on the edge of the table: the sound set him off edge in contrast to the silence of the room. He stood up from the seat and approached the mirror. All he could see was his own reflection.
Dr. Edward Lewis had been an upstanding citizen for all of his twenty-nine year of life; but he had a secret. So great and dangerous was that secret that he knew, from earliest childhood memories, that if it ever got out, he would never be free again. As he got older, he realized that he would have to be able to be able to escape the exact kind of situations in which he found himself. In brief, he feared that he was being watched through this mirror, waiting for the moment when he would reveal himself. Of course the darkness was tempting: all his life he had been afraid of the dark, and his secret had been a comfort in this regard, for he had the uncanny ability to make what was hidden in the darkness be revealed. All he had to do was take the sunglasses off his face, focus, and he would not have to be afraid.
But at that moment, the door opened, snapping his thoughts back to the here and now. Officer Johnson walked in with a folder in hand and told him to take a seat; she then sat down across from him and began thumbing through the contents of the folder.
"What was your connection to the deceased Dr. Salem?" she asked.
"It's...complicated," Dr. Lewis replied, adjusting the glasses on his face.
"Do you mind removing those glasses, doctor?" she asked.
At this Dr. Lewis froze. "I'm afraid that's not possible."
"Are you blind, doctor?" she asked. "Your records don't list any known disabilities except...severe albinism and sensitivity to light." She gave the doctor a hard look: though on average a normal looking human male in his late 20s, his skin and hair were the same pale white shade. In addition to his glasses, his clothes were completely black. Officer Johnson raised an eyebrow cynically, then made a note in the file.
"Let me ask you again," she repeated. "What was your connection to the deceased?"
Dr. Lewis sighed. "We were something like pen-pals."
"Something like?" she asked. "Care to define what you mean by 'something like pen-pals'?"
"We had a business arrangement, that's all," he replied.
"That doesn't sound like pen-pals to me."
"He contacted me some three years ago," Dr. Lewis sighed. "We exchanged information, and he said that he could help me with my...problem."
"Your albinism?" she asked cynically. "You asked a professor of Jewish Studies from Michigan about a medical condition?"
"Like I said, it's complicated," Dr. Lewis replied. "Look, it's late, and I...am finding it hard to believe that he's gone."
"I can understand how this might be difficult for you, doctor," she replied. "But I need to know your connection to Dr. Adam Salem...or should I say, Dr. John Doe?"
"I pulled up all information on your Dr. Salem," she began. "Turns out, there's not a whole lot about him before his tenure at Andrews. So we dug a little deeper: there's no evidence that Dr. Adam Salem even existed. No birth certificates, no medical records, no diplomas: all faked."
"What are you saying?" asked Dr. Lewis evasively.
"I'm saying that you know more about our deceased John Doe than you want to admit," she replied. "Now, my department wants to know why a man from Michigan with no background shows up dead in my town and his only connection is...an albino history teacher from ISU."
Dr. Lewis' jaw quivered. "Shouldn't you be investigating his death?"
"That's an open and shut case, doctor," she replied. "Suicide."
"And the markings?"
"Self-inflicted," she replied. Dr. Lewis noticed that her eyes quivered slightly as she said this.
"Is that the truth," he asked. "Or what you're feeding me?"
"I'm asking the questions here, doctor. Now I understand that it's late, and that you're finding it difficult to accept what your friend did to himself. But I want to know the truth, and I will learn it one way or another."
Dr. Lewis cleared his throat. "Am I under interrogation here, officer?"
"Standard procedure, doctor," she replied tacitly. "You're the only one closest to the deceased, so you might be able to provide any insight as to why a Jewish Studies professor would carve occult symbols onto his body before jumping to his death."
There was a flicker of the lights in the room, and Dr. Lewis groaned, his hand reaching up instinctively to his forehead. The lights stabilized after an uncomfortable minute, and officer Johnson carefully studied the man before her.
"We can dim the lights if you'd like," she offered.
"No!" Dr. Lewis groaned. "I...I'm tired and...and...ugh, I just want to go back to bed and forget about this night."
"I know this is hard for you, but I need you to answer me. Now I've asked you two times already, and you've kept evading the question. You seem like a good guy, Dr. Lewis: don't make me detain you. Just answer the question." Again Dr. Lewis did not answer, but rubbed the side of his head. He seemed rather put out by this line of questioning, more so than one trained in interrogation would believe acceptable from an innocent man.
"How much do you know?" asked Dr. Lewis in return.
"I beg your pardon?"
"You seem to know quite a bit about Adam and myself, yet you ask me questions as though you didn't know anything. I would like to speak to legal counsel, if you please."
"I warned you, doctor," officer Johnson replied. "But you wanted to make this difficult for both of us. Now I'm gonna have to detain you." She closed the folder and made her way to the door. Again the lights flickered and Dr. Lewis groaned. Something seemed to be giving out in him, for he spoke again; but his voice was filled with annoyance.
"What do you want to know?" he asked through gritted teeth.
"Everything you can tell me about Dr. Salem," she replied, halting just before the door. "And his relation to yourself."
She turned around and made her way back to the table, cursing the faulty wiring in the building. She sat down and opened the folder again, taking a pen in hand to jot down what he told her.
"Dr. Adam Salem was a professor of Jewish Studies at Andrews," he began. "He heard about an...incident in the Marshall Illinois area several years ago. It seemed to intrigue him, and so he reached out to me."
"And can you tell me about this incident in the Marshall area?"
Dr. Lewis sighed. "There was an explosion; two kids were killed in the blast, four suffered severe injuries, only one survived completely unscathed. Police were unable to identify what caused the explosion. The families of the kids who died claimed that the seventh child had set off a bomb with the intent to harm them."
"What about the children who survived?" she asked.
"Three of them corroborated the bomb story: the one who didn't was committed. The seventh child..." He said nothing, but hung his head.
"Is there a problem, doctor?"
"Yes, there is," he replied. "Tell me, officer; how do you explain away the impossible? How do you go back to normal when something happens right before your eyes that defies science? Defies all logic and reason, and yet, you know for a certainty that it is?"
"I'm not here to philosophize, doctor. I want the facts."
"The facts, officer, are that something happened that day in 1985. Police had no idea; local media swarmed on the whole bomb story, and more people were hurt by it."
"What connection does this have with yourself and Dr. Salem?"
Dr. Lewis sighed, then looked over to the mirror. Perhaps he had imagined it, but he thought he could see someone on the other side nodding softly to him. There was a sigh of relief, and he turned back to the uniformed officer.
"There was no bomb," he replied. "It was an explosion, yes; it could be heard, it could be felt, but it wasn't a bomb."
"How do you know?"
With this, Dr. Lewis reached up to his face and placed his hands on the rim of his sunglasses. "I'm gonna have to ask you to put these on, officer."
"What?" she asked with a hint of surprise. "I'm not putting those on. They're yours."
"Do you know what happens when you stare too long at the sun?" he asked. "Your optic nerves are burned out and you go blind. So unless you'd like to lose your eyesight, I suggest you put these on."
Officer Johnson looked at Dr. Lewis with suspicion and distrust. Her right hand dropped the pen and instinctively reached for the 9mm at her side. The man before her didn't seem to notice the movement: or if he did, he was unperturbed by it. Instead, he removed his glasses and held them out toward her general direction; her mouth parted in quiet amazement.
Both of his eyes were closed, and yet the eyelids were glowing reddish orange: the same shade of a hand clasping a glowing light-bulb. It made the hairs on her neck stand on end, and she gripped the gun at her hip a little bit tighter. The glasses were still waiting for her, held out by Dr. Lewis' extended hand: placing the folder down, she took the glasses with her left hand and placed them onto her face. They were a trifle larger than her head, but the darkened frames covered her eyes just fine. The hand drew back, and then there was light.
Officer Dana Susanne Johnson had been on the receiving end of several inconsiderate drivers blazing their high-beams on in the opposite lane. But this light seemed to her a hundred times brighter than that. It was unheard of, and yet she could see - somewhat - the light from Dr. Lewis' face, like two intense high-beams, and feel the heat radiating from them as well. A voice spoke: it was the same one that Dr. Lewis had been using throughout the interrogation, though why she expected it to sound in any way different, she could not quite articulate.
"I am the seventh child."
(AN: It's been years since I made my first of many attempts to begin this story. Now, since I have no desire to write in anything else, I decided that I would crack this open again to attempt to re-ignite my dormant creativity.)
(I hate writing stories set in a modern setting because after seventeen years [of a 31-year lifespan so far] of being around other people, I must admit that I have no idea how normal people behave or think. When writing a story, I try to work with the most logical outcome: but other people do not behave logically. So it's very challenging having to write real people in a modern setting, since I don't know how they act. Please bear with me.)