Sunday, September 13, 2015

26: Her Own Monsters

Ben’s apothecary.  Night.  Lamps low, shadows long.
A semicircle of chairs.  Ben, Jason, Rosemary, Will.  A fifth chair in front of them.  Emily in the chair, chewing her lower lip.
“I know how it looks,” Emily said.  “A girl shows up out of nowhere, takes a job…and right after that, people start dying.  I know what everyone thinks.”  Her eyes flicked back and forth amongst the four of them.  “I know what people are saying.  I’m not stupid.  But I swear to you―I swear―it’s not me.  I didn’t kill those men.”
Rosemary reached out a hand, took Emily’s.  “Emily, I know.  We all know.   None of us thinks it’s you.”  Emily exhaled slowly.  “We are not here to accuse you.  Only to make you aware of the suppositions of others.”
“Oh, don’t think I’m not aware,” she responded, rolling her eyes.  “I’m the prime suspect.  Well, secondary suspect, anyway.  Half the town thinks it’s me.”
“Half?”  Will asked.  “Who’s the other suspect?  Ammerman, right?”
He looked up, and found himself the subject of four pointed stares.
“Wait a minute…me???”
“You have to admit, Will, it does sort of make sense,” Jason said.  “A guy dies in a locked room?  Who else would be the suspect, if not the guy who can kill himself, walk through the wall, incarnate again, do it, and then leave?”
Ben nodded.  “My initial assumption as well, Will.  And to be honest, that’s part of the reason I brought you along, that first time.  But, of course, when we arrived on the scene, it was you who asked about the locked door.  It seemed strange to me that you would choose to draw attention to the single factor most likely to direct suspicion towards yourself.  And Jason’s theory leaves unaddressed the question of how you would leave afterwards...who would lock the door behind you?  Additionally, I had you watched at the farm, and you’re confirmed to have been sleeping in your room on the nights of the last two murders.  So you’re in the clear, it seems.”
“You had me watched?  By one of my coworkers?”
“No fun, is it?” Emily interjected.  “Trusting someone, then finding out they’re not who you thought they were...”
“It’s HARDLY the same thing as―”
Ben stepped in quickly.  “In any case, Will, it was all for the good of the community.  I’m sure you understand.”  Will didn’t, but Ben moved on before he had a chance to object.  “To me, Ammerman and his staff do seem the most likely culprits.  Particularly in the case of the first murder, where the victim was obviously taken unaware, presumably by someone he knew.”  He turned his attentions to Emily.  “But, Emily, Will has made us aware that you are under suspicion from a more specific quarter.  He believes John Ammerman suspects you of the murders.  And Will believes that Ammerman intends to act on that assumption.”
What?”  Evidently this was news to her.  “Oh, come on.  Will’s just jealous, he’s always had a…”
“Emily,” Will interrupted, “when I talked to Ammerman earlier today, he as much as said that he knew you were guilty and that he was going to do something about it.”
She paused.  Shuddered a bit.  “You’re lying.”
“Will’s the world’s worst liar, Emily,” offered Jason.  “His whole voice changes and he does that thing where he starts touching his face.  Like when he said he’d be glad to play in the soccer game.”  Will felt a surge of guilt, but when he looked up, Jason was grinning.  “Then, of course, he played anyway, just to make me happy, because that’s who Will is.  Point is, he’s not lying.”
Emily was insistent.  “Then Will misunderstood him.”
“Emily,” Rosemary said, softly, “is Mr. Ammerman, in your experience, a man who fails to say exactly what he means?”
“Well, he’s got some enunciation issues.  And the grammar alone would throw a lot of people…” But she was clearly growing uncertain.
“Emily,” Ben responded, “I know that you hold John Ammerman’s views in higher esteem than I do, but that is not the matter under discussion here.  Strange and unprecedented events are underway, and you find yourself at the center of them.”  Emily fidgeted in her chair.  “We have reason to believe that your life is under threat.  Even if Ammerman’s own intention has been misreported or misinterpreted, your status as his employee would put you at risk.  If there is anything, anything at all that you have seen or heard that might be of―”
It came bursting out of her mouth; she couldn’t stop it.  “He’s got The Light in his workshop!”
A short, uncomfortable silence followed.
“Do you mean to say,” Ben said slowly, “that he has some sort of unusual device in the shop, for―”
“I meant it how I said it the first time!” Emily exclaimed.  “I know the difference between a weird candle and The Light!  I’ve seen The Light a lot more recently than you have.  I remember what it was like.  Well, I mean,” she said, stumbling a bit, “it was, not The Light The Light, it was sort of, the toned-down, edited-for-TV version…”
“Emily…” Rosemary said, soothing.
“Edited for TV?” Ben said, puzzled.
“I don’t get it either!”  Emily rounded on the two of them, clearly frustrated.  “John keeps the workroom locked up all the time now.  Even he himself barely goes in there.  Practically all the actual work is done in the showroom, right in front of the customers!  Nobody else is allowed to go into the workroom without his permission, and even if any of us dared disobey him, good luck getting past that lock.”  She paused.  “I don’t think he trusts me yet.  I know he doesn’t, in fact.  The only people who’ve gone in there so far with him are the ones he’s known the longest.”  She looked up, her face full of consternation.  “Ramesh, Milton, and Takashi, of course.”
Ben stroked his chin.  “The three victims.  Well.  That’s quite the coincidence.  Do you mind explaining how you’re aware of the contents of his workshop, not having seen them?”
Emily reflected.   “I…overheard a conversation one night.  I had already closed up the shop for the night, and I had to go back, to pick up some piecework, I was going to get it done back at the boarding house,” she explained, “And I unlocked the door, and went back inside, and I heard this…voice, coming from the workshop.”
“What sort of voice?”  Jason asked.
“I…I can’t even describe it.  It was sort of…musical.  It was like it was…”  She thought for a minute.  “You know, when you’re incarnating, how your soul sort of…vibrates, right at the end?  The voice sounded like that feels.  If that makes any sense.  I couldn’t quite make out the actual words through the door.  And all around the door itself, through all the cracks, The Light was pouring out.  It was…” She fumbled for the right words.  “It wasn’t The Light.  I know we can’t see it, not while we’re alive.  But…I recognized it instantly.  There’s no doubt in my mind that it was meant to represent The Light.”  She paused.  “And then it was gone, and there were normal voices inside the workshop, and I grabbed the bolts I’d been working on and went out the door as fast as I could, locking it behind me.”  She paused.  “And then I hid behind the stoop of Evan’s, across the street, and waited to see who came out.”  Another pause.  “It was John and Milton.”
“This is going to seem like a very strange question, Emily, and maybe you can’t answer it,” Rosemary said.  “But we’ve yet to see the heartlight of any of the murder victims.  Do you think, when you saw them, that Milton and John still had their souls?”
Emily thought about it.  “I couldn’t see heartlights of course, since we were all alive at the time.  But…if they were soulless…” She frowned.  “They seemed…the opposite of what you’d assume a soulless person would be like.  I mean…Milton was always such a chipper old guy, but he was just bursting with excitement that night, giddy, almost hopping up and down.  And John was as full of purpose as I’ve ever seen him.  I mean…we’d been working all day, everyone was exhausted at the end, I was barely able to stay on my feet…and with those two, it was almost as if they’d been recharged or something.”  Emily’s face went blank.  “And two days later, Milton was dead.  Poisoned.”  A longer pause.  “I miss Milton, actually.  He wasn’t like the others.  Him I actually liked.”
Ben stroked his chin.  “Emily,” he said, “will you bring this information before the town, at our next meeting?  Will you inform the community of what is occurring at Ammerman’s, so we can take action against him?”
Emily’s mouth was a tight, aggravated line, almost a smirk.  “No, Ben, I will not,” she said, sweetly.  “And if you bring it up, I will call you a liar, and accuse you of bringing spurious charges against my employer for political purposes.”
Everybody took a few seconds to pick their jaws up off the floor.  Rosemary was first to fully recover.  “Emily, I’m not sure you understand the level of danger―”
“I love you, Rosemary, I really do.  But right now, I really need for you to treat me like an adult for once, and for the love of God, I need you to stop enabling Ben’s power plays.”  Rosemary looked shocked, but Emily’s tone was perfectly even, her composure complete, as she rounded on the four of them.  “You know, this may surprise all of you, but when I’m at Ammerman’s, and they’re all ranting on about how Haven is some kind of fascist state?  I’m always defending Ben.  I’m the one who’s always arguing that the community matters, too.  I defend you people all the time.  I think that’s part of the reason John doesn’t trust me.  But I’m not at Ammerman’s right now, I’m here.  And just as that bunch sometimes needs to be refreshed on how people think outside of their little echo chamber, I think you need a refresher right now.”  She raised a finger at Ben.  “You don’t have a shred of actual evidence that John Ammerman has done anything wrong, to anyone.  He has not defrauded anyone.  He has not harmed anyone.  Nor, as I understand it,”―she glanced at Will―”has he directly threatened to harm me, or anyone else.”  A second finger.  “You have my testimony that there’s something weird behind that door, which I gave you because I had a secret inside me for too long and I’d been bursting to share it, and I guess I’m weak-willed that way.  Well, my bad.  But the presence of a weird thing behind a door is not, in and of itself, a matter of community concern.  Everybody’s got weird stuff in their lives; we put it behind locked doors so that other people don’t have to look at it.  It’s not your business, Ben.  Butt out.”  A third finger.  “John is right.  Individual freedom matters.  The community is important, too, and I’ve acknowledged that.  But, frankly, Ben?  As much as you like to pretend otherwise, this town isn’t suffering from a lack of your control.  You get what you want, pretty much all of the time.  And the more they give you, the more you seem to want, and the further you seem to think you’re entitled to go.  And somebody needs to tell you NO for once, and I guess that somebody is me.  The fact that people trust you doesn’t give you the right to go breaking into their homes and businesses.”  She stood up.  “I appreciate you bringing your concerns to my attention.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to the bunkhouse; I’ve lost enough sleep already and there’s work to do in the morning.”
Jason rose almost as quickly.  “Emily, you can’t be serious!  Your life is in danger!  My God, your soul is in danger!”
My life, Jason.  My soul.  I’ve told you before, I don’t need rescuing.”  She turned to go.
The words came tumbling out of Will’s mouth, unbidden, before he could stop them.  “You don’t need someone to chase off monsters for you.”   Emily pulled up short.
“You want to handle the monsters,” he continued, his voice quiet.  “You.  Nobody else.  You need to know who you are.”
She was silent for a long moment.  “Yes, Will,” she said after a time, “that’s exactly right.  Thank you for remembering.”  She turned to go, then stopped short again, turned back.  “I thought you had trouble remembering things?”
“I have a pretty good memory,” he said, “for the things that matter to me.”
Emily’s face went blank, and for once, stood speechless.  Finally, she turned and left.
She was barely out the door before Jason rounded on Ben.  “Ben, we can’t let her go back there!”
Ben held up his hand.  “I share your concern, Jason.  “But Emily has a point as well.  This is not about me letting her do anything.  I am not, whatever Ammerman―or others―may say, a dictator.  Her life is her own, and we must respect that.  And even if I had the authority to bypass that door, I lack the ability to do so.”  He cast a long glance in Will’s direction.  “At any rate, this is not a matter that we’re likely to resolve this evening.  And we do have work in the morning.  The harvest is almost complete now; it is important to finish strong.”  Jason opened his mouth to speak; Ben raised his palm again, his face hard.  “Enough, Jason.  To your room, please.  I assure you, we will deal with this matter more fully later.”  He waved his hand vaguely.  “Early to bed and rise, etcetera, etcetera…”  He turned back to Will.  “Will, good evening, and safe journey back to the farm.”  He looked Will straight in the eye.  “And thanks, as always, for your help.”

Will nodded.  Turned.  Walked out the door of the apothecary, down the stoop and into the street.  Down the street, past the boarding house where Emily was sleeping, thinking about what she’d said.  Down the path leading to the riverside and Phillip’s farm, thinking about what Jason had said.  Past the farm, down to where the path curved and ran uphill to the north, thinking about what Ben had said.  Up the hill, then around the bend and further up Greta’s Bluff.  Inside him, the Survivor was wide awake and screaming; Will called to mind the image of Emily’s torn fingers, of her bloody palm, and the voice was muffled.  Onwards and upwards Will walked, to the top of the bluff, the lights of Haven twinkling far below.  Then, straight forward, to the edge of the bluff; then over the edge, straight out into empty space.

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