Chapter 11’s here guys, sorry if you read chapter 12 before it. I don’t really know what happened, but I did mention about horrible internet connection about two weeks ago(ish?), so I guess that was why. Enjoy!
Deus Ex Machina
11 – Ad mortem
A small, dingy apartment stood near the outskirts of the town, about three kilometres away from the nearest supermarket and seven miles before reaching the woods to its west. A streetlight flickered in the night, its willowy figure accompanied with some eager moths who swooned at its brightness. The sun was just setting, the sky a lovely orange-to-navy-blue shade, the stars visible and waltzing silently in the darkness. The moon was new, just a circular silhouette that hung eerily in the sky. The wind was silent.
A young man walked down the lonely street, head hung low and a plastic shopping bag in one hand while the other hand was tucked snugly in his pocket. His thin jacket wrapped him up like a candy wrapper, creating an image of a straitjacket, and to top it off was his messy mop of dirty blonde hair which dangled in front of his face. His worn-out sneakers scraped the pavement as he dragged his wiry self towards the apartment. The wind suddenly whistled audibly, making the boy turn around rapidly and scan his surroundings.
Turning back slowly, he continued his trip back to his apartment.
The door, as he had expected, was unlocked. His relatives had a knack for not believing in the dangers of the world and preferred to keep the door open to “let the cool wind in”. They hadn’t meant it in a literal sense, and the full meaning of the phrase was mostly hidden in the gutters. The boy walked past the living room, catching a glimpse of a middle aged man snoring peacefully in front of the TV with an empty bottle of gin in one hand, its siblings scattered carelessly around the beaten armchair. The TV was playing a rerun of a midday show, something about getting pregnant and family issues. The boy was not interested in that.
He made his way to the kitchen island and dropped the shopping back onto it to empty its contents. Canned foods, some fresh veggies and fruits, a loaf of bread, cans of beers (he’s going to stash those for himself), a bottle of shampoo, and two toothpastes. He placed all of the canned foods in the cabinet, the veggies and fruits in the fridge, and left the others on the island. Save for a can of beer, which he took to his room.
He clicked the can open and took a sip, taking the help of the railings in getting upstairs. He wringed the handle of his door open, not noticing that it was already opened. Three steps he took, he turned at the door closing by itself – a dull thump, like two meteors colliding. Stars, green stars, glittering in his vision – his head throbbed painfully, his vision was extremely blurry – the stars rained onto the dark ground, bouncing off in a feeble attempt to return to the sky – he saw a boot but no more, for he couldn’t move his eyes high enough to take in more image.
Then everything fades, the stars nothing more than dull glints of jade shards, the boot scraping the floor and the heavy beats of footsteps.
The ache in his head lessens slowly, becoming more of an annoying headache, then to what felt like the sound of a hammer hitting the roof of a car. It was nothing more than an innuendo of pain now, a fading reality, and the Sandman was inviting him to his palace among the stars.
It felt sweet. He needed rest, anyway – he was tired.
Sorry, Mike – couldn’t help ya.
* * *
The funeral was small but homely, with only families attending. Brian had never been one for friends – his only friends were the Naitt children, with his best buddy being Michael.
His face was stony, cold and closed. His lips were set into a grim line, a rare sight upon Michael Naitt’s face. His body was rigid but it attained its formality, his head bowing in a tell-tale sign of grief, hands laced together in front of his. His clouded blue eyes refused to meet the scene in front of him, keeping it trained on his polished straight-tip shoes. Though surrounded my family, it was like he was alone, the atmosphere around him chasing off any hospitality offered,
Dea couldn’t do anything but watch her half sibling mourn for his best friend. Any form of console for him would be rejected at the moment, so she had proceeded to turn her attention towards the funeral once more. Nobody gave any speeches – Brian hated cheesy things. Instead, they proceeded to bury the casket immediately. At this Michael couldn’t take anymore – he let out a feral growl and stormed out of the place. Dea caught a glimpse of tears in Michael’s eyes. It was rare for Michael to cry.
Abel reached out for his sister’s hand and squeezed for assurance and to give assurance. Dea squeezed back, understanding that Abel had been watching Michael too. The other Naitts who attended – Jenny, Ace, Annette, Vivianne, Erin and Hiero – had kept their face stoic and professional…as if anyone needed any of that at the moment. Why didn’t anybody shed a tear for Brian? Why didn’t anybody forget about the funeral and go after Michael? Why did they act as if they don’t care? It’s not wrong to express yourself, and yet…Dea had restrained her heart from taking action. She should at least make an effort, but she didn’t. The free spirit of Naitt had constricted herself with her own chains.
Once the ceremony was done, the small crowd dispersed; Jenny whipped out her phone and made to contact Zach, cursing under her breath when he didn’t pick up. Hiero made a choking noise and rubbed furiously at his eyes while Annette rubbed his back in soothing circles. Erin’s face scrunched up like a melting snowman under the summer sun – she had been close in age to Brian and she had been the second closest to him, always contacting him whenever there’s a big even and Brian would do the same. Ace placed a gentle hand upon Erin’s shoulder, face stuck in disbelief, anger and sorrow. Vivianne said her goodbyes hurriedly, giving quick hugs before tearfully departing for home.
The sun shone as if nothing had happened. That was the first time Dea had hated the sun. She looked around for any sign of any mop of incredibly blonde hair but found none. She excused herself to Abel and took off to find Michael. Abel had wanted to come too, but he thought a person was enough for Michael at the moment; he said he’ll wait for them at the gate.
Dea entered the forest, all the while calling out to Michael. She thought it would take hours to find the boy but she found him crouched among a cluster of bushes, his head popping out of the green like a light bulb. She made slow progression towards him, letting him acknowledge her presence bit by bit. She lowered herself beside him and pulled her legs towards her chest, enveloping them in a hug, and she stared upwards towards the bright sky among the silhouette of leaves.
Michael rested his chin on his arms which were seated upon his drawn knees, eyes staring up ahead at nothing. He had welcomed Dea with comfortable silence, letting her warm aura seep into him and calm him down. Dea had noticed the faint tear tracks down his cheecks and how red and puffed up his eyes looked from bawling. The last time Dea had seen Michael like that was when Michael found out about Jenny’s hatred towards him and his mother and how she was going to kick them out of Olympia. He had organised a sleepover for all of the Naitt children, believing that that night might be his last chance in spending time with any of them. Dea closed her eyes and recalled every detail of the sleepover – she remembered how Michael had insisted that everyone should sleep as closely next to each other as they could, how desperate he sounded.
“When I last saw him,” Michael started, snapping Dea back to the present, “he said he’ll check up on Mama every day and make sure nothing’s wrong. I forgot that he needed to be checked up on, too.”
Dea looked at Michael before replying, “It’s not your fault and we all know that. The police had suspected his relative to be the suspect, since he was the only one present at the scene at the time of the happening, as well as the amount of evidence there was around him. Drunken men can do the weirdest.” She knew that after watching Zach get drunk at a New Year gathering, where he proceeded to dance on the dinner table while swinging his shirt around.
Michael shook his head, eyes determined, “No. It’s not his relative. It’s someone else.”
“How would you know?” Dea asked, genuinely confused and curious.
“I…I received a message last night. I don’t know who the sender was but that number looked familiar.” Michael gazed deeply into Dea’s eyes. “I think it was that man.”
Dea was lost. “…Who?”
Michael was hesitating. He then looked around as if he was expecting someone or something to be watching him. “…A man claiming himself to be Cornelius,” he whispered grimly.
Dea froze. It was true! “A-are you sure? This guy…what did he look like?”
“Shh – not too loud! He’s everywhere!” Michael whispered hoarsely.
“…Brian said the same thing…” Dea murmured.
“Okay, so I called Brian the other day to ask about why you had ran away. He told me things – things I suppose he shouldn’t tell – and when I asked him why he was leaving important bits out, he said that ‘he’s everywhere’.” Michael went silent. His eyes were searching Dea’s eyes, trying to find any lies. “I’m…sorry, I know I shouldn’t involve myself in things I shouldn’t involve myself in but –”
“Oh…Brian!” Michael half-cried and half-chuckled, “What. An. Idiot!” Michael laughed forlornly afterwards, throwing his head back in a mocking re-enactment of a joyous laugh. “You are an idiot!” Michael laughed at the sky. “You’re an idiot! Idiot! Heck – I’m an idiot! An idiot for telling you! An idiot for telling anyone! An idiot for being me! If it weren’t for me, you’d still be…” Michael’s hysteria died out, the manic light fading from his eyes, leaving them empty and remorseful – an empty ocean, a lonely blue. “If it weren’t for me, you’d still be…” A child alone in a world far too big for himself.
Frightened by Michael’s emotional turmoil, Dea tentatively put a hand at his back and rubbed it soothingly. Maybe this is what she would be like if she had lost Abel and vice versa, or maybe even worse. But surprisingly, Michael held no grudges for the man who had killed Brian. Dea asked him why this was, to which Michael responded:
“Because he was not in his right mind – he didn’t do it, but the Devil did.”
Dea understood it. She had times when she was too deep in an emotion that she began doing things she wished she hadn’t done. Maybe that was how Ace and Brian’s relative had felt, too. Maybe their head was clouded by the Devil’s whispers that they couldn’t see straight, and their mind would keep on falling and falling and falling, until they would lose control of their body.
But surely you’d still be able to hate them, right?
“I do hate him for what he did, Dea, but it’s not good to hate someone forever. If you let yourself to be controlled by hate, you’ll turn into the bad guy.”
Dea hadn’t expected to learn something from someone two years her junior, but Michael did experience hardships she hadn’t – Michael was bound to grow up to be wiser than her. Deanna Naitt had realised just how pampered and childish she really was.
The two sat in peaceful silence before deciding that it was time to return. Abel, as he had promised, was waiting by the gate, looking like a grumpy cat when he saw Dea and Michael approach, but his face softened by many degrees when Michael flashed him his usual smile. The trio walked home together, down the lonesome pavement while weaving friendly small talks.
The sunshine filtered through the creeping silver clouds that had suddenly invaded the sky, darkening the surroundings but at the same time creating elegant pillars of light. When the children passed Dea’s favourite coffee shop, the old man Dea met the other day had just come out of the said coffee shop with a steaming cup of their famous beverage, the Black Whirlwind. The man noticed the children and his beady eyes took on a pitying edge. He walked towards them and placed a hand on Michael’s shoulder.
“Heard what happened, boy. I’m really sorry,” the man said.
“It’s alright, sir,” Michael replied, confused as to how this man could be so familiar with them.
“I mean, yeah, we’re still grieving and in shock but we can’t just be like that forever,” Dea took over, “It’s been three days since he died, and we didn’t really have the sadness in us anymore. Brian didn’t like sad stuff.” Dea smiled nostalgically at this.
The old man smiled sympathetically at this. “Well, it’s good that you have some sweet things to remember him,” he said.
“Yeah…Oh, right!” Dea turned to Abel and Michael, gesturing in to introduce the old man and her brothers. “Sir, this is my twin brother Abel and my other brother Michael,” Dea pointed to the two boys respectively. “Guys, this is Mr…?”
“Craig. You can call me Craig,” the old man – Craig, now – said.
“He’s my fan!” Dea whispered to Abel gleefully. Abel mouthed an “Oh” and looked at the old man in more recognition. “Anyway, I’m sorry to have to cut our meeting short but we have to go now, sir.”
“I told you to call me Craig! But oh well – be careful, kids.” The three kids walked on towards their house with Craig watching them with soft eyes. “Kids grow up so fast, nowadays,” he muttered good-naturedly.
* * *
Annette’s door blasted open as Ace barged in, suspicion heavy in his eyes. “Alright, Annie – spit it out. I know you know something,” he demanded dangerously.
Annette flinched when the door slammed loudly against the wall, turning towards Ace from where she was perched at her bed, back facing the door. “…Jenny is going to kill you for that,” she said tiredly.
“She’s out right now and even if she was here I wouldn’t care.” Ace took long strides forwards and stood in front of Annette’s bed. “Now talk.”
The brunette watched Ace for a moment, working out an escape route – alas, Ace was a persistent person, and he would always get what he wants. “How did you know?” Annette asked calmly.
“Uncle Pietro told me that the people Cornelius would force to join him would be Michael, you and I. And yes, I met Uncle Pietro – that was why I ran out of the house and returned looking like a truck had hit me…Or so Erin told me.”
“Why were you talking to him?”
“As I had hinted just now, we were talking about Cornelius, and he told me not to let him inside the house but we realised that it was too late. I remembered what Dea had said about someone she assumed was Cornelius sneaking into our house at night. She was right. Now he had put forth his plans smoothly as if we’re nothing but twigs. He sent you an ‘invitation’, right? And he confronted Michael face-to-face. He was the one who killed Brian in order for us to relent.” Annette winced visibly at the mention of Brian’s name, and then her face morphed into disbelief and anger. “So, you’d better tell me – us, you need to tell us all – about the letter. We can help you, Anne.”
Weighing Ace’s words carefully, Annette finally got up and walked over to her monitor, turning it on and opening the link to her e-mail. A formal-looking e-mail sprung to life, glaring critically at the two. Ace read the e-mail quickly and frowned deeply when he had finished. “That filthy backstabber,” he growled.
“I was thinking on whether or not I should tell anyone, especially at the part where he would most certainly murder those we hold dear if Jenny or Zach were to know,” Annete said gravely, “My mum came up to my mind first. Then it was you all, the Naitt children. Lastly it was Zach. I don’t – I don’t know what to do.” Annette nearly choked on her last words. She buried her face in her hands, eyes screwed shut in fear she would cry. How did it come to this? She knew being born to this privileged family would bring nothing but sorrow. If she could, she would rather be reborn as a farm girl than the brilliant Annette Marion Naitt, illegitimate daughter of Zacharias Jonathan Naitt.
But even through her turmoil she didn’t let a tear escape her glass-coloured eyes. Naitt or not, she was still a woman full of dignity. Annette brought her head up and looked at Ace determinedly. “How will you help?”
Ace smirked at Annette’s strength, caught between acknowledgement and surprise. “Well,” he said, “we need to have some things to sort out first –”
“– Like getting Michael to work with us,” Erin piped up from the door. Annette snapped her head towards her, an eyebrow arched in question. “But,” Erin continued, “we mustn’t let Dea know in fear of interference. Abel and Hiero must not know either, for they are known to be loyal to Dea. Therefore, we must confront Michael espionage style.”
“But Michael’s close to Dea, too,” Annette pointed out, “How are you going to get him to trust you?”
“Ah…Michael may be close to Dea, but he is closer to me,” Erin smirked, “If I can convince him enough to trust me more than Dea then we are successful.”
“That sounds like you’re trying to make Dea a bad person, Erin,” Annette frowned.
“Don’t worry; I’m not going to worsen the family relationship. This is just for everyone’s good. Once this is all over, I will personally clear off any misunderstandings.” What Erin had missed out on her declaration was that this was the chance for her to get back on Dea for sabotaging her otherwise perfect plan to find out more about Cornelius Naitt. And so Erin smiled innocently at Ace and Annette whilst her mind worked out evil(?) schemes.