Saturday. An attractive petite blonde woman in a body-hugging red dress strode over to a group of teenage boys with open arms. One of them stepped back. His eyes darted sideways, ready to bolt, when he was engulfed in the floral scented embrace of his mother. People around them were staring at the demonstrative display of affection of a woman, who graced television shows and featured in magazines and newspapers.
“Mom,” Fred complained and awkwardly returned the hug.
Dr. Cassandra Williams was the best in in the field of alternative medicine. Some called her a Witch Doctor, a nickname she despised, born out of spite. When she was still new to her celebrity status, they said that she could ensnare any man with her charms. Then, there was the rumor that she owed her youthfulness and beauty after finding the mythical elixir of life. Other tales about her and the “miracles” she performed were either exaggerated or made up. Those who knew Dr. Williams personally were more likely aware which stories were fictive or real. They would also agree that her son was the light in her life.
“I’m sorry for having neglected you. Your father and I…had been very busy.”
“It’s okay, Mom. I understand.”
“You’ve been such a good student and I feel awful we weren’t there for you.” His mom wiped a stray tear from her cheek. Fred understood that she wasn’t just referring to the weekend visits they had missed last year. “But I assure you it won’t happen again.”
Alarm bells rang in his head and noticed his father absence. “Where’s Dad?”
“Why don’t you introduce me to your friends first?” She gave her son a watery smile. Fred hadn’t been fooled that she had avoided the question. But the hint of sadness in her eyes was enough to make him put aside his questions for the moment and comply with his mother’s wishes.
At the park, Sheila had her laptop open. She has had CCTV cameras and satellites trained on Fred and her best friend Victoria for weeks.
Apparently, Mr. Roucan had said something to Victoria to make her decide not to put the new student in trouble. Still, they secretly kept an eye on him through the surveillance cameras, just in case. It was during the Christmas break that Sheila saw another Victoria on the screen. She was dressed plainly and talking to Fred. But the girl in question was sleeping next door to her in a hotel in France.
Sheila had shown the video recording and asked Victoria, who denied the possibility of having a twin. The subject was never discussed again but, a week after classes resumed, Victoria started behaving oddly. She stared into space with a troubled expression when she thought no one was looking. She would go missing in the wee hours of the morning and late in the evening. Nevertheless, Victoria acted normally in front of everybody and hadn’t confided with Sheila about where she went.
Something strange was going on and Sheila was determined to find out what it was. However, it still frustrated her when Victoria completely disappeared from view, like now.
Victoria stepped out of the trees several yards from the girl who sat alone, engrossed with her laptop. The park was filled with visiting families. Hiding her trembling hands in her jeans’ pocket, she walked briskly towards the person.
“Sheila.” The girl looked up at Victoria. Her eyes went wide with questions as she took in her best friend’s appearance. Victoria looked frightened and close to tears. Blood oozed from a gash on her forehead.
Without saying a word, Sheila took her hand and led the way to the nurse’s office.
“No.” Victoria shook her head vigorously. “Let’s – go to your room. The – the wound isn’t so bad. You can fix it,” she stammered.
In the end, she got her way. Sheila had cleaned the wound and covered it with clean gauze. All the while, Victoria shook like a leaf despite the blanket wrapped around her.
“There. All done.” She perched on the bed beside Victoria, who burst into tears. Sheila hugged her best friend, moving her hand in circles on her back.
“I…” Victoria had said something but it was too garbled for her to understand.
“I – I think – I – k-killed someone.”
Fred looked for the source of the voice. Louis was running towards him, his expression frantic. “I can’t find her,” Louis said, catching his breath. Sweat trickled from his forehead.
“Who?” Fred frowned. Victoria hadn’t attended the first day of exam week. Everyone was surprised that she was absent. But he had a bad feeling it wasn’t her Louis was referring to.
“She was there yesterday. She was better – wanted to go to the market. Told her I’d come – she said no and said she was fine – promised even she won’t stay long. She’s not back…” Tears streamed down Louis’s face. Fred sensed people were staring and brought the boy up to his room. Three guys on the bed looked from the board game they were paying to the new arrivals.
“Why are we here?” Louis demanded, desperation creeping in his voice. “There’s no time! We have to find my sister.”
He wanted more than anything to do just as the boy said but he had to be sure.
“I know.” Fred crouched to meet Louis at eye level and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Louis, has this happened before?”
“No – yes. This is different. She promised, Fred. She promised. Father’s not here,” the boy whimpered. “I tried calling him. I keep getting his voicemail. Please you’re my only chance.”
“We’ll help,” Paolo said. The other two nodded. They had sensed there was a problem when Fred entered with Mr. Roucan’s son in tow.
They split in two groups. Paolo and the gang would search the places Electra visited outside school while Fred and Louis combed the forest.
Three excruciating hours had passed, anxiety and panic rose steadily within Fred. Every time it reared its ugly head, he shoved it aside repeatedly. The forest was eerily quiet the minute they had stepped through the entrance. The animals barely acknowledged them. The ones who did were clearly upset. Their Lady was gone. They could not sense her.
The last one Fred approached was the deer Strago, who seemed to know more about the situation. He found the animal staring at a dead tree in the heart of the forest. Its reticence made Fred more persistent in his questions.
It relented after extracting a promise from the human not to share what he knew with Louis, who had stayed behind at Electra’s house after some persuasion.
The answer was the same. However, there were only two reasons for it to happen: either she was mortally injured or dead.
“No. It can’t be.” He shook his head. “There has to be another explanation.”
“There is none.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“We have always known. We have felt our Lady’s presence ever since she was conceived. We would know…”
Fred raked his hair. “I can’t go back to her brother and tell him—”
“You will do no such thing.”
“I can’t just sit here and let him suffer in ignorance.”
“You gave your word and you will keep it,” the deer said sternly. “There is still hope. She must be found. Return to the surface with her brother. We will send for you if she comes back.”
On the way to the house, his eyes blurred. Wetness trickled down his cheek. He wiped it away, wondering at it. Fred barely knew her. How could one girl make him feel like his whole world was about to end? At the back of his mind, Fred knew the answer. He didn’t want to admit it because it would make everything worse. He pushed it aside the way he had done to the panic he had felt.
Fred took Louis back to the surface and kept his promise. Paolo and the others met them at the tunnel’s opening. From their expressions, they hadn’t succeeded in locating Electra.
“Hey,” Fred squatted down. “She’s still out there. We’ll keep looking. Right, guys?”
His friends agreed despite the doubt shadowing their faces. As children of wealthy and influential people, they knew what money and power can do and how quickly it can all be taken from you. They couldn’t act without exposing Mr. Roucan’s secret. The press would have a field day if that happens. Louis, Victoria and Electra would suffer the most.
A cough sounded behind Fred. James stepped forward. “I used my contact outside. I gave him Victoria’s picture to pass off as Electra. He’s inquiring in the hospitals as we speak.”
“Isn’t that risky?” Paolo interjected.
“He’s very discreet and efficient.”
“Are you sure he can be trusted?” Fred asked.
“I’ve used him before.”
“See,” – Fred turned to Louis – “everything’s going to be alright.”
Fred allowed himself a sliver of hope. He would try to be optimistic for the boy.
“He’ll find her,” James reassured.
“Thank you,” Louis murmured, wiping his eyes.
Copyright © 2014-2016 Cecilia Beatriz. All rights reserved.
A/N: Sorry for the long wait. It took me ages to type it because of personal commitments I had to do.
Poor Victoria. Has she really killed someone?
Hmm. Would you rely on a deer or trust a hired person to locate a missing person? Comments please. 🙂