Eden’s End: Deception’s Truth
by J. H. Zech
“I went downstairs and took my gun with me. I peeked around the corner, but I didn’t see anyone there. My bookshelf had been emptied though. Everything was on the floor. That’s it. I checked the whole house, but no one was there, and I didn’t see any signs of forced entry.”
“Was there anything that stood out in the books?”
“What do you mean?”
“I know you don’t believe in ghosts, but hear me out and suppose that a ghost existed. It has an objective. It emptied the bookcase to send some kind of message. What do you suppose that message might be and why?”
“The first thing that came to my mind was the Edmunds. They hired you to investigate this so-called ghost, right? I wrote an article on Mr. Edmunds’s affair with his maid a year ago. If they wanted to intimidate me and pass off their deed as the actions of a ghost, I suppose that’s possible. That being said, I have no evidence to support that, so don’t construe this as an accusation.”
Everything kept coming back to the Edmunds, and perhaps that scandal. “Was there anything in the pile of books that stood out to you?”
Ms. Walton looked up and paused. “The only book that was open face-up was the issue of The Swamp covering the affair. That’s why I initially thought it was payback for that article, but it was late at night, and I was frightened. I realized it made no sense for them to get back at me a year later.”
“Do you have any idea who did this?”
“Unfortunately, not. I don’t know how they did it or who did it. That doesn’t mean it’s a ghost though.”
Her denials were getting rather tiring, and I began to think that she wanted more to reassure herself than anyone else. Honestly, I didn’t need her to believe anything. It seemed she had told the truth, and anything beyond that was a luxury. “Thank you for your time. Your testimony has been very helpful.”
I got up and shook her hand. Cherry shook hands too. She reminded me of a dog.
She saw us to the front door. “Ghost or not, I hope you do get to the bottom of this case.”
Ms. Walton closed the door.
* * *
I hailed a taxi on my phone and waited.
“Now that your interviews are finished, what are you going to do? You still haven’t really explained much,” Cherry said.
“I’m going to do what I was hired to do. Exorcise the ghost.”
“That statement is missing a lot of explanations. I guess first I’ll ask, how do you exorcise a ghost? Did you need to interview those people for a specific reason?”
Presumably, her occult hobbies drove her interest in my job, but her question was more specific and demanding than one borne of idle curiosity. And what was her job? I initially thought she was perhaps a trust fund kid. Knowing someone rich could come in handy if one of her relatives wanted an exorcism. But other than my self-serving fantasies, I didn’t have a clue.
“Exorcising ghosts isn’t a matter of holy water or special powers. Divining its true nature means you can find a specific solution to get rid of that apparition.”
“And what’s the specific solution here?”
“Oh, the taxi’s here.” A white sedan rolled up to the sidewalk.
Cherry puffed her cheeks. “Dodging my question.”
Though I wasn’t religious, I thanked the heavens for the taxi’s timely arrival. For some reason, I felt I couldn’t stop myself from answering her questions. We got in, and the driver drove off.
“Where are we going?”
“That doesn’t matter.”
She frowned. “That makes it sound like you’re kidnapping me.”
“Sorry. Let me rephrase that. The specific location we’re heading to isn’t all that important. There were other places we could’ve gone and done the same thing.”
“For the exorcism?”
“Precisely. We need the apparition to appear if we’re to exorcise it.” I showed her the map on my phone and zoomed in. “Here.”
“Birth CTRL-Z? That clinic’s been shut down for half a year.”
“There’ll be no one to bother us.”
“I bet you haven’t had a date in your life.”
“Relax. I’m not taking you there to do anything fishy. If you want out, you can go.” I did rather envy the fact that she had gotten so close to me in a matter of a day. If I could do that, coaxing the truth out of my clients would be so much easier.
We got off in front of the clinic. The “Z” in the sign was hanging by a thread, and colorful graffiti covered the walls. I pushed the dusty glass door open and headed inside.
It was dark, but I could see the remains of the waiting room. A few chairs and the front counter were still there. There was a big gap in the center of the waiting room, where a table most likely had been before someone stole it.
“Are you going to start explaining things now?”
“You’ve been patient. Yes. I’ll explain everything. Where do you want me to start?”
“Let’s go in order. The Edmunds, Elrich, and Ms. Walton.”
“The sad part is, I don’t know anything. They’re the ones who know everything.”
“I don’t know how any of them felt, and I’m just guessing what happened. But this investigation is a farce. They, especially the Edmunds, already know the truth.”
Cherry looked at me blankly. I needed to give her a better explanation.
“I could tell Mr. Edmunds was a professional politician. Even though he was meeting me in private, he continued to use ‘we’ to refer to himself and his wife. This is despite the fact that, as only Mrs. Edmunds could give any description of the wraith, only she has seen the ghost. She used ‘I’ when talking about the experience. The affair may still be a wedge between them in private even if they’ve made up in public.”
“That’s very perceptive. Could you tell anything about the wraith just from that?”
“Not necessarily, but I did get a sense of a timeline. It first appeared before the Edmunds a month ago, then a week ago at Elrich’s Furniture, then Ms. Walton’s four days ago, and finally the Edmunds again two days ago. The Edmunds are the only ones who have been visited twice. It makes sense to think there might be a special connection.”
“And Elrich’s grandson?”
“That’s a rather simple case. It at first didn’t make much sense, but I finally got it after he mentioned the inheritance tax. That store has no customers, so it will only be a financial negative in the future. Most likely, that store was estimated at some high value that would cause him to lose money if he paid tax. So, his only means of avoiding that fate is to either get rid of it before he has to pay the tax or change the estimated value.
“If something happened to the store, and he could demonstrate a lack of value, he could get the authorities to lower the estimate. I’m just speculating, but he could have broken the furniture by himself and blamed it on vandals, but a ghost was an even better explanation since the police couldn’t investigate that.”
Cherry looked deflated. “Just a red herring, then. What about Ms. Walton? Did she have anything to do with this?”
“Yes. After hearing Ms. Walton’s story, I figured out the true identity of the wraith. Mr. Edmunds had an affair with his maid, and Ms. Walton covered that story. The only open book was the issue on the affair. It’s not a stretch to think there’s some link. Of course, that’s just circumstantial, and the book may just have been a coincidence, until I remembered what Mrs. Edmunds said.”
“I wasn’t there. Tell me.” She was practically bouncing in her shoes.
“She said the wraith had a half-black, half-white mask.”
“What does that mean?”
“Why don’t we look at this from a different perspective? What happened to the maid?”
“I don’t know. She was fired, and after the scandal died down, she was never seen in town again.”
“Now what if she had a child?”
“That would probably be a scandal by itself.”
“Exactly. If she had a child, there’d be a scandal and, likely, child support, but that hasn’t happened.”
“So, she didn’t have a child.”
“That’s both true and false.”
“That’s a contradiction.”
“‘She had a child’ can mean two things. She gave birth to a child, or she conceived a child.”
Cherry’s eyes grew wide. “So, she conceived but didn’t give birth. And the clinic we’re at—”
“Yes. It’s an abortion clinic. What you said was very important too. It’s been a little less than a year since the affair, so around one month ago was when the child would have been born, the same time the wraith appeared.”
“So, it was biding its time to make a statement?”
I shook my head. “Regardless of whether that was its wish, it didn’t have a choice. The wraith didn’t come into existence from nothing a month ago. As a living being, the fetus inside the maid would have had its own Essence. That Essence was always there before the wraith showed up. You could say it was dormant until the time of its birth, only to wake up to an unexpected situation when it ought to have been born. Much as our Essences associate themselves with human bodies, this lost Essence embodied the concept of a wraith, and was ‘born’ at that moment, so to speak.”
“That makes sense, but to derive all that just from the timeline... It’s kind of circumstantial.”
That’s the part she was concerned about? She accepted my explanation about the wraith’s Essence surprisingly easily, even for someone interested in the occult. Was she really just a normal person?
As if sensing my unease, she tried to change the topic: “Don’t you have a smoking gun or anything?”
She succeeded, as I couldn’t resist answering her questions. I sighed. “Everyone always wants a silver-bullet kind of evidence. Usually, a case is built up from lots of tiny pieces of evidence. Fortunately for you, I may have a ‘smoking gun.’ What ethnicity is the maid? Based on who would take the last name X in this country, I have a guess, but I’ve never met her, so I don’t know for sure.”
“As I thought. And what about Mr. Edmunds?”
Cherry gasped. “Half-black... half-white...”
“Yes. The child who would have been born was half-black, half-white. Not literally, of course.”
“The wraith must be angry. Does it want revenge?”
“No. If this one wanted revenge, it would have already taken it. Ghosts usually can’t exert much physical influence. They might be able to knock one book over. This one was aggressive and tore apart a room. It could have killed someone but didn’t.”
“Then what does it want? Is it trying to send a message?”
“You’re half-right. It is sending a message, but more than that, it wants a response.”
“Yes. It broke the shutters and tore the bedsheets. Things that protect people from the outside, that isolate them. It’s possible that Elrich realized this too. He said it broke mirrors and make-up dressers, things that people use when they cover their true selves. He may have broken other things too but, if he realized what was going on, he probably picked those things to make his story fit in the Edmunds’ narrative. Lastly, the wraith opened a book which exposed the truth about the Edmunds and the affair.”
Cherry crossed her arms. “It would be highly inconvenient if this child existed.”
“You get it. Yes, it would be inconvenient. Which is precisely why they didn’t acknowledge the existence of the child. They didn’t mention it to me. Even Elrich, who probably knew, didn’t say anything. Walton probably knows but can’t prove it, so she won’t mention it. The Edmunds said they didn’t do anything. They told the truth but lied. It’s precisely what they didn’t do that caused the issue. They didn’t acknowledge the existence of the child.”
“I understand now. So, what are you going to do about it?”
“That’s simple. Ghosts aren’t real.”
“What? Aren’t you an exorcist? Are you saying you’re just a con artist?”
“What I mean is that ghosts don’t exist in our reality. They are, to our world, falsehoods, things that can’t be; contradictions, lies. A lie ceases to be one if the truth is revealed. The wraith wants to be acknowledged. It is simple. Do it. By acknowledging the wraith, its truth is revealed, and the lie ceases to be.”
“What specifically will you do?”
“No, it is what you will do.”
“Me?” She pointed at herself.
“Yes. The child is part of this town’s history. Someone from this town has to acknowledge it.”
Cherry looked uncomfortable. “How do I do that?”
“Give it a name and call it by that name.”
“Where is it?”
“Right here.” I pointed to the short black cloak floating next to her, wearing a half-black, half-white mask.
Cherry looked next to her.
“It’s always been with me since I left the Edmunds’ house. Mrs. Edmunds was the only one who had actually seen the wraith. Everyone else had their own reasons for not acknowledging its existence, so to them, it was an invisible man.
“Mrs. Edmunds, however, had not entirely forgiven Mr. Edmunds, so even if she detested it, she was willing to admit to herself that it existed. You didn’t see it until now because you didn’t know the truth.”
Yes, indeed, I had left out a critical fact. My job was to find the truth, yet I was the biggest liar of all, who told entire stories that were lies without telling a single lie.
Her knees knocking together, she approached the wraith. “So, I just have to give it a name? Is it a boy or a girl?”
“It doesn’t matter. It’ll accept anything if you yourself believe it.”
“Then... I’ll call you... April Edmunds.” Cherry smiled and pointed at the wraith.
The mask of the wraith cracked and shattered. A little girl looked up at Cherry and smiled back. “Thank you.” Light enveloped her body, and she faded away.
“And that closes the case. I guess I’ll report to the Edmunds.”
* * *
“What about your case?” Cherry’s voice turned serious.
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m asking who you are?”
“I’m Henry Ouroboros, obviously.”
“Where were you born? Who were your parents? What does your face look like?”
I opened my mouth to answer but couldn’t. It seemed so obvious to me, yet I couldn’t picture any of those.
“Why do you think I tagged along with you?”
“Because you’re a curious trust fund kid with an occult hobby, maybe?”
“Oh, is that the explanation you came up with? You assumed I didn’t have a job.” She grinned. “My job was to be with you, until your last moments.”
“What?” I took a step back.
“Everything you said was correct, but oh so ironic.” Cherry clapped slowly. “A true hypocrite preaching about truth while your essential nature is a lie.”
“No...” My heart was pounding. I was an exorcist. Ghosts didn’t scare me, but Cherry did.
“Henry Ouroboros, you are an apparition. You were the victim of a lie, and due to that unfairness, you died without acknowledging your death.”
“I... I’m an apparition?” I looked at my hands. They glowed and were fading. She was right. “Ah, I see. That unimportant policeman who died in that town, that ghost of flesh and blood, was me.” Talk about ironic. I chuckled. I had expected to feel despair, but instead I felt relaxed. As an exorcist, I knew better than anyone that being exorcised meant being saved. “I guess my wandering is over.” I cleared my throat. “I suppose we both lied. Before I go, will you hear my story?”
“I’m all ears,” Cherry said.
* * *
And that’s the story of Henry Ouroboros, exactly as he recounted it to me. I was honestly at a loss when he asked me to exorcise the wraith, thinking I was from this town. Thankfully he didn’t notice me flicking a talisman at the wraith. I managed to cover it up by playing along to his scenario. I’ll have to be careful how often I use my eyes of entrancement in the future though. He’s the first ghost that got suspicious so quickly, but he probably won’t be the last.
A ghost that doesn’t believe in ghosts, but who works as an exorcist. I’ve never seen anything so ridiculous before. I swear, The Organization always gives me the most nonsensical cases. Whatever Project Eden’s End is, it had better be worth all this trouble.
On to my next case, I suppose. Now then: only one question remains. Which one of us was lying?
Copyright © 2019 by J. H. Zech