Eden’s End: Isolated Contamination
by J. H. Zech
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
After a silent drive through the rain, Arthur arrived at the department building. She headed to the meeting room, and everyone had gathered. They all shared what they had learned.
“So, they all essentiallly followed the same pattern of behavior, but the victims aren’t really connected besides the fact that they’re kids,” Markov said.
Kohaku sighed. “Different regions, two boys, two girls, no common hobbies, and their parents all had different jobs and didn’t know each other. Someone toss me a line here.”
“What they do have in common is their families,” Arthur said.
Everyone looked up, puzzled.
“None of them had any siblings. They all lived with a single parent. For some reason, this apparition targeted only-children of single parents.”
“An apparition with a grudge against single parents?” Teho asked incredulously.
“No,” Arthur said. “If that were the case, the apparition would have done something to the parents, not just the children.”
“The apparition is smart. Those families just have two people,” Markov said. “Very few witnesses.”
The meeting room door slid open. A woman in a white lab coat and industrial goggles walked into the room.
“I’ve finished looking into what you asked of me,” Lacusia said to Arthur.
A document popped up in front of Arthur. “This is... I see.”
“What is it?” Kohaku asked.
“The autopsy reports on the children. Jehwu Ahn died of exsanguination by a cut on the radial artery. Sora Wu died from an overdose of various medications. Arisu Yi died via asphyxiation. Wonho Bak died by drowning in a lake.”
“That sounds about right. It lines up with what Mr. Wu told me about his daughter, at least,” Markov said.
Arthur sent the report to everyone. “What’s unnatural in this report is the dates. Mrs. Ahn supposedly contacted the police immediately after finding her son dead, but the autopsy indicates he had been dead for a week before that. Same with the others.”
“This could be one of those cases where the victims misremember things due to interference from the apparition,” Teho suggested.
Arthur asked everyone, “If so, that leaves a big gap in time. What happened during the week the children were dead?”
Teho shrugged. “Obviously there’s no CCTV of the inside of their homes. Mrs. Yi was very distraught, but I couldn’t get into a good mood. Her recollection of the details was fuzzy, though that’s not unusual for people with trauma.”
“I’ll leave you all to figure out the rest,” Lacusia said. “Good luck, Arthur. I wish I could help more, but I already have a mountain of work. One last thing though. This isn’t strictly related to their cause of death, but all the victims showed signs of abuse.”
Before anyone could respond, Lacusia left the room, leaving a heavy atmosphere.
“Abuse? Mr. Bak really seemed to love his son though,” Kohaku said, her expression clouded.
“Love has little to do with abuse. Sometimes the intensity of their emotions fuels the abuser’s actions,” Arthur said solemnly.
“Now I’m interested.” Teho smiled. “All the victims followed the same pattern of behavior. The child lashed out physically at the parent. Then the parents reported the first sighting of Lala.”
Kohaku gasped. “Oh no. You can’t mean—?”
“Did the child lash out at the parent, or did the parent lash out at the child?” Markov wondered.
“Didn’t the neighbors hear anything?” Kohaku cried.
“According to the police reports, the neighbors had reported potential abuse in the past, but there wasn’t enough evidence to take action. And they didn’t hear anything near the times of death,” said Arthur.
“CCTV,” Markov suggested. “We can’t see inside their homes, but one of them went to the lake to commit suicide. There has to be footage of him going to the lake.”
“Good idea.” Arthur called Galvin, and his voice came through into her head.
“Captain? What’s up?”
“I need you to find something.”
“It’s my day off. No thanks,” Galvin replied brusquely.
“I’ll give you a day off another time. The Chief wants this solved now.”
“Can’t you just have Kohaku do it? She also has data analysis experience.”
“The last time she accessed databases, she set off security alerts across the whole city,” Arthur said. “The Chief had to personally apologize for that. I trust you to do this discretely.”
Galvin sighed. “Fine. One day I’m going to go on vacation and turn off my Neuro Chip so you can’t call me.”
“Thanks. I want you to search the CCTV databases for any footage of Wonho Bak heading to the lake between two and three weeks ago.”
“I’ll get it to you by the end of the day.” Galvin ended the call.
Arthur turned to the group. “Galvin’s going to get back to us. You all look into the rumors about Lala and try to track down what the victims saw and when. I have something I want to investigate on my own.” She walked out of the meeting room.
* * *
Arisu’s suicide bugged her. Asphyxiation. Choking. The report mentioned a rope noose, but she lived in a small apartment. Why did Mrs. Yi have rope on hand? It wasn’t written in the report, so Arthur had no choice but to ask the officer who had conducted the first investigation.
She arrived in the break room and closed the door behind her. Arthur brought up her display and called Inspector Gim.
“Hello? Inspector Gim speaking,” a young man’s voice said.
“Hello, Inspector. I’m Captain Arthur Velnought. You were the officer in charge of Arisu Yi’s suicide case, correct?”
“Yes, but how did you know that?”
“I’m the officer your case has been transferred to.”
“I see...” There was a hint of resentment in his voice, understandable, as a call from the new officer in charge of the case could only mean digging up his mistakes. “Wait. Velnought? You’re a foreigner? What division are you from?”
Arthur had seen this coming, and she never liked answering. The Supernatural and Alien Forces Unit didn’t officially exist. The notion of a World Federation special ops force operating with impunity in their country would not sit well with the citizens of Radiaurora. Naturally, she didn’t want an officer digging into their fake police division too much, so she needed a convincing excuse.
“I’m an officer of Interpol,” Arthur replied. “Officially, the case is being handled by a Radiauroran officer so as to not violate your sovereignty, but the task of doing the investigation has fallen upon me. I ask for your cooperation.” Arthur paused. Had he bought it?
“Interpol? This is a child suicide.” Inspector Gim sounded alarmed.
“I can’t go into details, but there have been serial incidents, and we’ve seen traces of a suspect’s involvement in this case,” Arthur answered.
The inspector sighed. “If it’s that big, I understand. I’ll answer your questions.”
Arthur wiped the sweat off her brow. “I wanted to ask about the rope that was used in the suicide. Where did Arisu get the rope? It would be unusual for someone to have a rope like that in a small apartment.”
“I thought that was unusual, too. I did ask Mrs. Yi about it, and she said she used to do mountain climbing and had thrown out most of the equipment while moving. Her explanation made sense, so I didn’t think much of it. What are your thoughts on this?”
“I’d like to see this rope for myself. Do you still have it in evidence storage?”
“Yes. When are you coming?” Inspector Gim asked.
“I’ll head over now. I should be there in half an hour.”
“Understood. I’ll be waiting in the lobby at Shinra headquarters.”
* * *
Arthur hung up. She headed outside and climbed into the police car, punching in the Metropolitan Police headquarters’ address.
The car rolled out into the rainy streets overlooked by the glowing lights. If people from ancient times saw these floating lights in the darkness, they would have thought it was the work of will-o’-the-wisps. By contrast, the supernatural had diminished in the consciousness of the modern public. That didn’t mean the supernatural had disappeared, though. It was always there, watching, whispering, and sometimes wreaking havoc.
What exactly had Lala done to make the victims commit suicide? If it were capable of possession, it would have no reason to tell them audibly to commit suicide. Child or not, no human would ever take their life simply because a spirit told them too. That didn’t make any sense. “The ghost did it” was the all-too-common phrase for abdication of human responsibility. She had grown sick of hearing it from victims and their families unwilling to acknowledge their own mistakes.
Considering the children had been abused, it was entirely plausible that they had depression and suicidal urges from before the incident. Lala only appeared before the children after the fights with their parents. Why was that? Were the children extraordinarily traumatized by the altercation?
There was someone else who would know more about this. Arthur called Gwen, who picked up immediately.
“Your timing is as scary as always,” Gwen said.
“I just finished putting a jiangshi to rest. I didn’t even have time to pack up before you called.”
“Sorry about that,” Arthur said sweetly. “I need your advice on something. What do you know about the identity of Lala the zashiki warashi?”
Gwen chuckled. “Oh, that? You should know better than to trust Hollow’s Board. Most of the stuff there is completely made up.”
“Is Lala also made up?”
“Of course. Playmate apparitions don’t look anything like that. If you give me some time, I could even narrow down who started the rumor.”
“I feel like an idiot for even investigating this case,” Arthur said dryly.
“A word of warning though.” Gwen’s voice was serious. “Apparitions exist at the peripheries of human consciousness. You could say they live in a blind spot where our discarded thoughts and assumptions go, but that also means they’re influenced by our consciousness.”
“What are you trying to get at?”
“Lala might not have existed at the time the rumor was spread, but now that it exists in the corners of people’s minds, an apparition could adapt to that idea. In other words, by creating an idea of Lala in the public consciousness, the rumor creates a role that an apparition could fill, thus ‘becoming’ Lala.”
“So, it’s possible Lala has become real?”
“The original Lala was never real or, perhaps, I should say there is no original, since it’s a rumor. Therefore, even now, there can’t be a real Lala. What there can be, though, is an apparition that mimics the Lala that people believe in.”
An apparition created by the human imagination, in other words, something with the implicit backing of society. Such a being was dangerous, because it couldn’t ever be completely vanquished. “I understand. A few things are becoming clear now. I’ll have my answer after checking on two things.”
“Good luck. And be careful. I won’t be back in Shinra until tomorrow.” Gwen hung up.
* * *
Later, the car arrived at police headquarters, and Arthur strolled into the lobby, where a young man with a metallic name tag labelled “Gim” was standing.
“Inspector Gim. It’s me. Arthur Velnought.”
“Nice to meet you, Captain.” He shook her hand. “I’ll take you to evidence storage. Just sign in over there first and present your ID.”
Arthur used her Interpol ID to check in at the front desk. She didn’t feel too bad about using this ID. She was an international police officer of sorts.
The inspector motioned her to follow him into the hall connected to the lobby. They walked down the hall and turned at a corner, heading to a set of metal double doors. Gim scanned his eye at the panel next to the door, and it flashed green.
Inside, the inspector went to a box on a shelf and brought out a clear bag with a coil of rope. “Here it is.” He handed it to Arthur.
She examined it closely. It was a thin, striped rope with metal rings on each end, exactly as expected of a mountain-climbing rope. The rings reflected a clean silver gleam under the white lights of the storage room. They were unusually clean for something used in mountain climbing. Did Mrs. Yi have a meticulous personality? “You’re sure this is the rope used in the suicide?”
“Yes. We saw it first-hand when we found the victim. DNA confirms Arisu’s skin on the rope, too.”
Arthur grew suspicious of the very facts underlying the case. The autopsy confirmed that Arisu had died a week before the investigators found her. And she had died with this very rope as the noose, yet the investigators found her hanging a week later. Even if the apparition had made Mrs. Yi misremember what happened during the week, it meant that she had to have hung up Arisu again before the investigators arrived. “Did you not find anything suspicious about the circumstances of Arisu’s death?”
Inspector Gim scratched his head. “I did. I had my reservations. Especially after I saw the autopsy report. But the higher-ups told me to stop investigating and transferred the case.”
“Is it possible Mrs. Yi was lying about something?” Arthur asked.
“Definitely so, but she seemed to have conviction in her statements. I’m still a rookie, but the criminals I’ve seen have tells that they’re lying. If Mrs. Yi lied, she’s a far better liar than criminals. The idea that an average mother could do that is terrifying.” The inspector shuddered.
An average mother? Taken alone, Mrs. Yi may have seemed that way, but in the context of the others, she was anything but. A single parent with no other family and only one child was not very common. And even among the victims, there was uniqueness, not averageness. Each had chosen a different method of suicide. Their unique experiences and lives had led to those differing ends. Arthur said, “Thank you for your help.” She turned to leave.
“No problem. Please let me know if you need anything else. I want to help. Regardless of what intentions Mrs. Yi had, I do feel some sympathy for her. She’s lost both her husband and her daughter to suicide.”
Arthur stopped dead in her tracks and looked back, wide-eyed. “What did you say?”
“Both Mr. Yi and Arisu Yi committed suicide, both by hanging themselves.”
A coincidence? It had to be. Many people committed suicide via the same method, but Arthur couldn’t shake the feeling there was more to it. “That’s unfortunate. My condolences to Mrs. Yi.” Arthur’s words probably sounded hollow right now. Her mind was elsewhere.
* * *
Copyright © 2019 by J. H. Zech