Walking into Sandusky Middle School brought back memories, most of which Jack would have liked to do without. School had never been a great place for him. He enjoyed learning, and he had always gotten good grades. He had realized early on, however, that school was not just about education. It was about socialization. It was about the hierarchy of cliques, the savage mocking of the weak and strange, the slow dimming of bright minds. There were always a few students who stood out, and those poor creatures were worse off than any of their peers. Jack had been one of those. It had started with his grades. He was smarter than his classmates by leaps and bounds. They had called him names for that. He had never been very comfortable trying to adapt to the social circles of childhood. He didn't fit in anywhere, not even with the other misfits. That had opened him up to all sorts of ridicule. Then, of course, the whole being psychic thing. He had always counted it as a blessing that his lack of interest in girls, at that age, wasn't something anyone had noticed. That would have come in high school. The Agency had spared him from that hell when they had tutors brought in to complete his primary education.
There were good memories, too, of losing himself in the library, one of the better ones in the city's public education system, and feeling more kin to the books and the dust on the shelves than to the warm bodies in the library. Books couldn't make fun of him. They couldn't turn their lack of understanding into fear and hate. They couldn't point at him and whisper behind their hands and call him 'Mad Jack'. The only thing books were capable of was opening. That had seemed profound when he was twelve. It seemed less so having just turned thirty. He missed the ability to look at everything, no matter how silly, with that sense of wonder that had made everything seem profound. He didn't know exactly when he had lost it, but he had his suspicions.
Desmond Jones, for some reason, reminded Jack of a rabbit. He had small eyes that hovered behind small glasses, and his quick, nervous movements made him look ready to hop away at the first sign of danger. Jack walked up to the circulation desk. "Excuse me, Mr. Jones," he said.
Desmond turned away from the computer and the stack of books he was scanning in. "Yes?" he asked. "May I help you?"
Jack showed Desmond his badge. "Detective Jack Runner. I wanted to talk to you about a student."
"I have quite a number of students, Detective Runner."
"Lucy Jade. Her parents called the Agency because Lucy's been seeing things. Ghosts or some kind of spirit manifestations."
"Lucy ... "
"She told me you recommended books for her to read."
"Yes. She ... she's got odd tastes in literature for a twelve-year-old girl. Gothic horror, Victorian ghost stories. Obviously there isn't much of that to be had here, so I bring her books from my collection."
"She said she's let you read her stories."
"Did you notice anything unusual happening when you were reading her stories? For example, sudden drops in the room temperature, shadowy figures, whispering voices, that kind of thing."
Desmond put one hand up to his throat. "I don't think I follow."
"Lucy's psychic, Mr. Jones. I'm trying to figure out where the apparitions are coming from. They're not in the house already, and she said that one looked exactly like a cat she'd written about."
"Well, I'm not psychic, Detective. How would I know?"
"You'd still feel the effect the apparition has on the environment."
"I can't say I've noticed anything like that. Lucy's always seemed so normal to me."
"Despite the books she likes to read and the stories she writes?"
"Those bits of strangeness hardly make her abnormal." "What do you think of her writing?"
"She writes like a twelve-year-old. It's not award winning literature yet, but she's learning the craft. I think she could be a very good writer one day."
"Has she told you what her parents think?"
"Mr. and Mrs. Jade are entitled to teach their daughter whatever they wish at home. If they want to make her believe she can't make a career out of writing, they have that right."
"But it's -- "
"I know. I do what I can to help her. I have a lot of kids at this school I'd like to do more for, but I'm one man. What difference can I make?"
"You know, I wonder that myself sometimes, and I can't come up with an answer. You'd think I'd have figured something out by now. But it's not that simple. So I keep on doing what I've been doing. One day, it'll mean something to someone. I don't even have to be alive to see it."
As soon as he had finished saying all that, Jack wished he hadn't. It was that kind of stuff that was starting to get him in trouble. The Agency was already wary of him for reasons he couldn't fathom. It didn't help that he never quite learned to fall into step with all the other Agency drones to say nothing of all the little problems he knew about that he shouldn't have. Icarus, for example, and Zeke Temple and the possibility that his powers were vastly different than he had ever imagined. And they knew their cure didn't work. They had to know. They could get into his head whenever they wanted, and he would never know they were there, listening and watching.
He also wished he had kept his mouth shut because of the way Desmond was looking at him, all soft and wet like butter left out on the counter overnight.
"That's ... that's a wonderful way to think of it," Desmond said. He slipped his fingers into the knot of his tie and pulled it loose.
"Uh ... yeah, I guess. Thanks for your time, Mr. Jones. If there's anything else you can think to tell me about Lucy, gimme a call." He handed Desmond a business card and left.
Jack almost made it out of Sandusky without further incident. He passed by Mr. Tunstall. Mr. Tunstall said hello to him, but didn't stop. He apparently didn't recognize Jack, and Jack was glad for that. He cringed when he heard Mr. Tunstall stop and turn around.
"Jack Runner?" Mr. Tunstall asked.
Jack stopped and faced Mr. Tunstall. "Um ... hi, Mr. Tunstall," he said.
"I almost didn't recognize you. You've grown up. A lot."
"People do that sometimes, you know."
Mr. Tunstall laughed. Jack didn't. "What are you doing here? Is there something I can help you with?"
"I was talking to Mr. Jones about Lucy Jade."
"Lucy Jade. Lucy Jade. Oh. Right. She's an excellent student. Her parents, on the other hand, worry the fuck out of me."
"I don't know. It's hard to put my finger on. They don't want a child, I think. They want a grown up."
"Yeah, I got that feeling, too."
"So why are you asking Mr. Jones about Lucy?"
Mr. Tunstall's mouth fell open and slowly rounded to an o, but he didn't say anything.
"She writes stories that are apparently coming to life somehow. I'm trying to figure out if it's actually the stories or if it's just her."
"Oh. So you're working for the Agency now. Honestly, I was concerned when they pulled you out of school that you wouldn't have a chance at a proper education. I'm glad to see I was wrong. Did you go to college?"
"Yeah. I got a bachelor's in criminal justice. Not sure it's what I really wanted to study, but it fit the job. Sorta."
"Well, good. That's good. Do you ... do you like working for the Agency?"
"Sometimes. I gotta go, Mr. Tunstall."
"Okay, well, it was good to see you, Jack. Come back any time. If there's anything I can do to help, just let me know."
"Thanks. I'll do that."
Of course, Jack had no intention of ever setting foot in that school again if he could help it. He didn't like being reminded of his school days, and it pissed him off to think that all the teachers would be nice to him now that he was grown up and cured. The same thing would happen to Lucy, and there was nothing Jack could do to change that. In fact, the more he tried to help her, the more her path would end up like his. The alternative was worse.
When Jack got home that night, he read Lucy's story. "The Heart" was exactly what he had thought it would be -- an imitation of Edgar Allan Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart. She hadn't simply put her own characters into Poe's story, though; she was using Poe as a guideline. The characters and the particular situation were Lucy's, although the plot and the end result were Poe's. It wasn't bad for a twelve-year-old. She was actually better than a number of published writers Jack could think of, and it seemed like a good outlet for the things she was experiencing.
Something felt out of place, though. Something had felt out of place ever since he had walked into the Jades' house. Jack read the story again, trying to pick out anything unusual in it. He only got halfway through when he realized what he was missing. Lucy had not had a computer in her room. She didn't type her stories the first time. She wrote them by hand. The handwritten pages were where the ghosts came from. The typed pages were clean.
The other thing he'd been missing was Lucy's anger. The characters in Lucy's story were a mother and daughter with a strained and sometimes confrontational relationship. Lucy resented the way her mother treated her and resented her father for not doing anything about it.
It meant that Lucy's apparitions could, at any time, turn on her parents, and it would probably happen soon. Their call to the Agency was likely enough to push Lucy to the edge.
Jack ran all the way to the Jades' house.
The house was dark when Jack got there. It was after ten o'clock. He hadn't expected Valerie and Maxwell to be night owls, but the darkness didn't feel normal. He watched from the street for a minute. The barrier the medications put up between his mind and his powers was thinning that late in the day. He could see flickers of movement behind the windows. He couldn't make out what it was, but it was big, powerful and pissed off. !Jack rang the doorbell and pounded on the door. "Mr. and Mrs. Jade! It's Detective Runner. Open the door! Lucy! Let me in!"
Go away! Lucy screamed in his head. It was a potent contact, and it pierced his mind as if his cure wasn't even there. His eyes watered.
"Lucy! Whatever you're doing, you have to stop! Lucy! Open the door!"
Then Valerie screamed. The apparition inside the house swelled. Jack stepped back from the door and kicked it as hard as he could. The lock broke easily, but the impact jarred his leg. He limped inside, gun drawn.
Whatever Lucy had created, it was filling the house with such raw force that Jack was convinced his head would split open before he was able to get out of the house. It probably would have been in his best interest to get out and call for back up, but if he did that, he couldn't save Lucy. There had to be a way to save her.
"Lucy!" he called. He moved slowly through the living room, keeping his gun aimed ahead of him. He felt the seething rage of the apparition, but he couldn't pinpoint its location. It felt like it was everywhere. "Lucy!"
"I told you to go away," Lucy said.
Jack turned towards the sound of Lucy's voice. He couldn't see her. "Come on out, Lucy. I can help you."
"It's too late."
"No, it isn't. It's never too late."
"It is. For you."
Jack's skin crawled with chills. Something big was coming up behind him. He turned around. He wished he hadn't.
The creature that was shuffling towards him was huge. Its back was hunched and shifted to one side, and its arms dragged the floor. It had Valerie clutched in one fist. She was covered in blood, some of it probably not her own. Blood ran out of her mouth as her body convulsed.
"Lucy, where's your father?" Jack asked.
"Still in bed. Daddy didn't even scream. Daddy never said anything."
The apparition let go of Valerie and lifted its arms. Jack took a few steps back. There wasn't much room to run.
"Lucy, you can make this thing stop," Jack said. "Make it stop and let me help you."
"I don't want your help! It's not help! It's ... it's ... Icarus!" She screamed that last word so loud that Jack turned away from the apparition to look at her, his heart contracting into a tight knot. Had she seen that much in his head that she knew what Project Icarus was and what it had done to him? The poster in her room must have pushed those memories close enough to the surface that she had been able to see them. "Icarus," she said again. "They would have used you to destroy him and his whole world just to say that it didn't exist, that there was no such place as heaven and no such thing as angels. And you would have let it happen. You're just as horrible as all the rest of them!"
"That's not true. I didn't know, Lucy. I swear I didn't know what their plans were. They didn't tell me anything. They didn't give me a choice. You think I wanted to have my head cut open like that? That was the last thing I wanted, but I didn't have a choice. It was either that or something worse than Icarus. So those are your choices, Lucy. You either get cured like I did or something worse than Icarus will happen to you. They'll experiment on you until you're dead, and then they'll dissect your brain to try to find out why you're psychic."
"No. You're a liar, and I hate you!"
"Lucy -- "
Jack was cut off when the apparition wrapped its huge hand around his head. It yanked him down to the ground, squeezing tight while tendrils snaked out of its palm and tried to bore into Jack's head.
"I hate you!" Lucy screamed. "I hate you!"
Jack struggled to get away from the apparition. Fighting only made it squeeze his head tighter. "Lucy ... " he said. "Lucy, don't do this. Make it stop. I promise I can help you."
The ghostly tendrils pushed through Jack's skull and wormed towards the computer in his head. He gave the computer a command to reboot, momentarily giving his powers free reign. It hurt, but it was all he could think to do at that point. He couldn't tell if it did any good to let Lucy see everything that was in his mind. He was unconscious in a matter of seconds.
Jack woke up to the sound of someone calling his name. He opened his eyes. The lights were on in the room, but it still seemed too dark. Flashing lights bounced off the walls. His head throbbed. He closed his eyes again.
"Detective Runner?" the paramedic asked.
"I'm okay," Jack muttered.
"Can you stand? Let me take you out to the ambulance to check you out."
Jack got to his feet, leaning on the paramedic more than he wanted to, but he was sure that if he tried to walk on his own, he wouldn't make it. His legs felt like cold, wet noodles. He ignored the paramedic as he sat at the back of the ambulance and had lights shined in his eyes, his pulse counted and his blood pressure checked. He watched another pair of paramedics loading body bags into another ambulance. He didn't see Lucy anywhere.
When the paramedic was as done with his exam as Jack was willing to allow, Jack limped over to Detective Andrea Carlisle. She looked away from the house as he approached, but she didn't say anything.
"Where's the girl?" Jack asked. "Took her away already," Andrea said. "What the hell happened in there, Runner? Why didn't you call for back up?"
"It was too late for that. Her parents weren't real good as far as she was concerned. She wanted to be a writer. They tried to tell her she couldn't. She was channeling all her anger into her stories and making the monsters in them real."
"There were no apparitions when I got here. I'm guessing she made whatever it was that killed her parents and tried to kill you."
"I'm also guessing she forced it to go away. It must have been stronger than she bargained for. She was catatonic when I got here. Chances are she'll never recover."
Jack looked down at his feet. That made his head spin, so he looked up at the house.
"What's the significance of Icarus?" Andrea asked.
"Icarus. She was saying it over and over."
"She had a poster in her room of a painting called Icarus."
"Greek mythology. Icarus flew too close to the sun, and it melted the wax holding his wings together. He fell to his death because he was arrogant enough to think he could do anything with those wings. He didn't know his limitation."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Let me put it to you this way, Runner. I've got my suspicions about what you were trying to accomplish with this case. It's not the only time you've gone against procedure. You've got a well documented history of defiance. That's not something our bosses appreciate."
"What are you trying to say?"
"I'm saying you better be prepared to face the consequences or you better back off."
"Right. I hear you."
"You need a ride home?"
"Yeah, thanks. I think I sprained my leg when I kicked in the door."
"All right. Gimme a few more minutes to wrap things up."
Jack nodded and lit a cigarette as Andrea walked away. It would have been safer to follow her advice, but safe wasn't what he wanted. He wanted to make a difference. He wondered if he would ever have that chance.