Friday morning . . .
For the last couple of hours Hal has been presenting his case for Ecuador. That term, Hostis Humanis Generis—the enemy of all mankind—has come up six different times during phone calls during the last 10 days. The number of missing children is between 15 and 17, depending on which catholic priest you listen to.
Among the cities where children have been reported missing, there has been a rise in Chupacabra sightings. Hal theorizes that this is simply mass hysteria in simple-minded faith-based societies. In the cities of Cayambe, Riobamba, Cotopaxi, and Ibarra, children have been reported missing in the last two weeks. Although he suggests that they are actually missing from smaller towns and villages on the outskirts of the larger, more industrialized cities.
Still no substantial clues.
Still no bodies.
I asked Hal if there was enough information for us to really act on.
“ . . . not at this time,” Hal answered. “But there are children missing.”
The missing kids are spread out along cities and villages for several hundred miles. I asked, How do we know where to search?
“ . . . there is insufficient information and evidence being reported at this time to initiate a realistic search with a high probability of success. But there are children missing.”
Looking at maps of the Republica del Ecuador he shows me on the screen, I see the highest frequency of missing persons seems to be in the higher situated cities of the Andes Mountains. Right in the center of this mess is the world’s highest continuously active volcano, in Cotopaxi. It sits 19,347 feet high, with an almost perfectly symmetrical cone that is interrupted only by a smaller cone—the Cabeza del Inca (the Inca’s head). Apparently this puppy has quite a history of erupting violently and has rarely remained quiet for more than 15 year stretches.
Hal’s not telling me, so much as he is showing me. This place is hot, for more reasons than just the trachytic lava activity.
Those kids could be anywhere, if they’re even still alive, I tell Hal.
“ . . . this is a correct assumption,” Hal replies, “ . . . but there are missing children.”
And, although I’m rather daft, I get what he’s telling me. The rules change when you’re dealing with children.
I ask him, Are there any plausible explanations for all of these missing kids?
“ . . . yes. Animal attacks, cult activity, the spread of an undetermined infectious disease such as Ebola, sexual assault, errors in reporting, massive paranoia spreading throughout a small uneducated populous, child slavery and prostitution, organized crime, random accidents, crimes of violence, and pure coincidence.”
And for a moment I’m just staring at the map of Ecuador, looking at this volcano in Cotopaxi.
And then he adds, “ . . . but there are still—”
I get it, Hal. I get it.
“ . . . good,” he replies, “because I was laying it on thick enough, even for you, Jack.”
I need more information, Hal. I have to have a starting point. Something. I need to know if this is the work of evil, or just the usual badness of humanity.
“ . . . by definition, how could it not be evil?”
The twenty-three Evils, Hal. The twenty-three.
“ . . . is there evil that is not evil?”
Ricky must have taught Hal to answer questions with questions.
I don’t understand.
“ . . . evil,” Hal says slowly, for my benefit, “ . . . is evil.”
I can’t save the whole world from pain and suffering. That’s not my job. I just need to fix my mess of epic proportions.
“ . . . what kind of hero ignores other beings’ misery? What kind of hero are you?” Hal says, and it brings me pause. Where did he get the notion that I was somebody special?
I’m . . . I’m not a hero, Hal. I’m like the opposite of a hero.
Then there is a space of about 15 seconds where he doesn’t respond. In the background Ms. Josephine is answering the red phone. It seems there is a two-story Tudor mansion with a three-car garage, an infinity swimming pool with waterfall, and an invisible crying woman in the living room right after sunset.
Finally, Hal replies, “ . . . of course. My mistake.” And the way he says it, well, I know what disappointment sounds like. I’m so much of a letdown that computers pick up on it.
Frustrated, I tell the computer, “Get me a starting point. Please.”
“ . . . we’re working as fast as technology will allow. Hunting evil is not an exact science. Humans have so much evil in their lives that it is difficult to discern what is the work of the twenty-three Evils from what is the intrinsic evil of man.
“ . . . you built societies based on violence and misery, and they were constructed to such levels that it is difficult to see where Hell stops and Humanity begins. You hurt each other recklessly and without compunction, led by an insatiable greed for material possession and global dominance.”
Yeah, I say. We’re pretty screwed-up.
“ . . . it’s hard to comprehend how humans have evolved this far, with the cruelty and archaic tendencies you all have. That you survived the coming of thermonuclear weapons is, in and of itself, quite a miracle.”
Okay, Hal . . . I get it. You’re right. We suck.
“ . . . if you must look for evil, you should do little more than study your own reflections in a mirror.”
Our computer, it’s ranting, now. I spin around in my chair and Ms. Josephine is sitting quietly. She looks sad. And she never seems sad, so this is kind of depressing. Her eyes are liquidy this morning, clear and disheveled. I guess she agrees with Hal.
Hell, so do I.
“Call me when you learn something, Hal,” I say as I stand.
As I walk by Ms. Josephine grabs my hand, “Just imagine all of dose small children, lost in da darkness. Dese babies are still alive, Jack. And whether it’s your Evils, or just plain evil, we ’ave to help dem.”
I sigh, “Look . . . I’m not a savior, remember? I’m just some schmuck stuck in between. The world is a terrible, horrible, ugly place. But it’s not all my fault. And it’s not my job to fix it. Uriel says that I’m supposed to stay focused on—”
“Uriel,” she says, her eyes narrowing. “Some angel ’e is. Stuck on Deadside to watch you fight an Evil dat ’e couldn’t contain.”
That’s not completely fair, I tell her.
“Why ain’t ’e ‘ere, right now, searching wit us?” she asks, her eyes even more intolerant than before. “Why ain’t Heaven lookin’ for da twenty-three Evils da way we are? Dere ain’t nobody else but you, Jack?” She shakes her head, her eyes lowering.
I pull slowly away from her. I’m mad at myself for not having the balls to ask these questions. I’m mad at myself for being a failure.
But mostly, I’m mad at myself for turning my back on the evil in the mirror.
I feel like kicking puppies, or throwing knives at stuffed horses, or crashing cars into antique shops. Something destructive.
Either that or some pizza.