Prologue Touched by a Devil's Hand
TOUCHED BY A DEVIL’S HAND
Dusk was setting in. A man and woman seemed oblivious, even numb, to the impending war in the sky, not just the dark about to wolf and engulf the remaining day, but an oppressive threat of thunder with ominous clouds sets to rage mercilessly.
The woman wailed as she knelt in front of the grave. Behind her a man stood motionless and grim, his right hand resting on her shoulder, his tears held back, his grief quashed. They had been there since morning. The weekly commute to the cemetery was a painful journey, but one they vowed to do, so that their little boy would never feel lonely in his perpetual slumber. It was a year since their son had passed away and they had accepted his fate, but visiting his grave every week was the only way they could still feel his presence, honor his existence. Only when the gatekeeper told them to leave now did they budge, but always with an unimaginable agony.
When the dark clouds had fully devoured the remaining day a series of sharp, piercing thunderbolts sliced the night and rain started to fall. But it was not the rap-chorus of the downpour that interrupted the couple’s quiet melancholy; it was a muffled cry from somewhere behind the bushes. They scanned the surrounding field of tombstones, and then looked at each other anxiously. The anguish and pain in that cry were even worse than their own and it seemed to be emanating from the church’s cradle, as if heaven itself was in agony.
It was a child weeping. The sound pure crystal, soft, fragile as an angel’s cry.
The grief in that cry pierced their hearts. Pleading. Begging. Helpless. They shuddered, not from cold, but because they felt the child’s own heart being torn apart. They took a collective breath, felt a heavy weight on their chests and knew they could not turn away from such sorrow.
The rain increased, drowning the night. The cry grew louder, echoing harrowing pain in their souls. And then, as if by command, the downpour abruptly ceased and the angel’s voice broke. The weeping silenced.
For a long moment all was eerily quiet, haunting, the wind and cold mist brushing their faces and arms like ghostly fingers. Suddenly the wind freshened to fury. Whoosh! Branches snapped as they were torn from the trees. Crack! Loud thunder rumbled and filled the air. Heavy rain began to fall, lashing them fiercely, furiously.
The couple was even more worried. Soaked and sullen, they struggled against the elements, searching through the maze of graves, choked with vines and weeds, some broken, partly submerged in dirt of centuries-old neglect, to find the stifled cry. The wind howled with wrath and they clung together, shielding themselves from the rain, furious they could not find what they were looking for. They paused, soaking wet and shivering and listened for any sound that might lead them to the child. Then a flash of lightning revealed what looked like a pile of dirty rags forced down by the hateful wind. She was close by, leaning against a neglected headstone that read:
November 29, 1940 August 26, 1968
Survived by his loving Daughter and Wife
Sarah and Elizabeth
She could not be older than twelve, the woman thought. She was clutching a red book close to her heart as if it was the only thing keeping her alive. She must have fallen asleep from exhaustion and hunger, maybe even fear. She was covered in tattered clothes, filthy, but she was undeniably beautiful. Her blonde curls were smudged with mud and in disarray.
Surely she was an angel, battered and stripped of her wings.
Fearing for the child’s safety more than anything, they decided to bring her home.
At home, the woman took her straight to the bathroom to clean her up. When she removed the spattered dress she felt sickened by what she saw.
“Oh God… how could someone do this to her?”
Her throat was dry, her chest tight and trembling, she fell to her knees and quietly sobbed. The little angel’s body was touched by a devil’s hand. She never thought her pain for her lost son could be surpassed by a greater pain—until now. She could not believe a child’s beauty and innocence could be spoiled by such violence. Her husband came rushing to her side when he heard her cry and, seeing the atrocity before him, clenched his fists in rage. He had never faced a demon, as this child surely had, never been defiled by its fangs. Tears he had not been able to shed earlier for his dead son streamed down his face. He felt defeated and frustrated that he had not been there to protect her—whoever this girl was.
Later that night, the couple swore never to let anyone lay a finger on this girl again. This angel would be safe with them, no matter what.
Waking up alone in an unfamiliar place with only a pale glint of dawn from a window, the young girl felt disoriented. She did not remember how she got there. She leapt out of bed, confused and panicked, looked around for her red book and found it amid countless pictures of a boy on the bedside table. She studied the images of the little boy proudly standing and showing off his baseball uniform and bat, smiling at a man and a woman, and several more snapshots from different occasions.
She sniffed. The room smelled of pharmaceutical materials as in a hospital. In one corner, she saw an assortment of medicines and medical aids, neatly arranged on the study desk. And catching her own reflection in a mirror she was shocked to find herself wearing the boy’s clothes. She felt a mesh of fury and sorrow and once again looking at the boy’s photograph, picked up the scissors among the medical supplies. She stared at her reflection, her hand shaking as she moved the scissors to her neck beneath her chin, and paused, wondering how deeply and how fiercely she needed to thrust to end her life. Her tears stung and burned. How wonderful to be the boy in the photographs. How envious she felt. She could feel the joy in the man and the woman’s eyes...
She took aim again, her curly blonde hair unkempt and tangled around her neck. Irate, she struggled to untangle it with her left hand. She paused again, staring once more at the horrid reflection in the mirror. She pulled at her hair a bit more forcefully, this time exposing her neck. Tears trickled down her cheeks, blurring her reflection and the pictures of the unknown boy for whom she felt deep, profound jealousy.
She kept staring at her reflection with deep hatred, avoiding looking at her small red book resting quietly on the table, and then she pushed the scissors against her neck, dinting the skin under her chin, drawing a pinprick of bright red blood to the surface. Pausing, she burst into woeful sobs and then pushed hard, releasing a pang of regret and pain and surprisingly, relief. Her eyes set open wide-