Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language, violence, and mature content.
Raffie sat in the dark interior of the black sedan. Next to him was the boy he did not know, the boy who, he remembered, was several years older than him.
Everything was silent. The emptiness within his core stunned him. Everything was dark. Everything was like a nerve-racking dream. Raffie found himself sitting frozen in a position of discomfort, a position he didn’t want to move out of. He had pushed himself as far into the corner of the car as he could, far away from his new “family”. He already didn’t like them, not for anything they did, but for what they were. They were to be his guardians, his protectors… not two days earlier, he had been eating dinner with his two brothers across from Mami and Papi. Not two days earlier, everything had seemed all right. Not two days earlier, there were no worries about what would happen the following day. Now he was caught in a whirlwind of confusion and misery, and what’s more, he had no choice but to go along with what was happening, or risk being kicked to the streets. And that, he knew, could never happen.
They drove several miles, almost thirty minutes of freeway, and finally took an exit into a somewhat upscale area. Cambridge Heath, Raffie remembered. It was a nice neighborhood, mostly suburban. He didn’t really notice much, for it was dark, an odd hour of night for him to be awake, and he was fatigued from everything that had happened over the past couple of days. He just wanted it all to go away, wanted to escape it all, wake up the next morning and find it was all a nightmare. Yes, that is what he wished, but knew the wish could not be granted, that this was no nightmare, but something worse: a nightmare of the real. All of a sudden he remembered with a horrifying flash the terrible mask of anger and sadistic pleasure upon the monster that killed his parents. Jesús said it was the Devil, but Raffie didn’t think so. He had an inkling of some greater evil that surpassed even the Lord of Hell. The monster he witnessed, he believed to be more wretched and horrible than any creature ever conjured by the terrorized minds of man, a fiend beyond any equal, an anti-life. That was who the monster was as Raffie saw it: Death itself. If he could bring Death to its knees, he would be God. How could I be God? Raffie thought. How could I perform an act that would defy all teachings of the Bible; how could I defeat Death itself? Is it possible? Could I, Raphael Cortez, defeat Death, and be God’s equal? Could I?
He couldn’t be sure. It was too soon to know anything, too soon to know if he could have the power to avenge his family.
Lamps lit the road. The yellow lights would flash frequently along his lap through the window. Raffie saw these flashes of light, saw them as flashes of lightning, of God’s anger. A surge of angry confidence rose up through him, confidence that God would help him avenge his family, that the wrath of God was incurred by the act of heinous violence against Raffie’s loved ones. As the surge of angry confidence subsided, what remained was an eerie flatness, not quite actual calm, but something just above it, like passive rage that was ever-present but dull in all sense of the word. This feeling carried him onward, kept his mind focused on the future, and on surpassing all obstacles that might lay before him. He chose to live despite all that tried to waylay him and destroy all hope; he had his own hope, his own silver cross.
A short while later they arrived at a house along a quiet street. It sat on the corner, with an open yard, manicured neatly; it was light brown in color, with standard lap siding and an overhanging roof. There was a concrete driveway connected to a walkway with meter-long steps to the front door. Only one light was left on - a shrouded lamplight from a second-floor bedroom window.
Everything was covered in darkness. Bombarded by night, the McCollinses led Raffie up to their home, treading quietly during the witching hour. Brent’s eyes were darting everywhere, as if he was looking for something. His eyes were wide, fearful, excited, and they were hungering to see something, but what it was that he looked for Raffie could not guess. He was a mystery, that man. One moment you thought he was one way, the next you see something different and form a new conclusion, after that you again spot another idiosyncrasy that suggests the creation of a new and different judgment.
They filed inside. The foyer was just as dark, and filled with fear and foreboding. Raffie couldn’t understand the feeling that pervaded that space, and why it was there; he felt no fear outside, yet was attacked by it upon entrance to the McCollins home. A puzzled frown turned his young face, but nobody saw what bothered him.
He thought it might go away after a time, that feeling of trepidation about what was to come in the near future, but it stayed. He thought that when they got settled in the lights would be turned on, but they stayed dark despite human presence. No one said much, the mother most of all, and Brent went upstairs to do something. Raffie was quite out of place, out of sorts, out of options. He looked over at the son, whose name was Derek, and in return found a glare coming toward him. Derek didn’t seem to like Raffie very much, and wanted to make sure Raffie knew it.
“Father wants us to get ready for bed,” Derek said with an attitude.
Raffie was startled. “Where will I sleep?”
“Where I decide, orphan-boy,” he replied scathingly.
O God, have mercy on me, thought Raffie.
The two walked upstairs. Raffie wondered if the mother would ever speak. Maybe she’s just too tired to form coherent sentences, he thought. He found a dark wall lining the hallway and attempted to be invisible while Derek washed up. He didn’t want to be there, didn’t feel loved, didn’t feel like anyone in the world gave a damn about his well-being, no one except his brother Jesús.
Jesús Cortez. Yes, he could picture his brother’s face in his mind as clear as if he stood in front of him that very moment. The image was burned into his memory, and could never be forgotten. He solemnly hoped that his brother would be all right.
Derek finished getting ready and escorted Raffie to his bedroom. Raffie could feel the hateful energy come off of him in waves, the childish aggravation when personal territory had supposedly just been tested. A petty thing, but something Raffie knew he had to watch out for; he knew he couldn’t trust him, or any of them for that matter. Not that he ever would have wanted to, anyway.
The parents were doing their own thing. Raffie didn’t care. They were probably sleeping, but he was awake, and couldn’t find the courage to let himself fall into slumber among people he didn’t know. As they entered the bedroom, Raffie saw a single twin bed, but no other place to sleep. Derek sat on the bed and made sure Raffie knew it was his territory, his bed, his space. Raffie looked around and said, “Where shall I sleep tonight?”
“On the floor, obviously. Let me make one thing clear: this is my bedroom, not yours. As long as you are living here you are to do exactly what I say. You don’t get to have your own bed. You’re going to sleep on the floor as long as your staying here. And don’t you even think about touching my stuff, or I will have you taken out of here and sent to live on the streets of Whitechapel, where Jack the Ripper can hunt you down and stab you to death. Are we clear?”
Raffie’s voice became very small. “Yes.”
At least he said goodnight, thought Raffie. Who’s Jack the Ripper? Where is Whitechapel? I don’t want to know. I suppose I’ll just have to go along with what they want in order to survive. They did agree to give me shelter and be my guardians and caretakers…
He found a place to lay on the hardwood floor without the possibility of rolling on top of sharp objects. Derek’s room was very cluttered.
Raffie looked over near the closet, and saw an extra blanket lying in a crumpled heap. The temptation to use it was quite strong, but he remembered Derek’s threat, and decided against it.
Jesús Cortez sat quietly near the back of the precinct, quite close to where Irene and Dr. Springfield were talking. The office where the foster agreement had been made was within his eyeline, and whenever it caught his attention he shuddered.
Irene was still furious. While out of Jesús’s earshot, she talked with Dr. Springfield about what to do next.
“Were you still unable to get in touch with the Fullers?” she asked.
“No, unfortunately. They’re most definitely asleep. It’s almost two in the morning.”
“True. It has been a long day.”
“So what are we going to do with Jesús for now? We can’t expect him to spend another night here at the precinct!” she said with despair.
“It’s only one more night, Irene. I think he can handle it.”
“After what he’s been through? Think about it: what is more important, the quick fix or preserving his emotional stability?”
“Emotional stability?” the doctor exclaimed. “That’s the least important thing to consider right now!”
“You don’t understand, do you?”
“No, Irene, I don’t. I don’t think you have your priorities straight.”
“I know that’s what you think, but I am considering the mental health of the children.”
“What about the precinct’s got you so riled up?”
“The bunkbeds, remember! Didn’t I explain that to you?”
“I don’t think so, but if you did, I don’t recall.”
“Fine, then. The bunkbeds are a constant reminder of what they had been through over the past couple of days, first with their parents being killed, then that disgusting man Krause trying to molest Raffie… it would be too much to bear.”
“So is that what happened?” Springfield asked.
“Yes. There you go, you know the details.”
“So what did you have in mind, then, if not another night at the precinct?” he asked with an undertone of frustration.
She paused for a moment. She wasn’t really sure, then started to wonder if maybe the doctor was right. But there has to be another way! She thought. Maybe someone can let him stay at their home for the night, someone who he’d trust, someone I’d trust, maybe, maybe…maybe…
“Maybe he can stay with me.”
Springfield stopped at that. His brain halted, and he realized that could actually be an acceptable idea.
“But would that be possible?” he asked.
“Of course it would! I would just ask the right people, and that’d be that. What do you think?”
“I…I think you might actually… have a good idea,” he said slowly.
“Who would I have to talk to in order to make this happen?”
“I’m not quite sure, actually, but I believe you would be fine if you got permission from the Chief Inspector.”
“It will only be for one night…”
She stood up and walked off. Springfield shrugged and sat back, watching Jesús in the meantime.
Irene found the Chief Inspector’s office.
“Come in,” a voice said after she knocked.
“Hello, Chief. I need to talk to you for a minute.”
“Sure, Irene. What do you need?”
She closed the door. “I need to ask you a favor.”
“I need you to let me take home Jesús Cortez to my place just for tonight.”
“Remind me again who he is?”
“One of the brothers whose parents were killed.”
“And why do you, Irene Harringsworth, need to take him home with you?”
“Because he cannot stay here one more night.”
“And you think that just because you think he cannot stay here one more night means you are somehow entitled to have temporary custody?”
“Yes, Chief, I do.”
He shook his head. His thinning grey hair seemed to stay in one position no matter how he moved.
“Look,” she said with an aggravated sigh, “I know you think it’s out of the question, but I am considering this option because it favors Jesús’ psychological wellness.”
“Psychological wellness,” he echoed with a miniscule smirk.
“I’m serious, Chief. Please let me do this.”
“Fine, but if you do this, I’m deducting this entire week’s pay from your monthly check.”
At first she wanted to clock him in the face. A rise of intense anger flooded through her, but she suppressed it and said something completely counter to what she really wanted to say.
“I can deal with that.”
She left the office with that. The Chief’s final expression before she closed the door behind her was a look of subtle surprise, and a hint of anger, only intensified by the distortion caused by his half-moon glasses. I don’t think he expected me to say yes, thought Irene. Then again, I didn’t think I would be able to say yes at first, especially with him threatening to take a chunk out of my monthly payment. At least I’ll still have enough for rent.
Springfield watched her return. He was again caught up in her beauty, and again at the most unusual of times. In order to preserve his professional appearance, he took a sharp breath and endeavored to keep his mind from wandering.
“Did the Chief Inspector let you take him home?”
“In a way,” she said after walking up.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“He tried to give me a hard time by threatening to take this entire week’s pay out of my monthly check, but I was willing to sacrifice that money in order to keep Jesús safe.”
“You’re a different kind of woman, Irene Harringsworth.”
“Thanks, Joseph. I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“I meant it as such.”
She stood up and went over to Jesús. He was sitting rather morosely, she noticed. There was no way to help him feel better; the damage had been done, and could never be undone.
“Hi, Jesús,” she said cautiously.
He remained silent, and staring at some obscure point on the floor in front of him. At Irene’s approach, he did not move or make any acknowledgement of her presence.
“I… just came over to say that I’m going to be taking you back to my place for the night. We will need to go now - it’s getting later and later by the minute. Okay?”
He said not a word, but stood up and started walking toward the front door. She followed him out of the building, and escorted the silent Jesús to her car. With a sharp eye she looked around her, then began to drive him to her apartment.
She lived fifteen minutes away from the precinct, and in traffic it was twenty. There were barely any cars on the road at that time, only the people who worked night shifts.
Fifteen minutes passed. She pulled into her apartment neighborhood and pulled up to her building.
“Now, Jesús, I need you to stay in the car for a few minutes. Can you do that for me?”
“Alright. I’ll be just a few minutes.”
Irene locked the car and ascended a flight of stairs to her flat. She pulled out a grey key and went inside. There was a man there to greet her, a man in his low thirties, with brown and blond hair and a lean but muscular build.
“Hi, sweetie, I’m home,” Irene said with a sigh.
“Where have you been?” the man asked suspiciously.
“Oh, don’t give me that! You know I’ve been working odd hours for the past few days.”
“Alright, alright. I just get worried sometimes if you’re ever coming home.”
“I’m here, aren’t I?”
“Yes, you are.”
She set down her purse on a finished wooden table. “Listen, I need to talk to you about a quick little something.”
The man sat down on a wicker chair. “Ok…”
“There is a boy downstairs sitting in the back of my car. He and his brother were witnesses of the murder of their family, and the night after that they were attacked by a sexual predator. Tonight, the younger brother has been sent off to live with a foster family, and the older brother, Jesús Cortez, had no family to go to. I offered to let him stay here for tonight until we get in touch with a foster family in the morning.”
“Should we set up the other bedroom or have him sleep on the couch?”
“Honestly I think the couch would be better, for psychological reasons.”
“You sound like a psychologist,” he said with amusement.
“What, because I said the word ‘psychological’?”
“Anyway,” he returned to the conversation, “I’ll get the couch set up for him, and you can bring him on up.”
“Okay, you do that.”
She exited the flat and went downstairs to fetch Jesús. When she got to her car, she saw the child still sitting there, and felt a stab of pity. Irene unlocked the car door and let him out, then led him upstairs to her home. He was hesitant to walk in at first, but with her welcoming hand he finally entered.
“Welcome to my flat, Jesús. This is my boyfriend Jim Hatteras, he lives with me. He’s just got set up the couch for you to sleep on for tonight, and then tomorrow we’ll be heading back to the precinct to get you into foster care. Are you okay with that?”
“Yes,” he said quietly.
He spoke again, she thought. Maybe he feels comfortable around me and Jim as opposed to other people. I do hope he’ll be all right.
Jesús sat on the couch, and seemed to like having a comfortable place to sleep without fear of the future. His growing expression of easement gave Irene some comfort, and her comfort thus gave Jim peace of mind.
“How are you doing, Jesús?” Irene asked him at one point.
“No está mal,” he said.
She didn’t bother asking what that meant. From his expression she figured he was doing okay.
Gosh, it’s three in the morning! thought she. Another late night. I’m glad Jim stayed up waiting for me.
“We’ll see you in the morning, Jesús!” she called to the child on the couch before retreating to the bedroom.
As she looked back at the young boy, she for a moment thought she saw a faint smile wavering on the corner of his mouth.
The bedroom door closed. She and Jim were alone now, and they could reconvene after a harrowing few days. She knew, however, that there would still be more to do the following day, that the drama had not quite concluded.
“Hey, sweetheart,” Jim said softly to her as she got into bed with him.
“Hey,” she replied with a sigh.
Silence lasted for a few seconds. “Do you think he’ll be all right?” Jim asked.
“Yes, I think they will.”
“Raffie and Jesús Cortez.”
“Oh, I remember now.”
She lay back against the pillow and closed her eyes.
“It’s so much work, trying to get these children homes. Makes me angry, so angry, at the monster that killed their parents and their older brother.”
“Yes, I agree.” He paused for a moment. “Whoever it was who killed those poor people and left their children to be thrown about into one impossible situation after another; he would have to be a monster in order to do such a thing.”
She halted. “Jim… when I said monster, I didn’t just mean metaphorical. I meant a real monster, like straight out of a nightmare.”
“How can you be so sure? Did you see it?”
“No, but the children both claimed they saw the devil. One even described it to me as a giant dark figure with big clawed hands and fangs dripping with blood.”
“That’s quite the description, but their children, Irene, only children. Maybe they thought they saw something when it was only their young minds going insane with the realization that their parents had just been killed. I took psychology in high school - I understand what the brain can do when it is under an intense amount of fear.”
“I know you did, but Jim…” she turned to face him, “I saw claw marks - big, deep claw marks in the wood next to the front door. Claw marks. How do you explain that?”
“Maybe it was an animal? A large animal?”
“I don’t think so, Jim. Something tells me that the children were not mistaken in what they saw. I just know it. And, the lady who lived nextdoor to the Cortez family said she heard growling like she had never heard before, a growl unlike any animal she had ever encountered. She also heard the screaming, and was too afraid to go over there, partly because of her old age, so she called the police instead.”
“And the growling - couldn’t it have been a large bear?”
“And how often do we see bears in this country?”
“I think something’s up. I’m just not sure what to make of it.”
“That’s what happens when you become a cop, even more so a homicide detective.”
“What are you saying, I’m in for it?” she said with an sarcastically indignant smile.
“Something like that.”
He reached over and kissed her, and she laughed. “Don’t worry about it,” he said. “Everything will be just fine.”
They turned out the lights and held each other close. Everything was dark and quiet, and Irene felt better about the future.
Jesús, meanwhile, lay awake for some time, feeling quite a bit of fear over what was to come. He thought about his brother Raffie, and wondered how he was faring. A little while later, though, he fell asleep regardless of everything, for it was almost four in the morning.
And Raffie, now separated from his beloved brother by way too many heart-breaking miles, also lay awake, but he was on the hard bedroom floor, wondering how he was going to make it through the next ten years of his life. He suddenly remembered something, an object that he had.
From around his neck he pulled forth the chain necklace his father gave him before he died. At the end of it was the silver cross pendant, the symbol that his father saw as his symbol of hope. Raffie clenched his fist around that emblem, and hoped to God that that hope would be bestowed upon him as well.