Artemis stood before Selene’s circular cemetery, where she observed the forbidding iron gates that were slowly rusting into oblivion. She searched past the bars for demonic spirits, or any other sign that Satan was nearby. But it appeared calm, still, covered within a grayish milky sub-layer. High above in an ancient oak tree a raven was perched, it watched Artemis like a sentinel from beyond.
Across the cemetery near the back gates she saw an undead young girl standing next to a granite monument. There were other lost souls moving quickly past her. The little girl just seemed to wait for Artemis to approach her.
Artemis opened the gate that creaked at its welded joints and she carefully stepped within the rings and past the arranged family plots. She walked near the massive center monument, and then on toward what appeared to as a lost little girl.
“Who are you?” Artemis asked. The girl was pale white, her eyes large black orbs. She was like a hazy hologram. She wore the clothes from her life, a frilly handmade shirt, and a long skirt.
“I don’t know,” the girl said. Her voice resonated as if she talked to Artemis from tin can connected to a sting. “I’m told to stand here, to wait for you, and then I can go on.”
Artemis backed up, and she inspected the cemetery searching for Satan that had to have been controlling the spirit girl. She was certain Satan blocked the little girl from moving on into heaven. It Satan’s last moment to torture her. It was nearby, it was the likely the solution for the girl’s odd behavior. Artemis expected the worst.
“Who?” Artemis asked. “What’s your name?”
The little girl stared over at Artemis.
“Am I dead?” The little girl asked. She pointed down at the monument. A name was chiseled into the granite and beneath the name were beginning and ending dates. Artemis kneeled down, she held her smartphone’s flashlight above the surface.
“Are you,” Artemis said. “Lilly, Lilly Ann Combs?”
The little girl blankly stared forward. She whispered.
“That’s my name,” Lilly Ann said. Her pale lips fashioned into a slight frown. “Where am I? I’m afraid.”
Artemis stood up and she stuffed the smartphone back inside her coat pocket. She wanted to hug Lilly Ann, but she knew it was not possible, it would be like trying to hug a rain mist.
“You’re in what’s called, limbo,” Artemis said. She softly breathed through her half opened mouth. “Can you see a light, a place to go? Go there, God’s waiting for you.”
A cold breeze brushed back Artemis’ red hair. The ground was hard, and frozen under her boots.
“I saw it, I think,” Lilly Ann said. She shook her head. “But then, I woke here, I’m just here, I don’t know why.”
“You are waiting for me?” Artemis asked. She instinctively reached forward over at Lilly Ann, but she touched only air as her hand passed through Lilly Ann’s image. “Why?”
“Mushrooms,” Lilly Ann said. “Don’t eat the mushrooms, I’m told to tell you, don’t eat mushrooms.”
Artemis thought about Laina. She looked down at the brown grass. She nodded back at Lilly Ann. She thought about Dr. Demetrius, and wondered what evil the man had already wrought against this community.
“Did you eat them?”
“Yes,” Lilly Ann said. “I trusted them. I trusted them.”
“Who?” Artemis asked.
“My mother, she gave them to me,” Lilly Ann said.
“Dr. Demetrius?” Artemis asked. She made herself keep her arms open, and welcoming. She resisted her urge to scream. “Did he give you all mushrooms, when?”
Lilly Ann moved her head back and forth.
“I don’t know a doctor. From the forest,” Lilly Ann said. “Profit Higgs Boson picked them for me. Before…”
Artemis stood up tall, and solider like. She sensed that a forbidding story was about to arrive. She had no reason why, but her truth seeking eyes, and subconscious yelled at her.
“I don’t want to ask you,” Artemis said. She closed her eyes, and whispered a prayer for peace, a prayer for Lilly Ann’s soul, and that if God really existed it would accept her into tranquillity.
“Ask me,” Lilly Ann said. “You have to-“
Artemis nodded over at Lilly Ann. She crossed her arms. She breathed in deeply, she held the breath, and then released it.
“How, did you, ah, die?” Artemis asked, slowly. She couldn’t stop the tears from coming, she knew the soon to arrive news was terrible. “I’m sorry, I wish I could have saved you.”
“Profit Higgs Boson,” Lilly Ann said, blankly. “My mother gave me away, she gave me to him.”
Lilly Ann’s face had accepted her fate, a fate that was now written into her eternal winds.
Artemis squeezed her face with her fingertips. She did not want to probe further, but she had to keep investigating. She realized there were other girls like Lilly Ann, and she now feared for Laina’s safety.
“He took me, did stuff to me,” Lilly Ann said. Her body dangled within the air like a lost doll hanging by a rope from a tree limb. “My mother just watched, I kept begging her to save me, then he took my heart from me.”
Artemis tightly gripped her hands into fists. She stepped closer to Lilly Ann. She almost growled like a feral lynx as she instinctively leaned forward with shoulders.
“Your, heart?” Artemis asked. “What do you mean?”
Lilly Ann obediently nodded at Artemis. She pointed her right hand fingers back at her once fragile chest.
“Don’t eat the mushrooms,” Lilly Ann said. “Don’t eat the mushrooms.”
And before Artemis could ask another question, to search Lilly Ann for more clues. Lilly Ann disappeared and her spirit washed downward across the monument. And Artemis sensed she was no longer alone with Lilly Ann, and the others in limbo had all gone into hiding. She knew what was behind her.
“I did warn you,” Satan said. Artemis turned to see the handsome man from before. He was impeccably dressed as if a new suit from London’s Savile Row, with high polished dress shoes. A white handkerchief pocket square dangled like from a proper ladies man uniform. “This is not a pleasant place for you, you might be over your head.”
“Let her go,” Artemis said. She corkscrewed her boots into the ground. “Let the that little girl go on, please, ah, please.”
“She’s already gone, oh how quaint, you’re so nice,” Satan said. He waved Artemis’ questions away with the flick of its thorny long fingers. “But you’ve learned about Profit Higgs Boson. Now, to be clear, I hate Profit Higgs Boson. He does such bad things, he thinks himself a god like particle. And he worships me. And for that, after his human body dies, he’ll get to eternally burn in hell, with me laughing at him. Go figure?”
“Why do you hurt children?”
“I hate everyone,” Satan said. It rhythmically tapped its right dress shoe on the ground. “It makes my work much easier, but don’t get all squeamish on me now, you have so much more to learn. I trust you like mushrooms?”
“I don’t understand,” Artemis said. She huffed out fogs of her breath. “I can’t possibly understand you.”
Satan leaned back against a tall monument. It wistfully stared up at the raven. It waved at the bird, and the bird disappeared from the tree limb.
“It’s so obvious, mushrooms, the fungi,” Satan said. He wiggled his forefinger over at Artemis. “Without death, you have no life on earth. The fungi are everywhere, they create rot, and the food for your human body, or, make your body disappear.”
“Why are you telling me this?” Artemis asked. She was certain Satan enjoyed toying with her mind. She had given up trying to conceal her thoughts as it was pointless, and impossible.
“Clues, learn about the fifth kingdom, fungi are not plants, or animals, they are all on their own,” Satan said. It grinned, it winked at her. “You should go up into the forest, go find Profit Higgs Boson. Warning, he’s a bad man. The reason I hate him so, so much, which is a huge compliment coming from me. If I hate you, God help you.”
“It has nothing to do with the hospital,” Artemis said. “Other than making me sick to my stomach.”
“Oh, yes it does, this will only get worse,” Satan said. It smiled like a male model at a photo shoot. It pointed over at Artemis as it stepped forward. It started to step toward Lilly Ann’s grave. “Little girl gave you advice, didn’t she?”
“What?” Artemis asked. She examined the grave’s monument that Satan pointed down at.
“Don’t eat the mushrooms,” Satan said. It smacked its hands together. “Remember what I told you the first time we met. But, I decided a treat for you, someone you love?”
Artemis closed her eyes, she dropped to her knees, and she whispered a prayer. She decided she should pray more often now for guidance from God, as she thought Satan would eventually take her life. As she looked up, Benjamin floated within the night sky like a condemned prisoner next to Satan.
“Artemis,” Benjamin said from beyond. “Be careful…”
“Oh this is do delicious,” Satan said, laughingly.
Artemis reached forward only to grasp at nothing. She remained back on her knees, but she slowly leaned back, and stared up at Benjamin.
“What am I to do?” Artemis said.
“You, Laina, both in danger,” Benjamin said. His image wavered like a wave across a sandy shore. “Go home, leave this place. Take Laina.”
“How sweet, but, go on, my dead slave,” Satan said. It snapped its sharp fingers forward to reveal a cloud like puff. Within the puff appeared the image of a large man, well dressed with a scheming smirk. “Tell Artemis what I showed you.”
“He’s coming,” Benjamin said. “He is evil, please, protect Laina, he’s pure evil.”
“Good boy,” Satan said. It snapped its fingers again, and Benjamin disappeared. “I cannot resist, I hate twisting you, playing with you. It’s Dr. Demetrius’ real boss, he’s even scared of this one, oh, a hateful, greedy one. I hate him so, you’ll hate Profit Higgs Boson, he’s a bad man.”
“Why?” Artemis asked. She gripped her thighs, she huffed.
“Ambition,” Satan said. “This one’s got real ambition, you’ll see.”
Satan dissolved into black particles, and it floated away like a sinister carnival caravan into the night sky toward the three quarter moon.
“I don’t understand,” Artemis said. “Let Benjamin go…”
“You will, I’ll keep Ben nearby for now,” Satan said from beyond. “Don’t eat the mushrooms.”
Artemis gulped, she exhaled a heavy breath. She turned and methodically left the cemetery. She tightly zipped up her coat. As she walked along the concrete sidewalk past the dark homes, the stoic trees, she was confident Virgil would know where to find Profit Higgs Boson. And now, she was determined to avenge Lilly Ann’s death. She had to get back home to Laina, she needed Wylie’s help. She stood still, her mind blazed with tasks.
It was in those moments that Artemis sometimes regretted her gift, or thought of it as her curse. Her mother had always told her not to fear the truth, and now the truth was that Satan really existed. And if Satan existed, somewhere she hoped there was a peaceful, omnipotent God. A God she could not understand that allowed little girls like Lilly Ann to be abused, and ritually murdered. She wondered if God existed, what was it teaching her to use for her life’s journey. Or, worse, Artemis wondered if she had lost her mind.
End. Chapter 15.