Search For Solace
Chapter Four













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Once I forget
Twice I'm a fool
Three times I've wrapped my hands around your neck
While you're sleeping
You're quietly sleeping
Sleeping and dreaming
















"Joshua! Joshua, don't go too close to the water..."

He stared at the little boy in front of him in surprise, wondering what on earth had brought him to the park with a child he'd never seen before.

"Joshua! Come here and we'll re-bait your pole, okay? You've got to be quick next time..."

He silently wondered if that was his voice, because it sounded nothing like him but vibrated throughout his entire being. He wanted to shudder at the thought, but the little boy he didn't know was already running towards him.

"Daddy! I almost caught a fish!"

His vision bobbed in front of him as the child crawled towards his arms with a miniature fishing pole. "That's great, son. I'm proud of you. Can I see your pole?"

The child held the fishing pole out with a chubby arm. "Yeah..."

"What's that, Joshua?"

"I mean..." the child grinned out at the water. "Yes, sir!"

"Good boy. Now, why don't you help me to bait the hook, and then we can cast again, okay?"

The child nodded agreeably and began digging through the box of plastic, glittery worms to bait the tiny hook with. Meanwhile, he could feel laughter inside of him. With minor difficulty, the child's chubby fingers smushed the worm onto the hook, and the little boy turned to him with a big, proud smile.

"Daddy, look! I baited the hook all by myself!"

He wanted to smile warmly at the child, but he couldn't shake the odd feeling that had begun in his stomach and was now traveling through his veins. Somehow, he knew that he didn't belong there.

"That's great, Joshua! Daddy's very proud of you."

The child frowned. "Can we throw it in the water now?"

A sigh followed. "Joshua, what did Daddy say about throwing the rod in the water?"

Joshua bit his lip for a moment before responding. "That it's called 'casting'." The word was pronounced very carefully, and another wide smile followed. "Am I right? Huh? Daddy, am I right?"

Another laugh rumbled through his world, and he shuddered again at the feeling, wondering what his presence was meant for. "Yes, Joshua, you're right. It is called casting. But Daddy has to check the hook before you can cast it again, okay? Can you hand me your fishing pole again?"

The child obliged by handing the pole to him and dropping the small object in his hands, which were suddenly out in front of him again. The hands held up the pole for inspection, and the voice that wasn't his spoke again.

"Joshua, that's a good job. Can you look at me for a sec?"

Joshua looked up obediently, and the handful of silvery worms that the child had been playing with followed. Joshua grinned sheepishly, and another laugh shook his being.

"You're such a silly goose, Joshua! Why are you playing with the worms like that, huh?"

The hands in front of him were wrapping the twine of the fishing pole playfully around the child's neck, and the child, who was apparently very ticklish, was making quite a show of trying to squirm away.

"Daddy, stop it! That tickles! We need to catch the fish!"

He tried to will the hands away, but, like everything else that seemed to come directly from him, they were moving of their own accord. Instead of pulling away and casting the rod, as the child had suggested, the hands were pulling more tightly at the twine around Joshua's neck.

"Daddy, stop, okay? That hurts."

Around and around and around. Tightly and more tightly until the poor child before him was screaming in pain and the skin beneath the twine was red with the attempted intrusion. He wanted nothing more than to scream or to run or to free the poor child, but he was trapped. He was stuck in the body, but he had no control, and all he could do was watch.

"NO! DADDY, NO!"

The skin beneath the twine finally broke, and little rivulets of blood began to trinkle down the child's pale, thin neck. The child's eyes were wide with fear, and his skin pallor began to change as he slowly began to run out of oxygen.

And the twine kept coming. Coming and coming and coming until the screaming stopped, and nothing was left but a mess of blood and a few silvery worms scattered around the area. And all he could think was that he had killed the child. He had killed the child.

Nick flew to a sitting position, eyes wide and breathing labored, with little beads of sweat soaking his hair as a few stray tears ran down his cheeks. "I swear I didn't mean to do it!"

The words rang out against the stillness, but as his eyes adjusted to the dark, he realized that he was still in bed in his hotel suite, miles away from the child and the park and whatever horrible thing he had been dreaming about.

It was just a dream. Oh, God, it was just a dream.

Feeling relieved, he sank back into the covers and closed his eyes.

*      *      *      *      *

Ryan heaved a sigh and threw open the double glass doors, wincing as the click of her heels on the marble floor announced her tardy entrance to the entire Central Organization. Keeping her head down and her sunglasses on, she rounded a corner and stepped gingerly into the control room, well aware of what kind of scene her presence was bound to cause.

"Ryan! Finally! Where in the hell were you? We were going to send out a fucking search party. For God's sake, we've been beeping you for thirty minutes now!"

At the memory, she reached a hand up to gently massage her temples. "Yes, I know. What's the emergency?"

The tall man in front of her sighed heavily. "We got another clue."

Almost on cue, all of the color drained from her face. "No. God, no. Not again."

He nodded. "I'm afraid so, hon. It came in only seconds before we started beeping you. I knew you'd want to know, seeing as these are usually your cases."

She grimaced. "Yeah, thanks. I appreciate it."

He shrugged. "Enough of the small talk. We need to get to work." With all the authority of a father, he handed her a small, wrinkled piece of black paper. "Just stare at it for a few seconds, and you'll see it."

Ryan smoothed the paper between her fingers with a sense of dread before staring at the front side. Sure enough, within mere moments, a very distinct set of white capital letters bled through to the surface, sending a chill down her spine.

IF YOU TAKE AWAY THE LOVING ARMS THAT SURROUND ME
THEN I MIGHT BREAK DOWN AND CRY JUST LIKE A CHILD *

With a heavy sigh, she pulled the first piece of wrinkled black paper from her pocket and set the two side by side in hopes that the clues would make more sense together. She had long ago memorized the message of the first, but she was hoping that she might've forgotten something in her haste to find Nick.

TAKE A WALK IN THE PARK WHEN YOU FEEL DOWN
THERE'S SO MANY THINGS THERE THAT'S GONNA LIFT YOU UP **

Nothing came to her. Nothing but the thought that she had to figure out what was going on before he got too close and the murder was completed. Because that was the trick, really. If she could crack the lyrical code before she had to go after him, she could save the victim. He had been sloppy with the lady earlier in the week, and she knew that he wouldn't let himself be so careless again.

"Dammit," she swore, turning her attention back to her superior. "Don, is there anything else? Any hints of any kind?"

The older man shook his head sadly. "Nothing. We tracked both of the lyrics through to their actual songs, but there's not enough of a clue in the rest of the lyrics to lead us to the actual time and place that this is supposed to happen. I'm afraid we're going to have to take it on sensation, just like everything else."

She gave him a helpless, pleading look. "Don...you know how he works. If we rely merely on sensation, the victim could be dead by the time I get there."

He shrugged, trying to reconstruct his cool, calm fašade so that the young girl before him wouldn't break down. Ryan was known for her sensitivity to cases, and the whole Central Organization made a conscious effort not to upset her before she did her work. "There's nothing we can do, Ryan. We don't have anything else
to go on."

Don Johnson was a large man, one with a slim but firm figure and an intimidating countenance. He had been the head of the Central Organization since the death of his mentor, and he took his job as seriously as anyone possibly could. He was known throughout the office for his dedication to both his job and the people he worked for, and he knew most, if not all of the Healers on a personal basis. His knowledge of the profession was nothing if not immense, and he was responsible for the smooth course that the program had recently taken. Don stood at six-foot-five and was not to be argued with, but his paternal mannerisms had made him popular from the very beginning of his term. He was the only head that Ryan had ever known, and he had treated her like a daughter from the beginning of her time at the Organization.

For that reason alone, she trusted him.

"Have we recorded any sensations yet? Am I going to get to go after him?"

Don shook his head sadly. "No. No one's felt anything that would remotely signal a change in the field. Now, we sit and wait." He paused in the thought and gazed curiously at the girl-turned-woman in front of him. "Unless you've felt anything?"

Her eyes fell the floor. "Not a thing. Of course, you were beeping me, so it's difficult to say. I've still got a bit of a headache, but my ears stopped ringing a second ago."

He arched his eyebrow. "Not my fault. Where were you, anyway?"

She gazed meaningfully into his brown eyes, willing him to let her keep her secrecy. For some reason, Nick's presence was important to her, and she didn't want to have to clear him of memory just yet. "Cleaning up a bit of the mess from the other night."

He nodded. "Yeah, mess is definitely the word to describe that. We had no warning, you know? We never do with those cases."

She refrained from replying. Truth to tell, Nick's dream had Ryan fairly convinced that the incident from days before hadn't been unintentional. She was almost positive that it was connected to the string of attempted murders that had suddenly befallen the Central Organization. Of course, there were no clues, and there are always clues. Maybe he was just being careless...

But no. He's never been careless before. He simply didn't want us to find that woman.

Thankfully, she had felt it in time to stop the death, but she had been on edge ever since, waiting for the next case. As if on cue, a blinding pain seared her eyesight, and a ring around her neck began throbbing.

"Oh, God, Don, that's it."

He watched as her form folded into the pain, trying to call forth the detachment that he was famous for. "Follow it, then, Ryan. You've got a job to do."

And so she went, biting back screams, out of the ornate entryway in its underground solace and into the blinding light of mid-afternoon.

*      *      *      *      *

The moment she stepped onto the grassy knoll above the lake, her stomach plunged to her feet. Oh, God...

In her years as a Healer, Ryan had seen many an attempted murder. None of them were easy to watch, and none of them failed to bring tears to her eyes, but the murder taking place before her was definitely one of the worst she had ever seen.

A father was strangling his child.

She wanted to close her eyes, to somehow avoid seeing the fear in the child's wide eyes and the anger in the father's orbs, but she had to wait for her cue to step in. She had to stand in complete silence, listening to the screams of the child as the lack of oxygen began to take its toll, watching the father's knuckles turned white as he pulled the twine of a fishing rod around his son's neck.

And, as the blood from the child's neck began to spill over, coloring his body and the father's fingers an ugly shade of crimson, the father looked up, directly to her left.

"Are you there? I know you're watching this. You won't have a chance, you know. I'm going to make sure that every bit of life is gone."

She shuddered involuntarily, more glad that ever that she had made herself invisible to the naked eye. She wasn't sure if he would be able to see her or not, but the affirmation that he couldn't was as comforting as his voice was eerie.

She had never had a murderer speak to her before. But, then again, she had never been forced to deal with a case like this before either.

At long last, the screaming stopped and the father slumped to the ground, no doubt unconscious from the sight. She took one disgusted look at the father before gathering her courage and moving to the child.

Oh, dear God, this one's bad...

Tentatively, she placed her hands on what was once the neck, letting the pads of her fingers soak up the blood so that she could see what she had to do. There was no pulse, of course, and she knew that she had mere seconds before her chance to revitalize the victim was gone forever.

She closed her eyes gently, willing the skin to connect, willing the blood back in the veins and the hope back in the eyes and the life back in the fingers. As the wound closed beneath her hands, the cells multiplying and dividing in protest to recent damage, she could feel herself becoming visible. She was using too much energy to heal the child.

But, God, how much anger, how much pain does it take to kill your own flesh and blood? What kind of person would...?

She let her thoughts trail off. She knew the circumstances surrounding the job, and she knew that she couldn't let herself get emotionally attached. Of course, in reality, it was too late.

She had been emotionally attached since before the first murder.

She shook her head and bent down to the child's neck, allowing a small tear to soak the new skin. Within moments, a blinding flash of light had surrounded herself and the child, and soon enough, both father and son were breathing at a steady, even pace.

When the heartbeat began to pound against her cheek, she released the small body beneath her and stood up wearily.

All in a day's work, right? But that one was too close for comfort. And, God, he knew I was here. He could feel me here.

She opened her eyes against the harsh light and reminded herself to breathe. After all, though the mystery wouldn't be solved in one sitting, she did need to report back to Don's office.

She needed to explain to Don that there was a new twist to the plot. Because, for once, the murderer knew that someone was there to clean up after him, and he didn't seem to care much for their presence.

With a frown, she glanced once more at the child asleep on the grass. She could only hope that the little boy didn't remember a thing.

He didn't need to harbor the kind of pain and anger that she did.
















"Dear Joan"
lyrics and music by Tabitha's Secret
TABITHA'S SECRET
 
* "Like A Child"
performed by the Backstreet Boys
BACKSTREET'S BACK

** "Beautiful Life"
lyrics and music by Ace of Base
THE BRIDGE