Chapter 30 from the Ama audiobook
Jason jumped to his feet, but his muscles weren’t ready for movement yet so he lost his balance and faltered. He would have fallen back to a horizontal position had it not been for the gravestone he grabbed to steady himself.
“What the fuck?” He looked about and realised with rising confusion that he was standing in the centre of a graveyard. The many and varied headstones protruded through cracked black earth—weeping marble angels mingled with less ornate granite blocks with gold epitaphs. At one end, thirty or so graves away, stood a small church, complete with bell tower. The church appeared to have taken a battering from the desert winds as all the windows looked to be broken and the roof beams could be seen through large holes in the slate roof. “This wasn’t here…”
The innocent and contagious giggle of a child caused him to spin around in surprise.
“Hello,” the little girl said, looking up at him with a beaming smile.
Jason relaxed his grip on the baseball bat. “H… Hello,” he responded, bewilderment causing his brain to freeze for a moment. The girl looked about six years old. Her long blonde hair hung down over a pink satin dress—the dress looked like something a young girl from the nineteenth century might have worn, with lots of frills and black lace. She looked immaculate and showed no sign of having experienced any kind of distress. She looked happy and excited. “What’s your name, Angel?” he asked while crouching down to the girl’s height. He didn’t want to frighten her and make her run off. He felt protective of her… as he had with his daughter. She’s not Emily, he cautioned himself. You can’t even look after yourself… She’s doing fine. Leave her and get moving…
“Emily,” she said. “My name is Emily, but I’m not an angel, I’m a girl. What’s your name?”
Oh God, Jason thought, she even sounds like… And… She looks like… Emily doesn’t have blonde hair, though… Did… Does she? He tried to think about his daughter, but all he saw was this girl’s face shining out from the murk of his memories. But why was she here? He was glad he had found her before someone like Xavier or the freak by the well had. “How are you, Angel?”
“Emily, Emily, Emily,” she sang, as she danced and skipped around a headstone. “My name is Emily.”
She stopped dancing. “What’s the matter? You look sad. Why are you sad?”
“I’m… It’s okay.” Jason forced a smile. “I’m not sad. Are you here by yourself?”
“Oh, no. My friends are over there,” she said, pointing towards the church.
Jason looked to where she directed but saw no one. “Your friends?”
“Yes, we’re playing over there. Will you come and play, too?”
“You shouldn’t be out here, there are some… You could get lost.”
“Oh, no. I won’t get lost. This is my home. We play out here all the time. We used to like playing with the funny man, but now he always runs away and hides from us.”
“Yes, he is funny. I always wear my prettiest dress for him, but he looks away. I’d like him to play with me, but he won’t. Why does he look away?”
“I… don’t know. I need to go.”
“Emily is a nice name, don’t you think? You can stay here with me for a while. We can play together.”
“Is your mother here too?”
“My mummy is over by the mountain.”
“That mountain?” Jason asked, pointing across the graveyard and past the church to the shadow on the horizon.
“You’ve travelled here from that mountain?”
“Yes. I go back there sometimes and watch my mother. I like to see her, but,” she drew an arc in the dry, dead earth with the tip of her bright red shoe.
“She’s very sad. I wish she was happy again like she used to be…”
“How did you… I mean… It’s a long way. It must take you a long time to get there.”
The girl giggled. “No, silly. It’s just over there.”
Jason pointed once more. “You’re talking about that mountain, aren’t you? The one way over there?”
“Yes. It has a cave at the bottom. Funny sounds come from that cave. We like to play there, too, sometimes. Would you like to play with me and my friends?”
“I’d love to, but I need to go…”
“We can all go together,” The girl said with animated enthusiasm. A little jump and then a clap of her tiny hands sealed the deal.
“Together? To the mountain?” Jason asked, wondering if this little girl had a means to travel back and forth from the mountain as if it were a trip to a local park. He had met with brutal violence not long after leaving his house. But this little girl had no noticeable scars or signs of having struggled to survive in this place at all. She looked radiant with summer health. She wasn’t just surviving here, she was thriving. There was something wrong, though, he was sure of that, but all he felt was innocence. The little girl exuded it, like a mountain stream high above the pollution below: pure, untainted innocence. Open wonder sparkled from the girl. Happy in this moment, without a care for the next. She was enchanting.
“Yes. Let me get my friends and we’ll all go together.” She reached out with one tiny soft hand, taking hold of Jason’s, and led him towards the church.
“Why are you and your friends here, Emily?” Jason asked as he let himself be guided by the girl.
“Mummy did a bad thing, so we had to come here.”
They stepped onto the stone slabs of the arched entrance to the church. Jason looked at the large wooden door and for a moment thought he heard something scratching at it from inside. He looked at the door’s immense iron hinges. The door also had no handle. The sound of scratching came again, and then the sound of someone, or something slapping the door. He stepped closer to the door, and the little girl let go of his hand.
“See, I told you he’s a funny man.”
“Who is he?” Jason asked, not taking his eyes off the door.
“He’s the funny man. I want to play with him, but he won’t open the door for me anymore. Will you open the door for me, Jason?”
A man cried out from behind the door.
Jason stepped back. The girl grabbed his hand and pulled him towards the door again.
“Funny man, funny man,” The girl sang. “Please open the door so we can play. Look, don’t you think I’m pretty? The prettiest, most special little girl in the world.”
“Oh God, no!” the man screamed. “Leave me in peace, you damn demon. You child of Satan.”
Emily tugged on Jason’s arm and then motioned for him to lean down. When his ear was inches from her lips, she whispered, “Open the door so we can play with the funny man and I’ll show you the path to the mountain.”