A Girl Named Amy Sibyl
To Sean O'Cleary, Director of the Society of Truth, The Verirati
Praise be to God and His Loyal Apostles, and let His light shine truth upon us all.
Not too long ago, I received word from a friend that my sister-in-law had starved herself to death in her cell at the Stoker House, a home for psychotic women located about ten kilometers north outside the town of Inverness. It may be terrible for me to say this, Sean, but I am nonetheless somewhat relieved. I did love her, my friend, my late brother's wife, and I tried to do everything I could for her. She was dreadfully ill, and I thought it was best to put her out of harm's way—Stoker's was my choice of sanctuary, thanks to their credentials. Still, I am glad that she has passed, and no more suffering would ever come to her.
In the past, during her stay at Stoker's, Marianne would occasionally write letters to me. Most were of how she missed my brother, but the ones that struck me the most were those in which she spoke directly to me. She dreamt very often of me, not her husband, not anyone else. She was a talented writer, and in some of her poetic letters, she would describe with explicit detail how she would come to bear me a child, which she called "a devil's child" (what that pertained to I had no idea at the time). I did not understand her at all, and it seemed as though she thought there was something more between us. On her last birthday, her twenty-seventh, she requested a photograph from me of myself. I didn't hesitate to send her one, for refusing her would only break her soul even more, and I did not dare to hurt her in any slightest way. One week after I posted it, Marianne gave me one of her own that I still keep with me to this day. It was a photo of her and my brother, dressed in overcoats and smiles, with what appeared to be an ancient castle in the background. It was dated a week before my brother's death and his wife's mental collapse.
Had you ever been informed of Garren's death, may I ask? Apparently I was the only one who was contacted about the matter. Do you remember five years ago? On leave, he and Marianne had decided to embark on a tour of Eastern Europe. They'd send me postcards from each country they had visited. The last I received displayed the Carpathian mountainside, the final destination of my brother. In it, he told me that he had made some kind of a mistake and was in the act of correcting it. However, a telegram alerted me about a month later that Marianne was at a hospital (I'm not sure of the exact location, since I am not familiar with that part of the Continent). I came as quickly as I could, and it was there that I learned of the tragedy—my brother was dead and his wife had lost her mind. I do not remember feeling anything, and before I was aware of any of my actions, Marianne and I were back in England. My journal entries for those unfortunate days now appear to me as cipher, as lines look like the erratic scribbling of an infant. That chapter of my life had closed, and I never wanted to hear anything about that incident ever again.
Nevertheless, three months ago a terrible anxiety befell me, and I felt a compelling desire to seek closure to this calamity for both Marianne and myself. I did not know why my brother died, and Marianne was not well enough to tell me anything. All of a sudden, my mind was trying to place images with people, trying to make sense of all of it. I went about the days with questions tormenting me from dawn to dusk. The answers I required lay in Eastern Europe, and while I had only a few other important obligations, I decided to retrace the path of my brother. And so, with my sister, I left the land of my birth to seek knowledge of Garren's death.
When I released her from her prison, Marianne looked at me with an expression I can barely describe. She was both overjoyed and horrified to see me: overjoyed because she had not seen me for quite a long time, and horrified because she saw something in me that disturbed her greatly, something I could not fathom. After a lengthy paused, she smiled at me and said softly, "He would have been very proud of you."
Before we departed, I reviewed Garren's postcards for any clues. From their latest correspondences, I gathered that the couple had acquainted themselves during their travels with a young girl named Amy Sibyl, whom they had met in Valkenswaard. They mentioned her repeatedly in their notes as being a "brilliant girl with great potential." When I did encounter her for the first time, I indeed saw her as an extraordinary subject, a likely candidate for the society. It's a pity, Sean, that you have yet to talk with her yourself. Marianne told me that she could speak English fluently, but I discovered myself that she was well spoken in many other tongues. Dutch, French, German, Russian, Italian, and even Latin were some of the ones I recognized, and I presumed that she was not unfamiliar with traveling (I learned that she was not used to staying in any particular place for any particular period of time). Marianne insisted that I find this girl. She was the key to the door Garren was trapped behind. She was the only person left whom I could reach to answer my inquiries.
"Just find her," I remember Marianne saying as we left Antwerp. "She is brilliant. That is why you must talk with her."
Marianne was unusually quiet for most of the journey, and when she did speak, I was very often surprised by her awareness to me. For the most part, I was talking to myself. If she had been listening, I could never tell. Her eyes would only stare coldly at me as I spoke. Then, she would speak unexpectedly a few minutes later about something entirely different and often outlandish. I had to reply to whatever she was saying because I pitied her.
It was my duty not to ignore her, but to pacify her and keep her from her mindless ranting, as she was known to do when provoked. Yet her Amy interested her, and the subject of the girl caught her attention.
"She is truly remarkable," she told me repeatedly. "The most beautiful girl you've ever seen."
"Where is she? Where did you see her last?"
"Oh, I'm not sure," she sighed. "It was so long ago."
"Does she know what happened to you then?"
Marianne laughed. "Maybe she does, maybe she doesn't!"
"Mari, please try to be serious. I need to find her. Was she with you when Garren…passed away?"
"When he died? Yes…" She looked away from me then, and I decided not to raise the subject until necessary. It was not beneficial to have her in such a desolate state when she was so valuable to my goal. I had to focus on finding Amy.
It was easier said than done, really. Amy, despite her age, traveled frequently, as I said before, and she was never in the same place twice. Marianne told me that the girl avoided people whom she could not understand. In other words, she wouldn't be found in China (although I would have gone that far if she had). You may ask how such a young child could be so capable of traversing such great distances. Believe me, I frustratingly asked myself the same question repeatedly almost every day. Town to town, city to city, countryside to countryside. I could not find her. I did not even know where to begin my search.
"She is very resourceful," said Marianne soon after we arrived in Budapest. "Nonetheless, she is quite fond of valleys and mountainsides. Jack, please don't give up!"
The Transylvanian countryside was threatening. Who hasn't heard the legends? Of vampires, weres, demons, and other hideous beasts that haunt such infamous regions, coming out at night to commit vile acts of evil? Not to mention the local riffraff. "Travelers be wary," we were told at the taverns and inns of small towns that barely looked like villages. A man speaking English said to me one night, "Take great care in yourselves, especially the woman, for beauty can very often be a curse." Marianne understood many of the tales that were told during our stays at these congenial establishments, but she cared little to relay them to me. She even allowed them the pleasure of hearing her voice in conversation. Only the smirks and the leers that I saw among the faces prompted me to lead Marianne away, always mindful of the revolver at my right side, and cast out into the night to find another place of refuge.
Finally, on our way to Bucharest, Marianne gave me a hint that Amy may have settled in the town of Sighisoara. "She is quite fond of the town—I noticed when we passed it by the railroad. She said that she planned on learning the language so that she may better interact with the people there. She also told me she had only been there once, but she liked it very much. She likes to explore those sorts of town, you know. Those medieval villages and whatnot. She would be so interested in you, wouldn't she?"
"How old is she, do you think?"
"Well, she was eleven."
Sadly, I was not familiar with these parts of Europe, as my expertise lay elsewhere. It always had captured the interest of my brother, and fortunately, my sister-in-law as well. Getting the information out of the woman, though, was a bit more complicated.
We arrived in Sighisoara and visited the locals to locate the whereabouts of Amy. The town was larger than I thought, but then again, I hadn't expected much. It was as any other European village. There were hardly any solid roads to navigate; I could not locate any of the businesses common with the more urbane cities of the west, and through every avenue danger lurked, waiting to happen upon an unsuspecting foreigner—at night, that is. At dawn, the town transformed into a bustling market, teeming with happy peasants and the naïve like. It was then that my sister saw a chance to become more spirited, exultant as she recognized the familiar scenery. Shortly before, she had contracted a cold, but still she enthusiastically talked to the common townspeople as if they were her closest friends. Perhaps they were, but I could never understand her actions. But her chattering, as it turned out, was not unproductive, and when she was finished, she turned to me and said with a smile, "Amy lives very well, they say, with quite a prosperous woman outside town. She comes to the marketplace often to buy…some unusual things."
"Where is this house?"
"She's a housemaid, I believe. To another foreigner."
"We ought to get there by sundown."
"It's only a couple of miles outside of town. We can walk…and make it with time to spare."
The house she was referring to actually wasn't very far away, and in less than half an hour, we were at the doorstep of a great Gothic-styled mansion, complete with sculptures of gargoyles and angels. Marianne wanted to knock, and I let her. We waited impatiently, as a structure so immense would make answering the front door an expedition. A few minutes later, we were greeted by a young woman no older than eighteen years of age. I concluded that she was Amy, for I was well aware of her description, credited to Marianne. Amy Sibyl looked very much like my brother's wife in her younger days. Amy has auburn hair, golden as the Romanian sun in the late afternoon, and these gilded locks hung over her shoulders where a silk red shawl draped. Her green eyes were large and bright and perchance a reflection of her soul. These devices transfixed me, and I became suddenly aware that this girl was very much "more than meets the eye." They sparkled as she parted her fair lips to speak.
"Maidens' hearts are always soft: would that men's were truer!" Her voice was of a celestial quality, as if she had descended from her stone sisters high above. She had spoken in English, which startled me at first, because she spoke without a hint of a foreign accent, like so many of the villagers I had encountered earlier.
"You are Miss Sibyl?" I asked her.
"Yes! Would fate have it that I meet you once again?" She looked as though she had seen a ghost.
"I beg your pardon?" The girl seemed lively as she took my hands into hers and gave me a grand embrace.
I gently pushed her from me and found myself brooding. This girl was obviously close to my brother, but I had no idea of the intimacy of their relationship. Was she connected to my brother's death? If so, I wanted to know how. Marianne was truthful when she said Amy was a very beautiful girl, and I feared that this characteristic of hers might have led to some conflict in my brother's life before he met his end.
"No, he is not Garren!" Marianne was saying, awakening me from my reverie. She was starting to draw back into her usual self and was on the verge of losing control. "Amy, please, I beg of you!"
"If you are not him, then…you must be his brother?"
"Yes. May we come inside, if your mistress would allow it?"
"She is not home, but you may come inside if you'd like." She stepped back to allow us entry, and I followed Marianne into the cold, dark house.
"It must have been almost five years ago," Amy said, twirling with her index finger a thread from her armchair. "And yet I remember exactly what he looked like. I am sorry for mistaking you for him."
"No, don't be. Even so, I am very glad to have finally met with you."
"Why?" she blinked.
"I need to ask you about my brother."
"Yes. You see, I was never informed about the details of his death. I do not know how he died. I don't know why he died. I am hoping you could tell me about that incident."
"His wife cannot tell you herself? I was just a child…"
"No, my sister-in-law is not well, and she cannot tell me any specifics. Why, I found out about you from their postcards. She wouldn't…she couldn't tell me anything."
"I see," she said softly. "I suppose I could tell you. But it is a long story."
"I am willing to hear it."
"Can it wait until tomorrow? I…am quite overwhelmed by so many things. I was in the middle of some work, and then you came all of a sudden—"
"Amy!" cried Marianne from her lounge chair. "You must tell him! I cannot bear it!" It must have been very distressing for her to listen to us talking about Garren, for tears had already been falling from her eyes. Her rambling was not making the situation any less complicated.
"Marianne," I said to her. "Try not to weaken yourself. You need rest. Lie down."
"Then I shall die!"
"Mari," said Amy. "I know how you feel. Please try to stay calm."
"O goddess of death! Have you no mercy!" She wrapped her arms around her knees and lay trembling. "It is cold. I am cold. Jack, aren't you cold?"
"Yes, it is freezing. Amy, could you get some more firewood?"
Amy paused. She knew as well as I that it was definitely not freezing in the room. Still, she acquiesced and went to feed the crackling flames. As she knelt by the hearth, she said to me, "Would this be helping her?"
"I would never hurt her," I said. "Hell take me if I'd ever hurt her."
"She is worse," Amy whispered.
"There is nothing that can be done."
Amy came back to her seat. "Verbum sat sapienti est."
"And what would that be?"
"Vae victus…it is a pity." She looked over to Marianne, who was staring blankly at nothing. "Mari? Do you feel any better?"
"Yes," Marianne said faintly, her voice barely a whisper. "Thank you, Amy."
As my sister rested, Amy began to talk to me about the mansion's main resident. She was employed by a French woman, whom she knew very little about, when she was thirteen. "I don't even know her full name. I call her 'mistress', but I heard from one of her friends that her first name is Valerie. She is a strange woman, I can tell you that. She rests inside the house most of the day and conducts all of her business starting at sundown. Then, she returns shortly after dawn. She doesn't like strangers, and she never talks to anyone unless she desires something from them. She rarely speaks even to me…" (This Valerie woman, Sean, may be of great interest to the Society)
By this time Marianne had fallen asleep, and so Amy started to tell me about her connection to my brother.
"Your brother was a very smart man. Back then, no one understood me. I wanted to be alone. I ran away from my foster home, you see. I never liked anyone…"
"You're an orphan?"
"Yes. My parents passed away before I was ever aware of having any. As I was saying, I didn't like people, and people didn't like me. I didn't care. My cares went to literature. I read everything I could get my hands on. As time went on, I came into contact with more and more people as I traveled."
"Where were you from, originally?"
"Ah, where was I from? London. But I don't remember anything at all about that city. You live in London?"
"What's it like?"
I told her everything she needed to know. Economics, politics, and the like. I could tell she wasn't interested in those things, so I let her continue.
"Anyway, your brother taught me so much. About books, about people, about life. A wonderful teacher. I never wanted to leave him. I've never met anybody like him before. He wasn't one of those great intellectuals. He was just a good person who could make you…say, if you were depressed, if someone you really loved died, he would make you feel a lot better. Ah, words cannot describe him."
"Did you love him?" I ventured.
"Yes, I did…well…oh, you mean…oh no…no! It wasn't like that. I liked him a lot. He was a very good friend. We were just friends! That's all. I wouldn't ever want to steal him away from Mari. She's my friend too."
"Then how did he die?" I said to her.
Amy looked at Marianne to make sure she was sleeping.
"Well, to make a long story short, you might say…we were on our way to Bucharest. Ah, terrible…"
"Are you comfortable telling me this? I mean, you could tell me later."
I remember Amy taking a glass of water from a nearby table. It was about a third full, and she drank all of it at once. "I'm all right. I was there. I saw it, and I've dealt with it, you know? Do you want to know? Those…they murdered him right in front of us, me and Mari. They ended his great life in just a few minutes. Those whom he loved…they turned against him and murdered him in the country he so loved. He liked this land a lot, just like I did. The simple people, the rich history…"
There was a long silence that followed. What could I say? She probably loved him more than I did. For more than I did. I would bet she wept a lot more than I did as well. I lost a brother when Garren died; Amy lost a teacher, a friend, a role model, and perhaps a first love as well. What did I know about him? He was my brother, but was that all? He was part of the society, he loved traveling…He was older than me, and he was independent for a longer period of time. I had lost all contact with him until eight years ago when you, Sean, introduced him to me. Now that I think of it, we were never really as close as one would think of siblings. If I were to count back on my years, I had known Marianne longer than I had known him. She was the daughter of a close friend of my mother, and as such, the three of us were always together, and when Garren went away to the university and eventually to his own vocation, Marianne and I remained together, and we entered the society at the same time. I don't know what she saw in Garren that she didn't see in me when he joined us. But she fell in love with him, they married, and two years later, they both lost their lives.
"Garren," I muttered inadvertently. "If only…"
"What is it?" said Amy.
"No, don't worry about it. I understand now. Thank you, Amy."
"You're welcome, Jack. If there's anything I can do for you, just ask."
"Yes. Would you or your mistress mind if we spend a couple of days here? Mari is ill, and I don't want her to stay at any of the inns in town."
"I'm sure it will be all right. My mistress wouldn't mind anyway. She often takes long trips all over the world and is gone for months at a time. You need not worry." Amy stood and stretched her limbs. "Well, I should show you your rooms then. If you'll please come with me, Jack…"
Marianne and I spent nearly a week at Sighisoara with Amy. Frankly, I wanted to take the girl away with me. During that week, I had learned much more about her and it wasn't long before I realized that she was truly one-of-a-kind. I've never encountered anyone like her. Only now do I notice the surprising similarities she has to my brother. I regret not knowing my brother any more than I actually did, but from Amy, I could tell that he was indeed a great man. Perhaps that is why Marianne had chosen him over me.
I waited for this Valerie to return, but she did not. Numerous times did I think of stealing Amy away from this medieval land. I did not want her to be lost there when she had so much potential in life. But she loved the land my brother loved. I could not tear her away from it, no matter how hard I tried. She was no longer interested in traveling to the great cities of London or Paris, Berlin or Rome. She was content on living out her life in the bowels of Eastern Europe, living a happy, innocent life. I could not have done anything to persuade her otherwise. For all her life, she deserved it. I bid her farewell and good fortune. I would return, though when I was not yet certain.
To me she said, "No, don't. Perhaps someday I will make a trip back to my roots. Until then, I will remember you. Farewell, and may the gods watch over you."
To Marianne, "For ever, my good friend, hail and farewell. It is better for you to be with him."
"Thank you, Amy," my sister said. "I will not forget you. Take care of yourself."
The voyage home was quiet and uneventful. Marianne and I never conversed on the recent events. The subject of Amy was never raised until we reached the shores of fair England, and we were on our way to Stoker's.
"Amy was very beautiful, yes?" Marianne had said to me.
"Yes, she was. All the postcards you sent me…I had never known her until then."
Her last words to me were "Don't feel sad. You will meet together again. We all will, Jack."
That was two months ago. In a matter of sixty days, I lost everyone.
As you may see, Sean, it is rather a difficult time for my family and unfortunately, I too have been hexed with a spell of depression and am unable to complete any of my recent reports in desirable form. Hence, I am requesting permission to resign from the Society that has cared for me and Marianne so well these past years. Or at the very least, allow me an extended leave of absence in order for me to re-gather my bearings so that I would return at a later date in much greater fortitude. I will be awaiting your reply from the headquarters in Rome.