~Insult to Injury
Jason Alders realized that the last drop of sun had just
disappeared over the horizon. He sometimes lost track of time
while he was riding his bike. I'd better head home, he thought.
Stopping at an intersection of the bike trail and the highway, he
considered his options.
I could probably make it back sooner if I took the highway, he thought. It was late fall so the sun set early. His mom had told him to be home in time for supper, and he had completely forgotten until now, but he still had a chance to avoid being late. The highway was a more direct route, and it was a downhill ride most of the way-not like the constant up-and-down of the bike trail. He would probably cut off twenty to thirty minutes of biking time if he took the highway.
Pushing off the ground, Jason made a left turn onto the highway and started skimming down a hill on the road's shoulder, picking up speed as he went. The cold air, full of the scent of dry leaves, nipped at his face. As he reached the bottom of the hill, he accidentally drifted a little too far to the left and started driving on the shoulder's rumble bars.
As the sudden, uncomfortable vibration shocked his body, his glasses filled with a car's headlights, momentarily blinding him. Instinctively-to get off the rumble bars-he jerked his bike to the left, coming out right in front of the car.
The middle-aged lady in the car shrieked and stomped on the breaks, but she was going 63 miles per hour and couldn't stop the car in time. The car struck the teenage boy in the back, and he flew into the windshield and shattered it while the bike was crushed under the wheels.
Michelle Alders was just finishing setting the table when she heard the doorbell ring. She was about to go answer it, but her 21-year-old son Samuel told her not to bother and went to answer it for her. Samuel was taking college classes online and staying at home while he finished his studies. Michelle had always been proud of him, but Jason was secretly her favorite because he was the baby of her small family.
Suddenly, Samuel burst back into the room. The anxious edge in his voice made his mother look up quickly. She was suddenly afraid.
"Mom," Samuel said, "There's a cop at the door. He wants us to come with him. He says there's been an accident and wants to know if…if we can identify the body."
Michelle immediately followed him to the door, growing more terrified every second. She took her phone out of her jeans pocket as if to call Jason or her husband, but stopped. Either of them could be the "body" the policeman wanted her to identify. Her husband would be driving home from work around this time, and Jason had gone out on a bike ride. But it couldn't have been Jason, could it? He would have been on the bike trail. And it might not be her husband either. It could be a friend, or even someone she didn't know.
Mechanically, her mind full of unwelcome thoughts, Michelle got into her minivan with Samuel, started the engine, and followed the cop car to the scene of the accident. Distracting red and blue lights flashed everywhere from the police cars surrounding the scene. Michelle wished they would stop moving for a second. They were making her head throb painfully, and she could hardly see what had happened.
Bringing her car to a sudden stop, she threw it into park and jumped out, leaving the door open and the key in the ignition. There was a silver car in the ditch and a woman standing beside it. The woman was about Michelle's age, and she was screaming hysterically, looking like she was having a mental breakdown.
Then Michelle saw the body lying in the grass near the front of the car. As she approached it, she realized it was the body of a teenage boy, and she broke into a run. It can't be…it can't be… she thought, tears coming to her eyes. It couldn't possibly be Jason.
But it was.
Jason's spine was broken at the waist and at the neck. His glasses were gone, and his terrified, staring face was covered in blood. Michelle stifled a gasp with her hand and turned away, shaking, unable to comprehend what she was seeing. She was too shocked even to cry.
"Ma'am, do you know who this is?" the policeman asked her gently.
"It's-my son," Michelle managed to choke out. Tears filled her eyes again, and she began to sob sporadically. Samuel put a hand on her shoulder in an awkward attempt to comfort her, but he looked like he was feeling the same way, though he was better at holding it in.
"Why didn't you teach your son not to ride his damn bike in the middle of the road?!" the middle-aged woman screamed at her.
"You shut up!" Samuel shouted furiously, taking a step forward like he was going to punch her.
"No, you shut up!" the woman screamed back at him, "You don't know what it's like-to see a boy fly into your windshield and die right in front of you!"
The mental image this conjured up made Michelle cry even more.
His mother's reaction made Samuel even angrier, but the policeman intervened. "Give her a little mercy," he muttered to Samuel, "She's having a panic attack and doesn't know what she's saying."
Samuel backed down.
The months that came after the funeral were a blur to Michelle. She was hardly living during those days. Her mind was dulled with grief. She and her husband, Allan, ate Hamburger Helper every night because she couldn't muster up the strength to cook. For the first few weeks, Samuel ate dinner with them, but then he started disappearing more and more often at night. He would stay out late and sometimes not come back home until early in the morning. Michelle would find him lying on the couch in the morning, and he wouldn't wake up until noon or later. His college classes were completely neglected. Whenever Samuel woke up, he would have a terrible headache, and after a while, Michelle was forced to admit that he was out drinking every night. When she tried bringing up the subject to him, he snapped at her, then apologized dully and wandered up to his room.
As the memory of Jason's death began to soften a little, Michelle worried more and more about Samuel. She cried every night-not sure whether it was for Jason or Samuel-and though Allan tried to comfort her, he couldn't do much because he was struggling with the same things. Samuel only grew more distant. He started going to the bar earlier and staying there later.
One morning, he didn't come home at all.
Panicking, Michelle called the police and gave them Samuel's license plate number, saying he was missing, and begging them to find him. In a few hours, a policeman showed up at her doorstep. He was the same policeman who had been there at Jason's death, and he looked like he didn't want to say what he had to tell her.
"I'm sorry, Ma'am," he began painfully, "But…your son Samuel is dead. Best we can tell, he died from alcohol consumption. His blood alcohol content was .45."
Michelle felt like she had been stabbed in the heart. She wanted to beg the policeman to tell her she was only having a nightmare. Stumbling back away from the door, she turned and ran to the living room. She cried on the couch for a whole hour before she was able to call Allan and tell him what happened. They scheduled the funeral for Saturday.
Samuel's funeral lasted all morning, and Michelle cried through the whole thing until she was exhausted from weeping. She didn't know how she would be able to endure this second blow. It all seemed too terrible to be real.
Sitting down at the kitchen table, Michelle thumbed listlessly through a magazine. When she had flipped through about half the magazine, her eyes fell on an article entitled: "The Hell Girl: A Mysterious Japanese Urban Legend".
Vaguely interested, Michelle started to read. The article began, "The Hell Girl, known as 'Jigoku Shoujo' in Japan, has recently become a popular urban myth in that country, with many young people there claiming it to be real. Jigoku Shoujo is said to have a website (Jigoku Tsuushin) which only someone filled with hatred can access. If that person enters the name of the person they hate into the website, according to the legend, Jigoku Shoujo will ferry that person straight to Hell."
The article went on to interview a freelance, Japanese reporter named Hajime who was investigating the myth of Jigoku Shoujo. Near the end of the article, Michelle read, "When asked whether or not he personally believed that Jigoku Shoujo was real, Hajime avoided the question, replying, 'All I can say is, if you have someone you hate, don't seek revenge. I can tell you now that it won't do you any good.'"
As Michelle came to the end of the article and put the magazine down, the telephone rang. Automatically, she stood up and answered it.
It was her lawyer.
"What's the matter?" she asked wearily, wondering how things could possibly get any worse.
"Well…" the lawyer began, "There's a woman named Janet Coleman who wants to sue you and your husband. Do you know this woman?"
"I don't recognize the name," Michelle replied, frustration filling her. The last thing she wanted to deal with now was a lawsuit. "Why would she want to sue me?"
"From what I'm told," the lawyer said, "It's about a car accident she had with your son a few months ago. She's suing for the trauma she suffered from the accident. I think you and your husband and I should meet privately with her and her lawyer tomorrow."
Michelle could hardly comprehend what he was saying. "What…time?" she asked weakly. Did he really mean that the woman who had killed her son was now suing her for the incident? Was that even possible? Was it even legal?
"Will three o'clock work for you?" the lawyer asked.
"Yes…I'll tell my husband," Michelle said, and she hung up. So her name is Janet Coleman, she thought, remembering the hysterical woman at the scene of the accident, Janet Coleman is the one responsible for both my sons deaths. And now she wants to sue me for…for what? The so-called trauma she had to endure? What about the trauma I had to endure? Has she even thought about that at all? The more her thoughts continued, the more enraged they became until her face looked like that of a demon filled with hatred.
When Michelle had told Allan about their appointment the next day, he had assured her that such a lawsuit could never be approved by any judge in his right mind, and it probably wouldn't even make it to court. Yet now, as Michelle lay in bed next to him, the only thing she could think of was the article she had read earlier that day.
I wonder if Jigoku Shoujo actually could be real, she thought. It was a silly idea, but she couldn't stop thinking about it. People like Janet Coleman deserve to go to Hell, she thought, Jigoku Shoujo could ferry her straight to Hell.
Looking at the red numbers of the clock on her bedside table, Michelle saw that it was only five minutes until midnight. Remembering from the article that the website could only be accessed at midnight, she had the wild idea to try searching for it to see what would happen. Slipping carefully out of bed, she went over to her laptop and opened it. The blue log-in screen shone palely on her face in the dark, enhancing the few wrinkles that had begun to form in it. She attributed those wrinkles to the deaths of her sons.
Hurriedly, Michelle opened an internet window and typed, "Jigoku Tsuushin" into the Google search box. As the clock turned midnight, she clicked on the first link that was listed. The window that opened was completely black for an instant, but then a flame appeared in the top center. The flame turned into a text box with the phrase, "I will release your hatred" above it and an "enter" button beneath it.
Michelle's heart began to beat faster. Was this it? If she typed Janet's name into that box, would Jigoku Shoujo ferry that woman to Hell? Still, it probably wasn't real.
Her fingers shaking, Michelle typed "Janet Coleman" into the text box. It couldn't hurt just to type it. For a few seconds, she sat staring at the page. She felt like it would probably turn 12:01 soon. Would the website disappear as soon as midnight passed? With a sudden surge of something like panic, she took her mouse and clicked the "enter" button.
As soon as she pressed the button, she became afraid. What happened? she wondered, Did I actually send that woman to Hell? She hadn't actually meant to do it. She had just wanted to see if the website was real. But then, this was superstition-an urban myth. She couldn't have really sent Janet to Hell.
At that moment, her cell phone vibrated from her bedside table. Running over to it, she hurriedly pressed two buttons to unlock the screen and saw that she had a text message. Wondering who would text her at this time of night, she opened the message. She almost screamed when she saw it. Red light glowed from the screen, surrounding a simple text: "Accepted. Jigoku Shoujo."
When Michelle looked up from her phone, she really did scream, dropping the phone in the red grass under her feet. She was no longer in her bedroom, but rather up on a hill with mountains in the distance. The mountains were silhouetted against a sunset which cast deep red light across the whole countryside. The sky was also a deep shade of red. In front of Michelle, there was a tall tree, and standing under the tree, there was a young girl. The girl had an extremely pale face, and her hair was long, straight, and pitch black. Her outfit looked like a school uniform, with a black blouse, a white collar, a red bow at the neck, and a black skirt. What was most striking about her, however, were her eyes, which were wide and staring, intensely red.
Standing around the girl were three other people: a young man in a hoodie with a yellow eye and black hair cut to cover the other, an old man in a brown yukata with a red scarf and a wide-brimmed hat, and an elegant woman with black hair and a long, low-necked dress.
Yet it was the girl who drew Michelle's eyes, and fear mixed with wonder filled her heart. "Are you…Jigoku Shoujo?" she asked in a voice that was almost a whisper.
The girl nodded. "My name is Enma Ai," she said, "You called me." Her voice was soft and low.
"Do you really hate that woman?" the young man asked from where he was leaning against the tree trunk.
Michelle lowered her head. "Yes…" she replied, "I do."
"Enough to kill her?" the beautiful woman added.
Michelle's reply stuck in her throat, and she found that she couldn't answer this directly. "She killed my son!" she cried instead, "And then-and then my other son died from drinking because he couldn't handle the death of his brother! Both of their deaths were all her fault! But now…now she wants to sue us just because she suffered trauma from killing Jason! It's as if she thinks their deaths are all my fault! Will she stop at nothing? Is it not enough for her just to kill my children that she also wants to ruin my husband and me financially? How can we afford to pay for this lawsuit? We just paid for two funerals!" By the time Michelle came to the end of her tirade, she found she was screaming, and there were tears running down her cheeks.
"Wanyuudo," Enma Ai said.
"Yes, Young Miss," the old man responded. He threw his red scarf over his shoulder and suddenly changed into a black straw doll with a red string around its neck.
Enma Ai picked up the straw doll from the ground and held it out to Michelle. "Take this," she said, and Michelle obeyed.
"If you really wish to take revenge, you may pull the red string," Enma Ai continued, "You make a covenant with me when you pull the string. The recipient of your revenge will be ferried straight to Hell."
Michelle stared down at the doll, her heart trembling, uncertain.
"However," Enma Ai said, "Once the revenge has been dealt, you will be required to pay the compensation. Two holes appear when you curse a person: when you die, your soul will fall into Hell too. You will not be able to go to Heaven. You will be plunged into pain and suffering and left to wander for all eternity."
Michelle held the black doll more tightly, her hands shaking. "But she's the one who's evil," she protested, "I'm not like her. Why should I go to Hell too?" Yet even as she was speaking, the landscape was fading away, and she soon found herself back in her own room. For a few seconds, Jigoku Shoujo's face appeared in the mirror as she said, "The rest…is for you to decide," and then she disappeared.
The next morning, when Michelle woke up, she realized it was Sunday. At breakfast, she told Allan, "I'm going to church today." Her voice sounded to her dull and unexcited, but she spoke with a certainty that surprised her.
"What? Why?" Allan had never heard her say this before.
Michelle was silent. She supposed the reason was that she wanted to see if the preacher would talk about Hell. The only other place she had heard of Hell besides from Jigoku Shoujo was from people talking about Christians. She was wondering if it really was possible to send someone to Hell and condemn herself in the process. Of course, she found it hard to deny now that it wasn't possible. When it came down to it, she would probably believe Jigoku Shoujo before she would believe a preacher, because she had seen Jigoku Shoujo but hadn't seen any evidence of Christianity.
"Honey, there are other ways to deal with our boys' deaths than resorting to religion," Allan was saying.
"I know," Michelle said, interrupting him. She was thinking about the straw doll, which she had put in her purse. Yes, there were other ways to deal with their boys' deaths. She would pull the string on that doll and send the bitch who killed them to Hell.
But first she wanted to see what the preacher would say.
"I'm going to church," she repeated, "But not because I'm 'resorting' to religion." She paused, not wanting to say her real reasons because they wouldn't make sense to her husband. "Our boys always used to go to the youth group at that little church up the road, right?" she said, "I just want to see what it's like. Maybe they had some friends there who haven't heard about their deaths yet, anyway."
"Well, if you really want to, go ahead," Allan told her, "I'm not stopping you."
Michelle arrived at the church around 10:00. She didn't have a
Bible, but she had brought her bigger purse to look like she
might be carrying one. The black straw doll was in the purse. She
didn't want to leave it anywhere and risk losing it.
The church wasn't a church in the sense of being in a church building. It was just a group of Christians gathering in a rented building that was part of a strip mall. A makeshift plastic banner hung over the door which said, "Living Grace Church", and the inside of the building was decorated with artsy Jesus posters and a life-size wooden cross with people's names scribbled all over it in pen and marker.
Michelle tried to slip into the back row as subtly as she could, but it wasn't easy. There were so few people in the room and so few rows of chairs that Michelle might as well have had a giant "Hi I'm a Visitor" sticker on her shirt. Several people came up and greeted her, looking like they could hardly be happier to see another member added to their congregation. They were probably desperate for more members here. Michelle answered them as shortly as possible without seeming rude, but whenever she thought she saw someone look at her purse, she bit her lip, feeling like the Christians around her were constantly judging her despite their friendly façade.
She was relieved when the service started. The congregation sang a few contemporary Christian songs accompanied by a man with a guitar. She didn't know any of the words, and when the offering plate came around, she awkwardly handed it back to the usher since she was the only person in her row. When the young, enthusiastic-looking preacher went up front, he started his sermon by thanking Michelle for coming, drawing even more attention to her. She was starting to wonder why she had come in the first place.
The pastor prayed, then opened up his Bible to a bookmarked page and announced, "The passage I'm going to speak on today comes from Romans 12:19 through 21." Bending his head over the Bible, he read, "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord.' No, 'if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." Setting the Bible down on the pulpit, he said, "This is the word of God."
A huge, yellow eye in the ceiling above Michelle closed and vanished. Standing on the roof of the building, the young man with black hair covering one eye, Ichimoku Ren, folded his arms and sighed, "What is that Person up to now?"
"This really is an unexpected turn of events," the beautiful woman, Hone-Onna, remarked, "Who would have thought that she would go to church? You're right, Ichimoku, it seems like that Person is intervening this time."
Enma Ai was also standing with them. Ichimoku Ren looked at down at her. "What do you think, Young Miss?" he asked.
"If He intervenes, she will not be able to make the covenant," Enma Ai said simply, and after that she was silent.
Back inside the church, the preacher finally mentioned the subject Michelle had come to hear about. "The vengeance of God," he said, "is Hell. God-not you-has the first right to punish anyone who has wronged you, because their sin is first and foremost an offense against Him. That is why vengeance belongs to Him alone. Yet everyone-everyone-has sinned against this infinite God. Everyone has contended against His pure goodness! What should He do, then, to act in accordance with justice? Should He send us all to Hell? He could do that-and in perfect righteousness-because no one who still has the stain of sin in their lives can come into His holy presence. His pure glory would burn your fallen body to ash if you had even so much as a glimpse of His holiness!
"Yet-as you can see-He has not sent us to Hell," the preacher went on, an intense light coming into his eyes, "He has not yet done so, though we all deserve it. Instead, He experienced the torments of Hell in our place, through His Son, Jesus Christ. Christ endured your punishment for you. With His perfect innocence, He bore your sin in His body and burned it in Hell on the Cross! What right have you, then, to take revenge on your neighbor when God has already poured out on Christ the vengeance He had in store for you? If you truly believe that God has forgiven your offense against His infinite goodness, then you are already given His grace, to forgive any wrong done to you, no matter how terrible." As he spoke, his eyes happened to meet Michelle's.
Michelle wanted to get up and leave, but she didn't, because people would notice. It felt like the preacher was speaking directly to her. It was like he had found out about the black straw doll and was indirectly trying to dissuade her from pulling the string. But then, she didn't believe in Jesus, and she didn't believe in God.
Or did she?
Before last night, if anyone had asked her if she believed in a God, she would have replied, "Of course not." But after encountering Jigoku Shoujo, she didn't know what to believe anymore. Obviously, some sort of spiritual realm existed, and apparently, so did Hell. If Hell existed, then Heaven probably did too, and if Heaven existed, then probably, so did God. Whether God was like the preacher made Him out to be, Michelle really couldn't say. She only knew that the preacher's words made her want to cover her ears and run out the door.
She decided to store the sermon in the back of her mind. When she went to speak with Janet Coleman that afternoon, she would find out what that woman was really like, and then she would make her decision.
Michelle and Allan arrived at their lawyer's office, on schedule, at 3:00 in the afternoon. Janet was already there with her lawyer, and when Michelle saw her, she had an awful flashback of the night that Jason died. She remembered how hysterical Janet had been. Even then, that woman had tried to accuse her.
Michelle and Allan sat down around a table with their lawyer, Janet's lawyer, and Janet to discuss the situation.
"Explain to me clearly the charges that your client is bringing against mine," Michelle's lawyer began, addressing the other lawyer.
"My client is suing yours for damages done to her car, and for the extreme psychological trauma she had to endure as a result of a road accident with your client's son," the other lawyer replied calmly.
"That accident killed my son!" Michelle screamed suddenly, slamming her hands down on the table and leaping up from her chair, "Shouldn't I be the one suing her?" She hadn't planned to react this way, but hearing the absurd charge again made her lose control.
"I was driving responsibly," Janet returned icily, "The accident wasn't my fault. What was your son doing riding his bike in the middle of the highway at night? He could have just as easily ridden on the bike trail or even on the shoulder. I just came around the corner, and there he was. I didn't have time to stop."
"I don't know why he was on the highway," Michelle returned in a strained voice, "But you can't hold me responsible for this!"
"You were the one who didn't teach him properly!"
"That's ridiculous! Most of the time, he did ride on the biking trails! I don't know why he was on the highway, but you can't blame him for being irresponsible! My son was a good boy!" Tears started to come to her eyes again, and she dashed them away hurriedly, angry at herself for starting to cry at a time like this.
"Well, someone has to compensate me for everything I've suffered," Janet argued, "That experience ruined me!" She shuddered. "Don't you get it? I've had to see a psychologist every week since it happened! Who will pay for my counseling bills?"
"You think you've suffered?!" Michelle cried, "Try burying both your sons within a few months of each other! That's right, my other son-the only child left to me-died too because he couldn't handle the grief of his brother's death! His death is your fault too! They're both all your fault!"
For an instant, a look of horror flashed across Janet's eyes, but then it turned into anger, and she jumped up to face Michelle. "Don't try to blame me for that!" she shouted, "It's your son's own fault that he killed himself-and it's your other son's fault that he died from doing something so risky! It's not my fault, I tell you! You can't know what it's like to suddenly see a teenage boy's neck break right in front of your face! I almost crashed and died right there, and I've never been able to get that image out of my head! I have breakdowns all the time! I can't sleep without nightmares! I keep going to the psychologist, but the counseling is hardly helping, and my husband even left me because he couldn't stand me anymore! You can't know what that's like either-you have your husband right there supporting you! Who's going to pay for this? Who's going to pay for everything I've gone through?"
"If you think what happened isn't your fault, how can you think it's mine?" Michelle spat, "I wasn't even there! Maybe you should just get over your so-called 'psychological trauma' and stop whining-because no one close to you has died! You can't sue me-I was hurt worse than you!"
Janet sat down. "Well, I am suing you," she said coldly, with a kind of satisfaction in her voice, "I'm suing you for $100,000."
"What?!" Allan shouted, but Michelle was dumbstruck. She stood there silently for a few moments, then abruptly, she turned and ran from the room, grabbing her purse as she went.
Michelle ran through the hall away from her lawyer's office, as fast as she go. She could hear Allan calling after her, but she only ran faster, not wanting him to catch up to her. That woman doesn't care at all about what happened to me! she thought, She can only think about herself! She doesn't care that two people died because of this!
Making it to the door of the building, she jerked it open and ran outside. She sprinted down the sidewalk a little ways, then quickly turned into a narrow alleyway and collapsed, panting, with her back against a brick wall. Opening her purse, she took out the black straw doll and lifted it in one, trembling hand. She stared at the doll, her heart beating faster and faster. With this, I could send that woman to Hell, she thought, She would disappear…she wouldn't be able to sue us. Gritting her teeth, a gleam of hatred coming into her eyes, she told herself, That woman deserves to go to Hell. She doesn't care about anyone but herself. And she killed them-she killed both of them! That can't be forgiven!
Breathing heavily, Michelle pinched the end of the red string between two trembling fingers. She was going to do it. She was going to pull it. She didn't care if she would go to Hell too-she had to avenge her sons; she had to protect Allan from losing all that money. That woman can't be forgiven! her mind screamed at her. She began to pull at the end of the string.
She can be forgiven, said another voice. Michelle froze. Vengeance is Mine; I will repay, said the voice.
Then why don't You send her to Hell instead of having Jigoku Shoujo do it? Michelle argued.
It is not yours to know whether she is destined for Heaven or Hell, replied the voice, Only know that I have already paid the vengeance due to you.
But what have I done wrong? Michelle asked, I'm not like her!
For one thing, you desired to murder her, the voice pointed out, But I have forgiven you for that, and for every other sin you have committed against Me.
"I believe You have," Michelle whispered aloud, surprising herself. Intense shame washed over her, but it was immediately replaced by hope and gratitude. "Thank You…Jesus," she said, and in that moment, she felt that her heart had changed.
As she said this, Enma Ai suddenly appeared, her red eyes seeming to glow in the darkness of the alley. "Return the doll to me," Enma Ai ordered softly, holding out her hand, "You are no longer able to go to Hell. You are no longer able to curse a person."
Gratefully, Michelle returned the black straw doll to Jigoku Shoujo. The desire to pull the string had completely vanished from her heart.
When Enma Ai took the doll, it immediately changed back into Wanyuudo, the old man with the red scarf. Wanyuudo's lips stretched into a wide smile. "Hmm," he said. Looking down at Michelle, he remarked, "Perhaps what we're doing can't stop that Person's plans after all."
Enma Ai didn't respond to this. Instead, she simply said, "Let's go," before turning and silently walking away. Wanyuudo followed her.
When Michelle came out from the alley, they were gone.
Michelle looked up to see Allan running toward her.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
Smiling, Michelle replied, "Now I am. But I need to speak to Janet. Privately."
Allan looked concerned. "I really don't think that's a good idea…" he began awkwardly.
"It's all right," Michelle assured him, "I won't argue with her anymore."
Allan stared at her like she had just sprouted antennae. "What happened to you?" he asked incredulously, "Just a minute ago, you were screaming your head off."
Without replying, Michelle walked past him. She went into the waiting room of the building and found Janet there. "Can we talk for a while?" she asked gently.
Janet eyed her suspiciously. "You didn't go out to get a gun, did you?" she inquired sardonically.
With an effort, Michelle smiled. "No," she replied, "I just need to tell you something…please." She can be forgiven, she repeated to herself, She can be forgiven.
Janet decided it would be safe enough to talk with Michelle privately, and they went back to the lawyer's office alone, closing the door behind them. Once there, Michelle hesitated, suddenly unsure how to say what she needed to say.
"I…" she began, and then faltered. Janet looked at her with curious, judging eyes.
Michelle steeled herself. She had to say this firmly and certainly. "I forgive you," she said.
Janet was astonished. She stared at Michelle for a few seconds with an open mouth, completely at a loss for words. Tears formed in her eyes, but she seemed to be trying to hold them back. "Just so you know," she said in a trembling voice which seemed to be trying to keep its dignity, "I haven't been seeing a psychologist because of trauma over what I saw. It was actually because of the guilt I've been dealing with." Without waiting for Michelle to respond, she left the room.
The next day, Michelle's lawyer called her to tell her that Janet had called off the lawsuit. As she hung up, Michelle smiled, amazed at how happy she was. She felt that she understood Janet's feelings now, and she thanked Jesus for what had happened. She wasn't really sure what was next now that she was a Christian, but she guessed they would be able to help her at that church.
Settling down on the couch, Michelle looked through a photo album of Samuel and Jason. She felt a little stab of pain in her heart with each memory, but this pain wasn't greater than she could bear. Though she didn't know if she would ever get over their deaths completely, she no longer hated anyone because of it. And that…that was peace.