Synopsis: Wrongly convicted, a once prominent woman finds herself looking for life’s true purpose.
Author’s notes: All chapters are now a work in progress and thus still being edited. Expect more dialogue, description, and an analysis post script based upon feedback.
Caution: This story contains graphic content – at least in word form that is.
Updated: Written in third person. Italics indicate the main protagonist’s inner monologue. However, in this chapter/act in particular, italics indicate the all of the main protagonists’ inner monologue. They will be differentiated by a hyphen at each end of their name at the beginning of the italics and then the dialogue below. e.g.,
” – John-”
The scars told one hell of a story.
The graze near John’s shoulder blade was when his own family tried to execute him. They made him run in the fields for “target practice.”
The cut across his abdomen was from his own mother slashing him; wishing she had smothered him in parallel to Catherine’s mother wishing she had killed the bundle of life that she had created rather than let it grow up.
But the real scars came from losing those close to him.
It was in his mind that the memory of these people hurt the worst. The children overseas during the war worrying about taking care of their families rather than enjoying being kids… and the feeling of dread to leave comrades, native to the valley, behind…
“My friend, this is all I have known. Do not weep for me as I do not pine for an unknown freedom for which you call home. This is my home. Now go back to yours.”
Those words were the only ones that kept him at bay.
Those words opened his eyes to what he took for granted. The paved roads. The lavish palm trees and hillside mansions. The broken hearts. The true friendships.
Those words made him believe in what humanity was capable of.
People…What people could do.
What people did.
What people will choose to do…
Catherine saw her father as a honorable man. No matter what. Flaws and all. Standing by the grumpy old fart from her birth. Even though in the end he abandoned her.
“You refuse to jump through anybody’s hoops, taught me to do the same, then flip a hundred and eighty degrees and say I can’t follow your word anymore?”
“You won’t achieve much with that attitude.”
“You certainly have.”
Her father shook his head. He raised her like a boy; not that there was anything wrong with that but it came with its draw backs. He himself was a rebel even in old age.
“Come on, dad.”
He faced her.
“Help me help you.” She pleaded with him.
“A kid is a baby goat.”
“I don’t know what to tell you…All I can say is watch yourself and go your own way.”
She felt her heart sink.
“You could’ve been an actor. A geologist. You could’ve been anything you could’ve possibly wanted, and yet threw it away. Your first opportunity, yes, was taken away by your family, but later in life had you done more…” She trailed off
“What more could I have done?”
“Aim higher, like you taught me.”
“You know nothing about me or about life, Grace.” He coldly remarked, calling her by her middle name.
“He admitted things when he wanted to and tucked it all away like nothing happened whenever he could,” Catherine recalled to John during her recovery. The drugs bubbling up every memory that was buried away and unable to be kept that way.
“You should talk more often.” John suggested.
“For what? To prove I‘m not already a lunatic? To be labeled ’emotionally crippled’? I would rather be seen as normal for once. A dyfunctional but functioning member of society that doesn’t need a pathetic ‘safe space’ to hide away because someone decided to talk about something that someone may not like. Boo fucking hoo. When you’re on the battlefield fighting the other guy trying to kill you, you don’t just run to a spot and yell at the top of your lungs ‘SAFE SPACE! NO SHOOTING IN THIS AREA!’ They’ll fire a fucking mortar round right on your head just for shits and giggles.”
He let out a deep breath and a short lived laugh. When he did this, it was a sign of both annoyance and being in agreement with her statement.
It made flashback to a conversation they had when she was contemplating dropping out of school.
“How do you feel?”
“Like the village idiot.”
“For trying to be someone I’m not. I’m not that business executive or next top model. I’m not that smartass doctor or all knowing scientist. I’m not a mechanic or multi-purpose engineer. I’m not useful. I don’t want to be different. I don’t want to conform either. I’m not a follower or a leader. I’m just drifting through. I just want to be me.”
“You’re a doctor, not a psychiatrist, John.”
“I’m neither and I’d like you to continue.”
“Then there’s mother. Who was never actually a mother in any way, shape, or form. Choosing to be completely ignorant of everything. The rest of the family was the same thing. Pitying themselves,” She went on with it.
It was the same old sob story; either you got along with your folks or you didn’t.
John reminded her of her father. The good side of him at least. In a parallel universe, her dad might’ve stood by.
A flashback made her laugh for once in the gloomy town.
“Do you know who I am?!” The dean of the school scowled.
“There’s no water around here so you cant prove you’re christ in the flesh.”
It was from a story her father once told her in his younger days of refusing to bow down to self proclaimed authoritarians who thought so importantly of themselves when the damn planet was only a blimp on radar compared to the ever expanding universe. Conspiracy theorists were still waiting on it to bounce back as if it were a rubber band. But that’s not to say they were all crazy. Some were right, especially about the government.
Society was rundown by the corrupted folks and humans were replaced by robots in what used to be blue collar jobs.
People in the white collar sector weren’t safe either. A so called super computer had replaced all those office workers. Martial law may have been declared over now, but the corruption lingers on in the shadows. Genetically engineered artificial intelligence “organisms” (yes, I said “organisms”) are manufactured to look like us, but think like them. So when voting time comes around, you know where this is going.
Timeline: Back at the apartment, present day.
“Why couldn’t you tell me?” Catherine pleaded for an answer.
“They put you in prison. And I didn’t stop them because I wanted you to hate me. I wanted your trust to strain. Because in this world all there is to be seen is backstabbers. There is no love. There is no peace. There is no hope.”
“No, you told me we could change things. You told me about the good people you’ve been around…”
“I tell you this now because I don’t want you to rely on people, on anyone. You cannot invest yourself in someone who’s will could change at any instant.”
“I’ve already invested everything I got in you, John. Against your wishes. And I choose to believe you have done the same.”
The papers fell to the floor, the weight of the revelation taking them down with thunderous applause.
In his own way, he showed his love for her. Both of them in every argument seethed love in between the open ended lines.
The rain kicked in harder, thunder booming louder, lightning illuminating the candle lit hobble.
Tic. Tic. Tic.
The clock went on counting the time they had left before whoever or whatever the sound below, gradually rising, would reach them.
She wanted to obliterate that grandfather clock. But what it would accomplish had no merit.
Then, John’s old record player, that he had been tinkering with for several months, suddenly turned on. Surprisingly still running even after the Collapse. Only those in the know were allowed to remain in their private residences. The average worker was required to “evacuate” to a FEMA camp. Some rich folk tried to help the poor families while others helped themselves by bribing the officials. These camps were more like stockades than a safe haven. Why all antiques? The CIA, NSA, the whole gang use the latest tech to watch every move you make.
“You can trust us!” The government’s motto plastered across the city.
Sinatra crooning “I’ll never smile again” seemed quite fitting to the atmosphere.
~~For tears would fill my eyes~~
“You told me we that we can control this.”
“Certain circumstances, yes.”
~~My heart would realize~~
“No. Not certain situations. You said if our determination was great and our belief at the very least the size of a mustard seed, we are able to change the physicality of our environment.”
He couldn’t explain it.
~~That our romance is through~~
He thought he could not love her the way she did him. That he could not express it as deeply as she. The rants and loneliness was all he could let himself spare her. Teaching her another way. Guiding her under the guise of a stone cold wall while she soothed the pain within him that he could never release much less provide relief to. She reminds John of a guru he used to meditate with.
“Your grief is like a burning match. The longer you hold it, the more it burns you.”
This knowledge was lost in the hole of John’s bucket.
Before John could sink back into a distraught state and never resolve this lie, she riled him up like people did to her when she needed to focus, to write.
“You killed the boy, didn’t you?”
“Yes, you did. To make me stay away. “
He doesn’t respond. He’s got his back turned to her and her eyes gaze towards his tightened fist.
“You murdered him in cold blood so that you wouldn’t have to kill me, the object of your desire.”
Anger filled his eyes as he turned right around and pinned Catherine to the wall. His lips almost touching hers. He took the breath out of her lungs.
They’ve never been too close.
He leaned towards her ear.
“I didn’t kill him.”
“I know.” Catherine told him.
A rough knock on the door caused her demeanor to abruptly change.
She didn’t say anything but motion for him to go open it as he slowly released her from his grip.
Just from the wisp of air between his mouth and hers, he could tell her lips tasted of poison. Toxic chemicals running through her veins flowing into his. It was as if she had ingested a snake’s venom rather than the Scotch he had betrothed her with earlier. Forever infected by the past.
His solemn expression begged her not to leave the sanctuary of his apartment.
She closed off the door to affection.
She didn’t want him.
She didn’t want anyone.
John worried of her state of mind.
There wasn’t any substance to what they wanted. And as much as she was tempted to divulge in her primal desires, she refrained and so did he.
She left through the fire escape while John took his time to see who was at the door. The echo of accidentally stepping on a broken wine glass alerted whoever was outside.
He heard someone lean on the door, trying to listen in. He then opened it with brisk pace.
“Johnny!” The bright blue eyed, blond haired man exclaimed.”
“What did I tell you about coming here?” John grabbed the man by his jacket.
“I’m worried about you,” the blonde hit back, smirking.
John let him go and upon confirming Catherine gone, allowed him into the apartment.
“I should never have done this,” John mumbled
“And why’s that, Johnny? Because I’m a product of your mind?”
“You aren’t real.”
“Oh, but I am.” The man’s tone was playful but had a sinister intent beneath.
John mindlessly picked up Catherine’s journal, flipping to the latest entry. He only read what she wrote about her head. Keeping in check with her mental state.
Her mental health continued to decline as was starting to show physically. But as long as she could still “function above expectations” for the machine, she could come one step closer at becoming the machine. It would only be a matter of a none existent figure of which we call time for her lose her mind and spend her remaining days screaming her lungs out until she had lost her breath, her voice, and her lungs. Until she sat there, in a straightjacket, mouth agape, wanting to scream but not having the ability to.
But I’ve already lost it.
Just throw all the responsibility on the kid. What a wonderfully brilliant idea.
I can’t see myself continuing this anymore. Much less containing it.
I cant sleep, I can’t eat, hell I can’t even think.
That’s my problem. The bad outweighs the good. All the “good” things they’ve done are miniscule in comparison to the damage that has already been ravaged.
Silently the virus crept through the shadow of the lonely nights of searching for answers. No longer did meditation calm her thoughts, no longer could the Scotch solve the migraines.
I dreamt of busting out the window and yelling for help. But I know no help would come.
Only insanity comforted.
I remember finding my own lashes and hair ripped out covering everything around me.
I developed a repugnance for love. For myself. For the air breathed. And the place I rested my head upon.
Nowhere was there a comforting home. No thing. No person. No animal. I had become an empty shell of genuine hatred for humanity and everything that has become of it. We think we’re so unique, we’re nothing but a blimp on the radar.
I don’t write better when I’m angry. I don’t write better when I’m depressed.
I write for no other reason but to keep bleeding. A reminder that I’m still here…
That I feel you here.
I want to be that kid running free in the open fields again…have an open mind again…see the world through those eyes again...
Tears started streaming down John’s face like a rushing river.
But even then, I was forced to take sides.
There was never any freedom. I begged those savages I called parents to stop. When they fought each other, I begged them to stop and try and find a logical solution but then…Then they went and started beating on me. Society is no better. Oh look, they want to wage war, let’s declare martial law. Then when its supposedly all over they give us false hope that things are gonna change and that they’re “gonna help the people” because its “all about the people” while they’re screwing us dry in the background.
Oh shit, a government official is coming through town! Let’s block all the highways and every road known to man off. The king with no clothes has arrived don’t look at him!!!
Million dollar job vs going into debt, dealing with snobby professors, maybe graduating with that worthless piece of paper and hope to that being in the sky that I am successful enough to put an ounce of food on the table… Guess which one I was programed to picked. It has no merit. It accomplishes nothing. And yet I continue to do it anyway.
“Who’s ‘you,’ by the way?” Iomhar asked hovering over John’s shoulder.
“I don’t know,” John responded. He knew it was about himself. She was closer to John than anyone.
“Where’s the girl now, John?”
“Her whereabouts are none of your business.”
“Well, I’ll have to find her myself then.”
The man disappeared in the blink of an eye.
Through wandering the city, Catherine found how the mind and in turn it’s actions did alter the environment. The way people thought, the things they consciously or unconsciously chose to do. It all had an impact.
Walking through a darker part of the city, she heard footsteps but not human. It sounded like muddy paws. She held her hand out to the frightened stray dog coming around the corner. The ol’ pup inched closer. Closer until his nose barely touched Catherine’s out stretched hand. After sniffing for a minute the dog began to wag his tail and licked Catherine’s palm signaling trust. But Catherine felt numb. Rather than indulge in the soft fur gliding across her skin, what delighted her as a child became completely dull. It was then she reached the realization that John had finally left her, following through with her instruction to let her go because she didn’t want him to see how the abuse deadened her compassionate heart. And she outright refused to have him witness her mind slowly slipping away. She couldn’t understand why she didn’t help the father being kicked out of his own home, or the mother being beaten down for money by her relatives, or the child lying on the cold, wet ground with no shoes and tore up clothing if you could call the bare pieces that. The young men and women becoming prostitutes to get by.
She was disconnected from the world around her. Feeling guilty for the fraudulent identity she created for herself. Her public profile says she came from a perfect middle class family when in reality she was barely even seen as existing in the poor, run down dwellings. She felt like she lied her way through her entire life.
She remembered during her studies, how her fellow peers and almost every student talked about the creation of an unfeeling machine.
She reminiscenced about the people in jail.
Metal clashing metal, like a hurried hymn woke me.
The cell may have trapped my body, but not my mind.
The guards were ruthless. But not unfeeling. I could break them. And once I did, I called them allies. One guard in particular, though chauvinistic, found our conversations pleasing.
“Do unto those as you would yourself.” Catherine bellowed at the guard, echoing through the prison block.
“People cannot practice what they preach, fool.”
“Aye, but we can.”
“And how in this world is that possible?”
“Propose people made the choice to change.”
“Propose folks around here weren’t hypocrites.”
The dog licked her cheek, wiping the dirt off her face. But it didn’t affect Catherine at all. For the first time in her life, her instincts seemed to switch off. Leaving her dazed tumbling down an unending tunnel of confusion. She wanted to cry but she couldn’t. She wanted to make a fist in anger but couldn’t. She needed to feel but she could not find herself doing so. The golden retriever looked into her expressionless eyes, contrasting with his more solemn ones. He whined and placed his head on the lap of Catherine’s almost catatonic figure. It was as if she relapsed into the flashbacks of older buried memories. Diagnosed with PTSD from being stripped and brutally raped by rabid inhuman people who aren’t even deserving of being called people. She was a captive during the collapse, her life’s work destroyed, years of research contorted by the contrived media. Not to mention exiled by her blood related family, then nearly killed time and time again in her own hands.
When she caught herself falling off the edge, she found the rain of negativity to be the root of everything. But how Catherine would change people’s minds she didn’t know.
Wanting wasn’t the only thing.
It was an unconscious but voluntary will to make it reality. The belief that you already have it in your grasp.
She walked into a nearby bar, taking the dog with her.
The owner allowed her to stay for a few days because she failed to come to grips with what John had done.
A poster on the wall read: “Soldiers fight not because they hate what’s in front of them, but because they love what’s behind them.”
Catherine lied there on the pool table with the dog by her side every night until dawn approached. Restless throughout as John dreamt of his “friend” coming closer to where Catherine was.
The constant drip of leaking water kept her up most nights.
I hear the strain in her laugh. I see the facade of her fake smile. I feel the open wounds urging to be closed forever but achingly grow open again like a picked scab.
He fails to see her true self. He thinks she’ll simply tell him and spill these thoughts over the dam she had built inside but she cannot because she fears he’ll turn away from her like anybody else who had wiped their muddy feet on her dusted welcome mat, dropped their baggage into her comforting arms, and dig her grave further. Pushing her deeper into the recess of her own mind, drowning her.
“I helped you, then I put my pain on your plate…” but it is an equal benefit of friendship.
John wanted her to blossom before him. But to do so in his manner would make him no better than the people who stuck daggers into her back. There was a twisted feeling in her stomach. A coil of lies wrapped with barbed wire choked her. Digging into her skin, wanting her to acknowledge them as truths so they could release the corruption further. So for their own benefit they can destroy what she had built. The daggers stuck in her back grew in number. She wanted a quick release to stop the pain. But doing so would mean meeting their every demand.
She dreamt of one piercing into her stomach, cutting up her womb and with it taking away her ability to create life.
Both John and Catherine just wanted to be with someone who understood each other’s pain. That was more than enough.
And John’s counterpart was the key to turning this desire into reality.
We share the share the same plight. He does not see through the veil of shrapnel and hurricane winds.
You remind me of better times
When the little cottage was bustling with activity and swelled with happiness.
When the gentle breeze swept through, barely touching the trees, reaching into his half open window in the middle of the night and caressing his cheek like the soft blessing hand of a caring mother, helping him relax and fall into a peaceful slumber.
Catherine returned to work after the weekend. Working on a hydraulic door the first day back by herself though probably wasn’t the best idea.
A loud bang sends her crew members running to the scene.
Her arm is broken.
John’s friend patches her up as she refused to go to a hospital.
Then a short pang of pain, like bee sting on her shoulder, knocks her out.
She wakes up in a house. Each time she blinked her eyes open, the surroundings were unrecognizable. She’s wearing a shimmering red gown. It sounds like a party is going on. She slips the cast off her shoulder as painful as it is and walks down the grand stair case to be greeted by a man who introduces himself as Iomhar.
“Why did you bring me here?” She asks him, sternly.
“Seeing as you want to be something more, I’ve taken you to my family’s estate. They own the company you’re working for. We’re going to have dinner with the executives and you’ll get your chance at the life you used to have.”
Before she could pronounce her detestment for the idea, a bell rang and everyone was called to gather at the dinner table.
Upon sitting down, it was clear they looked at her utter disgust and hatred as she pretended to take a sip from what she expected a tampered glass of cheap wine.
“She is most definitely a drug addict.” One of the people across the table whispered.
“She’s didn’t even take the time to clean herself up with a little makeup.” Another hissed.
“At least I don’t feel the need to be a two faced bitch.” Catherine finally burst out, getting up to leave.
“Catherine, wait .” Iomhar calls after her outside.
“Take me back to John.” She tells him
“Wait a minute. Let me make it up to you. I want you to meet someone.”
“Fine, take me to them.” She agrees.
He drives her to a modest dwelling. No fancy bells and whistles adorned the porch. Just some solar lights leading up to the wood door of the old home.
“Where’s the dog?” she mumbles before stepping out.
Iomhar only smiled and waved over at the person now standing at the front of the house to meet their guest.
“He’s safe and sound. Thank you for bringing him back.” A teenage girl came into the light, her long blonde locks weightless on her shoulders.
“This is my daughter Madeline.” The man told her.
“I hope you remember me. You used to take me on tours around set.” Madeline said.
“You called me aunt Grace,” Catherine replied, admiring the golden aura that always surrounded the girl. “Sorry for not being as graceful as I’d like to be.” Catherine joked.
“Don’t worry about it. Iomhar here will take you back to John shortly but first I’d like to treat you to a real dinner.
They could’ve gotten drunk and talked until dawn but Iomhar kept track of time and ended the evening shorter than Catherine would’ve liked. But she didn’t mind as Madeline invited Catherine to come back any time.
When Iomhar brought Catherine back to John’s place, John was no where to be found. So, Iomhar had her remove her shirt to check on the bruise around her shoulder blade. And in doing so, taking the piece of fabric off was also taking down her barriers. When she thought he was done she felt an odd sensation. A soft touch going up her spine. She turns and Iomhar’s looking right at her.
“Why don’t you look me in the eye?”
“Because I’m afraid I’ll start to care.”
“Nothing’s going to hurt you.”
“Pinky swear?” She smiled foolishly.
“Oh c’mon.” He says as he goes to kiss her again.
She gets up and out of his reach. Putting her blouse back on.
“I’m not comfortable with this.”
“Don’t be childish, Catherine.”
“You know pinky swear is considered a pretty important act of trust because back then, if and when you made a promise and you reneged on it, you had to actually sever your pinky. It is significant because it represents losing a part of yourself, no matter how small you think that part may be.” She pauses for a second, letting it sink in… “all for not abiding by your word…
“And it isn’t that, that made me walk away, it is the fact that you’d think, that you’d even go as far as to believe that I’d let you so easily take advantage. I barely know who you really are.”
“You’ve known me since the age of four but barely know yourself.”
The room turned frigid again. She opened the door to leave, and found John standing there.
“What are you keeping from me?”
“There is no Iomhar.”
“So, you hired an actor?”
“You know me better than that to guess the truth…
The only way that I knew you could change your environment, change people, was from doing so myself….He’s a projection of my subconscious.”
“He did what I couldn’t do.” John continued.
He inches closer to her quivering, slender body.
“Why,” she says. “Why, John…I thought you were different from them.”
“I was fed up. I watched one child suffer enough…”
“C’mon Johnny O. I’m sure being a near psychic, you had to see this coming.” Iomhar piped up.
“When you danced with that excuse of a woman. You succumbed to its biting, choking grip. A snake in the disguise of a lovely female companion as your ex was the same mistake. Oh and did that snake have you wrapped up neatly in a bow, a cage of inescapable perfection; trapping you in its pain.” He went on.
“You wanna know who killed the boy?”
“His parents did…” John said in the confusion
“No. They only injected him with enough of the serum to not garner a pulse. I smuthered the life out of that miserable creature.”
“Pretty little Catherine here must have Stockholm syndrome, too.”
“Don’t disgrace her name.” John barked back
“I was part of the group who orchestrated her rape.”
At that John picked up the knife lying on the table next to him.
“Killing me won’t get your love back.”
“Except, she’s not my love.”
John motions to slit the man’s throat
But Catherine gets a hold of John’s wrist.
“What’s stopping you, John?”
John heard a voice in his head
It was hers.
“Don’t listen to his lies.”
I know why you gave in. I would done the same deed.”
“Please, John” she finally spoke aloud.
He drops the knife and falls to his knees onto the floor.
Iomhar nods as his work is done and vanishes into the night.
“It may have made me no better but we all go down the same way in the end. And I’d rather carry the burden of the having killed them than you having to live with it.” John spoke at last. “Our lives are nothing but a blink in the universe’s eye.”
“You have a daughter don’t you?” Catherine asked.
“She doesn’t much care for my presence.”
“We shall have to make amends then.”
His smile is crooked. After a few minutes pass, and John finishes sobbing into Catherine’s jacket, she helps him up and hands him his coat.
“Come with me.”
“It’s pouring out there.”
They go out into the rain.
She takes her jacket off. The way the raindrops form and drip from her arm nulled the sounds of the cars hovering overhead and the noisy city.
The streets glinted in the moonlight, slick with oil and rain water.
The sky seemed less dark. The buildings less slumped over.
And they could breathe again.
First off, I shall give credit where it’s due. Here are the direct links to each of the artists’ pages whose art I have featured in this act of my story.
Act 4 is comprised of Catherine and John coming to grips with the fact that nothing is truly in their control. For this act I attempted to incorporate elements of the Star Trek episode “City on the Edge of Forever.” Especially this piece of dialogue: “Let me help. A hundred years or so from now, I believe, a famous novelist will write a classic using that theme. He’ll recommend those three words even over I love you.“
Catherine and John’s use of “I would have done the same” is in place over “I love you” because their relationship isn’t a romance.
And just so this isn’t confusing, (with Iomhar disappearing at any moments notice) the character of Iomhar is not a person nor a robot or even one of those human looking organisms. If you’ve ever read about the id, ego, and superego, you’d understand this better but I’ll give you a quick run down: The character is a projection of John’s id. The id is the purely instinctual part of one’s personality. John has, in a way, partially manifested this part of his personality given his suppression of his desires. Iomhar also isn’t the villain. He, like Catherine, is the mediator that brings Catherine and John back together.
For this act, I wanted the narrator to become more invasive. By that I mean morphing Catherine and the events being told from the third person perspective together to be one entity. I want the reader to feel the physical distance between the characters and become immersed into Catherine’s disconnected state. Like the original Halo trilogy where you are the Master Chief, you are one persona, you don’t control him: you are him. You don’t watch him, you are completing those actions and experiencing the results of those actions as though there is no you and him, it’s just you; John – 117. Furthermore in this act, Catherine finds she has to dig deeper to strike for what she’s looking for rather than continually try to climb out of the pit only to be pushed back into the depression pit. This act illustrates Catherine’s mental journey to acceptance and gaining the courage to start facing whatever comes next rather than constantly bracing for a threat.
I’m not too sure if I’ll write an act 5. I feel a bit lost in my life at the moment. So there’s that.