FICTION: THE CATALYST
I swear I had no idea what was happening to me. Please, it’s the truth. What else can I say? How can I convince you? To call it a surprise doesn’t do it justice. I mean everything had been normal to that point. I’d had a very normal childhood. Good times and bad. Nothing out of the ordinary at all.
I’ve been here in this high security prison for eight years now. I haven’t had contact with a soul, except my inquisitors through the screen. I am beyond mad now, lost in the depths of my mind most of the time, I’ve lost track of what’s real and what is not. But every once in a while the plain white cell with its shiny chrome toilet seat and rough wooden table, in their obvious and banal normality, remind me that all those colors, faces and shapes inside my mind are just the product of total fantasy.
I was 12 when I woke with a start one morning and remembered the dream. I was sitting in front of a group who were throwing statements at me. They weren’t questions, no, not questions, only statements. It seemed to have gone on forever though what was left was only a hazy memory of a dream, fading as rapidly as awareness of my surroundings grew.
I thought it was odd, no more. Because it had been more real than most other dreams I've had it made more impact that’s all. It was only later I saw the significance. As I reached my teens the signs of what was to come began to arrive more often. They were vague feelings more than they were concrete events. An odd attitude to this, a strange aversion to that and so on. It was what occurred with Zara that gave me my first real shock. She was my first, and as it happens, my last friend.
I’d noticed her at our local shop, a quiet, blonde-haired girl, buying the morning paper for her folks while taking their dog Sam for his daily constitutional.
I was very shy and it took me months to work up the courage to ask if I could walk with her. She said no. She didn’t want me walking her home. What she did want, to my surprise, was to take a walk with me the next day. And so it was we climbed the Old Kilpatrick hill which lay a few miles north.
I felt wild, fevered palpitations and a jangling hyped-up nervous system as I walked beside her. It was my first time with a girl. So why wouldn’t I feel strange?
We walked up by the stream and through a grove of pine trees and then on a winding track to the brow of the hill. Here we stopped a while, sitting on a tuft of grass gazing out over the green landscape below and the distant hills beyond. It was then it happened. I must have brushed my hand against hers. I swear I hadn’t meant to. She let out a yelp as if she’d been stung and then there she was, in front of my disbelieving eyes, flat out lying on her back, unconscious.
Was this normal, I asked myself. (I was a very shy kid remember, what did I know?) I sat and waited. I didn’t know what else to do. I wore no watch but it seemed hours until at last, with a jerk and a fluttering of eyelids, she came round.
“Are you okay?”
“I-I don’t know…”
“How do you feel?”
“I think we’d better go home…”
And that was it. Nothing more, nothing less. Odd, but I didn’t really appreciate how odd it was because I’d nothing to compare it with. My parents had always kept me pretty much away from the outside world. Mostly I’d played inside, watching TV and playing computer games as I grew up. I really didn’t know what was normal and what wasn't. Later that night the phone rang. It was her. If you’d asked me what it was about her voice that was different I wouldn’t have been able to tell you. But I was certainly aware that something had changed.
“Can I come over?”
“Well, it’s pretty late.”
“I have to see you. Okay?”
“Well, okay then…”
This was strange, I knew that much. Not that I wasn’t pleased, I was. But still, some instinct told me that this wasn’t quite as it was supposed to be.
As I opened the door some five minutes later I got a shock. Oh it was her okay, but… well, it was her appearance. Her hair was not neatly brushed as it usually was and her shoes showed every sign of a rather arduous journey through some muddy field. And her eyes… there was something about her eyes. I tried for a smile and almost managed. Before I could utter a welcoming sound she was past me and through the hall into the living room. As I came in she turned around and suddenly held her arms and hands out in front of her. I stepped forward toward her and obeyed her unspoken command, taking her hands in mine.
I honestly have no detailed memory of what happened next. The closest I ever got to explaining it to myself was to compare it to the dream I’d had when I was 12. It seems crazy I know, but it was in essence the same situation only we were both in it... The room was dark when I woke, with the bright stars twinkling through the gap in the velvet curtains of our living room windows. The only thing I felt at first was the abrasive carpet pile against the side of my nose. I felt totally exhausted and it took all my strength to pull myself up to my feet. I was alone. Zara had gone. I must have staggered to bed and not woken when my parents came back, because the first thing I knew it was morning and I had a blinding headache.
I cried when I saw Zara with the other guys in the weeks and months after that. It hurt me very much, more than I’d like to say. I felt I’d failed and been rejected. Totally and utterly. I withdrew into myself, buying and playing every darker computer games. I could feel myself hardening inside. My thoughts grew more resentful and I knew I was changing, and not for the better. But I didn’t care.
I saw Zara every now and then. Each time she seemed to be with a new guy. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know much, but I knew this at least was not normal. Not hereabouts anyway. To add insult to injury we received a visit from Zara’s folks. I heard the conversation from up in my room. They had been invited in but instead had chosen to remain on the doorstep and do their shouting there.
The gist of it was that I had been some kind of a corrupting influence on their daughter. They demanded to know what I’d done. They sounded desperate, and both ended up crying and wailing like banshees.
I was asked down from my room by my mother and with my heart in my mouth I eventually stood before them. What could I say? I told them what had happened but they didn’t believe me. They looked at me, wild eyes staring brimming with angry tears. They couldn’t believe what they were hearing. It ended with them calling me a filthy, disgusting liar, and marching off.
My parents looked at each other, then down at me.
“You okay son?” asked Dad.
I nodded. Was I? I had no idea…
It had been about a year when out of the blue Zara’s next call came.
“I have to see you. It’s important. Meet me in Potter’s Field okay? 4 o’clock.”
I was stunned. I didn’t know what to say.
I wandered up the path through the woods that led to Potter’s Field. The field itself was surrounded by trees and very secluded. Up along the brown dirt path the opening into the field was visible and beyond I could make out some figures. As I got closer I saw that there were about twenty boys in the field along with Zara. I was confused, but then what wasn’t confusing in those strange days?
Nothing was said. Zara took my right hand in her left and drew me to the center of the field. My heart pounded as the other boys gathered round us. What was going on? Soon Zara and I were in the middle and the nearest boys put their hands upon our shoulders. The boys behind them put their hands on these boys’ shoulders.
I woke up, like before in the living room, alone. I shivered at the coldness which seemed to permeate my body. The wind was soughing through the branches of the trees all around me and it was now night. I lay there and looked up at the bright stars above me. The veil of the Milky Way stretched off across the sky, cold and distant. I felt the chill of the night breeze across my cheek and shivered again. The damp of the ground had soaked through my clothes and I wanted desperately to get up and go home to get warm. But I couldn’t. I had not an ounce of strength with which to raise myself.
I must have fallen asleep once more for when I woke there was the faintest of glows in the East, a smudge of deepest orange just above the treetops in the otherwise total darkness. I raised myself to my knees, eyes half-shut, before staggering to my feet and stumbling toward the path I’d walked down so long before.
I heard nothing of or from Zara then until I happened by chance upon an article in the local paper about a new evangelical group which had been founded called ‘The Road’ and in which Zara seemed to be a leading light. I hadn’t had much of a chance to really get to know Zara but nothing about her had given me the impression that she had had strong religious views. She had seemed quite normal and I hadn’t detected any great fervor in her. Granted we had had a pretty strange relationship since that very first day…
Over the next few years I followed the progress of the group and watched it grow. They had become quite controversial, mostly because of their secretiveness and the way their members were mostly young people who cut themselves off from their parents, often within weeks of joining.
I had given up on everyday life by this time. In the blackness of my room I busied myself with the darkest of music and games. I felt as if I wanted to escape deeper and deeper into the darkness, that it would cocoon me and nurture me somehow. I felt lost and aching. But I had no idea why. I just was and so I embraced it with all my heart.
I didn’t recognize her at first. The girl who had had the beautiful blonde hair had gone. Her hair was now a matted coal black. She looked at me quizzically as she stood there on the same doorstep her parents had wept upon so long before.
Over her shoulder I could see a big black limousine waiting for her beyond the picket fence.
She reached out and caressed my cheek.
The noise was deafening. I was on a podium in front of what must have been a hundred thousand people or more, all dressed in black. Behind and above me fluttered hundreds of long black pennants each with an iconic symbol of a road disappearing into infinity upon them.
Zara stood at my side looking out over the throng.
Slowly she raised her right arm and held her palm out to face them.
I felt the clammy touch of her other palm as she held my right with her left. She bowed her head.
It was like an electric shock running straight through me from my head to my toes and back again. Though it was the strangest of sensations I did not lose consciousness. I seemed to have gone beyond some pain barrier somehow and felt myself disconnected from my body as if the power running through it was too great for me to bear and I was now outside it for my own safety.
The next thing I heard was the roar of a hundred thousand voices as everyone in the arena let loose the loudest sound they were capable of. I must have collapsed as that was the last thing I was aware of. It was two days later when I woke up on my bed at home.
So, you know the rest.
They came for me without warning. It was 4 a.m. or so I’m told. Two men dressed all in black burst through our front door with some kind of metal battering-ram while four more broke through into the windows at the back and another came through my bedroom window. I don’t know what on earth they could have done that was deemed a threat but both my parents were shot to death where they lay in bed. I do wish I had been able to say goodbye.
And so I am here. They tell me I am a security risk. I don’t know why. They tell me little and I am sure they tell me lies to trick me. They are searching for something in my memory, but for the life of me I don’t know what it is. I have told them everything I know.
It is eight years I’ve been here. Alone. It’s at night I feel most normal. When there is no moon and it is dark. I prefer it like that, when it is totally black in my cell and I can see nothing. Nothing except the stars.
I think they’ve given up. There have been no questions for several months now. I have told them everything I know an infinite number of times. Perhaps at last they believe me.
They came today and spoke to me through the screen. They say I can never leave. Not while there is still one member of ‘The Road’ left alive. They mean to terminate each and every one of them. It seems they mean to keep me here forever. I can never leave.
I think they are quite mad. It’s all paranoia. All this security apparatus and for what? They tell me the world is in lock-down, that all is chaos and destruction outside. They tell me they will keep me safe.
I don’t believe anything any more.
They told me something laughable today, that I am some kind of ringleader, so now I know they’re mad. It seems they want to play their mind games once again. I am so weary of this life. I wish I could it would cease.
More tricks, more lies…
I have been over and over the same ground with them so many times now…
But I have kept one secret. One secret deep down in the blackness of my mind, my one last secret. And I will never tell it, never…
Zara is here with me.
She talks to me each moonless night when the stars shine clear. Though I never see her clearly, she is almost totally black when she comes. All I can make out are her eyes, shining tiny pin-pricks in the coal-black of my mind. She commands me, over and over and over.
“Come to me. Come to me.”
I am beginning to weaken; she is reaching ever deeper, deep down into the farthest, darkest well of my mind.
She wants to go home…
They all do.