Redemption Pt. 3
This short story, called “Redemption,” was published in The Dazed Starling in 2015 and incorporates magical realism. All words and ideas are copyrighted by KaylaAnn. I will be sharing it in four consecutive parts. This story may include material not suitable for younger audiences or those easily triggered due to violent, sexual, scary, supernatural or mature content. This is part three.
“Blood pressure is a little high. Is she still sedated?”
Don’t they hear me screaming?
I jolt up into a sitting position. It is night time. A bare branch scratches my foggy window, but I pay it no attention. It is a nightly sonnet that I often fall asleep to. My arms remain strapped to my sides in a tight cocoon of heat. The heat bothers me, I toss and turn uneasily. The feeling of déjà vu’ consumes me, but I push it away, as I wish I could push away the restraints. My skin has a slight tingly feel to it, like a foot that has fallen asleep after being sat on for too long. The door behind me opens and the winged Craftmaster, the Light One, walks in. Her presence is soothing and I feel the heat in my face drain away, leaving me feeling refreshed and cool.
She quickly unbuckles the jacket and slides it over my head. “Are you alright?”
I shake my head, “I don’t know. I think I had a nightmare.”
Her eyes are sad, but she says nothing. Her wings flutter behind her softly, creating an artificial breeze. I can see the powerful muscles beneath the feathers tensing and relaxing with every beat. “Do you know where you are?”
“Of course,” I say.
“Do you know who you are?”
“Galia,” I answer uncertainly.
“I asked who you are, not your name.” She lays a hand on my right shoulder, but I flinch away. She’s seen my records; she should know how I feel about touch. Besides, she is so clean and pure, she shouldn’t be touching me. Can’t she see how filthy I am?
“Come with me,” she holds out her hand.
“You have seen one option, but there is another.”
I stand, reach for her hand, and stop. I can smell the sulfur on my palms; surely she would not want the same smell on her. As if sensing my hesitation, she grabs my hand in her own and pulls me toward the door. She opens it and we walk through.
We step out into a new land. We stand in the middle of a large never-ending meadow. The yellow and green grasses reach up to my waist and wave their long stems in greeting as the breeze rolls over. The grass tickles my bare calves as if to invite me to roll around in their embrace. My fingers lightly caress the tops of the stems as if I were playing the keys of a piano. I have been released from my restraints. The sky above is a blue that I have never before seen. It is brighter than I have ever seen, almost white, and yet deeper than the ocean. It is a blue that has never been discolored by even the thought of pollution. It is daytime, yet I can see thousands of stars above me. They are all the brighter in the pale blue sky. I see the Big Dipper, Orion’s Belt, the Bear, and so many others that I do not know the names of. Somewhere off to the right side of the sky I see a swirling mass of blue, purple, green, and red stars.
I can no longer smell the sharp odor of sulfur. There are perfumes here that I cannot even describe. They float along the air. I smell the sweet scent of baking bread, warm and fresh. It is the smell of baking day back at home. There is the smell of roasting meat with spices that make my mouth water. Beneath that there is the hint of burnt hot dogs. A smile tugs on my lips as it makes me think of Fourth of July and the time my dad forgot the meat on the grill. The syrupy scent of crushed grapes makes me close my eyes in delight. Although I see no sun in the sky, my skin tingles in the warmth of the light. The heat here is comforting and in no way oppressive. I feel as though I can stay in this moment forever. I stretch my bare feet. My toes span and pull up the soft cool dirt. I smell it then, the earthy aroma that brings me back to childhood that reminds me of digging up worms with my friends.
When my eyes finally reopen, I do not know how long I have been here. The Light One still stands beside me. Her face is uplifted, and light shines on it, blurring the facial details. Or does the light come from within her?
“Who are you?” I ask out of curiosity.
She turns toward me, “You may call be Gabriel.”
“Gabriel?” The name stirs a memory in my mind. “How do I know that name?”
“I appear in various forms,” Gabriel’s hair shortens and her stance grows. Suddenly her figure is more male than female and although his face still shines blurring specific details, I can tell he is a man. When he speaks, it is with a deep base. “Come with me.”
He walks across the meadow, making a temporary path in his wake that I follow with ease. Behind us the grass springs back into place as though we were never here. We walk for several minutes though I never grow tired or weary. I seem to have an abundant source of energy, as the soles of my bare feet dig into the soft warm earth with every step. We make our way over a small hill and finding ourselves on the other side, my mouth gapes open in surprise. Blocking the path in front of me in a steadily flowing stream that stretches to the east and the west as far as my eyes can see. The water is as clear as diamonds that sparkle and shine in the light. I can see the river bed nearly ten feet deep. The mud is covered with smooth rocks and moon-colored pebbles. There is an overwhelming urge to lie down beside the river. I glance at Gabriel to ask him for permission, and see that he has already sat down upon one of the large rocks by the river.
Without thinking I strip off the coarse standard-issued dressing gown, standing naked in the field. I run and jump into the river, completely submerging my brown body beneath the water. I open my eyes and see a new world. There are bright green plants growing down here and schools of rainbow-colored fish. The water wraps my body in a cool and refreshing blanket that holds me up in its gentle arms. To my surprise, I do not feel the need to breathe. I contemplate never resurfacing. For minutes I play tag with the guppies and collect the smoothest of pebbles in my fingers. There are oysters down here, opening their pink mouths, offering me their jewels. Above me I see Gabriel’s shadow and know he is waiting.
I surface to the warm meadow, and feel no regret. I walk out, my back straight and strong, before lying down on the soft grass letting the sun bake-dry my tanned skin that has long since missed the light. I should feel embarrassment for my bare body, but I feel none. After all there is no one here to see. Gabriel is neither man nor woman to judge my appearance, he is beyond that. Besides that, he is not even looking in my direction. Lazily I gaze at my surroundings. In the far distance I see a city of glass with tall skyscrapers and spirals that tower into the sky. The light is stronger there, almost as if that is where it originates from. I strain my eyes. Are those gates I see? Constructed of golden bars and decorated with pearls the size of beach balls?
“What is that place?” I finally ask.
“Paradise,” he says simply.
I look around. “Isn’t this paradise?”
He smiles gently at the horizon, “We are still on the outskirts.”
“Can we go there?”
Gabriel looks at me, “We have to go somewhere else first.”
Curious I stand and dress.
There is a small wooden building a few feet ahead of us. It has come from nowhere and yet I do not question it. Gabriel opens the door and waits for me to enter. I look into the frame, unable to see anything through the darkness. I look at Gabriel, thinking to ask him to go first, although I do not want to seem like a coward.
“Do not be afraid.”
I swallow down the egg in my throat and nod, although I wish we could go back to the river. I trust him. Holding this trust in my heart, I walk into a large white room. The room itself is probably fifty feet by fifty feet. Each of the four walls is twenty feet high with a vaulted ceiling. The room is light and airy despite the fact that there are no windows. Strangely enough, there are long white curtains at each corner that could shield the walls from view. Suddenly, the walls turn on. Or at least that is how it appears. The walls are covered with screens. Most of the screens take up a fourth or even half of the walls. One wall remains mysteriously blank. I watch in morbid fascination as I realize who stars in each image.
There I am as a child stealing my friend’s toy. A small infraction. On another screen, I’m in middle school, cheating on that one Spanish test and then lying about it when I was caught. I can see my brother and I fighting, screaming horrible things at one another. Our parents had found my stash of weed. I blamed him and he took the fall because he wanted to help me without getting me in trouble. I watch the screen, and as if someone knew, the sound blared on.
“I’m your big brother, let me help you. You know this stuff will get you into trouble.”
I watch the screen in dismay, watching the scene unfold. I shook his hand off my arm, “Screw off, Jared! I know what I’m doing. Just because you’re a goody-too-shoes with no friends except your stupid books. You don’t know anything about the real world.”
Jared set his jaw, “If I find any again, I’ll tell mom and dad you’re a junkie.”
“Fine, you stupid tattle-tale. I won’t do it again, okay?”
Jared left the room, but the me on screen didn’t. I watch as she walks to the drawer and pulls out the small zip-lock baggie. I turn away from that screen.
I see all those instances when I disobeyed my parents, smoking on the roof or sneaking out the window in the short skirt my dad thought I threw away. Again and again, I see myself reflected in the images: disobeying, lying, stealing, lusting, and acting out. There is the party where I drank myself into a stupor and woke up on the bathroom floor with vomit on my face. All my so-called friends had done was to turn me over to make sure I didn’t drown in my own spit before leaving me to return to the party. I remember I had to walk home that night, and had been violently ill for weeks after. It didn’t stop me though. As soon as I was better, I was back at the next hang-out.
Suddenly, I am glad that Gabriel waited outside. I do not want him to see this, any of this. These are the moments in my life that I am embarrassed of, although there is a worse memory that has not appeared. A memory that I do not want to relive. As if sensing my thoughts, the wall with the one large empty screen lights up. Though the videos continue on the other screens, their sounds have been muted. All attention is focused on this one wall in front of me.
There it is, that night I have tried so hard to forget. I watch myself on the screen. The music blares out of speakers I do not see. I hold my hands to my ears, but I still hear it. I’ll never forget that song. Cursing and obscene suggestions shriek along with the unoriginal tune. On the screen is the image of me dancing up on one of the tables with a red plastic cup in one hand and frizzy crimped brown hair falling in my red-rimmed eyes. I can see him in the background, the monster from my nightmare, Adam Bret. His eyes follow the dancing girl that I used to be. I want to scream at the projection. I want to grab myself and shake her until she realizes what she is doing. I slam my fist into the wall, hoping to shatter the screen. There is not so much as a crack. The video continues to play. I fall to my knees; helpless to stop what I know is coming. I watch powerlessly as Adam approaches me in the screen, gently taking my hand is his and motioning his head toward the stairs. To my everlasting shame, I followed him, smiling at the attention.
Somehow I fall into the memory. I remember it. I can smell it. I can feel it!
My skin was sticky with sweat and spilled beer. My hair smelled like burnt hair spray and my eyelashes stuck together with every bat. But Adam Bret didn’t seem to notice these imperfections. He was smiling at me like I was the only girl on this planet, and he was a senior! I was just a sophomore. I saw the other girls’ looks as I followed him up the stairs. I told myself they were just jealous. His sweaty palm grasped mine, guiding me up the stairs and down the hall. I remember wondering how he knew where to go.
We enter a room. His room. He turns on a CD and puts his hands around my waist. We’re dancing and it’s Heaven. He’s whispering things in my ears. Things I don’t understand because all I can hear is a loud buzz in my brain. Then his hands are no longer on my waist, but at my zipper. Suddenly he’s pushing me down, and he’s holding me down, and I’m saying-
“No! Get off!”
But he’s not listening and all I can smell is his cologne.
My head jerks down. No. I am not there, I am not there! The screen plays on, but I am not there. I had fallen into the memory of that night, that horrible night. I walked home alone. No one believed me. Not even my friends. I was just some girl who regretted it afterward so I cried “wolf”.
I look away from all the screens; I do not want to see anymore. Surrounded by all my faults, I feel insignificantly small. Lilith was right. If anyone belongs in Hell, it is me. Not for my sin, but for my stupidity. Isn’t that some kind of sin? I curl into a ball, willing myself to disappear. I know that any minute now a crack will open up below me and swallow me whole. I will plummet back into the burning Hell. Maybe I will spend an eternity with the others crying out Mea Culpa, Meal Culpa! A wail escapes my lips like a moan.
Yet there is no crack that swallows me up.
Someone lays a hand on my shoulder; I assume it is Gabriel, having heard my cries. I jerk my shoulder out of his grasp
“Leave me alone, Gabriel. I don’t want you to see this.”
“You are never alone,” a new voice says. The voice wraps me in a blanket of warmth and is as smooth as honey.
I look up into the face of a man. He is ordinary, ordinary stature, brown skin, brown hair, hazel eyes, and yet, he is extraordinary in every single way. His very face seems to shine with a light that comes from within. His eyes are bright with kindness that I have never encountered before. Yet deep within the same eyes, I can see sorrow and grief and pain, deeper than all the pain combined at the asylum. He seems to understand the agony I feel without saying a word. His cheeks are dimpled with laugh lines that mostly hide the sorrow lines under his eyes. He radiates love and safety.
I hide my face in my knees. “Please, you shouldn’t be next to me.” Can’t he see how filthy I am? My sins are literally on display for him to see. It’s then that I notice now the sound of the TVs is gone, as though the speakers were suddenly disconnected.
He kneels beside me, lifting my face to his. Silently, He lifts me to my feet. He is gentle, but insistent. My hands in His, I can feel pure strength coursing through His arms. Yet, there is something odd about His hands, some strange feeling in their grasp. Once steadily on my feet, He releases my hands and walks over to the corners of the room. One by one He reaches up to grab hold of the curtains and I realize what felt different about His hands. In the middle of each of His palms are identical two inch holes. I gape in astonishment as He pulls the white curtains over the screens on the walls. He does this to each wall, until all the curtains are closed. Yet still I can see the screens. Though the images are blurred, they are still there.
I bury my face in my hands, tears springing from my eyes. Curtains are not enough to hide my faults. My hands are pulled away from my face by the man with the kind eyes. He motions to the curtains as if to say watch.
I watch as the top of the curtains darken and stain with some dark red liquid. Then the coppery smell hits me and lingers on my tongue. I realize it is blood. Streams of blood turn into rivers that turn into torrents coursing down the white sheets. The bright color bleeds down until the entire curtain is covered in a red hue. I can no longer see the screens even if I tried. In amazement I turn to look at the Man. I gasp aloud. The holes in His hands look fresh as though they had just happened. Blood pours over His wrists and fingers, pooling on the floor, joining blood from His side and feet. The pain in His face is unbearable and only rivaled by the love in His eyes. I am unable to look away.
“You are never alone.” He smiles, “I love you.”
He falls to his knees with that same smile on His face as the blood pools around him. I splash in the puddle to reach him. “Somebody help him!”
Be sure to stop by my page tomorrow for Part Four the Conclusion of Redemption.