Paradise Found

Chapter Five of Secrets

Written by jrcsalter

A small autumn breeze rippled the grass at the base of the headstone. The dark clouds threatened rain, but the sun peeked through now and then to light up Daniel’s grave. Gravel crunched under Allison’s shoes as she walked towards her father, a small bunch of flowers in her right hand and her bag slung over her shoulder. She looked to the sky as the sun came out from behind another cloud, her tears sparkling in the light. She reached the grave and knelt down, placing the flowers in the middle.   After a few minutes, she stopped sobbing and spoke. ‘Daddy, I really wish you were here. My life is rubbish and I have no one to talk to about it. I’ve been suspended from school for hitting Mathew. The bastard deserved it, but now he’s in hospital, and I’ve just spent the better part of two hours talking to the police; they let me go after his mother told them she wasn’t going to press charges. Also, I don’t think you know this, but at the wedding, before … you know … you got … Well, Linda and I, we … I don’t want to spell it out for you, but you can guess. I didn’t know what I was doing and I’d had a bit to drink.’ She dropped her head for a second, sighing, then lifted it to look back at the engraved writing. ‘It’s no excuse, but … it happened, and I thought it was all over, but it turns out Linda has moved down here and is at school; she told Kate about what happened. Now Kate doesn’t want to know me and the rest of the school knows about us. It’s only a matter of time before Mum finds out.’ She paused. ‘I need you.’   She sat there for almost an hour, watching the clouds float by, and listening to the gentle rustle of the trees and other mourners walking around. A few drops of rain splattered down and ran across her face, mingling with her tears. She looked up, and for a split second, so short she may have imagined it, she saw her father’s face sculpted in the clouds.

Allison approached the entrance to her street and looked down to the house at the end. Her mother had almost certainly been told about her suspension. And what if the news of her and Kate and reached her? What would her mother do? Not knowing, that was the scariest thing. The woman had never loved Allison​—​Allison didn’t think she had ever loved even Dad​—​what was to stop her mother from doing … anything? She’d never understand what Mathew put her through or how she felt about Kate. All she would understand was that her child hospitalised someone and indulged in twisted perversions.   The dark clouds looming in the sky seemed to confirm her forebodings. After some moments of hesitation, she walked away and boarded a train at the local station. She didn’t know why; she only drifted through the motions, her mind blank. She reached the town station and walked outside into the rain. Occasionally she entered a shop; she picked up and looked at a few products, but never really saw them.   After an hour or so, she looked through the many rain-soaked strands of hair covering her face and saw Kate. She realised what a match they had made; both unconsciously decided to come into town to be miserable. They were so similar; except Kate was stronger. If she had done what Allison had, Allison would have screamed at her, crying; Kate simply walked away and, even now, she seemed to be keeping it together.   Allison took a step towards her, but she froze. What would she say? She couldn’t just go up to her like this, it would be insensitive. She had to let Kate approach her. Maybe if she walked by and pretended she hadn’t seen her; perhaps Kate would notice her and begin talking. The thought sounded ridiculous even before she finished forming it. No, she would leave it for the moment and turn around. She walked away from Kate, but her mind was still there.   If her mind had been focused, she may have noticed the black cloaked figure in an ally to her left. The figure raised her gun, glinting in the yellow light of the street lamps as she walked out to point it at Allison. People walked past her line of sight, a few others noticed her and hurried out the way, some screamed. Her hand shook as she aimed, and her face tightened in blind fury. She squeezed the trigger.

Kate turned when the loud crack flew through the air. For a second she thought it may have been lightning, but then another rang out, and she saw the black cloaked woman pointing a gun at a person lying on the floor. The Woman fired four more shots in quick succession, expertly cocking the gun after each pull of the trigger. She continued even after she emptied the entire chamber. She seemed to realise she could no longer fire and kicked the body. Then she spat at it and screamed, ‘I know I can’t kill you yet, but I hope to Hell that you’re suffering right now, you little FUCKING bitch!’ She gave one last kick and looked at the terrified crowd surrounding her. Not one person held her gaze.   Kate stepped a few feet backwards at her stare as if pushed by it. The Woman screamed as an invisible force shattered shop windows and threw the onlookers to the ground. The rough concrete tore through Kate’s forehead as she slid along the road.   Flying into the sky, the Woman left the sphere of destruction.   The wounded girl coughed and rolled over. Kate recognised her and cried out. She got to her feet, running towards her and skidding to a halt, landing beside her dying girlfriend. ‘Alli,’ she said. She grabbed her hand, clammy with rain water, and held it close.   ‘I’m so sorry, Katie,’ Allison breathed out.   ‘Don’t talk. I heard people phoning for an ambulance; it should be on its way.’   ‘I’m getting dizzy.’   Kate looked down at Allison’s body, soaked with blood, much of it flowing down the road with the rain. She knew she needed to put pressure on open wounds like this, but there were so many of them, she didn’t know what to do. She just knelt there, holding Allison’s hand to her face, watching her slowly die.   By the time the ambulance came, Allison’s eyes barely flickered, and as they carried her inside, she finally went limp. Kate let out a sob at the sight, and without a second thought climbed in the back of the vehicle with her. A paramedic asked her if she was friend or family, and Kate answered as if something else controlled her voice; her mind remained fixed on Allison. The siren above her sounded as if it were a mile away. The medics tried to patch Allison up, and Kate watched. She rubbed her face, and as she pulled her hand away, she saw it covered in blood. In the window her reflection revealed a graze on her forehead and a large smear of blood down her cheek. Part of it must be hers, but some belonged to Allison. She looked back at the girl lying on the bed and wished the ambulance to hurry up.   After an eternity, they arrived at the hospital. Kate jumped out with the medics as they wheeled her in the building. As they entered, more people joined them speaking in medical terms Kate couldn’t understand. She followed them as they travelled through corridors until they reached an operating theatre where a nurse tried to stop Kate from going in. She said some things and led Kate to a waiting room. The nurse asked a few questions and Kate answered them. The nurse asked if there was anyone else they could contact. Kate gave her Emma’s number without thinking. Eventually the nurse left to get her a cup of tea. Kate stared at the walls.   So many things filled her head, and yet she could concentrate on none of them. She still wanted to speak to Allison about what happened. She hated it, but she certainly didn’t want her to die. She still loved her. She covered her eyes with her hands trying to block the tears she felt coming. She wouldn’t cry.   Not yet.   A few minutes later, the nurse came back with a cup of tea, and a tray containing a few medical supplies. She made small talk with Kate while she mopped up the blood on her face and applied a dressing to her grazed forehead. Kate barely listened to her words of hope and encouragement. After a while, the nurse left, and Kate sat in silence some more. For about half an hour she remained in the same position until the door opened and Emma walked in.   ‘What happened?’ Emma said.   Kate took one look at her before returning her gaze to the wall. ‘Alli got shot.’   ‘By who?’   ‘Don’t know.’   ‘Where?’   ‘In town.’   ‘Is she okay?’   Kate turned back to Emma, disgusted. ‘It took you that long to ask that question?!’   ‘What?’ Emma said.   ‘Forget it.’   Emma remained standing for a few minutes before the door opened again, and a doctor walked in. Kate stood up. Aside from his considerable height, the first thing Kate noticed was the pained expression on his face. He began to explain what they did and that they tried everything. She didn’t need him to say it before she fell to her knees. The strength holding her tears back snapped.

The bed lay in the middle of the theatre, illuminated by a solitary light. Allison’s silent body lay on it, still connected to machines that were just as inanimate. Her eyes were closed as if she slept, but spots of blood remained on her face like a rash. A nurse came over and wiped Allison’s skin with a damp cloth. She had finished the right side of her face when the door burst open, and Kate came in wrestling out of the doctor’s grip and ignoring his protests that she couldn’t see her yet.   Kate rushed to Allison’s side and picked up her hand. It was still warm. She couldn’t be dead. Dead people were cold. ‘Alli. Wake up,’ she whispered. ‘You’ve got to wake up. I love you. I can’t…’ She held the hand close to her face, resting there for a few seconds. Then, without thinking, she leant down and stroked her hair, caressing her cheek, still clammy from being cleaned. She leant further until she touched her lips with hers.

Allison watched from the other side of the bed as the scene paused. It was a surreal experience, looking down at her own body, as if she were dreaming. Perhaps she was. This certainly couldn’t happen in real life. She must still be on the operating table with surgeons trying to restore her life. There was no other explanation; why else would she still be conscious?   But this was unlike any dream she had before. She had heard about lucid dreaming, but never really experienced it. This must be what it was like. She felt the kiss on her lips and unconsciously touched them. She felt herself crying, but no tears fell. She felt herself sobbing, but no sound came out. She felt herself walking around the table, but her feet didn’t touch the floor.   As she reached Kate’s side, she put a hand on her shoulder, feeling slight resistance as it swam through Kate’s body as if through warm water. She looked at Kate’s face. She had pulled away from the kiss a fraction of a second before, and her eyes were wide with terror. Kate knew what was going to happen.   Allison looked across the room to Emma. Her mouth had tightened and her eyes looked at Kate with loathing.   Allison also knew what was going to happen.   She waited for the scene to start again, but it remained still. After a few moments her vision blurred. She rubbed her eyes; again, it was more resistance rather than touch, but it did no good. The scene blurred even more until she could only make out contrasting colours, then light and darkness and finally it all blended together, and she was alone in a dark empty space. She looked at her hands; they were clearly lit by an unknown source. She turned around to try to find the light, but saw yet more nothing. She couldn’t even feel the ground beneath her feet. She experienced the symptoms of anxiety, but couldn’t feel her breath or pulse rate quicken, as the void surrounding her closed in and felt claustrophobic. She attempted to walk, but with no relative points, all she seemed to do was move her legs. She reached down to touch the floor, but her hand went past her foot into blackness. She waved her hand under her, feeling no resistance. Despite this floating sensation, gravity still worked. She knew which ways were up and down, her hair still fell down her back and shoulders, and her clothes still hung off her body.   More minutes of increased anxiety passed and despair began to sink in. What was she to do? How would she get out of here? What if she remained here forever?   For what it was worth, she sat down and hugged her knees. She felt tired and closed her eyes. Sleep refused to come, so she opened them again. She sat there for hours. If it continued, she would go insane.   But something happened to break the monotony. The place became brighter. The blackness held a hint of green, and a warmth hit her bare skin as if in bright sunlight, making her realise the gradual disappearance of her clothes. The green intensified and separated out into blue above and a splattering of brown’s around her. Detail crept into the vision revealing a vague orchard under a spring sky streaked with clouds. She stood up to look at the new world and felt a dirt path beneath her bare feet. Grass grew at the edge of the road, wild, but well kept. She made out blossom forming on the trees and the patterns in their trunks. Fruit also grew on the branches; ripe red apples, bright oranges, dark figs, all plump and looking delicious. She walked along the path; it was pleasant to touch, smooth and free of sharp stones and sticks. The fruit cocktail filled her nose as she walked past other trees and vines; bananas, grapes, strawberries, raspberries, kiwis. Birds sung overhead and flew from tree to tree singing an angelic chorus. A robin hopped across her path followed by a sparrow, a squirrel, and a mouse, and she watched them disappear into the main plantation.   After wandering and admiring the fantastic place for some time, she came to an enormous tree. Other paths branched from it, leading her to believe it to be a centrepiece. The branches spread over a wide distance, forming a shady canopy a foot above her head. From it hung some fruit, it had the shape of a fig, but the bright red colour of an apple. She held one and felt its soft ripeness. She began to pull it off, but heard a voice behind her. ‘That would not be a good idea.’   The voice spoke in a language she never heard before, yet she understood every word. Spinning around, she faced the speaker, a woman as bare as she was, radiating a light to rival the sun.

‘Cat?’ she said.   The other girl nodded once.   ‘Where am I?’ Allison spoke, but her words were not English.   ‘Where do you think you are?’ Cat answered.   ‘Looks like something out of a Disney movie.’   ‘Then you must be in Eden.’   ‘Don’t you know? Can’t you see?’   ‘No. For me to describe what I see would take words that not even this language knows.’   ‘And what language is that?’   ‘So many questions. I can’t answer them all right now. What I can say is you are in what passes for Heaven. Or at least how you perceive it. You are speaking the original language, Afirian, as taught to Adam. It is a genetic feature of every ensouled being, unfortunately forgotten by humans some time ago.’   ‘Heaven? Just like how you claimed to be an angel?’   ‘Archangel, actually. Or Primal. Sometimes even a god … or goddess, the whole concept is genderless.’   ‘This is ridiculous.’ Allison turned to walk away, but Cat interrupted her.   ‘Even after everything you’ve seen, you still believe that?’   ‘How can I?’ Allison turned back to Cat. ‘If Heaven existed, it would not be designed by Disney. This is just so … cartoonish.’   ‘As I said, what you see is how you perceive this place. You believe the idea of Eden is as a pretty orchard full of tame critters, and thus that is what you see. For example, Vikings often saw this place as a giant hall, with a feast laid out on a table and weapons of war lining the walls.’   Allison shook her head. ‘Fine. Just tell me why I’m here.’   ‘Finally, you ask the right question.’ Cat paused. ‘You’re dead.’   Allison widened her eyes.   ‘Or as close to death as it is possible to get. Not even your doctors know there is still a tiny spark of life within you. However, you are here because I need to prove to you what I said before. At least proof you can’t deny.’   ‘You expect to convince me by showing me some stupid cliche?’   ‘As I said, if this is cliched, it’s because this is how you perceive it. Besides, this is not how I intend to convince you. No doubt you will dismiss this as a dream when you wake up, of that I’m sure. Which is why I’ve awoken your dormant Afirian genes and, hopefully, your ability to speak this language in the real world will convince you I’m telling the truth. Anyway, you need to get back to your own body.’   ‘But if this is Heaven, why bother making us live on Earth for seventy years?’   ‘Allison,’ Cat warned.   ‘I know, too many questions, but if this is real, it may be the only chance I get to know these answers.’   ‘That’s just the point. This … everything you see … none of it is real. It is a construct for the happiness of a mortal. Down there, Earth, the universe … that is what is real. Now, we don’t have much time; it took me too long to find you in the void, and I can only pause reality for a short while.’   ‘One more question before I go. Just a short one.’   ‘Okay.’   ‘Why am I naked?’   Cat laughed a little. ‘Of all the ensouled beings, even the ones who wear clothes, humanity is the only one to be ashamed of their bodies. Basically, nothing that is not created by God is allowed here.’   ‘He couldn’t create clothes?’   Cat laughed again, and Allison saw her fade away just as the hospital had done. Soon, she was engulfed in the blackness again, but this time, she only endured it for a short while before the operating theatre came slowly into focus.   The scene remained exactly as she left it, but slightly smaller. The scene warped around her and seemed as if she looked through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars. She felt a tug as something pulled her away. She tried to run back, but the pull was too strong, and soon the contents of the room appeared tiny, yet she remained inside the theatre. Suddenly a flash of bright white light appeared.

Kate moved away. She sensed a slight chill on her shoulder and rubbed warmth back into it. She prepared herself for the tempest to arrive; and no sooner than she thought that, she was pushed across the room into a table of surgical cutting equipment. A scalpel sliced down her arm, and she hit her head on the floor. Feeling dazed, the next thing she knew was Emma screaming at her. ‘Get away from my daughter, you sick cow!’   Kate tried to get up, holding her head, but she fell to her knees. Getting up properly, she steadied herself on a table and shook the last of the dazedness away. It took a moment to process what happened, but when she did, she looked back at Emma. ‘Your daughter?! You never treated her like a daughter.’   Emma made her way towards Kate. ‘I tried to raise her to be the best she could be and now you’re defiling her like this!’ ‘What’s wrong, Emma? You upset I kissed a corpse, or that I kissed a girl?’   beep   ‘Just get out of here.’   beep   ‘No. I actually loved her. You treated her like a burden that you could control.’   beep   ‘I only wanted to stop her from doing things she would regret.’   beep   ‘Like becoming a fucking lesbian?!’   beep   Kate walked towards Emma, dimly aware of the warm blood running down her arm. ‘Look at you,’ she said.   beep   ‘She has died and you have taken a shot at her closest friend. How do you call yourself her mother? You haven’t even cried. You stand there with your face like stone and tell me you care for her?’   beep   Kate turned at the sound of the beep, noticing it for the first time. She ignored Emma’s defensive rantings and fixed her gaze on the heart monitor, sure she had misheard it. A second later, the glowing line jumped with another beep. She leapt to Allison’s bed and looked for the nurse, but she wasn’t there. She took Allison’s wrist and felt a slow pulse. Dropping the hand, she shouted out for a nurse. The one who had originally attended to Allison came in flanked by two security guards who immediately took hold of Emma, dragging her from the room. Kate was too involved in spotting signs of life from Allison to notice what Emma shouted; and sure enough, she saw Allison’s eyes move under her lids.   With all the commotion, the nurse obviously hadn’t registered Allison’s state. ‘Nurse!’ Kate said to her. The nurse looked back after watching security leave with Emma. ‘Look.’ Kate pointed to the heart monitor.   ‘What?’ the nurse said, rushing to Allison’s side and taking her wrist, just as Kate had done, before rushing out to find a doctor.   As soon as the nurse left the theatre, Allison flickered her eyes. When she fully opened them, Kate looked at her. ‘Hello,’ Kate said.   It seemed to take a few seconds for Allison to realise where she was. ‘W-what … happened?’   ‘Just rest for the moment and I’ll tell you about it when you get better.’

Cover image: by JRCSalter


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