Sins of the Mother

Chapter One of Gifts

Written by jrcsalter

Part 2

GIFTS

 
An eye for an eye
makes the whole world blind.
— Mahatma Gandhi

Allison lay in the back seat, naked but for her golden locket, silently crying. An hour ago, Emma shouted at her for making a noise, and since then Allison let the tears flow but tried not to sob. She had then faced the back of the seat to avoid meeting Emma’s eyes in the mirror; but by now, her arm was numb. She turned around to lie on her other side and from her limited viewpoint she saw cars driving by on both sides. To sit up would be more humiliating, so she stayed curled up in the uncomfortable position.   After another hour or so, Emma pulled the car into the services and got out, leaving Allison inside. She let out her withheld sobs and waited for Emma to come back. Time passed and there was no sign of her. The sun shone hot through the windows, and Allison briefly wondered if Emma would ever come back. And if she did, would she find Allison dead in the backseat? She didn’t have to wonder long though. Emma opened the front door a few minutes later and threw some clothes to Allison. Neither said anything as Allison pulled on, first the T-shirt, then the jeans. They were a little too big for Allison, but she was grateful for finally being able to sit up. She stretched her legs as well as possible in the cramped conditions, and felt a little better for it, but it made the journey no more enjoyable. Twice more, Emma stopped at services, leaving Allison in the car with no ventilation, not even a window open by a crack. One stop lasted at least half an hour, leaving her sweating in the back and slowly becoming aware of how thirsty she was. She hadn’t had a drink since last night, and by now it had to be around four o’clock. Emma came back and gave Allison a small bottle of water, half of which she gulped down in a few seconds, ignoring the icy pain flowing down her throat.   A couple of hours later, Emma stopped at another set of services, parking just outside a Travelodge. She left the car, locked the doors, and walked into the hotel. Allison didn’t expect to see her until the morning.   When Allison was sure Emma was not coming back, she climbed into the driver’s seat and examined the door. Emma had used the child lock on all the others, but this side didn’t have one. Allison felt a small surge of hope, but it was dashed when she saw the lock. It was sunk into the door, specifically designed not to be opened without the electric key. She pinched it with her fingers, but even with her nails, she couldn’t get hold of it. What could she use? The rest of the car was kept tidy, and was empty for the most part, but the glove compartment usually contained something. She jumped over to it and yanked it open. Out fell papers, sunglasses, loose change, a driving licence, nothing she could use. Allison sat back in a huff. She’d be able to get out of this somehow. If not today, then tomorrow. Wherever Emma was taking her, it would not hold her forever. She took one look up at the hotel with hatred, then reclined the seat, closing her eyes.   In contrast to the burning day, the night became colder; and in only a T-shirt, jeans, and stale sweat, Allison curled up to make the most of her body warmth. She drifted in and out of consciousness through the night; barely half an hour’s sleep at a time, followed by an hour of wakefulness. She was awake to witness the sun rise next to the hotel and knew Emma would be out soon, so she put the seat up properly and made her way to the back again. An hour later, Emma came back to the car and drove off without a word; she didn’t even acknowledge Allison was there.   Her sleep pattern continued throughout the day, making the journey seem that little bit shorter, but no less hot. Allison was surprised to see the clock read four as they turned off the motorway. They drove through a town and down some country lanes until Emma pulled the car into a street, past a removal van and up a driveway into a garage. She got out and walked straight past Allison, ignoring her again. Allison looked out the back window and saw two removal men walking up the path before Emma shut the garage door, leaving only a strip of light across the garage.   A few hours later, Emma reopened the door and the light of a setting sun filled the garage. She unlocked the door and grabbed hold of Allison’s forearm, pulling her out of the car. As her bare feet touched the rough concrete, she felt a stab of pain in them, still not fully healed from the day before, yet still much better than they should have been. The pain was made worse by walking out the garage. She barely had time to stretch, or take in the street she was now to live in, before being thrust into the house. She fell down in the corridor and looked up to see Emma silhouetted in the doorway, ‘You will not leave your room except to go to the bathroom,’ she said, ‘and you will only do that at eight in the morning and eight in the evening. Meals will be brought up to you, and you will eat what you are given, nothing else. All phone calls or mail, if any, will go through me first. A few of your possessions are in your room, but most of your stuff, I have sold, given away, or binned. And your precious guitar will fuel my new fireplace. Your room is first on the right. Go.’ Allison didn’t argue, and slumped up the stairs.   Her small room had three main items in it: a mattress, slung unceremoniously in the corner; a desk lying on its side; and a chair sitting in the centre of the room. On top of the mattress lay a few clothes and blankets. Next to it some of her books had been tipped out on the floor. She saw none of her DVDs or CDs, not that they would be of much use without a player.   She closed the door behind her and fell onto the mattress. She opened her locket, seeing Kate’s face smiling up at her, and she dread to think what Emma would do if she knew about the contents. She held the necklace in her hands, staring at Kate, before her eyelids became heavy and she fell asleep.   While she slept, the room shook. Emma felt it downstairs watching her books fall from shelves. The television turned off and lights flickered. The neighbours felt it as well. In the morning, the disturbance would be on the local news, but for the moment, Allison slept.

The corridors looked different somehow. They were empty, though that was not part of it. They seemed, to Allison, more real … and yet not. The difference between this world and her waking reality was similar to the difference between seeing something on television recorded on film, and those recorded on video. Her feet didn’t seem to connect with the floor despite the sound of her footsteps echoing around the school. She knew she was dreaming, but dreams never seemed this real.   Walking down some stairs, she felt herself drawn towards the place she knew best. She passed the reception and turned left to the library. Through the long glass window in the door she saw the only sign of life she had yet to see. The librarian sat on a stool behind his desk scanning books. Allison opened the doors and walked up to the librarian. He looked up, continuing his work, and said, ‘She’s in the part of the library where nobody goes.’ He nodded to the back of the room where it turned left. Allison quickened her pace and turned into the large alcove. Looking at the person standing there, she couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed.   ‘You did not think Kate could appear to you in a dream, did you?’ Cat said.   ‘I hoped,’ Allison replied. ‘Wasn’t entirely sure what kind of dream this was anyway. Why are you here?’   ‘I am sorry, but to walk up to your house to speak to you would probably result in your mother beating me down the street.’   ‘She is not my mother anymore!’ Allison felt the rage begin to fill her.   ‘So I have heard.’   Allison took an angry step forward, her face now inches from Cat’s. ‘You have heard? And done nothing? If your God is so benevolent and all powerful, why does He do this to me?’   ‘Do not blame God for what Emma does.’   Allison took a deep breath to calm the storm inside her. Shouting at an angel wouldn’t solve her problems. ‘Okay then. Why does He allow her to do this?’ she said, the annoyance clear in her voice.   Cat sighed. ‘Because, like every single living being in the universe, she has free will, and to prevent her from doing what she wishes will take that away.’   ‘And you’re seriously defending this? What about all the murderers out there? Don’t you care that they are using their “free will” to take away others’?’   ‘Yes, I care, but we can’t pick and choose who we control. Besides, there is a chance at happiness after they die, so it is not a permanent pain.’   ‘So how can I have free will if Fate has already decided what I do?’   ‘Think of it like you think of the past. You chose to pick up a guitar and start playing. At the time, that choice was in flux. Now it is unchangeable. If you were to go back and relive your life again with the same knowledge and experience as you had then, you would choose the same thing. In a sense, Fate does indeed determine our choices, but conversely our choices determine Fate.’   ‘And yet you speak of it like an actual being.’   ‘Because they are. Or as much of a being as God is. They can see all of time and space, they understand every single atom in the multiverse and can therefore predict with absolute certainty the final outcome of existence. But they can also affect the physical realms, though not the spiritual ones, and will, on occasion, intervene. They have their own reasons for doing so, and no one has ever been able to stop them from doing what they want, or make them do something else.’   ‘And if I just refuse that destiny? Using my free will as it were.’   ‘Because you won’t. Your destiny has not been decided by others, but by you. You will carry it out because you choose to. Having the ability is nothing if you don’t have the will. And you will have both.’   This didn’t sound right. How could someone have made a decision before options were given? Especially a choice that wasn’t a good one. ‘So, are you saying you can’t get me out of this?’   ‘No, I cannot. That is up to you to do. Right now, your power is manifesting, even as you sleep. It has done so before, but never to this extent. You need to learn to control it and you will use your free will to escape your prison. Keep your spirit. Do not let Emma weaken it.’   Allison watched as Cat disappeared in a glow of white light filling the room.

She woke up and felt thirsty. Walking across the room, through the scattered mess lying on the floor, she reached the door and pulled on the handle. It resisted.   ‘Emma,’ she shouted. The sounds of movement came from the other side and then she heard footsteps make their way downstairs. Banging on the door, she screamed for water, but the only response was the closing of a door downstairs.   Cat was wrong. She would change her destiny. She’d escape from this prison, go back to Kate, and forget everything about angels and rebels. Why would she fight for someone who would allow this to happen to her? Free will be damned.   Allison banged on the door again, but Emma still didn’t answer. She looked around her room for the first time since waking. Her mattress lay on the other side of the room and the desk was now upside down, the drawer open spilling out a ream of paper and other stationery joining the rest of the chaos.   It took all of two minutes to tidy up; she placed the desk in the far corner and lined the top with the books, filling the drawer with its contents. The mattress, she placed back on the side opposite the window and covered it with a blanket. She hung some clothes on hangers in her built in wardrobe, and placed the rest on the floor.   Settling down to read, she waited to see if Emma would listen to her pleas. She was thirsty and hadn’t received more than half a pint of water in the last two days. By noon, the sun shone through her window and made the room almost unbearably hot. Allison went over to the window and tried to open it, but Emma had locked it too. There were no curtains she could draw to give at least a small amount of shade either.   Hot and sweaty, she took her T-shirt off and sat down in the shadiest corner of the room. It didn’t do much, but it was better than nothing. She took out a few pieces of paper and a pencil, rested them on the hard cover of The Lord of the Rings and began to write. She let her mind wander across the page with no clear goal. The words came together, she went back and edited previous passages, added some structure, and soon she realised she had written a song about how she felt at the moment. Pouring all her anger onto the paper and concentrating on something she enjoyed transported her mind from the hot, stuffy room and onto a stage surrounded by adoring fans. She finished the lyrics and composed a melodic hook. She followed that up with the opening, the bridge, and overall rhythm. She then gave the song a repeating bass riff, and wrote down a few ideas for the drums before she found she needed to squint to see her notes. Looking up, she saw the room bathed in the last remnants of twilight. Emma hadn’t given her a clock or watch, so she didn’t know what the time was, but it had to be past nine o’clock. Licking her dry lips, she remembered how thirsty she was. And how badly she needed to go to the toilet.   Almost as soon as thinking this, a metallic scraping sound came from the door. Allison grabbed her shirt and hastily dragged it over her head. The way Emma had behaved over the past two days, Allison didn’t think she would appreciate her daughter sitting in her room topless. The handle moved down and Emma stepped in. She carried a half-pint glass of water and a plate with two slices of bread on. She set it on the desk, and Allison stared at the woman. ‘Is that it?!’   Emma turned around. ‘You should be grateful.’   ‘I’m sitting in this room, it’s bloody hot, no ventilation, and you’re giving me one glass of water?’ Allison stood up suddenly. ‘Are you fucking trying to kill—’ She stumbled as a wave of dizziness hit her. She held her head with one hand, steadying herself with the other on the window sill, and waited for it to subside.   ‘Fine,’ Emma said, picking the plate and glass up again. ‘If you’re going to be like that, you can go without.’ And she walked out the door, leaving Allison to nurse her head.   Through the depravity of Emma, Allison momentarily controlled her disorientation to pick up her book, throwing it at the door and screaming. With it went the rest of her books, the chair and the desk, all hitting the door at the same time. It took a moment for her to realise what happened. For a fraction of a second it seemed as if the objects contained all her anger and just jumped forward. She went over to pick the desk up and felt another wave of dizziness. She forgot the desk and went to lie down on her mattress. Within moments, she was asleep.

Allison awoke with a dry mouth. It took a few minutes for her eyes to focus on the room, and the bright sunlight shining through the window blinded her for a while. When her vision cleared, she saw her prison still in disarray, but everything in a different place than last night. Even she herself had moved.   The door clicked open and Emma brought in another ‘meal’; though from the look of the bread, it was probably the same one as before. Allison remained silent this time; she didn’t want what little she had to be taken away again.   When Emma left, Allison picked up the glass and gulped down two mouthfuls before she felt sick. She put the glass down, afraid she would spill it, while she fought to keep the life-giving water from coming back up. Soon, the feeling was over and she took a few more sips. Having now moistened her mouth, she took a bite of the stale bread.   An hour later, Emma came up to take away the plate and glass and to let her out to go to the toilet.   Allison passed the day the same as the one before; hot, bored, and very dry. She wrote some more, but couldn’t get into it. Emma brought up more water and bread in the evening and let Allison out again, though she didn’t really need to go. She went to bed and woke up to another re-organised room, a dry mouth, and an awful headache. She couldn’t concentrate on her writing or reading, and she barely registered Emma opening the door in the evening. It took her a few seconds to realise the other woman was telling her to go to the bathroom. Allison did as she was told, stumbling down the hallway. Again, she didn’t really need to go, but she tried anyway. After a few minutes of doing so, she gave up and walked back to her room under the watchful gaze of Emma.   As Allison sat down on her mattress, Emma spoke. ‘I got a phone call today.’ Allison wasn’t interested and tried to ignore her words. ‘It was from that other one, Kate. Said she was looking for you.’ Allison listened a shade more closely ‘I had to tell her you didn’t live here, and I’ve never heard of you.’ Allison tried to stay calm. ‘This is all for the best you know. The less you see of her, the less likely you are to…’ she paused, seemingly unable to say the words. ‘It really is disgusting. I’m sure if your father had known, he would have—’   Allison couldn’t hold it any longer, she sat up and looked Emma in the eye. ‘He did know!’ she screamed, ‘He loved me in spite of it and would hate you for what you’re doing. He was a hundred fucking times better a human being than you, who doesn’t even deserve to be called a toad!’ Emma turned around and left the room as if Allison had said nothing. The door clicked shut and she heard the scraping of a key in the lock. Knowing she was unlikely to get anything tomorrow, she decided to ration her water to small sips every hour or so.   She woke up with the sun shining on her face. She covered her blinded eyes with her arm; it must be the middle of the day and Emma seemed to have ignored her this morning. Her head hurt worse than yesterday, her lips began to crack, and her tongue did nothing to moisten them. Throughout the day, she did little but lay in the baking hot sun. Despite the heat, she didn’t sweat. Knowing that to be a bad sign, she took a sip of water, now almost gone, and it stung her lips as she drank it.   Nightfall came and went. No food arrived, no water. She didn’t feel thirsty, but knew she needed anything she could get. Her tongue scraped her dry mouth like sandpaper, and she knew she had to fight for her own survival.   She tried to stand up, catching hold of the window sill to help herself, and called out Emma’s name. She managed nothing more than a whisper. She took one step towards the door and fell over, crawling the rest of the way. She perched herself by the door and tried to bang on it, yielding a quiet tap. She tried harder, but her arms didn’t have the strength. Calling out again with a dry whisper, she looked around her room for something that would make a noise. There wasn’t much to choose from, so she crawled over to the desk and pushed it over, but it landed on her mattress making less noise than her taps at the door. In frustration, she thumped the carpet.   No one came.

Allison opened her eyes to find herself still on the floor, her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth. She raised her arm to bang again, but couldn’t lift more than an inch before dropping it. Trying again, and again, she achieved no better results. Her eyelids began to get heavy, and she didn’t have enough strength to even stop them from closing.

She woke up again, blinded by the sunlight coming through the window, but unable to cover her eyes with anything more than her lids.

Vaguely aware of someone shaking her, Allison opened her eyes in time to see Emma, dimly lit by orange light, before closing them again.

White light enveloped her and turned to blackness.

She felt cool grass under her feet and looking up, she saw a large field stretching out to the horizon. Many people crowded the moor and she had time to acknowledge their nakedness, and her own, before she felt herself being pulled back into the darkness.

‘This cannot be right. It is not her time.’   ‘No, my scroll tells me she still has much work to do.’   ‘Then Atropos has cut her too soon.’   ‘That would appear to be the case. Though I do not understand why she would do that.’   ‘She has always been too eager with her shears. I suggest we weave another thread.’   ‘That does not come without its problems, however if we leave her as she is, the tapestry will veer from the pattern in the scroll. Rather drastically, I fear. If she does not live to face the Emissary, then his time will arrive sooner than expected.’   ‘Then it must be done. Spin a new thread for her and I will refer the revised pattern to Ananke.’

‘I don’t believe it! Even the Tarimain cannot do this!’   Allison recognised the voice and tried to speak up. ‘Cat?’ It came out as a croak, but not because her mouth felt dry; it seemed as if she hadn’t spoken for years.   ‘It is okay Allison; I am putting you back now. I’m really sorry. It will all be over soon.’   Darkness again.

Her eyes opened in the blackness. She felt refreshed and no longer needed a drink. Her stomach felt comfortably full, and her thirst was merely a healthy need for a drink after just waking. Sitting up, she realised the blackness was not the emptiness of death, but just night. Her eyes slowly adjusted and her room came into view. She sat on her mattress fully clothed, her desk upright next to her with books lined neatly on top and the chair underneath.   She stood up and stretched, feeling stronger than she had in days. Looking at the door, she knew what she would do. She walked over to it and tried the handle, expecting resistance and to have to break it down. She was surprised to find it open easily. She peered out of the room, waiting for Emma to jump out from the shadows. When nothing happened, she walked through the hallway and down the stairs. She heard the television and it occurred to her she had only seen the stairs, hall, bathroom and her room. She didn’t know what the downstairs looked like at all and didn’t even know if the living room was left or right. As she reached the bottom step, the television sounded louder on her right so she followed it.   The door was open a fraction, and she pushed it more. Light flooded the hallway and she blinked at it. She walked into the room and saw no one there. Squinting around the room, she saw it was furnished simply with one chair in front of the television playing some advertisements. A few flowery pictures hung on the walls, and ornaments decorated the mantlepiece above a real fireplace. In the centre of the room lay a thick rug decorated with flowers. She ventured further into the room, reaching the rug and burying her bare toes in the deep wool.   She stood there​—​her eyes now able to take in every detail​—​as Emma walked in, carrying a cup of tea on a saucer and a plate of biscuits. She stopped and stared at Allison. After a few seconds, Allison broke the silence. ‘May I have a glass of water please?’   Emma’s face looked frightened, but then changed to rage as she shouted, ‘After that trick you just pulled?! No! Get to you room!’   ‘No?’ Allison said. ‘You KILLED me! The least I deserve is a drink!’ At the last word, the walls shook, Emma’s biscuits flew across the room to smash into the television and her tea boiled over, scalding her hand as she dropped it. A picture fell to the floor in a clatter of wood and glass, and the television flickered.   Allison looked at Emma and smiled.



Cover image: by JRCSalter

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