Amy Lee Belle is a mother of two, living in Belgium.
After graduation, she wanted to become a nurse.
But everything changed after back-packing in the USA for 4 months, when she was 19.
She decided to study English and English literature.
She has been teaching English in Brussels ever since - her passion besides writing.
FAITH by Amy Lee Belle and Neve Robins
“Have you ever wondered whether what you watch on TV, or on the web is true?
Have you ever had the impression that you were lied to, that something more important was going on in this world - something beyond your reach and your control?
What if I told you that these stories were true?
What if I could give you the proof of their existence?
What would you do then?
Here is another story you might want to read, whoever you are.”
It is already warm for the season. I can hear crickets singing on every green patch I encounter on my way to pick up Kyle. The sun is getting brighter each day and I’m really looking forward to a great summer with my son. I hope we’ll be able to stay longer this time, six months is already a great achievement. Kyle needs stability in his life. So do I…We can’t go on like this anyway. I am contemplating the view while waiting in front of the village school. This remote place is exactly what we needed and at least I understand the language this time. I hear the bell. I can’t believe Kyle is almost eight already. He’s carrying his school bag on his left shoulder. He looks almost like any other boy his age: blue jeans, striped blue sweater and a pair of used sneakers. Only his face is betraying him, his deep blue eyes are failing to hide the burden he has been carrying on his shoulders - the burden of a boy who has grown up too quickly. He doesn’t look back when he sees me, not wanting to stay longer than necessary. I think he’s doing his best to fit in but he can’t let go of this feeling that he doesn’t belong. Neither can I.
-“Hey sweetie pie, how was your day at school?”
-“Just good? Nothing to report? Did Enzo bother you again?”
-“Okay, little man. Say bye to your teacher and let’s go. I made an apple pie just for you and it might still be warm when you eat it.”
-“Au revoir madame Claire, à demain.”
-"Au revoir Charles. N'oublie pas le devoir sur ton arbre généalogique pour demain", she hastily adds, already busy preventing an argument from breaking out between two younger boys.
-"What is she talking about?" I ask, looking at his big blue eyes.
-"Nothing? We'll go over it at home..."
It was our everyday ritual, silently walking back to the cottage and admiring the breathtaking landscape, with its green vineyards contrasting with the burnt grass on top of the hills, its river splitting the valley in two, its mulberry trees dispersed on the fields and poppies growing shyly on their sides. The air was charged with flavors, prairie flowers adding a sweet scent to the smell of cows and bulls - our nearest neighbors. Our house is totally decentered from the village. We have a thirty-minute walk from Kyle's school and we can't do the groceries without driving to the next village, fifteen kilometers further downhill. Our wooden cottage is not extravagant, nor heavily furnished but we have everything we need and more importantly it is the place we dared call home for the first time. Kyle has his own bedroom and there is a huge fireplace in the living room - an entire open space with the kitchen and dining room -for the cold winter nights. I'm helping the local farmer, Jacques, plant seeds, plow his fields and feed his beasts.
It is not really the best job suited for a woman but it pays the rent and provides us with food on our plates. Once a week Jacques and his wife invite us over for dinner. His wife, Marie-Laure is an excellent cook. They are simple and very honest people. I've grown very fond of them. So has Kyle. Plus they do not ask questions, which in my case is more than vital if you want to stay alive. Our life in Ardèche is peaceful and quiet, I don’t think we’ll ever grow tired of it.
We have almost arrived when I sense something odd. I can hear engines from a distance, feel their vibrations which is quite unusual in a place like this. Not now. Not them. My body, in alert, is tensing.
-“What is it mum?” Kyle must have sensed my concern.
-“Come. We’ll take a detour, I want to go on walking.”
-“But mum, I would like to eat the pie.”
-“As soon as we get home, darling.”
We are overexposed on this side of the hill so I decide to take the path crossing the garrigue. I can see three black SUV leaving the main road when we are finally nearing our house.
-“Stay behind me.” I give as a last warning.
-“Do as I say!”
I am able to distinguish the outline of a man from afar. You’re ready. You won’t let them approach Kyle. They can’t hurt you. Protecting Kyle is what matters. At this moment my heart is skipping a beat as it is stabbed with warmth and acute burning pain. Kellan? This can’t be. This pain, now beyond my control, is invading every cell of my body as I remember him. His piercing blue eyes… It can’t be. I start shaking and collapse on my knees. Kyle is crying, calling my name and asking me what is going on. His voice buzzing all around echoes in my ears. I am losing control… I feel myself levitate, my mind going numb and my body reacting on its own accord. I am still able to feel energy leaving me, enveloping me like a blanket, this blanket wrapping me. Inside it I’m coiling like a snake. The energy spreading from my protective bubble is now intensifying, tensing and suddenly bursts into a million sparkles of excruciating pain.
I wake up sweating and exhausted. Where am I? My muscles relax as I recognize the picture of Kyle on my night table. You’re at home. It’s okay. Kyle...Oh my God. It is dark outside, the moon is bright in the sky, the stars illuminating the whole valley that otherwise bathes in inky darkness. I get up and realize that I’m still dressed. Kyle. I run out of my bedroom, hurry to his and open the door. I find him peacefully asleep in his bed, wearing his usual pajamas. I feel the tension leave my body but it quickly comes back as I recall who I think I saw, or was it all a dream? I go out of his bedroom only to realize that there is a light burning downstairs. It takes me ten seconds to finally find the courage within me to face the truth. I approach the living room and see him on the sofa next to the fireplace. Jared.
-“What have you done to my son?”
-“Is this how you thank me for putting him to bed?”
- “What are you doing here?” I try tentatively, slowly entering the living room.
-“It’s good to see you too, Faith.” I am boiling with rage.
- “Don’t call me Faith, I no longer go by that name.”
-“And how should I call you then?”
-“You’re here, I think you already know.”
-“It hasn’t been easy to find you, that’s for sure.” is his reply. I will have to be more careful in the future.
-“Did you carry me inside?” I ask to clear up any doubt of what has happened.
-“Yes. It wasn’t pretty out there, but don’t worry I took care of Kyle. He won’t remember what happened, I made sure of it.”
-“Don’t dare touch my son or I swear I’ll…” I start shouting.
-“Wow, Relax. I’m not here for your son.” Knowing when Jared is lying, I see that he’s not this time. I can begin to calm down. I enter the kitchen area, fetch a wine glass, pour myself a drink and leave the bottle on the table. I decide to sit down on the sofa opposite.
-“Why are you here then?”
-“We need you” he adds matter-of-factly. “Who is we?” I ask, already guessing his answer.
-“Oh you know, same old same old.”
-“Yes, I remember.” I add.
-"A new terrorist cell is rife in Turkey. They're very powerful. And we don’t know how but somehow they laid their hands on Stern’s research results…" Jared continues, going to the kitchen, fetching and pouring himself a glass of the same local rosé wine Jacques has patiently seen mature. "We must act rapidly if we want to avoid any more casualties or worse… ", he goes on.
-“It's no longer my fight. What made you think I would join you?”
-“Well, nothing exactly but I thought I’d pass by and ask nicely.” he says openly laughing at me.
-“Okay, that’s enough", I stand up to strengthen my position. "Get out of my house. You know you’re no match to me.”
-“You could have told me...for Kyle...” Oh, change of subject.
-“And what would you have done?” I ask, slightly bitter, turning my back on him.
-“I don’t know. At least I would have got to know him.” Utter silence is following.
“He’s so much like him”, he adds.
-“I know…” I whisper.
-“Did you tell him...? About his father...?”
I cannot answer that question without thinking about the past and opening that door firmly locked in my heart. I don’t want to relive all that.
-“I can’t…” My voice is trembling.
-“He will have to hear it one day...from you.”
I know Jared is right but how could I tell my son about my past and the consequences it would unleash, what it would mean, to him?
"And how do you know he hasn't inherited any of your...abilities?" I turn around, facing him again, my blood freezing into my veins.
-"I don't", I confess honestly. "Keeping him in the dark is the best way to prevent any burst from happening."
-"Like it is working for you? If I hadn't been there, who knows what would have happened to your son? Repression is not the solution, Faith. You know it and I know it."
-"Don't tell me how to raise my son", I say furiously. He still has the power to make me wild with rage. "If you had left us alone, none of this would have happened. We had a life here, an ordinary life. You took away all our chances at leaving normally by showing up here!"
-"Don't lie to yourself, you will never be ordinary. Look at you, milking cows? Do you call this a life? You're cut out for greater things!"
-"I've never asked for any of this. I don't want any of it!" I'm now protesting angrily.
-"Whereas you want it or not, you have to face it. He might be as powerful as you are. You won’t be able to hide and lie to him forever. Once they know, some….people will want to use him."
Now I snap "Get the hell out or I'll make you!"
-"It won't be necessary", he says heading for the door. "By the way, Maggy says hello."
I must have misunderstood. It is not possible.
-"What did you just say?"
-"She knew you wouldn't believe me, so she wrote a letter", he says while passing me a gray envelope. "My men will pick me up in the morning, don't worry about me", he adds smiling while opening the front door, he then disappears into the night.
I don't know what to make of this news. Maggy is the last person on earth I see hanging around with Jared. I'm sure it is another one of his tricks to force me into changing my mind and joining them. I finish my glass and head upstairs, holding the envelope firmly in my hands. I feel better now I have found the comfort of my familiar room. I sit down on my bed allowing memories to resurface for the first time in almost ten years.
10 years before
Of all the places I had been to, New Orleans was certainly the closest, the most similar to my human nature. Shy, full of light and darkness, still standing, even after hurricanes and storms had ripped her heart out, not allowing herself to show how difficult it had been to recover from the worst of nightmares. Everything was huge here; streets, the oak trees along the path, or ice cream pots you could buy at any store.
My first months on the New Continent had been colored by interesting meetings and unusual places. I didn’t exactly know why I had chosen the south after visiting New York, but one thing was certain, I wasn’t disappointed. After several days in Alabama and having discovered the birthplace of equality, I was now discovering Louisiana.
And a benefit from sightseeing was that at least I could pretend I was a normal tourist, whose parents were waiting for her at their hotel if anyone asked, I thought as I was eating corn bread at the Oak Alley plantation house restaurant. This huge mansion, its imposing Victorian architecture and the vast grounds surrounding it didn’t fail to let out whispers of what slavery life had been, living in the minuscule stalls, serving cruel masters who would let them die without any remorse nor regret. Truth was that I had always felt out of place, like the families who had been brought here to work in the fields. Certainly after the accident, my friends’ attitude had shifted and I hadn’t even wanted to belong anymore. But it wasn’t like they had even tried. I knew I could be introvert, but I had had to become strong after everything that had happened. I thought they had misunderstood my reaction for pride. Death, distress... all made people extremely uncomfortable. So they had done what they could do best: they had pretended it hadn’t been there, I hadn’t been there... But my life in Europe had been nothing compared to the absolute nightmare slaves had had to wake up from. How can we treat each other like this? Europe had had its history of hatred too, I just couldn’t grasp what the motives had been to justify such abject violence and horror. Maybe it was human nature? Maybe it was the animality inside of us that drove us to extremes? But honestly, even animals didn’t seem so wildly cruel towards each other, even they had a sense of protection towards their kind. Or maybe that was it: we didn’t recognize different people as our own. I had always found injustice repulsive and worth fighting against and here was another proof of our world greatest gangrene I concluded, leaving the immense plantation ground to go back to my rented flashy red car and trying to convince myself to stop torturing my mind, switching off the unstoppable emotions irradiating from me.
I was wandering in Bourbon Street after a week of sightseeing, further discovering the old south, its ancient taste for tobacco, cotton, oak trees, sugar canes and ... music.
The light of dusk was illuminating the strange architecture of Victorian houses, fortune tellers were already trying to make up for the slow start of the high season, invading Jackson square with their dark tarot cards or crystal balls on lace tablecloth, calling to us – strangers - for redemption. Myths and legends were like viruses here, they would evolve, reach every layer of the population and then move on to another secluded location. The humid warmth was almost too much for my European tan but I was convincing myself that my journey here would represent everything I had ever wanted; a fresh start to this new, lonely chapter of my life – a present to celebrate graduation that had become the easy way out. Jazz slowly started filling the intoxicating air of the French quarter, appealing to visitors or natives alike. I was no exception. I had never been a big fan of jazz music until then. Its sadness, deep cry moved every part of who I was now, plunging me back into the devastating months prior to my arrival. My heart was still bleeding and it required every power I had left to block the painful images I had kept and taken with me. However, the reflection I saw in the shop window opposite the square had surprised me: elongated, long brown haired, brown eyed, with a red sleeveless shirt, a pair of jeans and plastic flip flops. It was showing a regular seventeen-year-old teenager who had outgrown her clothing style. The perfect nobody who could fade away in this scenery. I was slowly regaining some complexion and the weight I had lost these past months though - certainly due to my extreme taste for Louisiana jambalaya. The image it was reflecting was almost familiar again even if the road to being me was still long and full of ambush. But did I really want to be myself again?
A jet- black haired boy took me out of my reverie by grasping my hand and pulling me, leading me I didn’t know where. He had to be six, was wearing ripped muddy shorts and a shirt whose color was uncertain because of the dust.
-“Come, come” he was repeating, pulling me even more strongly.
-“Wait! Where are you taking me?” I was laughing and surprised by his strength but didn’t change my mind as to stay where I was. “Where is your mother?” I asked, looking around, fearing for his safety. When he saw that I wouldn’t move, he took my camera and made a run for it. I couldn’t lose that camera – my posthumous Christmas present, and after all that had happened, it was the only link I had with my past - aside from my memories.
I started running after him. He was still in Decatur when I saw him turn left. I followed him around the corner and saw him stop in front of a lady. She was standing on the steps of the half-open green door of another Victorian house, two meters away from me, crossing her arms. She was tall with long braided hair, as black as the boy’s, and had big dark eyes. She was wearing a white dress with red spots and a black apron - very trendy in the sixties. She almost looked like coming from another era, where women were behind the stove while their husbands were working. When he was facing her, looking at her intently, she took the camera from his hands and examined it curiously. When she saw me round the corner - bent over to catch my breath - she slapped him in the face and pushed him inside the house holding his right ear, shouting in a language I didn’t recognize.
-“I’m so sorry” the lady said reappearing and approaching me with the camera still in her left hand. “My nephew has no manners. I’m trying to give him a proper education but he can be so difficult...”
-“Don’t worry, I won’t press charges, I just want the camera back.” I replied.
-“Sure, sure, here it is, sugar” she continued handing me the precious object. “But please, let me offer you some compensation, come with me” she offered.
-“Don’t worry, I...I don’t want your money” I insisted.
-“I meant a reading…”
-“A reading? It’s okay, I’ve got enough books with me.”
-“No, not a book, a reading is something else, come with me” she offered again, smiling, showing me the way.
No one was waiting for me, I remembered, and against all odds, I accepted her offer and followed her inside what I presumed was her house. Everything was tastefully furnished, the wooden floors gave their counterparts an almost Venetian style in the hall, with drapes and beautifully covered sofas in the living room. The little boy had found his place on one of them when we entered.
-“Anton, apologize to the lady, and go upstairs, now.” Anton immediately came to stand up in front of me, and apologized to me, not keeping his eyes off his feet. He seemed truly regretful.
-“It’s okay.” I said, trying to take away his guilt. After all, he was just a little boy. But he was already gone.
-“Please sit down” my hostess offered, showing me a seat on the sofa on my left.
-“Thank you” I answered politely.
-“My name is Lynn. Welcome to my home. Would you like something to drink?”
-“No, thanks. I’m fine. Really.”
I suddenly didn’t remember why I had agreed to come here, it felt awkward sitting in a stranger’s living room, even a friendly one. She sat down in front of me and took my hands in hers, which felt even more awkward.
-“Don’t be afraid. Before we start, you have to know something about me and my family.” she started, almost mysteriously now. “I come from one of the oldest families in New Orleans. But we’re not like everyone else. We have passed down something -a gift - from mother to daughter, generation to generation. This gift allows me to see things - things that have happened or are to come.”
I had never believed in those things, and my face must have betrayed me because Lynn added. “I know you’re not a believer. But you will change your mind after today” she added smiling.
-“So, how does it work? Do you call on your ancestors, things like that?” I tried to seem interested.
-“Not exactly” she said. “Breathe slowly and let your mind wander to where it wants to go.”
Easy for you to say. What if I didn’t want to let my mind decide? I’ve had enough crying, so much I even used to cry my eyes out. I don’t want to go back there…
“I know it’s difficult for you. I know you’re trying to block your mind, you don’t want to suffer again…”
-“I…” not knowing what to say, I let her go on, she had her eyes closed this time.
-“I can tell that you are strong and independent. You are smart, resourceful and reliable but you don’t expect life to treat you fairly and you are always ready for the worst. There is a lot of sadness in you too…” she went on “and I see you’ve had your share of suffering since your birth. Your father isn’t part of your life and the person you call mother has started a new family, without you in it. But your grandparents took over. They raised you and provided you with everything you needed - love and attention.” How does she know all this?
After five seconds, she added “I see snow. A lot of snow.” My blood was just made run cold because I knew what she was going to say next. I was feeling threatened and terribly ill-at-ease.
“You lost them. It was winter. It is still haunting you. You don’t know how to live without them. But know this, they’re resting in peace and they’re very proud of you no matter what you decide.”
-“No matter what I decide? I don’t understand.”
She went on as if I didn’t exist. “You will soon have to make a decision that will influence all of us. Destiny has chosen you to save us, you have to start believing in yourself or we’ll all be condemned.”
What was she talking about? It didn’t make any sense…I wished I hadn’t accepted her offer…
Lynn then opened her eyes and said “I’m sorry I can’t tell you more. The future is still misty but I can tell you this: we will meet again and I’ll be there when you need me.”
“Thanks?” I said hesitantly. She was still holding my hand when I stood up. I broke the connection.
“I’m sorry I need to go” I said, still feeling embarrassed. I turned around and was ready to leave the living room when she added “Trust your instinct, Have...faith.” And with this, I hurried down the street, finding my way back into the French Quarter, missing Lynn handing fifty dollars to her nephew who had appeared, once more, out of nowhere.
The café round the corner known as Tonique had become my favorite chilling area. But unlike other evenings, the atmosphere was charged with an almost palpable electricity, so strong it was almost crushing my lungs. Or was it the heat or the strange encounter I had had?
I entered. I had grown fond of red after spending three days here, or for better words, nights. The only reminder of the Quarter's life had been the Mardi Gras beads hanging everywhere, on walls, bars even banisters. The two-levelled café was inviting. The smell of sweat, alcohol and smoke from the previous night of festivities had never truly left the premises, leaving a yellowish trace on the white entrance doors. The light around me was dim and called for introspection - in total contrast with a group of freshmen who were celebrating at the bar, talking animatedly about their future prospects and ambitions around "hurricanes" – a sweet New Orleans trademark. I envied them. Not their muscular, sculptural footballer bodies or the voluptuous silhouette of their girlfriends, no. I couldn't care less about that. This happy-go-lucky attitude; that was what was missing in my life. As I was heading for my usual spot in a corner, I noticed a dark figure on my right.
Then I saw him or rather I felt him watching me. His piercing eyes reading straight into me, into my soul. I had never felt so exposed by anyone, let alone a guy. As I was sitting down I could still feel his eyes lingering on me. But I could sense that it smelled like trouble too. Looking more closely, his features were too perfect, with his big brown eyes, his broad shoulders and short hair. Was it an army tag he was wearing? That would explain a lot. I was telling myself to stop staring. Didn't these Americans know how to shop for proper sizes or were these too short shirts the only way they had to expose their attractive flesh? Men. Typical.
-“What will it be for you tonight, honey?”
-“I would like a strawberry shake, please.” I asked the familiar waitress. She smiled recognizing me.
-“Right away.” I opened my Routard travel guide to prepare the next day’s visits.
Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World should be fun.
-“There you go honey. Call me if you need anything else.”
-“Thank you.” I answered.
-"Can I buy you a drink?" asked the dark stranger.
How did he get so close so fast? He’s even more handsome close to…
-“No thanks, I’m all set.” I answered showing him my drink.
-“I meant a proper drink…” He smiled. "Do you mind if I sit down?"
He was already facing me as he hadn't waited for my answer.
“My name is Jared. What's yours?”
I could feel my heartbeat accelerating as adrenalin was rushing through my veins. I didn't know if it was lust or a sense of danger. I considered not answering but I couldn't let him see how I felt.
-“Faith.” I didn’t want to give him my real name. As I was recalling what my grandpa used to say, I opted for this one.
-“Faith? You're not from here, are you? I don't recognize your accent.”
-“Well, you could say that. You're very perceptive.” I added with sarcasm, when the waitress brought two hurricanes, winking at me. Why not? I thought and took a sip of my free drink.
-“How come a European beauty like you speaks English like that? First time in New Orleans?” he inquired. How did he know I was European? All these questions were only confirming the uneasiness I had sensed five minutes before. I wasn’t used to all this attention.
-“Yes…” was all I gave away.
-“Do you like it so far?”
-“I love it here…”
As he seemed to be waiting for more, I went on, speaking to hide my discomfort, “it’s totally different from the other States I have visited.”
-“Where else have you been?”
-“I was in New York a couple of weeks ago but I wanted some taste of the south as well. I visited Alabama first. That was incredible. So many things to see…”
-“Well, there are plenty of things to do here as well. Let me take you to this great bar, you’ll see…”
-“I…” Suddenly my head started spinning. My body felt numb, my legs unable to move. I was starting to feel heavy, the music around us slowly fading away.
-“Sweet dreams, beauty. We've been waiting for you” said the brown-eyed stranger.
The sky was a threatening gray. It quickly started to rain. The only sound I could hear was the heavy rain trickling on the ground. I was alone, standing in the middle of nowhere. The air was so humid and heavy, the leaves of the trees surrounding me so green – almost surrealistic – I recognized oak trees. I could feel and smell the rain all around me. I started walking, slowly, then faster, and faster. I had this queasy feeling of being followed. I turned around but there was no one. The air I was breathing became more and more dense and heavy. What was this new smell? I knew I had smelled it already. But where? Suddenly I recognized it: incent. It was incent. Panic was gripping me slowly by the throat, I couldn't breathe any more, I was suffocating. I was bending on my knees trying to catch my breath when I saw them on the shiny green grass: my grandparents' tombs. And behind me, a black hooded figure spreading his wings, pointing at me. The angel of death, watching me, approaching me, crushing me...
My head was hurting so much. I felt heavy and swollen. Should I try to open my eyes? The pain was excruciating, just like the smell - a mix of burning flesh, metal, bleach and blood. Was I in a hospital? I could hear a strange noise. What was it…a drill? Slowly I started to open my left eye. The light was blinding and too strong to distinguish anything. Hands holding my skull, why? My heart rhythm started racing. I heard a man yelling “Oh fuck!” I passed out, again.
-“You’re stronger than I thought you would be, you made it. Welcome to the team, beauty!” I tried to open my eyes as I heard him talk. You, monster. My eyelids were so heavy. What had they done to me? My mouth was so dry, my head was spinning and so sore…What I saw was blurry at first. Now I could see him, the guy from the bar again, and next to him, the same guy? It couldn’t be.
-“Leave her alone, J. You’re not supposed to be here. Let me handle it.” I could feel something sharp inside my right arm and caught sight of tubes connected to a sort of plastic bag.
-“w….a…..t…..er” I whispered.
-“Not now. You need time to recover. Rest…” the second J said.
Unable to resist the urge of closing my eyes again, I let go.
Deafening sound everywhere. I could feel the floor vibrating. An earthquake? Music? An electric light was beaming. I lay on the ground. That I was sure of; my back was cold and my muscles were hurting. My head. Ouch. What the fuck? Touching my skull I didn’t remember shaving one side of it. I touched my skull again and felt a naked line just above my right ear. I needed a mirror. Or maybe later.
-“You alright sister?” I saw a hand in front of my face and I decided to take it. “Wow, slowly!” he said as I was falling back again. Having released his hand to hold my head, a sharp pain was radiating inside of me but was distilled by a sort of dizziness. Have I been drinking? I tried to stand up. I found it difficult to make a step. It felt like walking on sand. I could hear Drake singing Legend and a thousand people repeating the lyrics with him.
When I was feeling better I asked “Where am I?” I was shouting to be heard.
-“You don’t know? Go easy on the booze, sister. Bienvenida a Coachella festival.”
-“¿Estoy a Coachella festival? ¿Cómo es posible que…? ¿Dondé es?” Was it me talking in Spanish? I had never learned Spanish, had I?
-“¿Hablas español? Muy bien. ¿Qué quieres beber? ¿Una cerveza?”
I had had my share of strange guys for a lifetime and ran further into the crowd. At least it would keep him away from me. The air was warm and humid, filled with sweat and smoke. I needed to get out. What was I doing here anyway? How had I got in this place? Was I daydreaming again? I checked several times I wasn't being followed and headed for the exit after ten minutes. The sun was going down but I could still distinguish people - a lot of them - sitting and talking, smoking or drinking or both. This wasn't like any other festival I had seen, everything was huge, seeing and hearing all their voices, even from a distance, engulfing me and the whole city, I was feeling very small. Control, do not panic, you're gonna get out of here. Let's see what I have on me. I knelt and emptied my pockets on the grass not far away from the stage where the crowd was still singing and dancing.
Nothing. I had nothing on me; no ID, no money, no key. A feeling of dread and frustration was slowly rising inside me and invaded all my body. I tried to stand up but my hands and legs began to tremble, and I collapsed on the ground. I could feel tears stinging my eyes. But I swallowed them. And I did so because I had remembered. No one was waiting for me, no one would alert the police in order to know my whereabouts, no one. I was alone in this world and alone in my despair. Don't pity the dead, pity the living, but not for too long. If life is ruthless to you, be ruthless to life. That is what granny used to say. I needed to stand up, to move, for my legs had started to feel numb because of the lack of movement. So I did it, I stood up, for what purpose, I didn't know but I hadn't been raised to stay passive and I had to count on myself and myself only.
I was still standing there when someone caught me off guard, “hey, are you okay?”
A small woman with charcoal hair coming from nowhere had put her hand on my shoulder. As tried to remove it, surprised by her gesture, I froze at her touch, receiving thousands and thousands of pictures to process at the same time. My eyes rolled upwards, the pain inside my skull was excruciating. I was seeing her, cleaning cuts and applying a salve, injecting her patients with antibiotics and taking care of them, speaking nice words.
And suddenly I knew, I knew the precise movements to perform all these nursing acts, I knew you had to check your syringe wasn't containing air bubbles before injecting anything into your patient's arm to avoid embolism, I knew you had to wash your hands to avoid MSA infections, I knew how to remove stitches and when to do it. I could go on and on about all the new things I knew.
But I had never been to a nursing school, I had never attended any lesson about injecting patients. What was happening to me? I screamed, my head was hurting again but I didn't know if it was a cry of pain or fear - fear of the unknown or of losing myself completely. The deafening noise of the crowd was drowning my scream but it was still repelling the only person who had shown me kindness here. I was feeling lonelier.
-“It's okay. Don't worry. Let's get you out of here!” said a musky voice next to me.
It was him. At that moment I couldn't suppress my rage any longer, I wanted to slap him. He was responsible for what had happened to me, it was the third time I saw him and all these memories were strongly linked to pain.
-“You bastard!” As my hand was almost touching his face, he stopped me in mid-air, not looking surprised at all.
-“I'm not who you think I am. Look more closely.” I didn't know what he meant but there was something in his voice that made me want to trust him. I started staring at him, examining every tiny detail of his muscular body; his large hands, his broad shoulders, his face. His hair looked longer than it had the last time I saw him. Then it hit me, like an arrow piercing my heart. It wasn't the guy from the bar, even though they looked alike. Jared, I thought was his name, had brown eyes and short hair, exuding confidence and pride. This handsome man in front of me had gentle blue eyes, and a body too stunning not to be noticed but he didn't seem to be aware of it.
-“You're not ...J...him.”
-“No, I'm his brother, Kellan. Now, get a grip on yourself and follow me.”
-“No way. I want answers, right now. What have you done to me? What am I doing here?” I was shouting.
-“You have two options; first one, you go on yelling and I'm out of here. Second one, you shut up and do what I tell you to do.” He said matter-of-factly.
- "Gee, thanks. So much for options!” What choice did I have? I was in the middle of nowhere, with no one to turn to. The best I could do was following him, escaping as soon as I could. Reluctantly, I yielded. -“Alright. As long as you promise not to knock me out again.”
-“I can't promise you that even if I agreed to it.”
-“Why not?” My voice was now subtly pleading.
-“It is not up to me to decide.”
So that was it, the evil twins weren't the brain behind all of this. Whoever it was, they were going to pay, I thought to myself as I was following him in the dusk of day.
After ten minutes, walking in silence through the same landscape, and having had my share of dark thoughts, I decided to break it “Where are we going?”
Silence. Complete and utter silence. I was about to provoke a reaction by yelling at him again when I froze to the spot. This time I couldn't be mistaken, it was Jared, sardonically smiling at me.
-“It was about time, beauty. You almost kept me waiting.”
-“Give her a break, J.” Kellan said, then added out of nowhere “No, the recordings were inconclusive.”
Who was he talking to?
“I'm not sure it's a good idea. I wouldn't risk it. It wouldn't be the first time we disagreed on something, J.”
What was that? An unsettling feeling was growing inside me. Jared approached me slowly and as he was raising his left hand, he added “See you, beauty.”
-“N...” was the only sound I could form before being stung by something in my neck. Everything turned dark and night swallowed me.
I felt a pinch on my left arm, then nothing. No noise; frightening silence and tormenting darkness. I could hear the comforting beating of my heart now. Where was I? I opened my eyes, trying to get used to my new environment. My heart started racing as my body recalled the scent of blood and metal. All my senses were in alert now. Fear. Simple, liquid fear engulfing my whole being and crushing everything on its way. I recognized the feeling. The room I was in seemed square and uninviting. The walls were bright white with a metallic table in the middle.
Next to my bed, there was a gray trolley full of surgery tools. And next to the trolley, Kellan, with his now familiar blue eyes.
I was sore, everywhere. My arms were stretched above my head, I couldn't feel my wrists nor my hands any longer. Shackles? Why restraining me? I wasn't the criminal here, they were. I promised myself not to give way to panic and refrained my tears of rage and fear.
-“The more you try to resist, the more they will cut your wrists. We needed to restrain you, you were quite uncontrollable in your sleep.” He said, holding a syringe. “Don't worry, I won't hurt you.” Easier said than done. Trying to gain my trust was too late.
-“What am I doing here?” Make him talk.
-“You're back at the facility, as we call it.”
-“Which day is it? How long was I out?” He approached slowly and looked at me intensely. Is he trying to say anything? His fierce and hungry eyes were not concentrated on me anymore but on something above his head. I followed his gaze and I thought I had noticed a red dot in the upper left corner of the room. As he was rearranging the trolley, putting the needle into a flashy yellow bin and removing is blue gloves.
“Untie me, now!” I demanded. He was still not responding.
I heard footsteps. They belonged to more than one person. All confidently, almost angrily, walking towards me.
A hidden door automatically opened on my left, or was there an opening mechanism on the other side? I tried to catch a glimpse at what I thought was a passage but the contrast between this passage and the room I was being kept in was too stark to distinguish anything. I even didn’t know if it was day or night. I had fed on adrenalin for the past ...what? Days? Weeks?
A woman in her fifties all dressed in a black suit and high heels entered, escorted by two of her bodyguards. On her left I immediately recognized Jared. He was still smiling his cynical smile, wearing the same kind of outfit he had when I had first met him, showing off his perfect body with his even tighter shirt. The girl flanked on the right was wearing a black, strapless dress with black gloves, holding a beige file. Strange for this place, I thought. She looked just a couple of years older than me, not more than twenty. She was a tall, elegant blonde with a thin waist and long hair held in a ponytail. She was smiling too, but her smile seemed to unintentionally express all the repressed sadism hidden by this perfect body. Her steely gray eyes were trying to gouge me in detail.
-“What is going on here? Release her now! She’s not a prisoner, she is our guest.” said the oldest of them three. Looking at her expressionlessly and then turning to me, Kellan freed me with the key he had previously removed from his right pocket. Blood was painfully finding its way back to my hands for my arms had dropped quickly.
The lady was addressing me this time “You can call me Miss Stern.” The voice of the strange woman standing in the middle of the room was filled with determination and strength. She was blonde too, slightly taller than the girl wearing gloves, but her body could not disguise the harshness and anger of her heart. Her pale complexion, wrinkles and hawk-like eyes also seemed to betray great intelligence and coldness. “I have to apologize for the behavior of my staff but I’m glad to see you, miss…”
-“Faith”, Kellan added.
-“Faith? Give me her file Jeanne, would you?” Jeanne complied. She opened the file and read. “I dare say I understand why you would replace it, your first name doesn’t sound very American or raise any interest...”
-“Go to hell!” I burst out.
-“At least you can speak English. And a little bit of Spanish as well, I recall.”
-“I…” I didn’t know what to say as flashes of my previous encounter with Kellan were running through my mind. Yes, I could speak Spanish and look after the wounded. But I still didn’t know how. “What have you done to me?” I finally asked.
-“We tried to enhance you, darling, or your brain capacity, if you prefer. I would have loved to explain it all to you before surgery, you would have seen the absolute necessity of what we do here. But I’m afraid that’s what happens with a lousy staff…” She finished, glancing sidelong at Jared.
-“Enhance? What do you mean? How?” I asked almost in shock.
-“By the easiest way: we inserted a needle deep in your cortex to stimulate the unused parts of your brain. Apparently it wasn’t as efficient for you as I had expected. You are supposed to become the strongest, most intelligent of your kind. I have great hopes and plans for you…But you probably need more time.”
-“My kind? What are you talking about, you bitch? You will regret what you’ve done to me, I swear I…”
Blondie number two seemed to wince at my comment, taking a further step in my direction. She was hampered by the swift movement of Stern’s right arm.
-“Don’t, darling. She has all the rights to be upset.”
To me this time “Take all the time you need honey, I will explain everything when you feel more incline. But there’s one little test I would like you to have and we’ll leave you. Kellan, take her hand, will you?”
And without a single movement of hesitation, he took it. I could feel all my muscles tense and then electrical warmth encircling first my hand, then my heart, and irradiating my whole body. His hand had felt soft in mine, and gentle, and protective. I tried to recover my composure dreading the now familiar pain in my head following such contact. Nothing. Blondie was sniggering while Jared was looking at me with a smug expression of disdain.
“Thank you darling, that’s all for now. K, take her to her room, she needs to rest. Jeanne, J, let’s go, please. We have business to attend to.”
-“Wait, you haven’t answered any of my questions, I…” I was talking to myself as the trio had already left the room without even rewarding me of a second glare.
I didn’t want Kellan to see me like this - fragile, and frightened. It took all the courage I had left for me to stand up and face him.
-“Let’s go!” he added. I followed him but this time without complaining, I was too exhausted and weak.
We had left the familiar scent of blood, metal and bleach for the smell of an indoor space only ventilated by fans. This place was like a maze, tunnels were giving way to new ones at every angle, without any code of colors nor numbers to indicate directions. The light was weak, coming from the metallic floor boarding and small lamps above every door we encountered.
There was no window, no sunlight, no view, only gray angles and corners. There was no noise, no voice nor any human activity. The only sound I could hear was of
my footsteps echoing Kellan's and of fans working at fifty meters from each other. These premises were reflecting my inner state but I didn't want to let despair
invade all my thoughts. Find a pattern. I thought. Left, left, right, and left again. At the end of this new hall Kellan stopped all of a sudden and touched a square
button on the wall. A shape resembling a door lit up in front of me, appearing out of nowhere and opened.
-“Here. This will be your room.” He said. I entered. The light was brighter in here but still no window. There was a small bunk bed with fresh linen in the left corner, a sink and toilet facing it. In front of me there was a rusty mirror protected by something resembling Plexiglas. The image it was reflecting startled me. Who
was this girl? It couldn’t be me, I didn’t recognize myself. My face was covered with sand and dust, my head was partly shaved on the right side and I looked stunningly defeated. I had become a shallow of a person. I turned around just to realize that Kellan had gone.
-“Wait! Don’t leave me here.” It was useless. I was left alone, in this square room, like a prisoner. The door had turned into a wall and with it, the consciousness of
what had happened struck me. I felt drained, famished and utterly hopeless. I stumbled to the bed and lay down, trying to calm my nerves, bracing my knees in
fetal position, silently sobbing. I closed my eyes not to open them for a long time.
I was awake, looking at the ceiling of the bunk bed.
After a moment of hesitation I finally recalled where they had taken me. I got out of bed and was heading for the door when it turned translucent and opened.
-“Kellan, what…?” I didn’t have time to finish my sentence, he was already kissing me, passionately, holding my head with his two hands, forcing his mouth into mine, invading my space and pushing his body against mine. I could feel his muscular chest and incredible strength. I soon started feeling stunned, my
body burning, lit with a blazing fire. What I felt was too powerful, happening too soon, consuming every part of me, from the inside. It felt odd and I tried to push him away, to stop his embrace but he was too strong. And when he finally let me catch my breath he whispered in my ear, “Come one, beauty. I know you want it too.”
Abject horror came with the realization that I had been kissing Jared…
I startled out of bed, sweating, with vivid memories of my disturbing nightmare. How long was I asleep? I thought I could hear footsteps fading away or maybe I
was still dreaming. My eyelids were still heavy but I was famished, I needed food and a shower too...My lips were dry and I could sense bitterness on my
tongue. I sat down on my bed, my head almost touching the structure of the second bed above me. I couldn’t make sense of anything around me. I just
knew I had to get out. But how? At the right time. When they expect it the least, when I’ve won their trust. Let’s find some food first…
The room was as I remembered it: modern, gloomy and alien. The same faint night light was burning. I decided to get out of bed. My arms and legs were still sore, my sleep had been restless. I approached the wall that I recalled had been the only way out.
There, I saw it; this square was a slightly different shade of metallic gray. I pressed it and a door appeared on the same spot it had had the day or night before - I still didn't know which one it was as the brightness around me - or the lack of it - had not shifted overnight. I couldn't hear anything but decided to give it a try anyway and went out. Nothing.
"Hello? Anyone here?" I called out as I was inspecting my surroundings. Getting lost in this maze of tunnels would be useless, so I decided to go back to my room.
Approaching the opened door, I saw something resembling a tray next to it. Muffins? Yum. And what were these? Rags? Blankets, right. No clothes? Are
you kidding? I needed to get changed. My outfit was stained with mud and sand, plus I didn't know who had chosen it but I would never wear a pink shirt with
purple pants, even for a festival. How old did they think I was, twelve? I was turning, facing the door and carrying the tray with me. Suddenly I heard a whoosh
and felt wind on my face.
-“Hey there. Faith, right?" I was gripped with fear and I let the tray fall on the floor, I felt like a cat put under a running shower. “Easy, you don't want to waste these,
they're the best.” said the strange guy in front of me, picking up the muffins from the floor.
-“Do you want to give me a heart attack?” I said angrily.
-“I always forget. Sorry. But where are my manners? Let me introduce myself. Ben, the greatest, fastest guy on earth. At your service, happy to see you finally awake and delighted to meet our savior. Stern said you were the one, congrats!” He was tall, brown-haired, brown-eyed and tanned, composed but funny-looking
at the same time, with no sense of fashion. He was wearing striped trousers and a checked blue shirt. He had nothing in common with the body-builders I had
previously seen, he almost seemed frail and sensitive.
-“I don’t understand… What do you want?” I finally asked.
-“I'm here to show you around and help you get changed. But your new clothes won’t be as awesome as the ones I chose, I promise you. I knew pink would
be your color.”
That explained a lot...
-“No way, I’m not changing in front of you.” I insisted.
-“That won’t be necessary. See that button there?” He was pointing at another shape - this time a circle - at the opposite side of the room, next to the mirror. “Push it, stand still and picture what you want to wear. I’ll be
waiting for you outside.”
-“Wait! What do you mean by ‘picture what you want to wear’? Didn’t you bring any clothes?”
I didn’t want to trust anyone but Ben seemed alright. I complied because I had nothing left to lose and I couldn’t spend another day in these clothes.
Nevertheless I hesitantly approached the corner of the room. I hit the button as I had been instructed. Picture clothes? Okay. A pair of jeans would be nice. And a
top, my favorite blue hoodie of course and army boots. Suddenly a tube made out of glass appeared out of nowhere, circling me around in pink neon lighting. I started freaking out, again. I hit the glass as hard as I could and shouted for help but no one answered. The light inside the tube changed and I saw a red light at my feet, going up, and melting my clothes? What the f…? I was naked and a second later what felt like the power of a thousand waves crashed headlong onto my skin. Two seconds later, the stream turned into air and I was dry. Another light, made of
rainbow beams was immerging me now and I could feel warmth, pins and needles prickling all over my body. All of a sudden, everything came to a halt and as the circular shape was retracting to the ground. I glanced at my newly clothed body: blue hoodie, jeans and army boots like I had imagined. The door turned
transparent again and Ben entered the room.
-“You ruined my masterpiece. It ‘d better be comfortable”, he said gesticulating in front of me and pretending to be offended.
-“You owe me an explanation. Starting now! Press the button? At least you could have warned me.”
-“You wouldn’t have believed me anyway. Just the tech team having fun. Don't make a fuss about it. What do you want to know?” He asked sitting down on my bed.
-“How is that even possible, how can I think about something and see it materialize in front of me?”
-“That would be because of your chip.”
-“A chip? Which chip?”
-“Can you touch the base of your skull?”
-“Now?” I couldn’t believe no one had mentioned this to me before.
-“Yes, do it now. Do you feel it? Sort of a tiny plastic plaster?”
-“I...yes, I can feel it.”
-“Each of us has one. They insert them after the operation. It is supposed to monitor your brain activity, to prevent aneurysm too.” I was surprised to realize
that I knew what aneurysm meant, but I did.
-“What do you mean us?”
-“We call ourselves suprahumans or supras. You'll see why once you meet the others.” Ben finished.
-“What? Who did this to you?” It was getting weirder and weirder by the minute.
-“You mean to us? You're part of the team now whether you like it or not. But let me fix your interior first. I don't know how you managed to sleep in there, it
is hideous! We need to do something about your lack of taste for fashion too... See the kind of mirror over there?”
-“Let me guess, it's not a mirror.” I said.
-“Sorry to disappoint you, it is a mirror, among other things. Go standing in front of it.”
My face must have betrayed my reluctance because Ben was showing some impatience.
“Now! We don't have all day. I would like to have breakfast before noon!”
I did as I was asked, surprised by the sudden change of tone and turned around.
“Face the mirror and close your eyes. Think of open space and fashion, of curves and colors...”
I wasn't listening anymore. I was feeling so homesick. I knew I had to block the next images that were coming to my mind, I didn't want to think about them now. I couldn't afford to break down. Instead I directed my thoughts to my room, back at the apartment. The wooden floor and huge windows letting the sunlight in,
the wooden chest of drawers in front of the fireplace containing all the books I knew so well, my favorite ones I had read at least three times and I couldn't
decide to throw away, the smell of pine and the white candles decorating the table. I could feel the sun warming my face, drying my tears away...I could
almost hear them now, whispering my name.
“Now open your eyes.” I woke up from my deep reverie with a jump. Was I still dreaming? I couldn't believe what the reflection in the mirror was showing me. I was at the apartment, I was home. How was this possible?
“Not bad. I would have gone for a more modern touch but it's cozy.”
Ben was sitting down on my white leather sofa, I couldn't believe it. I was afraid someone would wake me up. I approached the chest but didn't dare touch it,
afraid it might dissolve.
“Don't worry, you may still change your mind, the room will adapt to your will.”
-“Wh...” I didn't have time to finish my sentence, Ben was already answering.
-“You see, that chip is not that bad. It contains all the images your brain is analyzing. The computer behind the mirror glass interprets everything and tadaa. Let's go now, I'm starving.”
I didn't want to go, I wanted to lock myself in here and never confront the real world again. But my tummy was rumbling too. I took the muffins on the tray and
reluctantly followed Ben to the hall.
(For continuation see: FAITH’s CHRONICLE
Genesis By A.L. Belle,
Edited by Neve Robbins)