The Affliction — Chapter Three

In case you missed it:
Chapter One
Chapter Two

In case you don’t care:
Chihuahua Humor

By the way, I take all forms of critique and constructive criticism. I could probably use a fair deal of it. Oh, and I’ve decided this is much more than a short story. It’s more of a novella, although the word certainly seems fancy for what I’m spewing out.

Mary woke before the sun rose and lit a candle. She tip-toed past rows of sleeping women to make her way to the cave’s natural spring. She had hardly slept; she was anxious. Today was the day she learned to play the singing bowls, earning herself a spot on the inside of this whole mess. She was going to find answers. She was going to expose these frauds and free each and every helpless person here from delusion and total domination. Since this new opportunity presented itself, she had made it her mission. She was willing to do anything now, to dig to the very depths of truth itself. Perhaps her goal was a selfish one, driven by her own innate curiosity and sense of martyrdom, but she was ready. She was willing. She was somewhat afraid.

She’d agreed to meet Mr. Sweaty Man with Singing Bowls whose name she learned was Sam, at dawn, in one of the cave’s main corridors. She’d had questions for her peers concerning who he was and what he was like. No one had anything good to say about him. Apparently he was a rather shady character, at times disappearing for days on end, possibly finding ways of getting high, and he was always a total mess upon his return. He hardly slept, was always in a bad mood and did not seem fond of others. Certainly a strange choice for John’s somewhat assistant, but Mary knew there was more going on here than just that. Perhaps Sam was a post-apocalyptic Charles Manson with a mute for a puppet; a vision worthy of any horror movie. Mary couldn’t help but giggle as she made her way toward their designated meeting place. A gap in this particular side of the cave showed her a deep purple sky. The air was cold.

Sam had yet to make an appearance. That was fine; Mary was early anyhow. She waited and watched as drowsy people shuffled past her, their candles glowing like faeries in the darkness. Mary guessed they were headed for the spring, or perhaps the food cache. Most people don’t wander hallways before dawn without a destination; although here, there was one woman who did. She was the blonde that Mary encountered in the quarantine shed. This woman called herself Selene, and she was a strange breed of resident doctor with new age tendencies. Her long, wavy hair did nothing to diminish her hippie-like appearance. She noticed Mary as she walked past, and began to approach her, flashing one of those genuine smiles that put Mary’s guard down instantly.
“Hello Mary. How have you been feeling?”
“Alright, I guess. Though I still get tired easily.”
“Have you been eating plenty of fruits and vegetables?”
“Are you kidding? I’ve had not much else but bread and water.” They refused to eat meat here in the caves. With Mary’s level of hunger, she could have really used a big steak, or at least some fried chicken. She fantasized about food as if she were still starving.
“Why don’t you come with me to my chamber? I have something that might help you.”
“Sorry, I can’t right now. I’m meeting someone.”
Mary was thankful for an excuse. She didn’t trust this woman, who seemed to be on the upper level of cult management. Mary certainly did not want any more of her strange medicine.
“Oh? Might I ask, who are you meeting here so early?”
No sense in coming up with a story now. “I’m meeting Sam. He’s going to teach me to play the singing bowls. For some reason, John saw fit to assign me to the task.”
A look of worry crossed Selene’s face before she could catch herself and revert back to that ever present smile, warm as a sunny day in late Spring. The break in her expression was enough to make Mary feel unnerved.  “What is it? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, I shouldn’t argue John’s decision, but, just be careful around Sam, okay? He’s got bad vibes. And the singing bowls, they gather bad vibes like sticky paper. You’re so weak, I don’t want to see you put any more strain on yourself than you have to.”
“Well, what choice do I have? John wants me to do it. We all have to do what John says here, don’t we?”
Again, a brief expression of concern overpowered that smile. “No my dear. That’s not true at all. If we do what John says here, it’s because we choose to. No one has to do anything against their will. If you don’t want to play the singing bowls, say something!”
Leadership here was sly as a fox. “Okay Selene. I’m going to think about it, and see how today goes. Here comes Sam now.”
And indeed, there he was, carrying a stack of three singing bowls in his arms with the mallets resting in the top bowl. He walked like a hero without a purpose, who still tried to hide his existential defeat. There was a hint of urgency in his gait. As Selene caught a glimpse of him she quietly shuffled away.
“Good morning, Sam.” Said Mary.
Sam didn’t reply. Instead, he walked right up to her and pressed the singing bowls against her chest, as if to hand them to her. Mary cradled them in her arms.
“I’ve decided, I’m not doing this anymore. I’m leaving. The bowls are simple enough, if you really want to play them, which I don’t recommend. If you want, you can move into my chamber. It’s right next to John’s. The rest of the singing bowls are there.”
“Wait, what’s wrong? Why are you leaving?”
“Because, this is bullshit. You shouldn’t have been asked to do this. It’s not a fun job, and I don’t feel like teaching you. John’s nothing but a self-righteous asshole.”
Mary was not expecting this. She had seen Sam as their hidden leader. Now he was trying to talk her out of the whole ordeal. Her brain spun, chasing its own tail.
“Bye.” Said Sam, and he walked away, leaving Mary without another chance to question him.
Great. Now what was she to do? Perhaps John was the leader after all. She sat the bowls on the ground and stood there thinking for a long while. She did not want to go back to the women’s sleeping quarters. The sun had risen and there was sure to be plenty of noise and bustle this time of day.
Selene came walking her way again. Her face showed confusion as she noticed the absence of Sam, and the singing bowls resting against the cave wall.
“Where’s Sam?” she asked.
“He left.” said Mary. Selene smiled. A pause. “Listen, do you know where Sam’s room is? He told me I could use it and I wouldn’t mind the quiet right now.”
“S-sure, but do you really want to go there?”
“Yes! Will you take me there?” Selene’s hesitation was beginning to annoy her.
“Alright, if that’s what you want. Come, follow me.”

Mary took the singing bowls in her arms and followed Selene down confusing pathways, always sloping downward, deeper into the mountain. Her candle was running low and between juggling it and the singing bowls, it was beginning to drip onto her fingers. When they arrived, she thanked Selene and entered the dark chamber. The first thing she did was look for a candle, sweeping her little flame across the room, peering into corners, nooks, and crannies. She finally found a pile of them on the floor across from the entrance. She lit one, then another, distributing them throughout the room. The first thing she noticed was that Sam had a real mattress. She could have cried at the sight. She and the other women had been sleeping on the stone floor, using layers of blankets as cushioning. Her back and hips were always sore.
The next thing she noticed were the empty bottles. All variety of them. Beer bottles, vodka bottles, whiskey, rum. It still smelled like a brewery. How had he gotten away with this here? John specifically requests no drugs or alcohol, and here was his assistant, probably drunk as a sailor ninety percent of the time. She vowed to straighten up this mess of a chamber, clean up the bottles, spray some perfume to cover the smell. For now, the mattress was too tempting to resist.
She flung herself backwards onto the unmade bed and felt herself sink into it. Now this was heaven. She curled up under the blankets and enjoyed wave after wave of relaxation, until she drifted off into a dream.


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