Excerpt from False Cathedrals
Outside her barred window, beyond the trees which lead to a rather uncivilized world, Regina Wylsen watched the understated colors of twilight bleed into and eventually consume Midtown’s skyline: the æonlong cycle of syzygy between the sun, the Earth, and the moon continuing to play its well-rehearsed role. She held her journal close to her chest, taking in its secrets. Disappointment filled her lungs, hope nowhere to be found in the air around her. The only time she had welcomed another living person into her world (and honestly as well, laying aside the fabrication which had become a part of her identity to everyone who knew her here), she found herself met with confusion. She had imagined the outcome in a different light, that Daniel would have been able to read the words on the page— see through the madness—and acknowledge the woman underneath the façade she had worn on display in this place for fourteen years; bear witness to the teen- aged girl who wanted to be reunited with her father. But mental defeat had claimed its title over Daniel’s innumerous attempts to break through the sheets of marked journal entries; lost in an all-consuming wave of pandemonium. Vulnerability had clawed its way into her lonesome thoughts. Honest sensitivity appeared an extinct notion, reserved only for those who could share the hallucination.
She finally let the journal fall to her lap, allowing the weight to leave her chest. For many shapeless years her writing had been all she had. Hopes and dreams found sanctuary in the form of words scribbled on the page; her life in letters. The eyes of an outsider would assume it all a disorganized mess—not a coherent thought to be uncovered by even the most patient reader; an unsolvable puzzle, designed to leave its audience in a daze. You could waste your entire life looking for an answer, and never touch the truth — but for Regina, its humble creator, it told a sincere account of her situation: a literary snapshot, a rather abstract portrait that exposed every broken nerve with such unabashed honesty; masked by questionable insanity.
The sound of footsteps could be heard outside her door, echoing down the hallway—the first of nine round s to be made at the top of every hour throughout the night by the Institute’s lone security guard . Concerned, not wanting to be caught with contraband, Regina hid her notebook under the head of her mattress. She had never had any issue with him, unlike security guards of the past. He kept to himself, did his job, and would retire to his office until it was time to make his next walk-through; checking for locked doors and occupied beds. A flash of light filled her room as he came upon the small window which lead into it; brief, only lasting a second or two before disappearing and the sound of his footsteps grew distant—their warm echo devolving into a cold, familiar silence.
Feeling secure in her solitude, Regina reached for her leather-bound journal. With the faint light pouring through her barred window, she wished to flip through its countless pages; reminisce about memories which had become little more than self-obsessed stories. Her hand stumbled, hitting the edge of the bed frame, forcing her hand open. A small thunderous clamor arose from the linoleum, the well-worn spine of the notebook striking it without remorse. Its covers fell flat against the floor, pages cascading down—taking sides as gravity pulled them from their resistless center.
Something curious caught her eye. Lying innocently among a journal entry, a small rectangular piece of plastic had made itself known. It had appeared to be decorated with a series of words and small photograph. She pulled the notebook closer, not wanting to disturb the item, to get a better look at it. She recognized the face on display; a bit younger, his hair not as gray nor his face as weathered by age. It identified him as Daniel N. Bloom . Underneath his name, a barcode rested. Odd. She wondered if he had left it in her journal by accident. Her memory went to recall their last interaction, hoping to discover the moment he made such a misstep—leaving his ID badge behind. No. He would have noticed its absence long before the day was through, she concluded. It had to be intentional. But why? It didn’t make sense to her. Did he intend for her to use it? unlock the door to her room and leave the Institute’s lackluster walls behind? The whole ordeal rang with such uncertainty. If she were to go through with the idea, she would have to act now, while the guard was still on his first round—before he made it back to his office and had access to the building’s surveillance cameras. A nervous energy. She could feel her heart racing, beating against her chest; the idea of breaking free from the place she had been forced to call home for almost half her life a possibility.
It all felt too surreal. It had to be a trick, Daniel’s idea of a cruel joke. She checked the ID badge front and back, looking for discrepancies. A request for a replacement had to have been made by now, rendering this one worthless. Was it worth the risk? If her suspicions proved themselves sound, the alarm would set itself off the moment she ran the unauthorized ID over the door lock’s mechanism —alarming the guard to her foolish attempt at freedom. But there was nothing they could do to her, nothing they could take away, to punish her for such a transgression.
She pushed her paranoia aside, saying ‘fuck it’ to the idea of being caught and reprimanded for her morbid curiosity. Resolution assumed control of her actions. Her body lifted itself from her mattress, the act of walking automated; her feet found each step toward the door in a flawless rhythm. Before she could recount what was happening, Regina found herself face-to-face with the looming presence of cold, white-washed steel; the memory of summertime breezes on the other side of its unfeeling existence. And with the ID still resting in her left hand, she motioned it toward the locking mechanism. There’s no turning back.
The small green light on the electrical box lit up and a subtle click disengaged the door’s magnetic lock. It surprised her. She opened the door a crack and then closed it, reengaging its security measures; still dumbstruck by what had happened. She tried it a second time. Again, the green light acknowledged success on the ID ’s behalf. A third, and a fourth; it never ceased to amaze her. Regina turned her attention back to the floor by her bed, where her journal still rested—sprawled open.
She considered going back to grab it, not wanting to leave it behind. But this room had been the only true witness to her slow decline, and eventual rebirth; everyone else in her life had been subject to nothing more than a pale imitation of psychosis. It deserved to have a part of her left as a reminder of their time together. And she knew either the guard or Daniel would find it in the morning, were she to leave it; her tired ramblings to be analyzed by Elisabeth and the rest of the Institute’s administration for some time after her disappearance, hoping to find a clue as to where she might have gone—although their efforts would prove themselves exhausting and fruitless.
This was it . . . the final farewell. Almost nostalgic, Regina looked the room over one last time, accepting the idea she would never see it again; would never lie awake at night, unable to sleep to the sound of other patients screaming into an uncaring void. A sigh of relief left her lungs as she scanned Daniel’s ID badge a fifth time, green light chiming as it had four times before, and opened the steel door; her weightless steps carrying her through its archway, out into the labyrinthine layout of the Institute’s hallway system. Either direction could potentially lead to the exit, but she couldn’t afford the mistake of going the wrong way. The guard had continued left after checking her room, so she decided to go right. Only time would tell whether or not the proper decision had been made.
She kept her footsteps delicate, her feet never becoming too familiar with the floor beneath her. Every turn she took carried with it an undeserved breath of confidence; doubt not allowed any room to spare. She felt young again, memories of running through her family’s church during youth mutual on Wednesday nights, playing night-tag with her fellow teens—only the dim red glow from the building’s EXIT signs to help light their way as they searched blindly for one another, using only the hallowed echo of their footsteps and well-amused screams as a means of determining their location. This recaptured innocence kept her going until she finally came across the Institute’s automatic doors.
Her heartbeat accelerated by the joy of success, she approached the glass and stared outside; an empty parking lot awaiting her arrival. The world had carried on in her absence for fourteen years: a pained thought which grew more daunting the longer her eyes fell upon the scenery outside. How much had changed? and would anything be the same? She wondered if her mother still lived in her childhood home, or if she had decided to sell it—unable to live in a house which had come to possess so many negative memories. Will it be worth it? her mind asked; a valid question. But she pushed it aside, unlocked the doors, and forced them open—hoping to reclaim the world’s ageless exterior as her own.
Life welcomed her back with the cold scent of night.
Vacant. It was the only word that came to mind to help describe the atmosphere that surrounded her. And with the rest of Midtown sound asleep, undisturbed and unaware to her situation, the city was hers to roam alone in peace. Barefoot, she continued west toward downtown, a cool breeze rolled by to keep her company; an old forgotten friend from a simpler time. She wandered along the 105, deserted, her path adorned by a family of streetlights to light her way. Nothing stood out to her. Unfamiliar landmarks and road signs with foreign names had erupted from the dirt, distorting any previous sentiment she thought she had of knowing her location. Where an open field once claimed its domain, a Walmart Super-center had manifested itself. On the corners of every intersection lived a Starbucks coffee shop; gone were a lot of the small family owned businesses she had known growing up. Change was to be expected, given her time away, but she never considered the magnitude of its urban consumption. Anything mnemonic had either been replaced or withered away, now a forgotten history which only lived in the sacred halls of her memory.
~ Jonathan D Clark
False Cathedrals is out now to buy from Amazon. Universal link to purchase here.