Chloe entered the restaurant as meekly as possible, showing no outward sign of her recent epiphany. Above her, she could feel the iron hot gaze of the foul Deity, which had taken root so recently in her world. Could feel it twisting all of what was normal not only into the apocalyptic landscape where every person on the street had a tragedy to report, but also into a land where no one cared, no one had rights to their mind anymore.
Honestly, it had been worse than The Event, though that would be inconceivable in the grim aftermath.
Ask her a week ago, in the Stanford Yard, when the rumor mill was buzzing, when her morning class halted for everyone to sit and watch the panicked CNN coverage until the Professor demanded everyone go home and be with their loved ones.
Ask her when she sprinted back to her apartment complex just off campus as she passed pile-ups and crazed mothers searching for their children, demanding answers of any who stood still long enough.
Ask her when she stopped to help Mr. Peterson up into his apartment after suffering a heart flutter at the sudden disappearance of his wife of forty years. Ask her when she ran up the stairs searching her shared complex for any sign of Maggie, the woman who had been her lover since nearly the beginning of her freshman year.
Or ask her when she called home to find no answer. Or the bittersweet blur of emotions when Maggie came home, when they watched the news, when they listed the numbers of the planes that had crashed and her father’s hadn’t been among them, but Maggie’s parent’s flight had. Or the tearful goodbye as Maggie hijacked a car to get back home to San Francisco to check on her little brother. Or when Chloe herself had hijacked that plane from that evil little CEO miniplane lot, relying on naught but her sketchy memories of those infrequent lessons her dad had given her as a little girl. Or nearly crashing that same plane. Or finding her dad alive, but her mom and brother not. Or or or…
She shook her head out of that spiral. It had been a spiral that had gotten her into this predicament. Being honest, being frightened, trying to find some reminder of connection, proof that the world made sense as her father went insane before her very eyes.
She had focused on that despair, had been told of God, a cruel and malicious God of the type her mother had destroyed herself praising, a God that didn’t only find her a sinner for what she was, but for who she was. A God that found those who rejected the roles set for them evil and punishable. She had been polite enough. She had even tried to listen to what such a God might have to offer.
That’s when she first felt that hateful gaze, had first experienced it rummaging around her body in perturbed fury. She felt herself cut off from her father, from Maggie, from even the possibility of escape. She had been trapped in her own house.
Being the liberal-minded skeptic she had always been, she put it down to moods, to the despair that filled her when none of her former neighbors would talk to her, when her father acted as if nothing had happened that was important, when she couldn’t get a call through to Maggie’s house in San Francisco.
It was easy enough to accept that. In her state of mind, of total despair, any answer that gave semblance of even basic sense was latched onto and nursed. Even if it was about something as small as a bad feeling.
So when it became more than a feeling, when she felt the force of the Deity, as cruel and angry as her father had become, as her mother had been, as her pastor had always been. When she felt its gaze not only disapproving but furious at her disobedience to the demands of its whims. When she felt her own intelligence beginning to slip away, statements not her own forced into her lips with a Greaser’s understanding of modern slang, she became paralyzed with fear.
It was a violation of body and mind, and numb as she was taken, she found herself losing more whenever she was in the focus of that celestial eye. She put two and two and two together, saw how her father was losing himself, how that focus seemed to suck the humanity out of the landscape so that even cabbies lost all perspective, so that cabbies still ran.
And it was getting worse. She was always good at making connections, a survival trait growing up under the paranoid reign of her mother and under the watchful eye of bored suburbia. When Buck entered the picture, dapper, eager, and utterly terrifying, her heart had sunk. When he had given her a cookie and treated her like an eleven year old that he wanted to show the inside of his van to, she had wanted to run. She could feel the gaze working around her, knew exactly where it would need her to go.
And that was the last little bit it would need. She could feel it already trying to take hold of her body, forcing awkwardly the simulation necessary for its purposes. Her sexuality perverted, taken out her hands and placed in that sick Deity’s.
She had felt like that once before, when her mother had set her up “with a nice boy from the Church” because “it isn’t proper for a lady to be on her own” where “she can develop unnatural thoughts.” The boy had been the usual undereducated thug for Jesus type she had seen around High School. The date hadn’t even gotten to the theatre before he had started trying to feel her up. She had fought him off and stared him down, but for one frightening moment she had stared into his eyes and saw him weighing up the possibilities. Saw him thinking about pushing it further; entertaining the possibility. He hadn’t gone down that road, but she had remembered that look. She imagined that was a look the Deity had often.
At that moment she understood exactly the fate for women under its gaze, their purpose and their life. It was what her mother demanded of all women on behalf of the pastors and her philandering husband. It was the fate that was worse than death, than Hell. It was her mother’s dream.
At that moment, she knew what needed to be done.
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