Catalyst XII

“Up until today, this has been nothing but cold, hard science. Of course we’ve always had our altruistic motivations, but we can’t allow our actions to be driven by fickle feelings. We must utilize data-driven methods. More information. Less intuition. It requires a certain detachment. A certain pragmatism to see real progress. Up until now, I’ve been able to compartmentalize those ethical quandaries we’ve had to wrestle with. My utilitarian approach to our research has helped me sleep before – but after today – after what I saw – I may never sleep again. My God, what have we done?” ~The Memoirs of Doctor Earnest P. Mallory

I stepped into a puddle. The cracks in the worn leather allowed moisture to seep in subtly – just enough to get my sock uncomfortably wet and make me wish I had avoided the blasted thing. There was a mist falling from the high ceilings of the agricultural wings. The large hydroponics pods were overflowing with greenery and created a grid of walkways that allowed gardeners access to the plants – though no gardeners were here now. All was quite quiet, save for the gentle sound of droplets striking leaves. The warm mist kept fogging up my mask, so I pulled it off of my head and let it hang around my neck. The mist felt warm on my face. It wasn’t long before my hair was quite soaked. Long Infrared lamp fixtures were suspended from the ceiling alongside the rows and rows of overhead irrigation pipes keeping the whole building both warm and humid.

The whole thing was so entirely odd. The light from the lamps, combined with all the greenery, offered the illusion that I was standing outside – in a field even. I felt strange, as if I was at a vibrant farm in the country. Late August, just as summer is reaching her fullest maturity. The warm breeze full of life on the wind. Knowing that it had been well over 10 years since I had actually been in a place like this made me feel like I didn’t belong. And yet, to breath deep that oxygen-rich air, to smell so much natural carbon surrounding me, and the nitrogen saturated ‘rain’ – I felt more human than I had in a long time. I mean, even before the descent I had been living on the rig for the better part of two years. It was always so cold and grey in the Atlantic. And since I had woken up buried more than two miles beneath her, I felt a perpetual thickness in my blood, as if the icy waters had turned my crimson life-force into a frigid sludge – a sludge now reluctantly crawling through my arteries at the languid suggestion offered up by my slowly beating heart. This surreal mirage of a green and sustainable earth struck me in my soul – very unexpectedly. It stung to have the raw reality of my plight once again rubbed vigorously into the wounds of my infinite regret. I may never see the sun.

I had relentlessly followed all my available leads. Asking the citizens of Laurentia if they knew anything of Elena or her warped rhyme had proved painfully frustrating. They were all so crazy down here. It was nearly impossible to get a straight answer, but in their most lucid of moments, one thing had become all but universally clear. “The Widow of Tours” they said. “If anybody knows, she’ll know” they said. “Ask the Widow.” Some referred to her as “The Gardener” or “The Widow Green” for her great affection for flowers, which she supposedly grew in these wings

So here I was. It was rumored that the Widow had lived in the agricultural wings of the rig, and so I walked the rows of hydroponics searching for some clue as to her presence or whereabouts. . After some time, in a far corner of one of the main chambers, across what seemed to be a rolling hill of green vegetation speckled with an assortment of flowers, I saw a chemical shed – a crudely constructed domicile made of sheet metal and rebar. I stepped up from the walkway onto the damp earth of the large pod separating me and the structure and began to make my way across this ‘hill.’ I tried my best to avoid damaging the plants. To me, it was as though I was walking among the only truly innocent expressions of life down here, and I already had enough death on my hands. No need to crush the lilies too.

“Gregory!?” the raspy scream was all too familiar. “Is that you, honey? Have you come home?” She sounded desperate. Her voice pierced the serenity of the chamber with an electric tension. I was halfway across the pod when the door to the shed swung open. A silhouetted figure stood in the door frame. I stopped moving forward. I was clearly visible to her. I readied my rifle and stood my ground calling out to her.

“I’m not Gregory, Mam.” my voice carried surprisingly well in the damp acoustics of the chamber. “Are you the Widow? Are you the Gardener?”

“Mam?!” she repeated incredulously. Suddenly, her silhouette vanished. She seemed to literally disappear. I moved my left arm from supporting the rifle and rubbed my eyes, peering across the hill for any sign of her. It had been days since I had any kind of sleep. She must have just ducked back in the shed. I just didn’t notice. A moment later I heard the flowers to my right rustle loudly as if someone was running past me. I dropped back to my left, training my weapon on whomever or whatever was approaching – but there was nothing there.

This happened to me frequently – I would experience something only to discover  I had imagined it. Or it was a hallucination. But to have hallucinated the same crazy woman searching for the same crazy man ‘Gregory’ seemed more than a coincidence. On the other hand, if the first crazy woman was a projection of my oxygen deprived occipital lobe, then she clearly was stuffed somewhere in my subconscious, and it is not too far fetched to think she might visit me again. Perhaps my quest to locate the Widow caused this projection to resurface? Then I remembered the very real anniversary card written to Gregory still stored in my back pocket. So there had to be at least some grain of reality to the whole mess.

All these thoughts coursed along the synapses of my overly analytical mind as I vigilantly scanned the field for any other signs of my hallucinated friend. I heard the same rustling behind me – approaching fast. Before I had a chance to turn around and react, I heard the same voice,  “LOOK OUT!” An instant later a body came crashing into me from behind, arms grappled around my waist as I was tackled to the earth with great force. Before I hit the ground I also heard a distinct “POP. POP. POP.” from somewhere nearby. It was clearly gunfire, and the powerful whistle of a projectile visibly ripping through a patch of lilies inches from my face only confirmed it. As I made contact with the damp earth of the hydroponics pod, the impact wrenched my rifle from my hands, and it clattered away from me some three feet or more. Either my assailant or my saviour, she scrambled off of me and lurched towards my weapon, but I couldn’t exactly see her. I only felt her body move away, I heard her audibly grunt as she strained, and I could hear her breathing. I could even smell her – a strong, aromatic, floral scent. I did notice what seemed to be a translucent figure moving. But I could see straight through her? It was like looking through a bottle of water. But her figure was clearly feminine, and whatever she was, she had picked up my rifle. I had only just started to recover from my tackle, pressing my hands into the earth to lift myself up, preparing to lunge at the invisible figure.

My head cleared the lilies just in time to see two male attackers approaching with weapons at the ready. The translucent woman adeptly fired my weapon. One – “POP.” Two – “POP.” Right. Left. One directly after the other, the men dropped like limp rag dolls, their lifeless bodies disappearing into the vegetation separating us. The translucent figure rushed across the field towards their bodies, and as she ducked down to inspect them, she seemed to visibly materialize. As I stood back up, I saw her naked back and dark hair as she rummaged through their pockets.

“That’s my rifle!” I called out to her, as I approached cautiously. She instantly disappeared again.

“Shed. Now.” Her commanding voice seemed surprisingly sane as I felt her rush past me. I could hear her bare feet on the damp earth as she ran. I looked down at our dead attackers, before turning back toward the shed. Each one sported a fresh, symmetrically placed, little whole in their forehead. It was uncanny, because the two were obviously twin brothers. The same sandy hair. The same facial features. And now the same fatal wound. They each wore a faded grey jumper, and on the left pocket of each was a name tag. “Doe” and “Roe,” they read. Whomever this woman was, she was scary, naked, and dangerous.

~j.d.schofield

 

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