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Fiction

That was the day Shana lost all light in my eyes.

***

“Shana, Bridget said you needed to see me.” I knocked on her door, one minute after service was scheduled to start. With superhuman speed, Shana opened the door, grabbed my arm, and dragged me into her sanctuary. There was where she meditated and recharged after every session. When she double-checked that the door was locked, I knew something was wrong. When I counted three sandalwood incense sticks burning, I thought she hit rock bottom.

“I can’t go out there,” she started, while pacing between the assorted floor cushions and ottomans. She continued mumbling to herself, as if I wasn’t there.

“Shana, What’s wrong?”

“Have you seen it?” Like a caffeinated squirrel, she started searching the room.

“Seen what? What are you looking for?” I asked, while she crawled along the rug I bought her while we were in India.

“My phone. Hopefully it didn’t break.”

“Break? Why would your phone have broken?”

“I threw it a few times. Aha! Got it!” She leaped from behind a wardrobe and handed me a phone with a shattered screen. While I squinted to make out the headline, Shana started pacing again. “I can’t do service today. I can’t do service ever again. Everything is ruined.”

“I can’t read this.”

“I’m a fraud, Greta! I’m a big fat liar, and now the whole world knows!” As if exhausted by her own voice, our leader collapsed and started sobbing. “The damn New York Times!” I exchanged the phone for a box of tissues and joined her on the floor.

“Shana, it’ll be alright. You are our leader. You’ll figure it out.”

“My name’s not even Shana. It’s Sherry.” She blew into a tissue like an elephant, shaking the walls around us.

“It’s nice to meet you, Sherry,” I joked, but she didn’t laugh. “The article must be full of lies. They have nothing on you.”

“But they do! I’m a fake, and they have the sources to prove it.” She lied on her back, in a position of absolute surrender. “Remember Jerry?”

“Yeah, we were really close before he left.”

“Well, Jerry knew my powers were fake and decided to make buddies with reporters.”

“Your powers are fake?” I questioned. As Shana -- Sherry -- rambled, I started seeing double.

“Even Denise stabbed me in the back! I always knew she was a snake.”

“Your powers can’t be fake.”

“And this woman, Mary Brown, went on and on about me. I don’t even know who she is.”

“What do you mean your powers are fake?” I asked, scooting away from our leader. Seeing her crying on the floor and cursing out past members, I felt her aura start to melt.

“Greta,” she started and used her arms to sit up and lean against a table. “I can’t read people’s energies. I never could.”

“But that’s what you do.”

“I pretend. I just judge their clothes, height, hair, weight, voice, whatever. The advice I give is just as good as anyone else’s.”

My whole world shifted. My vision blurred. The sounds of Shana -- Sherry -- echoed in my head. Everything kept piling up and mixing together.

“Greta.” I felt a hand on my arm. “What am I going to do?” Someway somehow, finding out my favorite person was a liar made her look different. Her face changed. Since she’s not faking smiles anymore, maybe her face finally fell into its natural position.

I looked at my watch. Nine minutes late. The crowd has already gotten louder. “Shana. Shit. Sherry. You’re gonna go out there and do what you do. Or make people believe you know what you’re doing.”

“But they sound angry. What if they already know?”

Some of the crowd started chanting “Sherry,” which inspired believers to begin chanting “Shana.” The back and forth made me dizzy.

“Just go out there.” I snapped my arm out of her grasp and pushed myself up to my feet. “Get them to quiet down and apologize. I’ll try to think of something else, while you’re up there.” “But going out there without a plan is dangerous.”

“Starting a religion based on lies is dangerous,” I mumbled, halfway through the door.

“What did you say?”

I turned around and saw a hollow version of a once bold leader. Five years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was only 26 and terrified. While recovering from my mastectomy, I fell into a deep depression. I only got out of bed if I had to. I spent all of my hours on the internet, trying to find something to inspire me to live again. One day, I watched a video of Shana/Sherry. I saw this woman saving people. Whether it was a broken lung or a broken heart, she would tell them what was wrong in their lives, what needed to be fixed. I watched testimonial after testimonial, and soon enough I was out of bed and brushing my hair. A week later, I flew to San Antonio, met Shana at one of her services, and asked if she needed help. Since then, I’ve been her right-hand woman. Up until today, I believed she saw that destiny in me, but it was nothing more than her liking my shirt or just getting lucky. The woman I admired, who guided thousands of followers to a “better life,” now looked to me to be her guide. For someone who claimed to have all the answers, she knew nothing.

“People are waiting,” I said and left. As I saw the crowd on behind-the-scenes monitors, I wondered if I had ever seen the service hall so packed. With all the people sitting and standing in the aisles, we had ourselves a fire hazard.

As I slithered through backstage hallways, I heard an uptick in boos followed by her amplified voice. “Hello, everyone.” The hecklers grew louder, while others shouted “Let her speak!” If I wasn’t so focused on my own grieving, I would’ve stopped to look at the car crash. “Please, everyone. I’d like to apologize and say a few words.”

“You evil twat!” One voice cut through all the others, but it was the splatter that silenced everyone. For the one second during which everyone tried to figure out what was just thrown at Shana/Sherry, there was silence. I heard my blood pumping. When the crowd pieced together the broken bits of egg shells on her face and the egg whites in her hair, they erupted. With one hand on the exit door, I looked back at the woman I once praised and saw her fall into a pile of shit she made herself. Yes, she inspired me to live again, but she also taught me that no one likes a liar. As I repressed my reflex to fetch her a towel, I turned my back and never saw her again.

Over the next few weeks, I reunited with my family, blocked Sherry’s phone number, enlisted in therapy, and skipped the channel whenever I saw her face. I was on my way to being free and better than her.

April 15, 2022 01:17

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4 comments

Fred Aiken
02:04 Apr 23, 2022

the concept of the story was interesting. definitely had a lot of relevance. i think when you got to the paragraph about the main character describing how she got swept up into the cult and the shana/sherry cult of personality and even her medical diagnosis, the pacing got a bit skewed. the last third of the story felt a bit rushed and seemed like it could have been fleshed out. i was also slightly confused by the main characters arch. they seemed to be pro-shana/sherry at first, and then were completely fine with letting them be fed to the ...

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Harlow Jones
22:25 Apr 23, 2022

Hi, Fred! Thank you for from your feedback, and I agree. If I rework this story, I could expand on the characters' relationship and dynamic to help with the pacing. Thank you for your insight and ideas! Much appreciated.

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Gareth Hopkins
15:25 Apr 22, 2022

Hi there, I was sent this story from the critic's circle thing and thought I'd take a look. I think this is a really decent idea. I'm a bit obsessed with cults/conspiracy theories (I took a look back through some of your other stories and suspect you might have a similar interest) and I like the concept of a story about a cult leader who has fallen from grace. I really like the moments where the narrator's opinion starts to change and so does her perception of "Shana's" appearence. I think that's a really neat idea you could maybe amp up ...

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Harlow Jones
22:29 Apr 23, 2022

Hi, Gareth! Thank you for your feedback. Having heard from you and other readers, I can see the main character was quick to move on. I like your idea of building on Shana's appearance. Maybe I can introduce their relationship sooner and tie in physical details. Thanks again!

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