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Mystery Thriller Speculative

           Dorothea's right hand still twitched and shook at her side long after the sedatives had taken effect in her bloodstream. The blue pendant had burned into the skin of her palm. The small muscles in her hands cramped, having lost feeling in her fingers hours prior. She feared that if she loosened her grip, she might lose her only chance of seeing tomorrow.

The gravity of the realization weighed upon her chest, giving her a comparison to what it might feel like to be crushed under a hundred boulders. She had never felt freer. The chessboard had been wiped clean in a matter of seconds. An odd, hollow feeling within her chest was a ticking time bomb she would explode at any moment. Would the void within her begin to manifest on her skin? A physical sign for her to carry, showing everyone that she had let her desires control her.

The medication did nothing to stop the racing thoughts in her mind as she replayed the events of the past twenty-four hours. "Christ," she thought as she leaned forward, rubbing her fingers into her eyelids, hoping the pressure might remove the nightmarish images that taunted her every time she blinked.

Saint Dominic's was history, reduced to ashes in mere hours. And she hadn't been there.

Laughter echoed throughout the empty doctor's office she sat in. She laughed until tears came to her eyes, and she wiped at them. She had just been at her school the night before, rehearsing for the show to be put on within the next week. At least now she wouldn't have to perform in front of the Monsignor. She recoiled as she thought about the man, imagining how he might smile with delight as news of the tragedy at Saint Dominic's came.

He's fucking with you, a voice said in her head. This is a part of his plan; he wants a reaction.

"Stop," she told herself, gritting her jaw.

If she didn't know better, she worried that she might be going crazy, believing that the Monsignor was personally targeting her, though they'd only met twice. But she did know better. She'd been an unknowing pawn in his game for six years. A game that landed her here. A game she knew about since the beginning but had been too proud to believe she could avoid it.

If she were going to be a player, she would be willing and do whatever it might take to win, especially if it meant the Monsignor losing, even if it meant winning alone.

She hissed as the pendant dug too tightly into her palm. A knot formed in her throat as she took a moment to look at the blue jewel. "No," she thought as memories flew past her mind. She winced. "Stay back," she commanded the memories. "Not yet."

The past had always haunted Dorothea, but the past could not haunt her future; the future she'd conjured in the three hours she'd spent in the doctor's office since Miriam locked her in there. So, she was left with her thoughts and the pendant she'd found inside her bra. How it ended up there, she couldn't remember. Her memories lay in shadowy corners, laying the foundation for the ever-growing guilt in her stomach. Her eyes burned from exhaustion, but she'd instead go insane from sleep deprivation than be subject to whatever her subconscious might conjure in her dreams.

Dorothea's right hand twitched again; she felt like she would be sick.

           She put a hand to her chest, trying to soothe the phantom tightness that gathered and threatened to cut off her oxygen supply. Thud, thud, thud, thud. Her heartbeat pounded in her chest. None of the lessons about centering herself aided her, but yet again, she never thought she would stumble upon Saint Dominic’s in the condition she found it the night before. She’d stumbled into Saint Dymph’s, disoriented and unsure if she was dreaming. She fell into the first novitiate’s arms she could find, crying out; They’re dead! They’re dead! All of them! 

           She thought she would be done with psychiatrists and treatment facilities following her release from Father Tomas’s ‘program.’ She wondered what the doctor would be like at Saint Dymph’s would be like.

           Dorothea twitched, her right hand shaking at her side.

           Feet swinging overheard, cold dirt beneath her fingernails, smoke and ash drifting through the forest as thick as oil. She gripped the sides of the chair where she sat; trying to steady her heart rate, she ran her fingers over the threads she’d been pulling since last night. She ran her fingers over the thin silver chain of the necklace, the ridges, and dips spelling out the path to freedom in her mind. Dorothea Danforth would kill Vienna Smalls and whoever might try to stop her.

           She wasn’t sure how she would finish, but she knew that this path would end one way and one way only, with Vienna’s heart in her hands. She’d never killed anyone. The thought alone made her ill.

           The night before, she’d stayed awake staring at the dark of the ceiling planning her strategy, trying to piece together the events leading her to this doctor’s office and hoping that her memory might act as a guide and no longer a tormenter.

She closed her eyes, forcing her breath in and out of her nose as she tried to still the shaking of her body. The lemon scent of the doctor’s office did little to expel the paranoia riddling her body. Her hand struck her forehead, the pain temporarily pulling her attention away from the visions that flashed behind her eyelids.

Muffled voices approached the door; it swung open; a frantic Miriam reached shaky hands forward as she pulled Dorothea close to her. The door shut with a sharp clap as Miriam’s foot kicked it. She wore a blue short-sleeved button-up; her thick black hair was pulled into a ponytail. The first time Dorothea had seen her out of her novitiate robes.

           Dorothea felt a void as she gazed into Miriam's wide, dark eyes. Although they once provided comfort and warmth, they now left her cold. Dorothea knew she had to play a certain role to achieve a specific outcome. She had to follow through with her plan and avenge the life taken from her. As painful as it was to admit, Miriam had played a part in that loss.

           “What the hell happened?” Miriam asked, a slight tremor to her voice as she spoke. Miriam’s breath came out in a labored and uneasy rhythm. Some sweat gathered above her browbone.

           She forced tears to form in her eyes, throwing her arms around Miriam’s neck. She pulled the girl close to her: “Miriam, something’s wrong, something bad happened at Saint Dominic’s, and I don’t know where anyone went.”

           Miriam pulled away. She had a sour look on her face with a tight grip around Dorothea’s wrist. Miriam hissed lowly: “No need to lie; nobody’s watching us.”

           Does that mean I am with the ringmaster herself? Dorothea wanted to ask, but she bit her tongue. Her pride would ruin her plan before anyone else. Miriam would ruin her plans: Dorothea was sure of it.

           “You can’t be here,” Miriam shook her head, “you cannot be here right now, Dorothea; what the hell is wrong with you?”

           “I’m tired of being a pawn,” Dorothea shook her head; she threw the blue necklace at Miriam, who snatched it from the air. A sinister look passed behind Miriam’s eyes, them going darker for the slightest second. Once again, she felt reminded of how little she knew about Miriam. The Miriam in her memories, the one that brought her flowers and stroked her hair while she cried, was dead. The murderer was standing right in front of Dorothea.

           You always knew the signs; she scolded herself; you just acted like they weren’t there.   

           I’m watching you, The Monsignor’s voice taunted in her mind. Dorothea’s heart ached; she wondered if she unbuttoned Miriam’s shirt, she might be showing the signs of the affliction that never seemed to stop poisoning the ones Dorothea loved. I hope my turn is soon, she thought.

            “Where did you find this?” Miriam asked a slight wobble to her voice proving to Dorothea that some humanity remained in Miriam, that she hadn’t fully developed into one of the Monsignor’s pawns.

           “I am owed a favor,” Dorothea said, “by Emerson Bamford.”

           Miriam’s eyes narrowed, her lips quivering, but Miriam, being Miriam, continued the role she’d assumed when they first met. For the first time in twelve hours, she felt something. No, she told herself, throwing up a wall; Miriam had betrayed her once; she would again if given a chance. Dorothea repeated the thought, hoping she would believe it if she said it enough.

           “Nobody is watching,” Miriam muttered, her tone alone sending Dorothea’s heart into her throat. “I took new vows,” Miriam scoffed dryly, “Remember?”

           Dorothea swallowed, and vaguely the memory of their conversation about Miriam’s vows floated to the front of her mind. But Dorothea must have made a face cause when she focused back into reality, Miriam looked more relaxed as well. The phantom scent of the sea air and lavender filled her nose. The cliff’s soft grass against the exposed skin of her calves. Miriam’s laugh echoing over the sounds of waves lapping on the shore.

           “You owe me, Miriam,” Dorothea said dryly, “I want in on whatever you’ve been hiding from me. I’m dead no matter what; let me at least try to make him pay.”

           The lie dried her mouth out. But was it a lie if she wanted the Monsignor dead along with Vienna? She knew she would face the Monsignor after she killed Vienna. Life was no longer full of coincidences, not when she was dealing with the group of masterminds Miriam belonged to.

           “You’re right,” Miriam nodded, adding in a snide, “You’re a perfect candidate for their club.”

           “Their?” Dorothea asked.

           Miriam’s lips flattened, “I told you. I took new vows—” Miriam took several steps so that she loomed over Dorothea. “You don’t want to play against me, Dorothea. I’m not proud of whom I can become.”

           Dorothea scoffed, “Please don’t act like you suddenly have a strong moral code; I bet you were the first one to throw a match at Saint Dominic’s.”

           “Believe this, Dorothea,” Miriam said, jaw tightening as she sat on the edge of the desk, “Whatever you think happened last night. It didn’t.

           “How do I know you’re being honest,” Dorothea said though her entire body shook in a slight terror. How similar Miriam and Sebastian could be in their sinister ways was unnerving.

           Sebastian, that’s it. That was her first move.

           “I want to speak with your brother,” Dorothea said, “I have an offer.”

           Miriam paled. Her voice a short croak, “Are you sure?”

           Dorothea nodded: thinking to herself, What other choice do I have? Sebastian was her best bet; the man had been so arrogant in their time together that Dorothea dismissed much of it. But reflecting, she saw gaps—she found where she would make her home.

           “Yes,” Dorothea lied. “I have something to confess to him. I heard he’s been named the Deacon of Tiding.”

           “Yes,” Miriam nodded.

           “I’m sure he would hate to learn his sister is harboring an enemy of the diocese,” Dorothea said, her throat tightening as she took the risk with the following words. “Willing harboring one, I should add. I’m surprised that he’s managed to play the role so well.”

           “Stop,” Miriam muttered.

           Dorothea’s chest tightened up, but she had to keep going. Tomorrow was just in sight, just within her reach.

           “I would want to see where his loyalty lies,” Dorothea gritted out, “we both know whom he would pick; it’s whom he’s always picked.” She hoped Miriam could see the pain and regret behind her eyes, the emotions she kept under a lock in her heart.

           “I’m dead anyways, Miriam,” Dorothea muttered in a breathy voice, “I came to Saint Dymph’s for a reason. Don’t make me regret it.”

           Miriam nodded, crossing her arms over her chest as she stared at the ceiling. She was moving pieces around; she was fitting Dorothea into her game. But, while it gave Dorothea hope about living another day, it scared her even more.

She never considered herself actively participating in what had been going on behind the scenes for the past six months. But maybe now she would have answers; perhaps now she would have control. Dorothea lifted her chin; even if she didn’t believe in Miriam, she couldn’t let Miriam know that.

           Snapping out of her trance Miriam rushed behind the desk; she pulled out a piece of paper and scribbled down some lines that looked like a name and number. Carmen Sterling.

That’s your name,” Miriam pointed to it, “you don’t answer Dorothea Danforth anymore. She’s dead. Kill her, or else the Deacon will do it for you. Also, don’t tell the doctor where you were last night. She knows anyways, but she depends on you telling her about it before she can make her next move.”

Dorothea’s mouth dropped.

“I wasn’t the one who told her,” Miriam shook her head and crossed to the other side of the desk. Then, one hand on the door, she leaned back, “Pay attention. You’ll know what to do.”

The door to the room opened, Miriam stepped backward, and Dorothea pulled her hand away quick enough to scare the woman who’d opened the door.

“Oh my!” the woman exclaimed, the yellow-laced veil around her head falling off and onto the ground. Sister Ruth.

Dorothea looked at Miriam, and Miriam stared at Sister Ruth.

“Miriam,” Sister Ruth chuckled, “no need to fear. I’ve subdued that nutty doctor long enough for us all to come together.”

Dorothea shook her head, unsure what to make of this. The last time she’d seen Sister Ruth was when the Monsignor visited Saint Dominic’s. All members must be present, the rules said. They’d all been there.

Dorothea had sealed her fate months ago, without thought, without care. Sister Ruth and Miriam seemingly had no time for Dorothea’s nervous breakdown as they faced one another. “She can stay with me,” Sister Ruth said to Miriam.

“What?” Miriam asked.

“Who’s on their way?” Dorothea asked.

Shit,” Miriam hissed, “Dorothea do you think you can back it to Saint Dominic’s?”

“What?” Dorothea asked. There was nothing left for her to return to; the last sign she’d been given that Saint Dominic’s was still above ground was the smoke that spread across the sky, piercing through the white clouds like oil in water.

           “Miriam!” Sister Ruth exclaimed, “I am taking Dorothea. Never change your plans without consulting me first; now go to the front courtyard. Brownsend is coming, but your brother is with him. You should be able to stall him long enough for us to get to the catacombs.”

           Dorothea shot Miriam a look; Miriam held her gaze before looking toward Sister Ruth. Miriam shook her head, pinching the bridge of her nose before she sighed, nodding her head—a look behind her eyes that showed just how little she believed in whatever plot Sister Ruth was playing out.

           Sister Ruth grabbed Dorothea’s shoulders; “Dear, I’m going to say this, and I will say this once. You keep your eyes down and do not speak to anyone.

           Dorothea nodded, looking over Ruth’s shoulder to lock eyes with Miriam. Miriam pointed two fingers at her eyes before pointing them at Dorothea. I’m watching you, Miriam had said. You’ve always been watching me, Dorothea wanted to say out loud. But she bit her tongue.

           Sister Ruth said something that fell on Dorothea’s deaf ears; she chewed on her lip as Sister Ruth pulled her from the office and into the hallway. Then, just as the door was about to close, Dorothea looked over her shoulder, but Miriam wasn’t looking at her.

Let the games begin, Dorothea thought.

May 09, 2023 03:40

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1 comment

Russell Mickler
16:38 May 15, 2023

Hi Alex! The scene descriptions were great, and I liked the setting; it's not often you see _catacombs_ in Reedsy stories. :) The gratuitous use of semi-colons is lovely :) I'm a fan. Some suspense, intrigue, and a game ... I did something similar in response to this prompt. Well done! R

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