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Chapter One: Broken
Saturday, October 11, 3 a.m.
Marina couldn’t sleep. It was worse than usual. Ten minutes here. Twenty minutes there. The voice controlled her thoughts. Sometimes the voice was convincing, charming—even appealing. It vowed happiness but advised the kind of pleasure that left her empty. It wasn’t her conscience speaking, although it brought up the same regrets. This voice was more like an uninvited trespasser. Taunting Marina all her life, it branded her with names that hurt—telling lies that had taken power over her since childhood. Critical. Insulting. Shaming. She knew that voice well. She just didn’t know how to control it.
Marina pulled the feather-filled comforter closer around her neck and watched as shadows disturbed the moonlight. Her heart pounded. Her thoughts muddled.
Caught in a loop of constant internal chatter, she replayed interactions with people she had encountered over the past week. Marina depended on others to tell her who she was—judging her personal worth by other’s estimation. She was always trying to figure out where she stood. Because of this, she felt adored one day and rejected the next.
Opinion, judgment, doubts and excuses rattled around in her head every moment of every day—sometimes loud, sometimes quiet. The voices were always there. With every lie Marina embraced, something inside of her died.
She considered telling Michael about the voices but didn’t know what to call them. All the voices seemed louder than her own. Was it her depression again? Anxiety? Maybe a little residual guilt? Michael could console her, but the comfort of her husband was not what she wanted.
A counselor once told her she might have a compulsive need to recreate abandonment. Marina felt like she had to keep her heart protected. She believed that if Michael—or anybody else, for that matter—really knew her, they wouldn’t want her around. She was sure about that.
Michael’s love for her seemed unconditional. His devotion was clear to everyone who knew them—except Marina. She had learned early in life not to allow herself to be vulnerable. When you grow up in an unpredictable home—one filled with mixed messages, erratic emotions and physical threats to your safety—you learn to be careful.
Tonight the pain of her past came calling. Just after midnight she awakened from a nightmare. In the dream, her brother was still alive, and Marina was fiercely trying to get to him. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t reach him. Her father kept getting in the way. Just like when she was a child, Marina was powerless to save her family.
It was no secret Marina hated her father. That she blamed him for what happened. Marina’s silence was her way of punishing him for not being enough of a man.
He had been the kind of authority figure that frightened everyone. Marina was different from the rest of the family. She refused to admit, even to herself, that anything could hurt her. She denied the way her father’s criticism threatened her self-worth. Somewhere along the line, she learned to put her emotions on mute. Sometimes it was best to feel nothing. It was the only way to manage the massive amount of deprivation coming from his abandonment.
Marina lay awake in her four-poster bed and burrowed a little closer to Michael. She watched the clock and waited for sleep. It did not come.
Michael rolled over and cupped his hand over her breast. He mumbled something and went back to his deep breathing. Michael was considerate, dependable, and loving. But sometimes their marriage scared her. It felt too close. It was strange the way she pushed him away—like he threatened her independence. As if somehow, she would become invisible if she allowed herself to be too close. It was inevitable that he would eventually leave her. Lately, Marina had been thinking she should leave him first. It wouldn’t hurt so much that way. And whether it was a conscious decision or not, Marina was looking for reasons to justify her thoughts.
Marina slipped out of bed and crept downstairs. Hoping to take the chill out of the room, she crumpled yesterday’s newspaper and added more kindling over the embers in the hearth. She found Rascal on their new leather sofa and snuggled up next to the cat, covering herself with a plush throw. He purred as Marina patted his silky calico coat. On the antique coffee table next to her was the leftover wine from dinner. She picked up the bottle, took a long drink, and stared into the flames as they faded.
Marina James was the kind of woman who appeared capable of overpowering anything that might come against her. She was known as being deliberate, decisive and a risk-taker. Nevertheless, inside she felt like an impostor—alone, anxious and, at times, out of control.
As the embers burned down, the room grew colder. A draft crept in through the oversized loft window. Feeling exposed under the shadowy pane—unprotected—she got up and closed the curtains. Then, Marina hurried back under her blanket. Tipping back the last of the bottle, her thoughts began to blur as she gave in to the depression strengthened by the Chardonnay. She sensed a presence in the room as she drifted off to sleep. Cloaking her with its evil form, it faded back into the world of her dreams.
MARINA – Saturday, October 11, 9:24 a.m.
When Marina finally woke up after only a few hours of decent sleep, the sunlight assaulted her eyes way too early for a Saturday morning. Waiting for her thoughts to clear, Marina remembered why she didn’t usually drink. She pushed the cat away from her face and stared for a moment at the wooden beams in the industrial lofted ceiling.
Life did seem better in the daylight. Marina got up and carefully folded the luxurious blankets and adjusted the decorative pillows. She walked to the kitchen admiring the character of the brickwork in the historic converted brewery. She imagined where she might hang an original Pasori she had spotted in the gallery down the block. It would look perfect on their tallest wall with spot lighting. She pushed the button on the Keurig to brew a strong cup—thinking that if she must have one, coffee was probably one of the better addictions.
Marina opened the window over the kitchen sink just slightly to invite the crisp and refreshing October air. It felt good to be settled into their new home in downtown Minneapolis with all its culture, wealth, and entertainment. It had taken longer than expected. They had spent almost five years renting that dull apartment before they paid off the wedding and saved the down payment for the loft. But at this moment, life looked how Marina James thought her happily-ever-after should. It just didn’t feel like it.
Maybe when all the moving boxes were unpacked, she would feel more settled—more relaxed. The source of her anxiety wasn’t something she could exactly identify. It wasn’t obvious enough for anyone else to see. It was just the fact that inside she felt broken. That deep ache left a powerful longing, yet it was oddly undetectable. Looking at her from the outside, everything in Marina’s life appeared to be fine. But clearly, inside, she was not. The internal judgment never stopped.
Most of the time, Marina managed to keep herself busy, so she didn’t notice the degree to which she believed the lies and how much they drained her. She spent her days working to overcome the stresses and strains at work. The happiness, the career and the relationships she craved remained just out of reach.
Marina picked up the stack of mail from the kitchen counter and crossed the living room to sit in the nook under the bay window. From her perch she had a view of the bustle on the sidewalk seven stories down. The southern exposure warmed her.
Marina looked at her bills and separated the student loans to pay first. Then, she organized the mortgage and other statements by date, paying what she could and leaving the others until the next paycheck came. She hated the insecurity of it all.
There was that nagging wisp of anxiety again, the kind that could escalate to a full-blown assault. It was clear to Marina she and Michael needed more money to accommodate the lifestyle she wanted. Whenever she tried to encourage him to work toward a promotion, he’d tell her there was no point—too many politics and too big a divide between upper management and those in production. Then he would remind her he didn’t have a college education. They’d never consider him for a promotion at the plant. The conversation usually frustrated her. Michael didn’t understand the pressure she was under.
She found some hope by reminding herself, for the most part, life was going according to plan. She couldn’t expect her husband to understand. Michael had never shared her extreme ambition or drive. For some reason, his easygoing style had become more irritating to her lately.
Marina was proud that she was learning to run her own life. It took two years of counseling after college, coupled with the right antidepressant, to finally realize that it was even an option. She didn’t have to get sucked into the family drama. Her father was not in control of her life anymore. Marina was taking charge.
She had made a plan to succeed and was following it. Her strategy was now turning into reality. Her new home was upscale. Her job was promising. Although it was taking longer than expected, she and Michael were trying to get pregnant.
She had limited time today to get through her to-do list. She messaged her sister to see if she had a slot open at the salon this morning—hoping she would actually see the text this time. Unlike Marina, it sometimes took Sophie hours to reply and Marina didn’t have extra time to waste.
Everything Marina James did was scheduled and well-planned. During the four years she’d worked at Opulent, she’d met or exceeded every performance goal. She was influential, bold and forward-thinking. Her boss, Barbara, loved it and would often comment on how Marina’s creative ideas made her stand out from the group. So, when she heard last week’s announcement, Marina knew the timing to step forward couldn’t be better.
At work, Marina was known as an intelligent woman with an unblemished reputation for business savvy—a rising star with a strategic plan. As managing editor of Become Magazine, a publication about personal branding, Marina’s talents impressed everyone who met her. Unfortunately, Marina didn’t impress herself. There was a war of words going on in her head all the time, and the winning side usually convinced her that she was an impostor.
Marina crept into the master suite and selected her light blue cashmere sweater and a new pair of skinny jeans. Michael rested peacefully beneath the designer sheets. Nothing ever bothers you, Michael. You leave everything for me to handle. She jerked up the zipper on her jeans and tugged to straighten her sweater.
Picking up the pile of clothes he’d left on the floor by the bedside, she thought about last night. It was okay. She was ovulating and certainly Michael thoroughly enjoyed himself. But honestly? Her “prince charming” was starting to bore her. Marina remembered a time when he seemed more powerful—when she desired him. When they made love and it wasn’t so predictable. She used to feel safe in his arms. Protected. But over the last couple of years something had changed. Michael’s relaxed approach to life and playfulness used to be fun. Now, it aggravated her.
She probably wouldn’t admit it out loud, but Michael hadn’t turned out to be much of a hero. His carefree attitude made her feel anxious—almost rejected. There was so much she wanted to accomplish, and Michael was oblivious to it all. Marina’s dialogue within herself was where everything was strategized and worked out. Where her plans lived and died. Over the past few years she had come to realize that if they were ever going to be upper class—or middle class for that matter—the burden fell on her.
Lately, the voices in Marina’s head had her by the throat. Pesky emotions and internal chatter were in a constant tango she didn’t have time or patience to explore. Marina glanced back through the bedroom door, debating whether she should change her outfit. My butt looks too flat in these jeans. Her thought was interrupted by her sister’s text message. “I’ve got an opening at 10:30. Does that work?”
“On my way,” Marina replied. She wrote a note on their faux-vintage chalkboard for her husband—she supposed he would be up soon, but she had to fly. She paused briefly as her eye caught a couple of Michael’s moving boxes stacked at the top of the stairs. The disorder bothered her. She also noticed that her favorite pine-scented candle was tilted, and the lead crystal vase was not quite centered on the table. She adjusted them. Taking one final glance around her modern-but-cozy space, Marina sized up the effect of her purposefully placed décor, including a row of books arranged by height and color across the mantel of the brick fireplace. Perfect.
Marina grabbed her makeup bag from her purse and stood at the mirror over the thick oak mantel for one last check before heading out the door. Her messy bun of deep brown hair would soon be dealt with. Occupied with applying the last critical coat of mascara and perfecting the lashes that framed her beautiful blue eyes, Marina’s human senses were unconsciously aware of Adversary’s loitering. Near her feet the shadowy figure hidden from those in the earthly realm hovered over the cold ashes in the fireplace. Having held her captive since childhood, the manifestation lingered—intimately prowling up the flesh of her body.
Despite the warm cashmere sweater, Marina felt an unexplainable chill. She paused and surveyed the loft. Something was wrong. She didn’t exactly know why, but her instincts were on high alert.
Adversary knew what Marina loved and what she didn’t. Having planned its strategy since she the day she’d been born, her enemy was willing to take the time to defeat her. It preyed on her distinct insecurities and she played right into its hand. The confining, tedious, and ultimately fruitless conversations inside her head were slowly killing her spirit. She believed that happiness was based on circumstances. But she always seemed to be chasing the dream—with the carrot forever dangling just out of her reach. She had no idea why she was frustrated in spite of her success—or what she could do to change it.
The loft was unnervingly silent. She heard Michael stirring in the master suite. Rascal jumped off his perch on the back of the couch and slipped to his hidden sanctuary behind it. Marina wished she, too, had a refuge. She grabbed her keys and walked out the heavy mahogany door to meet Sophie.
SOPHIE – Saturday, October 11, 10:16 a.m.
Sophie drove down University Avenue dodging Metro Transit buses on her way to meet Marina. The bitter gas station coffee burned as she tried to wash down the stale caramel roll. Her stomach churned. She changed lanes and cut off a pickup behind her. He honked and Sophie gave him the finger. She had no time for small men in big trucks today. Half of the way through the turn onto Fourth Street her cell rang. One-handedly dumping the junk in her purse on the passenger seat, she dug for her phone. It was her ex-husband. She saw there were several missed calls from him. She wasn’t going to answer—but then she did. She’d had enough.
“Why are you still calling me?” she demanded.
“Are you okay, Soph?” The man asked in a composed voice.
“I’m fine,” she answered abruptly. “I’m just fine!”
“I got your message. I was worried when I couldn’t get a hold of you. You’re not picking up my calls again.”
Sophie didn’t know how to respond. She didn’t remember calling him. Who else did I text? What other friendship did I ruin? She had fallen under the impression that life was drudgery, and that one night of binging a week was the release she needed to get through. It was like a vicious circle. Sophie drank to escape from life. It looked like a mess. So, she drank to get away from that. Then, she repeated the cycle in an ever-increasing spiral downward.
Her marriage to Carl was a casualty of this war. As of last Monday, they were no longer married. She knew Carl didn’t want the divorce, but there was nothing she could do about it.
“Do you want to talk about it?” asked Carl.
“No,” replied Sophie.
“I’m here if you change your mind, Sweets.”
“Whatever, Carl. Quit calling me Sweets.”
“Okay then, Soph. If that’s the way this is going to go, I’ll drop it. I’d like to pick up Olivia this afternoon. Will that work? I thought we’d go bowling or something. She can stay through the weekend and I’ll bring her to school Monday morning.”
Sophie curtly reminded him. “You don’t have any rights.”
“Come on, Soph,” he pleaded. “I know she’s not mine, but I’m the only father she’s ever known. She called me last night crying—again. She was lonesome. She asked me to come get her. I tried to get a hold of you to see if I could pick her up and when I couldn’t, I promised her I’d try to set something up soon.”
Sophie considered his offer. It would be nice to sleep late. But then she remembered her promise to Olivia.
“I’m taking Livvy shopping Sunday. We need to get a present for Katie’s birthday party,” she told Carl.
“I can take her to find something,” he offered.
“No. I promised her that I’d take her.” Sophie was determined to be a better mother. She felt guilty for always disappointing her daughter. She didn’t want to disappoint. But lately it seemed like Sophie always did the things she didn’t want to do. She tried to go out less often and she tried to set limits on her drinking. Sure, she could do it for a little while, but eventually her willpower would give out, and she’d be right back to waking up wondering how many drinks she’d had the night before. She felt helpless—weak and alone.
Sophie pulled into the strip mall parking lot and grabbed a spot near the salon entrance. She turned off the engine and with her free hand began stuffing the spilled contents back into her purse.
“Sophie?” said Carl. “I’m worried about…”
She couldn’t hear all of what Carl was saying with the phone reception fading in and out. But she wasn’t concerned with what she missed. The call dropped and she turned off her phone.
Sophie didn’t know why he made her feel so crazy. She didn’t want to be alone. Yet she didn’t want to be smothered. The problem was that no amount of love and attention could convince Sophie that she was worthwhile—a lovable person. She had certainly told herself enough times that she was worth absolutely nothing. She had repeated the lie so many times, that now she believed the words whether they were true or not. Her private thoughts left her helpless. Sophie’s mind was unconquerable. She couldn’t bring herself to believe that she could ever be worthy of love. Despite her past wanderings and mistakes, Sophie wondered if it was possible to stop the downward spiral of her life. As shame and guilt pressed on her heart, she realized she didn’t have the energy to change course. She just had to cope.
THE OTHER REALM – Saturday, October 11, 10:32 a.m.
Adversary, the most powerful of the manifestations, emerged out of a transparent fog. He addressed the swarm of monstrosities.
“I have called you here on a matter of urgency. The generational curse placed on this family is in danger of being broken. The patriarch has gained discernment—his unconscious conditioning has been exposed to his conscious mind. His emotional cravings are subsiding.” The multitude erupted with caterwauling and a rushing din arose from their disgust.
Together, the host of beings had imprisoned this family for generations. Those humans who were unaware of their existence were most vulnerable to their malicious schemes. Sowing deliberate destruction, they placed strongholds in their minds—misbeliefs that could hold these weak humans captive from early childhood to the end of their lives.
Summoned from the earthly realm, Lust, Anxiety and Depression appeared out of the masses. The three creatures joined Shame and Anger near the edge of the bottomless cavern.
Adversary continued, “Your subconscious assaults must intensify. Create conflict in their minds. These humans are hardwired to avoid it whenever possible. When their minds are divided, it is incredibly painful for them.” His eyes gleamed as he snarled, “And, don’t underestimate the woman. She may be small, but she is still a formidable foe who is smart and capable. The deep longing inside her is powerful, and she will not rest until satisfied.