The sun could not have felt warmer on Alice's skin. She closed her eyes again, taking it all in.
"A masterpiece," Neebowitz, chief editor of Retort media had said. "Never before has an audience seen such daring. Such greatness. And with the execution of Shakespeare if he lived to be five hundred years old."
"I'm not sure how to go on with the rest of my life," said the president of the United Countries. She was in tears when she said it.
"Who are you?" said Mary MacGleesh, her long-time rival, said with wide-eyed fascination.
Alice opened her eyes, reliving it all again. At that moment, she felt a godess. She had to keep looking at her naked feet to make sure she wasn't floating. She felt like she was floating. And then she wondered why she wasn't.
After twenty years of work, of sacrifice, of endless doubtful nights, she made it.
Her screenplay, "Cetartha," was booked in every major broadway production in Eastern Kingdoms. The Western Kingdoms were under contract to start the next month. Even the plantery colonies were showing her work--bootlegged versions of her masterpiece, but if felt good nonetheless.
Twenty years, she repeated in her head. She looked up to the sky, expecting a cloud to shade the sun, but there was only clear blue sky.
Up ahead, she saw a simple bench sitting by a simple creek. It was away from the rest of the park, tucked into its own secluded and mostly ignored grotto. It made her heart sing louder than Maurice Alagaunt had in the third act.
Alice marveled at how well kept it was. It must be that only she and the groundskeepers came to this place, and maybe a few kids who wanted to drink. She doubted either understood the power of that bench.
She ran to it, feeling as giddy as she had that day twenty years ago. It was as clear to her as the ovation she received the night before. Freshly graduated with a degree in off planet drilling that her father insisted she acquire. The fool_, she thought. All practicality pails when the heavens whisper their stories. It was there she first heard it, the call to her craft.
The smooth aged oak welcomed her childhood room. Memories flooded in like waterfalls. She bathed in nostalgia, and rest her arms on the top of of the bench.
She almost did it too, that tidy life. As a mining engineer, she would have lived a nice and tidy life. The extraordinary salary. The handsome and influential husband. The self-importance of pushing the human race into the next era of evolution. It would have been. . .terrible. Every day she would have wondered. What if I had listened? Would repeat nonstop for the rest of her existence. Alice smiled, thanking herself for taking the chance on herself.
The simple creek gurgled along, flowing gently around river rocks and broken twigs. It had not been without heartache, she knew. Twenty years was a lot of shit to go through. Everything had to be pushed to the side if she was to succeed. First the career had to go. She couldn't be distracted by her fathers wishes. The second was a natural extension of the first. She had to stop caring what her family said. Her wealthy and powerful family who told their zealots that she was a 'free-spirit' or just lied and said she was off-world. That only lasted as long as it took for the critics to start noticing her.
The next to go were her friends. The ones she made in school were easy enough to forget. They were on different paths and distractions to her goals. So she made new friends, and soon had to get rid of those as well. They were anchors to her fast sailing ship, and they had to be cut. If she was to make it, she had to be untethered.
That's what made the relationships the last to go. She held on to the belief that if she were to portray love and heartbreak, that it would need to be experienced, first hand. Through the first fifteen years she held fast, searching for deeper and deeper connections. It was all foolish, she reflected. All selfish heart stroking and again, distractions. There was something burning inside her. A story that would change everything. Change the world even. Seclusion was her only route. Her moderate success in the middle of her career allowed her the freedom to express those desires, and so she shut herself away from the world. If she wanted to have the life she dreamed of, she had to be alone first. The success she pictured in her vivid imagination was only possible without distraction, without temptation, without the pleasures of life.
Alice felt a warm tingle move up her spine. She had been right after all. Cetartha was going to change the world, all the worlds. And most importantly, it was going to change her life. No longer did she have to hide in the shadows, specifically Mary MacGleesh's shadow. Now she was the one casting shadows, insurmountable ones, at least for her own lifetime. She was sure her life would inspire some younger version of herself to follow the same path. Only then would her work be comparable to anothers.
She felt herself gripping the oak backrest too tight and flexed her fingers. They felt stiffer than they should be. She didn’t realized she’d been gripping so tight.
Just carried away, she thought. She allowed herself to be. It could all happen now. Her life could actually begin. Everything she put off waiting for her big break could now start falling into place. She dreamed of meeting a man like herself. Someone charming who liked her work and would inspire her to do more.
She giggled to herself thinking back on the men she dated. If only she could see their faces now.
Laughter giggled behind her. She turned her head but found her neck resisting.
It was stiff like her fingers. Stiffer even. She had to use her hand to help move her chin and found her arm slow too. Must be exhausted, she reasoned. It had been several nights in a row of shows. The sleep deprivation was getting to her.
When she finally got her neck to move just far enough to get a glance, Alice saw three children running and playing the park behind her. Two girls and one boy. They looked to be no older than seven. They laughed and chased each other and head straight for Alice.
Alice let herself giggle with them. She’d always wanted children of her own, and now she could. The doors to her life didn’t just creak open, they exploded. All the walls she put up around herself, blocking out the world, they all just fell to pieces now that Cetartha existed. Alice forcefully turned her head back to the bubbling stream. It took twice as much effort. She really should head off to bed. The days had finally caught up with her.
Alice moved her arms towards the oak beneath her. It took immense effort to bring them down. Each inch cost her an enormous amount of energy. By the time she had her hands on the oak, she was sure they wouldn’t move again. She reserved the rest of her energy for standing up, but no part of her body worked with her. Her feet felt nailed to the ground. She couldn’t even wiggle her toes.
Each breath she took collapsed her lungs just a little further so that it felt rocks were being stacked on her chest. Panic signals rang on every nerve ending in her body, but she could nothing to stop it. Her whole body felt frozen to bench.
The children’s giggles sounded as if they were right behind her now.
“What’s that?” one of the girls asked.
The giggling stopped and Alice could hear little feet crunching little blades of grass getting closer and closer. She tried her best to open her mouth and shout for them to get help, but her lips were sealed shut. Her eyes even slowed down as they searched for the approaching children. They tilted down towards the stream and stopped moving.
What is this? Alice shouted in her mind. This is a dream. It must be a dream. But she couldn’t shut her eyes. She couldn’t breathe. Yet she was still there, floating in her own head behind her lifeless eyes.
The three children emerged from the corner of her eye. They tilted their head at her and looked over her body like she was a painting.
The boy approached first. He went up to her confidently and knocked on her knee.
“Metal,” he said, turning and smiling a toothless grin at the two girls.
“Duh,” one of the girls said. “She’s all brown and gold. Of course she’s made of metal.”
“You don’t know that,” the boy said. He turned and waved his arms left and right in front of Alice.
Help me, she pleaded. They wouldn’t know her, but their parents might. There was still time.
“What does it say?” the second of the two girls asked. She pointed at a spot near Alice’s ankles.
Say? Alice thought. There’s nothing down—
“Alice Montgomery,” the little boy read. “World famous juggler and handstand artist.”
“That’s not what it says,” the second of the two girls shouted. She shoved the boy out of the way.
“Hey,” the boy said, looking deeply offended. He looked ready to push her back but decided against it. “Come on, Steph,” he said to the first of the two girls. “Let Megan play with the mummy. I want ice cream.”
Steph opened her eyes wide. “Mmm,” she said, “I call chocolate.”
Steph took off out of sight from Alice.
“Not if I get there first,” the boy said. He ran after Steph, leaving Megan to continue reading whatever was at Alice’s feet.
Juggler? She thought. I never juggled a day in my life.
Alice watched Megan’s eyes read line by line, deeply engaged as she did so. She slowly lifted her head towards Alice like she was in disbelief.
“You wrote, Cetartha,” Megan whispered.
Alice wanted nothing more than the ability to nod her head vigorously. And then nothing more than to be able to cry. On Megan’s sweater was a tiny emblem of the main character in Cetartha, Lexy Windstock.
“It’s my favorite thing in the whole worl!” Megan exclaimed. She reached out and lovingly touched what had once been part of Alice’s dress, but was now stiff and bronze. “I want to be you one day,” she said. “I write stories every day. Maybe one day I could be as good as you.” She looked up to Alice’s frozen face. “Or better.”
Alice squirmed and shook inside the cage of her mind. Let me out! She screamed, but it only echoed in her head.
Megan whipped her head to the gargling stream like she heard something.
Don’t, Alice wanted to tell her. Don’t listen.
Megan tilted her head slightly at the water, then turned back to Alice. There was a spark in her eyes. A spark that fled Alice as fear settled in.
Megan spun and ran off to where the other two children had run, and Alice was left by herself.
She sat there, staring at the stream, dreaming of all those things she gave away so she could have her masterpiece. A greenish hue slowly took over her bronze prison as she sat there, never to move again from her simple bench sitting by the simple stream.