A Veil of Shattered Dreams

by Rachel Stark

Have you ever dreamed so hard it was real? A dream world that beckons to you, but is so fragile it could shatter with the mere thought of harsh reality. Katerina dreams of this place. But is it real or only real to her? With her sanity trapped behind a shadowy veil, Katerina struggles to free herself from its hidden secrets. But these secrets come at a terrible cost, a cost that may be too great for her to accept.


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“Well, the name’s Randy and ... I uh... well... and I think this is pretty much bullshit…”

...Where am I? And who are these people? My vision is hazy, but through the fog I notice the room we are in is large and wide, filled with light and chairs. I look around, the person speaking (Randy was it?) is sitting a few seats over from me with his large faded-tattoo arms crossed over his chest, looking disgruntled. The man he is talking to, a kind-seeming person with thick-rimmed black glasses and dark hair pulled back in a ponytail, listens intently.

“Randy,” the man with the glasses scolds lightly.

“Seriously Doc, the only reason I’m here is because my probation officer made me.” Randy’s eyes shift around the room to everyone else. Beside him sits a young girl whose features are blurred to me, and beside her, directly across from me, is a woman so light and pale, that I blink my eyes to make sure she isn’t a ghost or just a trick of the light. There are others, like a young gentleman sitting on my other side who is staring interestedly down at his feet, and a guy and girl pair right next to him who are more one person than two. Their twin gazes are attentive and wide, soaking in Randy’s every word.

“I’ve been clean for two months now, and I don’t need to sit around and discuss my “feelings” with a bunch of lunatics.”

“Randy, come on now. This is a safe space. Remember our rules, privacy and respect. No one is judging you.”

I reach my arms out in front of me and examine them and then reach up and touch my face, my hair. What is this place? I glance over at Randy, listening closely for any clues. I feel the hard back of the chair push my posture upright and I cross one of my legs over my knee. Randy gives the ponytailed man an indignant look, and the man noticing the hint, quickly changes his approach.

“Perhaps maybe you’d like to talk about something else instead? What about your family?” the ponytailed man encourages. “Do you have any children?” Even though I was not remotely part of the conversation, the question seemed a little invasive. Why should I care if Randy has a family or not? I don’t even know who Randy is! I shake my head to myself and luckily the gesture goes unnoticed. Randy actually looks surprisingly sentimental at these questions. He uncrosses his thick arms and runs one of his large hands through his scruffy dirty blonde hair.

“Divorced,” Randy grunts, replying quicker than I had expected, perhaps quicker than anyone expected. A few people from around the room give Randy knowing stares. Except for the ghostly pale woman that looks familiar; she is staring at him almost with… envy?

“Divorce can be very difficult,” the ponytailed man asserts. Randy seems like he wants to reply but pauses, waiting for his questioner to continue. When the ponytailed man remains silent, Randy adds, the words flowing out of him, “She found out I was on the H. The hard stuff. I was out of control. We both knew it. But she couldn’t handle it. I wanted kids, you know. ” Randy admits uneasily, his eyes glazing over suddenly, and I wonder what memory has stolen him away.

My heart pangs for him and the pain intensifies and settles in my chest, filling the cavity with some unknown, distant, but overwhelming sorrow. The intensity pierces sharply, acute to my senses, and I begin to wonder where I am again. I focus on the pain instead, following its path, trying to locate its origin. It is not Randy’s pain, but my own. I am barely aware that Randy has stopped speaking.

“Thank you for sharing that with us, Randy. That was very brave of you,” the ponytailed man says and then turns to the girl sitting next to Randy. A young woman, or child rather. She appears young, perhaps younger than me, maybe not even in her teens.

“Good to see you again, Emily. Do you have anything to share with us?” he prompts gently. She begins speaking, but my mind carries me a million miles away, like a veil has fallen over the present, muffling her sounds, her face, her aura. Shielding me. Covering up something that I want to forget.

Though I cannot make out her words, the girl is speaking rapidly and I feel my heart rate increase to match her tempo. I think I knew a little girl once, maybe. The inclination is strong, but an invisible hand is gripping me, pulling me farther away, and tugging on the pang in my heart. I don’t resist and wait patiently on the other side of the veil. And when it parts, the spotlight falls upon the face of the figure I recognize immediately, the pale, ghostlike woman seated across from me.

A woman, early thirties, so pale that she was glowing ethereally, like the sun was shining through her, frail and wispy in the extreme as if she might just fade away at any moment. She makes me uneasy and the sorrow creeps up on me, channeling itself through her. Her familiarity only makes me feel worse; it makes me engrossed with her. I want to talk, to say her name, but it will not come to my mind.

“Charlotte,” the man with glasses addresses, “Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself as well?”

My breath catches and I am almost craning to hear her. If anyone can tell me where I am or reveal anything at all, it will be this woman. Her eyes are bulging, looking like they might explode with all the content in her weak form. And like a dam breaking, her story gushes out of her ashen lips, shuddering as each word leaves her mouth. I shift my hands, I do not want to hear her, but I do all the same time. Her eyes lock onto mine, looking at me with a desperate stare that I cannot break.

“He was the love of my life,” she begins slowly and the raspiness in her voice is unsettling, “and I would have done anything to make him happy. I never saw myself as anything to love. But then he came along. He made me feel wanted, useful, like I was somebody.” The woman takes a deep breath, “That’s all I had ever really wanted.” Her words now come tearfully, and her breaths more ragged, “But then there were some things that I couldn’t get right. Any normal person would have, and I just needed to be told, but I just know that I could never do anything right. But I stayed with him, even when I wore out his patience to the extreme, it was always my fault. After everything he had done for me, taken me in, given me a home, I failed him time and time again.” She continues, tears now streaming down her face, “and I t-tr-tried so hard to be better, so he would l-l-love me.”

“I cleaned and cleaned and cleaned, but it was never clean enough.” The ghost woman expresses mournfully and then falters, sucking in an uneven breath, “It was never enough. I could never get it clean enough for him.”

“So I went to the only other person that I knew, his mother, and I said, you have to help me win him back! My desperation was her triumph and she used it against me, influencing him, blaming me, blackmailing me so she could manipulate him.” She gasps on a ragged sob and lets another cascade of tears fall. The whole room is immersed in her tale. The man with the glasses doesn’t interrupt; he looks at her, kind eyes wide, drinking in her story. “My heart was broken from that day on and I knew I was a complete failure. I had turned on him in the worst way. And with all that filth in my heart, I had to find a way to purge it.”

“The first sip burned. It tore like fire through my throat, washing my insides raw. But I welcomed the fire, and time after time again, I let the fire consume me, and the drink take me under, punishing myself for all the wrong I had done, forever thinking that I deserved nothing.”

The pain and sorrow in my own heart is pulsating again, branching out and throbbing, almost to the point of incapacitation. The throbbing pounds in my head, trying to pull me away. In the back of my mind, I see the ghost woman cleaning; she is scrubbing until her hands are raw and bleeding. Blood mixes with the soap and water. She curses herself over and over again, tears now mixing with the rest. Her tears become the burning river of white-hot liquor through her veins, numbing the derision of her fantasy.

A flash of my own memory is burning in me now. I try to push back a budding fear and the overwhelming sadness that has now found its origin, but the ghost woman’s words release the floodgate. Screaming, a desperate sound full of terror, seizes me and floods my ears; bright flashing lights blind me. The whole room goes white but the screaming doesn’t stop. And I realize that it is me.

“Katerina, sit down!” The man with glasses interjects forcefully.

But my screaming doesn’t stop and the bright flashing lights replay over and over in my head, mixing with the blazing river of the ghost woman’s torment and my own. My eyes yank open wide and search the room frantically for an escape. Breathing rapidly, my heart rate accelerates and I feel as though my lungs might explode inside my chest. I cannot be here anymore. I can’t be in this place where the pain is trapping me.

“Calm down Katerina, take it easy now.” The man approaches me, but his calming tones can no longer reach me. He starts toward me again and I am backed up against the wall, trapped. The room fills with a panic. People are staring fretfully up at me from their chairs.

“S-S-Stay away from me!” I yell and try to make a mad dash past him. I’m shaking because the fire is real and my whole body is set aflame and a river of tears starts washing down my face, but it cannot put out the fire. I stand against the wall trying to gulp in mouthful after mouthful of fresh air, but I feel like I am drowning. I look to the door and a group of men and women all dressed in white are moving quickly toward me. They grab ahold of me and I squirm under their firm grasps, but they keep pulling me under the water.

“Sedate her, now!” one of the men orders and I realize he is the one who has me in a vice-like hold. As the air slips from my lungs, I manage to utter one last scream as I watch the sharp thin end of a syringe plunge directly into the side of my thigh. The room whirls around and I am swaying and then falling…falling…

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