Rachel-Anne Hardingham (the woman who so fervently argued that quieting the press was not unconstitutional) droned on about handling the situation responsibly and made us all swear not to tell anyone what we’d been told today. Deputy Minister Varma only spoke once more, assuring us that everything would be done to bring back the hostages alive and as unharmed as could be hoped for. The others (who had also been brought here because their loved once had been taken hostage/ killed) and I were then promptly ushered from the room with Kathryn joining the group. Mateo led us all towards the elevator and no one spoke, the carpet absorbed our footsteps, and then someone burst into tears. I felt a hand on my elbow and turned back instinctively; Kathryn kept pace with me, wearing a convincingly concerned look. “What do you want?” I grumbled. I wanted to be left alone, I wanted to be at home already, and I didn’t want to be in this group of people who mimicked my emotions so exactly.
“Are you alright, Persephone?” she asked.
“Why do you care?” I shot back, my voice acidic. “Why did you even come?”
“It’s my business to know things like. I couldn’t possibly perform my job if I were left clueless; my corporation works in close proximity with the government,” she replied, a hint of her familiar condescending tone creeping into her voice. She seemed to catch herself and then continued. “Your mother is also a good friend of mine, and I told her I would make sure you were okay.”
My stare narrowed and I yanked my elbow away from her, trying to distance myself as much as possible in the narrow hallway. I remembered the disastrous evening when I’d first met Kathryn and how Mom had looked more embarrassed and vulnerable than I’d ever seen her—Kathryn was not a friend of Mom. How dare she even pretend that she cared? I didn’t often get angry, usually I skipped that emotion for sadness. So I wasn’t the best at handling myself when I got like this, and a million nasty, biting words came to the tip of my tongue. My teeth dug into my tongue as I tried not to speak, I tore my eyes from Kathryn, and increased my pace enough to break into the front of the group.
When we reached the ground floor I was still so angry that it took me a moment to remember that I’d been driven her by Mateo and Kathryn—just the notion of such an awful ride home made me want to walk. But I didn’t know downtown Ottawa too well (and besides, I still looked alien and couldn’t stand anymore gawking). The group filled slightly into clumps of twos and threes, who huddled in the lobby, while Mateo, Kathryn, and I continued down to the parkade.
The door opened and sweltering outside air rushed into the air-conditioned elevator. I led the way to the car, Mateo—catching my mood—opened the car well in advance for me. Out of the corner of my eye I caught site of a man who looked to be about my age, his eyes bulged from his head as he took me in, and it was impossible to miss the look of arrest. “You know, you could at least try to make it less obvious that you’re staring at me!” I snapped at him, he flinched at my tone a part of me couldn’t help but feel bad. It wasn’t that man’s fault I looked like this, it wasn’t his fault that I was angry either. If I were to have seen someone who looked the way I did then, I would have stared at them too, that’s just what people did.
I took refuge in the dark car and let out a shaky sigh. A few seconds later Mateo and Kathryn joined me in the car. If I’d thought the ride here had been quiet, I didn’t know anything. Because the unending silence that echoed in the claustrophobic car was actually painful. “Are you not going to say anything?” My voice was shrill, shaky, and loud. I noticed Mateo’s hands tightened around the steering wheel and Kathryn’s eyes shifted back and forth. I didn’t feel like myself, I sort of felt like I did when I’d gone out with Jason that first time after getting out of the hospital. Only this time I had nothing to distract me from the horrific thoughts in my mind. Mom was gone. She was gone. What were they doing to her? Had I really lost her? Was this it? Lance had left me, Jason had left me, and now Mom? There was no one left. Everyone left me because I pushed them away. I had done something to make Mom think she had to do this. If I hadn’t been at Parliament Hill that day, I wouldn’t have gotten hurt, Mom wouldn’t have worried so much. She would have let someone else go instead of her. She would still be here now.
This was my fault.
When I got out of the car I slammed the door harder than I needed to, when I opened the door I pushed my whole weight into it. The cool, dark inside seemed a refuge from the harsh sun outside. I didn’t know if the car was still outside, but I didn’t care. The weight in my stomach had settled into my chest and my throat felt tight, I could feel the weakness in my knees. The shadows were already beginning to creep into my line of view, they began to take hold of me as I lost my consciousness. I let my weight fall onto the couch and stared at the ceiling until time began to run together.
This had to be a dream, right?
There were seven knocks at the door, I ignored them the first time. By the forth repetition I knew they weren’t going away. When I got up I made a beeline for the kitchen and rummaged through the medicine cabinet. My anxiety medication was knocked over and all sorts of painkillers spilled out of the basket, I opted for some sleeping pills and let the knocking continue for a while. The sun blinded me when I opened the front door, my eyes took a moment to adjust, and then I slammed the door shut again.
“Persephone, please open up, I need to talk with you,” Kathryn yelled through the door. This was a quiet neighbourhood, even more so in light of recent events, people were probably already looking at the door. “I apologize if I said something before to anger you…”
I pulled the door open just enough to see her vile, lying face. “Don’t pretend you care about me. Just leave me alone.”
Kathryn stuck out a hand, her long white nails sprawling against the dark door. “I have something to say, hear me out and then I’ll leave, sound fair?” I opened the door enough so that she could squeeze her stick figure through, then I locked the door and followed her up. She made no comment on my appearance or even the chaotic state of the living room. Kathryn scanned the room for somewhere to sit and then finally settled on the chair in the corner, I went to the couch and half lay-down.
“I can understand that you think I’m overstepping my boundaries here…”
“That I think? You are! Every time I see you, you feel the need to comment on something you know nothing about.” When I spoke, I sat up: my posture defensive and my tone hostile. She needed to know that I did not want her here, and whatever she wanted to tell me would fall on deaf ears.
“I understand you’re under a lot of stress right now, so I’ll let that slide. But honestly, you know nothing about what I do and do not know. As much as you may dislike it, I make it a business to know the inner workings of all my employees. And if you keep interrupting me, you’ll just prolong my visit.” There was a smidge of pink lipstick on Kathryn’s canine tooth and her skin was sunken. Maybe this was bothering her a lot more than she was letting on.
Suddenly I felt guilty and the anger just sort of melted away, I wanted to still feel mad but I couldn’t it hold on to it any longer. “I’m sorry, Ms. Blanchard. I’m usually not like this, I just—”
“Yes, yes, I know. You’ve been through some incredibly trying time.” I felt as if it were our first meeting again, and she was talking down to me. I didn’t like it, it made me feel small. “In any case, I came to let you know that I will do everything in my power to bring your mother and the others back alive. A team is being specially trained at this moment and will be deployed as soon as possible.”
I looked at her for a moment, trying to understand if what she was saying was true—I was stunned. “R-really? Thank you, Ms. Blanchard.” Now I felt really guilty for being a brat before. This is what I got for letting my emotions get the best of me.
“Well, these people must be brought to safety, and the government is currently too preoccupied with image to even attempt a rescue. It’s not a problem, really.” Kathryn rummaged through the small, brown bag by her hip and then retrieved something. She leaned forward and held out her hand, I did likewise. “I can show myself out, take care, Persephone.” Then she was gone and I was left looking at a small, blue chip in my palm. A memory chip.
Immediately I pulled my laptop from its hiding place under the coffee table and booted it up. The memory chip fit into one of the ports, but it took a few seconds and a scan before my computer would pull up the file. There were three folders: Contact, Data Collection, and Persephone. I clicked on the later almost instinctively, my eyes wide, and my breath hitched. There were four video clips, dating back to July 24th, a few days after Mom left.
“Hello, sweetheart. How are you? I’m fine: we have guards around us all the time, so we’re perfectly safe. I know you’re probably very worried. Are you taking care of yourself? Make sure to sleep and drink enough. And take the new medication I picked up from the doctor. It’s supposed help you. I miss you very much, but I think I’ll be back soon. The meetings are going pretty well. We haven’t met with the President himself yet, but we’ve met with Vice President, and they seem to agree with us. An agreement could be reached soon. I know you’re probably still mad at me for leaving, but I hope one day you’ll understand how important this was. I love you, Persephone. See you soon.” The remaining three video logs were no more useful in information, they just because increasingly more painful to watch. Mom said similar things in all of them: she said she was fine, things were working well, and she’d be home soon. But the way she said them changed. She looked more worn out in each video, hairs became out of place, the dark circles became more prominent, and her smile became more desperate each time.
I back spaced to the folder labelled Data Collection and clicked on it. There was an audio file accompanied by a video file for each day since the day Mom, presumably, landed in Syria. Except for one date, one date only had a video file. I knew what the file contained before I even clicked on it, and whether it was curiosity or masochism, I listened.
It started off with a few gun shots, five to be exact, and then a commanding voice I recognized to be Mom’s. “Get your weapons now.” I imagined Mom, having been pulled from sleep by a round of shots, still being the level-headed and calm leader she always was.
“What was that?” another voice asked.
“Doesn’t matter. Whomever it is, is probably looking for us. Get your weapons and get into position now.” The sound of a door slamming open, or possibly being kicked down, and then there was yelling.
One voice was yelling in another language but one spoke in English. “Get them! You know the ones we need, shoot the others!” More gun shots, and someone was screaming piercingly. I realized, horrified, that I was listening to actual people being killed. Two people had been killed, had they been in a room with Mom? I’d seen death before on the news but this was far harder to stomach because it felt more real somehow. After that point I could only make out broken shouted orders, screaming, and gun shots. The connection was cut shortly after, and everything went quiet.
I realized I was crying when a fat tear landed on my trackpad, my nails were digging into my palm. Why had I done that to myself? Why had I listened to that? Any of that?
I slammed the screen shut as if it could make the memory disappear. The realization struck me that Kathryn had given me that memory chip for a reason, I still couldn’t whole-heartedly believe she’d done it out of kindness, even if she’d convinced me of caring about us at least a little. In the last folder I got my answer, it was a word document.
By now you’ve watched the videos and you’re probably starting to realize the severity of the situation. I wasn’t lying when I was saying I’m preparing a special unit to rescue your mother. However, many of our people are deployed on other missions right now—ones from which they can’t be called back yet—and we don’t have nearly enough manpower. We are hiring new recruits, who will be trained as efficiently and quickly as possible. I hope to see you in Toronto. Your mother as well as the others taken hostage need your help.
Call the number below.
Kathryn Blanchard, Founder
Before I could stop myself, my phone was in my hand and the number dialed into my phone. It rung once and then someone picked up on the other end. “Hello?”
“Are you Persephone?” the voice asked.
I nodded and then realized they wouldn’t be able to see that. “Y-yes, I am.”
“Your ticket is awaiting you at the greyhound depot, your bus leaves at 4:05p.m.,” they said matter-of-factly.
“To Toronto. You are coming, are you not?”
“Yes? Yes.” I hung up the phone without saying goodbye and immediately looked down at my phone. It was 1:30p.m. now, which gave me about two and a half hours to prepare. I ran for my room and began stuffing things into a suitcase.
Later, I stood in the harsh light of the five-bulb washroom. I looked over myself critically, myself consciousness ebbing away at some of the adrenaline so I could think more clearly. What was I doing? This was stupid and crazy. Why was there a ticket lined up for me? Had Kathryn really planned all this? Why? Why was she so fixated on me?
My fingers smoothed concealer over the bruises on my neck, arms, and face. I wasn’t very good at applying makeup, since usually I stuck with the basics, but I tried to distract from my mostly balled head and freakish wounds. I didn’t look beautiful when I’d finished, but at least I looked like a hipster trying to make a statement rather than a complete monster. My eyes traced the empty space down to my waist where my hair used to fall to. It was startling how much of a difference hair could make.
I swallowed another anxiety pill before I left. The drowsiness from the sleeping pill wore off with my cup of coffee, and I wondered how screwed up my insides were right now.
My ear phones were in, but my music wasn’t on, as I rode the bus to the greyhound station. With my appearance and luggage, I probably looked like an angry teenage run-away. I wished I could say that I couldn’t have cared less, but I was still aware of the stares. This time the eyes betrayed judgement and even annoyance rather than pity and shock. Maybe it had been better before? Why did I even care so much what people thought? At a time like this I shouldn’t have even noticed everyone else, I should have only been focusing on the extremely irrational and dangerous thing I was doing at that moment.
At the greyhound station I got off, and threw a thank you over my shoulder. It was three thirteen when I entered the depot, a blast of cold hair bombarded me when the doors slid open. I headed to the ticket window and stood there awkwardly. What was I supposed to say now? “Um… I think there’s… Maybe a ticket here for me?” I mumbled.
The man behind the window sighed and yelled back to a hidden room. “Janet, do we have any waiting tickets?” A moment later a faint voice responded. “Name?” he asked me.
“Persephone… Adner. It’s to Toronto, I think,” I replied.
The man reached below and returned with two slips of paper. “Enjoy your trip, you can line up at gate four at 3:45.” With the ticket in the grasp I slunk into the café adjacent. The greyhound station was fairly empty, considering it was summer. I hid in a booth in the back, by the claw machine, and prayed I wouldn’t be called out. My fingers followed the words on the ticket.
Ticket, singular. There was only one. A one way trip. I’d have to buy my own ticket back… Or? What was the implication here?
Eventually one of the employees noticed me and I was guilted into ordering. The café was expensive and I didn’t have a lot of money. But when would I eat again? I pretended to study a flyer going on about a summer festival as I wolfed down my cheeseburger.
At 3:40 I lined up by gate four, making sure that I was first. I leaned against my suit case, feeling the drowsiness coming back, and trying to fight it off. Finally I was let onto the bus, along with a short line of other people. I sat in the back against a wide, clean window. The bus hadn’t even started moving when I’d fallen asleep.