How do I erase my existence from the mind of God?
★★★★ What Ray Bradbury, in Fahrenheit 451 did with an overarching government watchdog; what movies like The Net and Surrogates did with identity and virtual self-actualization, author Charles O’Donnell has brought in a new twist to the dystopian genre by extrapolating the IoT into everything from our dish-ware to our underwear in Shredded: A Dystopian Novel…Definitely a fast paced thrill ride and I look forward to the author’s next venture for this character. Franc Woods
★★★★★ Heart pounding and emotional…one of the best Goodreads has to offer. It was different and intense…I will be following this author for more. Lori Posten
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People say there’s no hell, but I know better.
Grace, you’re not easily discouraged. You’re a positive, upbeat person. You don’t talk this way unless you’ve had a setback.
Not a setback, Madeleine—a reboot. I was doing it, you know I was—making good choices, staying straight—and I still am, but it’s not enough. After four years of sweating it, day to day, I’m back in the pit.
Grace, I’m concerned. I haven’t seen you like this before.
I’ve never been like this, not even in my worst days. I feel like I need oxygen to finish a sentence. My arms and legs feel like sacks of rocks, hanging from my body as I walk, dragging myself along, like those poor, sad cases I see in an endless line to my station every day, confused wrecks counting the days to death.
Talk to me. Help me to understand where this is coming from.
I don’t know if you can understand, or if anyone can who’s never been where I’ve been. You know what I did to myself, how low I sank, and what I had to do to fight my way back, but knowing’s not understanding, is it? I buried myself under a mountain of trash, suffocating under it for years, but I dug myself out, I cleared the mountain away, I got myself clean, and I stayed clean, one day at a time. For four years, I never let the trash pile back up. Then last week I woke up in a panic because I was back under the mountain. Someone found the trash and hauled it back and dumped it on top of me.
Let’s talk about what happened.
They hacked my life.
What does that mean?
They hacked it. It’s online, in the Worldstream, every bit of it, to hear those stream riders tell it, the perverts.
How do you know this?
They told me, the stream riders did. Their v-grams.
V-grams? How many?
I’ve lost count. Hundreds, I’d guess.
What did they say?
Oh, Jah, Madeleine, everything—details, you know, where the devil is? Except there are zombies in these details. I thought they were dead, the zombies, that I’d killed them and burned their bodies. Then the weavers—that’s what they’re called, weavers—dug them up and all the details with them. The stream riders tell it like they were there, in the room, inside my body—like they were inside my mind.
Tell me what they said.
Grace, you’ve always been open with me. Our sessions not only help me to understand what you’re going through; they’re therapeutic. Talking through your situation is part of the process.
You’re a big believer in the process.
It’s worked for you. Do you remember what it was like when you first came to me, when you carried all these things inside you, all alone? Do you remember the self-recrimination, the compulsions, the despair?
What I remember was that I was out of control. I hated that. And now I’ve lost control again. Why do you think I’m so worried?
Grace, you know you can trust me.
You always do this, pushing me. I hate when you do that, like my mother, always pushing.
All right, all right. After I lost custody of Dylan, there were a few weeks, a month or two maybe, every night with a different partner—man or woman, it didn’t matter, sometimes two or three at once—anyone I could find VR and hook IRL, after a tab of Mandy X and a pint of apple vodka. I could get them to do anything I wanted, dom or sub, anything. I barely remembered those nights; I didn’t remember them, not until Gogo read the v-grams to me, like a play-by-play with creepy commentary by low-life stream riders. Their voices, Madeleine, that’s the worst part, like animal grunts, the men and the women. The first v-gram was bad, and it went downhill from there. Half of them are rubbing it out while they’re dictating their v-grams, I swear.
Grace, I’m so sorry. After all you’ve been through, especially after working so hard to recover, to put your past behind you, you don’t deserve this.
Doesn’t deserve mean I have something coming to me? If there’s one thing the last four years has taught me, and the twenty-five years before that, it’s that I have nothing coming to me that I don’t take for myself.
And what will you take?
My life—not my old life, the life I killed and cremated, the one that weavers resurrected and dumped on top of me. I want my new life, the life they took from me, that I dug out from under the mountain of trash.
Don’t you still have your life, Grace? I know this is very upsetting to you, but do you think this intrusion of your old life threatens the new life you’ve worked so hard to build? You’ve come so far. Your foundation is solid. Think of this new development as a storm that will pass, that your foundation can stand up to. I’ve seen how strong you are—you’re a fighter. It’s when you’re in your darkest place that you’re most determined. You can get through this. I can help you.
Oh, Madeleine, if my past were only rumors, or what I choose to tell, just words, then the people in my life could make what they wanted of it. I could tell Andrew that he’s not the first, or even the hundredth. I could describe the scene for him—the anonymous hook, the mindless coupling, the hollow feeling afterwards, the lingering, unsatisfied urge—and he’d work it into his romantic idea of me, because it is just words. He could pretend my past isn’t real, that it’s not me, not the me he knows, not the me he wants me to be. And I could tell Dylan that his mother made mistakes, and that he can learn from my example, and make better choices than I did. But I can’t do that now. My past isn’t mine anymore, to tell in my words, when I choose. It’s out of my control. My life is now a lifestream, a full-fidelity, all-sensory, Virtual Reality venue, more real than Real Life, that any creep can rent for fifty cred. Andrew and Dylan can’t even pretend I’m not that person. My lifestream is out there, and it’s viral.
Are you giving Andrew and Dylan enough credit? They love you, enough to know that the person you are is not the person you were.
But I am.
You are what?
The person I was. I listen to them, Madeleine, the v-grams—not all of them, not the raunchy, disgusting ones—who could stomach that? —but the others.
Some of them, a few, they tell me what they’re feeling, not how their bodies feel, or what we’re doing together, the way most of the v-grams do, just mechanical sex acts, but what’s going on in their minds, what they’re thinking, about themselves, and about me. They tell me how I make them feel, and what they would do for me if I only asked. I delete them; I put them away, out of my thoughts. I focus on the wonderful life I’ve built, on the loving, caring people in my life, and remind myself I’m not that person anymore, the person in the v-grams. I start every day with a pledge; I end every day with a ritual, clean and sober. I brush my teeth and wash my face, like my mother taught me. I go to bed and lie awake until the urge gets to me, and I call out, “read them, Gogo.” He knows what I mean. He even knows my favorites. And I listen, and I touch myself, until I fall asleep on my damp pillow, and Gogo senses that I’ve drifted off and the voices trail away.
Grace, don’t punish yourself. The path back from sexual addiction is not straight, and you don’t walk it alone. You have me, and Edward, and Andrew, and Dylan. We love you. Your past is past.
And it will stay that way. I’ve seen to that.
What do you mean?
I know a shredder. He’s agreed. It’s a lot of money, more than I have, but I don’t care. I’ll spend that and more to be certain that my life is destroyed.
Copyright © 2016, 2017 by Charles O’Donnell
All Rights Reserved