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The Manifest

By P.J. Lowry All Rights Reserved ©

Drama / Thriller

Chapter 1

The masses started to gather around the scene close to an hour or two before the designated time. They came warmly dressed because the weatherman was calling for rain and came in droves with candles, eager to light up for their cause. The folk attending were of all ages, wearing their beliefs on their sleeves like a badge, unwilling to hide a thing. Each person felt secure to do so because they felt comfort with the company of others who were there for the same reason. The vigil was an exercise of their freedoms, some that many take for granted. Their right to cry, scream and voice their dissent was one each person was there to exercise in force and for the cameras. When this many people showed up, the press wasn’t too far behind. Yet they kept their distance and never got in anyone’s faces, a rare moment with the guys behind the camera were, to a minimum, slightly respectful.

At first this was something Jessica did out of respect and duty for the ones she loved and lost. To her, the vigil was something she felt she had to do every time she was called upon, but these days the more of them Jessica attended the more trivial they became. The honor and significance of the event was dwindling with each experience, as many of the vigils were often booked too close together to have their own independence. But there she was anyway, defiant even to her own feelings and ready to light up. It was only one candle but to her it was a significant boycott of the war. Their ongoing petition for their government to end hostilities and follow the advice of Jon: give peace a chance. A short time ago Jessica started to view such events as a child would a household chore. Like doing the dishes, cleaning your room or raking leaves in the backyard, it slowly became more of an unwanted assignment than an event to look forward to. Something you know that had to be done despite the fact that you didn’t want to do it.

There were many times when Jessica didn't want to be there, but she always knew she had to be. She was never really given a choice; fate had made that decision for her a long, long time ago. She had lost so much, and her aunt as well as her therapist thought going to these vigils would help. They assumed being close to others who knew how she felt would be almost like group therapy. She was surrounded by many people who like herself had lost a loved one to the war. Mothers, fathers, wives, sisters and brothers were there, holding their candles and having a moment to grieve and think about what their loved ones died for. Was it really to disarm a militant nation of nasty weapons? Was it for freedom? Or was it for the no-bid billion dollar corporate contracts for fat cat contributors that were carelessly tossed around like peanuts for hungry elephants?

Regardless for what reasons they clung to, their tears were real. Their pain was real and they used the event as an outlet for those feelings. Jessica didn't have a son - or a husband, for that matter - but she had a family had that been shattered because of the events of the last half-decade. The ongoing war on a concept had broken a lot of families and left a gaping hole in their lives. This was true, for all wars do that and this one against terrorism was no exception. Regardless of politics, everyone seemed to have a beef with the war and how it was being handled. She didn’t know when it happened but at some point the vigils had transformed from moments of pain and reflection to a tool of protest.

Still she attended, even though it felt like no one seemed to care whether or not she was there. This caused her to always question why she was truly there in the first place. Was it to be rebellious to the constant denials of her father or to show respect for the memory of her mother and brother? She didn't know for sure, but it just seemed like the right thing to do despite her own inner struggle. She knew that one day she would have to accept what happened, let it go and move on. Like one of her friends always liked to jokingly tell her: build a bridge and get over it. Good advice when you got down to it, but that didn’t change how difficult it was for her to actually apply it. You could still a ton of old farts harping about Pearl Harbor if you looked around, so she had a hard time believing anyone was going to get over anything for quite some time. It was something she herself had a hard time letting go of as well, despite almost five years of talking to trained professionals.

"Thank you all for coming," stated the organizer as they started to share their thoughts on the war and how they felt about the government for waging it. Jessica could see her talking, but never really paid attention to what was being said. If you've been to one vigil you've pretty much been to them all. Jessica lit her candle with everyone else and stood there in silence, looking into the flame as if the answers to all her questions were burning deep inside it. She kept looking down, unable to look all those mothers and wives in the face and share in their grief and sorrow. She had lost someone as well, but compared to them she felt like her loss wasn't as great. She felt like a pot smoker in a room full of crack or cocaine addicts, her issues being immaterial compared to what everyone else was feeling. She had lost so much herself, but could only imagine what it would be like to lose a life mate, her own children… something she herself hoped that she would never have to experience in her lifetime. She wasn’t married; she was only a young, inexperienced twenty-three year old woman who hadn’t lived long enough to know how these people truly felt. Because of this, she felt out of place; most of the women at the vigil were at least ten to twenty years older.

But for Jessica, everything had started with the death of her mother. She was only eighteen when this had happened, but for many reasons would be the one day she'd never forget. She had been devastated, and took the loss much harder than her father and brother ever had. Her father, in particular, was in complete denial and was never around much to help. After the initial shock had worn off, he bunkered himself into his den and drowned himself in his work. He couldn't look anyone in the eye and moved all of his work from the office to his den at home, living a very sheltered life there for the first three years. Her brother, who was usually a reasonable guy, had decided to handle things more directly. He’d marched off to the nearest recruiting station and immediately volunteered for the military. It was a move that had stunned everyone, as he was usually a very passive and diplomatic person. It had turned out his anger and eagerness to hand the enemy their asses had made him quite the soldier. She had received letters from him every month, but each letter depressed. It was nice to know he was all right, but letter by letter the brother she knew was going away and being replaced by a very efficient killing machine.

Then, two years into ‘the war’, she and her father got the call they never wanted to receive. She was expecting the cliché of a uniformed soldier delivering a letter like you see in the movies, but this time out it was a call on the phone because they had to move quick before names were released on network television. He had died in an ambush, but had gone down taking as many as he could with him. Her father was very proud of what he had done, which made her protest of the war so much harder to tolerate. In his eyes, she was disgracing not only the memory of her mother but the hard work of her brother to protect their freedom. She didn't really understand the truth of that statement; she couldn't approve of all this death when there had been too much bloodshed to begin with.

Yes, Jessica had good reason to be there as the tragedy of the last five years had claimed half her family and scarred her for life. Thinking of her mom was too much for her to handle; she could feel a tear running down her cheek. She always tried not to be that person, but there were times when she just couldn’t help it. Jessica wished someone would attend these events with her, but her aunt had kids and a life of her own to deal with. Dad was too deep into his work and denial to even acknowledge her existence, let alone hang out with her long enough to share a moment. She was so young and so detached, yet longing for someone to be there and share this with her. Being with all these people made sense to her, but it never seemed to fill the void that was there. Sometimes she would stare into the flame of her candle for a while, hoping it would blind her so she wouldn't have to face anyone else for the rest of her life. It never seemed to work. 

As usual, Jessica wasn't listening to anyone and hoped that this was going to be a brief vigil as she wanted to go home and try to get a decent rest before going back to work tomorrow. She didn’t mean to be so insensitive about it, but going here so many times seemed to have desensitized her from the whole belief of mourning to protest. She felt bad for not caring as much as she should anymore, but overexposure seemed to have drained what confidence she had left in the event.

Jessica raised her head to see who was speaking now and out of the corner of her eye she could have sworn she saw someone familiar. She put her head down and tried to act like she saw nothing but curiosity forced her to look again. The woman she was looking at was on the other side of the field and yet there was no mistaking that face: it was her mother’s.

Jessica couldn't believe her eyes as her hands let go of her candle; it hit the ground and almost burned her foot. She stomped the flame out and looked back up, but the woman that had so resembled her mother was gone. She scrambled to the other side and ran over to the area where she had spotted her. 

She grabbed the nearest woman to her. “What happened to a woman that was standing here just a moment ago?” she asked, rudely and without patience.

"I don't know. I'm not paying that much attention to anyone else here." the women answered, annoyed, "Just leave me alone."

Jessica let the woman go and started to file through the crowd. She didn't see anyone moving around, but once she’d reached the back of the crowd she saw a woman in a black trench coat entering a small black car that immediately drove away. Knowing the grounds well, she quickly darted across the field and moving as quickly as she could and almost managed to cut the car off as it arrived at the main gate of the park. She couldn’t beat the car to the gate, but as she got to the fence she was able to look into the passenger side and see the woman's face again.

There was no doubt this time - it was the same woman she had lost five years ago. She had aged a bit and had a few more wrinkles, but it was her mother. The woman noticed that she was at the gate and turned away from her as the car raced into the main road. She stood there, holding the bars of the gate as though she was a prisoner. She felt trapped and unable to free herself. Her mother was still alive!

There were so many questions floating around her head at that moment, she didn’t know where to start. Was she there to see her, or was this meeting just a horrible coincidence? She didn't know, but one thing seemed clearer than ever: things were not as they seemed. She stood there at the gate as the sky started to cry with her, raining down on everyone's parade. She didn't move as her feelings about what happened over the last five years started were washed away with her tears. She didn't know what or who to believe anymore; seeing her mother in that car had changed everything. She didn't know who to tell first. Did anyone else know, or was this something only her mother knew and kept from everyone else?

After standing there at the gate for what seemed like hours, she determined there was only one person she should talk to about this right now. She walked back to her car and stepped inside. She paused there for a moment, wondering if this was really the right course of action to take.

She pulled out of the park and drove as fast as she could to her childhood home. She hadn't lived there in years, as the relationship with her father was pretty much nonexistent. Using her key to open the front door, she called out for her father but received no answer. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out where he was. She tore off her coat and walked into his den, and sure enough there he was. He was face down into a pile of paper, still working late into the night. He didn't even notice that someone was there until Jessica slapped a hard hand on the desk. The desk shook and her father, who’d bolted up, seemed a tad surprised.

"What the..." He paused for a moment when he realized who it was. "What are you doing here?" he asked, sounding annoyed.

"What am I doing here?" she repeated. She was eager to rip right into him, but instead she paused for a moment before asking the one question she had come there to ask of him. "How long have you known?"

"Known what?"

"About Mom!" she snapped back at him, "Were you ever going to tell us?"

"Tell you what?" He seemed confused.

"That she's still alive!" Jessica said as she kicked the side of her father's desk in obvious frustration.

Her father’s face turned to stone, "Jessica, this isn't funny."

"I saw her." Jessica said, trying to remember exactly what had happened, "She was at the vigil."

"That's not possible!" he spat back.

"Why not?" she asked, “Is it so inconceivable?”

"Because she's dead!" he yelled at her.

"She didn't look that dead to me tonight," Jessica said. She didn’t show any signs of letting go.

‘Look,” he started as he tried to approach her calmly, "perhaps it was just someone who looked like your mom; I mean there are people out there who just have that kind of resemblance. Maybe you saw something you thought looked like her and concluded it was something you wanted to see. The mind can play tricks…”

Jessica grabbed a glass from her father's desk and threw it against the wall. It shattered into a million pieces, again shocking her father. "I'm not making this up! She’s Alive!"

Her father, stunned by her outburst, really wasn't ready to handle something like that. Instead of reaching out to her to try and calm the wild woman down, her father backed away into another room. She could hear the lock on his door click, signaling the end to their short yet disturbing conversation.

It was obvious that her father didn't want to deal with this; the mere suggestion scared him. Chances were that her actions were too much for him to handle, but Jessica couldn’t help how she felt any more than he could. She couldn’t read her father at all at this point. She kept asking herself whether or not this was an act. Regardless of whether he knew or not, he wasn't going to lift a finger to help her find the truth about her mother. She was going to have to do this herself. Jessica picked up her coat and slowly walked to the door of her father’s den. As she stepped left his sight, Jessica knew that there must be someone out there that could help her. She didn't know where to find that help. She'd have to try to find someone in the morning, after she had a chance to sleep on it. Jessica left the key on a table by the main door and quietly left the house. She would never come home again.

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