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Disclaimer: All characters and events in this story are fictitious, and any similarity to a real person, living or dead is entirely coincidental and unintended by the author. "The Pretender" is a protected trademark.

Soul Splinters II




Southwest Arizona – three months later

The sun had just poked its head over the mountains. Pink, red and purple stripes chased the night as it raced across the darkened land. Pushing the black shadows like a wave in front, it rushed like the breakwater towards another day. All was almost silence, the only noticeable difference the soft pat pat of running feet. Breaths were coming quick and fast, and he ran. He ran to get rid of the demons that chased him.

Let's play a game.

Sweat was pouring from his body, small streams of water that ran down his face to drop on the brown ground as he ran. His heart was pounding in beat with his steps, fast and sure. Ignoring the messages his body was screaming at him, he ran. He ran to get rid of the memories that chased him.

Tell me who you are.

His feet splashed through the creek, filling his shoes with water, the squishing that will bring blisters but a comfortable hurt. Muscles strained while he climbed the bank. He raced the dusk that chased the darkness of his soul.

You will obey.

Cresting the rise, he pushed harder, willing muscles to carry his weary body further. Tears were streaming from his face. He wasn't sure it was from the crisp morning air or his own silent terror. Gritting his teeth, he pushed still harder.

You belong to me.

NO! Panting in heavy gulps, he could no longer keep the pace. Stumbling, he fell. Hands and knees took the brunt, scraping off skin. Rolling to a standstill, his clothes covered in the dust, his body craved oxygen. He watched the sun rise fully, the light winning the fight for day and leaving his soul in splinters.


The Centre

The hallways were dark. The only air that was permitted was circulated and washed through so many times that it had a rank taste to it when it was breathed in. Spots of yellow pools of light lay intermittently on the impersonal floor, the walls were painted a tasteless gray. No color was permitted this deep, only the desperate survived this far from the surface.

A soft sound started a slow revolution through the hallways to echo in the emptiness of the rooms except for one. Lifting a heavy head, he listened to the familiar oil-less squeak of dread. His memory was hazy, he wasn't sure of anything anymore except the mystery of pain. He had experienced it on so many levels that it had become his companion, a friend that fed his hate.

If only...

The thought vanished as soon as it was formed, a dream of nothingness. A hopeless settlement of fear filled his being when the door swung open. Scurrying into the darker shadows of his seamless existence, he glared his hatred for the other. When his screams followed the whispers of previous ones, he clung to one thought, and one thought only.

He will pay.


West Coast

The sound of laughter drifted on the wind down the dune to where the man sat and watched the sunset of yet another day. A small smile settled on his face, turning only when a deep voice called across the shifting sands. The lighter, more feminine voice playfully promised more, before the deeper breathless laughter filled his ears. A soft plop sounded close by and he ignored it. He watched the rays settle over the sea, the dark red filtering through last, turning purple as the last yellow, sliver of the sun slid beneath the waves.

“Shouldn't you keep your exercises to a minimum till your leg is fully healed?”

Turning to the content man sitting next to him, he raised a white eyebrow in question, his smile canceling any sternness from his voice. The dark man smiled back at him, his teeth white against the darker backdrop of his tan he had managed to cultivate these last two months.

“I can be a physiotherapist too, if you want. Besides, what is a man supposed to do when he has a beautiful woman who hunts him tirelessly.”

“Give in?”

Turning at the voice, the older man watched as the woman seated herself next to the other. He was still amazed. She had changed, her strong will and drive softened by the love that shone from her eyes. The scars that both still carried was tempered by their friendship and for lack of a better word, deep intense love that had grown in the past few months. Jarod still had his nightmares and his emotional scarring from his time with Lyle was slowly eroding towards distant memories. Miss Parker seemed resilient as ever, her only reminder of Alex's captivity the scars left on her hands. Shooting the man who had held her in captivity for almost a month seemed to have been her floodgate, helping her to let go of what she had experienced. Smiling down at the two, he rose slowly.

“Jarod, lets go home.”

The two rose with him, laughing silently at some private joke they shared, before hooking into Sydney's arms on each side, leading him towards where their cozy cottage sat in the dunes.


The Russell home – 20:00

The steam rose in white tendrils around his body, whisking his image in the mirror in a dream, hazy world. Ignoring all sensory input around him, he focused on the other. He couldn't face himself, no matter what he tried. His eyes could never settle on his own face long enough for him to say that he is free. One hand rose and traced the jagged scar across his pectoral muscle. His running had shaped his body, his lean form something that girls would definitely admire. Ignoring the sweat from the heated room that started to trace a path down his face, he gazed at his mirror's hands and wrists, the smooth, thicker skin of the scar tissue that had formed. He knew that Jarod had similar scars, but it brought no comfort. Watching the ghosts in the mirror, he tried to ignore the increasing crescendo of Lyle's taunts and demands that filtered through. Anger filled him, and in an effort to get rid of the images that were superimposing themselves over his, he watched as his fist connected to the painted glass. A shard pierced his knuckle, stuck at an angle. He ignored the pain, instead watching his broken image stare back at him.

“J, are you all right?”

Ignoring the worried voice from his mother, he continued to gaze at his split image. Reaching for it, he smeared his bloody hand over the scarred faces staring brokenly back.

Why me?

He tried desperately to block the emotions that filled the room, while he slid slowly down the wall. Hugging his knees, he lay his head on his arms. Rocking slightly, he continued to ride the panic attack that had engulfed all sense of who he is.


The Russell home


Margaret turned to her husband that came down the hall. Knocking again, she still couldn't hear anything from the other side of the door. Her voice was soft, worry interlaced in between the words as she felt compelled to be heard by the boy on the other side.

“J, can you hear me?”

“Honey, is everything ok?”

Turning gratefully to her husband, she allowed herself to be comforted by his arms. Jarod and Miss Parker had settled with Sydney on the west coast, not to far from where they had settled on an old vacant farm that no-one had seemed to want. They had settled in, and for the past three months had watched as J battled his demons without letting anyone understand why he wanted to do it alone. He was becoming more and more withdrawn. Jarod had tried to talk to him once, and she could well remember what had happened. His words had been shouted loud enough that she and Charles heard each word as it was uttered in anger.

“What don't you understand? It's your fault!!”

Jarod had the same haunted look that J had had. Whatever Lyle had done to the two, it seemed to have broken the bond from J's part. She could see the guilt eating away at Jarod, and she felt relief when Sydney came up with a suggestion that it might be better for both if they were apart for a while till they had both dealt with some aspect of what they had experienced.

“J, open the door.”

Charles tried the doorknob and found it locked. His worry increased ten fold when a sob escaped the door. Pushing with his full might, he broke the lock from the lintel. He didn't care about the damage, his only thought on his rocking son. Rushing forward, he noticed the blood splattered on the broken mirror. His son's leg was wet with the red liquid that had dripped from the cut in his hand. Gingerly pulling the splinter from the knuckle, he took the cloth from his wife. Winding it around the hand, he pulled his son into a tight embrace. Murmuring words of comfort, he waited as Margaret fetched the first aid kit.

“Dad, I'm sorry.”

Swallowing the tears that threatened to flow, he told his son that it's ok. He reassured him that things will work out; he should just give it time. He watched his wife take J's hand and gently unwrap the cloth. She cleaned the wound, bandaging the hand with gauze and a plaster. Thanking Margaret, he helped his son to his feet. Together they took the few steps towards J's room. He stayed till long after his son's sobs had turned into a grief-induced sleep. Wiping the dark hair from his face, he still tried to find a solution only to come to the conclusion that maybe this time they were out of their depth. They needed to seek professional help or they might soon loose J to the inner demons that haunted him.


The Centre

They came for him at the depth of night, when all that walked the hallways were ancient memories of pain. Swifting his weight slightly, he allowed the sensation of his nightmares to carry his feet forward. He sensed a shift in alliances. Maybe, just maybe he would get out of this alive. He had not been out of the room since he had been forgotten there and there could only be one or two reasons for him to be moved now.

He counted the numbers as the lift sped upwards towards the top and fresh air. He had been dropped in the corner like a discarded dishrag, a nothing that was passed his sell by date. He smirked at this thought, his own memories of a childhood best forgotten.

But he had showed all of them.

Well, now he was back in that 'crummy shed' with the door padlocked from the outside. Maybe in life there was a certain degree of irony.

The ping of the door opening announced their arrival. He was unceremoniously picked up and dragged through the plush offices towards one that had once been his. He wondered if his blood would be washed away by morning. Probably, this was the Centre after all. He wasn't really interested in his own death, he had lived close to it for so long now that it had become a close companion. The double doors opened, and he was pulled into the chairman's office. He didn't bother lifting his head, knowing that either way it didn't matter any more.

He had lost.


West coast

“Thanks dad. I'll hear what Sydney has to say about it.”

Jarod put the phone back on its base. Turning towards the psychiatrist, he said.

“It's J. He had another panic attack and this time he tried to drive his hand through the mirror in the bathroom.”

Nodding, Sydney allowed the Pretender to continue, knowing that there was more.

“My father wants to know if you could recommend anyone that has no Centre connections and will be able to work with him. He needs more help than we can give him.”

“I'll look into it. Jarod,” waiting for the other to turn back to him, Sydney asked, “how are you dealing with this?”

Jarod gave a snort, his normally open face closing all inner connections. Turning back to stare out the big bay windows, he watched the white foam splash against the darkness of the beach. He ignored all other feelings, instead focusing on those that he and J could not realize. If he did, he didn't think he would be able to handle the extra added guilt. He watched his slight reflection in the window before turning to where his mentor stood waiting patiently.

“I feel helpless, out of control. There is nothing that I can do that could make this any better for him.”
They talked well into the night with the low boom of the surf as audience.


The Russell home

J stared at Lyle as he knelt by May Lin. He couldn't take his eyes of his captor's gloved hand as he tucked a stray piece of hair behind her ear, allowing his hand to linger on her cheek. Turning, he winked at J before opening his knife.


Jerking awake, he felt his lungs constrict. Everything was in darkness, closing in on him. Trying to keep his thudding heart under control, he stretched a trembling hand towards his night light. The welcoming brightness lessened his fear a little. Using his shirt, he wiped the sweat from his brow. Leaning against the headboard, he gave a glance at the clock.

One thirty.


His hand hurt. He inspected the white plaster that closed the self inflicted wound. The last few hours was a sort of blur, he couldn't even recall why he had a new plaster stuck to his hand. He wasn't ready yet to deal with the emotions that came with his dream. He opened his drawer, rummaging underneath the notepads and pens that littered it. He felt the film of the packet and took it out. It took him five minutes before he got as far as downing one of the little white pills. The euphoria hit him full blast, sending him towards blessed silence and forgetfulness. Smiling slightly, he drifted into the blackness of deep sleep knowing that no further memories would mar his sleep.


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