A new short story every month. Funded by the Patrons.
WE ARE CATALYST
By Luke Kondor
“You’re in pain,” he says. “You’ve been given a tough go of it all, sure. The world’s been a shit storm for you since the day you were born and you’ve been swimming in it ever since.”
A whimper crackles out from me as I go to speak, but I just stand there, open-mouthed and confused, unsure what to say, no, unsure what the right thing to say would be.
Here the man, the legend, thought-leader, guru, businessman, mentor, all of the above and more, Terry Rowlings Success Coach, places his hand on my shoulder. I feel the weight of it pressing into the fabric and resting on the skin or maybe even my soul beneath. It’s the first human contact I’ve felt in months and I don’t hate it. I look to his hand, to see the thick golden wedding band, but he continues on, forcing me back to look at his eyes. Those giant intense whirlpools of charisma that lock onto you, never let you go.
“And I know you’ve had a hard time, friend. I know you’ve had a shit deal. I know that perhaps you’re living in a world of pain right now because why else would you be here? But, look, it doesn’t have to be that way, so we can take all of this, and we can flip it, but you’ve got to open up a little, got to talk to me, brother, so why not start with your name.”
I whimper again and he nods me on with his eyes.
“Huh-huh-Henry,” I say and he smiles, big and wide, presenting his oh-so-white teeth that wouldn’t sit out of place in the mouth of Captain America.
“Well, okay then, Henry. Hi. My name is Terry.”
This man is just so inviting. He exudes a warmth and its hard not to get caught up in him, rolled up in his charm. This man makes people malleable, makes them changeable. He is Catalyst, for good or bad. In fact, that’s the whole theme of this week-long seminar, isn’t it?
THE PHOENIX DESTINY-CHANGER WEEKEND W/ TERRY ROWLINGS SUCCESS COACH. A five-day long self-help intensive. Rise from the ashes and set the world on fire.
“So what do you say, folks? Shall we say hello to Henry?”
Terry Rowlings Success Coach breaks eye contact for the first time in what seems like a century and looks around at the three hundred or so students/paying customers. I’m quickly reminded that all of their eyes are on me, piercing me, hoping to see me morph before their very eyes, to vindicate their choice for coming to the seminar. A wave of nerves hit me as I realise me and Terry are the only ones stood up in the entire room. A spotlight above us beams down and I feel the heat on my bald spot. Sweat travels down into my eyes. I wipe away the sweat-tears as the hundreds of seminar goers chorus “Hi Henry!”
Some are late. Some are early. Some just whoop. But it’s kind and their cheering feels welcoming. It feels nice. Some laughter follows and Terry Rowlings Success Coach holds his finger to his lip until it’s quiet again and he’s looking back at me.
“You see, Henry. You’re in a safe space. We all love you here. Don’t we guys?”
“I fucking love you, Henry!” a voice calls out.
A titter of laughter.
And then Terry’s finger is on his lip again.
Shhh shh shh.
“Do you feel that love, Henry? Do you?”
I nod, say yes. It’s enough to sate this beast.
“So tell me, Henry. Tell me what brings you here?”
That’s the name that comes to my mind but I don’t say it aloud. Still, though, I feel the tepid water against my fingers as if I was still back there. I gently caress it, creating little whirlpools and eddies in the bathtub. I flick a bit of the water and it splashes against one of the lit candles decorating the sides of the bath and the tiled windowsill. For a second the light blinks out but dances itself back to life. It smells of lavender and rust. I remember the smell the most.
“I’m not sure,” I say finally and instantly Terry Rowlings Success Coach shakes his head.
“That’s not good enough, my friend. You are selling yourself short and I don’t care how often you let yourself get away with it, I am not going to let you get away with it today. Okay?”
Here he squeezes my shoulder. I feel as he loosens the tape somewhat. The masking tape hidden beneath my clothes that’s tacked to my skin.
“Come on, Henry.” He places his other hand on my other shoulder, brings them inwards where they meet under my chin like he might strangle me, but he doesn’t. He pulls me into an embrace. I feel the man, the myth’s cinderblock muscles beneath his shirt. I look at him as he pulls back and his smile is so big now I fear he might lunge forward and bite me, eat out my heart or swallow me whole.
“Remember, Henry. You are in a safe spot. Why don’t you tell us why you’re really here? We can’t change your destiny if you don’t step up to the plate, right now. Okay? Right now!”
There’s an edge in his voice now and it sounds almost like a threat. I can’t help but wonder if this was the same way it happened with her.
“Mary,” I say suddenly, betraying my own silence.
“A girl? Is that your wife, sister… mother?”
“She was my wife,” I say with a horribly forced smile, my eyes drifting to the students around me, all looking up, their eyes sparkling and light. They can see the emotional turmoil I’m in. They believe they're witnessing something magical. Something they’ll think about, will use as an example for years to come.
There was this one guy…
He went to the seminar…
And life was different after that…
“Okay,” Terry says, his voice a low purr now. He’s found his way in. He’s working his way to the root of the problem. “And did Mary leave you? Or did she…”
“Mary,” I say again, but to her now, directly. My hand is in the bathtub still. My eyes are raw from crying and strings of snot and tears connect my nose to my chin. I flick the water around some more. When I first came in and found her the water was marbled with red, but it’s all mixed in now and I can’t see the bottom of the tub through the pastel pinks and reds. “Why… oh, Mary, why!?”
I hear a plink as the razor blade falls off the side and slips into the water, into the red.
I steel myself, move my hand through the water until it connects with her foot. It’s still warm. Surprisingly so. The skin has pruned. It catches against my fingers as I run it up her leg, inner thigh, across her stomach, over the submerged canyon between her breasts and I find her face. And I’m crying again now. Numb and silent but the tears are dripping onto her face. A farewell baptism in her husband’s tears. I kiss her forehead, ask her why, again and again, until I see the little white plastic nodules sticking in her ears. Her music. I lift the headphones to my own ears, curious to the soundtrack of her death, but there’s no soothing drones or swelling pianos. There’s no comforting guitars or goodbye harmonies.
“Terry Rowlings, Success Coach,” I say and I see something change in his face. His smile dampens, but not enough for the audience to see. But as I’m close enough to feel his breath, I see that flicker as the confidence leaves his eyes.
“That’s me, my friend. So this is the place, Henry. This is the place to open your heart. It’s the only way we can help you to reach your full potential. The only way you can make your maximum impact. Do you hear me?”
Now he turns to the crowd once more, his one hand still on my shoulder, always on my shoulder, clamping down, loosening the tape.
So it’s now or never then.
I force a big smile and place my hand quietly into my jacket, make it look at most like I’m grabbing a photo or my wallet, but I dig my thumb into the open button of my shirt, flick the switch.
“Mary Connelly,” I say and the hand on my shoulder suddenly closes up like a vice. The smile flickers and the eyes come straight back to mine. His pupils dilate. His charm simmers and spatters and I think for once we may be seeing Terry’s hidden potential. His eyes drop to the opening in my shirt and I guess he must see it because even the plastered on smile vanishes and he knows why I’m here.
“Henry Connelly?” he whispers and I nod. “Your wife was very sick. When I read about what happened, what she was listening to as she-
“10 Ways To Become Your Best Self With Terry Rowlings Success Coach,” I say quietly, seeing the sweat now fall from his forehead, work its way into his eyes.
He clears his throat, swallows loudly. That little microphone connected to the side of his head amplifies it all and now the crowd are looking at one another.
“Yes. I know. But you must know that that was never my intention. I wanted to make people better not… not-
“You wanted to have an impact,” I say, struggling to keep my smile, hide my anger. “You wanted to make change regardless of what kind of change that was. Makes you feel like you’ve got some worth, I guess.”
He pulls back now a little, shakes his head, waves to someone behind the stage. Maybe a sign to his stagehands.
“Number 10,” I say, saying it in the same voice he said it on the tape. “Shit or get off the pot.”
“I know. I know, but, Henry, friend, brother, my meaning was to force you to make a move, not to take your own fucking life!”
“Oh, I know… I know, Terry Rowlings Success Coach. I was talking to myself, explaining myself. I’m only taking your advice I mean.”
I think back to the day I found my wife in the bathtub with lines of red reaching from wrist to elbow. I think to how I cried for so long, dropped into a deep depression, lost weight, friends, my job. I dropped into the deepest pit I’ve ever known. I couldn’t move, eat. I slept all the time. Even considered taking Mary’s example. That was until I listened to the tape. The one I found her listening to. Terry Rowlings Success Coach’s words were the first step among many. He helped me to get myself back on my feet. To make a plan for myself. To make myself the best me I could be. To make an impact of my own.
Suddenly a spark of fire burns against my chest and I smell the smoke of my shirt and my skin. I scream as Terry Rowlings Success Coach lunges at me, pushes me away. I barely notice him as he forces through his own crowd, pushes them down and into the way. His army of fans. His shields.
I do my best to climb to my feet as the fuse continues to melt the skin that covers my heart.
The crowd erupt into panic as someone shouts “A fucking bomb!”
I see him. He’s only a few feet away. It’ll kill him or maim him. I’ll settle for either. He looks at me one more time. Those confident eyes are all but gone.
We are Catalyst, I think. We make change. We have impact.
The sound is deafening and instant. It feels like a release. Finally, my heart is free. I’ve taken my step, made my move. I wonder what the papers will say tomorrow.