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Just finished the game. Some thoughts about it, and a question about story of the first game.
(Howdy, partner! Land ahead is the spoiler territory. If you ignore the flair, tag and this warning, it's your own damn fault!)
Gameplay and world. I will start with positives -
First thing that i instantly liked - were the forests. I am a huge forest lover, any green massive always takes my breath away, and i must say - this game easily enters the top 3 best forests i ever saw in video games. And since irl i am unable to explore nature, having the ability to go trough such an amazingly beautiful places in game feels me with joy. All sounds, lights, animals - everything about nature in this game is an amazing expirience. Exploration in this game were really rewarding. The only thing that made me sad - is realisation how small Guarma was, since jungle are my favorite biome and island were looking simple amazing from the shoreline, i was already imagining how i will explore all this giant massive of green, but... oh well.
Second thing that i enjoyed - is that all side missions were never a boring fillers of fetch quests, even things like bounty hunting had it's own stories to tell and fun events to live trough. Also seeing some consequences from side quests later in game, and even in the story were rather surprising, that's a sign of a very dedicated writing.
Shooting and fighting... well, let's just say it's one of the games where i wasn't bored at shooting enemies even at the very end. And this is a thing that's rare for me, especially for a game this long and with such a tiny range of available weapons. I even spent most of the time just using my pistols, and, through i cannot even say why - it was very, very entertaining, almost every gunfight were a hell of a show.
But there were also a negative sides -
Huge parts of the map were never used in any missions at all. The only reason to go there are exploration, but... sometimes there are just nothing to find there. Also the game has vast choice of cold-protecting clothes, but... they are somehow never useful trough entire game, except if you will want to explore rather small corner of the map with snow?
Camp is a fun concept, and random conversatings with gang members are awesome. But upgrading it does not feels rewaring at all. The amount of supplies that appear are tiny, you have to waste time picking them and even pay a lot to restock... it's easier and cheaper just to fast travel to town and get exactly what you need at lower price. Fast travel is actually the only super-cool upgrade, when the rest feel more or less useles, especially things like tents that improve mood... is it even having any effect at all? What's even worse - in chapter 6 all upgrades are gone anyway, despite it's being quite a long chapter. It feels like camp management were poorly designed or implemented in the last moment, without having a clear goal in mind, just to fill the checkbox.
Btw, the ability to come up to any random citizen and say nothing but "howdy partner" or "seems like hard work" seems rather pointless as well. I get that recording various dialogues with locals are waste of resourses, but why do it at all then? Saying very same thing to everyone around hardly brings any value to the game.
Why many missions in game giving player plenty of choices, the others are exact opposite of that. For example, when i chased thief in the city, i found out that he is basicly ignores everything - when i tried to shot him (in the leg, just to stop), shots went right trough, and when i catched up with him on the roof and tried to use my lasso, so i could give him up to the authorities or question myself... yep, it didn't worked either. I felt rather cheated. What's even worse - is that in mission about negotiations with Favors his man eventually opened fire at me, i shoot back and killed Favors the missions were failed... because i killed Favors? Seriously? At this point Arthur already knew his true nature and there were literally no reasons to leave the man alive, except to use him in a story later, and thus a really lame losing condition were born. Some of the other missions had simillar expirienced with being too artificially limited, and there were also... not very well designed ones. I found especially funny when i fell out from horse, my allies kept on moving ahead, and before i could get back up i lost because "you abandoned your gang". Maybe it was they who abandoned me lol? There was also a guy lost in the woods who asked me to escort him back to the town, but he moved at the speed of a snail and i failed mission at the very end by moving too much away from him. Town were already clearly visible, but the dude just turned around and started walking away, saying that something like "fine, leave me to the wolves". Then escort missions can fail if you will have a falling horse incident, and let's not forget that the very final mission of epilogue (shootout on the mountain) will be failed if... your horse dies >_<
Weapon storage system. Not only it was quite uncomfortable to scroll trough all your weapons (why could you not just pick loadout in the same way you can load entire suit on your horse?), but also for some damn reason game removed weapons from me at every single opportunity it had. Starting a new mission? Better call your horse because you have only your pistols. And if you not lucky enough, even one of those pistols will be swapped to a starting one. Mission not allowing to call horse? Well too bad for you! Why? What is the point of buying and upgrading weapons if game constantly takes them away from you? It was so irratating, and for no good reason.
Final thing was the tank controls. It were not THAT bad, but often i did stupid things in combat because of it, and had many accidents with horse stomping people because it were turning in circles or doing anything else i didn't want it to do. Also searching boxes, etc were especially painful due to slow animations and interaction windows that were not really easy to... interact with.
Now about the story:
That was a biggest surprise from me. Note that i haven't played first RdR game, as well as some others, but rest of stories made by this studie felt goofy and entierly forgettable to me. Actually, GTA4 were one of the few games i failed to finish just because of how much of a boring drag it's story were.
But i can safely say that RdR2 easily deserves a place among the best when it comes to storytelling. It is funny, it is dramatic, it is entertaining, and, most importantly - it has good direction and delivers it's messages properly, in a very wholesome expirience. Even side quests were made with much love and passion, every time trying to bring some new expirience just when you thought that you already seen all this game has to offer. A story like that is a huge step ahead for RS, it felt like it was written by a different people than the ones who were doing the writing before. I hardly ever saw someone who would improve their writing so much and so fast, shey should be really proud of that.
But i also felt like there were 3 huge missed opportunities i wanted to discuss.
First - was the family conflic and kidnapping the child. To be honest, i still don't understand the logic of that...Braithwaite clearly were more or less intelligent. They somehow knew about gang's actions and true identiy, but what they are doing about it? Sneaking into their camp, kindapping a kid and selling it.... for real? Not attacking from the ambush (since there are a ton of them, and only a bunch of bandits), not reporting them to the law, but... taking away the child, not even to harm to hold hostage, but just to... sell? It does not make sense to me.
Trough this entire mission i had one theory: What if none of the families were actually aware about gang's true identity and intentions, but some shadowy figure (for example, certain Pinkerton agent, but it also could be someone else, for example someone who hated both families) shared some information with Grays, pushing them to setup the ambush, as well as made his agents (disguised as Braithwaite) kidnap a kid, to force the gang into open conflict with them?
I thought that it's going to be exactly like that until the very end of the mission, because everyone in Braithwaite were denying stealing a kid. And in the very end, when old lady admitted selling him to some random dude... it just didn't made any sense to me again. Her entire family were destroyed, she were planning to end her life as well, there was simply not a single reason for her to tell them the truth, giving a chance to resque the kid.
And now imagine if it was like i suggested above... gang raids and burns down the manor, destroying everyone inside (and maybe taking casualties in the process), only to find out that they had no idea about any kid and never did any kidnapping? When they will realize that they were played by a thrid side, used as a tools to destroy the Braithwaite, and Dutch in his righteous rage were played like a fiddle, because he haven't thought for at least a second that there is no reason to kidnap a kid from gang of outlaws, so he didn't even tried to track the kidnappers, for example?
That would show how impulsive thinking gets advantage over rationality in Dutch, and well as give Pinkertons some meaningful role in the story (Because honestly they were displayed as a clowns, who would enter the camp of the gang without any backup, threat them, and then... give time to pack up and run away? Where is the logic in all that?).
Second thing were blowing the bridge. What i very much expected - is that after bridge will be blown, a train will appear and it's speed will be so high that it will be unable to stop, collapsing at the bottom of the canyon. Arthur rushing to help the passengers, only to see that majority of them are dead or crippled, and there were a lot of families with children onboard. And all of this for what, just to create a distraction for Dutch's plan? This could be one of those moments where Arthur keeps realizing how much collateral damage are they making that Dutch does not care about.
Instead, we are having empty train to fall down from that bridge during the robbery, but... it does not make sense? San Deni were the last stop. The train's driver went past it at full speed... But where was he heading? The road ahead were cut by the destroyed bridge, and machinist should be aware about it since government sent additional supplies because of the bridge's destruction. Yet still train headed towards that bridge? Why?
Thrid thing were fist fight with Mikah. If would be quite poetic if Arthur, while not being able to win the fight still would cough blood on Mikah's face, infecting him with tb. Then his speech about "i won anyway" would have additional meaning, allowing the game to have a very different ending in the epilogue: after John storms trough all the Mika's troops, he ambushed by the man himself and about to be executed, but severe seisure makes Mikah drop the gun and fall to the ground. Realzing that he is dying, John would have the choice - to finish him off, or walk away, saying something like "You ain't worth the bullet, Arthur already killed you", leaving him to slow and painful death in the snow, and listening to Mikah scream in desperation things like "come back, coward, and finish the job!".
Instead, we have something that i can't quite explain: if Micah camps Arthur near the cave, "knowing" that he will be back for the money, how does he chase him on the mountain? Are him and Dutch somehow capable of being in both places at once, so no matter where you go you run into them? This kinda makes the last choice 100% irrelevant, because it seems like you are chosing between greed and helping a friend, but instead John survives in any case, and you fight Mikah in any case. What's the point of the choice then? Just to have a different arena of final combat? They could at least make a different ending sequence depending on that choice, where Arthur never meets Mikah and dies when saving John from the Pinkerton forces.
What's even worse, it seems like all that your reputation affects is that Mikah either finishes you or walks away? And that's all? Not talking about me expecting it to have some more meaninful impact on the ending, but what could be the reason for Mikah to just withdraw if he were clearly a sadist who also wanted to kill Arthur for a long time? It makes no sense to me.
And then there were Dutch, who's actions i can hardly explain. First, he simply walks away from Mikah (without even taking the money, if it's the cave ending). But ok, let's say he were shocked by Arthur's death and lost faith in Mikah. But then the two somehow getting reunited again, and having all this money just... stashed in a box for no good reason? What happened with their escape plan? There were enough money for a full gang, so how could just a two people not find that enough for their needs? And then, when Dutch shoots Mikah (despite having him as an ally, so they must have made peace or something), he just... walks away again, leaving the money behind? What's with him, constantly walking away?
And now, the epilogue.
That part of the game were a bit disappointing to me, mostly because it made John a protagonist. Now please keep in mind that i could not play first game and haven't read anything about it's story before today to avoid possible spoilers (i wasn't sure how two games are connected), so when i played the game i had no idea that John is a protagonist from the first game. For me he was just another gang member, and, to be honest... he had that "default protagonist" blank personality without any strong defining traits, that made me not really care about him or his obnoxious and rather stupid wife - even irish guy played a very small part of the story left better impressions than John.
But my main problem was that there were Charles and Sadie among the survivors as well, and both of them were extremley likeable characters about whom i cared a lot more than about Marston family. I would be really happy to play as any of them, especially Sadie because she is an incredible likeable lady, who once already proved as being capable to lead and protect the gang, and could as well play the same role as John did in gathering the survivors again, but in a more interesting way than just setting up a farm. I supose i were pretty happy to find out that both of them are still important part of the story, but still sad that i could not play as any of them.
Of course, when i read the short summary of RdR plot today i understood why we played as John and why he was such a nessesary part of the story, but i still wish they would gave him more importance in the rdr2 story, so he would seem less like secondary character and there would be a reason to care about him for those who haven't played first game. Also the epilogue itself were pretty nice, especially the part about making the ranch. But i still wish they would at least made a "Sadie in South America" dlc)
Yet there is something in the plot of first game i still not fully understand, so maybe someone here who actually played it would help me with explaining it? If i understood it correctly, after the events of the epilogue Mikah body is found by the Pinkertons, and it is allowing them to trace down John. Then they kidnapping his family (are bureau even ok with their agents acting like that?), and forcing John to track down and kill Dutch. Then the agent releasing the family and letting them live in peace for a bit, only to change his mind sometime later and attack the ranch, and John for some reason decides to suicide instead of taking a fight? Is all of that correct? Because if it is, i am not sure that i understand the motivation of either John or the agent here. Maybe short story summary on wiki is missing some important details that would explain it?
The Pastors Daughter
Kate had long brown hair, solemn eyes and clear skin. She wore plain dresses, befitting a pastor's daughter. She didn’t ask questions, she didn’t say a word when people mistreated her and she especially didn’t say a word to her Father, no matter how cruel he’d been towards her, her mother or her sisters. She was weak, broken and damned to the life of a quiet Christian housewife whether she wanted it or not.
Pastor Howard Young had a specific plan for exactly how her life would go from the very moment she was born, the exact same plan he had for all four of her older sisters. He was going to marry her off to a man from a good, Christian household. A man just like him. One who understood his ‘traditional’ family values where the man's word was absolute and women were good for nothing but household chores and rearing children. Pastor Young believed that women didn’t have the aptitude for anything beyond that.
Kate would have had a big family. She’d have as many children as her husband wanted and she’d stay home to care for them, leaving only to shop and go to church. She would not have voted, pursued any higher education or any meaningful employment. Pastor Young did not believe in such things, nor did he believe that women should have any social relationships outside of family and was quite firm in his belief that women going outside of the home could never lead to anything good.
This was the life that her mother lived. It was the life two of her older sisters lived and inevitably it would be the life that Kate lived… even if she did not want it. Perhaps her Mother and her sisters were ‘happy’ with the life that Pastor Young had enforced upon them, but to Kate the very concept of it sounded absolutely hellish. That was why I killed her, to spare her from that future and I consider her death an act of mercy.
I no longer saw Kate when I looked in the mirror anymore, nor did I even associate that name with myself. My name was Chloe Grimm. I was a pale, twenty two year old girl with short jet black hair. I’d decorated my body with piercings and tattoos simply because I wanted them. I didn’t bother with Church anymore. I’d decided long ago that the wrathful entity that most people defined as ‘God’ wasn’t something I wanted to believe in. I’d burned almost everything that identified me as Kate Young and had embraced my new identity. I wasn’t an idiot, of course. I kept what I thought I needed until I could legally change my name. But all of that was only a temporary measure.
I lived in a small apartment with my girlfriend Anna Meyers and I jugged a full time job at a local department store with University. I’d taken an interest in marine biology and with nothing holding me back, I went for it. The little life I’d carved out for myself wasn’t much but it was mine and for the first time in my life, I was happy. I was exactly where I belonged. I didn’t like talking about just where I’d come from. Pastor Young had a large enough congregation that I didn’t dare risk using my old name lest I be recognized. Even in a city that was hours away from his toxic congregation, the Pastor had his zealots. That said, I also never explicitly lied about who I was either. Anna and some of my friends knew a few of the details but I’d never have told any of them any specifics nor had I told them exactly how bad things were. Part of me just wanted to forget, and part of me dreaded the concept of them trying to ‘punish’ the Pastor over his many crimes. Something like that could only end badly.
I never actually told anyone that Pastor Young was my ‘parent’. Ever since I left, I refused to consider him as such. It allowed me to distance myself from him and imagine that I was someone else who’d never even met him. Likewise I made a point not to think too much on who I’d been before my escape. Bad memories still crept in from time to time and there were the occasional nightmares as well.
Usually, those dreams consisted of scattered events from my childhood. Hymns sung in a trembling voice in my bedroom as I listened to Pastor Young beat my mother or one of my sisters for acting out of line. I remember one of my older sisters, Grace, would hold me as we sang. She’d lead the hymns and my other sisters, Faith, Rachel and May would sing with us, drowning out the screams from downstairs…
I remember the way Faith had sat with me during those nights. I remember the way she’d taken my hand and smiled at me.
“It’s okay Kate. I’m here. I won’t let them hurt you.” She’d said… If only someone had been there to make sure they didn’t hurt her.
Sometimes, I’d dream about Pastor Young entering our shared bedroom. I could feel him standing over our beds as he decided which daughter would be his for the night… The Pastor was a man who believed that his ownership over his family was absolute. He believed that a man had certain rights and those rights extended to his own daughters. Other times, I’d dream about Pastor Young screaming at Grace, calling her a whore and slapping her across the kitchen, all because she’d met a nice boy at Church and he didn’t approve of him. I remember looking back and seeing him grabbing Grace by the throat and forcing her to her feet. I remember him saying: “You wanna know what Jesus does to whores, little girl?” I remember that, that was the last time I ever saw Grace before he dragged her into the basement.
Every time I dreamed about my life before I’d left, I’d wake up cold and covered in sweat. I’d leave quietly, making sure I didn’t wake up Anna and go watch TV or find some schoolwork to do as I tried and forget. I never did. The screams and hymns echoed through my brain. They never stopped. I rarely found my way back to sleep after those nightmares… but at least I had the solace of no longer being trapped in that house, with that monster. I could look in the mirror and see that I was no longer Kate Young and know that the Pastor was far away from me. I was finally free of him.. Free to live my own life, be my own person and determine my own destiny. At least… I thought I was.
I’d worked a late shift on the day my life came crashing down, nothing unusual. I’d gotten myself a burger on my way to the bus stop and it sat heavy in my stomach on the way home. I’d checked my phone, hoping to see a text from Anna. There was nothing. It was late, so she may have just gone to bed. It was nothing to worry about. I got off at my usual stop and walked the rest of the way to my apartment. I wasn’t even a block away when I saw the police cars out front. I froze in place as the red and blue sirens flashed over me. My mind immediately jumped to the worst possible conclusion.
Something had happened to Anna. I never even stopped to consider it as anything else. My instincts immediately told me to look out for my girlfriend. I ran towards the building and as I did, I saw a police officer stepping in front of me. There was nothing I could do to stop myself from crashing into his arms. In my panicked state, I almost didn’t hear the words he said to me. Not until he said that name.
“Kate? It’s okay! We’ve got you!”
That fucking name… The one I hadn’t heard in three years. It should have been then that I knew I was in trouble.
After that, everything was a blur. They asked me to get into a car and told me they were taking me to the station. They never told me what had happened to Anna and deflected every question I had. I didn’t know what was going on until I arrived inside the station and I saw him. In the three years away from him, he’d grown a beard. His eyes were as kindly as always, hiding the ugly truth about him from the world. I saw past them though, and when he looked at me I knew he saw past Chloe Grimm and saw only Kate Young.
“Kate!” he said, his voice warm and comforting. He pulled me into a hug that I didn’t reciprocate. At the mere sight of him, my body had locked up but when I felt his touch, every atom of my being made me want to pull away. Behind him I could see my Mother, the dutiful pastor's wife Melissa Young. The look on her face was one of genuine relief and it was not an emotion I shared.
“Oh you poor girl, we were so worried about you.” Pastor Young said as he smoothed my hair down. I could tell he disapproved. “I was so afraid that something terrible had happened to you but we’re here now to take you home.”
I forced myself away from the Pastor.
“Get the hell away from me!” I spat, making no effort to hide the sheer venom in my voice. Pastor Young stared at me, looking genuinely upset that I’d pulled away from him.
“What the fuck are you doing here? Where’s Anna?”
“Anna?” The Pastor asked. His expression darkened. “That sick pedophile who took you from us… who kept you in her home, who raped you? The Police will ensure that she is punished for her crimes, taking you… a child from our home…”
Pedophile? Oh that was rich coming from the likes of him. Was he seriously trying to pretend that I was underage?
“What did you do?” I demanded, “What did you tell these people?”
“Well we told them the truth, sweetie.” My Mother chimed in, “A sixteen year old girl has no business out here, all on her own in the care of some pervert!”
“I’m twenty two!” I snapped and for a moment, I saw a knowing look enter the Pastors eyes. A mocking sympathy that warned me not to fight him. The old fear that resurfaced in me almost kept me silent but no… No I had to fight! I had to!
“That woman has done a lot to twist you with her lies, Kate. But you don’t need to pretend anymore. We’re here! You’re safe now. You’re coming back home with us.”
The subtle tone in his voice made it clear that I didn’t have any say in the matter and the expressions of the cops around me made it clear whose side they were on. I later found out that The Pastor had crafted one hell of an elaborate lie. A fake birth certificate, support from his local county police who swore I was just an impressionable 16 year old lured away by a predator… He had everything he needed to convince them I was still just a child who belonged under his care. No amount of fighting was going to keep me in the city and trust me, I fought. It didn’t matter.
When I was finally led to the car, my body was tense. I desperately wished I’d wake up from this nightmare but I never did. I’d had three years of freedom. I thought I’d covered my tracks so well but the Pastor had come back for me and I found that there was nothing I could do.
During the drive back ‘home’ his demeanor changed entirely. The Pastor didn’t need to keep up the smile, so he didn’t bother. Mother barely spoke to me and barely even looked at me during the hours it took to drive back to that country hellhole where I’d grown up.
“You look like a goddamned whore, dressed in black and with those fucking tattoos.” The Pastor said, “I can’t put into words how disappointed I am in you. I raised you right, didn’t I? I showed you the light and this is what you choose to do with your life? Absolutely fucking disgraceful…”
I gritted my teeth, holding back the insults I so desperately wanted to sling back at the man. In the police station, Chloe Grimm had some power but in the car, Chloe didn’t exist. Like it or not, I was Kate Young again and Kate Young knew better than to talk back to the Pastor, lest she make things worse for herself. I avoided looking at him and just stared out the window. If I thought I could get away from it, I would have thrown open the door and jumped out. The Pastor must have seen that coming. His new car had child safety locks. The only way I was getting out is if he opened the door for me.
“You don’t even have anything to say for yourself, do you?” Pastor Young asked. He scoffed bitterly but said nothing more. There’d be plenty to say when we got ‘home’.
The Young Ranch hadn’t changed much in the years that I’d been away. It was about a few miles down the road from the sprawling megachurch where he ‘gifted’ the world with his sermons. As we drove up the dirt road leading to the ranch, I spotted several large dogs in the yard. The sight of them sent a familiar shiver down my spine. The Pastor was a private man and those dogs were his means of ensuring that there were no trespassers on his property. He fed them better than his own family and he’d raised them mean too.
Three years ago, I’d been smart enough to lace their morning feed with a very generous dosage of sleeping pills I’d stolen from a convenience store in town. When the dogs were either asleep or dead, I’d hitched a ride with a friend out of town. No bus stations. Nothing in the county or any adjacent counties that the Pastor could easily track. I thought I’d been clever… I guess I wasn’t quite clever enough.
The car lurched to a stop and as it did, I could hear the dogs barking and snarling at it right up until the Pastor got out of the car. Then they bowed their heads and shied away. Growing up, Pastor Young had always told me that it was a display of obedience. Now I knew that it was actually a show of fear. Mother got out of the car quickly and used the dog's fear as an opportunity to scurry towards the house. I saw a couple of them growling at her but they knew better than to snap in the Pastors presence.
I remained in the car until the Pastor let me out. Even if I could have gotten out on my own, I didn’t want to agitate the dogs. My sister May had learned firsthand what happened when you did a few years back and had the scars and glass eye to prove it. The Pastor tore the door open and grabbed me by the arm to drag me out.
“First things first you’re gonna wash that fucking ridiculous makeup off your goddamn face.” He growled. He dragged me towards the house and into one of the bathrooms where my Mother was waiting.
He held me in place as my face was sprayed with water and a coarse towel was used to violently scrub Chloe Grimms makeup off my face. It left smears on the towel. Then my piercings were taken out and tossed aside.
“The clothes go next.” The Pastor said, “I will not have you in this fucking house dressed like a goddamn Satanist!”
“What the fuck am I supposed to wear?” I asked. That was a mistake and it was punished by an open palmed slap on the cheek. It was hard enough to knock me off my feet.
“Don’t you ever fucking talk to me like that again.” The Pastor snarled, “Get your ass over to your old room. You’ve got clothes there, don’t you?”
He grabbed me by the back of my shirt and tossed me out into the hall. I swayed uneasily on my feet before I got up and made my way down to my old bedroom. It was a little disheartening to see that it had barely been touched since the day I left.
Changing out of my clothes almost felt like giving up part of myself. Shedding some aspect of my identity that I desperately didn’t want to lose… But I knew I didn’t have much of a choice in the matter. The Pastor was angry enough and I wasn’t brave or stupid enough to openly defy him. The old plain dresses that the Pastor had insisted we wear were untouched in my closet. It didn’t matter which one I put on. They were almost all the same. Looking in the mirror after I’d gotten changed, I felt… robbed. I hated the way the plain dress felt on my skin. I hated the way my face looked without the makeup. I hated seeing myself without the identity I’d created. The version of me that I wanted to be.
A heavy fist pounded on my door. The sound of it tore me away from my thoughts as a familiar shiver of fear made its way down my spine.
“I’m coming in.” The Pastor warned in the split second before he opened the door.
There was no need to hide his rage now. His belt rested in one hand and I remembered its sting very, very well. In his other hand was a razor, and I knew full well what he planned on doing with that.
“Well now…” He said, “You look almost respectable, don’t you Kate?”
I was silent as I stared back at him, trying my best to remain defiant even though I knew that it wouldn’t count for anything.
“I’ll have to tell your sisters the good news later today.” He said, “They’ll be down with their husbands soon enough… New grandkids too. Our little familys gotten bigger and now that our little lost lamb is back, it’s perfect.”
He approached me, taking bold strides as I shied away from him.
“Almost perfect.” He added, “It’s a shame. You always had such pretty hair… Then you had to go and chop it off and discolor it. For what? You wanted to look like a boy? Is that it? You want to pretend you’re a man now? Is that why I found you fucking some whore in the city?”
I bit my lip, unable to make myself say anything in response. The Pastor gripped me by the chin and forced me to look up at him.
“Well… You’ll grow your real hair back in time. Don’t you worry. But right now I’m getting rid of this bullshit. Hold still.”
I pulled away from him, my teeth gritted in frustration.
“Don’t you dare touch me.” I warned as if there was anything I could do to stop him. The Pastor just glared at me before he grabbed me by the front of the dress, hard enough that I felt the seams of the fabric pop a little.
“Now you listen here and you listen well, little girl.” He snarled, “I am your Father and you belong to me. I’ll touch you as much as I want, whenever I want, however I fucking want because as a man, that is my God given right! You think you can deny me that? Do you? Because make no mistake little girl, I will not hesitate to feed you to the dogs like I did your little whore of a sister.”
The venom in his eyes made it clear that he was dead serious. I felt my heart racing in terror as whatever defiance I might have had left in me died. The Pastor dragged me over to the mirror before he turned on the razor. I closed my eyes, unable to watch as he took it to my hair. I could feel my dyed black locks falling around me. My body quaked and shivered in terror but I couldn’t do anything more than whimper as he shaved me bald and tore away the last of the identity I’d so carefully made for myself.
“Only the weak open themselves to sin.” He said as he shaved me, “I have no place in my family for sinners and no place in my family for weakness. Mark my fucking words, little girl… I will snuff out whatever sin I find and God will sing my praises as I do!”
At last, he let me go and I opened my eyes. I suppose the silver lining to my newfound baldness was that at least it served as a reminder that I had, at least for a little while, achieved my independence. The Pastor didn’t seem to approve of the new look but at least he tolerated it. His hand rested on my shoulder as he tugged me away from the mirror.
“There… At least you’ve got most of that wretched sin off of your body. We’ll need to figure out what to do with those vile pictures you’ve defiled yourself with… but that can come later…” He pulled me hard out into the hallway again. I didn’t resist him. I had no idea what was waiting for me, but the belt in his hand made me think twice about fighting it.
“Now at least you’ll look proper as you find your path back to Jesus Christ…” He said, “You should thank your Mother I’m being so merciful to you. Were it up to me, the Dogs would be eating well tonight… But your sins don’t go without penance little girl. Oh no. You will find your way back to Jesus…”
Up ahead, I saw the basement door yawning open. I knew what was going to happen before it did and thought I was terrified, my body wouldn’t fight back.
“And until you do, you won’t see God's gift of sunlight!”
I didn’t scream until I was at the top of the stairs. With one push, the Pastor had launched me into the darkness and I hit the wooden staircase hard as I rolled down it and onto the concrete floor below. The basement door slammed shut as I lay on the ground, sore, almost certainly bleeding and disoriented.
In the span of a few hours, my life had been destroyed… and now I lay bloody on the cold hard ground of Pastor Young's basement as it all sank in. Alone in that cold cellar, the reality of my situation was crushing. The Pastor had clearly been planning to retrieve me for some time. The bars on the small cellar windows were a new addition as was the small dirty mattress that was down there for me to sleep on.
I learned very quickly not to get too close to the windows. The dogs outside rushed to them when I tried to tug on the bars on the off chance they might be loose. Their aggressive barking made me shy away immediately. Even if I could get through those bars, I’d be killed before I could climb out. Like I said, the Pastor raised his dogs mean.
The hymns started soon after I’d been thrown into the basement. They were played loud through a speaker that had been set up in one corner and I knew that they’d never stop. The Pastor was the sort of man who believed that if he crammed Jesus down my throat hard enough, then perhaps I might see the light again. Frankly, the hymns only served to get on my nerves. My body ached from the fall down the stairs. I could taste blood in my mouth but at the very least, I was alone and the endless hymns were better company than the Pastor.
The first day in the basement passed quietly enough. For that much, I was grateful. I didn’t see or hear from anyone until the evening when the basement door opened. My Mother was careful to lock the door behind her as she descended the stairs with a bowl. Inside it was a chunky brown slurry. The stink of it turned my stomach. Mother gingerly set the bowl at the bottom of the stairs and watched as I approached it.
“Dog food?” I asked, “Are you serious? You can’t treat me like this!”
“The Pastor was very clear. If you’re going to run away like some stubborn animal, you’re going to live and eat like an animal.” She said. Her tone implied no joy in what she was doing. I knew she technically had no choice… but her compliance served only to anger me.
“I’m not going to eat dog food!” I snapped.
“You’ll eat what he says you’ll eat and you’ll like it!” Mother replied, “This food is a blessing, Kate! Right now the fact that he is being so forgiving right now is a blessing! Don’t throw it back in his face. Eat it. You won’t get anything else until you do.”
With that, she turned and headed back upstairs as quickly as she could. I stared down at the chunky slurry of meat that the Pastor fed his dogs and my stomach turned. I’d given up meat soon after I’d left the family. It had been three years since I’d had it. The sight and smell of it already didn’t agree with me. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to stomach it and I wasn’t desperate enough to try yet. There was a leaking pipe in one corner I knew I could use for water. I told myself that I could do without food for a while and if I couldn’t, then maybe it would be better to starve to death than demean myself and let the Pastor force me back into the mold he expected me to fit.
As the light through my barred window turned golden, the basement door was thrown open. I could hear the Pastors heavy footsteps coming down for me and I prepared myself for what was to come. The sight of the shotgun in Pastor Young's hands made my empty stomach sink as a deep and familiar dread returned to my soul.
He glared at me, then down at the bowl of cold dog food on the floor.
“You’re not eating?” He asked, “You think this is some sort of game, don’t you? You act like a spoiled brat and don’t eat the bounty God has given you and hope for… what? Something better to come along?”
I didn’t speak. I just watched the shotgun. The Pastor kicked the bowl over to the dirty mattress I sat on. His eyes remained fixated on me.
“There won’t be anything else until you eat it.” He warned, “Now eat.”
The gun wasn’t aimed at me… yet. It didn’t need to be. The threat was enough to make me compliant. I reached for the bowl before he stopped me.
“Ah ah. What do we do before we eat?”
“W-we say grace…” I said quietly.
“Yes we do. Did you say grace, little girl?”
I bit my lip before shaking my head. Without a word from him, I put my hands together in prayer and closed my eyes. I knew the words. They’d been drilled into my head since before I even learned to talk.
“Bless us, O Lord, and these, Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.”
“Good. At least your time out in the city hasn’t made you a complete fucking heathen. Now… Eat. All of it.”
The cold pulpy meat was slimy as I scooped it into my mouth. Its taste made me gag. I’d barely swallowed my second mouthful before my stomach rejected it and I retched it all up onto the floor. For the sin of vomiting, I got a stern kick to the stomach.
“DO NOT WASTE GOD'S BOUNTY, LITTLE GIRL!” The Pastor roared. I coughed, sputtered and gagged as I curled into a ball. The shotgun was aimed at me now. It would be easy to say that part of me wanted him to pull the trigger but staring down death, I found myself absolutely terrified.
“N-no…” I rasped, “Dad… Please…”
“Eat it.” He repeated, “Now.”
I reached for the bowl again only for the Pastor to kick it out of my reach. Its contents spilled onto the floor.
“No, no, no. Eat what you wasted.” I looked up at him, my eyes wide with horror as I realized what he meant. I opened my mouth to protest but the presence of the gun killed the words before they could leave my throat.
“Eat.” He repeated.
I didn’t want to. I couldn’t… But I had no choice. He stood over me as I stooped over the mess on the floor and forced myself to eat it. The taste of my own bile was enough to make me gag and retch but the Pastor loomed over me, waiting until I managed to lick it off the cold concrete floor.
My ‘meal’ sat uncomfortably in my now sickened stomach as he forced me to my knees. I could feel tears streaming down my cheeks and his hateful eyes burned into mine.
“There…” He said quietly, “Now… Pray. You remember your Hail Mary, girl? Pray it.”
And I did. I said my prayers. Hail Mary and Our Father. I said them over and over again until the Pastor was satisfied. He paced behind me as I muttered the familiar prayers, listening for any lapse in them. When he was done, he left me kneeling on the floor as he quietly went back upstairs and left me in the dark of the basement again. I was shaking, both with fear and from the cold that the night brought. My stomach turned and I didn’t keep that disgusting slurry down for much longer. I puked it up in a corner and desperately tried to hide it before I made my way over to my cot and collapsed down onto it.
I think part of me realized that I was going to die in that basement… One way or another, I was going to die down there. I didn’t want to accept it. Oh no. I was too stubborn for that. I had every intention of fighting as hard as I could but some truths lurk in the back of your mind, impossible to escape. As I curled up on that cot, hungry, sickened and afraid I tried to sleep. Somehow I managed and I remember that as I closed my eyes, I saw a figure in a plain white dress standing in the corner.
My second and third days in captivity went similarly to the first. The hymns were played on repeat. My Mother fed me more of that awful meat slurry and again I couldn’t keep it down. In the evening, Pastor Young came down with the shotgun and made me pray to his satisfaction and I’d barely manage to sleep dreamlessly on that old dirty mattress.
When I did, I’d dream of my sister Grace… I’d remember the way the Pastor had screamed at her and thrown her to the ground. I remembered the brutality he’d displayed and when I opened my eyes, I was sure I caught just a moment's glimpse of a plain white dress in the corner. Lingering there, filled out as if someone was inside it. For a few moments, I almost thought I’d recognized Graces face where the head should have been but every time I tried to focus, it would be gone. It had to be delirium… My mind fragmenting and falling apart. What Pastor Young was doing to me was nothing less than torture and as the days blended one into the other I could feel my mind withering away and my sanity cracking. The thought of dying became more appealing than anything else.
Time stopped having meaning fairly quickly. I think I’d made it about five days when I felt myself breaking entirely. Bit by bit, their cruelty eroded me. Death began to look more and more like not only an inevitability but a more favorable option. I couldn’t keep down much of the meat slurry and so I was hungrier than I’d been in a very long time. The metallic taste of the water from the pipe lingered in my mouth and when the Pastor came down in the evenings with his shotgun to make me recite my prayers I caught myself hoping that this time he would be dissatisfied. This time he would shoot me and give me an out.
For a man who preached of salvation and mercy though, he offered me none of either. When I heard him coming down the stairs again, at least a week after I’d been taken I sat quietly as I waited for him. The empty bowl waited beside me and the Pastor just huffed in quiet approval when he saw it.
“So I see you’re learning your place again, little girl.” He growled, “That’s good. Maybe when I decide you are fit to rejoin our family you won’t be so quick to cast us aside again. There’s no place you can go in this world where I will not find you again. You cannot keep a man from his rightful God given property.”
I had no answer to that. I just got on my knees and clasped my hands together in prayer. His every word filled me with rage but I didn’t have enough left in me to let it show. I felt broken… Burnt out and weak.
“Let’s start with a Hail Mary. Beg Jesus for your forgiveness, little girl. Beg him nice and good.”
Automatically I spoke the first few words of the prayer. “Hail Mary, full of grace the Lord is with thee…”
Then I trailed off. I’m still not sure if that was a conscious choice or not. I don’t know if I was choosing to provoke him or if something in me just gave out.
“Keep going. Finish it.” The Pastor said but I didn’t reply. From the corner of my eye I could see the shotgun in his hand and I knew that it was my ticket out. The one way I could finally be free of him.
“Finish it!” The Pastor snarled and I finally looked up at him.
“Blessed art thou amongst women and if you’re out there, do me a favor and send Pastor Young straight to hell.”
I could see his brow furrow in rage as I continued my revised version of the prayer.
“Holy Mary, Mother of God. Either drop this fucking house on me and kill us all or maybe collapse that fucking church of his on his whole cocksucking congregation!”
The Pastor hit me and knocked me to the ground. The force of it made my ears ring.
“You don’t dare mock the Virgin Mary!” He snapped. I looked up at him, exhausted and bitter.
“I was mocking you.” I corrected, “Did you ever once consider why I left? Did you? I left because I hate you. I left because I can’t stand the thought of being related to you.”
He hit me again, but I didn’t stop.
“The first chance I get… I’ll find my way out again…” I rasped as I glared up at him. “So unless you shoot me right now, you’re wasting your time.”
He aimed the gun at my head. I felt an anxious flutter in my chest. My every instinct told me to cower and apologize but I defied them. I knew he was going to kill me… But I refused to die as Kate Young. I stared down the barrel of the gun, then back at him.
“Do it… Because if you don’t I will do everything in my fucking power to ruin your ministry and when I’m done I’m going to burn your fucking Church to the ground and shit on the ashes!”
The Pastor let out an enraged snarl before he struck me with the butt of the gun. I felt the barrel of the shotgun pressed against the back of my head and I knew that this was it. This was how I was going to die… and I was okay with that. For the first time since he’d come back into my life, I was laughing and as I waited for oblivion I smiled. From the corner of my eye, I saw him pull the trigger… Then I heard the gunshot. But I did not die.
The barrel of his gun was forced upwards and torn from his hand. The Pastor and I were no longer alone in the basement now. There was someone else with us. A pale girl in a plain dress, much like my own. A girl with a face that I still recognized, even though I hadn’t seen it in years.
Grace's eyes held a cold fury to them as she glared at the Pastor and in his own eyes, I saw an unfamiliar fear. He stumbled back a step, mouth open in a silent scream at the sight of his dearly departed daughter. Grace looked down at me. She didn’t say a word but I saw her expression soften. As the Pastor ran for the stairs, she reached a hand out to me and I knew to take it.
As she pulled me to my feet, I watched her fade into nothingness… but I felt a new warmth spreading from my body.
“I’m here, Kate.” A voice whispered in the back of my mind. Grace’s voice. “I won’t let them hurt you anymore…”
When I stepped forwards and began to follow the Pastor up the stairs I’m not sure if I was fully in control or not. I could feel a strange energy coursing through my veins. I felt powerful, more powerful than I ever had before.
The Pastor had slammed and locked the basement door behind him and yet as I approached, the door flew open so violently that it was almost torn off its hinges. Through it, I could see my… our Mother standing in the kitchen. Her eyes fixated on me and widened in both shock and horror. The color drained from her skin as she stumbled backwards. I couldn’t see what she saw… But I knew exactly what she thought she was looking at.
“Grace…” She gasped and I could hear her breathing get heavier. My eyes locked with hers and I could feel something inside of me. I could feel Graces spirit reaching out to her, willing her to die.
And I could see our Mothers body tensing up. Her breathing became more strained. She seemed to wheeze as her limbs failed her. Later on, I’d learn that her official cause of death would be deemed a sudden heart attack… But I doubt that was what actually killed her. She died because Grace wanted her to die… and I didn’t care enough to try and stop it.
I could hear the Pastor just down the hall, frantically trying to flee and escape us but neither I nor Grace dared to let him. As one entity, we followed the sound of his frightened footsteps through the house. Just down the hall, I could see him throwing the front door open as he scurried out into the yard. I could hear the dogs barking and I realized exactly what Grace had in mind for him.
When we reached the door, I saw the Pastor standing at the end of the porch. His own dogs waited in the yard around him, their teeth bared and their eyes all fixated on him. I’d never seen Pastor Young afraid before but now the terror that radiated off of him was palpable. He looked at the dogs, then back towards Grace and I as we stood in the doorway, looking down on him.
Slowly, the Pastor sank down to his knees before us.
“G-Grace…” He said softly, “Grace… Please… Please… S-show some mercy… I-I’m your Father! For the love of God, Grace I’m your goddamn Father!”
“No.” Grace's voice came from my mouth, “You’re dog food… Just like I was.”
“Grace, wait!” The Pastor called but he was too late. As if on cue, the dogs came for him and as their teeth sank into his flesh he screamed in glorious terror and agony. As his beloved dogs tore at his flesh and ripped at his throat, he wailed and screeched until his vocal cords were ripped from him. Then all he did was choke as he was reduced to nothing more than a gory mess on the lawn. As I watched him die, I felt that warm sensation in me start to fade. From the corner of my eye, I saw Grace standing beside me.
I turned to try and look at her only for her to disappear from my view. As soon as she’d come back, Grace was gone again and I stood on the porch alone as the Pastors body twitched its dying spasms. I looked down at him. Some noble part of my mind wanted to pity him but I couldn’t bother to waste pity on a man like that. The dogs were eating well… That was as much of a funeral as he deserved.
My body was starting to feel weak again and I retreated back into the house. My Mother was still in the kitchen, cold and dead on the floor and I was free. This time, I had nothing to run from.
I’m not sure if the Pastor was smart or stupid to leave my original birth certificate in the house. It didn’t take me long to find it, as well as a decent amount of evidence to disprove his lies. In the morning, I left the Young Ranch behind for the last time. Pastor Young had done everything in his power to destroy my life… Now it was time to rebuild it.