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Erica McCay was an odd girl. Fiercely clever and shy by nature, she was most unlike the others who filled her quiet Californian suburb.
Even when she was growing up, the young Erica would never be seen without a book in her hand. At school she opted to spend time with the characters that inhabited her leather-bound literature over her loud and riotous peers. While her classmates spent long summers laughing and playing, Erica would shy away to her sanctuary; the library. Here Erica’s youthful mind was educated by the lessons of authors long since departed. The superficial and the fleeting blissfully passed by a girl who could relate more to the individuals painted by words than the swirling masses, who went whichever way the neon billboards told them.
Maybe it was her quiet introversion? Perhaps her passion for the flawed and deeply human characters she met in the classics? For any number of these reasons, Erica did not enjoy watching Iron Man 3.
Shuddering in her seat from the sound of explosion, deafened by an audience amused by wisecracks and revolted by caricatured characters she felt no immediate connection with; Erica regretted agreeing to tag along for a movie night with her classmates.
Glancing past her untouched small popcorn, her hosts Jade and Zara sat gaping and entranced by the action unfolding before them. Erica sighed; loathe to complain, she stole a glance at her watch and sat back to imagine the inviting smell of the lightly yellowed pages that awaited her at home…
Outside the cinema Erica tapped her foot gently as her friends discussed the film.
“Oh wow, and that bit was like too awesome!”
“Oh you bet- and wasn’t Robert just gorgeous?”
“Totally! What did you think Erica?”
Erica snapped from her daydream.
“Uh yeah,” she fumbled “It was super, but I don’t really understand the fuss about that man, Robert Downey, wasn’t it?”
At once the boisterous laughter ceased. Jade and Zara glared blankly.
“Is something wrong?”
The eyes continued to stare, their pupils black with a malignant hatred.
Erica’s shaking voice betrayed her anxiety.
“Well, it was nice of you to invite me; I’ll see you both in school- goodbye!”
With that she turned on her heel and walked briskly away, once far enough glancing over her shoulder to where the cold gazes bore into her still.
“People,” muttered Erica as she closed the gate firmly behind her.
Erica’s room was neatly furnished. Her single bed lay adjacent a desk piled high with literature in stacks marked ‘reading’ and ‘re-reading’. A keen musician, Erica’s second-hand piano faced a wall where pins held small compositions of her own creation. A modest laptop from which Erica maintained a literary review blog was placed at the end of the bed.
Having never been to the cinema before that night, Erica decided to mark the occasion with a review.
Listing her grievances, Erica remembered the strange behaviour of her classmates. As a footnote she added: “Does anyone else think this Robert Downey Jr is a little over-acclaimed?”
Relieved after releasing her pent up frustration, Erica shut off her lamp and curled up to sleep.
Was it the sound of a car pulling up in her empty driveway? The footsteps as an intruder casually pushed open the door and strode into her room? The flickering light as the piano’s reading lamp switched on? Or perhaps it was the well rehearsed thudding of fingers upon keys as the melody of River shattered the silence.
Erica’s eyes widened, she sat bolt upright in bed and stared in horror at none other than Robert Downey Jr himself.
“Ah,” he smiled, catching her horrified reflection in the window pane.
“Rise and shine honey, you’ve a big day ahead of you,” Robert said warmly.
“It’s 3 am…” Erica countered meekly. This had to be a ridiculous dream she assured herself.
“Yup,” Robert stood up, closing the piano lid, “May I?” he asked and without waiting he sat down on the foot of her bed.
“Good tune that,” Robert indicated to the piano, “played that song on Ally McBeal- you ever watched,” he trailed off as Erica’s eyes betrayed her ignorance.
Rubbing her eyes, Erica took a look at her uninvited visitor who wore red shades with a blue pinstriped suit. Recently dry-cleaned, she noted.
Robert leaned over, his thick aftershave making Erica gag.
“Breakfast? Like I said, gonna be a long day.”
His impeccable toothy grin reminded Erica of a shark’s jaw kept in the science department of the library.
Erica waved him away and reached for her phone.
“What are you doing here? You shouldn’t be here at all-”
Robert caught her hand midway and pulled her round to face him. His smile vanished as suddenly as he’d arrived.
“I heard- read rather- that you’re not a big fan of mine,” Robert lowered his stony gaze to meet Erica’s.
“Well I- oh God,” stammered Erica as her eyes welled up in fear “Please don’t hurt me.”
“Mmm, don’t worry,” Robert’s reassuring smile crept back across his face, “Why don’t we go for a short drive, talk about the problem you’re having?”
Erica noticed the rumble of the engine in the driveway.
“Why don’t we head out, are you ready, uhm, Eren?” Robert stood and patted down his suit.
“Yeah, whatever, I haven’t all night kid.”
“Who said I was going?”
With that, Erica snatched a hardback book from the floor and heaved it at Robert’s head. His shades shattered on impact, a trail of blood oozed from a cut beside his eye.
Swearing violently he steadied himself against the desk and toppled a pile of books.
Erica leapt to her feet and darted out the door as Robert roared after her.
“Is this real? Am I dreaming?” Erica remarked aloud, pinching herself to no avail.
Not stopping to lift her shoes, Erica threw open the door and was blinded by the glare of a spotlight mounted on a parked van.
Dazzled, Erica looked around wildly, blurred shadows scurried from the van.
“On your knees,” a voice ordered as jackbooted feet closed in around her.
Erica dropped to her knees and began to cry as she felt armed and uniformed guards of some description closing in around her.
“It’s alright, stand down.” Robert’s voice sounded more composed as he strode quickly from the front door and put an arm soothingly around Erica.
“Why are you doing this to me?” Erica looked at him tearfully.
“It’s okay, you’ve nothing to worry about,”
Erica cried out as she felt a piercing sting in her arm.
“Don’t worry, shh, I’m on your side,” Robert whispered reassuringly, withdrawing an empty syringe.
As the faces crowded around blurred into one and darkness closed in around her, Erica could hear him murmur.
“I’m on your side.”
Erica felt like she’d slept for a week as she slowly regained consciousness in a modestly furnished room.
Blinking away her drowsiness, Erica could see that the room was distinctly institutional. The wallpaper was soothing beige, the furniture was plain and unbranded, and the decoration was milky and bland.
One window allowed a stream of warm Californian sunlight into the room, however, as Erica noted, the window was small and clearly secured to prevent escape.
A series of grunts attracted Erica’s attention to the open door.
Erica strained to sit upright in her bed and looked on in horror as Robert Downey Jr, his neatly manicured facial hair dripping with the sweat of exertion, performed pull-ups using a horizontal bar in the doorframe.
His body was hard and wiry from working out and his tight black undershirt was damp from exercise.
Erica shut her eyes and slowly lay back down, hoping he hadn’t noticed her awakening.
“So are you going to behave this time around?” Robert boomed.
“Shit,” breathed Erica.
Robert lowered himself down from the bar, mopped his brow and slung on a loose cream sweater that hung from the door handle.
“What do you want with me?” Erica narrowed her eyes and tried to conceal her gripping fear.
“Well how about we just talk something over,” Robert reached over and swung the desk chair beside Erica’s bed and sat down.
“If I do will you let me go?”
Robert scrunched up his face playfully.
“Now, that really depends.”
“On- on what?” Erica frantically looked about for an escape route and eyed the open door.
Robert looked at it too before fixing her with a cruel smirk.
“You didn’t like my movie.”
“You. Didn’t. Like. My. Movie,” Robert mouthed, “Y’know? Iron Man 3- the one you made the [i] oh so adorably quirky [/i] remark about?”
“So am I not allowed an opinion? Is this a joke?” Erica prayed that it was.
“Oh of course you’re allowed an opinion,” smiled Robert, “but I’d prefer a more positive one.”
Erica was confused but indignant.
“So basically you’re saying you can restrict [i] my [/i] human right to free speech? That’s against the law- as is kidnapping. You’re going to be in lots of trouble.”
Robert’s facial hair twitched in amusement.
“Well, yeah, so long as no-one finds out. At the end of the day, do people care more about some kid’s right to free speech, or the world’s highest paid movie star? Check and mate.”
“Why are you keeping me here?”
“I’m trying to teach you about self-restraint,” Robert said seriously, “I mean, yeah you can post whatever shit you think online but do you [i] need [/i] to? Say I knew this fantastic bakery that made a real good chocolate cake; I need to resist the urge to carpet bomb my colon with it if I don’t want to look puffy for a movie or cover shoot.” Robert gave a rather good-living Californian viewpoint on the situation.
Erica couldn’t bear the superficial analogy. Had she been imprisoned here over a movie? It was absurd.
Robert picked up a suitcase and opened it, showing Erica the contents.
“You see this,” Robert pointed to the vials of scented herbs and tablets. “It’s all natural, I am dedicated to being as healthy as possible.”
“What are you talking about- what even are you?” Erica screamed in frustration.
“A genius” smiled Robert “billionaire, playboy philanthropist.”
It was too much for Erica; Robert was even more insufferable than his character in Iron Man 3.
Maybe it was the manicured facial hair? The wiry body? The good living, healthy lifestyle? Maybe it was the weighty self-importance in action before her.
Erica dashed from the room as a laughing Robert made no attempt to stop her.
“The corridor is locked down, don’t trouble yourself,” he called after her.
Erica frantically looked about. The corridor was spacious, well lit and sedately coloured. It was lined with secure doors.
Filled with curiosity she approached one and peered in the narrow letterbox window.
Inside Erica saw a girl about her age. She was seated on a narrow bed, staring fixatedly at a screen playing Ally McBeal scenes featuring Robert Downey Jr. When one ended, the girl feverishly rewound it. The room was plastered with newspaper cuttings and posters of Robert; A crude temple in honour of her captor.
“Sweet, isn’t it?” said Robert. “When she came in here she thought it was the TV equivalent of a colonoscopy, see the difference now though?”
“What is this place?” gasped Erica.
“St. Robert’s Institute for the Delusional and Objectionable. RDJ for short.” Robert smiled at his own ingenious wit.
Erica suddenly remembered the glazed expressions of her classmates that night at the cinema.
“What did you- is this what you did to my friends? Why?”
“Sometimes, if you’d believe it, there are people who just don’t love me, Erin,” Robert began.
“Look, kid, I don’t care,” Robert continued “and sometimes these people just need a bit of help, a little prompting to realize how much they adored me after all- hell, I’m not the world’s most loved actor for nothing. It takes the right mix of charisma, charm and psychoactive drugs.”
Erica couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Her classmates and countless others had been brainwashed and transformed into mindless, autonomous drones who worshipped Robert Downey Jr, and now, she would face the same fate.
She started backing away.
“No way! Oh God, look I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean a word I said! I don’t even know why I said it- really I love your work. Oh please don’t do this to me.”
Robert reached out his hand.
“I’m just trying to help you; here at St. Robert’s we only want what’s best for everyone.”
Erica thought about the life she’d leave behind- what about her sharp intellect? Her passion for literature? Her individuality? It was more than she could take.
Robert signalled to two orderlies at the end of the corridor.
“You don’t have to do this!” Erica wailed pitifully.
“Yes I do, you all need me; each and every one of you. You will thank me for this, I promise,” Robert said reassuringly.
Erica whimpered as the orderlies lifted her up from the floor. Robert loaded a syringe gun with a green vial.
Erica no longer made a sound, she no longer had any tears left to cry and her sobs were empty rasps. She looked up for the last defiant time as Robert whispered:
“It’ll be okay. I’m on your side.”
The pain was momentary as the vial emptied into Erica’s neck.
Erica felt the coldness seeping through her; she felt all of her fear melting away, every defiant thought evaporating.
Robert’s smile looked warmer now, friendlier. After all he only wanted what was best for her- for everyone! He was talented, considerate and kind. He stood for all that mankind should aspire to be and he cared for everyone who loved him, so, so much.
Erica smiled too; she had nothing to be afraid of. She felt dizzy though and Robert stepped in to steady her. His eyes were dark and brown and full of concern. Erica could do nothing but melt away into their chocolate haze…
Erica was at school the very next week; she was a lot more outgoing now. She fitted in very well at school with her two new best friends, Jade and Zara. She never went to the library anymore, in fact she rarely read anything that wasn’t a promotional piece or interview for Robert. Her room was decorated with all of Robert’s posters.
“Like wow,” said Jade, “You have even more than me!”
“I guess,” smiled Erica, “They make me feel safe.”
Robert gave her strict instructions when she was released from the institution so every night before bed, Erica would look on her social networking page and report anyone who didn’t appreciate her new idol to the St. Robert’s Admissions Office.
“I guess Jade and Zara must have done that for me,” Erica said dreamily as she shut off her laptop.
She stood facing her life-size cut-out of Robert.
Erica whispered softly.
“Thank you Robert. Thank you for saving me.”
And before she fell asleep, she was sure she could hear him whisper in reply.
“I’m on your side.”
Credit To – PoisonGallery