Monday, December 7, 2009

Chapter Six

The keening wind whistled through the swaying trees, capturing leaves and whisking them away to the outside world. She silently watched the leaves dance elegantly with the breeze, envying their freedom. She felt the wind tug at her, and she desperately yearned to join it, to drift up over the towering wall and fly away. Ordinarily, such a thought would have depressed her, but now a smile played delicately upon her lips. For the first time in twelve long years, she had been given hope. Beautiful, beautiful hope. Happiness flushed her cheeks and lent a sparkle to her dark eyes. Her pace gradually quickened to a lively skip, and a joyful laugh tore from her lips. Her brown hair loosened from its tight bun and fell in wisps around her face, softening her features and making her look younger than her forty-one years.

Soon, she could be free - if not to leave the compound, then to live in blissful luxury. Her days would no longer be a bleak haze of isolation and poverty, but would be vibrant and pleasurable. She would have good food and fancy clothes, card games and fine art. She would be the Leader’s mother-in-law and become respected in the community, regardless of the fact he was fifteen years her senior. All that was needed now was for her daughter to accept his proposal and relinquish that frivolous book, which she should have long outgrown.

As she neared her house, she began to calm herself down. She ran her hands through her untidy hair, quickly pulling it back into a neat up-do, before smoothing down her dress and fanning at her flushed face. After composing herself with a few deep breaths, she opened the door and came face to face with her eldest daughter.

‘Oh...’ Her daughter gasped, and fell back a few paces.

‘Where do you think you’re going?’ She frowned at the girl, who met her gaze defiantly.

‘For a walk, Sister.’ She stood to one side as her mother passed her in the hall, then followed her into the kitchen. ‘How was tonight?’

Her mother was silent for a few moments as she reached for a glass and turned on the sink tap. ‘Oh, damn it,’ she murmured, shaking the faucet. ‘Broken again?’ She slammed the glass down on the counter, cursing under her breath. Calm down, she thought to herself. It’s only a matter of time. A small bubble of happiness swelled within her, and she smiled before turning back to her daughter. ‘It was good.’

‘That’s good, Sister.’ Her daughter looked bemused as she brushed past her to get to the dining room. A sudden thought flashed through her mind, she hasn’t seen me smile since she was five.

Most of the time, she could deal with her emotional estrangement from her daughter; but other times, it cut her like a knife.

‘Come here,’ she called out, seating herself at the table. ‘I have something to discuss.’

‘Yes, Sister?’ Her daughter seated herself opposite, her flaxen hair spilling over her shoulders as she drew the chair closer to the table.

‘Tonight, the Leader made an interesting offer. One that you might be interested in.’ Not that you have a choice.


She cleared her throat, suddenly nervous. ‘In exchange for your hand in marriage and your book of fairytales, the Leader will give us luxury, comfort and immense wealth.’


‘You heard me.’

‘I can’t.’

‘You will.’

‘I hate that man.’

‘He wants you, that’s all that matters.’

‘He can’t have my book, no one can have my book.’ She gripped the table, her voice shaking with panic. ‘It’s my book.’

‘If you don’t do what he wants, he could destroy you.’

‘Death is a preferable fate to becoming his bride.’

‘DAMN IT.’ She slammed her fists down on the table, her hopes of happiness fading faster by the second. Her daughter watched in silent shock as tears began to flood her mother’s eyes, threatening to spill down her cheeks. ‘You selfish, heartless girl!’ She buried her head in her hands, weeping openly now, choking out words between sobs. ‘How dare you take away my one chance of happiness?’

‘I owe you nothing.’ Her daughter’s voice was uncommonly cold. She narrowed her eyes, staring coolly at her bawling mother. ‘You destroyed my every chance of happiness when you brought me here.’

Her mother looked up at her with red eyes. ‘Do you really think,’ her voice quavered, ‘that I wanted to come?’


A cacophony of bright sound spilled from the living room, a swirling mix of energetic music and a child’s laughter. She smiled slightly as she stirred the cake mixture, gazing at her young daughter as she watched television. She envied the young. They were so easily amused, and so blissfully unaware of life’s many pressures, of mortgages, of careers, of marriages held together by the finest of threads.

She sighed as she scraped the mixture into the tin, then ran her finger around the inside of the bowl and licked it quickly, doing what she was forever telling her daughter not to. She snuck a glance at the five year old, who was still happily transfixed to the television, and laughed at her own guilt.

When the tin was placed in the oven, and the rich chocolate aroma floated throughout the house, she sat herself down at the dining room table and waited for him to come home. Her fingers tapped out an agitated tattoo on the table top as she stared at the clock, watching the seconds slowly bleed into each other. Six-thirty. Half an hour since he should have been home. Excuses flooded her mind. He has a lot of work to finish. He’s stuck in traffic. There’s been an accident. He’s with another woman. A tight knot of tears formed at the base of her throat, and she pushed away the unwelcome thoughts and went to check on her cake.

She had just opened the oven door when she heard the familiar rumble of his car pulling into the driveway. Immediately she forgot about the cake, and went to the front door to greet him. He stood in the hallway, unbuttoning his coat and taking off his shoes. He saw her and smiled. ‘Hey.’

‘You’re late.’

‘I know. Traffic.’ He brushed past her, dropping a kiss on the top of her head. ‘Smells good.’

‘Thanks.’ She watched him kneel down and peer into the oven with a child-like impatience. ‘Don’t worry, it’ll be done soon.’

He grinned. ‘Yum.’ He leant against the kitchen sink, looking around the kitchen. ‘Is there anything else for dinner?’

‘No. Just cake.’

‘I’m glad that you’re instilling our daughter with healthy eating habits at such a young age.’

‘Well, I try my best.’ They both smiled at each other, then quickly dropped eye contact, falling into an awkward silence.

Suddenly, the tears returned with renewed force, and she pressed her hand against her mouth, choking back sobs. In her mind’s eye she saw him with the other woman, the flame-headed beauty with whom she had caught him cheating. She doubled over, crippled by the pain that still rubbed so raw.

‘Look, I...’ He turned away, unable to bear the sight of her grief. ‘I’m so sorry...’

She could have kicked him out of the house then and there, and she nearly had. But she loved him too much to let him go.

He was standing in front of her now, holding out a thin booklet as though it was a peace offering. ‘I want to make it up to you so badly, babe. And I think this is a way that I can.’

She took it from him, distrusting. ‘What is it?’

‘It’s a society of Christians who seek to serve their God by living simply and peacefully, and devoting their lives to the good of others.’ She looked down and saw he had quoted straight out of the pamphlet.

He coloured slightly. ‘A group of them were handing out pamphlets at the mall today.’

‘I didn’t know you were religious.’

‘There’s a lot you don’t know about me.’

She looked away. You’re right. I thought you loved me enough to be faithful. I was wrong.

‘So, what do you think?’

‘Do you seriously expect me to say yes?’

He took her hand. ‘No, but I expect you to seriously consider the future of this family. I know I’ve made mistakes, and I can’t apologise enough. But this is our chance to mend our relationship, to provide stability for our daughter.’

‘How? Tell me, how do you think this will mend anything? At best it’ll be like a Band-Aid stuck on a gaping wound – merely hiding the fact that something is terribly wrong.’ She let go of his hand, and gave back the pamphlet. ‘No religious fad will change the fact that you cheated on me.’

‘But I can change, babe. Give me a chance. Maybe religion will straighten me out.’ He pleaded with her, his voice desperate. ‘Maybe we need a change of lifestyle to keep our family together.’

‘I really don’t think it’s a good idea.’

‘Please. If you don’t come with me, I’ll go myself. And you don’t want our daughter to grow up without a father.’

She froze, remembering her own father-less childhood. Even though she was angry at his subtle blackmail, she found herself relenting. She turned to look at her daughter, who deserved so much more.

‘Ok. I’ll do it.’

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Chapter Five

A slow bead of sweat slid down her face as she stood on the doorstep, her knuckles turning white as she clutched at the casserole dish. The beautifully embellished door knocker hung at eye level, its polished gold and swirling designs tempting her to grasp the handle and make herself known. He would be waiting for her to arrive, a prospect that thrilled and terrified her at the same time. She did not care much for the man, but being personally invited to a private party was an honour.

However, it was almost too good to be true. She couldn’t fathom what compelled him to invite her. She was not an eye-catching woman; the beauty of her youth was long past, leaving her non-descript at best. She was softly spoken and never raised a fuss, preferring to live quietly under the radar. He had never paid attention to her before, and yet here she was, standing at the front door of his mansion. Surely, the invitation had a hidden agenda, a thought which kept her from announcing her arrival.

Collecting herself, she juggled the dish under one arm and rapped at the door. Immediately, it was pulled open by a solemn-looking man in an impeccable black suit, who nodded briskly at her and ushered her into the foyer. ‘The Leader is waiting for you in the drawing room, Sister.’

‘Thank you.’ She apprehensively stepped through the doorway, blinking as the pristine beauty of the house hit her in full force. The wide hallway sparkled a brilliant white, and led on to a spacious room with a tall, lavish domed ceiling. The floors had been polished to shining perfection, and luxurious tapestries lined the walls. A large fountain sat in the middle of the room, streams of water trickling over an elegant statue of a naked woman.

The whole thing struck her as slightly superfluous; but then, who was she to judge the ways of the wealthy?

‘This way, Sister.’ The butler’s rasping voice startled her from her reverie, and she hurried along behind him. He steered her through another doorway, into a room smaller than the first, but no less splendid. The Leader was seated on a plush cream couch, sipping thoughtfully at a glass of golden liquid.

‘My Leader, your guest has arrived.’

He looked up and smiled, gesturing at the sofa opposite to himself. ‘Welcome, Sister. Sit, please.’ His eyes drifted to the casserole dish, and his expression shifted to one of mild disgust. ‘What is that?’

A hot flush spread over her cheeks. ‘Oh, well, I just thought that, well, never go to a party empty handed…’

He glanced at the butler. ‘Take it away.’

The servant bowed slightly, and removed the offending object from his presence. Satisfied, the Leader sank back into his chair, smiling at her again. ‘There is no need for that here, my dear woman. I pride myself on taking very good care of my guests. Speaking of which, we will be joined by the other guests later.’ He took another sip, and gestured at the glass. ‘Care for a drink?’

‘Oh, yes, please.’

He stood and strode briskly over to the bar. ‘What’ll you have?’

‘Oh, the same as you, I guess.’ The cool amber liquid looked enticing.

‘Excellent choice.’ He presented her with the drink, the ice cubes clinking gently against the glass. She nodded gratefully, and brought the glass to her lips. ‘Ugh.’ She grimaced at the bitter taste, coughing as the drink burned her throat. He chuckled as she wiped her mouth. ‘Never had Scotch before, I see.’

‘Scotch?’ She glanced up in surprise. ‘This is alcoholic?’

‘Indeed it is.’

‘But… But you said…’

‘That alcohol is the tool of the Devil?’ He smirked, and leaned closer to her. ‘My dear, rules are made to be broken.’

She blushed again, taking another quick sip of her drink. ‘Of course. My apologies, my Leader.’

‘It’s fine, Sister.’ He reached over, and grasped her hand firmly between his. ‘There is something I have to talk to you about.’

‘Yes, my Leader?’

‘It has come to my attention that…’ He paused, his confident demeanour failing him. A heavy silence fell between the pair, before he abruptly pulled away and got to his feet. He paced the room restlessly, wringing his hands, before his fearful whisper broke the silence.

‘I’m dying, Sister.’

‘Oh…’ She bit her lip, unsure of how to comfort the powerful man who stood helpless before her.

‘It’s cancer. Lung cancer. With the right treatment, I may live to see another few years. But that’s not long enough. All I’ve toiled for, all I’ve strived to achieve, will be wasted. It’ll be handed over to a man who cares nothing about my vision, who’ll ruin everything.’ He sank back into his chair, taking a large gulp of his drink.
‘I’m sure that’s not true…’

He stared listlessly into his Scotch, his eyes watery with grief. ‘I can’t lose them. They are all mine.’

‘You’ll go to God, my Leader, and reign with him for eternity. Isn’t that a far better place to lead your flock than down on this tainted world?’

He laughed harshly. ‘God? What God? There is no God, Sister. God is a device for the weak and the ignorant, something for them to hold onto, to hide behind. They need somebody like me to lead them, to save them from themselves.’

‘Don’t be foolish, my Leader.’

‘Oh, come now, Sister. You cannot seriously say that you believe in that utter rubbish?’

She fell back into silence. No, of course she didn’t believe in it. At least, not in a God that would lock her away from her former life. From her loved ones, her career, her name...

‘Don’t try to hide the truth from me, Sister. I know you don’t want to be here.’ She nodded slightly, avoiding eye contact. He could destroy her for saying such a thing. And yet, when she glanced at him fearfully, he did not look angered; instead, he was gazing at her thoughtfully, gently tapping his fingers against the arm of his chair. ‘I have a proposition for you, my dear.’

‘Yes, my Leader?’

‘I need an heir, and a wife that can give me one. If I cannot have my followers all to myself, at least I can keep them in the family.’

And then, she understood. A wave of confidence swept through her, and she looked him boldly in the eye. ‘You want her.’

‘Yes, I do.’

‘She doesn’t want you.’

A pained looked briefly cross his face. ‘No, but if you can convince her I can make it worth your while.’

She narrowed her eyes. ‘How so?’

‘You’ll become a part of my family, and an elder in the church. You and your daughters will live in luxury, and you’ll have privileges that the other members can only dream of.’

‘I’ll consider it.’

‘No, you’ll do it. Don’t forget, Sister, that I am still your Leader.’

‘Of course.’

‘I’m glad we have reached an agreement, my dear woman.’

‘As am I, my Leader.’ She stood up briskly, arranging her clothing and gathering her wits. ‘If you don’t mind, I’ll leave now. I have a lot to think about, and I don’t particularly want to socialise.’ She dropped into a slight curtsey. ‘I’ll come again when I make my decision.’

‘Of course.’ He took her arm, and swiftly escorted her to the front door. ‘Oh, and Sister, this deal comes with one condition.’


‘Bring me that book.’

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Chapter Four

Her slender hands shook as she ran her fingers over the floorboards, desperately seeking out the familiar groove. Oh please, oh please. She prised away the loose board, barely noticing the splinters that cut into her fingertips.

Oh, thank you, God. Thank you. She silently mouthed a prayer as she lifted the book out of the dusty crevice, cradling it close to her chest as her heart flooded with relief. Her hiding place, though cliché, was effective. She had seen the men ransack the house, searching urgently for the book on the Leader’s orders. There would be repercussions for them, no doubt, but for once she didn’t care. She had the book, her precious book, the only escape she had from this hell hole.

She sat cross-legged, balancing the heavy book precariously across her knees. Carefully, she turned the fragile pages, gazing at the elegant illustrations. Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel. All young, beautiful women, unfairly locked away from the world, waiting for a prince to come and lift them out of their despair. A tear rolled down her cheek, falling onto the page below. Her heart cried out as she read the stories, I am one of you! I feel your pain!

But I am still waiting for my prince...

After all this time, she should have given up hope. She had lived in the cult for twelve years of her life, each passing year bleaker than the last. There was no chance of escape, not that she hadn’t tried. The walls were impenetrable, and the entrance gate, the only way in or out of the compound, was heavily guarded. And yet, in the hidden depths of her heart, she still held onto that glimmer of hope. Maybe one day, in the distant future, Prince Charming would ride into her life on a shining white stallion, sweep her off her feet, and gallop off into the sunset with her in his arms.

But until that day came, she was stuck here, name-less, joy-less, life-less.

‘Is anyone home?’

She gasped, and quickly thrust the book back into its hiding place, sliding the floorboard silently into place. She scrambled to her feet, brushed down her drab brown dress, and hurried out of the room to greet her mother.

‘Good evening, Sister.’ She stretched her face into a bright smile, standing primly with her hands clasped behind her back. ‘Did you have a nice day?’

Her mother glanced at her, nodding curtly before busying herself in the kitchen. ‘Did you make dinner?’

‘Yes, I did, Sister. It’s in the fridge.’

‘Good. I’m going out tonight, I’ll take it with me. Make something else for yourself. Your sister’s in bed, I hope?’

‘Yes, Sister. Whose house are you going to?’

‘That’s none of your business.’ She sniffed. ‘But if you must know, I was invited to the Leader’s mansion.’ The note of pride in her voice was unmistakable.

‘Oh, that’s nice.’

‘Yes. I’ll be home around midnight.’

And with that, she was out the door, leaving behind a faint trace of perfume and the daughter she no longer loved.


‘Sister?’ I staggered out of my bedroom, yawning and holding the door frame to keep myself upright. ‘Sister, did Mummy come home?’ I rubbed at my face, squinting as my eyes accustomed to the bright light. ‘Sister?’

She sat at the table, hercheek resting on the book of fairytales, her shoulders heaving with silent sobs. Tears streamed down her face and pooled on the book, which was open to a double-spread illustration of Snow White and her Prince caught up in a romantic embrace.

‘Sister, are you okay?’ I ran to cuddle her, my arms clasped tight around her waist. She started, as though she had forgotten I was in the house. ‘Oh, sweetheart...’ Her sobs suddenly ceased, and she wiped at her face in vain. ‘Oh yes, of course, darling. Don’t worry about me, I’m just being silly.’ She smiled at me, but for the first time in my life I didn’t believe her assurances. I reached up to stroke her face, catching a tear on my thumb.

‘I’ll get you a drink.’ I quickly scampered off to the kitchen, reluctant to leave her. I rummaged in a dingy cupboard and drew out a glass, which was still slightly dirty. Wiping it on the cuff of my sleeve, I stood on tiptoes and reached for the tap, turning the faucet. A short burst of brown water gushed out, before drying up to nothing.

‘Sister, the sink is broken again!’ Hearing no reply, I wrenched open the fridge, and poured her a glass of milk. She smiled again as I brought it in to her, taking it gratefully and letting me clamber up into her lap.

‘Why were you crying?’

‘It was nothing, baby.’

‘Did Snow White make you sad?’

‘No, no.’

‘Did Mummy make you sad?’

She fell silent, taking a small sip of her milk. ‘A little.’

‘Oh.’ I cuddled into her shoulder, feeling her blonde hair tickle my face. ‘Well, you still have me to make you happy.’

She laughed, putting down her drink and wrapping her arms around me. ‘Yes, yes I do.’ She kissed my cheek, tucking my hair behind my ear.

‘You and me, baby, are just two girls trapped in a fairy tale.’

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Chapter Three

I pressed my cheek against the cool white brick of the wall, my face burning with the effort of my mad dash. I gulped down air, my humiliation forgotten in my exhaustion. It was an unusually warm spring day, and the sun beat down on my small frame without mercy, causing me to swiftly unbutton my pinafore and cast it aside.

As my breathing slowly returned to normal, I let myself sink down into the soft dirt, lying still on my back. The wall loomed over me, tall and unyielding, glaringly bright in the hot sun. I had never noticed it before; my childhood had primarily been confined to home or the school yard. I ran my hand over the smooth brick, wondering at how it remained refreshingly cool to the touch on such a hot day. I felt the urge to explore it, to climb it, to discover its nooks and crannies. To my young mind, it was mysterious, wonderful.

'Baby? Baby?! Where are you, my darling?' A thin voice floated to me on the light breeze, and I called out in relief. Sister, my only true friend. She could make everything better for me.

'Oh, sweetheart...' She ran to embrace me, clutching me tightly. 'What happened? Why are you here? Why aren't you dressed?'

'I was in school and then the boys pulled faces and then teacher ran away and then I told Rapunzel and then teacher hit me...' I spoke with my mouth pressed into her shoulder, not caring to stop for breath. 'And then I ran here and it was hot and then I took my clothes off.'

'Oh.' Sister pulled away from me, her smile a mix of sadness and faint amusement. 'Get dressed, okay? You're already burning up.' She placed her hands on my back, and I winced, feeling the sharp sting of the sunburn.

It took me a while to notice the bruise on her cheek, so engrossed was I in my own drama. It was large and violent, the deep purple a sharp contrast against her fair skin. Her nose fared no better, having swollen to almost twice its normal size, and sitting crooked. I gasped, reaching out to gently stroke her battered face. 'What happened, Sister...?'

'He hit me.' Her voice was barely a whisper, as though she was scared to speak the words aloud. A visible tremor ran through her body. 'He hit me because of the book.'

I staggered back, her words hitting me like a blow to the stomach. The bruise, the swollen nose, the tears that fell freely down her cheeks: they were my fault. I had hurt my Sister, who had only ever shown love and affection towards me.

I was a bad person.

The full force of this revelation was too much for such a young child to bear, and I sunk against her, screaming in anguish.

'Hush, hush now.' Her gentle caresses and words did little to soothe my cries, and she raised her voice to be heard. 'It was not your fault. I should have told you. Books are not allowed to be read in this society, it's against the Leader's wishes. Books show us the world, and make us dream and yearn for life outside the walls. But he doesn't want that. He wants us to be his willing slaves, and obey his every command because we are scared of going to hell.' I was silent, listening with wide eyes.

'But if everyone knows that, why are they still here?'

‘Not everybody is as smart as you and me. Just promise me that you will never mention the book again, or we could both get in trouble.'

‘I promise.’ I placed my hand over my heart and nodded solemnly, drawing a small laugh from her. She reached down to hoist me into her arms, settling me on her hip and kissing my head. ‘Let’s go home.’


His rasping breath was the only sound that filled the darkened room. Inhale, exhale. Every breath was a chore. His lungs ached, as though a thousand sharp knives were thrust mercilessly into his chest, over and over again. A deep cough shook him to the core, and once again he hacked up bloody phlegm into his handkerchief.

He closed his eyes, fighting back the tidal wave of self pity that threatened to engulf him. He blindly felt for the papers on the desk beside him, and clutched them in his fist. There was no need to read them; he had long since memorized the contents. The death sentence of him and all he had worked for, spelt out in the cold, clinical diagnosis: lung cancer.

Inhale, exhale. He drew a packet of cigarettes from his pocket, and fumbled for his lighter. The flame briefly illuminated the room as he held it to the cigarette, sighing with relief as he drew the acrid smoke deep into his lungs. Sweet relief. Yes, he knew the habit was killing him, but it was too late to quite now. May as well enjoy it while he could.

He leant back, contemplating his fate. He needed a wife, and an heir. He had many followers and right-hand men, but he could trust none to continue his society the way he wanted. But a faithful, loving wife and son, dedicated to preserving his memory…

But, who? Many women would jump at the chance to bear his son, but they were mere floozies. There were a few solid, respectable women, but they were already married. Nothing he couldn’t change though, he thought with a smug smile.

But deep down, he didn’t want any of them. There was only one woman who he wanted by his side, who he wanted to caress and kiss. He had been trying to avoid it, to hide from reality, but it was time to face up to it: he was in love with her. The blonde haired witch, that she-devil. She haunted him, day and night. He needed her, loved her.

And she despised him.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Chapter Two

Dedicated to Serena, who thinks I can write.

We sat in squirming lines across the unforgiving concrete, whispering behind our pudgy hands to our neighbours. Our bright giggles and twinkling eyes hinted at colour and the sparkling individuality of youth, yet we were all identical: the same dreary grey pinafore; the unvarying tight plait snaking down our backs; the way we all responded to 'Sister'. Even the timid school teacher matched her students perfectly, marked out only by her age and her colourless cheeks.

‘Silence, girls!’ Her reedy voice was not enough to dispel the excited murmurs. She coughed delicately into her hand, and tried once more. ‘Girls! Attention, please!’

All eyes turned to her expectantly, and she bit her lip. ‘Welcome to your first day of school, class. I hope each one of you will work diligently at your studies here in order to become a functioning member of our society.’ Her voice was dull and passionless, as though she was reciting a well-learned speech. ‘We are all new here, even me…’ She paused to mop at her clammy face. ‘I expect you all to be on your best behaviour.’ We nodded in mock serious, all amused by her apparent nerves.

She paused for a few moments, recollecting herself, rummaging through her lesson plans. ‘Okay, girls. Today we’ll start off with reading.’ She picked up a stub of chalk and moved to the blackboard, almost stumbling over her own feet. The chalk screeched as she scrawled out two words.

‘Does anybody here already know how to read?’

My hand immediately shot into the air, my tender age allowing me to feel no shame in showing off. ‘I can, Sister!’ She nodded at me, beckoning me to stand up, and I scrambled to my feet.

‘Tuh… Heh… Eee…’ I felt the sounds vibrate in my mouth, the familiar vowels and consonants melting on my tongue. ‘The… Buh… Bruh… Brotherhood!’ I beamed at the teacher, proud of my accomplishment and expecting the same exultant praise lavished on me by my sister. But she merely gave a curt nod, and bid me to sit down.

‘The Brotherhood, girls. What is the Brotherhood?’

‘The Brotherhood is God’s own society, the sons and daughters destined for eternal life. We are the saved and the forgiven, we are the Holy Ones.’ The words fell smoothly from our lips, having heard them everyday at each church service from the day we were born. They were meaningless to our young minds, merely a chant, but they drew a slight smile from our teacher.

‘Excellent, girls. Now tell me, what lies beyond our walls?’

‘Beyond our sacred walls lies hell on earth, the pit of the damned, those who are destined to eternity with Satan.’

‘And how can they be saved?’

‘By forsaking their lives and joining the one true Brotherhood to work under the wisdom and guidance of our Leader.’

Her face creased into another smile; though instead of giving her features a sense of warmth and cheer, it made her seem distorted, even threatening. Her lips pulled back tightly, baring her slightly stained teeth, and her dark eyes squinted meanly: the face of someone who had forgotten how to laugh. My classmates recoiled from the sight, but I merely felt pity tug at my heartstrings, what was she like before she came here? What was her name?

She began to write again, but was interrupted before the chalk could even squeak against the board. ‘Oh, my…’

A row of cheeky faces lined the window which lay between the girls’ class and the boys’. A glance through the glass at the disorderly classroom showed that the teacher had taken her leave, foolishly leaving the young boys to their own devices. They pulled faces at us, their crossed eyes and poked tongues making us giggle and squeal in delight. Our teacher shook her head nervously, biting her lip as she hurried out of the classroom. ‘Boys! Boys! Settle down!’

With our teacher gone, a wave of chatter and laughter swept over the room. ‘They are so funny!’ shrieked one girl, bouncing up and down with delight, her blonde plait swinging wildly. She rushed to the window and stood on tiptoes, staring into the chaos of the classroom over. ‘Come look!’

We quickly joined her, our small faces peering over the windowsill, laughing wildly at our teacher’s attempts to calm the boys. She grabbed one by the shoulders, but he squirmed out of her grip and kicked her in the shins. We gasped and giggled, quickly bobbing down out of sight when she looked over to us.

‘They’re so silly!' The same blonde girl clapped her hands, almost overcome by mirth. ‘I hope they do that again and again and again. School is so boring.’ She heaved a dramatic sigh, and the class lapsed into silence.

‘We should have some fun!’ A petite redhead piped up from the back. ‘Let’s…’ She faltered. Luckily for our teacher, we weren’t as rowdy as the boys: a wave of schoolyard destruction didn’t appeal to us as much as it did to them.

‘I know!’ I grinned at the rest of the girls. ‘Let’s tell stories!’

‘You mean like the stories at church? About Jesus and stuff?’

‘No no no. Fairytales! Fun stories! Like Cinderella!’ My suggestion was met with a crowd of blank faces, and my smile faltered. ‘Rapunzel? Snow White?’ You’re never heard of them?’

‘Nope.’ The blonde girl frowned slightly, shaking her head. ‘But you can tell us!’

I grinned and motioned for them all to be seated. ‘Today I’m going to tell you the wonderful, magical story of Rapunzel!’ I scrambled onto a tabletop, spreading my arms dramatically. ‘Once, there was a beautiful lady called Rapunzel. She had the longest hair ever…’

I continued my tale in the same lavish fashion, swinging my arms wildly and acting out the characters’ dialogue. I could barely remember parts of the story, but improvisation served me well, and my captive audience didn’t notice. They stared in wonder, having never heard such a tale before. As I progressed, my acting became increasingly dramatic, eliciting laughter and gasps and shrieks from my classmates.

‘And then the prince said, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel! Let down your –”’


The girls screamed and ran back to their desks. I stood paralysed with shock on my makeshift stage, staring at our teacher. Her formerly timid face was contorted with rage, and more red and flushed than ever before. ‘FIRST I HAVE TO DEAL WITH THOSE BOYS, AND NOW I COME IN HERE TO YOU… YOU…’

She grabbed me by my arm and pulled me down. I staggered and tripped, falling to the ground on my knees, shaking with shock and fear. She put her face close to mine, her cheeks once again white, her eyes flashing with anger. ‘What were you doing?’ Her voice trembled with rage.

‘I was… I was just telling a fairytale…’

The teacher cried out wildly, aiming a blow at my head. I ducked and pulled at her hand on my shoulder, attempting to free myself.

‘And where did your first hear that fairytale, my dear?’ Her low voice dripped with malice.

‘My… my sister gave me a book…’

She released me with a shove, and I made a hasty dash to the door.

‘Get out of my classroom, you stupid child!’

I ran as fast as my legs would carry me, barely noticing inquisitive students peeking out of classroom windows. My cheeks burned with shame as I sprinted, not knowing or caring where I was fleeing to, just knowing that I had to get away.

‘She did WHAT?!’

The school teacher cowered before him, her pasty face turning an even more startling shade of pale. She staggered a few steps back, frightened by the ferocity of his outburst. ‘She... She was quoting fairytales, My Le... Leader.’ She stumbled over her words, her expression a curious mix of terror and morbid delight.

‘The young blonde girl? The sister of... of her?’ He shook as he spat out the question, and the teacher nodded quickly, immediately understanding to whom he was referring.

‘She said her sister gave her a buh...’ She flushed red, and leaned in to whisper in a scandalised tone. ‘A book.’

‘DAMN HER.’ He shot out of his chair in a temper, grabbing the edge of his desk and overturning in roughly. It landed with a sharp crack on the cement floor, drawing a terrified squeak from the teacher.

‘Oh, get out of my sight, you foolish woman!’

She stammered out a hasty farewell, and fled.

Finally alone, he sank against the wall, clutching at his chest. He shuddered as he was overcome by wave upon wave of hoarse coughing, his lungs and throat burning. The fit finally subsided, leaving him crouched on the floor with fear, gazing desperately at the blood in his hands.

But no. There was no time to wallow in self pity. He needed to save his flock from that she-devil.

He hurriedly wiped his hands on a tissue, and surveyed the mess he had created. Oh well. That’s what servants are for. He shut the door with a smile.

He walked swiftly to her dwellings, with no need to ask for directions. He had traversed the route so many times in his dreams that it felt as though it was tattooed to the insides of his eyelids.

He swung open her door furiously, half wrenching it off its hinges. She stared up from her sewing, eyes wide with surprise. She looked so alluring, with her soft blond waves of hair cascading over her shoulders, her full red lips, her ethereal blue eyes...

Damn the witch.

‘Books?’ He snarled, striding towards her. ‘You’ve been giving her books to read?’

She quivered slightly, yet stood up to meet him with defiant eyes.

‘Do you realise what you have done? You have exposed a five year old child to the evils of the outside world! You have tainted her pure soul with ungodly thoughts!’ He stepped closer, backing her up against a wall. ‘There is a reason we do not allow books into this society. Stories fill the reader’s head with false hopes and dreams, making them unsatisfied with being the obedient servant of the Lord!’ He gave a bitter laugh. ‘Books will make them willingly flee these walls, sending them straight into the waiting arms of the Devil!’

He moved even closer, his mouth pressed against her ear. ‘You have corrupted an innocent child,’ he hissed, ‘and for that, you deserve death. However...’ He broke off, and leered menacingly. ‘I am a lenient man.’ He brought up a hand to caress her cheek. ‘I’ll turn a blind eye if you’re willing to –’

‘NO!’ She fiercely shoved him away, catching him off guard and causing him to stumble backwards. Her eyes shone with terror and fury. ‘Don’t touch me, you filthy piece of scum.’

‘HOW DARE YOU?’ He roared in outrage, and swung his fist at her delicate face. She was thrown to the ground by the force of his blow, and lay there in a trembling heap.
He growled, and spat at her. ‘You worthless dog. Get up!’

She lifted her face to him slowly. Her cheek was rapidly colouring into a mottled bruise, and blood streamed from her nose, which looked decidedly broken. He grinned, baring his teeth like a wild animal, the sight of her filling him with sadistic satisfaction. ‘I hope you have learnt your lesson, Sister.’

She wiped at her face with the back of her hand, accidently smearing blood over her cheeks and chin. She stared at her soiled hand in horror, then boldly raised her eyes to meet his. Her usually placid features were contorted with hatred, and her dainty mouth twisted into a sneer.

‘You shall never call me Sister again.’

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Chapter One

My story begins with a five year old, her sister, and a book of fairytales.

She presented the hefty book to me with a flourish and a smile, a strange delight making her eyes sparkle. I gazed at it in awe, my eyes feasting on the elegant tome. It truly was beautiful: cursive silver lettering set against black leather binding, with shining gilt edging on each page.

She heaved me onto her lap, and began to flick through the book at random, pointing out each picture as she came to it. ‘See here, baby?’ She gestured at a picture of a beautiful lady leaning out of a tower window, her long blonde plait trailing down to the ground. ‘Isn’t she pretty?’ I sighed my agreement, pressing my face to the page. I wanted to breathe her in, devour her, keep her beauty within me forever. ‘Her name is Rapunzel.’ She smiled down at me, and kissed my forehead. ‘Isn’t that just gorgeous?’

I frowned up at her, my small brow furrowing in concentration. ‘What’s a name?’

She blinked down at me, confusion briefly crossing her features. Then realisation dawned, and a slight sadness settled over her eyes. ‘Oh, you poor child.’ She clasped me tight into her chest, burying her face in my hair. ‘They have taken you completely, haven’t they?’

I squirmed in her fierce grip, repeating my question. She turned me to face her, peering solemnly into my wide and innocent eyes. ‘A name, sweetheart, is something that people call you. It’s special, and belongs only to you.’

‘Like how we call all the ladies Sister, and all the men Brother?’

‘Something like that.’ She bit her lip. ‘Except that everyone has a different name. Just like Rapunzel has a different name to Snow White, who has a different name to Cinderella.’

‘Oh...’ I looked back down at Rapunzel, tracing the outline of her face with a pudgy finger. ‘Do I have a special name, then?’

‘No, baby.’ She smiled sadly, stroking my hair. ‘No one born here does.’


‘It’s what the Leader says, darling, and we all have to follow his rules.’

‘That’s stupid.’ I sighed heavily, making her giggle. I grinned, and entwined my fingers in her long, blonde locks. ‘You have hair like Ra... Ru... Rapunzel. Is that your name too?’

She smiled again. ‘No, baby.’

‘Well, do you have a special name?’

‘I did, once. Before they,’ she pronounced the word with surprising venom, ‘brought me here.’ She sighed gently. ‘But it was so long ago. I was your age, and I’m seventeen now. Too many years passed, and I just forgot.’

‘Oh.’ I wove her hair into a clumsy plait, copying the girl in the fairytale. ‘So then, what do I call you?’

‘Baby, you just keep calling me Sister.’

‘I call every lady Sister, even Mummy.’ I paused. ‘Are you my real sister?’

‘Yes I am, darling. We have the same mother; I was there for your birth.’

‘So you’ve known me all my life. Five years.’ I proudly displayed five fingers. ‘Onetwothreefourfive. I’m really good at counting, aren’t I?’

‘Yep. Just as good as me.’

I nodded gravely, satisfied with her answer. ‘Can you give me a special name?’

‘I would baby, but if someone heard me calling you by a name, I’d be punished. Very, very badly.’


‘Because we must always obey the Leader.’

‘Okay...’ I wrapped my arms around her neck. ‘I don’t want you to be punished, Sister.’

‘Now, why’s that?’

‘Coz you’re my best friend.’

She pulled me into an affectionate embrace, and I could feel her tears pressed against my cheek. ‘Well then,’ she murmured softly. ‘I guess we have to stick together.’


He grasped the pulpit with both hands, glaring at each one of his congregation in turn. ‘What,’ he bellowed, ‘is a name?’ His thunderous voice echoed off the high vaulted ceilings, and made the delicate stained glass windows tremble as though in fear. ‘A name is deceptive; it may seem harmless, but it is really the work of the Devil himself!’ He paused for breath, his broad chest heaving with exertion.

‘A name turns us into an individual! With a name, we reject that we are one unit, all the same, none of us different. None of us are special, none of us stand out of the crowd. We are all CHILDREN OF THE LIVING GOD.’ Here he broke off, reaching for a handkerchief as a fierce cough racked his body. Ugh, he would kill for a cigarette. But no, must keep up appearances.

‘If we reject this truth and try to lead separate lives, we will no longer be part of God’s chosen flock! Names will send us to Hell, to be mocked by the Devil FOR ETERNITY!’ He snarled, scanning the crowd once more. His eyes came to rest on her again. She sat perfectly upright, her blank expression barely concealing her disgust. Damn her. It was bad enough she haunted his dreams, but this ill-disguised contempt made him sick.

She held her younger sister on her lap, occasionally soothing the irritable child with loving whispers. The sight of her gentle words and caresses filled him with inexplicable rage, and he pounded his fist against the pulpit.

‘Call each man Brother, and each woman Sister, for you must never forget that we are one and the same! ONE FAMILY, ONE CHURCH, ONE BROTHERHOOD!’

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


I am nobody.

I am not a friend, a daughter, or a sister. I am neither a lover nor a fighter. My clothes are not fancy, and my smile does not sparkle. I am not talented, special, or even remotely unique.

But then, who am I?

I am the face blending into the crowd, tracing the footsteps of all those before me. I am just one voice of many, chanting the words fed to me since birth. I am the girl in the dungeon: unneeded, unwanted, uncared for, unloved.

I am No Name, and this is my story.