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.