Excerpt for Remnant Tails by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

REMNANT

TAILS


If you like Remnant Tails, don’t forget to check out some of my other works:

 

 

A Girl Named Trouble: An Altered World Novel (1)

Brick & Bones: An Altered World Novel (2)

Beastly Manners: An Altered World (3)

Ampersand: E’haile & Talia (1)

Ampersand: Effusion & Trammel (2)

 

 

Also, be on the lookout for some of my upcoming works:

 

 

Family Matters: An Altered World Novel (4)

Available Winter 2017

Remnant Tails: Criss Cross (2)

Available Winter 2018

A Little Evo: Junebug (1)

Available Spring 2018

Ampersand: Extra & Terrestrial (3)

Available Fall 2018

 

Remnant Tails

By Fey Truet

 

Copyright 2017 by Fey Truet. All rights reserved.

 

No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form (written, electronic, recordings, photocopies, or otherwise); stored in or introduced into a retrieval system without prior written permission of the author, Fey Truet. The exception would be in the case of brief quotes embodied in reviews, critical articles, and pages where permission is specifically granted by the author.

 

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The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this publication via the Internet, or any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic and paperback editions, and do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

 

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The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

To all of those who’re Remnants of your former selves,

The world awaits your reemergence.

Let free your inner child,

And let no harm come from it.

 

Peace!


Winter’s Callous Promises

 

Promises.

I looked down at my best attire, now worn old garments, imminent to fall apart any day now. The threads of the former budding flowers that once made up the lovely dress hung loosely to the weak material.

They reminded me of exhaustion. They reminded me of… well, me.

They reminded me of promises.

Promises. They make up the world, don’t they? Like threads in old clothes?

“Ss,” I breathed in.

I looked both ways checking for the Head before I stopped twining the wires and pulled my sore hands to me. They were red and felt strained. At least they didn’t scratch and callous painfully as they used to.

Didn’t that mean I was used to the work? That they were now strong hands? Strong as the metal wires I wrapped together to make the cable cords that powered Oeffing.

Ahum. Maybe not, but they’re still good hands. Good for keeping promises.

Take care of your brother, even when it’s hard. Promise me, Emare!”

I balled my fists tight as might let me, trying to push away my mother’s ill-burdened face. Even six months past, her sickly heat and heaving chest weighed down my soul and troubled my mind.

Her weighty words and promises, and by heaven I swore to keep to them if it’d ease her tortured soul. Her words…

You are all he has. And… If a creature so loathsome shall appear before either of you in the form of man. Eyes of crystal and a mass of no weight… Then spurn them and refuse them any grant or disdain, for they are soul eaters and will wind your greatest passions against you, for they are demons. Promise me, Emare. That no matter how hard it becomes, that you will persevere for your brother’s sak

“Hey! Fourteen! Get back to work!” The Head yelled, almost causing me to topple over.

“Y-yes!” I called back, grabbing abandoned wires and twining them once more.

A hot blast of steam sneezed in my face as a new bundle of twined wires was melded together. I frowned at it and continued with my own cord.

It was disconcerting that new fellow could finish five bundles in all but nine hours when most of us who had worked here for the better part of three months could barely get two finished.

The new fellow walked by and my eyes darted back to my work.

His hands are big.

Big hands made this job harder. Much harder. That’s why the Head hired me. I had small hands.

“Why do you hire all these whelps? Slow as yolks they all are. Why, that one barely finishes the day’s load,” the new fellow gestured to me.

I bit my lip.

“Yeah?” the Head might’ve agreed. “But that one is the only one who understands the job. The quality of work I get from that one, why, I can sell her cords to those fussy aristocrats uptown. These youngsters are good laborers and would no sooner take to starving on the streets if I didn’t employ them.

Orphans they all are. Shirkers can’t keep up with them since the plague wiped out all the adults in the Outer. Small, nimble hands are good for this job and keep them out of the cold. Those Shirkers ain’t doing nothing, and the town is still too young for a children’s home. All these youngsters have are humble folk like me willing to sacrifice.”

Without another word, the new fellow walked away from the Head. He didn’t like the low class or their children. He called us brats. He didn’t like me. He couldn’t call me a brat.

But still, I agreed with the Head, even if his intentions and his words were unmatched.

To hire a child was a misdeed the Regulators punished adults for. Only, there were a lot of children like me, their Moms and Dads taken by the Dog’s Plague that still ravaged through Oeffing.

I looked at a girl two years younger than I, Marcy, I believe. A young seven. An orphan like me, she had a home, though I wasn’t sure if you could call it a children’s home, though. It was a big building owned by Liviny Spakerse, the widower. She took in children, but to call what she did for them wasn’t care. She was woven from a slightly different cloth from the Head, and Marcy never got to see so much as a dime of her wages earned here.

A blow to the leg of my chair knocked me over to the floor, the wires tangled around my fingers pulled tight and dug in. Wincing, I looked up and saw the new fellow. Tall, balding, and his gut hanging over me, in a kind gesture he picked up my chair that he bumped and caused to fall over with me, but he made no effort to help me.

“Sorry,” he said with a practiced smile, but the narrow of his eye told me his words were just for the Head’s benefit. He meant no apology as he meant to knock me over in the first place.

I gave him a brief nod and got back to work, taking no notice of the new pain in my hands.

Getting angry wouldn’t help me keep my promise.

Besides, my work would suffer, and the words from the Head that my work was approved of by the upper-class brought a smile to my face. It meant that I might just yet have a future to grasp. A future to share with my brother, who, in his condition, might not have his own. I just had to keep up my good work with the cords.

Under and over, then… over and under, I got back into the rhythm of work.

Cords were important. I wasn’t exactly sure why, but they were made out of special metals. Then they were given to special contractors who built special things with them. Like the live wire, or voice gateways. Or even magic doors and carriages.

Magic. An uncouth rumor I was sure, but still…

Here, we twined them together. Then we melded them. At final, they were pulled and tested. The metal, if not corded right, wouldn’t melt together in one unit and would snap, and that caused mini explosions of energy. That would be bad if in real use, we were told.

“Metal of the Gods,” the Head called it.

As I twined it, I sensed nothing godly.

I did feel, however, that big hands a week at the job could not twine wires so fast that it would hold up, but that was proven wrong yesterday, so I closed my eyes and pictured the smile I’d bring to my brother’s face tomorrow morning.

I can almost taste it!

Cake!

After an entire year.

I’d be able to afford cake after I got paid for this bundle. I’d be able to afford the medicine my brother needed. I’d be able to keep all my promises. I’d be able to take proper care of my brother.

He was ill, my brother. Sickly since birth—though not sick enough to ever need to be hospitalized at others inconvenience. It was no surprise to either one of my parents since Mother had a hard time of carrying him.

He’d get sick at the slightest whim and has never been able to walk properly. It surprised me most of all when he survived being plunged through the darkest phases of the Dog’s Plague and nudged his way through it when the plague took Father within hours, who was always so strong, and Mother in only a week, whose strength had declined since her third birthing.

Over six months, though bound to his bed, unlike how a child should be, he was so strong. Unlike how I was: bold and immature, never backing down to boys who wouldn’t let me play swords with them or told me I couldn’t climb trees less they’d see up my dress.

Bound to his bed, his only tether to life being me, he deserved a smile pure from his heart, and not from the struggle he has to overcome. And I made a promise to myself that I’d give it to him.

After all, tomorrow is his birthday. A day to be rewarded for living another year in this harsh world. Done!

I smiled as I coiled the end of the new cord around my wrist tight and made a knot to keep it from unraveling.

I took the other end and hooked it to the puller thing, and arranged the entire length of the cord—equal to twenty of me— in the clutch. I leaned back in my chair, stretching myself long to reach the pedal that kept slipping past the tips of my toes. I finally seized the pedal enough for the machine to start, and fed the puller the rest of the cord as it pulled it along the clutch. When the entire bundle was in the melder, I embraced the blast of steam that rustled my hair.

Take care of your brother, even when it’s hard. Promise me, Emare!”

I closed my eyes and gave my mother the same reply I gave her that dire night with much bolder conviction.

I will mother.

I turned around to get the Head, but there he was, already at the melder.

I ran up to meet him, trying not to seem too eager.

As I ran I held fast to the pouch tied around my neck.

70D.

All the money I had in the world. After today it’d be 76D. 72D for my brother’s medication, 1D for a pound of cake, and 3D for the farmer’s old goat.

I concealed the smile that threatened like a cannon to burst forth. Though surely I’d gleefully skip like a pony as the excitement exploded out of me the minute I walked out of those doors. By Avers, I was rich right now. Indeed very rich. And if only my brother’s medicine weren’t so expensive, well, we could enjoy the months ahead more splendidly.

Ah, well. If wishes could be, the soul’d be spoiled. We’ll get what we need and just a little more.

The Head lifted the melder a whole second before it was finished with the bundle. I gasped again when he picked up the new cord, though it cooled instantly, and he inspected it.

Once again, I thought my smile would slip through when I saw the sheer satisfaction on his face. He reached into his pocket and pulled out ten bills, and my eyes widened. He held the bills in front of me, and I was glad my hands didn’t fall off when I took them.

“If you’re done for the day, then I’ll take this. Eller! Get these cords rigged now! Go get your card swiped, and tell Villend your three days starts tomorrow,” he ordered me, his eyes observing all else but me.

A quarter of the year, I remembered. A three day weekend plus an unexpected bonus. I had completely forgotten, or, actually, I just didn’t think those rules applied to me.

“Ah. Thank you!” I said, and humbly ran off as he grunted.

Ten dollars and an extra day. My brother wouldn’t have to spend the day alone tomorrow. I could give him something more. Not a ball, but maybe a soldier, or even jacks. Or colors! Something he’d enjoy.

I ran to the counter and handed the man my paper work card. The adults got shiny real ones. Everyone else got paper ones once a week that got holes stamped into them.

“The Head says my three day week begins tomorrow.”

“Mn,” the man said and waved me away. “Got it,” he said as I ran off.

“Bye,” Celia whispered to me shyly before turning back to her work. “Good luck with your brother. Tell him Happy Birthday for me.”

“Yes. Thank you. I will,” I slowed to tell her.

Celia was the closest thing I’ve ever had to a friend and lived with her older brother in their inherited house not far from my own. The death of four beloved family members left tired black rings under her eyes.

I ran, then slowed down when I got to the cord pullers.

The rigs.

I wished I could exit through the other entrance strictly for “employees,” but was only allowed through the back, past the cord pullers.

They scared me. All of us.

The adults got to wear the vest, helmets, and glasses to protect them.

We just walked through because running got us fired.

Exactly like that, I began a fast trot to the door.

I spotted the new fellow rigging his cord up not too far ahead of me, but the first cord I did earlier, already rigged, was being pulled already and was holding up like a dream.

I watched, carefully putting one foot in front of the other.

It was amazing how much force a bunch of wires could handle together. I stepped in front of a few guys who began teasing the tester of my cord. “Crank it up to the max! 20D says it won’t hold!”

“Oh, yeah!” The woman teased back, and a hint of fear tensed my step as she did something to make the strain on my cord audible, like a band constantly snapping. A duitra?

After five seconds I heard a whistle. “Yeup! That’s the good stuff!”

I turned back to the door—glad it was ever closer—with a smile on my face.

Then I heard it.

The high-pitched snap, like the high note of a duitra.

I tried to look as thunder burned over the white noise in my ear, but in a blink of an eye, everything went black.

When I could see again, I saw the new fellow standing over me. Shouting?

He pulled down his face, completely missing the sweat that furrowed his brow.

Why was he sweating when it was so cold?

He yelled again, and I wondered why I couldn’t hear anything. I figured I should apologize.

“Sorry,” I tried.

I don’t think it came out.

It felt wrong, and suddenly it felt as if everything below my eyes was plunged in cold water. Even so, my heart refused to hammer as it normally pleased. My blood might as well be cold syrup for all the good it did for me. The only warmth was…

Why can I only see out of one eye?!

I’m sure my eyeball swarmed around frantically, no, slowly. It was all becoming a long, sluggish tunnel. I had no idea what was happening, even as the Head appeared before me surrounded by black.

He yelled something at the new fellow, then turned to me.

The Head.

Reaching out with the eye I could feel, I met the Head’s eyes.

Help me!” I tried, and saw a small red-covered hand reaching towards him.

My hand.

The horror of that revelation found my heart, which tried to rally on my behalf with slightly stronger beats. That awoke some sleeping nerve that sent pain shooting through my body.

Then I heard it.

“I’m sorry! I didn’t see her! My cord snapped the minute I turned the machine on! There was nothing I could do! God!” The New Fellow cried.

Then the Head’s mouth moved in five syllables, “Get rid of the body, fool.”

The Head turned around and disappeared from my sight.

No!

 

~~~

 

I jolted, the cold more bitter than the grave.

I drowned in a pain worse than death.

Snow. Crimson red snow!

I could see it.

In front of me. Around me.

It wasn’t snowing before. But still… I closed my eyes in crimson red snow.

Do you have to go, Emare?” Pohlin, my brother asked.

Before I could answer, his dark hair and red cheeks were already resting on the pillow, asleep.

He’ll be alone, but he’ll be okay until I come back. This time he’ll be thrilled with what I’d bring home.

I gasped, my eye snapping open.

No!

 My eye widened in horror.

Take care of your brother, even when it’s hard. Promise me, Emare!” my mother’s voice haunted me.

I grabbed a fist-full of snow and tried to pull myself forward, but I had no idea where I was.

Couldn’t see where I was.

Is it snowing?

Take care of your brother, even when it’s hard.”

I gasped in exhaustion.

I will. I will! I have to keep my promise!

There was no breath left in my body. Still, I had to see his smile. My mother’s smile.

He had to live, even if the life was oozing out of this very body.

I will keep my promise!

Because if I didn’t, he’d die.

I pulled myself forward one last time.

I couldn’t move afterward as my body became entombed.

I opened my eye one last time before I failed everyone, and saw it.

Green leaves.

They fell like snow and disappeared before they hit the crimson of my grave.

They fell around him.

Him. An old man who seemed to glide over the snow that tried to entomb me.

Through the snow, I saw a shoe made of fine material. It floated over top the deep snow leaving no footprints. The man wore an oddly colored green all over. It was so bright.

A heavy, green coat, and fine green pants.

His face was too far away for me to see.

He was just going to walk past me.

I grabbed his leg.

Help me, I thought desperately.

But that burst of strength left as soon as it came and my hand slid off his pants.

“Bah! Stain my pants will you now! Help you! Pathetic beggar! Why! Why? Why should I help the likes of you! Why should I help anyone! Do I look like I give charity a hint?”

I saw his nice shoe slip under my chin, and he nudged my head up so that I was facing him.

I had absolutely no response to the yellow crystals narrowed at me behind the many, many wrinkles that were his face. I only heard my mother’s words.

If a creature so loathsome shall appear before either of you in the form of man. Eyes of crystal and a mass of no weight—”

“Ah, you know of mine, and you have no fear. Look at you. If you weren’t already dying pitifully—” He bent over and touched a sore spot on my neck. “—I’d be in my very right to kill you, you miserable animal.”

His cold threat felt numb in comparison to my failure. What was it that mother told me about crystal eyed creatures?

“Tsk. I see you don’t care for such trivialities, seeing as your life isn’t what you hold dear. Then what would you say if I paid your brother a visit, eh?”

Take care of your brother, even when it’s hard. Promise me, Emare!”

My brother! I had to get to him. Had… to!

But even as I thought it, my body steadily became one with the lifeless snow that gathered on top of it.

Will.

“Pitiful.” I opened my eye at the old man. “You’ve given your body to labor and your life to your brother. Your thoughts belong solely to your cause, but your ‘mother’ occupies your mind. I see no reason to help you. What could you give me in turn?”

What was it? It was something. She told me.

“Ah,” he expressed, and wrinkles wrinkled over wrinkles as he smiled. “Would you give me them all?”

Then spurn them and refuse them any grant or disdain, for they are soul eaters and will turn your greatest passions against you, for they are demons. Promise me, Emare. That no matter how hard it becomes, that you will persevere for your brother’s sake.”

“Would you ignore your mother’s dying words? Would you sell me your soul?”

“—no matter how hard it becomes, that you will persevere for your brother’s sake.”

“She contradicted herself, that mother of yours. Could it be that she never saw you as I do now? Another pitiful soul, I see. What’s that saying about the apple?”

I could feel my life slipping away. What would I do for my brother’s sake? Would I break a promise that I made at my mother’s deathbed?

No. I didn’t promise I’d die. Or even not to sell my soul. I promised to persevere. For my brother’s sake. I promised to persevere; to take care of him.

I looked at the man, meeting his cat-like pupils in yellow crystals.

I let it show that I’d do whatever it took.

Help me!

Suddenly I was filled with warmth, and with warmth came pain.

I tried to cry out, but where I spoke was the source of all that pain.

“No running before you can walk. How can you express pain before you can even speak?” the man told me.

I felt my limbs again and pushed myself up.

I could see how indecent I was at that very moment.

My dress was burnt around the edges where it was slashed and torn, revealing my torso, and a long gash stretched up my chest and past my collar bone. I felt up my neck, following the gash. It went past my throat, across my face, through my eye, and a little past my hairline.

I sighed.

I felt vibrations and looked down both mortified and fascinated to see my wounds healing. Within seconds all that was left of them were leaf shaped spots all stitched by my scar like a vine.

I looked up and gasped, surprised to see how close the old man had come to me.

“I’ll need you to see perfectly when the time comes,” he said, and waved a hand in front of my face.

For a moment I was seeing double, then everything evened out into one singular vision.

“Ah.” But that wasn’t the only thing that had changed.

My dress had transformed into a lovely, light brown dress made of a material that softly hugged me. Darker brown tights warmed my legs along with fuzzy legwarmers, and new brown boots. Over the dress was a fuzzy coat made of warm down, which made it unbelievable that it was winter.

“In your pocket is a pound of cake. Tomorrow when he arises let him consume as much of it as he desires. Around your neck is as much as you need in your currency.

“In the second level of the city, there lives a barren woman named Ann Setes, your father’s older sister, along with her husband. In exactly a month and seven hours take your brother to her house at 43-621 Opticon Place and let her take your brother as her own.

“On the same day make your way to 723-4 Fleece Drive in the third level and beg Lave’ah for a job. She’ll refuse you at first, but it’ll soon work out. Do not return to the place that robbed you of both money and life.

“From this point onward, you need to support your brother from afar. From tonight and after you’ve attained employment give only half your compensation to your Aunt, save a fourth for his future, and the rest will keep you alive.”

I stared up in shock at the old man.

Surely this wasn’t happening?

The old man blew a white puff from his mouth that soon condensed and turned dark. The dark came, and I breathed it in where it settled inside of me, my skin suddenly feeling too tight for my body.

“Ah! I knew I forgot something!” He snapped.

Then he bent over and pulled up the crimson snow I just lay in and formed it in the air with his hands. He presented it to me, and still, in shock, I took it.

It was warm though it was snow.

“Blow,” he ordered.

I inhaled deep and blew, surprised that I could.

I was even more surprised to see something small and warm moving in my arms.

I jumped as it cried out for a mommy it didn’t have.

A newborn kid, crimson as blood with white socks. A baby goat made from crimson snow.

I remained speechless though in complete awe as I held this new ball of life to my chest.

“There now. I helped you. I expect the favor to be returned. Now listen closely. In this exact spot, you will meet me exactly six years from now. If you fail to do so you will find the consequences most unpleasant. The same is true if you do not follow all my other instructions. Remember, six years time,” he repeated, then he turned and walked off.

A moment later he completely disappeared. There were no footsteps or any other sign that he was here.

When the snow threatened to bury me and the little kid, I hugged it tighter to me and stood. I looked around, remembering that I couldn’t forget this place, and was too shocked to pale at the fact that I was in The Forest of Last Dreams.

Someone had gone way out of their way to get rid of my body.

Only the lost, monsters, and demons lived out here.

I looked around and found a tree with a book carved in it, and followed a dim snowy path back into town. I knocked on the gate though I could’ve easily gone around to one of the many openings in the now dead fields to get in.

Guards, faces whiter than snow at my reemergence, let me through the gates, their solemn whispers following me through the somber streets.

When I was merely a house away from my own I stopped in front of the shiny gold ornamental mailbox of Ol’ Merva, my eccentric neighbor.

I stared at my reflection.

My new reflection.

My long, brown, curly hair was now short and straight with a white streak where the gash had been. Cutting across my face was the vine from the gash that stopped above a green eye that couldn’t possibly be mine—because both of my eyes were dark brown—and continued down my face, throat, and disappeared under my coat.

“I… look different.”

With that, I continued on to my house and went in.

I looked at the baby goat tucked in my arms.

“This is your new home…Scarlet? Let’s go keep my promise, okay.”

So Long the Farewell

 

“Ah! No! Scarlet, don’t eat that!” I said grabbing a new knit from Scarlet!

As usual, I had to wrest it from her to the ground.

The naughty girl found chewing on just about anything a fun pastime and I didn’t have the heart to put her outside, much less let her live out there.

“Why can’t you ever go after normal food? Or even Mr. Spanks’ ‘little notes?’ Why must you go after my work?” I asked before restless tension once again settled in my belly.

I grappled with my breath to no avail.

Fear ruled today. Uncertainty was its commander.

Six years. They all but flew by. Slowly. Just not slow enough.

“Naaaaa,” Scarlet bleated in my ear.

I tittered a bit and got up, pulling Scarlet to me. I took a hard breath and recalled a sniffle.

“You can’t do this at your new home, Scar. They’ll think you mad. You’re not human so you can’t do as you please as you do here. Come now. Let’s get ready.”

I looked at the knit Scarlet had attempted to chew. It was for Madame. Madame Commora Retor. Our best customer at the parlor. I’d never be able to finish the knit she requested in time. And though I told her this when she ordered it a week ago she persisted. I’d turn it in and Lave’ah would assign the job to someone else. This knit just served as a reminder to what my fate was.

“Death,” I said out loud, Scarlet giving me a confused look. “Nothing,” I told her, though I knew otherwise.

It was inevitable, and that inevitability grew stronger and stronger over the years. Everyday my skin, my bones, they felt stretched and grew painfully tighter. Everyday I’d have less and less energy and would have to eat more and more. More and more frightened people became of me and me of them.

Tonight, finally, I’d break the promise to my mother once and for all; for persevering was a choice I’d no longer have.

Bang! I heard outside.

Scarlet ran upstairs. As usual, as I ran to the front.

The seedy, browning green flesh and sickly sweet smell of rotting sweet-melon was all over the front door and porch.

“Witch!” The nasty Larken boy from around the block shouted from a scooter when he was a safe distance away.

“Oh! Really! Then be lucky I haven’t cursed you yet, you insufferable cur! Grow up already!” And I meant that. He was several years older than me with no prospects.

No wonder Maive Darrel turned him down.

He turned wide-eyed to stare at me, not seeing his mortified mother walking their mongrel, and with shocked yelps and pitiful cries, they all collided. I cursed yet another family because that’s what strange people did. That and clean a lot of ill meaning messes from their humble fronts.

I shouted, “Serves you right!” Then sighed after slamming the door.

Today was a cleaning day anyway.

I filled a bucket with detergent and water, grabbed my best brush, and began scrubbing.

Scrubbing and thinking.

I learned only a year ago that it was okay to scream and shout when I was angry. To not care what people thought about me. Even so, it still shook me up.

People were meant to hurt each other but it didn’t mean that it was right. Or maybe I was just wrong and life was meant to be spent overcoming your own hurt and not spreading it.

It only served to frustrate me which was good for scrubbing.

Unfortunately, I cleaned too often, so when I did go for a full house scrub it only took mere minutes. Today I was making it difficult by cleaning the fabrics and textiles too.

All my possessions fit in the small burlap sap I carried to and from work every day. All Pohlin’s old possessions were packed away in his room. When I was done with the couch that’d be all I’d have to do at the house. Well that and the sweet-melon all over the porch, but I was avoiding that until after I ate again. Sometimes my cravings were humiliating.

“Naaanaaa?” Scarlet asked.

I threw off my gloves and pat her head before taking a seat in the kitchen. I grabbed the last head of cabbage and put it down for her, which she helped herself to.

I sighed.

“How come I haven’t figured it out yet, Scar? Aren’t we supposed to be wise and philosophical before we die? Are people supposed to hurt each other or aren’t we? And if we are supposed to hurt each other then why does it feel so wrong? Was I wrong to scare the Larkens? It’s not like I could curse them, though.”

Scarlet bumped me with one of her small horns while eating and I sighed.

“I suppose you’re right. I am a goat too, therefore I should behave like one and not let it bother me. After all, all is said and done. I’ll go get the sheets from the back.

Clean up after yourself when you’re done.”

Of course she didn’t, but I still stacked the chairs on the table and covered every bit of furniture. I put away all the furnishings and locked up anything valuable. I finally ended by boarding up all the windows and packing all the perishable foods in a shopping bag.

When it became too gloomy in the house, Scarlet and I sat outside eating the perishables.

Everything we didn’t eat would be Scarlet’s.

I climbed the tree in our front yard like I had so many times before and stared into the sky.

Boy, would it be nice if I could sleep on a cloud? Then my worries would seem so far away. I hope I get to sleep on a cloud.

I shook my head and jumped down.

Scarlet immediately came to greet me, and I hugged her.

She smelled sickly sweet like sweet-melon.

I cried, “Come on, Girl!”

 

~~~

 

The boy wouldn’t meet my eyes as he fought a frantic Scarlet.

She shared my aversion to strangers.

The woman, the mother, the wife, she scorned me from the window.

Most people distanced themselves from me like her.

The man, Lough, though he was confident and sure in this deal we had arranged months before, now he seemed reluctant.

“So there’s nothing else I need to know?” he asked for the third time as if I was keeping secrets from him.

I kept all the frustration I was beginning to feel towards them, all of them, at a thin boundary right below my voice for Scarlet’s sake.

She isn’t going to grow canines and eat you in the middle of the night, if that’s what you’re thinking, I thought impatiently, but kept it to myself because Scarlet needed a home and I didn’t need to plant any suggestions in anyone’s heads.

“No, that’s basically it. If you can care for her as any other goat, that is what she needs. Scarlet loves other animals and doesn’t have a violent bone in her body. She has a very healthy diet and has never had any problems at all, though she loves to chew textiles.”

Lough nodded like there was a spring in his head he couldn’t stop and I felt hopeless. No one else would take Scarlet but him because of her unique coloring in lieu with her unique caretaker. However, he was the only angora farmer that didn’t slaughter his animals that’d take her.

“Good, good. That sounds fantastic. Is there anything else I need to know?” And I just about sighed. Didn’t he know how hard this already was for us?

I shook my head, my eyes watering again. I had never seen my darling so frantic. Not since she was new to the world. I wonder if that demon had a plan for her after I was gone. He had to know that I wouldn’t be able to care for her, so was she just supposed to turn back into the red snow.

I turned away from her cries.

Not while my heart still beats.

I wiped my eyes and shook my head.

“No,” I said harshly, “so if we’re done, I want to know if she’s in good hands here.”

I stared at Lough for a good long moment, and something in his demeanor changed. He gave me an apologetic smile.

“Yeah,” he said, extending his hand out to me. “The best,” he confirmed.

My shaky sigh signaled I was close to my breaking point. Scarlet would be in good hands, so I took of his hand and squeezed a bit as a threat before shaking. I’d haunt him if she weren’t good in this very hand.

“Thank you.”

And so not to give Scarlet false hope, I turned away and let the tears meant for her to fall along the street.

Who cared who watched.

 

~~~

 

“Oh! It’s absolutely darling!” Manna expressed, squeezing the half-finished print to her face. “Soft too. You didn’t make this with silk? Is this angora? Ahhh! Please let me have it? Sis doesn’t know about it yet, does she? Oh, please, oh, please. You told Madame you wouldn’t be able to finish it anyway, and I’m sure Tiny can make it? Right, C?”

We both turned to Celia, but she was ignoring us.

I… didn’t blame her. Anger through withdrawal was just the way Celia expressed herself.

Especially now that she was on her own.

After today, all she’d have is this place.

Life never gets any easier. Only a different perspective.

“Hey, sourpuss! If you haven’t noticed we’re about to lose a friend. You think you might want to pull your head out of Mrs. Briggs’ toe funk for a minute?” I sighed at Manna, but her tactlessness was what I appreciated most about her.

She spoke her mind. It was just weird how she used our customers’ most disturbing aspects as references.

I put a hand on her shoulder, and when she met my eye I shook my head.

“And, no, Manna. You can’t have that. Even if I didn’t finish it, I still made it for Madame. In—”

“Ahhh,” Manna groaned.

I rolled my eyes, but couldn’t keep the smile off my face.

But, instead, I was thinking you’d like the one that I made specifically for you? But I suppose if you want that one so badly Madame would prefer another whole one.”

I shakily reached into my bag, my bones tightening at the motion, and pulled out a burlap sack decorated with Manna’s name, and then another with Celia’s. I couldn’t wince or show a painful expression if I wanted for the skin on my face felt stretched as tight as our model’s corset.

I was utterly relieved when Manna impetuously dashed over and grabbed her bag from me and pulled out the cake, scarf, hat, and gloves I made her.

“Oh, goodie, goodie, goodie!  So soft. Y’know I always wanted a set since I started working here. You’re the best! Here Celia. Look what she made us.”

Manna grabbed Celia’s bag and threw it into her lap.

Celia sighed and looked down at it.

“It’s cute,” she said, and I let out a tightly wound breath.

Celia opened the bag and ruffled through its contents with the slightest of smiles and the pain I momentarily felt dissipated for now.

“Thanks,” she told me. “So what did you do with your goat? I know you didn’t release her.”

I felt the tears prick at the back of my eyes again and shook my head without allowing them release. “No. I took Tiny’s advice and left her with her uncle.”

“That must’ve been hard?” Celia asked.

I turned to where Manna ran off to the other room. She was bothering one of the hairdressers, most likely showing off. I nodded at Celia.

“I figured. You loved her. You love all of us because that’s all you know how to do. I bet that’s why you still haven’t been to see your brother.”

I froze, and that was exactly the response she was looking for because the dark waves of her hair flew over her shoulder.

She narrowed her eyes at me though I could feel the anger wasn’t completely mine to burden.

“Ugh! Why do you do that to yourself? Don’t you how hard it is to watch?”

I looked towards the door. It wouldn’t be hard to leave, but the weight of leaving things as they stood made it a huge burden. So I turned to Celia.

“Do what?” I asked, though I already knew the answer.

We’ve had this conversation maybe hundreds of times over the last two years.

“Live like this. Every day of your life you’ve always lived it for others. For your father. For your mother. For your brother. Don’t you know that if it weren’t for any of them you wouldn’t be in this situation right now? You could be doing so many things, but because of them all you’re doing is torturing yourself over what you won’t ever be able to do. What you haven’t done yet.

“And if that isn’t bad enough, you won’t even go see the person you sacrificed everything for because you’re scared of that ungrateful little terror. It’s very clear that he doesn’t know how much harm he has done. Even so, don’t you think he deserves to know how much his words have tortured you? That, even now, everything you do, everything you’ve ever done was for him! Even… At the very least, don’t you deserve a little peace? Just to be a little selfish. It’s. This? You don’t know how… hard it is to watch you. You… don’t!”

She was now standing, but it made no difference with the tears flooding down her overheated face.

I covered my own wet face and continued to watch her.

I knew she was aware of the fact that Pohlin and I had fought, but I had no idea she knew to which extent. How long had she been watching me? Scrutinizing my every move?

She knew I hadn’t seen my brother in over two years but was still giving him my all.

I just had no idea.

“What would you have me do, then? You are one of the few people who understand my plight. I’m not… The small life I had was spurned and snuffed out long ago, for now, I live as a ghost in a story, the ending already well known. And it is the right of the living to make choices. All else not in that order is a twisted half truth sure to turn a world black.

“The truth as Pohlin spoke it stands. I made my last decision and now I must endure until it is for naught to do so. And all, and I’m sorry to say, even you, must suffer for it, for I am not so smart as to realize it.

“You say I should be selfish, but can’t you see that I have been? For all I’ve done and even now, suffering is much more suitable than peace. How could I not see it when my younger brother had? And by his own admission, he would not see me for such imprudence. Even so, it remains that my only selfish wish is that the ones I care for are and will remain well.

I am sorry it is hard for you to watch,” I said, but even I could hear the bitterness in that last remark. It reminded me of the argument I brought up earlier.

To hurt, or not to hurt?

Celia fell to her knees, a dilemma of her own working through her eyes. Then she looked up at me. “I will not apologize. Especially when you cannot differentiate between selfishness and selflessness. You are no different from my brother, and he too digs his own grave.”

“I am not your brother!” I yelled at her. “And if I were I’d be ashamed of your behavior. Your brother joining the war was no fault of your own. He left to support you from afar because he felt that he couldn’t do enough here. Could you know how that feels? It’s an impossible feeling, and to leave for war with such low morale, and in spite, you crush his soul even further!”

“I don’t—” she tried, but I wasn’t done.

“You don’t respond to any of his letters. When he came to see you in the last season you refused him your smile and gave him no encouragement before he left. In what state do you think he is in? Do you think the Governess took you in out of the kindness of her heart? He sacrifices for you as I for my brother and does either of you spare us any woe?

“You asked if I knew how it felt to watch me, but now I ask you if you know how it feels to watch you? You hate your brother as my own brother hates me. Am I to take encouragement from the fact that you despise your brother that takes care of you the best way he knows? I don’t know how he can stand to face your bitter rejection, but watching you, I don’t have the courage to be discarded by my brother a second time. I’m sorry if you can’t understand,” I told her closing my eyes.

For a long moment, all we could hear was the sound of each other’s sniffles.

Why do we harm each other as we do? Is it really our right when we’ve been harmed ourselves? It just doesn’t feel right. Is it just not supposed too?

The door suddenly opened, and Manna still wound up from her gift burst in.

“Hey, guys! Lay is here so we… best… go—Uh, did I miss something?”

I wiped away my tears and blinked the rest away.

“Ah. Yes. But the moment has passed. You say Lave’ah is back. I must see her at once. Celia?” I asked.

I turned to see her still mopping up. She shook her head and then raised herself to meet my eyes.

“The moment has not passed. You say choices aren’t for the dead, but for the living. Then I order you to see your brother, your courage aside. If your brother is truly like me then he doesn’t hate you! He just wants you to stop being stupid without considering others’ feelings!”

Celia bumped into me as she rushed past.

“Lave’ah. I must take a personal day. I am not feeling well,” I heard Celia say as I rushed out behind her. Only she hurried out the moment Lave’ah gave her permission, and disappeared into the throng of people bustling about outside the boutique.

“Okay? Now I know I missed something. Is she going to be okay?” Manna worried, her eyes wider than I’ve ever seen them.

I couldn’t help but smile. With Manna around, Celia would be okay.

“Yes,” I answered, locating Madame’s knit tucked in the waistband of Manna’s pants.

I snatched it from her earning a “Hey!” and went to Lave’ah.

She crossed her arms.

“When you first came to work here you promised me that you’d never cause me any problems as I recall. But you haven’t been anything but, since. Today, because of you, two of my girls aren’t in and you just sent one running. I’ve lost customers. Been yelled at. Harassed. Even stalked. What have you to say for yourself, Ms. Emare Tales?” Lave’ah asked.

To a stranger, I’d imagine, she sounded irate, but I could hear the inconsolable endearment in her richer voice.

I smiled and handed her all the final assignments I promised her customers.

“I finished all the alterations and knits, and even the Brogdan’s patterns, but unfortunately for Madame, I didn’t get all the way through her bond hat.”

My boss sighed and pulled out the silk moiré and linen patterns I put together. “I’m surprised you finished this much. I’ll give these to the girls downstairs to work on. I expect all your work is satisfactory as usual?”

“You’re not going to inspect them?”

She’s never gone a day without inspecting all of my work and giving her approval.  My mouth hung a little.

She pursed her lips and I could almost hear the growl in its stead.

“Do I need to?” There was her growl.

“Oh. Ah. No. It’s my best effort at best. I mean. Uh? Better than my usual quality.”

“Good! Helene has your final pay if you are taking immediate leave,” she said, me hearing the reluctance in her voice.

Surely she didn’t want me to stay?

“Ah, yes. It’s getting late and there are still a few more things I have to do. But I want to thank you for the party you let the girls throw for me last week. It was really kind.”

She considered me for a moment.

“Oh, my gosh, Sis! Is your face actually red? Hahaha! You’re blushing! Hey, everyone! Lay is blush—”

I backed away when Lave’ah grabbed Manna and put her in the next worst thing to a chokehold. Even frightened, I was a bit jealous.

Those two always fought like that, though siblings, and yet you could see how much love was still there. Pohlin and I never fought until he told me he hated and never wanted to see me again for I was a freak.

Walking corpse!”

I took a deep breath that hurt in my chest.

“I have... to go now.”

I turned around and rushed for Helene, whose face pulled down in disgust.

Not everyone here was sad to see me go.

“Here!” she said, throwing my final wage card at me so I wouldn’t come any closer. 30D, it read. An honest pay. Even so, I still heard those words.

Walking Corpse!”

I started to run out, but when I got to the door Lave’ah called out for me.

I stopped and considered running out, but slowly turned around and met her eye.

“For what it’s worth, you weren’t an incompetent employee. If circumstances should change in your life, you should know that you are always welcomed back. I didn’t completely mind the problem you were,” she said.

I stared at her for too long.

She growled, “Ahem!” at my rudeness which made me jump.

“Uh. Thank you!” I cried out.

Before I broke apart I ran out, ignoring Manna’s farewell.

With permission now, I had one last place to go.

What Is Love?

 

There was a book I used to read Pohlin. What is Love, it was called.

I hated it, though it was Father’s favorite. It soon became Pohlin’s favorite as well.

I couldn’t even begin to imagine why.

In the book, there is a boy who follows a mole to a feast for all life. When the boy tries to eat, the food is taken from him and all the Earth’s creatures try to throw him out, so the boy asks why. All the animals and plants tell him it is because humans lack love, and the feast is only for creatures who share Mother Earth’s and Father God’s love. So the boy leaves the feast to discover what “love” is and why humans don’t have it. He searches the very edges of Earth until he is very old.

The story, for all its beautiful illustrations, doesn’t have a happy ending.

When Pohlin and I were still together, he’d have me read it to him every evening before I left for work.

“Why do you like this story?” I’d asked. “To say that we are discriminate and uncaring and take without giving anything back to the world is wrong. I don’t like this story.”

His answer shocked me.

“I like it because the boy reminds me of you, Emare. You love without even realizing it and go overboard when you don’t have to.”

I was speechless.

I was nothing like the boy in the story, but just for today, I hoped I could be.

I arrived at the gate to the second level and showed the keeper a residence pass. It was the one my father’s sister’s husband gave me so he could receive the payments for my brother’s expenses.

Father wasn’t my real father so his sister considered me nothing to her. My brother’s relatives had hated Mother.

I had no other relatives I knew of.

I only had Pohlin.

I took the pass because I had no idea what would happen to Pohlin if I didn’t pay.

For the most part, Ann and Caid Setes did seem to care for Pohlin as their own. I think part of it was due to the fact that they hadn’t been blessed with children of their own. But the demon was right to direct me to them. They were middle class and could provide for Pohlin in ways I could only dream. They even put him in their will.

Pohlin attended an expensive school and had a meal at all three wakes with snacks in between. They bought him clothes at every growth spurt, or even just on a whim, and the presents they lavished him with made the little notions and knick-knacks I used to smother him with senseless.

I mean, what is a kiss and a colored pen as opposed to a gateway.

Pohlin had a family in the sense of the word and I only served as an embarrassment.

I looked up at a clock and saw that it was at the fifth hour.

Because I knew nothing of this place, I decided to head straight for the Setes residence.

Pohlin, I feared, would be done with school by this hour.

I could knock out two task at once and be done with it.

People stared at me, and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out what was different this time. I looked the same as usual. Was it because this was it? My last time here?

Then I realized what it was. I had never been here during the peak hours. Sometimes I came early in the morning, and other times I came after dark. There were never so many people out when I frequented and I scarcely crossed people my age. But at present, they were everywhere in this level.

It was mostly girls.

I couldn’t help but to stare at their uniforms, which they all seemed to wear, that all seemed identical in style.

Black or brown dress shoes. Bare or stocking legs. Solid dark skirts that varied in length. The snow white button-ups under the different colored vests, all of them with bandannas that matched each colored color.

It was unique how they all wore the bandanna differently. Some used them to tie up their hair or wore it as a headband. Others wore it around their neck like a scarf or tied it around their arms or legs. But the majority of the girls I saw had them wrapped around their waist like a belt. I caught onto the style and also noticed that certain age groups wore certain colors. The youngest I saw wore white, and the oldest, black. Everyone in between wore beige, brown, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet, and grey.

Then in staring at them, I messed up big time.

Somewhere along the way, I took a wrong turn.

I looked at the street sign and saw letters that didn’t spell out “Opticon Pl” as I was so used to but “Trevors Ln” which I couldn’t read.

“Oh, no!”

I looked around and couldn’t even tell which part of the three way fork I came from.

Why are there so many pathways?!

I looked at all the people, trying to gauge a tolerant soul, and just about paled. Many narrowed eyes found my humbly mislain form.

I couldn’t stand here looking lost.

“Well, I guess I’ll go, um, this way,” I pointed to the path straight ahead of me.

So I walked along “Converge Ln” wishing I could read even one of the signs, and walked, and walked. In short, I never found Opticon Place along that path. What was worse was I was growing hungry, and with hunger, my skin grew too tight for my human frame.

“Oh,” I wailed miserably.

I let my head hang as I stood there for a moment when I felt my nose flair.

Sugar and sweetness flooded around me carrying me on a river of confectionery goodness. It was such a sweet feeling I never wanted to—

Thunk!

Apparently, the window had other plans.

Blood and heat rushed to my face and neck even before I heard the laughter and snark remarks. I squeezed my eyes shut before opening them and pushing myself up.

The smell caught my nose again when the door of the bakery, I somehow managed to drag myself to, opened and bathed me once again in sweetness.

I turned back to the window, and, in a glowing case, soft textured cream cups swirled to paradise caught my attention as the heavenly white delicacies basked in all the world’s light.

 My mouth watered.

Then I saw the crispy brown crumbs topped on red waves of cream, a huge wedge revealing the gentle orange texture sponged to perfection. My head tilted towards golden cookies, some filled with mountains of brown, white, or multicolored bliss, while others were topped with rainbows straight from cloud nine, and I—Bumped my head again.

It was a good thing too. It was just what I needed to snap out of my hunger induced deliria. I had to find the Setes Residence; not get lost in my hunger.

 Even so, I couldn’t help but think Scarlet would love something from here. She loved sweet things as much as I.

I stole one last glance at the display counter and sighed. That was when I noticed the boys at the booth directly on the other side of the glass from where I stood red in the face. They squeezed their mouths to prevent their laughter from escaping.


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