Laying on her back in the grass beside a dense patch of colorful flowers, Nellie watches a small bee press its face into the yellow center of a cluster of purple. It wiggles and turns, fluttering on near-transparent wings from one blossom to the next. Balling her left hand into a fist, she covers it with her right whispering an old nursery rhyme to herself.
“Here is the beehive,
Where are the bees?
Hidden away where nobody sees.
Watch and you’ll see them come out of the hive.
Wiggling her fingers she dances them across a clear blue sky until a wasp, an elongated bright yellow blur, buzzes angrily around her. Lowering her hand, she watches it circle the purple flowers several times and then dive onto the bee. It tears the fuzzy insect into two pieces within seconds. The sudden brutality makes her feel dizzy and her stomach begins to burn. Death. That’s right. Things die.
Sitting up she examines the piece of bee left behind, cradling it in the palm of her hand. We are supposed to bury the dead; like the lizard behind the house last summer or the bird on the east shore after the big storm a few months ago. We bury the dead.
Using her fingertip she scrapes a tiny hole in the ground below the flowers, sets the remains into the hole, and covers it up. Poppy yawns loudly from a patch of sun in the grass, stretches, and then bounds over to sniff the hole with his big, black nose. Nellie rubs the golden fur around his neck.
“It’s okay boy,” she says.
Happiness floods her as Poppy licks her cheek, she’s grateful labradors live forever. The smell of fresh bread draws her attention back toward home; a three-story manor set in the exact center of the island. It’s surrounded by a circle of bright green grass dotted with marble statues, colorful flower beds, and the occasional three-tiered fountain. She’s not allowed alone beyond the trimmed grass into the small forests or the rocky beaches. It’s not safe.
“I’m back,” Nellie cries, flinging open the wide double doors.
There’s no sound but she knows where everyone is mid-morning when Papa is off-island. Tom’s weeding the vegetable gardens, Maggie’s cleaning the third-floor bedrooms, and Heidi’s baking. She leaves her ballet flats beside the round decorative rug and runs down the grey marble hallway toward the big, bright kitchen. Poppy barks and follows at her heels.
“What in the world?” Heidi says as Nellie arrives a split second before the panting and barking dog.
“You really shouldn’t run in the house, dear.”
“Tom brought in some peaches to be sliced and sugared. Would you like them now?”
“No, I’ll wait for the bread.”
Nellie sits down on one of the large wooden stools and presses her palms against the cool, sparkling white marble countertop. Heidi pours fresh lemonade into a clear glass and sets it before Nellie and then returns to the stove to stir a large silver pot of bubbling liquid with her enormous wooden spoon. It smells of fresh rosemary and carrots.
Heidi wears a twisted golden chain around her neck and has dark black hair she keeps in a low tidy bun. She loves peppermint tea and extra-large sunflowers and bakes the most delicious chocolate cake in the world. Her favorite color is yellow and she wears it every day under long, stained white aprons with the thick strings tied into a big bow across her lower back.
Nellie wishes she’d be allowed to help with the chores or the cooking but Papa forbids it. His daughter isn’t about to do something as lowly as chores. He calls her his princess, his shining jewel, and his guiding light. Papa loves her.
“Heidi is not family,” her Papa always says. “She’s one of them. You are not. You are better in every way. Do not forget. You are mine and that makes you special.”
Her Papa, Lord Faron, does important and secret things far from the island. A large jovial man with shiny golden hair, he fills the house with his thunderous laugh and fills his silver helicopter with large wooden crates full of gifts each time he returns home. He never stays more than two days and he won’t let Nellie leave the island.
“The world isn’t what you think it is, my dearest Nells,” he says. “You are safe here and you are loved. There’s nothing more important in the entire world than you.”
Heidi slices the sourdough bread into thick pieces and butters one for Nellie adding a sprinkling of cinnamon and sugar. She places it on a round, white plate rimmed with golden stars and adds a small yellow flower to the side.
“Here you are, dear,” she says.
“Here’s a little something for you too.”
Pulling out a turkey leg saved from dinner last night, she hands it to Poppy who begins loudly gnawing and tearing at the meat still left clinging at the knuckle end. Such a good dog, Nellie thinks. The best dog. After taking a drink of lemonade she wiggles her damp fingers in the air.
“What does dead mean?” Nellie asks.
She hadn’t meant to bring up an off-limits topic but seeing the dead bee has unleashed a flurry of questions within Nellie she can’t seem to stop. Poppy died once. He fell into a hole and broke his neck. Nellie saw his lifeless body and cried and cried. They buried him in the garden but he was back jumping around within a few days. Maybe that’s what happens when you die. Will the bee return to the flowers within a few days?
“Why are you asking me this?” Heidi says.
She’s stopped stirring the pot but she hasn’t turned around. Nellie wishes she could see her face to see if she’s mad at her. Her voice sounds soft and kind like it always does.
“I saw a bee die. A wasp tore it in half. I buried the half it left behind like we’ve done with the other dead things…like Poppy. Was that the right thing to do?”
“You did the right thing, dear.”
Nellie considers more questions but she feels overwhelmed by them. There’s so much she doesn’t understand and Papa says to not worry about it. It’s better to be loved than to wonder about things. She hopes he’s right.
“Oh, I forgot to tell you,” Heidi says, turning towards her with a big smile on her face. “Your father is coming home tonight.”
“I got the word this morning and it’s why I’m making extra bread and a giant stew. He’s bringing with him a special gift for you and he wants you to wear the turquoise dress he bought you for your birthday last month.”
Nellie pushes the plate away and bounces in her seat. Papa’s coming and bringing her a special gift! For her entire 13 years of life, he’s always managed to surprise her with the most marvelous things! Exquisite pieces of artwork, ceramic figures of every creature on the planet, exotic chocolates, and candies, every kind of toy imaginable, clothing made from the finest of silk or the softest of wool, and her favorite thing—art supplies.
“I’m too excited to eat now!”
“We are all excited.”
Her voice doesn’t match her words and Nellie stares at the woman who has been the only constant in her life besides Poppy and Papa. There are wrinkles around her eyes and mouth and her lips are pressed so tight they’ve almost disappeared. She tugs on the chain around her neck and then turns from Nellie to pull more ingredients out of the refrigerator for the stew.
“I’m going to go upstairs and get ready,” Nellie says.
Heidi turns and smiles.
“He won’t be arriving until dinner, dear. There’s no rush.”
“I know. I want to wrap the painting I finished yesterday of the sunrise over the eastern wall so I can give it to him as a gift. I hope he brings more cadmium yellow and ultramarine blue. I’m almost out of both.”
“There’s some purple silk left in the sewing room if you want to use it for wrapping and at least three colors of ribbon…blue, pink and orange I think. I should place an order for more, especially if you want me to make Poppy another fancy vest.”
“Poppy could always use another fancy vest.”
Heidi laughs. Poppy follows Nellie as she leaves the kitchen and walks up the left side of the winding wooden staircase, down the long carpeted hallway, and into the rounded art room facing away from the sun. The light is always perfect through the many windows and Nellie takes a deep breath.
Poppy settles into a large basket in the corner of the room with his bone while Nellie weaves through her mess of easels and paint-covered tables until she reaches the giant windows. Pressing her forehead into the glass she looks past the lawn, past the helicopter landing pad, and the tiny pebbly beach until she finds the white peaks of the ocean waves. Her insides burn with the familiar ache of longing, a kind of primal instinct to be free, an emotion she rarely allows to linger within herself.
“Someday,” she says out loud.
Poppy barks as Maggie enters the room and curtseys. She looks the same age as Nellie with fat pink cheeks and short brown hair which stops sharply at her chin. Although it’s no secret Nellie has never left the island, her face burns with embaressment thinking the maid might have heard her talking to herself.
“Sorry to interrupt but I wanted to be sure you knew your father was coming tonight.”
Her voice squeaks and the volume is all wrong. Poppy barks again and Maggie giggles. Her large breasts move too much. She’s not wearing a bra, or if she is, it’s not a very good one.
“Silly dog,” Maggie says.
Nellie’s hands clench into fists. Poppy is an amazing wonderful dog. He is not silly.
“Yes, I know he’s coming. Do you need something?”
Nellie’s voice comes out in a harsh rush, but she doesn’t feel bad. The maid and gardener are new each year and she’s used to them being strange and annoying. They aren’t like Heidi or Poppy or Papa. They are different.
“Oh…no,” Maggie says. “I just wanted to let you know about your dad coming and to say if you need any help getting ready I can help you. I can help with anything.”
“I can dress myself, thank you.”
Maggie takes a step closer to Nellie and reaches her hand out as if she might touch her. Nellie flinches and Maggie tucks her hands into the pockets of her long black dress.
“I didn’t mean anything like that…I just mean if you need anything…or if I could help you or…keep you company or something. You know…if you need anything I’m here. Anything at all.”
Maggie wears black makeup under her eyes, thick dark socks, and shiny black shoes with sharp pointed toes. Nellie thinks of the strange black birds who tear fruit off the trees in the garden. They sound a lot like Maggie and for a second Nellie imagines she’s one of the birds, transformed into a human temporarily.
She pictures her sharp talons sinking into the soft flesh of her forearms and a curved pointed beak pecking out her eyeballs and wonders if dying hurts. Maggie smiles and giggles again. Nellie worries if she’s reading her mind. She takes a step back until she’s leaning on the big window and thinks Poppy will save me.
“See you later then,” Maggie says.
Poppy barks. Nellie says nothing and watches her go. She knows the people who come here pity her—the pretty girl locked away on the island who knows nothing.
When she was five the maid was an old woman named Caroline who told Nellie stories of little princesses who were killed by wolves or poisoned by witches. She’d hide behind doors and jump out and scare Nellie or hit her with a stick in the garden when nobody was looking. She wore thick black-framed prescription glasses and smelled of onions.
When she was seven a gardener named Robert told her about scary monsters who live in the jungle with huge silver teeth who hack children into tiny pieces and shove them into large leather trunks. He showed her a sharp knife he kept in his boot and pressed it against his neck until it went in and he fell. His dark blood pooled around him and flowed into the fish pond.
When she was ten a maid named Sandra showed her pictures of a small boy with no hair and too-weak legs who couldn’t walk. He rode in something called a wheelchair and had to hide from the people who thought he should die. She said Papa was one of them but Nellie didn’t believe her.
Last summer the gardener was named Giles and he loved to tell her stories about riding the railroad as a small child in Italy. His accent was thick and wore a chunky black metal bracelet on his left wrist stamped with the words “vivere liberi.” He told her plants can only photosynthesize when they have light and that Nellie needed light too. He wanted her to leave with him on a small boat he hid in a cluster of bushes on the south beach but she couldn’t leave the island. She just couldn’t.
Nellie doesn’t know where the gardeners and maids go when they leave. They fly in with Papa on his helicopter but she’s never seen one fly back out. She saw a gulley once running through the wild part of the island to the west filled with deep, churning water. She imagines they might be there, living dead under the water or swimming out to sea. Maybe Giles left in his boat.
Turning from the window Nellie shakes her head to free herself of the troublesome memories of gardeners and maids—nothing good comes of thinking of the past. She finds her painting of the sunset sitting lopsided on its easel and she straightens it and looks at the cascade of colors from yellows to pinks. It’s one of her best ones. She wishes she could read because the art books have words and maybe they could help her learn faster, but Papa says words are evil and people can use them to hurt her.
Once Nellie wraps the present she finds the house in a flurry of activity. Papa’s gleaming golden throne in the formal dining room has been polished until it’s almost too bright to look at and the long wooden table has been covered with vases of sweet-smelling flowers, sparkling white napkins, and golden plates. Tom’s running a cloth over every surface in the house, while Maggie runs through the halls with a dry mop to capture any stray Poppy hairs or dirt. Heidi is putting the finishing touches on a three-layer dark chocolate and strawberry cake.
Nellie curls her long blonde hair into thick, beautiful ringlets and dresses in her turquoise silk dress which stops at her knees with a fluffy white petticoat underneath and strappy gold sandals. Sitting in an ornate wooden chair on the front porch, she crosses her ankles and waits. The silken gift lays across her knees and Poppy lays in a basket beside her. She plays with the heavy strand of black pearls around her neck, twisting them until she worries they may break.
It’s a long time before the sound of the helicopter fills the night sky. Nellie wishes she could run into Papa’s arms like she used to when she was little, but she’s expected to wait patiently on the porch for him since her last birthday. She hates it.
“Women know how to wait,” he told her. “Smile. Be still. Wait. Let me come to you. Be a vision of peace for me to enjoy when I arrive.”
Her heart pounds when she sees him walking across the lawn toward her. Papa has come home! There are two big men with him carrying a wooden crate and a small woman carrying something grey in her arms. They form a kind of parade across the dark green lawn, silent and slow. Nellie twists the fabric of her dress but then quickly releases it and hopes it didn’t create any wrinkles.
When they are closer, Nellie can see the thing in the woman’s arms is alive. She fears it’s a puppy and looks over at Poppy and silently swears to never love anything as fiercely as she loves him. He can’t be replaced.
“My darling daughter,” Papa calls.
“Welcome home, Papa.”
It takes great effort to keep her voice low and even. She remains sitting but her legs are shaking and she can’t stop them. He’s standing at the bottom step beaming up at her with sparkling blue eyes the color of the morning glory flowers climbing up the walls of the manor. He’s wearing a divine suit of rich velvet blue.
“What’s on your lap, dearest?”
“A present for you, Papa.”
“You are the best daughter in the world! I’ve brought you gifts too but let’s go inside and eat before we spoil ourselves with presents. I’m starving.”
Heidi, Tom, and Maggie greet them in the entryway looking clean and polished in matching black and white suits. There’s no trace of color on any of them while they look at the floor.
“Welcome home,” Heidi says.
“I’m ready to eat,” Papa says.
Heidi bows low. Maggie and Tom try to copy the gesture but they look clumsy and silly. Nellie almost giggles.
“Right this way, sir.”
Dinner is a wonderfully rich stew filled with all the vegetables of the garden, still warm fresh bread topped with thick slabs of butter, and a delicious cake. Papa doesn’t speak when he eats, except to make “mmmm” sounds occasionally. He eats and eats until he finally sets his soiled napkin on the table and laughs. Nellie copies him.
“How are you, my beautiful Nells?” he asks from his golden throne.
His hair has grown longer since she saw him last and one of his curls has wrapped itself up and around his bejeweled crown. Not sure what she’s supposed to say, she looks to Heidi for guidance but she’s back in the kitchen. Maggie stands by the door and gives her a thumbs up and she almost throws her soup spoon at her face. She doesn’t want help from her.
“I’m wonderful Papa,” Nellie says. “Poppy and I are both simply splendid.”
“That’s music to my ears dear one. This is why I come here to see you. You brighten my day with your beauty and your optimism. It’s a rare commodity these days I’m afraid. Most people are simply too selfish to care about such things. They are more concerned about their own needs than providing for others. Can you imagine? People fighting each other over a loaf of bread when there is such beauty as you in the world? They have lost perspective.”
Nellie doesn’t really understand when Papa talks like this. She nods and smiles, but the words are confusing. For years she’d pepper Heidi with questions after he left about the outside world, but she’d tell her nothing. Now, she doesn’t even wonder anymore. There’s no point.
“Oh, I’m so tired my dear little princess. The world outside has worn your dear Papa down. People fight all the time, yelling and clawing and acting like wild animals. They want me to give them all I have, to save them, but they don’t want to do the work they are given. I have provided everything for them and all I ask for is perfect obedience. Some of them have forgotten what the world was like before the last big war when the sky was torched black and the seas ran with blood. They want to drag us back to being monsters, but I won’t let them. I won’t!”
Papa pounds his fist on the table and growls. Nellie hasn’t seen him angry in a long time and it makes her frightened. Heidi has returned from the kitchen and she’s smiling warmly at Nellie and petting Poppy. Nellie takes a few steadying breaths, like Heidi taught her, and returns the smile to her face before Papa looks her way.
“Oh, what am I doing? I let those beasts drag me down to their level and in the courtly presence of my beautiful daughter. Unacceptable. Please, dearest, will you accept my apology?
“It’s okay, Papa.”
“I suppose everything is okay dear one, especially when there are dinners like we just ate and presents to be given out.”
He claps his hands together and his men enter the room carrying the large wooden crate. They set it on the floor and use a metal crowbar to pry open the top. They nod to Papa and exit the room, followed by the rest of the staff including Heidi. Nellie feels her heart will burst with joy finally having her Papa to herself. She nudges the silk package on the table and smiles.
“Open yours first, Papa,” she says.
“Always the generous one. The good one. The perfect one. My Nels.”
The blue ribbon and silk come off in one quick movement of his large hands. Holding the canvas before him with outstretched arms he examines it for several minutes before staring at Nellie with tears in his eyes. When he speaks his voice is slow and full of emotion.
“This is the best gift I’ve ever received.”
“I’m so glad you like it.”
“Come and give your Papa a hug.”
This is the moment Nellie has been waiting for and she leaps from her seat forgetting her lady-like demeanor and throws herself into his big arms. Large belly laughs erupt from deep inside Papa making her entire body shake along with his. They laugh and hold each other for several minutes. He runs his fingers through her curls.
“My girl,” he says.
They walk arm and arm to the large crate and pull things out to examine together. It’s filled with boxes of paint, blank canvases of various sizes, several new dresses, a sapphire necklace, and two pairs of leather boots. Nellie thanks her father over and over and he keeps pulling her into him for long warm hugs. It feels like old times. The final gift is a black and gold leather trunk. Papa taps the top and smiles wide.
“This goes with your big gift,” he says to her and then raises his voice and calls, “bring it in!”
Nellie jumps up and down until the woman she saw earlier enters with the grey bundle held tightly in her arms. As she gets closer Nellie can see pink cheeks, blonde curls, and bright blue eyes beneath the blanket. The thing makes a small cooing sound and Nellie steps back.
“What is it?” she asks.
Papa and the woman laugh which makes Nellie feel stupid. Anger flashes across her cheeks and into her chest. Her fists have balled up on their own and she looks for Heidi but she’s not in the room. She’s having trouble breathing.
“It’s your baby,” Papa says. “A tiny little baby for you to play with and care for. You are getting older and I thought you might like it.”
He opens the trunk and pulls out knitted baby clothes all the same shade of pink, soft blankets, and piles of white cloth diapers. Nellie stares at these things but doesn’t understand. Why did Papa bring her a baby? The woman hands the warm bundle of blankets to her and she looks down at its small pink lips and squashed flat nose. It’s too heavy.
“You can name it whatever you like,” Papa says. “Anything at all!”
“Juniper,” Nellie says. “Juno Juniper.”
She’s not sure where the name came from but she likes it. The baby moves in her arms and opens its mouth to reveal a bright red tongue. It’s scary and Nellie drops it onto the ground where it begins to scream. The sound is high-pitched and terrifying. She covers her ears and scoots away from the sound until her back is against the cold stone wall.
The red-haired woman scoops the baby up and rocks it in her arms and everyone is looking at Nellie with a strange expression on their faces. She knows she must have done something wrong, but she doesn’t understand any of this. Is she supposed to care for this thing? Take care of it like Poppy? She doesn’t want to.
Heidi enters with a glass bottle of milk fitted with a brown rubbery nipple. She looks from Nellie to the baby and then hands the bottle to the red-haired woman. The baby sucks at it greedily, still crying a bit. Milks pours out the sides of its red mouth. Heidi smiles at Nellie.
“It’s okay,” she says.
“I don’t like it,” Nellie whispers.
Heidi turns from Nellie to find Lord Faron sitting back on his throne laughing. It’s all been a big game for him. She kneels before him and speaks in a low voice she hopes disguises her anger.
“She’s not ready for this, sir,” Heidi says. “Please reconsider. She’s just a child.”
“Just a child!” he screams. “She’s a princess. She’s my princess and I’ll do with her as I wish.”
“But sir,” Heidi says. “Look at her.”
Nellie shakes with fear as Papa stands. Heidi leaps to her feet and stands in front of Nellie with her arms out in front of her. She makes a small noise, a sound Nellie has heard her make when she’s trying to settle Poppy after she’s torn up something in the house and is running around barking.
Papa slaps Heidi hard across the face and she falls to the floor without a sound. She rolls into a ball as Papa kicks her over and over with his large black boots. The sound is terrible and Nellie screams. It lasts for a long time, the kicking and the screaming.
“No, Papa! No. No. No,” Nellie cries into her hands. “Please, no.”
Poppy growls and lunges at Papa and he kicks the dog hard enough it scoots across the floor and lands in a motionless heap against the far wall. Nellie screams again. She can’t breathe. None of this makes sense. She wants to run but her legs aren’t working. None of this is right. None of this is supposed to be happening.
Moving toward Nellie with darkened eyes and red cheeks, Papa growls low in his throat and then shakes his head and stomps his feet. His breathing is shallow and fast and he waves his hands in front of him as if trying to clear the room of smoke after lighting a candle. Kneeling in front of Nellie he takes her hands into his and squeezes them so tight it hurts. When he speaks his voice is low and gruff.
“My dear child. I know you don’t understand what’s happening but you may never ever question me. If you start to question me then you become like them and I’ll be forced to make life a lot harder for you. You are supposed to bring me joy, but the moment you do not do that anymore, things will change for you. Am I clear?”
“You will take care of the child. When I return you will smile and greet me with a peaceful nod. None of the weaknesses you’ve shown tonight will be evident. You will be strong and capable. You are my daughter and you will rise up and be who you are supposed to be. Do you hear me?”
Returning to a standing position he pulls Nellie into his arms and hugs her tight. She shivers, the warmth of their reunion completely gone now. He kisses her on the head and walks quickly from the room. Without moving, she listens as he barks orders at his men and they leave the manor. It’s not until she hears the helicopter sounds fading away does she dare move.
Heidi lays on her side and blood has formed a pool around her mouth. Nellie sits beside her and Poppy limps over and weakly licks her hand before falling down. The baby cries from inside the empty trunk. Nellie covers her face in her hands and rocks back and forth.
She’s vaguely aware of Maggie and Tom touching Heidi and Poppy. They walk around the room and whisper. Nellie doesn’t want them to be here but she doesn’t want to be alone.
“Nellie?” Maggie says. “Nellie, dear?”
She looks up and finds the maid’s eyes wet with tears. There’s a kindness in her soft face she didn’t have before or maybe Nellie didn’t want to see it before. She lets Maggie pull her to her feet and hold her until the sobs inside her quiet and stop.
“I’m so sorry,” Nellie says.
“What for dear?”
“I did all this.”
“No, you didn’t. You didn’t do anything wrong. It’s not your fault. None of this is your fault. Do you hear me? None of it. Right, Tom?”
He’s standing beside them rocking the baby in his arms. He nods and looks from Nellie to Heidi and gives her a weak smile.
“Heidi is dead isn’t she?” Nellie says.
“I think so,” Tom says.
“I’m so sorry,” Maggie says.
“It’s fine,” Nellie says. “We need to bury her so she will come back tomorrow. It’s fine. We just need to find a shovel and bury her.”
Tom and Maggie look at each other for a long time before turning to face her. Nellie doesn’t like how they are looking at her—pity and sadness. Maybe she should slap Maggie like her father did Heidi. Attack Tom with a kitchen knife. Throw the baby in the fireplace.
“It’s not going to be fine, Nellie. When things are dead they don’t come back to life. Your father replaced Poppy each time he died, training another dog the same tricks so you’d not know it. Heidi told me you’ve had at least three dogs.”
“I don’t believe you!” Nellie screams.
“Death is forever, Nellie. She isn’t coming back. I’m really sorry, but it’s true.”
“We should show her the graves,” Tom says. “Take her out behind the greenhouse and show her.”
“I don’t believe you!” Nellie yells again.
“Come with me to get a shovel,” Maggie says. “I’ll show you the graveyard. I’ll show you what death looks like.”
They form another parade, except this isn’t a happy one. Maggie, Nellie, and Tom with the baby in his arms walk in a line out the front door, through the hedge maze garden, around the massive greenhouse, and down a pebbled path Nellie hasn’t seen before. It opens into a wide field filled with ugly brown weeds with sharp spiky burrs.
A long wooden chest sits under a scraggly oak tree. Maggie opens it and takes out two shovels. She hands one to Nellie and they walk through the weeds until Maggie stops and points at a raised mound of dirt covered with tiny black stones.
“Here’s one of the graves,” Maggie says. “Dig.”
Side-by-side they dig, shoveling the stones and dirt into a pile beside them. Nellie tries not to think of Heidi back in the house. Or if Poppy will be okay. She doesn’t want to believe Tom or Maggie. They dig and dig.
“Stop,” Maggie says.
They’ve hit something solid and Maggie whispers some words about God and forgiveness before reaching into the hole and pulling out a large white bone with a chunky black bracelet attached to it. Giles.
“Vivere liberi,” Maggie reads.
“Live free,” Tom says.
Nellie stumbles back and sits into a patch of the pokey weeds. Giles told her everyone deserved to be free, even her. She doesn’t know what any of it means but she fears Papa isn’t who she thought he was. The baby stirs and Nellie looks at it in Tom’s arms.
“Where is the baby’s mother?” she asks.
“Probably killed by your father. He rules everything and he takes what he wants.”
“Papa is a bad man?”
She doesn’t mean it as a question really but both Maggie and Tom nod at her. The baby makes a little crying sound and Tom rocks it in his arms. Nellie looks around at all the mounds of dirt.
“I’m scared,” she says.
“It’s okay,” Maggie says.
“We are here to save you,” Tom says.
“There are people who want to use you or hurt you, but we want to free you. Everyone deserves to be free, Nellie. Everyone,” Maggie says.
“Are you free?” Nellie says.
“No,” Tom says.
“Nobody is free with your father in power, but we think you could do something about it,” he says.
“We need your help,” Maggie says.
“We believe in you,” Tom says.
“Okay,” Nellie says.
She lets Maggie help her up and notices how bright blue her eyes are. Not blue like the morning glories climbing up the towering sides of the manor, but blue like the open sky or blue like the ocean water. Blue like freedom.
Author’s note: The very first draft of a novel I wrote during NaNoWriMo was dystopian fiction. I’ve rewritten it several times now adding more and more elements of fantasy, but the heart of a world left suffering by an unfair power struggle still remains. I wanted to write a prequel this week, but instead, this strange little tale of Nellie took shape and just kept growing. If you read the entire thing you have no idea how much it means to me. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Writers need readers and your support keeps me afloat. Let me know what you liked or didn’t like in the comments below.
Short Story Challenge | Week 26
Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write a dystopian glimpse of the future. We had to include wheelchair, Labrador, throne, jungle, prescription, railroad, trunk, gulley, wasp, and photosynthesize.
Write With Us
Prompt: Something believed to be a myth is very real
Include: necromancer, elm, roadmap, GPS, outside, twine, water lily, plastic, chopper, powerless
My 52-Week Challenge Journey
- What is the 52-week challenge?
- Week 1: The Heart and the Stone
- Week 2: The Biggest Little Gift
- Week 3: It Bearly Fits
- Week 4: The Claire in Clarity
- Week 5: The Family Tree
- Week 6: Through the Glass Windshield
- Week 7: The Final Goodbye
- Week 8: Sunset, Sunrise
- Week 9: Returning Home
- Week 10: The Water
- Week 11: Aw, Phooey!
- Week 12: Meeting Time
- Week 13: The Old Man
- Week 14: Dani and the Queen
- Week 15: The Golden Muse
- Week 16: Honeymoon Treasure Hunt
- Week 17: The Red-Haired Beauty
- Week 18: Playing Games
- Week 19: One Thing
- Week 20: The Child
- Week 21: The Carrot
- Week 22: Apple Stars
- Week 23: Something in the Water
- Week 24: Midnight Wedding Vows
- Week 25: Chocolate Kisses