Fiction, History, Lidi, Original Story, romance, Story, Unwritten Hope

The Fourteen Laws of Bristershine Part 2

Here at Verlesk Manor, we all had our own secret recipe for pancakes. Every Sunday it was someone else’s turn, and the day after my double encounters with Carson, it was mine.

“Everybody, out!” ordered Nell, clapping his little hands. “Abby’s making pancakes!”

We smiled endearingly at him. he was the only one allowed to call me Abby, and he made good use of the privilege. One by one, everyone filed out, and he smiled at me before closing the door behind him. I knew he would keep even Mindy from entering, darling as he was.

I cracked two cartons of eggs into a humongous twelve-gallon mixing bowl, poured in three jars of milk. Next went in a bag and a half of flour, four cups of baking powder, and six cups of sugar. I only needed a cup of oil. I mixed everything together, which took near to twenty minutes, and took a taste. It was still a bit watery.

I reached into the jar on the counter for another scoop of flour. My cup hit something near the bottom, inhibiting me from getting out my flour until the thing was removed. i bit back a twinge of annoyance. People had to learn not to leave the measuring cups in the flour jars.

I reached down, my whole arm disappearing through the narrow mouth of the jar. My fingers closed around it.

It wasn’t a measuring cup.

In my hand was a perfectly round, red tablet with an embossment on it. I rinsed the flour off, and found that it was of a fat, winged naked child that took up most of the space. The disk itself was about five inches in diameter, and almost a centimetre thick. I stared at the object, my mind going blank. a zigzag line ran behind the child, and one end of it stuck out. It made it look like it had a tail.

What was it doing in the flour jar?

I flipped it over, cautious now. The backside was perfectly smooth. I took a knife and tapped it; it neither chipped nor scratched. Eyebrows scrunched, I studied it for a minute longer, before recalling that I was supposed to be making breakfast. Conspiratorially, I pocketed it and dumped in my extra cup of flour.

“Okay, Nell.” I opened the door to let everyone in. I caught sight of Mindy rounding a corner and disappearing. “Are you going to help me cook these things?”

My recipe made about three hundred pancakes, enough for everyone to have about twelve each. Though, nobody ever ate more than three, except Luke, who normally ate his quota. It wasn’t polite. The extras were smuggled to the homeless people who waited on Sundays outside the estate gates. I was glad that it was my turn to deliver them today.

We put the two-hundred-fifty extras in thirteen wicker baskets, and put the seventy-five that would actually be eaten on the rolling cart with the butter and syrup.

I piled the baskets onto another bigger cart that was excellent for manoeuvring on rough terrain. I stole out the front kitchen door, as breakfast was being served in the dining hall. The twenty paces to the edge of the woods flashed by in my headlong sprint to avoid being seen. Once in the cover of the trees, though, I slowed my pace and once again gazed thoughtfully at the strange ceramic disk I had found. I shuddered at the sense of doom I suddenly had. It reminded me of an epiphany of Armageddon.

I pocketed it again and pulled at the cart. A wheel of it caught a root in the otherwise smooth path. Before I could do anything, the whole thing tipped over, and the pancakes spilled all over the ground.

“No!” I cried, falling to my knees I had no time to blow off the dirt, so I just shoved them back into their baskets frantically.

Swarms of insects came out of hiding from underground. “Go away!” I cried. But it was too late. If I put more in now, that would just infect the others. I was forced to leave the rest behind.

Now I only had five and a half baskets, for a hungry crowd of normally a hundred.

Slowly, I shook my head. Good morning, Abigail.

Too soon, I found myself pushing open the secret gate that everyone knew about. Guilt gathered in all my pores, and I  prepared to face the crowds of potentially furious homeless people.

Since the Verlesk’s property extended almost to the edge of town, there were no trees beyond. Nothing but a strip of summer green grass separated the estate wall and the city of Euhalot at the foot of the hill. Lying in casual positions in the grass in their threadbare clothing were not a hundred people, but closer to a hundred-fifty. Someone gave a shout, and all at once the murmurs stilled; all eyes were turned on me.

I gulped.

As per usual, Jonathan came forward with a big smile on his face. “Abigail!” he said. “So nice of you to come today. And thank you,” he added, eying the baskets.

Jonathan’s face always caused me to cringe when I saw it, bony and gaunt as it was. the paleness of his skin lent his hands a horribly skeletal appearance, and his feet were dreadful to even catch sight of. they were always dirty, often scratched, and as bony as the rest of him. I forced a returning smile upon my face.

“Good morning, all.” I gave Jonathan a basket, and people lined up behind him to start handing them out. Before Jonathan left, I caught his arm. “Why are there so many people today?”

“Word got out about the pancakes,” he whispered.

I swallowed again. “Great. Umm, about that.”

His smile froze on his face. “Yes? What is it, Abigail.”

“Well, you see, something happened on the way here. the cart overturned, and I lost most of the pancakes, and I only have four baskets, you see, and it’s not enough, and I don’t know what to do—” I stopped, peering at his face. He was frowning now.

“Well.” He said tightly. He opened the lid of the basket to look at the dirt speckled pancakes. “I suppose we’ll just have to make do.”

I nodded guiltily, shuffling my feet on the grass. It didn’t take long to empty the baskets, and I left without another word.

“So how’d it go?”

Lily was the only one in the kitchen when I at last made it back. I could see she was mixing together ingredients for a cake, which was unusual. The Verlesk’s hated cake.

“Great,” I lied. “Did Mindy miss me?”

Lily nodded. “Yes, twice, to make the beds and help me with dishes. But it’s been taken care of.”

“Swell. What’s the cake for?”

Lily made a moue. “Luke is having company,” she confided. “Apparently this is the main course, and her poor heart will be dessert.”

“Now, Lily. You and I both know that Luke doesn’t eat hearts. He likes to leave them with his victims to cry over.”

“True. Too true.”

I licked a bit of batter off the side of the bowl, rewarding me with a frown from Lily. “So what are my tasks for today?” I asked her with an impish smile.

“You may begin by changing the linens in all the bedrooms,” Lily suggested. “There’s a fresh basket behind the door. and when you’re done that, there’s weeds that need pulling in the vegetable garden, oh, and don’t forget…”

When I passed the master bedroom with the laundry hamper on my hip, Mrs. Verlesk called out for me to come to her.

She smiled at me, and commenced staring at her hands in thought.

“Yes, Mistress?” I prompted. “Do you require assistance with something?”

She looked up at me, finally. “Well, Abigail, I… you know I’ve always trusted you most out of all my servants, right?”

I blinked. “Um…no, ma’am I didn’t.”

She smiled sadly. “Well, Abigail, I do, and I have noticed how incredibly intelligent you are.”

“You…have?”

“Yes, Abigail. And as my most trustworthy servant, I would like some counsel.”

“Concerning what, madam?”

She picked at her dress. “Abigail, I have a feeling Mr. Verlesk is not being faithful to me. and, as my most trustworthy servant, and, might I add, the most tactful, I would like you to keep an eye on him when I go out tomorrow. If you see any suspicious behaviour, make a note of it and tell me.” she nodded to herself. “Do you understand, Abigail? I must know; it has been weighing heavily on my mind for the longest time now. And…well, that’s all you need to know, I suppose. You may go, now. Oh, and since you have agreed to aid me, tomorrow you may have the entire free day to keep my husband in your sight. I will let Mindiache know as well.”

I giggled in the hallway. Mindy’s name sounded just the way it was spelled: Mindy-ache. Because she’s a butt-ache. Her parents must have hated her. I was still laughing when I pushed open the door to the fifth bedroom and walked in on Carson, stretched out on the bed, reading.

“Oh, hello, Miss Charlotte.” He wore trousers and a button-up shirt that made his eyes look like the sky. I right near dropped my hamper.

“Master Gregory!”

“Carson,” he corrected, rising from the bed. “So what brings you here, Miss Charlotte?”

I looked at the floor. “Changing the linens,” I mumbled.

He moved closer. “What was that?”

I flinched, and this time I did drop my hamper. He was standing right in front of me.

“I’m changing the bed linens,” I said. “But I will come back later for these ones.”

I bent to pick up the linens that had been spilled, at the same time that he did. Our hands brushed as they reached for the same bedspread. I pulled away, refusing to have one of those moments akin  to romance novels, where the heroine and the hero reach for the same flower/book/dangerous weapon, their eyes meet, and they fall in love. I was a sucker for that sort of thing, and the quickened pace of my heart was not a good sign.

And then, of course, there was Paul.

I glanced at Carson once, though, and found him gazing at me thoughtfully. It was all I could do not to run.

“Good day, Master Gregory.”

“Carson.”

I dipped a curtsy with the speed of light, which nearly tipped my basket again. my hand fluttered uselessly as he righted it, and then I was gone.

“Stupid, stupid, stupid,” I muttered to myself.

The rest of the day passed without incident. I did the laundry, the weeding, scrubbed pots. By suppertime, I was able to convince myself that this morning had been a terrible dream. Except for the fact that after supper, he never seemed to disappear.

“Hello, Miss Charlotte,” he said when I closed the door to the cellar on a fresh bag of potatoes.

“Master Gregory.”

“Carson,” he said charmingly.

“Fancy meeting you here,” he said in the empty dining room around ten of the clock when I came in to sweep the floor.

“Master Gregory,” I replied politely.

“Carson.”

He watched me the entire time I worked, unnerving me to no end.

“May I help you, Miss Charlotte?” he asked me when I went to the vegetable garden to get some carrots for Lily’s stew.

“That’s quite alright, thank you, Master Gregory.”

Carson. Does my name repel you, Miss Charlotte?”

I blushed. “Of course not! I quite like it, sir, it is just not the way I was trained.” I raised my chin. “But, sir, I am only sixteen. Why do you call me ‘Miss?’ when you call me Abigail, I will gladly call you Carson. If it pleases you,” I added.

But he smiled, of course. “Is that a deal, Abigail?” he whispered, rocking back on his heals.

“A deal? I suppose.”

“Abigail.”

“…”

He grinned even wider. “Abigail.” he repeated.

I gritted my teeth and took a deep breath, fighting against my years of scrupulous apprenticeship. “Carson,” I got out, making a terrible face.

He laughed softly and tipped his hat to me before walking away.

The woman he had been sitting with at the tea on Friday met him at the gate, and they strolled arm-in-arm toward the house.

I had never been more confused in my life.

My, but I must have been sulking madly, for even butt-ache Mindy asked me if I was alright. I was coming back with the carrot bucket when she passed me. the joyous cries of the late-night cricket players were almost lost on the blowing wind. She said, and I quote: “Miss Charlotte, what is the matter with you? Buck up, right now. Are you alright? Yes? Then hurry up and make some butter! And when you are done with that…”

“What? Did you say something, Master Luke?” I interrupted. I stretched up on my toes, looking over her head.

“Master Luke?” she squeaked, whirling around. “Where?”

“Nowhere,” I said quietly as I stole into the night. “Nowhere at all.”

Problem one: solved; butt-pain cured. But, what to do with Master Gregory?

And by that, of course, I meant Carson.

Fiction, History, Lidi, Original Story, romance, Story, Unwritten Hope

The Fourteen Laws of Bristershine Part 1

The Big To-do

All the china teacups were as white as pure Irish cream, the gold bands around the rims polished to a shine. They were perched on delicate white plates embossed with patterns of flowers and fruits, and guarding them on each side were silver sword-like knives. The crisp silk napkins had been folded perfectly, almost blending in with the white expanse of the snowy table cloth. Each chair had been positioned just so, with the utmost care. On the silver plate in the centre of the table rested a pound of butter that was all sharp angles. The perfume of tea roses floated in the air. It did not quite block the scent of scones Lily was baking in the kitchen. As we were not required to wear shoes in the summer when no guests were present, I let the silky grass caress my bare feet when I walked around the lawn. It was hard to think that anybody would find the table setting less than perfect. Satisfied, I spun on my heel and started toward the manner to get the hot water pots. The guests would be arriving soon.

“And where, Miss Charlotte, do you think you are going?” said a knife-on-plate voice. I stumbled to a halt, looking back. Mindy Little glared at me from behind my expertly set table, hands on her slender hips. I gulped.

“I’m just going to get the water!” I called to her, not coming any closer. I indicated the floating sundial on the sea fish pond. “Noon draws near.”

She threw up her hands. “That isn’t your job, Abigail. You were instructed to set the table. Lily will send the water with Joy!”

Mindy had dove grey eyes that could harden into steel at will, and corn silk hair that made her look angelic. But she was rarely kind to anyone, especially me, and it didn’t take much to ignite her rage. This trait left much to be desired of her since she was in charge of us all.

“Does the table not meet your expectations?” I asked.

“If I were a barbarian, why, yes it would,” she snapped. “But look at these teacups! What did you polish them with, an oil rag? And my, this table cloth appears as though you chucked it on without a care!”

She closed the distance between us to stand centimetres from my nose. We were the exact same height, and were often required to share clothes, which bated her to no end.

“Abigail,” she said slowly, as though I were daft. “This is Master and Missus Verlesk’s thirtieth anniversary tea. Everything must be perfect—”

But Mindy, for once, didn’t get to finish her tirade. Mrs. Verlesk came into view, with her bratty daughter Sasha whining at her side for one thing or another. I knew not how the girl could speak in such a manner to deaf ears, for it was perfectly obvious her mother had ceased listening the moment her daughter had opened her mouth.

“Abigail!” Mrs. Verlesk exclaimed now. “Did you set this table?”

“Yes, she did!” started Mindy accusatorially. “Isn’t it—”

“Marvellous!” Mrs. Verlesk, cut in, putting a hand to her heart. “Simply marvellous!”

Lips twitching, I stepped out from behind Mindy and curtsied as deeply as I could. Such curtsies were normally reserved for the Queen, but I tried to make a habit of living in the moment. “Thank you, Mrs. Verlesk.”

Mindy stood gaping in a dreadfully unladylike manner. She dropped like a rock when she realized Mrs. Verlesk was staring at her, awaiting an accompanying curtsy.

When the party of two went out of sight, I skipped off to get the water.

The Verlesk Manor sat on the top of a large hill, and the tea was to be held in the back garden. I happily ran up the hill, floating on Mrs. Verlesk’s praise. Ah, but what a lovely day it was. it was not too hot or cool, and the breeze was just enough to rustle the tearoses below. If I stood on the tips of my toes to see over the looming pines, I could see a bright carriage advancing from the foothills. But, being a servant, there was rarely any time to admire such things, so I pushed open the back door.

In the kitchen, the other servants had the oddest expressions on their faces. Twisted, like masks. I regarded them in a way that openly questioned their sanities before reaching for the kettle on the stove.

“We heard what happened outside,” said a small, shy voice that was on the verge of laughter. It was little Nell, who rarely ever spoke but was sweet as a thimble. “Miss Mindy looks like there’s a bee’s nest in her bonnet.”

The entire kitchen erupted with the suppressed laughter. The maids attempted to mimic Mindy’s shocked expressions, which brought on new waves of guffaws.

“Great job, Miss Charlotte,” said the chef’s assistant Jaebok, who couldn’t see the bright side of a candle. “I’m sure Ms. Mindy will be in good spirits now. Maybe I’ll be serving all your heads on a platter for the next tea.”

“No, Jaebok. It is not your head I will be requesting,” said Mindy, stepping from behind the door that we all thought was closed. She glared at me as she said this. I tensed, held in her fiery gaze like a matchstick. Everyone was frozen in various stages of what ever tasks I had interrupted. “But that is not why I have come,” she continued.

A silent groan permeated the kitchen. Mindy had her about-to-give-a-lecture voice on. I sat down on a little bench beside Nell while the water pot grew cold in my hands. This was going to be a long one.

Thanks to Mindy, Lily had to hastily re-boil the water, and though we were not late, we did miss the beginning of Mr. Verlesk’s speech. We servants were required to stay out of sight unless our presence is requested, but some of Mr. Verlesk’s speeches took hours and we were never needed then. Mrs. Verlesk encouraged us to watch from behind the garden hedge if we wanted. Poor Lily had to stay in the hot kitchen, and Mindy would never be troubled with our affairs. Nell, Jaebok, I and some other maids huddled behind the hedge, speaking to one another in hushed tones about the guests we could barely make out behind the branches.

“My, Master Luke is looking especially arrogant today,” Helen commented with a whispered laugh. “I wonder whose soul he had for breakfast this morning.”

“I reckon it was that of poor Carla,” Jane suggested, pointing out the sulking girl. “I wonder why she hangs on him so. Does she not know he will never look at her as more than his next fix?”

“I think not, but I beg of you, let us not speak of him,” said Jaebok. “Little pitchers have big ears, you know.”

Dorothy snorted. “What pitchers? These roses? My, you do fret nonsense.”

“Indeed,” said Gretchen, “but the boy does have a point. We, as the servants of this household, must watch what we say in the presence of…well, no one in particular, really.” She laughed heartily.

“Shhhh!”

We were still, eying the party on the green. Mr. Verlesk droned on, the guests merely pretending to be listening. “And now,” he was saying, “I would like to demonstrate to you our accumulated wealth by presenting to you the maids of this house!”

We leapt to our feet. “What is this?” exclaimed Lucy. “When has Master Verlesk ever requested our presence at one of his speeches?” We hiked our skirts and hustled out of the hedge.

Mindy gripped my arm. “Abigail, he doesn’t mean you. You may be a maid, but you are not on the staff. Go back behind that bush.” She shoved me.

I sat back limply in the grass, watching my friends and Mindy parade in front of the guests. My chest tightened with longing.

In the direction of the peach tree orchard, footsteps thudded on the thirsty earth, loudening at an alarming rate. With a gasp, I hurried in the other direction. I looked once over my shoulder to find a shadow drifting in the peach trees, which was a big mistake. When I turned around again, I was too late to stop myself from running smack into the tall stranger in my path.

“Master!” I exclaimed, wide eyed. “Forgive me! I was not watching where I was going—”

“Well, that’s quite alright,” he said. His soft, kind tone of voice made me look up at him in surprise. He was young, perhaps seventeen, with curling golden hair and soft blue eyes. He smiled gently at my look of shock. “It doesn’t seem to be your fault; may I ask who you are running from?”

“Um—I—I’m not sure, really. I was hiding, and someone was coming, and I didn’t want to get in trouble—” I stopped. I was speaking as though he would care. “But anyway, I really must be on my way. and again, I apologize, Mr…”

“Gregory. Carson Gregory.” He smiled again. “But you may call me Carson. I am only seventeen, in truth, and the title of ‘Mr.’ or ‘Master’ gives me the impression that I am absurdly aged.”

I nodded, curtsied, and started back toward the hedge. The mysterious figure was gone. “But wait!” said Mr. Gregory. “What is your name, maiden?”

I curtsied again. true, I was not in traditional maid’s attire, as Mrs. Verlesk insisted we be dressed as regular people. I thought about lying to him, but that had only caused problems for me in the past. “I am a maid, not a maiden, Mr. Gregory, and my name is Abigail Charlotte.”

He bowed gallantly. “It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

The way his eyes shone when he said this, I wondered if it really was a pleasure meeting a red-headed maid’s apprentice who had almost knocked him over. Maybe it was the friendliness in his eyes or his kind manner, but I found myself asking him what he was doing out here, anyway.

“My uncle’s speeches bore me to death,” he whispered. “I had to get away, and these gardens are certainly lovely. I suppose I must be getting back soon. It sounds as though he has finished.”

To my horror, I could make out the sound of faint applause beyond the trees. “Oh, no!” Without another word, I was off again.

I grabbed a teapot off the cart and stood with the other maids, ready to offer more when the teacups ran low. My heavy breathing attracted curious looks from the servants, but no one uttered a word. I scanned the cups.

My eyes came to rest on Master Gregory, who was seated beside an attractive young woman, talking animatedly. She laughed merrily and placed her hand over his. For a moment they just stared into each others eyes, and I felt an inexplicable sense of disappointed.

“Abigail!” hissed Mindy. “I think that man over there would like some more tea.” She said this with a jovial smile, but the malice lacing her words was unmistakable.

Walking as gracefully as I could, I poured tea for many more people, who seemed to have all run out at precisely the same time. All except Master Gregory’s, at least. He and his companion hadn’t touched theirs. I kept my eyes down when I passed him.

At the head of the table, the Verlesks were engaged in conversation with Sasha and Luke, which was odd. Luke was usually flirting with some hapless girl or piteous Carla, and Sasha usually just picked sullenly at her food. Naughty maid that I was, I drifted closer on the pretence of offering more tea. I had grown accustomed to being invisible.

“Tea?” I inquired of a gentleman sitting near them, all the while listening to the conversation.

“Please, do!” Sasha was exclaiming, clapping her hands in delight.

“Yes, I agree.” Luke nodded as though in thought, but I knew he was most likely just checking to make sure his gloves were still impeccably spotless. “You and father need a break. And I hear the ocean is particularly blue this time of year.”

“We’ll take care of everything,” Sasha put in. “Or you could call Grandma to come watch us.”

“But, Luke,” protested Mrs. Verlesk. “You are barely nineteen, and Sasha’s only twelve. How can we leave you alone for a whole month?”

“Now, Wanda,” laughed Mr. Verlesk. “What do you think we hired the nannies for? The children will be fine.”

“I’ll have some tea, Abigail.” Mrs. Verlesk motioned me over absently. Disappointed, I poured tea for all four of them and left.

“I think our master and mistress are planning on leaving somewhere,” I announced in the servants quarters that night. “Somewhere near the ocean.”

“Indeed,” said Lucy in surprise. “Have you not heard? Master got offered a job near Bristershine, but Mrs. Verlesk insists that the place is a madman’s town.”

“So Master is trying to convince her to take a trip there to prove what it is really like.” Helen giggled. “But I have been there, as a nanny once. It is simply marvellous! I would like to see the look on the Mistress’s face when she sees the beauty of it.”

“So what you’re saying,” I cut in. “Is that they are most likely going to move? But what will become of us?”

There was silence. “I suppose we will be left unemployed. I don’t think they intend to keep us if they can get some new servants in Bristershine. Mrs. Verlesk likes to keep the help local,” Lily said after a pause. She shrugged, but her shoulders sagged. “Oh, well.”

“Now, Lily,” said wise old Dorothy. “You cannot be sure of that. you are a wonderful cook. They always keep the good ones.”

“No, they don’t.” Lily seemed sad. “They have moved to at least five different towns, and they only employ ‘the good ones’ in the first place, and all of you came here when I did.”

I sat on the edge of my bed, with its nice feather blankets and pillows like wheat bags of cottony snow. Before working for the Verlesks, I had worked for a kindly old lady named Bernice Featherstone. When she died, they turned up almost right away to take some of her servants, but I was the only one who did not yet have a new master. Bernice’s recommendations had attracted employers like fleas. But I had only been here for a year, and already I was going to have to leave? I had only worked for two houses so far, and they had both been extremely pleasant, but I feared I would not be so lucky next time.

Sasha stormed into the room then, startling us all. We hastily stood up and curtsied.

“Abigail! Come help me undress for the night!” she ordered, pointing a bony finger at me. I jerked imperceptibly. I followed behind her at a cautious clip.

“Has Wendy taken ill?” I asked once I had closed the door to her vast room.

“No!” she whined, the sound grating on my ears. “I don’t like Wendy anymore.”

“Oh. I see.” Sasha often decided she didn’t like people for no apparent reason. I doubted Wendy took any offence.

I loosened Sasha’s stays and took the blue ribbons out of her hair. She didn’t say a word as I slipped her lace nightgown over her head.

“Is that satisfactory?” I asked her when I was done.

She nodded. “Yes, quite. You may take an hour for yourself outdoors, Abigail. It is a splendid night to be out, don’t you think?”

I smiled at her. “Yes, Miss Sasha. Thank you.” She nodded at me with a small smile. I curtsied, and made my smooth way out of her room. When I was in the silent hall, I clicked my heels together and sprinted out the back door.

I ran to the creek, cloaked spookily in darkness. The night birds chirped happily, and the water bubbled blackly like an uncertain joke. “Good evening, pretty creek,” I said with a bow. I kicked off my shoes and dipped my feet in the cool water.  My skin prickled.

I longed to jump in waist deep, but I didn’t want to get my dress all wet and drip in the house for Helen to clean up. Along with her random inspirations of dislike, Sasha enjoyed giving out random byes. I didn’t want to stir up any petty jealousies.

Despite the garden noises, it was oddly silent here. A feeling of peace drifted down on me like a warm blanket. I breathed in the smell of soil and blossoms and herbs, and warm summer air. When the sounds of humanity were taken away, you were left with nothing but this. It was just the way I liked it.

An hour wasn’t much, but it was something. I stretched out along the bank, staring at the stars. They were hard for me to see, but I thought I could make out the Pole Star over the treetops. Bliss, is what it was.

“Hello there.”

I sat bolt upright. “Mr. Gregory?” I stammered incredulously.

“Yes, it is I.” He stepped into sight. “How do you do, Miss Charlotte?”

“Um.” I struggled to my feet. “Quite well, thank you. May I assist you with anything? I mean something?”

He shook his head. I couldn’t see his face very well. “No, I was just wandering. Are you hiding again?”

I blushed. “No, Master Carson. I was given an hour of time to myself. I came to enjoy the peace.”

“I see. So, am I disturbing your peace?”

I kicked myself mentally. “No! I mean, of course not. But may I ask you something?”

“Certainly.” He took a seat on a felled tree that served perfectly as a bench. I thought of pointing out that his suit would be soiled.

“Why did you not leave like the other guests? It is quite late to be visiting.” He was so unlike other young men he regressed me through years of training.

“Mr. Verlesk is my uncle,” he told me. “I may stay for as long as I like.”

I blushed deeper. “Yes, of course. Forgive my boldness. I must be on my way.”

“Wait, Miss Charlotte!”

I paused. “Yes, Mr. gregory?”

“Must you really be leaving? I really could use some company.”

I scrunched my eyebrows. “As you wish, Master Gregory.”

“Carson. Won’t you have a seat, Miss Charlotte? How long have you been out here, may I ask?”

I awkwardly perched on a different tree bench with his lady friend in mind, the rough bark pinching my skin with wizened claws. “Just fifteen minutes, I think.” I didn’t volunteer more information than I felt I had to. I still wasn’t sure what he wanted with me.

“I see. So how long have you been working for my uncle and aunt?”

“Almost a year. It was about this time last summer that a friend of mine showed me this place.”

“it is quite lovely.” He gazed at the water. “Have you ever been canoeing?”

I blanched. Why would I want to do that? “No, I haven’t. Have you?”

“Yes, many times. It is quite enchanting, especially in the spring. Where I come from, there are blossoms all year long on most of the trees, and the waters are always pristine and clear.”

“That sounds pleasant,” I said sceptically.

He laughed, and it ricocheted back to us from a thousand different places. “You don’t believe me. I must take you some time.”

Was he forgetting that I was a maid? “Sure?”

He laughed again, further deepening my sense of utter confusion.

“Do you hear that?” I said suddenly, standing up. “I think it is Master Luke! I’m sorry, I really must be going! Thank you for the visit!”

And I took off, in the opposite direction of the manor.

It was a while before I realized I was going the wrong way. I took a roundabout way, making sure to stay clear of the creek. I gave it such a wide berth that it took me the rest of my hour to get back.

The memory was still clear in my mind, of my first day on the job. Paul had found me after my first falling out with Mindy, crying in the broom cupboard.

“Hello, you’re the new maid, right?” he said when he saw me there.

I quickly wiped my tears. “Yes. Do forgive me. how do you do?”

He kneeled in front of me. “I’m fine, Abigail. I’m assuming you met Mindiache?”

Her name, of course, made me giggle. “No wonder she’s such a miserable—”

He held up a hand, green eyes twinkling. “Now, now, Miss Charlotte.”

I grinned. He helped me out of that broom cupboard, and as it was our break for afternoon tea, we walked arm-in-arm to the stable together, never ceasing our meaningless chitchat.

“Want to go for a little ride?” he asked me when we stood outside the stall of Mr. Verlesk’s horse Vesuvius.

“I’ve never been on a horse before,” I said nervously.

“Are you scared?”

“Yes.”

“Well, then you can ride double with me. Come on, I want to show you something. It will help you deal with Mindiache.”

So, we rode double on Vesuvius, all the way to the creek. In the day time, it was fascinating how the pollen and dandelion fluff floated on the sun rays, the creak slipping over rocks and under tree-bridges. Bright flowers grew along the banks, and ivies embraced the enormous tree trunks.

He reached into the water and pulled out a perfectly round blue and green stone. “Put this in your pocket,” he told me, “and whenever you feel like you could kill Mindy, touch it and think of this place. Pray for her soul, and I promise you will feel better.”

Just him saying those words made me suddenly and magically impervious to her vicious austerity. The stone sat in the drawer of my locked false-bottom jewellery box he had bought me.

Paul’s family moved that winter for a better-paying job down East, and I never saw him again.

I crawled into bed, and lulled myself to sleep by counting the sweet kisses Paul and I had shared during our time together, each one distinct and burned into my memory. And though the memories made me smile, I felt like a superheated flake pastry gone bad.

Fiction, Lidi, Original Story, romance, Story, Unwritten Hope

Ghost Girl Chapter 3

Homeless

Austin

Grief is a strange thing. It has many faces, many forms. Sometimes it incapacitates you, sometimes it drives you to do something more. I remember when I lost my mother to tuberculosis. In that time, my grief came in the obvious form of sadness. When I lost my sister, Launna, to alcohol addiction, I felt stifling anger at her and at the world in general. When I lost my brother Caleb to the lights and chance of Vegas, I felt betrayed. But when I lost my father to the denial of false love, I barely felt anything. It was still grief.

Yes, I know grief.

I know that there is nothing anyone on the outside world can do about it. It’s something you have to deal with yourself. But you don’t have to do it alone. I knew what it was like to lose something you truly cared about.

My empathy toward Peyton was above the comfort of acquaintance. I didn’t know her, but I knew what she was going through as we watched her house burn to the ground. It was something a kind word couldn’t fix. So I didn’t say anything.

It was mid-afternoon when the flames finally sputtered out. I looked at Peyton. She was staring straight ahead, not seeming to see anything. Her gaunt face looked sallow. Wordlessly, she stood and walked toward the ashes of her home.

She was Ghost Girl again as she glided over the soot, kicking piles of unrecognizable ash. Every so often she would kneel and pick up a piece of pottery or china or anything else that had not burned. I stayed in the same spot, watching her, wishing I could help, knowing she would talk when she was ready. If she talked. I was a stranger, after all.

Chaku was nowhere in sight. I almost wondered where he was, but I had better things to worry about and anyway, he was a big boy now.

Had anyone seen the flames or smelled the smoke? The estate was practically secluded. Had her family gotten out? I had a sick feeling that I knew the answer.

Peyton let out a long, shrill scream.

I sprang to my feet. “What’s wrong?” I shouted. She didn’t seem to hear me. She stared at a pile of dust in front of her, a look of pure, indescribable horror on her face. I raced to her side and looked. I felt bile rise in my throat. I almost gagged.

There, staring out of the ash with dead eyes was a burnt, bloody face.

Peyton screamed again. The sound was half strangled by a sob. I stared at the sightless eyes for one second more. Then I grabbed Peyton around the waist and hauled her out of there. She kicked and screamed all the way. I didn’t stop until I couldn’t smell the death and smoke any more. It was long time.

I propped Peyton against a tree. She had gone limp in my arms along the way. Her head lolled back onto the trunk. She moaned.

Poor, poor Peyton. Anorexia, falling off a cliff, watching her house burn, seeing the charred face of whom I was guessing had been a family member. The sadness and pain I felt for the stranger woman was indescribable. Given her current state of anorexia—the word made me want to spit in anger—she should have been in a state of comatose. But she was stronger than I had given her credit for.

She opened her eyes. They searched around wildly for a few minutes before finding my face. She opened her mouth to speak, but all that came out was a high-pitched keening. It broke my heart. She needed food. Or did she? Was it bad to give anorexic people food? I mean, had she gone without eating so long that eating something now would disrupt her system? I didn’t know. But I’m sure giving her water would be okay. And then I could try a little bit of food. Maybe I could even get her to a doctor. She would not die on my watch.

I knew exactly where we were. I picked Peyton up as gently as I could. Sure enough, ten minutes later, we reached Lake Comatista. I lowered her limp form into the cold water, feet first. Suddenly she jerked and screamed in surprise.

“Ach, that is COLD!” she cries. Trying to get away. I keep her in until I see her eyes lose their glazed, lost look. Then I pulled her out. She thrashed like a wet cat.

“What was that for?” she demanded, crossing her arms. I set her on her feet. She sways slightly.

“Are you okay now?” I ask, stepping back as she shakes herself off. She glares at me.

“If by sopping wet and begging for pneumonia, than yeah, I am right as rain.” sarcasm drips from her voice like the water from her nightgown. I wondered if she was always this feisty. I chose to go with yes.

I was feeling immense relief. I was actually able to laugh. “You’ll be fine. Now drink.”

“I’m not thirsty.”

“Yes you are,” I insisted. “Drink, or else.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Or else what?”

I took a suggestive step toward her. “Or else…I’ll throw you in the lake.”

She manages a small smile. The sadness has returned to her brown eyes. “On it,” she says, forcefully. I sigh.

Peyton was very thirsty. I could tell she was planning to only take a couple sips and then be difficult, but as soon as the sweet water of Lake Comatista hit her lips, she couldn’t say no. I watched her inhale the water with satisfaction.

I turned toward the middle of the lake. Right on cue, Chaku came into view. He had a huge Sturgeon by the tail. He dropped it into my hands and sat on his haunches, looking up at me expectantly. I ripped off the tail and give it to him. He trots away.

“Impressive.”

Peyton is sitting cross legged on the shore, the edge of her nightgown trailing in the water. Her lips are beginning to have a bit of colour to them. Her hair dripped down her bony back. I sighed. Supper time.

Chaku had already piled sticks and twigs on the shore. I take out my lighter and hold it there until the kindling catches. Peyton comes and stands beside me. Her shoulders sag. One look at her and I know that the effects of lake-water baths can only last so long.

I stand. “Hey.” I hold my arms out to her. She hesitates, so I close the distance between us and wrap my arms around her. Strangers or not, I could tell she was in need of comfort. Like on the estate, she leans into me.

For once I don’t mind touching her. Her bones even more prominent now then they were last night, but it doesn’t bother me so much any more. I was reminded, though, that she was quite literally starving. But I don’t want to end the moment.

“You know what the funny thing is?”

Fiction, Lidi, Original Story, romance, Story, Unwritten Hope

Ghost Girl Chapter 2

Despair

Peyton

 The moment I saw Austin Braucop, I knew I wanted to live.

Call it intuition or insight, but when those hands reached down and pulled me up from the jaws of death I was about to dive into, I knew that there was no way I could possibly want to die.

From his long-lashed blue eyes to his straight nose to his long, muscled body, I wanted to live. Nothing mattered any more, not Gabriel’s cold words about my weight, nor Chantelle’s cold words about my anorexia, not even my new-found obsession with death. It all just…disappeared.

Was this what it was like to be in love?

I didn’t think so. Had I not been in love with Gabriel Batoche? But that had been a different love, more of a hero-worship than anything else. I was just seeing that. And to think I had almost died for him! But was it not fitting that Austin be the one to save me?

Yes, I do think I am in love with him.

Omigosh, I’m in love with him!

But anyway, before I knew all this, I had bigger problems. Like the fact that I was hanging from a dog’s mouth over the Yukatuk canyon. I was in a state of shock. I couldn’t scream. I couldn’t even move. All I could do was stare down, down, down, down. All I could see was darkness.

And then the teeth were replaced by hands under my armpits, pulling me upward, at the same time that something on the bottom of my night gown pulled downward. Toward the darkness. I peeked, to see what was wrong. There was a humungous branch pinned through my gown. I wondered where it had come from.

“My gown! It’s stuck on a branch. Here, I’ll kick it loose.” He shouted something back at me, but I didn’t catch it over the howl of the wind. I struck my heel into the semi-loose soil. A huge hunk of rock fell away, and the tree dangled from the hem of my gown. Pulling from above surrendered a little to the pulling from below. I thought then that I was going to fall. But then, with a painful rip, the branch and boulder fell.

We went flying. I landed on a hard, heavily muscled chest. It hurt. I guess I hurt him, too, because he pushed me off quickly. I rolled to a sitting position and faced him.

He had dark brown hair and blue eyes. His lashes were longer than any I had ever seen on a boy. His face was symmetrical and sun-browned. The muscles on his arms and shoulders stood out through his jacket in a mysterious, appealing way. A very nice body, in conclusion. But it made me wonder how I must have looked to him. I felt like blushing. How could I have thought a nightgown could have erased the damage and made me beautiful? My eyes pricked.

The man rose to his feet in one graceful motion. “What were you doing?” he shouted. I peeked up at him. His face was almost contorted. I looked down instead. And that is when I saw the gown.

Where the branch had pierced it there was nothing left but strips. All the silk lacing was gone. The entire thing was covered in dirt from the rock sheet. It looked awful. But what’s more, it meant that I looked awful, too. I was just the ugly girl that I was before, and probably always would be. The pricks in my eyes morphed themselves into tears.

I realized that Austin was still waiting for me to answer his question. But when I was just gathering my wits to try and answer, he said, “I’m taking you home. Where do you live?” I couldn’t meet his eye. Wordlessly, I pointed toward the woods. “Come on, then,” he said. I looked up, then. His hand was stretched out to me. The anger left his eyes, suddenly. It wasn’t until he knelt in front of me that I remembered I was still crying.

Could I not do anything right? What he must think of me. This bony, ugly, crazy girl who played on the cliffs and didn’t answer questions and cried for no reason. What a joke. I didn’t deserve to feel something as wonderful as love for him. I really didn’t.

But Austin didn’t look disgusted. He just looked…nice. Like he actually cared that I was crying. And he was so close, so suddenly. I wondered what it would feel like to touch his smooth golden skin. “Hey, come on,” he said. “You’re safe now.”

Safe. I do believe I was safe, with him, for the moment. I took his hand and let him pull me to my feet. His hand was warm and so, so gentle. Like he was afraid of breaking me. How sweet. But he let go too soon. I sighed quietly. We started walking.

The dog, Chaku, who had kept me from falling the first time, bounced beside us with his tail between his legs. It looked funny. I felt a wordless gratitude toward the dog, and the handsome stranger who was his owner. I wanted to ask him his name, where he lived, etc, but I didn’t. I didn’t know if he would appreciate the inquiry. I couldn’t even build up the courage to say thank you.

The dog whimpered. The man turned to him. He looked exasperated. “What is wrong with you?” he asked the dog. He just lay down and rolled over. Austin stared at him and then walked away. I had to hurry a bit to keep up with him.

“What’s wrong with him?” I asked. He shrugged.

Finally, I couldn’t take it any more. The silence was just so…ominous!

“What’s your name?” I asked. He glanced at me fleetingly.

“Austin,” he said. “Austin Braucop.”

Nice name. “I am Peyton,” I told him.

He smiled at me, then. My heart flipped. “Peyton. It’s nice to meet you, Peyton.”

“It’s nice to meet you too, Austin.”

Oh, the irony.

“Where do you live?” I asked, to keep the conversation flowing. I liked the sound of his voice, and anyway, why stop when you’re ahead?

To my dismay, a cloud passed over his face. “Nowhere,” he said. He didn’t look like he wanted to talk about it, whatever it was. I let it go.

“What’s his name?” I jerked a finger toward the dog, who had recovered from his episode.

Austin smiled affectionately. “Him? That’s Chaku.” He reached over and ruffled the dog’s ears. He panted up at him. So he’s a dog lover.

“Can I pet him?”

“Sure.” He stopped walking. I knelt in front of the dog and stroked his ears. He looked at me with liquid brown eyes.

“Thank you,” I whispered. Chaku touched my cheek with his nose.

Austin interrupts the moment. “Do you smell that?”

I looked at him. His back was to me, thumbs in the pockets of his jeans. “Smell what?”

“I think it’s…smoke.”

Alarmed, I stood up and sniffed the air. Sure enough, it was tinted with the smell of burning wood. Actually, it was more laden than tinted. I wondered how I had not noticed it before.

Chaku began to bark. Austin reached out and tugged on my elbow. “Come on,” he said. There was a hint of urgency in his tone. He set off, faster than before, and I had to run to keep up. I was about to tell him to please slow down when I saw the flames. It took me a minute to register it. At first all I could see was a big, dancing ball of fire in the distance, but there it was.

Right where my house should have been.

I stood there, shocked. I couldn’t believe it. I had to be seeing things. Except that I wasn’t. The evidence was as undeniable as the home it was engulfing. I started running. My heart was in my throat. Had they all gotten out? Could the fire still be stopped? Had someone called the fire department?

I ran on toward my house, screaming. Austin caught up to me with his long legs. He shouted something at me, but I didn’t hear. I just kept running.

I had to stop, eventually. The flames got too hot for me to come any closer. My lack of food and sleep caught up to me. I sank to the ground, sobbing. I couldn’t take my eyes off of my burning home, my home where my history began. The home I had been about to leave. Stupid, stupid girl.

Austin, the kind stranger who had stolen my heart, came over to me and picked me up off the ground. He propped me against his side and put his arm around me. Grateful, I leaned against him weakly, quietly relishing his solidity. Chaku was barking and howling. I was too tired to notice.

I could only hope that my family had gotten out alive. But my house. My room. My memories. 

Gone.

Fiction, Lidi, Original Story, romance, Story, Unwritten Hope

Ghost Girl Chapter 1

The night gown

Peyton

Way off in the distance, a dog howled.

I let my toes inch further and further over the edge of the cliff. The wind came up from the cavernous crag and pushed my long, white cotton gown out behind me. I had chosen the gown especially for this occasion. It is the only piece of clothing I own that makes me feel truly beautiful. It hangs past my feet and goes almost all the way out when I twirl. The bottom is trimmed with silk. It hugs me in all the right places and ripples and flows when I move.

All in all, a truly beautiful dress.

I almost managed a half-smile. Maybe when they found my body, they would think the same thing. Beautiful dress, beautiful girl. The last impression they would ever have of me. A nice way to be remembered. A nice way to go. I stared down into the crag that was barely illuminated by the moonlight.

But what if I never was found? Who would think to look for me in the bottom of the Yukatuk canyon? I frowned. That would not do. Not at all. Suddenly the wind that had felt so liberating was very, very cold. Before I could stop them, more what-ifs crowded into my head, all jockeying for my attention. What if I was eaten by wild animals? What if my entire body shattered due to my lack of food? What if…

What if no one thought to look for me at all?

I was beginning to see the hopelessness of the entire thing. This wasn’t going to work. No one would come looking for me. Of this I was certain. My entire effort would be wasted. My final dying act would go unnoticed.

I began to teeter-totter on the edge. I was stupid, stupid, stupid. How could I have even thought that this was going to work? I would have to think of a new plan. I teetered faster. A note. That’s what I needed. And no more cliffs. In fact, I was already getting a new idea.

I was just about to step back and go home when a voice sounded behind me. Startled, I whipped around. My feet slipped and I teetered wildly out of control. A hand closed around my thin wrist, but it found no purchase. I barely had time to scream before I teetered right over the edge.

Austin

Never in a million years or my wildest dreams would I have ever imagined that I would end up here. The moonlight was barely visible through the thick canopy of leaves. The ground was soft under my bare feet. Chaku lay under a big spruce next to my shoes. The wind whistled in the leaves above. I was completely and utterly alone.

No, I never thought I would end up alone in the woods, but I also never would have imagined being kicked out of my own house, either.

I picked off a twig from some tree I couldn’t name and snapped it between my fingers. I chuckled grimly to myself. Nothing ever works out the way you think it will, does it?

Chaku sprang up from the ground, barking madly. My half-hearted efforts to shush him fell flat. That dog. He barks if he sees his own shadow. But then he began to howl.

My grandfather had given me Chaku for my twelfth birthday. “This here is one smart dog,” he had said when Chaku had started barking at a grain in the floorboards. My mother had given him a Look. “He barks all the time, it’s true, but he howls when there are ghosts around. It’s pretty amazing.”

I had scoffed. “There are no such things as ghosts.” My mother had agreed. Grampa just smiled.

I had never heard Chaku howl before now.

Maybe it was because of how the moonlight played in mysterious ways between the trees. Or maybe it was being alone in the woods in the first place. But for whatever reason, my entire body had gone stiff with fear.

Don’t be ridiculous, I tried to tell myself. There are no such things as ghosts. Chaku is just a crazy old Labrador. Trying to swallow my fear, I turned to where Chaku’s nose pointed.

I swear my hair stood straight on its ends.

There, bright in the moonlight at the edge of the woods, was a white, moving, billowing, thing.

It took me a while to calm down enough to tell myself that I was being paranoid, and so was Chaku. There was no such thing as ghosts, after all. It was probably just a sheet caught in the wind. Something for us to sleep on tonight. I set off to get it.

The shadows and moon patches seemed to jump out at me wherever I turned. The white thing looked stranger and stranger the closer I got. And when I was close enough finally make out a shape, I was freaked out all over again. It was not a sheet at all. It was a woman in a cotton nightgown.

She walked so silently and smoothly she appeared to be gliding. Her long, waist-length black hair streamed out behind her. I didn’t think she was a ghost, but what was she doing out here in the middle of the night? I thought about calling out to her, to tell her that it wasn’t safe out here, but for some reason I kept silent. There was something about her. I didn’t want my presence to be known to her yet. I trailed her silently. Chaku had stopped barking, and he was a black shadow beside me.

She stopped when we got out of the woods and was standing on the rock sheet over the Yukatuk Canyon. All my instincts told me that something was amiss. What was the woman doing here? I got my answer soon enough. She stepped onto the ledge and bent her knees, leaning forward.

“NO!” I shouted. I raced to her. I shouted again. Chaku was strangely silent.

Finally I reached the woman, who was roughly in the same position as before. It hadn’t taken me a second to get to her side. I reached out and grabbed her wrist.

Shock rippled through my body. I dropped my hand and took an involuntary step back. My heart was in my throat and beating out a frantic refrain. My fears didn’t seem so silly now.

I had touched nothing but bone. The woman screamed once as she tumbled over the edge. Something black raced to the edge where she had fallen. Chaku. No such thing as ghosts, I chanted to myself.

I threw myself to the edge of the cliff. The woman was hanging by the back of her cotton nightgown from Chaku’s teeth. She was slipping fast.

“Hold on!” I shouted as my hands shot out to grab her under her arms. Chaku released his hold on her. She weighed next to nothing. She was not a skeleton after all, but her skin was thinner than tissue paper and she had almost no meat at all on her arms. I fought the bile that rose in my throat.

I heaved. She barely budged.

“My gown!” she shouted. “It’s stuck on a branch. Here, I’ll kick it loose.”

“No, don’t—” I started but it was too late. She struck out with her bare foot. With a small groan, the rock that the twig was firmly attached to gave way, hanging off her night gown.

She was suddenly a hundred pounds heavier.

Chaku was barking again. Swearing, I called on all of my strength and pulled. I gained mere inches until, with a rip, the boulder fell from the gown. We went flying, hitting the ground with a thump, she on top of me. I could feel every one of the bones in her spine, hips, and elbows. I pushed her off and sat up. Now that I could get a good look at her, I could see she was not a ghost, or a skeleton, or anything of the sort. She had the look of the half-starved. Her big, light brown eyes protruded from her skull. She had been beautiful once, that was obvious. But now she had wasted away to almost nothing. She wasn’t homeless, I could tell by the gold necklace she wore around her neck and by the fineness of her nightgown.

In a rush, the past fifteen seconds caught up to me. I realized the woman was looking at me, too. I rose to my feet.

“What were you doing?” I fairly yelled at her. I was stressed. Chaku came to stand by my side. I swear he glared at the girl, too.

She looked down, and colour pooled in her cheeks. Her thin, razor-sharp cheeks. I never could figure out why girls would starve themselves as a means of losing weight. Didn’t they realize how deadly it could be? And then there was the matter of suicide. What had she been thinking? Was her life really that awful?

The woman didn’t say anything. Finally I threw up my hands, giving up. “I am taking you home,” I told her. “Where do you live?” she pointed. “Come on, then.” I held out my hand to her. She looked up at me then, and her eyes were filled with tears.

My harsh emotions evaporated. I knelt in front of her awkwardly, embarrassed by her tears. “Hey,” I said. “Come on. You’re safe now.” She nodded and took my outstretched hand. I was so afraid I would squeeze too hard and break it. I dropped it as soon as I could.

Chaku trotted beside us, his tail between his legs. Every so often he would give a little whimper. Finally, I stopped and turned to him.

“What is the matter with you?” I asked. He lay down and rolled over onto his back. And then he was perfectly still.

I stared at him for a few seconds. Then I walked away.

The girl looked up at me. The top of her head barely reached my shoulder. “What’s wrong with him?” she asked. I shrugged. We walked on in silence.

Of course, I had questions for her. But for some reason I kept quiet, just like I hadn’t wanted to let her know I was following her until it was too late. There was just something about her…like if I said the wrong thing she would turn to dust. She was so fragile. I was still shaken badly by the cliff escapade.

It was she who finally broke the silence. “What is your name?” she asked.

“Austin. Austin Braucop.”

“I am Peyton.” She was still looking at me with big brown doe’s eyes. I smiled at her.

“Peyton. It’s nice to meet you, Peyton.”

“It’s nice to meet you, too, Austin.”

Chaku howled very softly.

Featured, Fiction, History, Lidi, Philosophy, Review, romance, Society, The Ambassador, Unwritten Hope

Winter in Verona

  • A sample critical response essay

Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is often referred to as the tale of the fate of two “star-crossed” lovers—as though “fate” was in charge. It was the characters’ choices that doomed them. There is no such thing as “luck” or “the will of the stars” or “misfortune”. However, though fate is a fabricated excuse for the hardships of man, timing is still a prevalent determining factor in the play. The timing of events unseen and unforeseen weave together to form the tapestry of the phenomenon referred to as “life”. For characters in the play and real people, the circumstances of human insignificance and intimate proximity to each ravel decree their inability to see “the big picture” for what it is (Sarah Hill, “Soul Surfer”). Therefore, impactful coincidences are seen as predetermined. One incident instigates the occurrence of another, often in rapidly accelerating, uncontrollable sequence. The play is laden with hasty decisions, contracting and pushing together events that don`t belong together, and whose forced interaction become explosive. The deaths of young characters in the play were the result a storm of their own creation. Romeo and Juliet illustrates how self-serving, malevolent choices at critical times can only lead to affliction and misery.

The events of the first scene of Act III are the crossroads where the tragedy of all major deaths in the story could have been avoided, where characters blindly take the path of revenge and destruction. Satisfying prerogatives took precedence over good judgement. After Romeo kills Tybalt to avenge Mercutio’s death, he cries out that he is “fortune’s fool”, though Mercutio and Tybalt’s deaths had nothing to do with luck. Choices by Mercutio, Romeo and Tybalt, against advice of peacekeeping, cut short their futures. Tybalt’s death at the hand of Romeo was evaded at the beginning of the play, yet he doggedly seeks out his slayer. Having been restrained when he saw Romeo at Capulet’s party, Tybalt is now on the prowl for Romeo. From the beginning when Mercutio and Benvolio are out walking, Benvolio wants to leave the streets, predicting that the heat and the mingling of rivaling parties were the kindling and the spark for a fire. Ignoring the request, Mercutio turns the conversation into a case for Benvolio’s equal aptitude for a hot temper, despite his outward geniality. Mercutio proudly deflects accusations and the grip of fear, rashly challenging Tybalt when he feels that his friend Romeo’s honour has been insulted. For Mercutio there can be no honour in seeking peace with the enemy, in turning the other cheek. Truthfully he is a believer in eye-for-an-eye justice, though he doesn’t consider that the cost of Romeo’s pride might be several lives. He blames Romeo and the Capulet-Montague Rivalry for his death, even though he is one of the strongest activists of the rivalry in his insatiable hatred for Capulets. Mercutio forgets that he prodded Tybalt until the fight was dragged into existence, and refused to respond to force and pleading on Romeo’s part to cease the duel. Nearly every action on Mercutio’s part in this scene was to the effect of orchestrating his own death. Romeo in turn forgets his initial words of camaraderie toward Tybalt in exchange of revenge for his friend’s death, overlooking the result of Mercutio’s attempt to salvage Romeo’s honour. Romeo kills Tybalt and doesn’t even pay the lawful consequences; if anything, fate is working in his interest to keep him from harm, but he squanders every opportunity to make a good decision. He deliberately centres his actions around his fleeting emotions: “Away to heaven, respective lenity, and fire-eyed fury be my conduct now.” Romeo works against every good thing that happens to him, and every bad thing that doesn’t happen to him. As Mercutio conducts himself according to his pride, Romeo acts according to whatever emotion he feels at the time.  The characters continue to lead the story down dark roads.

Juliet’s fake death in the final two scenes of Act III shows the effects of un-virtuous decisions ignorant of circumstances unseen and unforeseen. For Capulet, Lady Capulet, and Paris, Juliet is instrumental to their success and happiness. “Uncomfortable time, why camest thou now to murder, murder our solemnity?” Capulet cries when he finds that Juliet is “dead”, and indeed, her faked death is the result of untimely circumstances and will set the circumstances for deaths later on. How is Capulet to know that moving up the date of the wedding will have such disastrous effects? Capulet’s motivation is to accumulate social wealth, perhaps to put himself above Montague, and marrying his daughter to a relative of the prince is a step in a desirable direction. Though Capulet claims that “My top priority has always been to find her a husband,” social prominence is the dominant priority in Capulet’s heart. He thinks he has complete control over his daughter’s will. “I think she will be ruled in all respects by me,” he proclaims to Paris. Lady Capulet claims that Capulet arranged the sudden marriage to help Juliet through mourning, to make her happy through love. Capulet and Lady Capulet prove to think little of their daughter’s happiness. Since Capulet is more concerned with pleasing Paris than his daughter, instead of accepting Juliet’s rejection he calls her names and outright refuses to listen to her point of view. Ironically, Juliet remarks to her mother that “This is a strange rush. How can I marry him, this husband, before he comes to court me?” (translated by SparkNotes Literature Guides). However, why is Capulet adamant that the wedding take place in three days? He is concerned that people will think the Capulets did not care about Tybalt, and Capulet reasoned that “Wednesday is too soon,” but Thursday may as well have been Wednesday. What difference will one day make that Paris and Juliet are not married? Capulet, the adult, consults Paris, a youth, on the timing of the wedding, though they are equally enthusiastic. Unbeknownst to them, somewhere else in the city of fair Verona, an infectious plague will result in an untimely quarantine that will lay the foundation for the deaths of Paris and Juliet. Juliet is rightfully dead to everyone except Friar Lawrence, and she never sees Paris and her family again. The sadistic toil of fate could be imagined here. Perhaps if Capulet and Paris had been willing to move the wedding date even a few days later, Friar Lawrence and Juliet’s scheme wouldn’t have gone so awry and the winter storm could have died in place of Romeo, Juliet and Paris.

The Final Act presents the fruits of leagues of bad timing and completes the demonstration that reactive plans are no way to unknot complex kinks in time. Big secrets withhold circumstantial information from third parties to take into account when making decisions. Friar Lawrence was ordinarily a wise and careful character who advised Romeo, Juliet and Paris against hasty decisions, especially related to marriage. Why did he contribute to the haste? He wants to make progress on assuaging the Capulet-Montague Rivalry and allows Romeo and Juliet to convince him to marry them despite the circumstances. The feud has been going on for years, what is the difference in even a few more months delay? Yet the Friar marries them. The legal and spiritual matters of Act V are more important than the remedy of teen angst in Act II and are a more appropriate setting for such a risky plan. Still, the exercise of careful thought to achieve desirable ends comes too late. Previous mistakes are all converging, colliding in an acute detonation. If Romeo had learned from the consequences of his numerous actions devoid of consideration, suicide wouldn’t have been his immediate reaction to Juliet’s death. Maybe if Friar John had simply delivered the letter without seeking company, the matter would have turned out as planned, deterring three more deaths. Romeo’s murder of Paris is an enantiomer of Tybalt’s murder. In another feud-duel Paris dies, and Romeo has the blood of two of Juliet’s relatives on his hands. Again Romeo claims to love someone of the Capulet house, and within the scene kills him to whom the love was directed. Again, looking upon the face of the one he has slain, Romeo bemoans his luck: “O, give me thy hand, one writ with me in sour misfortune’s book.” After Romeo’s second murder he enters the tomb and is too inconsiderate to speculate on Juliet’s state for very long: “There is still red in your lips and in your cheeks. Death has not yet turned them pale…Ah, dear Juliet, why are you still so beautiful?” He doesn’t stop to wonder at how she died, is only plagued with insanity that she is dead. If events preceding Romeo’s death, such as the fight with Paris and Romeo’s short search for poison in Mantua, had accumulated a sufficient half-hour delay, Friar Lawrence might have arrived at the tomb in time to meet Romeo. “How long hath he been there?” asks the Friar of Balthasar, to which he replied, “Full half an hour.” As always, delay would have been favored but ironically a little haste also in the case of the Friar. A lesson belatedly practiced and a turn of events in a most untimely fashion. The moaning winter drapes its chilling darkness over Verona.

From the beginning of the story, the Prince of Verona predicts that “If ever you disturb our streets again, your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace.” In the course of these events, where are the star-crossed lovers and their “misadventured overthrows” described by the Chorus and made famous? Where is fortune’s tastelessness? Of the five dead youth, one murders two others, two are their own murderers and three are the instigators of their murderers’ fatal rage. A tangled sum, yet all parties are slain by each other and themselves. The play proves the human command of their futures, but their abuse of the responsibility leaves a legacy of death. The deaths of those so-called “star crossed lovers” are because of their ignorance and refusal to learn from their mistakes, to think critically and act in the best interest of themselves and those they care about. When faced with an issue, the characters repeatedly act out in destructive ways, and what can this result in other than destructive ends? Sometimes it cannot be known how the timing of actions will interact with the timing of other events. Romeo and Juliet is a story not of the “bad luck” of falling in love with someone whom you are supposed to hate, but of the dangers of immaturity at critical times.

ELA101.13             

Example Student (actually Lisa Brock)

March 20, 2013

Featured, Fiction, Lidi, Movie Review, Review, Unwritten Hope

La La Land

Just finished watching La La Land for the first time. It’s taken me quite a while. I heard some of the hype, but the thumbnail and trailer just didn’t seem all that interesting to me. Of course I’ve watched a lot of YouTube reviews about it, and heard all about the cinematic beauty and narrative magic of it. I even started watching it once but lost interest. I decided to put it on while I worked on some marketing plans, for background music, but never thought I would actually get sucked in. The filmography is breathtaking, using colour and movement to capture the eye and heart. There was a mix of original and well-known songs, which I found made the music more relatable.

To me the characters felt relatable and normal. Both a little nerdy, both passionate about their art. Their struggles were real. Relationship indecision, career disappointment, heartbreaking decisions. Emma Stone is gorgeous in a natural, beautiful way, and although Ryan Gosling is also drop-dead handsome, the character of Sebastian is very down-to-earth. The movie drops in just the right amount of humour and awkwardness to make it feel like it could be real. Even the magical realism and the fact that it is, in fact, a world where it’s generally acceptable to break into songs that everyone just knows, felt like it could really happen. It wasn’t 100% polished and perfect.

What hit me the most was the goodbye. Nothing hurts worse than a breakup, especially if you do still love the other person. They declared that they would always love each other, and this is evident even when they meet again, years later, after their lives have gone in completely different directions and Mia is with someone else and even has a child. The art of letting go for the sake of the other person so that they can have their dream.

Of course, I wonder if Mia really does love her husband as deeply as she loved Sebastian. She had left him once before, of course, so it feels like she might have settled for him out of convenience, or maybe to try and fill the hole that Sebastian had left. For a brief moment I did think that she was leaving her husband for Sebastian, but I’m glad that it was just a dream, especially for the sake of the little girl.

The ending scene nearly tore my heart out. I think everyone who has ever gone through a breakup has moments of wondering what things would have been like if they had stayed with the other person. Of course, the depiction in the movie was extremely idealized and romanticized, but isn’t that how we think when we wonder what could have been? We believe that somehow everyone could have gotten what they wanted and been truly happy, forever and ever. We probably don’t fantasize much about the strife and heartache and fighting that would be inevitable. Maybe we fantasize how such conflicts could have been resolved, but can we really know? Would both truly be happy?

As the fantasy scene drew to a close, I could feel my heart crying because I knew that their shared moment of dreaming and longing was coming to an end. I could feel for both of them. But in the end, the nod of acceptance and well-wishing summed it all up. After all those years, they didn’t speak a word to each other, but they were able to let each other go, once again. Relationships are much more complicated than simply loving someone. Love is not enough, and without commitment to sacrifice, even the feelings of love will go away over time.

But what is right to sacrifice when it comes to love, and what should be held sacred, and defended above all else? Media like this often portray someone’s identity as tied to their “dream,” which is usually some sort of career aspiration. This dream is seen as more important even than being with the person you love. Did they really love each other that much, if they weren’t willing to make it work? Put somethings on hold for each other, find alternate ways of making their dreams come true? Probably, which is why it’s likely a good thing that they decided to let each other go. We weren’t given enough information to know whether Mia is truly satisfied in her marriage, but at least we know that Mia and Sebastian wouldn’t have been happy together long term. This is what makes the movie so believable. Letting go can be painful, but holding on to something that isn’t right can be worse.

Everyday Christian, Fiction, Movie Review, Unwritten Hope

Jumping the Broom

Well, after watching La La Land, I definitely have a lot to say about this movie. There was definitely a lot going on, with multiple story threads and conflicts and character arcs. While the romantic conflict in this one wasn’t about a choice between a career dream and a relationship, the main couple still had to intentionally choose each other despite some pretty poor decisions and shocking revelations. The characters were all believable, and were all relatable and at times detestable. The leading lady was definitely not a Disney Princess, even though she might have thought she was.

This movie combined hopeless romanticism, family hardship, and racial tension in a mostly satisfactory way. It did make me cry a couple times, and while the resolution to the couple’s conflict felt a bit rushed (as all the supporting characters kept pointing out how rushed the couple’s relationship was), I think it had the basics right. Relationships aren’t worth throwing away just because things are messy. Also, couples will continually mess up, no matter their intentions or visions for the relationship.

One storyline I really enjoyed was the mother and father of the bride. They had been having some troubles for a very long time, and were not even speaking to each other for the most part. Although it was ultimately an over-the-top drama that got them talking again, I think sometimes that’s how these conflicts go. You don’t talk for so long that you don’t even remember why, and then something big happens and you can finally start to open up again and let go of the resentment. I loved how the mother told her daughter that she was committed to her husband no matter what, even before she had any evidence that things would ever get better. She decided that while things were pretty terrible, this would not be their “worse.” Even though her parents were barely talking, the bride still saw this as an aspirational relationship (she is a bit Disney, as I said).

This movie was full of chemistry and life and tension and heartache and joy. It even had some faith elements to it, and showed how messy faith can be too. Everything is a mess. So there’s no point making “not messy” a criteria for anything. Strength of character, and a whole lot of forgiveness, are what’s important.