When I was younger, it terrified me
To look at the universe as some brutal, uncaring thing.
I expected it to be organized and meaningful
Like all the little quirks
Mom expected me to grow out of.
(Neither I nor the universe
Ever lived up to expectations.)
I don’t worry over fate quite so much, anymore.
Now I find a sort of comfort
In the idea of a chaotic, unknowable cosmos.
It’s like realizing
That the prison walls are cardboard,
That the steel bars can crumble in my grasp.
Maybe there is some unseen structure to it all,
But maybe there isn’t.
Maybe it doesn’t matter—
At least, not the way I thought it did.
I laid awake that night unable to sleep. My mind kept drifting to the kiss with Zach. How had I even allowed that to happen and why did I let it start in the first place? I looked at the clock that sat in my room and saw it was five in the morning. I sighed and got up, pulled on my bathrobe and walked out of my room. I walked quietly down the stairs and to the back door.
I stepped outside into the early morning, walked down the path that led to a small pond that was set in the garden among all the flowers and trees. In my time here, I had come to love this garden. I once got lost in it and had never felt so alive, but it wasn’t mine to love and live in. I sighed and sat on the bench near the pond and watched as the fish swam around. I rubbed my arms, not realizing it was so cold outside this early in the morning.
I suddenly felt a coat wrap around my shoulders and looked up to see Rogue with a sleepy look on his face. “I was getting ready for the day and I heard the door close. You okay, kid?”
I just shook my head and pulled my knees to my chest. “No, Rouge, I’m not okay. I don’t know how to feel about what’s going on right now.”
He sat down next to me and slid his hands into his pockets.
“You mean with the kiss?” I looked at him, sort of surprised that he knew. “Philip saw while going to clean the study, that, and Zach was mumbling to himself after you ran to your room.”
I looked down and messed with my necklace some.
“Zach’s a good guy, Cassie; your running away is worrying him.”
I shook my head. “He knows why I ran.”
I heard Rouge scoff and get up and start pacing. “Cassie, he doesn’t understand why you don’t show emotion. He thinks you were abused and that’s why.”
I looked at him, confused. How could Zach not know about servants not showing emotions? I figured Zach knew with how I snapped at him and quickly walked away. But I also remember the look of complete shock on his face as well.
I got up. “Do you know if he’s awake yet?”
“He’ll be up in another hour to go out to work this morning, why?”
I nodded my head and started back for the house. He needed to understand and I had to tell him.
I walked back inside and walked upstairs to his room. I stood outside his door, and I could hear him moving around, probably getting ready for work. I bit my lip and went to knock on the door, but I quickly pulled my hand back. What would telling him change? I thought as I stood there. Nothing, it would change nothing. I would still be a servant and he would still be my owner and I would have no free will to do as I please. But just as I was about to walk away, Zach’s door swung open to reveal him standing with his button up wide open. “Cassie? What’s wrong?”
I couldn’t say anything but I noticed the light scar that ran from his stomach to his waist. I figured it came from either missing a hit from the end of his father’s belt or from a knife fight in his youth.
“Cassandra, is there something wrong?”
I looked up at his face to see worry and shook my head. “Uh, no, I just wanted to talk with you about last night.”
He looked down and cleared his throat before looking back up at me with his piercing green eyes. “I’m sorry about that, Cassie. I shouldn’t have kissed you. I hope you wish to stay here.”
I looked at him, a little shocked, “No, that’s not it, Zach.” I sighed and rubbed my forehead. “I should be sorry though; I should not have kissed you without your…”
I quickly kissed him, my hands settling against his cheeks. I could tell he was shocked at first, but he soon started kissing me back and pulling me closer by the waist. He deepened the kiss, asking for permission, and I granted him just that. I wasn’t exactly an expert at kissing so I gave him control and I quickly picked up the tricks he used.
I pulled away, needing air, but he just started lightly kissing my neck up and down. I closed my eyes and lightly tangled my fingers in his hair.
“Zach.” I lightly pushed him away, not wanting anything more to happen.
He looked at me slightly confused. “What’s wrong?”
I smiled lightly and ran my hand over his cheek. “Let’s just leave it at kissing for right now.”
He nodded his head and hugged me close to him. I had never felt this way with someone. I felt safe and loved and cared for here; I didn’t think I ever wanted to leave the Addison house. I stepped away from him. “You should finish getting ready for work.”
He nodded his head and kissed my forehead before returning to his room and closing the door. I smiled lightly when I got back to my room to get ready for the day.
I nodded my head and looked down at my feet. Zach was teaching me how to dance since I had forgotten how to in the last nine years. In the last hour I had stepped on his foot eight times, tripped over my own feet ten times, and caused Zach to trip three times. I knew I used to always be a klutz, especially while growing up, but I never thought it would come back to haunt me. I was counting in my head as Zach and I danced around the room, making sure not to trip or step on him. Phillip and Rogue had decided watching us was more fun than spending time outside on their day off.
I looked at him, finally getting the simplest of all dance steps down.
“Okay, I’m going to spin you out, then pull you back in, okay?”
I nodded my head just as he spun me out then pulled me back in so my back was to his chest. His arms were lying over mine, and our hands were at my waist. I could hear him hum as he swayed us from side to side, turning in circles. He twirled me till I was facing him again, setting us in the beginning position.
Zach looked into my eyes while he slowly leaned in. I closed my eyes and waited for whatever he would do. I felt him move away, causing me to open my eyes to see him looking conflicted.
“Um, that’s good for today Cassie. Why don’t you go enjoy the rest of your day off?”
I nodded my head and walked out, leaving him there confused by what had just happened.
I sat outside on the garden swing that sat among dozens of flowers. The place made me feel like I was in another world. I kept thinking about how Zach seemed to have almost kissed me. I had been kissed before but it was because another servant was going to be requested for a night’s activity and needed help learning to kiss. I messed with my heart locket while thinking of why in the world he would want to kiss me.
I sighed and simply swung while watching the clouds. I closed my eyes as a breeze picked up, blowing my hair away from my face. I heard the click of a camera going off and looked over to see Zach holding a camera.
“Sorry, you just reminded me of…” He shook his head, throwing the thought away. “Never mind.”
I nodded my head and looked back down at my feet. I had decided to change into shorts and a loose tank top after practicing with Zach for Wednesday’s event.
I noticed Zach had also changed into something more comfortable to be outside in. “So, how did you learn so much about photography, Miss Richards?” Zach asked as he sat down next to me, looking over the photos he had taken.
“Um, at my last house, I didn’t finish school even though I was so bright, so as a gift they sent me to finish off my senior year of high school. Then they paid for me to do some classes at the community college a few miles from the house they lived in.”
He nodded his head and set his camera down on the ground carefully. “I went all the way to Virginia for my classes. My father sent me away saying it was for my own good.”
I could see the emotion flash across his face; he hadn’t wanted to leave New York to take classes that he could easily take here. From the stories John and Philip had told me, I’d learned that Mr. Addison wasn’t a kind man, even to his wife and children. Philip had told me the Addisons had five children including Zach. I took Zach’s hand to show him he should keep going on.
He looked at my hand then back at me. “He really sent me away because I was attached to my youngest sister and he was worried I would care more about her than taking over the family business. See, she was sick. She had a heart defect, and the doctors couldn’t even figure out what was wrong. For the first three years of her life, I was the one that sat with her at night to make sure everything was alright. I was the big brother.” He sighed and shook his head. “My father sent me away and the first month I was gone and no one was watching her closely enough. Her heart failed.”
I looked down, almost worried about showing the pain and sadness I felt for him. I couldn’t do that, so all I said was, “I’m sorry.”
I looked up and noticed he just shrugged. “It was five years ago and you have no reason to say sorry. You didn’t even know her.”
I decided it was time I left and headed back in for the day. I got up and turned to him. “I think I’ll go back…” I could see the pain in his eyes, like no one had listened to how losing his baby sister had made him feel, as if he was forced to not feel, just like me. So I sat back down.
“Why don’t you tell me what she was like?” I smiled lightly, hoping it showed I really did want to know. In return, he smiled back and started telling me about how energetic she was, even with her condition.
I was curled up in Zach’s lap, by his request, while he read me Greek Myths, something I usually read to myself. But after talking with Zach about his little sister – who I found out was named Lizzie – I realized how much he missed reading to someone. It was our time in his study anyway, so I didn’t mind. In a way, it actually felt good to have him read to me.
“… So as the seasons changed, the Greeks knew Persephone was home safe away from Hades and his evil of the underworld, and so spring was given and the harvest could continue once again…”
I curled up to Zach more. Of all the myths, the ‘Rape of Persephone,’ as it was called, made me feel even more lost because I didn’t have a mother to help me out of trouble. Mine had left me on the front steps of an orphanage to fight for my life. I felt his free arm wrap around me more and hold me against his chest. I looked up at him and met his green eyes. The fire next to us lit his dark eyes only slightly but it was enough to make them seem almost as magical as the garden outside.
“Cassie…” He slowly leaned in more. I watched him before feeling his lips cover mine. I closed my eyes and slowly leaned into him more, pressing my lips against his.
I could hear the book fall as he tangled his fingers into my hair, holding me close against him. The feeling that came over me was one I’d never felt before, and it felt incredible. Till I realized something and pulled away. I looked at him as my heart began to speed up and his hands laid lightly over my cheeks. I quickly got up and went up to my room, ignoring the feeling in the pit of my stomach that what I just did was wrong. And I don’t mean the kiss, but running away from him after.
July 21st 12:40 am – I took Rocky for a walk late tonight to clear my head. He was whining at the door, so I had to take him out before it made me angry. Yesterday, all I could write about was how lonely and misanthropic I felt. What a dichotomy, huh? Hating people but feeling lonely…It’s a catch-22 if I’ve ever seen one. My luck may be turning around. I saw a girl tonight out with her friends. I couldn’t help but notice her. The way her dress sparkled, hips swaying with confidence as she walked…her poise and grace outshone every member of her group. She saw Rocky and asked to pet him. Of course I said yes. How could I deny a woman like her? I asked for her number, but I think she was playing hard to get. I followed her home, keeping my distance to make sure she got there safely. She only lives 10 minutes away from me. Maybe I’ll go check on her tomorrow night, and make sure she hasn’t changed her mind about us.
July 21st 3:00 p.m. — My psychologist told me this bullshit would help. What kind of grown man keeps a record of his every move? Whatever. Maybe if she reads what I write she can kill this monster inside my brain. I can’t stop thinking about that girl yesterday. She was so perfect. Small but not sickly, long straight blonde hair – my perfect type. I just can’t stop thinking about her. I think I’ll go visit her tonight.
July 22nd 1:00 a.m. – I tried to go to her house and knock on her door, but no one was home. I guess I’ll try tomorrow. Maybe I’ll see her around town since she is so close. I guess then it’ll be fate. I just can’t stop thinking about her. I think we’re in love.
July 23rd Midnight – I saw her again tonight while I was at my favorite bar. What is she doing out on a Sunday night drinking? I’m sitting in my car outside Admiral’s Arms on Spencer Street, the usual. I’ve never seen her here before. She must have come here to see me…. I’ll follow her home to make sure she gets there safe. You never know what could happen at night in a place like this.
July 23rd 10:00 a.m. – I don’t remember a lot from last night. I remember following the pretty woman home from the bar. I was only trying to make sure she got home safe since her friends ditched her. She started running, like she was afraid of something. I didn’t want her to get hurt so I just grabbed her and put her in my car. The rest is a blur. Fuck, why can’t I remember? What if she gave me her number? What if she agreed to go on a date with me? I keep fucking up. I have a psychologist appointment at 4 today; maybe she can help me make sense of this.
July 23rd 12 p.m. – She’s downstairs. I don’t know what happened tonight, but I CAN’T go back to the hospital again. They’ll take my dog away from me.
Pros: I have my dream girl. I have my dog. I have a sound proof basement. I have friends willing to help me when I need them. I am starting to have more feelings than a few months ago.
Cons: The girl I am in love with is in my basement. I have a lot of blood to clean up.
My psychologist told me, whenever I feel myself panicking, take my medication and make a list of pros and cons. If the pros outweigh the cons, I have nothing to worry about. I’ll wash up before my appointment and explain everything. Hopefully they’ll understand.
“You did what?” Rogue asks as I habitually bite my chapped lips. The question seems rough, but not as bad as being slapped. If Zach weren’t opposed to hitting his servants, I know that would have been the case.
“I didn’t mean to let it happen. It just kind of… did.”
I try explaining the situation while Rogue finishes washing the dishes. I express why I had declined Zach’s offer; I need to keep my distance for a while.
“Cassie, you can’t do that. You know exactly what will happen if any of the women coming to the house find out about this.”
I nod my head. The peculiar understanding of a 21-year-old career-servant. In my first home, the grandson caught me crying – I missed my Mother Ester and my friends. He began using it against me. One servant fell in love with her master, and female suitors throughout the home made her life hell, all because she was love-struck. The men are rough, but the women know how we tick. We are one and the same, most of us.
“Why are there so many women around here?” I ask Rogue, wanting to clear my mind of the situation.
“Old man Addison told his son to find a woman to start a life with–” Just then, Rogue is interrupted by John.
“Now Zach doesn’t think his father knows his son well enough to find him the perfect woman.” I nod my head while John continues. “And besides, most women here flirt with Zach but at the end of the night, come to Rogue to satisfy their needs.”
I only reply with a light smile and eye-roll. Rogue is a typical blonde haired, blue eyed man. His eyes are the only captivating part of his body; they can trap you, kill you on the spot.
“Too bad I like guys more than ladies,” is Rogue’s only quick-witted reply.
I have learned that Rogue got his nickname because of his tendency to sleep with any man when given the offer. Rogue is a known rebel among the servants. I feel empathy towards him – he had fallen in love but was given to another household before he could say anything.
“So, what is this I hear about Cassie being mad at Zach?” John asks.
“It was an accident, okay? I didn’t mean for it to happen.” I pick my nails with purpose, thinking more about my knowledge of Rogue.
Rogue is only 27, but far more serious than John who is in his late 30s. John is a trouble maker and takes the role of an annoying older brother. He has black hair, cut and spiked to imitate a younger look. We can all tell his age by his lavender eyes, the way they are dulled by years of experience.
“Don’t worry Cass. I’m just throwing shots ‘cause I’m bored,” he reassures me before he jumps onto the counter, lightly bumping my left shoulder. I smile kindly, returning the favor.
“Cassie, can I see you for a second?” I hear Zach calling me from the adjacent room. I follow his voice and find him, arms crossed, leaning against an antique mahogany table.
“Yes, sir?” He looks at me as he did when we met, pacing around me.
“I have a dinner to go to, and I need a date. The women my father handpicked know nothing of me or what I do, but you do.” He gives me a sincere chuckle and looks directly into my eyes. “You know far more than an average servant, let alone a 21-year-old servant.” I nod my head, understanding my knowledge comes from reading and experience.
Zach’s family owned a photography business that he ran away from to pursue the New York dream. He travels the world now. He never had a necessity to learn about the family business, but he took it on as a hobby. Zach knows everything to know about photography.
“What’s your favorite color, Cassie?”
Confused as to why this is important, I only answer with, “Midnight blue, sir.”
He nods his head, still pacing.
“Do you know now to dance?”
Mother Ester had taught all the girls, but it has been so long since I have even been asked to dance. “I haven’t for some time, sir.”
“Well, I guess I’ll be seeing you once a night for the next few days to improve your skills.”
Hiding my emotions from Zach is difficult, particularly with the beads of sweat streaming down my cheeks, leaving a trail of anxiety. The company at the dinner would much rather see me be beaten than join their high-class society.
“Do you understand, Cassie?” Zach still has his arms crossed.
“I understand, sir.” I continue to count the wooden floor tiles, biting my cheek.
“Good, I’ll see you tomorrow morning then. Good night.”
I watch as he walks up the grand staircase to his room. Concentrating on Zach’s posture as he strides, I am startled by a pair of arms hugging my shoulders.
“Don’t worry kid, everything will be fine. Most of the dinners Zach goes to are only five hours long. He usually only stays for two of them, just long enough to eat and talk and show he is alive,” John says, with his arms still around me.
I return the hug, an impulsive decision only because of my need for the affection, but pull away quickly.
“Good night, John.” I walk upstairs to my room.
Passing Zach’s room to get to my own, I can hear him arguing with someone. I just bite my lip and keep up the pace, fighting the urge to spy. I strip off my dress, put on my pajamas, and lay in bed. Laying down, looking at the stateliness of my room, I think about how this week will be different. I must fake every feeling to get through this dinner, being in his world for only a few hours. The thought of being in his world shakes me to my core. Being in a world where people only care for themselves seems so cold and empty.
Life at Mr. Addison’s is conventional. Having been here for almost a month now, I am learning the daily goings-on of the house. For the past week, I have looked through the kitchen and noted everything I will get today on my trip to the market. Zach only eats organic foods, and they have to be farmed within a 300-mile radius of our home. The intricacies of his diet do not bother me; I think of it as exciting. I always loved going to the marketplace with Mother Ester, whenever she decided to take children with her. My treks to buy groceries remind me of those times.
Zach had told me, “My servants always have the best,” as his tailor measured my chest a few weeks ago. I leave the house on my way to the marketplace in my new purple knee-high sundress, with a sweetheart neckline. I feel so out of place, almost like I do not own it. The more I ponder, the more I realize I don’t.
Getting to know my fellow servants over these few weeks has been interesting. Philip, the butler, has worked at the Addison residence the longest, a few years before Zach was born. Rouge oversees cleaning the dishes and washing clothes for the residents. John is the mastermind behind the upkeep of the home, and he organizes everything Zach plans. Philip mentioned once that there were only male servants, which is nothing particularly unusual. It seems the late Mr. Logan Addison slept with the female servants when his wife was attending business elsewhere. Mrs. Malinda Addison never minded his infidelity; rather she minded his choice location, in the room to the left of Zach’s.
Philip spoke of Mrs. Addison’s hospitality, how she extended it to anyone who strolled into her castle. His voice trailed off while an unmistakable gleam shined in his brown pupils. He articulated more with his eyes than I have ever heard from any mouth. He would marry her if he could.
John pulls out an old bike to take to the market. I enjoy bikes far more than any stuffy car. With the beautiful weather and three-mile journey, the fresh air will be lovely. List gripped between my fingers, I leave eagerly for the market. Shopping combines relaxation and work. I always see people I grew up with, peculiar only because of the distance.
The smell of fresh bread and strawberry tarts replace the unmistakable stench of the roadside when I arrive at the marketplace. Walking around, looking at the fish and fruits and deciding on their quality, I can’t shake my mind from those strawberry tarts. I think I’ll buy some before I leave. I find myself surrounded by the separated booths of small businesses and bored, single women with riches to spare. Regardless of the disproportion in wealth, I’ve never noticed a difference in taste.
I keep to myself, showing my status as a servant. Mama Ester told me that you should never show any human emotion – wealthy owners know each other, and it’s dangerous if you upset the wrong person.
I’m unenthusiastic about going back to the Addison home after my charming day at the market. The open space is a breathtaking contrast to the jail cell feel of a home.
After setting the bike in the storage unit, I carry the groceries into the door closest to the kitchen. The bags are heavy, but I don’t mind labor; I’m used to it. Usually, when my hair gets into my face or I slam my head into the door frame, I just keep walking.
Walking into the house, I hear laughing from the sitting room. I know quickly it is Zach’s, in harmony with the laughter of a woman. I fear that I will not be working for a bachelor much longer. At 25, he is probably enjoying his evening with a woman he will marry and have too many children with. Then he will bombard the home with more servants like me. I’ll continue to hide in this lonely castle, or perhaps he will sell me before that happens. Don’t feel, don’t react, and don’t get attached to the stories told to me as a young servant. I sigh lightly and put my groceries in cabinets, remembering this mantra.
I’ve never experienced an attachment to anyone, except Mother Ester. You will always be attached to the woman who raised you. I know Zach is trying to make this a home for me, but this is not my home. My life is not a fairy tale. So lost in my thoughts, I hadn’t noticed Zach standing next to me. He startles me when he says, “So, when did you get back?”
Looking over to him and placing a tomato on the counter, I reply, “A few minutes ago, sir. Not too long though.”
He nods his head and takes a seat on the counter, next to my groceries. He looks like a teenager waiting for advice from his mother.
In the unexpected silence, I continue to put away the food, his eyes following me as I travel along the spacious kitchen.
“You seem too comfortable doing this?” he says, breaking the silence with his curiosity.
I’m guessing by the sound of his voice he is confused why someone my age could be so comfortable shopping for a stranger, particularly after receiving nothing in return.
I retort with, “Well, I should. I’ve been doing this since I turned 15.” I don’t bother to look at his face; I already know it is one of absolute shock.
“But you were just a kid then, you couldn’t have possibly enjoyed your work?” Zach says.
I sigh and finish putting away the last of the groceries. One as affluent as Zach could never understand what I went through, just to end up someone’s servant. Taking this into consideration, I turn to Zach and say, “Look, I recognize you don’t understand. With no mom or dad to care for me, I was never a child. My life doesn’t seem perfect, because it’s not.” I place the grocery bags in a crate to be washed and used for the next market run.
“Please excuse me, Mr. Addison. I have much work to do,” I say to him and walk quickly to my room.
I collapse on my bed, realizing I had broken one of the rules.
She has a personal, destructive beauty, one not many can fall for. He is the only one to see it. With her red eyes and ebony wings, Aria holds Lucifer’s heart. Her love for the devil is only outweighed by the corruption inside her.
Lucifer ignores it, for a time. He understands she wants the same sensation he felt when he fell from grace. Only until she became his personal Pandora’s box did he take notice. Heartbreak, disease, famine, death. Aria has control of them, and much worse.
“My love, you must stop this,” Lucifer tenderly whispers, grasping her by the biceps with pleading eyes.
Aria growls and shoves him away. “You don’t tell me what to do!” Eyes like rubies in sunlight, her anger stems from his need to control her.
Lucifer knows he can fix her, but only by using the hope lying at the bottom of the box. He grabs her arm with a jerk and takes her to her fallen meadow. Lucifer holds Aria close until their skin seems like it will fuse together.
He speaks the only words that will free Aria. “I free you from my hold and the hold of God.”
Aria is left limp in his embrace, eyes fluttered shut. All that is left of her wings is a handful of feathers at his feet. A blush returns to her cheeks, and her slate-colored nails are replaced with clean, uncolored ones. Aria’s hair turns to a light chestnut as Lucifer holds her in his lap. She is mortal, human. He strokes her cheek as her eyes open, revealing two eyes of sea green. The only words to have broken the devil were her first mortal words of freedom.
She never meant for anything to happen, for anyone to get hurt. Freedom was all she searched for, but she traded one master for another.
Aria’s usual dusty pink feathers are now laced with black coal. Her nails, once a familiar bright red, are stained with a dull, senseless gray. Her heart is beating for the evil that has taken over her body instead of for the compassion and honesty that used to devour her.
“My dear Aria, you should have listened to Gabriel when he warned you of the fall,” Lucifer whispers deviously as Aria changes from the angel of love to something… else.
As Aria sees Lucifer’s smirk, her vibrant green eyes turn to a fiery red, her bright blond hair to tresses of dark curls. Lucifer kneels and holds her head in his rough hands.
“My beautiful girl, you’ve come back for me, haven’t you?” Lucifer says with certainty.
Aria replies with a grin so devious her canines appear. “Of course my love, who would not want such a man at their side?”
Pulling her close to his body, he strokes her changed, pale cheek. He remembers the softness of her skin, even though it had been a millennium. Staring into Aria’s eyes for only a second before making up his mind, Lucifer takes his prize back down to hell with him. His first love has finally returned.
The demons inside her would never rest, forever cursing their love. The second time, no one would be safe from the fires of hell.
Sleep is a luxury to me, as it is frequently interrupted. As expected, Philip wakes me. Following him down the majestic wooden staircase, I see Mr. Addison waiting, tapping his foot on the beige carpet.
“What time did I fall asleep?” I ask Philip, trying to conjure a definite sense of time.
“Around nine,” he replies with certainty.
The large grandfather clock beside Mr. Addison reads 11:54. Judging by the lack of sun from the stained-glass windows overhead, I guess it’s nighttime. I suddenly remember why I could fall asleep. I grew bored, as I am not familiar with having nothing to attend. I take the valuable time to rest, physically and mentally.
The man waiting in his dining room appears no older than I. His dark hair looks to have never grown past his chin. His five o’clock shadow leaves me struggling to guess his age.
“Mr. Addison, this is Miss Richards, your new servant,” Philip introduces me, and Mr. Addison turns slightly, showing me his entire face.
I stare into his rainforest-green eyes and notice a scar sitting over his left eye.
“Ah, yes. Thank you, Philip, you can retire for the night.” Mr. Addison smiles.
Philip bows his head, walks to the back of the house, leaving Mr. Addison and me with only ourselves. As I try to avoid Mr. Addison’s gaze, I notice a flower pattern running along the room, stopping at each doorframe.
“My mother’s idea,” Mr. Addison noted. I blush because he notices my avoidance.
Mr. Addison must remember his mother by the framework; he stares at it reverently. “She adored flowers and convinced my father to have them all over. The only thing more dear to her heart were her children,” he says.
I nod my head slowly and clench my clasped hands.
“Please sit, Miss Richards,” he says while pointing to the chair behind me.
With a light chuckle, he grabs the plates nearest to him and walks toward me. “You are the first servant to have been close to my age since my parents were here,” he tells me as I watch for the subtle signs of permission to speak.
My eyes grow large as I notice him setting a full plate in front of him and me. I can’t help but salivate as I wait to be invited to eat.
“Hopefully you won’t find me a bad employer. I haven’t noticed any gossip from my servants,” he says playfully.
I nod my head in response and play with the hem of my shirt.
“Oh right… um, you may do as you please, Miss Richards. It’s only when there are others around that I will ask you to act appropriately,” he says matter-of-factly, like a schoolboy attempting to be the head-of-the-house.
I feel safer now, having been shown kindness, and I start to eat some of the food. For almost twenty minutes, we eat in silence, I having no desire to talk and he appreciating my company. I catch him sizing me up, playing guessing games with my history. I imagine him asking if I had been abused before and that’s why I do not speak. The less complex answer is I have nothing to say.
“I have one rule, Miss Richards,” he says, wiping his mouth with a cloth napkin. “Call me Zach, never Mr. Addison.”
I nod slightly, taking in the one rule. Zach sighs casually, sitting back to look me over. I see no point in looking back so I finish my meal. I eat until I can’t anymore; this is the largest meal I’ve eaten in the last year! My last home was beautiful until the master’s son took over, treating me like the servant I am. He refused me food but always stood behind his parent’s rule: never beat a female servant.
“Tell me something about you, Miss Richards,” Zach requests. He supports his chin with calmly fisted hands, resting his elbows on the marble table.
Tell me something about you….I haven’t the slightest clue of what to say. Nothing about myself could be as interesting as the man in front of me.
Playing copycat, I reply, “I like being called Cassie.”
He nods respectfully. “Okay, Cassie, what do I need to know about you?” Zach says, trying to dig deeper.
“I’m allergic to lemon juice and bees,” I say as I remember Mother Ester telling me that notifying owners of allergies is always a good idea if you have nothing else to mention.
He says, “Good thing I hate lemon juice and my gardener keeps bees away from the roses after spring.” He chuckles lightly.
“I also like to read.”
He leans forward, straightening his posture. “Maybe one night a week you can sit with me in my study and read before we go to bed,” he says with a smile.
My grin seems to overpower his as I reply, “I would like that, Mr. Zach.”
He pats my hand lightly and says, “Rogue will get these things for us, but I’ve had a long day. I assume you have too.” He stands and sets the dishes neatly atop one another.
He’s right. Leaving North Carolina that early in the morning after having served my previous home’s party, arriving at my new place, and meeting my master has drained me.
“Yes, Zach, you’re right,” I murmur and stand up, pushing my chair in.
“Good night Cassandra.”
I bow, returning the good night, and retire to my bedroom. I decide Mr. Addison is a sweet, gentle man. However, as a veteran servant, I know first impressions can be deceiving.
“Remember, Cassie, don’t say anything out of line and keep your head up or you may just be pushed down.” I listened to Mother Esther as she packed up my new clothes in my suitcase. I don’t remember ever doing anything on my own until I turned thirteen and was taught how to serve the wealthy. I was sent to my first house at fifteen. They were a nice, old couple. They needed help with little things. They treated me well, somewhat like a daughter. Mother Esther told me this was not so unusual with older couples.
“Now tell me the five rules.”
I took a deep breath and messed with my heart locket. “One: Never talk back or when not spoken to. Two: always smile but never laugh; make yourself look gentle. Three: Always be prepared for anything, even if it’s a beating. Four: Do not allow the men to touch you like you’re a pay girl, not until twenty-one. And five is um…”
I nodded my head.
These are rules I’ve had to follow for the last seven years. I’m once again being sent to a new home in New York. Rule four will no longer apply and I will not be safe from men with wandering hands and lustful eyes. I must serve every need of my new ‘owner’ and tend to his every wish.
Watching as a tree goes by my car window, I remember reading about the trees constantly being cut down to make room for new housing. Most of the deforestation was for people who didn’t have homes. Everyone has a home now, but not everyone is free. I, like many others, must serve the wealthy and elegant. I eat two meals a day, if not less. We all evolve and adjust to survive.
Most servants are girls and are met with disrespect. The few boys who end up with a job like mine are treated as nothing but trash. We are treated this way because we are orphans, unloved and unwanted. Either our parents were rich people who didn’t want a child, or we were a mistake between two lonely servants, forbidden. I’ve learned the only children raised wealthy are those who have one or more affluent parents wanting a child. Otherwise, you end up… like me.
We were taught no differently than wealthy kids, with only a few extra things to learn. About twenty percent of servant girls end up as wives to the men that ‘own’ them, so it’s not that bad.
“Miss Richards, we’re here.” The driver speaks as I look up at the towering house. Climbing out of the car to grab my bag from the trunk, the driver removes my hand and says, “Allow me, miss.” I nod and admire the area around the house. Mr. Addison seems to enjoy all types of roses; I don’t think I’ve seen so many in one place. I grab my backpack and start walking, pulling my suitcase behind me.
Zachary Addison’s would be my third home in the last seven years, although he is my first young bachelor. As I shake, I remember to keep my head up and my feelings locked away, as always. I walk up to the door and ring the bell. The outside gives an impression that the home could hold a hundred or more people, all at once.
The door opens slowly. Eyes wide, I look at a man probably in his late 50’s. He has graying hair but gentle eyes. It’s normal for butlers to open doors when I arrive at new places.
“Miss Richards, I presume?”
Nodding my head, I step in when he moves out of the way. The enunciation of his vowels gave away his accent, almost Yorkshire-like. He is a foreigner, and that relaxes me. “Mr. Addison is away on business until later this evening, but he has requested for you to have dinner with him when he returns.”
“Of course,” I reply.
This is usual. Employers want to look over their new servants, confirm they are healthy and fit.
“May I know your name?” I direct my attention towards the butler.
The three servants of the home talk to each other. We all find ways to talk, release our anger, or help hide each other’s sadness. Showing either emotion is not okay.
“I am Philip, Miss. Now let me show you to your room.”
I follow him up the staircase, trailing my suitcase behind me. The house was clearly made for many servants or a big family. From what I see and hear, there are only three male servants; two were cleaning the house. “Now, you will be the cook and waitress when Mr. Addison has parties. How old are you?” Phillip inquires.
“I’m twenty-one,” I look away, careful to use only my eyes.
His eyes speak more than his mouth ever could. I will have more work than he mentioned if Mr. Addison wants to have his needs fulfilled. He opens a door but doesn’t step inside. The room looks designed for a wealthy daughter, not a servant. “This will be your room till Mr. Addison says otherwise.”
I nod, place my suitcase on the silk sheets, and look around the room.
With cream carpets and little designs running along the floor, up the wall to the edge of the ceiling, I feel out of place. One window sits opposite of the bed, to the right of the door. Looking back to ask Philip where Mr. Addison’s room is, I see I am all alone.
Closing the door, I sit on a small seat at the end of the bed. “New home, different rules.” Gripping my heart locket a little tighter, I close my eyes and breathe. I will be safe as I always am. I will not fall or break. I will not be human.
The eyes were sunken into the head of the blue-tinted body, which smelled of a familiar decomposition, similar to that dead cat she’d been forced to dissect in science class. Death was a new sensation for Charlotte, her first time experiencing it on this mild spring day. Remembering her parents discussing a missing man from their small town, Charlotte deduced she had found him. What a triumphant victory. Her feet stumbled as she ran away, but not before she had taken special notice of the decaying corpse that lay still. About a mile away – or five in the eyes of a child – was the closest road and she followed it home. Only able to conjure a light sleep, Charlotte dreamed of the deterioration she had left behind.
Creeping carefully down a path laced with hemlock, Charlotte walked along the steps she’d taken during the day. Diverging from the road, she traced an unbeaten deer path to the end of a row of trees. She knew where to go from the circling buzzards. Near a secreted lake where cattails grew like wildflowers, the body lay stagnant. The water revealed the carefully hidden body, partially submerged. Now he was more recognizable than before; he looked almost alive.
“How is this possible?” she whispered to herself in horror.
Remembering what her science teacher had told her about death and the decomposition cycle, how decomposition was a quick and unforgiving process, she began her cycle of curiosity.
She leaned in. Getting a closer look at the corpse beneath her seemed to dull her interest, but it didn’t quite satisfy it. She noted his missing shirt, swollen belly, blue tint that seemed less blue than before. She found a nearby stick. After poking his chest, she was unsure what to do next. He didn’t budge. Charlotte wanted to touch him, to feel how cold he was. She leaned in once more, now with a more devious intent. Curiosity took over her mind and body as she placed her delicate finger on the corpse’s shoulder.
Charlotte’s hand touched the shoulder of the dead man, and she was jolted awake by the shock of his reaction. She jumped out of bed, ran to her window to see what time it was. She noticed it was light outside; her parents must be at work. She grabbed a light jacket and slammed her feet into her lighted sketchers. The door crashed shut.
Charlotte knew her path. Led only by fear, excitement, curiosity, and hungry birds, she flew down along the hemlock trees and trampled the deer trail. She disturbed the lake with her feet, unable to slow her erratic pace. She looked at the body and was immediately relieved that it was all a dream. The man lay there, as blue as when she’d left him eight house ago, perhaps more.
For good measure, Charlotte had to recreate her nightmare. She leaned in, took a stick and poked his chest. Nothing moved but the water supporting the body. Looking at the unnatural hue of his face, the question crept into her mind. Do all corpses decompose this quickly? A proper girl would have pushed the thought far from her mind, but Charlotte allowed herself to dwell on the idea for several minutes before continuing with her endeavor. She reached her hand towards his shoulder. Noticing every crevice the decomposition had left on the body, she was careful not to deviate from last night’s dream.
She didn’t have time to process what his skin felt like until a blue-black, half decomposed hand appeared, grabbing hers.
Marigold took a deep, steadying breath, closed her eyes, and pictured Comfort. She held the image of being at ease and soothed in her mind: wrapped in warm blankets on cold winter nights, settling into the soft curves of a caring lover amidst the steady sound of rain pattering on the window pane, watching fireflies from her porch in evening twilight while cicadas sang, the smell of freshly poured tea mixing with old spices and herbs in her mother’s kitchen and workshop. Some memories were much, much older than others, but they were still fresh in her mind even all these decades later.
Opening her eyes, Marigold observed her tea bags, prepared and almost ready to be set out for sale. Inside the handcrafted bags she’d mixed Chamomile and Skullcap herbs, spiced with her own blend of seasonings and marketed as a heavy duty stress reliever. Now Marigold set to adding the final and most secret ingredient. Memories held firmly in her mind, she took a small pen loaded with a dark, non-toxic ink. With a steady and practiced hand, Marigold drew the sigil for Communication on each bag. With her memories clear and present at the forefront of her mind while she wrote, the message was clear. A small taste of power glowed from the sygills, shining in the early morning light for a glorious moment before fading into the background hum of everyday magic.
Marigold placed the pen back in its carefully crafted and well-loved case on her kitchen table and allowed herself a moment to lean back in her chair and regather herself.
“A simple spell like that wearing me out…” she said to herself. “Aging is certainly no task for the weak.” Marigold smiled.
The peace of early morning reflection was nudged away by the soft and quietly insistent chime of Marigold’s smartphone. Glancing over to the counter where her phone charged overnight, Marigold caught sight of the time on her hanging wall clock. It was a well-crafted wooden piece, a gift from an old friend. The handsome face informed her eyes what the phone had informed her ears; it was half past seven and time to open her store front.
Marigold stood and gathered her things from the small wooden table. The kitchen around her was still, lit a warm yellow by sunlight peeking in through the eastern facing window. A brass tea kettle sat cooling on the stovetop from her breakfast cup, shining bright against the dull practicality of the old stove. Her sink was much more modern, shiny and chrome from when Marigold had been forced to replace the original the space had been built with. A vital pipe had finally rusted beyond the point of no return.
Her Council had been baffled by her choice to replace it the old fashioned way, she remembered. ‘Marigold, a simple sygill for Remembering and the pipe will be good as new! Why bother with hiring a plumber and tearing out the whole sink?’ Marigold remembered what she’d placated them with – something about the landlord knowing the pipe had been troubling her and the problem suddenly vanishing would have cast eyes where they shouldn’t be, easily understood and entirely logical caution for the sake of cover.
Marigold’s actual reason was significantly more complicated and close to her heart. If she’d been forced to put into words, Marigold might describe it as the same reason she had purchased a smartphone and tried to keep on top of how it worked. A desire to have common ground, perhaps.
But that was entirely too melancholy a train of thought for such a fine, bright morning. Placing the box of tea carefully under one arm and her phone in her apron pocket, Marigold left her kitchen and walked through the tight, light green hallway of the flat. Past her tiny bedroom and the cozy sitting room were the steep stairs to her shop below, which Marigold descended with practiced ease even at her age. Once at the bottom, Marigold reached up with her right hand and felt for the sygill precisely carved into the doorframe. The feeling of Protection and Alarm at the Ready still rang in her mind as strong as ever. No ne’er-do-well was getting in without Marigold’s knowledge and swift retribution.
Marigold opened the door. Her shop greeted her nose first, tea leaves and herbs from the world over mixing into an intoxicating aroma entirely unique to her space. Marigold Tea House was the official name, though most of her customers couldn’t help tacking a possessive ‘s’ onto it. Marigold’s Tea House really wasn’t that different at the end of the day, so she rarely bothered correcting it. She smiled as her eyes swept over the space, cleaned and prepped for facing another day of thirsty customers.
Unfortunately, Marigold’s gaze caught onto her most hated enemy. How she despised it, how she loathed it, how even the look of the thing threatened to sour her mood. It crouched on her countertop like a giant cockroach. Marigold frowned at the offending black menace while laying out the basket of tea bags.
“Now,” she calmly said to the pest. “Are you going to be cooperative this morning, or are we going to have issues?”
The cash register said nothing. Marigold wasn’t expecting it to; it was only a cash register. She calmly and steadily marched to her spot behind the counter and confidently keyed in the sequence for opening the store. The register paused for a moment, thinking over Marigold’s simple request as though it was a monumental task.
Beep Beep! The register chirped. Marigold sighed through her nose and looked at the display with a slow curl of dread.
Err//Op Not Valid
“Ah. This again. I admit it has been a long while since your opening volley has been the literal opening.” Marigold keyed in the sequence again, more slowly this time and carefully ensuring that each button press was inputted correctly.
Err//Op Not Valid
“What pray tell is not valid about the sequence that has opened your drawer for customers every single day for the past 35 years?!” Marigold tried again, more forcefully that necessary.
Err//Op Not Valid
“Technical support isn’t taking my morning calls anymore, you beast. I am going to enter this code one final time, and if you do not cooperate I swear on all the sygils known and not that I will end you. Most likely with a baseball bat.”
The register mulled things over for a while, and though Marigold knew it could not have actually heard or understood anything she said, it was very satisfying to see it finally accept her code. The cash drawer popped open with a merry ching! Battle won but war far from over, Marigold quickly counted the cash and noted the sum in the books. As she removed the various piles of bills, sygils were revealed. Smooth Workings and Sensitivity and Clean were the most obvious ones, but countless attempts at enacting her will on the stubborn machine were visible if you knew how to look for them. Marigold hardly remembered what problem she had initially been trying to fix after all this time, and she had a sneaking suspicion her continued attempts were only making it worse.
“One of these days,” Marigold muttered to herself, “one of these days I will finally grow sick enough to replace you entirely, and what a fine day that will be!”
The cash register said nothing, but Marigold knew the fiend was being smug again.
The night was always the loneliest time for Tredan. He remembered years ago a time when he never felt this way. Was it a decade? Two? After so long, keeping track had lost its importance, and wandering the world had become Tredan’s only occupation.
His new life had begun at the end of the war, when the Havat empire invasion had put Tredan’s homelands under their control. The war had lasted less than a year and the soldiers Tredan had fought alongside had either been killed or enslaved. All of them except Tredan, for he had seen the defeat coming and at the last charge abandoned his post.
Fleeing to the woods he looked back to see fires breaking out atop the castle walls. Tredan ran until the screams of his people were finally silenced, then until the guilt was finally outweighted by exhaustion. After days of running, he was lost deep in the forest of Balisk. He searched aimlessly for a road, or even a hunting trail. It had been a month–at least it felt like a month–before Tredan found other people.
He took refuge with the village’s blacksmith for a time until he had earned enough to travel on. He left that place in the dead of night; too many knew of his old platoon, the Black Wolves, and their many exploits in the ever declining defense of their country. They had tried–by the gods, they had tried–year after year to stem the invasion.
Failure still gripped Tredan no matter how much he drank and no matter how far he ran. And now, years later in the midst of unfamiliar forests, he gripped himself tight by the fire. He was shaking from the strain as the faces of his comrades raged at him from the flames.
He was still wandering the next day aimlessly walking a trail to an unknown destination. It had been so long since he had seen a village. He had no food, no water, and only his old sword at his belt. His thoughts of nourishment fled as he left the forest’s edge, looking out at the old ruins of a castle, its remains scorched and overgrown with vegetation.
This was his home. The place he had fought so hard to defend and run for so long to forget. Walking the grounds again depleted him of emotion. This place had not even been worth rebuilding. He attempted to fill the ruined halls the memories he still had. Tredan fell to all fours weeping at his cowardice, until the growls of an animal pulled him back. The largest wolf he had ever seen looked down at him with from a roof top. Eyes as yellow as the harvest moon, and mid-night black fur bristling at Tredan’s intrusion. The falling sun masked the beast’s movement as Tredan drew his blade for the last time.
Aleine was running harder than she had ever thought possible, sucking in the warm air and exhaling with a hiss as she bolted across the open water. The water walk technique which was so embedded in her body over the past decade was taxing to her magic. She spun around on one of her steps and balanced as she froze more of the area. Feeling the heat rise up her scaled skirt and over her bare legs, the flush of warmth soothed the ache in her muscles.
She scanned the dense foliage for any sign of movement, keeping her eyes moving while she pulled her bow from her shoulders. She felt the worn grip of her recurve bow with a light metal spine in the wood. It was almost older than she was, but strong enough to handle the magically aided draw that she put on it.
Nocking an arrow, she caught the scent of burned flesh tinging the air and a moment later her prey burst forth from the tree line. Aleine had lured the Toridea towards the village so they wouldn’t have to carry it far. Now was her shot–the beast had taken a few arrows already, it was angry, and its acidic saliva ran like a river all its own. The great reptile outweighed three grown men and was able to glide through water silently when it wasn’t enraged.
This one was, however; its gills flared and eyes widened as it stared down towards Aleine. She drew her arrow back, the comforting sound of the strain filling her ear over the thrashing of the charging beast. In the span of a heartbeat, as the Toridea’s front feet reached the height of its step, she released the arrow.
The long thin head whistled as it sped through the space between prey and hunter. After years under the best marksman in the village, Aleine’s aim was nearly as good. In a spray of blood and saliva the beast fell into a forward roll from its interrupted momentum. With a second arrow loosed into the under belly the beast was fished, its few remaining breaths labored and wheezy.
“Good shot,” Hafwen called to her from the shore line, as a smirk cracked her stony face. She had raised and mentored Aleine for nearly two decades, all for the trials she would face tomorrow on her twentieth birthday.
The large wooden doors to the village opened and a group of men walked out nodding politely to Hafwen. As they approached Aleine, who was slushing through the river towards the shore, a few patted her shoulder and gave passing praise. Aleine looked over to Hafwen who was shaking her head and pointing to her kill. After all this time she hounded Aleine to keep up her basics, and now wanted her to retrieve her arrows.
As she lowered her head and turned to her task, one of the younger men was still beside her.
“Care for a lift?” his voice cracked a little making Aleine smile as she accepted. He hoisted her upon one shoulder and continued to the kill. The men in the Misten’s tribes where large mountains of honed muscle, their natural strength letting them maintain the villages. The men generally stayed at the village as defense and also building and repairing building, a task made much easier by their ability to work in chest-deep water.
With the day’s hunt done, Aleine returned through the gates of the Aquar Equian tribe’s Village, where the preparations for Aleine’s trials were already under way.
Hafwen paced on the deck in the mid-day sun absently playing with the braid in her hair. She had been hunting in the forest when the messenger from Celestaon had summoned her. She had never actually spoken to the eldest of the village; few did, but fewer still were summoned personally.
Now anxiety was setting in after spending all morning waiting for the elder on her porch. Hafwen had trained to function without sleep, but four days was pushing it. She watched all the people breaking for a meal and heading towards the communal house. The smell of seasoned meat had been filling the air and taunting her for the past couple of hours.
A couple of builders passed close to the deck and glanced up at Hafwen with broad smiles and flexing arms. She smiled back as best her weary mind would allow. They continued on, leaving Hafwen to fall on the railing of the porch and repeatedly tapping it with her forehead in frustration.
“You will injure that pretty face child,” a gentle voice cooed to Hafwen, sending her into a surprised attack pose that she almost landed.
The full chested laugh of woman over a hundred years old was a wheezy, chirping sound. It was almost as embarrassing to Hafwen as the barely stable footing she found.
“Elder Celestaon!” Hafwen said hurriedly once her mind was at ease again.
“Come in child. I am sure you could use some rest.” The old woman waved a hand as she opened the door to her home.
The threshold of the Celestaon’s home was like a portal to some other world. The smells of a thousand herbs and the cool air that caressed her skin was in sharp contrast to the world outside. Misten was a marsh drenched nearly all year long, where everything your senses perceived came with an overtone of wet. The Elder sat in a chair covered with the furs of half a dozen beasts and stared at Hafwen.
“My child, I will come to the point.” The old woman’s eyes had a fierceness to them that stunned Hafwen. “I have asked your Constelari all about you in the days since you were sent hunting. They tell me you are solitary; that you spend your days training, and have honed yourself into one of our finest hunters. You are also a devote woman wise beyond your elders.”
“Thank you.” Hafwen’s words came out meek, as she thought, why was Celestaon praising her?
Celestaon wasn’t smiling though. “What I am about to ask you will be more difficult than any beast you’ve faced. You have been given a Starlen, starting today.”
Hafwen was speechless. Given a Starlen—the tribe’s term for young member. They were never given like this; she had thought to take on a Starlen in a few years—everyone did eventually, as it was a responsibility to the tribe. Taking in a child to raise them, watch them, and eventually welcome them into your own Constelari.
The soft footfalls of the Celestaon’s handmaiden pulled Hafwen from her thoughts of imposed responsibility. The small girl carried a squirming blanket over to Hafwen who reached for the child with trembling hands. Pulling the child up to her chest caused the blanket to fall, slightly exposing the baby to the humid air of the cabin.
Hafwen stared at the markings on the child and in disbelief stared down her own loose shirt to her markings. She cast a glance to the elder, the highest authority in the Aquar Eques tribe. Celestaon laced her fingers, resting her wrinkled chin in them, and said, “her name is Aleine, and she is going to have a very trying life. We must do what we can while she is with us.”