I’ve been combing through old laptops, moving pictures and old stories to a USB drive. There were a few stories I had started, then stopped. When my grandmother died, a piece of me died as well. There was a part of me that was sad that I couldn’t share my stories with her, and when I wrote, I knew I couldn’t call her about this great idea I had. Then things shifted and changed in my career, I moved up and lost a piece of myself in a way. I put everything I enjoyed on the backburner as I became entrenched in my job.
Over the last five years, I have learned a ton about myself both personally and professionally. I feel like my job has made me more organized – even when it comes to writing. Below is a story I had started, then stopped. Does anyone have any old WIPs that just died, or is it just me?
Brita held her breath, listening to the night. The steady ticking of the clock on the wall and her Grams snoring in the room adjacent to hers fill the room. Throwing back the coverlet, she hurried out of bed, silently getting dressed in the moonlight streaming in from the window. She glanced in the mirror and stop dead in her tracks. Even in the dimly lit room, the shadows in the mirror don’t lie – her wild tresses stray in a million directions, her waist dips in while her hips flare out, and her porcelain skin screams of fine lotions and pampering.
After the incident she pulled a few months ago, the last thing she needed was for a guard to report a young woman was sneaking around the manor in the middle of the night. Her father would flip, and if she was actually caught or he found out it was her…
Women, well, not just women, but all females – from the time they can walk and throughout their lives – are only to be seen when summoned and only be heard when asked to speak. For as long as Brita could remember, there have always been more men than women. Over a hundred years ago, when the Great War broke out, millions of people died, cities were destroyed, and the land was consumed by chemicals. When the country was at its weakest, the Aeron rose up and conquered. And the democratic government that once ruled the land became nothing more than a history lesson. One of my father’s favorite teachings is that there can only be one ruler, one true king. But what good is a king if one day there isn’t a queen? No one, not even the best physicians, anticipated the virus that wiped out the x chromosome in the males who contracted the virus.
Sighing in disgust, she wrapped a bandage around her breasts, changed into shirt that hid her curves, and then glared at her hair in the mirror. Her grams loved her kinked out, strawberry blonde hair because she says it matches Brita’s character beautifully – wild and untamable. But Brita hated the long locks because they were almost impossible to hide. She threw her hair in a bun, hoping the pile of bobby pins she put in it would hold it, and put on a ball cap. With a few smudges of make-up, her skin went from flawless to blemished and she hoped it was enough as she grabbed a pair of night vision goggles from under her bed. She moved the chair next to the nightstand, and then paused, listening once again for any sounds in the night. A few seconds later, she pulled open the door to the hidden passageway in the floor.
She climbed down into the hole in the ground, shutting the door behind her, and rubbed her arms. Shivering, she put on the night vision goggles, and jogged through the tunnel. She turned to the right as it split in two. One way led outside of the manor and the other led to the middle. At the end of the tunnel, Brita rubbed her sweaty palms on her pants as she placed her ear against the door. She inched the door open, peeked out, and she couldn’t stop the small smile from breaking out on her face. The obstacle course was shrouded in shadows and the training arena was completely empty.
The boys were able to run, train, and do pretty much anything they wanted to do at any time, which, if you ask her, was pretty sickening. Why couldn’t she run or wear pants or say what she wanted to say without being reprimanded and punished? She shook her head in disgust as she flew over one hurtle and then the next with ease. Picking up the pace, she grabbed the rope and climbed over the three story wall, repelled down the other side, and glanced at the watch on her wrist. She was making better time than she did the last time she was able to sneak out here, and every time, the obstacle course had changed slightly. The one thing Mr. Grady prided himself on was how he increased the difficulty of the course as time progressed. It was like he got a high off those who failed the course, but she enjoyed the challenge, so what did that say about her? The steady pounding of her heart, controlled breathing, stretching her muscles, and pushing her body to the limit made her feel alive.
Grams always told her she could be anything she wanted to be, but she had to do it quietly – to act tamed, but never be tamed. The walls had been built around them, but it was up to them to slowly break them down. Brita climbed up the net in front of her, latched onto the metal bars, and dangled above the muddy water below. Her arms screamed in protest as she moved across the bars and she felt the telltale sign of a blister forming, but she kept going. Pain was just a sign that she was alive and for a short amount of time she could forget her mother was dead and her father was only a father by title. Did he even care about her thoughts and her feelings?
In her heart, she knew her father was not ready for change, and what the king wanted, the king got. Sighing, she jumped onto the platform, crossed the finish line, and looked down at her watch. Smiling, she did a quick victory fist pump. Own personal best annihilated. She couldn’t wait to tell her grams. Yeah, grams would reprimand her for sneaking around in the middle of the night, but then she would smile and fold me into her arms.
Brita turned at the sound of light clapping behind her and her stomach twisted into knots. What was he doing here?
“Not bad,” Prince Grayson said, walking toward her with a flashlight in his hand.
Brita bowed. “Thank you,” she said in a low, deep voice, avoiding eye contact. Did she sound boyish enough? Was her shirt baggy enough? She pulled her ball cap down and tucked a stray hair back into it.
Her father had invited him and his father to their home, and she had purposely avoided the prince at all cost. She wasn’t one to usually spend extra hours with her tutors, but she did so gladly this past week. He wasn’t bad on the eyes by any means – well chiseled muscles, dark hair, great smile with a cute little dimple, but his eyes told the story of his soul and they were colder than a winter day.
“Do you always train in the middle of the night while everyone else is dead asleep?”
She nodded, taking a step back as he hopped onto the platform. “It’s easier to focus. No distractions.” He arched an eyebrow and held the light up to her face. She wiped her hands on her pants and took a deep breath, trying to keep calm. He reached for her ball cap, but she quickly turned her head, and moved away from him.
“What’s the big deal? Take off your hat, so I can at least see who I’m speaking to.”
There was definitely a haughty, regal tone to his voice and she came close to pushing him off the platform, but somehow managed to keep her temper in check. Keep cool, Brita, keep cool. “It’s the middle of the night,” she said. “And you have a small flashlight. How much of me are you really going to see?” His eyes narrowed, but she kept going. “After failing the course miserably today, I wanted to take another go at it. You know what I mean?”
“I watched everyone who went through the course earlier today and I don’t recall someone as scrawny as you attempting it. Besides,” he said, rubbing his jaw as he stepped toward her. “How does someone who failed it just a few hours ago suddenly blow through it faster than anyone else? That’s a pretty vast improvement, wouldn’t you agree?”
Oh, what the hell, she thought as she gut punched him with her elbow and leaped off the platform, heading for the nearest hall. She couldn’t go the way she came and risk him seeing her slide into secret passageway that led to her room, but if she could make it to the servants’ quarters nearby, there was another passageway she could take that would lead her to the hallway where her room was located. Risky? Absolutely. But her odds were better than the alternative.
“Get back here!”
Brita glanced behind her. He was barreling toward her with his hands clenched into fists and his face was scrunched up like a mad hog. She rounded the corner, lifted up the metal grate, jumped in and shut it gently just as Grayson rounded the corner. She held her breath as he passed by without slowing down. Her heart pounded in her ears as she sank down onto the dirty floor. Sweat dripped down her back and the side of her face, and she closed her eyes, enjoying the cold seeping through her clothes from the rock that was her saving grace.
“Rise and shine, B.,” said Grams, opening the curtains around Brita’s bed.
Brita groaned as the sunlight flashed across her face. Pulling two pillows over her head, she snuggled deeper under the covers. It couldn’t be morning already.
Grams pulled off the pillows and tossed them onto the floor, then reached for the covers.
“Not yet, Grams. Just a few more minutes, please,” Brita said, holding onto the cover for dear life. “The sun has barely risen. I don’t have anything pressing that I need to do, and I’ll even pay attention when Mac drones on and on about this plant and that plant.” Mac was her botany teacher, which was one of the subjects her grams fussed at her about because she thought it was one of the vital subjects since anyone could survive if they knew what plants they could eat in the wild. It was right up there with agriculture in her book, but Brita’s thumb was beyond black – the poor thing was rotting off. She killed anything she touched and every plant looked like a weed to her. It drove Mac batty and he would give her an exasperated look every time he had to re-explain the difference between a tomato plant and a hog weed.
“I somehow doubt that,” Grams said, tugging the covers off her. “How many times have you said that and you still can’t tell the difference between a bean plant and poison ivy?! Now get on up and get at it. If you wouldn’t have spent half the night roaming around the halls, you wouldn’t be so tired.” She laid a dress on the bed and gave Brita a stern look. “What happens when one night you’re caught? How do you think your father will feel about that?”
Pushing her wiry strawberry blonde hair out of her face, she sat up and leaned against the wooden headboard. It always amazed her how her grams always looked so put together. She was pushing seventy, but there wasn’t a spec of grey on her head. Her short, blonde locks framed her pixie face, enhancing her bright, blue eyes that spoke of a kindness that was unusual for most people. “But I haven’t been caught, Grams, and it’s the only time I feel like I’m free. I don’t have to worry about doing or saying the wrong thing. I can just be me without being reprimanded for not being what a proper lady should be.”
Grams sat next to her and patted her knee with her well-manicured hand. “I know, princess, I know. Things around here need to change, but slowly. If you get caught running through that course like a wild chimpanzee, your father would probably stroke out, but before he died, he would send you off to be wed, and then where will we be? Hmm?” Brita shrugged and picked at the cover with her fingers. “You’ll be hundreds of miles away and I’ll be stuck here with these stuffy, obnoxious men.”
“There are at least a few cute ones here that might keep your mind occupied,” Brita mumbled.
“Yes, a few cute ones to look at, but that’s all they have going for them. Not a single one has a decent brain with a little common sense. Although, they might be good for a quick toss under the covers…”
Brita grimaced. That’s the last image she needed or wanted imbedded in her mind. She really wasn’t on the same page as her grandmother when it came to men. A few of them had a brain and a little common sense, but their egotistical attitudes annihilated the other two. She didn’t want to hear about their accomplishments, how terrific they were, and why she should be glad to be seen on their arm. She wanted someone who cared enough about who she was to ask her what her dreams are instead of just assuming she wanted nothing more than to be a wife and a mother.
Brita was about to reply when a knock sounded at the door. She grabbed the robe she had tossed on the floor the night before and put it on right before her father stormed in. His face might as well have been carved in stone – his expression never changed. The same stoic look remained plastered on his face and sometimes she wondered if he ever learned how to smile. There was a crimson flush to his neck and a tick in his jaw. Yeah, he was pissed about something. Did Grayson somehow realize it was her who escaped his clutches the night before? Surely not. It was dark and he never got a good look at her face. Biting her cheek, she hugged her arms around her knees and waited.
“What is she still doing in bed?” he asked her grandmother, his voice flat and even as his eyes raked over Brita. Her stomach tightened and she studied her toes as she breathed in and out slowly.
“It’s my fault,” Grams explained, holding up her hands. “I slept a little later than usual. I guess I was more tired than I thought I was. These old bones didn’t stir until the sun was shining in through the window.”
“The girl’s old enough to get herself up. She’ll be eighteen in a few weeks’ time, which is why I’m here.” Grams glanced over at her and Brita saw a flash of fear in her eyes before she quickly masked it. “We will celebrate not only her birthday, but we will celebrate the union of two kingdoms as her and Prince Grayson wed.”
Her eyes widened and her heart stuck in her throat as she shook her head in disbelief. Her grandmother stepped away with her father and whispered heatedly, before finally pleading with him about something, but Brita couldn’t make out what she was saying. Did he really say Grayson? Grayson’s cold dark eyes and hateful sneer flashed in front of her and she shuddered. She couldn’t have heard her father correctly. “Grayson? Of all the men available, you picked Grayson to be my husband?”
Her grandmother and father stopped talking. “Yes,” he said, turning toward her. “I should have wed you off last year, but the negotiations needed some fine tuning. As you said, there are plenty of men available, but as you know, there are very few women and even fewer that were groomed to be a queen.”
Brita started counting to three silently, but it was useless. She jumped up, grabbed a pillow off the floor and threw it at him. “You must have lost your mind,” she said, glaring at him as he easily caught the pillow. “I will not marry that viper, and I feel sorry for anyone who has to be led by such an incompetent…”
“Enough!” her father said, stepping toward her. “You will do as you’re told.”
Grams stepped in-between them, took the pillow from her father, and placed it on the floor. “Wellington, you must know you have blindsided her with this information. Marriage is a thing all girls worry about.”
“I am the King and I will be obeyed. Her obstinacy and lack of respect deserves ten lashes, and I will see to that myself. Have her in the throne room in an hour.”
Grams gasped and wrapped her arms around Brita, but Brita could only glare at his back as he walked out of her room. It wouldn’t be the first time she had felt the sting of a whip that had been wielded by his hands. The whippings had become less and less over time, not because he broke her, but because she grew a little smarter with each passing year. She fought the chains of oppression he tried to drown her in every time she snuck out, every time she pulled on a pair of pants, and whenever she scoured the many hidden passages of her pretty prison. He may be the king and he may force her hand, but her feelings would always be hers. She would never love him like a daughter should love a father, and she would never love Grayson.
An hour later Brita stood in the throne room alone, staring up at her father defiantly. Grams wanted to come, but Brita begged her to stay behind. The physical pain would come and go, the wounds would heal, but she refused to give him the satisfaction of hurting a piece of her soul and if her grams had to watch, that’s exactly what would happen.
The sound of a door opening echoed through the empty room, but Brita refused to look. It wasn’t long before Prince Grayson stood beside her father. Her stomach churned in disgust, but she managed to keep her face expressionless.
“What’s the meaning of this?” Grayson said, looking at her and then at the long, black whip in her father’s hand. “If she is to become my wife, I will not have her marked by your hand, and I’m sure my father would agree.”
Her father rubbed his graying temple. “One day you will be a king and she will be your queen. She needs to learn respect and to quell her childish temper.”
“There are other ways to teach her those things without marring her flesh. Move up the wedding date, let me take her for my wife, and I will take the problem from you. I promise she will be a different woman in just a few months’ time.”
Brita’s knees buckled slightly, but she kept herself upright. The room felt too hot, her heart beat too fast, and the air seemed too thick to breathe. She would rather feel the sting of the whip than to marry a monster. It was bad enough having one as a father, but at least she had the hope of one day being out of his clutches. Grayson would be permanent. There was only one way out after she said her vows and she wasn’t too keen on dying any time soon.
Her father stared into Grayson’s eyes for what felt like an eternity before nodding his head. “So it shall be. In two days’ time she will become your queen and your problem, boy. We both know women are sparse and women who are reared to stand beside a king are even sparser, but heed my words well, control your queen or you will never control your kingdom.”
Grayson glanced over at her and smiled. Maybe he thought it was a reassuring smile? She wasn’t sure. She felt sick to her stomach, beads of sweat slid down her neck, and little dots danced across her vision. Taking deep, slow breaths, she blinked several times, but it did little good as the world around her went black.