Fae Fiefdom – M. Sinclair

My gold-ringed fingers were relaxed on my lap, as I examined the new tattoo I’d had done last weekend. Of course, it was tiny, barely noticeable. But very cool, if I do say so myself. The small minimalistic symbol was something I’d been drawing a lot lately in my notebooks at school. I suppose to most people it may look like a cross but it was more like a compass. Two black lines perpendicular to one another with a circle around the center, right on the inside of my right middle finger. I was also attempting to mentally check out of the stern lecture my step-siblings and I were receiving, so the tattoo was far more interesting than normal. Denise had nearly had a heart attack over the addition, but once I showed her that it could be covered with tattoo makeup for events, she had seemed mollified. The woman needed a fucking Xanax or ten. I was counting down the days until I would no longer have to listen to my stepmother drone on and on about how I was performing inadequately in everything and would never meet her standards. I should attempt to do so…because that was what good daughters did? Sorry, Denise, I guess I am a shitty daughter. Oh, well. My attention snapped to the window as a stunning butterfly, colored a vibrant gemstone blue, floated past the etched glass windows to my left. Dewy, misty air created an iridescent glow out of the late morning light that managed to shine down on our estate. I could practically feel the water sliding over my skin.

Damn, I loved springtime. I mean, was there anything better, really? Briefly, I wondered if I’d have time to ride or not today, but who knew how long Denise would make this briefing. They could be as short as five minutes or as extensive as a political briefing. It was a coin toss. This was another reason why I enjoyed school if we were being honest. When I was at school, I could spend from morning until evening being busy in some form. Doing something I at least partly enjoyed. Sunday morning brunch though? No, that was solely reserved for Denise O’Malley Rose. I had once tried to miss brunch for an extra riding lesson and I’d been grounded from practicing for three weeks. That wasn’t something I was willing to risk again, so here I was.

Horseback riding was what kept me sane in this small, inconsequential dot on the map. Village Worth, Kansas. The geographic center of the United States of America and my personal hell. Denise had been my stepmother for…what was it? Eleven something years? At over three weeks past eighteen, the years had begun to blend together into a very monotonous symphony of boredom. It was why I had to be very creative when it came to keeping myself busy. So besides horseback riding, I often drove into Kansas City, just to experience a bit of a different paced life. To experience what it felt like to walk on a crowded city street. To experience what it tasted like to eat at a restaurant where you didn’t know everyone there. For the record, food tasted a lot better when you weren’t being stared at. Of course, Denise didn’t know that I went into Kansas City, she assumes I am out practicing or something else that keeps her mind at ease.

Hell, she only knew about the tattoo because I showed it to her, knowing it was visible enough she’d see it eventually. The one on the back of my neck? She didn’t need to know about that one or the one on my right shoulder blade. It showed how little she actually paid attention to me outside of how I affected her purpose or image. To be frank, I would have been upset and disappointed if I was seeking some type of parental validation from her…as it stood? I was not. Besides, she was busy worrying about my two younger sisters who totally didn’t mind or find it odd how high-strung their mom was. But then again, they were her children. Denise’s only ‘real’ children as she emphasized whenever I did something that tarnished that damn pristine reputation she claimed to have. I know it sounds very Cinderella-ish, right? I can assure you that it was nothing like that. Much more boring in fact. Denise had never treated me poorly or hurt me in any way.

Hell, I don’t think the woman had ever even raised her voice at me. Instead, I was subjected to extreme standards and an underlying pressure of never being ‘good’ enough to be her daughter. This is how mommy issues happen, folks. I would have talked to my father about it, but I hadn’t seen Alexander Rose in what felt like years. Honestly, I couldn’t tell you what the man looked like. I would have assumed he and my stepmother had split if it wasn’t for the packages, letters, and phone calls the other three received. Nothing for me, ever. I had concluded the man hated me, so that was nothing new. If I had to guess it was probably something stereotypical about me reminding him of my mother and his wife that he lost on my sixth birthday. So of course, I was on the outs while he paid attention to a woman and her two daughters that I’d never even met until right after my mother died.

My two stepsisters were from a previous marriage I assumed since they were fourteen. I had to be honest, though, I’d never asked. It really didn’t matter though, did it? He hadn’t married Denise for love. Hell, I had no idea if he’d loved my mother. Instead, he married her to keep this estate in functioning order, something that she did with the precision of a drill sergeant. It was actually rather impressive. “Ophelia?” Denise’s squeaky voice had my attention, shifting it from the vibrant butterfly to her dark eyes. This morning her golden complexion and long blonde hair looked particularly styled and I wondered why. Until I realized I didn’t care. It was just one more factor that separated me from the three of them.

I suppose my father had the same ivory complexion and dark hair as myself, but it was usually just the four of us, so to say I looked ‘different’ was an understatement. No matter how frustrating I found the woman, I would never deny that her and my two stepsisters, Alice and Cindy, were objectively absolutely stunning. They were model tall, thin, and had golden hair that reached down to their waist. If I had to put us in celebrity terms? The three of them were Gigi Hadid, and I was Bella Hadid. They were unbiasedly all American looking and beautiful, and I was…beautiful, sure. I wasn’t going to be falsely modest about that, but not in a traditional sense. I had been told I was a bit intense to look at and I had no idea how to take that. My face was heart-shaped, with a smaller chin and high cheekbones that were complemented by a red pair of lips and dark arched brows. My hair was a thick chocolate and onyx shade that hung down my back in loose, impossible to control, waves. The part about me that was alien looking though? My eyes.

They were a smoky gray color, like fog, that featured a starburst of purple around the pupil. My stepmother once called, and this is not a joke…gaudy. How in the ever-living fuck can your eyes be gaudy? It wasn’t like they were god-damn costume jewelry! You know what? It didn’t even matter. Sometimes someone’s words hurt far more than the truth of the situation. Or in my case? Being different, no matter how attractive or good my personality was, made me feel like shit most days because no one in my town looked like me. As one of my friends once stated, I had pixie-like characteristics. No. I have no idea what he meant. I also had no idea if I wanted to take that as a compliment or not because my stepmother had so clearly screwed up my head and perception on this stuff. I wasn’t even a particularly short or tiny person.

Okay, well that’s not completely true, I’m 5’ and a half. That half part was very important to me, thank you very much. Besides that, I had more ass and hips than boobs, I was thin and well built. Pretty fucking normal, if you ask me. But then again, Denise was the one making the guidelines, not me. “Sorry,” I took a sip from my coffee and answered her, “I slept poorly.” Her eyes swept over me critically as she nodded. “Yes, I can see that, those circles under your eyes are getting worse and worse. Do we need to see a doctor?” “I would rather not.” I pushed down the panic that hit me out of nowhere at the thought of taking medicine.

“I’ve just been stressed. You know, at the end of the school year, graduation and all.” I would literally say anything to avoid taking medicine. Every. Single. Time. I had a horrible adverse reaction to it. Sure, physically I was fine but the things I saw? They were like vivid nightmarish hallucinations. I really didn’t need any more weird shit happening to me than what was already going on. So, I made sure to stay away from prescription drugs.

Hell, any drugs. The only luck I seemed to have had been with natural products…if weed counted as natural. Also, herbal supplements but honestly, I didn’t use either very often. Denise stared at me for a moment before nodding. “If it gets worse, I expect you to tell me. We have several events this upcoming month and I can’t have any of you looking as though you are anything but the picture of health.” That was just one more aspect of Denise that made us so different. She cared. A lot. About everyone’s opinions within this small, albeit affluent community.

I just didn’t have time to. If I had to guess, it was probably her way of keeping entertained while my father was away on government contracting jobs in the Middle East. It sure as hell kept me busy. When she began laying out the weekly plan, I found myself zoning out once more. I hadn’t been lying to Denise actually. I had been stressed out about the end of my senior year and even more stressed about hiding my secret. The oddities that had begun occurring on my eighteenth birthday three weeks ago. Don’t get me wrong, there have always been shadows of odd creatures and things at the edge of my reality, right out of the corner of my eyes. Right out of reach. However, it had gotten far worse lately, and I could feel the energy building up around me, almost as if it was preparing for something.

The problem? I had no idea what. It was starting to become impossible to ignore. A pulse of pain hits my chest as the thought of whether my mother would have known how to handle this entered my head. Had she faced the same problems? I didn’t remember much about my mother beside the stories she would tell and the fact that she believed magic was real. Something Denise contributed to the ‘brain cancer’ that took her life. You know, hallucinations and shit like that. Except there was one problem with that…I didn’t think that was how she died. I remembered the night of my birthday, how I felt. I remembered the boy in the maze. I remembered it all but knew at a young age to keep my mouth shut until I could figure out what the hell was going on around here.

I’d yet to be successful. I didn’t think it was out of reach, but just like with the rest of this town, I couldn’t seem to grasp it fully. I didn’t like to take leaps or chances until I had surety that the outcome would be like I expected. There was something different about Village Worth, and in some ways, I could admit that I was too much of a coward to explore what that was. I closed my eyes briefly, flashes of my mother streaming before my eyes, and sporting a pair of eyes just like my own. I just knew that she would have been able to handle this. How to deal with the odd things that happened to me and the weird vibe in Village Worth. I just fucking knew it. Well, that’s the story I tell myself. The tale that I spun.

Isn’t it funny how long we can live in ignorance? We tell ourselves we want to take this adventure, that if we were in ‘his or her’ shoes we would have taken the leap…but this was my actual life, and as far as I was concerned, it was the only one I had right now. So instead, I did nothing and tried to ignore it until I could get away. Except, I had a feeling that it wouldn’t be ignored for long. I could feel it wanting to show itself. Violently. I nearly sighed in relief as my stepmother stood up, cueing me into the fact that our briefing was over. My coffee was finished but my breakfast had been essentially left untouched. I usually didn’t have much of an appetite once Denise began talking about what was expected of me for the week. Expectations make my stomach uneasy. Plus, I was trying to keep thin, or appear to be ‘dieting’ around Denise, and hanging onto the concept like a lifeboat.

Oh, don’t think it’s about self-image either. Hell, I thought I would look good with about ten pounds on, especially if it went to my butt. But I didn’t need Denise to get on my ass (literally!), about that either. I was thin enough that she hadn’t put me on a diet, like Alice. It was ridiculous, since Alice, like her twin, was rail thin. So I didn’t eat around Denise and she didn’t say anything. The last thing I needed was her micromanaging my meals. I had tried to talk to my sister about it, and she had shrugged her shoulders as if it was expected and normal. So I didn’t push it. It’s not like we were very close to begin with.

Without a word, I walked to the enclosed back porch and slipped on a dark jacket, my rain boots already on my feet. The fresh open air cooled my face and I inhaled, loving the scent of the roses from our grand garden up ahead. I loved the weather like this. It revitalized me as if I was a plant. My eyes trailed over the forest that lined our massive stone estate that rose above the damp earth by nearly four stories. The estate had been settled here longer than the modern pavement and road that led to our stone laid driveway. In fact, our estate was the oldest in Village Worth. Village Worth was set up a bit differently than most towns. The center was filled with the cute coffee shops and a large library you would expect. However, the main feature of the town was the historic district.

There were three other ‘gated communities’ within the streets of Village Worth, but ours was the historic district, so all the surrounding houses were older as well. Apparently, my mother’s family had owned this land and sold it to a developer a hundred or so years ago. I had no idea how much of that was accurate but I did know where we lived was considered important. It made us the very focal point of this small dot on the map. We legit had tourists who often came by, looking at our house because it was the exact geographical center of the United States of America. Obnoxious? Yes. It was a pain in the ass to live somewhere like this. But we had large gated fences surrounding us, so I could ignore the tour buses that passed by. I couldn’t really complain, because they also went through the other three communities, each showcasing different periods of architectural development of this town. Besides the communities, there was Village Worth Preparatory Academy where I attended school and the attached primary school.

It was that simple. I knew these streets like the back of my hand. It was suffocating sometimes and I couldn’t wait to explore the larger world out there. It was practically beckoning me forth, a siren’s call that was impossible to ignore. Interrupting my thoughts of traveling, a flash of a concept ran through my head but I swept it away. I remembered my mother telling me once that the entire house would be mine one day. I had no idea if she had meant literally…I mean my father would have told me something like that, right? I wasn’t positive that I wanted to give up the property so easily. Then again, I wasn’t positive it was worth the battle to stay. It was more than that though. All of this, with my stepmother and absent father, felt wrong.

To be honest, the entire scenario with my mom, my father, and Denise was an oddity that I thought about more than I cared to admit. I didn’t want to point fingers, but if I was going to, I would point it right at how fucking weird it was that he remarried so quickly. I mean it hadn’t even been a full year! If he had been the recipient of her will…that would explain how he and Denise were living so cushy. I shook my head and tried to clear my thoughts again. I didn’t need to go down this rabbit hole. Honestly, I wanted to know as little as possible about my ‘family.’ At least that was what I told myself, but thoughts plagued me constantly at night. In less than a few months I would be gone, and I planned to be one of the few members of my graduating class to attend University. I had always found that pattern weird within itself because our academy was so successful at forming brilliant students…yet no one left to go to college. It was just ‘normal’ to stay and work in town.

I wasn’t saying there was anything wrong with that but it was odd. Maybe it was that lack of pressure to get into a college that made them all such good students? Didn’t matter either way in the end to me. I was leaving. I had been accepted into Trinity University, in Ireland, for Linguistics. I didn’t want to brag, but I was a fairly talented human being. Sure, I had a few more tattoos than most students at my school, I was blunt, and didn’t always put up with bullshit…but I was also a gifted equestrian competitor, a fantastic harpist, and I knew twelve languages. So screw anyone who wanted to say that I was a black sheep of the family. Last time I checked, my future was looking pretty bright. By the way, if you were wondering: English, French, Italian, Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, Arabic, Russian, Hindi, Swahili, Portuguese, and sign language. Okay, so the last one wasn’t spoken, but still, you get my point.

I knew shit. Plus, on top of all that, it wasn’t like anyone was going to miss me around here. One aspect of my childhood that I remembered pretty well was how alive our estate used to feel. The elaborate hand-painted ceilings and crafted molding, candles that burned warmly at night, and expensive plush furniture that I could fall into after a day of playing outside. My favorite memory? The soft flute and harp music that used to play all throughout the day and the delicate smell of roses from the garden floating in through my nursery window. I shouldn’t have been able to remember that and maybe it wasn’t real. Maybe I did that to justify why I disliked the house now. Shadowed, dark, and filled with sadness. That was why I spent so much time outside, because no matter if there was snow on the ground or it was burning hot…the garden always had year-round roses. Which obviously wasn’t normal.

It was beautiful though, blood-red and nearly black velvet roses, that highlighted the lush thick green of the large tall walls of the maze that expanded west of our estate. The entrance of the maze was led into by a path of the delicate flowers, and they arched over the entrance, hanging almost like blood dripping from the thorny stems. This was my escape. This was my connection to life. I let my hands trail along the bushes, not even wincing as blood was drawn on the thorns, tiny scars littering my fingers from the habit. I watched as tiny droplets fell into the earth and I could almost feel the ground shudder, a hard wind brushing over me. I inhaled the scent of roses, and thunder rolled above me, threatening a storm. I thought someone called my name, but I was almost two turns in and I knew they wouldn’t come out here to find me. I had not one idea why all three of them avoided entering…well, except that this had been my mother’s sanctuary. I wanted to believe it was out of respect but I think they were scared.

Terrified of the very vibrant and intense feeling of my mother’s energy that grew around me as I delved further into the maze. I had called it magic for so long, but now that I was an adult it sounded silly. That was what my stepmother had called me every time I had woken up crying because of a nightmare. Every time I told her about the shadows following me. About the plants that bent and swayed as I walked past them, staring at me when no one was around. Each small creature of the dark would whisper my name. Silly. All of this had made me a silly little girl in her mind, and the more she said it, the more I believed it. Well, until recently. Until I started to accept that I wasn’t crazy…that maybe, just maybe there was something different about me and this town.

I knew I should open my mind to it and see if those creatures would speak again. See if this magic was as real as it felt, like electricity through my very bones. The maze was complicated, with twists and turns that felt as though they changed every time I went through them. Maybe they did. Yet, no matter how complicated, I always found my way in and out of the center. It was the perfect hiding place because no one would ever be able to find me here, it was my maze, and I was insanely possessive over the piece of earth. Especially the center. The center where roses surrounded all sides, blooming fully and tilted upwards, as they crawled up the large hedge walls and over the statues placed there. I found myself in the center and as usual, I almost expected to see that little boy from that odd–memory? Dream? All those years ago. Tilting my face upwards and sitting on a large stone cement bench, its back spread in the shape of wings nearly cradling my body, I relaxed letting the rain wash over me.

I was alone. I had hated that for so long, but it had become my norm. Now, I wouldn’t know what to do if I wasn’t alone. Somehow, I had a feeling that would never be a problem. I’d been alone since the day my mother died and that wasn’t changing anytime soon

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