Author: Negativitycloud PM
A young woman, Alice, flees her hometown upon the notification that she was meant to become a bridal sacrifice to a race of creatures she thought didn't exist, known as demons or monsters to the townspeople. Rating to change to M later.Rated: Fiction T - English - Fantasy/Horror - Chapters: 7 - Words: 12,306 - Reviews: 10 - Favs: 8 - Follows: 13 - Updated: 02-28-12 - Published: 11-30-11 - id: 2975560
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
I finish up my shift at Eat 'n Mart, wiping down the counter, taking a quick scan of the inventory. There's not much; the usual grains, jams and the occasional weathered apple line the rustic wooden shelves. Everything is in its place; good.
I lock the door on my way out, remembering to TWIST the dented latch and securely bar the back exit this time. I run my gloved hand under the railing, feeling the little icicles there snap off and tumble into the snow below. I still love doing that.
It's snowing again, but I don't notice. The snow is completely unremarkable here, the icy lace-like flakes long-since ceasing to amaze anyone in this town. Even the smaller kids, scarce though they are, quickly grow used to the tiny shapes that fall from the sky, the little pieces of frozen hell that make up our bleak and mostly barren landscape. The only growth around here is trees, endless acres of the blackish, frozen skeletons of plants.
I pass a few late-night storekeepers locking up, and even catch a glimpse of a worker in his pristine white uniform through the fogged glass of the large greenhouse our town is built around.
Light still spills through the transparent covering, murky from the condensation, letting me know that his night's work is not yet done.
I stand and dream for a minute, in front of the restricted-area structure that produces all our food. Is that worker feeding the beasts we only read about in school, the 'cows' our ancestors feasted on so long ago?
Is he shoveling the excrement into the generator, the one that makes the heat for the Greenhouse? Or is he harvesting some crops, picking a fresh fruit from the few trees that have Been eradicated from our land by the Eternal Winter?
It doesn't matter, I decide with a sigh. I adjust my gloves, tighten my jacket around my average frame, and walk on. It's not like I'll ever be in there.
I turn down a few icy streets, the blustery night making my face numb and my eyes tear up. There's my house, the same dying glow just barely touching the windows. Estelle's probably gone to bed, forgetting once again to put a fresh long on the fire.
Tonight will be cold.
I was right. She's out cold (literally), the brittle pages of the book that lay near her face still waving in time with her even breathing. The fire is dying embers, the little orange beacons of warmth rapidly being consumed by the dead gray of ashes and the dark chunks of charcoal. I add another couple twigs, blowing, then stuff some old birchbark, the papery shredded-fiber kindling I made earlier today, when it doesn't catch. Eventually I get it going, and I whisk the top blankets off of Estelle's little cocoon-nest. She won't notice anyway.
Lucky me! We still have some strips of meat left, sitting in the icebox outside. It's tough, fatty, but I can live with it. Always have. I'm still here.
But this meat is a luxury. Tomorrow is grocery day, and I'm very surprised that Estelle hasn't gotten to this yet. I grab a few grapes, shockingly cold to my bare hand, and trudge the few steps back into the equally-frigid house, my candle held out in front, a little lighthouse of bright warmth. It's a pretty good supper.
I wake up to Estelle's usual bitchery ("Alice! Where the hell's all the food gone?") on my day off, the glaring sunshine coming through the window and warming the stiffness of my face, likely covered in a lovely shade of rage-red, courtesy of the fire rash.
Can't sleep too close, can't sleep too far away. I'll take the rash over the freezing-to-death though, thank you very much.
She's heading in from the icebox now, her blotchy face and scummy brown hair almost completely covered in an old scarf and her temper likely just as ugly.
I'm used to it, and Estelle has her good moments, so I can put up with her. Besides, it's a place to stay, even if we are housemates.
"I'm going to get some now."
I answer her earlier question, smoothing down my gross hair, watching the little gray bits of ash fall to the fabric of the couch. I've kept my coat on overnight again.
It doesn't matter, though. I really am going to go pick up some food now, and I have no desire to either freeze in privacy, or change in front of the fire, which is conveniently surrounded by windows.
Estelle flags me down with one of her 'looks', as i pass her into the run-down kitchen-area, and I stop and acknowledge her, waiting for the usual day-off schedule. Sure enough, she doesn't disappoint a second later.
"We gotta wash today," she says, grabbing a lock of my dark hair and working it between her fingers. "You're helping."
Surely she doesn't mean a true Bath. We only have those once a month at best. It's so much effort, melting so much snow in front of the fire, and then having to defrost the puny bar of communal soap as well.
We use whatever we can spare to dry off as quickly as possible, then nearly burn the skin from our backs drying our hair.
I don't want to do it. Estelle must be talking about the usual way of washing our hair, rubbing snow into it to get it wet, using a very sparse amount of soap, (the shampoo of the old times long since frozen solid and unusable) then wetting it again with snow, and drying by the fire.
Life here is neither clean nor easy, and the bathing process is solid testament to this. I just keep my hair either tucked in my rabbit-fur cap, or around my face, sheltering my ears.
Estelle graces my presence with another sidelong glance, then reaches a mittened hand into her jacket pocket, retrieving something which she fails spectacularly at flipping onto the wood table we're standing at.
"Something came for you. Better hope you ain't in trouble. And you'd better get going on those groceries. I haven't eaten yet."
I stoop to pick it up from where it's spiraled to the wooden-board floor.
The something is a letter. I smooth my fingertips over it, shocked to discover that it's REAL, old-quality Paper. Maybe I am in trouble. It's even addressed to me, in fancy handwriting, sealed and everything!
I remove my gloves and commence the picking process, trying to worm my fingernails underneath the unyielding red wax, trying to pick it off. Eventually, I tire and just rip the seal away from the rest of the letter. I lick the back of it and stick it to the window, knowing that my spit will freeze and keep it there.
I lift the letter away from the envelope, which is made from the same pounded wood-pulp as our school textbooks, and open it, fully expecting a death sentence, and am surprised to discover that our lovely mayor requests an audience with me.
Oh mayor dear, life goes on with or without you here, so what difference do I make? I am ordinary. The only thing exotic about me is my age. This is not a young community. So why prolong my death?
A stony, numb calm takes over my mind, and I scan the letter's contents. Usually if The Man has something to tell us, he just sends people to tell us in person. It's almost worth the minimum wage and momentary warmth from movement, I guess.
This is really important.
My hand is shaking-
YOU HAVE BEEN SELECTED-
-and the letter revolves twice lazily in the air before hitting the rough wooden floor.
-TO BECOME THIS TOWNSHIP'S CENTURY SACRIFICE.
Oh, God. The letter says that I'm going to be sold off as a 'bridal sacrifice' to the Demons, those people that appear every so often. The people nobody here believes are real.
I'm crying. The warmth of the moisture is quickly wicked away by the subzero temperature of the house, and I can feel the tears beginning to crust down my cheeks.
I wipe it away, adrenaline slowly climbing up my spine, sweat beading on my palms and back, and I feel breathless.
Estelle is behind me, and she doesn't even sound sarcastic this time. She's reading the letter, having already reached over me to retrieve it from the floor, and I can't even bring myself to comment on her drawl like I usually do.
"Apparently, they want ya to free this place from the whole 'cold' thing."
Estelle sounds surprised, bits of brownish hair falling from the cloth she's tied around her head to keep her ears warm. I don't answer, but sniffle instead.
Almost as an afterthought, she mutters, "As if this place'd be any less shitty if ya thawed it out..."
And so I arrive at the wooden shack that serves as town hall, at precisely ten o'clock SHARP!
I pry open the door -doesn't anyone bother to shovel the snow for our dearest mayor dear?- and brace myself for the rush of fire-warmed air that sets my cheeks and hands tingling and itching.
It finally feels like my blood is running again, after a half-hour's walk from my house.
The mayor, sir I-rule-you-all himself, is sitting at his nice, polished wooden desk, digging his sock feet into a luxurious bear rug. Where the hell did he get that, anyway?
Even though his much-beloved town hall is just as crappy and fragile as the rest of the town, made of wood, the cracks filled in with snow brick and the like, but he gets to act all high and mighty.
This town was fine without a mayor, and nobody really gave two shits when he came into power anyway. He doesn't do much other than apparently sending young girls to their deaths.
The point is that this little town has been in the past, present, and probably the future, only about survival.
Feeding yourself here without hunting/ gathering skills or at LEAST a study job is luxury enough. To hell with bearskin rugs!
Mayor's voice is as hoarse as everyone else's, years of breathing in smoke from the wood-heated shelters evident when he speaks, addressing me.
I tuck my dark hair behind an ear, an unconscious movement, a nervous tic.
"Alice, it is hereby your patriotic duty to become this settlement's sacrifice to the demons, in hopes that they may lift this curse from our lands."
I don't hate the Mayor, really. I just think he's a power-hungry occult freak who has no real power over the villagers.
I go home. But I don't plan on staying the night.