Part One: Alia's Escape
"I'm leaving," I tell myself, my voice high and breathy with excitement. I love the sound of those words. They make me think of fresh air in open fields, of people who've never heard of me, of endless possibilities.
"I'm leaving. I'm leaving. I'm leaving. I'm leaving," I sing, looking around the house for one of the last times. The relief I feel at never having to see these overbearing walls again is overwhelming. Tomorrow I'll be in a completely different place, if I succeed. I should succeed. I know I'm capable of getting out of here. I'm the only thing keeping myself in this merry-go-round existence. I can do this. Even as I think this, I feel as if I've been punched in the stomach and my brain feels swollen, like it's trying to burst out of my skull.
"I'm leaving," I repeat once more, my voice breaking with uncertainty. I look around the house again, the place that's been my prison for so long. The room seems to darken, its thick walls and high roof giving me the same small, hopeless feeling I felt when I was first brought here. I can still close my eyes and relive that night.
It was a little after midnight. The only light came from torches on the walls, burned down to barely more than candles. The place looked like an endless cavern. I was sure once I stepped inside the wall behind me would collapse and I'd be trapped there forever, forgotten by the outside world as they lived their lives, oblivious to my suffering.
The wall still stands, but I'm stuck here anyway, my spirit suffocating and withering away. Even now, as my gaze travels to the door, my gut tells me to give up; leaving's impossible. The voice in the back of my head repeats with increasing urgency that I need to stop thinking about escape. I worry if I think about it too much the concrete under my feet will turn into quicksand and pull me down, away from any chance at freedom. If I fail I won't see the sun again for who knows how long. If I get caught I can expect to spend the next six months chained up in a dark room until I 'can be trusted again.'
If I don't succeed, my husband will be furious with me. I'll end up in the hospital again and if I ever recover people will glare at me and ask why I would hurt my poor, unappreciated husband like that. "What could possibly make you want to break his heart? Is it because of how he looks? It is because of his bad leg? Why are you so selfish? Can't you see how much he loves you?"
Those questions come from the same people who make rude comments about me when they know I can hear them and later call me a snob for not going to every meaningless event they throw. Obviously I should use the few opportunities a month I get to leave the house spending time with people who don't even like me. I try to take every chance I get to go outside, but with all the whispers and stares I get some days it doesn't seem worth it. I've made very few friends during my twenty five years here.
Every day I spend in this place makes it more and more clear I don't belong here. If I leave, I'll have the chance to have a home. I'll have the chance to make real friends. I'll have the chance to have a life.
I force myself to walk to the door. My husband sealed it shut using a large metal lock with thin rods sticking out of it, causing it to resemble a spider. I pull at them, but predictably, nothing happens. It's time to try out what I've been practicing. I close my eyes and focus on the lock. It connects to a complex device reaching deep into the wall. I'm not going to attempt to pick the lock. I'm pretty sure my husband designed it so it would shock anyone who didn't have a key and know exactly how to move the rods. Once I heard someone trying to open the door, followed by a loud zap and blue light. I never learned who was at the door, what happened to them, or why they were trying to enter the house.
My eyes still closed, I imagine the lock floating free from the door and landing gently on the coffee table. The house remains silent. I picture it moving towards the coffee table again, but still don't hear anything. Panic turns my blood to ice and causes my teeth to chatter. I try several more times, with the same results. My stomach sinking, I hope for a miracle, something I've always known better than to believe in. I slowly open my eyes, stretching out the last few moments before my dreams are crushed and I go back to sitting around the house all the time, hoping every day will be my last.
The first thing I notice is light. Sunlight, coming through the jagged hole in the door. A wave of relief washes over me, so strong my knees almost give out. I pull the door open, half expecting to see my husband standing on the other side, a scowl on his face and a hammer in his hand, ready to shatter my legs so I can never run away again.
The neighbourhood is empty and so still it might as well be a painting. I take a second to gather my courage, then dash out the door and run as fast as I can down the street. I know the security cameras my husband placed outside have seen me leave. I need to get as far away as possible before they alert him. Hopefully he's working on a project. Sometimes when he's really wrapped up in his work he doesn't come back to the house for a few days. I love when he's not there; for a short time I get to feel safe in my own room, but knowing he could come back any minute keeps my spirits down.
I turn onto a busier street and slow my pace to a walk to avoid attracting attention. I make my way towards the centre of town, looking straight ahead and avoiding eye contact to deter people who might want to make small talk. Not that people talk to me. They usually just whisper and stare, making me feel like an animal in a cage.
I've almost reached my destination when a voice calls out "Hey, Aphrie!" I debate whether or not to keep walking and pretend I didn't hear. This might be the last time I get to see my friend. However, if I do talk to him he could tell my husband he saw me walking this way. He wouldn't be trying to get me in trouble; he just doesn't know how my husband treats me when no one's there to witness.
I decide it's worth the risk and turn around, plastering on a fake smile. "Hi! How are you today?" To me my voice sounds too cheerful, like a cartoon character. I hope he doesn't notice. It pains me I'll never see He— I mean, my friend again. I'll have to stop thinking my friends' names. I hope if I do I'll miss them less and forget them sooner.
My friend lands in front of me, a big grin on his face. "I'm doing great, thanks! How are you? I don't see you outside often. It's a nice change." He laughs, hoping I'm not hurt by his implying I spend most on my time inside. I love my friends, but sometimes I wish they'd stop babying me so much.
"I'm doing fairly good, thanks. It's been a rather busy day," I reply, hoping he takes the hint.
He laughs again. "Oh, I know what you mean. Last week I had thirty two unaddressed letters. Thirty two! Seriously, do these people think I'm a mind reader or something? And it wasn't a slow day, either. I had plenty of other peoples' letters to deliver. I ended up deciding to just deliver the ones that actually had addresses on them and figure the rest out later. Anyway, I was almost done delivering the letters when an absolutely livid woman storms up to me. To be honest, I was a bit scared. I mean, she wasn't that big, but she looked like she was ready to strangle someone. I put on the understanding smile I always use when dealing with difficult people and brace myself for whatever she's going to yell. That's when things got weird. She took a chicken corpse out of her purse. An actual dead chicken. It didn't look like it was recently deceased, either. So, waving this rotting carcass in my face, she starts going on a rant about—"
"I'm so sorry to interrupt, but I really need to go. My friend's in the hospital after eating some strange plant and making out with a cactus. Spines everywhere. It's not looking good," I lie. He opens his mouth to respond, but I cut him off again. "Anyway, like I said, I have to run. I'd love to hear the rest of your story later."
"Okay," he replies, holding out his arms. "I hope your friend gets well soon."
"Thanks." A knot of guilt forms in my stomach for leaving without telling him, but he talks so much to so many people there's a chance he could say something that could lead to someone finding me once they realise I've disappeared. I can't look him in the eyes as I mutter "Goodbye. If you ever see me again call me Alia."
My friend looks understandably confused. "I thought you were going—" I don't hear the rest because I'm now behind a building down the street. I didn't think that would work. I've only teleported a few times, all during the same day. I haven't been able to teleport since, not even when I was trapped in the house, the doors locked, the windows sealed, and I could hear heavy, uneven footsteps getting closer to my hiding spot. Not even when I could smell smoky breath and hear awful words and all I could do was close my eyes, curl into a ball, and hope my husband leaves me alone. I'm not sure why I can teleport now. Though the ability to get out of conversations is neat, there were other situations I would've given nearly anything to be able to teleport away from.
A few minutes later I arrive at a towering mansion made of shining marble. I climb up the steps and peek around the door. Inside, a receptionist stares at the papers on his desk, his face blank and eyes dead.
He hears the door close as I step inside and slowly raises his head. "Do you have an appointment?" he mumbles. His pen rolls off his desk, but he doesn't seem to notice.
"Nope," I reply and walk through a side door before he can work up the energy to ask anything else. I hope he's too tired to call security. I wander around the mansion, making countless turns and stopping every so often to check if I recognise my surroundings. I pass a few servants, but none of them pay any attention to me.
After around twenty minutes of walking around, my path gets blocked by two guards. They're not particularly large, but since they're both armed I doubt I'll be able to push past them. "You're not allowed to go there," the one on the left tells me.
I give them my best smile. "Yes I am." If I'm polite and appear confident enough maybe they won't ask too many questions.
"Okay." The one on the right moves out of my way. That was a lot easier than I expected. Perhaps someone important has gone away.
The one on the left shoots him a dirty look and moves to block my path. "Larisso, we were given strict orders to keep her here. I'm not getting in trouble because of your negligence."
"I really need to go," I tell them, eager to get away from whoever gave those orders. I have a feeling I know who it is and if I'm right I don't want to stick around.
The one on the left opens his mouth to say something, but is cut off by horrible screeching. "What are you doing in my house?!" I turn around to see a woman in a fancy peacock patterned robe and enough jewellery to make a thief's year barrelling towards me.
She stops just short of crashing into me and gives me one of her famous death glares. "Your cheeks turn a pretty shade of red when you're angry," I comment, not knowing what to say. Judging by her expression I think I should've stayed silent.
"What. Are You. Doing. In. My. House," she growls through clenched teeth.
"Wh— why, why can't a girl visit her mother-in-law?" I ask, my voice too high. My body's turned cold and I feel like I've been punched in my stomach.
She takes another step towards me, her eyes boring into my skull. "Look, whore, you will tell me exactly what you're up to or I will make up a story for your husband that will get your pretty little face beaten until your head's barely the size of an orange."
My stomach churns and my mouth fills with saliva, like it does before you vomit. I hope I don't throw up on her. She'd never forgive me. The only way I can think of getting out of this is making her so angry she'll have to leave to compose herself and figure out how to make my life a thousand times worse. I try my best to put on a confused expression and keep my voice steady. "Obviously I'm here to trash your home and destroy all of your prized possessions. After all, my sole purpose in life is making yours miserable. Every morning, my first thought is always 'What would ruin my mother-in-law's day'"
I don't think that was as offensive as I planned it to be, but her face twists in outrage. She raises a hand to slap me, but instead falls to the floor in a pile of expensive fabrics, unconscious. I had no idea I could do that. That's never happened before. Putting people to sleep is another ability I wish I would have been able to use against my husband. I turn to the guards. "Can I please get by now?"
They step aside, but as I walk by the one on the left grabs my arm. "Shouldn't we arrest her?"
The one on the right, Larisso, I think, shrugs. "I don't see why."
"Well... I..." The one on the left lowers his voice. "Didn't she just knock out the Queen?" He seems stunned and a bit bewildered, which I hope will work to my advantage.
"Huh. I guess we'll never know," I reply before trying once again to get past the guards. Unfortunately the one on the left is still attached to my arm. I attempt to glare at him.
"You're under arrest," he states, sounding unsure of that himself.
He passes out. "No, I'm not," I mutter. I glance at Larisso, who's backed up against the wall and appears to be debating whether or not to run. He motions for me to continue on my way.
After fifteen more minutes of running through this labyrinth, I'm finally here. My old room. I hesitate outside the door, wondering how much they've changed it. After twenty five years it's probably been turned into a storage room, or perhaps a servant's bedroom. Either way, it still should work. I should feel happy and content like I did when I was brought here, a few days old and unaware my 'parents' were deciding who to give me to. I entered this world fully grown physically, but in my mind I've always wanted the chance to be a child.
I tap on the door. When no one answers I slowly open it, peering around my old room. Sunlight pours in through a window on the far wall, revealing a thin layer of dust on an empty bookshelf and peeling nightstand. The only other furniture in my room is a small, neatly made bed. Besides the absence of some hastily chosen toys, and guards to make sure I don't run away or go exploring, it's exactly how I remember it. Looking back, there were plenty of signs my stay was only temporary.
Closing the door behind me, I walk across my room and sit on the bed, wrinkling the cream coloured sheets for the first time in years. I close my eyes and concentrate on a pond in a forest, where birds sing and squirrels play. At night silver moonlight trickles through the thick leaves and dances on the surface of the water as the melody of the wind lulls me to sleep.
I can picture the place clearly in my mind and almost smell the spring blossoms when it disappears; my mind turns blank and thoughts dark. I attempt to recreate images of the pond, trying to cling to the last wisps of peace and serenity. I start sobbing and silently curse myself. This isn't the time for crying. Why am I so upset? Why does it bother me so much that a mean old lady tried to slap me?
I try to tell myself I'm overreacting; I'm being stupid, but I know the real reason why I'm breaking down. All images of my peaceful pond, my safe place are gone, replaced by memories of fear and darkness. Of pain, of fists connected to much stronger arms flying towards me, of being shaken and thrown against walls. Memories of being screamed at, the words 'stupid,' 'useless,' and 'worthless' repeating themselves over and over in my mind.
A memory of waking up in a cold room, my mind foggy and my hands and legs chained down. A memory of the scrape of a heavy hammer being dragged across the floor and the sight of it being lifted above me. A memory of pure panic, of struggling to break free from my bonds and shield my unborn child from the blow aimed directly at my huge, round stomach.
Choking back sobs, I clench my hands into tight fists around the soft fabric of my sheets. My baby. He hurt my baby... I can't go back. I can't ever go back there. I can't. I can't. I can't. I...
My heart pounds against my rib cage and I hear myself panting like a crazed animal. The room around me blurs as clouds fog my vision. My baby... He— he... killed... my baby... He put the hammer down, said he wouldn't really hurt her, but more than a decade later he changes his mind and now my baby's dead. I can't go back. I can never go back. My baby...
Just as the pressure in my chest builds up to the point where I feel like I'll explode I realise the bed's no longer underneath me. My vision gradually clears as I calm down and notice I'm in a forest. Looking around, I think I recognise where I am and sure enough, through the trees I can see the glitter of the sun reflecting off the surface of the pond. That pond's the only place I feel safe. I've always felt some sort of power there. Sometimes I'd be able to move small logs and rocks with my mind, and sometimes, when the forest is silent and not a single leaf moves I think I can feel the presence of other worlds, close, but inaccessible. If I can get to the pond and concentrate really hard, maybe I'll find myself in one of those worlds. If not, I'm pretty sure I've almost got the lock off the knife drawer. Eighth times the charm. This time I'll aim for my heart and neck instead of focusing on blood loss.
I rise to my feet. I'm so close to leaving. Running at full speed towards the pond, I don't notice the massive object plummeting towards the ground or hear the shrill scream of "Hit the breaks!" until it crashes next to me, knocking me off my feet, destroying my perfect pond.