Sunday, April 19, 2009

Chapter Thirteen

Imagine waking up to discover your family has disappeared. You are always the first one awake (there is always much too much work to be done), but as you descend the spiral stairs from your tiny attic room, you notice the silence of the house.

First, the absence of your sisters’ tell-tale snoring. Even stranger, the mantelpiece clock isn’t ticking. You scold yourself for forgetting to wind it the night before, but then you realize it’s missing.

Your heart skips a beat as you realize you’ve been robbed – not only is the clock gone, but so is the portrait over the mantle, the one of Great-Uncle Louis.

You rush to your stepmother’s door, knowing you’ll be punished for waking her before dawn, but you are more concerned with the safety of your home than your own well-being. You knock and knock, but there is no response – not terribly surprising, as your stepmother is a deep sleeper. After a few seconds of inner debate, you walk inside the master bedroom.

And it is empty. The bed has been inexpertly made, but your stepmother is gone. You wonder to yourself if she’s been kidnapped, but doubt that most kidnappers would not clean up after themselves.

Then you notice the note on the pillow. After reading it, you sit on that great down-filled bed, and put your head in your hands. Your family has left. “On holiday,” the note says, though with no description of where or when they will return. It is written unmistakably in your stepmother’s tiny, perfect handwriting, and makes no mention of why certain items were taken.

Even the cat is gone.

You are used to being abandoned, but it never ceases to hurt any less each time it occurs. You try, try very hard, to get your family to love you, but there is something you must be doing wrong, because you’ve never succeeded.

They could've woken you, though. You would have at least made them some food for their journey.

Imagine that time passes, and the times get worse, and the rumors become facts. You watch families load up their wagons and coaches, while others run away with bindles on their backs. You think it is best to keep the windows shuttered.

You long to follow their lead, but you have nowhere to go. And besides, you have been told to watch over the chateau in your family’s absence.

Imagine that times get worse, and after one final night of screaming and fire, you are alone.

You no longer go downstairs. You’ve left much of the furniture jammed about the narrow staircase, in the event any of them try to climb up. But as near as you can tell - and you keep constant watch from your attic window - none of them have tried to break into your home.

You spend a day busily sewing, and then hang a brightly colored pennant from your window. On a field of red is the unmistakable white-lettered word “ALIVE.” It goes unnoticed by the eyes of the dead.

You drink rainwater. Your few animal friends bring you food – berries and bits of stale bread – and you gratefully invite them to stay in your small, cramped room. It’s good to no longer be so alone, and sometimes you even think you can understand their chirping and chattering.

They no longer mention any sign of the king’s soldiers and the king’s men coming to put things aright. Some of the dead wear armor, they say. A few even ride half-eaten horses.

As the weeks go by, occasionally a bird or mouse sets off for food and doesn't come back. You hope they might’ve found a better shelter, but it’s hard to believe. Privately, you weep.

Imagine that their numbers dwindle, slowly, painfully, until you are alone once more for too, too long.

Then one day, from the loneliness of your attic window, you hear a voice, the first voice you’ve heard in months, ever since the screaming stopped. A scratchy, self-assured voice, warning you to remain indoors for the time being. You call back, but you doubt your own voice can carry that far.

And then, finally, that voice says it is safe to come out. Your town has been cleansed of the dead.

Imagine, then, if you were Cinderella. Wouldn’t you leave the safety of your attic, and go, cautiously, to investigate?