This piece of creative writing is for the purposes of the Sunday Scrawl prompt challenge, the competition that I run on a weekly basis. I’m a little later at answering the prompt this week as I have just moved into a new flat, so I apologise if I have been late responding to comments etc. Thank you to everyone who has taken part so far, and I hope you enjoy my story!
Individual droplets of dew collect together on the leaves, clinging onto each other as their bodies stretch out, their reach elongating, until finally they snap. The water cascades to the floor, showering my hand as I hold it out, brushing past the leaves as I walk, slowly towards the familiar, black gate.
I hadn’t had any intention of returning to this place, but I’ve walked this path so many times that I now can’t seem to avoid it. My legs carry me here as if possessed by some higher power. I can’t resist it, and I don’t see why I should.
I stare hard at the gate, taking in its elaborate patterns and thick, bolted entrance. It’s the only way out. I’m certain of that; I’ve explored every inch of the gardens, traversed each of its many acres, in search of an escape. The perimeters of my prison are guarded by thick, impenetrable bushes that circle all the way around the manor, lowering only at this singular, haunting gate: my only exit, sealed with a bolt and key from the outside.
My feet take me right up to the gate, stopping only so I can reach a hand through the bars, scrabbling only half-heartedly at the lock. It will not open. It may never open; for twenty-three years, I have existed within my prison, speaking only to my fellow inmates. Why should that ever change? This isn’t just my prison; it’s my entire existence.
When I was child, I hadn’t minded the prison, because I’d thought that that’s all there was. I didn’t know that there was an outside, so I had no desire to reach it. I’d lasted most of my life in this happy state of ignorance, and all that while, from the gardeners, to the nurses and handmaids, no one had thought to tell me that there was more. Perhaps each of them hadn’t wanted to be the one to ruin it for me. That had been until my sixteenth birthday. It had been my first birthday alone, my mother having died in early September. I hadn’t wanted to talk to the servants. I hadn’t wanted to talk to anyone, so I’d run. I’d run all the way out here, to the strange, tantalizing gate. I’d seen the break in the hedges and looked beyond, to the trees and the flowers that I couldn’t quite reach.
I’d asked since, of course. I’d asked everyone I happened to run into, and then I’d discovered the truth. It had been too late by then, though. The only person who really mattered had already left me, which meant that I couldn’t ask her.
I couldn’t ask her why she’d done it.
We’re all women here; I’m told it’s to stop the endless cycle of betrayal. That’s what one of the nurses told me, anyway. They don’t want more children growing up in here, which means that I’m the last one. Before long, all the servants will have left me; the youngest one left is fifty-eight, which, in my mind, can only mean one thing. Before long, I’ll be the solitary prisoner of this infernal, hated prison cell. Because it might look pretty and provide me with enough space to run around for days at a time, but it’s not enough. It’s still a prison, and I’m still alone.
I sink slowly to the cobbled ground, my legs crossing automatically as my head falls into my hands and I begin to sob furiously. I don’t want to do it anymore. I don’t want to have to think about my cold, lonely future. I don’t want to have to think about roaming around that manor all by myself. I don’t want to have to think about how many days I will sit here, staring hard at the immovable, impossible gate. I look up, angry tears still falling from my eyes.
Then I freeze.
Something that has never, during my entire existence, happened before, just has. I’ve seen a child.
I blink hard, standing instantly and rushing manically over to my bars, mouth slightly agog. The boy stumbles a few paces back, apparently alarmed. He’s clutching a small, stuffed rabbit around his chest, which he drops as he scuttles away. Then he looks down at it, apparently conflicted.
“What’s your name?” I ask greedily. I know I should move back so the boy can grab his rabbit, but, if I do, he might leave me. “My name’s Alika.” The boy doesn’t move. His eyes are still fixed on the rabbit, every muscle frozen, as if every portion of him is occupied in his own internal war. If he moves forward, he can get his rabbit, but then again, if he moves, the strange, wild woman might attack him.
I sigh, stepping away from the gate slightly.
His eyes are fixed on me as he creeps forwards, bent low as if he thinks it will make it harder for me to see him. I don’t say anything else. I don’t see the point.
In a sudden move, he rushes to the rabbit, yanks it up by the ear, and races off in the opposite direction, without sparing another glance for the wild woman behind the gate.
I lean heavily against my cell door, regret pounding through my veins. I should have kept him with me. I could have at least looked at him a little more, taking in his tiny little features and smooth, innocent face. It was one thing to see a child, but a male – well that was something as equally as foreign to me. I rattle my cage, and, on the strangest of impulses, begin to shout.
“Please! Please, help me! I’m trapped in here and I can’t get out! Anyone… you have to help me!” My voice begins to break, and I mutter, in a barely audible whisper, “I don’t want to do this anymore.”
They’re a funny thing, wishes. In the days of my childhood, I would waste them on frivolous things, such as wishing for the agility needed to climb the highest tree, or wishing to be able to run as fast as the rabbit that just alluded me. I’d never wished for an escape, though. It’s as if a part of me already accepted my fate. Why try to fight the inevitable?
So, I didn’t wish for an escape, even as I beat my head against the hard metal of the gate. I didn’t wish for anyone to help me as I felt the blood begin to trickle down my forehead, but it didn’t matter. My unasked wish was answered, nevertheless. I hadn’t really thought about what the boy had been doing in this forest, all alone. If I had, I might have yelled a little louder.
His parents found me a few minutes later. I’d almost knocked myself out by then, but I was still alive. The father drove off to find something called wire cutters. I didn’t know what they were; they didn’t exist in my world. Then – well, it was so easy – then I was outside and being lead to a strange, unfamiliar box with wheels attached. I screamed in alarm, as well as amazement, as the box began to move. I wasn’t really scared, though. There could be nothing scarier out in the real world, than there already had been in that prison. I didn’t care what wild beasts I would face out here, because I wasn’t alone anymore.
There are people – so many people – now. They are busy and colourful and blessedly unfamiliar. I don’t know them. I can walk up to them and introduce myself. The best thing, though, the best thing of all about being free, is that I don’t have to think about those things anymore. I don’t have to hate my mother for betraying her royal husband, and I don’t have to worry about being alone. Out here, I will never be. There’s too much life.