This is a short story I wrote for a challenge with the topic Diversity in SFF. It’s on the Mythic Scribes Fantasy Writer’s Community where I’m a regular member, and where I’ve regular discussed the topic with other members. I don’t often take part in writing challenges, but in this case I felt I’d done enough talking and that it was time to actually do something.
Did it work?
Read it, and please feel free to let me know.
The Morning After
Soft. Warm. Comfortable.
Alene rolled over in the bed, wound her arm around the pillow and buried her face in it. Too early.
The bed swayed slightly. Back and forth – back, and forth. Somewhere in the distance, a dull thumping sound accompanied the motion. Why was her bed moving?
A spike of worry bore into her stomach, and she stiffened where she lay. She didn’t have a bed. The last few nights she’d slept in her seat on the train. Where was she now? This wasn’t a train. The motion was similar, but the sounds were all wrong.
She opened her eyes.
Some kind of wooden cabin – a swaying wooden cabin – definitely not a train. Her bed hung in ropes from a ring in the ceiling. From where she lay, she saw a big wardrobe, and along the far wall some kind of counter or workbench ran. Above the counter, a small square window let in the pale morning sun. Definitely too early. Outside the window, the branch of some tree swung by – also moving to the rhythm of that dull thumping.
What was going on? Who’s bed was this? What did she do last night?
Alene groaned. She’d just meant to have a pint and ask about a good place to stay the night. Her connecting train wouldn’t be there until the morning, and sleeping in the waiting room at the train station was really the last option. Even now in winter, she’d rather sleep in the street.
What time was it anyway? A low rumbling sound rolled up from deep within her chest, and she growled. She’d probably missed the bloody train.
There had been some guys at the bar. A bunch of local lads. They’d been so fascinated with her brown skin and her big red hair. Clearly, not many people from her part of the world came through here. It had almost been a bit cute.
Maybe she’d gone home with one of them?
That short guy, with the black shirt and the glasses, he’d been kind of nice. What was his name again? Was he around here somewhere? Sure, the bed was empty, but maybe he’d gone to get breakfast or something. She wouldn’t mind that – and breakfast would be nice too.
Alene’s face relaxed into a smile. It wasn’t like she had anywhere she had to be. She could take the next train, or the one after. Better make that the next one. It wouldn’t do to be getting stuck out here – some forgotten plainsdweller trading post in the middle of nowhere.
Really though, she must have drunk a lot. She’d not even gotten her clothes off – still in her jeans and t-shirt. Chuckling to herself, her smile grew even wider. Poor guy must have been so disappointed.
When was the last time she’d gotten so drunk she’d lost her memory? Must have been a few years ago – back in university. For sure it hadn’t happen since she turned – thankfully. These days she handled alcohol so much better, and she didn’t even get hangovers anymore. Some water would be nice though.
She healed much faster these days.
Her smile faded, and little jaws of worry bit into her stomach and began to gnaw at it. What if they’d hurt her – or done things? She pressed her eyes shut, trying to keep the fear away. Must not wake the beast. Would she even know? She felt fine – physically. Her body didn’t hurt.
Sure, she was strong these days, but you never knew. She’d been drunk and they’d outnumbered her. They could have done anything.
It didn’t matter that she felt fine. It meant nothing. After a night’s sleep she’d be pretty much back to normal, no matter what. She never had any cuts or bruises to show these days.
She’d never know.
Curling up in a fetal position, she squeezed her eyes shut even tighter. Her shoulders shook. No crying. Control. Keep calm. Don’t wake the beast. Her stomach roiled and her throat tightened and she fought to breathe. Don’t. Please.
Slow deep breaths.
In, and out.
Breathing in time with the swaying of the bed, and with the dull thumping from outside, she just lay there, making sure she was still in control. Eventually, she relaxed, rubbed at her eyes, and rolled over to lie on her back and stare up into the ceiling.
Her chest rose and fell.
Let’s not assume the worst. Everything was fine. The guy with the black shirt and the glasses was just out getting breakfast. He’d be back soon and they’d have a chat and laugh about how drunk they’d been. That’s what they’d do. Laugh.
There had been laughter last night as well. Some guy had kept asking about carrot-flavored chocolate. It had been hysterically funny – apparently. They’d all laughed at that, the guys. She’d wanted to punch him in the face so bad.
What if she had?
Icy veins snaked up her spine and clutched at her heart. She’d lost her temper. The beast had stirred, and she’d slapped the joker in the face. He hadn’t liked that. None of the guys had liked that.
They’d grabbed her and held her still. Someone, she hadn’t seen who, had touched her. The beast had raged at her for allowing it. She’d screamed at them to let her go – that they were in danger – but they’d just laughed. The beast had raged.
Was that why she didn’t remember anything? Had the beast taken over? They’d been aggressive and threatening – and she’d been drunk. She might not have been able to contain it. What if she’d hurt someone?
Alene pressed her palms to her face and took a deep breath. She mustn’t freak out. Her clothes were still whole – she hadn’t turned. That was something at least. They wouldn’t come to put her down.
She could still be in trouble though. If she’d lost control of the beast and gotten into a fight it would have been messy. Someone would have gotten hurt. Someone always got hurt – usually badly.
Holding up the duvet she took a deep breath of the air under it. Sweat, skin, dirt, and – faint, but present – blood. Not her own. Her clothes had someone else’s blood on them.
The beast inside her stirred. Clenching her jaws, she pulled the covers tight again, not letting any more of the smell out. She closed her eyes and waited. She tried to clear her thoughts. Relax. Keep calm.
The bed kept swinging. The dull sound kept thumping. The world didn’t change, and the night before had still happened. What had she done?
Her stomach froze into a block of solid ice, and her entired body stiffened. What if she’d killed someone?
They’d definitely want to put her down. She had to get away. If she was careful she could sneak out of town without anyone noticing. The place was tiny, just a trading post really. She could get out, circle around, and follow the railroad tracks to the next stop. It probably wouldn’t be more than a few days walk – maybe a week. Easy. She could to that.
Rolling over in the bed she propped herself up on her elbows and surveyed the rest of the room. In the far corner stood a large coffer, chained to the wall. Above the coffer, another square window and next to it, a door that must lead out. That’s all there was: a wardrobe, a coffer, some kind of work bench, and the door out.
Where was her stuff?
She’d worn her sweater last night. She had a coat, and a backpack. Her boots. Crap. If she’d lost her boots there’d be no way she’d be able to pass as a normal human being anymore. From where she lay, she couldn’t see any of her things. Perhaps they were in the wardrobe, or in the coffer. Please, let them be there.
Alene yawned and rubbed at her face with her palms. Better get up. She had to find her stuff and get ready to bolt. Even if she really had just gone home with someone, she didn’t feel like still being in bed when they got back – breakfast or no breakfast. They’d get the wrong idea. She definitely wasn’t in the mood.
With a groan, she threw off the covers and swung her legs over the side of the bed. Her movements brought the swinging of the bed out of sync. For a moment she remained still, waiting for its movements to stabilize.
Her jeans had a few new blotches on them.
Alene swallowed and stared out of the window. She wore someone else’s blood on her clothes. Don’t think about it. It will go away. She’d planned to buy new jeans anyway – again.
As soon as the bed seemed back to a regular motion she got to her feet. Unsteady, with her arms out to the sides, she stood – bending her knees to compensate for the movement of the room. This must be what it was like to be at sea. Not that she’d ever been on a real boat, but she’d seen pictures, and movies. Some day she wanted to see the sea with her own eyes. Not today though. Today she had other things to focus on, like, where bloody was she?
Arms wide she staggered over to the counter by the wall, looked out the window, and gasped.
Far below her, the great northern plain spread out – pale green grass, sticking up out of a thin layer of snow, as far as the eye could see. What in the world was this? Some kind of tree house? A big branch reached past the cabin right outside the window, just far enough away not to knock against the wall every time it swung near. With slow rhythmic steps, swing by swing, thump by thump, the tree carried her across the plain.
Seriously, what had gone down last night? This was not the dwelling of some backwater plainsdweller boy. Alene had never seen a land whale, but that was the only explanation. Regular trees just didn’t walk around – not this far north. There would be elves. Inside her, something stirred.
She turned around and leaned back against the counter, tilting back and forth with the movements of the house. Something bad must have happened. Pinching her nose, she hung her head and groaned.
This was no time to panic. Take a deep breath. Calm down and assess the situation. That was the rational and responsible thing to do. The elf who lived here would come back. She had to get out. They’d hurt her. She had to grab her stuff and run.
Pushing off from the counter she lurched over to the wardrobe and tore at the handles. Locked. She yanked at the doors but they wouldn’t budge. They’d locked her things away. The beast growled. Her head snapped around. The coffer. She stared at the coffer. Her things were in the coffer. The boots. She must have her boots. Her mother had bought her those boots. She couldn’t leave without them.
Her clothes smelled of blood.
Alene clenched her teeth and turned around. She pushed away from the wardrobe, took a few unsteady steps across the floor, passed the bed, and lunged for the coffer. Her knees hit the floor with a crack.
Pain shot up through her legs, and she clenched her jaws together, holding back a curse. The beast howled. Alene crawled the last few steps to the coffer on all four and clutched at the lid. It wouldn’t open. Sitting back on her haunches she gritted her teeth and stared at it. They’d locked the coffer too. Bastards. They’d taken her stuff and locked it away so she couldn’t flee. Bastards. Utter, utter bastards.
The beast hated elves.
It clenched her fists and slammed them into the side of the coffer. Hard. Her knuckles hurt. The beast didn’t care. It threw her fists at the coffer. Again and again. Skin broke. Splinters flew. The sweet, sweet fragrance of the human’s fresh blood permeated the air. It howled with joy – free to rage, free to fight, hunt, kill. Those humans would suffer. Revenge. Blood.
It lifted the broken knuckles to its mouth and licked them clean. It raised the hands in the air, threw the head back, and howled with laughter. There would be so much blood.
Jaws clenched, Alene pulled her arms back down. Sweat beaded on her brow and ran down her cheeks. Clasping her hands in her lap she closed her eyes. Her chest rose and fell. Quickly at first, but after a while, it slowed down and matched the swinging of the room. Little by little, her shoulders lowered, and her head tilted forward.
Eventually, the brown woman with the red hair, in her jeans and t-shirt, opened her eyes and got to her feet. With a sigh, she looked at the battered coffer – still closed – brushed her hands off on her hips, and turned to the door out. It was not locked.
That’s it. The story’s over.
I will almost certainly write a follow-up about what’s on the other side of the door, but it will be at least a few weeks until it’s done. I’ve got a lot on my plate at the moment (okay, it’s not that much, but it still needs doing, and it’s important to me).
Some of the questions raised will be answered in the next part – others will not.
Update November 18, 2015: Part 2 now available here.
In case someone’s curious about Alene, here are some of the blog posts I’ve written about her – and one about the world she lives in:
- Alene – First Breakthrough
- Alene, you’re brown now (related: Today I learned…)
- Soundtrack For A Strange And Lonely Girl
- Running And Writing
- Land Whale
Looking at this list it kind of feels like I’ve written more about writing about Alene, than actually writing about her. I do hope it will pay off in the end though.