Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Taken - Part 4

Below is the fourth installment of my story, The Taken. If you haven't read the first three installments, please click here for Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3

“Let’s just get this over with,” I mumbled as I walked out of our classroom. As promised, Billy was standing just outside the room, leaning up against the cave wall.
“Hello beautiful,” he said, flashing me another grin.
“Don’t call me that,” I hissed.
“You’d rather me call you ugly?”
“I’d rather you not call me anything.”
“Ouch, Em. Ouch.” He gestured down the hallway with his chin and I followed him after a moment’s hesitation.
Billy rambled on and on about his day and we soon found ourselves in the commons. It was abuzz as people scurried around. Some were on their way to do evening chores while others were meeting up with friends to just hang out. I spotted the hallway that led to my room and nearly made a break for it, but Billy turned down the hallway too. On and on he talked, as if I cared about everything “Billy”. When we reached my room, he stood to the side of the doorway and waited for me to go inside.
“Was that our date?” I asked hopefully, still standing in the hallway. Please, oh please let that be Billy’s idea of a date. I could handle listening to him yammer about himself if it just lasted a few minutes.
That hope died as he narrowed his eyes on me. “No, I’m letting you drop off your things.”
I looked down, noticing that I was still holding my books. I stepped inside my room and set them down on my bed. Billy stepped inside as well, not caring that he wasn’t invited.
“Nice,” he said with appreciation. “I see that you still have some things that I brought back from our supply runs.”
I faced him, not trusting him for one second. Number one: I didn’t like him in my room; Number two: I didn’t like the two of us being so close to a bed. Knowing Billy as the upstanding gentleman he was (Riiight), I shouldn’t worry about him attacking me.
“Are you going to change?” he asked after looking dubiously at my clothes.
“No.” Like I would change for him. Like I would change for any of them.
“Pity,” he said, flashing a half-smile. “I would have offered to help.”
Oh I was sure he would have. I rolled my eyes. “What are we doing Billy? I thought you said you didn’t want to waste one minute?”
“You’re right,” he replied. He reached out and grabbed my hand and held it so tight that I couldn’t wiggle free. We were out into the winding hallway the next second and Billy had resumed the one-sided conversation about his entire life up to this very minute. I tuned out and let him lead me, nervous about where he was taking me and what his plans were.
Football?” I asked a minute later, my mouth gaping open. “We’re playing football?”
Billy laughed and finally released my hand as he made his way over to his buddies. “Yeah, see? You won’t find a better date,” he said. His chest puffed out and he appeared every bit as cocky as he could get. Travis, Blake, Clay, and James looked over at me, and if I had to guess, they were a lot happier to see me than I was them. Travis, Blake, and Clay were Billy’s age. The three of them had been nearly inseparable since I could remember. James was a few years younger, but his larger build gave him the perfect “in” for what I liked to refer to as the Brute Squad. I never did understand why he hung out with them, he seemed a lot nicer than the others.
“You better mean that you guys are playing football. I’m not getting in there with you,” I said, glaring at Billy as he fist bumped the others.
“Oh, you most certainly are, Davenport,” he said. His tone was anything but joking. “You’re mine tonight.”
My teeth gnashed together. “I’m no one’s,” I growled.
This only seemed to make him laugh.
They more or less ignored me while they decided on teams. Billy, of course, wanted to be on the team opposite me. Being that I’d never played football, it was a certainty that my team would lose. My “date” chose his team mates, which consisted of Blake, Clay, and of course Billy. I was on Travis and James’ team. Each team split up for a quick huddle, so the other guys went to the far end of room, near where the cows and chickens were safely tucked away in their corral. Travis and James stood by me.
“You ever played?” James asked quickly.
“No.” I shook my head.
“Okay,” he said, as though he though that had been the case. “I think we all know what game Billy is playing, and it only partially has to do with the ball.” He said this pointedly at me.
I know my eyes widened, but it really shouldn’t have come as a surprise.
He looked over his shoulder and I followed his gaze, seeing that the others were already breaking from their huddle. He faced us again and gave me what must have been the fastest rundown of the game ever.
I pretty much nodded along, trying to remember the rules and terms, and just before we split up, he added, “Em, you’ll play football just like I explained. Trav and I will be playing too, but we’re also going to try to keep them away from you. You ready?”
I nodded, but my uncertainty was plain on my face. He stepped in closer and put his hand on my shoulder, eyes burrowing into mine. “Don’t be afraid to let me know if you get hurt, okay?”
“Kay,” I said lamely, giving him an answering smile.

He broke his hold and stepped away. The three of us met the other three in the middle of the room. Someone had already drawn lines in the sand for where the goals were. I knew I could catch a ball—not that I’d ever tried to catch a football—so I hoped that wouldn’t be a problem. If I caught the ball, I knew I’d have to run like hell.

Copyright © 2014 Katalyn Sage

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Poverty's Pool Part 2

Here's part 2 of "Poverty's Pool". You can read part 1 here:

Ethan helps me off the bed and pulls my body close to his. Supporting me and without a backward glance at the gawking faces around the room, he leads us out into the hall. The shock of the situation leaves me trembling. He holds me tighter. It doesn’t help.

With my mind racing to digest everything I’ve learned in the past two minutes, my body will never relax. Not only is Ethan’s dad alive, he’s rich. Why would Ethan leave money and starve with me in the streets? What drove him away and why is he dragging me back into the world he ran from?

He’s looking at me. He knows I’m about ready to run out of here as fast as I can. I’m only waiting for the effects of the shock bullet to wear off enough for me to feel steady on my feet. He pulls me into an empty room and shuts the door. He doesn’t bother turning on the light. I feel his face in front of mine. My body trembles harder.

“Cass,” he whispers.

My breath catches. He puts his hands on my shoulders as he gently leans me back into the wall.

“When you went to the pool the first time, it was because it was the only way you could think to save my life, right?”

I nod, but remember it’s pitch black in the room. “Yes,” I squeak.

“This is the only way I knew to save you. I know I’ve lied to you, but you have your secrets too.”

My face scrunches up. The only lie I told was about going to the pool the first time.

A low laugh leaves his throat. “I know the look on your face, but I’m not wrong. Sure, you lied to me about going to the pool before, but I know you’re not telling me the truth about yourself, about your eyes.”

The trembling stops and I stand still as stone. No one knows the truth about purple eyes. At least, no one I’ve ever encountered. Once I started practicing as a healer under my dad’s watch, I caught wind of the rumors that began. They were superstitious stories from children’s books, but among the poor, that’s as good as truth. Business at our apothecary dropped off until it disappeared completely. It’s my fault my family ended up on the street. If it hadn’t been for my eyes or for the way I understand medicines, things would be different. Maileen would never have gone to the pool. She wouldn’t have died from the Gutter, leaving me as the oldest sister in her place. And my parents wouldn’t have gotten it from her, leaving the rest of us kids as orphans.

Pulling myself out of this depressing reverie, I whisper, “What do you know about that?”

Ethan has never been dumb, but no one knows about my eyes. Not even my parents. But, Ethan is much more than he ever let on to be. The police chief bowed to him. That kind of power comes from more money than I can even imagine. What wouldn’t Ethan have access to in that kind of environment?

“Probably more than you.”

I tense under his resting hands.


His fingers lift my chin so my face is lined up with his, or where his must be in this impenetrable darkness.

“If I wanted you for your eyes, I would have made my move long ago. That’s not what makes you the biggest target.”

I can’t imagine anything being more dangerous than having purple eyes.

“Ethan.” A voice echoes down the hall. It’s the police chief. He drops his hand. Whatever he was going to say is gone. Our time alone is disappearing fast.

“I’m asking you to trust me. You’re life is in danger now and my father will be at the head of the mob. Can you trust me and play along with whatever I tell him?”

He’s telling the truth. If he wanted to use me because of my eyes, he would have done that already. I’m trapped in a situation I see no way to escape from. My shoulders droop in resignation. “Okay.”
He pulls me to his chest in the first hug we’ve ever shared. It’s not that we didn’t care about each other before. There just never seemed to be the right moment or mood to express physical affection. That’s not a luxury for people on the streets.

We slip into the hall behind the chief. After a few steps, he hears us following him. He opens the side door to an alley and waits for us to walk through. The nicest car I’ve ever seen sits idling in the brisk wind. A chauffer jumps out and opens the door, beckoning us to go in. Ethan’s words ring in my ears. His father is my enemy and I’m walking into his lair.

I duck into the car. It’s the first car I’ve ever been in. I doubt regular cars are this nice. I look across the seat and see a face I recognize. His picture is plastered all over the walls of the building we just left. He’s the czar of the prostitution pools. Staring at anything I could as I awaited the fate of my virginity in the waiting hall, I studied his picture long and hard. He didn’t share one feature with Ethan. They stare at each other now.

“Did you really think you could hide forever?”

That was it. His opening line to his son he hasn’t seen for at least two years since Ethan’s been in the Terrs with me.

“This is Cass, my fiancĂ©.”

I meet his eyes and then look away. There is a hunger in them that alarms me.

“You seem to be so prepared to provide for a family, sending your ‘fiance’ to the pools.”

“It’s a long story.”

“One you had to use the power of my name to get out of. It’s that same power that has kept you out of the work camps for three years. I’m glad you’ve finally found a girl to marry so I can stop bribing the camp czar to forget about your age.”

Ethan is silent. I add another tally to the lies Ethan has to clear up later. He’s twenty, not turning seventeen. This day couldn’t get much worse. I don’t want to say anything. Hell, I don’t even want to be here. I stare at the floor.

His father sits back in his seat and pulls out a cigar. “How long have you two love birds been engaged?”

My hand is crushed tighter by Ethan as he sits a little taller and says, “Six months. We’re saving money to pay the court dues for our wedding.”

His father rolls the cigar. “Six months is a long time.”

“We’ve already fooled around, if that’s what you’re getting at.”

I grind my teeth. I will kill Ethan as soon as we get out of this car.

The smoke swirls lazily as his father takes in the news. “No you haven’t. Running away might have been a rash decision, but that doesn’t make you stupid. You should know I’ve already checked up on your ‘fiance’. She’s been to the pool before, four months ago. She went through an exam. She was confirmed a virgin and was injected with the ‘vitamins’ to keep her healthy. Now, I know you see where all of this is going. I know what you’re trying to hide, but nothing gets away from me. Not even you.”

Ethan dives for the door, dragging me behind him. He slams his face into the window. The door won’t budge. His father laughs, not having moved from his reclined position across from us. “She’s more valuable than even you, my boy.”

Turning to me, he says, “Welcome to the family.”

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Red King

I just wanted peace. Was that too much to ask for when I was locked in a cold cell? I didn't think so, but apparently the high-pitched screeching coming from the hall had a different idea.
“Out of my way, maggot! I can go anywhere I please.” I heard the loud metal of the heavy door swing open and lazily stood to my feet. A woman wrapped in the most beautiful red silk ever made came storming inside. Long, shiny, brown hair tumbled down her shoulders in perfect waves and her lips were painted the exact shade of her clothes. I heard a few timid catcalls from the neighboring cells, but no one wanted to elicit the wrath of the Red King. Well, no one except me.
“So, you’re the little tramp who tried to kill my love.” Shea. That’s what Canton said her name was. I met her fierce brown eyes easily.
“I assure you, that was a mistake. If I’d really been trying, he would be dead.” Not exactly true. I was trying to kill him, but she didn't need to know that.
“How dare you. Do you even realize what kind of a position you’re in right now? I could have you put to death this instant. Your pathetic attempt to steal what belongs to us has landed your entire guard in our dungeons. They would be utterly helpless if I dragged you out of here by your hair and slit your throat.”
“Ah, but that’s where you’re wrong. The Red King would never allow it. Apparently I’m worth more alive than dead to him.” I wasn't entirely sure why I was trying to provoke her, but I could see that it was working. “Don’t you find it odd he refused to have me killed after I came so close to ending his life? Why do you suppose that is?” Shea’s delicate fingers closed into tight fists at her side.
“My king’s actions are his own for now, but I trust he has a good reason. He can, however, be easily persuaded if given the right motive.”
“I can see why you’re so upset,” I told her as I crouched down in front of the thick, steel bars. “I would be too if my betrothed preferred his enemy’s daughter to his fiancĂ©.”
“You worthless rat. How could anyone prefer you to me?” I couldn't actually answer her question, because the truth was, I didn't believe it myself. The Red King had been spending a lot of time down here, but I knew it wasn't to be near me. He was smart, calculating and a heartless tyrant no matter what he pretended.
I refused to believe otherwise and be the downfall of my entire people like so many ancestors past. I would finish the job I came here to do, even if it caused my own heart to stop. It was a worthless organ anyway.
“Maybe he does, maybe he doesn't. One thing I know for sure though; the look on his face when he heard you had come was not one of adoration and love. He couldn't have been more disappointed.” I barely finished the words before she screamed and ran toward my cell. I sprang up just before she could reach me and tensed my body for a welcome fight.
Instinctively I knew the men in the cells around me were also on their feet, having heard the entire exchange. I also knew, as Shea pointed out earlier, they could do nothing to help me. And I was glad for that. I wanted this fight, needed it.
I shot forward, faster than the pampered woman could react to, and grabbed her thin arm. Twisting it back behind her, I grabbed her other shoulder and slammed her back into the bars of my cage. I released her shoulder and slid my arm around her neck before her two personal guards could ply me off. I didn't actually care about hurting her; I just wanted to prove a point. I released my hold easily, desperate for what came next.
“Kill her! Now!” a red-faced Shea screamed. Her guards exchanged uneasy looks, but eventually decided their fate would be worse if they didn't obey the future Queen. Three more guards flew into the room with confusion written all over their faces, but it was too late.
I heard the click of my cell door and jumped up to grab the bars overhead. Using the momentum of the opening door and my swinging body weight, I pushed against the door and knocked the surprised man to the ground.
I landed on my feet just as Shea’s other guard swung at my face giving me barely enough time to dodge it. Grateful the other three were hesitating to jump in, per the Red King’s previous orders, I took full advantage of fighting the lone man still determined to get his hands on me.
Taking a moment to step back and assess the situation was a huge mistake on his part. I didn't hesitate a second before ducking into the man and thrusting my elbow into his nose, crunching bone and sending him flying into the wall by the door.
I whirled on Shea who screamed and dove behind the protection of one of the guards. It didn't matter to me though; my only thought was getting out of here. To do that I would have to take down everyone who got in my way.
Forcing the man closest to me to engage in fighting pretty much tipped the internal struggle they were having before, and two of them attacked while the other stood protectively in front of Shea.
My body felt alive with adrenaline and my senses clearer than they had since I was brought down here. I was meant to work, to move, not sit around like Shea and entertain people I didn't like. Female or not, princess or not, I was good at fighting. Something my father would never understand and the Red King underestimated, almost costing him his life.
I loved being able to defend myself, not having to rely on others to take care of me. I threw a pitying glance at Shea who obviously didn't know anything about dignity and courage, hard work and sacrifice. She didn't know what it was like to be desperate to help those she loved, and being powerless to do something. But I did.
I watched my people being hunted down until we were forced to flee the only home I’d ever known. That’s why I begged the Captain of my guard to train me without my father’s knowledge. That’s why I came to the Red City to kill the man I knew was responsible for so much of my pain. That’s why I have to get out of this place and complete the mission I set out to do.
Finally getting in a lucky shot to the kidney, one of the men hunched forward, giving me the chance to crouch and sweep my leg under his feet, knocking him off balance. Fortunately for me his head smacked against the unforgiving ground and I knew he wouldn't be up again soon. Unfortunately for me, I’d spent too much time getting him to go down.
The other guard I’d been fighting launched himself at me, catching me around the waist, and pulling me to the dirty floor. His weight knocked the wind out of me and while I struggled to suck in the air I so desperately needed, he wrapped his large, meaty arms around my body, successfully pinning my own arms to my side and causing little black spots to dance in my vision.
I stopped fighting to catch my breath and the man, assuming he’d gained the upper hand, picked me up and proceeded to walk back to my cell, obviously not aware of Shea’s orders to have me killed.
I used the moment to gulp down sweet oxygen, forcing it to my lungs and brain, only allowing enough time for me to be capable of fighting once more. Something warm and sticky trickled down my temple and I idly wondered if it was my blood or if it belonged to the man holding me.
Finally my vision cleared and I noticed we were two feet from my cell and my opportunity to free myself. I readied my legs to push against the sturdy holding, hopefully catching the man off guard and either causing him to drop me or better yet, lose his balance and fall to the ground with me on top of him this time.
“What’s going on in here?” a deep voice boomed from the doorway. Everyone froze at that voice. Despite the achievement of just having recovered enough air to fight, my breath again became labored and shallow. My heartbeat instantly quickened and my pulse raced underneath my skin.
The reaction was even stronger than fighting and I prayed the man holding me wouldn't acknowledge the owner of the voice and just let me stay hidden, safe from the eyes I felt searching for me.
Everything was playing in slow motion now. The man crushing me wisely loosened his grip, but wasn't smart enough to let go of me completely. He turned with me still in his arms and I kept my eyes averted from the man who commanded the entire room. Even my guard, shouting encouragements and instructions earlier, fell silent at his presence.
The three men I’d taken out were shakily rising to their feet with the help of the man who had stood watch over Shea. The princess had thrown herself in the Red King’s arms the moment he appeared and sobbed shamelessly on his shoulder. I felt the hatred for the spoiled princess increase tenfold, but still I refused to meet his eyes.
It had been three days since I’d seen him. Three days since the princess arrived and he’d taken my father out of his cell, leaving no more doubt in my mind what kind of a person he really was. I would never forgive him and I would never forget the hurt I felt from his betrayed promise to not harm my family. I knew I shouldn't have believed him and I hated myself more than anything for trusting someone I knew to be so evil.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw someone else enter the room. Someone so familiar the shock and surprise of his presence once again stole my oxygen. I lifted tear-filled eyes toward my father and let out a small sob of relief. I assumed he was dead, tortured into giving away our secrets and silenced forever. Instead he stood just as strong and proud as any King should, completely unscathed. I searched every inch of him; desperate to see for myself he was really okay.
“Thaila,” the same voice as before commanded. Reluctantly I tore my gaze from my father’s to finally meet the pair of blue eyes I’d been avoiding. Blue eyes that were so intense, I was suddenly grateful for the guard still holding me upright, even though I knew the action would ultimately lead to his suffering.
I felt bad for the poor guard, but the moment my eyes locked with the Red King's it was like no one else existed but us. I felt the heat from his gaze and was sure mine was just as hungry, despite how evil he was.
"Canton," I heard myself whisper. The guard holding me sucked in a sharp breath at my intimate use of the King's name, but I couldn't make myself care. I drank in every inch of his face even as I mentally prepared myself to do whatever was necessary to end this. The Red King had to die. And I had to kill him.
He didn't even glance at Shea before pushing her away and stalking toward me. I saw the devastating look in her eyes turn to pure hatred for me, and this time the pity I felt for her was genuine, even if her anger was misplaced.
“Are you alright? What happened in here?” he asked coming to a stop in front of me. The guard holding me fidgeted nervously, finally realizing the mistake he made in keeping his arms around me. He dropped them slowly, trying not to draw Canton's attention. I marveled at how much older he was than his King, yet how different they seemed in stature.  
“Sir, she was trying to escape,” he foolishly tried to explain.

Thankfully for him, those blue eyes were completely focused on me, anxiously awaiting my response.

*Copyright Jayne L. Bowden*