My Beautiful Prison – #writephoto

mybeautifulprison

I love it here. It’s my favourite spot in the entire garden. The way the sunlight gleams on the roof of the marble temple like a giant pearl; the weeping branches of the silver birch sashaying in the summer breeze; the immaculate lawn and bushy foliage dazzling in every imaginable shade of green. The gardens are my sanctuary: a place of peace and serenity when family frustrations are overwhelming. And yet, the tall palatial walls encircling every inch of the garden remind me that, in reality, these gardens are just a pretty part of my lifelong prison.

Seventeen years and I have still never seen the outside world nor met a single person other than my family and our staff. Father says that the real world is “no place for a princess”, but I don’t pay attention to his clichés. I don’t need to be mollycoddled any longer. Mind you, I see him so rarely these days, he probably thinks that I’m still five years old. Mother, on the other hand, tries to be a little more honest. “We want to protect you from people who wouldn’t understand. Fools who would judge you on appearance rather than your beautiful personality.” So, essentially, they want to keep me away from potential bullies and their abuse. But surely I am old enough and strong enough now to deal with whatever insults come my way. I have come to terms with the way I look. After all, I have had these scars all my life…

I don’t remember the fire at all. I was less than two years old. Father once briefly described the way the nursery was ablaze, flames raging from floor to ceiling, my little wooden cot wreathing me in fire and smoke. Mother doesn’t like to speak of it much. She usually breaks down in tears at the merest mention. It was my father who saved me, burning himself as he charged into the room and bundled me out into the cool night air. It was a miracle that I survived, or so the doctors said. My father’s advisors called it arson, blamed his political enemies and revolutionaries. But however it started, ever since that day I have been cursed with these grotesque scars all over my body; shiny, raw pink blotches and bumps and blisters, skin melted and twisted beyond recognition. My speech is impaired because of my swollen lips, and my hair grows in uneven clumps. By any standard of beauty, I am downright ugly.

So my parents have kept me locked up here for all these years, away from prying and judgmental eyes, never once glimpsing the world beyond the palace grounds. I have been a prisoner in my own home, with only our servers and cooks and gardeners to keep me company, if pitying looks and platitudes can be considered company. I have no friends… In fact, I have never met another living soul my own age. The weight of loneliness can be suffocating, like an invasive fog clouding my mind with misery. Some days I can barely bring myself to get out of bed. Mother thinks that it’s my self-esteem, that I’m too disgusted by my own ugliness to cope. She can’t comprehend that there can be more important things in life than looks.

And then, just last night, I heard them talking about me.

“What shall we do with her?”

“What can we do with her?”

“She’ll be eighteen soon, how will she ever manage?”

Like I’m a burden, an animal even. They don’t think I can rule the country, as if my visual affliction somehow impedes my intelligence or my leadership or my decision-making skills. They are just as shallow as these so-called bullies lurking outside the palace walls. That’s when I realised that my incarceration isn’t about protecting me at all. Mother and Father are ashamed of me. A monster as their legacy. A gargoyle with the family name. The only thing they are trying to protect is their own fragile reputation. And that is more upsetting than any abuse or slur I could ever face.

So once more I’ve retreated to the gardens, where the abundance of life keeps me company even though I am alone. It’s the perfect place to think. I like to get lost in the bountiful flowers and climb the aged trees and watch the birds swoop and flit and dance in the skies and wish I had wings to join them. But most of all, I like to come to the temple. I call it the temple because “mausoleum” sounds too sombre and macabre. I visit here as often as I can, because the presence of my twin brother is the best company and comfort of all. I wonder if he misses me as much as I miss him. I have practically no memory of him and yet I still miss him. I know that my parents miss him too, and it haunts them every day, particularly Father. He could not save us both from the nursery furnace and the fire claimed his son’s life. Here, beneath this shining marble dome, he has been laid to rest.

I often think about how things would have been different if he had survived. In my favourite spot, I dream about our conversations and games and adventures… even arguments! The loss of his life claimed many others, in different ways. Here I am, wasting mine away in my beautiful prison. I think it’s finally time for me to escape. How else will I make friends? Learn about the kingdom I’m supposed to govern? How else will I fall in love and have a family of my own?

Where is the good in surviving if I neglect to live?

The grand oak overhangs the wall on the south side. Easily climbable.

Brother, this is for you. For both of us.

Emma H, age 27, 13/02/2018


New short story penned for Sue Vincent’s “Sanctuary” – #writephoto prompt. To take part or take a look at other entries, you can follow the link below:

Thursday photo prompt – Sanctuary #writephoto

I’m not sure if I pulled off this story quite how I’d intended, I think it may be lacking the emotional kick! Perhaps I would have been better off writing in the third person rather than the first… but I gave it a go. Please feel free to leave comments! And thanks to Sue for the photo prompt 🙂

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Sanctuary – #writephoto

sanctuary

The icy wind swirled around the woods, slashing at Asha’s bare skin like a hundred serrated knives. She pulled her threadbare shawl tighter around her shoulders. It was a clear night, her path moonlit through the creaking trees, but in the distance, wraithlike clouds were gathering, and with them, the threat of snow. She knew that if it fell, she would not last the night. She was struggling as it was; her body tremored against the biting cold, her breath was harsh and ragged, her fingers and chapped lips were turning blue. Every step was a stumble as she caught her sandalled feet on frozen twigs and slippery stones. She had barely eaten anything in the last week. If she didn’t find shelter soon, she would be dead – snow or no snow.

Asha spared a moment to glance behind her. As always, there was nobody there, but she was still fearful that she would see a furious mob pursuing her, baying for her blood. A “witch” they had called her: a disgusting, dangerous, malicious sorceress born to curse their families and eat their children. Asha was only sixteen years of age herself, but nobody listened to her pleas and protestations; not even her own family. She winced remembering the hatred burning in her father’s eyes, the quivering fear of her little brother, the disappointment etched on her mother’s face. As if she’d deliberately wilted her father’s crops after she tended to them. As if she’d meant to kill their neighbour’s goat after petting her. As if she’d intended to strike the miller’s daughter down with a life-threatening fever. It seemed that almost everything or everyone she came in contact with was inexplicably suffering. Cursed, maybe, but a witch? How could she be, if she had no control over what was happening?

Some of the townsfolk, the neighbours she had known all her life, wanted her tortured, or even dead. In fear for her life and the safety of her family, Asha fled her hometown in the dead of night, with the few provisions she could carry. She’d heard that there was a place of sanctuary for people like her, at the other side of the forest. They were only rumours, stories, and she had no idea if there was any modicum of truth behind them. Nor did she know where she was going, blindly blundering through the densely-packed trees in deepest winter. Daylight hours were short and frostbite threatened every night. At last, the woods were thinning, and Asha was convinced that she was nearly there. If she could find the monolith, maybe, just maybe, she would survive.

As the first few snowflakes sliced her cheek on the breeze, Asha saw a structure appearing in the last vestiges of moonlight. She shuffled over, barely any energy left in her aching legs. It was a roughly-hewn column of stone, about her height, with crudely carved swan-shaped symbols near its base. At its top was a small aperture, decorated with a cast-iron framework, which housed a partially-melted candle. Asha let out a shuddering breath, a cloud of vapour billowing in front of her weary eyes. She had become well-practiced in lighting fires over the past week; she pulled two pieces of flint from her pouch, and, with trembling fingers, struck them against each other. With one spark the wick caught, and the candle burned with a glow as invaluable to Asha as the sun itself. Now, all she had to do was wait.

Asha stirred. She had fallen asleep at the base of the monolith. The candle was still burning weakly, flickering above her head. The snow was falling hard and fast, sticking to the trunks and branches of the dimly-lit trees. Asha was partly submerged in a snowdrift, drenched through, and completely numb. She was probably hours away from freezing to death. But something had woken her. There, emerging from the darkness, were hooded, spectral figures – about two dozen. Their cloak-like clothing was made of a lightweight, pale-coloured material unfamiliar to Asha. Each individual was carrying a small candle in their gloved hands. They left no footprints in the snow, gliding gracefully over the ground. She struggled to her feet as the figure at the front approached her, holding, not a candle, but a bundle of furs.

“We saw your beacon, child. Worry no more. We will offer you sanctuary.”

She had a soft, pleasing voice that warmed Asha’s frozen frame. The hooded woman draped the furs gently over Asha’s shoulders, her fragile knees nearly buckling.

“Your Sisters will take care of you,” the woman whispered, “Will you come with us?”

She took the dying candle from the monolith and handed it to Asha. The young girl felt the faint heat spread from her palms, up her shivering arms and throughout her whole body like wildfire. She almost dropped the candle in surprise. Could it be… magic? How else could one tiny candle warm her like a raging fire? Perhaps then these people, the Sisterhood, could explain what was happening to her… At the very least, she trusted them to understand her, and keep her safe from those who would see her killed. Something in her gut told her that this was where she belonged.

“Yes, yes I will,” she croaked.

The woman smiled. She took Asha’s hand in hers and led the nervous girl into the wooded blackness, surrounded by her Sisters, towards the answers she desperately sought.

Emma H, age 27, 05/02/2018


This short story was written for Sue Vincent’s “Shrine” #writephoto prompt. If you’d like to take part or read other entries, you can click on the link below:

Thursday photo prompt – Shrine #writephoto

I struggled a bit more with the photo this week, but I quite like the way my imagination took me in the end 🙂 I welcome any thoughts or suggestions. Thanks to Sue for the prompt!

Hideout

Happy Throwback Thursday, everyone! Today, I’m reposting the first poem I wrote as a response to the Daily Prompt, back in February. It depicts the way music and peaceful me-time can provide an escape to the boredom and stress of daily life. Oft needed, I must say! Hope you enjoy 🙂

In Emma World

via Daily Prompt: Hideout

These walls are invisible,

A hideout of the mind,

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