Hello. Eren here. This is a small excerpt — a snippet of a story I’d jotted down on the off chance I ever made it into a larger project. In it our protagonist, who has escaped sinister forces and found her way to the shelter of a small Victorian-esque era steampunk town, has been attending the local school at the insistence of the man who took her in and gave her shelter: a local clock maker who was horrified to discover she was both mute and illiterate. Enjoy.
The young boy jeered at the child who shared a desk with himself and Claire at the back of the room. “And I heard it was a faerie what that stole her voice,” he whispered: his tone relishing the thought as though it were the start of some haunted story.
The little girl shivered in response. “Elves don’t come inside,” Anna insisted primly… though a touch of worry slipped out as well. “Mother said so, James. Don’t you be telling tales.”
James snorted back at her. “Ain’t my mother,” he said. “And it’s the truth. Just ask her yourself, alright?”
But of course James knew that was impossible. Claire wouldn’t be able to deny it if she were pressed. And little Anna knew it, too — but that didn’t stop her from looking up at Claire with wide eyes. “It wasn’t an elf that took your voice, was it?” The hesitation at the end, where Anna’s words changed from a statement into a question, were enough to expose her fear. James’ tales and a child’s respect for the lurking terrors of the world — the creatures that even adults knew to slink through the darkness at the edge of electric lights, waiting for the fall of night — where seeping through her confidence.
But Claire shook her head vehemently, regardless. It had been no faerie — no elf — that had grown tired of her screams and so decided to wire shut her jaw and slit her throat, leaving a literal box of copper to prevent her vocal cords from mending with the rest when the elixir that flooded her veins caused the wounds to heal. She picked up her faux quill and pulled her writing box closer. Claire shook it enough for the letters she’d practiced scratching through the sand within to level out, and then hesitated. She knew the word, but not its spelling. Fortunately, the Clocksmith’s instructions from the other night still lingered, providing better advice than the matron’s rote instructions: Sound it out. Each letter is a sound, and all you have to do is string them together.
“M”, Claire scratched into the sand. She was uncertain of the next letter, but decided on an “A” followed by an “H” to soften it. The letter following those was simple enough: “N.” But after that, would it be a C or an S? A C could sometimes have a hard sound, the same as a K, so in the end she chose “S.” Fortunately, the rest of the word was simple enough to conceive. She scratched out the last three letters, then angrily thrust the sandbox toward James, since his need to make up stories — the more morbid the better, for all that they fell short of reality — to settle his curiosity had started this whole inquiry. The violent motion caused some of the sand to tumble, but not enough to obscure the single word that Claire had written.
The boy scowled at her letters. “That isn’t even a word,” he sniffed derisively, but the girl frowned and tried to say it aloud.
“Mahnstur. Manstur. Monster?” On the third try, the girl got it right. Her eyes went wide. “A monster took your voice?”
But Claire couldn’t answer. Not aloud. So she nodded only once, in curt confirmation.
“Sugar ‘n salt,” the little boy swore softly, apparently pleased that Claire’s explanation was at least as bad a thing as elves and faeries. “See?” he demanded of the little girl.
The girl didn’t answer. She stared at Claire with eyes like saucers, well and truly frightened now.
But Claire was fine with that. There were monsters in the world that were far worse than the elves which preyed on lost mortals, and children needed to learn of it some day. Why, she herself had left dozens dead in the ice and snow simply because they had stood between herself and her escape from the doctor and his son. She could be just as much a monster as they had been, if one chose to look at it like that.
Claire frowned at James, who was grinning at their bench mate’s discomfort with sadistic glee. It was not, in Claire’s opinion, an appropriate response. Especially since without asking more neither child had any way of knowing that another monster sat beside them. Were she in their place, Claire decided, she would find out more. It was vital, always, to know who the monsters were. Especially if they were going to be the subject of your gossip!
“I told you,” James crowed — but quietly enough not to be overheard by the matron, who remained distracted by whatever it was she read at her desk while the children were meant to be practicing their letters. “An’ now so’s she!”
But Claire just frowned harder, nonplussed by the thought that she herself was perhaps as lethal and cruel a thing as the men she’d fled or the men who’d surrounded her on the road. And so instead of voluntarily elaborating, Claire pulled the writing box back and then raked her fingers through the sand, destroying the poorly constructed word before anyone else — anyone old enough or smarter enough or cautious enough to ask the more dangerous questions and demand answers — could see it.