Cursed Child (part 1/3)
Child awoke, alone as usual, the morning before her doom. She had never been permitted to set one foot outside her rooms and the high windows were too deep and narrow to view anything more than small patches of sky.
The silence beyond the walls brought a surge of grief. For her entire lifetime familiar voices had arrived beside the small porch below to share gossip with Nana where she rested in the early morning sunlight while waiting for Child to awaken. She blinked back the tears and glared around at the innocent walls of book filled shelves, refusing to worry over neighbors she’d never met. Only a muffled wooden clattering suggested life still went on in the streets.
There was nothing to distract her from the awful quiet of the room now that Nana had passed into the hands of the gods.
Always isolated, Cursed Ones such as herself could request no other path in life. The priests who collected Nana’s body had demanded she shut herself in the back room while they completed the ritual of the dead. Even her dreams of the world outside seemed to have melted away since the priests came. The once vibrant stories of Nana’s life had faded into formless shadows without her voice to shape them with color.
Wrapping the heavy blankets closer around her shoulders, Child stared at the carved wooden chair where Nana used to rock as she knitted. She missed the clear voice expounding the community news and chuckling over Child’s confused questions. It wasn’t worth getting out of bed, she decided. After all, there was nothing to do but wait.
At dusk she must prepare for the final day. She stared at the line of packs along the base of the shelves, every one of them identical and full of identical survival equipment. Nana had personally fitted her for the first, then sent it out to be duplicated by her parent’s orders. Their grim tangibility reminded her of the royal funeral gifts she had read about in the books of kings, but she was still alive.
She couldn’t blame her parents for hiding her away at birth, at least not once she was old enough to understand the histories. Anyone could see how the Curse of Vanishing grew with every person connected to a Cursed One, after all. Her family had done what they could, carefully entrusted her to the hands of an elderly servant, and hoped the woman would die before the curse took her.
Everyone had their wish, now. Nana was dead and properly buried. Child wondered whether they’d even thought of how lonely she would be as a result. Nana’s care had been the only love or human connection she had ever experienced.
After twenty one years she could take care of herself and the small apartment alone so nobody had brought a replacement to comfort her. Logic reminded her that to do so someone would have to sacrifice too much for her sake. She groaned and flung her head back against the pillow. It still felt unfair.
Perhaps the only person in the universe that even the gods could not protect was Child. She tried not to take it personally, but sometimes she couldn’t help it.
Nana hadn’t been able to explain how the curse would end, and she would have told the truth had she known. The faded translations of ancient journals that the temple had sent were of little help, only revealing that all previous cursed ones had vanished, never to return, even when they survived the preceding jumps.
Nobody had even bothered to name her. She once asked Nana to call her Sky because its colors were so pretty. Nana had chuckled and agreed it was a good name, then claimed she was used to calling her Child and such habits were too difficult for an old woman to break.
“Get up lazybones!” The amused voice echoed in memory and Child pressed her face into the damp pillow and pretended Nana was just out of sight around the corner, leaning on her carved, white cane.
The delivery box bell jangled and she forced herself to stand and face the day after all. At least the guards her parents had sent to prevent intruders from endangering themselves now brought hot, fresh food at meal times. Cooking had been fun with Nana around, but recently it was just too much bother.
Dragging the bed covers in an awkward train, she left the covered tray for later and took the small bag waiting beside it up the spiral staircase to the icy chill of the roof garden’s brick pathways. Settling beside a nearby bench, she opened the pouch and curled into her nest of blankets. There was just enough space for her to sit among the earth-filled pots she wouldn’t be around to plant when the days warmed enough for a garden.
A bright cardinal blinked at her from the top of the high wall, then fluttered into the sky for a moment before curving around to land neatly on a tomato frame. Freeing one hand from her cocoon, she shivered at the gust of cold air that surged into the opening and quickly reached to scatter the seeds from the pouch into the nearest pots, just below eye level. Casting the pouch aside, she huddled back and waited.
Her friends came as always, chirping and fluttering at each other as they pecked at the seeds. This, at least, nobody had tried to take away. Only when the last seed had been consumed did she reluctantly clamber back down the staircase to start her own breakfast. Thankfully it was still warm in spite of the delay with the birds.
After an abbreviated stretching routine in honor of Nana’s constant reminders to keep fit because it might save her life one day, she tried to distract herself with the sheaf of painted scenes her father had sent in the days after Nana’s death. Could trees really stand higher than her staircase as the paintings showed? She tried to imagine how it would feel to stand near a plant that large.
A sudden shouting in the street followed by a clattering among the roof garden’s pots distracted her.
Setting the paintings carefully aside on her desk, she pulled the blankets close and hurried up the stairs. Perhaps someone had thrown a ball over the wall again. It had been years since the last time, and it had been so much fun to throw it back and listen for the shout of thanks below.
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