This story is by D. A. Winter and won an Honorable Mention in our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
D. A. Winter is a military wife and mother of two currently living at the base of the western Rockies. Alongside writing she loves reading and gardening. Her writing process involves a very close relationship with coffee, insomnia, more coffee, and yelling to the kids “Give me five more minutes.” You can find her on her website.
Windows are not allowed open in my home, especially the ones on the south side of the estate overlooking the vegetable garden and the orchard beyond.
I’ve lived much of my life in the orchard.
Monsters don’t venture there.
Cook likes to tell me about the faery and boggarts, as well as other creatures I should be wary of in the wilder places of the estate and the surrounding wood. I’ve looked but never seen them. Best to be wary of the monster you know than to fear the ones who have never caused you harm.
I remember a night when I was six, I awoke in a terrible fright, convinced a monster was under my bed. My nursemaid, Lila, tried to calm me, assuring me monsters didn’t exist. The shock of her statement halted my tears in an instant for she had never, to my knowledge, lied to me before. But this was a blatant falsehood. We lived with one. I knew she knew this. I’d heard her screams and pleading, seen the bruises, been surprised at the array of colors and wondered if the ones Mother tried to cover with her white powders were as colorful.
That was the same year Edward was sent away to boarding school, no more tutors for the disfavored son. The fault was mine. I had ventured where I wasn’t allowed and broken what I shouldn’t have touched. When Father’s wrath had been poised to come crashing down on my tiny head, fifteen-year-old Edward had stepped in on my behalf. My screams and sobs did nothing to stop the blows to my brother’s slender body. Only when Fitzgerald, our butler, calmly approached my father and in his dry manner reminded him that Edward was his only heir did he stop. If Ed were to die then Father’s cousin, Bernard, would inherit the Earldom. Bernard’s great-grandmother on his mother’s side was half French. Apparently, it is worse to be even a little bit French than to be a “sniveling, whimpering disappointment of a son.”
That was nearly five years ago. Edward is at University now. In less than a week I will turn eleven and I have only one desire for my birthday. A bee. So, every morning this spring I risk the wrath of the Monster I live with and open my bedroom window. Then I pray to whatever gods may be listening to send a bee. I do not ask God on Sundays. From what I have witnessed in my short life He condones the actions of monsters provided they have the correct bloodlines.
This morning the pagan gods have listened, and a small yellow and black insect wanders haphazardly into my room. I must act quickly; Lila will be here soon to help me dress. I catch my birthday gift carefully in the jar I snuck from the pantry over a month ago and hide it under the bed.
When Lila comes I tell her I want the lavender pinafore because it is a good spring color for such a sunny day. In truth, I want it because it has a small pocket on the right side. Once I am presentable I tell Lila I will be to breakfast shortly. She casts her eyes downward and reminds me not to be too long for the Earl is home.
Of this, I am well aware.
I silently ask Lila’s forgiveness for causing her anxiety as I take more moments than I know I should. Then I rush down the hall flicking the pocket on my pinafore to agitate the little beast within before I run into the dining hall stammering my apologies. My mother’s eyes are wide with fear, and look red, as though she has been crying. The overabundance of powder and rouge on her delicate features cannot completely hide the shadows of new bruises beneath. My father says nothing, his silence letting me know he will find a way to punish me later. I pretend to stumble a bit behind his chair, releasing the angry little resident of my pocket.
He hears the buzzing almost instantly; the only thing he fears. For years my child’s mind found it strange a Monster could fear a thing so small. His panic is immediate; he shoves his chair back, knocking me over as he starts flailing and bellowing. If he would hold still the little insect would most likely buzz off in search of its hive, but self-control is not something the Earl is good at and he keeps smacking at it. I feel bad the small creature will end this way, only allowed the one sting. But it is a noble end, to give one’s life to slay a monster.
As his bellowing turns to wheezing I run to my mother clutching at her and crying the tears of a terrified little girl as panic reigns. Within fifteen minutes it is over. My mother tries to protect my eyes from the sight of Father’s puffed up, purple face, but I manage to look anyway.
I must be sure the Monster is defeated.
Once the pandemonium has died and I have been relegated to my room I wait until I’m sure the coast is clear and sneak back to the dining hall, I wander around my father’s overturned chair until I find the little black and yellow corpse. Tears prick my eyes. I will take her to the orchard and give her a proper send off. I wonder briefly if I can get away with a little pyre like the pagans of old since it was their gods who answered my prayer.
The morning of my birthday dawns overcast and full of gloom, perfect for a funeral. My mother tearfully apologizes that we have to spend my birthday in such a manner. Solemnly I tell her I understand.
My birthday wish is already granted.
Despite being our father’s son Edward is a good man and will be a fine Earl. He reminds me of Mother. I cling to his hand as we celebrate my birthday around a Monster’s grave and wonder about my inheritance. Was it the blood of a monster flowing through veins that allowed me to do what I did?
All I know for sure is from this day forward my window will be flung open to the sunshine.