This story is by Justine and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
A blur of dark hair and tears greeted me when I came home. Holding Julia with one hand, I deposited my earnings into the fourth strongbox, already filled half-way. Swinging Julia around, I settled her on the settee.
“Why the tears, Jules?”
“Owen, it’s terrible!”
“It is,” the correction was automatic despite her tear-stained face.
“Mummy wants me married next calendar.”
“Not the worst part,” Julia hiccupped, “She wants me to marry the monsters.”
The monsters, creatures without skin who are alive. Mother states they are the devil’s minions, why would she wish Julia to marry into them. I racked my brain, thinking.
“I don’t want to marry, especially to monsters,”
“Hush, Julia, I will talk to Mother. She will understand it is best for you to not marry.”
“I promise.” The sun was setting colouring the area, “Go to your room, Julia and stay there while I talk to Mother. She will be here shortly.”
The candles were alight when Mother arrived, almost knocking over her prized plant with the giant bags undoubtedly filled with small trinkets.
“Oh, Owen. How lovely for you to be home,” Frowning, she glanced out the window, “Is there work?”
“Do not worry, Mother, there is plenty. Master had to be away is all.”
“Good, I will not have my son take after his father.”
“You mean after his reputation.”
Mother gasped, dropping her precious bags.
“Julia told me something interesting, Mother,” I sat in the head chair, “She seems to be under the impression she will be married when the new calendar begins. Not only married but to one of the monsters.”
“She will be married.”
“Owen, she must.”
“I will not allow it.”
Mother straightened, her blue eyes now icy. My heart quickened, she had been set on this. Tapping my fingers on the table, I forced myself to think of Julia. Julia with her tear-stained face. Julia who could not speak properly despite being eight. I thought of the only possible monster she could marry. A male who would be years in retirement if he was human, the only single one.
I could not give in to Mother, not this time. No matter how much I wish too, I promised Julia.
“Owen, I am your mother.” Her voice was cold, guilt surged through me. I wanted to give in, how I wished to give in.
“I am the Head of the Household,”
“People already know there is a wedding, think of the dishonour that this could bring.”
“Do they know who the bride and groom will be?”
“Of course not, besides the monsters need to be informed.” Mother’s voice trembled, “Do you think I would be that horrible to bring bad luck to my own daughter?”
“No,” Julia, think of Julia, “Then it shall be my wedding if they are agreeable.”
“They will be and it will be Julia getting married.” Mother sat directly across from me. Tears streaked down her face. It is alarming how my desire to give in increased. She can cry on demand, Owen, you know this. They are not real. I needed something, a guarantee Julia will be safe. My eyes locked on the strongboxes, my entire earnings were in there.
“It will be my wedding, Mother. You will receive ten per cent of everything I earn for the rest of your life.”
“Julia needs it! Eight years old and cannot speak, this is her only chance.”
“She only needs help. Help she will not get if she is to be married now. ”
“Owen, you know what they have said since your Father left.”
“Father was killed,”
“He left us rotting in shame,” Mother slammed her hands on the table, “It is only by grace you were old enough to work when it happened. Look at us now, you could retire before you hit one-and-twenty with no fear. Julia might not get better, no matter the help.”
Rotting in shame, Mother said; I am the Head of the Household. Money was not strong enough alone but perhaps, yes, I could use both. I need to be strong, for Julia. I need to be Mother.
“If you let it be my wedding, you will get ten per cent of everything I earn. If you do not, you will receive nothing and Julia will be taken during the Tenth Hour.”
“That is the busiest hour! Owen, everyone will witness it. They will find me repulsive if you do such a thing.”
“Exactly, Mother. Imagine the shame it would bring upon you. You will be worse than Father,”
“There has been pity for the monsters, talk of how we should let them in.”
“My wedding will say the same thing, Mother and you will receive ten per cent of my earnings. Julia will stay with you until she chooses a suitor. I am not finished, Mother. Julia will choose when she is to be married and her suitor. That is my condition.”
“You will be marrying one of the Lows. They are the only ones who have daughters of marriable age. You will work hard only for it to be taken away.”
“I am aware it will be Rosetta or Clarimonde,” I smiled at her shocked face, “Both powerful, both who will be able to see if you keep your end of our deal or break it. You will not break it for I am the Head of the Household. If you break it, Julia will be taken and you will receive nothing.”
“Nothing?” Mother grimaced, her posture rigid.
“There will be no references and no children to support. Nothing to support you for your own earnings,” Standing, I gestured for Mother to do the same. “You can inform the Low household tomorrow while I work.”
“You will regret it, Owen. Julia will not.” Mother walked to her writing though. Julia was waiting but I could not leave yet. She tried to hide it but I remember her staying for hours when Father lost. A guarantee to ensure her winnings. I shall do the same.
The candles were almost snuffed when I visited Julia. Her candle struggling, barely lighting the room. She was staring at the door, lying on her bed.
“You will not marry until you are ready, Julia and to who you wish.”
Small arms wrapped around me, she said nothing.
“You should have gone to bed hours ago,” I grinned, “Perhaps I should tuck you in?”
“No, don’t need baby thing.” Julia climbed into bed.
“Of course, how silly,” Taking her candle, I looked around, “Goodnight Julia.”
Closing the door, I allowed myself to shudder. Julia was safe , no matter how much I wish to back down, I need to keep that thought. No matter what.
The sun shone down from the clear blue sky. Soft, cool breezes swept over the area, removing the heat from us. A perfect day for a wedding, a perfect wedding which others would see. They were not close enough to hear the grief.
Julia was beside Mother, for once not wriggling in her seat. I will not see her or Mother after today but Julia will not be forced to marry. Mother hated my condition but if she were to fail, Julia will be taken from her during the busiest hour. It will destroy Mother.
Bells chimed, signalling the time. The guests stood, Mother glared warningly. I will not run, Mother, I am not you. My fiancée covered in a gold dress and green gloves, veil shrouded her face. Rosetta or Clarimonde Low but I will not know until the Officiant speaks. She reached the altar, standing across from me and gloved hands held out. I laid my hands atop, there was no flesh underneath. She winced, quiet but there, my grip loosened.
“We are gathered here to celebrate the union between Miss Rosetta Low and Sir Owen Wells,”
I glanced back to Mother, she gripped Julia’s arm, holding her still. This was for Julia, it will be her eighth year soon and my one condition will protect her especially now it is Rosetta I am marrying. Rosetta gazed away, towards her own family.
Following it, Clarimonde was crying against her father. He was uncovered, no skin on his face yet a beard covered the lower part of his face and greying hair. Mrs Low held her husband’s hand, she kept glancing towards us.
A complete difference to Mother. Mother who despised them stated it was best if they were culled. Mother who wanted this to be Julia’s wedding instead of mine. Mother who stared at me coldly when I argued against, who purposely drew tears when I refused.
The Lows could not act, it was how they were discovered. Mother suggested the wedding. The good Lady taking pity on the monsters. Everything about the Lows today says they did not want this. Mother had wished this for Julia, unwilling to get her help we could easily afford.
Who was the real monster, Mother?