This story is by Jessica Wylie and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
“They’re coming for you.”
The four unwelcome words burst into Lotty’s slumber and swirled violently through the vast, dark space, like a blizzard of fresh, fluffy snow caught in a never-ending void. Each word on its own, as it flitted to the front of her mind, was harmless. Innocent. Yet, she knew they belonged together. She watched as they jived and twirled, connected to each other by a phantom silver thread. Where one went the other followed. She lifted her head slowly, dazed by the bizarre activity that stormed her mind. She shook her head, refusing to believe the familiar voice, and with all her willpower pushed her chapped lips into the shape of her own word.
“Yes. They’re coming for you, Lotty. Look.”
Lotty peeled open her eyelids, and attempting to blink away her misty vision, looked around her. She was in her bedroom, in the Palace. Warm terracotta, yellow, and ochre cracked through the thinning fog as she recognised the soft rugs and wooden furniture placed around the room. Yedda stood by the open window, her long, black hair rustling softly as she leant on the sharp, stone ledge. Her loose tunic, once an alluring white, was hoary, covered in dust and dirt like the sand casing the stone floor beneath her bare feet. Lotty flung her heavy limbs over the side of the soft bed and using all her strength pushed herself up. Yedda watched, mild amusement on her pretty face, as Lotty skid slowly towards the sun-clad window.
“If you want to escape them you need to be faster.”
Lotty grabbed the window ledge tightly. Her knuckles turned a ghoulish white, abnormally pale against the bright sun. Strands of her lank, greasy hair flicked into her eyes as a dusty wind blew against her face. She coughed.
Her voice was staccato and almost robotic, as though her mandible had frozen shut overnight. She barely recognised it. Yedda scoffed and shook her head. Her eyes twinkled like freshly polished emeralds in a plain of pale-blue frost.
“Then you don’t have a chance,” she said, turning back and gesturing out the window with her thin arm, “If you aren’t even going to try, you may as well end it now.”
Lotty’s gaze followed Yedda’s pale arm out the window and down the sandstone cliffs the Palace was chiselled into, to the dry sands below. Thousands of people sat where the once teeming Delusory Sea had flowed. Chanting and sneering rose as she looked out. The people stood up, waving swords, axes, knives and hammers at her. There was a crescendo as the cheering intensified and didn’t stop, like the roaring an avalanche makes as it cascades down an endless mountain. A swarm of people fled to the Palace, and digging into the crumbling cliffs, began to climb. Lotty’s stomach contracted violently.
“Go away!” she shouted to the people below, her fists clenched tight. “I’m their Princess and they hate me.”
“Well, you did kill their Queen.”
Lotty took a shuddering breath, and turned suddenly away from the window. She didn’t know what to do. Her room, usually bright and airy, felt unbearably stuffy as a heavy cloud obscured the sun and threw the room into shadow. The warm colours receded to a spattering of cheerless chill. Lotty crossed her arms, rubbing heat into them ferociously.
“I saved them!” she said, her breathing laboured. “She enslaved the people, then tortured and murdered them. How could anyone still support her?”
The terracotta flower pot in the corner of the room exploded. Lotty screamed, covering her face with her hands as the sharp shards shot towards her like a severe storm of ice. A smooth pebble rolled across the floor and stopped at her feet. There was a brief hiatus. An unearthly quiet. Then everything happened at once. Hundreds of sandy smooth pebbles thundered into the room, poking holes through the wooden wardrobe, flower pots, and the thin net curtains that surrounded the bed. A distant banging resonated from behind the dark wooden door as footsteps stampeded up the stairs. The floor shook. There was scraping and scratching, the sound of metal on stone, as those who climbed the Palace got closer. The avalanche advanced, and despite the everlasting mountain it boomed down, there was nowhere for her to run. Lotty threw herself beneath the windowsill, where Yedda was already gracefully perched, and clasped her hands tightly over her ears.
“They’re coming,” Lotty panted, glancing feverishly around the room for an impossible escape.
“I told you, just like the hundred times before,” Yedda said, shrugging and picking at the ends of her hair. “Yet, still you don’t listen to me.”
The banging intensified as a cacophony of chaotic footsteps on the stairs. They stopped outside the door, as if collecting their breath. The pebbles continued to pound the room, collapsing the furniture. The door knob rattled. Lotty hugged her legs close to her body. Her heart was pounding so hard her whole body throbbed.
“Now it’s too late,” Yedda said, sighing. “You should have ended it when I told you to.”
“Ended what?” Lotty said, through laboured breathing.
The door burst open in a haze of dust and noise. Lotty shut her eyes and buried her head deep into her tunic, taking comfort in the smell of freshly washed linen. Through the increasing ringing in her ears, someone called her name. The voice was gentle and soothing, reminding her of her mother. A hand rested on her shoulder. She screamed.
“Get off me! I won’t let you take me! I only did it to help you. All of you!”
Her arms spun through the air like a wild windmill, until she felt her left wrist collide with something hard. The windowsill. In the brief second she was stunned, there was a scuffle of panic as a dozen strong arms pinned her to the dusty floor. A piercing sound stabbed her eardrum. Lotty winced, interrupting the scream, and realised it was coming from her own, gaping mouth. Taking advantage of the pause, something sharp pinched her left arm. She pulled fruitlessly against the unyielding grip and tried to scream. Nothing came from her mouth. Her thoughts jerked away, as though a fisherman sat in her brain reeling them in. The last thing she heard was Yedda’s voice whispering softly in her ear.
“They got you.”
When Lotty woke, she knew it had snowed. The air had that heavy, breath-holding atmosphere, and despite the darkness outside, a soft blue light glowed through the slit in the heavy curtains. A chair from the common room above, scraped across the floor breaking the silence. Lotty started, still unused to sleeping on the ground floor. She hated it. She should have known trying to jump out her fourth-floor window would have consequences, and yet it was the only way she could think of how to escape them. The voices. Her voice.
Lotty swung her legs out of bed for the second time that day. They were heavier, but her mind felt subtly lighter. The limited use of her legs and mind was a small price to pay for the temporary reprieve, even when she knew it wouldn’t last long. It never did. Her feet sank into the soft carpet and she dragged herself across the room to open the dull curtains. It was just as she expected. An expansive quilt of fresh snow was tucked around the vast hospital grounds. In the distance the forest was still, like a collection of porcelain statues. Sometimes Lotty felt like a statue. Especially after the injections.
As a child, she had loved the snow. She tried to remember how that felt. Love. Emotion. It had been warm, perhaps. She shook her head. All she had was facts. Memories without the emotion. Lotty felt empty, like a plastic snowman that looked the part but lacked substance. She remembered, that was all. Even when she thought of her mother, who religiously visited the hospital every week, she felt nothing. A sudden urge to run through the snow gripped her and her heart raced. No. She was out of time. They would be back soon. The voices. Her.
She shut her eyes as the snow wavered and floated and was replaced by mountains of dry sand. A sneering voice impaled her head with force. The fishing rod that had removed her thoughts earlier had been thrown back through her ear to return them.
“They got you.”
“No. I belong here.”
“The white coats got you,” her own voice mocked, “And you’re never getting out.”
Lotty turned around, willing herself to stay strong. She would make her go away. She had to. Her gaze found the mirror and tears plopped onto the thick carpet as reality crashed down. There was no escape. Yedda’s twinkling emerald eyes stared through Lotty’s identical ones and into her soul. The soul they shared.
“They got you.”