Hello everyone! The winner of this months contest and of Orphan Song by Gillian Adams is....
Clare Farrelly!!! Congratulations Clare!
Eyes wide with excitement and mouths agape the twins walked towards the carousel. The moment they had wished for all their short lives had come. They stood with many other children in front of the greatest carousel in all of Kayoklutosni. A week ago their lives had changed in a moment when Father walked into the room announcing that the fair had arrived in town and he had bought tickets for the last night. Gillian had dropped her book with a thud and Colin had been gabby about the fair ever since.
The sun lingered in the sky, glinting off the magnificent scrollwork and shining on the smooth carousel creatures. Everyone knew they did not really exist, but one could almost believe that they could, or did once, the two young children found it especially easy. These creatures, unicorns some called them, were so beautiful, nothing like the camels everyone rode, or the twargs and goats. They were daintier, nobler, than any real creature. The colour of the twisting pole of each beast corresponded to their one twisted horn that glowed in the sunlight.
Children clambered onto the carousel, the line grew rapidly shorter as children left to choose a mount, Colin glanced at Gillian with eyes shining. “We’ll be on next round Jill; will you take one on the outside row? I want one on the inside that moves up and down as well as round.”
“D’know Col, any’ll do, I just wish they were real, that we had creatures like that in Kayoklutosni. Wouldn’t riding one of those be grand, one that really moved.”
“How would you stay on though? There’s no hump to hold onto and their horn is too far forwards,” Col replied.
“Oh I think if they were t’let us, then we wouldn’t fall, they’d make sure of that,” Jill whispered.
The unicorns began to spin slowly around, the inside two rows rising up and down again. Faster and faster they spun, until if you watched just one place a creature could be seen, white, striding along tossing its head, moving through the poles as if in a dance. The laughter and shouts of children’s joy echoed out, mingling with the song and strings of a jet black haired harpist sitting against a nearby tree. Watching adults smiled, listening to the music while their children enjoyed the carousel.
All too soon the music faded and the mysterious unicorn disappeared. The carousel became still once again, except for the children swarming off it. Col grabbed his sister’s hand and ran towards the carousel.
Col twisted between the unicorns until he came to one wearing green. A light green saddle rested on a darker cloth with silver tassels hanging from the edges. Col smiled and ran his hand over the beast’s neck feeling the hard smoothness and then touching the real leather and cloth.
“I wonder why all your outfit’s not made of the same cool, hard stuff as you are? Perhaps to make it feel more real. I would think that having real tack makes you much harder to clean.” Col thought back to the many evenings he spent beside his father polishing metal buckles and rubbing fat into leather until it shone. Col settled himself into the saddle and reached forward to touch the headstall. Fine chains of what looked almost like real silver and the softest shimmering cords made up the headstall. He sat back and straightened his shoulders. Fitted out with such finery, he could be a lord riding on a steed.
Jill likewise sat upon an elegant beast. It had a delicate halter of gold thread and chain, with pink flowers twined into it. A real beast, Jill thought, would snap such delicate straps in moments. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply, a slight fragrance wafted through the air. Jill glanced around with narrowed eyes. Why, she wondered, should she smell flowers, here in the middle of a fair? She looked again at the flowers in the halter, in the dusk light they could be real, leaning closer to them she thought the smell grew stronger. Jill climbed up and stood on the saddle, leaning along the creature’s neck she breathed in. The smell certainly came from the flowers. Yet how could it?
She leaned out further. Music started and the ride jolted forwards. With a shriek Jill crashed down and landed beside the pearly pink hooves of her unicorn. Yells came from watching adults and children around her. For a moment she just lay there, and then a hand grasped her arm, hauling her up. She caught a glimpse of the unicorns soft blue eyes, then found herself looking into two beady brown eyes.
“Young un get off now, we can’t have the ride disturbed.” The tall, beared man in long boots hauled Jill off the carousel and dumped her a fair distance away before she even had time to protest. As the man marched back to the carousel Jill called after him, “Wait please Sir, please.”
The man did not even turn around. Jill fell to the dusty ground. One drop of salty water trickled slowly down her face followed by others.
From where Col sat he had a good view of the whole event. For a moment he looked at his sister then back to the beautiful white beast. His little hands twisted around the pole that held up his steed and made it fly. He bit his lip then swung his leg over the unicorn and slid down. Giving it one last pat he wound his way between the other elegant creatures towards his sister, just as the music began again.
They sat together; Col wound his fingers around Jill’s. Together they listened to the music and watched the unicorns dance around again, whirling faster and faster. Clothes and tassels flapped, children screamed, some in joy others with fright at the speed, and again the mysterious beast appeared just for a moment galloping on the spot.
Children tumbled off and more ran to get places. Col and Jill went back to their parents. Jill whispered, “Somehow it would not be the same, maybe later we can ride it.” A strange sadness filled the hearts and minds of the two youngsters, it may be thought to have come from the fact that they were taken from their ride, that is not so, it came from something much deeper, they themselves had no idea. Jill could not dispel the look in the unicorn’s blue eyes from her mind.
Stalls were set up everywhere, banners rippled out from poles and trees. The glow of illumstones became more noticeable. The family walked into a nearby stall. The children forgot their sorrow upon seeing the beautiful trinkets. Jill at once moved over to look at an unusual object which, upon inspection, turned out to be a miniature carousel, with only four unicorns prancing around it. They were encased in a hard substance. Jill lifted it carefully, as she moved it, silver and gold sparkles floated around the animals, her mouth parted in wonder. “So beautiful,” she whispered.
A small round man, the stall keeper, hurried over and snatched the carousel from her hands. “That, my dear, is not for sale. That, little one is real gold and silver it is made from, and the stone casing, well, no one except a great lord,” The man gestured vaguely northwards and flung his arms wide.
A magnificent crash made everyone cringe; Jill jumped back as fragments of the tiny carousel hit her. The man’s dark face grew darker. He glared at his hand which still held the gold and silver base, and then back towards a tent pole behind him. His mouth opened and shut a few times, Jill backed further, and her foot kicked something as she ducked behind Father. Stooping she picked the small object up. At the same moment Col gazed in astonishment at the piece of carousel that had literally flown across the room into his hands. A tiny white figure of a unicorn decked with gold and silver lay shining on his palm.
Mother and father never noticed the little figures in their son’s and daughter’s hands as they pushed them out of the stall before them. They all wandered around the fair looking upon many wonders and great sights, but soon it grew very late and they went to an inn beside where the fair sprouted. The distance to their own house was not great but dark cloaked men roamed the roads at night.
Col and Jill looked out the window; they could both just glimpse the carousel. Then they slipped off their shoes and snuggled next to each other, listening to their parents breathing and the minstrels at the fair. A model unicorn lay with fingers curled around it; the other poked its head out of a pocket in Col’s shirt. Many parts of the fair grew silent and were packed away, ready to travel off the next day. All the inns and drink-houses in the town overflowed. Of the minstrels by the carousel only the harpist played, softly, ever so softly. The music wound it way into the night, calling.
The greater moon rose up, closely followed by the second. Silver light spilled through the open window and splashed down onto the children’s bed. Jill sat upright as something prickled at her hand, light shone from between her fingers. She nudged Col, and pressed a finger to her lips. The two tiny unicorns glittered in the moonlight, glowing of themselves.
Four little feet pattered across the floor and slipped into shoes then out the door. Two faces peered into a lighted room then backed away and padded out a different, smaller door, out onto cobbles that reflected back the moonlight. Not a word passed between the children as they crept through the trunks of great trees towards the fair.
One illumstone shone white into the shadows. The minstrel sat near it and another lady moved noiselessly towards the carousel. The minstrel jumped as Col stepped on something, her music, though, did not falter. Jill and Col followed the other lady onto the carousel. A white light reflected off the young lady’s silver dress, she moved among the carousel poles running her hand up each creature’s horn.
Turning, she gazed a moment at the children. Jill stepped up next to her, “They are so sad. Can we help?” she whispered. The lady’s eyes sparkled.
Keeping her voice low the lady replied, “Yes, help me get their halters off.” Her eyes went to Col’s pocket.
Jill held out her hand with the shining figure in it, “Are these yours?”
“No dearest, but they are a sign. Keep them, and guard them well.” The lady’s pure white hair fell glimmering over her shoulder as she bent and closed Jill’s fingers around the unicorn.
Jill, Col and the white lady moved among the carousel beasts, and the harpist played. Col struggled with a silver buckle, but finally it undid and he slipped one halter off. He put it over his arm and slipped another off. Jill watched the woman, she had only to touch a halter and it slid off or broke with a tinkle. She placed each one into a pouch at her side.
As the last halter jingled into the bag, the lady spoke again, “You may hop on if you like, they won’t mind.” She motioned to the carousel beasts.
Who won’t? Jill wondered, but she did not intrude on the sound of the music which now swelled, humming along shafts of moonlight. The carousel began to spin, faster and faster. Wind whipped saddle cloths and tassels and gripped at the children’s delighted grins, the mystical unicorn appeared. This time something different happened though. The creature galloped forwards. Loud cracking and snapping noises pierced the night. Both children felt a strange warmth under them. Hair blew into Jill’s face, and she lost grip of the twisted pole. Her hands found only soft hide of an animal and hair, long thick, silver hair. Jill’s teeth clacked together as hooves hit the ground. Wide eyed, Jill looked at the moonlight shimmering all around her. The moonlight had hair and legs, hooves and bodies. Jill felt herself slipping and grabbed larger handfuls of the hair. The saddle fell to the ground, but Jill stayed astride. Col, on one of the inner unicorns had not yet broken free.
All the beasts that had transformed cavorted around, making it hard for Jill to see exactly what happened. In a moment all the creatures were free. Shouts came from the town, focused illumstones flashed out into the moonlight. Jill noticed that the music had stopped, and the black haired minstrel completely disappeared. People came running. The unicorns ran too, with the same speed that the carousel had turned at before. The last coloured saddle and blanket thumped to the ground. Forty nine gleaming unicorns disappeared into the trees. All glowed white except for the one which had a mane and tail black as the deepest shadow. That one had a different horn to the rest and also still carried a pack of some kind, very oddly shaped.
Col and Jill found themselves standing just outside the entrance of the inn they had crept out of only minutes before. The white lady touched each of their heads. “Guard your charges well, they are not living but they have power, when you are older you may find it. Peace now, in you go.”
The twins crept back into the inn. Out the window they thought they saw a last flash of silver hair and heard hoof beats, yet not a trace of the lady that just bid them farewell. “Unless,” Jill and Col whispered in the same breath, “Unless…” They both looked at each other sharing the thought. As sleep pushed their eyelids closed, a fiftieth unicorn, whiter even than the others, and with a smooth horn, galloped in the direction of the others.
Second place goes to... Mikayla L!!
Thinking back on that fateful day, I wonder if it was all avoidable, or if it was an inevitable clash between two worlds, each denying the existence of the other.
Amidst the raging fire, the door stood. Though the fire destroyed everything else around it, the door stood unharmed. Walking around it, it was only a door, standing solitarily, alone besides the trees, though they would soon be reduced to ashes. But upon opening the door, I discovered a whole new world, one where my past as an outcast, an orphan, would be forgotten, unknown. A world where things were different from everything I’d ever known. Upon discovering it, I felt chills race down my spine. Whether they were from delight or terror, I did not yet know.
Upon stepping through it, I discovered that once you go through, you can never return from whence you came. I know, because as soon as my feet passed into the other world, the door disappeared behind me.
I jumped up, turning to where the door should have been, but there was nothing. A knot of fear settled in my stomach as I glanced wildly at my surroundings. In my earlier state of cafard, I hadn’t considered the possibility that I could never get back to my home, dull as it was, in Australia. I never dreamed that maybe I could get stuck on the other side.
Gathering my wits, I took in the tall trees. I did a double take. The trees were purple. Odd. Not only that, but they had large, stone like objects hanging off of them.
Slowly I began walking, the sun beating down on me through the trees. I glanced up and shivered. Not one, but two suns hung in the sky above me. At least the sky was blue, like normal.
“I want to go home.” I mumbled. But I had no home, not really. The sewers weren’t fit to be called home. But at least they were familiar, unlike this strange land I had stumbled upon.
I heard hoof beats. They grew louder quickly, and I fought between the want to hide, in case it was danger, and the want to wait, in case it was help. Finally, the feeling in my gut won, and I scrambled up on of the trees. They were rather slick, and it took me a moment to get the method down: grab on with my legs, push up, grab on with my arms, and then pull my legs up after me. Just as I reached a good height, a group of cloaked figures on horseback came into sight. The one who I guessed to be the leader pulled his horse to a stop, directly below me.
“She’s there.” He pointed to the tree.
Within the second, his men had crossbows pointed at me.
“Who are you?”
“No, dear girl, the question is, who are you?”
I hesitated before answering, “Calypso.”
The man laughed, but it was a cold, fake laugh, one that sent shivers down my spine, “That’s not your name, girl.”
“I wish it was.”
“What is your real name? And of what race are you?” He asked, his horse prancing beneath him.
“My real name is Isabella. And I’m human. But what are you?” I asked, my curiosity, as always, getting the better of me.
“I am the one, I believe, in power currently. So listen to what I have to say. You are a princess in this land, lost to a strange world long ago. However, now that throne is mine to inherit. So, you see, we have a problem. If the faeries know you are back, they will stop at nothing to get you back to the throne, but I’d rather I have it.”
I kept silent, but the statement startled me. I grew up deprived of everything I wanted, fighting to survive. And I was to believe that in this land, I was a princess? An arrow lodged itself into the branch, inches from my hand.
I probably would do best to stay alive, else the throne would do me no good. So I slipped back to the trunk of the tree, deeper into the branches, where he couldn’t see me.
His voice, eerily calm, filled the forest. “Burn it.”
I hadn’t thought of that. One of his men kneeled at the trunk of the tree, with two pieces of stone, different from any in Australia. But as soon as he began tapping them together, a spark flew out of it.
Think. Searching my mind for any idea, any at all, I came up blank.
Then I got it. The man (you know, the one who wanted me dead) sat straight on his horse, directly below me.
I grabbed one of the stones, which was satisfyingly heavy. Then I threw it at his head, which was satisfyingly in range.
I ducked back as he let out a howl of pain.
“Burn it. Now!” He said with renewed anger.
I chucked another rock at his head. Again, he shouted, this time pulling away from the tree.
“Burn it and you’ll get a few rather large lumps on your head, and I’ll still escape.” I said to the figure at the bottom of the tree. He ignored me.
Down dropped another stone. Up came another shout. Onto the tree flew the sparks. Then the tree ignited.
I didn’t expect the fire to spread as fast as it did, but within moments it was feet from me. The flames engulfed me. I glanced one last time into the dark, angry eyes of the man below, then, surprisingly without pain, drifted into unconsciousness.
The fire raged, and the door stood unharmed. Warily, I walked around it. Once again, nothing. The dream, each time ending the same way, no matter what I did to alter it, had haunted me for weeks.
But today was not a dream. Today, I was awake. I knew, because the lump on my head from walking into a doorframe earlier that day still throbbed. In the dream I could never feel pain. I had finally found the door, the one that I had dreamed about for weeks.
Did I have anything to stay in Australia for? No. Did I want to go through it? Not particularly. Did I know what I would find, now that I was finally awake? I hoped it wasn’t the same as the dream.
Despite the fear that had settled in my stomach, I took a deep breath and pulled it open. The scent of the forest filled my lungs. The purple trees greeted me. The sun and its twin seemed to smile encouragingly at me. At for reasons that I would not understand for a long time, I stepped through the door, into the world on the other side.
One day, a long time from now, I would understand the reason why I did it. One day, my great-grandchildren would hear stories about the strange land on the other side. One day, I would be accepted. One day, I would be a legend.
Third Place Goes to... Victoria Marinov
“Please Agnes, couldn't you just try?”
Agnes frowned at the Mars wasteland outside the window before turning to her friend.
“Carl, just because I'm a princess doesn't mean--”
“It's not that you're a princess. You're Moriah's friend and she'll listen to you.”
“I was her friend,” Agnes corrected. “And that was a long time ago.” She sighed. Her return to Mars just had to be marred with this. Not that she had anything against Carl. He was a good friend, but he had been desperate to win that contest. Now he was asking the impossible of her.
“What happened that you're not friends anymore?”
“Does it matter?”
“Excuse me, your highness.” the footman had come in. “Your cousins are here--” he could not finish his sentence, for two brown-haired children rushed into the sitting room.
“Ness!” the little girl exclaimed and attempted to climb up the princess, while the boy grasped onto her arms. “Tell us all about Earth!”
“Yeah, and what were the streets without covers like?”
“And the ocean? Did you go to the ocean?”
With a laugh Agnes assured them that she would tell them everything about Earth. She cast an apologetic look at Carl.
“I'll think about it,” she said quietly.
He shrugged and went out.
Agnes and her two cousins sat down on the couch and she told them all about Holland and England and the open-air streets. The younger ones were especially enthralled by the descriptions of the birds that flew freely in the air. On her phone Agnes showed them pictures of the beach, and gave them seashells she had collected.
However through all this time, behind her facade, thoughts and phrases whirred in her head. Carl's concerned voice – I'm pretty sure there was a judging fraud – my family needs the money – I worked so hard – you were friends with Moriah Jenkins – can't you ask her to investigate it? – However it was the emotions from so long ago which jabbed pain in Princess Agnes' heart. How could you – it' not my fault – you're not my friend anymore.
These emotions and words and many more swirled in Agnes' head, and the storm inside swelled when her cousins left. She stood at the large window, and looked out at the Mars landscape over which sunset was falling.
It was so ugly compared to Earth. On earth there was green – there was life. Birds flew, and the sky wasn't a hazy pink, but a brilliant blue. One could actually go outside and feel the grass, hear the birds, and smell the flowers. Biologists at the laboratories where still working hard, trying to find a way for plants to grow on the red Martian soil – they were trying to introduce the beauty here – but they couldn't. Agnes missed the beauty back on Earth.
She also missed the beauty which had been in her heart until Carl reminded her of Moriah Jenkins. Now Agnes' heart felt like Mars. Ugly, scarred, and unyielding to the beauty which others were trying to plant in it.
It had not been her fault. It was Moriah's jealously. That was what Agnes told herself. But what if it was her own fault?
Agnes sat by the window for hours, thinking. Finally she stood up and called for her bodyguard.
“I need to go to the technological institute tomorrow,” she said.
Behind her the noise of beeping machines and drones sounded as Agnes stood in front of the office door. She swallowed. I do it or I don't. She lifted her hand and forced it against the beeper. For Carl. I'll do it for him. A bidding to enter sounded from inside, so Agnes opened the door and stepped into her ex-friend's office.
Moriah's back was turned away from the door, and Agnes marveled at the raven-black waves falling down the young woman's back. Moriah had always been the pretty one, and yet always the pariah.
“I'll be with you in a moment --” Moriah turned around and her gaze widened into amazement when she saw Agnes standing at the door. However she quickly recovered.
“Ness – Princess,” she said. “What do you want?”
“I've come here on behalf of a friend of mine,” crookedly answered Agnes.
“He was in one of the contests you organized.”
“Um, I think it was the mail delivery drone-building one.”
Moriah shuffled through some papers. “And what does your friend want?”
“He says there was a judging fraud.”
“Does he have proof?”
“Some, I believe. He really wants to win.” Agnes added hopefully. In truth, she was surprised at how smoothly their conversation was going.
“And why is he so desperate to win?”
“His sister can't walk and his family needs money to go to Earth for surgery.”
“Well, that changes things. What's his name?”
“Very well, I will contact him about it.”
Moriah didn't seem eager to continue talking, so Agnes turned to the door. However her heart beat rapidly with nervousness. She wished she had forgotten the other reason she had come here.
“Moriah? I – nothing, never mind.”
“Ness.” Moriah's sharp voice brought back memories – painful memories. “What is it?”
Agnes turned around, trying to bring herself to do what she wanted to. “Will – will you forgive me? For what happened?” she broke down weakly.
Moriah's face did not change. “I already have,” she finally said.
“You – you have?”
“I realized that it really wasn't your fault. George would've died anyway.”
Finally after a silence Agnes couldn't hold it any longer and threw her arms around her once-friend. She finally unattached herself and left without a word, for she was crying.
“Congratulations, Carl!” Henri, Agnes' brother, said.
Carl was grinning from ear to ear. “Thanks.”
“Your highness.” Agnes turned to the footman. “A Miss Moriah Jenkins to see you.”
“Let her in.”
Moriah entered the sitting room, accompanied by two other assistants. She smiled at everyone's greetings and offered Carl congratulations.
“Thank you for bringing that judging fraud to my attention. Also one of the groups at the institute are considering building your design,” she added. “And I can fund you so you can get a patent.”
“They are? You can?” Carl's eyes shone with excitement.
Moriah laughed. A strained laugh, but a lovely thing nevertheless. “When are you leaving for Earth?” she inquired.
“Next month,” said Carl. “I'm really excited.”
After smiling at him, Moriah turned to Agnes, who had been standing quietly to the side, and said,
“I'm having a small party thing for my birthday on Thursday – would you like to come?”
Agnes opened her mouth, but no words came out. “Well – I – I – I would love to,” she finally said.
“Alright then. Come at three o'clock. You remember where I live?”
“Yes, I do.” Agnes said with a smile.
When everyone had left, Agnes went and sat at the window. Her thoughts whirled with joy and confusion and hope and beauty. There was a certain freedom inside her – a freedom she had not felt for – ever since her friendship with Moriah had been broken because of the accident. Her soul and heart danced in the sunshine of her emotion.
“It's rather ugly; isn't it?” Her brother had sat down by her. He gazed out onto the bare Mars landscape. A weak haboob had passed by earlier, and clouds of dust had settled in the air. Far off to the horizon Agnes could just make out the last rays of the sun setting behind the western mesas.
Thank you to everyone who partisapated!!