This is the second instalment in my short story series based on the concept of Disney princesses in a dystopian world.
Above, the stars.
Below, the sea of green that crowds the cracked pavements, and all around me the collapsing towers of the high-rise buildings. From my gilded cage they look like broken teeth of some punch-drunk street fighter, or so Godmother says. I can barely fathom the meaning of such words. Violence is a thing of myth, and conflict is dealt with swiftly. Sometimes it boils to the surface and then it is gone. Godmother takes care of that.
The setting sun turns the remaining panes of glass to gold, and I accept the peace and solitude while it lasts, the maids will be here soon and then there will be the vigil. Perhaps they will bring me a new dress, stitched by hand, and whilst I love the pretties sometimes I yearn for simpler things.
They come like a swarm of locusts, the maids, all dressed in white to comb my hair. The golden tresses have grown so long that they trail almost to the floor, and they mark me as a Daughter of God. One of the Chosen. Cruel hands pinch and pull and make me cry as I am prepared, and then I have to listen to another lecture. First from Verity, the head maid, and then from Godmother herself, for she will come from her lofty penthouse to berate me for my selfishness.
There is no new gown tonight. I am being punished for my tears, but my braid is glossy and beautiful and hangs heavily on my shoulder. Semiprecious gems have been pasted on my skin and cosmetics painted on my eyes. I am, as always, a living doll set on a pedestal for all to worship and I will play my part because Godmother asked. She knows best. She gathered us and kept us safe and for this we give thanks, except…
I don’t want to be worshipped. I don’t want the followers to touch my feet or hair, but they will come, and each will place a coin on the plate or leave a loaf or apple in exchange for a blessing. Godmother will make the words and the supplicants will go away happy, as if the sounds fix sickness, sadness, and hunger. Even I, in my gilded cage, know that you can’t eat words.
Incense smoke burns my eyes and dries my throat. Muscles spasm as I fight the urge to cough. Even though the light is dim, I know my face is red and there are tears streaming over my cheeks. I wish they wouldn’t touch.
A worshiper has seen my shame and rears ahead of me. Unwashed and driven mad by the words Godmother has fed into his ear, he snatches the tears from my face with rough, dirty fingers. Those behind him challenge for the prize and when they see there is no more they turn on me.
A wall of stench.
Wide crazed eyes.
Fearsome fingers grasping, poking, seeking to steal away my tears.
My fear crystallises into rage and I push the seeking hands away.
“NO!” It comes out like a roar and the shocked faces feel like power to me.
“GO TO YOUR ROOM!” Godmother screams back. She stamps her foot and points, and I don’t need to be told a second time. Fleet footed I run the empty corridors past broken glass panes that let the shimmer of night into my world. Boundaries have been crossed and I cannot even think what my punishment might be. This transgression is so far beyond the mere withdrawal of pretty clothes.
Rather than cower in my chamber and wait, I stand defiantly in front of my beautiful window bathed in moonlight. I know what effect this brief vignette would have on an observer, even one as hardened as Godmother. After all it has been my life work to pose and preen for the gratification of The Followers.
Far below in the sea of green I see a shimmer of light. Not the smoky orange of raw flame, but something crisp and white. It could be a dream triggered by longing, but the more I gaze, the more this tiny luminescence seems to call. Out beyond the hallowed halls of the tower, there is life. Tiny and tenuous it creeps and whether it is friend or foe I have no clue, but IT CALLS.
A shard of glass becomes my friend.
A stolen pair of overalls is my camouflage.
Fear and anticipation speed my escape. Not through the hallways, but slowly edging downward finding footholds where once there was an expanse of glass, and in my gilded cage I have left behind every strand of golden hair and all the other pretties. The face in the reflection is ecstatic, not with religious fervour but the anticipation of freedom.