She didn’t care when her mother told her off about the social, nor did she care when her mother hugged her for making an effort to connect. When she talked to her aunt, the same thing happened. An un-feeling. Disinterest steeped in the emptiness of her hollow chamber.
At first, it vexed her. Shouldn’t a kiss, a dance, a minor bit of flirtation drum up something in her? Had her violet-colored heart drained of its color? Girls that should’ve made her weak at the knees did nothing for her. They were pretty, in a detached, clinical sense. Objectively pretty, objectively meeting her standards, but, subjectively, they lacked hooks.
No intrigue. Nothing to invite her curiosity. They turned out to be bland; every last one of them had been a waste of her time. Elspeth deserved better than that. She needed someone who could ignite something in her, someone who could burn a fire so hot that its smoke would overtake everything else.
Someone normal, someone who wasn’t her mortal enemy.
Elspeth hated that girl like nothing else. That girl? That thing, it kept showing up like a shadow Elspeth couldn’t shake. It’d happen by accident, something triggered by a reminder, a glimpse, a comparison. She’d think of that creature and a flare of emotion would follow.
She could get angry—oh, boy, did she get angry—but she lacked the capacity for much else.
“Am I broken?” she asked her therapist. Her therapist asked her what led her to ask that question. Elspeth curled further into the recliner. She didn’t give up her secret. Everything needed to be buried. It needed to go far, far away.
Ellie may have fallen for an animal. She’d actually believed she’d found someone worth falling for. They could’ve worked out against all odds, had their relationship been one between an heiress and a forest dweller. That wasn’t what happened.
Elspeth hated the nights most of all. Her dreams were vulnerable to invasion. It was in sleep that she could slip back into being her old self with her ex. She couldn’t remember exactly what happened. She only had fragments to hold onto, but they were pleasant trinkets until she crushed them.
“Am I broken?” she asked Zinnia. Zinnia had asked her to join her on her farm in the early morning. Elspeth considered saying no, but she didn’t Zinnia to think she disliked her. The send-off she gave her at the end of the party hadn’t been the most positive. She needed to make up for it, and thus, she was standing around while Zinnia searched through her equipment shed.
When the pigs peeked out of their hovels to look at them, Elspeth didn’t heed them any attention. She realized that Zinnia had been right to dress them in non-descript frocks. The swine weren’t worthy of anything over the bare minimum. Food. Shelter. Care, as far as it went towards producing quality meat. Why had Freesia thought…
She pushed out a breath. I don’t need to go there right now.
“Do you want to be fixed?” Zinnia asked, her back to Elspeth. She bent down as she worked to lessen a pile of things stacked on a trunk. “I mean, if you are broken.”
Why are you talking to me like we didn’t get in a fight?
“I wonder what that would look like. Have you ever wondered what you’d be like if there was nothing wrong with you?”
Zinnia’s back cracked when she straightened back up. “I wouldn’t be myself if I was perfect.”
“I wouldn’t mind being perfect and saying goodbye.”
“Oh,” Zinnia said. She went back to freeing the trunk. “Did…did your mom talk to you about the party?”
“Yeah. Her response was mixed. She thought it was nice I was trying to get to know people in Stockbrunn, but I could’ve gone about doing it in a better way.” Elspeth shrugged. “My aunt weighed in on it, too. Pretty much the same thing.”
“No one was angry?”
“Not really. Maybe, a little. No one was angry enough to scare me.”
No one was enough of anything to do anything to her, not anymore, anyway.
Zinnia dragged the wheeled trunk out of the shed. She snapped the padlock back onto the door latch. Elspeth thought about all of the ways she could break into it. It wouldn’t take much effort. If she had her tools, she’d be able to pick the padlock in no time.
The trunk looked like it could fit a person. Zinnia demonstrated just that when she kicked open the lid and laid herself inside. She didn’t have much wiggle room for her arms.
“Is that supposed to be your coffin?” Elspeth asked. “It looks cozy.”
“No, I’m measuring it. I couldn’t find the measuring tape.”
“You’re weird. I could close the lid and lock you in there, you know.”
“But, you won’t.”
“I bet you’d panic and run out of air.”
“There’s holes in it,” Zinnia said. “It’d get hot and stuffy, but I wouldn’t die.”
“Can I get in?” Elspeth stopped her from getting out. “With you.”
“There’s no room for that. Move over, please.”
“Can I have a hug?”
“Huh? …Sure. Just move so I can get out.”
Nothing. Even with Zinnia’s arms around her, Elspeth still felt nothing. “Don’t let me go,” she said.
That’s all you’re going to say to me? Why are you so compliant?
“Can you bury me in that coffin?” she asked, shifting her arms so she could hold Zinnia tighter.
“That’s, um, quite the request.” Zinnia’s laugh sounded forced.
Elspeth took in the vibrations of her laughter. They had no effect on her. “I’m hilarious, aren’t I? What do you need this trunk for, anyway?”
“I have to haul some things later today. We should probably leave soon. You can’t be here when my father gets here.”
“He’s going to hate me forever, huh?”
“I don’t know.” Zinnia patted her back.
“I’m getting in it.” Elspeth shoved Zinnia off of her. She searched for a reaction in her eyes, and although she registered her surprise and confusion, Elspeth couldn’t find her own response to it. Nothing, nothing, nothing. “It’s a lot roomier in here than I thought. Close it.”
“Now who’s acting weird?”
“Just close it. I’m tired,” she sighed.
Zinnia cleared her throat. “I need to ask you something that will wake you up, then. This trunk, I was actually thinking of going to the woods today and—”
“Why the hell would you want to go there?”
“I’d like to work on some things for the house. I can put new cabinet doors in and take a look at the stove,” Zinnia said. “You’re not going to want to be there in the winter without a proper heat source. You can come with me.”
“No. I’m not leaving Stockbrunn. I’m going to die here.”
“Stop talking over—”
“I’ll talk over you however much I want. Isn’t that my right as the future Chieftess?”
You’ll fight me now. You’re getting angry. You’re glowering at me and trying your damndest to look unaffected. You’re losing, Zinnia.
“Something’s not right with you,” Zinnia said.
“You think?” Ellie covered her eyes. “No one’s helping me!”
“What do you think I’ve been trying to do?” She hit her hands on the edge of the trunk. “Listen. I talked to Shreya. She’s open to talking to you, but you’ve got to go see her. Something’s happening in her town, so she won’t be around for long. It’s now or never.”
“I told you not to bring her up to me. I don’t care if I never see her again. She can jump off a cliff for all I care.”
“This has gone on for long enough,” Zinnia said. “You’re making yourself miserable. Do you want help or not?”
“She can’t help me. She’s the one who made me like this. She messed me up.”
“She’ll un-mess you up. Just talk to her while you still have the chance. I’m telling you, you’re going to regret it if you don’t.”
“If you knew what Shreya did, you wouldn’t be acting like this. You’d be on my side.”
“Well, you’re not telling me anything, and neither is she. Why don’t you both get together and sort things out yourselves? Lower your head.”
“You’re not going to close that thing on me.”
Zinnia slammed the trunk closed. Everything went dark. There should’ve been a surge of fight in Elspeth, like an urge to punch her fists against the lid, but she burst into laughter, instead. She heard the metallic clinking of Zinnia locking down the latches. Was she telling the truth about there being holes in the trunk somewhere? Hopefully, she was.
The other girl’s voice was muffled. “I’m sorry I have to do this.”
Elspeth couldn’t stop laughing. “You’re kidnapping me? You’re actually, literally, kidnapping me. This is too much.”
“You’re going to have to calm down. I have to get Sunflower to help me.”
As funny as it was, she knew it wasn’t a joke. Zinnia was going to take her to the woods, to wherever Shreya was. Was Shreya in on this? Had it been that creature’s idea all along? Elspeth doubted it. This had to be something conjured up in Zinnia’s twisted imagination.
You think this is going to make things better? You’ll see. Elspeth controlled her breathing, sobering up. We’ll see who regrets this.
A/N: Feeling too sick to add the next/last slider. Just going to get this up and lie down. You can probably pinpoint where I became too ill to coherently keep writing. :\
Also, will be answering the Q&A questions this week! Thanks for your questions, everyone.