Coercion

About two sisters who left their country just before war broke out.

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I had not long fallen asleep, after having a long shower and changing my clothes, when raised voices woke me. Lifting my head up, I yawned and gazed at the door. The voices were coming from the corridor.

“Now you listen here young man,” said a woman. “Don’t you know who I am? Let me through.”

“I’m afraid that I can’t do that ma’am. The President has ordered that no one can enter without his permission.”

With a huff the woman replied, “Oh the President said that, did he? Well I don’t care what Marshall says! Open the bleeding door otherwise I will have you working in the kitchens!”

Working in the kitchens must have been a terrifying prospect because moments later the door opened and an elderly woman walked in. She was slightly hunched and a tray was in her wrinkled hands. “Wakey wakey!” she called shuffling over to the bed.

I sat up and Amelinda mumbled in her sleep.

“Morning, dearie.” The woman grinned at me. “I’m Ida. I brought you some breakfast.”

Was it morning already? Standing up I thanked her and took the tray. “Please sit down. I’m Briar.”

Ida perched herself on the edge of the bed with a groan and I sat on the grey carpet, the tray beside me. Grabbing my cheek she peered at me through her glasses. “Hmm, Marshall was right. Those are some nice green eyes you’ve got there girl.”

“Umm, thanks,” I replied uneasily.

Ida’s brown eyes were filled with a youth that didn’t match the rest of her body, and her grey hair was wild. “Blonde hair as well . . . what country are you from?”

“Melsala.”

Nodding to herself she gestured to the tray. “You should eat that before it gets cold.”

Lifting the plastic cover off the top I found that the tray had three segments in it, and all of them were filled with a grey gloop. Not wanting to hurt Ida’s feelings I picked up one of the spoons and ate a mouthful. I had to force the bland food down. “Mm, that’s delicious thank you.” A foul aftertaste clung to my tongue.

Cackling, Ida said, “Either the food where you’re from is worse than that, which is unlikely, or you’re lying. I like you. How old are you, Briar?”

“I’m twenty one,” I answered wishing that Ida had brought some water with her as well.

“So you’re married?”

My eyes widened in surprise. “No, I’m not.”

Ida looked shocked. “At what age do you get married in Melsala?”

“After you’re eighteen if you want to,” I said, wondering why she was staring at me the way she was.

“You don’t have to marry?”

“No.”

Pressing a hand to her chest, Ida said, “My word, how odd . . . here in Driskova you wed at seventeen.”

“What if you don’t want to?” I asked, picking at the carpet.

Her eyes bulged. “It doesn’t matter whether you want to or not. The law states that everyone must marry at seventeen. You are given the partner that is most compatible.”

“You don’t choose who you marry?” I gasped.

Ida’s expression showed how crazy she thought I was. “No, what would be the point in that? As a result of the epidemic we need to rebuild the population and the best way to do that is with strong children.”

I liked Driskova less and less by the minute. “What epidemic?”

“It doesn’t matter. It was years ago now,” said Ida waving her hand in dismissal. “But the birth rate is low so the young marry as soon as they have finished their education.”

At least they weren’t making them marry at a younger age.

“I was training to be a doctor in Melsala, maybe I can help?” I suggested.

Regarding me Ida smiled. “Maybe you could. How old is your sister?”

I gazed at the Amelinda who was still sleeping. “She’s sixteen.”

“She can go to school with the others tomorrow. Maybe you will still be here for her seventeenth birthday,” said Ida, stroking Amelinda’s long hair.

Amelinda’s birthday was only a month away and I had no intention of being in Driskova for it.

 

 

“Where are we going?” I asked but Ida ignored me.

As soon as Amelinda had woken Ida had made her shower and change. Then Ida had practically pushed us out the door into a young soldier. He was escorting us as we travelled through a labyrinth of corridors. Amelinda clung to my side her eyes wide.

When we reached a door with ‘MEDICAL CENTRE’ on it, Ida turned to the soldier saying, “Thank you, Aron. Wait out here.”

Aron’s brown eyes caught mine but his expression was unreadable.

Amelinda and I followed Ida inside and sat down on the grey chairs while she talked to a woman behind the desk. There were other people in the waiting room and they stared at Amelinda and me, whispering to each other.

“Come on,” said Ida gesturing for us to come over.

“Why are we here?” I asked warily as a nurse took us all to an examining room.

Smiling at me the nurse replied, “We just need to make sure that you two are healthy. It’s only a check up.”

“Time for me to go,” said Ida. She pressed her dry lips to my and Amelinda’s cheeks. “See you later, dearies.”

I watched as she shuffled out of the room.

Moments later a short man came in.  “Ah, you must be the two young women I’ve been hearing so much about . . . Briar and Amelinda right?”

“We don’t need checkups. We’re fine,” I said, not liking the idea of being poked and prodded. We weren’t even going to be in Driskova for long, hopefully.

The doctor laughed. “It will only take a few minutes. My colleague will see you in a different room, Amelinda, if that’s okay?”

We opened our mouths to protest but Amelinda was grabbed by the nurse and taken away. I made to go after her but a soldier blocked my way. I recognized him as Aron. He must have come in after Ida had left. Glaring at him I turned around and sat down on the bed.

“That’s right,” said the doctor pulling some gloves on. “You’ll see her again soon.”

I didn’t say a word as he listened to my heart, tested my reflexes and even drew some blood. But then my eyes fell on the syringe in the doctor’s hand.

“What is that?” My eyes were fixed on the needle.

The doctor’s voice was soothing. “It’s just something to make you sleep for a while.”

“No!” Crying out I ran for the door only to be seized by Aron. “Let me go!” As the doctor injected me I heard a scream from another room. “Amelinda!” Kicking the doctor away, I head butted Aron, making him curse and clutch at his bleeding nose. I managed to get part way down the hallway before I fell unconscious.

 

 

“What is that monstrosity on your back?”

Groaning I rubbed my eyes with the heel of my palm. I felt like I was still half asleep. Opening my eyes I found myself being stared at by an elderly woman with long grey hair. She was so thin that she looked like she would snap like a twig if you even touched her. The woman was puffing on a cigarette and sitting in a chair by the window. I could just make out the outlines of clouds through the slits in the blinds.

“Well?” asked the woman roughly.

“Sorry?” I asked sitting up. That was when I realised that I was naked. My cheeks flushing red I hastily gathered the sheets over me so that only my head was visible. Where were my clothes? What had they done to me?

Sighing she said, “That thing on your shoulder, what is it?” The woman spoke slowly like she thought I was stupid or something.

Resisting the urge to narrow my eyes at her I replied, “It’s a tattoo of a rose.” I had gotten it on my eighteenth birthday. My mum used to call me Briar Rose because of the fairytale ‘Sleeping Beauty’.

“It’s unsightly.” The woman sniffed in distaste and lit another cigarette. Snorting smoke from her nose she said, “Ida tells me that you were training to be a doctor in Melsala. Would you like to help in the medical centre?”

Nodding, I said, “I’m sure I’d be more of a hindrance than a help though.”

“Please, the doctors there can barely tell their elbows from their behinds.”

“Where’s Amelinda?”

The woman scratched the back of her wrinkled hand. “She’s next door getting ready which is what you should be doing. Go and have a shower.”

“Why? What’s happening?” I stood up pulling the sheets closer.

She rolled her eyes, probably annoyed at all the questions I was asking. “You’re having dinner with the President and some other important people. Now hurry up.”

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