The Secret Sellers

Once upon a time an old woman foretold a world where monsters ruled. And they did. The fairy tales from history seemed to foretell the mutations of the future. Forests grew large and dark and within them, creatures thrived. Avis Eldred is one of the few surviving humans; she should be grateful for that. But she's not grateful for killing in order to survive. Now she faces a choice - take a leap of faith and defy everything she ever knew, or keep being a murderer and a coward.

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3. The Monster

 

-2-

The Monster

Avis was sure that she didn’t hear her father correctly. She couldn’t have heard him say that they were taking this monster into the slave trade, and worse into their own home to do with what they will. She must have heard him wrong.

From the high vantage point on the ledge, she could tell that the monster was curious about the conversation going on behind her, unfortunately Avis didn’t hear a word of that conversation either, but was so focused on the lights. His eyes were always going back to them, as if it was a drug, or maybe straying his eyes from them would gain a punishment.

“What are those lights for?” Avis heard herself saying, although her voice sounded muted as if she was hearing it from all the way down the ledge.

Her father looked shocked at the breakage in his conversation with Neveah, “Uh, they are called Distractors apparently, tiny raw fragments of magic enclosed in glass. Some rumors say that they hum at a low frequency only the monsters can hear, and either sing or scream at them depending on their activity.”

Basically, they were designed to keep the monster still, compliant and distracted from outside activities.

Those words were unsaid but obvious in her father’s tone. But Avis couldn’t think of being tied into a room where thousands of voices were screaming at you if you moved a muscle. Her head would be too crowded to think never mind move. The lights had her distracted too, so that her father’s next question went over her head and tumbling into the chasm below.

When he repeated his question, Avis wished that he had never said it at all.

“What do you think of us having him?”

The way he said it made it sound like they were adopting the monster, all the while turning the slave industry into something positive and worthwhile to their society.

Instead she answered him with another question, “Who came up with this idea?”

“Your mother – “ Her father was almost reluctant of answering as if he had her response in mind already.

“You know as much as I do that Mother isn’t of sane mind to even contemplate an idea seriously!”

“Don’t talk about Mother like that!” Neveah intervened, all the while allowing their father to push them out of the room and back into the corridor. The girls could clearly see that this maneuver made him uncomfortable as his eyes darted this way and that up the corridor to make sure that they were on their own.

“You know it’s true! She hasn’t been sane since the lycanthrope attacked her,”

“Look, Avis, our city is in danger because ever since the witch died fifty years ago the magical protection is dwindling. The witch hoped that by the time it was extinguished entirely we would be ready to protect ourselves, yet there have been more animal attacks similar to your mother’s and she feels that is beneficial for you girls to have a bodyguard.” Her father was clearing frustrated, his hands rubbed over his face tiredly and Avis felt bad.

“But…”

“Avis, this is happening; now give it a rest.” Neveah walked away as the corridor doors opened and people rushed through to continue on their daily business. This was going to happen whether Avis liked it or not and with one final glance back at the door where the monster sat behind, she followed in her sister’s footsteps and tried hard to ignore the sad hand on her back from her father.

*

Five minutes.

300 seconds.

An eternity masquerading as 1/12 of an hour.

It had officially been five minutes since Casimir, the monster, had arrived at the Eldred home. Those five minutes had been spent with Avis’s breath held under fear of the arrival turning from a tense interaction, into a blood bath.

That day when Casimir had arrived at the home, he couldn’t even remember how old he was. Although, he knew that he was fairly young from his physique. His meagre, yet satisfactory, clothes seemed to weigh him down like an anchor on a ship, and his fatigue was such an itch that he felt like he vibrated with its intensity. He stood shaking and shaken in the doorway, his hands still shackled and his voice still terrifying low and quiet.

“Do you still watch people like a hawk?” Utterly implying to the man’s many visits to his cell.

But the question was really, “Do you still require my services?” 

The burly man in front of him, whose name was now Master in Casimir’s mind, replied with a barely there nod that wasn’t at all directed at him. The barely there nod was directed to the two men either side of Casimir, who dropped their electric rods from their positions by his sides and backed off. They disappeared into the shadows after handing his Master a small slip of a silver key. Upon closing the door and drawing the curtains closed, his Master used his given tool to release him. Casimir was not ashamed when he closed his eyes and fell to one knee, falling a bit further into a strange safety. It may have been a strange concept to humans but for monsters safety was more of a physical, tangible thing than just a feeling or perception. It was a warm auburn around the family of the house. It was only when he lifted his head that his eyes came in contact with another. The girl on the stairs with whom his eyes met with received his stare and delivered something cold and peculiar in his direction. Casimir didn’t know the word to describe it and that was a rare thing amongst his monster family. Although now, his monster family was dead to him either mentally or physically – this was his new family; however, strange and gruesome it may be. He was only alerted to another presence by a miniscule of a whisper:

“Don’t be afraid,”

It wasn’t at all directed at him but for the speaker herself. Casimir stood up, like an ignited match, and noticed a pajama wearing, quivering girl, standing there, in full view. Her eyes were on the roof, running around in their sockets wildly as she studied the beams and cracks in the ceiling. She continually made a vow to herself, even when the other girl went upstairs away from him, and his Master directed him to his room.

His room was in the basement, a dark and lonely place which was the only deserving habitat of a monster like him. There was a mattress in the darkest corner with piles among piles of blankets as if his new family of Masters wanted him to be warm. He questioned if that was the true motive but packaged the thought into a sealed box at the back of his mind. In the other corners were piles of books, paper and pens and Distractors. It seemed like the monster could not escape the pesky little things. There was a small bathroom along one of the walls and a heater in the center that could be lit. It wasn’t home, nothing would be home to him now, but it was something.

His Master left him in the dark alone with his thoughts and that was the only place where a monster should be left.

Meanwhile, Avis was left with her fumbling words and cut off sentences. Her thoughts tangling themselves into useless knots just as much as her frantic hands did. She ate dinner slowly and numbly that night, forcing Neveah to take the monster his dinner. It grinded on her how her sister could be so nonchalant about the monster. There was something terrifying downstairs, something that could rip her to shreds without a moment’s thought. She didn’t want to hurt the monster but she was scared of it. Her mental curses against herself for that weakness were harsh and wild that night. Even when her mother didn’t come home that night, even when her father was forced to retrieve her, even when he went back out for nightly patrols on the Wall, even when her mother met them with stone cold silence and lack of love, her curses were to herself alone. That night she went to bed not expecting much sleep, but with a tired mind and an awake body.

She shouldn’t be so afraid. Not to this alarming degree.

When the moon was high in the sky she awoke gasping with a cold sweat. She couldn’t remember what nightmare had featured in her dreams in that instance but she remembered how afraid she was. Avis remembered how in that dream she was screaming at herself to face her fears.

It took Avis half an hour to decide to creep down to the basement in hope of just facing the monster. Her head ached with the constant argument that took place there.

“What have you got to give?” asks Despair.

“What have you got to lose?” asks Adventure.

“You’re joking if you think that you can go down there,” says Terror while Doubt nods in agreement.

“It is the dead of night, he will be asleep.” Reasons Logic.

“You can do this,” shouts Confidence, “You need this more then you know,”

“You won’t know unless you try,” replies Curiosity.

“In all honesty,” says Reason, “It can’t be any worse than this crippling fear.”

Reason wins. So, it this reason why she escapes the confines of her bedroom for the second time since that morning and goes on the trip to the basement.

When she arrives the moment is a lot more anti-climactic than she had thought. At first through the darkness all she could see was a nest of lopsided hair and those gigantic stag horns. But as her eyes readjusted to the lack of light she could see that the monster had turned and curled up so that his body formed sort of a Z shape, reaching the diagonal corners of the bed. His mouth was open and he had a small and misshapen nose, but she couldn’t have known for sure because of the pressing darkness. When she left the darkness behind to retreat back to her bedroom she felt better. She felt like she had accomplished something.

*

The monster awoke at dawn.

Avis could hear him move through the unusual thick silence of the morning. She knew that her father would be long gone, awaking for the dawn time patrols, and she knew that her mother would still be in bed, claiming sleep for all of her hard work in the gardens. Dragging herself up, she ignored her drooping and rimmed eyes from lack of sleep and checked in Neveah’s room.

It was empty. 

The window was open, the rose vines down the wall of the house were disturbed and there was a note on the bed.

Stealing your sister for an adventure, she says that you can handle it – Michael.

Michael was one of her sister’s friends who insisted in taking her all over the city to explore unused tunnels or trails. Avis wasn’t blind so when she knew that Michael loved her sister, and she trusted him with her sister’s heart, she knew that Neveah didn’t do anything with his feelings. Neveah was childish, not yet ready to be dragged down by a boy or by anyone really. She was her own agenda, her own treasure.

But Neveah’s departure also meant that she would have to deal with the monster. When she opened the door to the basement, he was sat on his bed with a straight face staring at the ceiling. It was if he was waiting for her to come and retrieve him like a common animal and escort him to breakfast. Avis didn’t talk to him, just gestured with a hand for him to follow her. Casimir did, almost too eagerly to her liking. He sat at the table with a face the colour of egg shells and, she had just noticed this, cat like eyes which were a pale yellow with a single slit for a pupil.

Thank you.

For Casimir those were the two most pitiful words that he could have said in that moment. There was a constant urge to spit those words over and over again and he knew that it was down to his training in the city. He knew that it was polite to say them after being given his porridge by the afraid girl from last night. However, they used to slip out easily, unprovoked and it shocked him how forced they came out of his lips.

He noticed how the girl was less afraid of him now, but more inclined to silence than actual words.

“I will not hurt you Mistress,” the sentence was clipped and said low just in case she took it the wrong way. He wanted to say nothing, to adopt the same method as the girl had, but he knew that he wouldn’t. After all, the training hadn’t stripped him of his identity or morals and so his lips would be full of razor words and fabricated truths.

This was how he had lived.

Living was living.

Except now he was not living in the wild but in captivity.

Avis was shocked that the monster even gave her that sentence. She said those two pitiful words back to him and told him that they were going out. Of course, he was obligated to follow because this was his first duty. She told him that they were going to the forest and she could not hide a smile at the way he could not hide his own joy.

Walking to the forest was a job in itself. Her bodyguard pose a relatively eye catching target in Audens, and there were many eyes following their movements. But Casimir executed his job well, snarling when others would have an inclination to a negative thought or helping Avis when she tripped over her own feet nearly went sprawling.

There was still no exchanged words until they reached Avis’s favourite willow tree. She loved to hear the tree weeping as its typically linear and fine toothed leaves danced in the wind. It was the music of the forest.

“What is your name?” Avis had asked doubting herself to see whether his name had been said over the night of his arrival.

Casimir himself was shocked to be asked this favour but replied in a somewhat hesitance. He was even more hesitant when he was asked to share his own story. It may have been too soon for her to know but her curiosity got the better of her.

“I was born in a cave in an underground babbling brook and I was told that when I arrived I punched my father with one of my fists. It was probably this that fed my early love for fights. I think some of the others would have smart and unconstrained mouths and achieve to get a rise out of me. We would fight for a minute before being separated by our elders.”

He told her about how he entered into something called a fighting league, fighting for money. He said that it was to gain his family a bit more status in their dwelling for money and strength were power back then. He enjoyed the tight circles and the unknown. The taste of uncertainty. The ratios between winning and losing. He said that even after his family had enough money to live comfortably and then move on from their dwelling, like they always had wanted to, fighting was something he could control. He said that even after his family moved on from there that fighting would always follow him.

But it was only when he lost one such fight that made him crawl bloodied and beaten into a cave. It was that cave where he got caught by human hunters. It was that cave where he got carried away from his family. He told her how when he accepted the deal to become a secret seller he got to see his family again and he was met with no slaps but hugs of adoration and love. They got to live and he got to be contained.

He had underestimated just how good humans could have been. They could have slaughtered his family, but they didn’t. He must have been lucky.

When he was finished telling his story he thought that he had said too much, revealed too much.

Avis thought that he had said too little.

But she couldn’t complain, she got something out of him.

That didn’t last long and as soon as they were home again their guards of silence came up and they were Mistress and Bodyguard. Neveah was out more and more evading Casimir’s bodyguard employment like the plague, Gabriel didn’t mind this evasion as he knew that it was Avis that truly needed to be protected.

Casimir would be the brooding presence with his stag horns reaching towards the sky and his scarred knuckles from years of fighting. Avis would be the girl who was slowly falling out of fear for the monster. She knew that he would not harm her.

It was not until the festival that they were to finally be comfortable in each other’s presence. The festival was not a celebration tailored to some specific event like a birthday or victory but just for the art of surviving fifty years since the witch had died. There was a custom to dance around the Courtyard in her memory and bask in her act of selflessness. The festival was there, under thousands of lanterns strung like stars from practically everywhere, making it, for the night, a miniature moon of sorts. Avis likened it to the moon because Audens was crippled with craters of death and fear but for this night, it would be lit with the light of the witches promise. The town would light up the world but still remained protected.

Avis plunged into the crowd with her family, lit herself with tiny fairy lights strung around her neck. Her hair was up out of her face and Neveah had shimmered some sort of stuff on her to make her shine, saying that it made her look like the sun. Avis found it ironic since her sister was adorned in dark colours for that evening.

She didn’t dance at the start, preferring to stick to the side lines evading the mass of dancing bodies. Casimir watched her from his post wondering why she didn’t dare to shine like the sun she dressed as. Avis was shy, intermingling yet being on her own, saying a lot but not really saying much at all. Then someone took her elbow, the touch jarred her as she was not expecting it, but she soon went along with the rhythm. Casimir danced with her for only a moment, hiding his face as much as he could and sticking his hands firmly around her waist but not daring to stray anywhere inappropriate. Then as if the spell was broken by the monster disappearing Avis was once more part of the crowd, intermingling and moving along with the graceless stomping of celebration.

Casimir dared to dance with her for several times that night, guarding her from the shoving of the other dancers, keeping ahold of her white gloved hands and together they steamed along, part of a living, seething tide.

Avis actually had fun that night unlike her other memories of the festival. So when they went home and the monster retreated back to his basement she wrote a story of her own. To thank him for the story he shared at the willow tree about himself. At night she would go down to the basement and begin a storytelling phase. She would paint pictures, write words, gave him wishing stones (stones she had picked out of the river when she was little and believed that they would grant wishes), and she would take photographs and songs that she knew. And although her voice didn’t have any physicality like friction, her words poured across the page and a story was told. She told about the girl who was born in this dome that was more of cage, she told him about how when she was thirteen she was made to venture out and kill. She told him that she couldn’t kill at all and not just because she was forced to as a sort of initiation to the big bag world out there.

Eventually they were actually friends.

“We have to be careful,” Casimir said one night.

“Why?”

“If they find us here they will accuse you of being a traitor to humanity, for thwarting with me.”

“Thwarting? Cas you make this sound like we’re lovers,” Avis replied basking in the joy as they quietly laughed about the possibility of a romantic relationship between the two of them, they were friends perhaps maybe siblings not through blood but through connections.

“I don’t want to see what happens to you if they catch us,” Casimir whispered before Avis went to bed in that circumstance.

“You won’t.” Avis said and promised him with a curling of their little fingers to seal the deal.

Promises were fragile things.

They were at the willow tree again hidden from their world and they were sharing stories.

“Your wishing stones remind me of the secrets that I shared…” Casimir was saying on that day. “It may come as a surprise to you as it did with me that your Council asked about the story of how monsters came to be,”

“I sense that there is a story behind that secret?” Avis chuckled yawning as Cas wound his fingers through her hair to calm her. Avis and her mother had had a fight that day and it was rather harsh, she had stormed out with her body guard coiled as tightly as a spring.

“There sure is, I will tell you what I told them. We were created by Mother Nature along with all of the other entities on the Earth. When the Earth was simple and there was only nature, normal animals and humans, Mother Nature shone brighter than ever, glad with her work. She had brought her people life and joy, a gift that could never be replicated by any other being. But she was lonely, all by herself in this world. She would look down at what she had created and wonder if she was simply destined for a life of solitary. That was the price for creation, she reasoned.

One day when she was gazing out at her creations she came upon a sight she had never seen before. Death was a being who did the opposite to she, he would come out with a sad kind of beauty flanked with the souls of her creations and give them final peace. Mother Nature longed that one day they would be close enough to one another that neither would feel quite so alone.

A faithful whisper trumped into an arrogant shout when they finally met. It was when Mother Nature was giving life to a new born child and Death came to collect the soul of its mother. They fell in love like a snowball hurtling down a mountain. But their meetings were so fleeting that they were born to circle different planes of existence.

Their love was a subtle thing that many couldn’t fathom.

They loved each other so much that Mother Nature would send gifts to her love and Death would keep them safe forever.

I’ve been told that one night Death came up to Mother Nature and said “Life, we have chosen our own destinies, you bring life and I end it. Don’t you dare abandon your blessing of light for my darkness.” Death swore to himself that he would never see Mother Nature again, for the pain would be too much.

It was the tears of Mother Nature’s rejection and hurt that gave life to two beings. First her tears gave birth to the Legions, great beings of magic and power that eventually gave birth to witches and warlocks. Her screams of agony gave birth to monsters, who were entirely monstrous or more human depending on the hurt in each bout of screams. The rejection gave an edge of hurt to Mother Nature and she retreated to isolation once more, swearing not to create much more until her creations proved themselves worthy.”

“You were created by tears?” Avis gasped as she started to laugh. “That’s so preposterous!”

“When I was little I believed what I was told, now, however, not so much.” Casimir said as he too brought off into laughter.

“The whole thing is rather preposterous isn’t it, us hunting each other?” Avis sighed nestling her head in the cross of her arms.

“Why do you think that?”

“Because if we keep trying to kill each other eventually we won’t prove to Mother Nature that she can create more of us,” Avis answered to his questions.

“You really believe that we have to show our worth to Mother Nature? That she is out there somewhere?” Casimir questioned again. Avis nodded and the pair elapsed into silence.

Little did they know that outside the canopy of the willow tree her father listened to every word that was exchanged. He had heard quite enough, and pricked a finger as an order for the guards to go in. His little girl and that monster broke apart so hastily upon their arrival, darting to either side of the canopy to create space in between them.

“You’ve been so utterly careless,” Gabriel said to the pair as he watched the monster fight against the guards holds. The monster he employed went limp when a sedative was forced into his system.

“Casimir!” His daughter shouted from her kneeled position on the floor, hands cuffed behind her back. Gabriel watched as his little girl tried her hardest to get to the monster and failed as the guards hauled her back. The monster fell to the floor where he was then shackled and hauled up and away from the willow tree.

“Father please,” Avis begged but watched as her father turned his head away and ignored her request.

One of the guards leant in close to her ear and whispered, “Monster-Lover,” it was a derogative, a foul twist of words.

So as the pair of friends were lead away Avis was not ashamed but angry with her father, Casimir was lost to the world and Gabriel was so utterly disappointed. 

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