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from Princess of Ghosts


 

Alice discovered that she had to pee so bad she could barely hold it, but there was no commode to be seen, nor anything like a maid to take care of it. She tried to hint to Skela what she needed, and Skela just said, “Go outside, stupid.” So she did, crunching into the woods a little way in ice-crusted snow. There was a tree with a trampled space in front of it, where a yellowish stain had worn its way through to the soil, and Alice went about fifteen steps beyond that. Afterward, she crunched back a different way. She stepped onto the porch and turned around to face the snow. After steeling herself, she knelt down and seized up some of the snow she had just crunched through to wash her hands and face. Then she hurried back inside, frozen to the bone in all her extremities.

Theodorus had cut up the meat and cooked it in chunks in a pan they’d found, and in an hour they were sipping a hot stew of rabbit and squirrel broth, served in metal mugs that were part of the cabin’s array of utensils. Alice didn’t think much of the stew, but she knew better than to whine, especially since Skela looked ready to take Alice’s portion herself. The broth at least made her feel better. Ingrid did not join them but let Laissell feed her some broth. After the meal—lunch, Alice supposed—Skela goaded her into stepping out onto the porch for sword practice.

She stood, sniffling, in her dirty clothes and wet boots, looking around at a sunny day under blue, blue skies and the sound and smell of the snows melting. Her life was erased and she was starting with a page as clean as the page of snow before her (she couldn’t see the yellow patch in the woods). Everyone she knew was here, and this cabin was all the home she had. She thought of her bed, her doll, her sisters, her kitty cat—and those abysses were suddenly all around her, as she teetered on an edge sharper than her little sword.

“On guard, dummy!” shouted Skela. But Alice just stood there. “I said, on guard! Hey, wake up!” Skela poked her with her sword. Alice’s face crinkled and broke, and there she stood in the snowy world, stood stiff as a young pine on a still day, and the tears rolled down her face like melting snow. Skela put down her sword. “Oh, what is it, Princess?” she nagged. She sighed and put her arm around Alice. “Come on,” she said, “it’s going to be fine.”

“That’s what I said to my kitty!” Alice sobbed.

“Well, it’s true, all right? Kitty’s going to be fine. All right? Now let’s fight.” She separated, picked up her sword and assumed the third position, hilt at waist, point out and up.

“I don’t want to,” sobbed Alice.

“You have to, now pick up your sword and fight!” Skela started poking Alice with her sword point and slapping her with the side of the blade. Finally Alice pushed Skela’s sword aside and picked up her own and started laying into Skela, who gave ground laughing. Alice, enraged, attacked full strength and in another moment the laughter was clearly strained by just the smallest modicum of panic. But Alice was out of breath. She stepped back. They stood looking at each other and then they both burst out laughing.

There was a wail from inside the cabin. They turned and stared at the door. Then there was another wail, then another, and the sounds of the men running around, and then Ingrid’s voice shouted a series of obscenities. One more grunting cry and a tiny wordless voice joined in.

The two girls looked at each other and ran for the door. It took a moment for their eyes to adjust to the shadow, and when they did, there was Ingrid, propped up on the coats of all three men and half-covered by her own coat, looking as though she’d been dug up from the grave, and there at her breast, still trying to figure out how to work it and pausing every two seconds to register her complaints, was the tiniest Amazon that Alice had ever seen.

The next morning she woke before Skela and lay, half uncomfortable and half glorying in their shared pool of warmth. After a few minutes she rolled onto her back and Skela rearranged herself.

“Are you awake?” Alice asked in a whisper. There was no answer. “Because, if you are,” she continued, “or, no, if you’re not, I want to thank you, you know. For being nice to me. Because I know you’re being nice to me, even though you don’t know you’re being nice to me.”

“I’m not being nice to you, stupid,” Skela replied without opening her eyes.

“Yes you are.”

“No I’m not.”

“Yes you are!” Alice whispered triumphantly. She tickled Skela, who shrieked and retaliated. There were complaints from all of the adults, and they stopped immediately and lay on their backs panting. Alice looked over at Skela and pulled the coat her way, saying, “My blanket.”

“It’s my coat!” hissed Skela, pulling back. “It’s not my fault you’re too stupid to think of bringing your own!”

“Girls!” came a low call from Laissell on the next bunk. “You’ll wake the baby.”

“It’s all right,” said Ingrid, who was sitting in front of the fire. “She’s already been awake twice tonight. A rock could crash through the roof and she wouldn’t wake up now. But the rest of us could use our sleep—why don’t you go outside and play in the woods? Just don’t go toward the road.”

“All right,” said the girls together. They sat up and pulled on their boots at double time, and then Skela pulled on her coat and Alice put on Laissell’s coat over her sweater and they ran out the door.

“I have to pee real bad,” said Alice as soon as they were outside. She had never seen light like this—the sun was just splitting the horizon, and the snow, refrozen, glowed as if it were afire.

“Like you’re the only one.” Skela took off running through the rotten snow.

“Not there! Not where everyone else—!”

“You go where you want.” So Alice ran on past the Amazon girl, and a minute later Skela ran past her as she was pulling her pants up. Alice felt a thump and turned around to see Skela making another snowball. Now this was a form of combat that Alice had been practicing for years. An hour later the two younger men came out to hunt, and the two girls were sprawled out exhausted on the porch, soaked to the skin and breathless from laughter.


Alice goes through a lot more, but she triumphs in the end—that’s not a spoiler, is it? And it’s available on Amazon for just $2.99! So buy, read, and please do write me a review, good or bad or ugly.

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