Tahlia Morris, Grade 9, Mallacoota P-12 College -
The ghostly-white, bone-skinny men fumbling as they cared for him. They were not allowed to speak. The Queen forbade it. Some of them whispered, but only when the smoke lessened and some focus came back into their eyes. They sought an alternative from Above, a God to worship. Who cared what the price was? Yet they whispered, and he learned. He was wrapped in discarded dark silks and velvet, and played with small things- wooden balls, wires bought back and scrubbed clean by the long-haired women whose pupils held pale silvers. The Queen was all the women saw, they bought baubles to please Her, the ones She cast aside, men gathered. They taught him to count, he accepted it as normal. What else did he know?
The voice came flitting through the dark, directionless, a hoarse whisper. It murmured, teased, It tapped at his ears. What did It say?
He was taken to see the Queen from afar sometimes and told to love Her. Love made Her happy. Heart in mouth, excitement running through his entire body, he loved the Queen in all Her beauty and finery, the smoke around Her making all the colours soft and hazy, Her smile meaning all was well in their world. Sometimes, men disappeared. New ones came. They always came, searching for the drug of forgetting, release. There were children too, but he wasn’t allowed near them. They cowered in corners, a feral pack. Sometimes She chose a favorite, and jealousy was rank until the favourite, petted and indulged for a while… vanished.
Too familiar. When he moved, pain stabbed at him. They had even taken the bandages off, sibilating when the bloodied dressings stained their hands. He didn’t struggle.
The men whispered again, he was needed. Scrubbed and dried, his long black hair combed and braided, and then the hall of mirrors and Her, he is placed on a white-clothed bed, the blue of his eyes matching the Huntsmans. Of all the women she was the only without silver eyes.
He shifted, cold brick bruising-hard under his hip, the iciness seeping into his bones. The voice was very far away. It didn't matter, he knew what It was whispering. “You are nobody,” It breathed, hoarsely. ‘You are nothing.” He lay in the stone-closed darkness, bruised fingers pulling at sweaty hair, listening to his hearts thundering refrain.
I am. I am. I am.