The screams were coming from somewhere very near. Tip rolled out of bed and landed hard on the wooden floor, getting to her feet with a groan and trying to make sense of what was going on.
Val was in front of the small wall mirror in the room they shared, leaning in until her face almost touched the glass and emitting a panicked shrieking.
“For goodness’s sake, Val!” growled Tip. “What is it?”
Tip leaned in trying to see Val’s reflection, but the younger girl covered her face in alarm.
“Don’t look! It’s too awful.”
“Val, come on, don’t be an idiot. Let me see.” Slowly Tip managed to lever Val’s hands away from her face and regard the perfectly normal skin and features there. In bewilderment she exclaimed, “What? What are you making such a fuss about?”
“Can’t you see them?” Val shrieked, wrenching out of Tip’s hold and going back to the mirror. “My complexion is ruined!” Tip sighed and followed her, peering over her shoulder to see what Val saw in the mirror. There on Val’s reflection’s face was a light smattering of tiny dots covering her nose and cheekbones.
“Are you sure that isn’t just because the mirror’s old?” asked Tip, frowning. Weren’t those dots always there?
“No!” screamed Val, turning to face here. “They’re here. On my face!”
Sure enough the freckles, for that was what they undoubtedly were, were still there on Val’s skin. They added an extra touch of youthfulness to her already dewy skin.
Tip grinned. “They’re cute. You should keep them.”
Val wailed and turned back to the mirror. “Urgh you’re useless!”
“Have you washed since we got back from the Underrun?” asked Tip, flopping back onto her bed. “Maybe it’s just dirt?”
“My face is tingling again, like it was after we woke up in the pink world,” Val’s voice sounded shaky. “Tip, what if it’s a skin disease?”
“Are you sure it’s not dirt?” repeated Tip, pulling the blankets back over herself. If Val went to scrub her face Tip estimated a 68% chance of getting back to sleep.
Val marched over and wrenched Tip’s blankets onto the floor. “Tip! Why would I have spots of dirt on my cheeks and nose and nowhere else?”
“I don’t know,” grumbled Tip pulling her pillow over her head. “Maybe you dropped something into a muddy puddle and it splashed onto your face in that exact pattern?” There was silence and then the sound of Val’s footsteps stomping out of the room. Tip grinned to herself and hauled her blankets back up off the floor.
Her triumph was short lived. No sooner had she settled back in under the warm blankets, she was set upon by a group of younger orphans who burst into the room and began jumping on her bed demanding to know when she was taking them on a boat trip.
Tip put the pillow back over her head and growled, feeling 89% sure that Val had sent them in here as a subtle form of revenge. However, she didn’t hide under there for long. The youngsters’ questions made her remember their decision not to go back to the Underrun without Kerrick, which reminded her about his headache. She shoved the blankets, squealing orphans and all, onto the floor and sped down the hallway to check on him.
Marit was coming out of Kerrick’s room and shook her head at Tip’s obvious intention to go in. “Leave him be, love. His head’s still hurting him.”
“Marit?” Val’s distraught voice came from the bathroom and the old lady hurried off.
Tip watched her go, then opened Kerrick’s door a crack. “K? How are you?”
“Head hurts,” came the cracked response. “Can’t just now, Tip.” The room was dark but Tip could see Kerrick had both arms flung over his eyes. She fetched a scarf, dampened it and helped him tie it over his eyes. Blocking out all the light seemed to provide some relief. Kerrick heaved a sigh and seemed to fall back into sleep.
At breakfast Val glared daggers at anyone who dared mention her new freckles. Marit, obviously meaning well, kept suggesting reasons and solutions for their sudden appearance, which only had the effect of bringing everyone’s attention back to Val’s face. “Could it have been the sun?” asked Marit “If it gave Kerrick a headache like that it must have been very strong.”
“We were in a forest,” muttered Val, echoing Tip’s words from the previous day.
“What about lemons?” asked Marit. “I’m sure we have a soap somewhere that’s made from lemons and chamomile. Those are both supposed to have a lightening effect.”
To be honest, Tip couldn’t see why Val was making such a fuss. Sure, Val’s skin had been flawless before, but Tip couldn’t see why the freckles were such a bad thing. As she’d said, they were cute! She shifted in her chair, reaching round to scratch her lower back. It was still soo itchy.
“Tip stop scratching. I’m sick of it! You were doing it all night!” exclaimed Val
“Was I?” asked Tip, surprised.
A scratching noise came from the opposite side of the table. It was Sol, twisting around to scratch his upper middle back. “Can’t reach,” he grunted. The boy next to him reached over and scratched it for him.
“Wait a minute,” said Val. “Sol, let’s look at your back.” She edged around the table and lifted his shirt. “Hmm.”
“What?” asked Sol, twisting to try and see behind himself.
“You’ve got sore patches sure enough, but no freckles.”
“Why would I have freckles on my back?” he asked.
“Just a hunch,” she said, going back to her seat. “Is everyone else ok?” she asked the table in general. “No itching? No spots or anything?”
“Everyone’s fine, aren’t they?” said Marit, brightly, before shooting Val a warning glance which plainly said to stop talking before she panicked everyone.
“Are we going sailing today, Tip?” asked Rose, bouncing in her seat.
“Not today,” said Tip. “Kerrick is feeling bad, remember? We can’t go anywhere without Kerrick.” There was a chorus of general agreement.
There came a banging on the Crib’s front door. Everyone froze.
It was the kind of imperious banging they knew all too well. After all, they’d heard it just two days ago.
The monitors were back.
Tip turned to Marit and gasped, “The food!” The monitors had made such a mess of their pantry last time. It would be devastating if they did it again. Even worse would be if they found the odd coloured vegetables. There was a 95% chance they would conclude (quite rightly) that the orphanage had an outside supply line for food and thereafter they would constantly keep coming back for the sake of stealing it.
Marit serenely raised her eyebrows. “What food?”
“We hid it last night while you were out,” Val supplied, then she turned to the children. “Remember everyone? We don’t have any food, do we?”
“We’re very hungry,” chorused the orphans, big, beaming smiles on their faces.
“Just try to look sad and starved when you say it,” Marit reminded them. “Come on then, I suppose we’d better go and line up.”
When Marit let the men in, Tip saw that the tall monitor who’d delivered the bad news about their rations wasn’t among their visitors this time. Instead the group was led by a dignified man wearing fancy robes. The shorter monitor from last time accompanied him, as did several guards. Tip wondered what could have brought them back so soon. Unlike last time, she hadn’t actually done anything wrong. Well, except for borrowing that cart without permission, but she’d already put it back and surely no-one was the wiser.
The dignified man threw a cursory glance over the orphans and then said in a bored voice, “Well, Rendick. Where is this beauty you’ve kept on about?”
“A moment, excellency,” said the short monitor, whose name was apparently Rendick. He walked up and down the rows, looking at the orphans carefully. When he got to Val, he stopped and peered at her face, but then shook his head and kept on going. Only when he reached the end of the row did he turn back to look at her more carefully.
“Excellency?” Marit piped up in a quavering voice.
The man glanced at her, distaste written all over his features. “Old woman, what is it?”
“You’re the Supervisor of Grevick, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” he snapped. “What of it?”
“Well young man, last time your boys were here, they said our rations would be reduced by half. Now I don’t know whether you’ve children of your own, but the way these kids eat-”
“War in the capitol,” interrupted the Supervisor, tapping his foot impatiently. “Everyone’s short of resources. Nothing I can do about it. Rendick?”
“Ah… I’m not sure Excellency,” stuttered Rendick. He was still looking at Val. “I think this might be her, but she looks different now.”
“Different how?” asked the Supervisor.
“Of all the…” the Supervisor swore under his breath and strode over, elbowing other children out of the way. He took one look at Val and then harrumphed. “This is the reason you dragged me all the way to this filthy hovel? The girl cannot be more than twelve. I am aware that some men lean that way but I had not expected it of you, Rendick. Mark my words, I shall not allow such a thing in Grevick, no matter the regard I hold for you.”
“No, Your Excellency,” stuttered Rendick. “I didn’t mean.. That is… she was older. She looked older before.”
“And has she somehow magically regained that youth?” The Supervisor stooped to hiss in Rendick’s face. “I am aware that there is talk of a so-called fountain of youth, but I highly doubt such a thing is to be found in Grevick, or indeed within the entire Kingdom of Damovar.”
“No, Excellency.” Rendick looked thoroughly cowed.
“Good. Let us depart.” The Supervisor swept out of the room, followed by his guards. Rendick glared around the room and then trotted after them. The Crib’s door swung shut behind them.
“Well,” said Marit. “All that work last night, and now they don’t even glance at the kitchen. Just goes to show.” Shaking her head, she left the room.
Tip turned to Val. “Good thing the old man thought you looked…” Tip trailed off as she got a look at Val’s face.
It was still Val’s face, unmistakably. But it looked… younger. The freckles had become darker and more numerous. Her eyes were larger. Her nose snubbed up a little in a way it never normally did.
“What is it?” asked Val, clutching her cheeks. She’d worn a scared look throughout the monitors’ visit, but now it turned to one of terror. She ran from the room and galloped upstairs to the bathroom mirror, where they heard her shrieking. It was that morning’s drama all over again.
“Marit,” Tip called down the hall. The old lady was much more patient with Val’s outbursts and would be a better choice to go after her.
“Busy,” came the reply. “You go, Tip.”
Grumbling, Tip stomped up the stairs. In the bathroom, Val was sitting on the side of the bathtub, weeping with her face in her hands. Awkwardly, Tip sat down next to her and patted her on the shoulder. “On the bright side, they didn’t take you to work in the tavern,” she said. “Sounded like that’s what they were planning.”
Val wailed something incoherent and Tip sighed and continued her shoulder patting.
“Now, let’s have a look,” Marit came into the room. Gently she coaxed Val’s face out of her hands, and wiped away her tears with a clean washcloth. The old lady gazed into Val’s face. “What am I supposed to be seeing, exactly?” she said.
“Her freckles are worse, and her nose is-” Tip broke off as she looked into Val’s face. It was all back to normal. Well, ok the freckles were still there faintly, but no worse than they’d been that morning. Definitely not as dark and numerous as they’d been just a few minutes ago. “Huh,” she said.
Val pulled away and went back to the mirror.
A faint knock came from the door where Kerrick slouched. “What’s going on?” His voice was hoarse as if he had flu.
“Nothing,” said Marit. “A false alarm, that’s all. How’s your head doing, dear?”
Kerrick nodded slowly. “A bit better. Still hurts but not like before. There’s just something strange-“
“Good, good.” Marit bustled past him. “See to Val, you two? I need to start lunch.” She disappeared downstairs where they heard her calling to the others to lend a hand in the kitchen.
“What’s strange?” Tip asked Kerrick.
“It’s my eyes.” He paused, looking at the floor. “It’s going to sound ridiculous.”
Val swung around from the mirror. “It can’t be more ridiculous than my face! Tip, you saw it, didn’t you?”
“And now it’s all gone?” Val continued.
Tip nodded again. They both turned to Kerrick with expectant faces. “So what’s strange about your eyes?” Tip asked again.
Kerrick lifted his gaze for the first time, and they gasped. His normally green eyes had turned a startling shade of amber.
“I think I can see through things,” said Kerrick.
- Graz, Austria
I write fantasy and humorous tales with a twist of magic. I'm currently working on a full-length manuscript but somehow I'm never satisfied with a single project so my smaller works get posted here. If you like what you read, the completed stories are also available to download as ebooks from my website: victoriakellywrites.com
I'd love to hear what you think of my stories so feel free to leave comments. I'm also happy to trade feedback as long as you write in a similar genre.