“For I am Fearless,” by Jennifer Diemer
An orphan girl wakes to find she is no longer herself but a stitched-together monster. As she remembers the events that brought her to this moment, she fans a flame of courage within her new heart.
(photo by Wendalyn)
(Part of Project Unicorn: A Lesbian YA Extravaganza, updated twice weekly on Mondays and Thursdays with a free, original, never-before-published YA short story featuring a lesbian heroine. Also, every story is a work of genre fiction [Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Dystopian, Post-apocalyptic, etc.].)
“For I am Fearless”
by Jennifer Diemer
I was made for you.
I am not yours.
He guides me to you, fervor in his half-mad eyes, and he places my hand—not my hand, but my hand still—into yours, and, obedient, you take it, wrap thick fingers around it, and tilt it this way and that, as if it were a jewel. It is no jewel, only a hand, stitched sloppily at the wrist onto an arm of a different color, pink as Emilie’s cheeks were when I kissed her in the grotto. Pink as my cheeks were when she slapped me and pushed me away, because the Sister caught us, and Emilie was afraid.
And my right arm is another color still—brown, like the skin of my brazen Ana in her red velvet hat, who sat beside me in chapel and drew hearts upon my knees beneath the hymnal on our laps. We met together in the coatroom when the pews and hallways were empty. Her lips upon mine felt like grace, like something holy.
I lick my lips now, to make certain they are mine.
You let my hand fall, and I make no effort to catch it; it swings between us, as if it is a doll’s limb, without stuffing or joints. We both watch it swing—back and forth, back and forth—until he stills it with his palm and moves us nearer to each other, near enough to breathe the same electric, chemical-soaked air.
“You have each other now,” he says. “Two of a kind. You will never be lonely. In that, my children, you are luckier than most.” He takes my hand and clasps it, again, with yours. “These are my gifts to you: first, life; and second, most importantly, each other.”
“Gifts,” you say, and I can’t tell what you mean by it, because your tone is flat, empty of nuance. But there is something in your eyes—a razor-edged glint. And I know, then, that you feel as I do. You are not mine, and I am not yours, but, more than that, we are not his.
He is still, silent, as if waiting for us to demonstrate our gratitude, or perhaps he wishes us to embrace each other, to seal the companionship he bestowed upon us with my making.
Instead, I step away from you, and I’m shaking—can’t help shaking, because my knees (not my knees) are mismatched, uneven, and have never, not once, been traced with Ana’s secret hearts. I point my eyes into his eyes, and his lips part, surprised. But when I try to speak, a horrible sound comes out, a sound that is not mine but is being made by me, and I know, in that moment, terror. And rage.
Perhaps I cannot speak. My throat is alien, too narrow and tight. But I can scratch, and claw, and bite—
We whirl, the three of us, to face the swung-open door at the top of the stairs. There stands a girl of my age—the age that I was before today, nearly seventeen—and she leans upon the railing as if, without it, she might plummet headfirst to the floor. Her face is grey as ash, but her eyes are alive, sparking with violet shock.
“Father, what in God’s name—”
“Leisl!” He marches toward her, up the short iron staircase, and seizes her arm. “What have I told you, every day of your life? You are never to interrupt me when I’m working—”
“Father,” she growls, “the inspector and the coroner are at the front door and insisted that I fetch you. They said they found mutilated corpses, and one of the orphan girls’ bodies has gone missing entirely, that girl who was…” And her growl thins to a whisper, because she’s staring at me, at every part of me, but especially at my face—which, I think, is mostly my face, though the left ear feels heavy, and my hair does not brush my shoulders as it should. “Like crow feathers,” Ana once said, teasing me about my stick-straight strands, black as soot, before she lifted it all away from my neck to reveal the skin beneath, awaiting her kisses.
“Ana,” I try to say, but the word comes out gritty, shapeless as sand. And the girl on the steps clutches a fist to her heart, swearing beneath her breath.
Then she shoves him, her father, out of her way.
“What have you done?” she snarls, tripping down the steps to falter toward me, holding out her hands and, hesitant, taking my hands and turning them over, like you did, examining them as if they are relics, or impossible things. And they are impossible, because they are not mine, and yet I can move them, feel her, the softness of her skin beneath stolen fingerprints.
I have seen her—Leisl—at chapel. But she and her father, the doctor, sit in the second row, and Ana and I and the Sisters and our classmates sit in the last row, the row for orphans. No one wishes to spend an hour staring at the back of a poor orphan’s head, pondering the sadness of a parentless child’s fate. Far better to keep the unfortunate out of sight, so as not to distract the pious from their prayers.
Now, I realize, I shall never step foot in chapel again. Imagine! A thing such as me—a wretch like me—dressed up in a white dress and a frilly hat with velvet flowers. The picture of it in my head, so ludicrous, makes me laugh, and Leisl takes a step back from me, because my laughs sound discordant, like barks.
I bow my head, but I am reluctant to remove my eyes from her face for long.
She’s lovely, Leisl, red-haired and tall with a deer-like charm, and when I glance at you, I see that you admire her loveliness, too. But Leisl is also fierce: she lets go of one of my hands to grasp onto one of yours, and, holding tight to us both, both of us monsters, she faces her father with the immovability of a bear. “You will not do this again, Father. No more.”
“No. I’ll tell everyone if you dare attempt resurrection again. I swear I will.”
He bows his head, slouching against the staircase railing. My eyes skip over the stains on his coat—dark red, like blood. My blood? Yours? But, no, you were made quite some time ago, weren’t you? Your movements are more natural than mine, though there’s an endearing clumsiness to them, too. You remind me of a boy I knew at the orphanage. He used to build little houses out of twigs near the creek bed, and he told me they were fairies’ houses, but I didn’t believe him. Why would a fairy ever choose to live in a house when it might fly free—doorless and free?
That boy died, though, of the wasting sickness last year. He was only sixteen, like me.
I think…yes. You have his eyes: brown as the cattails that wave on tall stems all around the creek he loved.
Leisl is urging us forward, and I stumble on my feet, but she catches me, gently, and squeezes my hand, and it isn’t my hand, not truly, but I feel her, nonetheless, and I make up my mind, then, to claim this hand, this arm, this ear, this heart—all of this body—as mine, mine alone, to do with as I please. It was not a gift, as he claims, but I will surpass his violation, and the terror, and the rage.
I squeeze Leisl’s hand back; her purple eyes flick toward me, startled at first, and then…she smiles, showing her small white teeth, and the three of us move nearer to the bolted door at the back of the laboratory.
“Where are you going?” he gasps, falling down the steps but stopping short of chasing us, raising fingers to his mouth and making a fist with his other hand.
“Away, Father,” Leisl says, and there is fire in her words; they warm me, make me feel alive.
You say, “Away,” too, and I grunt my agreement, nodding to you, to Leisl, but wondering why my hair doesn’t graze my face when I bob my head, wondering if I look like you—like a quilt stitched together by a tailor’s apprentice. Your head is bald… Perhaps mine is bald, as well. Hairless as newborns, we are siblings of a sort, aren’t we? Not Adam and Eve but children lost in a hostile garden.
Leisl… I think Leisl will be our friend.
She unbolts the door, and he doesn’t speak a syllable to stop her. There is banging somewhere nearby—the inspector, maybe, demanding his appearance for questioning. Because a girl has disappeared, a dead girl…
There was a fire. I remember now. The orphanage flared as brilliant as a sunset, and Ana waved her arms at me from her window, as I coughed on the ground, as the world went white, then black, then…
Then silver, when I awoke in this place.
“Come now,” Leisl whispers into my ear, the ear that he sewed to my head with needle and thread. “Come, my beauties,” she breathes, and I glimpse tears sparkling at the corners of her eyes. “There is nothing to fear. You are free of him. We all are. And we shall see our own dreams come alive, our own, far from this place.”
I feel her lips gently press against my cheek, and I gasp, and I weep, and I follow her and you out into the world, and behind us he moans, but he does not follow, will never follow. Because he’s afraid—like Emilie feared the Sisters. Like I, once, feared death.
But I have known death. And I have risen from it, braver.
I was made for me.
I am not afraid anymore.
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