The Beautiful Ones

By: Lori Brighton

A Prequel

Some say we’re special, and that’s why we’re kept in seclusion. Beyond those walls evil lurks and innocent prey would be lost in minutes. Gone. Destroyed. Forgotten.

Others say the opposite: we’re locked away because there’s something wrong with us. If we roamed the outside world, we might taint the beautiful ones. A species so pure, that to merely be in their presence is a gift.

As for my beliefs…I’m not sure.

But I do know one thing: neither of those reasons explains why it is that they come for us only after we’ve passed the age of sixteen. Whether we want to go or not, we’re taken through those iron gates. Escorted away from the only home we’ve ever known, escorted to our destiny—whatever that destiny may be—never to be seen again.

Chapter 1

They were coming today. I knew this as a fact.

Rain, snow, wind, sun, every fourth Sunday of the month they came for us. The beautiful ones, as they’d been dubbed long before I had been born, would sweep into our fenced home and pick two, sometimes three of us. No one knew whom they would choose, or why, but most prayed it would be them.

I tucked my woolen skirts under my legs and drew my knees closer to my chest, biding my time. I wasn’t looking for them as I huddled in my nest of leaves and twigs. No, I was looking for something much, much more interesting. Desperate, I leaned against the iron fence, my fingers tightening around the cold, rusty bars.

Just there beyond the hill, wavering in the crisp spring breeze, was a forest. Dark skeletal branches against a brilliant orange sky, the setting sun a fiery ball that balanced on the horizon like a mystical orb. Those trees would blossom soon. Even from far away I was sure I could see the buds. And then the scents would come, arriving on air that would change from crisp to warm, from musky to sweet. The intoxicating scent of spring. A time of hope, renewal, promise, but most of all…a time of mystery.

I closed my eyes and attempted to conjure that scent.

Barely there, hovering on the edges of my memory. I couldn’t stop thinking, couldn’t stop dreaming, and all because when I was ten years of age, on one particularly windy spring day, a few petals from a distant tree had floated over the wall. They were no larger than a fingernail, but I’d held those petals in my palm as if they were the greatest of treasures. And to me, they were. The velvety softness, that sweet scent, the most delicate pink in color.

All too soon they had wilted, dried and turned brown and brittle. Alive and vibrant one moment, gone the next. Their death had stunned me in some way that I didn’t quite understand. It had happened years ago and I could barely remember how they felt, but I still yearned for their touch. If something so tiny and beautiful could be out there, what else lay beyond the hills? How desperately I wanted to know. It was the year I’d started thinking…wondering. The year everything had changed and I was no longer content.

Shifting, I settled upon my knees and gazed out between the bars at the setting sun, barely aware of the damp earth soaking through my thick skirts, hoping that if I looked hard enough I might understand this world, this life. Could I walk into that sunset? Keep going until I found a place of warmth, green grasses and utter softness? A place where flowers did not wither and die but grew in abundance year after year?

I leaned forward, resting my forehead on the cool bars. Dirt. I tired of the dirt that surrounded us. That dusted the air and coated my legs and arms and face. Out there, the world changed. The dirt gave way to brilliant green grass. Trees turned with the seasons. The world didn’t remain a constant as it did here.

To the others those trees in the distance were a way to note the passing of time. To me they were magic. To the others the world out there was something to fear. To me it represented hope. And just beyond, barely visible, the rolling green hills would be dotted with yellow flowers in the summer. Always.

How far did that land stretch? What was out there? There was something amazing. I didn’t know what, but I could feel it in my bones and someday I would uncover the truth.

The thorny branches around me rattled in warning. I stiffened, turning toward the tunnel that snaked through the vines. Yes, someday I would uncover the truth, but apparently not today.

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