She was trying to think.
She was trying to think about the moment and not what it would soon be like to be free of the hell she had lived in for a year.
She was trying to think about what she would say to try and get the wicked ogre to eat the fruit that would spell his ultimate doom.
But most of all she was focusing on being calm and being natural, trying to harness whatever rage still flowed in her veins into this, her final mission, if she was not careful. And as she walked into the entrance, holding the pear behind her in her hands, she felt the disgusting cool of the wooden cabin welcome her like a vulture’s claws wrapping themselves around a mouse. And of course, there was that ugly ogre, Brute, sitting by his gross living-room table on his chair, looking smugly expectant as rivers of anger flowed through the squelches in his brow.
Aline tilted her head down, looking at him with unflinching intensity, breathing with hard anger.
For a moment, neither said anything.
“Don’t just stand there girl!,” Brute roared, clearly uncomfortable with the vicious stare Aline was destroying him with. “Get over here now!”
But Aline stood as still as as the mountain; only a slight breeze rustled her hair.
Brute blinked in stupid confusion; ‘Did this scrawny human girl just disobey me?’ But that was impossible, he would kill her if she disobeyed him.
He immediately stood up, hoping that his eight-foot height and bulky frame would scare her back to her senses but this too was ineffective. So he began walking towards her, raising his hand to strike her across her stubborn face. But before he could, she raised her right hand in front of her, holding the red pear in front of her.
“Un moment, monsieur,” she said aloud and Brute did stop for a brief moment to eye the oddity in her hand, only to smack it out of her grasp. The moment was fast but she saw the pear fly across the air and hit the nearby wall.
No!, she thought to herself as she focused her gaze back on Brute who had now wrapped his ugly claws on her shoulders and was shaking her with great, angry strength. Aline heard inconsolable and unintelligible anger in his voice as she saw her hair whipping all around her. She was being shaken so hard and with such force that she thought that if she didn’t keep her neck straight she thought it might break, before he forcefully threw her hard on the ground, causing her to hit her forehead against the floor.
“Ugh!,” Aline coughed in pain as she began massaging her forehead, all the while Brute roared so hard, the dust in the air was pushed all around him. Aline didn’t pay attention to him for she knew that he was just blabbering on about how she could never disobey him like that without punishment. And yet, in that moment, the only thing she found herself doing was being angry; not at the ogre but instead at Aurore, of all people. How is it that her mother, the most beautiful and gentle woman Aline had ever met had not just let herself become shattered but had also left her daughter in the dregs of a hideous, unstoppable, offensive beast like this monster?
How could you do this? How could you do this to yourself and to your daughter?
“Hate,” Aline whispered to herself, spitting a tiny bit of blood onto the floor in front of her while trying to get up. “I hate you, Aurore.”
“Pardon?,” came the deep voice of Brute, confusion swathing through his anger. Aline looked back up at him.
“How did my mother shatter? How is it that I am here, and have only memories of living with my mother and then suddenly being here?
“I have no idea why I’m here right now.”
There was a moment’s pause from Brute before he made a quiet chuckle which of course quickly turned into a belly grabbing, full forced laughter.
“Who the hell are you?,” she demanded.
“Stupid girl, it looks like I shook you into idiocy,” he said, while looking down at her coyly. “But as I told you once before, your mother lost a bet with the king of the goblins.”
“The bet that she could not fall in love with him or else she would turn into diamonds. But Matthieu, the king of the goblins is shrewd and cunning; he courted her the way all men who want a woman only for the sake of a game court them.
“Do you know how men court women only for the sake of a game?”
Aline shook her head and Brute smiled smugly.
“Some find those with little self-confidence and force themselves into their lives by way of sweet blessings. Others find those who have a little more confidence and let them think they are in charge of the relationship and the situation, even when they are clearly not. But your mother, well, she was not either of those types of women. She is the strong and mystical type, the type of woman that is the hardest and most satisfying to conquer. To conquer strong women like Aurore is hard.
“But Matthieu is patient. And so, by using his charms, his magics, his cleverness and his vernacular she could not help but fall in love with him. And when she did, in a gasp, she turned into diamond; all according to his plan, his plan to steal her magic.
“But,” said Brute, looking disgruntled and angry, stopping himself. His already angry brow suddenly became more intense.“But the queen of the fairies was watching over your mother. And when Aurore turned into diamond, she shattered her to protect her from falling into his clutches.
“Yet, fortunately, I was lucky enough to have claimed Aurore’s heart. Even now, Matthieu looks all across the kingdom for me.”
Aline listened intently, while memories of Aurore flooded her vision, cold goosebumps creeping across her arms. Looking up at Brute, she asked him plainly, “Why am I in your clutches then?”
And for the first time, Brute looked at her with but the slightest hint of something other than cruelty and malice. It was a look of condescension tinged with a small balance of respect, as if this was something his young prisoner should know herself. And yet, even this was laced with sarcasm and credulence. Still, his answer was honest.
“Because you are closest to her heart,” he replied.
For a moment, he kept looking down at her while Aline, dirty and calloused, covered her mouth with her hand and let out a small tear. Any sympathy Brute may have had had quickly left his senses. But he turned around to where the red pear had landed, went over and picked it up. It was small in his massive claw.
“A red pear?,” he asked the air. “And it is warm with the softness of a slight magic.” Looking over to her, he said, “Once I eat it, you will go back to work immediately.” Aline then looked up to see Brute, without anymore hesitation, throw the fruit into his mouth and swallow it with a loud, juicy crunch.
“What a strange flavor,” Brute said. “Hot, with an Earthy flavor. Like a heavier, darker cinnamon flavor.”
Aline watched expectantly from her corner on the floor. Had the magic failed?
Then, Brute went to say something when he suddenly stopped, a horrified expression on his face. He made a few puzzled, painful gasps as tears began to flow from his eyes and smoke began to pour from his mouth in lengthy plumes.
“Aaaah!,” he loudly screamed, clutching his throat and falling onto the floor. Aline stood up, watching in horror as Brute’s entire body soon began smoking and sparking, his dirty clothes quickly catching fire while he rolled in agony and futility.
“What have you done to me?!!,” he roared as the fire consuming his body from the inside began to fume from his bubbling skin and start igniting the entire cabin on fire. He was in such pain, he was destroying the floor with his bare hands as he pounded them in painful vain.
In but a moment, Aline was beginning to find herself in an inferno.
But still, she was paying attention.
Brute, who was writhing on his back, quickly turned onto his gut and was trying to crawl out to the back porch door when Aline saw her opportunity finally before her. She ran over to the struggling ogre and while his back pocket was undefended, she pulled the iron key from his pocket, surprisingly cool in her hand.
Without a moment to lose, she ran up the stairs to Brute’s room and let herself in to the poorly maintained room that consisted of a lone mattress in the corner, several piles of trash and next to a little stand, the ornate box that held her mother’s diamond heart.
She had just grabbed the box when she heard the heavy stomps of the ogre coming up the stairs. Knowing that he was in a rage and no longer had any patience for her to be alive, she noticed his long window, the one he had used to watch her work in his orchard with for several months.
“That has to be it,” she told herself. Looking around the room that also had smoke breaking through the cracks in it’s walls, she put the heart’s box on the ground, grabbed Brute’s little nightstand and threw it against the glass of the window, shattering it. She picked the heart’s box again and noticed a clear bottle that messily read ‘alcool‘ next to the nightstand when the door to the room opened and Brute came in, practically nothing more than a flaming, angry skeleton.
“Give me back your mother’s heart!,” he roared with fury, running over to where Aline stood. With few options left, Aline picked up the bottle, pulled out the cork that sealed it and threw it against the monster that had enslaved her for a year of her life. At the same time, she picked up the massive pillow Brute slept with, a hard and disgusting thing. And with the ornate box still underneath her arm, she leapt out the window with the pillow underneath her while the explosion that once was Brute followed behind her like a shadow.
Aline could feel the heat of the flames against her feet, and she felt the breeze of flying for but a moment before the hard slam of the ground against the pillow and her body.
“Ooph!,” she shouted as she landed, rolling on the ground and trying to absorb as much of the blow as she could. She looked up to see that the cabin was completely on fire, and some of the nearby pear trees were also beginning to catch fire as well. Quickly getting up and holding the key and box as tightly as she could to herself, she proceeded to run as long and as hard as she could, out of the orchard and into the forest.
How long she ran, she could not say. Barefoot and with but her working dress, she felt the stabs of the forest floor and the slashes of the tree branches against her face and shoulders. Pollen, thick and annoying, infiltrated her nostrils, making her sneeze.
But she was free.
“Wooh!,” she began to scream in joy, ignoring the pain she felt. She was smiling and felt more joy than she had in a long time. The dirt on the forest floor had a clean feel to it against her feet, the branches provided great swaths of cool shade and the air was thick with the smell of blooming flowers. She laughed loudly, over and over again.
The monster was gone and she felt no pity for him.
Eventually, as darkness began to descend, she eventually found a small, woodland pool. Stopping by it’s banks, she rested the key and small treasure chest on the shores and took a few steps in. The water was brisk but felt good. There, she took a few deep drinks from the clean mountain water and cleaned her feet and arms, washing the sap and dirt away from her face and hair, occasionally letting out a small laugh and smile. Everything just seemed bigger and more open than it ever had before. When she was done cleaning herself off, she began twirling and dancing in the shallows, kicking water and splashing nearby fern plants.
“Yaaaaaay!” she yelled, letting the positive energy flow through her. She was so, so happy.
She was resting.
Which is why she did not immediately notice the boy.
Looking down in the water, she followed the silver swimming of a tiny fish by her feet. As the fish swam into the deeper part, she saw a shape she did not immediately recognize. At first she thought it might have been a small statue deep in the pool. But when she looked closer she saw that some twenty feet away from her was the shape of a young man who looked like he had lost conscious underwater and was drowning.
“Oh mon dieu!,” Aline cried when she finally realized what it was. She looked around the shore and saw no other evidence that the boy had left any belongings on the shore. She bit her lip, panicking.
Seeing no other options but not being much of a swimmer herself, she took a few steps forward and a deep breath before she dove down to where the boy was as best as she could. Here, the water was cold and the depths were making her head pound as she dove as best as she could. Her head was ringing like a bell from the pressure and she herself was running out of air. But she finally grabbed the boy by his shirt and just as she began having to gulp water, they made it to the surface.
She was coughing, sputtering with water.
“Poor, poor heavy boy” Aline grunted as she held him as close as she could. Using all of her strength, she carried the well dressed young man to the shore and over to her belongings, laying him on his back. Exhausted and without energy, she could feel herself passing out. But squeezing her hand into a fist, she slammed it against the young man’s chest as hard as she could.
Thrice before he sat up and began sputtering and coughing great amounts of water from his lungs.
“What, no!,” he shouted while looking around himself, appearing unsure of his surroundings. Wiping a few black hairs from his handsome face, he found himself looking into the wet, exhausted face of Aline, blinking from fatigue.
“You, you saved me,” he whispered politely.
Aline tried to weakly smile before she passed out on the spot, her head falling on a soft, comforting pile of red leaves, that had not been on that shore but a second ago. Not far from her head was the key and the iron chest. And for a moment, inside, the heart beated for but a moment.