If We Were Free

Adya SarinAugust 2, 2022Who Am I?Fiction

Artwork by Arina Stetsiuk, age 13

“Three more days Cari, three more days,” Aera’s voice came floating down the corridor.

Carina turned to see her beaming, wondering if it was even physically possible for a human being to glow that bright. Hastily she shook the thought from her head; there was no time to indulge in such fantasies of the life they would have together. Taking her hand, they raced to the windowsill. “Three more days and we leave,” Aera continued, “we leave for good.

There was only so long a place like Freude Manor could keep two sorcieres in training trapped, Carina thought. There was only so much they could clean, only so much they could cook. Now they were done with that life and they were ready to break free. Two more nights when all she would do was imagine the life she would have outside those impenetrable stone walls that always towered above her as she pounded the clothes on the granite floor of the courtyard. Two more days of getting up early to wash the house before the masters woke. Two more nights of tiptoeing to the bathroom, in fear of being caught on the receiving end of the monster’s midnight temper. She would do this.

And then it was here. Carina could taste the freedom as soon as her eyes opened. Today was the day. She rushed to grab her rucksack, packed neatly with her few belongings, and snuck into Aera’s room. She was awake and she, too, was ready. Without uttering a single word they both knew what they had to do. They climbed onto the windowsill and jumped, plummeting into the ocean that had always seemed to be out for them, its strong black currents always intimidating them, always warning them, always reminding them of their vulnerability. But today it was on their side, a calm, crystal-clear pool of blue water, waves gently sending ripples across the otherwise still surface.

The two of them made their way onto the shore, breathless and soaking wet but high on adrenaline. Carina blinked, almost as though it was just a dream and she would soon wake to find herself back in that musty room in the attic, back where she had been stored her entire life as just another object to be preserved.

“Cari, come look at this.” Aera beckoned her toward what seemed to be the nearby town where she would often see The Master disappear. “Yeah?” she asked, finding nothing unusual about the mundane sight she so regularly feasted her eyes upon. “What is it, Aera?” she asked again. Dread entered Aera’s words as she spit them out as fast as she could, “Carina, there's nobody here.”

Realization hit her like a punch in the gut, a pang of worry, fear, and nausea that began to envelop her body. Right there in front of them was a seemingly ordinary town, but there was not a single citizen in sight. “Where's everyone?” she asked, knowing her friend wouldn’t know but still hoping Aera had a reasonable explanation to her nonsensical question. “Maybe there's a new summer solstice, or the court ordered all citizens to collect at the castle, or maybe it's a holiday.” The hope in Carina’s voice trickled out of her and fear started to creep in. There was something very wrong about this place, and somewhere deep down in her gut she knew that escaping should not have been that easy.

“Aera, maybe we should leave,” she said, reaching out to grab her friend’s hand. “Aera—,” Carina turned around to see Aera fall to the ground, her hand grasping at something on her chest. “AERA!” she screamed, holding her friend as she dissolved into a puff of gray smoke. “Aera — no — don't go,” she choked out, her brain still unable to comprehend the actions taking place around her. The remnants of the smoke were swept away by the wind, but the image of her friend breaking into a million little parts stayed strong in Carina’s mind. She didn't have the time to grieve; if someone had come for Aera, that meant she was next. She turned her head to run toward the town, but her feet stayed glued in place. It was almost as though they had been cemented to the floor, nailed in place. Carina refused to believe she was stuck, she was going to move and get out of Freude and nothing could stop her.

“Carina, Carina, Carina . . . ” Carina could recognize that eerie cold voice anywhere, the forced and rather unnatural rolling of the r’s in her name sending shivers down her spine. “You really thought you could escape, didn't you?” She turned around to see The Master standing there, his black coat billowing in the ocean breeze. “Why did you have to take the child with you, now she’s gone and it's all your fault.” He walked toward her, dragging her with him as he walked toward the ocean that had now returned to its normal restless self. “How did you find us?” she mumbled, hoping the noise of the waves would drown out her thoughts, which had begun to form a dark cloud in her mind. “Did you really think it would be that easy? Escaping from the sole place you’ve been trapped in your entire life?” he replied as though it were really that obvious. “I just—” Carina began to stutter when she felt a strange coolness dripping down her head. “Can't have you awake as I enter the Manor, now can I?” The Master stated, and soon everything faded into a swirl of black nothingness.

Carina awoke with a start to find herself sitting in the Manor prison. It wasn't anything grand, just a closed off room with bars instead of walls, but The Master had always felt it necessary to keep a prison “just in case something went wrong,” and he had never failed to remind the girls of this. All of a sudden, the past day’s events came rushing back to her. Aera was gone and an empty void of nothingness remained in her heart in place of where she used to be. Carina remembered when the two had first met. She had been serving at the Manor for five years already. All the other servers had been much older, and then out of nowhere came this bouncy haired child with an incandescent smile. Aera had come into her life like a ball of sunlight, spreading love and happiness to everything she touched, but now that she was gone there was nothing but darkness that remained, darkness that Carina could already feel consuming her by the second.

Who was she without Aera? Who was she in a prison cell at the bottom of the house that was rightfully hers? Who was she without her hope? Who was Carina?

Adya is a 14-year-old student at the Riverside School in Ahmedabad, India. You can normally find her reading a book or dancing. One of her favorite pastimes is playing with animals (especially her cat).