Control: Chapter Four
Sunlight, weak and entirely lacking in warmth, poured across the floorboards when Louisa woke. Used to waking to the sounds of a busy morning, she sat up in bed and ran a hand through her hair, taking a moment to gather herself. Gracie was still sleeping. She frowned. Standing, she crossed to the hall, and glanced at the clock.
“God alm—” she began, the word twisting up and clenching, sprung, in a ball at the back of her throat. She jumped down, hard against the floorboards, in frustration, realising that she was somehow ridiculously late. Hastily she woke Gracie.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry…” Louisa murmured at intervals as she grabbed her hairbrush and pulled her thick hair into the customary ponytail that kept baby hair out of her eyes. Gracie whinged aimlessly all the while, casting angry missives of blame.
“I can’t believe you forgot. To wake me up. Aaaaahh…” She wrung her hands dramatically, and Louisa rolled her eyes. Her sister was definitely suited to the dramatic arts. The truth was, Louisa hadn’t been sleeping. For a few days, she let herself forget about the mysterious book and was swept back into the normalcy of routine. But then… like the edges of a page curling inward, her mind had become to unstick. Black fog swept, slowly at first, into her dreams, which soon became nightmares. They weren’t nightmares in the conventional sense — she didn’t wake up gasping or bathed in sweat. She woke, like this morning, flooded with a terrifying sense of deep, full-blooded dread. She’d written about it, that first time it happened —
It begins as a warm spring day. The air is softly pink. I stand in the middle of a road. Buildings tower, higher than I can see the top of, on either side. I’m alone and all is silent. And then… I hear the baby. I hear it before I see it: a woman, thin to the bone, curled around a baby in the gutter. She’s shushing it softly, her voice like honey. Her brown eyes peer into mine, searchingly. Just as I kneel down to take the baby, the woman is dragged, slowly, down the drain by some unknown force. She doesn’t scream or make a sound. She simply stares into my eyes, holding my gaze, and when I look away, the baby is gone too.
Louisa hadn’t slept properly in four days. She’d overslept her alarm and could feel herself spiralling. She hadn’t been able to write, or encode, and the short piece about her nightmare was the only thing she could manage to produce. The whole household had felt the impact. Louisa was supposed to be the genius and breadwinner of the family. The chip was a new technology of the last ten years, and the procedure was only safe to perform on children of a young age. And so, as the government traded encoded thought for food rations, dinners this week had been meagre. The only way the Governor August’s family could earn money was for his daughters to relinquish their ideas to the chip. He and Cora simply didn’t have the technology to do that themselves. Louisa had earned a chicken soup after the first night of nightmares. The night after that, a watery, tasteless cabbage soup. And then, last night, leftovers.
“What are we doing for breakfast? Hmm?” Gracie stood in the doorway, hand on a jutted out hip, waiting.
“Wh… what?” She was dragged from her thoughts and back to the present.
“Breakfast! Come on!” Gracie yelled from halfway down the hall, headed for the kitchen. Louisa followed.
Gracie was sitting at the dining table, an eyebrow cocked in expectation. The girl experienced life at the absolute heights and depths of frustration and joy. Louisa loved her, but she hated the overly flourished, dramatic side of her. And right now, Gracie was making her feelings perfectly known.
“Here, have some of this.” Louisa pushed a plate of toast before her.
“No butter?” said Gracie.
“No. We don’t have it. Just eat it, please? There’s nothing we can do.”
Gracie rolled her eyes and shoved the slice of toast into her mouth.
At school that day, Louisa couldn’t concentrate. Snippets of the mysterious book, which she was surprised she’d remembered, snaked into her thoughts —
The baby is safe.
— disrupting her in class and in conversations. She’d break off mid sentence…
Rose. I miss you immensely.
And then she’d shake her head and emit an apologetic, nervous laugh.
“Lost my train of thought,” she’d murmur, smiling. But behind that sweetly benign countenance, her mind was endlessly churning the same thoughts on repeat. On the walk home after school, at sunset, Gracie chatted away. There was no need for Louisa to speak, and Gracie didn’t once notice that her sister was not listening. The garden gate clattered behind them as they ascended the steps to their home, rapped the knocker, and waited for a maid to answer.
“Good evening, girls.”
Louisa and Gracie straightened. Gracie, with her school bag slung over one shoulder, hastily adjusted the bag so as not to seem so casual. Governor August stood imposingly above them on the threshold. It was at once unusual that he was answering the door.
“Good evening, Father,” they chorused, stepping inside. With a calculated swiftness Governor August grabbed Louisa’s arm: a cold, long set of fingers and an unwavering grip. Louisa suppressed a shudder. Her heart began to hammer. She felt sick in an empty way, as though she hadn’t eaten in days and her stomach had suddenly decided to eat itself. She looked up. His piercing grey eyes were staring down, waiting for contact. Governor August never looked directly at his daughters. He always had an evasive, flitting gaze whenever he spoke… except for now.
“We need to talk,” Governor August said. “Go play, Grace.”
Gracie made a grateful retreat and Louisa began following him up the stairs.
Tara Wesson is a second-year Journalism and Creative Writing student. She likes long walks on the beach, piña coladas, and getting caught in the rain. But no, she's really just a book-lover with a dog called Shorty, a love of travel, and a penchant for dad jokes.