Strike at Midnight

Strike at Midnight by Katie Epstein


My ribs still ached from the beating I had received earlier in the day, and I flinched in pain when I turned on the floor.

The straw didn’t provide much of a barrier between my body and the cold stone, but that and the threadbare blanket I had over me provided some form of comfort. At least she hadn’t arranged for those to be taken away from me this time.

The memories of the day came back to me, and I tried hard to push away the pain that arrived with them in the dark of the night.

That one moment I had taken away from my duties to gaze out of the window of her bedchamber to ponder, had been the one moment she had chosen to walk through her chamber door to see my small defiance.

Her smile upon seeing me had been a warning that she wouldn’t let this one slide, and then she had ordered me down to the small parlor that sat two doors down from the kitchen.

A shiver had involuntarily slid down my spine at what would happen when I entered that room, and yet I didn’t break. I never broke. My pride was the only thing I had left, so I had cherished it more than I should have.

He had come into the room not long after I had entered with an evil glint in his eyes. He always enjoyed the punishments she ordered him to cast upon me, and I couldn’t help but think they would be a perfect match if he weren’t a lowly servant like I now was.

Like all the other servants, he had turned on me when she had made it clear that showing any kindness to me would put their position at risk—only he had enjoyed his part in all this way too much.

His first punch had landed on my gut, and I had doubled over from the power of it. He had never let me recover as a second and a third followed, but then he did something he had never done before.

He grabbed my breast and pulled me close to him, his heavy breathing in my ear making me fear something beyond my knowing.

He laughed and then kicked my legs from underneath me so I would fall to the floor.

“The mistress said that’s for being a lazy ass,” he said, and then he had left the room.

My duties had been harder for the rest of the day, but I made a quick job of them so I could retreat to my space here in the cellar and lick my wounds.

Once I settled into a position that gave me the least pain, I felt for the sharp rock that I had hidden beneath the straw. It was a comfort in my hands, as it had been since he had started looking at me in a completely different way. It may have been in a way that I didn’t quite understand, but I felt it. The leering glances, the lewd comments. Even at fourteen, I knew his intentions towards me had changed. His hand on my breast earlier in the day had confirmed that.

Sleep was failing to claim me, even as the pain eased, so I let my mind wander back to happier times…

The scent of the grass was potent in my mind when I recalled my father returning from one of his journeys. He would lift me up and swing me round and round in the air until I felt sick, but I never cared. Not when the smile of true love on his face made me feel so good.

He would regale my mother and I with stories of his travels, and bring us wonderful gifts from faraway places. He would tell me about the fairies and the pretty witches who graced a number of lands, and the knights who fought upon them. He would bring us fun magical potions and carved figurines of the Fey but there had been no magic or potion that had been able to help my mother when she had fallen ill. And he tried everything.

In the end he had taken to retiring from his travels to look after her until her last breath, and that was when my world had started to spiral out of control.

A sob caught in my chest at the thought of them, but I pushed away the tears. Tears would only make me feel weak at a time when I needed to be strong. When I needed to have faith.

The sound of the latch of the cellar door moving made me freeze where I lay. No one came down here at night. No one. But the fear gave me the kick I needed to move and tighten my grip on the rock.

The room flared to life with candlelight, so whoever was coming down here had brought a candle with them.

“Time for your treat, dog,” I heard someone whisper, and even with my back facing the door, I knew it had to be him.

He had come to hurt me some more, but something told me that this time it would be in a different way.

I feigned sleep as I felt him lie down behind me, and the tears flowed down my cheeks at the thought of what he was about to do.

“Your skin is so soft,” he said with a tenderness that sounded foreign coming from his lips, and I started to shake beneath his hand that was now sliding up my leg beneath my worn nightgown.

Flashes of my home, my mother, my father, all came to me at once. Then the beatings, the humiliation, the fear came flooding afterward.

Could I do this? Could I let him touch me this way and still live with myself? Could I keep putting up with this until my stepsisters found a husband? Could I?

His hand touched my bare breast and my eyes flew open. It felt wrong, and the fast breathing coming from him made me feel sick. This wasn’t right. This wasn’t fair. This wasn’t…

He screamed when I turned and thrust the sharp rock into his neck. The look of shock on his face remained as he tried to pull it out, shuffling away from me while he continued with his efforts.

My head was telling me to stay calm and to put on my shoes, which I did. There was no time to dress, so I grabbed a small bundle that was hidden beneath a pile of straw in the corner. The stale bread that I hadn’t been able to eat earlier stared back at me from the wooden shelving. I grabbed it and stuffed it into my hidden belongings, and then I snatched the blanket on my way out to use for warmth.

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