WHEN THE CLOCK STRIKES
“It’s like a dream come true.”
“Yes, child. But like all dreams it can’t last forever. On the stroke of midnight, the spell will be broken and everything will be as it was before.”
“I’ll remember,” promised Cinderella. “Oh, it’s more than I’ve ever hoped for. Thank you, fairy godmother.”
“Bless you, my child. Now hurry up! It’s getting late.”
Cinderella stepped into the pumpkin coach and was whisked her way to the royal ball.
- Disney’s Cinderella
I quickly looked in my father’s eyes, searching for an answer, an explanation, but they were blank and emotionless as he stood behind me, holding me firmly by the shoulders. What is he doing? Why is he doing this?
The lady, who introduced herself as Yamanoishi-san, gently held me by the arm and pulled me with her. I opened my mouth to speak, but no words came out. I tried to reach for father, but he just stood there, his expression unreadable. I wanted to protest, to hesitate, as she led me into a door and closed it behind us. Where are you taking me? I turned back but I couldn’t see father. The dark alley where she led me was a nauseating mixture of rotten wood, dried blood, stale food, putrid perfumes and other smells which I can’t put names. If Yamanoishi-san wasn’t quickly pulling me with her, I would have found a moment to vomit. But before I knew it she had dragged me into a room, which smelled a little bit better, but nevertheless still reeked, and closed the door behind us. She slightly pushed me forward and it was then that I saw an old man sitting behind a large wooden desk, with a cigar between his greasy teeth.
“Kitagawa-sama,” Yamanoishi-san said, her voice I heard for the first time. It was shrill and hoarse like the voice mother used when she played the evil witch in the fairytales that she read me before I slept. I instantly felt fear with the way she held me and the way the old man’s eyes moved from my head to my feet and up again. “This is the new girl. She would be living here from now on.”
I opened my mouth again to speak, but Yamanoishi-san lowered her face to mine. I could smell her stale breath as she whispered. “Just stay here, Hitomi-chan,” she said, her breath on my skin sending unpleasant shivers through my spine. “Kitagawa-san will talk to you.”
With that, she left and closed the door, leaving me all alone with the old man in the room. I turned my attention to him, and he motioned for me to come closer. No matter how I wanted to get away, he seemed to have a sudden control over me, and I felt my feet dragging me closer and closer to him, my heart pounding violently in my chest as I closed out distance between us. I stopped when I was less than a meter away from him and he turned his chair to the side to face me. I gasped in fear when he lifted a grimy, callous palm to touch my face. I stepped back instantly, but he didn’t let go.
“How old are you?” he asked as he blew clouds of smoke on my face. I almost choked as I couldn’t help but inhale his stinking breath.
I shut my eyes close as his hand moved down to my neck and slid to my shoulder. I felt hot tears well up in the corners of my eyes as his hands began to explore. “D-don’t, please…”
But he just went on. “How old are you?” he repeated.
I swallowed. I didn’t realize I was already crying until I tasted my salty tears as I spoke. “F-fourteen…”
He stopped slowly, as if he was contemplating about the answer I gave. What is this place? What am I doing here?
I felt him move back and I opened my eyes. I pulled my clothes up and tried to cover my nakedness. Otoosan…
“Four more years,” he said as he chewed on the cigar. “Beautiful but not yet developed in the right places.”
I heard a chuckle, and it was then that I realized we weren’t alone in the room. Another man, maybe in his early thirtees, was sitting cross-legged in a corner.
“She’s yours, Takky,” the old man said. I fiercely turned to him. No! I’m not his! I’m not anybody’s! But these thoughts didn’t escape my lips. All I managed were sobs and cries.
The younger man stood up and stepped forward. I pulled myself back, away from either of them, but the younger man went on. I felt the cold, coarse wall on my back, and soon I was trapped, and the distance between us was closing in. I pulled my face back when he leaned forward and stared at me.
“Let’s get along well, ne?” he said with a smile on his lips. “Let’s work hard together, Sakura-chan.”
I shook my head. “My name’s not Sakura.”
He smirked and messed my hair a bit. “It is, from now on.”
The bucket accidentally slipped from my grasp as a pair of hands gripped me by the waist, causing a sharp sound as the tin hit the stone flooring. I shut my eyes and pursed my lips, waiting for footsteps or screams, but there was none. I opened my eyes and turned fiercely to Inoo, who was looking at me with his mischievous eyes.
I pulled myself from his grasp and knelt down to get the bucket and wipe the water that spilled. In my peripheral vision, I saw him sit on the rim of the well. “What are you doing here?” I hissed as I squeezed water from the soiled cloth. “Takky might see you again.”
Inoo took the gas lamp and followed me to the basement which serves as the House’s dirty kitchen, storage and my room. I flushed the floor of the chimney with water and started scrubbing. “You know he doesn’t like to see you with me,” I added when he didn’t respond.
I turned my head to him and saw him smelling the vegetables on the table. I shook my head and finished my last work for the day. I wiped the sweat off my forehead with the back of my hand as I straightened up. I saw him looking at me and he laughed silently.
“What’s so funny?” I asked as I walked towards him. He handed me half an apple and motioned something on my forehead. I immediately realized what he meant and started to wipe it, which I think only made the charcoal stains worse.
“Cinder soot,” he teased. I pouted. Still smiling, Inoo started wetting his thumb with own spit and dabbed it on my forehead. I just stood there as he did so.
“They might see you,” I whispered as I tried to control my flush at his touches. Even though he wouldn’t see it in the dim light of the gas lamp, I still felt conscious.
He smiled at me again. “Come with me to the lake. Clean yourself.” He grabbed my hand and pulled me with him. In spite of my pleas for fear that somebody from the House would catch us, he didn’t let go of me until we reached the lake. I hesitated when he led me into the waters.
“It’s cold,” I said, partly shocked at the stinging temperature of the water. But he just laughed and led me on. Soon, I felt used to the cold water as we went deeper, with him holding both my hands. The moon hid partly hid itself behind the clouds, but it was an advantage. I didn’t want anyone from the House – especially Kitagawa-sama and Takky – to see us.
“Not any deeper,” I hissed, my teeth chattering, as the water reached my breasts. I heard his lively chuckle and his hand moved to my waist. I swallowed and we started bathing. The coldness stung, but his warmth kept me from freezing. Soon, he was chasing me as I swam away. He caught up after pretending to be incapable of doing so, and I wrapped my legs around his waist, my hands resting on his shoulders. His beautiful face glimmered in the moonlight. He laughed silently at my awe and I closed my eyes as he started planting kisses after kisses on my face, seeming as if he wanted to drink the water on my skin. When his mouth found my lips, I answered him with a hungry kiss.
“Let’s stop,” I said, lightly pushing him away after minutes of making out under a dead tree. Inoo silently groaned and we straightened up. He walked to where we laid out our drenched clothes earlier and came back with them. We dressed up in the dark.
“You’ve grown up beautifully, everywhere,” he whispered after we kissed upon reaching the alley where we would separate. I smiled as he brushed his fingers in my hair. “I want to be the one who would make you a woman.”
I lovingly looked up at him and nodded. He planted a gentle kiss on my forehead. “Let’s just wait a little more,” I whispered. “I’ll tell you when I’m ready.”
I kissed him on the cheek and turned away with a smile. I heard him call out ‘Hitomi, I love you’ in a whisper and I gave him a quick butterfly kiss before I briskly walked back into the basement of the House.
“A party?” I asked with a tinge of indifference as I brushed Chihaya-san’s beautiful hair in front of the vanity. She dabbed magenta lipstick on her plump lips and puckered.
“Yeah,” she said. “But only girls eighteen years and above are allowed by Takky to be there. Too bad you still have two months to go, Saki-chan!”
I smiled a bit and just continued brushing her hair. The truth is, it never made me sad if I can’t go to these parties. I even pray that it would not come. In this House, the first party that a girl goes to when she reaches eighteen is the start of her job. The start of giving back to Kitagawa-sama.
Masae-san called me to mend a button of her dress and I excused myself. After running a few more errands for them, the horseman arrived to fetch the ladies. I saw them off and went back to the make-up room to fix their things. I looked out of the window and watched their black polished limousine whisk them away to the dreaded party.
It was then when Yamanoishi-san knocked on the door. “Takky calls you. He thinks you don’t need to wait for two months more, Saki-chan. You’re ready.”
I swallowed hard. No! I’m not! I never will be! But before I knew it I was being assisted by the women into the bath, soaking me in milked water, pouring lavender essence on my skin and hair, trying on dresses and shoes, fitting stockings and gloves, and at last, I was standing in the mirrored room with Kitagawa-sama and Takky in a little purple dress that reached just half my thighs, high-heeled shoes and a made-up face. I almost couldn’t even recognize myself.
“My Sakura will finally blossom tonight,” Takky whispered before he let me step into the white vintage Lamborghini. “Hurry up. It’s getting late.”
I stepped into the car reserved for the girls who debut. I was alone, with only the driver sitting in front. Inoo.
The car stopped in front of a grand mansion, but I did not get out just yet. The new shoes were hurting my feet. The new dress felt uncomfortable as it snuggled my body. And my eyes were threatening to burst with tears.
“This is unbelievable,” I heard him say from his seat and I abruptly looked up.
I brought a hand to my mouth to suppress my cries. “Inoo… I don’t want to do this…”
Silence. We both knew this was coming. But we didn’t know it would be this fast. I still have two months left. Two months to get ready. Two months to give myself to the man I love.
“When the clock strikes at midnight,” I heard him say, “I want to take you away. Will you come with me?”
I quickly nodded. He got out of the car and opened the door for me, the way chauffeurs are supposed to do.
“I’d be waiting at the back,” he whispered as I got out.
The party was magnificent, as Takky told me. The moment I entered, my eyes searched for a familiar face among the attendees. I didn’t see Chihaya-san or Masae-san, but soon a young man came walking towards me with a wine glass in his hand.
“You must be Sakura, the girl that Kitagawa-sama sent to grace this party,” he said as I took the wine glass that he offered. His rough hand held me by the arm and walked me through the crowd. “I would now introduce you to your first night’s prince charming. Meet the groom, Akanishi Jin.”
A young man, this Akanishi Jin, turned around. “Thanks for squealing, Yamapi.” In an instant, he took me in his arms and brought me to the middle of the dance floor. “I see you’re inexperienced,” he hissed with an annoying amused tone as his hands moved on my body. He seemed to be enjoying every time I stiffened at his touches. And every time I pulled myself when he tried to kiss me. “So I’d be getting married in two days,” he whispered, his breath the mixture of nicotine, alcohol and mints, “but tell Takky maybe I would reconsider that deal that he offered me, since… I think I’d be enjoying myself with you.”
I frowned in confusion. “What deal?”
He smirked and squeezed my body against his. I gasped at the discomfort. “Let’s just say he’s willing to exchange you for a couple of favors from my dad.”
I stepped back. What do you mean? What exchange? What favors are you talking about? I looked up and saw a large clock. It was almost midnight! Inoo!
Without another word, I ran away. But he was following me! I tried my best to be fast but my shoes hindered my legs. Takky, is this your way to stop me from running away? I heard him shouting and calling, his voice seeming to come nearer and nearer. No! He can’t catch me! As I went down the marble stairs that led to the back lawn, I slowed down to take my shoes off. But just then I felt his strong hand on my arm. It seemed like I said something but I can’t remember. What I remember is that I hit him with the sole of one shoe, and ran away, leaving him bleeding along with the shoe I hit his temple with. I’ll be with Inoo! I won’t be with anyone else but Inoo!
I ran and ran to where my feet took me. Finally, I found the car parked a hundred meters away. I cried hard as I ran barefoot towards it.
“Inoo!” I shouted. But he didn’t come out. “Inoo!”
And then the headlights were switched on. And I stopped on my tracks. There he was, my Inoo, beaten down to a pulp, dragged by Takky’s men and dumped in front of the headlights for me to see. And Takky was there, and he was walking towards me.
“Here’s where you learn your lesson, bitch!” Takky’s voice echoed in the four walls of the small room. I let out a loud cry as my body hit the wall from Takky’s forceful push. I crawled back in spite of the wounds and scars that I got from their beatings but he had shut the metal door of the cellar.
“No! Takky, please! Please, don’t!” I screamed as I banged on the rusty door. I heard him locking it. No! Don’t lock me in here! “Takky! Let me out!”
I heard him his a curse and then his heavy footsteps faded away. I pulled and pushed the door, trying, forcing to open it. I called for anyone to help me, but to no avail. Nobody would come to my rescue now. Inoo wouldn’t be here to try to open the locks and let me out. And when he can’t he would just sit there on the other side to make sure that I wouldn’t be alone. I don’t know where they took him. And it’s all because of me! It’s my fault why they hurt him.
I felt my knees crash to the floor. My hands were filled with rust from clutching the iron bars.
“I’m sorry… I didn’t want this to happen…”
I opened my eyes in a snap. I didn’t realize I had fallen asleep crying. Bright lights almost blinded me and I squinted as I tried to see who the figure was. “Takky?”
I abruptly sat up as my eyes finally recognized him. It wasn’t Takky. It wasn’t Kitagawa-sama. It was Akanishi Jin. What is he doing here?
He closed the door behind him, and blinding darkness came once again. No! I pulled myself away as he slowly walked towards me.
“W-what are you doing here?” But he didn’t speak. He followed me everywhere I dragged myself, until I had nowhere to go. “Please, don’t do this…”
He stopped a foot away from me and squatted. Even in the darkness, I could see the way his wicked eyes stared at me. “A businessman, Sakura,” he hissed as he held me by the throat that I almost choked, “should get what he pays for.”
Soon, the night’s prince charming would take away the only property I could promise to Inoo, but I would take my last chances with a surrender that can only go as deep as he can thrust. His mouth could cover my lips, but he could never own them. His callous hands could touch my body but it would only remain cold. He could enter me as much as he wants to, plant his cursed seeds inside me, but nothing in me will be his. Or anybody else’s. I belong only to my happiness.
As the prince tortured me with every painful descent, I just let myself get whisked away into a blissful dream. In that dream, I returned to the first time I met the cunning mouse in the basement, to the first brush of our lips, to the first magical touch, to the first time we made love only with our hands and mouths and tongues, to the first ‘I love you’, to the first pledge of forever and ever. In that dream Inoo and I fulfilled those promises of love and happiness. And in that dream, Cinderella and her beloved mouse lived happily ever after until the day we died.
"Every act of creation is first an act of destruction." (Picasso)
WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!
YOU MADE EVERYONE SUFFER!!!
WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!
YOU MADE EVERYONE SUFFER!!!
i think i finally succeeded in becoming an evil witch!
i finally made a dark-themed story after waiting for so long...
"Every act of creation is first an act of destruction." (Picasso)
OMYGAD IT'S SO FREAKIN SAD.
Driver si Kei. XDDDD