I'm struggling with a title for it at the moment...but I'll add one as soon as I think of it!
In the meantime, hope you enjoy this short story.
Amelia Maybelove stood as tall as she could, which wasn’t easy.
She’d been blessed with many things, had Amelia – a good eye, a quick hand, a keen nose – but height was not one of them. Even so, she would not allow the scorching gaze of Master Bentley to cause her to shrink further.
The Hall of Judgement held the sort of silence that can only ever be made by over two hundred girls holding their breath. Amelia could feel their eyes on her back, watching, waiting. How many of them had done worse than she had, to earn a place in the
for Girls? And how
many had done less…? Sam
The single word dropped into that silence, spreading ripples of fear through its audience. Even Amelia felt a shiver, in spite of her promise to herself, that she would not give any of the Masters the satisfaction of seeing how scared witless she was.
‘Amelia Maybelove, You stand before us–’ Master Bentley indicated the men sitting either side of him behind the wide oak table.
To his right was Master Crastor: fat rolls pouring over his high collar, stomach straining jacket buttons to bursting point, dabbing with a giant handkerchief the sweat beading his forehead.
To his left, Master Hodkins: skeletal, grey-skinned, peering at her over the top of his seeing-eyes. A veritable husk of a man.
Amelia’s eyes slid back to Master Bentley. He was almost handsome: good jaw, strong cheekbones, no grey in his hair. But add the edge of flint in his eyes and a hint of cruelty at the corner of his mouth…
He was still talking. ‘…your actions. You have come here direct from the perfumery, have you not?’
Amelia cleared her throat. ‘Yes’, she said, quickly adding ‘master’ when he frowned.
‘Would you care to explain to the assembled company what you did that has brought you here?’
The Master already knew – they all did – but actually saying it, owning up to it, made Amelia squirm.
‘I made a perfume,’ she muttered, looking at her feet.
‘I made a perfume!’ There. It didn’t sound so bad, now she’d said it.
‘But it was not a …pleasant…perfume, was it, Amelia Maybelove?’
Her head snapped up. ‘It was! To begin with, anyway. Hints of honeysuckle and vanilla and honey, sweet and heady. Then…’ Amelia paused.
How could she possibly explain? That floral and spicy notes were not enough for her? That she had a desire to extract the essence of aroma from everything? Her experimentation with essential oils of garlic…fish guts…soilheaps..? It had been a challenge; no-one had ever created a polyodorous perfume. Single, pure scents, yes. Blended scents, yes. But one that changed over time, that smelled steadily worse instead of better…no. Until she’d made hers.
‘Amelia Maybelove! Answer! And then what?’
‘Um…’ Her nose wrinkled as she remembered the sequence, almost as though she were smelling it again. ‘Boiled cabbage.’
‘Silence!’ Master Bentley roared as titters broke out through the hall.
Their sound gave Amelia the courage to continue. ‘After that, rotten egg, like the worst farts imaginable. And then…’ She warmed to the telling, encouraged by the girls’ open laughter – at least they appreciated what she'd achieved. She raised her voice ‘…my piece de resistance. Spoiled meat. It’s all in the chemistry.’
Masters Bentley, Crastor and Hodkins did their utmost to restore order. Their demands for silence fell on deaf ears, and it was only when the inmates were threatened with school-wide repercussions that the room fell silent again.
Two spots of livid colour burned in Master Bentley’s cheeks. ‘Tell me,’ he asked Amelia, his voice deceptively quiet, ‘was it worth it?’
She had nothing to lose now. ‘Oh yes! You should have seen them, the ladies, grabbing the free samples. And how they came running back, gagging and heaving! They didn’t appreciate the workmanship, the skill–’
‘The perfumier you were apprenticed to has been ruined,’ Master Crastor interrupted. ‘The compensation…’ He broke into a fresh sweat at that.
‘Such disruptive behaviour will not be tolerated,’ Master Hodkins added, his voice as dry and cracked as his skin.
‘We will judge.’ The three Masters leaned close to each other and spoke in whispers, casting ocassional glances in the miscreant's direction.
Time slowed as Amelia waited. She was acutely aware of the girls at her back – she would most likely be joining them until she’d worked off her debt to the perfumier.
It didn’t take the Masters long to decide. When they leaned back in their seats, it was Master Bentley who spoke.
‘We have reached our decision. Amelia Maybelove, you will be cleansed by thoughtfish.’
A collective gasp sucked Amelia backward two steps. All her bravado seeped away.
‘No, please!’ She shook her head, trembling in every limb. ‘Not a thoughtfish…it’ll take everything.’
‘You will remain incarcerated in the Sam Bentley Correctional School for Girls,’ the Master continued, as though she had not spoken, ‘until we are certain that all knowledge relating to the preparation of perfume, including any personally derived recipes, has been removed.’
Amelia’s skin prickled. ‘But what’ll I do then? No other guild will reapprentice me! I’ll have no way of making a living–’
‘You should have thought of that before.’ The Master made a movement with his hand.
Strong hands gripped Amelia’s arms and legs, lifting, carrying, until she lay pinned to the very table at which the Masters sat.
‘No! I’m sorry! Please – I’ll not do it again, I promise!’
Three or four young women held her fast as another approached, carrying a jar filled with writhing silver-green worms.
Amelia thrashed and fought right up until the moment the tongs, with a single wriggling thoughtfish held captive in them, touched her nostril; that’s when she screamed and fell still.
The Masters watched Amelia Maybelove closely, until her eyes rolled back in her head.
'It is embedded. Take her away.’
And the thoughtfish grew fat on the mind of Amelia Maybelove…