TIWC ENTRY #2
Wherever You Go
Celeste’s fingers trembled as they enclosed around the bag containing a freshly baked loaf of bread atop the counter. She brought the bundle closer to her chest, her hands feeling the thuds of her racing heart. Nervously, Celeste tossed a glance over her shoulder which her caramel hair tumbled down onto and darted her green eyes about the room.
Nobody’s here, she realized. Nobody will see me. The old lady who had been behind the counter had gone into the kitchen for a brief moment while Celeste was supposed to be getting her money to buy the bread together.
Only she didn’t have any money.
Celeste knew that if she didn’t get this bread to her younger brother somehow, he was only going to get sicker and sicker on the streets of London. Heart thumping faster, Celeste trembled more as she contemplated what to do.
Then she thought of ten-year-old Caleb, lying on the cold cobblestone ground of the dark alley they lived in. She remembered how horrible it felt when she watched his little body quake with the might of the painful coughs exerting from his lungs. The feeling broke her heart.
Caleb deserves better, Celeste reasoned in a split second. This is for Caleb.
And with that, she took off speeding for the door of Edna’s Bakery.
“You there!” Celeste heard the shrill voice of the returning employee cry behind her. “Stop!” The command only drove her on faster out the door and through the crowded sidewalk illuminated by the golden light of the setting sun.
Snaking in and out between ignorant strangers and passerby was nothing this fifteen-year-old hadn’t done before. Celeste had stolen food multiple times now that she and Caleb were living on the streets. Clutching the precious bag of bread so tightly that Celeste was afraid she’d crush it, she fled faster through the horde upon hearing the calls of the employee.
“Thief!” rang the shout. “Stop her!”
Lungs burning and legs pumping, Celeste didn’t stop until she collided straight into the back of a stranger.
“Sorry!” Celeste’s voice came out as a raspy gasp as she made a move to continue her sprint. But the tall man grabbed her arm to keep her from running farther. “Please,” Celeste pleaded as throngs of people pushed their way around her and the man. “Let me g-“
“Don’t let her go!” cried the quite out-of-breath employee who had finally caught up with Celeste. “She’s a thief!”
“I can see that,” the man observed Celeste, keeping a firm grip on her. Her worn, tattered dress and messy caramel hair surely weren’t the marks of high society.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Celeste tried desperately to explain, panting hard. “And I know this looks pretty bad.“
The employee didn’t buy it for a second. “Save your breath,” she demanded. “This isn’t the first time you’ve stolen bread right out of my bakery.”
Celeste’s despairing eyes implored the woman’s hardened ones. “I was going to pay for it later,” her voice quivered heavily with weight of the lie. “Honest.”
“This isn’t the first time?” The man questioned the employee lady.
As the evening crowd bustled by the group of three stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, she exclaimed, “No! Two loaves were missing last week, and another one the week before that. It has to be her!”
The guilt on Celeste’s face was all the man needed to know. “Street children,” he muttered in disgust, directing his piercing gaze to Celeste. “It’s high time you’re turned in, missy.”
Celeste’s fist clutching the bag tightened with anger, crushing the loaf inside. What a compassionless man. Celeste didn’t even feel like crying as she stared into his cold eyes. She felt like punching something or someone; probably the man.
That man couldn’t comprehend what is was like to live on the streets day after day, sleeping on the hard, cold cobblestone ground. That man didn’t understand the fatigue of going days without food, the thirst of going days without water, and how it felt to pass out unnoticed by the passerby rushing along on the jam-packed walkway. That man hadn’t experienced the empty feeling inside as the depressing gray rainclouds crowded into the London sky, pouring their tears out along with hers. That man hadn’t felt the hurt of losing everything in one furious fire.
And that man turned her in.
The cobblestone there in the prison was colder, harder, and lumpier. Celeste’s scarred bare feet kept jabbing into the deep cracks and crevices, and she would’ve tripped and face planted with them had it not been for the guard clutching her arm even tighter than the compassionless man.
Celeste’s eyes reluctantly drank in the appalling sights of the drab and dreary prison passageway. The hard, stone walls seemed to go on forever, bearing faint, feeble torches that dimly lit up the dismal way for Celeste and the guard.
“Here,” the guard grunted, jingling a heavy set of keys into the lock of one of the stone doors to the cells. Celeste hesitated, unwilling to enter the dark, miserably cold room. It was a shove from the guard that finally sent her stumbling in.
Celeste winced as the heavy stone door was slammed hard behind her. She turned around, unable to see a single thing in the pitch-black darkness of it all. There weren’t even bars – just one intimidating, disheartening door with a small slot for passing food into her cell.
Once her eyes adjusted to the inky blackness Celeste realized there was one teeny-tiny barred window near the roof of the cell and opposite the door, casting barely-seeable shafts of soft moonlight onto the opposition in front of her.
Turning around, Celeste stared out into the gloomy London night, almost starless due to the dispiriting clouds. She caught sight of the moon peeking out from the corner of one of them, and immediately Celeste thought of Caleb staring up at the same moon, wondering where she was.
“I’ll be back by dark,” she had promised. “I’m going to work for some more food.”
“Good luck,” Caleb had wished her softly, followed by another coughing spell.
Celeste squeezed her eyes shut tightly, keeping back the tears. Crying wouldn’t solve anything, she knew.
As far as Celeste could tell, the room had no other prisoners. There was a small writing desk with a few pieces of paper and a quill, but nothing else. She wondered if the other more packed cells had removed their desks for more space – she must have gotten an empty one. Lucky me, Celeste mused sarcastically.
Feeling like she was in solitary confinement, Celeste found her way around in the dark and eventually felt a small, cushionless cot and, realizing how physically exerted she was, fell heavily upon it. Too exhausted to cry, she gave herself over to slumber.
The luxury of having her eyes closed in rest lasted but a moment to Celeste. She awoke with a start, hurriedly sitting straight up, to the solid stone door being slid open.
“Visitor!” barked a guard as a small figure stepped in. Before the stone wall was slammed behind him, the guard called, “You have five minutes. Be careful, boy; she’s a thief.”
Caleb. Celeste just stared at him. She had never seen Caleb’s eyes look so sad and hurt.
“So that’s what you are,” he whispered in mournful awe. “A thief.”
“Caleb,” Celeste began, but Caleb just shook his head.
“I was right. That’s how you got the bread. You didn’t work for it – you stole it,” Caleb spoke almost angrily.
Celeste closed her eyes miserably. He knew. “Caleb, I did what I had to do.”
“By stealing?” Caleb accused. “You want to take what someone else has, something that does not belong to you no matter how poor you are, and surreptitiously eat it in secret?”
Celeste opened her mouth to say something, but clamped it shut. Didn’t he know she did it all for him? “You don’t understand, Caleb.”
Caleb shook his head, looking hurt. “This isn’t what Father would’ve wanted.”
“Don’t talk about Father!” Celeste cried out suddenly. It hurt her too deeply to think about him as the image of the house burning down with her father inside flashed in her mind.
Caleb didn’t make a reply; he ducked his head into his elbow and began a long, shaking cough that made Celeste want to cry.
“One minute!” barked the guard from outside the door. Celeste placed both bare feet on the icy ground and wrapped both arms around her little brother’s scrawny little body in a hug.
“I’ll visit you a lot,” Caleb promised as he held on tight to Celeste.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered into his ear. “I’m a terrible older sister.”
Caleb pulled away, smiling his positive little smile. “No,” he shook his head. “You’re the best older sister.”
Caleb turned to step through the now-open stone door but stopped and faced Celeste again. “I will visit,” he assured.
But he never got the chance.
That very day, when the stone door was opened again, there stood the guard. “Food,” he grumbled, tossing her the stale heel of a loaf of bread. Wondering why he hadn’t just slid it through the slot, Celeste caught it in one hand and was about to murmur her thanks when the guard utterly blew her mind.
“You’ll be evacuating to a penal colony in Australia today,” he began. Celeste’s eyes widened as her jaw dropped. “Every other cell is packed; you’ve gotten the last empty one. Transfers from Greenwich are arriving early tomorrow, and so you’ll be on the shipment of prisoners setting sail for Australia this afternoon.”
And that was all he said.
Feeling like someone had stuffed cotton in her brain, Celeste numbly let go of the bread in shock as the stone door was once again slammed shut. All at once Celeste felt nauseated; the blow was so heavy, so soon, so unexpected. She didn’t even feel like crying; the trauma had astonished Celeste to her very core. She wasn’t even hungry as she tried to wrap her mind around the distance it was from England to Australia; how far she was going to be from Caleb.
The dumbfounding surprise had worn off by the time Celeste was taken with hundreds of other prisoners. In place of it was hurt that was so very real – hurt that shattered her heart to even smaller pieces.
Struggling to lift her feet off the ground of the only home she’d ever known and onto the wooden gangplank of the ship, Celeste turned back to face London. Oblivious to the other women prisoners that trudged up to the great vessel behind her, Celeste swallowed hard the lump in her throat.
What would Caleb think when he went to visit her, only to find out that she had been shipped to Australia? What was going to happen to him? How much worse would his cough get as the freezing winter months grew closer? How was he going to survive? Celeste’s gaze lowered to the shackles around her wrists. She wasn’t worried about what kind of a life she would live in Australia – what kind of a life would Caleb be living without her?
“You!” bellowed a nearby guard. “Go on up!”
Squeezing her eyes shut again as if trying to rid the pain of leaving England, she turned and took her feet off the familiar cobblestone ground for the last time, never to return again.
Below deck was crowded and filthy, Celeste quickly observed – four other prisoners were sitting practically on top of her. The stench of bodies cramped close together was sickening, and when Celeste looked around she wondered where all of their food was going to come from. And then she wondered for one more painful time what was going to happen to Caleb.
That’s when she made a decision to hand the hurt over to Someone who could take it.
“God,” she began, her voice wavering. She hadn’t prayed since her father had taken them to church – before the fire. The prisoners took notice of her prayer only for a moment – more than half of them were doing the same thing. “Please take care of Caleb; not for my sake, but for his. He’s so innocent. He doesn’t deserve to live this way.” She swallowed again the lump in her throat, refusing to give in to the powerful urge to start crying and forsake the surely frivolous idea of prayer. “I know You’ll take care of him,” she whispered. “I know You’ll be with him wherever he goes.”
No sooner were the words out of her mouth did Celeste feel peace at once in her heart. In the midst of the chaos of prisoners being loaded below deck, she knew Caleb would be all right.
And that’s when she saw him.
“One more prisoner!” a voice cried from above. A skin-and-bones child wearing an old dress was shoved down below deck. The child had short hair for a girl, and Celeste gasped. That wasn’t a girl.
“Caleb!” She screamed over the noise of the prisoners. The mischievous boy grinned and made his way over the many bodies of sitting prisoners and over to Celeste, who was standing up despite the rocking of the ship that had set sail.
“Caleb!” Celeste sputtered his name again. “How did you – where did you – how…”
“Celeste,” Caleb interrupted. “It wasn’t hard. Word gets around if there’s a big prisoner shipment. I traded my rusty knife for an old dress, pretended I was a girl stealing some bread, and lied about my age.”
“But you don’t look old enough to be in prison!” Celeste exclaimed. “How did they believe you?”
Caleb ducked his head into his elbow and coughed harshly again. When he turned back to Celeste, the ship swayed and threw them to sit down. Once sitting up, Caleb proceeded to explain. “I’m not sure. I honestly don’t know how they believed me.”
“Well, they were desperate for space in the prisons,” Celeste figured. “Even if they had assumed you were under age, they probably didn’t want to keep you until ‘your parents came and got you’ since the transfers from Greenwich are arriving early tomorrow. They probably needed you to be on this ship.”
Caleb nodded, the probability convincing.
“But Caleb,” Celeste began to think about all of this. “You shouldn’t have done that! Life in Australia will not be like life in England. It’s going to be really, really hard, and-“
Caleb shook his head, smiling again. “Celeste,” Caleb started. “Wherever you go, we go together.”
THE END! ? Sorry that was a little long… 2,438 words… 😛 I’d like to say I was on a roll, but I wasn’t. I made an outline with four parts: Objective, Obstacles, Climax and Outcome and forced myself to stick with it. I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out. ?
Grace, I included all three prompts and my team’s writing utensil – a quill. Hope you enjoyed it! Go Team Quill. ?