Chapter 1 - Dreaming
“1¾ cups of flour, 1½ tablespoons of sugar, ¼ teaspoon of salt, 3 tablespoons of butter, and one large egg!!! What does that give you?! Cannolis!!!” I could start to smell the sweet crisp scent of cannoli shells and taste the creamy goodness that will soon be piped into the crunchy outer layer. God how I loved baking!
I could faintly hear someone calling me but that didn’t matter. The chime of my cute little ladybug timer went off, and it is now time to take the shells out of the fryer.
“Hunny, you need to wake up” Weird, that voice just won’t go away. I take my now crisp shell, my shiny pristine piping bag full of creamy goodness, and pipe it into the circular little pastry.
I should really wait until I finish filling the rest of the shells to eat one. But do I care? No! They look soooo good, all crunchy and creamy. Yum. Suddenly as I’m about to take a bite I get a whiff of something burnt.
“Ambrosia! You hurry and get up now before your the one who will be chopping wood this morning”
That’s when I realized, my luscious cannolis were none but a dream. The dream where I can be a baker. Have enough money to afford luxuries such as cream and eggs. But dreams aren’t my reality. The reality is a one-room house with 2 beds, a small wood stove on which we cook our food and heat the house, a decaying burgundy curtain in a far corner, to provide the occasional privacy while getting changed, the smell of…
“Mom, what is that smell?”
“Just thought I’d try something different today hun. I thought maybe crisping the cabbage before putting it into the water might make the soup more flavorful since we’re all out of salt.” I stared at her dumbfoundedly. Yes, cabbage soup doesn’t taste good, and without salt, it really doesn’t taste good. But burning it to make it more flavourful? Oh no no no.
“My goodness Mom! It doesn’t work that way. Burnt cabbage will not make it taste better” I ran to our little wood stove, which is really only a couple steps away, and took the now black and unrecognizable cabbage off the stove and into the now boiling water. I could feel my mom walking up behind me before I saw her.
“Hun, is that supposed to look like sewage water?”
“No Mom no it’s not supposed to look like sewage water. Why didn’t you let me make it? We both know I can cook better than you?” I might never be the baker or chef of my dreams, but that’s never stopped me from trying to make the best food with what little we have. My Mom tries, but she has no idea what she’s doing in the kitchen.
I look back at my Mom and realize she’s now looking down and fidgeting with her fingers.
“I just thought I’d, you know...Thought I could cook...Cook our food for the day. It’s the 21st and um, the market might be busy today, I have the day off, so I thought I could cook and let you have an early start to the market ya know? Just to make it easier on you...”
“Mom stop, it’s fine. I get it. Let’s eat then I’ll head out” She was right. It was the 21st of December. The most dreadful day of the year, which made it the busiest day at the market.
Every year, on this day, one person goes missing. Normally they are in their later teen years, around 17-19 years old, but sometimes they are older or even younger. No one knows where they go if they even left willingly if they were taken or even killed. Because once they’re gone there isn’t a trace of where they could be. It’s like they never existed. We look everywhere on the Inside, for days, but as long as anyone can remember, no one has ever been seen again.
The Inside is like our city. We’re a small city you could say, only a couple of thousands of people. Almost all of us live in poverty, we are forced to hunt for our food, fight for clean water, or find some way to make merchandise that is worthy of being sold at the market. But as I said almost all of us live in poverty, not all of us. The Keepers are a rich family that has governed us forever. They live in the middle of the Inside, in a luscious mansion that I could only dream of stepping foot in. Their mansion is surrounded by a gorgeous garden followed by, those whom the Keepers deem worthy of their attention, the higher class. Everyone on the Inside gets a monthly payment from the Keepers, the higher class gets quite a bit more, enough to afford things they want, we as the lower class, get barely enough to survive the month with what we need. After the higher class, you find the market, beyond that some fields followed by us. The lower class. Then, a dense forest.
Beyond that forest, no one knows. Insiders for hundreds of years have mapped the forest and have tried to see what’s beyond it. But it always leads you back to where you started. It’s like going in circles, nowhere to go but back to the start. We all know there must be something beyond though. Sometimes at night, if you listen very carefully, you can hear the cheers, calls, and screams of people. But these people aren’t on the Inside. The noise is so faint it has to be coming from miles and miles away.
As my mom puts the soup into bowls I sit down and think of how my day will turn out. As I said, the market is especially busy today. Almost everyone on the Inside, high class, low class, and the Keepers, show up at the market today. Why? For witnesses. The fear of being alone on a day that one person always goes missing.
Me, I’m at the market every day anyways. I work for the Markees. A high-class family that sells jewelry. They couldn’t stand spending their days at the market every day of the week so they found someone to sell their merchandise for them. I do not get paid fairly but it’s better than nothing. It helps me and my mother get through the month.
My mum, on the other hand, works as a maid in the Taylors household. Another high-class family. Today, the only day of the year, she gets the day off. The Taylor’s (like many others) spend the 21st at the market and avoid having people in their house, for fear that they could be the one causing the disappearances.
Once I’m done with my disgustingly horrible soup, I pick up my satchel, put my apron in it, as well as my knife and a snack for the day. One can never be too prepared. I’m about to head out to the market when my mum calls for me one last time, her voice laced with worry.
“Ambrosia dear? Promise me you’ll be careful today, never leave alone”
“Of course mum. Love you”
“Love you too dear”
And with that, I opened the front door and started my trek to the market. Not knowing what fate had in store for me that day.