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'Coming of Age'.

The farming planes of Erewon were beautiful. Calm, serene, brimming with luscious flora and fauna. Golden tipped flowers, vivid green wildlife. The freshest fruit, the ripest berries. This is what made Erewon so special.

The people lived and flourished off the planes. They tended to them in order to survive and for decades it had worked seamlessly. The greatest thing about the population was that they wanted for nothing – they were completely contented with what they had. They were happy and never thought it necessary to question anything around them. They truly had no real inclination of the amount of work and hardship the Council had to put in in order for the People to be able to live in the manner they did. Erewon was comparable to a swan – stunning, captivating, effortlessly still and elegant above the surface and frantically trying to keep afloat below water level. And none of the population knew of the struggle, of the difficulties, of the debates that occurred in the Council. Blissfully unaware, they would continue on.

Of course they knew what would happen to them when they became “of-age”. They were conditioned to expect it, to welcome it and not to fear it. They accepted it as if it were as normal as tending to the velvet leafed plants every morning for they knew no different. There was no rule book to how old “of-age” was. You just simply knew when it was your time. Maybe you became ill, maybe you just reached the time when none of your loved ones were left to love, maybe you ran out of steam, out of passion for living. More often than not you became sick and were taken to the infirmary, informed that your chances of survival were slim and you made the decision yourself to walk into the fires of your own creation, willingly and readily. It was perfectly natural if you knew no different. And the people of Erewon certainly knew no different at all.

Erewon was divided, very logically, into eight segments to maximise the productivity and lifestyle on the planet. The first two segments sat side-by-side – these were the Planes, or the Farming Sectors. Sat to the East was the Manufacturing Sector, led by Stephen. This sector was in charge of manufacturing all materials for shelter and a multitude of other uses on Erewon. Below Stephen’s domain were the Forest Lands, a beautiful, huge expanse of wooded land. Directly South to the Planes were two further sectors in charge of the water that was used on Erewon. One side was specifically for the purifying of water for those on the planet to use and the other side was solely for recycling and re-purifying used water. The last two sectors sat to the West of the planet. The first of these was Coal Mining land and directly above it the Infirmary and Wellbeing Sector devoted to ensuring a happy and efficient life on Erewon for all of its people. Efficiency was key to happiness and each sector had been designed and divided deliberately by the Council to ensure this.

In the far corner of the Planes was Erewon’s first cluster of settlements, a vast expanse of space full of buildings growing gradually upwards towards the sky, the tips of them stretching into the clouds. The settlements started off simply – as small lean-tos. Incredibly basic but fulfilling the needs of the people with ease. As the population began to expand and their needs began to follow, the buildings became more civilized and advanced. With the erection of the Council Building came the official buildings of Erewon – skyscrapers that stretched up into the clouds, their tips reaching over the white wisps that flecked their way across the perfect blue sky. Each of the eight sectors of Erewon had its own settlements, each stretching up to the sky. Modernisation happened very quickly and naturally on Erewon. Life remained simple with the majority of people working the land, but the home became a technologically advanced hub. Still minimalist, but effortless. Clean, sterile but still holding onto the tropical beauty that laid below.

On the fourth floor of the second tallest building, nestled between two other apartments, was the home of James’ family. Unlike the majority of other living spaces, James’ home was colourful, slightly ungainly and almost always untidy. He was a creative thinker who’s thought trail showed clearly through a trajectory of mess and destruction that was left emblazoned through his family home. He had most certainly left this trait in his daughter, Eloise. Eloise was unlike most other children on the planet. She wasn’t fazed by a little chaos and, according to her father, asked far too many questions. Her mother often warned her that the constant stream of questions, the relentless inquisition, would be the death of her. Eloise was also a creative soul, colourful and vibrant. She loved to write fictions and paint whenever possible and detested tending to the plants that surrounding her apartment building. She knew what she was meant to think, what she was meant to believe. And she also knew that she believed none of it. Her mother had, however, successfully taught her to at least try to keep her mouth shut. Difference and uniqueness were not considered things of beauty on the planet that they called home.

The loss of James shook Eloise’s home to its core. The vibrancy and energy depleted rapidly and the questions that Eloise once suppressed came flooding to the surface of her conscience. She became cynical and negative and the functionality and efficiency of Erewon did nothing but frustrate and irritate her.

The speech that the Council had delivered a few days after her father’s death gouged into the fresh wound of grief that was laying open in her heart. She believed none of it, naturally. But every other person she came across, in the street, at school, in the villages, accepted Isaac’s cold words as gospel. They’d never questioned anything they’d been told before – so why would they start now? Eloise knew his words to be lies and suffered daily suppressing the need to argue with those who accepted the fabrications as truth.

Her classes became insufferable. Since Isaac had announced James’ deceit and treason against Victoria and the people of Erewon, Eloise’s classmates had begun to treat her as if she had some incurable, infectious disease. They leered at her if she passed too closely to them and scowled at her if she spoke to them. Her tutors pulled her aside and told her that if she publicly accepted the Council’s words then there would be no hard feelings. That she would be accepted and forgiven for what her father did. The whole situation just confused and angered her. The constant jeers and frowns she received in the hallway, on the street, in the farmlands, just fed her anger and inquisitive nature – how could all of these people so readily accept whatever they were told? Why did no one ever question these things?

“He didn’t do it, I know he didn’t”, she muttered under her breath in class the morning after the speech was given. She was surrounded by individuals of similar age to her all gossiping about the previous days occurrences. Obviously not one of them felt it necessary to analyse or question what had happened. If the Council said James murdered Victoria, then so be it. There couldn’t possibly be an alternative.

“I’m sorry, Eloise, I didn’t quite hear you. Would you care to repeat that for the rest of the class?” Her teacher, Connolly, stood awkwardly at the front of the room. Connolly was quite ungainly and had a habit of latching onto any opportunity to make someone else in the class feel as awkward as he did. He relished putting people on the spot and calling them out – Eloise was to be no exception.

Bite your tongue. Her mother’s words rung inside her head and she dug her fingernails into the palms of her hands as she regained control of her vocal chords. “Nothing. Sorry”.

Sat at the tables just across from Eloise were two slightly younger adolescents. She presumed they were brother and sister by the way they shared each other’s facial expressions, but she’d never cared enough to ask them. She had no interest in them. Unfortunately for Eloise, they had developed quite an interest in her.

“She said James didn’t do it, Sir. She said he’s innocent”, barked the boy, throwing a screwed up piece of paper in Eloise’s general direction.

“She said the Council are murderers Sir. I think she’s mad, gone in the head” jeered the young girl, rotating her pencil around in small circles at the side of her head to make sure the message hit home. “Maybe her Dad’s influence has infected her thinking,” she taunted.

Eloise could picture her mother now, keep quiet, don’t retaliate, it’s not worth your time or energy. Or your safety.

“See? She’s gone quiet now. She’s lost it”, mocked the sister.

Eloise was beginning to get used to supressing her anger and inquisitive nature. She knew it could land her in trouble, but she also knew that accepting this as her life, accepting that she would now be outcaste forever as a murderer’s daughter would make her life a living hell.

The taunts and ridicule came thick and fast. She only wished it took her by surprise. Eloise had only ever made a handful of meaningful friends, two of whom were considerably older than her and the other was based in the Forest Lands, so any kind of alliance she may have had would never take place in her schooling. The more the comments came, the thicker her skin became and the better she became at blocking out the hurtful words and lies.

A couple of days later, after her third day in a row of relentless teasing and tormenting, Eloise began to question how much more of this she could cope with. She specifically hung back at the end of her sessions to allow for the other students to leave before her, allowing her to walk in peace. Her walk home was short, but had become a pleasant, meditative exercise for her. She walked down the clean, shiny white corridors of the school buildings, out onto the planes where adults and their children were gathering fruits and harvesting plants. Meandering along the very edge of the corn fields where the plants were far too tall for her to peer over the top and she could focus on staring out over the edge of the planet, into the rich blue sky. The walk was only minutes from her classroom but it calmed her nonetheless.

She approached her settlement building, pushed open the heavy double doors and began the ascend to her family’s apartment on the fourth floor. There were no warning signs on her upward journey, nothing to prepare her for what she found moments later in her home.

As Eloise opened her front door she found her mother doubled over the kitchen table, streaks of tears lining her cheeks and her head slumped into her work-worn palms. Her back was shuddering between short gasps of air and desperate sobs of sadness. Eloise dropped her bag onto the floor and rushed over to her mother’s side. This was the third day in a row she had come home to find her mother in fits of tears, on the verge of grief stricken hysteria. She couldn’t bring herself to say anything – what was there left to say? She rested her head on her mother’s shoulder and cried silently into the soft cotton of her work shirt.

After a few minutes, the sobs subsided and her mother lifted her head out of her hands. She placed her palm on Eloise’s cheek and forced her to face her. Her mother could see nothing but James in Eloise’s icy blue eyes and her own sadness was reflected back at her.

“You need to accept what they’re saying, Eloise”, she said, her voice slightly raspy from her crying. Eloise heard the words but couldn’t quite understand them. She could see in her mother’s eyes the distress this was causing her.

“You need to accept it, or they won’t accept you, do you understand me?” Her mother repeated, her voice shaky and her eyes welling up with a fresh pool of tears.

Eloise frowned, refusing to fully comprehend what her mother was saying.

“I can’t do that. I can’t accept a lie as much as you know you can’t either. I won’t.” Eloise was young but she knew her heart and she knew her mind. She knew she wouldn’t be able to live with herself if she publicly accepted the Council’s statement against her father, even if it meant for a better life for her on Erewon.

“Eloise, do you not understand me?” Her mother stared intently at her daughter as she drew in a deep breath and began to recite was the Council had very recently taught her to say. “What your father did was unforgiveable and his crime is now our crime. Unless we accept and apologise for his actions, we will not ever be able to live peacefully on this planet again. Is that what you want?” Eloise could hear her mother getting more and more desperate with each passing word. There was genuine anger brewing under what she was saying, but Eloise knew it was misplaced.

She didn’t respond. She couldn’t. They sat, the two of them, for a few moments in silence staring hollowly at each other, until Eloise noticed it. The marks on her mother’s face and down her neck, along one arm. How had it taken her so long to see them? Long, dark, deep welts flecked across her skin. She’d been beaten, she was sure of it.

“Mother? Who did that to you?” Eloise’s voice trembled. Erewon was known for peace, for tranquillity, for honesty and love. This was none of those things. Eloise’s heart beat frantically as her mother lowered her head and began to sob again.

“Mother, did they do this to you? Mother, who did this?” Her voice grew in a steady crescendo until she was desperately screaming, but no answer came. The only words her mother managed to utter in between the guttural bawls were, “Accept it, please. Your father is a criminal. I need you to live your life.”

Her mother had been beaten to within an inch of her life and forced to accept James’ crime, Eloise was sure of it. She had been conditioned. She had allowed them into her home and they had beaten her.

“Please, Eloise, just say you’ll accept it”, her mother begged her, but in her heart she knew it was no use.

The anger and confusion was boiling in Eloise’s chest. She could feel the heat rising up her neck and into her face and temples. She was angry. Angry that her mother was saying this to her, angry that the Council had clearly attacked her mother and angry that she had not been there to stop it happening.

She shoved herself up off her chair and bellowed, “I will not. I will not accept lies. I will not accept the ruling of this Council and I will not accept that you’re my mother if you ask me to condemn my father one more time! He was an honest man. Victoria murdered him and I’m the only one who can see it. I will not accept their lies!”

The tears were flowing quickly down Eloise’s mother’s face, leaving track marks in her tanned skin. She was not sure what she believed any more, but all she knew was that her daughter had to accept the Council’s speech or she would have no life on Erewon. Her mother drew in a deep breath, calmed her nerves and steadied her voice and prepared herself to say the last thing she knew. The last thing, she was fully aware, that would tip her daughter over the edge.

“Your father was a traitor. He spied, he schemed. He murdered Victoria. He – he deserved to die”.

Even after their row, Eloise had not expected those words. They caught her off-guard, left her standing on the spot, off-kilter, trying to process what had just been said. She lowered a hand to the table to steady herself. She felt physically sick, drunk with fear and anger.

She was utterly speechless. Her mother had gone – she had been truly conditioned by the Council and now Eloise was totally on her own. She grabbed the few belongs that she had brought in with her and turned her back on her mother to leave.

“Eloise, where are you going? Please, I’m your mother. We can sort this out, we can still have a life here – “

“I have no mother. My father was killed by the Council that promised to protect us. And my mother shortly died following his death. She died of grief, because she loved him so deeply. Not because she’d been ‘got-to’ by the very monsters that murdered her husband!”

With her last words, Eloise marched to the door and flung herself out of it. She slammed the door into its frame with a shudder and leaned her head on the cold, smooth surface. She forced herself to move away from her home of 15 years and marched out of the tower block. What was once the only safe place and haven that she had experienced began to suffocate her. She threw herself down the four flights of stairs to the exit and forced the door open to the Planes, collapsing in a heap on the floor. The tears came easily and they burned her eyes and her throat as they cascaded over her face.

She felt betrayed. Alone. The grief that she felt not only for the life of her father but now also her mother welled up inside of her chest and flooded over her cheeks. Panic began to set in as she finally allowed her conscience to realise just how alone she had now become.

The tears came so readily at first Eloise was unsure if she would ever stop crying, if she could ever stop grieving. She felt physically repulsed by her mother and wanted desperately for her father to be alive.

She knew the Council had got to her mother, had spoken to her, had indoctrinated her, beaten her. Eloise may have been young, but her father had made sure she knew the true occurrences of the world around her. The education system of Erewon taught all of its students to accept those in positions of authority without question, therefore Eloise made sure she did the opposite. She questioned everything, every person in any position of power no matter how small. Never accept anything as gospel, her father used to say. She knew this now more than ever.

Eventually the sobs ran dry and a cold, hollow feeling set over her. She pushed herself up off the floor and walked slowly away from the place she had called home all of her life. As she walked, she whispered under her breath, “My family is dead. I am alone”.

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