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And then stuff happened.
 Post subject: The Banshee's Wail (Formely [Untitled]) Chapters 4 and 5!
PostPosted: Sat Nov 10, 2012 9:55 pm GMT 
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Chapter 1
Homecoming

Of course there was a homecoming. For one thing, my parents never passed on the opportunity for a party. For another, I had indeed returned home, which was more than most of our town’s families could boast of their children.

My parents had filled the house to bursting, which was no small task as the house they owned was quite large. In fact most, if not all, of the town had come by whether they were invited or not.

While every guest filed through the house to thank my parents for the invitation, those who hadn’t technically been invited all seemed to end up back outside. Except The Widow Mims, who had never crossed the threshold. She had her son carry her rocking chair up to the porch and there she sat the rest of the evening, glaring at anyone, man woman or child, who happened past.

And in that way, I felt I had returned home. There was a sameness to it all, with a distinct scent of change about everything. My school friends came by, of course, but they had all married while I was away and now stood with their husbands and children of various ages. I had been the only female from my town to join up. I had truly felt I had no choice. There had been a calling in my heart to leave.

I say that as if it faded.

While the house was full and as I was surrounded by friends and family, I felt the strange sensation that everyone was moving a thousand miles an hour but that I was standing still. I heard the music and the voices and the joy, but felt a cold sort of detachment from it all. Sounds that should feel so comfortable and close were distant and foreign.

Then there were the stares.

Now, I never considered myself pretty by normal standards (my shoulders are a bit broad, as are my hips. My skin was always just a bit too sun-kissed, and my mother always said my freckles made my face and shoulders look dirty, not that I ever went around showing my shoulders) but the reasons for my return caused me to become something to be stared at. Never mind that I presented myself before them in a proper C.O.N.D.O.R uniform, but I was also insisting on standing and ambling about on my crutches without aid from anyone. Mother begged me to stay seated in my father’s fine chair, the one that I had always climbed right into when I was younger and father was at work, but sitting made me feel more like an exhibit at a circus side show. Not only was I down to one leg, but I was down to one eye as well, with a black (for mourning, I suppose) lace cloth wrapped about my head that my mother had insisted upon weaving through my hair to make me look somewhat feminine. I would have much preferred my eye patch, but my mother had snatched it from my head the second she saw it and threw it directly into the fire. I think she was disturbed by the eye I had painted on it while I was bored in the infirmary one day.

The stares bothered me, but what bothered me more was how the women all ushered their children away from me (“so as not to disturb you, dear”), the men all seemed to stand about me awkwardly, sipping their brandy (which no one offered me, by the way. I had set my cup of tea aside almost as immediately as it had been given me and promptly forgot about it.) and seeming like they all had questions burning in their throats. Brandy puts out fires, right? Maybe they were sipping the brandy in order to insist upon themselves that it was where the burning was coming from. Not questions they would have easily asked a man in the same situation as I was in. Somehow me being a woman meant the questions couldn’t be asked.

Halfway through the party it had grown to be too much. I was so accustomed to celebrating with other G.Is that the party going on around me hardly seemed like a celebration at all. It seemed like some strange sort of wake. Like I had died and everyone was milling about, talking about me, looking at me with eyes that seemed incapable of holding anything but pity or the sense of loss. The thought bemused me to the point I started looking around for my casket with some morbid sense of curiosity. When I didn’t find it, I decided I needed a bit of fresh air so without excusing myself – and I do believe this is when my mother fainted for the first time that night – I walked outside and onto the porch, lowering myself into the vacant rocking chair beside The Widow Mims.

Now, The Widow Mims was a woman I had feared my entire childhood. Everyone had. Adults, children, it didn’t matter. She was a stern and mean woman who always seemed to know when someone was doing something they shouldn’t be doing, and never hesitated to tell a child’s parent, or an adult outright if they were the one doing something that she hadn’t approved of. I was unaware of when she had lost her husband, just that when I was a child her son was already in his late 20s and I had never seen any other Mister Mims. Her son had never married, devoting his life to caring for his elderly mother who we all knew would most certainly outlive everyone in town.

While she had terrified and tormented me all of my life, I could find nowhere else to sit. Even with my one eye, I managed to notice her give me one calculating, judging once-over and then she did something no one else had done all evening. She looked away. She looked back out to glare at the children playing in the yard. I was so startled by this simple gesture, the simple fact she had done what I wished everyone inside had done, that I ended up turning to stare at her.

“You keep staring like that, Julia, your other eye will fall out.” Came the old crone’s voice like tires over a gravel driveway, harsh but strangely nostalgic.

And I laughed. I let out a loud, amused laugh that froze everyone in the yard and about half of the people inside as well. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Mims. I’ll keep this one in my head. I promise.”

To this day, I swear to whatever god looks down upon us that I saw a smile tug ever so slightly at her lips, as if someone was pulling a thread tight through some old fabric. “Good. One should always keep one’s body parts where they belong.” She turned her head to look at me again, since suddenly no child or drinking middle classman was doing anything she disapproved of, much less moving. “Where’s your drink, Julia?”

I looked at the small table that separated the two chairs. “I must have left my tea inside. Can’t exactly carry it around with me, can I?”

“Well, that’s what you get for losing a leg.” She said, reaching into her coat. To my (and everyone else’s) bewilderment, she pulled out a flask that had to be older than the shine on it tried to say it was. “Clarence!”

Her son, a tall, lanky man, jumped the four porch steps in a single bound and hurried over to stand in front of his mother. “Yes, ma’am?”

“Bring Julia and I a couple glasses from inside.” She said, looking up at him.

He nodded, almost bowed really, executed a perfect left-face, and hurried inside, gently pushing past anyone who was in his way. Out on the porch, we could hear his soft ‘excuse me’s and ‘pardon me’s and ‘Excuse me, Mr. Southers, where do you keep your glasses?’ as well as my father’s bewildered response, ‘the cabinet to the left of the sink.’

While her son was fetching the glasses for us, The Widow Mims turned to look at me again. “The wrap around your head is ridiculous.” She said simply, resting the flask in her lap, running her fingers over the initials engraved in it, CSM.

“More ridiculous than sitting here with only one eye?”

“Absolutely. Black lace.” She scoffed and shook her head. “And the way it’s tied back into your hair. Are you mourning the loss of your eye?”

“No, ma’am. I’m appeasing my mother.”

“Your mother isn’t out here. Take that ridiculous thing off your head.”

“Yes, ma’am.” I wanted to laugh. All of the years I had been afraid of her seemed, suddenly, like they were all for nothing. I had seen more frightening things during The War. Things that made The Widow Mims seem like a harmless old dog (and for all of her barking, she might as well have been). I reached up and started untangling the cloth from my hair.

When I was done, I looked up to see Mr. Mims standing in front of us, holding two whiskey glasses, each with two ice cubes sitting inside. It was little wonder to me why he had taken his time. My father hadn’t drank whiskey in years, so the glasses had to be dug out of the back of the cabinet and the dust wiped away.

He bent at the waist and put the glasses down on the small table. “Do you need anything else, Mother?”

“No, dear. Thank you.” She said, shifting in her rocker to better pour the amber liquid into the glasses.

As I picked up my glass, Clarence turned and walked away again, and I vaguely wondered if he had served in the military as well. His movements were so sharp, even the way he hurried down the steps and took stance beside a shrub a short distance away, feet shoulder width apart hands clasped behind his back.

“How was it?”

The voice snapped me from my thoughts. I turned to The Widow Mims and picked up my glass. “The war?” I examined the whiskey, gently swirling it around with the ice.

“Is that where you were?”

She was a sarcastic old bat. I smiled and looked at her, raising the glass slightly before bringing it to my lips. I sat back in my chair and looked out over the yard. The children were slowly returning to their games, and the adults to their talk and drinking. I had a fairly solid suspicion they were now talking about me and my current company. “No, Ma’am. I think I was in Hell.”

“Now, I didn’t think they let women into combat positions, Julia.”

“It wasn’t a typical situation, Mrs. Mims.”

The old woman sipped her whiskey and watched me silently for a moment. “It hardly ever is. I heard this particular war was far from typical.”

I nodded, taking another drink from my glass. “Far from typical.”

“I heard you were just supposed to be doing paperwork.”

“I was.” I set my glass down on the arm of my rocker, slowly turning the glass in my fingers. “I was filing field reports, mostly. Field reports and SitReps.”

“And you got one nasty paper cut on your leg?”

I laughed again and looked at her, smiling. “And a pencil to the eye, Ma’am.”

She looked at me, the corner of her lip twitching again. Was I really making this crazy, old, mean bat smile? Was she enjoying my company? What on earth made that happen? “Must have been hard.”

“Oh, it was.” I picked my glass up again and brought it to my lips.

The Widow Mims was quiet for a moment, seeming to be contemplating her own whiskey, but I knew it wasn’t the case. Would she actually ask the questions I had wanted someone to ask since I got back? She had always been the sort of woman to speak her mind, but I had never heard her ask so many questions, or keep a conversation going, or drink whiskey for that matter.

Not that I ever really, truly knew The Widow Mims. Honestly, I had tried hard to avoid knowing her all too well before I left. It was rumored that she was a witch, that she ate children, that her son was nothing more than some sort of mash of man and machine and steam, made from parts of her deceased husband or something.

“Do you miss it, Julia?”

I pulled myself from my thoughts and set my whiskey glass down again. She reached over and refilled it and I mused over the fact I had never seen her be hospitable with anyone before. “Do I miss what?”

She looked up at me, catching my eyes with her light brown, almost amber ones. “The outside world.”

At the time, I had thought it a rather peculiar thing to say. It was, really, but after a moment of quiet contemplation and the sipping of some more whiskey, I understood. “Oh. Yes.” I looked at her. “Yes, I do.”

“Do you want to go back, Julia?”

“With every fiber of my being, Mrs. Mims.”

“You must be the only one in this damn town that will give me a straight answer, Julia Southers. So, tell me. What do you miss?”

“Well, everything.”

“Everything? Being surrounded by death and pain and suffering and explosions and gun fire and mortar rounds?”

“No. Not everything.”

“What is it like to leave this town, Julia?”

“Bittersweet.” I took a sip of my whiskey and put the now-empty glass down on the table, only to have the woman beside me re-fill it and nudge it towards me again.

“Bittersweet is a horrible word.” The Widow Mims said as she refilled her own glass. “You either liked it or you didn’t.”

“At the time, I was scared but determined. I knew it was what I wanted to do, in the deepest reaches of my heart. After what they had done...I had to do my part.”

“And that’s what all the young men say.”

“But, not all of the young women.”

“Very true. Do continue, Julia. Tell me of the train ride.”

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Last edited by Emily O'Connor on Wed Mar 20, 2013 7:58 pm GMT, edited 7 times in total.

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And then stuff happened.
 Post subject: Re: [Untitled]
PostPosted: Sat Nov 10, 2012 9:56 pm GMT 
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Custom Title: And then stuff happened.
That's just the prologue. Still working on a title. Comments welcome :D More to come!

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Ahoy!
 Post subject: Re: [Untitled]
PostPosted: Sat Nov 10, 2012 11:59 pm GMT 
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I. LOVE. THIS.

EDIT. so I realized that wasn't a particularly detailed or helpful comment... let me just say that this:

    "It seemed like some strange sort of wake. Like I had died and everyone was milling about, talking about me, looking at me with eyes that seemed incapable of holding anything but pity or the sense of loss."

...is a beautiful piece of description. I am just floored by this. Wow.

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And then stuff happened.
 Post subject: Re: [Untitled]
PostPosted: Sun Nov 11, 2012 11:05 am GMT 
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:D Thank you!! That's actually my favorite paragraph so far lol

My goal is to knock out the next chapter today but it might not happen lol

Glad you like it!

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For reasons unknown.
 Post subject: Re: [Untitled]
PostPosted: Sun Nov 11, 2012 1:44 pm GMT 
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i_heart_dvorak wrote:
I. LOVE. THIS.

Seconded.
'TWAS AMAZING. Enough said.

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And then stuff happened.
 Post subject: Re: [Untitled]
PostPosted: Sun Nov 11, 2012 3:19 pm GMT 
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:D thank you very much!!

Not entirely sure the next chapter will be up today lol been doing stuff outside o_o

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And then stuff happened.
 Post subject: Re: [Untitled]
PostPosted: Mon Nov 12, 2012 11:48 pm GMT 
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Chapter 2
The Train Station

I sat my bags down on the cement of platform 4 and turned around, tugging at my gloves to straighten them. I smiled at my parents despite their solemn, disapproving faces. “Well, this is it.”

“Johnothan, you can’t let her go!” My mother said, turning suddenly towards my father. “This isn’t something a proper lady should be doing!”

“Relax, Milly.” My father said, patting my mother’s hand. “There is nothing we can do.” He looked at me, his only daughter, his only child. I saw the pain in his eyes, heard it in his voice, but there was a coldness to it as well. It was almost as if he was preparing himself for the chance of me not returning. “She signed the papers. She wants to leave us.”

I frowned. “That isn’t...It isn’t that I want to leave you. I want to help our country in this fight.”

“Let the men fight!” My mother rounded on me, stomping a delicately heeled foot on the pavement. “It isn’t your place! You’re our daughter! Your place is here with us, sending letters of support to our men!”

“Milly, dear, you’re making a scene.” My father gently chastised, looking around the train platform. He was a man of stature who had worked hard continuing his father’s business so his family could live the life he was accustomed to. “Calm down. She has to make it through basic training first.”

“Oh, she’s as stubborn as you are! You know she’ll make it through that! Our baby girl is going out into the world and will probably never come back!”

“Mom, I’ll come back.” I said, venturing a step towards them. “This is my home. I love it here. But, I need to go.”

I was right. Just after I said that the train whistle blew, sending a thrill of excitement and fear up from my stomach to my throat. I hurried forward, throwing my arms around my parents and hugging them tight. “It’s just eight weeks! Then I should come home for a week to pack before traveling to my duty station. I love you both! Please write to me!” I kissed their cheeks and before they knew it, their baby girl was rushing onto the train with my bag.

I found an empty compartment easily enough and tucked my bag away before sitting down. I opened up the small booklet the recruiters office had given me full of things I needed to learn before arriving at basic training. I wasn’t worried. I was a decent enough typist at the time and, in my opinion, a perfectionist when it came to filing things away and organizing. I had worked at my father’s office since I was 13 and had the place perfectly organized by the time I was 16 and running better than the clockwork contraptions that it sold. It was what I had enlisted to do as well. The armed forces were opening up such positions to the women so they could have more men out fighting.

It was a two day trip to my destination. A straight shot, no need to change trains or any of that mess which I was glad for. It was the first time I was traveling out of my home town and I was certain I would have gotten lost.

I must have studied for a couple hours before I felt the train slowing down. I put my booklet away and finally looked out the window. I saw a train station approaching, as well as the town that housed it. It was so similar to my hometown I almost thought there had been a mistake, that the train had somehow turned around and was bringing me back home. Until I saw the sign at least. “Welcome to Withill”

Well, that made much more sense. Obviously there were other towns, and other people, and other places. After all, where else would my train have come from or be going to? I laughed softly at my own stupidity and as the train came to a stop, watched the people at the station. I saw a young man, most likely my age, standing in front of his bag, talking to his parents. His mother was crying, his father was holding her and shaking the young man’s hand.

I was never good at reading lips, but I could easily enough tell the conversation wasn’t going as coldly as my good-byes with my parents. That was when it really sank in how wrong it had been. Mom hadn’t cried, and dad looked at me as if I were already dead. Mom was busy telling me how wrong I was, how it wasn’t a lady-like thing to be doing, and dad was telling her to give up on me.

I turned away from the window and tried to look back at my book, my brow furrowed in frustration, eyes blinking back tears. How could their reactions be so harsh? I was doing the right thing. After that attack...it had been all over the news...the entire country was in an uproar over it. When war was declared there were celebrations! My parents even threw one of those parties! They were all for the war a year prior, but when I had decided to sign up when it had been decided we needed more men out fighting and women could do the non-combative jobs there had been no support. There had been no party, no praise. They spoke so highly of the men from our town who volunteered, but I was a woman. Why should I have expected them to be proud of me? No one was proud of their daughters unless they married higher up the social chain than the rung they had been born on.

And here I was, breaking all sorts of social rules. I was single and leaving home. I was going to have a profession traditionally held by men. Why should my parents be proud of me? I failed them. No wonder my father had practically disowned me on the train platform.

It was then that the door to my compartment opened. I looked up and tried to smile. “Good morning.”

The young man smiled. “I hope you don’t mind, miss. I saw you through the window and you looked like you could use some company.”

I was embarrassed. I glanced around the compartment and shook my head. “I don’t mind at all.” I said, adjusting the skirts of my dress to make sure he had ample room. My mother had insisted I wear one of my better dresses that called for way too many petticoats in my opinion. Her argument being that if I were to present myself to the world, I might as well do it in my Sunday best. My argument was that I was going to basic training. I didn’t need to be in such fine clothes. But there was never any arguing with my mother. She always got her way in the end.

The young man moved into the compartment and put his bag away before extending his hand to me. “Colton Brewster, Miss.”

I smiled and slid a gloved hand into his. “Julia Southers. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Brewster.” I gave him a quick once-over. His clothes were nice, but gave him away as being middle class. He wasn’t wearing a jacket, just a long sleeved shirt and suspenders with a bow tie. His face was clean-shaven and he held his derby hat in his left hand. I was honestly a little surprised when he brought my hand up to place a kiss on the back of my fingers. I rewarded the gesture with a more legitimate smile and took my hand back when he released it.

“It’s a pleasure, Miss Southers.” He said, finally taking his seat.

“The pleasure’s mine, Mr. Brewster. Are you heading off to war, sir?”

Colton seemed to sit a bit straighter when he answered a proud, enthusiastic “Yes, Miss Southers, I am. I signed up as soon as I turned 18 and now I’m off to basic training.”

“Oh, so am I! I had to wait until I could convince my parents to let me go, though. And, of course, for the military to start allowing women in.”

Colton chewed on that bit of information before he smiled. “One of my aunts signed up as soon as it was passed. Do you think we will be in basic training together, then? Or do you think they train the women separately?” He laughed. “I guess I should ask what branch you joined before I start jumping to conclusions.”

My mother always said she could tell when I was up to something. She said my eyes turned green.

“Oh, the O.S.P.R.E.Y.s.” I said with a nonchalant wave of my hand.

Colton’s jaw hit the floor. “Women can’t be paratroopers!”

I laughed, putting a hand on my stomach. I held a love-hate relationship with corsets. I loved what they did to my figure but they were devilish devices, really. They made things like laughing and breathing and eating quite difficult. “I know. I wouldn’t want to be one anyway. I’m going into the C.O.N.D.O.R.s.”

He looked confused for a moment, then grinned and sat back. “You really had me going there, Miss Southers. That’s what I’m going into as well. That settled, do you think we will be training together?”

“I don’t really know, honestly. They didn’t say anything about it at the recruiters office. Why did you sign up for the C.O.N.D.O.R.s?”

“Center of National Defense Operations Response sounded like it would be fun. They said they needed more field agents, couriers and the like. I was on my school’s cross country team, so running doesn’t bother me at all.”

“That’s why your name sounds familiar! I went to almost all of my school’s home sporting events. Your name sticks out.”

He rubbed the back of his neck and chuckled. “Yeah, I guess it was. Honestly, no one calls me by my first name after they hear my last. Usually I get called ‘Brewski’. It used to bother me when I was younger, but not anymore.”

The conversation was making me feel a lot better. It gave me a chance to push the emotions over my parents out of my head and focus on something much happier. “Well, I can see why, honestly. Why it would bother you, I mean. I never got a nickname in school. I guess there’s no shortening Julia.”

“Lia.” He said, not missing a beat. There was something in the way he said it. He wasn’t just trying to prove me wrong. There was something else.

“Oh, well, I guess there’s that. I guess no one at school decided to give it a thought.”

“Well, Julia is such a pretty name. It fits you.”

Ah. There was the flirting. I laughed softly and looked down, smoothing my skirts. “Well, thank you, Mr. Brewster. I appreciate the compliment.”

He smiled and turned to look out the window. “I only speak the truth.” He said as he watched the scenery pass by. “You wouldn’t happen to be the same Julia Southers that is the daughter of Jonathan Southers, of Southers Clockwork Emporium, would you?"

“I would.” I said, turning to look out the window as well. The trees were beautiful. The leaves were just starting to change and I had never realized how beautiful they could really be.

When his voice came again, it was confused. “And you’ve enlisted? I’m sorry. I suppose I really shouldn’t pry.”

I pried my eyes away from the beautiful scenery out the window to look at the young man sitting across from me. “I enlisted to serve my country.”

I tried to read the expression on his face. The most I could get out of it was that he was very confused. He sat there for the longest time, just looking at me. Slowly, very slowly, what I could read as pride or approval seeped onto his face. “I have never met a woman like you, Miss Southers.” He said with a sudden, firm nod of his head.

“Well, thank you.” I said, rather bewildered. “What, may I ask, makes me so different?”

“You have a willingness to act on something so important that I haven’t seen from any other woman our age.”

“Well, thank you for saying so.” I said, rather taken aback by that. I’m not sure if it was his boldness in saying so that took me by surprise, or just the simple fact that he said it.

I turned to look out the window and must have been frowning or looking rather thoughtful at least because he sounded, well, either concerned or confused. “Has no one told you you’ve made the right choice, Miss Southers?”

“No.” I said, taking as much of a breath in as I could. I straightened in my seat and looked at him again. “No one. Everyone says it is a mistake. It is unladylike. A woman of my stature should be concerned with finding a gentleman to marry. And by that, they all mean I need to find it in myself to love the man my father has tried to push upon me since my 16th birthday.”

“That’s terrible, Miss Southers. I’m sorry to hear that.”

There was an honestly in his voice that couldn’t be ignored. I narrowed my eyes at him, trying to see what he had to have been hiding with it. “My parents are worried I won’t return home.”

“They told you that? That they think you’re going to die?”

“I think it was more that I would see the outside world and not want to return home.” I turned to the window again. “It’s very beautiful.”

The train was just coming onto a very high bridge and as I looked out, I could see a river leading to a lake surrounded by trees. It was such a beautiful mix of blue and green and orange and yellow and red I thought it would take my breath away.

Apparently Colton had followed my gaze. “Well, I don’t think they could blame you for wanting to leave a view like this...”

“If the rest of this world is so beautiful, I may not return home.”

He laughed softly and turned to me. “I’m sure it has its ups and downs like everything else.”

“Oh, I’m sure.” I turned to him again and smiled. “Do you mind if I call you Colton?”

“Only if you mind if I call you Julia, Miss Southers.”

“Well, I don’t mind that at all, Colton.”

“Well, I’m glad to hear that, Julia.”

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And then stuff happened.
 Post subject: Re: The Banshee's Wail (Finally Named!) Chapter 2 is up!
PostPosted: Wed Nov 14, 2012 2:57 pm GMT 
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Chapter 3
Discuss

The Widow Mims refilled my glass, flicking her eyes back and forth between the whiskey and my face. “You left the town and within hours you were on a first name basis with a strange man?”

“Well, he really wasn’t all that strange.” I said, taking a drink as soon as she was done with my refill. “He was a very charming young man.”

“So, you met a ‘very charming young man’ and now you’re here? You came back? What happened to him?”

I fell silent for a moment, finishing the whiskey a little more quickly than a lady should. I set the glass back down and waved away the coming refill as politely as I could. “I believe Mr. Brewster is still out on the front. I haven’t received a letter from him in months.”

“So you kept in contact after the train?”

“Oh, of course.”

She nodded a little and sipped from her glass. “I suppose the rest of the train ride passed in polite conversation?”

“Yes, Mrs. Mims.” I was suddenly aware of the children who had started playing closer to the porch and more quietly, just tossing a ball back and forth, trying to listen in without getting into trouble. A few of the men outside had also moved closer, but kept to their conversations. Interesting. So, they wouldn’t ask me about what happened, but they would listen while I told stories. Alright. It did make me feel a bit better, knowing they were at least interested.

“And what of your thoughts towards your parents?”

“Oh, I don’t think that’s polite to say.” I said, turning to the woman beside me. I started gently rocking my chair with my one remaining foot.

“Have you ever known me to want polite conversation, Julia?”

I couldn’t help but laugh. She was right. I shook my head, smiling again. “No, ma’am.”

“Then tell me. Did you come to a conclusion on how you felt of your parents’ reactions?”

“I did.”

“And what conclusion did you come to?”

A sudden stillness hit the air and for a second, I didn’t dare look away from The Widow Mims. I could feel his eyes on the back of my head and the hair on the back of my neck stood on end. I knew exactly who had walked out the door in time to hear the question. Or perhaps he had been listening from inside. That one had been much more likely. He had stepped out to make sure I bit my tongue or said something perfectly respectable.

“I came to the conclusion, Mrs. Mims, that I did not need their approval to follow my heart.”

A cold shiver went down my spine, but I didn’t move other than that. I locked eyes with The Widow Mims who gave me a small nod of her head. “A lesson I hope you remember.” With a blink of her eyes, she looked up and past me. “Is there something you want, Johnathan?”

“I need a word with my daughter, Mrs. Mims.”

“You may have her when I am done with her, Johnathan.”

I turned around to look up at my father, who shot me a stern look. “I will stay here and wait, then.”

I stood up, balancing on my one leg. “If you will excuse me, Mrs. Mims, I really should see what my father needs.” I picked up my crutches and turned to give my father a smile, hoping he could read the message behind it.

He seemed to have missed it. He moved as if to grab my arm, then thought better of it, knowing I really needed the crutches to support myself. Well, I could hop along just fine, but that was unladylike. He couldn’t possibly have that image on his front step. He moved to open the door instead. “Your room, Julia.”

“My room is rather far away and I would hate to keep Mrs. Mims waiting for me, Father. How about just around to the side of the house instead?” I asked, turning and starting down the porch steps.

Before I could really move too far, Clarence appeared in front of me, a hint of worry showing behind his stoic eyes. He looked to his mother in a sharp movement, and back to me again. As I made my way down the porch steps, he stepped backwards, watching my every move, my every footing, my every crutch placement.

When I reached the sidewalk I looked up into his face, searching quietly for a reason behind it. The man didn’t help anyone but his own mother and suddenly there he was at the steps making sure I didn’t fall. He gave another nod, one of his short bows, bending so slightly at the waist, before turning sharply and resuming his post.

I was about to say something to him when I felt my father’s hand at my back. I turned in the direction my father pointed me and walked with him around to the side of the house. They were quiet again, the house and the yard, but as we turned the corner, the volume rose as if someone were slowly turning a valve, the hum of conversation soft at first before gradually rolling into the undulating current it had been before.

“You wished to speak with me, Father?” I asked, finding a decent spot on the ground to stand where my sturdy heeled shoe wouldn’t sink into the soft earth.

“What do you think you’re doing?”

I looked from the ground up to him. “Whatever do you mean?” I asked, feigning ignorance. I had been such a horrible child since I returned. They were right. The daughter they had left at the train station hadn’t returned to them. The Julia Southers my parents knew had died, and I stood in her place. A different woman. A changed woman. A strong woman. I think that scared them. No. I think it terrified them.

“You know very well what I mean. Speaking as you were on the porch, uncovering your...your...”

“Eye socket is the word, Father. Please, don’t make me sound indecent.”

His mustache twitched in the way it only did when he was quite angry and flustered and I found myself taking great amusement in it. I knew very well that it wasn’t right of me to do so, but there was something about it. Years ago, seeing my father with his feathers ruffled would have sent me running to my room. Today, he seemed even more harmless than The Widow Mims. What other foolish things had I been afraid of in my childhood? Spiders, the dark, to me those were still legitimate fears. Certain types of dogs as well.

“You are indecent!” His stern voice cracked through my thoughts and brought me back down to earth, but didn’t quite wipe the smile from my face.

“Indecent would be showing my wrists and ankles, father. Well, ankle.”

“Enough!”

The right side of my face was suddenly on fire. How had I not seen that coming? For the briefest of moments, the pain brought me back into the Julia my parents truly knew. Tears stung my eyes, but only for a second. After that, my mind was faulted forward a year. Two years. Three years. Pain and blood and death and explosions rang in my head and I just stood there, reliving bloody moment after bloody moment, the dirt and metal and brass and bits of flesh flying past. Screams filled my ears. Blood filled my vision. I was back. I was there. I was looking into the eyes of Them and I was in pain.

Someone grabbed me. Someone was holding onto my arms. I brought my forehead quickly into the assailant’s nose and when I heard a familiar voice cry out. The hands left me. Suddenly I was standing outside my house again, looking at my father, balancing on my one leg. He had taken a few steps back and was holding his nose, pulling his handkerchief out of his pocket to catch the blood. “Dad...”

He slowly straightened himself and put a hand out, as if to keep me at bay. “Just...go back to your seat, Julia. We will speak of this later.” He turned around to walk the opposite direction around the house, to the door that would lead to the small staircase that would take him upstairs without the guests seeing him in such a state.
I stood there for a moment, staring at where my father had been in front of me, trying to piece together what happened. I really didn’t know.

“Sergeant Southers?”

I turned my head and slowly focused my eye on the tall, lanky man who had come around the corner. Clarence didn’t move until he was sure I was focused on him. When he did move, he moved in a slow, almost cautious sort of way that I was suddenly grateful for. He got up beside me and crouched down, an odd sort of position to see such a long-limbed man bend to. He almost looked like a spider with few too many legs. I watched as he slowly gathered my crutches and stood back up, placing them back where they belonged, under my arms.

“What happened?” I asked him, taking the crutches but not putting my weight on them. I just held them where they had been placed, watching Clarence and his sloth-like movements.

He stood at lax sort of attention in front of me that seemed to be his usual posture. Without even thinking, I gave him a short nod and he shifted his right foot out and placed his hands behind his back. “It appeared you had a flashback.”

“A flashback.” It wasn’t a question. It was me cementing that concept into my head. Perhaps I had lost a bit more than body parts.

He took a calculated step forward and bent a bit to look me in the eye. “It is perfectly normal, Sergeant Southers, but nothing will hurt you while my mother and I are here.”

I put my weight on my crutches finally, as if the metal rod I had replaced my spine with had suddenly been removed. “Thank you, Mr. Mims.”

“Clarence, Sergeant Southers. Clarence is fine.”

“Clarence.” I said with a nod. “I would like to return to my chair, I think.”

“Yes, Sergeant Southers.”

“Julia is fine, Clarence.”

“Julia.” He turned to walk beside me as I made my way back around the house and to the front again. I looked at the porch steps and handed my crutches to Clarence, who took them without complaint and stood behind me. I put one hand on the wooden rail and hopped up the steps one-by-one without problem and back over to my seat. I sat down, smoothed my dress, and thanked Clarence as he leaned my crutches up against the wall beside me.

“I think I will have another glass of whiskey, Mrs. Mims.”

The old woman poured me another glass and handed it to me. “Where is your father, Julia?”

“My father went back inside.” I said before taking a drink and sinking back into my chair. I started rocking again, watching as Clarence resumed his post, this time at the top of the stairs and off to the side, watching the children playing in the yard and the other men and women as they drank and talked.

Yet again, I felt as if I was in some sort of bubble, cut off from the rest of the party, left behind to sit and watch while everyone else went about their daily lives. I felt as if a piece was missing, or as if my spring had gone slack and dearly wished someone would come up with the key to wind me up again. I drifted into thought about the clockwork mechanisms and mechanical automatons my father’s workers invented and strung together. They were such beautiful pieces of art and science strung together so delicately but so strong at the same time. Take away one piece and while it still may function, half of the machine wouldn’t work. That was what I felt like. I felt as if a cog or a gear were missing and while the world revolved around me, I sat still and unmoving, unchanging, gathering rust.

“Those are dangerous thoughts, Julia.”

I turned to look at The Widow Mims. “I know.”

“I know how to get rid of them.”

I watched the older woman as she drank her whiskey and watched me. “How?”

“Keep talking about it. Tell me about your basic training.”

_________________
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And then stuff happened.
 Post subject: Re: The Banshee's Wail (Formely [Untitled]) Chapter 2 and 3
PostPosted: Sun Nov 18, 2012 5:09 pm GMT 
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Custom Title: And then stuff happened.
Chapter 4
Basic Training

After a rather enjoyable train ride full of conversation and hardly ever a dull moment, the train slowed to a stop outside its final destination. Colton and I looked out the window, holding our breaths in anticipation. Three men and a woman stood on the platform, their uniforms pressed and placed to perfection. Their hats were a bit strange, reminding me of the hat my maternal grandfather had worn when he had gone to war. He had been a cavalry man and wore the hat with the wide brim and strangely pinched top. These hats were a bit different though. The brim was perfectly flat, not curved in the slightest like any in the pictures I had seen, and the emblem on the front seemed to have nothing to do with swords or horses or anything. Even the ribbon with the acorns was gone. And they pulled them down so low over their eyes it was a wonder to me they could see anything in front of them. Apparently they could. As the train stopped, the man stepped forward and waited for the door to open. When it had, he stepped aboard and his voice could be heard throughout the entire train car.

“GET THESE GOD DAMNED DOORS OPEN! ON YOUR FEET, ON YOUR FEET, ON YOUR FEET! LET’S GO! I WANT ALL OF YOU ON YOUR FEET, WITH YOUR BAGS, STANDING OUTSIDE YOUR COMPARTMENTS! 5! 4! 3! 2! 1!”

Colton and I both jumped to our feet. He grabbed our bags, handed me mine, and let me out into the corridor first. It was the first time I really realized that specific train car had been occupied by anyone else and that all of those ‘anyone else’s were also going to basic training. I took post to the right of the door and Colton took post to the left of the door and we stood straight, unmoving, as the man started to pace up and down the hall.

“Congratulations! You can all follow simple instructions!” His voice just dripped with sarcasm. “From now on! The first word out or your mouth will be ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’ respectively! The last words out of your mouth will be ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’ respectively! IS THAT CLEAR?!”

“Sir, yes, sir!” I couldn’t tell how many other people were actually on the train car with us, but it seemed as if every other compartment had been filled.

“I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”

“SIR, YES, SIR!” My ears hurt already. My heart was pounding. Dear god, what had I gotten myself into? I gave a sideways look to Colton, who was giving a sideways look to me.

“WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU TWO LOOKING AT?!” The man yelled, storming right down the hall to stand in front of us. He looked at one of us, then the other, then settled on Colton. “WELL?!” WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING AT, RECRUIT?!”

“SIR!” His voice cracked. “I was looking at my friend, sir!”

“Your friend! This girl right here? You were looking over at your little girlfriend? You don’t have girlfriends here, Recruit! It’s just you and me and seven-five other squad mates! DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?!”

“SIR, YES, SIR!”

“GOOD!” He rounded on me next. “Is that clear to you as well, Missy?”

“SIR, YES, SIR!” Oh god. What had I gotten myself into? I braced for more yelling but it didn’t come. He spun on his heel and walked back down to the door at the front of the train car.

“YOU ALL HAVE THIRTY SECONDS TO GRAB YOUR SHIT AND GET OFF OF MY TRAIN CAR AND YOU JUST WASTED TEN OF THEM! MOVE, MOVE, MOVE, MOVE!”

He kept yelling as the rest of us scurried to get out of the train car, only to be met with more yelling and directions from the other two men who were screaming and spitting, their faces red from the effort. We were told to stand on spots that had been painted on the ground and Colton and I found ours fast, tucked into the middle of the group.

Within seconds, everyone was standing stock still, staring straight ahead, just as we had been ordered to. Our eyes followed the man that had been screaming on the train car who had followed the last young man out, barking at his heels the entire way. Now, he paced in front of us, glaring at us from under the brim of his hat. “My name is First Sergeant Ryker Anthony Hawke! If I hear one of you sorry excuses for recruits so much as whimper out anything directed at me other than ‘sir’, I will have you doing push-ups until your DAMN ARMS FALL OFF!”

Everyone jumped when he yelled. Someone dropped their bag. One of the other men ran over and was in his face in seconds.

“PICK! IT! UP!” He yelled, extending the ‘up’ until the other recruit finally bent down. “PICK IT UP PICK IT UP PICK IT UP! You having trouble holding onto that, son? Do you need me to help you hold that?”

“SIR, NO, SIR!” The kid’s voice came, cracking through the silence the first man had left. We all shifted uneasily while he got yelled at. This was all so different, so stressful, so loud.

First Sergeant Ryker Anthony Hawke watched for a moment before turning back to the rest of it. “That gentleman over there is Staff Sergeant Kimball Aiden Barret! You will also refer to him as ‘sir’! Do you understand!”

“SIR, YES, SIR!” barked the group.

“Good! You little duckies all learn fast, don’t you!”

“SIR, YES, SIR!”

He smirked and looked at all of us. “The man to my left is Staff Sergeant Arthur Darcy Ansel. What do you think you refer to him as, Duckies?”

Now, this answer came stumbled from all of us. Some just shouted ‘sir’, some stuttered through repeating the word three times, only one or two of us answered with confidence. Honestly, I wasn’t one of them.

“WRONG! And here I thought you had some brains in you! Holy hell! TRY AGAIN!”

The answer again came stumbled and stuttered, with the same one or two voices calling out in confidence. First Sergeant Hawke grabbed his hat and threw it on the ground. “NO! You all forgot what I JUST TOLD YOU!”

He stormed through the group, none of us daring to move or look anywhere. If we had, we would have seen the woman pick up Ryker’s hat and hold it behind her back. She hadn’t yelled, hadn’t moved, this entire time. She stood there like a statue to the point I wondered if she might actually be just a rather shapely automaton.
Ryker stopped in front of one of the recruits who had been answering confidently. “WHAT IS YOUR NAME?”

“Sir! My name is Phoenix Kennith Hardwick, sir!”

“PHOENIX?! Holy hell, man! Who named you, a god damned story book?”

“Sir, my mother, sir!”

Ryker sighed and rubbed his face with both of his hands. “Then how the hell do you know the right answer?”

“Sir, my father is Chief Warrant Officer Quinn Lyle Hardwick, sir!”

The drill sergeant looked at him a moment before giving a nod. “Don’t think you’re going to get special treatment.”

“Sir, I wouldn’t want it, sir!”

“Good, ducky! Because you ain’t gettin’ it! Tell your little ducklings what the correct answer is.”

“SIR, SIR, SIR!” Phoenix replied at the top of his lungs.

“Very good! Now, duckies! What do you call Staff Sergeant Arthur Darcy Ansel?”

“SIR, SIR, SIR!” We all answered in unison and honestly feeling a little silly. None of us wanted to know what happened if we didn’t, though.

“Alright! Now I’m going to throw a curve ball at you!” He said, walking back up to the woman. He took his hat back from her and turned around, stepping so he was standing beside her. “This is First Sergeant Alethea Peony Brasher! As long as you duckies aren’t blind or stupid, you can see she is a female! What do you duckies think you call her?”

“SIR, MA’AM, SIR!”

“Very good! You’re learning so well! Good for you! Now! I want all females from this group to fall out and come stand right up here in front of me!”

A pit of ice formed where my stomach used to be. I quickly looked at Colton before gripping my bag tightly in my left hand and took a handful of my skirts in my right hand so I didn’t trip. I hurried out of the formation and up to stand in front of him. I was the only one. I was positively shaking.

“What’s your name, my little duckling?” He asked, looking down at me out from under the brim of that hat.

“J-“

“Ah!”

“SIR!” I shouted, trembling all the more. “Julia Adeline Southers, sir!”

“Well, my little duckling, say hello to the woman of your dreams.”

“Ma’am, hello, ma’am!” I chirped, shifting my gaze from one First Sergeant to the other.

She made the first movement I had noticed, turning her head to me. I still don’t think she could see my face, because I couldn’t see her eyes. “Why did you join, Southers?” She asked, her voice so cold I imagined I could see her breath coming out in a fog.

“Ma’am, to serve my country, ma’am!”

“No, really, why did you join?”

“Ma’am, to serve my country, ma’am!”

“Do you know the punishment for lying?”

“Ma’am, I’m not lying, ma’am!” I felt the tears welling up.

“It was a yes or no question, Southers.”

“MA’AM, NO, MA’AM!”

“Are you lying to me?”

“MA’AM, NO, MA’AM!”

“Good. Fall back in.”

I spun around, nearly fell, and scrambled back to my spot, my heart pounding, my eyes watering, my nose running. I sniffed it all back in and tried to calm myself down. Damn my corset. I felt faint.

The woman stepped forward and at least turned her head this way and that like she was looking at all of us. “First Sergeant Hawke, we seem to be short a few. I thought you said there were seven-five little ducklings for us to play with. I only see three-seven.”

“The rest are coming in on the next train.” The hiss of the train’s brakes and the whistle signaled it was starting to pull out. “You get one more little duckling to play with, First Sergeant Brasher.”

“Oh goody.” She said, clasping her hands behind herself. “We should get our little ducklings inside before they catch their deaths of cold, don’t you think?”

“I do think so.” Ryker said, turning from her to us. “You heard the woman, duckies!” He took a deep breath, swelling his chest to the point I thought his buttons would burst. “GET INSIDE! MOVE IT MOVE IT MOVE IT!”

We all jumped again and as the two First Sergeants moved aside to let us run in, the two Staff Sergeants ran around to bark at our heels, keeping us moving and in quite the state of panic, shouting instructions and directions, and getting us inside and into a large classroom, instructing us to sit in the desks, not to move, not to talk, just to sit there, backs straight, hands flat on our thighs, staring straight ahead.

I have no earthly idea how long we sat there. At least until well after my back was sore and screaming at me. Eventually, all of the sergeants stood up and walked out of the room. We were instructed not to move, not to talk, not to do anything but sit there.

Of course, when the door closed behind them as they left I think every spine in that room bent into a more relaxed position. I turned to Colton, who had managed to stay by my side, and as the others started to whisper, I spoke up. “It looks like we’ll be training together.” I said, trying to smile.

Colton breathed a heavy sigh and looked at me. “Yeah. Good. I’m glad.” He gave me a tired smile, which I returned easily.

“Me too. I don’t think I could do this on my own.”

“Sure you can, Julia.” He said, sounding a little concerned. I quietly wondered if that was what it was like having an older brother. “And I’ll make sure of it. We’ll be fine.”

“I’ve never been around so much yelling before in my life.”

“It’s...certainly something else.” Colton said, glancing back towards the door. Everyone jumped when the train whistle sounded. We had figured that was why the sergeants had left, and now it was confirmed. The other half of our squad was just arriving.

I gave Colton a weak smile and looked down at my lap. “We’ll help each other through this. We have to make it through together, ok?” I looked at him again, reaching over to put my hand on his.

He smiled. “Absolutely, Lia.” He brought his other hand over and pat the back of mine.

Soon enough, we heard the tumultuous racket of 38 pairs of feet running through the hall and up the stairs. Everyone straightened and stopped talking, staring straight ahead. The room was silent before the door flew open.

“GO! GO! GO! GO! FIND A SEAT AND SIT DOWN! FILL IT IN FROM THE CLOSEST TO THE FRONT! COME ON! HOW HARD IS THAT! SIT DOWN! NO TALKING!”

Alethea and Ryker walked up to the front of the room while Kimball and Arthur barked at the stragglers heels until everyone was seated.

Ryker looked out at everyone, taking off his hat and putting it on the desk he was standing beside. “Well, duckies, welcome to basic training! There is one thing I would like to put in front of you first and that is our main rule here: respect. Why do I bring this up? Well, times have changed, duckies. If you will remember our time down on the platform where we got to know each other, you all should have noticed we have females in our ranks now. Do you know what that means? It means jack shit. They are not to be treated any differently than the rest of your squad mates. They will be going through the same training you will be going through. That training is designed to weed out those who won’t be able to handle being a true blue C.O.N.D.O.R. and raise the rest of you up to our expectations. Now, I have personally known First Sergeant Brasher for only a couple of months, but she is worth every ounce of respect she commands. If she tells you to jump, you don’t ask how high, you bring her a piece of the cloud you reached while she was talking. If she says ‘bark’, I better hear a room full of god damned dogs! If she says ‘run’, you better be halfway around the world before she looks up! If she says ‘shit’, your pants better be around your damn ankles! DO I MAKE MYSELF CLEAR?!”

“SIR, YES, SIR!”

“Good. I want the two females up front.”

“Sir, yes, sir!” I was surprised when I only heard my voice. I sprang to my feet and hurried over to stand in front of him.

“LIGHT A GOD DAMNED FIRE UNDER YOUR PETTYCOATS, VANCE!” First Sergeant Brasher’s voice practically made me jump out of my skin.

The other female picked up her pace, hurrying over to stand beside me. I glanced at her, then ahead again. I was incredibly surprised to see someone dressed in more finery than I was.

First Sergeant Brasher walked up, smoothing her light brown hair down with a white-gloved hand. She had us turn to face her so we stood perpendicular to the rest of the squad. She looked us both up and down, then locked on our faces, turning her head sharply from one of us to the next. “You two are the female representation for this squad. That means you will both conduct yourself in the most ladylike manner you are able, while still doing the same duties as your male counterparts. If you do this, I will be proud to call you members of the C.O.N.D.O.R.s. If you do not, I will ship your little asses home so fast your heads will spin. I expect nothing but the best from both of you.” She turned to give Vance a longer look than she had given me. “Do you ladies understand this? Nothing but the best.”

“MA’AM, YES, MA’AM!” I took quiet pride in the fact I sounded off louder than the other female had.

Brasher jumped and put a finger to her ear. “You are allowed to use your indoor voices when indoors, ladies. Back to your seats.”

“Ma’am, yes, ma’am!” I said, turning and hurrying back to the seat beside Colton that I had vacated.

Vance started to walk back to her seat, but hurried when Brasher barked at her. “IF YOU DON’T LIGHT THAT FIRE, VANCE, I SURE AS HELL WILL!”

Once she was seated, Hawke looked around at everyone else. “There are three things we want from you. Be loud, be fast, and pay attention. If you can do those three things, you’ll be fine. This isn’t rocket science. This isn’t clockwork. This is C.O.N.D.O.R. training. Most of you will go on to be couriers, some of you may advance to some of the espionage positions I know you all drooled over and signed up for. If you listen to what we say, do what we say, and keep your asses out of trouble, I will gladly see to it that you graduate into the C.O.N.D.O.R. ranks. Now, it’s about midnight and I could imagine you all would like a little bit of sleep before you wake up at 0600. Females, up and out with First Sergeant Brasher. She will show you to your squad bay. Males, up and follow me.”

I honestly hadn’t thought about sleeping arrangements. Suddenly it was very obvious there had been no earthly way Colton and I would have been able to sleep near each other, and when I really thought about it, I wouldn’t want to. It wouldn’t be proper at all. He was just the only person I had at the moment. It had become obvious to me in our conversation on the train that my parents had turned their backs on me and didn’t support me, and I had no other siblings. Colton was the closest thing I had to family. He was very much like my older brother. I stood slowly and picked up my bag, giving Colton a look he couldn’t return as I walked up to First Sergeant Brasher.
The woman looked from Vance to me and turned, walking out of the classroom. She kept a swift pace, marching the two of us along, out of what really seemed to be just the train station and out onto the base. We walked for maybe five minutes in silence before we reached the area set aside for recruit training. There was a large field in the center surrounded by sidewalk and four tall buildings, two on each long side of the field in the center. Vance and I were lead by First Sergeant Brasher to what we would learn was called the W. J. Pettigrew building. She led us up to the third floor of the building and to the right, thought a door which revealed two rows of bunk beds which would easily sleep thirty. She ushered us towards a door at the back of a room and into a much smaller squad bay that slept six.

“Pick a rack. That is where you will sleep for the rest of these eight weeks. You will be issued your uniforms tomorrow and you will be shown how to put them away properly. I do not have to remind you what a privilege it is for the both of you to even be here. It is a privilege that can be taken away in a heartbeat. Be on your best behavior. I will be watching you like a hawk. I will not allow anyone into my ranks that cannot pull their weight. I will not allow anyone into my ranks that is using the C.O.N.D.O.R.s as an easy paycheck, a dating service, or anything else beside the very important job that it is. The males of your squad will be sleeping through that door and the one to the right as we came in. After lights out you are not to pass that threshold for any reason unless someone is screaming and bleeding and dying or the building is on fire. Do you understand me?”

“Ma’am, yes, ma’am!” We both replied this time.

Brasher gave a curt nod. “You will wake up in the morning when I wake you up and you will immediately move to the other room to stand along the wall with the others who will be standing by their bunks. You will sleep in the clothes you brought with you tonight.” Her head snapped towards Vance when the girl let out a gasp of astonishment. “Is there a problem, Vance?”

“I can’t sleep in my dress!”

“WRONG!”

“What?”

“TRY AGAIN, DUCKY!”

I stayed still while Vance was getting yelled at. Was she really that stupid? I glanced towards the closed door, thinking I could hear the males filling the room on the other side.

“I d-“

“WHAT IS THE FIRST WORD THAT SHOULD BE COMING OUT OF YOUR MOUTH, VANCE!”

“Ma’am?”

“GIVE THE GIRL A GOD DAMNED MEDAL! You know what? Southers, give your squad mate a round of applause! She finally figured it out!”

I looked at Brasher for a split second, realized she wasn’t joking, and started clapping quickly.

“Enough.”

I stopped.

She turned and looked at Vance again. “Now, then, Vance, I say again: Is there a problem?”

“Ma’am, I can’t sleep in my dress, ma’am!”

“And why not, duckling?”

“I-“

“AH!”

“MA’AM! It will get wrinkled, ma’am!”

“Aww, duckling, don’t worry. I will send the chambermaid up to your quarters in the morning and she’ll have your dress pressed smooth by high tea.”

Vance frowned and looked at the ground.

Brasher shook her head. “These are your civilian clothes, anyway. You won’t be wearing them, or anything you brought with you besides your underwear, for the next eight weeks.” The girl looked up to protest again, but was silenced just by a look. “Remember, you signed up for this.” She turned and looked at me. “Do you have a problem sleeping in your dress, Southers?”

“Ma’am, no, ma’am.” Honestly, I wasn’t looking forward to sleeping in my corset. I was very much ready to get out of the whole ensemble, honestly. I just knew better than to say so.

Brasher nodded. “Just remember, you ducklings are lucky.” She said, looking from one of us to the other again. “Before women were officially allowed in, it was a lot harder for a woman who wanted to serve her country.”

I finally, really looked at First Sergeant Brasher. Women had only been allowed in for about a year, now. There was no way she could have achieved her rank so fast. From what my booklet on the train told me, a First Sergeant was the eighth enlisted rank and it took a lot of hard work and dedication to advance to any of the ranks.

Vance looked at her. “Ma’am, before women were allowed in, women couldn’t join.”

“Legally.” She said, before turning and walking to the door, putting her hand on the handle. She looked back at both of us. “In your racks. I don’t want to hear a peep out of either of you.” She flicked the lights off and turned away, walking out the door.

“What a bitch.”

I turned to look at Vance, frowning. “How can you say that?”

“Well, she is.” The other girl said, moving to start taking off her dress.

I just climbed into the bed closest to the door. “She’s doing her job. And she said don’t change.”

“I don’t care what she said. I am not sleeping like this.”

“I don’t think we’ll have time to change in the morning before having to run into the other room.”

She thought about that for a moment, before sighing and giving in. “Fine.” She sat down on the bed and looked at me. “I’m Vivian Valerian Vance, of the Vancemow Vances.” She held a gloved hand out to me with a smile.

Finally, something familiar. I leaned forward and slid my hand into hers for a dainty little handshake. “Julia Adeline Southers. My father owns Southers Clockwork Emporium.”

“Oh, good! I thought I was going to have to sleep with the common rabble, as it were.”

I honestly had no idea who the ‘Vancemow Vances’ were, but apparently they were more well off than my family. It was something I hadn’t come into contact with before, at least not that I was aware of. I had met many of my father’s business associates but they never introduced themselves as the ‘Queenstrake Smiths’ or the ‘Suttonscove Suttons’ or the ‘Cranburne Zepwiths’. It certainly explained her attitude as well.

“Well, you are in basic training.”

“Oh, I know.” She said with the wave of her hand.

I pulled back the blankets on my bed and got as comfortable as I could on the hard mattress with my corset (and everything else) on. “Might I ask, Miss Vance, why you’re here?”

“The same reason you are, dear.” She said, lying down herself. “My parents told me I wasn’t allowed to.”

“Well, that isn’t exactly why I’m here...”

She spent a few minutes trying to properly position her head on the pillow. We could faintly hear the males getting yelled at. I started listening for Colton’s voice. “Well, why on earth are you here?”

“I wanted to serve my country. After what happened in-“

She started laughing. “Oh my word! You are so funny!” She smiled and finally seemed to get her head down in a way that...well, she stayed still at any rate.

I was too tired to argue with her. She just wasn’t worth it. I closed my eyes.

The next thing I knew, the lights were on and someone was yelling.

“GET UP, GET UP, GET UP! COME ON! LET’S GO! OUT OF BED, DUCKLINGS!”

It wasn’t the voice I had expected, once I was awake to expect something. My eyes shot open and I jumped out of bed, turning and running right into the chest of Staff Sergeant Kimball Barret. I jumped backwards and looked up at him, eyes wide.

He gave me a broad grin. “WATCH WHERE YOU’RE GOING, DUCKLING! GET OUT THERE!” He said, stepping aside so I could run past. I didn’t look back when he started yelling at Vance for being too slow.

I ran into the male squad bay and let out a surprised yelp for lack of a better term for it, slapping my hands over my eyes.

“I TOLD YOU TO GET YOUR DAMN PANTS ON, DUCKIES!” First Sergeant Alethea Brasher screamed, storming up and down the center isle between the racks. “COME ON! SHE CAN’T STAND THERE WITH HER HANDS OVER HER EYES ALL DAY! GET YOUR DAMN PANTS ON!” She spun to face me. “UP TO THE FRONT, SOUTHERS! THIS IS A SIGHT YOU’LL GET SO TIRED OF SEEING SOON ENOUGH IT WON’T MATTER!”

“MA’AM, YES, MA’AM!” I screamed, dropping my hands and hurrying to the front of the room to stand up against the wall. My heart was pounding. I was wide awake. I didn’t even really watch while the males scrambled into their pants and undershirts and got into their spots in front of their racks. The males from the other squad bay ran in shortly after and lined up beside me.

It was only when the room quieted down that I remembered my friend and decided to look around for him. I was very relieved when I saw him standing beside a rack to the back of the room, right beside the back door. I took his placement as him thinking of me when he chose his rack and it comforted me. My parents didn’t support me but this young man who had been nothing but a stranger three days ago cared.
First Sergeant Ryker Hawke walked in, his heels clicking against the hardwood floor. When he stopped, his heels snapped together and he looked around. “Good morning, duckies!” He looked around and frowned.

Staff Sergeant Arthur Ansel barked suddenly. “HE SAID GOOD MORNING, DUCKIES!”
“SIR, GOOD MORNING, SIR!”

Brasher walked up to Hawke and stopped in front of him. “I wish you had told them to sleep in their trousers, Hawke. They nearly blinded my poor ducklings.”

“Well, I’m sorry, Brasher. They’ll get their sleeping clothes today, won’t they?”

“Good. The fashion sense of these ducklings is appalling.” She said, looking around the room, pausing especially on Vance and I. I hadn’t thought much about it, but Vance was trying to smooth the wrinkles out of her dress. “Oh, dear. Hawke, I think you forgot to teach them basic facing movements and how to stand at attention AND KEEP THEIR EYES UP FRONT!”

I didn’t know when she had suddenly appeared in front of Vance, but all of the sudden she was right there, right in her face and nearly mine as well.

“WHAT IS SO GOD DAMNED IMPORTANT DOWN THERE, VANCE? LOOKING AT THE PRETTY PATTERN OF YOUR DRESS? GIVING IT ONE LAST LONG LOOK BEFORE I THROW IT IN THE DAMN FURNACE?”

“Aw, now, Brasher, give the poor girl a break. After all, she is of the,” He put his fingers to his chest, taking on a rather posh stance, closing his eyes. “Vancemow Vances.” He said, mimicking the way Vance talked, including the way she bobbed her head side to side and wiggled her shoulders.

Someone snickered and immediately started coughing to cover it up.
Barret was on him in an instant. “SOMETHING FUNNY, DUCKIE?”

“Sir, no, sir!”

“GOOD! LOCK IT UP!”

“Sir, yes, sir!”

Brasher pressed her lips together sternly. “There isn’t a ‘Vancemow’ on my map and I don’t understand what you mean by ‘a break’. This term is foreign to me.” She said, turning to look at Hawke. “What does it mean?”

Hawke gave a bit of a shrug and brushed something off his sleeve. “Oh, you know, Brasher...a break. Go easy on her. I mean...she is a lady, after all.”

Brasher narrowed her eyes at him. “And what does that mean, Hawke?”

“It means she’s weak, Brasher.”

“Women are weak?”

“No, ladies are weak.” He said, walking up. He looked at Vance, then at me. “Women,” He said, turning to look at her. “Are incredibly strong individuals that should not be crossed.”

She looked at him. “So, what do I do with my little ducklings?”

“Turn the Lady into a Woman. If you can’t do that, send her back to her dear father. Maybe we’ll get a fruit basket.” He smiled and turned away, looking at the males in the room. “If I ever hear any of you talk like that, I will personally see to it that you’re vomiting up all three meals of your day. Is that clear?”

“Sir, yes, sir!”

I was very confused. That had been such a strange exchange. I didn’t get much time to think on it, however, as we were all quickly herded down the stairs and out the building via the back staircase I hadn’t noticed the night before. Outside we learned our facing movements, how to stand properly at attention, and our marching order. After that, we were marched to the uniform distribution center.

Vance and I were separated off into a side room away from the males and instructed to remove everything but our drawers and slips.

Vance’s eyes grew wide and she turned to me. “Even our corsets?”

“That’s what she said.” I replied, referring to the civilian woman who was at the front of the room, giving us instructions.

“I can’t go without my corset!”

I rolled my eyes and reached behind her, untying the knot easily and starting to unlace her. “You need to stop complaining or they’ll send you home.”

“Maybe I want to go home!”

“It will just prove your father right.”

Vance fell silent at that. She frowned and looked down, breathing a bit deeper with each eyelet the lacing of her corset passed through. For a moment, I marveled at how tiny her waist was. I put a hand to my own a moment before turning around. “Can you unlace me, too?”

“Of course.” Vance turned to start unlacing me. “You keep your corsets rather loose.”

“Yes, dear, because I enjoy breathing.”

She jerked at the laces a bit before resuming removing them. “It takes discipline and some getting used to, but I’d rather be laced nice and tight than so loosely.”

I laughed softly. “If you say so.”

How dare she call me loose! Just because I didn’t sport a 20 inch waist like her! The nerve.

“Alright, ducklings.” Brasher walked into the room and gave us both a stern eye. “Enough. Stand still so your measurements can be taken.”

I moved to step forward first but Vance pushed past me to stand in front of the seamstress, perfectly still, showing off that she had done it plenty of times before. I rolled my eyes and crossed my arms, waiting my turn.

Brasher stood by the door and watched us throughout the whole fitting process. We were given 3 sets of uniforms, multiples of each except for the dress uniform, the Gold Uniform. A step down from that was our normal day-to-day Silver Uniform, and then a uniform with trousers, our Brass Uniform.

Once the two of us were standing awkwardly in our brass uniforms, trying to get used to the idea of being in trousers as well as combat boots and men’s long underwear, Brasher stepped in front of us. “Your gold uniforms are to be kept pressed and spotless at all times. It is to be worn in special occasions, funerals, dinners, meeting with high ranking officers, and reporting to your first duty station. Your silver uniforms will be your day-to-day uniforms when you’re sitting in your offices filing away papers and answering phones like good little ducklings. What you are wearing now, the two of you will probably never wear again. These brass uniforms are just like the uniforms the males will be wearing. They are your field uniforms. Medals are only authorized to be worn on the gold and silver uniforms. The long underwear you are wearing will be what you sleep in and what you report to muster wearing in the morning.”

Neither of us said anything. The thought of standing with the males in our long underwear was embarrassing enough without having her yell at us at our protests. Honestly, I was surprised Vance was smart enough to keep her mouth shut this time.

“Since there are more males than females and you two are efficient at getting dressed, you have a little bit of free time. I suggest you use it to study.”

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Last edited by Emily O'Connor on Tue Apr 01, 2014 11:40 am GMT, edited 2 times in total.

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And then stuff happened.
 Post subject: Re: The Banshee's Wail (Formely [Untitled]) Chapter 4 up!
PostPosted: Sun Nov 18, 2012 5:13 pm GMT 
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Chapter 5
Interlude

The Widow Mims sat back in her chair. “And which uniform are you wearing today, Julia?”

“This is my gold uniform, ma’am.” I said, looking down at myself. I straightened my medal bars and turned to her again.

“You’re wearing your nicest uniform for this?” She asked, looking around. “Isn’t this party supposed to be about you?”

I turned to take in what was going on around me. There were children playing and men and women drinking in the yard. Inside, I could hear the sophisticated side of the party taking place. Quiet conversation created a murmured undertone to the loud laughing and talking that was going on outside. Everyone was in their own little worlds, reconnecting with their neighbors and acquaintances, pretending to be interested to what other people had to say. The women outside were all actively involved in the conversations right along with the men. Inside the house, the men and women had separated themselves and were talking in their small groups. Upstairs, if I listened hard enough, I could just barely hear my father’s voice, slightly raised as he spoke with my mother.

“I don’t think I have ever been the center of anything in this town, Mrs. Mims.”

“That will change, Julia, depending on how your story goes.”

“What do you mean?”

The Widow Mims looked out at the yard again. “You seem to have put yourself into many places you probably didn’t belong over these past years.”

“Oh, yes, well...I didn’t put myself in them. They put themselves around me.” I reached up, putting my hand over my medal bars. Whether I was covering them or finding some solace in them, I’m still not sure.

“A very interesting way of putting it. Now, tell me, why did you put up with that Vance girl and her shit?”

We both turned to the bushes that were planted right in front of the porch when we heard a couple of small gasps. I saw two small faces peeking out at us and shook my head. “I think we have spies among us, Mrs. Mims.”

The Widow Mims narrowed her eyes at the bushes and shook her head. “What do you do with spies in the C.O.N.D.O.R.s, Julia?”

I smirked. “Boil them and use them for our stew.”

“Oh, those little rabbits don’t have enough meat on them. But they had better know that it’s impolite to eavesdrop.”

“I’m sure they know better than to eaves drop on you, Mrs. Mims. Don’t you think?”

We watched the Johnson twins dart out of the bushes and run back to the other children, no doubt to tell them what they had heard so far.

The older woman turned and looked at me. “Now, what do you mean by that, Julia?”

I laughed and looked at her. “Rumor has it, Mrs. Mims, that you eat small children.”

“Oh, you do one thing once and you never hear the end of it.”

I laughed again and shook my head. “Tell me about it.”

“Tell me more about that Vance girl.”

“Horrible, annoying, snotty, entitled...”

“Anyone that introduces themselves like that needs a good dose of humility in their tea each morning.”

“I would have to agree.”

“Then why did you let her call you a whore, Julia?”

“I couldn’t think up a good enough quip at the time. I had only gotten so much sleep that night.”

“Six hours?”

“Have you ever slept in your corset, Mrs. Mims?”

“Once or twice.”

“It’s not exactly conducive to a good night’s rest.”

“All the same, please don’t tell me the little brat got away with everything.”

“Oh, no.” I laughed. “Absolutely not. But, I was sleep deprived and still in a bit of shock from everything. It took me a week just to get my feet under myself.”

“Did she make it through the basic training?”

“Not with my company at least. She ended up in the infirmary. Turns out there really isn’t much that a 20 inch waist is good for.”

“This was what I was looking for, Julia. Something entertaining. Not just you twittering around a train with a boy and getting yelled at.”

“I apologize, Mrs. Mims. I thought you wanted the whole story.”

“Feel absolutely free to skip the boring parts.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

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And then stuff happened.
 Post subject: Re: The Banshee's Wail (Formely [Untitled]) Chapters 4 and 5
PostPosted: Tue Jan 15, 2013 2:36 am GMT 
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((Ok, I got super stressed out around Thanksgiving, then Christmas, so...I'm finally picking it back up again. Chapter 6 should be up....soon..ish... :) ))

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And then stuff happened.
 Post subject: Re: The Banshee's Wail (Formely [Untitled]) Chapters 4 and 5
PostPosted: Mon Apr 08, 2013 8:03 pm GMT 
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((so, I actually took out that last chapter 5. It was useless. So the new Chapter 5...which isn't finished and leaves y'all at a nice cliff hanger of sorts though not a super dramatic one....is coming with the next post))

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And then stuff happened.
 Post subject: Re: The Banshee's Wail (Formely [Untitled]) Chapters 4 and 5
PostPosted: Mon Apr 08, 2013 8:04 pm GMT 
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Chapter 5
The Most Fun I Never Want to Have Again

The first three weeks were full of stress and yelling and book work and more yelling and more stress and running and push-ups and sit-ups and running and some more yelling. The food was mediocre, the pants took some getting used to, and Vance was little more than a thorn in my side that I carried through most things. Luckily enough, the boys noticed the type of person she was. When we had down time, which didn’t seem all too often, we kept the doors open between our squad bays and traded favors. Colton polished my boots to a mirror finish and I taught each of the boys how to properly use an iron. There were a couple that already knew how, but not many of them. I spent a lot of time ironing.

Sundays were our Holy Days. They were the one day a week that they weren’t allowed to train us at all. We all went to church in the morning and were allowed the rest of the day to study, write letters home (which I tried to do in the beginning but one can only write so many unanswered letters), and tend to their uniforms, racks, and squad bays. They were a day for reflecting upon one’s religious beliefs and cleaning, basically. If it hadn’t been for Holy Days, I might not have made it through. The most we heard of the sergeants on those days were shouts of ‘Lock it up!’ and ‘What part of ‘quiet’ do you not understand!’ from outside the doors. We were able to keep the doors separating our squad bay from the male squad bay open and get to know the young men we were training with, where they came from, why they joined. Most importantly to me was the chance to talk with Colton, but I got to know most the other ‘duckies’ in our squad as well.

The first three weeks was basic conditioning, teaching us to follow instructions, not to question, running, push-ups, sit-ups, weight lifting. Brasher was the one that yelled at Vance and I the most. She yelled at the males too, but mostly us. It seemed to me that every time Hawke or Barret or Ansel saw us stepping out of line, they would turn to Brasher and inform her. I also noticed that every company with females attached also had one female drill instructor. There were a couple companies that did not, and they just had the three male drill instructors. It seemed proper at the time, really. After that first morning, Brasher was the one to wake us up every day.

Week four started interesting classes on things such as basic espionage techniques, basic filing, basic camouflage, what makes good cover and what doesn’t, and my personal favorites, hand-to-hand combat and stun baton combat. The others were quite interesting as well, even the filing because they didn’t use the standard alphabetical filing system that Southers Clockwork Emporium uses. Instead, it is a very complex and top secret system implemented to make it entirely impossible for counter-espionage. If someone was to look up troop positions one would think to look under P for positions or T for troop perhaps, but it would actually be somewhere completely different that doesn’t seem to make any sense at all. Once you learn the system, however, it really is quite simple. Needless to say that class was three hours long and met three times that week.

Hand-to-hand combat was certainly more exciting to learn.

“Alright my little duckies!” Sergeant First Class Hawke shouted, standing in front of our formation which he had stopped in the middle of a field. “Today, you’re learning how to defend yourself from an attack! There are two methods to this! One method is the simple hand-to-hand technique that can be used unarmed or with a knife. The other method is to use the stun batons! If you little duckies all stay in your little rowsies, I might teach you how to use the stun batons today! If there is any horsing around, not listening, or any general tom foolery, we will spend the rest of the day running in circles! Is that understood?”

“SIR, YES, SIR!”

“Good! Wonderful! Now that we’re all on the same page, everyone get in nice and close so you can all see. Staff Sergeant Barret and Staff Sergeant Ansel will be demonstrating every move we are going to teach you today. After that, you will all pair off and we’ll let you try them out on each other. Obviously, our little Duckling Southers and Duckling Vance will be paired up together.” He smirked and looked over. “Which is lucky for you ducklings. If there were only one of you, you’d be paired up with Sergeant First Class Brasher.” He looked over at the woman who was tugging at her gloves. “And I don’t think anyone wants that, do they?”

“Oh, I beg to differ, Sergeant First Class Hawke.” Brasher said, looking up from her gloves. “I think they would both greatly benefit from going up against me.”

“Technically, women aren’t allowed in combat positions, Sergeant First Class Brasher. Maybe I should have the little ducklings sit this one out.”

“Absolutely not, Sergeant First Class Hawke. These two will train alongside their male counterparts in every single part of this training.”

“Do you think they will do as well as the males?”

“Do you doubt my abilities, Hawke, or are you just trying to ruffle my feathers?”

“I don’t think women should be allowed in combat. They are fairer. Weaker.”

Sergeant First Class Brasher looked at Hawke for a long, tense moment. No one moved. No one spoke. I honestly don’t think anyone breathed. “Is that how you truly feel, Hawke? That I am weaker than you are?”

“Yes, I do. You should be a lady, entertaining guests at high tea, making lace...”

“Barret, Ansel, step out of the ring. I will be demonstrating the moves for the ducklings with Sergeant First Class Hawke.” She started removing her gloves.

Barret and Ansel exchanged looks, then looked to Hawke who shook his head. “Absolutely not.”

“I out rank you, Hawke, and I say they leave and you demonstrate the moves with me.”

A murmur moved through the group like a small wave. She outranked him? Who was really in charge? What on earth was going on?

Sergeant First Class Hawke took off his hat and flung it out to his side. Phoenix caught it before it hit him in the chest and jumped forward to catch Hawke’s gloves in it as he pulled them off and held them out to the side, dropping them without even making sure his hat was there to catch them. The speed Phoenix possessed was something we had been impressed by during the physical fitness test. Hawke’s jacket followed his gloves but most everyone’s eyes were glued to Brasher.

Her jacket was removed with all of the grace and dignity she always possessed. The shock came when she bent at the waist and grabbed the bottom hem of her skirts and pulled them up to her knees. She reached up and grabbed a leather strap and pulled out the other end from the top of her skirt, attaching the two before moving to the other side of her skirt and pinning that up as well. She adjusted her skirt to make sure she was still technically decent and put her fingers to the buttons on her blouse next. The top three buttons were quickly undone and her sleeves rolled up.

Hawke stared at her as he rolled up his own sleeves. “Shall I go easy on you, Brasher, or shall we d-“

He didn’t have time to finish. Brasher moved in fast, slamming the heel of her hand into his chest and then up to his chin. Her other hand stayed up on the defence, but she didn’t need it. As he started going back, she crouched and swept his feet out from under him and as his back hit the ground she sprung forward, putting her knee into his chest and pinning him to the ground. Where she got the knife that was suddenly at his neck no one knew. “Shall I go easy on you, Hawke, or shall we do this nice and slow for the little duckies?”

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