By Lauren Rabalais
Web Content Contributor
There are many types of monsters in this world: monsters who will not show themselves and who cause trouble, monsters who abduct children, monsters who devour dreams, monsters who suck blood, and monsters who always tell lies. Lying monsters are a real nuisance.—Tsugumi Ohba
Alphonse stood at the top of the grand staircase and overlooked the crowd of people kneeling over his father’s throne. He glanced at Lady Adelia, whose handkerchief was stained black with her sorrow, and at his sister, Violet, whose ordinarily dolled-up visage was crinkled and red, slimy with mucus that she didn’t even bother wiping up.
The announcement of King Harold’s death had come swiftly after Adelia came to deliver his morning Earl Grey. The entire castle awoke almost at once as the sobbing and yelling from one parlour maid roused the next. Alphonse had heard it all— last night, louder than ever, his father’s voice roared from within him, ripping through his veins and clawing its way into his heart.
“This world is rotten,” he’d said on Alphonse’s eighth birthday—the first time he forbid him from playing in the garden. “And you are not rotten enough to thrive in it.”
“You scamp,” he’d said when Alphonse was 14 and love-starved. “I would not need to strike you if you were to simply listen.”
“Dear Lord in Heaven,” he’d professed aloud after a 19-year-old Alphonse fractured his right leg by jumping off the balcony. “How could you burden me with such a curse?”
That voice made a home in every bloody cut and scrape that corroded his armor of flesh. There was no sleep to be had when he was plagued by a ghost.
But that voice was dead, now. There was nothing to fear.
But, even so, why couldn’t he walk any further?
He just had to put on his mask and play pretend as he had always done, but his feet were melded to the floor. He didn’t regret what he had done—he knew that much—but this felt wrong. He felt like he was suffocating.
“Hurry along, Prince.”
Alphonse jumped only to find Ashtad sitting at the top of the handrail with his legs crossed like a gargoyle atop a gutter, like he’d always belonged there.
“W-what are you doing here?!” He said in a hushed voice. “What if someone spotted you?”
Ashtad shrugged, and Alphonse wondered if the demon had ever feared for his life before. “There isn’t a soul looking your way. I’ll not be noticed.” The demon beckoned towards the throne room. “Make haste, Prince. You will look suspect if you are not grieving with them.”
Alphonse sighed. “I suppose it would seem unusual, wouldn’t it?” He licked his dried-out lips and stared down at his chewed-down fingertips. “Very well. Now hurry along and vanish before somebody spots you.” He doesn’t tell Ashtad that his lungs are far too tight and that the elephant stomping around in his head is far too loud.
“As you wish,” Ashtad said with a distant smile as he faded into an ominous black mass.
He drank down his guilt with the frantic speed he would a bottle of laudanum and walked down the stairs, ignoring how his heart pulled him by the hair and demanded that he turn around. Upon reaching the bottom, the mourners by his late father’s throne turned to him with those pitying eyes that he hated so much—those eyes that made a four-year-old Alphonse turn to his mother and ask, “Mama, did I do something bad?” He wished that she hadn’t looked at him with those eyes, too.
Violet ran towards him with open arms and pulled him into a teary hug.
“Alphonse, I—” she started with a hiccup. “What must we do?”
Something in his chest burned, and his heart shuddered. Even so, all he had to do was play his part. He held his unblinking eyes wide open against her silk-adorned shoulder until a couple of tears bloomed in the corners. He took that chance to look up at her and sniffle, allowing the tears to trace his soft cheeks in a picturesque display.
“I-I only wish for us to progress past this tragedy. It’s what Fa—” he swallowed. “It is what Father would have wanted.”
“I thought I had more time to prepare myself,” Violet said as she brushed away her tears. “I never desired to be Queen. But Father told me that—” she seemed frustrated as a few more tears escaped. “He needed me to protect you.”
Alphonse stiffened. “Protect me?!” he said incredulously through a fake sob. “I need protection no longer. I can surely safeguard myself.”
Violet rocked back and forth on her feet awkwardly, avoiding Alphonse’s gaze. “I concur, but Father requested that I keep you safe in the castle once I became Queen.” She must’ve noticed how he was trying to conceal his anger, because she quickly jumped to speak again. “I am rather conflicted, candidly. I desire to respect his wishes, but I am your younger sister, and it would be wrong of me to mother you.”
Violet paused for a moment, and Alphonse could feel her scrutinizing him as if she were afraid to say something that would upset him. “Yet, I would be remiss to inform you that I don’t agree with his decision to seclude you how he did. So, consequently, I am hereby issuing my first order as Queen.”
Violet looked up at him and smiled so warmly that she radiated light— blinding, golden light that bounced off her teeth. “You are free to walk about and leave the castle as you wish. We were unable to spend much time together all these years. It is due time that we become better acquainted, is it not?”
He was unsure of whether he wanted to laugh or scream or blurt out the thousands of words being born in his mouth, but something within him cracked and his eyes tingled as his tears became visceral.
“Thank you,” he said with a shaky voice.
He felt like he was going to suffocate again, but he wasn’t sure if it was from exhilaration or the guilt that had been lodged in his throat.
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