The Court (Excerpt) by Tarale Wolffe
Almost 100 years ago, myths and legends became truth. They flowed from the shadows like something out of a horror movie. They stood in the sun, tall and unafraid; confident and determined. They changed the world in an hour, and humanity scrambled to catch up. For years, humanity struggled against them. They turned to the stories and rumors that said how to kill them. They were wrong. Despite everything written about them, despite all the myths, beliefs, and practices, humanity didn’t have a single advantage against the truly supernatural.
The only reason humanity survived its attempt to destroy them was because they were more tolerant than any human would have been. And so, things settled between the two. Mostly. There were factions who learned there were some things that would kill anything. The history books say the century was rife with fire. They didn’t just get supernaturals, but also the humans who lived too close.
Some survived the fires, but the humans wouldn’t take in the supernatural children. They didn’t trust them around the ‘normal’ children already in their care.
Unfortunately, though fiercely protective of their own, few had any tolerance for another’s offspring. To deal with these orphan children, new establishments were raised, new laws were created to protect them; and still humanity and supernatural remained separated.
Those who weren’t particular about the children they cared for took over the running of these homes. Every state was required to have at least one home with no less than ten beds. Some states gave the minimum and never looked beyond it, despite the need for more. Others– though only a few– went above and beyond the requirements. Records show that Oregon had as many as 200 beds.
To this day, there are records of each state, and the number of each kids each place had on any given day. The names of these children were harder to find. Thankfully, I had grandmother to guide me.
As children, Great-grandma would regale us with the stories of her childhood. Grandma Lily was the first human in one of those homes, but she wasn’t the last. She didn’t cause any integration between human and supernaturals, but she was well-liked by those who knew her, and remembered fondly by them all.
Those in the home had a difficult time with the humans they encountered. For many of them, Grandma Lily was their first positive experience with a human.
Grandma Lily was a 10-year-old orphan who found a life among the ‘monsters’ that horrified humanity. Now, 20 years after her death, and after hundred of interviews, thousands of documents, and hours of combing through photographs, here is my tribute to the most amazing woman I ever knew.
Here is her life, as told by her and those who knew her best: the children of Oregon’s Preternatural Home for Children. Affectionately called The Court by all who lived there.
A Human in the Court
Lilian Wells sat on the plush couch, hands sitting in her lap. Lifeless. Beside her sat Tom, one warm hand resting on her back. His hand blazed against her, demanding her attention, keeping her focused, allowing her to think.
Her dry eyes stared at the floor before them. She had no more tears. Just hours ago, she’d wailed. Now, everything came to her through three feet of glass. Sounds. People. Emotions. Neither said a word. Neither had spoken for hours– not since they’d nearly been separated.
Tom’s scream had stopped them. Some of them bled, but they’d returned her to him.
Even now she could hear it in her memory. It grew within her until it wasn’t a memory. Until it rang through her ears as loud as earlier.
Lily trembled, hands shooting to her ears, trying to block it out again. It had worked earlier. Tom’s hand on her back slid around her, pulling her closer. His warmth seeped into her from the side. The difference shocked her. She was freezing, how could he be warm?
For a moment, the screaming in her head dimmed, giving her the fantasy of relief, but it returned stronger, louder. Her head throbbed. Her eyes teared. A pressure built within her, demanding release. Release she couldn’t give it.
A hand turned her head into Tom’s shoulder, blocking out the rooms light, but not the piercing noise still building in her head. Distantly, the sound muffled by hands and memory, something crooned. The scream drowned it out, dragging a whimper from her as her body threatened to shake apart. Another voice joined it, thin and shrill against the wail. Her own. The only release to the pressure she could give.
Other voices appeared, dimly heard under the noise– both within and without. She was pulled away from the hands holding her together. A sob choked her scream as pain seared through her head, down her neck to her fingers. To her toes.
Her head was raised. Fingers–firm but gentle–cupped her face. Something shrill pierced the screaming, cutting it off as though it had never been. Lily slumped forward against the cool body.
Long fingers carded through her hair. Lily didn’t have the strength to glance up; to see who had saved her.
“You were right to keep them together,” A woman said from above her, fingers never ceasing their movement through her brown hair. “Their close contact is the only reason she didn’t fall apart sooner.”
“Fall apart?” a man asked. Lily recognized his voice, but remembering was difficult. Her brain felt slow. Everything hurt. Already, she felt a pull to sleep.
“She was fine earlier,” he continued. “What happened?”
“I didn’t,” Tom protested, voice high in distress. “I wouldn’t hurt her!”
Lily roused, needing to reassure him. Tom didn’t do well with stress. Or accusations. The woman’s hands calmed her, silently convincing her to rest.
“You didn’t mean to,” the woman said, voice as gentle, as firm, as comforting as her fingers. “But you forgot to protect her earlier.”
“Don’t worry. I can help her. We can help her. But, you’re right, Mr. Barnet, the girl needs to stay. Without her close by, I can’t guarantee her health.”
“Are you saying this … child caused her harm?”
“Not intentionally,” the woman said, one hand leaving Lily. “You screamed because they were taking her away, didn’t you?”
“Yes.” Tom’s voice was quiet, shame filling it the way joy often did. It made her weep the way his joy made her laugh.
The woman’s voice comforted her. Tom’s hands found her shoulders.
“I didn’t want to hurt her.”
“I know. Things moved too fast. You couldn’t lose her too.”
“Miss Amelia, I didn’t know Thomas hurt her. I’m sorry, but I can’t let her stay with someone who–”
“If you take her, we will lose them both,” the woman interrupted.
“Lillian needs him to heal her mind. He caused the damage, and only he can truly heal it. I can help mitigate the symptoms, but not much else.”
“So do it,” Mr. Barnet demanded.
“It’s not that simple. Thomas is too young to have learned what to do. We’ll have to teach him one step at a time. Until that happens, Lillian will have to stay here.”
Tom’s hands tightened on her shoulders. Lily still felt like a cooked noodle: limp and unable to do more than flop around.
“Between the ages of five and ten, a young siren will bond with someone, a sibling or close friend, usually another siren. This bond allows the siren stability from their own emotional chaos, which allows them to interact outside their home. It also gives the bondmate access to a greater range of– ”
“What’s the point?” Barnet interrupted.
The woman sighed. “If separated, the siren will wither and die. From his reactions, not only now, but when you attempted to separate them, I’d guess Thomas has bonded Lillian. While rare, it’s not completely unheard of. It does mean the child will be safer here than I’d thought. Thomas will protect her.”
“Protect her?’ Barnet yelled. “He nearly killed her!”
“It wasn’t his fault,” the woman replied, even as Tom curled around Lily. She wanted to touch him, to reassure him she was okay, but her hands wouldn’t move.
“As long as no one tries to separate them, they’ll both be fine.”
“Fine? You’ve just told me that Lillian is some sort of … of emotion slave, and this is fine?”
“She’s no slave, Mr. Barnet.”
“Well she certainly had no choice in this.”
“On the contrary, the bond cannot form unless some sort of trade is reached.”
“I was outside,” he said, voice whispering into Lily’s shoulder. “It was the first time I’d been outside.”
“Without a bondmate?” the woman asked.
Tom nodded, never raising his head. “Mama said I wasn’t supposed to, but I wanted to. Everything was so … big.”
Tom had been crying, she remembered, clutching his head like something hurt. She remembered seeing him for the first time, curled up under that big tree. She would have gotten her mother, but didn’t know exactly where she was. So, she’d approached the odd boy, who’d told her the world was too loud and it was killing him.
“She put her hands over my ears and promised to make it quiet.”
“That’s all it takes,” the woman said.
“She’s a child. She couldn’t have know what she was doing.”
“She understood as much as any child does. Her empathy for a soul in pain made her want to help. If she’d not meant it, and meant it with all her heart, a bond would not have formed.”
“So she’s doomed for a moment of empathy?”
“Doomed? Don’t be so dramatic. The bond will dissolve when Thomas is 16, though most bondmates are friends for life. I still have regular lunches with mine.”
“Miss Amelia, I’m afraid I can’t allow Lillian– ”
“Lily,” she managed, tongue tripping over her own name. It felt large in her mouth, too big for the space it had. “M’name’s Lily. An’ I wanna stay wi’ Tom.”
“You will,” the woman promised.
“No, Mr. Barnet,” she said. “For the safety of both children, she stays. Didn’t you tell me there was an addendum that covered just this situation?”
“Well– That is– It doesn’t cover a human child being hurt like this.”
“I’m sure. If you take Lily right now, she will die, and then you will answer to your superiors about why it wasn’t prevented. Then, when we lose Thomas, you will explain to the council why that wasn’t prevented as well.”
“I … well, I suppose, until other arrangements can be … arranged, this is as good a place for them as any.”
“Very wise,” the woman murmured. “If you’ll wait in my office, we’ll get the paperwork in order.”
“What about the girl?”
“She’s talking again,” the woman said. “In a few minutes, she’ll be fine. Until then, it’s best she keep in contact with me.”
There was silence in the room. Tom’s body tensed against her. Lily inhaled, unknown words moving her lips.
“Go sit down, Mr. Barnet. I’ll be along shortly.” The woman’s voice left no room for argument.
Though she didn’t look up, Lily heard someone leave. Tom relaxed, finally pulling away enough that he wasn’t plastered against her back.
“I didn’t mean to hurt her,” Tom said.
“I know. Lily’s going to be fine.”
Lily made a soft noise of agreement, her head nodding slightly against the woman’s shoulder.
“See, she’s already moving. You’re a resilient one, aren’t you Lily?”
It didn’t seem the question required an answer, so she kept quiet. Slowly, Lily regained control of her limbs, never once wondering why she wasn’t concerned, or why her mind felt so calm.
In minutes, Lily pulled away from the woman, finally looking up at her. She reminded Lily of Mrs. Douglas, Tom’s mother. Both had long slender faces atop long slender bodies. Both had pale hair, pale skin, and pale eyes. But, where Mrs. Douglas wore her hair short, the woman’s reached past her shoulders. Where Mrs. Douglas always watched her with agitation, the woman’s gaze was gentle. Lily could fall into those eyes and never return.
“I’m Miss Amelia,” the woman said, smiling at them. “I heard what happened earlier. I’m sorry for your loss.”
Her parents were dead.
Tears sprang to her eyes for the first time in hours. Pain grew from nowhere, the numbness gone in an instant.
“You’re going to stay here for awhile. We’ll take care of you, adn make sure you can see plenty of each other.”
“Is Tom gonna be okay?” Lily asked, choking back her tears.
The woman blinked, her smile gentling further. “Of course he is. Why wouldn’t he be?”
“His parents are dead,” she managed. “Isn’t that bad?”
“It’s bad for everyone,” Miss Amelia said, “but no more for Tom than anyone else. We can teach him anything he needs, and with you, he’ll be stable.”
“His parents didn’t do that?”
“No. They couldn’t. A siren needs someone their own age.”
“I don’t know what to do.”
“You don’t have to do anything. Just be his friend.”
“I already am.”
“There you go then,” Miss Amelia laughed. “You do know what to do.”
She reached out a hand, cupping the back of Tom’s neck as she looked the two of them over. “You’re both safe here. Nothing can happen within these walls.”
“Are you sure?” Tom asked.
Miss Amelia nodded. “I am. Welcome to The Court.”