Chapter 4 - Flight (part I)

Harta lay flat on her back in the dusty yard in front of her father's cabin. She was being 'tickled' but she was not laughing. As a matter of fact, she was very close to sobbing aloud in pain as she squirmed, pinned to the ground by a rather large and tubby teenage boy who was sitting on her stomach.

Harta was small for her age, which was just shy of seventeen, and fine-boned. She had the clear, white skin, blue eyes and softly curling, brown hair that were typical of the people of Tibel, an island nation on the eastern side of the Granestella Circle.

At the moment, however, those blue eyes were filled with tears of frustration. The sprinkling of freckles that were scattered across her small nose stood out in stark relief on a face which was not its natural colour either, being beet red instead.

The boy who was sitting on her was named Toric and he was her step-brother.

"C'mon, Harta!" Toric laughed nastily. His breath reeked of the onions he had had for lunch. Harta hadn't had any lunch. She had been forced to go without again, supposedly for back-talking her step-mother. She found she was actually grateful for this since she would certainly have thrown it all up by now.

"C'mon, Harta!" Toric teased again, jabbing her cruelly in the ribs with his fingers, his version of 'tickling'. "Laugh!"

Of course, Harta knew he meant 'cry' but except for a few grunts when he bounced on her stomach, she refused to make a sound.

Toric's mother stood in the doorway to the cabin, her beautifully cruel face smug with satisfaction and amusement. Harta could expect no help from that quarter. The woman took as much delight in tormenting her as did Toric.

Clarissa worked her step-daughter from sun-up to sun-down, punishing her at every turn for minor or imagined slights. And if Harta went to her father with complaints, her step-mother would poo-poo it, saying that teenage girls were overly emotional and blew things all out of proportion. When Harta told him of Toric's treatment of her, the woman laughed gaily and asked why the silly girl complained about Toric 'playing' with her. Did she want her new step-brother to feel unwelcome?

In Harta's private opinion, her new step-brother was mean and sadistic. The boy not only tormented her unmercifully, but the farm's animals had quickly learned to keep out of his way, as well. Twice, Harta's father had had to salve and bandage places on the two goats where Toric had hit them with stones. Even the cat had run away and not come back.

When Harta's father had scolded, Toric's mother was quick to leap to her son's defence, saying, "Boys will be boys, you know," and patiently explain that Harta's father was only used to raising a girl.

It was a huge mystery to Harta as to why her father had even married this cruel woman in the first place. True, she was beautiful, but Clarissa was controlling and vicious. Why couldn't her father see it? And the son got away with plain murder. The murder of chickens, at least.

Harta had been shocked and surprised one day last fall when, after a week's trip into the city, her father had come home with a wife on his arm and a sullen, sixteen-year-old boy trailing moodily behind. It was spring now and she still hadn't figured it out.

Harta panted and jumped involuntarily as Toric bounced and jabbed her ribs again. She was beginning to have difficulty breathing. She tried once more to push him off but Toric was large and solidly flabby. His mother fed him too many sweets and Toric, disliking exertion of any kind, usually sat around all day brooding and throwing rocks at the livestock. He was soft and round as a pudding, and Harta could not budge him.

"Get off me!" Harta finally managed breathily. She could feel herself getting angry. "I c-can't b-breathe! Get off me, you big oaf!"

Toric laughed, pleased that he was finally getting a reaction, but his mother was off the porch in a heartbeat, angry that Harta had called her son a name. "Harta! Behave yourself! Apologize to Toric or I shall have to whip you!"

Harta couldn't believe it. Her son was forcibly driving the wind out of her to the point of near-suffocation and the woman was scolding her for protesting!

Harta was nearing the outer edges of panic. Toric lifted himself up slightly, getting ready for another bounce and in the brief respite, Harta managed to draw in some air. She braced herself just in time as he dropped himself onto her stomach.

"Ungh!"

"I said, apologize!" Clarissa screamed again.

Harta ignored the woman. Toric lifted himself even higher, determined make her squeal. This time she managed to get one of her arms free from where his knee had been pinning it to her side. With all her might she hit out at him, hoping to drive her small fist into his soft stomach and maybe knock the breath out of him for a change.

"Oof!" Toric said in a strained wheeze and collapsed to the side.

Surprised, Harta quickly scrambled out from beneath his wide, flabby leg. Gaining her feet, she looked down at him in bewilderment. He was clutching himself at the crotch, his handsome face red and blotchy as he rolled back and forth. He was moaning like a baby.

Although relieved to be free of him, Harta was perplexed. She certainly hadn't hit him hard enough to result in this sort of reaction.

"What have you done?!" Screeched Clarissa, really worked up now. "Oh, you evil girl! What have you done to my son?"

"What about what he was doing to me!" Harta screeched right back, her temper finally snapping. She was more than a little astonished to see Toric rolling around on the ground like that and her mind raced. What had she done to him? And could she do it again if she needed to?

Quick as a striking snake, Clarissa grabbed the girl by one of her skinny arms. She then proceeded to shake her until Harta thought her teeth would rattle right out of her head and bounce about the yard. She wished fleetingly that her father could just once be around to witness scenes like this. He was away again though, selling wood. He seemed to be away more often than naught lately. Given her step-mother's temperament, Harta thought she knew the reason why.

Clarissa started to drag her toward the side of the house where billets of firewood were neatly stacked. While Harta was momentarily grateful that the shaking had stopped, she knew what was coming next; a whipping.

Toric was usually very helpful with this, especially when it came to cutting switches. Her head was still spinning from the shaking but Harta managed a quick glance in his direction.

He was on his knees now, face still red and still clutching himself. He seemed to be coming to his senses but didn't look as if he would be enthusiastic about cutting a switch at the moment. His mother apparently didn't think so, either. She caught up a heavy stick of wood from the woodpile. Alarmed, Harta shrank away, tugging desperately at the woman's iron grip. Clarissa's hand was like a vice on her arm.

"Don't try to get away, you nasty child!" The woman snarled. "You're going to get the beating of your life! If I kill you, I'll just tell your milque-toast father you fell out of a tree. You're always doing stupid, boyish things like climbing trees!"

Harta squirmed and struggled, panic lancing through her insides. Clarissa was really going to beat her with a stick of firewood! At the very least it would break her bones and maybe even kill her like the woman threatened. Clarissa raised her arm and Harta saw the wood begin to descend.

She screamed.


To Be Continued...



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