I reached down into the water and pulled out a slab of mud for the hundredth time that day. I slapped it on the top of the rock and turned to my younger brother, who was doing the exact same thing next to me. "This day seems especially long." I splashed water on the rock, and let it fall into my waiting hand. I sifted through it, and finding nothing I dropped it back into the water, disappointed.
“And still no dreamstone.” He sighed. “Sometimes I feel that it doesn’t even exist.”
“Darren! How could you say that?” I repeated the process. “Mr. Rontaly’s nice. He wouldn’t make us keep searching if there was nothing here.” He was about to respond as the bell rang.
I finished the mud that I was “washing,” then dried my feet on the rocks and slipped on my badly torn shoes. Darren did the same and picked up his shoes. What was left of them.
“I don’t mean he’s just making us keep working, maybe he doesn’t know either. Besides, you should be glad he makes us work. How else do you think we would get any money?” he argued.
I sighed. He was right. No one else would hire us.
We walked back home and waited to get paid. Mr. Rontaly dropped ten clinks into our hands, plus a few extra for working through our lunch break.
I grinned happily. A few extra clinks could mean an extra meal for us. Despite the long workday, it was worth it.
I showed my mother the money, and she smiled when she saw the extra clinks.
“Here.” She handed them back to me. “Can you buy some stew and milk?”
Darren and I ducked out of our house, if you could call it that, and raced into the market. We walked to the cheapest stall, and sorted out our clinks. While Darren bought one big bowl of stew, I went to the next stall for milk. I carefully handed the man four clinks, and grabbed four packs of milk. You could pay an extra clink for a cold pack, but we couldn’t sacrifice even that. We walked back slowly, careful not to spill a drop of the stew. It was a treat for us, as meat was expensive.
We walked back, and placed the soup and milk onto the table.
It was just the four of us. Mother, Darren, the baby, and me. Our mother had been trying to get a job all her life, but not many people would hire a homeless woman.
Our father had more luck, but we weren’t so poor back then. I know I had a father, but he's a title with no name or face. When he died (of what, I don't know) our memories of him were cut, releasing the bond that threatened to pull us into the Otherworld as well. We had always been poorer than average, but that was normal in our town, and when he was still alive we could afford a small apartment in the heart of the village. After he died, with the little money we had from Darren and I starting to work at the river, we had only enough for food and our landlord threw us out of the apartment. We took our few belongings and moved to a shack Mother had built using the pieces of wood from the warehouses lining the river.
“How was your day?” Mother asked.
“Long.” Darren replied.
“Normal.” I said.
“A letter came for you.” she told me. “It was from a Cutter!”
I stopped eating. “A Cutter? What would they want?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t open it. It arrived this morning.” Even in our sorry state, Mother had still kept our box at the mail center. We didn’t have any money to mail a letter, not to mention none of us knew how to write. A few years ago I learned to read, but we couldn’t afford pens or paper to practice writing with.
She disappeared behind the torn sheet we used as a curtain, and emerged a second later with a crisp envelope held shut with a seal marked with the Cutters symbol.
I opened it slowly, taking care not to tear the paper inside.
“Dear Miss Alander.” It began. I looked up questionably at my Mother, but continued. “It is my pleasure to tell you that you have been chosen as apprentice Cutter, if you deem fit. I was told you are the oldest child of Mr. James Alander, your late father. Of course, I’m sure you don’t remember anything about him, and I can’t tell you much, but I will say that your father was a Cutter. Quite a good one in fact. He came from a not so well off family, and was not as respected as perhaps he should have been. In any case, I have enclosed a train ticket to the city, as well as instructions on where the hotel I have booked you a room in is. I shall expect you in my office at 9:00 am sharp, on Sunday morning. If all goes well, you should be back in the city three weeks from now, to commence your training.
Mr. John Teller, 39 Brook Avenue.
“Our father was a Cutter?” Darren blurted out, surprised.
“I suppose so.” Mother replied. “I don’t know why Mr. Teller would lie.”
I reached into the envelope and found one train ticket, as well as a piece of paper bearing detailed instructions to get from the train station, to the Black Wolf’s Inn.
“It’s Friday today, right?” I asked mother.
“Yes. What day is your train ticket for?”
“Tomorrow.” I replied. “Should I go?”
“Yes off course!” Darren said. “Even if you don’t want to, you don’t really have much of a choice.”
“Darren’s right.” Added Mother. “Cutters are very powerful. If one says you are to become one, you will.”
“What about my work? I’ll miss a few days working at the river, and we need those extra coins.”
“If all goes well, you’ll be making much more than just ten clinks!”
She had made it clear I had no choice in the matter and even though I felt guilty about leaving, I was secretly glad that I was going to the city.
“Finish your supper. I’ll take you to the train station in the morning. And Darren, don’t tell Mr. Rontaly that she went to the city. Just say she’s sick.”
“Get a good night’s sleep tonight. You have a big day ahead of you!”