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16+ Violence

Bittersweet Nightshade Chapter 4

by MissGangamash


Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for violence.

It wasn’t long after Ainsleigh’s Gift manifested that she found her parents having the conversation. Managing to silently open her bedroom door – which her father had thankfully fixed the next day- she crept to the stairs and huddled up there, hands braced on the wooden spindles. The night her bedroom door had still been braced against the wall, awaiting her father’s shopping trip to buy more brackets, she had awoken to catch the dark silhouette of her mother watching her from the hallway. Just… standing there. Ainsleigh had knotted her little fists in her duvet and watched, so scared she didn’t dare move. Did her mother know she was awake? Could she see her eyes peeking out from under her curls?

After what felt like far too long, her mother went slinking back upstairs as silently as an apparition. When Ainsleigh woke up that morning, she wondered if it had all been a disturbing dream.

“Registering is what’s best for her,” said her mother now. From where she was sitting, Ainsleigh could only see her mother’s hands on the tabletop, she watched them moving around as she articulated her words. Her father was in full view, sitting opposite with a forlorn look on his face. “It’s what’s best for us, as a family.”

Ainsleigh’s heart fumbled. Family. They were still family.

Her father shook his head, his dark curls unmoving. He had cropped his close to his head after being sick of getting so much dust and grit stuck in them.

“That’s what they tell us. It’s what they want us to think,” he countered.

Her mother’s hands lay flat against the tabletop. “Free healthcare? Tax reductions? A cheque every quarter?”

Her father nodded. “And she’d get into the best school in town, I know.”

“Exactly.”

His brows lowered. “But, we still don’t even know why the Gifted are given special treatment. What would they want with her?”

“Why do you think the government want anything from her?”

He sent her a withering look. “They don’t do anything for nothing in return. C’mon, Jules, you know that.”

A silence followed. Ainsleigh’s grip tightened on the spindles.

“We need that money, Simon,” her mother finally replied, voice breathy. “We needed it before and now- she’s broken so much already.”

Ainsleigh’s gut twisted. It was true. When her father had brought her up to the bathroom to get cleaned up, she barely leaned against the sink and the porcelain cracked. The deep crevice was now filled in, but every time Ainsleigh looked at it, her blood ran cold.

Her father bobbed his head again, conceding. “I understand what you are saying. And I am listening. But, I just don’t trust them. I don’t want them having so much information on us. It feels like a violation.”

“So, what do you suggest? We lie on her next check up? Say she’s perfectly normal?”

“She is perfectly normal.”

“She is not.”

Her father cowered, his hands that had been inches from his wife’s, pulled back and slipped under the table.

A creaking noise brought Ainsleigh’s attention to her fists. Oh no. She loosened her hold on the spindles and frowned at the splintered wood. A slight tap and the two rungs would snap completely.

“We’ve still got another month until her next check up. We’ve got time to think this through,” said her father, but Ainsleigh could tell he had lost his gusto.

“If I have to live like this, I expect to be compensated.” The scrape of a chair signalled her mother standing. Panic fluttered through Ainsleigh and she quickly darted back into her bedroom.

That night, Ainsleigh got the same strange feeling that she was being watched. She sucked back a whimper and peeked at her door. It was slightly ajar, the murky greyness of the hallway seeping into her room. She had closed her door before had gotten into bed. The feeling was still there. A presence. She wasn’t alone in her room. Her heartbeat thrummed in her ears. The soft weight of her duvet suddenly didn’t feel like enough. She felt exposed. Vulnerable.

There was no lamp next to her bed. She used to ask for one, so she could read before she slept. But every time she had brought it up, there was always something more important that her parents needed to spend the money on. So she was stuck in the dark. The light switch by the door was too far away. Her legs were numb with fear. There was no way she could leap over there.

Should she wait? Pretend to be asleep? Maybe she will leave like last time? But last time she hadn’t come in.

Heart in her throat, Ainsleigh shuffled her upper body beneath the duvet and turned her head.

A dark shape hovered beside her. Long, dark hair falling past the shoulders.

“You’re a mistake.”

Then everything went black. Something was covering Ainsleigh’s face. A pressure so hard she felt her mouth close up. Grey blots shone behind her eyelids as the pressure continued to bear down on her. She struggled, legs kicking as her lungs swelled in her chest. The force was so strong, so violent, the back of her head pressed against the mattress through her pillow.

She grabbed at whatever was stifling her. It was big, plush and soft. A pillow? She reached, trying to tug it away but instead found arms. Two, thin but taut arms pressing it down on her face. Smothering her.

“Your dad thinks you’re worth it. You’re worth all the lies, the deceit,” her mother hissed above her. “Says we can’t risk them taking you away. Like that’s such a bad thing.”

Ainsleigh thrashed harder, her spine twisting so violently pain lanced up her back. But she had to keep moving. Find air. Her head was becoming foggy. Her mouth filled with pillow fluff.

Nails found her mother’s arms and she clawed, as deep as she could. She heard her mother take a sharp intake of breath. The distraction was enough, the pressure lifted ever-so-slightly. Ainsleigh spun, fists clutching the pillow. Her legs found empty air, and then she was falling. The pillow came free from her face and she dropped, her temple smacking hard against her bedside table.

She crumbled into a heap on her rug, raking in harsh, painful breaths. Her throat was raw. She winced as she swallowed, trying to wet it.

Her mother stumbled back and knocked against her wardrobe, a dark fuzzy shape in Ainsleigh’s blotted vision.

Then there was light. Ainsleigh cringed and dropped her face into her rug, covering the back of her head with her arms.

“What the stars is going on?”

It was her father.

“She- I- I was going to the toilet and I heard her squirming. She just fell out of bed, that’s all. Must have been a bad dream, right, Ainsleigh?”

Her rug was wet with tears. Sucking in a sob, Ainsleigh lifted her head. Her father was a purple smudge in the blinding light. She could feel her mother’s presence beside her, far too close. A shiver crawled up her back.

“Right,” Ainsleigh croaked, folding her hands onto her lap. “A bad dream.”

By the time Ainsleigh was getting ready for school in the morning, the ache at her temple had become a swollen, purplish lump. Her whole eye socket was tender. Looking back, she figured she may have fractured a bone there, after leaning what a fractured bone felt like throughout the coming years.

The subject had been The Problem Year. Ainsleigh was pretty sure her class had twice as many ‘history’ lessons as all the others. Right from when she had first started education at four years old, her and her classmates were bombarded with all the events of The Problem Year and all the theories of where exactly their special Gifts came from, and why it was only those born in that year that manifested them. But the fact that there was no solid proof that anything was the definite root cause made all those classes particularly exhausting.

Today’s theory was the chemical plantation that exploded in a tiny country on the other side of the world. Apparently the explosion had been so catastrophic that it had ‘blown the country off the map’ and rearranged all the bordering countries. The explosion had also been the start of the earthquakes and floods that affected pretty much the whole world. Ainsleigh hated to admit that this class was particularly interesting.

The running story was that those who were pregnant and inhaled the fumes in the neighbouring countries then passed something down to their children. But how did people in countries nowhere near the disaster also have children that Manifested at puberty? It sometimes felt like whoever spoke the loudest and the most passionately was deemed to have solved the mystery, until someone else spoke louder and more passionately about something completely different.

Ainsleigh didn’t believe any of it, no matter how many essays she was made to write about the phenomenon. It was just about luck, and the kids who Manifested were simply just unlucky.

Her teacher pulled her aside after class where Ainsleigh had spent the whole time attempting to cover the mark with her too short hair, or a well-placed hand as she rested on her elbow while she worked.

“You can tell me if something is wrong,” said Mrs Weatherly. Her lips drawn into a tight line. “At home.” She searched Ainsleigh’s eyes as if she would find the answer within them. “You know, you are all at a very special time of your lives right now. You and your classmates are all going through this together. Marco has already Manifested. Have you heard? Two weeks ago.”

Ainsleigh nodded. Marco had ‘super hearing.’ He missed a few days of school because of it. Now he constantly wore ear buds and cringed a lot. He had to sit at the back of the class on a table on his own.

“Is there anything you want to tell me, Ainsleigh?”

Ainsleigh shook her head. “I fell. That’s all.”

Mrs. Weatherly didn’t look convinced. But she straightened and gestured to the door. Ainsleigh hurried out, wincing a little as her bounding steps somehow jostling her skull in such a way to cause fresh pain to claim the side of her face.

Ainsleigh tried to avoid attention out on the playground but she couldn’t hide from her best friend.

Cassidy bounded over to her and ripped her hand away from her bruised face. Ainsleigh yelped in protest.

“Tell me what happened,” Cassidy demanded, her bright blue eyes wide and fierce.

“I fell,” Ainsleigh mumbled back, tucking her hands underneath her thighs as she curled into herself on the bench.

“Bullshit.” Cassidy loved that word ever since she had said it at home after hearing her father scream it down the phone to an employee. Her mother had gone bone white and hissed ‘never use that word again.’ The next day she had found Ainsleigh at school and relayed the story, bouncing with glee. Ainsleigh loved how Cassidy found fun in the little things, and envied how she never so much as got a slap on the wrist even when she was trying her best to be a rebellious daughter.

Ainsleigh looked down at the frills of her socks poking out the top of her school shoes.

“She did that to you, didn’t she?”

Ainsleigh cowered at the anger in her tone.

Cassidy was a little sprig of a girl, with long blonde hair her mother refused to let her get cut and a face as lovely as sunshine. Adults fawned over her as she twirled her skirts and fluttered her eyelashes. Ainsleigh would have found her revolting if she hadn’t known it was all a game. Cassidy knew which cards to play. She knew how to use her angelic presence to her advantage. Cassidy was a wicked genius mastermind and Ainsleigh couldn’t help but be drawn in. She felt safe hiding in her shadow.

“It’s nothing, Cass. Can you just let it go?” Ainsleigh pleaded.

“I knew it. I knew this was going to happen. You let her treat you like crap!”

“She’s my mum!”

“Exactly! She’s supposed to take care of you not beat you up!”

“She didn’t beat me up!”

Cassidy’s eyes bore into her friend. She was shaking with fury. Ainsleigh watched her, fingernails digging into the underside of her thighs. She couldn’t tell her what happened, why it happened. Ainsleigh’s relationship with her mother had never been great, but the reason behind this sudden spike in hostility had to be kept hidden. What if she told Cass she had Manifested and their relationship changed? What if Cass started looking at her the way her mother did? No, that was too much. Ainsleigh couldn’t lose Cass.

Finally, Cassidy blew out a harsh breath, dissipating some of her anger and sank down onto the bench beside her.

“You don’t have to protect her, you know that, right?” Her voice was calm now, and the concern in her words made the backs of Ainsleigh’s eyes itch. She sniffed, wiping her nose on the sleeve of her school jumper. Cassidy wrapped her arm around her middle and squeezed. Something dislodged within Ainsleigh. The tears came hard and fast until she was gulping mouthfuls of stinging, too thin air.

She could see her mum standing over her, the hatred swirling in her dark eyes as she stared down at her. Her father standing at the door pretending to believe his wife’s lie. And it was just the beginning. Ainsleigh knew with bone-deep dread that her mother was only just getting started.

Cassidy squeezed her harder, tucking Ainsleigh’s head under her chin and rocking her like a baby. She said nothing. There was nothing left to say.

Ainsleigh was terrified. What was she going to go home to? Was her mother plotting? Why was her father not doing anything to stop it? He knew she was ‘temperamental,’ but that had meant that she would throw her slipper at the TV when someone did something stupid on her favourite soap, or she would give both of them the silent treatment for days and never actually explain the reason for the treacle thick tension running between them.

But her mother had tried to smother her in her sleep.

Had she really tried to kill her own daughter?

Ainsleigh’s fingers dug deeper into her own thighs, and her teeth sank into her lower lip as she shook, tears still spilling free. She felt something drip on her forehead. It trickled down her nose and dropped onto her chin. She angled her face up to see Cass’s bleary, red eyes. She was staring into the distance, her long eyelashes clumped with tears. She must have felt Ainsleigh’s attention on her because she looked down, dropping more tears onto her friend’s face. Ainsleigh smiled and Cass smiled back, but they were tight and wobbly and biting back so many worries.

Cassidy’s tears dropped onto Ainsleigh’s sore eye. It tingled. Cold, then warm, then cold again. Ainsleigh furrowed her brows at the sensation. The tightness of her swollen cheek was gone. Cassidy froze and Ainsleigh felt her hold loosen. Fear was alight in her fearless friend’s eyes. Ainsleigh’s heart thudded. She straightened, pulling herself free from Cassidy’s chest.

“Leigh…”

Ainsleigh lifted her hand to her black eye, fingertips skimming the tender area. Only, it wasn’t tender anymore. She pressed down harder, feeling the ridge of her eye socket perfectly intact.

Fumbling, she grabbed Cassidy’s bag from the ground beside them and fished out the little compact mirror she knew she always kept in the front zip pocket. Popping open the mirror, she gazed in amazement at her own reflection. Two light green eyes, lightly puffy from crying, stared back at her. The bruise and swelling was gone.

“Cass…” She turned to her friend, wonder and amazement making her limbs tingle. Cassidy was shaking her head, retreating into herself to hide from the truth. But they both knew. This was real.

Cassidy had Manifested. 


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173 Reviews

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Sun Mar 26, 2023 2:13 am
DreamyAlice wrote a review...



Hey there, Alice here to give a review!

MY FIRST THOUGHTS

The first thing that came to me after reading this was that it was a very catchy storyline, with beautiful narratives of emotions and scenarios. The dialogues were simple, direct, and just how they should have been. I am really interested to read the first parts as well when I get the time. And that is how you know you have written a gripping story. I loved the characters, the plot seems to be moving and the cliffhanger and reveal and the end were just amazing!

STORY
This is the first chapter I have read of this story, so I probably don't know the whole plot. But I still got a vague idea just by reading this part. It is a very intriguingstory you have going on here. The story about the Problematic Year was very well planned and the idea was nice to convey the reader the information in an interesting way. Having Ainsleigh hear her parents' conversation gave a really good insight into her relationship with them, and man how can a mother try to kill her daughter like that!

CHARACTER
The relationship dynamic of Cassidy and Ainsleigh is on point, and they complement each other characters well! Cassidy is one unique character and you defined her perfectly.

She felt safe hiding in her shadow.

I love how Cassidy made Ainsleigh feel comforted and protected around her. I am really inquisitive to know how her now being Manifested impacts her. And how they both will react to each other hiding that they manifested their gifts. The character of the father being kind of hesitant about leaving his daughter while her mother absolutely does anything to get rid of her was remarkably expressed.

DIOLOGUES AND DESCRIPTIONS
While I loved all your dialogues as they were simple, direct, and well-written I just have a little suggestion, that you use more commas in better and not full stop every time. This way the dialogue flows better, in my opinion.

The descriptions were nicely detailed. I loved the use of your words and the structure of your sentences, the image formation of the people and the surrounding was great! The part where both the characters are crying was written very beautifully and the part where her mother tried killing her had a nice narrative.

TINY- MINY NITPICKS

Just small spelling or grammar errors here and there. No worries edit them out and you are great to go!

The bruise and swelling was gone.

was will be were
as her bounding steps somehow jostling her skull in such a way to cause fresh pain to claim the side of her face.

jostling will be better as jostled and add as before to
after leaning what a fractured bone felt like throughout the coming years.

This line confused me a bit. I believe leaning was supposed to be learning right?

OVERALL

As this is the only part I have read of this story, I couldn't express much except that I like this piece of writing and would want to read more. The ending in very hooking and the reveal was great. You write almost perfectly, with nice portrayals, a good plot, and a gripping style of writing. You have a good choice of expressing words and every sentence flowed pleasingly throughout.

-Keep Writing👍
Alice




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Tue Jan 03, 2023 11:54 am
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Liminality wrote a review...



Hi again MissGangamash!

General Thoughts

So this chapter definitely felt horrifying in the beginning parts. I think I agree with Ainsleigh’s assessment at one point that the mother throwing slippers at the TV doesn’t really connect up with murdering her own child. So that tripped me up for a bit. As for Cassidy’s introduction, she seems like an interesting character. A bolder personality provides a bit of a foil for Ainsleigh and potential for conflict. One random thought I did have about Cassidy is that she sounds kind of more like an older teenager/ adult when she talks to Ainsleigh about her bruises. The way she decides to use the word “b*llsh*t” also is very adult-like rather than sounding like a kid repeating something they heard. That’s just the feeling I had when reading that part.

Characters

This is just some thoughts I had about the characters’ actions in this chapter. In the first scene or so, I could totally see what you meant by the father being neglectful.

“We’ve still got another month until her next check up. We’ve got time to think this through,” said her father, but Ainsleigh could tell he had lost his gusto.

In this conversation, he doesn’t seem to grasp that there’s something wrong with the way his wife is talking about their daughter. She keeps talking about “compensation”, and he doesn’t seem to catch on about how she’s dehumanizing Ainsleigh. Him not sensing the danger in the next scene leads to Ainsleigh nearly being killed. I also think his insistence about Ainsleigh being “perfectly normal”, while well-intentioned perhaps, does also show that he doesn’t grasp the gravity of the situation – like Ainsleigh is still Ainsleigh, but being able to break a lot of things without being able to control that ability def sounds like something you need help with.
“Your dad thinks you’re worth it. You’re worth all the lies, the deceit,” her mother hissed above her.

Why is the mother so concerned about deceit? She’s perfectly happy to lie about her own murder attempt later?
I think the way the mother is portrayed, she doesn’t really have a coherent reason / viewpoint that would make her decide to jettison her daughter. My interpretation is that it’s mostly just emotional: fear and disgust at her for having a Gift. And Ainsleigh views her mother as this sort of bogeyman figure, the way she perceives her “like an apparition”. The mother’s role in the story kind of vaguely reminds me of an ‘evil stepmother’ figure in a fairy tale. I felt like based on Ainsleigh’s thoughts in the first part, the “She’s my mum” line didn’t quite have a lot of force behind it in the second part of the chapter? Because it’s hard to see what part of her mother she’s still attached to emotionally that she’d lie *for* her, as Cassidy is accusing her of? But maybe I’m misreading something.
Ainsleigh didn’t believe any of it, no matter how many essays she was made to write about the phenomenon. It was just about luck, and the kids who Manifested were simply just unlucky.

I thought this part was in-character for Ainsleigh. In these flashback chapters, she comes across as being passive and fatalistic, which makes sense given that she seems to understand her life as something that happened *to* her. So thinking that Manifesting has to do with pure luck seems like an extension of that.

Plot

Something I like about this chapter is that each scene contributes to the overall story and follows logically from the previous one. Ainsleigh lying at school is foreshadowed by the conversation about how her parents were going to have to lie to the doctors and other ‘government’ people. So I like that this problem was demonstrated soon after. The introduction of Cassidy also provides an interesting development. It feels like a good place to introduce her in the story, since her name and Gift were brought up not too long ago. In general, the scenes in the chapter feel well-structured and focused.
I’m also curious about how Ainsleigh will fare lying about her Gift at school. Since she can’t seem to control it very well, I have a feeling the secret might get out soon.

Overall

I think this story definitely works for the ‘Dramatic’ genre you’ve put it in. There’s a good amount of tension being built up, but also interspersed with reprieves like the chapter immediately before this one. The character and family drama take centre stage even though the fantasy elements do play a plot-important role. I can’t say I’ve reviewed or even read many stories like this before, so I’m treading unfamiliar waters here, but let me know if there’s anything specific you’d like more feedback on, or if I’m missing something in these reviews.

-Lim




MissGangamash says...


Hello!

Cassidy speaks and acts older than she is because she has those kind of parents that don't really let children be children so she's grown up fast. Hopefully they will make more sense when you find out more about her.

I'm glad you picked up on the way Ainsleigh's mother speaks about her! I wanted it to not be too in your face but to show that there is a definite contrast between the way her father speaks and the way her mother does.

Her mother is very loosely based on people I know/people that I know of who have personality disorders such as BPD and bipolar. Her logic doesn't really make sense to other people, but to her it does. Her saying that Ainsleigh is not worth the deceit is sort of her trying to give her a moral high ground... while trying to suffocate her daughter. It's messed up. I've been around people with this sort of skewed logic, and I think they are the most scary type of people. Because you literally do not know what they are going to do next.

I feel like the 'She's my mum!' isn't Ainsleigh defending her mother/ lying for her, but a show of desperation. It's like when people are in toxic relationships but they constantly say 'but he/she loves me.' That doesn't matter and deep down they know that.

I did struggle putting this in a category. I will be marketing it as Adult Dystopian when I publish it but that's not an option on here. I'm glad you haven't read anything like this before! I always aim to bring something new and fresh. You're doing a brilliant job reviewing, I love how you pick up on little things - sometimes things I hadn't even noticed myself XD Hopefully I keep your interest to continue reading!

Thanks for the in depth review!




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