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13 Blackberries (Part 1)

by Quinine


Anna was an orphan.

     In such a village, ransacked by cruel poverty, like so many others, it meant that there was little less straw to sleep on, a little less to eat, a more drafty place to sleep, crammed with all the other orphans. You were tucked only a bracket or two under the usual village-folk. Even then, such things as status hardly mattered whilst everyone scrambled for something to eat. In fact, if it weren't for one small detail, there would have been virtually no difference in her life and that of a baker's daughter.

She had no parents.

    No matter how hard Anna tried to be strong, to be callous, to be indifferent to this blatantly obvious void in her life, that always stopped her in her tracks.

    She tried as hard as she could not to devote much thought to this. No amount of wishing would give her a father or mother. No amount of wishing would give her a different place to return to after her escapades to the picturesque fields outside the village. This had been drilled into her from the moment she'd set foot in the orphanage. She had eagerly complied, playing only with fellow orphans so that no one would point out the black,  gaping hole in her existence, because it would be there forever.

     Anna rolled over on her straw mat and sighed, wallowing in her gloom for a few moments before getting up. Sleep had evaded her all night. The cold breezes whistling through the gaps in the walls were viciously frigid, and the dingy mound of filthy silage was poor protection.

    Letting her gaze drift across the room, she saw a stray strand of straw skittering across the faded floorboards. That's odd, she thought. With the little hay there was, any child should easily pin it down, regardless of any night draft that seeped through the cracks. So that must mean...

     A chill tingled down her spine as she slowly looked past the rogue ply to the empty straw behind it, and the creaky door, which hung ajar.

     Her feet heavy with apprehension, she slowly walked over to the door frame, and placing her hand tentatively upon it, looked outside into the suffocating darkness outside.

     There was no one there.

     CRACK.

     A clumsy, weighted blow shattered her skull. Fireworks popped in her eyes as she reeled, all cohesive thought knocked clean out of her head. She stumbled as her surroundings liquefied and pain shot through her cranium. Before she could get an idea of what hat transpired it came again in another relentless clout.

    CRACK.

    That was all it took for her to be out cold.

    As fast as blinking, Anna's lashes brushed against grime, and gritty stone ground into her cheek. Ashen bricks flooded her vision as  functionality returned to her disgruntled mind. She struggled, trying to move, but her arms and legs were tightly bound by ropes. She had been trussed like a turkey and propped up against a wall like a mannequin.

   Not only this, but a dress or sorts had awkwardly been shoved over her head. It was very heavy, and itchy. Layered fabric smothered her legs and feet and strained at the ropes tied around her.

Fantastic, she thought.

   Then a thick, slimy drawl slithered out of a unseen mouth.

  "She awake?"

  A sharp one whipped out of another.

 "Her eyes are open. I'm pretty sure she is."

   And then another-this time very soft, and quiet, but with cold apathy and devilry clearly defined in metallic undertones.

  "Cut the ropes-but don't let the little snot-nose see who we are. That' s a squealer if I ever saw one."

   A silver blade flashed down her back, too close for comfort. The ropes fell like a mummy's wrappings. Gasping, Anna fell to her knees. She struggled to get up, encumbered by the the thick skirt choking her legs. But before she could turn around, a smooth, cold blade was pressed to her neck. She froze instantly, suddenly aware of the vital arteries it contained.

    "Don't move a muscle, brat. If you do what we say we might let you go alive."

    Anna tried to say something, but her tongue was suddenly a lumped, useless mound in her mouth. She tried to nod, but then realized the knife against her neck meant that such a movement would mean certain death. She felt the eyes burning into her as her silence dragged on.

    "Good."

   This did nothing to quell her anxiety.

    "Listen carefully."

    There was brief pause.

    "Before midnight"-there was a slight jerking movement indicating a finger jabbed at the moon-"you are to pick 13 ripe blackberries"-a wicker basket was thrust into her numb fingers-"and put them in the this basket."

    Anna tightened her grip on the straw handle to keep from dropping it.

    "They need to be per-fect-ly ripe, understand? Not a inch should even be slightly tinged with red. Understand?"

    Anna stuttered out a sound that sounded vaguely like a yes. 

    "Good."

    The blade withdrew from the cutthroat position, and Anna slumped forward. A cold wind blew, making goose bumps spring onto her skin. Shivering, she turned around to see that she was once again alone, as if nothing had ever happened. The dress and the basket seemed to burn her skin, painfully blunt reminders that this wasn't some fictional nightmare, a mere sleepwalking episode that went too far.

   This was real.


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324 Reviews


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Wed May 23, 2018 9:17 pm
Evander wrote a review...



Heyo, Quinine! I read this story when it was first published, so I thought I would come back and leave it a review. I first want to say that I really enjoy what you've written here (and that I can't wait to read part 2 when I have the time); the concept is interesting, the bits of description are delightful, and I'm incredibly intrigued as to what will happen next.

 In such a village, ransacked by cruel poverty, like so many others, it meant that there was little less straw to sleep on, a little less to eat, a more drafty place to sleep, crammed with all the other orphans. 

This sentence feels long and choppy, being a bit unwieldy to get through given how the commas separate the ideas. Putting the word "living" at the start of the sentence could probably help, but I'd personally reword it. Here's an example: "Living in a village ransacked by cruel poverty, like so many others, meant that there was a little less to eat, a little less straw to sleep on, and a more drafty space to sleep; most orphans ended up crammed together."
My one qualm with my own rewording is that "sleep" feels repetitive, even with the reordering to make the two related ideas closer together.

You were tucked only a bracket or two under the usual village-folk. 

I understand the want to elicit sympathy from the reader by placing them in the orphans' shoes, but I don't think slipping into second person (you/yours/yourself) is beneficial for the story. It's sort of jarring, actually. I'd just say "The orphans were tucked only a[...]" and leave it at that.

 In fact, if it weren't for one small detail, there would have been virtually no difference in her life and that of a baker's daughter.
She had no parents.

This reveal would be a tad bit more meaningful had the first line of the story not stated that she was an orphan. If you wanted to build up to a small reveal, then I probably would have focused the first paragraph on how status didn't necessarily matter and remove the mention of orphans entirely. Then, I would drop the bombshell that Anna had no parents and then I'd move on from there.

    No matter how hard Anna tried to be strong, to be callous, to be indifferent to this blatantly obvious void in her life, that always stopped her in her tracks.

I think this sentence needs to be reworded. On the first initial read, it looks like "that" has no connection to anything? I only just realized that "that" is in connection to her parents being dead.

she saw a stray strand of straw skittering

Nice bit of alliteration. :P

Before she could get an idea of what had transpired, it came again in another relentless clout.


   Then a thick, slimy drawl slithered out of a unseen mouth.

This is a very nice piece of description. It's incredibly vivid. A+

The ropes fell like a mummy's wrappings. 

Good description, but I'm not entirely sure when the story is set? It looks like mummies were put on display in the early 1900s, but this story feels like it could be set anywhere from the 1700s to the 1800s? I didn't really place it nearish to modern times in my head.

That's pretty much what I have to say for right now! The concept is incredibly interesting. I find myself continuing to ask why exactly Anna was chosen and why 13 blackberries were needed specifically (and what barred the 3 voices from getting the blackberries themselves).

I hope that you keep on writing!

-E




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Mon May 14, 2018 8:47 am
HollyM64 wrote a review...



You're very good at writing tension and your descriptions are excellent. The structure was clear and concise, your grammar was good and the writing style is both clear and interesting. Your spelling was good, with the exception of a few minor and infrequent mistakes, and the overall plot is engaging. I'm not fully invested in Anna as a character yet, but I have every faith she'll grow on me as you post more chapters. Overall, this is a pretty good start to a story :)




Quinine says...


Thanks :)



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Mon May 14, 2018 2:19 am
Banana25 says...



Okay, first off, your grammar is fantastic! I think that really drew me in. Your story was very well written and very easy to follow. I'm excited to see what comes of this!




Quinine says...


Thanks!



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Sat May 12, 2018 10:23 pm
Evander says...



Interesting premise! I'm eager to see where it goes from here!




Quinine says...


Thanks :D




Go and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here.
— Neil Gaiman