I’ve written middle grade characters almost exclusivity my whole life. But Squire screamed at me. She called out to me, She told me she needed to be heard.
Squire Ann Carroll.
She is sixteen years old, far too old for my usual characters.
Still, she called to me in my daughter’s voices — Cisily at 18, Emily at 16, Joei at 14 — and I knew I couldn’t ignore her voice. Women characters like Bela Swan, with her insecurity, like Katniss Everdeen with her stone-facade, like Anastasia Steele with her loss of control, all of them spoke to my daughters in a way that Squire couldn’t accept. And so Squire spoke to me. She spoke of strength and hope, of love of a man, and freedom, of individuality and understanding.
Squire Ann Carroll spoke to me as her sisters before her — Lewis Carroll’s Alice, and Lyman Frank Baum’s Ozma — that whimsy and truth aren’t engendered. That the hope of the future belongs to us all. That we must stop pretending we’re different — stop labeling ourselves and others — in order to find equality that will LAST.
Do you agree with Squire? Then read her story below, share this, and dive into her world to see what girlpower truly means, both without a man, and with. Squire loves a strong man, but she understands her own strength as well. Will you you join us? Will you support the light that Squire wants to bring to the Under?
Read her story, and decide…
The ancient word hangs in my mind as I kneel in the dirt. My fingers, chalky with dust, working slowly. Carefully. I can’t afford another mistake. Already the rocky ground is littered with broken bits of metal, cracked cogs and de-twined springs. Here and there, peppering the mess, shiny bits of white glass reflect the low light from outside.
That, I broke on purpose.
Even in the beginning there were only two of the fragile globes. The most important pieces. But I had to know how they worked, and the glass cover hid the details inside. I’d had to sacrifice one to understand the other.
A pointless sacrifice.
I lift up the uncovered innards to study them again in the faint light. The tiny bits are as mysterious to me now as they were when I’d first killed the Knight, three days before.
The bottom is curved around and around like the hand drills we use in the quarry, only much shorter and fatter. Above, surrounded by a jagged lip of the broken glass that had covered them, two tiny metal wires stand up side-by-side, connected at the bottom by a small cube of clear glass. Another wire runs along the top, connected back to the glass cube by even thinner, springy wires.
I’ve studied it for days, at every angle, but it still makes no sense. Both globes worked perfectly when I saw them focused on me within the hollow eyesockets of the Knight, blinding me with their bright glow. But they’d gone dead with it. I haven’t been able to make them glow since.
Frustrated, I pull my book out of its secret pocket in my robes. Something hits my knee. I look down to see its sister has followed it. I’ve had both books for as long as I can remember, and known they were dangerous for just about as long. Books are heresy against Bask, and outlawed in the Under. Nobody here can read.
Nobody except me.
I don’t know why I can read. Neither of my parents can. Nobody I know can. I don’t remember learning how either, I just always have. Just like I’ve always had the books.
I pick up the second book. It’s smaller than its sister, thinner, with a brown cover that almost matches my robes. I’ve always wanted to read it but I can’t. The lock on its side keeps its secrets well hidden.
I put it back in my pocket and focus on the other book, the one I can read. A little bigger than my open palm, its title is 8th Grade Physical Science. I’ve read it so many times I can almost recite it word for word, but I still understand so few of those words. I open it to a wrinkled page with a picture of a bulb. My lips move as I whisper the caption under my breath.
“Electricity is a force created by a difference in charges due to gained or lost electrons. Electricity flowing between two points is called an electrical current. In order for these electrons to flow, there must be a difference in charges between the two points. Electricity always flows from a location with a negative charge to a location with a positive charge.”
Words. So many words, so little sense in them.
I stare at both bulbs — broken and whole, and bite back a scream of frustration. It’s right here. RIGHT here. Light for the Under. Freedom for my people. So close, but so impossibly far away.
The small cavern where I kneel vibrates to the long, low toll of a bell.
Curfew. And tomorrow is Atonement. I won’t have another chance at lighting up our darkness for another whole day.
Mother’s warm, raggy hugs. Father’s beardy, scratchy kisses. Baby Derrik, all squirmy and giggly and snuggly in my arms. Grandfather’s weird quips, spoken at the most random times. Our home, tiny and hot, sitting at the top of the stoneshack heap of Cavern 16.
These are the things I remember as a kid in the Under. These are the things that keep me going even though it could all go horribly wrong.
Even though it probably will.
When I was little, the Under was home. It was peace. Behind the robes of my parents I never saw the horror just below the surface of my daily life.
We woke to the tolling bell each morning. We left our tiny home with everyone else, shimmying down the ladders to our neighbor’s roofs, then down more ladders to more roofs and finally to the pebbled ground below. The low light-lines embedded in the sometimes smooth, sometimes rocky walls illuminated the brown-clad subjects of Neighborhood D in their low, cold glow. My little feet, dusty and bare since birth, ran over the dips, pebbles and broken tiles of the cavern floor as I pushed through the throngs of other families headed into the quarry for another day of work. Father always called me over their heads, but I pretended not to hear him. It was our little game.
Coarse robes, bare legs and feet covered in sweat-drenched dust, gnarled hands clasping sharp pickaxes or the split, wooden handles of rusty shovels. I pushed through and around them all, bent on one goal — to get to our family spot before Father, and prove I was finally big enough to explore the dark cracks in the quarry walls that fascinated me.
But every time, he was there first. I’d break free of the crowd as they dispersed through the enormous, open quarry, and he was waiting for me with a wide grin, holding out my scraps basket.
Then one day the game ended, and with it, my childhood.
Running between the brown-clad legs, I didn’t see the spot of white until it was too late. I ran right into what felt like a rock wall.
The wall turned to look at me. My breath stopped. Underneath the soft white hood, a cold glow where eyes should have been. Thin, bloodless lips pursed below a set of ragged holes that only barely resembled a nose. The body, tall and thin, was covered from shoulders to floor in robes that matched the hood.
A Knight of Bask.
I’d heard of the Knights, of course. Everyone knew of the white-clad specters who policed the Under to keep peace among the subjects. I’d even seen a few from far away, but never this close. Close enough to smell it.
It stunk like rotten holemole meat.
The Knight turned away from me without a word. I breathed a sigh of relief, but it was short-lived. Within the next moment the crowd pushed back violently, knocking me to the ground. Pickaxes clattered to the cracked floor, screams echoed everywhere, and I looked up to see the Knight holding someone in the air by the neck.
I didn’t know her, had never spoken to her before, though I’d seen her at the quarry often. She had been softly wrinkled in the face, with sharp green eyes and graying brown hair always pulled back neatly into a torn scrap of robe. Now, her face was purple and bloated from choking, her eyes bulged out sickeningly, her hair free and frizzy, half-covering her face and damp with sweat. Her legs jerked under her brown robes in an unnatural way I’ll never forget as the Knight moved through the parting people, heading toward a nearby hole in the ground.
They littered the floor here and there, deep, dark holes with bottoms set in wicked spikes. Most of the time the ooblis were empty, but we were always taught to stay safely away from them, and everyone knew what they were for.
The Knight stopped at the oobli, holding the jerking woman over it in one hand.
“Bask has spoken,” it bellowed. “The heretic shall be vanquished.”
Without another word, it dropped the woman and walked away. Just dropped her, like she was nothing. Like she was trash.
I ran, then, as far and as fast as I could. It did no good. I still haven’t escaped her gurgling screams.
I don’t think I ever will.