Zoe Hooton won the Epsom Community Library Poles Apart Creative Writing Competition in the holidays with her story “Irrekiche”. You can read her story below. Congratulations, Zoe!
By Zoe Hooton aged 11
When I was born I was sent to live in a barred, grey room. Each day, a young man named Tranical would come and bring me a carrot, a piece of bread and three raspberries.
In my cell, there wasn’t much furniture. A brown, creaky bed sat in the corner along with wooden basket filled with worksheets and stationery by the door. There was a window in my room – it seemed to have frost on it, every morning – and outside, I could see mountains with snow on them. My day was always the same, I learned English, ate, slept and dreamed.
One day, after ten years, Tranical grabbed my wrists, placed a glowing band around my arm and lifted me up. We marched along the path and I saw many frightened, young girls in each miserable cell. Some were eating, others were hugging their legs and crying into their shoulders. As we left the room, we entered a new space. It was cold – even colder than my cell – and smelled damp and vinegary. I was placed on a mahogany stage that sounded hollow. There were six men standing above me, behind a large bench. They stared at me like I was an art piece on display. I stood alone, shaking.
A small man squinted at a page, his long red hair falling down his shoulder in a plait. As his spectacles slipped down his sweaty nose, he said, “Afftera, 15.”
I had heard that word before. But, where? My thoughts were interrupted when a tall man with hair like sand leaned over the bench. “Oh, you are a pretty one,” he spoke quietly and as if he was hungry. “What do we think?” The man continued, “You!” Is she beautiful enough for you?” He spat his last word as if it were a curse.
“W-well she h-has v-v-ery nice ey-eyes,” stuttered a fat man with white hair. He held his index finger under the table and bit his lip.
“Indeed she does. Oh, how very rude of me, my name is Lord Plazebo. It is wonderful to meet you, Afftera,” said the towering man. I looked up and then down again. “Lord Plazebo,” I whispered. He smiled.
“She can stay. Tranical!” Called Lord Plazebo. I blinked and everyone sprung into action. The desk the men were sitting at slowly disappeared into the ground and all the judges sat calmly at their seats. Tranical lifted me up and paraded me down the hall, past dozens of rooms filled with miners, farmers and bakers. Many of them, just contained men devouring the most complex and marvellous food or reading stories on colourful couches or painting flowers and fields with watercolours. They were all smiling and laughing. I felt excited. For the first time in my life, I was excited to eat luscious food, be surrounded by colour and happiness and live a life I had never dreamed of. As we approached the end of the hallway, Tranical opened the door and threw me inside.
I blinked and saw seventeen women. They smiled for the shortest moment before looking at the ground. Most of them, had large bumps on their stomachs and I remember wondering how they got so fat with a diet of so little. Fourteen of them were adults and the rest just older than me.
“My Dear, my name is Evanora,” said one of the women in a calm, deep voice. She had black hair down to the back of her knees and gorgeous, long eyelashes. “Do you remember what they said about you?”
I swallowed, “Afftera, fifteen,” I replied.
“Afftera. How beautiful,” whispered a woman with glossy, emerald green eyes, “I’m Reetheena, I am sure you are probably wondering what is going on here.”
I was. “No! She is not ready!” Evanora exclaimed.
“Ready for what?” I asked. They looked at each other, eyebrows furrowed, secrets floating in the pools of their eyes.
“Evanora, she lives here now. She has a right to know, just like any of us,” said Reetheena.
Evanora sighed. “Oh Pet.”
“I’m ready. Please!” I insisted.
“Alright. Forty years ago, Lord Plazebo brought thousands of men and just five women to this island,” said Evanora, “he began to develop a utopian paradise for the men, but created a dystopian nightmare for us, girls. And he called it, Irrekiche.”
“Why did he bring such a small amount of girls?” I asked.
“To avoid overpopulation of females. Apparently, men are stronger and more important to society than women,” said Reetheena
“Rubbish if you ask me,” interrupted Evanora.
“But, what is so bad about Irrekiche?” I asked, “I mean, sure, you have to live on hay and eat boring food, but you’re not being tortured.”
“I told you. She isn’t ready. Afftera, you just won’t understand,” said Evanora. I hadn’t noticed before, she smelled comforting, like a fire.
“Then, make me.”
Reetheena sighed. “I assume you saw the girls, in the cells, on your way here. They are kept there, like you were, until they are fifteen. Then taken to a panel of judges. There are seven men, including Lord Plazebo”
“But, there was only six men,” I said.
“One of them probably died,” said Reetheena, frankly.
“I bet it was Handow,” interrupted Evanora, “he’s about a hundred and ten!”
Reetheena continued, “Anyhow, they judge whether or not you are beautiful. Hardly, anyone gets through.”
I thought for a moment, “What happens if you don’t get through. Is there a punishment? Do you live somewhere else?” I asked.
“You’re killed,” said Reetheena.
“Alright. That’s enough for tonight-”
“No. Tell me more,” I begged, “What do you do here?” As confused and frightened as I was, I had to know more.
“I have twenty-one children,” Evanora whispered wistfully. My jaw dropped like petals off a flower, “and I haven’t met a single one. They were mostly boys and live in a dream world, somewhere. I had two or three girls though and they just weren’t perfect enough for Lord Plazebo,” she blinked very quickly to avoid any tears leaking from her eyes. Reetheena put a hand on her shoulder.
“I’m so sorry,” I muttered.
“Don’t be. There’s nothing any of us can do to change what is going on here,” Evanora sighed.
“Women are raised to breed men, but it’s not like farm animals. The men are not the ones that get killed,” said Evanora.
“We should get some sleep,” said Reetheena. We all lay down on the hay and looked up at the stars through the rusted holes in the roof.
The next morning, when the man brought our food, he looked behind him as he brought our food. He entered and closed the door behind him. I recognised him from the room with the stage.
“I c-can get-t you ou-out of h-here,” he whispered anxiously.
“Who are you?” Evanora said in a firm yet gentle voice.
“He’s the man from the judges’ panel,” I said, “he said I had nice eyes.”
“My n-name is Lastefello. I c-can help you escap-pe through the m-mens doors,” I h-have access to the theatre r-room and c-costumes. Y-you’ll disguise as men and just walk ou-out.
“Why are you helping us?” demanded Evanora, “You decide the fate of thousands of girls.”
“I’m s-scared of Lord P-Plazebo and everything th-that g-goes on here,” began the man, “and for your information, o-only Lord P-Plazebo decides what ha-happens to the g-girls. W-we’re j-just there for sh-show.”
Everyone looks at each other. A woman with oak-brown hair named Plomena told him to come back tomorrow and we’ll have our answer. We all huddled around a pile of hay and discussed what to do.
“I say, we go,” said Evanora, “if we’re all gone then this whole society will eventually die out.”
“How can we trust Lastefello?” said Plomena, “He’s never done anything for us, before?”
“Have you heard the man? It seems as though he’ll have a heart attack if he turns the corner and sees a ladybug. He’s completely and utterly terrified!” said Evanora
“It might just be an act. What if this is some sort of test?” Reetheena said, “If we stay here, we get a prize or get to live like the men. If we go, they’ll take away our food or something.”
“We have nothing to lose,” said a woman with a hoarse voice.
“I think we should give it a try.”
“If all fails, all fails.”
“It might be fun. Dressing up like men and just walking out.”
“Let’s do it!”
We all agreed and after a long night’s sleep, we told Lastefello. He described the plan in greater detail. “There are eighteen of you, so this will happen over the course of five days. On day one, I’ll bring costumes for four of you – decide you those are by tomorrow – then at night, I’ll come and collect you. There are five boats docked outside. We’ll sail and get as far away as possible.
“You’re stutter is gone,” I noticed
“I’m not as afraid. We have a plan and can finally escape from Lord Plazebo.”
“Ok, let’s do it,” said Plomena.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said.
Evanora and three other women were up first. We all hugged them goodbye and Lastefello opened the door. I couldn’t recognise them, he did a great job with the costumes.
Then, five women the next day. Reetheena, Plomena and three more after that. Finally, the day I was leaving approached. I was with a girl with a black pixie cut, another with blonde hair and blue eyes and one more girl, who I don’t seem to remember. We put on our costumes, they smelled mildewed and almost spicy, and after everyone was dressed, Lastefello opened the door. We were all young, so when people approached, he could say we were lost. As the end door drew closer, our path became blocked, by a group of men chatting away. We quickly changed route and entered the kitchen. There was no one there so we discussed what to do next. There was a door through the walk in freezer that led outside.
“Shh! Someone’s coming,” I hissed. We all hurried into the freezer and waddled our way down to the end of the room. The door, clearly hadn’t been opened in years as the lock was frozen. “I have an idea.” I didn’t have time to explain. I pulled a loose thread from a girl’s costume and ripped some fabric from my own. I tied the material around the handle and we all held our hands around it. After ten minutes or so, the lock came loose. Lastefello typed the passcode in and we all pulled it open.
None of us had ever been outside before. There was sand beneath our feet and it was the colour of Lord Plazebo’s hair. The ocean stretched as far as the eye could see and the stars danced on the surface of the water. It smelled salty, but we didn’t have time to admire the beauty of it all. The last boat was docked on the shore and we all filed in. Lastefello pushed it into the water and jumped in. We each grabbed a set of oars and began rowing. Sailing out, into the dead of night I sighed. I wondered if we’d ever meet up with the others, I wondered if we would ever begin new lives.
After a week of sailing, land appeared. We all started to laugh. We had done it. We had escaped Irrekiche.
ACG Parnell College