Fred couldn’t shake off the feeling that Mr. Roucan had a secret. And the floor… was it just his imagination that the girl in the hologram stared at him? Is it even a hologram? The possibility of having a real forest underneath was preposterous. His musings took him to the academy’s park. Then, he saw the girl. Seated on the grass with her back to him, the breeze playing with her hair, she looked nothing like the vain person called Victoria Roucan. The wind shifted to his direction and he felt the chill of the season. The girl wore the same dress he’d seen her in the forest. Automatically, he shrugged off his jacket and placed it around her shoulders. Her eyes opened and looked at him. Fred stepped back, unsettled. She looked exactly like Victoria.
“Who are you?” the girl asked.
“You’re kidding, right?”
“Excuse me?” Her brow furrowed.
“Look, if you don’t want to talk to me, just say it, Victoria. No need to act like you don’t know me.” He turned on his heel, thinking how girls can drive any person crazy.
“But I am not Victoria.” Fred continued to ignore her. A hand tugged his arm, making him stop. “My name is Electra. Thank you for the jacket.” She returned his jacket and walked to the area where the trees were denser.
“Wait!” he blurted out. “Won’t you stay a while?” Inwardly, he kicked himself. Was he out of his mind? This is Victoria’s doppelganger or possibly her twin!
The girl stared at him, trying to decide if bringing him along was a good idea. Eventually, she said: “I can’t stay here. Follow me.”
Electra guided him into a tunnel that was cleverly concealed by the trees in the park. “Have you eaten?” she asked.
“No, I haven’t.”
“You should have. The air here will freeze you to death with only that thin jacket on for protection.”
“Look who’s talking,” he murmured, eyeing her sleeveless dress.
“What was that?”
“You were saying something.”
Oops. He gulped. “I – uh… I was asking how long we’ll be in here.”
The girl cast him a sidelong glance. She wasn’t buying it. After several minutes of awkward silence, she answered: “An hour and a half if there’s a cave in.” Fred stopped dead in his tracks. He had been trying to focus his attention from the walls that seemed to close in on him ever since they entered the tunnel. “It rarely happens and when it does, it’s usually my pets who’d caused it,” she assured him. “We’ll be there in thirty minutes. Once we get there, you’ll feel better. I know you’re claustrophobic,” Electra cast him a sidelong glance, “so try not to focus much on this long and narrow passage.”
She’s definitely worse than Victoria, he thought miserably. Fred wondered if Electra had actually heard him earlier and was exacting revenge on him. If that was the case, she was succeeding. He stopped short when he realized that he hadn’t told anyone about his phobia.
“Why are you stopping again?” Electra asked without looking back and was not in the mood to wait for him. “We’re in a labyrinth. If you lose me, you won’t be able to find your way back until I come for you in the evening or, maybe, tomorrow. That is, if you manage to stay alive in this cold.”
“Right.” Fred caught up with her.
Fortunately for him, they didn’t encounter any obstacles. His fear was temporarily forgotten when they arrived in a cavernous area. It shimmered in its icy glory, decorated with stalagmites and stalactites with dangerously gleaming pointed tips.
“We’re here,” Electra said. Fred pulled his gaze away from the breath taking scenery and stared at a block of solid ice before them. A dead end, his heart sank. But before he could say anything, Electra pressed her palm against it. The ice melted at her touch, becoming a curtain of water. Fred’s jaw dropped. The girl beside him giggled and ran through the entrance. Cautiously, he put out his hand and a curious thing happened: the curtain of water split into two. Fred stepped through, marveling at how the water seemed to sense his proximity and avoided him.
Taking stock of his new surroundings, he realized where she had taken him: the forest underneath the Roucan’s home, as confirmed by Electra. Animals, however, unnerved him though. They would pause and watch them as they passed by with their non-animal-like behavior.
“Don’t act suspicious. If you do, they might get the wrong impression and attack you. I’m sure neither of us would want that.” She led him into a house and through the kitchen where food was laid out on the table. They ate in silence for a while until Fred asked, “Do you live here alone?”
“No,” Electra answered, biting a piece of her bread. “My friends stay with me at night.”
“The animals. Louis always visits me. He talks about the goings-on in the academy and his friends – and you.” Electra smiled.
“What did he tell you… about me?”
“A lot. How you’re Victoria’s pet peeve – how she told Louis to stay away from you.”
“That didn’t stop him though.”
“It almost did,” she said, “but he’d seen you with your friends. Louis hero worships you.”
Fred choked on the water he was drinking. He couldn’t imagine anyone admiring a good-for-nothing son like him. To change the subject, he grasped for a thought that had been bothering him and asked, “Speaking of Victoria, is she your twin sister?”
“My twin?” She glared at him. “She stole my identity.” The room’s temperature dropped and lightning flashed outside. Sensing the sudden change in her mood, Fred tactfully changed the topic again. Gradually, the temperature in the kitchen returned to normal.
It was mid-afternoon when a raven flew in and perched on Electra’s shoulder. From the tilt of their heads, they seemed to be communicating silently with each other.
“Stay here and don’t touch anything. I’ll be back,” Electra said to Fred before running out.
Nearby, a parrot spoke, “A storm. A storm.”
Gazing out the window, Fred saw animals had gathered outside and couldn’t help listen in.
“A storm’s coming. Is she going to warn her father or her brother?” a tigress said to her feline friends.
“She’ll warn the brother,” a tiger replied.
“If I may ask, does she have a falling out with her father?” Fred asked. Animals swiveled towards him. Their intelligent gazes met his. They were surprised that a surface dweller could understand them. “I’m sorry I interrupted you. I was just curious.”
“Our Lady is a mystery to you, is it not?” a stag spoke. “She has lived here ever since her mother died. Her father rarely visits this place.”
“We shall tell you a secret if you promise to protect it with your life.”
“I swear on it.”
“Our Lady can manipulate the elements: air, water, earth and fire. She inherited this gift from her mother’s line. Her father never knew. A neighbor witnessed our Lady protect herself from an oncoming car with her ability. That night, the man broke into their house and accused the accused her of witchcraft. The mother took the blame by demonstrating what she can do. They were unaware that the man carried a gun and in his fright—”
“He shot her,” Electra cut in. “That’s enough, Strago.” To Fred, she said: “I hope you enjoyed the story.”
“I didn’t invite you here to ask for sympathy. I brought you here because I thought you were different.” Electra stormed out of the room, leaving Fred stunned by her words. He already knew he was a disappointment. Everything he touches eventually breaks. Wasn’t it his fault his parents’ arguments were becoming worse? He had done enough damage for one day. There was nothing else for him to do but to leave.
Meanwhile, under the gnarled branches of a dead tree and surrounded by animals, Electra wept.
Copyright © 2014-2016 Cecilia Beatriz. All rights reserved.
A/N: That’s all kinds of shock to Fred. Poor guy. Seems like his life has been turned upside down by the Roucans. But, is that a good thing or a bad thing? What do you think of Electra? Comments please.