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The Monster Within
“Another day. Another week. Another school year,” thought fifteen-year-old Natalia Calen, a sophomore at Shillington Prep, a boarding school for the more well-off girls of London and neighboring counties. Natalia walked up to the entry hall of her school, and into the grand foyer. She sighed as she saw last year’s senior class school picture hanging above the fireplace. How she longed to be in the class of 1893! And to finally be out of this place, into the world, free to take flight like a bird, to fly wherever her heart might please. Which, as Natalia often said, would be in the exact opposite direction of Shillington’s.
Shillington’s happened to be the standard school for girls. It taught manners, ballroom dancing, reading and writing, and just a tad bit of French, but of course just to impress onlookers. Nowhere in the classes or on the school’s property were freethinking and free speech mentioned. In fact, it was shunned. The girls of Shillington were taught to be ladylike, well polished, and intellectual if the someone brings up the appropriate ladylike topic. Natalia never liked Shillington’s. She thought she would much rather go to the schools that her two brothers went, where they learned math, science, and subjects that were actually intellectually stimulating! But no, she was still here, stuck at this place where she never thought she fit in. The girls surrounding her were all thrilled to be back here! In fact, all summer, they couldn’t wait to get back! At this moment, they
ran towards one another, squealing, and hugging (all in a most ladylike fashion, of course), as they saw their old friends from the previous school years.
Natalia took another deep breath as she headed up the grand staircase that led to the dormitories. It was there that she felt most at home, with the solitude and confinement of her journal, as she spent her night writing when everyone else was asleep. She walked down the familiar hallway, turning left, then right, then right again to her single room that meant the world to her in this horrid place.
After what seemed like the longest walk of her life, Natalia finally arrived at her room. She smiled as she turned the doorknob, unleashing the bright sunshine that the room inside held for her. Natalia stepped inside and became comforted immediately. As soon as she closed the door behind her, Natalia rushed to her bed, got on her knees, and reached under it, feeling for the broken wood panel that held her most prized possession. She reached for her journal and climbed up onto her bed, shutting the curtain behind it, making sure she was completely alone. The only time Natalia had ever been glad for her parents’ extremely prominent standings occurred at the beginning of the last school year. For the first time, she received a single room due to her parents’ quite eminent status in all of London. And this was when her journal started. Ever since she received a room to herself, Natalia felt both a little more in solitude, yet also a little bit more free. Ever since she started her journal, Natalia felt a little more rebellious, yet also a little bit calmer.
Ever since she started really knowing herself, by pouring out her heart into this journal, Natalia wanted something new out of life.
Natalia smiled as she flipped through the pages of her journal. This was her best friend at Shillington’s, and always would be. She frowned slightly as she realized she only had a few more blank pages left that she could write in; how could she be so careless not to get some more pages over the summer when she was free of this place?
“Go get them now,” a voice said. Natalia jumped. She looked and around but couldn’t see anyone. Why did the voice sound so close? “Why are you here, Natalia? Why are you practicing curtseys and table manners with these girls? You know you are not like them. You know you want more out of life then these girls do.”
“Wh-wh-who are you?” Natalia stumbled. “How do you know anything about me? Forget who, WHERE are you?” But all was silent in her room. “Come on! I know you’re here, you couldn’t have left that fast!” But all she could hear was her own shallow breath and the quickening of her heartbeat. Natalia opened her curtains and peered outside, but no one was standing directly underneath her window either. Natalia went back down to her bed and sat down shakily. “What is going on?” she thought to herself.
“There you go,” the voice responded.
Natalia almost jumped up. She wasn’t expecting a response.
“Don’t be afraid. I’m not here to harm you.”
And for some reason, Natalia couldn’t doubt that statement. Whoever, or whatever, spoke to her had an amazingly calm and reassuring voice, kind of like a soft velvet type of voice. “Who are you?” Natalia repeated laconically, amazed at how cool and collected her own voice seemed.
“I’m you. I’m nothing but a figment of your own imagination, a concept that has stemmed right from that journal of yours. Or I guess I mean ours.”
“Wait so---,” but before Natalia could finish her sentence, three chimes rang across throughout the school, announcing dinnertime. Natalia always thought that these dinner chimes were kind of comical. They meant to be cheerful, but instead they reminded her of a kind of funeral march, forcing her to leave her sanctuary of a room and actually socialize with these girls. She did not dare try to speak to the voice again. She knew that there was zero chance that someone wouldn’t overhear, as there were too many girls in the hallway now. Instead, she just shook her head and closed the door behind her.
Time seemed to have stopped as soon as Natalia left her room. Dinner inched by, as the girls around her annoyed her to no end. They only talked about petty things, such as the new student whose parents were rumored to own the largest manor in all of Bath They spoke of their summer adventures, the tales of their travel, and of course they spoke endlessly about the new corset that their aunts and uncles had given them for being such good little girls. Natalia smirked; did none of these hedonistic girls get that there was more to life than the newest fashion?
When dinner finally ended, Natalia rushed upstairs, almost slamming the door behind her. “Where are you?” Natalia whispered, “Where are you?” she said, just a little bit louder.
“I’m everywhere. I’m your deepest ambitions and your innermost thoughts. I’m your hopes and dreams for the future, but I’m also the thing that you are most ashamed of, Natalia. Do you really want it to be almost the turn of the century and still be stuck here? Your own personal hell? You have never liked it here and you know this, Natalia. You can change this, Natalia. Why don’t you leave?”
Natalia still looked around for the source of this voice, still not believing that this wasn’t some sort of prank from one of the more immature girls.
“You won’t find the answer to your wishes by looking around. In your heart, you know this. Think with your heart, Natalia. Don’t concentrate on what you’ve been taught in this conformist school. You know there is something else that you can do with your life. You could explore like Columbus! Or write like Shakespeare! You could paint like Renoir or make music like Beethoven. You could have the world in your hands. That could all be yours! Can you imagine having your first novel published by 1900? Your first symphony, conducted and everything, by the start of the twentieth century. Natalia, you can do this. You can do this by taking a stand, opening the gates, taking a carriage, and riding away from this place!”
To that final statement, Natalia smiled. In fact, she downright laughed as she imagined the look on her peers’ and parents’ faces as she threw open the big brass gates and stormed out into the world. But after that image of her leaving the school, Natalia could not see anything else. She would know nothing about getting around once she released herself from Shillington’s. Natalia knew she couldn’t count on her parents to help her achieve her ambitions, as they would be horrified of her desertion of this so called “education.”
“You’re a monster, did you know that?” Natalia said with an irritable tone in her voice. “You’re preying on what I want, knowing I can’t have it. Knowing this will only get me in trouble. That makes it even more tempting doesn’t it? You. Are. A. Monster. You aren’t the type to haunt dreams. You aren’t the type to make children afraid to blow out their candles at night. No, you’re much worse than that. Instead you’re the type that makes my thoughts be completely consumed by an unrealistic and irrelevant fantasy that you plant incessantly in my mind. A creature that makes one dwell on something that is the very pinnacle of their fantasy. You’re a monster that plants a seed in one’s mind; a seed that is irrevocable and a seed that makes one obsess over impossible, but beautiful scenarios. Did you know that is what you are? A monster.” Natalia exhaled as she finished her thought. She waited for a reply, but none came. No response after thirty seconds, or a minute, or five minutes.
Natalia sat there. Waiting. She barely heard when the three chimes rang, the chimes that signaled that everyone had to go to bed. She just sat there.
The next morning, Natalia had no idea whether she ever fell asleep. She just feeling dazed, considering all of the possibilities that this “monster” had brought along. In her heart, Natalia knew she wanted to leave this place. Now it seemed like much more than just a possibility.
And now she considered it. She now considered it very much.
The rest of the day went by completely uneventfully. Natalia was even more clumsy than usual during her ballroom dancing class. She stepped on her partner’s shoes numerous times, earning increasingly annoyed glances from her classmates.
The voice itself did not bother Natalia during her classes. No, the actual voice never distracted her. Instead, it was the thoughts that the voice initiated in hermind, that refused to let her think of anything else. The thoughts of breaking out from her own personal jail, where it was always rainy and stormy. The thought of bursting out into the sunshine, where she would never be cold again. Oh, what had this voice done to her? Dug into her deepest desires, and surfaced them for the entire world to see? But no. Natalia knew that there was no way that she could actually leave Shillington’s. There would be no place for her to go, no one to support her decision. She had lived a very sheltered life, and barely knew anyone, let alone someone that wouldn’t mind her staying with them, while ditching her education and the path that had been set up for her to live from a very early age. Who would defy her parents when everyone knew if they were obedient, they would reap the benefits from the eminent Mr. and Mrs. Calen?
“Why, oh why, did this monster put this beautiful, yet so awful, thought into my mind?” Natalia thought to herself during lunch, halfway into the week. “It would not be good for my family, or the person I am supposed to be, to abandon this school and my lifestyle. Oh, but how beneficial it would be to the person that I am currently!”
These thoughts plagued Natalia all week. From dancing, to table manners, to even French class when she was usually most absorbed, she thought about all the options that she could have if she left Shillington’s.
That night, Natalia couldn’t sleep. She was completely restless. When she finally did fall asleep, it all came to her in a dream. She saw herself doing all of the stuff that she (no pun intended) dreamed of. She saw herself discussing politics with world leaders, playing piano in front of thousands and, most vividly, teaching other girls like herself what it would be like to have a real education. When she woke, she knew exactly what she had to do.
It was then that Natalia realized that this voice was not a monster at all. In fact it was her own heart, guiding her to own individual path that was away from the one that her parents led her down. And the path that the rest of the girls at Shillington’s were being led down. No. This was a path that would not be the easiest one to go down, nor would it be the most comfortable, but Natalia knew it was the path she had to choose.
And with that thought, she grabbed her journal and her coat and headed out of her dorm. She flew down the stairs with the speed of a tornado. It was dark and stormy out; but at this moment, as Natalia threw open the big brass gates, she had never felt more sunshine upon her.
Portola Valley, California
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