JOY: THE PAST
Joy woke, but did not leave her bed. She stared at the domed ceiling, watching reflection from the open window dance across the wooden beams. She rolled on her side and stared out the window. Her vantage point was odd, but she knew what was outside of the window: endless water. Regularly during the last four years, she would stare out the numerous windows and search for something, anything really that proved to her she was not alone with Madam Vess.
The other Dons came and went, each tutoring her in various specialties. Logic, history, critical thinking and mathematics were only a few of the lessons she learned alone in the tower. The sheer desolation and a feeling of alone were her constant companions. She didn’t have many friends before she became Joy, but to those that she did she was fiercely loyal.
Madam Vess was not her friend. Constantly pushing, constantly testing – the Don would not let her rest. Chores and studies had been the norm for four years now. But today… Joy smiled and stretched her arms and legs. Every seventh day, Madam Vess did not knock on her door just as the sun was rising. Madam Vess locked herself into one of the rooms along the great spiral staircase that rose around the walls of the tower.
It must have been three years prior – Joy ran up and down the steps endlessly looping along the spiral. Her math tutor had tried to tell her the importance of the repeating spiral – something about mathematical formulas and infinity. Joy didn’t care to learn that particular day and instead stared out one of the windows as her tutor droned on and on about sequences and formulas.
The next day, the window was closed with tight stonework. Her tutor had complained to Madam Vess who somehow turned the window into a wall before the next lesson. After that, the mathematics she ignored out of spite.
But, not today! No tutors. No chores. No responsibilities. Joy rolled out of her bed and padded across the wooden floor. She was supposed to cover her feet, but feeling the rough-hewn wood and carven stone reminded her of home. A home she hadn’t seen in four year and wouldn’t for another year to come.
If Madam Vess had any feeling toward Joy’s strong will, she kept it to herself. The day prior, they had an especially rancorous fight. Joy had perpetrated a trick on one of her tutors before he left the tower. Madam Vess threatened to confiscate Joy’s free day. Words were exchanged. Menacing words echoed in Joy’s ears. Madam Vess face contorted as Joy got in her final barb. Madam Vess crossed her arms and stormed out of the room. At the time, Joy felt smug with her victory, but this morning, she felt only regret. Some things could not be unsaid.
Joy stepped out onto the grand staircase and paused. Something wasn’t right. She heard noise from above. A door slammed shut and another creaked open. Sound didn’t travel as well as it did in the water, but with no competing sounds, the echo was easy to hear. It reverberated up and down the hollow interior of the tower.
Another door slammed and Joy felt compelled up the stairs. On the seventh day, Joy neither heard or saw Madam Vess. The sounds continued as she crept up the stairs. The noises seemed to be ever out of her reach. She would reach a level she was sure a sound had originated from, only to hear something else further up the tower.
Every fourth floor had a circular window facing directly east or west. Etchings in the ground floor would tell you what time of the day it was based on the long beams of reflected light. Her math teacher had tried to explain the principles of its inner-workings, but this was after the incident with the window. She didn’t care how it worked. If there was math involved, she just accepted what she was told at face value.
Joy peered down to the tower floor. She had been chasing ghost sounds for the better part of an hour. Her stomach issued protest, and she decided she would investigate the mysterious sounds after she ate her fill of kale. She turned down the stairs, but when her feet touched one of the floors with the round timekeeping windows, she heard the sound again.
This time it was from below. She scrambled down four flights, and when she hit the landing, the sound was below again. Another timekeeping floor, she thought, trying to make sense of it all. She walked swiftly down and waited on the last step, four flights down, before the landing.
She hesitated. She suspected the sound would occur as soon as her feet reached the landing. Joy shrugged, and as soon as her feet hit the landing she heard a scream, and a shadow blocked out the sun for a moment. A rush of wind down the interior of the tower followed it, and something soared down the hollow interior.
Joy ‘s eyes had glimpsed it for only a moment. She reeled as her brain processed what she saw. Leaping to the railing, she looked down the final four floors to the timekeeper on the floor, but she couldn’t see the golden lines that made up the core of the device.
A figure lay on the floor, her hair spread out like cracks on the floor. Four floors were too far away, but Joy knew the open eyes she saw were lifeless. She bounded down the stairs two at a time.
Some things could not be unsaid, she thought, as she darted as fast as she dared.
She hit the ground floor and sagged as her momentum threatened to drive her to the floor.
Madam Vess lie on the demarcation between eleven and noon. Words from the night before haunted her: I wish I’d never come here! I wish you were dead!