Dream of the Unlikely Princess Ch. 01byTaLtos6©
This was originally written as a part of a much longer work which may appear here eventually. I've pulled it out because I think it could stand on its own.
If I've screwed up the relative worth of the monetary amounts in this, I'm sorry. It was hard trying to figure out the value of that form of currency at that time and in that part of the world.
If you remove the nature of one of the protagonists, what you're left with is a bit of a modern storybook romance - which is what I intended it to be underneath everything. Feedback is always welcome.
21,753 feet above sea level,
Canada, June, 1986
Oksana woke up feeling a bit stiff from napping in her seat. She smirked, thinking that at least she couldn't complain about feeling cramped. At four feet, ten inches, Oksana felt as though she must be one of the few people here who could find at least a little room in the seats, if not a lot of comfort. Looking out of the window, she saw clouds far below and bright blue sky above.
So it was daytime now.
She overheard a child asking one of the stewardesses if they were still over the ocean in a small and uncomfortable way which hid a bit of fear. The no-doubt smiling reply was that they'd been over land for a couple of hours now. Oksana hoped the girl would feel better. Her own realization from it was that her point of no-return on this trip - the imaginary line far below where she would have bid her old life goodbye - had come and gone long ago and she'd missed it altogether.
After checking to be sure that her seating companion was still asleep, she reached into her pocket and consulted her hand-written briefing sheet, the one the man with one name had given her. She read it all rather automatically for maybe the thousandth time. Oksana had gone beyond mere memorization, once the reality of her situation had begun to sink in some weeks before.
She now felt that she'd never be able to forget each letter of every word. She felt a little odd about it as she read, trying to stay focused on the meaning of the words. She'd need to be able to recall every fact if she was asked by the customs people, or border police, or whatever they had where she was going. She also knew that sometime very soon, she was going to have to eat the paper to make it disappear.
She heard the cabin announcement system come on with a muted chime and then she listened to the pilot drone on about beginning their approach to Toronto Pearson International Airport, wherever that was, and that it was a sunny morning there and 17 degrees Celsius on its way to a forecast high of 23. In reality, she knew exactly where it was. She'd gotten at least an overview of the geography of where she was going as another part of the insane series of events which now led her here.
She looked over at her seating companion, a sleeping, brassy, long-legged blonde who had made the most of her opportunity to avail herself of the free drinks out over the Atlantic. They'd had at least a bare minimum of conversation during the flight. Comparing notes, the blonde had finally admitted to being an exotic dancer by profession. Oksana had her doubts, judging by the barely-concealed fear that the blonde had of the man seated across the aisle. At least she wasn't wearing an invisible leash like the blonde was, she thought. Then again, she rationalized, for a lot of this, she'd worn one as well. The difference was that hers was quite a bit longer.
When they'd talked. the dancer had looked her up and down, making some sort of judgement of her, and wondering no doubt why anyone would want to import a girl with such little obvious appeal. They hadn't spoken of it, but they both knew the score.
The trouble was that Oksana didn't know the rest of the music. She only had her other instructions, the ones which she'd memorized long before stepping onto the first plane in Kiev.
The blonde had assumed that Oksana was bound to the same sort of arrangement that she was. Oksana herself didn't know what she'd been bound to. The dancer had been surprised when Oksana had said that she wasn't any sort of personal entertainer. She was a gardener looking to start a business, she'd said as she pushed the metal frames of her glasses just a little higher on her nose. Oksana had maintained an open and honest front about it, but the dancer hadn't bought a word of it.
"Have it your own way," she'd said finally, "nobody flies from Kiev to London to Toronto to be a gardener, unless she has to let somebody plow her own little patch while her ass is in the air and her nose is in the dirt. That's the only sort of gardening that we're all going to be doing. I hope you really don't believe that shit, if somebody told you that."
Oksana had been thankful that her companion had gone to sleep not long after.
The clouds outside looked a bit larger and broken now and Oksana assumed that they were descending. She could see larger and larger glimpses of land still far below her. She quietly tore the worn paper into little pieces to put them into her mouth discreetly and began to chew and swallow as she thought back to what had led her here. The man across the aisle was the only one who noted it with a tiny nod, and Oksana realized that he'd also been there to watch her as well and now considered that he had only the one woman to watch. She'd been an extra assignment, apparently.
She slipped her ring off her hand and scratched her own cheek in a bored way, watching him. He looked away as though he'd lost any interest in her. She replaced the ring on her middle finger as she considered what it meant.
Her invisible collar was off as of this moment.
Oksana had grown up on the streets, a diminutive girl whose naturally sweet, strawberry looks and light brown hair had gotten her out of many jams and tight spots all of her life. One look at her, and no one would have believed that she was a pickpocket, thief, shoplifter, bookie's runner, and whatever else she'd had to do in her efforts to stay alive. In her own opinion, she was at best, barely interesting to most men on a sexual level. She just happened to be cute in a childlike, quiet, and bittersweet way. The things which came through about her to become other people's first impressions of her were the same things which had saved her twenty-two year-old ass so often. Nobody wanted to believe that she wasn't the cute, bookish little thing which they saw, and hardly anyone wanted to screw someone as forgettable and lost--looking as Oksana, besides the very occasional forgettable and lost-looking boy.
She hated that about herself, but knew that without it, she'd likely have been dead long ago.
She was Ukrainian by accident of where her mother was living when her water had broken. The daughter of a stranded Russian whore and a young barely able drunkard and part-time pimp, her lost-mouse-in-the-library looks were all that she had. She didn't look like her father at all, and of course she knew why that was. Her mother had thrown her out as soon as her pimp was dead from alcohol poisoning. He'd obviously had no biological link to her, but he had loved her in his way and had at least tried now and then to be something of a father to her.
There had been times when she'd tried to sell herself. It was too bad that forgettable and lost-looking shy teenage boys didn't have much money, she thought. The odd one that she'd been with had left her feeling nothing, but they were done in seconds if she could even get them to open their pants in time. To her disappointment, but not to her surprise, nobody decent-looking had expressed any interest. The only ones who had frightened the hell out of her and she'd run every time.
The one time that it had almost cost her dearly was when she'd stayed on the edge of the alleyway a little too long, trying to catch the eye of a really nice-looking and obviously well-heeled man with a sleek black pony tail. She felt that he'd be alright as her first real john, but she found herself still not quite able to summon up the courage to make the offer outright to him.
Given her past and her circumstances at that moment, it was more than a little unusual for Oksana.
At best, he'd seen her over his shoulder a time or two as he stood there waiting in the cold for God knew what. It had been sort of a lost hope anyway, she'd thought at the time. She knew that all sorts of men wanted a whore now and again, but somehow she knew that he likely wasn't one of them. Women probably fell at his feet everywhere he went, she'd thought. He probably considered them to be an annoyance, having to step over them. A guy like that didn't need to be looking to buy any sort of company such as she was offering.
The trouble was that somebody else wanted it one time only and for free as long as she'd last, and she'd caught on to him too late as he approached from the side. He'd almost run her down, catching her near the end of the alleyway because some asshole had locked the door to the hallway that she'd have needed to run down in order to get out the other side of the building. She was thinking that she might have seen her own death in those eyes from up close.
But something had happened then and she wished so strongly that she'd have known that an instant such as that was about to happen beforehand so that she might have been prepared to pay even more attention to it.
The jarring and intensely powerful moment passed by her too quickly for her to make out, exactly. Her pursuer had been smashed aside and killed almost instantly. When she'd tried to see who had helped her and why - and really whether she needed to feel a new fear now - she'd seen something that had almost caused her knees to give out as she leaned against the wall trying to catch her breath.
Her rescuer was tall and though it was very dark there, she'd caught glimpses of someone who would haunt her thoughts and dreams for a long time to come. She'd wanted to cry out, but suddenly found his hand over her mouth. She could still feel the tips of those claws gently pressing against her jaw and ear on the one side. Something tickled her nose in that second. It was a moment before she knew that it was fur. The alleyway was still as they stood in the fog which hung between them from their breath.
"Not a word, little princess," the raspy voice advised, "unless you wish to thank me."
She'd stared at those cat's eyes there in the darkness looking down at her. For lack of a better plan, Oksana had nodded. Somewhat to her surprise, he'd taken his hand away.
"Thank you," she'd mumbled, "very much." She didn't know where this was going, she only knew with chilling certainty that this stranger had just saved her life, at least for the moment.
He'd smirked around those teeth for a moment and then, looking away, he'd bent to tear off what looked like the cleanest part of the dead man's shirt to wipe his other hand. She'd thought that she had the chance to maybe run, but what was the point? How far could she possibly get before he caught her?
Oksana watched him as the snow turned dark around the body. He bent again and retrieved something from the inner pocket of the corpse's jacket to hold up to her.
She was looking at a linoleum knife, razor sharp and with a wicked-looking hook to the blade.
"In case you have doubts about his intent,..." he said with a smile. "See the lovely carvings on the handle. They do not sell them like this. Our dead comrade had a hobby." He dropped it into the snow.
He looked at her for a moment. "What would you have asked if a proper man had expressed a desire for your company?"
"Two hundred," she'd whispered in answer, hoping that he wouldn't want her. "I'm clean," she'd said by way of explanation, wondering why in God's name she'd felt the need to add that to it as some sort of additional advertising.
His eyes opened a bit. "Not in this part of the city. You must be pretty hopeful, and you're finding no interest in what you have to sell at that price," the voice said as he looked her over.
The odd thing was that she realized after a half-second that he wasn't being condescending or cruel.
After another moment, he shook his head, "This is no business for you to be in. You'll be dead inside a month," he looked at her wide eyes, "or praying that you were inside of three. Your father, he was a gardener when he wasn't unconscious, yes?"
She was astounded. This beast with claws and long teeth and cat's eyes knew her father? Oksana nodded anyway.
He reached into his own pocket, "Did he teach you anything in between sucking on the end of one bottle or another and finding men for your mother?"
"Yes," she said, "Papa taught me from when I was little. He had to keep me away from our flat while Mama had men there, but I have no garden, or even a pot with a single flower. Please, let me go."
The chuckle sounded friendly, at least. "I am not keeping you here, little princess. Do you have a place to go? I mean, a place where you live? You do not look as though you sleep in this alley."
"I do not bring anyone where I live, -"
"It is a pleasant little thought," he mused, "but I was not asking you to take me there or even to give me half an hour, princess. I wished only to know that you had somewhere safe to sleep."
"Yes," she nodded, "for another month, if I can't find some money soon. I need four hundred a month there." Oksana had no idea why she'd told him any of that.
"Give me your hand a moment."
She reached up trembling, and he gently took her hand and turned it over with his long claws. He felt warm. She could see that he was very careful. What she could see of his hand and arm had very short, pale fur on it which glistened in the dim light. She watched a snowflake almost land for a moment, but it disappeared just as it touched him and became a tiny droplet of water.
"Forgive me, but this will be a little uncomfortable for a second."
She saw her hand in the glow from his eyes and felt the heat on it from his glare. Her middle finger felt hot for only a moment, but before she could protest or even try to pull it back, he turned her hand over again, looked at what he held in his other hand and then placed a wad of money into her palm, closing her fingers over the paper notes and holding her hand a moment in his own.
He looked at her, and she thought that she could see a lot of things there in those strange eyes - strength, courage, confidence, warmth, kindness, concern, sadness, and just maybe a tiny little bit of hope for her. A second later, she could have sworn that she'd seen something else altogether. Before the thought could fully register, the moment was past, and she watched the curl of his smile.
"I think that you might be like a flower yourself, princess. You need only a proper place to live and grow," he nodded, "some sunshine and a little gentle rain, that is all. Take this and go to your home. You do not need to run. No one will harm you, though I will follow to make certain. Take a little of this and buy a decent meal and then go home. Stay there off the streets and pay your rent. I will send instructions tomorrow. You may decide to do nothing, this money is yours now anyway. When it is gone, you will be exactly where you are this night. If you wish to have a sunny place, then follow the instructions, and one thing -- no harm will come to you if you choose to follow my directions, I guarantee it. I cannot say the same if you choose not to, once the money is gone. What is your first name? I will know it if you lie."
He nodded with a tiny smile which showed little of his teeth. "Stay alive a while longer, Princess Oksana." Then he looked at the door next to her, "You wanted to go through here?"
"Yes, but it is locked."
He stepped over and tore the lock mechanism right out of the metal door, reaching in to pull the broken bolt out. The door swung outward slowly. He opened it wide for her and winked with a smiling shrug, "It must have been stuck. Your bad luck that the caretaker stayed sober tonight and remembered to lock it for the first time in two years. I was surprised when I watched him lock it. Usually, he stumbles and forgets what he wanted to do by the time that he reaches it, "he shrugged. "Go now. I will not harm you."
Oksana walked into the building and down the long dark corridor with her heart in her throat. Every time that she dared to look over her shoulder, she could see right down the long hall and out into the alley beyond. There was no one behind her. She looked at her hand.
This was a hell of a lot of money.
She pulled out more than enough for dinner and stuffed the rest into her jeans as deeply as she could. Coming out the other side, she walked through the bitter cold of a February night in Kiev toward her home.
She went over to a small eatery that stayed open late and had them make her two sandwiches. She bought a bottle of Coke and some black tea in a Styrofoam cup. She was a little nervous about getting past the regular hangabouts on her way out of the place. She had to put up with their noise and stupidity every time that she came here. It was a pain, but normally they didn't bother her too much, but with all of this money in her pocket...
She needn't have worried. There was no one around when she walked out, but down the block, she just caught a quick glimpse of a pair of cat's eyes looking her way from the entranceway of a closed shop. She walked to her apartment block and went up the stairs as quickly as she could with her key in hand. Once inside, she threw the heavy bolt and put on the two chains.
She walked to the table in the kitchen and pulled out the money, bending down to pick up the two notes which had fallen when the rest had come out of her jeans. She added them to the pile.
He stood in the lobby and looked up the stairwell. A minute later, he walked up silently and remembered how many steps she'd taken. Counting them off walking with a shorter stride, he looked up at the door.
He walked back down and looked at the broken annunciator panel. 3B, Zaratskaia.
He smiled and left the building.
After a long look, Oksana sat down very slowly, staring. She was looking at over seven thousand Russian rubles. She ate both sandwiches, the first food she'd had in two days. She made them last, sipping only a little of the hot tea now and then. When she was finished, she kept sipping the tea and drinking in its warmth. Her apartment was always cold in the wintertime.
Seven thousand rubles.
She remembered the face there in the darkness. It was an odd combination of beast and human. She knew somehow that it had not been a disguise.
She didn't understand, but she was grateful. Thinking a little, she found a place to hide the money, knowing all the time that she'd fish it out in the morning to stare at it again. As her hand came out of the hiding place, she saw the mark on her middle finger. She'd forgotten all about it, since there was no pain or irritation. There was a thin line which crossed her finger not far from the knuckle of her hand. Looking closer, she saw that it was not a plain line. It was a vine with several tiny little leaves. She rubbed it, but it stayed.
Oksana got undressed and went to bed. The only trouble was that she'd seen enough of his clothing to remember where she had seen them earlier.
The next morning, she was sipping the last of the Coke when she heard something near the door. She looked over and saw an envelope there on the floor. Stepping over quickly, she threw back the bolt and unhooked the chains to look out. There was no one there and she heard nothing but the faint sounds of the television from the apartment across the hall. She went back inside and opened the envelope, feeling a lump in it.