If I Die Before I Wake
Not all Tales Have the Ever-after You Might Expect
by Martii Maclean
Vreni is fifteen and cursed. The curse was placed on her grandmother centuries ago and has been passed down through the women in her family, so Vreni has slept and woken at the whim of the curse since her birth over a century ago. She is kept isolated from the world by her reclusive family, and yearns for a normal life- shopping, boys, even just being allowed to go to school. Her family grants her wish to spend a day in the city and her sheltered, predictable life unravels.
Martii Maclean writes adventure, fantasy and myth-punk for children and teens. She was born in Sydney, Australia and now lives in Brisbane with her husband and her cat Minerva. Martii has been an educator for 25 years, and now works as a teacher librarian, which allows her to share her love of stories and of story-telling with many young people. These experiences have given her precious insight into what makes a story enjoyable, and she met many young people who are searching for stories filled with the odd, the weird and the unexpected. This has inspired her to create stories for young people that explore the wonderful world of ‘what if’.
Vreni tried to forget about the city and concentrate on her studies, but one afternoon, during a private lesson with Sabina, she was distracted again by the idea.
‘Vreni, you look troubled,’ Sabina said.
Vreni sighed. If anyone were going to be sympathetic, surely it would be Sabina.
‘I’m just restless,’ she said. ‘It’s always lessons and crafts and amusements. I can’t make you understand, because you’re part of the world. You can’t know how trapped I feel, and Papa seems satisfied to stay in his own private world, so how could I convince him? I want to go somewhere. I want to go to the city.’
‘You’ve seen a lot of the world on the computer,’ Sabina said gently. ‘It’s different for you girls now, and I can understand your feelings, but remember your unique situation.’
‘I’m sure it is unique to be a prisoner in your own home,’ Vreni said bitterly.
‘I’ve been talking with Sabina about an outing,’ Papa said, sipping his coffee.
‘Finally,’ Vreni whispered. She squeezed Rita’s hand under the table.
‘Most fathers don’t wait a century before their daughters come to them seeking permission or his blessing to venture out into the world.’
‘Well, Papa, surely you don’t mean to keep us prisoner here forever,’ Vreni said jokingly.
‘All this was so much easier in the old times,’ Papa said.
‘Back then there were so many rules about what a young woman couldn’t do that a father didn’t have to be the one saying no. The whole of society said it for him.’
‘When I met your mother back in 1867, just having a husband was adventure enough for her.’ He smiled. ‘But things have changed. You’ve seen glimpses of what you’re missing. This internet is a bad thing for fathers because it shows you the world. But how can I stop my fledglings from wanting to fly away from the nest?’
‘So we can go?’ Vreni held her breath.
‘Yes, you can go, but there are rules,’ he cautioned, ‘lots of rules.’
‘Thank you, Papa,’ the sisters said in unison. They hugged their father, spilling his coffee.
Vreni woke early, too excited to sleep. The city. The words rang in her ears. ‘The amazing, mysterious, exciting city,’ she whispered. She imagined wings unfurling as she stretched.
She may have travelled halfway around the world with her family, but she had never even bought herself a coffee on her own. Now finally Papa was allowing them to go to the city and she had her chance for a little freedom. She quickly washed her face and bundled her hair into a knot on top of her head, then rifled excitedly through the decades within her closet, choosing boots, her favourite washed-out jeans, T-shirt, scarf. As she pulled on her jacket she smiled at her memories of the strange things women had considered fashionable throughout her century, and what might come next.
She checked herself quickly in the mirror, grabbed her bag and hurried to Rita’s room, thumping on the door.
‘Shop till you drop, sister,’ she called.
‘I’m way ahead of you,’ Rita called from halfway down the curving stairs.
The car ride to the city only took an hour, but to Vreni, fidgeting in the back seat, it felt far longer. As they drove
through the deserted coastal scrublands towards the edges of the city suburbs, she pinched herself once or twice to check she wasn’t dreaming; it all felt as though it might be magic. She thought about what Sabina could have said to make Papa agree. Maybe she had used magic.
The girls entered a store called Thing. On the back wall was a huge screen showing music clips, with people dancing in a sea of brilliant strobing colour. The music washed over Vreni as she and Rita danced in and out of the racks of clothes and accessories, holding up outfits.
‘The purple or the green?’ Rita called, doing a quick turn to show off a top, with a second one draped over her shoulder.
‘Green.’ Vreni danced past with an armful of clothes, blowing a kiss as she went into the changing room.
Vreni walked over to the sales assistant and paid for the new clothes they were wearing. ‘Is there a back door from the shop we could use?’ she asked the shop assistant.
‘Sure, through there. ‘The woman pointed, only half paying attention.
Vreni stuffed her old clothes into her bag. ‘Tonight, sister, we will not be sleeping princesses.’