Funerals these days are not what they used to be. In the past when a loved one died you had a ceremony, you grieved, family and friends gathered to say good bye and then the body would be buried or cremated but in a way that they were not completely destroyed, mostly the dead was kept close and ever present.
But in 3030 things were different, harsher, more real and more raw. Presley Duke was a girl of just twenty, newly coming into her own as a young woman in a war torn world like The Republic of Earth.
After the wars her families moved to what was remaining of the Eurasian continent, which now resembled the renaissance period of the old times, though there were large differences, the power the government held being one. Presley stood in dank and dark dungeon like furnace room, her father's coffin laid out on the concrete slab while a gnarly, large man stood by, supposedly oblivious to the on goings as she and her handmaiden Gloria said their goodbyes. Presley herself had not cried, not a single tear since her father's passing while Gloria held tightly to the young girl and let her sorrow flow free, sobbing quietly.
When the time come the two women stepped back from the maple colored coffin, it was nothing special, the wood sturdy rather than pretty as it was custom to only burn the dead now, never bury, there wasn't enough land. The man, in his black apron and gloves, much like a blacksmiths, hauled the coffin into the burning pit of fire that spanned out over a third of the room, taking up the far corner and spilling light and heat out onto the faces of the grieved.
Presley felt bad, somewhere deep in the part of her brain that was still registering her surroundings she wondered if she should not be in a worse state than Gloria, should she not be in a state of devastation.
But the tears would not come and as the flames licked and flared around her father's coffin she felt a deep ache begin to grow within her body. They stood for some time, watching the coffin burn, this was all that remained of Presley's father bar his legacy and with that Presley had, by all intents and purposes by right of the new order, been consoled.
As the flames grow smaller, gently smoldering in the depths of the furnace Presley becomes slightly more aware of herself, as if being woken from a dream that started the day of her father's passing, only now she stands alone.
The black dress she wears covers her almost completely, material pinched in tight around the neck, waist and wrists, binding her body tightly like a cage as her arms curve around her waist, hugging herself in the fading heat as if she would start splitting at the seams if she didn't. Her fingers grip at her sides, suddenly feeling out of breath, cheeks burning in the lingering heat as she doubles over and slowly sinks to her knees, dress catching underneath her shoes, dirtying the hem but not caring.
Still she does not cry, hugging herself tightly against the deep ache growing steadily wider in the pit of her being, like a wormhole was opening up inside and was trying to take her from this world, and for the first time her father's death hits her.
When the ache within her seemingly subsides enough she stands, ascending the staircase that didn't seem quite so steep earlier and meeting her handmaiden, Gloria, that waits with her coat and a loving embrace in which to help her home.
After the wars the world changed. There was far less hospitable land, one all powerful and ruling authority and power outside of it was limited. Limited meant the authorities controlled the electricity and the populace had to rely on steam power, coal and wood, it was the same world-wide with the Euro zone being the new leading settled territory. Presley had lived with her father in a small refurbished townhouse near what used to be France, most major cities had been wiped out and those that weren't still weren't livable.
The houses in the main settlement were small and close together, larger houses could be found on the outskirts, some even with gardens but they were very exclusive and very expensive.
The house felt empty with just Presley and Gloria inside, the only noises coming from outside as life followed it's usual habits with a strange air, for Presley that simple meant bathing, eating, sleeping, time moved but it didn't flow. After picking and prodding at her dinner Presley found herself standing outside her father's study late that night, it was a small cosy room with roof to floor bookshelves covering each wall, a bay window she used to sit at and read as a child and an antique wooden desk her father would have taken to the grave, figuratively.
Pushing the door open with a small pale hand Presley immediately smelled old books and leather, the familiar scent relieving the ball of knots in her stomach just enough to remind her she could still feel things. Slipping into the room her hands grip the cold door knob behind her, easing the door shut and leaving her to stand in the cold, dark room, her white night dress illuminated in the streaks of moonlight that seep through the parted curtains, making her look like a young child.
Her hands seem to fidget as she moves behind the large desk nervously, fingers tracing from one corner to the next on the polished and contoured wood, her eyes playing across the bookshelves as she slowly relaxes, finding comfort in familiarity. Her eyes drift in the dim light until they land on the only new looking, green bound book, "The great war- A lesson in compliance." It looked new because it was never actually read, the authorities version of the Bible, the only one that was allowed anyway.
Presley pulled the book form the shelf, too afraid to touch anything else her father had and lit the candles on the great desk, hesitating briefly before sinking into the large, almost matching leather chair that sat behind it.
Her feet hit something cold under the desk and she bent to take a look after mentally scolding herself for the gasp of shock, a small smile almost curving her lips when she saw her father's leather boots, the ones she used to wear as a child when playing dress up. Forgetting to be scared she slipped her feet into each boot, tying the laces all the way up to the calf and feeling them like a comforting weight holding her to the earth, they fit better now she thought, which gained a sobbing breath.
Shaking her head she yearned for a distraction and leaning forward on the desk she opened the book and started to read absently, not really paying enough attention to absorb, but enough to hold back her wondering mind.
As recorded history goes, it started with small religions breaking out in small wars across the world, fighting about which god was the true god and so forth. At first they were small, no casualties, mostly in the form of protests and public bible bashing, then they became more violent, larger religions gaining more followers and wiping the smaller sects from existence.
Soon whole cities became independently governed by certain religions, governments losing control and turning to other countries for help. Eventually a central government was formed to police the entire earth, but by then there was also one central religion, a world united under one god, a movement that retaliated with violence and went to war with the authorities to fight for its people's freedom. The war lasted 7 years in total, many countries wiped out completely, most unsafe to live in, some had to be rebuilt.
About a third of the world's population survived, mostly those between Australia and Europe, Europe being the least damaged after the fighting stopped. They say now it's better, that now people have gone back to their roots and live much simpler, fulfilling lives. Most disagree. The central government still had control of defense systems, the power and the money even after they'd used these things to win the war.
They took power away from the people, they had no electric, nothing. With no electric money stopped moving, cash in hand became invaluable, there was no internet and no way to communicate. Countries turned their defense systems against their own people, wiping out dozens every day.
Those who surrendered to the authorities were spared and gave birth to society today. The central government still controls electric power, though there is coal and steam power to survive, civilians can only experience it nowadays if you work in the towers. Shortly after birth everyone is implanted with a digital chip, usually in ones forearm that contains a person's family wealth amongst other details within, doing away with tangible currency. Presley's mind starts to wander once more, the holding book little interest but the memory it carries, one of her as a young girl, maybe 5 or 6 and sitting in the bay window as her father paced around the room.
They had only just moved in and her father was filling the shelves with his books, he had been telling her stories of the world before the war and what is was now, somehow it had all seemed much more fantastic in her father's voice. The soft knock at the door startled Presley, causing her to fall back into the leather chair as her heart threatened to burst forth from her chest, frowning when a small voice bled through the door.
"Presley .are you in there? Presley are you OK honey?" came Gloria's muffled voice through the door, the sound of her leaning against the heavy oak as Presley stands and walks towards it, her father's boots heavy against the hard wood floor as she opens the heavy door, just a crack and it groans under its own weight. "I'm just fine Glory.you can go on to bed, I'm OK. I just.I want stay here." The older lady nods, her face weathered and solemn in the glowing light of the candle she carries, making her look much older to Presley when she pushes a woolen blanket into the girls hand and turns to leave, the glowing light of her candle fading as she turn down the hallway.
"Keep warm dear, good night." Her voice fades, leaving darkness behind. Presley shuffles back to the chair, stopping on the way and deciding instead to curl herself up against the window, the heavy woolen blanket pulled up around her shoulder, the boots still firmly tied to her feet.
Watching the moon shine through the water stained windows Presley starts to feel the heaviness of sleep burden her eyes, welcoming the lengthy sensation of non-existence she gives into the warmth, titles of books and memories of her father fading into a sea of nothing. . Early the next morning Presley stands before a plain, body-length mirror wearing a dress much like the one she wore the previous day, the darkness under her eyes a little lighter but the ever present wormhole in her core twisting her into an uneasy mess of emotion.
The girl looking back at her in the glass was about 5'4 and voluptuous with an hour glass figure, her red hair hung in ringlets down her back, cupping her pale, porcelain face, green eyes standing out starkly against her pale skin.
She was beautiful by all accounts and would soon be required to attend the annual debutante ball, bachelors and their families almost trolled the balls searching for fresh young girls, simply to aid their social standing for the most part.
"Gloria, can I.I will see Mr Burnum in fa. in the office, would you please bring tea when he arrives?" Presley's voice was shaky, feeling uncomfortable in her new authoritative role, but knowing things must be done.
"Of course, child. I will inform you upon his arrival.do not worry, things will work out for the best." The older woman smiled, her sad eyes didn't do much to comfort the girl but it was a kind gesture and after a tight hug Gloria left the bedroom, her warmth lingering on the girl like a comforting blanket. With just that in mind Presley dropped to her knees beside her bed and reaching beneath it, dragged out fathers boots, her fingers tracing over the worn leather before sitting up on the bed and pulling them on, thankful for the floor length dress.
In the daylight one could see the warn mahogany leather, dark laces that tied right up to Presley's mid-calf, they were most un-lady like, but made Presley herself feel like a much stronger woman. Since her father had passed and Presley was not a child she was now entitled to run her own estate, carry the family name and presume a life of her own, Presley herself had always wanted to be an archaeologist like her father, the knack for adventure it seemed, was passed down.
Mr Burnum was the family lawyer, a man Presley had seen in passing throughout her childhood and a friend of her father, today he would be coming to discuss how the estate is to be run and as Presley hoped, give her access to the family's funds.
Moments after Gloria announces Mr Burnum arrival and Presley was seated in her father's chair, a tall lean man with graying hair and round glasses that were pressed too tightly to the ridge of his nose walks in, Mr. Burnum. He is all long limbs and awkward hands as he nods to the pale Presley and comes to sit in the chair on the opposite side of the desk, setting his leather bag on the desk and clasping his hands together in his lap.
"Miss Duke, good day too you." His voice is soft and tired but he speaks as well as any educated man, Presley nods at him and attempts a small smile but stops when he fidgets in his seat, "I was very sorry to hear about your father. Miss Duke." "Ahh. Thank you, Mr. Burnum. You came to discuss my father's estate?" She asks, unsure exactly how this meeting is supposed to go, under the desk her feet twist nervously against the chair legs and she tries to glaze over discussing her father's death as fast as possible.
"Yes. yes of course, Miss Duke. I have here documents detailing your inheritance and the requirements you must meet in order to access your family funds.
Now the usual costs to run your household will of course still be accessible as usual and." "Wait!" She says a little harshly, sitting forward in the large leather chair as her elbow leans on the hard wood desk, "Requirements.My father said I was going to be rather well taken care of." She swallows the lump in her throat as she remembers the eerie way in which her father had expected his passing.
Burnum look's at the girl with a slight frown, already reaching into his leather bag to retrieve his papers, his hand thrusts towards her with a small document. She lays the sheet down onto the desk and reads the words as he speaks them, feeling a lump of anger and disappointment build up in her throat, grateful that this at least, was an emotion she could deal with.
"In the event of a benefactors death one's charge may inherit any and all elements included in the estate, so long as they are a single and or married male who hath come of age, or a subsequent female who meets the standing requirements. Which are as follows: 1. The female in question must be at least of the age twenty-one.
2. The female must be wedded. 3. The female must be able to produce an heir." She takes in a slow breath and stares at the page, the words seeming to swim as she tries to get past the sexist and clinically vulgar terming to the document. It's not like she didn't know what society had reverted to, but the widespread opinion that women were second class to men had not affected her until now. She raised an eyebrow to Mr. Burnum slowly, feeling the calm and collected mask she had been wearing for the last three days settle over her face, almost a comfortable disguise.
"Mr. Burnum, I am sure you know that I will be turning twenty-one in little over three months from now, and I am sure the rest. will come in time." To his credit the lithe old man looked rather embarrassed and apologetic. "I do apologize for the need for formalities, but those are the legal requirements you will need to meet in order to use your inheritance freely.
Now as I was saying all other necessities' will be taken care of with a monthly allowance so you needn't worry about that Miss Duke." He continued talking for another hour, showing her finance and housekeeping books she was now responsible for and discussing how she was to go about running the family estate, while she sat back in the leather seat nodding when she needs to, her eyes barely leaving her hands as they lay in her lap, absently plucking at her dress.
She kept up appearances as much as she could when he stands and departs from the office, leaving her to sit on the chair until Gloria comes looking for her sometime later. The girl told her everything in the same numb tone she had been using for what seemed like an eternity, her face devoid of any emotion as the black pit of despair twirled within the core of her stomach, throbbing.
She knew what she wanted to do with her life and she was sickened that as a woman she didn't have an automatic right to do so, but somehow she just took this information and accepted it for what was, perhaps she's just wasn't mentally capable of feeling anything but this emptiness anymore.
The rest of the day was devoted to preparing for the receiving of which Gloria had taken complete care of, she had cooked food for the guests and cleaned the reception room, set up some chairs for guests, though Presley herself wasn't too fussed on the details. She ate lunch in the office, feeling most at peace there, much to Gloria's dismay, in an attempt to avoid the afternoons proceedings for as long as possible.
Seeing as there were no longer funerals, families of note and or money would hold a receiving after ones passing, it was merely a social gathering meant for friend's family and social butterflies to offer their condolences, some would offer trinkets of affection too. Presley had been to a receiving once when she was a little girl, some distant relative or another and she remembers now the whole affair being rather boring, though perhaps it would to any five year old,she was simply hoping the whole affair would be over quickly and the guests would not linger.
By early evening Presley is still sitting in a high chair, focal point of the room, black dress billowed out like a cake around her legs as she slumps back slightly, the long line of people having dwindled down to a few stragglers. Most of these people she didn't know, they had been her father's friends or colleagues, some are just neighbors or people who came just to be seen doing so, she doesn't mind though, suspecting she is only half present herself.
For the most part they just come over and shake her hand, say their condolences, some offer a few more words and there is a table where some guests place flowers or trinkets to pay respects to her father, some even leave food which grants slight glares from Gloria. Faces bled into each other and she pays little attention until he walks into my line of sight.
At first all she can see is his smile, it isn't a smile really, but it is and for some reason looking at that not smile, the easy way his lips curve and his eyes meet hers, she seems to wake up. "My deepest regrets for your loss Miss Duke, please accept this token of my families respects." Came the deep, gravelly voice of the man before her, suddenly closer and holding a smallish, blue satin bag in his hand.
For having just woken up Presley seemed to be quite lost and with a staggered breath tried to smile up at the young man, an idle hand lifting to point at the table that had been set aside for such trinkets.
"Thank you kindly Mr.?" She asked none too subtly as his grey eyes met hers and she saw him swallow almost nervously at the question, before stepping to the side as the small, older woman next to him pushed for Presley's attention.
"Dara Miss, pleased to meet you." Before Presley could inquire as to his surname the old woman clicked her fingers impatiently and beamed up at her, starting a string of conversation without even so much as a hello, though thought Presley, at least she was talking Presley's own part in conversing over herself.
As the girls wandering eyes drifted over to the table and spotted the blue pouch, she searched for the man only to fail finding him, she sighs, returning to faked smiles and practiced pleasantry. But unbeknownst to the girl in the shadows the young man watches her with an unfamiliar air of curiosity to him, his heart ticking over a little faster than usual as he tries to shake it off.
Feeling satisfied with his attendance he fades back into the crowd of people and slips from the townhouse, a small smile curving his lips.