Lady Theresa Von Buchensteinwald De Moine was one of the best-kept secrets in the kingdom. Her 17th birthday had just passed, and she was already by anyone’s standards a stunning young lady. Honey blonde hair spilled over her smooth perfectly symmetrical shoulders. Her oval face was held high by a slender neck. It was a trail irresistible to the eye, and it led directly down to her lightly sun-kissed chest where her firm bosoms pushed up against her tightly bound dresses. Despite her remarkable beauty and blossoming body, the young lady didn’t have an active social life. She and her family had spent her entire life hidden away on the sole remaining stretch of land that had once been just a sliver of her family’s hereditary domain. They were the nobility of a by-gone order. Their ancestral lands gone, their titles meaningless, after 37 generations all that remained of their illustrious past was a castle crumbling against the current of passing the time. Theresa father Lord Baron Von Buchensteinwald decided it was to be the final resting place not just for his mortal remains but where the entire Buchensteinwald family tree would shed it’s few remaining leaves before returning to the soil from once it arose.
Theresa’s parents never told her what was beyond the boundaries of their estate. She and her siblings had ample room to explore in the dense surrounding forests. Where they grew up under a canopy of trees and sky that seemed to be almost as stagnant as the lives, they lead inside a memory.
It may have expressed itself more subtly in the natural landscape, but the moving and changing world outside was infringing, the illusion that they could encapsulate their existence against time had been just that.
Like many young people lust was the underlying force that compelled her to venture away from the relative safety of home. The handsome suiter had materialized on a dirt road that cut through the ancient forests. He stood leaning against the rear of a motor coach painted a brilliant red that gleamed even in the softened tree filtered light. He didn’t seem to notice Theresa at first. He rested his head against the sun-warmed metal and slowly puffed away on a cigarette. There was someone else, presumably a servant hunched over under the raised hood tinkering with the something mechanical.
Theresa approached cautiously. Her life of isolation had afforded her few opportunities to meet people from beyond the ground of the estate. As far as she and her siblings knew the entire world consisted of themselves and a few older member of their extended family. She was alone and knew she should turn back and disappear between the trees before the stranger noticed her, but this was Theresa first experience with physical attraction. Those instincts superseded every other feeling or intuition.
He took one last puff and flicked away the smoking stub. He cocked his head and noticed Theresa standing there. His lips curled into a smile.
“Hello,” he said.
“Hello,” Theresa replied nervously.
He pushed himself off the carriage and stood up straight, revealing he was quite a bit taller than he had first appeared. His eyes were piercing black orbs, and his tailored suit fit like a second skin against his lean muscular frame. He moved towards her. Theresa nervously squared her shoulders and took a small step back.
“I’m James Westerfield the third,” he said as he held out his hand.
Her breathing quickened, and her body went stiff. “Lady Theresa Von Buchensteinwald De Moine” she finally blurted out. He took her hand and gently kissed just above her slender fingers. Theresa felt her cheeks flush she quickly tilted her down so he wouldn’t notice.
“Very pleased to meet you Lady Buchensteinwald,” he said coolly.
“Is that a motorcoach?” She asked gesturing to the vehicle.
“Yes, It’s my auto,” James said proudly. “It’s the only one in the world like it.”
“It looks lovely,” Theresa replied nervously.
“Are you from around here Theresa?” James asked.
Theresa nodded, “Yes, this is father’s estate. Our castle isn’t far from here.”
“Your castle?” James repeated the word with a cocked brow.
“What about you? Where are you from?” Theresa asked feeling a little bolder than before.
“Well, right now I’m staying in Hillegard to oversee some of my father's factories and learn his business, but we have a country house around here.”
“Hillegard?” Theresa almost gasped.
Theresa’s excitement at the mere mention of the illustrious capital city hadn't gone unnoticed by James.
“Yes, right near the old Imperial Hall,” James said
“I’m afraid I’ve never been,” Theresa said. She only had second-hand accounts of life in the grand metropolis, and these were just the memories of her father who lamented what he insisted were the golden years of the city and his beloved kingdom. He fought hard to extinguish any curiosity his young daughter might have about the bustling world hub. He described it as a putrid maw where the inhabitants toiled in perpetual torment under a black sky. It was a place nurtured by cruelty. Any traces of the citadels built at the fabled peak of civilization had been dismembered by the city’s crass new masters.
“Really? Well, that’s a travesty!” James said playfully feigning shock and outrage.
“What do mean?” Theresa asked playing along.
“Only the capital has all the amenities that such a striking young lady like you should always have,” he said as he subtly eyed her up and down.
“Like what?” she asked with an eager tone.
“Well, where to begin?” James asked rhetorically. “Everything is there. Dresses made with silks from the orient. Cuisine prepared by the most renowned chefs from every side of the globe. The theaters are homes to the most prolific faces of the stage. The university attracts some of the most brilliant minds in all the world, and the cafes are the regular meeting places of famous authors and philosophers. My dear, it is a true sanctuary of leisure and sophistication. and the best part is the lights never go out.”
The last statement confounded Theresa. “What do you mean?” she asked.
“The streets are lined with lanterns that burn all hours of the night so life, life my dear never has to stop.”
“It sounds amazing,” Theresa said with a hint of sadness in her voice.
“I’d love to show you the best of all it,” James said with a suggestive smirk.
“I would like that,” Theresa said her cheeks once again turning a fiery red.
“Why not today? Suggested the dashing James.
Theresa was stunned. “Today? Oh, I couldn't possibly,” she stammered.
“Why not?” asked James.
“I really should be getting back home and besides your moto--I mean auto appears to be broken.”
The engine spat a puff of black smoke, and the servant jumped away, though not in time to prevent the soot from coloring his cheeks and forehead. The machine jolted back to life.
“Oh, well that solves one problem,” James smirked.
Theresa threw caution to the wind and decided to accompany the handsome Westerfield on a day trip to the capital. She sat up front alongside him, and the servant rode in the back quietly gazing at the passing scenery. As they drove out of the forests leaving behind the familiar barrier of woods and the covering canopy of leaves Theresa felt her stomach tighten and the whole adventure started to seem like a tremendously bad idea. Why did she agree to this in the first place? She wasn’t entirely sure, but something deep inside her compelled her to follow him. Now her mind was conjuring up all the potential consequences of her reckless actions.
Seeming to sense the lady’s gathering anxiety James reached for her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. At first, Theresa felt a sense of shock from a man’s touch, but the indignation was quickly washed over by excitement, and she squeezed back.
Theresa had never seen a modern paved road before. She marveled at just how smooth it was, how the spinning wheels didn’t kick up a cloud of dirt the way they had driving on the back-roads in the woods. On the first leg of the journey they only saw the occasional leisurely drivers but as they came closer to the city limits more and more began to appear. Some of them were quite a bit larger than the one she was riding in. They rumbled by carrying loads of passengers and goods on their backs like mechanical beasts of burden.
Under the high noon sun, the city was a silhouette over the horizon. As they drew closer, the amorphous shadows began to split apart forming into distinctive shapes and features before her very eyes. Multistory buildings were cluttered along the landscape as far as she could see, these structures as impressive as they were dwarfed by towering stacks that belched plumes of black smoke into the sky. A dark shape darting through the clouds caught her eye. She craned her neck as it buzzed over their heads and raced off into the distance.
“Have you ever ridden in one of those?” Asked James
“What is it?” Theresa asked.
James laughed “It’s called an aeroplane,” he explained. “They’re a hell of a lot of fun!”
As immense as Hillegard seemed from a distance Theresa had nothing in her prior life experiences that prepared her for the maelstrom of its interior. The grand buildings she could see from the road were covering behind them clusters of buildings most of which dwarfed her family’s castle. The palaces and ministries her father spoke of were overshadowed by the commercial and industrial citadels growing up around them. The streets between these massive structures were saturated with carriages, autos, and pedestrians going about the daily functions that made this urban hive a living and growing organism.
Now that she was on the road crowded with autos Theresa couldn’t help but notice the uniformity in their design. In fact, they were all the same down to the last detail. The assembly line was a concept she was completely unfamiliar with, and she couldn’t help but be amazed at how so many identical things could have been made.
“They all have black, but yours is red,” Theresa muttered.
James smirked, “Well the factories make the black standard but Westerfield's’ don’t take the standard.”
It was an arrogant statement to be sure, but to the lustful young maiden, the boy’s cockiness seemed an attractive quality, at least for the time being. They turned down a street where all the buildings had large glass windows on the front displaying garments, unlike anything Theresa had ever seen. James pulled over to the curb, and the auto sputtered to a stop.
“Why don’t we get you something to wear to dinner tonight?”
The women in the chic store were perplexed by Theresa’s medieval garb, but her figure made it easy for them to find something she would look good wearing. James pardoned himself while they worked and when he returned he found her wearing a sleeveless black evening dress. James gawked at her smooth shoulders and the teasing glimpse the skirt gave of her long slender legs. Having worn very modest dresses her whole life she was nervous about showing so much, but her suitor seemed to very much approve.
The day was slipping away, and Theresa was getting nervous surely her family noticed she was gone. She started thinking about asking James if he could take her home, but he had other ideas. He knew just the place to show off his countryside arm candy. That evening they dined with the city’s elite. Theresa was amicable but mostly silent for fear the sophisticated crowd might suspect she wasn’t really one of them. James was right, the fine wine did flow freely, lively but alien-sounding music permeated the atmosphere. It's tempo, and its rhythm kept everyone awake and wanting just a little more. By the end of the night, Theresa was drunk for the first time in her life.
They sat hunched over their private table staring at each other with heavy eyes. The alcohol had helped Theresa get more comfortable in these new surroundings but now that she and James were alone again the same rush of nervousness and anticipation swept over her.
“There’s something I want to ask you,” he said putting his drink down and reaching across the table to take her hands and his eyes locked with hers.
“Would you come home with me tonight?”
They staggered out of the lounge back to the auto. James was right glowing rows of lanterns did light the streets at night They fell into the seat, and James fumbled with the ignition. The motor choked and rumbled for a moment, and they pulled away from the curb.
Theresa was blinking in and out of consciences at this point. Her eyes continued to fall shut for expanding intervals of time and the lanterns dancing yellow flames blurred into points of light that were moving further and further away. Her head slumped and her eyes closed. She almost faded into drunken oblivion when she was jolted awake by the impact of the car hitting a lamp post.
The crash was small but sobering. She stumbled out of the auto and into the street. She looked around the stylish boutiques, and high-end lounges were gone and now towering on all sides were faceless and windowless brick layered behemoths adorned with the same billowing smoke columns she could see from the road. The thick tendrils of smog coiled in the sky and smothered the light of the moon and stars. They were descended on by beggars, men who were missing limbs and children malformed by years spent in their industrial prisons. She saw police dispersing them with bloodstained batons, and the air took on a rancid stench that was a mixture of sulfur and human waste. It was the vision of hell her father had described. It was the underside of the world that James ruled. These wretched tormented masses penned up away from sight were what made the luxurious and fashionable life she hoped to settle into possible. Theresa fell to her knees and started sobbing.
“I want to go back home,” she whimpered.