TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:
All the townsfolk said she’d not survive out here alone. Yet, here she was, working the soil for the second Spring. After a frigid winter, she could finally dig her fingers into the warming Earth. She patiently sifted clumps, making way for the tiny roots her carrots would put down as they sought ancient nutrients left there by their rotted brethren.
One clump did not feel like dirt at all. Puzzled, she grabbed hold of it, pulled, and…
(Stories need only touch on this topic in some way to qualify.)
Imogen squats in the field, holding her nightdress aloft with one hand as she probes the soil with the other. Above her, clouds strangle the moon, turning fine rows of dirt into a sea of featureless black. Winter winds rip across the cropland to steal her warmth, but the earth gives way under her clawing fingers, thawed from days of feeble sun and spring showers. Gooseflesh stings her skin, and she mutters to herself as she works.
“Can’t see shite. Can’t feel shite. Can’t even think shite—not when me own bloody dress is slappin’ me across the arse.”
She runs her tongue over her teeth, pitted gums where her molars should be. Only twenty left; the rest she’d sold to a witch. Imogen had no need for children anyway, squalling brats. So, what if her teeth sat tinkling in some jar? Her pockets had sagged with gold. For all she cared, the witch could have her first-born, second-born, and all thirty-two-born. She only needs a few teeth to chew, and a few more to keep empty gums from creeping into her smile; no one likes a gummer.
She spits at the memory. If she hadn’t been robbed, she’d be an established woman by now, her own master. Bloody townspeople, sullying her luck with their naysaying. Last year, she told them she was leaving and they cackled like hens—eggs and bread tumbling from their baskets in disbelief.
_Imogen, out n’ about on her own? She’s away with the faeries. Girl can hardly put one foot in front o’ the other!_
Despite their ridicule, she survived. A few days, at least. Master Kinnear found her on the roadside: penniless, ravenous, madder than a wet hen. He took her in, for the wee price of indentured servitude. But thirteen long months passed, and Imogen refuses to spend her best years knocking knees with his floorboards.
She squints at the cottage atop the hill, a ribbon of smoke in its chimney. The windows of her master’s room are dark.
“Master Kinnear, a do-gooder? A savior? Rubbish. Damned donkey! Snoozin’ like a babe after working me ragged: emptying chamber pots, scrubbin’ shite stains.” She flings a crude gesture at his cottage. “I’ll be rid o’ ye soon enough, oh yes. Wish ye’d left me for the crows, ye will!”
Two nights prior, Imogen spied Master Kinnear in the field, scrabbling at the soil. Bumptious men don’t dirty trousers for nothing; he’d hidden something valuable, or something scandalous enough to blackmail her way to freedom.
With renewed vigor, she readjusts her dress and reaches toward the soil, but a particularly malicious gust tears the nightgown from her grasp. The ivory fabric flaps about her shins like a feral goose, hair whipping her face as she attempts to wrangle it, and she tumbles onto the freshly churned dirt below—spitting curses loud enough to curl her mam’s toes.
Yellow light pours across the field to illuminate her shameful state, a lantern is alight in Master Kinnear’s chamber. Imogen’s hope seeps away.
She’ll not cry, even with her garments muddy, her pride in tatters, and her chance at liberty lost to the field. She gives the last of her warmth to the ground without protest, willing the earth to swallow her before Master Kinnear drags her back to the ceaseless cycle of household misery that is her life. Another chamber pot would be the death of her.
And then, Imogen sees it. A scant metre from her soil covered nose: a tooth, creamy white, clumps of wet dirt clinging to its sides. It gleams against the light. She laughs, seizing her treasure in a filthy hand. She no longer cares if Master Kinnear is at his window, witnessing her shenanigans. That night, on the field, he had not been hiding; he’d been searching. Searching desperately for this lost molar, knowing the Law of Teeth binds him to its finder.
“Tooth, his bloody tooth!” Imogen squeals with delight, rolling in the mud and planting fat kisses against her enclosed fist. “He be the servant now! Law o’ Teeth says so. Lest his children pay the price—what luck, what feckin luck!”
“Godsdamnit!” Master Kinnear charges onto the field, bare feet kicking dirt rows like a plow horse gone awry. “What’dya think yer doing spoutin’ nonesensicals in the middle o’ the night? Ye on about them teeth laws again, Imogen Kinnear!?”
She scrambles to her feet, waving the molar in triumph. “I got yer feckin tooth, ye hoor! Don’t matter what I’m doin’ cause ye don’t own me no more. Best free me or I’ll sell yer firstborn to a witch!”
“Delirious cobsack, ye _are_ me firstborn. Now get yer arse inside, ‘fore I box out the rest o’ them teeth.”
Imogen wags her finger at him. “I’ll not be scrubbin’ yer pots again, Master Kinnear!”
“For the last time, am not yer master, am yer father! An yer on pots cause ye be actin like a wild hog these past months. Runnin’ off, yankin on yer teeth—even tossed a bloody rock at me head, no more than two days ago when I was workin’ the field.” He sniffs the air, grabbing Imogen’s arm. “An been drinkin’ from me barrels, too!”
With a shake of his head, Mister Kinnear drags his daughter back to their cottage, where many chamber pots await her.