26th August 2010, 8:39 PM
Maids of the East Wing
This little one-shot was written for the Pokecommunity Small Writing contest. The prompt was 'Challenge', and I guess I took it pretty literally when I wrote this... haha. I actually won by one point, though since this is a different forum and all, I'll leave it to you to decide how I did. It's a bit of a short read, since I didn't really want to bore anyone with extensive detail :P
This was inspired by my frustration for the Five Maid Challenge in the DPPt games.
For me, every day is the same. I wake up in my little room, make my bed, brush my teeth, and put on my uniform - a plain T-shirt, baggy shorts, and sneakers. My bangs are secured by a white headband, which is really useful when I'm scrubbing floors. In all, getting ready takes about five minutes. A maid has no need for makeup, after all.
After I leave my room, I meet my friends in the east wing of the mansion. That's the less impressive part of the building. The wallpaper peels slightly at the bottom and the tables are dustier. We don't get many visitors, since guests go immediately to the trophy garden. The maids up there are the best dressed, and get paid higher amounts. They're allowed to wear makeup.
My friends are the most diverse, incompatible group I have ever seen. Belinda is the oldest, and probably the fussiest. She's always correcting us and complaining that we don't know what we're doing. Sophie dusts quietly and cleans up after lunch. On the rare occasion when she does talk, it's always about how bored she is and how rude our boss is. Emily is the loudest, and wears heaps of makeup. I often catch smears of pink and black in her laundry pile, and have to spend an extra five minutes scrubbing it off. Elena has been job-hopping for several years, and finally settled in on maid service. She's the only one who likes her job, and does her work with that extra passion that occasionally earns a bonus. Clare is the newest addition to the east wing, and is using the job to pay for college.
As for me, I'm just waiting for a time when people will appreciate us and what we do.
On the morning of April 23rd, I woke up earlier than usual. When I went to the laundry room to check on any leftover loads, I found Sophie sitting in the corner with her head bent down. When I approached her, I saw that her cheeks were streaked with tears. Her hair was slightly frizzed, as if she had been pulling at it only moments before.
“What's wrong?” I asked, a bit uncertainly.
“I'm getting fired!” she declared. “Mr. Backlot is replacing me!”
I admit, I wasn't surprised. Mr. Backlot had been talking about this for months. Apparently money had become scarce, and people weren't as interested in the garden as they were before. The garden is the ultimate source of his income. It's almost as profitable as the Pokémon Safari in Pastoria. But after an unfortunate incident last month, where a trainer was mauled by a group of Teddiursa, the company had lost over half its income. The family had sued Mr. Backlot personally, and the trophy garden had lost most of its clientele. Most of the maids in the west wing were fired, and were replaced by unpaid volunteers. According to him, the east wing might be next.
Clearly, this had taken a major toll upon Sophie. She was always a hard worker, and never received any complaints from the management. But apparently, this was what Mr. Backlot wanted.
Her sobs soon grew into wails.
“I can b-barely pay r-rent right now!” she stuttered, wiping her nose on her sleeve. “How d-d-dare he!”
All I could do was stand there, a sympathetic expression plastered to my face. It was a pathetic pose, but what else could I do?
A few seconds later, I heard a crash as Emily entered the room. She was carrying a large laundry pile, which she dropped into the nearest washing machine when she saw Sophie.
“Ohmygod, what's wrong?” Her eyes darted between our two faces.
“Sophie's been fired,” I said quietly.
“Wow! That cheapskate Backlot!” Emily snarled. “Do the others know?”
I shook my head.
“We should tell them. Then we can make a petition and get the entire mansion to sign it. We'll send it to that bighead moron. That'll put a smile on his face!”
“Em, I really doubt a petition will solve anything,” I replied with a sigh. "None of the other maids will care. If Sophie loses her job, Backlot will be able to pay them more."
The white-toothed smile was replaced by a pout. “I'm just trying to help!”
“N-nothing's going to ch-change his m-mind!” Sophie said. “All he wants is m-money!”
“Come on, Sophie. You should at least take the day off,” I said, bending down to help her up. With the help of Emily, we hoisted her back onto her feet.
We were almost down the hallway when Clare and Elena noticed. Their eyes widened with surprise as they dropped their mops.
“What happened here?” Clare asked, placing a hand on Sophie's shoulder.
“Sophie got fired by the cheapskate.” Emily jerked her thumb backwards, in the general direction of Mr. Backlot's office. “Today's her last day.”
Elena clamped her hands over her mouth. “No! You can't be fired! You're like, the hardest worker and you're definitely the most organized! The east wing will, like, die without you!”
“Who does that guy think he is? All people want is money these days... Seriously, Backlot scams hundreds of people every day that visit his garden to see pokémon that you can get practically anywhere. I mean, don't we have the Trading Station in Jubilife City? And don't we have the Great Marsh?” Clare cut in.
“Aw, quit your whining!” came a shriek. We all turned to see Belinda quickly making her way down the hallway, despite the wet tiles. Her slick hair bounced on her shoulders as she walked. Her fists were clenched, as they usually were when she was irritated. When she approached us, she looked Sophie in the eye.
“Girl, why are you crying over this job? You're young, go work in a restaurant or a Pokémon Center. Anywhere but here! Maid service is the worst job imaginable. Once you're here, you're here to stay. Forget finding a job somewhere else.”
“But I have nowhere else to go!” Sophie protested. “This place has been my home for so long!”
“Maids are unappreciated,” I said. “It's all we can expect from this type of work. It's like... no little girl wants to be a maid when she grows up. She'll want to be a movie star, or an author, or a lawyer, a doctor. Everyone wants to have a good, high-paying job. Like Mr. Backlot. He makes over a five million dollars a year. And what do we make?”
The others looked at me curiously. After a while, Clare said, “She's right. Being a maid really opened my eyes about the world of work. People with jobs like ours are really taken advantage of. But just because we're not rich doesn't mean that we're dumber than the others.”
A long pause. Then, Belinda blinked. “What do you suggest we do?”
“I think we should rebel, that's what,” I said. My friends looked at me curiously, as if I were teaching them a new word. Following more blank stares, I continued, “You know... start a labor union. Protest. Stuff like that. That's what workers used to do when they were angry with their bosses. We just have to show Mr. Backlot how much he needs us.”
“That makes sense...” I heard Sophie whisper. Her sobs had gradually faded as the conversation went on, and were reduced to a few sniffles here and there.
“Yeah, we should do the strike thing...” Emily nodded with approval. The others eventually joined in too, leaving Belinda the only one with crossed arms.
“You girls have no idea what you're getting into. Alyssa, do you know what happens to workers who go on strike? They get fired. And they get put on blacklists that bosses share between companies. So if you ever want to get a different job, all the management has to do is pull your record and see all the things you've done.” She said all this rather harshly, and I couldn't help but shudder slightly at the thought. Still, I stuck to my opinion.
“I think it's worth the risk, personally. When was the last time any of you were let outside? Ate at a place outside the cafeteria? Worn anything but this stupid uniform?” I pulled on the too-long hem of my T-shirt, watching the fabric wrinkle.
The others nodded at my words. Belinda rolled her eyes. “You do what you want. But if you get fired, don't say I didn't warn you."
“But we can't do a full-blown protest. There are only six of us!” Clare said. "We'll be stomped flat by the management."
“Well we don't have to do a protest!” Emily cut in. “We need to think outside the box. Ya know? Do something creative... like... like...” Emily's voice faded and her eyes grew glazed. We all stared at her for a few long moments.
“I got nothin',” she finally shrugged.
An hour later, when the maids all gathered into the noisy cafeteria, there were still no new ideas. No one seemed to notice that all we would talk about is going on strike. And even if they did, we were too occupied to notice.
Finally, the gleam of inspiration appeared in my eyes. I smiled at my friends, and they returned it.
“Well, what's your idea?” Elena asked.
“The Five Maid Exact-Turn Knockout Challenge!" The words slipped from my mouth readily, almost as if waiting to be heard.
Emily's mouth twitched. "Eh... the what?" Belinda rolled her eyes.
"Okay, Backlot gets all these trainers to go to his trophy garden, right? He advertises, puts up billboards, just to get them to visit. Without their money, he would be nothing."
My friends nodded.
"Okay, so what if we were to draw them away from the garden and get them to be interested in something else?"
"What could be better than a day out in the garden, though?" Sophie said, twirling a lock of her hair.
"Trainers like to battle, obviously. So we should come up with a challenge that would be impossible for them to beat. Kind of like those cranes that they put in Pokémarts. All you need to pay is a quarter, but it's nearly impossible to get the toy. But you keep trying and trying, and soon, your entire wallet's empty!"
"But how are we supposed to battle them? We only have Clefairies! Trainers these days are spoiled; they'll send out a freaking Blissey and kick our ass!" Emily took a large bite out of her apple, juice squirting down onto the clean table.
"That's the point. Every day, we'll have a new target number of turns. If the trainer takes any more or any less than that number, they lose. Our Clefairies know Endure, right? If we keep using that to stall the trainer's progress, even the most powerful attack will leave them helpless!" I clapped my hands together for effect.
It took a while for my words to sink in. Sophie wound another curl around her finger. Emily's tongue swished across her lips. Elena tapped her fingers. Finally, Clare rose.
"Let's do it!"
The next morning, I woke with a start. I rushed through my morning routines, and met with my friends in the middle of the arched hallway. We were the only ones there. Through the skylights up above, I could see the edges of a tree branch bobbing with a morning breeze.
"Okay, so I snuck into the computer room last night and made this!" Emily held up a single flyer. At the top, a single heading was printed in bold letters: "CALLING ALL TRAINERS! DO YOU HAVE WHAT IT TAKES TO TAKE THE FIVE MAID CHALLENGE?" Beneath the words was a large clip-art image of a pokéball. At the bottom of the page were directions to the east wing. Emily had pointedly capitalized the word 'East'.
Belinda took the flyer in hand and examined it. "Are you sure it'll attract enough attention?"
"Positive. We'll hold the contest in one of the empty rooms so no one sees us. That way none of the other maids will see what we're up to."
Clare nodded. "Sounds like a plan. We should pin this on the lobby's bulletin board."
Emily snatched the flyer from Belinda's grasp. "I'll do it!"
"Emily, please be careful! You'll get in trouble if anyone catches you," I said. We all waved her off, and she skipped down the hall.
Our first customer was a young boy with light hair. He approached the door apprehensively, where I stood waiting, my arms folded gracefully in front of me.
"Is this where the challenge is?" he asked.
I nodded. "Welcome to the Five-Maid-Knockout-Exact-Turn challenge! Today's target number of turns is seven. It only costs a dollar to play."
The boy sneered, and with a trace of arrogance, handed over a single bill. I deposited it in a pouch at my feet, and stepped aside. Immediately the door swung open and Belinda stepped out.
"I'm the first maid. Belinda. Send out your pokémon." She reached into her pocket and withdrew a single, battered pokéball. The boy did nothing to hide his laugh as he withdrew a much shinier one from his belt. I resisted the urge to bite my lip.
Maybe this wasn't such a good idea...
"Go, Staravia!" The pokéball was thrown, and a large gray bird appeared in front of him, flapping its wings furiously.
Belinda sighed, and pressed the button on her pokéball without saying anything. Her Clefairy shot out of the capsule, and landed on its feet with a thud. The pokémon staggered a little, dazed by its first glimpse of light in over a year.
"A Clefairy? Seriously??" The boy snickered. "Wooooooow, you're going down! Staravia, use Peck!"
"Endure, Clefairy," Belinda said, just as Staravia shot forward. Clefairy did not flinch. It doubled over slightly, curling up into a ball. The orange beak collided with its body, but instead of Clefairy falling backwards in pain, Staravia splattered, as if hitting a rock. I let out a little yelp, for the collision had been sickening enough to make my skin prickle. Belinda however, seemed satisfied. A smile tugged at my lips.
"WHAT?! You cheater!" the boy snarled. "Get up, Staravia!"
The great bird struggled to its feet and let out a heavy tweet.
"All right, use Peck again!"
My smile grew bigger as Belinda said, "Endure, Clefairy."
The position was repeated, and Staravia once again shot forward with its beak glinting. Clefairy made no move to evade the attack, letting its body be thrown backwards against the wall, where it moved no more.
The boy smiled. "Ha! Some competition. Who's the next trainer?"
Belinda and I exchanged a glance. "Congratulations. You have knocked out the first maid. The number of turns you have taken so far is two."
Belinda went back inside, and exchanged places with Sophie. She stepped forward and withdrew her pokéball. "Go, Clefairy!" A copy of Belinda's Clefairy appeared in front of her, and the boy snorted.
"Another Clefairy? Wow, you people really have a lot to learn. Staravia, use Peck!"
"Clefairy, use Endure," Sophie said.
The previous events were repeated, and with the same exact result. Clefairy was left standing, though teetering, on the verge of fainting and Staravia was sent backwards, very confused.
"Seriously, is that all you can do?" the boy said. "Staravia, repeat!"
Staravia launched itself forward, and this time its peck knocked out Clefairy for good. But Sophie was not at all disappointed. She withdrew her pokémon with a smile and stepped back into the door.
"The next maid is really strong!" she teased, just as Emily skipped forward.
"All right, let's do this thing." Emily took Sophie's place confidently and sent out her Clefairy.
"The number of turns you have taken so far is four," I said sweetly.
The boy's eye twitched.
"That's it, I am sick of this! Staravia, use Brave Bird!"
"Endure, Clefairy," Emily said, and it happened all over again.
Every attack Staravia used ended up the same way - every time Staravia advanced, the Clefairy endured the hit, the boy's frown deepened, and he took a second turn. The Clefairy would topple, the next maid would come out, and repeat. By the time he had beaten Clare, Staravia was panting from exhaustion. The boy was on his knees, his face red from a passing frustration.
"That's it? I won, right? Do I get the prize?"
I paused before replying. "Well, no."
The boy's expression was unreadable. His hand curled into a fist, then uncurled.
I felt the smile come once again. "Today's target number of turns was seven. You took ten turns to knock out the maids. So, you lost."
There was a long, long silence. The boy called back his Staravia and turned his back to us without another word. Though, shortly after he had rounded the corner, an agonized groan elicited from the hallway, carrying all the way over to my ears. I giggled.
"Well, maids, we have our first victory!" I said to my friends as I pushed open the door. They all greeted me with a smile. We exchanged a group hug, which even Belinda took with a small smile.
"Did you see that kid's face when we beat him?" Emily said. "I'm telling you, this is gonna be foolproof! We just keep changing the amount of turns every day so the trainers won't have time to plan a strategy!"
I nodded. "Yep."
It all happened pretty quickly from there.
As the days went by, our business steadily increased. Pretty soon, we were making hundreds of dollars a week. Imagine the other maids' faces when a troupe of would-be-clients turned and headed to the East Wing. We were able to keep it all under Backlot's nose, at least for a few months.
That fateful day was June 3rd. A tall woman came to our hallway, looking very elegant in a white dress and heels. A wide-brimmed sunhat rested on her head. Before I could open my mouth to greet her, she was already shaking my hand.
"Hello. My name is Lady Celeste. I'd like to have a word with you and your maids."
The offer she proposed was staggering. Sophie asked her to repeat it, because she wasn't sure if she had heard correctly the first time.
Lade Celeste wanted us to work for her and her company, which just happened to be the Battle Castle in the Battle Frontier. If we agreed, we would no longer be a part of the mansion, but a separate division. The challenge rules would be the same, but those who won would receive a free invitation to the Battle Frontier and a coupon for the Battle Castle. As for us maids, well, let's just say that we won't be needing financial aid anymore.
We all accepted without question. Emily hugged the woman before she left. After that day, our lives were changed forever.
One week later, and we're still here. No blacklist. Backlot didn't even have time to fire us. He seemed to like the idea too, and as long as we gave a small percent of our profits to the mansion, he'd give us living space and endorse our contest.
Still, for me, every day is the same. I wake up, see the sunlight through my window, and smile. I get up, make my bed, brush my teeth, and put on my uniform - red dress, white tights, heels, and - surprise! - makeup.
After I leave my room, I head to the lone door at the end of the East Wing, where I will wait, ready to welcome anyone that happens to come our way. You'll see our advertisements on TV, and sometimes on billboards. Our story is all over the papers, how five ordinary maids rose up to become celebrities. The media has made us an image, but really, we're just five friends. Five friends who once upon a time had nothing, then built themselves up into having everything.
"Welcome to the East Wing."