The nights were always cold, colder than anything I could have ever imagined. The after hours would slowly tick by, during which I would look in the windows of people’s houses. I’d see all these families, sitting on a couch in front of a fire with their children in their laps. They would read to the little ones, small, loving smiles gracing their healthy, soft lips as their children drifted to sleep. They’d be carried off into a dark hallway, toward their bedrooms to be tucked in and kissed goodnight. The next day they’d get up early to give their younglings bacon, eggs, and pancakes in the morning before they went to school. The children would have a fall out with one of their friends and scream, wail, and declare that it wasn’t fair, it wasn’t fair.
The very thought sickened me. They would overlook all they had, all they were given at birth, and go on saying that they had “problems”. Maybe they’d go to therapy in their later years because a bad break-up left them too “heartbroken” and “depressed”. They’d learn to loathe their parents, only ever recalling their flaws and what they did wrong rather than all they did right. They would grow to be spoiled brats, but no one would notice. Maybe they’d even sympathize. Everyone was spoiled.
I was lucky to sleep in a bed without unwanted company once in a year. Being tossed back and forth between “Masters” didn’t give you a place to stay, let alone one that was safe. If I had a roof over my head, it was only for one, prolonged, uncomfortable night that offered a paltry payment and no real nourishment. Every time I was purchased, my “Masters” would leave me chained in a secluded, leaking shack of some sort. Sometimes with wild animals (if I was lucky), and other times with people that behaved like them. I never knew my parents, being kidnapped at birth, and I don’t know if I had ever known what love truly felt like. I was so bruised and scarred that it was easier to find places on my body that hadn’t suffered abuse. If I managed to make any friends, they would either end up dead or on the other side of the planet in a matter of days. If I wasn’t careful, I’d end up on “the other side” in a matter of seconds. It didn’t matter what you wanted or how you felt, you had to do what they said. I couldn’t remember a day in my life where I was truly, honestly happy.
I remembered there was a month where I had come close. I was brought into a barn by a new “Master”, and there was a short, thin, opaque, and shivering form huddled in the corner. I managed to get a response from him regarding his name, but it was a quiet, “I forgot, it changes a lot…”
I sympathized. I didn’t have an actual name, either.
For a whole month we were able to talk, protect, comfort, and befriend one another. It seemed to good to be true - we’d never spent so much time with another person and enjoyed it. I took to calling him Vittima, and he began to call me Torturati. The victim and the tortured. It seemed as if we were destined to meet. We were each other’s pinnacles of sanity.
A month later, my brute of an owner sold me to some greasy, plump, wealthy bastard somewhere in the Russian Empire. And that was that. I never got to say goodbye, and it was impossible to keep in touch.
Three years later I was sitting outside some one’s window in the snow, analyzing the cruelty of it all. I never got to see my parents, never got to know them, never got to meet my family. It felt as if my whole life had been taken from me and it wasn’t even my fault. I didn’t deserve my fate, and yet there I was. Suffering because of it.
I looked over at the stump where my right arm used to be, grimacing at the pathetic attempt at bandaging loosely coiled around the burnt end. They weren’t even bandages, just some ancient rags that were laying around that the bastard thought would work. I glared one last time inside the house, full of warmth and love I knew I’d never feel. I used to feel bitter beyond belief about every little thing. Now I just felt cold.
Everything was cold.
I stumbled through the icy, aphotic, barren alleyways, my eyes trained on the dark, solid stonework of the walkway. My bare feet looked oddly light in comparison, though I knew my complexion wasn’t necessarily pale. I looked closer, noticing just how unnatural and light they were. I hit them a few times against a wall as hard as I could.
I hissed and fell down into a cross-legged position, trying to breathe life back into my toes. I was careful not to touch my big left toe, seeing as how the nail had been torn off a few days ago. I glared at the remainder of my right arm, wishing it were a person whose face I could punch. Warming my feet with one hand proved to be an increasingly difficult task, and every time a breeze happened to brush by,
I winced in pain as it delicately and yet cruelly tormented the ruined flesh beneath the tattered rags.
I eventually gave up, managing enough energy in my lifeless feet to run back toward the large, extravagant mansion my most recent Master lived in. He didn’t let me stay in the main building, of course, unless he wanted to use me. I unconsciously grabbed my right shoulder, remembering what had happened on the first night.
The night I lost my arm.
I shuddered and avoided the entrance. I knew it would be warmer if I went through the house to get to the backyard, but the thought of running into him on the way was hell. Nothing but hell. I wobbled through the cold, wet grass and unlocked the back gate, locking it behind me as I ventured to the tool shed hidden behind layers of foliage. I didn’t even bother wincing in pain as the thorns from the rose bush scraped at me and the pathetic pieces of fabric my Master called clothes. I sighed and slowly opened the splintered, wooden door when my heart practically stopped, my eyes wide. I found my breath catching in my throat, causing each attempt to come out as a pathetic wheeze.
He was right there. Leaning against the makeshift bed he had thrown together in a matter of seconds, consisting of a hay bale, some old, stiff throw pillows, and thin, tattered sheets. The wood had such a thin, decrepit totality that it creaked under his weight, and he must have weighed maybe 90 pounds. He eyed me in a way that made me squirm in discomfort, and I began to calculate how long I would have to run if I lock him in here. The odds were not in my favor, so I shifted uneasily on my frozen feet, not daring to venture any further into the tool shed.
With a loud, unsettling creak, he settled what little weight he had back onto his large, scrawny feet and drifted his way over. He softly brushed a hand over the scarred side of my face, chuckling at how I twitched and shrank back.
“What?” he cooed in a sickeningly sweet voice, “Don’t like me touching your blind spot?”
I locked my gaze with the ground, doing my best not to look intimidated. Though, the thoughts my eye portrayed didn’t matter anyways. The only one that wasn’t covered by thick, black locks was clouded over with blindness.
“What are you doing in here, master…? I-I thought you would be asleep by now…” I mumbled, trying to scuff my frozen feet against the cold ground, leaning heavily in the doorway to keep my balance. I flinched when he chuckled, wrapping his thin, bony arms around my shoulders and pulling me to his sickeningly warm body.
“My dear, dear little pet,” he cooed, brushing a thin, bony hand down my black hair, “It is much too cold to let you sleep out here, on such a pathetic excuse for a bed…”
“B-but, my lord, you’re the one who gave me my be-”
He hushed me by pressing one of his carefully manicured fingers against my lips, and it took all my will not to recoil in disgust. “Hush, my prize…I simply think it would be a lot better for you if you stayed inside…my bed is always warm and welcome to share,” he practically purred in my ear, and that time I did flinch.
“P-please, master, I-I’ll be fine,” I pleaded, my voice reduced to a whine as fear gripped my heart. Though it wasn’t due to the cold outdoors, I began to shiver,.
However, the icy cruelty from his very essence began to envelop me, and breathing became more of a problem. I tried to pull away from his embrace, but he picked me up bridal style, my armless side to his torso, making it harder for me to retaliate. My legs didn’t seem to want to move, let alone with force, leaving me with only one arm to helplessly and weakly pry at his long, scrawny fingers. I couldn’t tell if I was too weak, or if he was a lot stronger than he looked (maybe even a bit of both), but each attempt was utterly hopeless.
It seemed as if he deliberately walked at the pace of a snail towards the front door, or time just slowed down when you neared impending doom. Looking back on it, the few moments before the torture were always agonizingly slow and treacherous. When I gave up prying his fingers off me, trying to beg and plead and get him to just let me go, I distracted myself by just counting all the steps he took. Seventeen steps through the foyer, thirty-two up the stairs, forty-three down the hall, two to turn the corner and another seventeen down another hall, a pause to open the door, five steps into the bedroom, and one careless toss onto the bed.
And then, everything faded away into an endless, twisted hell.
— — —
I didn’t sleep at all that night, and the moment I heard his thick, deep snores I carefully crawled out of the bed and threw on my rags. I opened his window, careful not to let it creak, and climbed down to the front yard after shutting it behind behind me. I held my breath after each drop from window to window, fear and worry causing me to flinch. I let out a sigh of relief the moment my bare feet hit the soft, healthy grass, and I looked up at the windows of the large, gaudy mansion.
There were no lights on, and it was still dark out. I let in a shaky breath and tried to run into town, but settled down into a walk after running in a straight line proved to be a challenge. I grumbled in annoyance, stuffing my hands in my armpits to keep them warm. I looked around the streets, fear quite obvious in my singular good eye as I scanned the area for any of my boss’ henchmen. They were scattered about the city, and helped make sure his “treasures” weren’t up to no good. I sighed in relief, realizing that by now they were probably all passed out in some hooker’s bedroom getting their wallets raided. I searched the street corners, looking for something safe, some sort of security.
Anything to make this all seem like a hellish nightmare.
This wasn’t the first time I had done this. It was a lifelong routine- ritual, almost, that I performed every night I was unfortunate enough to remain awake. Looking for any corner, any alcove that would protect me from the madness that was my helpless existence.
And that was when I saw him. An intriguing, yet normal looking man in a strange blue suit. He was wearing a hat that, well, I found to be frankly hilarious. A belt held a strange black stick and a gun at his side, and he stood straight and proud, oozing authority. Under normal circumstances, I would’ve been terrified merely because he possessed weapons. Weapons frightened me, they generally ended up being the gateway to a threshold of pain. But he was smiling kindly and talking to a small, weak old lady leaning heavily on a cane, seeming to point her in a certain direction. It didn’t matter where he was pointing her. He could have been telling her that the gateway to hell was in that direction and her bitchy existence was up for all I cared. What I cared about was the fact that he knew places. That was all that mattered.
When the old lady hobbled on her way, I slowly and cautiously inched my way over to the man, who didn’t notice me until my bony finger slowly rose and carefully tapped his elbow. He turned around and instantly recoiled. Then, realizing how offensive he had just potentially been, he tried, and failed, to cover it up by looking elsewhere and then slowly back down at me.
I didn’t blame him for his reaction. I had a burn scar that deformed half of my face, black mottled hair, and unhealthy tan skin that seemed to consist of more scar tissue than anything else. I was short, my only other working eye was a dark, hollow blue, I was missing an arm, and I looked like I haven’t bathed in months. The pieces of fabric my master tried to pass off as clothing was just icing on the cake.
I nervously averted my gaze, tapping my bare feet against the ground and saying in a small voice, “E-excuse me, m-mister, can you help me…?”
He looked at me with pity, and I repressed the urge to punch him in the face. I hated that look of pity, that look that told me I was being viewed as weak. I was being looked down upon. It was quite an aggravating addition to a rather aggravating night, though I managed to keep my frightened and innocent facade, even as he knelt down to be eye to eye with me.
“Sure, kid, that’s my job,” he began, looking me over once more. He made me feel like a kicked puppy, the way his eyes started at the marred half of my face, wandering down the scars on my neck, pausing at my missing arm, then scanning my thin, beaten arms and legs, wincing at the sorry state of my feet. “How old are you anyways…?” he ventured.
I worried the inside of my lip, making it look like I was shy but in reality I was trying not to throw up in disgust. “I-I’m seventeen, sir…” I mumbled around my teeth.
He looked genuinely surprised, giving me a once over and standing up again. I knew I didn’t look seventeen, due to a poor diet and terrible treatment and being surrounded by cigarette smoke, my growth had been a tad stunted and I looked like I was about twelve. And because I was always purchased by a bunch of creepy bastards, they wanted me to act it, too. The twelve year old facade had been my defense mechanism to prevent myself from getting into trouble.
He sighed and very gently wrapped his thumb and index finger around my wrist, twisting his face into a pained expression as they met each other over halfway. I carefully took my hand away from him, ignoring his rushed and awkward apology as I hid my scarred arm behind my back.
“Where do you live, son?” he asked me, his voice thick with worry. I shrugged in response, not really knowing what to say to that.
“It changes a lot,” I murmured, my eyes wandering in the direction of the hellish mansion, which the man in the blue uniform didn’t seem to notice. I looked back up at him, my blue eyes large and round in curiosity, “Can you help me find something?”
He looked down at me and offered me a sad, but fairly nice smile and nodded his head. I bit my bottom lip, though it wasn’t part of the act, and fumbled with my makeshift shirt as I tried to find a way to phrase my question.
“Could…could you help me find some place safe?” I ventured. The man’s face instantly contorted in shock and dismay, and he resumed the kneeling position he had held mere moments before.
“What’s wrong, kid? Are you not safe?”
I accidentally let a scoff escape that time. But, in all fairness, it didn’t seem as if he even needed to ask, considering the amount of scars adorning my frail figure. He seemed not to notice, or he didn’t care, and I sighed, hanging my head and shaking it slowly.
“No, I’m not…i-it doesn’t even have to be forever…I just want to know what safety feels like. A-at least for one night,” I stammered, kicking at the ground. I had only ever said something like that to one person, and I didn’t even know this man kneeling in front of me. I anxiously rose my gaze to meet his, worrying the inside of my cheek.
He looked like he was about to cry. I’d never seen a grown man cry before. Before I knew it, my facade slipped and I was staring at him with genuine confusion and shock. His face was screwed up in an obvious attempt to hide some sort of sorrow, and a plastic grin had been plastered on his face as he gently ruffled my hair, wincing as his fingertips brushed the part that didn’t seem to want to grow anymore.
“Yeah, kiddo, s-sure thing. C-can you walk? You’re standing kinda funny,” he stood up and cocked his head to the side, a fretful and supportive expression adorning his face. I gave my legs a few test kicks against the brisk cement, not really understanding what such an expression meant. I had seen it before, and I recognized the emotions, but all the faces were in passing. I had never talked to anyone with such an expression, so I didn’t know what to expect.
I gently bit at the inside of my cheek before taking a few delicate steps forward, demonstrating that though my feet were in poor condition, I could, in fact, walk. I examined the condition of my feet, now that I actually had the chance and excuse to do so. One of my big-toenails was missing, they were covered in grime of various kinds, the bottoms having been calloused long ago. They looked more leathery than I remembered, especially in comparison to the glossy-seeming stone of the sidewalk. They adorned various scrapes and scars, grime under the remaining toenails from trying to enjoy what few moments I had to myself. I liked to climb trees, memorizing each little groove and bump that made each strip of bark its own unique, lively piece of the whole.
Beauty was almost everywhere, really. You just had to have a keen eye to find it.
My eyes rose to meet his. His face appeared to be in deep consideration, his green eyes examining me once more. It was odd, the way he scrutinized me. I didn’t get that odd twisting sensation in my stomach, telling me to run, panic, yell, screech, bite, claw, kick, and flail. I didn’t feel that usual sense of hostility or pity, there was no threat underneath that green gaze. So when he grinned down at me and offered his hand, I didn’t hesitate in gently placing my own inside it.
“How old are you?” I asked curiously, my head tilting to side.
“Who, me?” he inquired, pointing to himself with a healthy, pale fingertip, “I’m twenty-five.”
I hummed in acknowledgment, looking him over. His height was average, and when he removed his ridiculous cap to scratch his scalp, I discovered that his hair was a rusty brown. It was fairly thin and short, cut in a flat line just above his eyebrows. It was a bit on the greasy side, but it wasn’t as terrible as my own. his skin was healthy, and he appeared to be well-fed. His grip was strong, and due to his sleeves being on the shorter side, I was able to measure the definition to his muscles. It looked like he worked out, though he was definitely no body builder. Just strong enough to knock you out with a few punches, or leave some serious bruising on your legs if he decided to-
I shook my head and looked away, my grip unconsciously tightening on his hand. I could feel his green eyes on me, his concern thick in the air. I focused my attention on my surroundings, drinking in every turn, every corner, every sign, even the amount of steps it took to get from one street to the next. There was a bakery in between a library and what appeared to be some sort of office building. It seemed like such a strange place to put a small, antique-looking bakery. It had a wood porch that was painted a deep maroon to match the pinks, yellows, and reds of the odd little shop sandwiched between two gargantuan buildings that looked like they were made of glass. There were people sitting in odd little chairs that rocked back and forth, eating various pastries and breads while chatting, reading, typing, or even just sitting there. It looked like the inside of the actual shop was crowded, and there was a line of people waiting outside, seeming to beg just to get in. Tapping their feet impatiently, checking their watches.
I felt my arm shake a bit, jarring me from my thoughts. My escort was looking down at me with an amused shimmer to his eyes, a crooked grin playing on his lips.
“Care to join reality for a few seconds, kiddo?” he chuckled, turning his head only to press the button for the crosswalk signal. I scoffed loudly, puffing some hair out of my face, refusing to answer as a petty act of rebellion. His reaction was to let go of my hand and tousle my hair, which wasn’t an unpleasant feeling, though I scrunched my face up and attempted to swat it away just to spite him.
“Well, anyways,” he chuckled, delicately placing my hand back in his, “I don’t believe you’ve told me your name, have you? I’m Officer Packard, but you can call me Harriet if you’d like.”
I blinked, somehow taken off-guard by the question. I searched my mind, trying to draw up my most recent name, drawing a blank. I looked back at my other names: Looker, Glisten, Puppet, Dollface, Moonshine…they all caused me to grimace, making a quiet noise of annoyance in the back of my throat.
I found my mind drifting back to that barn all those years ago, a soft, kind, pale face missing its two front teeth grinned at me. Light eyes seemed to shimmer in the moonlight that filtered through the cracks of the wooden planks, soft brown hair lining the sides of his face. He bid me a good morning in that gentle, friendly voice he couldn’t get rid of if he tried. And before I knew it, the word slipped from between my lips.
“Torturati. My name is Torturati.”