After enduring a well-deserved scolding from Madame Tildi for wandering the streets, Elyse finally returned to her dorm. She was exhausted and more than ready to let sandman wash away the terror of the day. But first, some precautions had to be taken. She could not risk the demon visiting her again. Not while she was helplessly asleep.
Looking at the resting occupants of the beds near her, she took out the bottle of holy water the priest had graciously offered. The sleeping quarter was shared with fourteen other orphan girls whom she had come to care about over the years. Elyse would not let them get hurt either. Fumbling in the dark, she diligently poured the water around the room.
She watched the last drop seep into the wooden threshold. Having witnessed the demon’s destructive powers, the holy water seemed a poor obsolete guard against them. Yet, she prayed on her every lucky star that it would work.
Good should always defeat evil. But am I truly good and is Azrael truly evil?
She banished the foolish thought away as she nestled into her uncomfortable narrow bunk. More than ever, her legs painfully revolted against the hards lumps under the bed sheets. She used to sleep in the bigger room of the orphanage, the one with better mattresses and where it was warm even during winter time. That cosy time was abruptly cut short by Marcella who had one day taken her place and had banished her here, like all the pariahs of the institute.
Look back on the past but do not stare, Elyse. Those were the words of a wise man. She had to remind herself of them every once and a while. With patience, perhaps even the demon catastrophe would be forgotten.
She fell asleep murmuring a prayer for protection, unaware of the eyes watching her.
It was answered.
It was Sunday.
The awaited day in the week had finally arrived, bringing with it a timid sense of hope for those in the orphanage. It was visiting day, the one chance they had to be adopted into the loving embrace of a family.
The small babes were attentively looked after by the attendants, their soft cries echoing their confusion- the little ones carried the weight of having been abandoned so tragically early, but also the blessing of not remembering it. Doting parents would most likely soon take them into their care. Meanwhile, the young girls were dancing around in joy, their carefully braided locks untangling in their game of tag. The real possibility that it might be their last game together until one of them was adopted only made the chase sweeter and more nostalgic. On the sidelines, the older teenagers, the ones on the brink of adulthood, were solemnly watching with wistful eyes. For them, the hope was small, but maybe someone, someday, would take them under their caring wing as well.
Only a few were missing from this enthusiastic gathering downstairs.
And one of them was little Elyse. She was still in the dorms, staring dejectedly into an old mirror while toying with her her golden locket. At nine years old, she was probably too young to feel hope disappearing.
She wanted desperately to be adopted, but not by anyone. Elyse wanted her grandfather back. She searched for his blue eyes in every person she met. All these years at the orphanage, every Sunday she had waited only for him. Yet, he never came back.
“Elyse, my dear, what are you still doing in your bed?” a gentle voice admonished her. She felt a slight dip into the mattress and soon Sister Ann caressed her cheek.
“It is Sunday, Elyse.” Her motherly tone became concerned and her hand checked the child’s forehead. “Are you feeling ill?”
She could not lie to lovely Sister Ann. The middle-aged woman had been so kind to her during her stay. “No...I j-just did not want to go,” she said softly.
The headmistress caramel features gave way to a confused frown. “Why not, little Ely?”
Elyse closed her eyes and clasped her fingers in a tight hold. “I miss my grandfather. I want him to be the one to come. Why d-did he leave me b-behind, Sister?” Her lips started trembling, her words choked up. The child’s heartbreaking blue eyes sought answers the Sister unfortunately did not possess.
Sister Ann hugged Elyse closer. “I do not know, little one. More often than not a person’s actions belie his true feelings. But that is in the past, Ely. You are still so young, the very best is yet to come.”
With a joyous tug, Sister Ann pushed Elyse into a stool. “Let me braid your beautiful hair. All the parents will want to have you as their daughter. Wherever he is, I am certain your beloved grandfather would want you to be happy again, so no complaints, little one.” With perfected moves, Elyse’s wild flaxen locks soon turned into two French braids, twisted around to form a crown atop her head. Even boyish Elyse had to admit that she enjoyed being pampered like this by Sister Ann, the closest person she had as a mother.
Grabbing her shoulders, the headmistress whispered: “Change your gown and come downstairs. I shall be waiting for you there, my dear.” Elyse nodded and enthusiastically opened a wardrobe’s doors. Maybe Sister Ann was right after all. Maybe being adopted by a a new family would not be so bad. Maybe new parents would spoil her and be more generous with dessert than Madame Tildi. Maybe she would finally find a place to belong.
With this new resolution in her young mind, she fervently began searching for her Sunday dress. She failed to hear the steps behind her.
“Well, well, if it isn’t Gimpie. Are you finally gracing us with your presence this Sunday?” someone sneered. It was Marcella. At ten years old, the girl possessed a tall frame and a menacing personality that both intimidated Elyse. Marcella had mostly ignored her presence so far, but as the years passed, her verbal attacks grew worse.
“Why are you not with the others, Marcella. Rosanna is probably wondering where you are.” Elyse said, trying to divert the subject. The other girl snickered arrogantly. “She was the one who sent me here. Some prospective parents are looking for a certain blonde girl downstairs.”
Hope perked in Elyse’s heart. Last week, she had met a nice elderly couple who could not have kids. They seemed to like her. Perhaps they came back. “Maybe it is me they seek. I need to go.”
Elyse inched towards the dorms entrance when her arm was suddenly grabbed in a strong hold. “Who said I allowed you to go?” Marcella jerked the child, grabbed one of the golden plaits and pulled hard, earning a shriek form her victim.
Anger flared. Elyse hated being a victim.“I do not need your permission,” she emphasised, grabbing the glass water on her nightstand. At nine years old, she was still in the dark about many aspects of the world. But, she knew people should never have power over others. It was just wrong. That is why throwing the water all over the older girl’s robe provoked no regret. Marcella’s befuddled expression almost made it worth it.
However, the consequences soon came. Marcella knocked the much smaller child on the cold ground, pinning her easily with one arm on the torso.
“We shall see how pretty you remain after this”. The ominous tone of her tormentor’s voice brought shivers down Elyse spine. What she saw next made her fight even harder to escape. Marcella pulled out a pair of rusty scissors.
“This will come to light and Sister Ann will punish you accordingly. Do not do it, Marcella,” Elyse pleaded.
Marcella’s wet clothes dripped cold drops on her face. The robust girl bent down and whispered “It will be worth it.” Scarcely had those cruel words left her mouth when a hopeless sound of hair meeting metal filled the air. The rusty instrument made the abuse prolongingly slow.
When it was finally over, Marcella giggled over her work and ran away from the dorms, leaving Elyse sobbing behind. Trembling, the child raised herself in the mirror.
She choked on a sob when the result was before her.
She frantically kept touching her head, in hope all that long mane of hers would reappear by magic. It was hopeless. Her beautiful longs braids were gone, in their place just some poor imitations of pony tails.
Her soft cries filled the air.
A bestial growl echoed in the dark halls of the orphanage in response to the the young woman’s nightmare. Punishment needed to be served.
Elyse woke up sweating. Unconsciously she touched the tips of her hair. What a terrible nightmare. Even worse was that it stemmed from the dark parts of her memory, not just a harmless figment of imagination.
However, she usually slept through most of her dreams, never one to wake up in the middle of the night. Something else had disrupted her rest this time. She thought she heard growling. Looking out the window right next to her pillow, the street was deserted. The other girls were sleeping peacefully in the room. Everything was quiet.
Just when her eye lids sleepily fluttered closed, Elyse was jerked wide awake again the moment a blood-curling scream shattered the silence of the night.
The horrified cry was coming from next door.
Marcella’s sleeping chamber.