“Nora?” a three-year-old Samantha scrunched her eyebrows up at her elder sister, at which point Nora looked down from her book at the little girl in amusement. Sam had grown quite a bit over the years and would soon turn four in the following month. Despite being so young, the child was already quite clever for her age and a rather inquisitive child at that.
“When is Daddy coming back?” she asked out of the blue. Nora’s heart clenched at the look on the child’s face. Her eyes no longer held their usual shine, even the little bunny ears which she wore at all times and refused to take off, were currently resting on her lap, letting Nora know that something was clearly bothering the child. Nora sighed and closed her book, setting it aside on the sofa, offering her younger sibling a tight smile before answering her.
“He’ll be back soon, why do you ask?” She inquired playfully with an air of nonchalance.
“Nora, does Daddy... love us?” Sam questioned with slight hesitance. Nora stiffened in response, breaking her facade. Reaching down to pick up her sister, Nora placed Samantha on her lap.
“Of course he does,” Nora replied firmly before pulling Sam into her embrace and rocking the child gently in her arms.
“Then why he isn’t home?” Sam turned her head to look into Nora’s eyes.
“Because he’s at work. He works to give us food because he loves us very much,” Nora attempted to reassure her, resting her chin atop the child’s head.
“But he’s never home and doesn’t talk. Why doesn’t Daddy talk?” Samantha grumbled under her breath.
“Daddy just has a lot on his mind,” Nora replied wearily.
“Like what?” Sam asked softly. Nora sighed, closing her eyes, giving Sam a gentle squeeze.
“Well he still misses Mommy a lot.”
“Nora… why can’t I ’member Mommy like you and Daddy? Whenever somebody talks about her you both get sad. How come I don’t get sad? I don’t like it when you and Daddy get sad,” Sam’s voice broke, sniffling as she clenched her teddy bear closer to her chest.
“Look here Sammie, Mommy... went to the stars when you were very small so Daddy and I… we just happen to miss her a lot. You would have loved her too... Do you want to know a secret?” Nora smiled wistfully.
“Okay.” Sam perked up slightly, to which Nora grabbed Sam’s kitten ears out of her hands and proceeded to smooth out her dark brown curls out before placing the headband on Samantha’s head once more.
“Mommy loved you a lot, even before you were born, just as much as I do. From the earth to the moon... beyond the brightest of stars and back.”
Nora opened her eyes, only to find herself with a throbbing headache. Hands covered in a sticky substance, a strong metallic scent invaded her olfactory senses.
Blood. My blood, she realized.
Nora raised her left hand in front of her and turned it slightly in order to be able to see it from all angles. She rubbed the pads of her fingers together, allowing flakes of dried blood to fall onto the ground. Moments passed and she remained still. She placed her hand on her cheek. She figured her body would be crying out in pain by now but she felt nothing. It was as if everything had been numbed.
Nora curled up into a fetal position, wrapping her arms around her waist. Nora took in several deep breaths.
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10...
“Sammie... where are you?” she whispered aloud, voice cracking midway. The cell was empty. A lone candle had replaced the oil lamp, it’s flame flickering against the shadows. Nora raised her hand once again, this time into the light. She twirled her wrist, testing the muscles in her hand as she watched as the shadows danced with every turn. Metal clanked as it rubbed against metal, the rattling of the chains resounding throughout the cell.
Nora resorted to counting the beats of her heart as time passed by. With each beat the images of those whom she’d been ripped away from became clearer. The irony caused a grim smile to grace her face. How hard had she tried to prevent herself from getting too attached to others? How many years had she spent, deceiving herself into believing that the more people you let in, the higher the possibility for them to hurt you? Always keeping only a small few close to her and now look what it has brought her to? Alone, wishing she were anything but. Was this how her life was supposed to end? What was the purpose of having been given life, if it were to be so cruelly robbed from her? Once again Nora was left with an overwhelming emptiness deep within her very being.
Nora flinched as she heard chains rattling from behind the door. She attempted to push herself as far away as possible, but to no avail. Her body had become completely unresponsive and failed to obey her. The door creaked open but she was unable to lift her head up in order to see who it could be.
"Ahtlör,” a deeply accented female voice, exclaimed as the footsteps neared her quickly. “Stupid child! Did you not heed my warning at all?”
Nora felt her head being lifted and carefully placed on someone’s lap. Glancing up, Nora realized it was the same woman who’d attended to her.
“Damn it all, the skin on your back looks to be shredded,” Nora felt the woman cringe, “It seems, Handler at the very least had the decency to give you a numbing agent. Perhaps to prolong your life but from the looks, it has gone bad. Tsk.”
The woman stunned Nora, as she effortlessly lifted her off of the bloodied stained ground bridal style. As she proceeded to place Nora down on her side atop of the granite table, the woman’s face became clearer in the candlelight. Her eyes held an unusual color of blue grey, frown lines evident against her pale complexion and her dark brown hair was braided off to the side with a few but visible streaks of silver, meaning the woman was already at a considerable age.
“I’ll return shortly,” the woman proclaimed, rushing out of the cell before Nora could utter a word.
Minutes later the woman reemerged with a bowl in her hands and a glass bottle, along with a few rags tucked into the crook of her arms. She placed the bowl on the table beside Nora along with the bottle and retrieved a rag. Dipping the rag into the bowl and she then squeezed out the excess water from it. The trickling of the falling droplets echoing throughout the cell as she clicked her tongue in dissatisfaction.
“This won’t do,” she grumbled, placing the rag on the table before clenching the back of Nora’s shirt and tearing it open right down the middle. Grabbing the rag once more and the woman began to dab at Nora’s wounds attempting to remove the dried blood.
“This one would like to think she knows strength when she happens to come across it, otherwise you would not be breathing at the moment, but clearly this one was unaware that you were cursed with stupidity as well,” the woman admonished a helpless Nora as she began to ruthlessly cleaning off the back of her arms, “I advised you with good reason, but my words looks to have fallen upon deaf ears. Handler has already taken an interest, which is now why you looks as though you had unwittingly stumbled upon an army of lowly demons.”
“Well, tis’ fine,” the woman sighed in resignation, “you knew no better, but I do hope this is a lesson learned. Unfortunately, the scars of these wounds shall be a reminder, as will the many more to come.”
“What... What is this place? Please...I need to get out of here.” Nora rasped with unadulterated desperation in her voice, as she caught the woman’s wrist with a trembling hand, preventing the older female from continuing with the task at hand.
“Why? So that you can escape? Trust meh child there is no escaping, otherwise I would have long been free. Even if you somehow did manage to get out, Handler would know and he will find you, no matter how far you run.” The harsh reality of her words caused Nora to deflate.
“Will you at least tell me your name?” Nora mumbled softly.
“Hmm...” she contemplated before answering, “You will find that names hold little value in this place, they are only a source of weakness that can be exploited. But if you must, you may refer to meh as Nani. It may not be my true name, but despite the mess you’ve made, I think I have taken a liking to you and those of which I have taken a liking to are allowed to refer to me as such.”
The feeling in Nora’s body slowly began to return, bringing with it a burning sensation. Nani dipped the rag into the bowl once more and squeezed out the murky water. Nora’s sore body writhed as the rag came into contact with her skin. Nani lifted the rag and furrowed her eyebrows.
“The anesthetic is wearing off already. I thought we would be able to finish before then,” she turned to set down the rag and acquire a new one.
“This one understands that you must have plenty of questions but now is not the time,” she interjected as she took in the questioning look on Nora’s face, moving to pop the cork off of the glass bottle and pouring some of the golden substance onto the rag.
“I’m not going to lie to you but this is going to be quite painful,” Nani admitted to Nora who gazed at her warily.
“Was that supposed to make me feel any better?” Nora squirmed in discomfort, however Nani ignored her complaints and instead forced the bottle onto Nora’s lips.
“Drink,” she ordered Nora, “you’re going to need it.”
Nora propped herself up and took a long swig, and choked as the unknown liquid scorched her throat on its way down.
“What was that?” Nora spluttered in disgust.
“Stay still, it’ll only make it more painful if you keep moving.” Nani insisted, pushing Nora flat on the table once more.
“We have no disinfectants, so this will have to make do.” Nani stated once more.
“Wait! Hold on! On a scale of one to ten just how much is this going to hurt?” Nora laughed humorlessly with unease.
“Well, do your ribs feel sore?” Nani questioned her. Nora nodded in response.
“Eleven,” the woman declared boldly as she began busying herself with the wounds on Nora’s back, much to Nora’s astoundment.
“Motherfu-” Nora squawked, as her left shoulder screamed out in anguish. Hissing in pain, Nora bit on the insides of her cheeks to the point that she could taste the metallic tang of her own blood. Clenching her eyes shut she attempted to bear with the pain with shaky breaths.
“Tis’ a miracle, you’re even conscious at the moment. I thought the blood loss would surely-” Nani exclaimed thoughtfully only to realize Nora had already fainted.
“Hmm. Looks like it finally caught up to her. Well at least it will be easier for meh to tend to her injuries,” Nani then decided it would be best not to patch her injuries up. She cleaned them up the best as possible and then placed all of the materials inside of the wooden bowl including the now emptied bottle of alcohol. Turning around one last time, the woman eyed Nora’s unconscious form wearily.
“Any other would have died at this point. Looks as though this one has been right once more. Perhaps her strength will outweigh that unfathomable recklessness she seems to be burdened with,” Nani muttered before closing the cell door behind her and locking it, leaving behind no evidence of her presence.