The Recruitment of Stein
Viktor Stein, 14 years old
The child watched through a curtain of matted gunmetal-grey hair as the young man before him led him through the massive house. The boy had to give the guy credit for trying to be friendly, but it was almost irritating, the way he seemed to wave his velvety cloak around like some sort of superhero, or get overly-dramatic with his actions. And that ridiculous feathered hat! It was almost suspicious.
"So tell me why you really bought me," the boy interrupted in a scathing but carefully controlled Russian-accented monotone. "Is it for sex? Because we can cut the crap if you want to get laid so badly."
The young man turned. He actually didn't look that old, or half bad, either. With bronzed skin, soft chocolate-brown hair, and abs that he wasn't afraid to show off, he could have had any girl. He took the meaning of 'tall, dark and handsome' to a whole new level. The guy also had a hell of a lot of power for his age, if the goons he walked around in public with were anything to go by, and money, given the size and state of his home.
So why even need to buy a child slave?
He scrutinized the boy who had asked such a blunt question with piercing red eyes. "You should know what this is about, and it's definitely not sex," the young man assured him in that low, Spanish-accented voice, although there was something playful in his eyes. "Although that can be arranged.” He paused to observe the child. “You've got quite a reputation for your intelligence, boy."
The boy met the gaze without flinching. "What does it have to do with anything?"
The older one snorted. "I believe that if you're given a good laboratory and some time, you could become someone far more useful, and formidable, than a slave," he explained. "On the condition that you work entirely for me, though."
"Must I sign a contract?" the boy growled, eyes narrowed.
"No," the man smirked. "Your word is enough."
The boy laughed menacingly. "To trust the word of a slave..." he shook his head. "I like you. So be it, you have my word."
"Good," the man said, turning around in a flourish that made his cloak billow. "I'll show you your workspace."
The boy was surprised he wasn't questioned. Any other person would have wondered why he wasn't broken at that point.
He followed the young man to the basement of the house, stopping in front of a mirror curiously. The boy had seen himself vaguely in the glass of windows and scrap metal, but it was the first time he had ever seen himself clearly. It took a moment for him to register that the look on his own face was that of horror, and another moment for him to realize why.
His reflection was pale, his skin almost grey, with bruise marks, scars, and stitches. There were dark shadows under his huge childish eyes, more profound by his gaunt features. His unusual grey hair made him look so old, and it was matted to the point where it was like a sheet of metal. His eyes were dark behind it, dull and pitiful, an ugly greenish-yellow that looked like pea soup or bile.
No child had any right to look like that, and it terrified him.
A call from his master made him move. The man was standing by an open door, ushering him into a pristine white room. If he noticed the boy's haunted expression, he didn't comment on it.
"Is it possible to request some time alone to explore the lab?" the boy asked quietly, his back to the man.
"Sure," his master said, sounding mildly surprised. "Take your time."
He turned to leave and was about to close the door when he hesitated and asked, "I don't think I ever got your name."
"Call me Viktor," the boy said eerily, glancing over his shoulder with an almost maddening look to his eye. "Viktor Stein."
"Right, Vik, call if you need me," the young man said as he closed the door. "The name's Sal."
Viktor didn't acknowledge the reply, and he waited for the heavy booted footsteps to fade. As soon as they did, he rushed to the mirror by the sink, staring at himself again.
At first he considered suicide, but he had promised to help Sal, and it was the first time in his life that he was actually given a chance at living. No, maybe there were other options, but he just couldn't stand seeing himself like that, especially when he had someone like Sal to compare himself to.
He ripped out a filthy scalpel and a tiny pair of dissection scissors from the sleeves of his oversized shirt in what seemed like a fit of desperation. If seeing was the problem, then the only solution was to cut out his own eyes.
Viktor stared at his reflection, poised with the scissors pointed to his right eye and the scalpel to his left. He realized that, despite the situation, he wasn't crying. He doubted he'd even be able to. Certainly, after this, not ever again.
He set his face into a look of stony resignation, trying not to acknowledge the part of him that made him go mad with the need to cause pain and to feel it. Still, a crooked smirk crept onto his face as he stared at the blades. A single, fleeting thought tried its best to stop him before he plunged the instruments into his skull.
Vitreous humor and blood splattered down his face as the eyeballs popped, but it was a small sensation compared to the wave of unimaginable pain that exploded into his brain. After recovering from the initial shock, Viktor opened his mouth, but he didn’t notice any sound escaping his lips. All thought left him as the pain drove him insane. He wanted to curl up and die, but his body refused to listen to his thoughts.
The only thing he could hear was a disembodied scream that reverberated with madness, pain, and fear.
“This is an excellent opportunity to see what you can do.”
The voice was deep, with a familiar Spanish accent. Viktor gasped as he was pulled back from the darkness, floundering like a fish out of water in some kind of dreamlike state between unconsciousness and reality. He sat up and tried to open his eyes to see. Except he didn’t exactly have eyes. He groaned at his own stupidity and flopped back heavily onto the bed.
He groped at the sheets that covered him, then at the fluffy pillow under his head. He was also wearing new clothes; a loose T-shirt and pants that were too big on him. He decided not to comment on wardrobe choice, nor was he about to bring up the fact that he was missing underwear. Bandages wound around his head, the soft gauze brushing gently against his eyelids, stitched closed over empty eye sockets. Remembering that he was being watched, Viktor struggled to compose himself, although he was more rattled than he cared to admit. Beds were never a good sign for him.
“What do you mean by an opportunity?” he asked his master in that eerie monotone.
“I heard that you enjoy experimenting on yourself,” the Spaniard replied, a soft rustle coming from his direction as he approached the bed from wherever he was. Viktor fought the urge to flinch like some cornered animal. “Especially when you’re bored. Or are these stitches just for show?”
Sal lifted the boy’s shirt and trailed a fingertip down one of the many stitches that laced across his grey skin. Viktor shivered. Without his eyes, his other four senses became hypersensitive in order to compensate. He could feel the Spaniard’s skin; soft at the touch, but tough like pads, probably the result of playing an instrument. The boy clutched at the sheets, an involuntary reaction. This couldn’t possibly be a good thing, but Viktor felt a sort of loss as soon as his master pulled away.
“You’re as sick and manipulative as the rumors say, Sal,” Viktor sneered, surprised at the confidence in his voice. “Or should I say, Salvatore Amora. The Ringmaster.”
“I’m surprised you didn’t realize sooner,” Salvatore chuckled condescendingly. “When did you find out? Was it before or after you blinded yourself?” He climbed onto the bed and leaned over the boy. “I had assumed you’d be much stronger than that. Maybe I made a mistake.” He gently touched Viktor’s cheek. “No matter. You’ll be easy to dispose of once I’m through with you.”
“Your only mistake was telling me your name, Sal,” Viktor spat out the words like poison. He had been trained to submit willingly in these situations, but for some reason, this man provoked him enough to fight back. “But I’m guessing that wasn’t a mistake at all. And you’re not going to do anything to me. You know who I really am.”
Demands. And Salvatore was taken slightly aback by this. There was a moment of stunned silence, and then Salvatore burst into hysterical laughter. If Viktor had eyes, they would have widened in shock.
“Stein was the name of the family that worked under mine, so I’m guessing my assumption of you being the remaining heir is correct,” Salvatore said once he was over his bout. “I was younger than you when your family was razed. You were probably two or three. We thought you were dead, too.” He got off the bed and paced beside it. “You’ve got your mother’s Russian accent and looks, but your German father’s brains. It was hard to find you, but I’m glad I didn’t give up on it.”
“Are you disappointed now?” growled Viktor. “If you can’t see, I’m blind, for your information.”
“Oh, querido,” Salvatore purred, pausing at the head of the bed to dip down, his lips almost brushing Viktor’s ear. The boy flinched at the seemingly magnified sensation. “You won’t be blind for long.”
The Spaniard grabbed one of the boy’s hands roughly, placing a round, squishy object in the palm gently but insistently. He closed Viktor’s fingers around the object, pausing to make sure he wouldn’t drop it or chuck it across the room out of spite. When the boy relaxed, the young man pulled away.
It took Viktor a while to accustom to the feel of the object. He wasn’t sure whether to feel pleased or horrified when he realized it was a human eyeball.
“This is…” he was about to voice the fact when Salvatore cut him off.
“A means to an end, so to speak,” Salvatore said, moving away to sit on a chair and watch what Viktor would do. “You either decide to fix yourself, or I will.” His words were menacing, and Viktor really didn’t think he had much of an option.
Salvatore waited patiently as Viktor thought it over. The boy could hear the Spaniard’s deep, relaxed breaths from across the room. It was irritating to have to rely on his other senses, but it wasn’t entirely impossible to get by. However, Viktor knew he couldn’t live like this. His line of work, so to speak, required skilled observation, which was hard to follow without vision. Not to mention he would be no use to Salvatore except as the slut he was. The procedure would be quick, but extremely painful, if not virtually impossible. Despite his doubts, it didn’t take long before he spoke.
“Scalpel and probe,” Viktor demanded quietly. It was hard to tell the intent in his voice; he was back to speaking in that flat monotone. “And a needle and thread. A bucket of water and a rag. Maybe two buckets. Disinfectant. Any kind of strong alcohol will do. And one hour.”
Salvatore hummed his amusement and got up with a flourish, more for his own entertainment than anything. He called his servants to fetch what had been listed, noting with a twisted sort of excited glee that the boy didn’t ask for anesthetics. Perhaps it would hinder his own movements as well as dull the pain, he reasoned. Or maybe he enjoys it. Salvatore shook his head violently to banish the thought. That would be wishful thinking.
As soon as the supplies were gathered and the servants dismissed, Salvatore tried to sit on the bed to assist, but was promptly shooed away by the boy. “You’ll only get in my way,” the little scientist growled.
Salvatore settled back in his chair at the foot of the bed by the closed door, watching as Viktor first unwound the blood-soaked bandages around his eyes. He cut through the sutures that held the eyelids of his right eye together with his scalpel before opening the empty socket, which had been cleaned by Salvatore’s doctor. Fresh blood spilled like tears from the eye. Salvatore watched with interest, but made no move to help him.
The pain was excruciating, but Viktor felt almost separate from it, as if he wasn’t really working on his own body, just like all those other times he had cut himself open, exploring his organs and bones inside him. He felt the congealed blood and strips of scaly tissue that formed scabs, scraping them away carefully with a confident hand, already slimy with blood. The sensation was delicious and the boy relished it like a gourmet dish.
It was amazing, how much the body depended on the sense of sight. Viktor made a mental note to try dissections blindfolded the next time he got a chance, given he got his vision back.
The slap and slurp of the fluids and flesh reverberated in his ears; the feeling of his fingers wiggling around in his skull—he giggled at that; the metallic reek of blood and sweat; the taste of his madness almost palpable in the air. It was simply exquisite.
Viktor was cleaning the wound with alcohol when the moaning began. At first, Salvatore, who was lounging on the chair and quite enjoying the show, thought it was because the boy was in pain. His lips curled into a knowing smirk as he recognized the distinction. Viktor was moaning because he was enjoying it, and the small scientist seemed both furious and confused by it all.
Salvatore was about to approach the boy on a sudden affectionate impulse before thinking better of it. He was more likely to get a scalpel in his jugular vein at this point. Instead, he decided to tease the boy from afar, reminding him he was not alone.
“Masochist, si?” the Spaniard taunted in a mockingly seductive voice. “You look like a cat in heat.”
“Ugh, I don’t want to hear that from you,” grunted Viktor after he drew a soiled rag away from his face. Salvatore was impressed he still had the strength to speak and produce comprehensible sentences. “It’s refreshing not to feel pain up the ass for once.” At the sound of an appreciative groan from Salvatore, Viktor added under his breath: “Sick pervert.”
Salvatore laughed as he managed to catch that last remark. “Get used to it, or you won’t be able to live here with me.”
Viktor didn’t appear to have heard that last comment. He was too busy implanting the eye into his skull, rewiring the nerves to connect with his own. It was an impossible procedure; if surgeons could have done it, no one would need an eyepatch or a glass eyeball. That is, if they were willing to accept someone else’s eye in the first place.
Salvatore wasn’t the squeamish type—torment, execution, and mass murder were in his job description, after all—but even he had to look away as Viktor squeezed the organ enough to pop it into the socket. He flinched as the sound of flesh sliding against the sclera of the eye and the squelching of the vitreous humor inside the ball invaded his ears.
There was no scream from Viktor, and after a while, when the boy didn’t speak and the noises ceased, Salvatore dared to turn back to the boy.
Viktor was frozen, doubled over with both hands over the right side of his face, covering his eye. He was shaking violently, the bed sheets, once white, and Viktor’s clothes, once grey, were now completely red and positively drenched in blood.
Salvatore rushed to a bucket of water, grabbing a rag and soaking it in water. He cursed his trembling hands. He didn’t know if he was shaking in shock or in fear.
“Hey, Sal,” the boy said, his words muffled by his hands, which still covered his face. Despite his shaking, his voice was startlingly strong. “If you already knew my name, why did you ask me for it?”
“I wanted to make sure you weren’t going to lie to me,” replied Salvatore carefully, not sure how his words would affect the unstable child. “Your only mistake was telling me your name, Viktor,” he echoed the boy’s earlier words, approaching him with the wet rag and forcing him to look up. “But I’m guessing that wasn’t a mistake at all, was it? You knew as soon as I told you to call me Sal.”
Viktor giggled as he removed his hands slowly. Blood and other slimy body fluids splattered onto his lap as he did, but he did not look up, his face covered by that curtain of metal-like hair. The voice was childish, so unlike the monotone that seemed to be Viktor’s trademark. But paired with such a gruesome state, it was creepy.
“Look at me, Viktor,” murmured Salvatore, gently placing his hand on the child’s cheek and lifting his head.
The boy’s pale face was streaked in bloody tears, his eye tightly shut. Salvatore began to gently wipe away the congealing blood that had begun to glue the eyelids together.
“Open your eye and see me,” the Spaniard urged.
“I’m not your Saviour, Veronica,” Viktor breathed through clenched teeth as he opened his eye.
Viktor found himself staring right into a berry-bright red eye. The other one was missing. He froze in confusion, his brain trying to process this new information.
“Hmm… A bit darker than I expected, but it will do,” the one-eyed Spaniard was saying, half to himself, scrutinizing Viktor’s new eye. “I really do prefer the colour red to green.”
Once he realized what he had done, Viktor broke down into a fit of mad laughter. “This is the funniest joke, da?” he gasped, unsure whether he was about to cry in horror or amusement. “You gave up your eye for me… And to implant it unknowingly!” He clawed at his new eye but made no move to remove it. Salvatore watched the spectacle in quiet interest. “To have one of your body parts inside me. It’s almost dirty.” He crawled towards Salvatore, who still sat on the bed before him. His movements were uncertain, like a baby’s, his fingers leaving bloody claw marks wherever they touched. “But it’s also very refreshing. Oh, I think this was all very refreshing. It feels so clean compared to the rest of my filthy body.” He laughed hysterically, falling into the young man’s arms, trying and failing to sort through his scatterbrained thoughts.
Salvatore held the crazy kid close, making sure to keep the scalpel and probe far out of reach. After a moment, he began to clean the boy with the rag, rinsing the blood out every so often.
“I’m a slave to pain, Sal, not you,” Viktor admitted with that twisted smile on his face. “Living all your life as a whore brainwashes you. Screws with your mind as well as your body.” He laughed at the pun. “It’s like an addiction. Insanity is a withdrawal symptom.” He clutched at Salvatore with the desperation of a dying man, finally broken. Defeated. “I can’t be something else. I need this. I need you. Master.”
A person with any kind of sense would have pushed Viktor away at that moment and sent him straight to a mental institute. But of course, Salvatore didn’t have any sense at all. As he pulled Viktor into a comforting embrace, he couldn’t help but wonder who the real madman was here.
He tilted his head so his lips brushed Viktor’s ear once again, a twisted smirk on his lips as he breathed words in the boy’s ear, the only words he knew Viktor wanted to hear.
“Whether it be to me or your own fucked up mind, my dear Viktor, you will always be a slave.”
I must thank wonderful person on FanFiction who goes by the username jusum. They have notified me to this contest, and for that I am extremely grateful! This is probably the first piece of fiction literature I am entering in a contest.
I can't even begin to express my gratitude to Frank and Kaylee for proofreading and Beta-testing this work. As creepy as this may sound, this one's for you~
Since this seems to be a credits section, I might as well mention that the cover was made by me. Please don't reuse it. Thanks.
Last, but certainly not least, I send out a big THANK YOU to all the readers! I am so (not) sorry for psychologically scarring you!
Best wishes and good luck to all the other contestants!