Ana gaped at the paramount mansion before her. In the drive of her temporary home, she gritted her teeth with a slew of fear and resentment. Clouds loomed over the sky as Ana depicted a nefarious, gorgon-like dame, who would feed her boiled toad, and rancid blackened eggs. As the social worker nudged her from behind, Ana looked up, wearing an apprehensive sulk.
"When can I go home?"
The social worker paused for a moment, as she pondered a response that would ease the child from her incontrovertible anguish.
Crouching to Anastasia's level, she stroked the child's arm, in a consoling motion.
"I don't know sweetheart, but for now you're going to stay with this nice family, and you can play with you're new foster siblings. Trust me, you'll have a great time, just try to calm down."
Ana felt a cutthroat rage searing inside, as though she was on the verge of eruption. The sensation radiating through her arms tingled all the way to the tips of her fingers.
Pff, sweetheart? Ana sneered. It would have been so effortless to take her down, she was so clueless.
Her guard was down. Why wouldn't it be? Ana was just an innocent child in the depths of a lousy situation. She was not villainous or delinquent. No, no. Ana was the picture-perfect child as far as anyone was concerned.
The urge to attack was tempting, but her ambitions were more focused on getting home. The very thought of being stuck in the system for any longer than she needed to be, was a grim reality she did not want to face.
A ring of the doorbell nearly compelled Ana to flee, but before she could evacuate the decaying porch, the entrance heaved open. The noise was a familiar irritant, equivalent to the corroding hinges on her own egress.
With every fantasy she could concoct in her mind, Ana never would have guessed, on the other side of that door, that a child would emerge from the shadows.
He looked to be around Ana's age, possibly slightly older. He was quite burly with fire engine hair, and a face full of freckles. He was sucking aggressively on a bright blue lollipop, and looking Ana up and down.
Ana jumped at the sudden bellow.
"Sasha's here with another kid."
The distinct scent of cigarette smoke billowed from inside.
"I'm comin', I'm comin'." The rasp in her voice cut clear through the obnoxiously loud daytime television blaring from the other room.
"Sasha, doll! How ya doin?" With a cigarette nestled between her nicotine-stained fingers. The woman staggered to the entrance, where Ana cowered in anticipation.
The wrinkles on her forehead creased, sour and rigid, running horizontally from her hairline to the few hairs where her eyebrows should have been. She wore a burgundy lip color, which had smudged onto her front tooth. Her auburn hair, was up in a messy french twist as if she had slept in it for days.
"Hi, darlin. My name's Irina." Her breath was hot and reeked of hard liquor. The grate in her voice was unmistakable, most likely as a result of the toxins breeding in her lungs.
"Come on in, sweety." Ana looked to Sasha, praying that she would be able to read her mind.
"Go on in." This was the most agitating response she could have received. In one final attempt to leech an ounce of sympathy from this woman, Ana began to sob.
"I want to go home, please. I want my mama." The childlike innocence in her performance was immaculate, as she gasped between jarring whimpers.
"Anastasia, I-I'm sorry but you need to stay here."
Beyond the woman in the doorway, the snicker of a child spilled out. Wiping the tears from her cheeks, Ana glared past the woman, making direct eye contact with the same little redhead who had answered the door.
Coming to the demeaning realization that she was the source of his amusement; Ana sniveled back her tears, reverting into her shy state, and clenching onto her own arm, to relieve some of the humiliation.
"Anton, hush now!" The woman brushed him off indignantly, "Go play!"
Clearly mortified by his mothers' stern tone, Anton held an ill-mannered grimace, as he thrust the blue-tinted tongue from his mouth.
With a rigid stare, the woman tilted her head towards the little gremlin, causing him to retreat, like a puppy with its tail between its legs.
Almost immediately, the woman turned back to Anastasia with a yellowing, crooked grin. "Don't you worry about him, doll. He's just jealous at times, but he'll get used to you, I promise."
As the social worker placed her hand on Ana's back, she could feel the force as she was hustled into the towering estate. Before she could grasp the inevitable, she was imprisoned, the door slamming shut behind her.
As soon as she was behind closed doors, Ana felt her heart begin to race, thumping nearly out of her chest. Her instincts had carried her this far, and this home did not possess a pleasant atmosphere. There was a tint of dim, yellow lighting flooding from inside the living space, but the rest of the house as far as Ana could see was somber with air as dark as obsidian.
"Follow me, Anastasia." The clip-clop of her bright red stilettoes echoed down the opaque hallway. Daunted, Ana trailed behind, conscientious of her surroundings. The floor was clearly scuffed by the scraping of Irina's heels on the hardwood.
"Now, I don't want you to be upset, although many of my children are when they first enter my home. This is your first foster home is that correct?"
Ana nodded, shuddering in the biting, wintery climate.
"Okay, so this is how it works, you are going to stay on the second floor with the girls. If you are ever caught with the boys on the third floor, you will be punished. If you touch the thermostat you will be punished. If you try to leave without my permission, you will be punished. If you touch the lights, you will be punished. If you are caught aggressing towards my child you will be pun..."
"Your child?" Ana inquired with a skittish undertone.
"Yes you met Anton briefly, and another thing. When I am speaking to you, you do not interrupt me, understand?"
Ana nodded, gripping tight to her arm. As blood spilled from where her nails had broken skin, she followed the woman up each creaking step.
"First door to the left, go now."
With hostility seeping from her pores, Ana knew she had no choice in the matter. The intimidation of the infamous punishment, whatever that entailed, had Ana surrendering to the witches' every command.
The room was as dark as the rest of the abode, and it too reeked of cancer sticks and whiskey. Eight small mattresses lined the wall, side by side, and seven girls gathered on the beds furthest from the door. When the door clicked shut, a small child, scurried from the corner of the room. Her hair was tattered and greasy, and she emitted a dreadful odor, causing Ana to scrunch her nose, revolting from the stench.
"My name is Abihail, what's yours?"
"Uh... Anastasia," Ana responded with a slew of questions besieging her mind.
"You can sleep next to me. I sleep in the back so Cruella wakes me up last."
Cruella? Anastasia held her breath as the realization began to set in. A tiny hand pulled her from her trance, as she was yanked to the pile of children gathered in the corner.
"Come on, come on, I'll introduce you." Abihail held the sleeve of Ana's sweatshirt tight, as she begrudgingly followed the child's lead.
"This is..." The little girl looked up to Ana and whispered to her in a soft voice. "What's your name again?"
Ana smirked at the little blue eyes looking up at her. "I'm Anastasia." She announced.
"Right, right, This is Anastasia. Anastasia, this is Galina, and Anya, and Vera, and Alina, and Mila, and Angelina." She announced with the prideful smirk of an innocent child. As Abihail let go of Ana's arm, she skipped to her spot on the bed, patting the space beside her, and motioning for Ana to sit.
Hesitantly, Ana waddled to the beckoning five-year-old, and sat, feeling the awkward stares of each girl on her. Each child possessed the same haunted aura, with tattered hair, and dark circles bagging under their eyes.
Sensing the tension, Abihail broke the silence. "Cruella comes in every hour. So we gotta go to our own beds when you hear the creaky stairs."
"Abi!" Galina barked. "I told you to stop telling the new girls to call her Cruella."
Abihail hung her head low, spooked by the sudden snap.
"Do not ever call her that. Abi knows what happens when girls call her that to her face." Galina gave a quick stern gaze to Abihail before returning eye contact with Anastasia.
"You need to call her Gospozha Agafonov. You may not call her anything else or she will..." Galina shook her head as if shaking off a memory. "You don't wanna know, just don't fuck with her rules, and you'll be okay. We'll all be okay." Galina reassured.
Ana felt her stomach sink as she processed her new life. This, would not be her new normal. She needed an escape.
As they sat, watching the grandfather clock in the corner of the room, not a word was spoken. When the clock struck twelve, indicating the end of the morning, a far-off creak could be heard in the distance.
"Go, go now!" The sharp whisper cut through the silence as each girl stood and bolted towards their mattresses.
Abihail remained planted on her bed in the corner, as she motioned for Ana to lay down on the bed beside her. Each head hit each pillow, as the door swung open.
"Ah good, I see the girls have taught you well." Irina burst out laughing, with a harsh cough turning her face beat red. A new cigarette was nestled between her fingers, and a half-empty bottle of whiskey was grasped in her opposite hand. Behind her, Anton intruded, beelining for the new girl, and taunting her as she lay powerless to stop it.
He sat on the edge of her bed grabbing her hand in his grimy palm. He began bending each finger backward and chuckling as Ana squirmed in pain. Each time she attempted to fight him off, Cruella would hold her cigarette to the skin of Ana's neck until she ceased to fight at all, screaming in excruciating pain.
"Just take it." Abihail mouthed while the two cackled and continued the torture.
Anton began to pull at Ana's long hair, yanking strands out of her head one by one. He spit in her face, before beginning to pumble her like a ragdoll. As he swung his legs over her still body, Anton began to punch her, with fists of steel. Her stomach, her face, her chest. Nothing was off-limits, when Ana began to cry, the blows came to a halt. He hovered over her battered body, mocking her with a malicious chuckle and a prideful grin.
When he finally decided he was bored of the beating, Anton hopped off, and skipped out of the room, high-fiving his mother before he left.
Before she followed her son, Cruella brushed through Ana's hair, wiping the tears from her face, and kissing her forehead. "You remember this, and you know your place. Don't you ever make a scene in front of the social worker again!"
Ana sniffled, holding back the rage brewing inside her. She gritted her teeth and nodded slightly with furrowed eyebrows. One last slap to her face created a cowering shock for Ana.
"Enough of the attitude young lady." The woman shook her finger in Anastasia's face as Ana unfurrowed her eyebrows, and held back a whimper of pain.
When she finally left, Ana consoled her wounds, holding pressure and whimpering through the agony. Each girl arose and gathered around the beaten child. Galina, who was the only teenager, at the ripe age of thirteen, stroked Ana's arm, attempting to soothe her.
"Shh shh shh, It's okay, she's gone now."
"Is it always like this?" Ana questioned between moans.
"Only if you break the rules. She's got a big thing for children who put up a fight. You just have to go along with it. You cannot fight it or it'll be much worse. Trust me."
Abihail wrapped her arms around Ana, holding her loose as to not put any more strain on the bruises.
"She's right ya know. We can't do anything about it. You can't fight it. It only makes things a hundred times worse. She'll lock you in the basement and you have to sleep on cement. You don't get food or water for days, and you have to pee in a bucket like a dog. It's awful, we've all been there, but we have each other, and that's all that matters."
Ana shook her head, fuming with rage. "No, I'm going home, you guys can stay if you want, but I'm gonna find a way outa here. I already survived one hell, I am not going to live another."
"You can't leave." Galina chuckled, "it's impossible unless you do some crazy shit like kill her or something but even then, Anton's ruthless."
"It's not really impossible," Anya mumbled.
Galina gave her a stern gaze as if telling her to shut the fuck up.
"What? It's true, she's a drunk, she'd probably sleep through a tornado if it broke through her windows and killed her. I'm just saying."
"Don't put shit in her head, Anya." Galina forbade. "You cannot run, you saw what happened when you made a scene in front of Sasha. Do you really think running is in your best interest here?"
"Yeah, I really do." Ana snarled, pushing Galina's hand away. Galina huffed as she glared at Anya. "Whatever, it's not my ass on the line, you do what you want. Just remember, I warned you."
As Galina returned to her own bed, Ana pressed for more answers. "When does she fall asleep?" Anya turned to Abihail who shrugged and nodded towards Ana.
"Okay, I'll help you, but on one condition. If you get caught, this was all you. You are not going to blame us, and you are not going to be a rat. Got it?"
Ana smirked and nodded. "I won't get caught, and I'm no rat, you got my word."
"Anton Likes to take the new girls upstairs when they first get here because Cruella doesn't let him go past the point of tears. That's when you know she's passed out somewhere, and you should be safe. Still, though, you gotta find a way past Anton. He's hard, but if you can overpower him, you may be able to get out."
"That's idiotic," Galina, who had been eavesdropping, jumped in from across the room. "Even if you did get past Anton, which you won't, because you're a weak little girl, and he's used to beating people all the time. Even If you did, he'd wake Irina before you could even get down the stairs."
Ana rolled her eyes and turned her attention back to Anya. "Don't you hate it when people underestimate what you're capable of because you're a little girl? It almost makes it easy, you know, cuz their guard is down."
Anya laughed off the murderous gaze beaming from Ana's emerald eyes. "Listen though, I'm serious, snitches get stitches. You don't wanna be on Cruella's bad side, but you really don't wanna be the outcast here. We take care of each other, that's how we survive. Don't fuck with our allyship."
Ana nodded, "You don't need to worry about that, I promise."
"Okay then, it's your funeral if you fuck this up, so don't."
When the grandfather clock struck one, each child followed protocol, darting to their beds. Once again the door swung open but this time, Anton was not present. Cruella stumbled through the entrance, nearly tripping over her obnoxiously tall heels, with a zigzag pattern in her step.
Ana was the only child startled by the ear-curdling noise. This time around, Irina was not holding a cigarette, but rather two pot lids and a bucket. She chortled while she smashed the lids together repeatedly. "No sleeping on my watch, get up!"
She cackled as she kicked the metal pale into the room. When it tipped to reveal its contents, a conglomerate of mush spilled across the floor. "Eat up pigs, let's go."
Each child arose as Ana watched. They knelt to the floor and began licking the mess on all fours. Ana was astonished at the sight. What is this place?
"You too new girl get up, now!" Still, in agony from the recent beating, Ana rose to her feet slowly and knelt to the floor. Before she could even outstretch her hands to save some dignity, they were slapped away with a strong force.
"No, you get the same treatment as everyone else princess, no hands." Irina watched closely, already winding up to take the next hit, before Ana lowered her head, and began licking the slop.
It tasted as though she had taken all the cold leftovers from her fridge, and put them in a blender, for the girl to eat in the most humiliating way possible. She laughed with a sinister grin, before lifting the pale and leaving the mess on the floor.
"Remember girls, if you don't lick the plate, you don't get another meal until next week. Enjoy."
When the door finally shut the girls stood, wiping the slop from their faces, and nearly puking on the rancid taste. Galina, numb to the abuse, began the cleanup right away.
She scooped the mess with her hands, while Anya and Angelina lifted the farthest mattress from the door. One by one the girls scooped up the slop, tossing it under the bed, and into a pile of rotting leftovers.
Ana watched in awe, still dry-heaving on the texture and the thought of boiled toad. "Doesn't she smell that?"
"No," Galina sighed. "It always stinks in here, she doesn't let us shower, so she just thinks it's us."
When the mess was contained, the girls huddled in the corner, almost like clockwork. "At least she'll be down soon," Angelina forced a reassuring smile. "She typically passes out around two when she's had about two and a half bottles."
It was all she could do not to jump for joy when Ana heard those words. "One more hour then."
"Yeah" Galina snicked. "Unless you get caught, then it's one more hour till you're dead."
"Galina, don't scare her like that," Anya began. "At least she has a bit of bravery, which is more than you can say about yourself."
"You can do this." Anya wrapped her arms around Ana, whispering in her ear, "If you do it, you save us, okay?"
Ana nodded and took a deep breath, as she concocted the real plan in her mind. This was it, this was her one and only chance.
When the clock struck two, the girls bounced from one bed to the other, taking their positions and praying for the plan to suffice.
Abihail reached from her bed to Ana's, grabbing hold of her hand. "You got this," she muttered. "You get em' don't pay any attention to Galina. Focus on the goal."
When the door whipped open, Anton shuffled to Ana, yanking her by the hair, and dragging her across the floor. One flight, two flights, three flights, four flights of stairs. All of which Ana fought to walk on her own two feet.
When they finally reached the roof, Anton thrust Ana to the ground. He laughed in her face, which was just enough to provoke the boiling rage to its breaking point.
As Anton clicked the door shut, as quietly as he could. His back had been turned to Ana, who had picked herself up off the ground. This was her chance. With haste, Ana jumped on his back, holding his neck tight within her grasp.
He fought to overpower her, but what he didn't know, was that she had been dreaming of this day for years. When he became weak and felt faint, Ana took her chance, bringing him to the ground, with all the force she could muster. She straddled him, ignoring the searing pain where he was clawing at her hands to break free.
By his throat, Ana lifted the boy's head, smashing it off the cemented flat surface. Over and over again she demolished him. Ana watched as blood seeped from his ears. A sadistic smile came over her. She saw red, and even when he was limp, she continued on.
"This is for the spitting, this is for the taunting, this is for the bruises. This is for the torture." She had lost count of how many times his head had bounced off the rock-hard cement. His brains drenching the ground below. It was beautiful, like a work of art. "And this is for Galina not believing in me." She lifted herself off of his lifeless body, and dragged him by the neck of his shirt, to the edge of the roof.
With one hard heave, she watched as the little gremlin became a pancake on the pavement below. Falling into a puddle of slush and snow, and spewing like roadkill across the yard.
Her breathing was heavy and drawn out, as Ana admired her masterpiece. "And that is for Cruella Devil."
Catching her breath on the way back through the door, and down the stairs, Ana muted her steps as much as possible. One flight, two flights, three flights, four flights, five...
As Ana peered around the corner, she caught a glimpse of the evil mistress snoring on the couch with an empty bottle of bourbon on her chest. The television played some sort of game show, as Ana contemplated her next move. She made her way past the wretched woman and found a kitchen around the corner.
"Beautiful." She whispered as she pulled a steak knife from the block on the counter. She cherished the memory of the last time she wielded a glinting knife such as this. Now, was the fun part.
As she hovered over Irina, Ana felt the festering burns on her neck. She scowled and felt the same tingling rage running up her arms and charging her like a bolt of lightning. She lifted the knife above her head, and brought it down hard, plunging it into her victim's chest.
With the first stab, Irina's eyes shot open as she gasped for air. Another plunge drew deep into her chest, and a guiser of blood sprayed up the couch. Splattering across the room and onto the television.
With the fifth puncture, the woman had finally gone limp, but when has that ever mattered to Ana?
She drew ten more stabs, before slitting the woman's throat, nearly severing her head. When Ana grew tired, she placed the knife in Irina's hand and kissed her blood-soaked forehead.
"You remember this, and you know your place."
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