"Well, hello there little girl, what's your name?" a kind voice called to her.

She glanced in the shadowed corners of the room, seeing nothing but darkness. "Where are you?"

The kind voice tsked, disapproving. "It's rude not to answer a question when you're asked."

The girl hugged her knees to her chest. "My name's Anna."

"Ah, that's better." The voice sounded soothed. "Anna is such a pretty name. Has anyone ever told you that?"


The voice came nearer. "Why are you all alone, Anna?"

The little girl cowered from the unseen person, the voice sending chills up and down her spine, wracking her small body. "Mommy and Daddy said I'd be happy here."

"Are you happy here, Anna?" the voice came from behind her.

She shook her head, tears trembling on her lashes as she touched her forehead to her knees. Long brown hair swung forward to obscure her features.

A hand rested lightly on the crown of her head. "There's no need for tears, Anna. I'm here to help you."

She lifted her eyes, scanning the room for any sign of life. Not even the shadows danced. "How can you help me? I don't even know where you are."

"I'm all around you, Anna." A breeze kicked up from an unknown source, swirling up and around her, wrapping her in a strangely familiar scent.

"Who are you?" she whispered into the darkness.

"A friend, my dearest Anna. Just a friend." He paused, and the breeze died. "How old are you, Anna?"

The little girl swiped the tears from her eyes and sniffled. "Eight," she said quietly.

"So young," he breathed. The ghostly hand slid through her hair. "So pretty."

Anna sat perfectly still, praying the man would go away.

"What's wrong, Anna? Do you not like my touch?"

He sounded angry. Anna bit her tongue and remained silent, willing him to leave.

"I asked you a question," he said dangerously.

"You're scaring me!" she blurted. Anna clapped a hand over her mouth and looked around her. Had the room darkened? Did it look a bit smaller? Were the walls closing in on her? Were the shadows lengthening? As fast as it started, the darkness receded to its normal state.

"I'm sorry, Anna. I didn't mean to frighten you."

She wrapped her coat tighter around her. "It's ok," she said.

"That's a pretty white coat you have there, Anna. But why are the sleeves so long?" She felt his fingers catch hold of the material.

"Mommy says they're long so I don't hit anyone."

"Why would you hit someone, Anna?" he asked. It was as if he was sitting right in front of her now; how she and her best friend Emily used to sit and talk to each other.

"Mommy says it's Daddy's fault." She pushed the extra material up over her hands t show him the bruises on her wrists. "She says they're long so no one will see my bruises."

"Does your Daddy hit you, Anna?"

She shook her head. "Mommy says these are love taps and that Daddy doesn't really know what he's doing when he holds me."

"Is that what you think?" he sounded angry again.

"Mommy says—"

"I don't care what you mommy says, Anna! What do you think? You!"

Anna flinched and covered her head with her arms as his voice grew in volume. "I think Mommy never lies," she sobbed.

Hands gripped her sore wrists and pulled them down, exposing her tears stained face. Hot breath from an unseen face stung her eyes. "Your mother's a whore, Anna," the voice snarled. "A whore! She doesn't know anything. She doesn't know what she's talking about! Don't listen to what she says. They're all lies!"

"Don't you call my Mommy bad names!" she shrieked. Anna flailed against the phantom grip. "Let me go! I won't let you talk about my Mommy that way!"

He let go so fast that the little girl went flying, rolling feet over head until she stopped in a crumpled heap against the cushioned wall. The sneering voice faded into nothingness.

"We found her unconscious in the corner of her room," a woman's voice said quietly. "It looked as if someone had thrown her, but there's been no one in her room since yesterday morning."

"Are you telling me she did this to herself?" an elderly gentleman's voice cut in.

"It appears to be that way. But look at the bruises on her wrists. She couldn't have possibly done that to herself."

"Never say never. Has she woken up yet?"

"No. She's been out cold for almost four hours." The nurse hesitated. "Doctor…there's something else you should see." They walked over the bed Anna was lying in and the nurse lifted the covers.

"Oh, dear. You better call her parents immediately. And the police."

"Yes, Doctor."

"Anna? Anna, wake up."

Anna rubbed her eyes and blinked them open, the voice of the man waking her up. She looked around at her unfamiliar surroundings. Where am I?"

"You're in a safe place, Anna. Don't be frightened."

She pushed herself into a sitting position. The room around her was a vibrant, pulsing blue. There was no furniture, no windows, no ceiling, and no floor. It was like a huge blue void. "Where am I?" she asked again.

"Where ever you want to be, Anna." The voice said pleasantly. "Just imagine a place and you can be there. Anywhere in the world, sweetheart."

Anna squeezed her eyes shut and wished with all her heart to be back home with her mom. When she opened her eyes she was in her old bedroom, tucked into her own bed.

"Mommy?" she called excitedly. "Mommy! Where are you? I'm home!"

The unseen man cleared his throat. "I said you could choose the place. I didn't say you could see the people."

A sob caught in her chest as she jumped out of her bed and ran for the doorway. "Mommy!" she sobbed. "Where are you? Mommy, please!" But as soon as she passed through the door she was back in the blue nothingness.

Tears threatened to choke her as she fell to her knees and beat her fists against the ground. "Why?" she sobbed. "Why won't you let me see my mommy? I just want my mommy."

"I told you, your mommy was a whore. A bitch. A slut. A worthless piece of shit," he spat.

"Stop it!" she screamed, slamming her hands over her ears. "I can't hear you! Stop it! I won't listen!"

"Whore, slut, bitch. Whore, slut, bitch."

The words swirled faster and faster around her, wrapping her in their filth, invading her mind. A scream so anguished and demented tore from her throat and shook the blue nothingness around her.

"Get the doctor!" a woman demanded. She fell upon the young girl, holding down her frantically flailing arms and legs.

She couldn't hold her.

Another nurse ran to help her. "What the hell's gotten into this one?"

"I don't know. I came in to check on her and she just started screaming like a banshee. She must have been having a hallucination or something. And it had to be a pretty strong one to scare the hell out of her like this."

The doctor rushed in at that moment and ordered the patient to be given four hundred milligrams of Dantrolene. The effects of the drug worked immediately and Anna relaxed onto the bed.

"Strap her down," the doctor commanded. "We don't want her to have another episode like this when the police arrive."

She was floating on a cloud. Such a nice, fluffy white cloud. So soft. She wanted to lie like this forever. Her movements were languid as she reached to pick a grape off the vine above her. Grapes tasted so much better when eaten on a cloud.

Her head felt light and fuzzy, as if it were going to fly away with the breeze. Whoever heard of a headless eight year old? She giggled to herself. Emily would think it was funny if she told her. Maybe she'd sleep over Emily's on Friday. They could stay up and paint their nails like last time.

Maybe she'd paint them cloud. Was that a color? She'd make it a color and become a rich and famous…color maker. Anna smiled to herself. What color should cloud be? As she was musing on pretty colors, a voice intruded on her happiness and she was hurtled back to reality.

"Sir, you are under arrest for the sexual abuse of your daughter, molestation and rape of a minor, as well as…"

"But I didn't do anything!" he protested.

Anna chose that moment to blink her eyes open.

"Anna! Anna, sweetheart, tell the man I never touched you," he pleaded.

That voice…

Anna started screaming.