The boy crouched in the corner of an alley, seeking some semblance of shelter from the harsh, frigid winds of the winter. Snow rose and fell in taunting, threatening gusts, finally deigning to land upon the rag clad form, clinging to shaggy, brown hair and chilling his flesh as it melted against him. He drew a tattered, threadbare shawl tightly around his shoulders as he shivered up against the cold, concrete walls of his own, private hell. Not even the tomcats were out in this weather.
But the boy was.
Nameless, faceless, and homeless, he was out alone to suffer through the storm.
The only sound to be heard was the faint click, click, click of his teeth chattering. No birds called. No people walked to and fro, chattering aimlessly. No cats hissed and spat and chased the rats. There was just nothingness. A vast, empty expanse of white and gray. A cold, unyielding silence. Nothing.
He raised his eyes to the heavens above, wondering if he would finally freeze to death. It was a wonder he hadn't already.
The silence was broken then by the steady, mournful cooing of a dove.
Coo-hoo, coo-hoo, coo-hoo.
To the boy it sounded like a steady tattoo of no hope, no hope, no hope.
He fancied it an answer to his previous address to whoever might have been listening. No hope. He wasn't going to die. He would live.
He would live.
Was that what this was called? Living? He wondered why no one else seemed to be condemned to this terrible half-life, moving from place to place as a ghost, unseen and unloved. Maybe he really was dead. Dead and condemned.
Had he done something wrong?
He didn't think he'd been a particularly bad person. Yes, he'd stolen and lied, but that had been out of necessity. He was starving. And freezing. He'd needed the bread and the shawl more than the fat lady in the thick, wool coat did, anyway.
The silence was broken again.
He heard the distinct, rhythmic sound of feet squishing the wet, fluffy snow. A soft, squelching, crunching noise that was drawing nearer.
Who but him would be out on such a cold, miserable day, so cold that even the children dared not go out in the snow to play?
To his utter shock, she turned down the alley, moving towards him.
And she was beautiful. More beautiful than anyone he'd ever seen.
She was tall and lean, with a lovely, hourglass shape. Long, platinum hair whipped about wildly in the wind atop a face of an unearthly white, colored with a pale, rose colored flush from the cold. And her eyes! An icy, sparkling blue. They were shockingly blue. She was dressed entirely in dazzlingly white furs that made her blend hauntingly into the background like a beautiful camouflage.
She clucked her tongue, closing the distance and crouching beside him. Her voice was a beautiful sigh as she crooned, "Poor, poor dear. You don't like it here very much, do you?" Without waiting for him to answer, she cupped his cheek in a hand, using the other to stroke his hair. "No home, no family, no one to love. How very, very lonely you must be."
He watched her, transfixed. He couldn't remember the last time someone had spoken to him. It had been even longer since anyone had spoken to him so gently. Her touch and her voice were intoxicating.
"Yes, dear, I know. Bella knows." With a sweet smile, she soothed, "Hush, now, Love. Bella's going to take you away from all of this. She will take you somewhere special. You will be loved…. Cherished. Never ignored again. Would you like that, Love? Then sleep. Sleep and when you wake you will be in a better place."
The boy obeyed, leaning against her shoulder and closing his eyes. He mumbled, "'M I dying?"
He was asleep to quickly to catch her reply of, "Not yet, Love."
He woke, blinking groggily. He'd had such a lovely dream. There'd been a pretty, kind angel who'd come to take him away. As he became more aware, he realized that he felt decidedly odd. He wasn't cold anymore. And there was something soft around him. Much softer than the cold, unyielding concrete he'd grown accustomed to.
He looked around, finding himself in a room consisting of rich, earthy browns instead of the horrifying white of his snow covered alley. And, upon further inspection, he noticed a fire glowing in a hearth, sending a reddish orange glow across the room, and that he was lying on a cot with a thick, red blanket atop him.
Was he still dreaming?
Someone opened the door. He sat up, eyes widening as he recognized the angel who'd taken him away. Her words came back to him.Somewhere special… Where he would be loved. And cherished…
Bella knelt beside the cot, offering him a bowl of steaming liquid. "Eat up, Love. Bella wants you to get nice and strong." He took the bowl, delighted to find a flavorful beef and barely soup. Bella stroked his hair as he began to eat, purring, "That's right, Love. You belong to Bella now. Bella loves you."
If anything had seemed off about the first part of the phrase, it was immediately disregarded. She loved him.
She told him he was loved.
A warmth spread over him that had nothing to do with the fire or the hot soup. No one had ever loved him before. At least, no one that he could remember. Unconsciously, he leaned into her touch. No one had ever kept a promise to him, either. But she had. She'd promised she would help him, and she had.
"Do you like that, Pet?" she asked. A shiver ran down his spine as he felt her breath on his ear. He relished the closeness. It made him feel wanted. Loved. Cherished. "Pet…" she mused. "I like that. Would you like that to be your name, Love?" Her lips brushed against his cheek as she leaned closer to him, her voice dropping to a sultry purr as she asked, "Would you like to be Bella's Pet?"
An unintelligible sound and a nod was his only answer.
She had given him a name.
He'd never had a name before.
He took another mouthful of soup, and Bella breathed again, "That's right, Pet. Eat." He narrowed dark, charcoal colored eyes in pleasure. He didn't know there could be so many different flavors and textures in a single bowl of soup. It was without a doubt the most wonderful thing he had ever tasted. And Bella was by far the most wonderful person he had ever met. "My Pet," she crooned.
He liked that.
She would take care of him. No one had ever taken care of him before.
She took the bowl, asking cheerily, "All done, Pet?" It was a pointless question. There was nothing left in the bowl.
The boy licked his lips, savoring the remnants of flavor, and nodded, answering, "Uh-huh. Thanks."
Bella smiled at him. It was a strange, smug sort of smile, as though she knew something he didn't. However, the boy didn't notice. No one had ever smiled at him before. How was he to know what a proper smile looked like? Gently, she put a hand on his shoulder, urging him to lie back down. With the same, strange smile on her face, she tucked him in with the thick, crimson quilt and murmured, "Go back to sleep, Pet. You need your rest to get nice and strong for Bella."
She leaned over and planted a soft, feather-light kiss on his forehead before turning around and walking away, leaving him to fall asleep to the snapping and crackling of the fire.Crack-snap, crack-snap, crack-snap
The boy's last conscious thought was that the sound was very warm and comforting.
He had moved to another room. He liked this one even better than the last. This one was Bella's room. He loved her carpet. It was so nice and soft… At night, he slept curled up on the plush, white rug, beneath the crimson quilt. She was good to him.
She said she loved him.
He was well fed there. Now that he was well enough to get out of bed, she let him eat by the table with her. He knelt beside her chair, and she fed him from her hand. Did other people who cared for someone do that kind of thing? He didn't know. No one had ever cared for him before.
But, he imagined that they did.
Because Bella cared for him, and he imagined she acted the way others did.
He liked the way she made him feel cared for. He basked in her attention. No one else had ever paid attention to him before.
Presently, Bella sat in a chair by the fire, and the boy sat at her feet. She had a distant, dreamy look on her face. He heard her murmur, "Mm… Snap-crack, snap-crack, snap-crack…" He guessed she liked the friendly sound of the fire as much as he did. He didn't notice the flicking motion of her wrist, or if he did he missed the implication.
He fixed his eyes on the fire. It was so warm… He inched a bit closer to it. So inviting… He liked the fire. Bella asked innocently, "You like it, don't you, Pet?" Her lips twitched faintly as she said, "You can touch it, you know. Go ahead, Pet. Touch it."
The boy didn't know any better. He'd never had someone to caution him to stay away from fire. All he knew was that it was warm, and he liked being warm. And Bella used it to make food, and he also liked food. Nothing that kept him warm and fed could be bad, could it? Foolishly, he reached out to touch the dancing, orange flames.
He let out a shout of surprise as it burned his fingertips.
He jerked his hand away, turning to look at Bella, who was smiling benignly. "You have a lovely voice, Pet. Did you know?" she said calmly, ignoring the blistering burn on his fingers. She carded her hand through his dark hair, murmuring, "What a wonderful Pet Bella has." Tilting her head, she asked, "Pet, will you scream again for Bella?"
The boy thought it was an odd request. But, he complied. He watched as her large, blue eyes narrowed faintly, her lips curling in a smile. It was nice when Bella smiled. It made him feel warm and happy. He liked pleasing her, because she was so kind.
She commented, "Perhaps a reward is in order." She selected a bit of cheese from the plate she had set on the arm of the chair and held it out to the boy, who took it gingerly from her hand. She ruffled his hair. "Such a lovely Pet."
He leaned back against her, forgetting about the burns on his fingers and the way she'd giggled when he'd hurt himself. She must not have known the fire would hurt him. Bella would never hurt him on purpose. His Bella was kind. His Bella loved him.
The thought coaxed a contented sigh from his lips, and he felt warm inside. He liked being loved.
Bella pet his cheek and caressed his neck, purring, "You've recovered well, Pet. I think you will be ready to play, soon. Tell me, Pet, would you like to play with Bella?" Bending down to lean closer to his head, her voice dropped as she added, "It would make Bella very, very happy. And you like making Bella happy, don't you, Pet?"
The boy nodded vigorously. Oh, yes! He loved making Bella happy.
Grinning, she stood and said, "Come on, then. I do believe it is time for bed. When you wake, we shall play."
She extinguished the fire in the sitting room and led the boy into her bedroom. She lit another fire there and knelt beside him as he curled up on the rug. She tucked him in with the crimson quilt and murmured, "Sleep, Pet. That's right. Sleep."
He closed his eyes, snuggling into the rug and falling asleep to Bella's gentle croon and the snapping and crackling of the warm fire.
When the boy awoke, there was no soft, luxurious rug, nor was there a crimson quilt. Neither was there a comfy cot in a room of rich browns. And there was no fire crackling merrily in a hearth. This room was cold, with hard, concrete walls and a rough, dirt floor. He felt his ankles bound by cold, metal shackles.
"Awake, Pet?" a familiar voice asked. He looked up at her beseechingly, questioningly, wondering if he had done something wrong. "Ready to play, Pet?"
Uncertainly, he nodded.
She loved him. He would listen to her.
"Lovely," she giggled. "Stand against the wall, now, Pet," she crooned. He obeyed, turning his back to her as she asked. And suddenly his ears were assaulted by a harsh snap-crack.
It was different from the fire's sound, and he felt no warmth. Instead, the snap was accompanied by a whoosh of air, and the crack a sharp, biting pain that made his knees buckle. Eyes wide with shock, he turned his head to see what had happened.
There was a leather strap in Bella's hand.
He watched and saw that this snap-crack was the sound of her raising it and bringing it down on his back. His eyes were bright with pain, betrayal, and an unspoken question.
"You said you were ready to play, Love. So Bella's going to play," she explained, insanity evident in her tone.
The steady rhythm of sounds changed.Snap-crack, scream, snap-crack, scream, snap-crack, scream
With each scream, Bella sighed in ecstasy. "Such a lovely voice," she purred contentedly. After the fifth blow, she set the strap down, and commented, "I do believe we've had enough of that game."
She approached the frightened, miserable boy and cooed, "Now, now, Pet, don't fret. Bella still loves you." Cupping his cheek, she murmured, "Turn and face me." The boy complied, watching her with wide, anxious eyes. She spent a moment petting him and murmuring soothing, though empty, words to him to calm him.
And, even after she beat him, he threw his arms around her neck and clung to her for dear life, crying into her shoulder.
Once he'd calmed, she commented, "Bella never showed you her special talent, did she, Pet?" The boy shook his head mutely. "Would you like to see it?" He nodded.
Because his Bella would never do anything truly awful to him. He must have done something bad to deserve the whipping.
Giggling giddily, she lifted a hand and flicked her wrist lazily, cold, blue eyes alight with cruel glee.
The boy shrieked in surprise as a long gash opened on his arm. Confused and frightened, he couldn't do anything more than look back and forth from the injury to Bella. But…! But…! She hadn't been touching him!
"Fantastic, isn't it, Pet?" Bella jeered, lips twisting into a smirk.
The boy didn't understand. This wasn't Bella!
It couldn't be?
Who was this person, and what had she done to the sweet, kind angel who'd saved him? He must have done something to make her go away—to make her leave him with this evil woman who looked so much like her.
He asked despairingly, "I've been bad, haven't I?"
He wailed miserably, "I'm a bad Pet!"
Her only response was to open a new wound, this time down his cheek. She giggled as he screamed. "Mm. Such a pretty, pretty voice you have, Love."
Nearly hysterical, the boy collapsed in a boneless heap on the ground, weeping. He wanted his Bella back!
Why didn't Bella love him anymore?
The woman gathered him into her arms and crooned, "There, there, Pet. Don't cry." She brushed her knuckles along the injury on his cheek, and the wound closed itself. "Bella can heal you, too, Pet. She can make it all better." She did the same to the other gash, pressing a kiss to her toy's forehead.
"I had fun today, Pet," Bella cooed. "Perhaps Bella's Pet deserves a reward?" She pressed a bit of bread against the boy's lips, which he accepted automatically. "You're tired, Pet. Sleep. We will have plenty of time for more play later."
The boy obeyed, falling asleep to the harsh, irregular clank clankitty clank-click of a key and padlock locking him in.
"Come here, boy," she purred in silky tones, laced with cruelty and sadism. Her bright blue eyes flashed as her demand was ignored. The pitiful mound of tattered skin and battered bones didn't move. A loud, keening wail tore from its throat as with a mere flick of her wrist an invisible knife worked its way slowly down its arm, leaving a long, deep gash in its wake.
The woman's lips twisted into a grin as she giggled, "Oh! You do scream so beautifully!" However, her favorite plaything had no desire to continue entertaining her with his cries. In order to save himself from further punishment, he slowly dragged himself across the room.
His sadistic mistress narrowed her eyes in pleasure as she listened to the singing of the irons fastening the creature's wrists and ankles. Such lovely music they made! Rather like bells...
Clink, clink, clink. Tinkle, tinkle, tinkle.
She clapped her hands in a childish expression of glee, a rosy tint in her otherwise pale cheeks. Oh! Such fun, such fun!
At length, the pitiable wretch came to kneel before her, head bowed, dark onyx eyes bright with pain and fear. Isabella's long, bony finger worked its way beneath his chin, tilting his head, darkened by dirt and grime, upward. He felt a piece of stale, hard bred pressed against his lips, a silent command to eat. And he did, taking food from her hand like a starving dog who was too stupid to flee from an abusive mistress.
She crooned cheerily, "Oh, good! You haven't forgotten!" She ruffled his coal black hair the way one would ruffle the fur of a favorite pet. Once he finished the meager meal, she cooed sweetly, "And now we can play!" She dragged the very tip of her long, pale nail down his filthy cheek, leaving a long, thin scratch in its wake.
He tried to pull away, but her other hand held his head firmly in place. "Come now," she pouted. "You should know that Bella doesn't need to touch you to hurt you!"
She removed her hand, bringing it down, cutting through the air in a vicious, slashing motion. Her victim cried out in pain as a series of deep, thin scratches appeared across his face, as though she had scratched him instead of the air. Her shrill, sadistic shrieks of laughter filled the room. "Oh, yes! You know how Bella likes it when you scream! Will you scream again for Bella?"
He complied as she continued to tear into his flesh with her evil, cruel magic. He screamed and wailed until he was too short of breath and too hoarse to continue, and the torture persisted for just as long.
By the time Isabella was satisfied, her prisoner lay curled up in a ball, sticky, dark, crimson liquid forming a sickening puddle around his trembling, whimpering form. She approached the huddled figure, bending over his weakened form, growing blacker each day from an accumulation of dirt and filth. Her long, blonde hair hung in his face as she stroked his dark locks, cooing, "Don't cry, Pet. Bella can fix you. We can't have you bleeding yourself out, now can we?"
She flicked her wrist and the wounds began to close. She certainly didn't plan on killing her favorite toy during their play sessions. He wasn't getting away that easily. Faintly, he heard her whisper in his ear, "I have something for you, Pet." He was dimly aware of a too tight metal ring being fastened about his neck. And with that done, she left him.
He felt terribly alone in the cold, dark cell. But, worse, he felt completely helpless, chained and collared like a filthy mongrel. However, as he focused all the hatred he had in his heart on the sound of her footsteps, he noticed something quite unusual.
Isabella had forgotten to lock the door.
He waited a while, remaining where he was until he was quite sure that she was gone. Then, slowly, as if hardly daring to believe it was true, he crept towards the iron door, pushing it. It creaked and he flinched. When nothing happened, he slunk out, pressing his frail, battered form to the wall.
He could see it.
It tortured his onyx eyes, which had grown so used to the darkness, rendering him temporarily blind, and burned his skin, which had grown so accustomed to the cold dampness of the cell, but he could see and feel it for the first time in what felt like an eternity. The sunlight!
And then there was pain. Awful, nauseating pain. He fell to his knees, bleeding profusely from the soles of his feet. He could barely perceive the added pain of a pattern which he could not distinguish being carved into his forehead.
The last thing he heard before he succumbed to unconsciousness was a harsh, possessive hiss of, "Mine!"
When he awoke later--just how much later he couldn't say--he was fastened to the ceiling of his cell by his wrists. His mistress twisted her lips into a self-satisfied smirk and she held up a mirror for him to look into. To his utter horror, he saw, in neat, little letters, the phrase, "Property of Bella" etched into his forehead.
Hopeless and distraught, he lost consciousness again.
The last sound he heard before succumbing to blackness was a bone-chillingly simple explanation of, "Mine."