He needed to get out; he knew it more than anything else.
"Are you saying that this hurts too much?"
"No!" the young boy cried out. His hands were bound in iron shackles, his feet barely touching the cold, cement floor as he dangled. There were fluorescent lights that illuminated his pale skin and the blood that dripped off of his scrawny back, and while he made no audible sounds of pouting, drops of water slipped down to his chin from underneath his ragged black hair. If he didn't escape soon he would fade away or die and neither seemed like the plausible option for him.
A much older, grey haired man stood behind him, a slender metal pointer in his hands. His expression carried only disappointment and uncaring, his mouth in a permanent frown and his faded blue eyes staring at him without a hint of remorse. It was not his job to care about this boy, or his health. It was his job to make him something he was not.
"Then you won't mind if I give you five more lashings."
The slapping sound of flexible metal hitting skin echoed in the room, a large mirrored window covering the one side while the rest of the walls were cement. There was nothing in there besides the two individuals involved in the beating, and a single door served as the entrance and exit, it being at the back side of the room. The boy bit his lip, eventually causing blood to run as he tried his very best not to scream out in pain or show any anguish. If a single word was said he would only be punished more. He was eight, but his back already showed the slashed scars of a dozen lashings. As soon as the man finished his fifth lash, he unbound the cuffs around the boy's hands and let him fall, the boy barely catching himself as he shivered from the pain, landing on his knee with one foot still planted on the ground.
"And how did that feel?"
"G-great!" the boy shouted back in his broken voice. As he stumbled back to his feet, the older man lifted the boy's chin and stared at his grey, fearful eyes. He slapped the boy, sending his meager body flying back to the cold floor. The punishment never ended in this place. The boy could only hold back his sorrow.
"You're weak! Weak, but agile. As all children are."
The boy said nothing now, pulling his body back up to stand before the man. He was still short, but despite the wimpy arms and legs that he had, he carried himself like a warrior that would not back down. There was a drive behind him as he stood so hesitantly, a drive that this old man wished to harness. His wrists were bruised and bloodied along with the rest of him, but he remained steady, waiting on the man's next command. If he did not, then he knew he was only in for more hurt, and the hurt now was nearly unbearable. Rather than say anything, the man grabbed the boy by his hair and pulled him towards the door, exiting into a hallway that was lit by similar fluorescent lighting, the walls all cement and cold. The boy was barefoot and bleeding, wearing only a tattered pair of shorts that were soaked in a red and stained as he was hurriedly led to another room further down the hall. His time to escape was near.
The room was far from empty, having walls that stood throughout the room to create a sense of a maze. Throughout it hung wooden cut-outs of men and women, most of them damaged or splintered. The boy was thrust into the room and a hand gun was thrown at him as the door closed and a disturbing locking sound snapped. He picked it up and warily looked at his surroundings. Far across, at the other side, there was another door, metal and similar to the one behind him. This was far from his favorite exercise, although he excelled at it. He had to reach the other door, but there were a few catches to his duty. There was another boy, much like himself, who was seeking to do the same thing.
He glanced at the mirrored glass sides. They were bullet proofed, of course, and the method used to decide if the boy did everything correctly, and also to make sure he had not managed to shoot any of the wooden decoys within. While their health meant nothing to the creators of this madness, it was still all a part of the training that they would not damage any "being" but the other who held a gun, as if it was a mission to help some allies, allies that they never had. Not that it would matter after this, since he had already planned what would happen today.
The pain and blood loss from his back made the boy uneasy and unsure of his condition. While this was far from the first time he had been put through this, he was more lightheaded than usual and his arms seemed more like lead weights than usable appendages. He crouched perfectly still and waited for a noise to encourage the idea that someone else was there, giving away their position. All that could be heard now were the moans derived from sound boxes; another way that the test givers tried to distract them. It was a killing room, a place where only the best could survive. The boy drowned out any thought of anguish now, concentrating on his need to live through this violent mess, knowing failure here meant his life.
It became known that if he sat in his position any longer he would only grow wearier, so he took the chance and swiftly left his place without a sound. While the other person in the room may be waiting still, he had to take the opportunity to find his own way to the destination. His senses were in peak condition, for slipping up meant his life. He carried the gun that by rights should have been too large for him, darting from wall to wall as he shifted his eyes around him constantly, trying to pick up on any movement. He was nearly halfway across the room when he found his break, a slight brushing that echoed from the opposite side of the room, and a fragment of skin that crossed his vision. He ducked behind the nearest wall, then gazed out from behind it, carefully scanning the dimly-lit expanse for life.
A form appeared from beyond the wall for a moment, and they stood locked in a dull stare. Across from him the boy could see another boy, possibly a year older, his hair shaved off and his scalp battered along with his face. No emotion sparked in his blue eyes, but his arm slowly lifted, a gun in his hand. The first boy made no movement besides readying his own weapon.
"You're the one called the 'Night'? Easy…" the blue eyed boy frowned.
The boy with black hair said nothing and felt nothing, taking advantage of the moment the other boy had taken to speak and fired his weapon. It echoed, and a scream shot out before the other boy fell, his eyes frozen open in surprise. The boy who had been called the "Night" ran to the fresh corpse and looked down on it, shooting it again between the eyes to make sure he was down. No words were spoken as he hesitantly rushed towards the door, still alert despite that his opponent was dead. In this gore crazy world nothing was certain, not even escape after certain victory. Although he had never been attacked after a kill before, rumors drifted from the cages and several other children had spoken of it happening. Of course, who would be able to tell those rumors? The question passed through Night's mind.
Now was his chance as he looked at the door, rusted and dark, large bolts studding its façade. He had to get through and eliminate the man that would be there, taking this opportunity to get out of the Hell he was in. Two-hundred and seventy-three steps from here there was the passage with clearer air and a warmer breeze, and he knew that it was the nearest exit towards the outside world. Desire for freedom burned within him and he could only hope that he would survive the escape that he had carefully planned for the last six months. The training in survival and battle was going to be put to test against a real enemy now, and nothing pleased him more than the thought of their dead bodies and the sight of the sky.
With hesitation he tried the latch of the rusted door, brushing by the dried blood as he used the entire force of his body to open it. His back burned from the exertion while he finally opened the door and held his gun up, letting the metal act as a shield to his back and aiming directly at the pale eyed man who has taken to beating him earlier. For years he had given the boy pain, and now was his time to die. The man attempted to draw his own weapon without a second of hesitation, but halfway through the draw a bullet had already flown through his skull, leaving him to collapse. The boy had no reason to wait, darting off before someone else decided to come and find what happened.
Gunshots were profusely normal here, making the sound of one insignificant, however there were dozens of guards that roamed freely or were placed in specific locations to act in case someone rebelled. Their scents, movements, grunts, coughs had warned the boy ahead of time where they were usually found, one being placed one-hundred and twenty-six steps from the exit of the room he was just in and another two-hundred and five steps away from it. Another one was at the entrance he was searching for. There were seven bullets left.
Turning a corner he found his first guard, letting out an expertly aimed bullet that blasted right through the unsuspecting man's heart, then darted past him and headed towards the next guard which he was sure would notice and come rushing to the scene. He was right, so he stopped at the dimly lit corner as he heard the footsteps of the next man coming. As he rounded the corner, he took advantage of his short height and ducked below the guard, shooting his round towards the base of the man's neck while his back was still turned. The corridor was certainly going to be under alert now, but he ignored it as he continued to run at his quickest and quietest speed towards the last guard he knew of. Failure was not allowed, just like his usual exercises, and he knew that what he had learned to do would save him now.
Finally he reached the last guard he knew of, not bothering to halt considering that he knew that the man would already be waiting for him. He did duck down before reaching the point though, sending another precisely placed bullet in the man's chest, causing him to collapse but enabling him to get a shot off. The boy took no notice of the wound for a moment, but quickly realized the blood that dripped from the side of his chest, the graze being minimal in pain considered to what he had been through before. It still throbbed though, she he was careful to check it was not too bad. However, the taste of the fresh air drove him even faster towards the end of this dimly-lit nightmare, his eyes unblinking as he concentrated on everything ahead of him. As he turned one last corner there were a door and a grisly young man staring right at him.
"You, boy!" a guard called out, reaching for his gun and shooting without aiming properly. The boy was so small that it was hard to hit him. Night tried his own hand instead, fumbling with his weapon and hitting the man's abdomen without a killing blow. By then maddened man was nearly upon him though, and he managed to grab the boy and twist the weapon from his hand as he attempted to struggle.
The dark haired boy was far from ready to let someone stop him now. He was little, and nimble, and this man was much larger and clumsier, so he waited for the man to let go of his wrist so that an escape could be made in any moment that there was no contact. The man held on with a clenching fist, pointing his gun at him again, and as he let go slightly as he was distracted by his radio, expecting to keep him in check due to the horrifying end that could occur, Night ignored the danger and hit the man's hand with all the power he could, as quick as he could, causing the gun to fall. Taking advantage of the moment, he reached for the closest gun and took his chances it, resulting in a direct hit to the man, who fell with a loud crash to the ground. Then he reached for the door, pushing it open carefully to peer within.
Before him he saw a sight that was nearly blinding; the hall stretched out before him as white as fresh-fallen snow, and bright lights doused the image in a glow. Taking it in, he stumbled a moment, but continued on his mission to leave the building and find his freedom. At the beginning of the hallway it was narrow, then teed off, the walls afterwards incredibly bare and incredibly empty. He chose to go right, noticing further down the hall that there were no people, unlike the left. The people were odd, and there were men and women, wearing strange blue outfits and multicolored shirts, all things that he had not seen in all his short years. Keeping his gun close, he hurried away, avoiding the attention of anyone and staying near the walls. There were dozens of doors, their very presence scaring the boy because of what could be behind them and what they could be used for. He proceeded further and further, finding the air to be filled with a sort of clean smell. Then he began to hear voices, those belonging to adults. There were still people here, and they must want to stop him. The sudden realization that he was still in danger struck him, but he continued to move until he saw ahead of him a woman, a clipboard in her hand.
She had just stepped out of a door, and was about to turn the opposite direction when she apparently saw him out of the corner of her eye. She turned to look and her face froze in surprise. Night stood there, half naked, dripping with blood and staring, a wild look in his eyes as he held fast to his gun, but he had no idea what to do either. She had no expression of being set to stop him, but she also appeared to be mortified of him, which could cause her to request assistance.
"Are… you okay?" She finally asked, trembling.
Night's stare was unforgiving and untrusting, and his gun barely moved an inch as he did not trust this newcomer. While her eyes showed no deception, she was still an unfamiliar face. As he raised his gun again, instead holding the barrel of it, she edged back into the room, her shaking hands eventually dropping the clipboard. A small squeak barely passed her lips as the boy threw the gun at her head with all the force he could muster. She fell into the room, a streak of blood dripping from her forehead, and he rushed over to her, reaching over her collapsed body to grasp her head. No remorse swept through his mind as he turned it swiftly until a crack sounded, then, with some difficulty, he pulled her entirely into the room and closed the door after he exited. He walked out no less suspicious as before, but left the gun behind, hoping that there could be some way of avoiding detection from the enemy, but with the wounds he had it seemed futile.
Again he began to run, his mind in a rush as he began to realize that there were people here, and although there were not many, he had to find a way out. There were no windows, and he had to wonder if there was an upstairs. As a man turned a corner, Night found himself jumping into a darkened room, waiting for the man to walk by. He left, and the boy approached the corner he turned from and saw two large doors, one of them propped open to reveal stairs. Peering around he saw no one, then took his chance as he began to ascend the stairs, which seemed to go on forever. They turned around before he saw new doors, and these doors had small windows revealing more fluorescent lighting. He edged closer and was just barely tall enough to peer into the bottom of the window, but as soon as he saw what was on the other side, he jumped back, rubbing his pained back against the wall next to the door as he nearly collapsed in defeat. He cringed but expressed no voice of anguish, instead wondering what greater pains would be brought to him if he was caught now. Remembering the wound on his side, he looked down at it, feeling it with his hand. He was pained, cornered, and doomed.
"Boy!" The boy jumped to his feet but froze to find the source of the voice, a young man with the similar blue outfit he had seen before. He was stocky and familiar to the people he saw in the facility, but the boy could not escape now. He had to take his chances with the people who inhabited this place. "What are you doing? Where are your parents?"
Night found himself confused now, not sure if this man was serious or using some sort of code. His grey eyes were empty as they stared directly back at the unfamiliar man without fear or care. While he was devoid of any real emotions, he thought that if this man was genuine he might be able to take advantage of him just enough to see the sun again.
"Outside?" the boy asked, his voice cracking considering he had not used it in so long. Even phrases were nearly foreign.
The man, who had been descending from the stairs that continued on above, took a moment to stare at the boy's mangled body, and Night thought for sure that he was studying him for weakness. His voice came out urgently and far less harsh than the boy expected. "We need to fix you up right now, where are your parents?"
"Gone," he replied, honestly. His voice barely carried any presence at all. "Take me… outside."
Now there was another woman who turned the upstairs corner and saw the boy and man standing there, a few feet apart, and she was wearing a similar uniform. They both seemed to tower in height as they stood and stared at the boy, horror openly dressing the woman's face. The man crouched down, trying to set his eyes at level with the boy's.
"I can't just let you go outside like this. We have to clean you up. Can you please cooperate enough for that? What's your name?" he told Night, his expression genuine. The boy hesitated.
"Night. Promise… take me outside."
"Night, I promise I'll take you if you can let me help you first. Okay?"
Night nodded his head, but not without knowing there was a high chance the man would betray him. He watched the two adults as the man told the woman to check the records for any boys that were similar to this one, then followed the man as he nudged open the door and lead the him out down a long hallway. Numerous people watched him but he continued on his way, all of them appearing almost afraid of what they saw. The boy could not tell what the problem was, but he felt as if all the eyes belonged to the men he had just escaped. There was no freedom, no matter where he was. He decided to trust this man though, and ignored the others, only paying attention to where he was headed. The whispers of the people in blue and other multi-colored shirts were always about him and his wounds, the rooms they were in all looking very similar with people both young and old inside them and occasionally other people who were standing around talking or weeping next to those who were bed-ridden. It was light here, and while it was like a prison, the people were constantly asking how each other felt and if they were doing better. For the life of him, Night could not figure out where he was.
"Here, this lady will help you."
The boy looked up to see a plump, middle-aged woman staring down at him, worry covering her face. "Are you okay, child?"
"Yes," he said. He could not figure out why anyone would want to help him, since he thought people were supposed to ignore pain. The woman gestured for him to take a seat on a strange, paper covered bed in which he crawled up on. She asked him questions, like how he felt and what had happened. He only answered in as vague a way as possible, leaving the majority of the questions either unanswered or answered poorly. He could not figure out what their purpose for asking was, since they already knew everything about him; they were his history. She began to examine the wounds, and then asked him to take off the shorts that barely dangled on to begin with.
"I don't know where you got these, but you can't wear them," said the woman. Night was hesitant, not entirely certain if he should lose the only things he had left to wear, but decided that running naked would be better than letting any cuts beneath burn with infection. As he complied the woman gasped and shook her head, making the boy feel someone unclear in what she intended. "He looks abused, the Lord have mercy!"
Night was not entirely familiar with the word "abused". No one had ever used it before; all he knew that could explain his injuries were the words punishment and failure. He would not dare question it though, seeing as these people were alien to him with their smiles, emotion, and sense of care. This world was not real, no one was ever this friendly, and it had to be the construction of those who had chained him in. He watched everyone around him carefully, staring at the woman as she held a cotton ball near his side, which was soaked in a substance that smelled much like liquids he had seen in his past, but with a much stronger and piercing scent.
"This will burn a little, but it's good for you."
The man stood nearby, the boy assuming that he was there to stop him from running, and as the small, cold ball touched his exposed tissue he barely cringed; he was familiar with this feeling. The adults almost appeared surprised, and Night started to feel even more that these were not people under the control of those men he hated. Perhaps there was escape yet, but the boy doubted that. He had killed too much time and those men could easily find him. Time seemed to pass at a snail's pace as he let the woman dress his wounds, her voice constantly expressing concern. He recognized that something strange was happening, knowing that they were helping him, but he sat hopeless knowing that his fate was sealed. After this failure they would never open another chance, if they even let him live to think of freedom again.
"That's much better!" She said taping a bandage to the boy's cheek. He stared at her through his dark, greasy hair and barely moved his pale, thin lips.
"Oh Lord, did you tell him he could go outside?" the woman asked, turning to the man. "I swear, Conner."
"He doesn't look so great, and he wouldn't come with me otherwise. Really, Maude, I'll give him a gown and take him to the courtyard."
"You had better tell Hilary."
"Yeah, yeah, I'll go do that. I'll leave him here for now."
The man left, and Night now decided what to do with himself. The woman told him to stay put and that the man would be back, then left giving him a light fabric to wrap around himself since his shorts were so tattered and ruined. His options were open now, the door unguarded and unlocked. Opening it, he peered out, the paper-like fabric wrapped around his waist. The coast was mostly clear. Running out, he quickly scurried past everyone he could, searching for an exit. All the doors seemed to lead to separate rooms so he tried to look for any place that had windows instead. It was not long after he ran down the hallway before he found what he was looking for, and dodging through the numerous people who seemed to be there, he ran out of a door that opened automatically. Then he almost cringed as the sun caught him off-guard, the unusual warmth and humidity outside triggering him to wonder if this was really the right idea.
No, he thought to himself. Finally he made it out, and all he had to do was to run as fast as he could. Squinting, he gazed out to see grass, trees, and pavement, dozens of strange vans with odd attachments to their tops and cars with people standing outside. Trying to avoid the flow of people and get out of sight, the boy did not hesitate to dart into the bushes nearby, peering out at the people from a tangled shield, but he gasped as he noticed that he managed to disturb the bullet graze's bandage.
"Did you see that boy?" a man's voice drifted quietly to the boy's ears. He turned his gaze to stare at the man who pointed, several others following it. He had no idea what the man wanted, or if they were all there after him, but he knew it was no good. He had to slide away before they came to catch him, so he crouched and hurried behind the bushes for as long as he could. Upon getting to the end of the building he realized there were more strange people than before at the other end. It appeared that he was surrounded.
A decision had to be made and now he had little time. If these men were not looking for him, then the man from before would be. Looking past the bushes he decided to make a run for it, darting out towards the least populated area. Midway through his run he knew that these outlandish people had spotted him
"What's that?" a woman shouted, several others following her gesture. Suddenly Night saw a number of people raise odd looking, bulky devices on their shoulders or turn them on unusual tripods to follow him. Even as he disregarded the hazards of them knowing he was there, he found himself, barefoot, shamelessly undressed, and running into the middle of a wide street. He heard the car coming from several yards away, but still turned to see it. Just as the woman driving slammed her breaks, Night's body moved by reflex, and he narrowly avoided collision by crashing into the dirt and gravel off the road. However, he could do nothing by moan for a moment in the initial shock and pain as rocks pushed into his flesh and already existing wounds. Soon enough a number of people closed in around him.
"Are you okay?"
"What are you doing?
"Where are your parents?"
The boy gave no answers, but watched all of them with all his senses, trying to assess his situation. He had no weapon, but he could get past all of these people because, as far as he could tell, neither did they. Not only that, but they also seemed unfamiliar with the interaction he had been weaned on for the last few years. They were all idiots in his eyes, and his escape should have been the easiest thing imaginable. Acknowledging this, he took his chance, first by completely analyzing what all of them were doing and saying, and even smelled like. None of them were even partially as dirty as everything that was in that dark, cold place with him.
Making his move he began to get to his feet, and as he did it he realized that a shard of something had lodged in his thigh. Not only that, but he stood there, naked, bleeding, and bandaged beyond anything these people had seen not sitting in a bed. They looked shocked, scared, and inquisitive, but Night disregarded any thoughts they had, putting aside any pride he had deluded himself into thinking he contained, and instead went directly to cut a path for himself. Completely taken by surprise, the strange adults all made way for the insane boy so he continued, completely blank of any expression but moving as fluidly as someone trained for decades. For a while he was free, running quick as a he could, but then he realized that those vans had followed him, and he was not alone, and he could never outrun a machine.
Then a thick arm wrapped around his neck and he was yanked upwards, still moving, and pulled into a van. Instinctively he dug his hands into the arm and clung to it, lifting himself up enough not to suffocate, however he was still struggling for air. He bit at the flesh, latching onto the hardened muscle underneath. The grip did not loosen and instead he was thrown into the van and the door was closed. A small light glimmered down on his field of vision and as he spit out the flesh and blood he stared at two large man and knew there was another behind him, all of them dressed in the dark garb of the guards he had seen so much of back in his old prison. It was the end of the line, and now Night could do nothing against these giants with muscle and weapons.
"You caused an awful racket, punk," one of the men said. The man next to him grimaced at the bloody wound the boy had inflicted on him, his expression rivaling Night's own at the time. A fit of rage overtook the man now, and he lashed out with his hands, grabbing James by the hair and pulling him forwards. From there he used his nails to rip the bandages off his body and reopen those that had ceased to bleed.
"Calm down, Kevin," a deep voice can from behind him. As a result the boy felt a slight freedom as he was released from the man's painful grasp. Now the only mercy he would get would be when he was finally put back into his cage. He growled and gave no sign of giving up while the men glared at him. It was no use though, and as the agony of the day caught up to him, James finally receded into a corner of the van and waited for them to yank him back out. Only darkness could await him now.
"You realize what you've done, don't you, James."
Only the higher ups every used his real name. The boy stood, his body trembling slightly from the pain that finally caught up with him. He was ruined, his opportunity taken from him and his hopes destroyed in one simple action. There was nothing left for him as this gaunt, older man stared down at him with disapproving and irritated eyes. It was the man with the leather coat and slicked back hair; James had only encountered him a handful of times before, and even fewer encounters in which he addressed him directly. The boy knew he wanted to hurt him more, but the heartache of bringing him back was enough of a mental wound to keep him quiet for now. Hope was a fleeting thought that disappeared, darkness clouding his mind and wrapping him in realization.
"You can lick your own wounds tonight. Our treat. Try not to bleed to death or get sick; you still have a match tomorrow. You only deserve it after being so childish."
James was too depressed to reply, but he had no need to. Everything he felt was in his body language, his gaze resting on the cold cement floor, the floor that shared the color of his eyes. No joy resided here, just as no joy resided within him. The numbing of sorrow kicked in, and soon all he could feel was the anguish of his superficial wounds, blood coursing in mere dribbles now. The gaunt man nodded his head and turned away.
The boy was yanked back down the hall where he received a dark cloth sack over his head so that he could not see. He was accustomed to this darkness, as all others were, and paid no interest in it. Most of the long hours of his being here were spent in this darkness, so instead he counted footsteps and made a mental map of the facility he was in. Of course, his starting point now was unfamiliar, so he had to make a new map, but his entry point was of unknown origin, and his limp from the shard in his leg made his footsteps uneven. The stench of the cages was unavoidably distinct though, and he knew at least thirty steps before getting to the door that he was there. Upon arrival the hood was taken off and he was welcomed to an array of cages partially inhabited by a few children, some awake, some sleeping, and all of them living in their own filth and blood.
Handed a tin cup with water and bowl of a flavorless paste, James was placed in his own encasement. It was nearly three feet long and three feet wide with a four foot height. It was in between two others and, luckily, against one of the room's walls. They were all within an arm's reach of each other, and open enough to permit hands to fit through them, and James knew as well as anyone else that it was used to further wean out people that could not last here. The battle for life was a constant one, and everyone slept with one eye open if they managed to survive. His cage was coated in old layers of blood, but since they were permitted breaks for bathrooms he had managed to rarely spoil his home further. Others were not so lucky, for these were never cleaned so that they would have to live with their mistakes and shortcomings.
Before taking any bite to eat, James set to fixing his bleeding thigh. He was naked, which helped him to address his wound without any bother, but the filth that surrounded him made the fact that he had to dig his fingers into his leg all the more unnerving. He bit his lip to stifle the desire to scream as he began the process of removing the foreign object, managing to latch onto the semi-smooth shard within. It was glass, and cut his fingers as he pulled it, but he finally ripped it out. As the blood began to run again, he threw it into a random cage to avoid ever encountering it again and sat without resting his back on anything in attempt to avoid clashing any wounds with unnecessary physical contact.
He began to eat the tasteless gruel he was given, carefully observing the cages around him. The cage to his left had been empty for a while, the inhabitant of it prior having died at his hand. Trying to kill a boy that was bigger than you tended to end in failure, but James could tell that the boy was at the end of his line and desperate for anything. Across the floor he noticed that of the twenty people the day before, there were fifteen remaining. Having the knowledge that there were nearly one hundred people in here six months ago kept him aware, certain of whether he had a chance to survive. A killer, and a skilled one at that, he had managed to put up with everything that had been thrown at him, along with everyone. Whether it was a boy or a girl, big or small, younger or older, he treated them all with the same fate and remained a horrifying combatant.
None of this ever bothered the boy though, as he sat staring at the cruel world, smelling the decay and the festering of assorted objects and people in the room. Even the guards stood outside to avoid the stench and filth that was within, knowing if anything happened that the kids were all trained to go directly at each other rather than the doors. James finished his meal for the first time in a day and closed his eyes, trying to think of something that made him feel a bit more at ease regardless of the throbbing wound at his back.
His mind wandered freely to his past, back before he had arrived in this miserable place. Although he was young and had been through pain that no child should have experienced in his entire life, James could still vaguely recall his days before he had arrived at this place. Orphaned since before he could remember, and possibly the entire length of his existence so far, he had lived in a building with other children of similar fates as his and managed to make the best of it as a youngster. In the bliss that overwhelmed most children's lives, he spent most of his time playing with the other kids and wishing for a family of his own. The image of the orphanage was still a clear picture for him; an old brick building cramped between other buildings on the street, one of which was the church that he had to attend at least once a week. He remembered running up the stairs in the front and being scolded by the old woman who ruled the place, her wrinkly, brown face and white hair nearly hidden by the funny black and white hood she always wore. Then again, he recalled, she was always funny looking, kind of like a penguin, and all the kids used to laugh about it when there were no adults to tell them not to. They all used to be afraid of her and think of her as too strict, but now he wished that he could be back there, receiving punishment from her instead of these other, real monsters. The building itself was split up into a half dozen rooms, and the seemingly large amount of kids were all placed in a number of bunks in several of the small, bare-walled bedrooms. All the children would constantly be making noise and having fun, quite unlike the children that surrounded him now, and very unlike his current self.
There were a number of younger adults that helped the old woman in charge, but James had trouble remembering their faces, or whether he liked them. The only face he could remember was Miss Calloway, for her deceptive smile and business-like manners were forever engrained in his mind. She was young, only around thirty, with dark eyes and pale skin. The dark brown hair she had was cut short and her clothing was always neat, almost as if she was busy being a professional in a home were children mattered, not money. When she appeared James was too young to recall correctly, but kids started to get adopted exceptionally fast and disappeared in the dead of night before anyone could say goodbye. On James' fifth birthday he was introduced to Mister Roth, an older man with a rough exterior and an ever rougher interior. He remembered the day perfectly, and even until earlier this day those blue eyes still haunted his every step.
"This is Mister Roth," Miss Calloway had said, a glistening smile rounding her lips. "He's interested in adoption. Would you be okay with talking to him?"
Although he had thought the man was scary with his permanent scowl, he had been taught not to decline without a good reason, and looks were not a good reason. That was the first conversation that James had ever had with his tormentor, and while the words they passed seemed hazy and irrelevant to him, he knew it was his own fault he came here, because he had hinted towards something in himself that the man found enticing and useful.
A few days later, papers were signed and all of the boys and girls, along with the old, penguin lady, were sleeping when Miss Calloway woke James and pulled him out to the street without letting him take a single thing he had besides the clothes on his back. Before he had a chance to cry out in anguish over what was happening, he was pushed in a battered car, the door was shut, and he was staring at the ugly older man from before. He held his breath a moment, but it was a moment too long as he felt a pinch in his shaky, skinny arm, looking down to see a syringe with some liquid being pushed inside him. Then darkness flooded his vision and he awoke to find himself in the a cage similar to what he was in now.
James opened his eyes now and frowned. His hopes of thinking happier thoughts had failed and now he could only see the faces of hundreds of unnamed children that, while they meant nothing to him, made him question his own fate I this place. They had all perished or disappeared. Three years had passed while James fought, replacing his emotions of pain, love, and uncertainty with an inherent desire to see everything die, as he carefully calculated how to accomplish such a deed. Hate became a deep-set loathing, pain became an annoyance he had to ignore, and love faded away to be replaced by a lust for anything that could make him feel a fragment more satisfied with life. The fifteen children here meant nothing to him; only the death of those that kept him locked here. The thought of ever asking these children for help was only a hassle for he did not need someone to weigh him down.
This is all that's left in life, he thought to himself, closing his weary eyes again. Before long he fell into slumber, ignoring his wounds while still sleeping lightly enough to notice any disturbances.
"They pulled it from the stations."
The gaunt man sat in a chair across from a large table, an old, plump man sitting on the other side in a heavily cushioned chair. The room was well lit, and several chairs and bookshelves lined the parameters. The older man continued.
"But, the government got their hands on the footage instead. Damn Jacobs, he's been trying to figure out what I was doing for years. I just knew that having the senator in this hospital was going to ruin us. Damn those ridiculous reporters as well! Picking anything they can find to air as news!"
A slight rustling sounded as the gaunt man ran his fingers through his loosely slicked back hair. He readjusted his rectangular glasses and continued to look at the older man.
"What do you want to do about it, Albert?"
"There are only a few things we can do, Charles, and they're all going to lead to the closing of this place. We had a few good terms though. That damned kid, as much promise as he has, will have to be released though. He's far too easily traced."
Charles tapped his long fingers on the arm rest of his chair. "We have to disperse them?"
"We have to wipe their memories if we do that."
"You can't mean… Crazy Caleb?"
Albert nodded his head, his second chin deepening as he looked down at some papers on his wide desk. "We'll have to test on some of the others first. We have to get James into someone else's hands without any memory of the incident or we're through for good. If he can honestly testify that he has no memory of the incident then we might save our necks for the moment, or at least long enough to find a better way out."
"I'll handle the procedure then. Who do you want to start with? And how many are we going to let out?"
"Depending on how well it works we can find some families. Our investors said they would take in anyone for the time being as long as they aren't familiar with the art of killing after the test. Start with Card, and use Flight, Karma, and Chess."
"Of course. Is Caleb here yet?"
"Yes, yes, I already called him in. He says he has been perfecting it even further since the last time and now it will work for sure."
"Do you really think it will work this time?" Charles asked, uncertainty twisting into his words. He fidgeted, causing his leather jacket to crunch.
"We have no choice." Albert looked back up at his subordinate. He parted his lips for a moment to cough, then waved his hand. "Get going, Charles, we only have a few hours before we have to send everything elsewhere, including those kids."
"Yes, president. It'll be done before sunrise."
James woke instantly, his eyes darting first at the door, where a guard was rushing in, then at a cage several rows down where a boy he had never really known sat, his meager dark-brown body slightly perked up. As the guard unlocked the cage he cautiously stepped out, his mess of fluffy hair bobbing with each nervous step. It was an odd time for the guards to be taking any individual, for James was certain it was the middle of the night when most of the officers were asleep along with the kids' main head-men. James thought back about how his was no longer fit for duty, or rather, his was no longer alive for duty. No hatred crossed his face as he thought about it, but as he pictured the bloody corpse a smile curved the lines of his mouth.
That was unimportant now though, because he knew that the man he had seen earlier, one he rarely used to see, was now in charge of him. The problem was that there was a disturbance in the peace, and every other child noticed it as well. There was never a real schedule for the children to sleep, but even this was uncommon. There was rarely a time that a single child would be summoned, one that had done nothing wrong, and taken away in the dead of night. The door shut as both Card and the guard disappeared, and the kids continued into their slumbers, their bodies curled in a most horrid position to keep from losing all their body heat.
A sharp pain sprang in James' back; a bitter reminder that he needed to rest if he was to survive. There was a match tomorrow, and he just knew that he would be subject to it regardless of anything that happened. The match was with a girl that was called Flight. She sat across the room, draped in the rags of a five year old when she was clearly bigger now, but still she was not that big. She had been in the circuit for a year, but had been transferred from somewhere else. Now she sat alone in the corner of her cage and curled in a ball of bones and skin with little meat to be seen on the rest of her. He couldn't see her face, but her head was leaned down so he could see her brown hair, short and hacked off at random places, while in other places it was matted from blood and grease. She looked pathetic, but James knew she could not be some trivial foe because she was still sitting there, alive. Soon though, his mind drifted into a daze and he saw the man and woman that he had met at the above floors, in that strange place with all the people in blue and the dozens of rooms with windows. It was a pleasant thought, and something to take the world he was in out of his mind.
He did not remember falling asleep, but he was yanked out of his cage so fast that he almost fell, the blood loss and numbness in his body making his head spin. He was dragged out, held up by a firm grip on his shoulder that felt as if it was about to shatter his bone. They passed the cages, now with even fewer people, and into the hall beyond, but as he was lead down he was not bagged like he usually was; instead he was lead in a direction he had never been before, the air becoming cleaner as he eventually stood in front of a room, the insides white and the shelves stocked with medical supplies. Being escorted inside by the guard, an older man took to dressing his wounds and body with things he was quite unaccustomed to. He was given shorts, and he had no dried blood on his body that could be identified with his injuries. The wounds would not fester now, and he knew he was headed for someplace other than a dungeon.
The gaunt faced man was there to take him from here. He pushed his glasses up on his nose and grabbed the boy's hair with a leather-gloved hand, pulling him along down the hall into an even less familiar area. Back here it was musty, not rank with the scent of decay, and the halls were better lit. Up ahead was a single door, and something told him that it was containing some very important people.
Turning the door handle, his unpleasant captor opened the door, pushing the boy in, and changing his grasp to be on the boy's shoulder. He was barely fazed, despite the pain left from the person before, and instead studied the men within with wary eyes. At a desk, seated in a brown, cushioned chair, there was an old, fat man, his belly containing enough fat to make everyone else in the room look scrawny. Flecks of his skin were discolored from age and his hair was white, but he still sat with pride looking down at James. In front of the desk, to James' right, was another man, this one probably in his thirties and dressed in a nice suit, his hair cut short and styled just enough to look suave. He was tanned from sun exposure, and had dark hair much like his own, and he grinned as he stared at the child. To the left was a short man, with an average gut and pair of very thick glasses perched on his round nose. He was older as well, perhaps in his fifties, but looked disapprovingly at James, knowing that he had done something wrong.
"Well, a bit battered, but strong at least," the taller man on the right said as the door behind them was closed. James took a moment to check the man holding him, noticing that his free hand rested on the hilt of a gun that was held in a holster at his side. "So, he's suspected, is he?"
"Yes." The man behind the desk pulled out some papers that were on his desk, handing them to the man who had spoken. "Everything is sorted out, all you have to do is be convincing, which I know you are."
The man smiled again. "You know, I never thought I'd have to deal with a kid. But I guess this isn't all that bad. He won't remember anything will he?"
"If it all goes according to plan, then no. It worked on everyone else, well, except for the first one. It has been since sorted out though."
"Excellent, that's good to hear. For now I guess I'll keep my distance. How long do I need to hold onto him?" The man leafed through the documents; they were legal documents, and James had no idea what they meant.
"Hopefully no more than a year. We'll get along with the procedure now. He'll be ready by morning. Then, Jason, he will be your child. Charlie, take him away."
Opening the door again, the man pushed James back into the hallway and led him down another hall he had never entered before. Seeing the hall was unimpressive, all of the narrow walls a familiar cement and pocketed with few doors. It took little time before another door was opened in front of him. Inside stood a younger man, his blond hair messy and longer than the others'. He also had glasses, but smaller ones, oval in shape and slipped down on his nose so that his curious hazel eyes peered over them. A cigarette dangled from his mouth, nearly suffocating the room, and a lazy grin crooked his face. As James entered, the man stood up and sank his hands into his lab coat pockets then leaned down his skinny frame to look him in the eyes. He exhaled smoke into the boy's face, satisfied with his look, then stood back up to face the man who was his escort.
"So, Charlie, this is little Night? My, what a savage looking boy." He chuckled under his breath as he turned around, then pointed to a stool that stood at over half of James height and spoke again, "He can sit there. You're going to have to support him because he's probably going to pass out."
James could not bring himself to expect anything good from this, but he knew he had no choice. What all these adults were talking about completely went over James' head and all that was left was to do was what he was told, just as he always had done. If they killed him, then there was nothing to be done now. Getting up on the stool, he sat, and the man named Charlie stood to his side, holding onto his shoulder still. The other man smiled as he prepared the most grotesque combination of fluid and needle that James had ever seen. Not that needles scared the boy, but it was far from his idea of a safe exposure. Noticing that James had been staring, the man gave a savage, toothy smile and flicked the end of the needle.
"Jesus, Caleb, you're more over the edge than usual. Where did you develop your sick kicks?"
"I might ask you the same thing, Charles. I don't focus solely on the torture of children."
The blond man, whose name was decidedly Caleb, shrugged, grabbing the boy's head and wiping an alcohol soaked cotton ball on his neck. James wanted to thrash, but knew his hopelessness took the better of him. Instead he let the men do as they intended and waited for the twinge of pain that the needle would provide. But then again, he had never been shot in the neck before.
"Now, little boy, this is going to burn a bit, but once you lose consciousness you'll be just fine. I think you've probably felt worse anyway. Charlie, be ready to catch this boy, would you?" The man pushed his glasses up on his nose and took the syringe in his hand, the needle looking to be larger than could possibly be healthy. But James sat, emotionless, waiting for the impact, sure that nothing worse could happen. Then the needle pierced his skin, his neck tensed up, and as the fluid shot into his vein he bit his lip to the point of bleeding as the fluid burned. For a moment, Caleb appeared in his vision and smiled.
"Crazy day, eh kid? At least you won't have to remember it."
Just as he thought it could not feel any worse, darkness clouded his vision and everything he knew faded to black. It was over.
"That looks like my son!"
The tall man in front of him seemed familiar. Everything about him, including his suit, his nicely done, short hair, and his untrustworthy blue eyes, were things he had seen before. He was his father after all. Even if he could recollect no memories of being with him before, this had to be his father. Why else would he call him son? He held out a hand and the boy stared at it; it was large, and donned a ring on the finger next to the shortest one. That was the shortest one, right? The boy could not remember if he knew how to talk, but something told him that he should.
"Don't worry," the round man said. He was there in the room when the boy had woken up, dressed in a white coat and taking the boy's vitals. He had no answers for the boy though, who had woken up without the slightest idea of what was going on. The round doctor smiled and nodded at the taller man. "He's your father. Don't be so nervous."
The boy hesitated again. "What's your name?"
The man seemed to be caught a little off guard at the unprovoked question. "Well, I'm Jason Stenkalde, of course."
"What's my name?"
"Shaun," he replied, kneeling down to meet the boy face to face.
"Why am I... hurt?" The boy struggled to find the right words to say. It felt like he had barely spoken before.
"You were in a bad accident. Don't worry though, they took care of you. That's why you're all bandaged up. But we can finally go home." He smiled and grabbed his son's hand, pushing the messy black hair away from his face so he could peer directly into his grey eyes. Their expression was blank, regardless of the questions he asked and the confusion he was apparently in. "Your mother misses you too."
For a moment the flash of a woman, dressing in black with a wrinkled brown face, crossed his mind, but before he could form a reason for it, it disappeared.
"Yes. Don't worry, just come with me, we'll be fine."
The boy nodded as if finally deciding to believe his father. The man stood up and nodded to the doctor who politely smiled back. Then they left, passing down the well-lit halls of a hospital, and the boy looked cautiously, but ignored the feeling that something was wrong. Instead he told himself it was okay, he had just forgotten. This was perfectly normal; something bad had just happened was the only problem.
"What do I call you?" the boy finally spoke up to ask.
The father looked down. "Call me dad."
A few moments passed in silence until they were outside the hospital. It was empty, but the boy expected to see something lining the roads. He had no idea why, but finding it empty was not what he expected.
"Dad, what is my full name?"
He chuckled softly as he led his son towards a slick black car that was parking in a temporary parking zone. Opening the door to the back seat he allowed the child to sit inside.
"Shaun Stenkalde." He smiled and closed the door.
A/N: I don't usually like to write these, but here's to clarify that this is, in fact, a prequel of sorts to my other short stories (Suits, Cleaning House, Cassandra is Still Alive), so name significance and other minor details at the end might not be all that important unless you have some familiarity with them. Of course, I like to write my stories in a "stand alone" way so you don't really have to worry, but if you're wondering I advise reading up on Suits, which I wrote a while back (not all details are exactly the same; I still must revise my latest amendments to characters/story).