You can sell my body but you can't sell my soul.
The last soft touch of sunlight was long gone from the world. So few people still alive even remembered it, but children were brought up on stories of sunrise and sunset, of lush green bushes and large towering trees. From the moment a child could listen, they heard of the World That Was. Parks and flowers and kittens and puppies. Even the last of the domestic pets had died out. To own a dog was suicidal, to own a cat was to starve.
Her grandfather had died when she only six, but she could remember the way his words wove a picture, he way he could almost make her see what it had once been like.
"The Spring Equinox," he would tell her, "was the point in the year when days started getting longer. It was beautiful. Like a cloud would be lifted from everyone, and they would step out with smiles on their faces. You could come and go in the light. School, work…"
"What colour was it?"
"Yellow. Well, it looked yellow to us. But really, it was red and yellow and orange. Like a fire."
"A big ball of fire." She would say the words slowly, savouring them, rolling them around her tongue.
The world had adapted, and her grandfather was old. She wondered if he saw the sun wherever he was after he died, if perhaps he now lived in it.
She liked to think so, and thinking of her grandfather in his precious sun made her smile.
Children crawled over the streets now. They were everywhere. With little else to do, people just made them. And the items used in the past to prevent people having children they could not look after were gone with her grandfather's generation. Like many other things, when she asked her parents why there were so many thin, dirty children, they just said "This is how it is."
She was lucky. There was only one of her. Her parents slept on either side of their dank hut, with her in the middle, on worn mattresses. They had thrown out her grandfather's when he died, but when she woke it had gone. Most likely dragged away by a band of children.
Time was kept by only a few. A bell would ring when it was time to eat, with long gaps after every third bell. Not long after bell one, her father would disappear, coming back in time for the third bell. They would eat, then sleep, and she spent the days with her mother, who would take her to different houses. Some people there would tell them stories, others would teach them about numbers while, every so often, a man would turn up to tell them what he called science.
They learned, and they studied, and they played together while mothers chatted happily. It was simple, but it worked.
Until the day they heard the rumble.
It echoed across the ground, making the very foundations of their homes shake. Out where they kept some of the livestock came the sound of animals in distress. The whole village stopped. They were midway between first and second bell, and the women turned their heads towards the direction the men disappeared to every morning.
The bell began to ring.
But it wasn't the steady ding-ding-ding that meant food. It was constant, loud and made her heart thump wildly in her chest.
From over the hill top, she saw light. Bright, blind and fierce, and for a second she thought the sun had come back.
Then she saw the shapes.
Their shadows stretched long before them, the torches clasped in their hands.
The thundering sound of hooves echoed beneath the sound of the bell. Suddenly the women were running, gathering up the children and escaping towards their homes. Those that had no parents, or were parts of families too big to care for them, just stood where they had been, staring at the light, transfixed.
Her mother bundled her in her arms, and ran.
She burst into the hut, dropped the girl and told her to hide.
The girl didn't need to be told twice. She scampered across the floor and to the cupboards in their small kitchen, if it could even have been called that. She yanked the door open and crawled in, closing it and shifting herself to stare through the gap.
Her mother turned to the door as it burst open, a sob of relief tumbling from her as the girl's father stepped in. He said nothing, just crossed to the woman and wrapped her in his arms, drawing her close. The girl remained still, trying to keep her breathing quiet as her father whispered something to his wife.
The door slammed open again and they moved in, still clutching the torches. The light lit up the whole room, stretching out to every point. The girl drew a sharp breath and pushed herself back. She heard a thump, a snap, and then felt the roaring heat of fire.
Through it all, she forced herself to stay quiet, not to whimper or breathe or say a single word.
None of it helped.
As the flames licked at the walls of the hut, the men moved quickly forward. She cried out as one yanked the door of the cupboard open, reached in and grabbed her. As he carried her out, she stared at the bodies of her parents, crumpled and twisted, both staring up at the ceiling.
The crying stopped suddenly and her body went limp, as he took her out into the village and dumped her on the floor with the other kids.
Maybe, she thought, her parents were with her grandfather, and the sun.
X X X
The rough hands pushed her onto the block, and she lifted her head to stare out at the crowd. Torches shone down on them from poles, casting shadows across the ground as the people put forward their bids. She had watched those she had grown up with be dragged up and sold, watched as people threw their money at the men who had taken them.
When she had asked one of her captors why they were doing it, he had just told her, "We have to make a living. This is how it is."
She was dragged from the block and taken to a tall man with pale skin and dark eyes. His eyes roamed over her, he gave a curt nod, and pushed her towards the group of girls already belonging to him. A few women stood with them, women he had arrived with, who now made notes of the girls and asked their names.
As each girl gave it, the women told her, "That is no longer who you are." They would give them another name, and the girl dreaded the moment when it was her turn.
When she gave her name, the woman replied, "That is no longer who you are. You are now…" Her eyes roamed over the girl, landing on her deep red hair. "Crimson."
The girl sniffed, tears rolling down her cheeks.
"Don't cry." The woman cast her eyes over her again. "Crying is not attractive. You must follow what we say. This is how it is." With that, she turned to the next girl.
They were taken from the blocks, bundled into a cart and carried back to the man's 'home'. At least, she thought at first it was his home. But he did not appear there for days on end, while the women fed and cleaned the girls, and taught them to put on make-up. They dressed them in pretty dresses, made them do exercises, and even sat them down and taught them 'how to speak to a man'. It was all very strange, and the talk was made up of words she did not understand or had only heard whispered naughtily behind the backs of their parents.
And when she went to bed, sometime after the third bell – for they marked time with bells, too – she would picture her mother and father and grandfather, sitting under the sun and absorbing its rays, heat flowing through their skins.
When the man did arrive, sudden and unexpected, he studied the girls one by one. They had lined up, standing with their backs straight and eyes fixed straight ahead. They had been taught 'how to be ladies', how to stand, how to walk, not to talk unless spoken to.
Every time he visited, they would line up. And every time, he would pick out a few of the girls. They would be taken away, and the women told them it was to an even bigger, nicer home where they would have everything they had ever dreamed of.
"Even the sun?" the girl had asked, after one of the man's visits.
"No, not the sun."
"Because the sun doesn't exist anymore. Because this is how it is."
With the man's visits, came more girls. They would settle in with the others, learn alongside them, and stay up late with them giggling and laughing. Their pasts, their parents, were never mentioned.
Some nights, she heard some of the other girls crying themselves to sleep.
But she didn't cry, because she was sure her grandfather and parents were in the sun.
One day, the man arrived and picked her out. With a few of the others, she was bundled into another cart. They travelled for hours. She slept, she woke, she was fed and the girls talked, telling each other their own ideas of what they thought they might expect.
None of them thought anything near the truth.
They were led from the cart when they arrived at the large house on the outskirts of what had once been a sprawling city. Outside were a number of horses, tied up to posts. Only the rich could afford horses to ride. The eyes of the girls crawled over the animals, before turning to the house.
They were greeted on the steps by more women.
The two they had left behind had been demurely dressed, in long gowns. These two wore short shirts, revealing tops, and heaps of makeup.
The girls glanced nervously at each other, stepping closer as if they could ward off whatever was about to happen by sticking together. The cart turned and left, and the women surveyed them.
They were split up, half going with one woman, the others going with the second. She was sent off with the taller of the two, and they were led into the house. The stairs took up the whole middle of the foyer, and firelight danced across the walls. From upstairs, they could hear strange noises. Squeaking of beds, laughter, moans. Those whose parents slept in the same beds at home knew the sounds.
Her eyes darted around, taking in the portraits and pictures on the walls. The woman led them up the stairs, into a large room, and gestured around.
"This is your stage," she said. "This is where you perform. You will each have your own room."
A few gasped at this.
"Learn your art well," she continued. "For if you do, the men will give you all you desire." She whirled around to face them, eyes narrowed as she took in their appearances. "Here, you will learn. You will excel. You will be the best because that is what we demand."
She was shaking under the stare.
The woman smiled. "Here, you will learn how to truly make a man happy. You will learn to pleasure him."
"Why?" she blurted, surprised the word escaped through the dryness of her throat and mouth.
"You will learn not to ask questions," the woman snapped. "But I will answer that one. One, and one only. After this, you will stay silent. You will learn, you will absorb. You will do as you are told. As for why…child, it is simple. This is how it is."
A/N: So the vote was pretty much way in favour in Billy Talent as the album to base the stories off. So, here it is, chapter one. I decided that unlike A Night At The Opera, this album lends itself brilliantly to one solid idea. It's not going to be a novel, but rather a series of short stories sent in the same universe. So this is the introduction to that world. Please, let me know what you think. Your thoughts and feedback are what keep me writing, and improving.