"You will listen and you will obey."
He gave her a new set of clothes and then set cuffs around her wrists. Tight, even for an eight-year-old.
Then she sensed the blow only a heartbeat before the man's first struck her.
She toppled to the ground and didn't have time to raise herself as the man grabbed her by the collar and swung again, his fist connecting with her cheek. Light and darkness reeled. Another blow, hard enough that she felt the warmth of blood on her face before she felt the pain.
She began screaming something. But the man hit her again. She tasted blood, but she didn't fight back, she didn't dare to. He hit her, mercilessly – her ribs, her jaw, her gut. And her face. Again and again and again. The blows seemed careful, calculated – meant to inflict as much pain as possible without doing permanent damage.
He grabbed the chain to her collar and yanked her close. His breath hot on her lips. "You belong to us now, girl."
Once her face was throbbing and bleeding, she heard the rattle of the chain before she felt the harsh yank on her neck, choking her out. She scrambled as she was dragged out of the tent and across the dirt.
Her nails clawed at her neck, desperate to loosen the collar even in the slightest. Her eyes darted left and right, hoping for someone to help her. Maybe the men, or the women –
She was thrown to the ground before a small metal obelisk, the chain of her cuffs wrapped around the vertex of the crossed bars and tied with yet another chain. She adjusted to her knees, clouds of dirt pluming around her ankles.
"Please, stop –!" she begged, her nose running with red and mucus.
The man's face was still blank, and a footstep sounded behind her. A tinkle of metal, the familiar sound of rope on dirt. A breeze against her bare skin. Everything went cold.
She screamed as excruciating pain shot down her back, barely heralded by the crack of the whip. She jolted, the stones slicing into her raw knees.
"Get on your feet, bitch!" Someone barked.
Tears stung her eyes, and the whip cracked as it rose again. Pain cleaved into her every muscle, and every vain. It sliced into bone, reverberated through her body, making everything collapse and explode in bright flashes of agony. Her back grew warm as she felt the skin rip open, unleashing her precious life's blood.
Someone roughly grabbed her chin after another crack and forced her to look up. "You do what we order you to do, slave. Do you understand?"
She was too numb to protest. He slapped her, but she barely felt it. Her teeth were chattering, her eyes are flashing with stars, her body shuddering, but she forced herself to nod. A wobbly uncertain movement.
After another crack, the pain became too much. The man's hand snapped back immediately as she knelt over, finally vomiting up her stomach. There was the sound of disgust around her, but the pain in her back makes her heave again and again, gathering on the skirt of her new dress and seeping into the dirt. She had also gotten some on the man's boots, narrowly missing his shirt and pants. But it was enough to infuriate him. Drool dripped down her lip, and she coughed and burped again, disgusted by herself.
The smell was horrid. More bile rose at the back of her throat.
"Stupid little whore. Keep going," the man barked. "until you think she made up for what she did!"
There is another crack and the world fragmented. The whip was sent flying so fast that she only had a breath to recover. Another strike, her blood was on the stones. She screamed and hollered, begging for someone to stop them. No one helped her.
She lost her voice after twenty-one lashes, she passed out after forty-two. Even when she awoke, still tied to the post, the pain throbbed heavily through her head and through her bones. She could've sworn that she heard buzzing, a tickling sensation all across her back as she was becoming blanketed by flies.
She would die. She would become infested with maggots and flies until they have hollowed her out into a husk.
Through it all, her eyes would not stop leaking tears. She even ran out of sobs to accompany them, and they just slide down her raw cheeks.
A yawning pit of darkness within her opened wide, whispering promises to take the pain. Swallow the loss. The harsh kneeing inside her head became muted.
The silence that had been hovering around her for the past, what felt like an eon, was slowly cresting towards her. She knew that when it struck, everything would change. Everything would be real.
The wall of grief inside her slowly subsided into a well of icy silence – deafening and absolute.
The buzzing of a fly grew louder as it landed on her shoulder. It cleaned its legs and its wings.
She heard the faint wailing of the grief-stricken girl grow louder, and clamped her lips tightly to hold it in.
The silence struck. Struck her harder than any lashing the whip had rived into her body.
And finally, darkness – blissful darkness, cold and full of relief.