The Runaway by Natalie Rose de Vera Obedos

She wasn’t abandoned. She was sold, but at least someone bought her. She may have been tortured, but they didn’t want her to die. She trusted them with all her heart, but then again, what else was she to believe? She had lived there for many years of her life, and they had her mind the first fifty.

Missouri, that was the first thing she heard. What it her name? She wouldn’t know, no one does. Where did she come from? For her, this was the beginning of her life, nothing occurred before that very moment. All she knew was that she was standing amongst many children in front of two men. They were studying them like vultures. Every child was dressed differently. She wore a high-collared gown with a corseted waist. Another girl wore a knee-length shift with short hair. Each child stood there, stone faced, and glass eyed.

The men were called Sir and Mister. When they asked her name, she said it was Misery, and they called her Missouri. Her accent was different from theirs. They told her she was wanted there, that they bought her from dirt-poor gits in the eighteenth. Her roommate, Brother, they called him, was of the same gits as her, they had a similar code.

The men and their workers would stick things in her head and tie her to things. They would poke and pry at Brother until two lumps began to grow on his back, and they moved him to another room, and Cassandra and Jeremiah moved in. They shared a similar code, just like she and Brother.

It was always dark outside the windows. Dark dotted with light and colour, identical to the rooms where they were held. Cassandra and Jeremiah were thrown into the darkness once and returned looking strange, frightened, but powerful. They too were moved away from her.

Missouri stayed on her own after that, she was still poked and pried, injected and dissected, stretched and sewed. She was told to move this to that spot without touching it. She was told to make him see that with her head. When she could not present, they put her in the darkness.

One day, they hurt her. They took her voice away so she could not scream, and she did it. She broke the diamond, the hardest known element in the twenty-first, and she did it with her head. After that, she too was removed from her room, and put into another. She felt a great burden taken off her as she entered the room. She could think clearly, they told her to stay still, but she did not feel the need to. The room itself was lightless.

Two children smaller than her glowed, one with fire, the other from the inside. There were more, fewer than before. Each huddled in the corners, their hair was all but gone, bright blue runes glowed on their heads. One boy’s body was overcome with them, his whole body was blue. They shaved her head and put runes on her. They marked her as a soldier, as property, as a slave. They forced her to endure great pain. They made her angry so she would break things. They put her in danger, they tortured her, but they didn’t want her to die. They knew she wouldn’t.

She began to learn. Her life was a broken clock; her time had stopped, but hadn’t ended. They wanted her to kill. They told her to steal people’s sanity. The children kept disappearing. Only twenty were left. She wanted to run. The first time she tried to run, she was shown the dogs; large, deadly dogs that attempted to devour her but her mind told them otherwise.

The second time she ran, they hurt Brother. The third time, she hurt a guard. It was a horrifying sight. She squeezed the sanity out of him in the form of a shadow, but he didn’t die. It spilled out of his mouth, his eyes, his pores. He disappeared but the shadow remained. It grew into a monster all on its own, with snapping jaws, sharp claws and, most terrible of all, the eyes of the man.

She had never felt pain until that moment when the claw sliced her arm. The movement, so swift and precise that she didn’t begin to draw blood immediately. The monster vanished. She did not want to run again, but the other children did. There were only ten left, eleven counting her. They would use what those monsters gave them to leave.

They became obedient to obtain weapons. They became demure to gain trust. They became studious to learn. And eventually, they ran. They ran to be free.