A strong wind blew in from the north. The Black Torrent shivered and pulled his cape around himself. For a late May evening, it was unseasonably cold. The change of weather had come on quite suddenly and it almost seemed there was something more in the air than a mere chill. Breaking into a run, he hoped the movement would warm him. He darted to the edge of the building and leapt over to the next rooftop. As his feet hit the slate, a buzzing came from his belt. He pulled out the small communicator, recognizing the code for Officer Derek Blake. He switched on the device.
"Hey, we were wondering if you could come down to Fifth and Clark. We have a kid here and we're not sure what to do with her."
Glancing at his watch, he grimaced. It was nearly 2 a.m. "I'm not covering that area tonight," he said, even though he was already heading to the location.
"I know. But...well, you'll see when you get here."
It took Torrent twenty minutes to make it to the corner. He expected the officers to be sitting in their squad car, but instead they were on the street. Next to them was a young girl, about seven years old, with long dark hair in wavy curls and a dress that resembled some sort of Renfaire costume. He was immediately struck by how pristine she looked—almost like a porcelain doll.
"She won't budge," Blake said. "We tried coaxing her into the car, offering her candy, even said we'd take her to the amusement park, but she's just standing there like a statue."
Though he wasn't one to be spooked easily, there was something about the girl that struck him. When he touched her arm, he could feel icy cold skin underneath his fingertips. The child's eyes narrowed, fading from blue to red.
The officers stepped back, their eyes wide. "Okay, you seem to have things under control. We're gonna get going now." They didn't bother to wait for him to answer. Turning, they ran back to their car and sped away.
Shaking his head, the crimefighter returned his attention to the child. "What's your name?" he asked, try to keep his voice level. He switched to his normal voice, so as not to scare her. It didn't matter, she remained silent. Thinking for a moment, he repeated the question in Spanish, German, French, Arabic, and Japanese. The child still did not respond.
Perplexed and afraid to touch her again, he stood and pulled out his phone. It wasn't often he was at a total loss. However, there was one person he hoped would know what to do.
"Sara? Sorry it's so late. I'm on patrol and I have a situation. Could you come and help?"
* * * * *
Sara Wolff, Administrator of the Gale Home for Children, made it to the street corner at just past 3 a.m. She was still bleary-eyed, but the cup of convenience store coffee was finally starting to kick in. Torrent greeted her with a simple nod and pointed at the girl. The child didn't budge or make a sound. Her eye colour shifted once again from red back to their normal light blue.
Luciana sat on a bench and didn't notice the woman arrive. She was staring off into the nighttime sky, the stars twinkling downward. She was searching. She couldn't quite figure out what she was looking for, but she knew she was missing something. That something was in the sky.
Pulling a small cloth bag from her car, Sara motioned for Torrent to step back. She chose not to sit on the bench next to the girl, as he had warned her that she was apprehensive of others invading her personal space. That was typical for victims of physical abuse. Instead, she knelt down on the sidewalk and pulled a stuffed teddy bear and candy bar from the pouch.
"Hi there," she said softly. She held out the plushie and motioned it to the girl. Distrust flashed through the child's eyes and she once again looked upward. The night sky above seemed to drown out all her fear as she stared off into the endless night.
Sara glanced down at the girl's feet, disturbed the child had no shoes. "It's cold out here. I want to take you somewhere that's warm and safe. You're probably hungry." The mention of food seemed to upset the girl, so Sara decided against offering the candy bar. She pulled a small blanket from the bag. "Will you put this around your shoulders for me? I worry you'll get sick."
Glancing at the bear, Luciana picked it up and touched the black glass eyes. She struggled to hold back the tears as she ran her small fingers through the stuffed animal's fur. She extended her other hand and grabbed the blanket, pulling it around herself.
As the girl locked her eyes on hers, Sara could sense something powerful — something she'd never felt before.
"What is your name?" the child asked.
"I'm Sara. Do you have a name?"
The child was silent.
"Will you come with me?" she asked, gently.
Luciana looked at the man dressed in black. He reminded her of someone she once knew—someone she didn't trust. Her eyes narrowed.
"He'll stay here," Sara assured.
Without a word, the girl rose and walked to the car, sliding into the passenger's seat. Sighing in relief, Sara followed after.
The child sat in the front seat in silence, staring towards the knobs and buttons on the dashboard. It seemed surreal to Sara that the girl seemed curious as she leaned forward and examined the controls on the stereo and CD player.
"Okay, fasten your seat belt." The girl's eyes were blank and it was clear she didn't understanding the command. Sara motioned towards her. "See the black strap next to you? Pull it over you and click it in. Like this." Though it seemed rather odd that the child didn't know what to do, Sara didn't make a fuss about it. She simply made a mental note as the girl followed her instructions.
Most of the drive back to the Home was silent, but thankfully it wasn't a long trip as most of the streets were vacant at such an early hour. Sara began to think to herself as to what would be the best way to handle the situation. It was obvious the child had been through some kind of physical abuse, but to what extent?
The girl, however, remained quiet as she watched the world whizz by outside the car. Everything was different and new. But despite it all, at the moment, she felt safe. Before long, Luciana's eyes grew heavy, pure exhaustion gripping her. A moment later she was asleep.
* * * * *
A clap of thunder sounded and Luciana found herself jolted awake. She expected to see the forest around her, but instead she saw a small room. She was in bed, warm and secure. Across the way there was another bed. It was curious as it had one on top of the other, stacked like blocks. The woman she had seen the night before—Sara—was asleep in a chair next to her.
The thunder sounded again and Sara's eyes snapped open. She rubbed her fingers across her face and looked at the girl. "Oh, good morning. Have you been awake long?"
Luciana shook her head slowly in reply. Was it morning already? Looking out through the window, all she could see was clouded darkness and heavy rain.
The two girls in the bunk beds awoke. Seeing their new girl, they climbed down and hugged the woman. "Miss Sara, we have a new roommate?"
Sara lowered her voice. "Yes. She doesn't talk much, so don't be upset if she's quiet. I think she's from a place far away, so she may be a little scared. We need to make her feel at home."
Despite her warning, the girls ran up to the bed. "I'm Megan," the blonde haired girl said.
"I'm Danielle," the brown-haired girl smiled. "Gee, you're so pretty. I love your hair."
The small girl forced back a smile. She was tempted to shy away from Danielle's compliment, but gave a slight nod before she looked up towards Sara.
"Girls, why don't we take our new guest down to the hall for breakfast," the administrator suggested.
Luciana was still reluctant to do anything, but she gathered enough courage to push forward the blankets and slip out of bed. She allowed the two older girls to lead her to the dining hall, keeping close beside them. She held the teddy bear in her arm and assured the redhead wasn't far behind.
As it was still dark outside due to the storms, it felt far too early to be gathering for breakfast. But soon, children of all ages and the Home's staff began to gather and the the main dining area sprang to life. There was a large collection of tables and chairs, easily seating fifty people. It was quite overwhelming to see so many people gathered in the same place at once, but Luciana kept close to Sara and the two older girls as they found an empty table.
"So, what's your name?" Danielle asked, as she settled into her chair. way.
Regarding the empty seat, it took her a moment before she was comfortable enough to sit down. Thinking to herself, she tried to ignore the chattering of children around her before she sighed softly and managed to speak out her name for the first time. "Luciana."
"It's a very pretty name, Luciana." Megan said smiling.
"Thank you." she murmured, perhaps too softly to be heard over the other children piling into the room to take their seats.
"What would you like for breakfast then, Luciana?" Sara asked with a gentle smile.
It was a surreal feeling being cared for, but Luciana found herself getting used to it. However, the feeding question stung hard, just like the night before when she had been offered the candy by the police.
Sara watched the girl bristle at the question. She still couldn't figure out why there seemed to be such apprehension at the mention of food, though the hint of something deeper was clear in the little girl's pale features. Perhaps she had been starved. Perhaps food had been given to her tainted. There were many possibilities to consider.
"I cannot eat food." Luciana replied. Her eyes narrowed towards the administrator. "What do you think of monsters?"
Sara sucked in a deep breath. Abused children were often called terrible names and believed them to be true. "I'm sure you're not a monster."
Luciana regretted saying what she had and pulled her arms in, holding the bear close. Even though she had slept well, she was still exhausted and yawned.
"Oh goodness, your teeth," Danielle gasped. Megan glanced away, pretending she hadn't seen anything.
Sara had noticed the girl's teeth, too. She had seen individuals with long canines, but these seemed particularly long and sharp, almost animal-like. While it didn't strike her as overly odd, she made a mental note of it as some of the other children might make comments.
Rising from her seat, she extended her hand. Some children lost their appetites during periods of extreme stress; it would be best that the girl not dwell on it. "We can worry about eating later. Why don't I take you to the dressing room and we can get you into some clean clothes."
Taking her hand, Luciana let the woman lead her out of the dining hall.
* * * * *
On the way to the dressing room, there were many questions Luciana was eager to ask. Sara was so nice, and even though she had felt scared at first, the girl was starting to relax and accept her new home; she felt safe and that opened up many feelings in her, including curiosity. "Sara, what is this place?"
"This is Gale Home. It's a place where children like you can be cared for."
"And loved," Sara said as they finally came to a plain white door. Taking out a set of keys, she unlocked it and led the girl inside.
The dressing room was large, filled with clothing racks, storage shelves and boxes filled to the brim with a clothing in all sizes, shapes and colors. Sara led Luciana to the far end of the room and pointed out two rows. There were dresses on hangers and other items such as t-shirts and pants, shoes and underwear.
"You can choose whatever you would like to wear, I'm sure any of these clothes in these two rows can fit you."
"Really?" Luciana asked, hesitantly.
Luciana was taken aback by all the kindness being shown to her, but graciously accepted it. "Oh thank you!" She moved down one of the rows, taking her time to look through everything.
Sara stood back, watching in silence as the ebony-haired girl fumbled through the clothes selection. She thought the child might need help, but she seemed to manage. Luciana choose a dark purple colored turtleneck shirt and black, white, and purple plaid skirt which reached just below the knees.
"How about this?" the girl asked.
"I think it's beautiful." Sara pointed to the door. "Let's go back to your room and change."
* * * * *
It was nearly ten o'clock when Sara brought the Home's newest ward to the blue room. It was the area for smaller children and had a variety of books, toys, and games. There was a television in the corner and several of the kids were watching a cartoon.
"Would you like to play here or would you feel more comfortable bringing some toys to your room?"
Luciana looked at the collection of strange objects. At home she only had dolls and toys carved out of wood. Here there were things with all colors of the rainbow. Pressing the head on something that looked like a dog, she jumped back as it began to bark. With a giggle, she looked up at the redhead. "I don't know."
"How about we read a book?" Sara pointed at a large shelf filled with a variety of stories from Dr. Seuss to Dickens.
Pulling out several, Luciana looked at the covers, marveling at the pictures. "Can you read me one about this place?"
"The Home?" Sara asked.
"No, this world," Luciana said with an innocent smile.
Sara was perplexed by the comment, but found a book called "Our Friend Earth." It was about protecting the planet and ecology, but she felt it would suffice. She was amazed that the child was so enthralled, but also concerned that it didn't appear she knew much in the way of letters, numbers, or words.
Luciana pointed to a picture of a car. "That is what we rode in last night."
"Yes. Where you are from, how do you travel?"
The girl seemed excited to talk about where she lived. "We have horses and carriages. Many roads go through the forest and there are lots of trees."
Sara thought for a moment, then moved to the shelf, pulling out an illustrated version of The Prince and the Pauper.
As she flipped through the pages, Luciana became excited. Even though she liked this place, it made her feel happy to see things that were much like home. "Yes, see, like that."
Taking a deep breath, Sara nodded. She understood a great deal about the girl suddenly, even though she couldn't quite wrap her head around what it meant. Making a few mental notes, she continued to read to the small child.
In her thirst for knowledge Luciana pressed Sara to continue reading to her well toward midday. Not far from them, on the opposite sofa, a child much older than Luciana was flipping through the pages of her book when the paper cut into the side of her finger. Gasping at the slight pain, the girl placed the book down and examined the wound. "Miss Sara? Do you have a band-aid?"
"Sure. Wait here."
Luciana looked confused, but her attention was drawn onto the blood dribbling down the older girl's finger.
Sara walked over to the wall and pulled out a small first aid kit. All the while she was tending to the girl's cut, Luciana sat there, trying to ignore the hunger pain stabbing within her stomach. She couldn't stand being around blood much longer. She quickly jumped off the couch and ran out of the room. She knew she would never be able to bear the guilt if she attacked a child -- she had to stop herself before she did anything she'd regret.
The action perplexed Sara, and deepened her worry that the child had suffered extreme abuse. Finishing her work bandaging the girl's finger, she moved to the hallway.
Outside, the girl had collapsed against the wall, clutching at her stomach.
"Luciana? Are you alright?"
Glancing up towards the administrator, for the first time, she admitted, "No. I am not."
Sara crouched down to her level and pushed a ringlet of hair from her eyes. "If it's alright with you, I want to take you to the Home's nurse. She'll check you over."
"She won't hurt me?"
"No, we just want you to see make sure you're healthy and there's nothing wrong.Okay?"
Luciana nodded, wiping the tears from her eyes. Feeling a little wobbly as she rose, she allowed Sara to help to her feet. Together they made the way to the clinic area.
* * * * *
When Sara and Luciana approached the Nurse's office, the door was already open. Standing there was a woman in her early thirties with long brunette hair pulled back into a ponytail. She was dressed in pale pink and blue floral scrubs and a stethoscope hung from her neck. There was a kind aura about her and she smiled as she saw the two.
"Hello, I've been expecting you." She knelt down to the girl's level. "My name is Catherine. You're new here, right?"
Luciana nodded slowly as she held herself close to Sara's side.
"Now, remember, Catherine is just going to check you over, she won't hurt you." The redhead led her inside a small room. There was a metal bed and a curtain that hung from the ceiling. "I know you're nervous, so I'm going to be over here, to give you some privacy. But if you need me, just say so."
Catherine led Luciana over to a set of scales. "First things first, I would like to take your weight and height. Step up onto that little platform."
This didn't seem so bad. Luciana looked up towards the nurse and nodded. She watched as the woman wrote down what she weighed in a notebook and then instructed her to stand up straight against the wall to measure her height. She also noted that the girl appeared pale and malnourished. Catherine made sure to tell Luciana everything she planned to do in order for her to feel comfortable.
Sara watched as the nurse did the standard tests of listening to Luciana's organs and looking in her eyes and mouth. The nurse took great care to make sure the child was comfortable before she asked her to lie down upon the exam table.
When she was asked to remove her clothes, Luciana began to feel uneasy. She didn't like the idea of being defenseless and bare. At first she removed only her shirt, allowing the nurse to look at her chest and spine. Catherine observed nothing physically wrong, but grimaced at the marks covering her skin. "It looks like you have a lot of scars on your back."
The nurse was used to seeing signs of abuse. Sara could tell Catherine was making an effort to be gentle when she asked the girl to slip off her skirt. This was the part none of them enjoyed. Straight away, deep concern gripped her as she saw the scars on the girl's thighs.
Closing her eyes and taking a deep breath, the nurse tried to appear compassionate without looking distressed. "Honey, I need to check something else. I promise, I won't hurt you. Someone touched you wrong and we need to make sure you're all right."
The mere thought of someone looking closer caused Luciana to panic. With memories of the abuse shooting forward and hunger driving her to near madness, she lunged, knocking Catherine backward. She drove her teeth into the nurse's neck, the woman shrilling in pain. Sara reacted immediately, yanking the girl back from the nurse before the attack could get too fierce.
Luciana struggled, kicking her legs and growling. "Let me go!"
Sara was surprised how strong the child was. Despite the girl's crazed anger, she pulled her close and stroked her hair. It took a moment, but Luciana finally calmed before bursting into tears.
"I'm all right," Catherine said, her hand on her throat. The teeth had broken the skin, but the wound wasn't too deep. She had been attacked by children before, though none as violently.
"Why don't you have Karen check that for you," Sara suggested. "Do you need to do anything else?"
The nurse shook her head; she'd seen enough. "No. For the most part she's fine. But, I think it's clear she was sexually abused."
Sara nodded, her heart breaking. It didn't matter how many times she had heard of such things, how many people told her not to take it personally, hearing such things was never easy. Gathering the girl's clothes, she helped the girl dress and brought her back to her room.
* * * * *
The storm outside had stopped and the clouds had parted to allow streams of sunlight to flow through the window. Sara led Luciana back into the bedroom. As she switched on the overhead light, the child recoiled, so she turned it back off, leaving the room mostly in shadow.
"I am a monster," Luciana cried, her fingers touching the dried blood on her lips. She was so hungry. She was afraid she might attack Sara, and that was something she didn't want to do.
From the moment Torrent had shown her the girl, Sara realized there was something different about her. She thought it might simply be the level of abuse she had sustained, but the signs were showing something else—something she was struggling to accept. To test her theory, Sara opened the curtains to let some sunshine in. Luciana rushed to the corner, covering her eyes.
Pulling the curtains shut again, Sara stepped towards the girl and motioned for her to come closer. Even though Luciana was scared, she didn't want to upset the woman.
"I'm a monster," Luciana repeated as she hugged Sara close.
"You need blood, don't you," the administrator asked, almost regretting the words as they left her lips.
The girl nodded as a loud groan came from her stomach.
Sara felt her heart begin to race. She wasn't afraid of the child, but she was scared of what she had decided to do. Pulling back, she held out her wrist.
Luciana stared at the woman. She wondered if it was some kind of trick or game. Would someone really allow her to feed voluntarily? Sara nodded towards her. Finding herself reassured, instinct took over.
The girl's fangs dug into the redhead's wrist and she out a cry both in pain and surprise. Sara bit down on her lip to keep from screaming as the child tore at the flesh and then latched on to the flowing blood. While she had not formally encountered vampires, Sara had seen their victims on the Gale streets. Over the years she had learned much about them and how some were more helpless victims than true monsters.
Luciana drank and it was pure bliss. She hadn't fed for days and to feel the hunger satiated was heavenly. As the warm liquid flowed down her throat, she slipped her hand within Sara's, holding it tight.
The pain slowly melted away, as if warm water were washing over her. As Sara felt herself swept up into it, she realized how a vampire victim could simply bask in the sensation until it was too late. Forcing herself out of the haze, she pushed the girl back. "Stop," she said firmly, then added, "I think you've had enough."
Luciana ran her arm across her mouth. "Thank you."
Sara stood, consciously noting that she didn't feel light-headed or anything. The child was small and had not taken too much. Pulling a sock from the drawer, she wrapped it around her wrist. "You may have more later."
"Are you mad at me?"
"No." Sara stroked the girl's cheek. "But we can't tell people about this. I don't want anyone to hurt you. So no more talks of being a monster, okay? This will be our secret. Now, c'mon, let's go back downstairs. I'll read you a few more books."