A strong wind blew in from the north. The Black Torrent shivered, pulling his cape around himself. For a late May evening, it was unseasonably cold. The change of weather had happened quite dramatically 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 up. He darted to the edge of the building, leaping 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 Blank. 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 advised, even though he was already heading to the location.
"I know. But...well, you'll see when you get here."
It took Torrent about twenty minutes to make it to the corner. He expected the officers to be sitting in their squad, but instead they were on the street. Next to them was a young girl 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," the officer 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 was not one to be spooked easily, there was something about the girl that struck Torrent. When he touched her arm, he could feel the icy cold skin underneath his fingertips. The child's eyes narrowed, fading from blue to red.
The officers stepped back, fear in their faces. "Okay, you seem to have things under control. We're gonna get going now." They didn't even bother to wait for him to answer. They turned and ran back to their car, speeding away.
Shaking his head in disappointment, the crimefighter returned his attention to the child. "What's your name?" he asked, try to keep his voice level. He had switched to his normal voice, as he didn't want to scare the girl. She remained silent. Thinking hard, 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 the normal light blue.
Luciana sat on the bench and didn't notice the woman arrive. She was staring off into the night 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 her, as Torrent had warned her that the child was apprehensive of others invading her personal space; that was typical for victims of physical abuse. So, Sara knelt down on the sidewalk, pulling a stuffed teddy bear and candy bar from the pouch.
"Hi there," she said softly. She held out the plushie, motioning 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.
"It's cold out here," Sara commented, disturbed that the child had no shoes. "I want to take you somewhere that is warm and safe. You're probably hungry." The mention of food seemed to upset the girl and Sara was unsure why. She decided against offering the candy bar. Instead, 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 stuff bear, Luciana picked it up and touched the black glass eyes. She tried hard to hold back the tears as she ran her small fingers through the stuffed bear's fur. She extended her other hand, grabbing the blanket and pulling it around herself.
The girl locked her eyes on Sara's and the woman 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?" Sara 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 reassured.
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 dashboard with all the knobs and buttons and steering wheel. It seemed so surreal to Sara, almost curious as the girl leaned forward, looking towards the different controls on the stereo and CD player.
"Okay, put on 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 strip next to you? Please pull it over you and click it in. Like this." She instructed with buckling herself in with her own seat belt. It had seemed rather odd that the child didn't know what to do, but she didn't make a fuss of it, simply as the girl followed the instruction.
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 was thinking to herself about the best way to handle the girl. It was already obvious that she had been through some kind of physical abuse, but to what extent?
The girl, however, watched as the world went 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 the girl 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 bed 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 fluttered opened. She rubbed her fingers across her face and looked at the girl. "Oh, good morning. Have you been awake long?"
The small girl shook her head slowly in reply. Was it morning already? The child looked outside through the window but all she could see was clouded darkness and heavy rain.
The two girls in the bunk beds awoke. Seeing their new roommate, they climbed down. "Miss Sara." They hugged the woman. "We have a new friend?"
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 smiled faintly. She was tempted to shy away from Danielle's compliment, but gave a slight nod before looking up towards Sara.
"Girls, why don't we take our new friend 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 the way to the dining hall, keeping close beside them. She held the teddy bear by her arm, and assured that the redhead wasn't far behind.
It had seemed like an early start to the day, even though it was still dark outside due to the storms. Children of all ages and the Home's staff began to gather in the main dining area. There was a large collection of tables and chairs and it resembled a school cafeteria, easily seating fifty people. It was quite overwhelming to see so many people gathered in the same area 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 led the way.
It had taken her a while to be comfortable and 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 softly, perhaps too silent to be heard over the other children piling in to the room to take their seats.
"What would you like for breakfast then, Luciana?" Sara grinned.
It was a surreal feeling being cared for, but Luciana was getting used to it. However, the feeding question stung hard, just like the night before when she had been offered the candy bar.
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 wrong was clear in the little girl's pale features. Perhaps she had been starved. Perhaps food had been given to her tainted. There were so many traumas that were possible.
"I cannot eat food." Luciana replied solemnly. "What do you think of monsters?" she asked the question towards Sara.
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, and then clamped her hand over her mouth as she realized the statement was rude. Megan glanced down, pretending she hadn't seen anything.
Sara had noticed the girl's teeth, too. She had seen people with long canines, but these seemed particularly long and sharp, almost animal-like. It didn't strike her as overtly odd, though she made a mental note of it as other children might make comments, too. "It might not be the right time to eat, yet," the woman whispered. Some children lost their appetites during periods of extreme stress. Sara extended her hand. "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 that the girl was eager to ask. Sara was so nice, and even though Luciana had felt scared at first, she was starting to relax and accept the way things were. 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." Sara smiled gently down towards Luciana as they walked along the hallway.
"And loved," Sara nodded, as she finally came up to the door of the dressing room. Taking out a set of keys, she unlocked the door and led the girl inside.
The dressing room was large, filled with rows of clothing racks, storage shelves and boxes filled to the brim with a seemingly never-ending supply of clothes in all sizes, shapes and colors. Inside 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 as she stared down one of the rows before looking up towards Sara for confirmation.
Luciana was taken aback by all the kindness shown to her, but graciously accepted it. "Oh thank you!" she managed to smile before she moved down one of the rows, taking her time to look through the racks and shelves.
Sara stood back, watching in silence as Luciana fumbled through the clothes selection, waiting to see if she needed any help with her choosing. But the little girl seemed to manage, picking out a dark purple colored turtleneck shirt and black, white and purple plaid skirt which would reach just below the knees. "How about this?"
"I think it's beautiful," Sara said, pointing 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 play devices. At home she only had dolls and toys carved out of wood. Here there were things with all colors of the rainbow. She pressed the head on a toy dog and it began to bark. She jumped back, scared at first, but then giggled. "I don't know."
"How about we read a book." Sara pointed at the large shelf. There were 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 work. She was amazed that the child was so enthralled, but also concerned that it did not appear the child 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 tell 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, going to the shelf. She pulled out an illustrated version of The Prince and the Pauper. She was less concerned about the story, but more about the time period.
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—even if they were still a little different. "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 then 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 an opposite sofa, a child much older than Luciana was flipping through the pages of her book and the paper cut into the side of her finger. Gasping at the slight pain, she put the book down and saw a tiny bit of blood emerge from the cut. The girl stood up and approached them. "Miss Sara? Do you have a Band-Aid?"
"Sure." Sara nodded before getting up from the couch. "Wait here."
Luciana looked confused but her attention was drawn onto the droplet of blood forming on the older girl's finger.
Sara went over to the wall and pulled out a small first aid kit. All the while the woman was tending to the girl's cut, Luciana sat there trying hard to ignore the hunger pain stabbing within her stomach. She couldn't stand being around blood much longer. She quickly got up off the couch and ran out of the room, knowing she would have a guilty conscience if she had ever attacked a child like herself; she had to stop herself before she did anything.
Sara tried to stop Luciana, but had to finish placing a band-aid on the girl's finger.
Outside, Luciana allowed tears to fall as she collapsed near the wall beside the doorway, clutching at her stomach.
"Luciana? Are you alright?" Sara asked as she stepped into the hallway.
The girl sat leaning against the wall, glancing up towards the administrator. She stared through tears, finally admitting to herself and to Sara. "No. I am not."
Sara crouched down to her level and smiled slightly, "Come on Luciana, 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 that you are perfectly alright and to find out what's wrong. Okay?"
Luciana nodded, wiping the tears from her eyes. Feeling a little wobbly as she got up off the floor, Sara helped her manage to stand up again. Together they made the way to the medical wing.
* * * * *
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 was hanging from her neck. She had a kind aura about her, smiling as she saw Sara and Luciana.
"Hello, I've been expecting you," she said as she knelt down to Luciana'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 stepped inside the room with her. There was a metal bed and a line of fabric that hung from the ceiling. "I know you're nervous, so I'm going to sit here, behind the curtain. If you need me, I'll be right here."
Catherine led Luciana over to a set of scales, "Alright first thing is 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 Catherine and nodded. She watched as the nurse wrote down what she weighed in a notebook and then was instructed to stand up straight against a wall which measured her height. She also noted the girl appeared pale and malnourished. Catherine made sure to tell Luciana what she had planned to do in order for her to feel comfortable. She did the standard tests of listening to her organs and looking in her eyes and mouth. The nurse took great care to make sure the child was not intimidated before she had asked her to lie down upon the exam table.
When the girl was asked to take her clothes off, Luciana began to feel uneasy with the idea of being looked at, defenseless and bare. At first she took off 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," she commented for Sara's benefit behind the curtain.
The nurse was used to seeing signs of abuse and had a pretty good idea that the child had suffered trauma from same. She was careful to gently ask Luciana to slip her skirt off so she could examine her legs. Straight away, there was concern in the nurse's eyes 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 saw the girl's movements shadowed behind the curtain and yanked her back from the nurse before the attack could get too fierce.
The girl struggled, kicking her legs and growling. "Let me go," she spat. Sara was surprised how strong the child was. Despite her anger, the woman pulled her close, hugging her and stroking her hair. It took a moment, but Luciana finally calmed, then burst 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. The nurse had been attacked by other 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?"
Catherine 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, it never made it easier. Gathering the girl's clothes, she helped Luciana dress again and then 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 brought Luciana back to the bedroom. As she switched on the overhead light, the child recoiled, so she switched it back off again, 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 the child sustained, but the signs were showing something else—something Sara was struggling to accept. Half to light the room and half to test her theory, Sara opened the curtains, letting more of the sunshine in. Luciana recoiled, rushing to the corner. Sara pulled them shut again.
The room was much darker now and Sara stepped towards the girl, motioning for her to come closer. Even though Luciana was scared, she did not want the woman upset at her.
"I'm a monster," she repeated as she hugged the woman close.
"You need blood, don't you," she asked, almost regretting the words as they left her lips.
The girl nodded, numbly and a loud groan came from her stomach.
Sara felt her heart start to race. She was not scared of the child, but she was scared about what she had decided to do. Pulling back, she held out her wrist to the girl.
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 smiled and nodded at her, and finding herself reassured, instinct took over.
The girl's fangs dug into Sara's wrist and the woman let out a cry from the pain. She bit down on her lip to keep from screaming as the girl tore at the flesh and then latched on to the flowing blood. Sara had not formally encountered vampires, but she 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 satisfied 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 from Sara. It was as if warm water were washing over her. She felt herself swept up into it and realized how vampire victims could simply bask in the sensation, until it was too late. Pulling herself out of the haze, she finally grabbed the girl, pushing her back. "Stop," she said firmly, then added, "I think you've had enough."
The girl ran her arm across her mouth. "Thank you," Luciana finally managed.
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" she said.
"Are you mad at me?"
"No," Sara said, stroking 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."