A collection of short stories, mostly written for 'Screams!'
| Silent Sisters
He's coming. We can hear the thud of his boots as he walks towards the door. And then there's the clank of metal, the clink of keys, as he releases the bolts and pushes his way inside.
All four of us scurry backwards, wanting to keep as much distance between him and us as we can. It's safer that way, a lesson we learned a long time ago. He's a huge man, well over six feet tall. And wide as well; he certainly does not exist on the scraps he feeds us with.
"No welcome for your father?" He laughs a cruel laugh as he tosses a package onto the table. "Get to work. There's no space for idle hands here."
And then he's gone. The dim cramped room seems to heave a sigh of relief for us. It's not big enough for him to be inside and I'm sure the walls, floor and ceiling feel that too. We move towards the table in silence, me and my... sisters, ready to get to work. It's fiddly work, and our eyes have to strain in the dim light.
First of all, I have to tell you that the man, in spite of his words, is not our father. And neither are we sisters but four young runaways who he captured and took into his... care. Once he'd tired of entertaining himself with our bodies he silenced us, shut us away and put us to work. He brings the parts and the plans and we assembled the jewellery.
Our fingers used to bleed after a couple of hours, for he did not provide us with tools. Failure to complete the pieces in his designated time would lead to beatings or worse, so we learned to wrap our fingers in tiny pieces of cloth until the bleeding stopped and eventually our skin hardened. Half of my fingernails are missing; when the rest of them tear away I will be forced to use my teeth to pull the wire apart and press it together again.
Sometimes we share looks, but mostly we keep our eyes averted from each other as we work in silence. It's too painful, for as much as we are very different to each other there are similarities; the suffering has taken its toll and it's better not to be reminded of it.
I do not know my sisters names, and they don't know mine. I couldn't tell them, even if I could remember it. We gather round as the package is opened, and I can feel my mind groan at the contents. Tiny gems and beads to be threaded, tied, or clasped into position. It's so much easier when the pieces are larger. Not only does that make it easier to see what we are doing, but our fingers don't cramp so quickly.
There is one tiny light which we take turns in using. The bulk of the work is done by feel alone, but this time our instructions are complicated. We rotate with the light but it does not take long for us to realize we are not working quickly enough. Worried glances are shared for he is a harsh task-master. The only parts of our bodies safe from his anger are our hands and eyes - anything else has been beaten and broken so many times. I can't take it any more.
There are four of us, though, and only one of him. Even semi-starved, perhaps we could take him on. Sometimes there is an advantage in being small. If only we could discuss this, make up some kind of plan, maybe we could manage to escape.
Too soon, I hear his footsteps. I look at the pile of finished pieces and all of the parts still scattered on the table and my hands begin to shake. 'Please go away,' I think, but I know there's no chance; if he's walking in the passage he is either approaching or leaving our room. I look at my sisters reluctantly and see my terror mirrored in their eyes.
We need to do something!
With frantic gestures we try to form a plan. One of us, the smallest, will make for the door as soon as he gets anywhere near to the table. Then when he is inspecting the pile the other two will follow, and only when they have made it safely outside will I follow. At fifteen, I'm the oldest; if any of us are to be caught it should be me.
He steps into the room and instantly his eyes stray towards the table. Maybe our failure to complete our task is a good thing for he is so angry he forgets to check that the door is securely closed. The smallest of us edges around the room, trying to make herself invisible in the shadows. I cannot watch her for he might decide to follow my eyes.
Damn my trembling body! I want to gag on the stench of him as he steps towards me. I don't know if the other two have made it out yet, I dare not look towards the door. 'Forgive me, Father. I know not what I do'. Those are the words he wants to hear, but he never will, not from any of us at least.
He reaches out and puts a finger beneath my chin, tilts my head upwards. His eyes are fixed on mine, which is good. I reach out a hand as he lets his hand drop and fasten around my neck, gripping, squeezing and lifting me so that my feet are no longer on the floor.
He's snarling through gritted teeth, blasting my face with his fetid breath. I need to wait as long as I can, but then I know if I wait a second longer I will lose my chance. I pull back my arm and fling the wire and gemstones that I'd managed to grasp in his face and he roars out as much in surprise as pain.
The hand has gone from around my neck. I drop to the ground, stumble while I try to gain my balance while my head is reeling from the rush of released blood. Can't wait! Can't wait! One foot in front of the other and the door is tantalizingly close...
His hand shoots out and grips my ankle, just as I was about to escape through it. No... no... no! I can't go back... he'll kill me. Inching my way forward enough I just hope that one of the girls is still out there.
Yes, all three of them have waited for me. But that's not good; we'll all be caught. Frantically I try to convey with my eyes what one of them needs to do. Please... just do it!
And finally one of them goes towards the door and slams it, hard. I let out a silent scream as his bellow echoes through the hall. Scrabbling now, I propel myself forward, each movement agony for my shattered ankle, but the door is closed and fumbling with chains and locks one of the girls gets it locked securely. He cannot get out although he is hammering against the door.
We all sit down on the corridor floor, not quite knowing what to do until we finally notice the steps at the far end. I begin to crawl towards them, but two of the girls lift me upright and support me as I hop on my good foot and drag the other behind me. I have to crawl my way up to the top of the steps where another closed door confronts us. Will it be bolted? If it is, it has all been for nothing.
The others push me forwards and I grip the door handle, pull down on it, and it opens, leaving us to tumble out into blinding light. There are people, staring at us. What a sight we must make, with our hair ripped out in patches, our clothes no more than rags on our skeletal frames.
I can feel the wetness of tears running down my cheeks. We've made it! We've escaped! The four of us might have laughed and cheered in relief, but the first thing Father had done was to cut out our tongues and silence us forever.