Who is Mistress? Why is she obsessed with sugar? Will we get out alive?
|The shop was closed for the day, the curtains drawn, and the floors mopped. Mistress was settling down to a nice meal, her table manners pristine as always. I watched carefully, my mop and bucket ready to clean up the floor when Mistress was finished for the night. She did not acknowledge my presence, but that was usual.
Taking a bite of her dinner, Mistress chewed in silent contemplation for a few seconds. She preferred her meat rare, and the blood welled over her lips, which was then carefully wiped away with a snow white napkin. "Madeline." I looked up expectantly, in what I hoped to be in a worshipful manner. "Madeline." She sighed again.
The dull thunk of her favorite carver stabbing into the table filled my senses. I watched silently, my smile slipping slightly. "Madeline! They're not sweet enough!" The short woman of rage and fire stormed off. I was helpless but to follow, abandoning my mop against the wall. Mistress grabbed a box of cookies and a giant bag of various candies, slammed the door open and rushed down the stairs, her long black skirts almost catching, and I prayed she would trip and break her neck, and the girls and I could leave this hellish existence.
Candy and 'Baby' Ruth were sitting silent, watching the helpless lump in the corner, their eyes glazed over in horror and agony. I said a quick prayer of thanks that at least they were not screaming. The new ones always screamed for days before they fell silent, numb and unfeeling, sure that they were to never be found, forgotten by the wide outside world.
"Sweeter!" She screeched at Candy. "Sweeter!" She threw the box of cookies at Ruth. "Sweeter! Sweeter! Sweeter!" Howling at the cowering young women before her, Mistress grabbed at her hair and began to rip it out. "It must be sweet! The meat must be sweet! I must be sweet!"
The girls simply looked at her with blank faces, quiet as the grave. Pain fogged the memory better than any drugs, and these girls had plenty to hurt over. The one in the corner, Mary Jane, had still not moved, but then, I didn't expect her to.
Mistress continued in this manner for another couple of minutes, but finally calmed herself, as we did nothing to agitate her, and she whimpered to herself. "The meat, Mummy. I must be sweet like Sissy. I'm sweet too! I wanna be sweet." The speech of a poor, fumbling, homely child shone through, and I knew that she was no longer in this frame of reference.
I stepped in. "That's enough now. Come on. To bed with you." She went quietly, and I was able to get her to bed with little problems. I headed back downstairs. "Mary Jane?" She was huddled over her stomach off in the corner, her eyes glazed and unfocused. "Mary Jane." Taking the bottle of creme de menthe from under my skirt that I had been given just for these times, I allowed her a large gulp. "Mary Jane, I have to take a look at it." Wide green eyes screamed a pain she could not vocalize, and I patted her cheek lightly. "Come now. I have to make sure it won't be infected." Slowly, carefully, I pried her fingers away from a small bandage, soaked in her blood.
Mistress cut too deeply this time. The lines were slightly jagged, and had anger written into the gaping wound. Mary Jane had already lost enough blood, and I quickly set to work. Gathering thread, I shoved a chunk of hardened taffy into Mary Jane's mouth before dashing rubbing alcohol into her laceration, wincing at her muffled scream. "I know dear. I know." Swiftly, I sewed the gash shut, saying a prayer of thanks as I felt her relax as the pain caused her to black out.
Finishing up my work on Mary Jane, I cleaned the area, and laid her head down gently. Ruth and Candy watched me reproachfully. "Eat your dinner, dears. We mustn't make Mistress angry again." I turned to head up the stairs again.
A small, shy voice followed me. "What's happening to us, Madeline? Are we going to die?" Ruth's eyes were clouded, as Candy's were, and every girl before them, but there was still a small spark to them.
I turned back to face her. "We serve Mistress. Each of us have our own purpose. Now, eat up. It wouldn't do for you to get sick on us now." I waited until she dutifully ate several cookies, smiled at her, and headed up the staircase. "Enjoy yourselves, dearies." Because of Mary Jane's ordeal, I would be back downstairs in a few hours, so the light was left on. They would be awake for some time more anyway, being nocturnal in their dark prison.