I was afraid when the treatment started.
They came for me in the small hours of morning, the haze of twilight still fighting against the sun. That was always my favorite time of day….
“Time for your treatment,” the guard shouted, rousing us from our sleep the moment he burst through the door, three others in tow. It felt like we had only just arrived, sleeping a shoddy excuse for a bed instead of the filthy wagon floor. “Girls, sixteen to twenty. Line up.”
My blood froze. Flicking a glance toward my new friends, I must have given away my terror; Phaedra was on her feet in a heartbeat, her finger thrust a hairsbreadth from the guard’s nose.
“I don’t know what ‘treatment’ you plan to give these girls, but so help me, if any of them return harmed, I will bury you.” there was a growl behind her words, a threat that made me quiver.
The guard leaned forward, pushing Phae’s hand aside, nose to nose with her. “We have bitches put down,” he seethed, though Phae didn’t even flinch. The hair on my neck prickled at the silence that followed, tension so thick it was visible. Phaedra didn’t move an inch, her dark eyes locked on him, glaring into that bastard’s face.
He reminded me of my husband. A shudder ran through me, and I had to look away.
“Phae!” Tully had Phaedra by the shoulders, tugging her back. Finally, she relented and went back to the bed they shared. Tully slid behind her, arms lacing around her shoulders to keep her on the bed.
“March them out.” The guard flicked the muzzle of his rifle from us to the door, and the three he’d brought with him closed around us. Myself and five other girls, quaking and crying, were led from the bunk house.
It’s hard to tell what we were faced with. The doors opened into a large barn, the stalls having been converted and swept out. Restraints hung from the rafters and into each stall like tentacles made of chain and leather. Our marching stopped as we caught our first glimpse into this medieval hell, balking at any notion of entry. Who would cross this threshold?
“Move!” One of our captors shoved a pair of girls with his rifle, knocking them into the rest of us to force us inside. I held still, only to feel that same shove, toppling onto my hands and knees. One of the other girls pulled me to my feet just in time to draw my face out of the path of a guard’s boot.
I mouthed a silent ‘thank you’. She only looked away.
My wrist was the first to be seized and I screamed. It was futile. I knew no one would help me, but I screamed and screamed as the man dragged me through the barn, the soles of my shoes skidding until they caught on a floorboard and I toppled onto my face.
He lost his grip. My heart leapt, and so did I. Bolting for the door, I thought I could make it. I don’t know why I thought that….
Pain wrenched me from my optimism, and before I knew it, my feet were over my head, and I was on the floor, a meaty hand tangled in my hair, jerking me backward. Sobbing and screaming, I couldn’t hear anything but my own voice; I couldn’t feel anything but the force of the guard’s hand in my hair, soon forcing my hands over my head. I was shackled.
I fought… I really did. Being strung up like a side of beef leeched any fight I had left in me, and I just dangled there, sobbing, head hung… Shameful. I valued my life, and I wanted to live it. Why couldn’t I free myself? How did I even get here?
I cried as they left me there. Terrified. Alone. Five other girls in the stalls around me, all too terrified to speak. For hours we were left there, or it felt like hours. My shoulders and elbows ached as my own weight stretched them from the ceiling shackles. It hurt to cry. It hurt to breathe.
“Your new life begins now.” A booming voice silenced the sobbing as we all strained to lift our heads and see the man that was now pacing the central walkway between the stalls. “No more filth. No more blasphemy. No more willful ignorance.” He cracked a riding crop against my stall door. “We will begin with gentle coaxing. You don’t want to be the way you are. No one wants to be different. Or shunned. Or cast out. How many of you pretty ladies are married? Raise your hand?”
He laughed . Sick sense of humor…. That didn’t bode well. I suddenly found myself praying to Satreas to just let me go home. I could sneak around under my husband’s eye…. I didn’t want to be tied up anymore.
“Gentle coaxing… You’ll be here like this until morning. Tomorrow, you get a bath from where you hang. Then you go back to your barracks.” He looked into my stall and grinned. “You, though… have to be taught that escape attempts won’t put you in our good graces.”
My stomach churned, and tears welled again, leaking down my cheeks. I hoped Phae meant what she said to that guard. This was a different man, shorter, with spectacles and slicked back blond hair, but the thought of someone being punished gave me solace.
“Unbutton the back of her shirt.”
A sob slid out of me against my will, and one of the guards began to obey the command, the buttons on the back of the murky gray shirt I was issued, same as all the others, were released from their holes. As long as my front stayed covered—
He had no interest in my front. Rolling up his sleeves, that spectacled bastard came around behind me, tugging leather gloves off finger by finger. I only saw his shadow, lifting the riding crop–
My voice felt detached as it echoed through the barn in hysterical screams, as if they weren’t my own, stopping only when the pain became an inflamed and swollen numbness. I saw him come around me again, pulling his gloves back on, the crop tucked under his arm.
“Rest well, ladies,” he said as he retreated, the guards following. I heard the padlock snap shut, and let out a shuddering sigh… and began to weep.
“F-Fiona…?” one of the girls asked, a girl called Sophie, I think. “Are you alright?”
Mustering my voice, I croaked out a weak ‘no’… and silence fell over the barn.
The treatment center.