By: Elise Noble


I HAVE NO name. That died years ago, along with my soul, my hopes, and my dreams. Now all that’s left is a body and a number. Some say seven’s lucky, but it sure didn’t work out that way for me.

Once, there were ten of us. Three died young, and sometimes when I looked back on how I became what I did, I wondered what happened to the other six. Out of our little group, two girls, eight boys, I’d been the smallest. Not surprising, really, considering I was only twelve and the next youngest was fourteen. We were together for three years before we were scattered, like seeds from a dandelion, to all the corners of the world to do our masters’ bidding.

I used to wonder how things would have turned out if fate hadn’t picked me that night. Well, not so much fate, but Pyotr, the janitor at the orphanage where I’d lived since the age of four. There was a reason Pyotr chose to work at the Vladivostok Home for Girls, and it had nothing to do with the generous wages or the luxurious living conditions and everything to do with the abundance of helpless young flesh available to him, no questions asked, no problems.

Only that night, nineteen years ago, I made my first big mistake. I caused a problem.

I don’t remember everything that happened, but I remember enough. Some parts are crystal clear, and I’m grateful my mind blurred out the rest.

I do recall that it was the middle of winter, and I couldn’t sleep because the cold had seeped into my bones. The heating, meagre though it was, had been turned off hours before and the thin blanket that covered me wasn’t enough to stop me from shivering. I lay on a threadbare mattress, just one in a row of six on that side of the dormitory. All but one of the other beds were occupied. Tatiana had disappeared a few days previously, and none of us knew where she’d gone.

That night, the light of the full moon glinted on the metal handle as the door swung open. There was no sound apart from the breathing of the girls sleeping around me because, like a good Boy Scout, Pyotr had oiled the hinges.

The edge of my bed dipped as he sat down on it, and when I started to scream, he put his bony hand over my mouth. I could hardly breathe. The smell of engine oil and cigarettes from his filthy palm invaded my nostrils, and I gagged, bile rising in my throat.

Then he grabbed me by the arm and forced me to walk in front of him, all the way to his room in the basement. I didn’t understand what was going to happen, but I knew it would be painful. The other girls had told me how much it stung, and when they cried, he laughed and made it hurt more. I didn’t want it to hurt.

Pyotr unzipped his pants, and his fetid breath made me want to vomit as he forced his lips onto mine. A cluster of wiry hairs sprouting from the mole next to his nose tickled my face. Funny how you remember the small things, isn’t it? I squirmed on the lumpy mattress as he pushed me onto his bed, the dim light on his bedside table illuminating the few yellowed teeth he had left.

Then the blackness came.

I remember walking down the corridor in a daze, covered in Pyotr’s blood, knowing that I had to clean myself up or I’d be in trouble. A flash of his body lying on the bed. Then I cried as I scrubbed myself in the grimy shower cubicle all the girls shared, blackened with years of mould and dirt. Until that day, I didn’t know how blood could stick. How it could embed itself under your fingernails and stain your skin. The water in the shower ran pink, mixed with my tears.

The next day, I thought it had been a bad dream. Over breakfast, I kept glancing at the door, waiting for Pyotr to walk in and show his foul temper by shouting at us for some imagined misdemeanour. But of course, he didn’t. Then the police came, their faces fierce and yet solemn at the same time, I watched through the railings at the top of the stairs as the staff were called into Matron’s office, one at a time, to answer their questions. Each time a worker left, they looked as scared as I felt.

It wasn’t until two days later that they came for me. The little bitch in the bed next to mine told Matron who Pyotr had chosen, and they found my bloody nightshirt wadded up in the back of my locker, hidden under my thick winter coat.

Matron fetched me with two big policemen standing behind her, and I waited for the lash of her tongue. That was the usual punishment for disobedience, along with a beating with whatever she happened to have in her hand and no food for several days, sometimes even a week.