Chapter 0:


The Sanctuary of Seven - Vol. 1

     The girl hides under the bed, trying to control her breathing. She puts her hands to her mouth carefully, but this gesture only makes her breathing sound more prominent. She clings to the wall, making as much silence as she can, squeezing her legs to her chest. Crouched under the bed, she watches the shadows begin to appear on the floor, two people barely entering the room.
     The girl listens intently to the footsteps, hoping that none of the people will look under the bed. She listens meticulously to their breath and analyzes discreetly their movements, trying to intuit their next moves and decisions. Things calm down, and the steps seem to leave the room where the girl was, realizing that she was not caught. She takes her hand from her mouth, taking a deep breath, being relieved.

     The girl crawls on the immaculate white floor, glittering and devoid of any speck of dust, soon perceiving that a person wants to enter the room again. The girl stops in the position she is in, not having time to hold her breath with her hands. A pair of legs is positioned in front of the bed where she is hiding.
     “Where is everybody?” a boy asks, his voice leaping from a deep to a low tone.

     “I think everyone ran to the last corridor!” a girl shouts at him.

     The girl under the bed puts her hands to her mouth, trying to stop a giggle from leaving her lips. Her heartbeat grows as every second elapses, waiting and praying for the legs in front of her to disappear through the room door. Frightened that she might be found, she has a hunch that she hears her heart beating and echoing throughout the room, the person looking for her being able to hear it too.

     The feet leave the room, heading for the last corridor. The girl knows that the best move is to move behind the Seekers, being aware that most of those hiding have already disappeared to the first corridor from where the search began and will be found soon. Although this is the first time she has played Hide and Seek, the girl seems to be doing great, making tactics and strategies.

     The two children move to the next room on the last corridor, and the girl gets out from under the bed. Risking no wrong movement, she goes straight to the door of the room and hides behind the door, being perfectly aware that they have no way to look for her there if the Seekers decide to check the room again. Given that they searched for the door, but not under the bed, the chances of returning to the room are quite high, and the chances of searching under the bed are even higher.

     “Ha! I found you!” the boy shouted, his voice leaping again. 
     The girl winced, thinking it was her, but she quickly realized that everyone else's voices were heard from the other room. Being very thin walls, the girl can hear every voice, even if they are whispering. She listens to every step that leads to the second room on the last corridor. She leaves the door and walks with silent steps, unsteady, but hurried to the first room, from where the Seekers have just left.

     The undersides of the beds were this time occupied by vases and boxes. The closet was full of clothes and did not offer such good visibility to watch the Seekers in case they re-entered the room. Especially, the closets in the building have small holes and the girl would have been seen very easily. She decides to hide behind the curtain.

     The rooms are simple. Each has two bunk beds, intended for four children. Everything around is white: the walls, the beds, the closets, the chests of drawers, even the curtains. Everything seems spacious and broken from Heaven. Cleanliness is indispensable, on the white floor that shines as if it were made of marble, not even a speck of dust. Also, children have simple white uniforms, consisting of a wide blouse with a collar, like a Polo. Girls wear skirts in the summer, and boys have three-quarter shorts, which reach to the knees. In winter, the girls have the same skirt, but they also receive more pairs of white tights. The boys are wearing white cloth pants, and everyone has slippers on their feet. When they have outdoor activities or when they go outside the building, they have thick-soled sneakers and are the same color. Everything is submerged in a white sea. 

     The girl stops a few giggles that want to come out loud from her mouth, realizing that her legs can be seen under the curtain. She places her hand on her belly, pushing lightly toward the curtain. The girl knows that her breath can be seen through the curtain, because her belly would move and the curtain would move, too. This would attract more attention than the legs that can be seen because it’s all about movement. 

     Being very short, the girl does not reach the window, which is why the curtain, although white, makes her presence transparent, not allowing her shadow to be seen.

     “How long are you going to stay there?” 

     The girl shudders and lets out a scream between her teeth, turning her gaze as soon as she hears the boy's voice. She looks at him laughing, the boy is unable to control the wide smile that appears on his face. The two laugh, looking into each other's eyes, and when the little girl opens her mouth in the hope of asking him how he found her, she is interrupted by a much louder alarm.

     “What happens?” the girl asks, casting fleeting, frightened glances everywhere and watching each child run to his room.

     “Calm down! You don't have to worry. Um... another game is coming!” he tells her, stammering and immediately taking her in his arms, stroking her head. 

     The boy is a year older than her. Ever since the girl arrived at the boarding school, he has taken on the responsibility to protect her at all costs. Unfortunately, the boy did not know that this moment would never come again. He has not told the girl about this event so far, given the fact that he does not want to remember his own experience that took place a year ago when he had just arrived at the boarding school. Although every night, the boy read the girl's stories and talk until it was extinguished, he never got a chance to tell her about that incident. Instead, he occasionally told her about his sister, who looked almost like the girl, both with shiny black hair and piercing brown eyes.

     “You should go to your room. I'll be waiting for you!” the boy tells her, before releasing her from his tight embrace.

     The girl nods briefly, not knowing what awaits her. The boy watches her hopping towards the room, while all the other children her age run scared to the rooms, crying and screaming.

     The boy remembers his first alarm that sounded throughout the boarding school, scaring every child. The older ones seemed more relaxed, but many were shaking under their clothes. At the time, he only had a friend his age. The two became friends when they found out they were born on the same day. When the alarm rang, the two were taken to rooms much higher than they were used to, being positioned in the basement, a much darker place than the boarding school itself.

     The boy and his friend were placed in front of slightly large pieces of metal, waiting to be allowed to enter the rooms. They entered, and the boy went out alone, waiting for his friend in his room. However, although the boy waited for him for three days on the edge of the bed, his friend never appeared again. All the children were already in the rooms or the cafeteria on the same day the alarm sounded, but his friend was untraceable as if he had imagined him all this time. Many caregivers even told him that it was imaginary and that he never existed, but the boy knew very clearly that it was not true. However, no one knew him or no one remembered him.

     The boy is forcibly taken from the room where he stayed with the girl when the alarm rang. He is taken to the cafeteria, being assigned to a group of boys his age. With a fleeting glance, he walks around the entire cafeteria, trying to find his girl-friend. He is not afraid of what is to come, he is afraid that the girl will never return, just like his friend he lost last year.

     The whole cafeteria, like the rest of the boarding school, is white, being clean. The tables and chairs are nicely arranged, and the buffet where the children take their food is empty. However, in the cafeteria, a pleasant smell of hot food slipped in, with lunch approaching.

     The girl sits quietly in a corner, looking relaxed. The two meet their eyes, her eyes fixed on him for a few seconds until a woman takes the girl's group and disappears outside the cafeteria. Girls in the first year of boarding school are the first to undergo this scary test.

     The caregiver dressed in an immaculate white uniform, as well as the robe that hangs close to the floor, takes the girl's group and leads her to the emergency stairs, which descend in the greatest possible silence, while the alarm still sounds.

     "What happens?" a little girl asks, crying and suspiring. 

     "Silence, please!" says the woman, in a strict but gentle tone.

     The girls go down several stairs. Although the boarding school rises to only two floors, it has many floors in the basement. Floor -1, -2, -3, -4... floor -7, -8... the caregiver stops at the top of the stairs, turning to the girls. Another blond-haired caregiver appears behind the group, coming straight for the other. The one with the blond hair hands her a thick file and remains motionless in front of the girls. 

     "The first ten girls, please tell me your name and come with me."

     Each girl walks with pressure and scared towards the caregivers, taking a look at the other girls in the group. The black-haired girl bites her lip but remains calm because she promised her friend who found her at Hide and Seek, that she would not be afraid. The girl shouts her name out loud, and the caregiver writes a few things in the file, then tells her to sit next to the other girls.

     When all ten girls are gathered, they walk with the first caregiver down a long hallway. The blonde-haired caregiver stays with the girls until the other one returns. The girls and the caregiver arrive in front of a large metal door that brings a splash of color to the boarding school sunk in white. She opens the door, and the girls are greeted by ten other caregivers. Each caregiver takes a girl. The ten girls are placed in front of equally large metal doors with many stickers glued on them. The caregiver prepares a new uniform and they are asked to change in the hallway, the doors being positioned at an equal distance from each other.

     The girls dress in the white dresses they received from the caregivers, all noting something in thick, white files. The alarm finally stops, and the caregivers look at each other waiting for a signal. The green light comes on above the doors, and when the caregivers open the door, it turns red, leaving a short beep behind it. The girls are lured inside, losing her track in complete darkness.

     The door closes behind the girl and she narrows her eyes to be able to distinguish something in all this darkness, but without success, she leans over, closes her eyes, and waits, squeezing her legs to her chest. In a short time, a prolonged noise appears in the room, as if a much too heavy metal door would open.

     The girl is bombarded by hundreds of objects, some bypassing her, others touching her lightly, but they do not hit her. A few louder objects finally scratched her hand, hearing others pass by her ear as if intentionally bypassing her. The girl is hit hard by another object, falling on her back and for five minutes, this is repeated, as if lasting indefinitely. The girl shrugs, stopping her tears, thinking about her boy-friend and the words he said to her before she reached this room. She moaned in pain, letting a small scream slip through her lips. She refrains as much as she can but feels she can't stand it for long.
     The lights come on, and the girl opens her frightened eyes, immediately rising to her feet. She looks around her, staring at several toys which lie on the floor. The girl realizes that she was hit with them. She lets her eyes go down to her dress, which has a few bloodstains, her skin burning and a few bruises stinging her very hard.

     The girl glances in front of her, where she sees a large window. Behind the window are more people noting different things. A door by the window opens and a tall, red-haired caregiver appears in the room.

     "Mrs. Tomiko?" the girl asks, having a wide smile on her face.

     The woman runs towards the girl, taking her in her arms without hesitation, calming her body, which is shaking uncontrollably. She looked over the girl’s shoulder, seeing several broken, smashed, and even burned toys. The girl wants to break the hug, but Mrs. Tomiko holds her for a few more seconds with her left hand. The woman's other hand goes lightly to her hair, stroking her diamond earring for a brief moment. Without realizing anyone but Mrs. Tomiko, all the toys return to normal, while she moves her lips as if saying something. 

     She seems to be scratching her ear. When all the toys return to their current shape, it gives the girl one last long hug, and the two break up. Mrs. Tomiko kneels and looks at the girl for a long time, smiling sympathetically.

     “What happened?”

     "Oh, nothing, my dear," says Mrs. Tomiko, putting aside a strand of hair on the girl’s face. “This was a simple test to trial children's reflexes. You know, you have to choose a sport to practice, so we are responsible for seeing what qualities you have.
     “And... did I pass it?”

     Mrs. Tomiko nodded. She gets up and holds the girl's hand, taking her out of the room.

     “Wait until the caregiver who brought you here will come and lead to your room, okay? I'll be back to test the other kids.” 

     The girl nods and waits politely, while Mrs. Tomiko glances at her and shakes her hand, entering the test room.

     "This girl seems to be fine," a man tells her, handing her another large file and a pen.

     Mrs. Tomiko inclines her head, being extremely tense. She glanced at the tall, pale man, looking at his hair and eyes devoid of vitality and shine. She turns her gaze to the file with a bored and disinterested expression. Write a few words next to the girl's name and turn her eyes to the next name that is cut.

     “Why is the next girl off the list?” Mrs. Tomiko asks, her face a frightened expression.

     “Ah, a pretty dangerous incident with her was reported in the cafeteria. The girl was very scared during the alarm and things went a little crazy...”

     “But it should be tested!” says Mrs. Tomiko, in a sharp tone.

     “You'll see more in the report. Are we here to do our job, or did you forget?” he continued, returning the reply in the same grumpy tone.

     "I'm just doing my job," the woman finally says with a disinterested look, shrugging. "Let the next girl in and clean the toys! I have a report to read."

Joe Gold