"It all began when my father caught me making pictures…"
"What in the name of the Deus are you doing, girl?!" Warren Morgan yelled when he found his only daughter with a piece of coal in her hand.
Keller dropped the sooty brick, frightened of what her father might do. It wasn't the first time he had caught her indulging in this forbidden temptation, but he decided that it would be the last. Drastic measures had to be taken.
Walking past her, he grabbed an empty shoulder sack. "Daddy wha…why are you putting my clothes in the sack?"
Without looking up from his task, Warren shoved every piece of feminine lookin clothing his hand fell on, into the bag. "Since you can't seem to follow the rules, I'm sending you to a place where they guarantee your compliance."
Realizing that she was going to be sent away, Keller started to cry. When Ellen Morgan heard her daughter's sobs, she rushed into the girl's room, where she saw her husband packing their daughter's travel sack. "By the Deus, Warren, what are you doing?"
"Look at the wall, Ellie. Look at what she's done."
Ellen's eyes started to tear up when she saw the drawing. "Why, Keller? Why must you continue to tempt the Deus?"
"I'm sorry, momma. I can't help it. The pictures just want to come out. Please understand," The blonde pleaded.
Ellen reached out and gently laid her hand on her husband's thick forearm. Ranching had built up his body, as well as their three sons. Now their hard work was garnering them praise. Their ranch was one of only three that raised enough beef to feed the entire Province throughout the seasons.
"Can't we give her another chance, Warren?"
The tall blonde looked down into his wife's pleading green eyes and almost…almost gave in, but he knew, deep down in his gut…he knew that if he allowed his daughter to continue her drawing unchecked, she would bring the wrath of The Order down on their heads. And if he had learned nothing else from The Edicts, it was Curtis Poole's first rule: Never is the need of the one, greater than the survival of the whole.
He quickly turned away from his wife's gaze. "No, Ellen, you know the first rule as well as I do." He shoved the full sack into his frightened daughter's arms. "So does Keller. I am not better than the man that led us out of turmoil. If Curtis Poole could send his kin away to keep the Province strong, then so can I."
He grabbed Keller by the elbow and started pulling her towards the front door. "Wait!" Ellen yelled.
Both blondes turned as one.
"Where are you taking her?"
Warren opened the front door. "I'm taking her to the center. They say the new program they started can heal the affliction that causes the difference, without having to send them out into the wilderness."
Ellen was relieved to hear that. At least her child wouldn't be left to fend for herself like so many others before her. As the wagon pulled away from the house, Keller yelled over her shoulder.
"Tell Sherman, Thomas and Walter that I'll be okay!"
The older woman waved and wiped her eyes. Even as she was being taken away Keller's thoughts were of her brothers. Ellen couldn't contain her sobs any longer and let the dam break free. Fear for her only daughter's safety consumed her emotions and she became weak with it, falling to the floor in a heap.
The wagon pulled up in front of a tall, brick building, it was the only structure built by the ancients that was still standing in the Province. The fading blue and white sign out front read _ _THE_DA RES_ A _C_ CENTER.
It had been one-hundred years since the current leader, Myron Scott's great-grandfather, James took over control of The Order from the Poole line and almost immediately he started to make changes in the day-to-day handling of the Province.
When James died his son, Oliver walked into the position. The changes he made were not as obvious, but just as memorable as his father's. His most popular proclamation being the well digging incentive. Under his rule, instead of the citizens using communal wells, a personal one for family use was dung on every owner's property.
When Oliver's oldest son, Garland took over leadership he made his contribution to change by decreeing that a celebration could be held twice a year during harvest time. The joy that it brought the people endeared the man to his flock. But after only ten years as the leader, Garland fell ill and one year ago, at the age of fifty, died, leaving his oldest son, twenty-five-year-old Myron, as The Order's new leader.
Wanting to mark his ascent to power in a most memorable way, and also to prove the naysayer's wrong that were of the mind that he wasn't ready to lead, Myron conceived of a project that would distinguish his reign from that of his ancestors.
He decided to make a permanent change to a practice that had been in place since the time of Curtis Poole. No longer would the intuitives be sent out across the Badlands. Instead, with the help of experts, he devised a program where through physical and psychological manipulation he could control their creativity and mold their abilities in a way that would best serve the Province.
It didn't take long for him to open and staff the old Bethesda Research Center, and with the help of people he trusted to get the job done, the last nine months had been productive. After the citizens got word that their loved ones would no longer be sent out into the wilderness, they brought them in themselves, hoping that the center would change them. Now the rooms were almost filled to capacity.
So, when Warren Morgan walked his daughter up to the admissions desk, it was with a sense of hopefulness that he gave the woman all the information that she requested. And when he was asked to make an X beside what he was told was his name, giving permission for Keller's treatment, he did so with the utmost trust in the leader of the Province's ability to know what was best.
Before they led his daughter away, he gave her a stiff hug and a quick kiss on the cheek. "You do everything they tell ya, Keller, and before you know it you'll be back home, as good as new."
"This is your room, and that's where you'll sleep" the not overly friendly attendant said as she pointed to a cot that was pushed into a dark corner of the large room.
Before any questions could be asked, the woman was gone, leaving Keller alone to get familiar with her surroundings. She dropped her sack on the narrow bed and checked out her new home.
There were three other beds in the room, each occupying one of the shadowed corners. Looking at them filled Keller with a profound sadness. How long would she have to live away from her friends and family, and when she returned to them…who would she be?
Before her thoughts could become any darker, the door opened and in walked three women. The youngest looked to be no older than sixteen, the oldest about twenty. All three shuffled in and sat on their assigned beds without saying a word to their new roommate.
Keller stood up and walked to the center of the room. Deciding that humor was always a good way to make new friends, she quipped, "So what are you guys in for?"
This got a slight up turn of the three girl's lips, but no sound was made as each one rose from her cot to introduce herself to the blonde.
"I tell stories," the tall redhead, who also appeared to be the oldest whispered.
"I hum melodies," said the short brunette.
"I make pictures," said the youngest, and most timid of the three.
This last confession caught Keller's interest. "So do I!" she said with enthusiasm.
The women shushed her and looked towards the door. "Be quiet," the older one said. "If you make any noises that sound like you're having fun they'll come in, and…" here she faltered.
The youngest girl filled in the rest. "They'll take away any joy you have left inside."
Feeling extremely confused, and a little frightened, Keller resisted the urge to ask the girl to elaborate, instinct telling her she really didn't want to know, so she chose instead to ask their names. "My name is Keller, what's yours?"
The young artist extended a shaky hand. "I'm, Jesse Lynn."
The short brunette smiled with warm eyes. "My name is, Paige."
The oldest and tallest of the three gave a small smile that crinkled the corners of her green eyes as she held out her hand. "I'm, Patsy Thirwell. Glad to meet you."
Before the introductions could go any further, a call was heard going out, up and down the hallway. All of the newcomers were being told to line up outside of their rooms.
Keller felt her heart start to beat a little faster. She felt like it was too soon to be pulled away from the comfort she was beginning to feel with her new roommates, but she did as instructed and headed towards the door. As she left the room Keller received three sad smiles, but she didn't see them, as her back was already turned.
The newcomers were lined up and as the director, Steve Hamilton went down the line he asked each person. "What is your affliction?" When he reached Keller her head was bowed, so he placed the tip of his finger under her chin and forced eye contact. "And what is your affliction, my pretty one?" he asked in a purr that sent shivers down Keller's spine.
"I…I make pictures," she said as she tried to stop her knees from trembling. There was something about this tall man that frightened her. Aside from his yellowing teeth and cadaverously thin body, he emitted a kind of hiss when he spoke that made her flesh creep.
"Ah, lovely," he said before finally removing his bony finger from her chin. "After your healing, your pictures will serve the Province well in the new direction we are headed."
Moving down the line he finished his inspection and stood in front of the nervous group of newcomers. "I want you all to relax. There is nothing to fear."
Keller didn't want to, but she couldn't help herself. As he spoke, all she could concentrate on was the extended ssss sound that was made at the end of each word ending in an S sound. The word relax echoed in her ear long after the sentence was finished.
"We are here to help you become productive members of society, nothing more. And I have no doubt that by the time we are finished, each and every one of you will be just as you were intended to be."
His short speech could have been interpreted as a man speaking with compassion about the help he thought the treatments would provide, but to Keller there was something decidedly carnivorous about the delivery, and she got a very bad feeling in the pit of her stomach.
That night while lying in her bed, Keller overheard a conversation that was going on between two men that were walking the hallways.
"We've learned that humiliation helps when adjusting the patients. They either do as they're told, or disappear inside themselves, either way we succeed in our efforts to control their urges."
He flipped his thumb in the direction of Keller's door. "As a matter of fact Mr. Hamilton has decided to break in the new one, says he sees a real defiant spirit lurking in her eyes that only he can cast out."
The other voice laughed a little. "It doesn't hurt that she's very beautiful either…does it?"
A more lecherous chuckle was heard. "Well there's that too. To be honest I wouldn't mind being the one to help here let her demons loose, but it is not to be."
The voices lowered abruptly and the muffled sounds became contrite just before two sets of footsteps could be heard moving down the hall.
When the door to Keller's room slowly opened, she could just make out a man's form in the light of the candle he was holding. As the door closed the candle slowly made its way over to her corner of the shadowed room. The man sat down, and she felt the thin mattress sink down from the extra weight. Just as she was about to ask what the intruder wanted a skeletal hand covered her mouth and the face of the director was lit by the tiny flame.
"It's time for your first lesson, Keller Morgan," he whispered with his rancid breath.
When he sat the candle on the floor she felt his hands start to make a trail down the center of her chest, it was then that the struggle began.
Keller kicked and scratch and pushed with all her might, but the man's size was deceiving. He was much stronger than he looked. Calling for help from her roommates was only met with silence.
She had no way of knowing it, but the three women were laying in their beds with their eyes tightly closed, trying to push out the sounds and memories of their own tortuous first night in the center.
When Keller realized that there was no way she could fight this man off she went completely still, appearing to her attacker as if she were accepting her fate. But that wasn't the case. She was invoking the fifth rule: When faced with a stronger opponent, make his weakness your strength.
When the man had his britches around his bony hips and his manhood was exposed, Keller saw her opportunity, and with lightening speed reached out with all her might and squeezed the fleshy sacks that would bring him to his knees.
His assault on her stopped immediately, but Keller continued to hold on as she slid from the bed, knowing that if she let go, the fight would be on again. She had helped turn enough bulls into steers to know how to handle a pair of scrotums fresh for neutering. She only hoped that wouldn't become necessary…the job could be quite messy without the proper tools.
She whispered in a harsh voice for help. "Patsy." When there was no response she called out again, a little louder. "PATSY!"
To avoid having someone hear, Patsy answered. "What?!"
"Come over here and pick up the candle."
Keller heard the woman making her way over. When she got close enough to see what was happening she pulled in a sharp breath. "By, the Deus. Keller, what have you done?"
"I've just stopped myself from being raped by a beast no better than a bull in heat."
The quiet, but intense conversation caught the other occupant's attention, and Jesse Lynn and Paige made their way over to Keller's side of the room. When they saw what was going on they spoke in unison.
"That's right," Steve Hamilton gritted out. "Let go of me or I'll make your punishment last for days instead of hours."
Keller hadn't realize it, but the sound of the hard S's Steve made caused her to reflexively squeeze the man's scrotum. It wasn't until he moaned in agony that she realized she had tightened her hold to the point where she could feel his testicles shifting around inside. She almost apologized until she remembered why she held them in the first place.
Looking at the three women that had formed a circle around her Keller made a plea to the roommates she had just met that day.
"I need one of you to do me a huge favor. I'm not staying here. After this there is no way that I can, but I can't leave unless someone takes a hold and keeps this animal in place long enough for me to escape."
When no one moved, she begged. "Please."
Feeling charged by Keller's bold move, Patsy maneuvered herself beside the brave little blonde and squared her shoulders. She had been at the center for three months, and during that time she had been molested at least three nights a week, under the guise that she still harbored her desire to tell stories.
'Well, of course I do,' she thought. 'Just because I don't share them doesn't mean they no longer come to me.'
She hated this place. With every fiber of her being, she hated this place. A fury welled up in her like she had never known, and before she could talk herself out of it, she snatched the director's tender parts from Keller's grip and was now in possession of them.
Keller didn't waste any time. She gathered her sack, waved a thank you to her roommates of less than a day, and quietly slipped into the night.
When Patsy was sure that Keller was gone, she looked down at a squirming Steve Hamilton. "Now, what do I do with you?" she asked, and just for fun gave his testicles a little shake, rattling them around.
"Oh, my Deus. Patsy, what's gonna happen to us now?" Paige asked.
Patsy hesitated for only a second. Jesse Lynn, rip the bed covers into strips."
When the girl didn't move immediately Patsy put a little more authority in her voice. "DO IT, JESS. We don't have much time."
After the director had been trussed up like a festival pig, the women gathered their few personal items and left the center for good.