The following day, Ellis woke up incredibly early. His whole body was hurting from sleeping on the floor. He sat up and heard the floor creaking. The noise woke up sleepy Maie.

“Good morning,” she whispered while her eyes were slightly closed.

 Ellis didn’t say a word, only nodded, while trying to wake up properly.

“I slept well last night,” said Maie with the brightest smile on her face, “I can’t believe it!”

It was as if Ellis didn’t hear her, or refused to hear her. He put the towel inside the closet the same way as it was yesterday.

Maie was visibly taken aback by Ellis’ sudden coldness.

“Ellis, are you mad about something?”

He was about to leave, but she grabbed his arm gently and managed to stop him in place.

She gave him a tender look and wondered, “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” said Ellis coldly, “I just want to leave.”

Maine took a deep breath and walked over towards him.

Once their eyes met, she said, “Look, I understand. You don’t have to talk about your past if you don’t want to”

“How high is the chance of us getting adopted out of this hellhole?” asked Ellis, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he had just interrupted her.

She stared at him in confusion. After a long moment of silence, she managed to utter, “Ellis… this is more of an asylum. Kids get sent here because their own families didn’t want them. There’s something wrong with all of us… and therefore there isn’t a single soul outside of these walls that would want us.”

Ellis blinked a couple of times and looked by the side in deep thought. His body was present, but his mind was elsewhere. In Maie’s eyes, it seemed as if the boy in front of her became a soulless shell of a person.

Realizing how low the mood was, she put up a smile and wondered, “Sorry, I thought you’d know this. They already give us chores to do, practically preparing us for workhouses. I wouldn’t want to end up there. So… Do you mind telling me why you were sent here?”

Naturally, Elis turned to face Maie. Both of them stared at each other for a moment, unable to read each other’s expressions.

“Maie…” he said firstly, but then added harshly, “How about you mind your damn business?”

Hearing those words coming from Ellis’ mouth struck Maie. Despite the conversations they had so far, Ellis simply didn’t seem to sound like the guy he presented himself as. Even when Maie wanted to read Ellis, she couldn’t get past the mask he put on.

Not wasting a moment, Ellis exited the room. Maie was left dumbfounded.

Ellis’ steps became faster as he was trying to keep his emotions in check. He can’t look forward because there’s no possible future here, but on the other hand, it seems like his past is slowly creeping out on him. No matter how much time passes, it seems like the pain never changes for him. The more time has gone on… the more pain is stuck with him like a parasite.

Between an angel and a devil

He had to put his thoughts to rest when he bumped into distressed Jericho. Ellis only then realized how he found himself in the more isolated hallway of the building. Compared to the rest of the house, the floors, as well as walls, seemed derelict.

“Ellis!” yelled Jericho in deep relief, “I thought you disappeared forever!”

Ellis let out a single breath of laughter. He proceed to spoke out in an unsatisfied tone, “No, sadly, I’m still around.”

Despite his joking tone, Jericho’s face was still overflowing with sadness. Ellis didn’t quite know what to do. He has never encountered someone around his age who couldn’t keep themselves sustained. Jericho continued to sob loudly and visibly shake from sadness. His eyes were red and puffy from crying, his face was blushed and his expression seemed distorted.

“Ellis!” Jericho cried again while grabbing onto Ellis’ collar, “Please, don’t ever leave!”

“We don’t even know each other that well,” pointed out Ellis, somewhat distressed, ”What are you talking about?”

Jericho’s crying continued. It seemed like logic was the last thing that was on his mind. Not knowing what else to do, Ellis leaned in and hugged Jericho around the neck. Now, Jericho’s breathing started to stabilize, even though his heart was beating fast.

“Thank you!” said Jericho, this time way calmer.

Pulling back, Ellis’ eyes now seemed teary, but he made up a smile and said, “Don’t worry feller. I’m stuck here for another year at least.”

“But, what after a year?” wondered Jericho curiously, “When will you go then?”

Ellis shrugged and uttered, “I’m not so sure…” he decided to switch the spotlight from himself by simply wondering, “Do you perhaps feel better now?”

“Yes! A lot better!” whispered Jericho with the same revealed tone, “Thank you!”

“Cole!” another harsh tone spoke. It was Danail no doubt.

Both Ellis and Jericho gave him their attention. Without a wasted second, Danail justified his calling by looking at Ellis and bitterly stating, “We need to talk.”

“We do not,” responded Ellis with the blandest tone possible.

“Listen, you big bitch,” said Danail, visibly frustrated. He approached Ellis so close that there was only a step separating them. Ellis didn’t feel threatened one bit, but he was visibly annoyed. Jericho, on the other hand, seemed a bit more nervous.

Danail continued his rant directed at Ellis by stating, “Be glad that I didn’t report you for what you did yesterday! I also had to pay off other guys to keep their mouths shut! I just don’t want to get in trouble alongside you!”

Ellis didn’t know what to say. He most definitely didn’t feel the need to thank the guy, but also didn’t want this uncomfortable silence to continue.

Therefore, Ellis uttered, “So?”

“You owe me!” pointed out Danail, visibly frustrated. In that short yell, Ellis could tell which teeth were missing in Danail’s mouth.

Jericho could be heard holding his breath. The sentence came out as a shock to him.

Ellis didn’t seem too bothered. He calmly responded with, “I can own you… and clean the floors with that fluffy hair of yours.”

Danail seemed deeply annoyed. His frustrations were at their peak. He wanted to say something but was interrupted.

“Do you happen to have painkillers, fluffy hair?” wondered Ellis, “My back hurts.”

“No, fuck off,” answered Danail dismissively, “Ugh! If I find you making a single mistake… I’ll be the first to snitch!”

“I won’t let you hurt Ellis!” Jericho suddenly yelled out at the top of his lungs. Stepping upfront, Ellis almost rolled his eyes.

“What would you do to me?” said Danail coldly, almost mockingly, “You’re useless!”

Jericho raised his hands as if he was ready to choke Danail out, while Danail immediately started to fight off Jericho and defend himself. Before things could escalate further, Ellis stepped between them. He surprised even himself for doing so… and he was mostly fighting off Danail.

“Are you fighting?” a soft familiar voice spoke out. All three of them quickly pulled themselves together and stood in line, facing the source of the voice. It belonged to tired and confused Edythe. She was impossible to miss due to her pitch red hair surrounded by gray decaying walls.

“We’re not,” lied Ellis with a weak smile on his face, “Don’t even question it.”

“What do you need, Edy?” asked Danail, his tone seemed soft and caring. Completely different from how he addressed the guys until now.

“Ellis,” said Edythe while looking at the floor, “Mr. Stewart asked to see you.”

Ellis nodded.  He was unfamiliar with the house, so he allowed Edythe to guide him to the office of Mr. Stewart. Two of them left Danail and Jericho behind.

Once they were on another floor, seemingly away from everyone, Edythe turned to Ellis and wondered with her dry pale lips, “Where is Maie?”

She probably saw them leaving together last night.

Ellis cleared his throat and answered with a hint of nervousness, “Last I saw her… she was in the staff smoking room.”

The relief was visible on Edythe’s face. She smiled at him.

“Oh I’m glad,” she said, her expression soon turned back to a worrying one, “People are spreading awful rumours about you two… I hope she’s doing okay.”

Ellis let out a low breath as he said out loud, “Tell those people that I have standards…”

“Oh,” said Edythe, visibly taken back by his somewhat vulgar language, “You shouldn’t be this rude, Ellis.”

He nodded and before he could say anything, they found themselves in front of Mr. Stewart’s office. Edythe left with a small “bye” exiting her mouth. Ellis stopped himself from watching her leave and just knocked on the door of the slightly open office.

Glimpse to the future

Once Ellis heard he was invited in, he entered the room and said in a dead formal voice, “You asked to see me, Sir!”

“My apologies, Ellis,” said  Mr. Stewart almost out of breath, “A-about yesterday. As you might have heard, I was busy. Ehm… Let’s talk about your schooling. Sit down.”

Ellis was silent. He sat down as he was told and patiently stared at the man.  Mr. Stewart started looking over some documents. It seemed as if the boy’s intense stare didn’t bother him one bit.

There was a silence in the room, often broken up by the sounds of turning and switching papers.

Mr. Stewart suddenly spoke out, “The school you’ll be attending is called Gebether Semeter. And it’s a Catholic all-boys public school. How was your education thus far?”

“Homeschooled,” responded Ellis, too quickly, “But, I attended Sunday school in the last Orphanage… Sir.”

“Oh, yes!” confirmed  Mr. Stewart while staring at the papers some more, “Then that’s settled. The class starts at 9 A.M. You should get going.”

Ellis looked at the clock. It was barely past 8 AM. He let out a low breath, realizing he skipped today’s breakfast. He stood up, getting ready to leave.

Before he could, Mr. Stewart stated, “One more thing, Ellis!”

“Yes, Sir?”

“Doctor Kenneth you wants to take these,” said  Mr. Stewart and put an unfamiliar glass bottle of pills on the table.

Ellis’ throat froze. Not because of the pills, but because of the doctor who was just mentioned. Doctor Kenneth used to assist Ellis at the last orphanage and Ellis doesn’t have many pleasant experiences from those encounters.

He managed to slow down his breathing while taking the pills in hand.

Looking at them, he wondered, “What are these?”

“These are his homemade pills. It will make you get over your past.”

Ellis’ heart dropped as he started to read off the warnings printed on it.

Side-effects: unknown

The success of the treatment: unknown

Warning: the final results of the drug have not been tested yet, take with caution at your own risk!

Wanting to keep himself calm, Ellis pointed out, “Dr. Kenneth’s an undergraduate. What does he know about producing medicine on his own?”

“And you’re underage…” the cold voice of  Mr. Stewart was heard, “What do you know about medicine?”

While Ellis’ expression remained unchanged, he held a bottle of pills so tightly in his hands that there were cracks breaking that began appearing on it.

However, there wasn’t a hint of anger in his voice when he finally answered, “I know nothing.”

“Now, don’t be difficult and take this,” said  Mr. Stewart, it was as if he could feel the boy’s reluctance, “Each night before going to sleep. We’re low on staff, so I entrust you to do as you’re told.”

Ellis pulled up a smile. He didn’t want to be anyone’s guinea pig for anything.

He said with the coldest possible tone, “Yes, Sir.”

Ellis had to think of something, anything to cover up the fact that he will refuse to take anything made by the hand of doctor Kenneth.

“Sir…” said Ellis in a low voice. He couldn’t believe how much it hurt him to not even speak, just to think about it.

As  Mr. Stewart raised his head, the boy managed to ask, “Have you known my father?”

 Mr. Stewart hesitated for a moment. He glanced to the side and thought for a moment.

“Yes, Ellis. I did know him. Why?”

Ellis tilted his head to the side as he softly wondered, “Would you mind telling me what he was like?”

“Maybe some other time,” said  Mr. Stewart while glancing at the clock, “You should hurry now.”

While exiting the office, Ellis hoped he wouldn’t crack up.

He kept up a frozen facade as he gathered his thoughts and calmed down. Soon enough, he was surprised to see how Jericho was waiting for him outside.

Jericho was nervous, or on edge, pacing back and forth in the wide hallway.

Once he noticed Ellis, his face turned from stressed, to joyful and lastly to worried, “Ellis! Your hand!” he said while pointing at Ellis’ right hand. It was the same one Ellis was holding the bottle in.

Only as it was pointed out, Ellis did realize how his right hand was bleeding profusely.

“I must have done something to deserve it,” whispered Ellis out, he seemed indifferent to the pain he started feeling.

“Let me help you with it!” requested Jericho and took Ellis by the hand to the direction of The Secret Room.

Heavenly place

In the meanwhile, Edythe and Maie managed to meet each other. Upon greeting, they both decided to go outside and tend the garden. It was early morning, therefore the garden seemed like heaven on Earth.

“Maie! I’m so happy to see you’re well!” expressed Edythe as the joy overwhelmed her for a moment.

Maie smiled upon seeing how tightly Edythe hugged her round arm.
“Alright, Bug!” said Maie with a smile on her face, “Do you have something to share with me?”

“Look!” said Edythe excitedly, she pulled out the gold coin and said, “I got it last night!”

“Sweet!” said Maie through her smile, “It must’ve been a Tooth fairy!”

“I knew she was real!” said Edythe while saving the coin back into the pocket of her dress.

Two of them enjoyed the peacefulness of the garden. Maie looked at Edythe who was visibly dreaming about something.

Looking at the plant they were tending, Maie wondered, “Have you finished reading The Wizard of Oz?”

“Oh, Maie!” whispered Edythe, “I did! I was crying by the end of it! I wish the same fate as Dorothy followed me.”

Maie giggled, she wasn’t expecting such a reaction from Edythe.

She allowed Edythe to express herself fully, so the girl continued her rambling, “I wish I could enter the Land of Oz… even if in a dream… it’d seem better than this abyss.”

“Such dreams might come true,” said Maie, visibly optimistic.

“Speaking of dreams…” said Edythe at first and worryingly wondered, “Do you still dream of something terrible again?”

Maie gave a gentle smile and revealed, “Not last night…”

“Oh, Maie!” said Edythe as another wave of joy consumed her, “Does this mean that you’ll be released soon?”

“I wish…” whispered Maie out, now she seemed stuck in her thoughts, she whispered out to herself, “Maybe I’ve even found my one-way ticket out.”

To forgive or not forgive

Inside Jericho’s secret room, Ellis was pleasantly surprised to see how well Jericho cleaned the wound, then proceeded to apply a roller bandage to it. He was surprised by the pure fact of how Jericho even knew how to do all this stuff.

“Where have you learnt how to do this?” wondered Ellis curiously.

Jericho simply shrugged, not thinking much of his skills.

He answered with a warm voice, “Through practice, I guess…”

“Hmm,” uttered Ellis while thinking, “Did you have to take care of people somewhere?”

“Not people. Animals!” exclaimed Jericho while making short eye contact with his peer, he added, “They get hurt a lot and no one seems to care.”

Ellis smiled, maybe genuinely for the first time he’s in here. He decided to comfort Jericho by stating, “I’m sure they will be fine if you’ll take care of them.”

“It’s impossible to save everyone…” whispered Jericho. He sounded as if he learned that the hard way or it seemed like the truth he had a hard time accepting.

“Sure…” whispered Ellis while looking at the given bottle of pills.

Rat the Ralf looked like he wanted some attention from Jericho. It started sniffing his hands. Luckily for Ralf, Jericho just finished taking care of Ellis’ wounds, so he took Ralf in his hands and started hugging him.

“Where did you find him?” asked Ellis and proceeded to pet Ralf as well.

“He’s been here before me,” answered Jericho as the painted smile appeared on his lips, “You could say he’s the real owner of this place. For some reason, he didn’t move when I approached him, but he did accept the food I gave him… Since then I’ve been taking care of him.”

Ellis nodded, it wasn’t what he expected. For some odd reason, he expected Jericho would tell him some dramatic story of how he saved Ralf from drowning in a lake while it was raining, or something of that sort.

Despite that, such a simple story managed to bring another smile to Ellis.

“Ellis, I waited for you because there was something else I wanted to talk about… you should forgive Danail,” said Jericho in a strangely serious tone, “I spoke to him… and he apologized for calling me useless! He’s ready to move if you’re too!”

Ellis found it repulsive how Jericho had to speak in Danail’s place. As if Jericho is some sort of spokesman or messenger.

“I don’t forgive…” said Ellis plainly, “He can ask the priest about that.”

“You never forgive?” repeated Jericho curiously, “Why?”

“Everyone is entitled to an apology, but none is entitled to forgiveness,” said Ellis while standing up from his seat.

Jericho was taken aback by such words. He stood up as well to remain at Ellis’ level while talking. Ralf started to make himself more comfortable in Jericho’s thin hands.

Ellis turned to Jericho and wondered, “Will you go to school with me?”

“School?” asked Jericho as his face turned sickly pale, “Ehm… I don’t attend school.”

“Oh, how come?” asked Ellis out of pure curiosity.

“I stopped going after 4th grade,” Jericho reluctantly revealed, then he played with his fingers while hugging Ralf, confessing further, “That place is scary.”

Ellis nodded, he wasn’t going to comment anything further. Jericho grabbed one of the small baskets on the side and said, “Here’s your lunch. I know you skipped breakfast!”

“Thank you,” said Ellis gratefully while accepting the food, “And thank you for tending my wound.” “Anytime, Ellis!” said Jericho as his lips formed a polite smile.

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