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Are you dead? Sometimes I think I’m dead

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She kills three of her nannies- she’s four and she doesn’t really know what death is, her father certainly never attempted to explain it to any of them in any sort of moralistic sense- but these women had hopes and dreams and futures. They had loved ones and pets, and strangers who would absently miss them on their shared bus routes.

Her father frowns his ever present frown, and simply hires a nanny that can’t be killed.

One day she doesn’t concentrate her energy enough- the song and the sound boil out of her like a pot of noodles set to too high a temperature, and she shatters every single glass in the nearby vicinity, including his monocle.

He gets a cut on his cheek- small and deep and superficial- no worse than what his children suffered daily.

It is only then that his ever present frown morphs into real anger, real fear- it’s only then that Seven gets taken down to the bunker beneath their houses shitty foundations, pushed into cage made of steel and eerie soundproof black spikes.

He keeps her down there for months, and tells her siblings she is sick. And she is sick. She shakes with fear and panic, her breathing frequently spikes erratically until she cannot bear to gulp in anymore frantic breaths and faints. Seven sweats so much she has to take most of her heavy uniform off, and she screams in that soundproof room for so long her voice fades into a wobbling hiss.

Most days she cannot even move, contorted into a small shivering ball, curled in a corner. If she had ever been introduced religion she might have prayed, as it is all she could have done was feverishly hoped for salvation- and if not salvation, then destruction.

More than once she imagines the house toppling around her, brick and steel and concrete collapsing, pipes bursting, with her stupid father caught in it all. In these dreams she dies too, but it’s not so much outright suicidal as it is realistic- she wants this house demolished and she’ll put up with whatever side effect that may have.

(She does not consider her siblings safety in this matter, but then, four year olds are not known to be particularly good at planning or vengeance.)

It is telling that the dreams where her father comes down and releases her, apologizes, are a less common occurrence- after all, she’s a child, not an idiot.

So it’s a bit of a shock when the vault door creaks open, with not just her father’s dimly lit presence, but her sisters.

Three is not anymore pleased to be there than her father was, if for completely different reasons.  

Her father nudges her forward, and with his voice that warns of dire consequence if disobeyed, commands her to get to work.

Three hesitates, looking at her tiny sister, made even tinier curled up like a wounded dog, her undershirt and bare feet giving way to pale sickly skin. The hesitation itself speaks of more loyalty than most adults possessed in their bodies, considering the punishment that would undoubtedly befall her were she not to do as told.

What she is supposed to say is this: ‘I heard a rumor you didn’t exist’ a convenient way to test out the extent of Three’s powers, and get rid of Seven without dear old Reggie having to get his own hands dirty.

But Three does not want her to not exist- Seven may be moody and boring and occasionally aggressive, but she is her sister, and she giggles when she plays with Four and smiles so widely when her and Three braid each other’s hair, and she loves to watch birds and is just small enough that Three’s own relatively diminutive hands dwarf hers.

So instead she says this:

“I heard a rumor we thought you didn’t exist.” Not the perfect solution, but much more clever than the average four year olds improvisational skills. Their father does not notice the slight difference in the words, as he subscribes to the somewhat arrogant philosophy that a tree does not fall if it is not heard or seen falling, and thinks the job to be done as soon as young little Three’s eyes fuzz up with confusion, and she asks him cautiously why she is here.

But no more does the desert cease to exist when the ostrich sticks its head in the dirt, than does the unheard, unseen tree, and so things do not exactly go as planned for him- though it will be far too late by the time he realizes it.

(After all, there is a world of difference between “you don’t” and “we thought”)

Seven wakes up one day, and decides to give her eternal prison a cursory glance, just for old time’s sake, and is shocked to find her vault door ajar just slightly.

(There’s no need to keep a ghost locked in)

She merely stares for a minute, oddly blank, before she scrabbles towards the entrance, her frail legs clumsy with disuse.

She stops before exiting however, hands coming up into fists as a panicked thought occurs- what if this was a test.

It wasn’t an unreasonable thought- her father was a cruel man, and even harder to please at that- he seemed to enjoy in that bizarre lifeless way of his, when his mock children struggled to achieve his hopeless goals.

Of course, her thought at the time was more along the lines of: What if fathers giving me a chance to make up for hurting him! What if I can prove I’m a good girl and I can do what he says just like Number One!

So she slinks bank, inches away from a freedom she so desperately wants to clutch in her hands, and she waits.

And waits.

And waits.

It’s a bit easier now- when she can breathe a little more clearly, when she can look out the door and do more than pretend an outside world exists. She can hear things now- the creaking and groaning of their house, the occasional splash of rats tracking their way through the damp corridor between here and the elevator.

Eventually, she cannot wait any longer- her stomach growls and pinches and aches with hunger, which until now had not been a problem, as Mom had come down and cheerfully fed her, ignoring her anger and her protest, and sobbing and begging- smiling that perfect blank way she did when she was fighting her programming, when her orders conflicted with the heart she did not have.

But Seven has disappeared from the memory of all those who would know her, and Grace has been fixed to no longer recall her.

(That does not mean she doesn’t occasionally tilt her head at the empty spot at the end of the dining room table, that she does not occasionally find herself stood quietly in front of the room small enough to be the closet it’s supposedly is, feeling wrong.)

So seven takes her first terrified step out onto the damp concrete, bare toes freezing without the shoes she abandoned months ago.

She waits in abstract horror for the alarms to blare, for her father to grab her shoulder harshly enough to bruise, to scowl and snap ‘Number Seven-!’ in the way that instinctively raises her heartbeat to a fever pitch and her eyes to snap closed.

A nearby light pops and shatters under her emotional torrent, free to interact with a world that actually contains sound for the first time in what feels like forever- but her father does not magically appear behind her.

Quietly, feeling like she’s breaking every rule conceivable- she sneaks through the leaking hallway, not minding the slime or the roughness of the stone underneath her feet, taking pleasure in the pressure and sensation, and sweet, sweet sound of it all.

When she reaches the elevator she has to stand on her tip-toes to press the button, and gasps in outright surprise when the door opens with a ‘Ding!’ the loudest noise she’s sure she’s ever heard.

The trip up is uncomfortable- the closed in space looming around her shoulders like a physical weight, slowly crushing her to the ground, and she hums lightly to herself to help ease the sensation.

When she leaves, when she actually approaches the ‘normal’ parts of the house, she can nearly not believe it. The squeaky floorboards and the brown red walls and the creepy pictures lining them- they had once seemed so familiar to her, and now they are alien, revolutionary.

She wonders briefly, how long she had really been in that cage, for things to feel this way. She hopes only weeks.

She sneaks as quietly as she can, using her slight frame and bare feet to her advantage. All she needs is to eat and drink, and then she can go right back into the cage, and as long as she avoids the cameras, father will never even know!

She’s not sure exactly why Mom hadn’t come down with food again, but it was probably something normal, like she needed an extra-long time to recharge or she got all weird and glitchy again, like that time father slapped Five in front of her, but she’d be back soon. Seven just needed a little something to tide her over.

So she creeps into the kitchen, and she pours herself the most careful glass of water she can manage, gazing with wonder out the windows as she drinks. It’s nighttime, which explains how (relatively, relatively, relatively) quiet it was right now.

She has to crawl onto the counter to grab peanut butter for her PB&J and nearly dies of a heart attack when the cabinet door squeaks when she opens it. She waits perfectly still, barely daring to breathe for a few moments.

Thankfully, nothing comes of it, and she takes the precious steps to erase her evidence by washing her dishes and putting them away.

She even swipes any stray crumbs onto the floor, where they blend in much better with the usual dirt and dust, and will inevitably end up cleaned by Mom tomorrow anyway.

And then she makes her perilous journey back down to the dark, and walks back into her own personal hell before she can contemplate otherwise.

This goes on for three days before she is caught.

It’s morning this time, which makes this riskier, but all her siblings were out on a mission so she figured she be fine if she was careful.

Her route to the kitchen is perfect now, sliding gracefully away from the cameras and avoiding all the loudest floorboards.

So it’s really not her fault when she turns a corner and nearly slams into Two. She freezes, instinctively pushing herself against the side of the hallway, despite knowing it’s useless, and stares up at him.

Two is not her favorite sibling, she doesn’t hate him or anything, but they rarely seek each other out. Still, maybe if she really begs she can get him to keep quiet- or cry! Crying always worked on Two.

Two moves past her without a word, eyes not even flickering her way, gait not even pausing.

He sighs somewhat dramatically and grumbles “I’m not even that sick.” to himself before moving out of sight.

Seven watches him leave with utter disbelief, an unsettling feeling running over her body and raising the hair on the back of her neck. He hadn’t even looked at her.

Suddenly uncaring of noisy floorboards on camera angles or quietly muffling her steps she races after him, nearly slipping on the floor in her haste. He’s in his room, because he’s sick, and can’t infect the rest of them- and she doesn’t care at all because she’d much rather take a cold- she’d much rather throw up than- than-

She opens his door, and he does glance up at that, seemingly looking straight through her, before shrugging and going back to his rock collection, which is really just dumb grey rocks he picked up from their driveway- but-

“Two?” She asks, and it comes out quieter than she intended, rough and wobbly and she hasn’t spoken words since she lost her voice months ago, so she clears her throat and repeats herself much louder.

Two doesn’t react.

Maybe if it was Four, she’d think he was pranking her, and maybe if it was Three, she’d think she was getting the silent treatment. But Two is Two and inherently protective and irritable, and there is no situation she can think of where she calls his name and he doesn’t respond with either concern or annoyance.

She shakes him, and he rocks back and forth with her, humming slightly, like it was his idea all along to move. She screams in his ears,  waves her arms. Nothing.

She expects to get at least some sort of reaction out of him when she snatches up one of his stupid rocks, because if she’s invisible then the rock should be floating right? But he doesn’t even glance up.

It reminds her of Mom suddenly- of how she’d sometimes just ignore things or not respond or stared out silently at nothing.

Seven burst into tears.

(No one cares.)

She doesn’t give up instantly of course. She does all sorts of things- draws on Fives precious white board, walks brazenly into her Fathers study, yells at the mandatory quiet of their shared lunchtimes.

She even considers that she might have died- as much as that thought scares her, and she attempts to contact Four for several days.

The response is the same in every scenario. Nothing.

She considers leaving, going out into the outside world she is so unaccustomed to- but she is four and scared and oh so alien- she has never been past her yard, never been in a car, never eaten at a restaurant, never walked across a street or brushed past a single stranger- she’s never met a stranger, other than her robot mom.

So she stays, and she shrinks, and becomes more invisible every day.