The small, run-down house was eerily silent when she arrived. Long brown hair swaying as she stumbled up the drive, copper-coloured eyes glazed over in a drunken haze as her companion for the night steadied her with a large hand, laughing in amusement.
"Easy there, Sugar. We don't want you falling down and hurting yourself before we even get started, now do we," the young brown-eyed brunette said as he assisted her with the keys, stopping to kiss the strange pentagram tattooed on the back of her neck before slipping the key into the lock.
The woman let out a moan and a drunken giggle as she replied. "Don't worry, honey. You'll get what you paid for. Once we get started, you'll never want it to end."
"That's what I like to hear," the young man grinned as he quickly opened the door, his expression changing as the unmistakable scent of copper and iron flooded his nostrils. "What the hell is that? It smells like blood?"
"You don't smell that?" The man asked as he took another step into the darkness of the tiny house.
"Smell what?" The woman asked in annoyance. "I don't smell anything. Besides, it's probably just my bastard kid. He's always messing around with paint. You probably smell the fumes. You'd think he'd learn to open a window."
"No, Hannah. It's definitely not paint," the young man insisted as he struggled to focus in the dark. "Where's the light switch?"
"I'm telling you, it's nothing," Hannah insisted, her words slurring a bit as she flipped on the light. "See – no blood."
"Yeah, must be my imagination," the brown-eyed man said as he rubbed the back of his neck in uneasiness.
"Come here," Hannah insisted as she pulled the man towards her, kissing him roughly.
The man grinned wickedly into the kiss. "Time to earn your money, sweet thing."
"Follow me," Hannah said with a wink as she staggered to the master bedroom.
"Your kid ain't gonna interrupt us, is he," the man asked curiously.
"I dunno," Hannah shrugged. "He usually knows to stay away. He's needy as fuck, though, so, who knows."
"That him," the young man asked with a nod towards a photo on the wall.
"Yeah, that's him. Cute, huh," Hannah chuckled as she continued pulling her date further down the hall.
"How much for him to join us?" The lecherous man asked, licking his lips at the notion.
"I dunno. I never thought about it – never needed money that bad— well, not yet anyway. Besides, he's only thirteen. He wouldn't know what the fuck to do. So, why don't you just concentrate on me, yeah?"
"Let me know if you ever turn him out," the man said as he watched Hannah close the bedroom door behind them.
"Sure," the copper-eyed woman said in annoyance as she slowly fell to her knees before the eager man.
Just as she was about to earn her nightly income, there was a blood-curdling scream that seemed to shake the entire house.
"What the hell was that!?" The man asked, fear evident on his face.
"Goddammit, Johnny," Hannah cursed as she rose to her feet, "Johnny, shut the fuck up and go back to sleep. I can't deal with you right now!"
"MOM! MOMMY, HELP ME," the voice called out – rough and hoarse, and, obviously, full of fear.
"Maybe you should go check on him," the man suggested, motioning towards the door.
"Jesus Christ! That kid is more trouble than he's worth," Hannah huffed as she stormed out the door, heading to the small bedroom in the middle of the hall – her date following close behind.
Once she reached her destination, she quickly flung open the door only to be met by pure darkness—
"Johnny, why the hell are you sitting in the dark? I told you not to close the curtains. You know how you hate the dark," Hannah scolded as she entered the tiny room.
"Jeez, it's that smell again. What the hell have you been doing in here, kid," the man asked as he took a step inside, the carpet under his feet squishing with unfamiliar wetness. "The carpet feels wet."
"For fuck's sake, Johnny! What have you done now?" Hannah asked as she flicked on the light, her copper-coloured eyes going wide in shock at the sight. "JOHNNY, WHAT DID YOU DO!? WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU DO!?"
The young man quickly placed his hand over his mouth to stifle the bile rising in his throat, the sight sending him into shock.
It was like something out of a horror movie...
The room was covered in blood – the bedsheets were saturated and bloodied, the walls were filled with cast-off spray, and the light-tan carpet was now crimson with blood. The worst was on the floor just by the bed, where a half-naked man lay face down, bloody and pale. His entire torso, covered in bruises and, what appeared to be, stab wounds. And there, whimpering in the corner, covered in blood, naked with his knees pressed against his chest, crying and rocking back and forth in shock, was thirteen-year-old John Shepard.
"I knew I smelled blood! Your kid is a fucking psycho. I'm getting the hell outta here," the brown-eyed man yelled as he quickly made his way out of the house, wanting to be as far away from the macabre scene as possible.
"Johnny, answer me, goddammit! What did you do?" Hannah insisted as she made her way towards her son, shaking him roughly by the shoulders, slapping him hard across the face when he failed to answer.
The slap was loud in the quiet of the house, causing the young boy's sapphire-blue eyes to snap up towards his mother's copper-coloured ones.
"Mom?" The boy's voice was hoarse, and it was a bit difficult to hear his words.
"Yeah, baby. It's Mommy. What the hell happened, Johnny? Did you do this? Did you kill Adam?" Hannah asked, the scene before her sobering her quickly.
"I— I don't know. I don't remember," the boy answered truthfully, his blue eyes filled with pain.
"Johnny, please, try to remember," Hannah pleaded, trying to be as calm as possible.
"I— I can't."
Despite trying her best, Hannah snapped. "Don't give me that bullshit, Johnny! When I left here, Adam was watching you. Everything was fine. You were laughing together, for fuck's sake. What happened when I left?"
"I DON'T KNOW!" The young boy screamed, his voice cracking in pain.
"You fucking know what happened! So tell me, dammit. Tell me everything."
"He— He hurt me."
"How!? How did he hurt you?" Hannah demanded.
"You know how! He hurt me the same way he always does. But this time, he tried to kill me when I begged him to stop. I–I didn't mean to kill him. I don't even remember hitting him; I swear, I don't."
"Where'd you get the knife, Johnny?"
"What knife?" The boy asked in confusion.
"What knife?" Hannah repeated in annoyance as she pointed to the bloody knife lying just inches from Adam's body. "That knife, the one you stabbed him with."
"I don't know! I–I think it was his."
"This is my fault; I knew you were sick. I knew you needed them to help you, and I just ignored it. I'm so fucking stupid," Hannah said as she began to sob.
"Mom, whataya mean? Who's they?" The young boy asked, cocking his head to the side in confusion.
"I knew I should've called Damen," Hannah mumbled, shaking her head as she spoke.
"MOM! Who's they ?" The boy asked once more.
"I–It's not important, baby. They were just people that could've helped you," Hannah replied with a nervous smile.
"But, I ain't sick," the blue-eyed boy said with a look of confusion on his face.
"I know, baby," Hannah said as she brushed a stray lock of blonde hair from her son's brow.
"What do I do, Mom? Tell me what to do," the young boy asked, his blue eyes pleading.
Hannah's heart broke at the lost look in her son's eyes. She took the scared little boy into her arms and gently stroked his dirty blonde hair. "It'll be okay, baby. You're a minor, and you were only defending yourself. You'll see, baby. Everything will work out."
It took the police less than an hour to arrive. And within minutes, young Johnny was being placed into the back of a police cruiser, with his mother looking on with tears streaming down her face.
"You'll be okay, Johnny. I promise!"
ONE WEEK LATER...
"He seems to be doing well. It took us a few days to get his medication right, but we've finally found a regimen he tolerates. The side effects are minimal. Overall, we are quite pleased with the direction of his treatment," the doctor explained before handing the file to the policeman.
"Has he said anything about the incident?" The policeman asked as he glanced through the boy's file.
"No. He's, actually, very quiet. He hardly says a word. Apart from asking to see his mother, he's not spoken to anyone," the doctor replied with a shake of his head.
"A real Momma's boy, huh," the policeman said with an air of annoyance.
"I don't think so – he doesn't really cry for her. In all honesty, he's probably just looking for a way out of here, and I get the feeling that she's all he has."
"Hn. Is it possible he's lying about blacking out? Do you think it's real or just a way to avoid taking responsibility?" The detective asked, eager to hear the answer.
"It's possible. But, if you're asking if the blackouts are real – they absolutely are. Twice in one week, he's presented signs of being disoriented. It was obvious to everyone who observed him that he didn't have a clue where he was or what he was doing. He was utterly lost," the doctor insisted.
"I see. Were there any triggers involved?"
"Stress and agitation seem to bring it on. The more agitated he gets, the more his personality changes. It's like watching Jekyll and Hyde," the doctor explained.
"Hmm. Do you have the physical report – or the SAK and SAFE kit results?" The detective asked as he handed the file back to the doctor.
"We do. I remember the reports quite well. Unfortunately, they were very memorable. I could give you a summary if you'd like," the doctor offered.
"That would be very much appreciated," Anderson said in a grateful tone.
"For starters, it wasn't the first time the boy had been violated. He had several tell-tale scars of long-term sexual abuse, as well as signs of frequent physical abuse. Some of the scars were quite disturbing, almost ritualistic in their appearance. The scarring tells me that he's definitely no stranger to assault and abuse. This particular assault was extremely violent. There was significant trauma, including severe bruising of the genitals and surrounding area. There was noticeable tearing present, along with bleeding, as well as trauma to the throat. The boy had several bruised ribs, as well as a few fractured ones. His back and torso had severe bruising, as well as cuts on his inner thighs and groin area. The extreme violence was most likely the trigger that resulted in the death of the assailant," the doctor explained.
"So, the boy finally snapped from the constant abuse. It's a shame. I feel for the kid, but what he did to that man – the sheer violence of it – must be addressed. I'll need a copy of those reports," Anderson insisted.
"I'll go retrieve them for you, now," the doctor said with a small smile.
"Can I get a copy of his psych files while you're at it?"
"Of course," the doctor replied before turning to speak again, "Detective, would you like to sit with him for a while?"
"I would. Thank you for the offer," the detective said with an appreciative nod.
"Follow me. His room is on the way."
It only took a few brief minutes for them to arrive outside Shepard's room – a stark, blindingly sterile-white room with nothing inside except a bed, and on that bed, a young boy, tall for his age with medium-length dirty-blonde hair and the strangest blue eyes the detective had ever seen. They were an odd sapphire-blue, sad, yet cold at the same time – like the boy had seen far too much in his young life.
"Johnny, this is Detective David Anderson. He's going to sit with you for a while. Is that alright with you?" the doctor asked, hoping for the young boy's approval.
The boy just shrugged.
"Please, don't ask him about the incident. This is a safe place for him. Save your questions for the formal interview," the doctor instructed as he left the room to retrieve the files.
"Hello. My name's Detective Anderson, but you can call me David or Anderson, whichever you'd like," Anderson introduced himself as he took a seat next to the boy on the bed.
The second Anderson's body touched the bed, the young boy quickly rose from his position, moving to the far corner, sliding down the wall until he was in a sitting position with his knees to his chest.
"Squirrely little thing, aren't you," Anderson said as he took a good look at the boy.
He was thin, a bit too skinny for his age. His skin had a light natural tan to it, but the colour was muted by the malnourished dullness of the boy's overall appearance. Anderson could see a few scars running the length of the boy's arms and legs. Some looked like the usual scrapes any active boy his age would have, but some were disturbing to the seasoned detective.
There were small round scars that seemed to shine a bit in the blinding whiteness of the room – cigarette burns, the detective surmised with a sigh. He had yellowish bruises that had yet to fully heal surrounding his wrists, and Anderson was certain that if he squinted, he could see the ghostly imprint of fingers. The boy's face was pristine, almost angelic in its appearance. The only flaw Anderson could see was another ghostly bruise on the far side of the boy's left jaw.
'He's been abused for a while,' Anderson thought as he attempted to engage the boy in conversation.
"So, might I know your name, son?"
The boy stared briefly at the man before turning his gaze downward and mumbling a reply. "Shepard."
"Shepard. And your first name?" Anderson asked in a tone he hoped was calming.
"John. Mom calls me Johnny."
"Okay, Johnny—" Anderson started before the boy cut him off with a stern voice.
"SHEPARD," the boy insisted loudly.
"O–Okay. Shepard. How are you feeling? Are you comfortable here?" Anderson asked, genuinely concerned for the young boy.
Shepard just shrugged.
"Son, I can help you, but you have to start talking to me," Anderson explained, hoping the boy would start talking – if only a few words.
"I wanna go home."
'It's a start,' Anderson thought with a smile.
"I know. But first, you have to get better."
"I ain't sick," Shepard mumbled, "I feel fine."
"Son, do you understand why you're here?" Anderson asked curiously.
Anderson was just about to speak again when the doctor appeared at the door.
"It's time for Johnny's therapy session, and I have the files you requested," the doctor announced as he led Anderson from the room.
"Does he know why he's here?" Anderson asked.
"Yes, he's aware. He knows why. He just can't remember the details," the doctor explained.
"That won't keep him out of trouble. You know that, don't you?" Anderson reminded the doctor.
"In my opinion, it was – obviously – self-defence," the doctor replied.
"That was never in question. What's in question is the overkill. It would have been cut and dry if there wasn't so much rage involved. I don't think he'll be found guilty, but I do think he'll be ordered to a psychiatric hospital for a long duration," Anderson explained.
"And that would be the best thing for him. If you could get the lawyers to agree, I'm sure the boy's mother would sign-off on it."
"Speaking of his mother, how often does she call," Anderson asked.
"She doesn't. But she always gets right back to us whenever we contact her. Though, I wouldn't be surprised if she had some mental issues of her own," the doctor replied.
"From the scars I saw, I'd say she wasn't always the most caring mother," Anderson said, remembering the various cigarette burns that littered the young boy's body.
"I thought the same, but Johnny refuses to say how he got them. Speculation only goes so far, and it's quite possible Johnny was abused by someone outside the home and that his mother is innocent of any wrongdoing."
"What about the boy's father?" Anderson asked curiously.
"No father listed."
"Hn. Well, I should be going. Let me know if anything changes with him."
"Will do. Have a good evening," the doctor said as Anderson took his leave.
ONE YEAR LATER...
"Hey, baby. Sorry, I'm late. Traffic was awful," Hannah apologized as she took a seat across from her son.
"That's okay. I'm just glad you came. You missed the last two visits. I was afraid you'd forgotten about me," Shepard said with a nervous grin.
"Johnny, you know I'd never forget about you. You're my baby. It's just— things are hard. You know how it is," Hannah insisted.
"Because of me, you mean," Shepard surmised as he furrowed his brow.
"Baby, don't do that. Don't torture yourself, worrying about what other people think. If they want to act ignorant because of one stupid mistake, then fuck 'em!"
"One stupid mistake," Shepard chuckled, "I killed a man, Mom."
"You defended yourself, Johnny. That bastard hurt you. He had it coming," Hannah insisted.
"Mom," Shepard said in a stern voice. "What I did wasn't okay. You fucking know that."
"Johnny, I'm sorry, but I don't think what you did was wrong, and I never will. So, let's just forget about it and agree to disagree," Hannah pleaded as she put her hand over her son's, smiling when she realized just how much he had grown.
"What?" Shepard asked anxiously when he noticed the strange look in his mother's eyes.
"My baby's gotten so big. And your hair – it's so long now," Hannah said as she brushed a lock from his too-blue eyes.
"They won't let me cut it," Shepard said with a shrug. "I know it probably looks awful, but I can't really do anything about it."
"It's beautiful. You're beautiful. You know that, don't you, baby?"
"Mom, you don't have to do that," Shepard insisted.
"Do what, compliment my son? I only speak the truth. Chris sent you something," Hannah said with a smile. "We missed your birthday, and before we know it, another year will go by, and you'll be fifteen. So, Chris decided to put together a package for you. Some art supplies – some paint, pencils, sketch pads. Things like that. I had to leave it at the front desk, but they promised you'd get it."
"You guys didn't have to do that. I know money's tight. I'd help if I could," Shepard said in an apologetic tone.
"I know, baby. But, we're fine. Everything's fine. Chris has a good job, and I don't have to – work – anymore," Hannah explained with a soft smile.
"You really like Chris, huh," Shepard asked with a grin.
"I do – he's a nice guy. He's got a bit of a temper when he drinks, but he doesn't drink often," Hannah replied with a shrug.
"He don't hit you, does he?" Shepard asked, concern obvious in his tone.
"No, baby. He would never hit me. He wants to marry me," Hannah said with a wink.
"Really? Are you gonna say yes?" Shepard asked with a smile.
"I think so. I wanted to wait until you were home, but that's not going to be for a while yet. Would you be angry if we went ahead and got hitched?" Hannah asked nervously, afraid of upsetting her son.
"Of course not, Mom. You should do what makes you happy. I mean, I'm the one that fucked up. Besides, I'm pretty much used to being here now. So, don't feel bad. I'm happy for you two. Really, I am."
"You're such a great kid. So, anything new going on with you," Hannah asked, genuinely interested in her son's life.
"Eh— Not much. I'm kinda dating somebody. Well, dating as much as you can in here," Shepard informed her.
"Dating? In here? Is that even allowed?" Hannah asked in surprise.
"Well, no. It's not really allowed, but it happens anyway. Are you mad that I'm breaking the rules?" Shepard asked, bouncing his knee nervously.
"No! Not at all. I was just surprised. That's all. So, what's her name, and what's she in for?" Hannah asked as she tapped the table with her nails.
"Um— I–It ain't a she," Shepard replied truthfully.
"I–It's a he," Shepard admitted.
"Johnny, I don't think that's a very good idea. I mean, after everything that's happened, is a boy really what you want? What if it triggers you?" Hannah asked, her voice dripping with concern.
"Mom, I'm gay and have been for as long as I can remember. What happened to me was awful, but one has nothing to do with the other. Do you get what I'm saying?"
Hannah was quiet for a long time, contemplating her son's words as well as his situation.
"Mom, say something," Shepard pleaded, his voice cracking and tears showing in his eyes.
"What do you want me to say?"
"That you don't hate me. That it don't matter. Mom?" Shepard pleaded with tears in his sapphire-blue eyes.
Seeing the pain and fear in her son's eyes, Hannah took her son's hand gently. "It doesn't matter, baby. And I could never hate you. I love you, no matter what. I'm just worried for you. You understand, don't you?"
Shepard just nodded.
"Is there a washroom I can use?" Hannah asked as she rose from her seat.
"Uh— Y–Yeah. It's just outside by the front desk," Shepard explained.
"I'll be right back, baby," Hannah promised as she made her way to the washroom.
"I should have never told her. I fuck everything up," Shepard thought aloud.
Ten minutes passed before Hannah's return, and the moment she sat down, Shepard noticed the change in her.
"Okay, baby. Where were we? You were telling me about your little boyfriend. Is he hot? What does he look like?" Hannah's words were coming rapid-fire from her mouth, and Shepard struggled to keep up.
"He's, uh, good-looking – a little shorter than me with dark-brown hair." Noticing his mother fidgeting, he struggled to continue. "His eyes are hazel. Uh, Mom, are you okay?"
"I'm fine. So, have you fucked yet? Who's on top? Do you love him?"
"You're using again. You told me you quit," Shepard surmised as he shook his head in disappointment.
"What? No, baby. Why would you think that?" Hannah asked with a small laugh.
"Mom! I can tell, alright. You're acting weird – talking to me like I'm one of your friends instead of your son. You always do that when you're wasted," Shepard reminded her.
"I only took a little. So, get off your high horse. It's not easy, you know – being me. So, yeah. I might drink a little. I might take a little something to calm my nerves. Is that so fucking bad?"
"Yes, Mom! It's really fucking bad! You aren't you when you're like this. You're killing yourself, and I don't wanna fucking see it. If you can't come here without getting fucked up, then do us both a favour, and don't come at all," Shepard yelled, hoping his mother would hear him.
"Are you telling me to leave?" Hannah asked in shock.
"No, Mom! I'm asking you to straighten the fuck up."
"Do you have any idea how hard it is to deal with you?" Hannah asked in a sharp tone that cut Shepard to pieces.
"Don't 'Mom' me! I've been busting my ass to build a better home, so they'll let you out of here. But that ain't easy, not with all the whispering around the neighbourhood. Do you think they want you there? Of course not! They're afraid of you. And I'm getting tired of trying to defend you to them. So, if I were you, I'd stop being an ungrateful brat and start appreciating everything I'm trying to do for you," Hannah snapped, eyes glazed as the drugs coursed through her veins.
"I didn't know I was causing you such much pain," Shepard said in an apologetic tone. "I'm sorry. I love you, Mom, and if coming here brings out the worst in you, then maybe you should just stay away. Just— don't come back no more."
"Seriously!? You're telling me to leave! Look, you little bastard, I'm the only person in this whole goddamn world that gives a shit about you. Without me, you got no one. So, you better choose your words carefully," Hannah warned.
"I said my piece, Mom. I love you, but I don't want to watch you die. So, until you're clean, don't come back. I mean it. I don't ever wanna see you like this again. I can't."
"Have it your way. I swear, sometimes I don't even know why I bothered to keep you. You've brought me nothing but grief."
And with that, Hannah was gone. Within seconds, Shepard broke down – sliding to the floor and crying desperately for his mother.
FOUR MONTHS LATER...
Hannah had tried for several months to visit her son, but each time, he refused to see her. A part of Shepard wanted nothing more than to see his mother, but there was a bigger part of him that wanted her to be healthy and happy, and he just didn't think that could ever happen with him in her life.
On the first weekend of the fourth month, since they had last seen each other, Shepard received a surprise visit—
"Shepard, you have a visitor," the orderly announced, causing the blue-eyed teen to look up from his sketchbook.
"I don't want to see her," Shepard simply stated as he continued to sketch.
"It isn't your mother. It's someone named Chris Scott," the orderly explained.
"That's my mom's boyfriend. I don't wanna see him either," Shepard said with a furrowed brow.
"Shepard, I really think you should see him," the orderly suggested in a tone that made Shepard uneasy.
"Is something wrong," Shepard asked anxiously.
"Just come with me," the orderly instructed as Shepard hesitantly followed.
"Johnny, you look good," the man, no older than thirty-five, with brown hair and dark-brown eyes, spoke as Shepard entered the room.
"Chris? What's going on? Is something wrong?" Shepard asked nervously, watching Chris for any hint he could give.
"Johnny, please, sit down," Chris instructed as he pointed to the empty seat next to him.
"It's Mom, isn't it? What happened? Is she sick?" Shepard asked as the anxiety began to well inside him, his breathing becoming more uneven as his heart raced even faster.
"Johnny, please," Chris pleaded as Shepard finally took a seat.
Kneeling in front of the blonde teen, Chris carefully took the boy's hand.
"It's Mom. I know it is. Just tell me! What happened to her?"
"She's gone, Johnny," Chris said, his voice cracking as he spoke.
"Whattaya mean, she's gone," Shepard asked as the tears began to escape from his eyes.
"She OD'd. They tried to get her back, but they couldn't. I'm so sorry, son."
Chris's words seemed to be far away, and Shepard could barely hear them.
"Johnny?" Chris called out, trying to get his stepson to respond. "He's in shock."
The orderly quickly left to inform one of the nurses, leaving Chris alone with the devastated boy.
"Johnny, talk to me, son. Say something. You're scaring me, kid," Chris pleaded as he touched his stepson's face.
After a long moment of silence, Shepard let out a pained scream, his body shaking violently as the tears racked his body.
"It's okay, son. It's gonna be okay. I'll take care of you. You aren't alone," Chris promised as he held Shepard tight.
"It's my fault. I killed my mom," Shepard cried into Chris's chest.
"You know that's not true! The drugs killed her. We both know that," Chris said, his voice firm as he held Shepard's face in his hands, forcing the boy to look him in the eye. "This wasn't your fault."
After a few seconds, Shepard finally nodded his head in understanding.
"We fought. I never got to say, 'I'm sorry.' She died hating me," Shepard sobbed.
"No, Johnny. She didn't hate you. She loved you. You were all she talked about – you were her whole world," Chris said as he gently rubbed his stepson's back, hoping to soothe his pain a little.
Shepard didn't respond to that. He just continued to cry until there was nothing left inside. And even though he was used to being on his own, he had never felt more empty and alone than he did at that moment.