Chapter 1

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Vanessa Amara De Luca opened the door with the utmost caution, hoping not to awaken her Aunt Amberly. A muffled groan escaped her lips when the door creaked like a wounded cat, but her relief was palpable when she heard the soft snores coming from Aunt Amberly's bedroom continue uninterrupted.

Popcorn, her treasured stuffed bunny, and closest friend, was hugged tightly in her arms. Popcorn had been a gift from her aunt on her third birthday, and they had been inseparable ever since.

With haste, Vanessa tiptoed into the kitchen in pursuit of a snack. Her growling stomach reminded her that she had been forbidden from eating since yesterday's breakfast after she had accidentally broken a plate while setting the table.

The sound of footsteps interrupted Vanessa's musings, bringing her back to reality.

Spinning around, a shiver of fear ran down her spine as Aunt Amberly appeared in the doorway, a self-satisfied smirk etched on her pallid face.

"What are you doing here?" Aunt Amberly queried in a deceptively calm tone, but Vanessa was not fooled. This was usually the calm before the storm, before the beatings began.

"N-nothing," Vanessa stammered, clutching Popcorn tightly to her chest.

Aunt Amberly's hand struck her face with lightning-fast speed. There was a moment of silence before the outburst began.

"YOU STUPID CHILD! WHAT DID I TELL YOU ABOUT LYING TO ME!" she bellowed, her grip on Vanessa's hand tightening as she dragged her into the basement.

"Please, please, please. I'm sorry," Vanessa pleaded, tears streaming down her face. She should have known better. Why had she thought it was a good idea to steal some food?

"Not only did you wake me up in the middle of the night, but you also tried to sneak into the kitchen to eat something, even though you were punished," Amberly snarled in anger, flinging Vanessa into the basement and slamming the door behind her, leaving the nine-year-old girl in pitch-black darkness.

"Popcorn, I'm so sorry," she wept, her tears soaking into the soft bunny as her cheek throbbed in pain.

Aunt Amberly was an abusive person, and she was the only relative Vanessa had ever known. While she punished Vanessa with physical force for even the slightest infraction, she was a veritable angel compared to Sir. Fortunately, Sir was no longer around.

Sir was Stephen Huntley, her alcoholic and abusive uncle. While Aunt Amberly used her hands, Sir used knives. If she yelled, he would starve Vanessa. The young girl bore several scars from Sir's "punishments" across her torso, but Popcorn was always there to comfort her.

When Aunt Amberly broke the news of Sir's death from an overdose, Vanessa rejoiced in secret, celebrating in her tiny room with Popcorn. She had hoped for a less painful and stressful life, but unfortunately, Aunt Amberly became increasingly depressed, her outbursts becoming more frequent and violent, diminishing Vanessa's confidence.


Vanessa rubbed the sleep from her eyes as she was jolted awake by the sound of the basement door slamming open. Squinting against the sunlight streaming through the small window, she quickly sat up and prepared herself for her aunt's next move.

With a steady tread, Aunt Amberly entered the room and directed her gaze toward Vanessa. "Come," she ordered, and the nine-year-old obediently followed her to the kitchen where her breakfast was waiting for her.

As she sat at the table, she couldn't help but feel a sense of dread wash over her. Her aunt's behavior was unpredictable, and she never knew what was going to happen next.

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