Buy a pet, Kayla said. You need company, Kayla said, I think sarcastically, opening the door to the pound.
The first thing to hit me is the stench of unadulterated bleach. I've barely walked in and want to cough up my lungs. I can't imagine how it is for all the poor hybrids.
The smell only gets worse when I enter the room where the hybrids are penned up. It's mostly nekos in the dog pens. I notice the way many of them cringe away from me like they expect pain. They all look so scared. Some of them look like they might be sick. All of them are naked.
Curious, I approach the pen of a male neko. His fuzzy gray tabby ears flatten in warning. A low growl rumbles from his chest. His tail's banging against the pen angrily.
"I won't hurt you," I mumble, scanning the paper on the cage door.
The word 'biter' is written in large red letters. That alone makes me doubt if I want to adopt one. Below are the words 'sex pet,' whatever that means, in black ink.
“Hello! Anything in particular you’re looking for?” a woman asks, startling me.
The nametag on her vest reads ‘Michelle’. Her frizzy blonde hair is pulled back from her face.
“My sister suggested I get a pet. I’ve never owned one before,” I explain.
“Would you rather have a recent rescue or one who’s been here a while?” she asks.
She leads me to a cage in the very back of the building. The neko looks horrible. He’s naked. He’s extremely skinny. And it looks like he was a punching bag for someone. He's covered in bruises and cuts. His fluffy black ears flick back fearfully. I can see where the left one is shaved in one spot and possibly stitched. His human ears bear several piercings. His black hair is matted and greasy. His vibrant green eyes regard us fearfully. There's a cut on one cheekbone. His lower lip is split. Dried blood covers the caramel skin of his lean thighs.
“What happened to him?” I ask, stepping closer.
Trembling, he backs away from me. He mewls softly. It's a high, squeaky sound.
“His owner wasn’t a good person. He has other injuries as well,” Michelle informs me.
“Could I get a better look?” I ask.
His ears flatten against his skull in response, disappearing in his hair. His poofy tail fluffs a little in fear.
“If he’ll let me,” Michelle replies, unlocking the cage.
He backs away fearfully. He refuses to budge when she tries to lead him out. Every muscle in his skinny body is rigid with terror. He’s shaking so hard I'm surprised he can even stand.
“Ransom, come on!” she snaps, jerking the leash roughly.
He almost falls down.
“Don’t hurt him,” I beg, noticing the way he rubs his neck.
He’s mewling pathetically. His almond-shaped eyes are wide with fear.
She drags him out by his collar.
He won’t look at me. He doesn’t move at all. His bony hands are clasped behind his back. He’s staring at his bare, dirty feet. He's taller than me by several inches.
Up close, I see just how bad of shape he’s in. He reeks. I can count his ribs. His breast bone sticks out. His hips jut out painfully through his bruised skin. There’s finger-shaped bruises on his biceps, as well as on his jaw and bony hips. His face is angular and almost feminine with high, sunken cheekbones and a narrow jaw. He doesn’t look to be much older than me, but there’s worry lines marking his forehead. Judging from his scars and bruises, I seriously doubt he’s ever had any kindness. Or love. Even in this horrible shape, I can tell he’s probably beautiful when he’s healthy. He's gnawing at his lower lip.
“Can you tell me anything about his last owner?” I ask, gently lifting his head.
He flinches from me. One hand twitches like he might try covering his head but then stills. He's making the softest sad whimpers in the back of his throat. I don't know if I wanna know how many times he's been hit.
“Please don’t,” he whimpers, backing up.
He’s shaking. I hate how scared he is.
“He was a sex pet. He's been raped,” Michelle replies.
“What's a sex pet? I don't know anything about hybrids. How old is he?”
“A sex pet's sole purpose is to give pleasure to their master and whoever their master chooses. He’s eighteen. Mixed breed, unfortunately, but he can't help that.”
“Could I spend time alone with him?”
He shakes his head slowly. His long tail curls up between his legs.
“Yeah, of course,” Michelle says, leaving me with him.
“Is your name really Ransom?” I ask.
“Ransom Carter. My last owner was Kyle Landon,” he replies quietly, glancing up at me with fearful green eyes.
Now that he’s speaking above a whisper, I notice the rasp to his voice like it hasn’t been used much. Or like he’s been screaming. Or, if the dark bruises peeking out around his collar are any indication, been choked recently.
He has the prettiest eyes. They're almost grass-green, but there's flecks of amber and gold in them as well. The cat pupils might take some getting used to.
“I'm Adam. How long have you been here?” I say.
“Two days,” he whispers.
“I’ve never had a pet before.”
He nods quietly.
I notice the fearful way he trembles when I pick up the leash. His ears flick back a little, but he doesn't make a sound.
“I won’t drag you or anything. How do you like the idea of me adopting you?” I murmur.
“I don’t really have a say,” he replies.
He follows me placidly to Michelle.
“You wanna adopt him?” she asks.
“Yeah, I do,” I reply, turning to look at Ransom.
He’s standing with his head down and his hands clasped behind his back. His tail’s twitching anxiously. He’s tense.
He probably thinks I’ll hurt him, I think.
I accidentally shut his tail in the door. He refuses to come near me after that. If I try getting near him, he hisses at me and tries to scratch me. He cowers against the side of the building.
“Ransom, I said I was sorry. Now come on!” I tell him, jerking him harder than I intended.
He whimpers from the pain in his neck. I feel like an even worse owner. I haven’t had him fifteen minutes and I’ve accidentally hurt him twice.
Eyes watering, he slinks over to me. He’s shaking. He's gnawing on his lower lip. I really hope he doesn't start crying. His ears are drooping sadly.
“I wasn’t meaning to hurt you. I'm sorry,” I tell him.
He follows me silently to a hybrid store.
The things they sell in there are horrifying. There’s cages so small someone Ransom’s height would never fit. And cattle prods. And whips. Barbed collars. Spiked chastity devices. I never imagined anything as sadistic as the things this store sells.
“Let’s see if they have any normal things,” I murmur to Ransom.
He’s staring at a spiked chastity cage nervously.
“Did they use one on you?” I ask gently.
He nods slowly.
“I'm not sadistic. I wanna get you a new collar, instead of that heavy one.”
He stares at the floor while I look at collars. He’s watching me from the corner of his eye, though.
“Do you see any you like?” I ask, surprising him.
“The choice isn’t mine. You own me. I have no right to tell you what to put on my body,” he mumbles.
“You have a say with me.”
His green eyes glance at me worriedly before turning to the collars. He keeps looking at an orange one with green rhinestones.
“You can try it on if you want,” I tell him.
It fits him well.
"Um, M-Master, are you gonna buy a whip?" he whispers fearfully.
"No. I'm never gonna beat you," I reply.
He doesn't reply.
He’s still almost silent when I get him home. It takes quite a bit of coaxing to get him in the penthouse. He's terrified to go inside.
"No one's gonna hurt you. I promise," I murmur, scratching his good ear gently.
He flinches away from me and careens into the wall. He whimpers softly and scoots into the corner.
Awesome. He hates being touched. He barely talks. And he thinks I'm gonna hurt him, I think irritably, watching as he curls into a ball.
"Ransom, you're safe here. I promise," I whisper.
He gazes up at me distrustfully with the saddest green eyes I've ever seen. His ears are flat. His tail curls itself over his bony knees. I've never seen anyone who needs TLC more than him.
At the sound of footsteps, he tenses more, which I didn't think was possible. I hate seeing him so scared.
“Is this your pet?" my sister Kayla asks behind me.
"Yeah. His name's Ransom. He's been abused really badly," I reply, watching as Ransom tries getting further away.
"He's a cutie pie!"
He grimaces at her high-pitched baby talk. I can't say I blame him; it hurts my ears too.
“Am I—Can I—Bathroom?” he stammers, glancing up at me hopefully.
“Follow me,” I reply.
He doesn’t shut the door. I doubt he’s ever had anything that’s really his. Or privacy.
“Thank you, Master,” he murmurs, smiling timidly.
“You don’t have to thank me. Or ask for permission,” I reply.
He nods again.
“Do you want your collar off?” I ask.
“Why? Forgive me. I'm sure you have a reason,” he murmurs quietly.
The way he tenses up is a harsh reminder he’s mostly had the crap knocked outta him. Or been raped. Why should he think I’ll be different? Even though I am.
“So it doesn’t irritate your throat. It’s okay to ask questions if I tell you something. How long did he own you?”
“I was ten.”
“So he abused you for eight years?”
“Yeah. I deserved it.”
He lets me undo the collar. His throat is raw from the other one rubbing his skin. I don't miss his wince as I peel the cloth from the raw skin.
“I'm sorry it hurt. Can I dress the scrapes for you? Would you like to take a shower?” I offer.
He looks up in shock.
“It's okay. I-if you want. W-with hot water?” he asks.
“Of course. He made you take cold showers?”
“S-sometimes I fell down from shaking so hard. And then he did things to me.”
“He raped you?”
“That’s why he bought me. Master, is that why you’re being so nice? So I won’t scream as much? Or will you gag me?”
He’s eyeing me fearfully. There’s more pain in his eyes than I ever expected to see. I'm not sure I wanna know everything he went through.
“Ransom, I'm not gonna rape you. Ever,” I reply, disgusted.
The hope in his low voice is heartbreaking.
“Really. When was the last time it happened?”
“This morning. One of the volunteers.”
I can tell he’s not really wanting to open up, so I leave it alone.
"Can you wash yourself?" I ask.
He nods quietly.
"Um, how long may I take? I'm used to five minutes or less," he murmurs.
"As long as you want. I'll go get you some clothes, okay? If you need help, just ask," I reply.
Even though they don't fit right, his gratitude to receive clothing is amazing.
He sits quietly on the toilet lid after his shower so I can dress the raw scrapes on his neck. He's staying statue-still. He's barely breathing.
"I won't hit you if you move," I murmur gently, dabbing the scrapes gently with antibiotic cream.
He doesn't move the entire time, even though I see his face twist into a grimace several times.
"Is it okay if I trim the mats in your hair?" I ask.
He nods reluctantly. He stiffens the moment I start trimming, but he doesn't object.
"You're doing so good, Ransom. I'm almost done. I promise," I murmur, trimming the mats around his fluffy ears carefully.
He feels his ears warily after I finish the trimming.
"You didn't cut my ears up," he mumbles in disbelief.
"Of course not. Why would I do something like that?" I reply.
"Because you can. It doesn't matter that it will hurt me."
He leans forward, resting his elbows on his thighs. The change in position lets me see the huge amount of scarring and cuts marring his back. I can't imagine the pain he must be in. Or the number of times he was whipped.
"What happened?" I ask.
"He was angry," he replies.
"That's awful. Why did he think whipping you was okay?"
"I'm a pet."
"That's not an excuse to hurt you."
"But I deserve being disciplined for my mistakes."
"No, you don't. If you mess up or make me mad, I'm not gonna hit you. I promise. Can you stand up so I can get a better look?"
He obeys reluctantly. I'm not sure what was used on him, but many of the cuts are deep. They don't look infected, which is good.
"Michelle kept cleaning them," he mumbles.
"How long ago were they cleaned? How often was she cleaning them?" I ask.
"This morning. She cleaned them twice a day."
"I'll clean them tonight then. What'd he use on you?"
"It varied. This time it was both a belt and a whip."
I don't miss the way his ears flick back.
"I won't ever hit you. Can I pet you? You've been really good," I say.
"Please don't," he replies timidly.
I feel stupid for trying to touch him when he suffered eight years of abuse. I know I should've thought about it scaring him, especially with how he reacted to ear scratches.
He’s like a shadow now. Or two-legged Velcro. He follows me everywhere, even to the bathroom.
“Ransom, out. I want privacy,” I tell him.
He slinks into the hall.
He probably thinks I’ll hurt him. Where’s he gonna sleep? If he sleeps in my room, he might think I want something from him. He might not wanna stay in a guest room, I think, opening the bathroom door.
I nearly trip over him. He's sitting cross-legged in the doorway. I start to scold him but stop before I do. The way he scoots away with his ears flat is a harsh reminder he's never had kindness. He's whimpering softly as he presses against the wall. His eyes are wide with fear.
"Please don't hurt me. I'm sorry. I thought you wanted me to stay close, Master. I didn't know," he whispers.
“I'm not mad at you. I just don't wanna trip over you or step on you and hurt you. Ransom, where do you wanna sleep tonight?” I ask.
“Aren’t I supposed to sleep with you? You're not gonna punish me?”
“You don’t have to. You can explore if you want. Aiden’s room, Kayla’s room, and my parents’ room are off limits. No, of course I'm not. Even if you had known, I wouldn't punish you.”
I point out the bedrooms he's not allowed in before heading for the living room. He ambles off down the hall towards my room, his long tail swishing behind him.
“How’s he settling in?” Kayla asks.
“He thinks I'm gonna rape him. Or give him cold showers. If I can get him past what Kyle did, I wonder what he’s really like?” I reply.
“He’ll probably adore you. He already likes you.”
“He's scared of me. He’s probably just afraid I’ll shut his tail in a door again. It was an accident.”
Ransom comes back ten minutes later. He slinks towards me slowly, like he’s in trouble.
“I accidentally went into one of the rooms you said not to. I-I got confused. I'm sorry,” he mumbles, pulling off his t-shirt.
“Ransom, it's a new house. I know you don't know your way around yet. I'm not gonna beat you,” I reply.
“You're not? But I displeased you,” he murmurs uncertainly.
"I'm not. I promise," I tell him.
His hand bumps his bad ear as he puts the shirt back on. He whimpers softly in pain and reaches up to cradle his ear. His eyes are watering.
“Let me see. I won’t touch it. You didn’t make it bleed,” I tell him gently.
He rests his head on my knee when I sit back down. It's very tempting to pet him, but I don't want him to be afraid of me. Or disbelieve my promises.
His stomach rumbles softly.
“When’s the last time you ate?” I ask.
“I don’t remember, Master,” he mumbles.
“What would you like to eat?”
“Real food? I usually dug through garbage.”
“Whatever food you want. You ate garbage?”
“I’ll eat whatever you give me, Master. I was really hungry.”
“Do you wanna see what we have? Can you cook?”
“Okay. No, Master, no one ever taught me.”
“You can stop calling me ‘Master’.”
His ears droop in response. Whimpering brokenly, he shrinks from me. I hate how he thinks I'm gonna hurt him, especially over something so little.
“What am I supposed to call you?” he asks.
“My name. Let’s get you fed, okay?” I reply.
He nods slowly.
“Did you decide where you wanna sleep?” I ask.
Biting his lip, he shakes his head slowly.
“Okay. You have plenty of time to decide,” I assure him.
He relaxes a little at this.
He wants to sleep in my room tonight. He undresses quietly and makes himself a bed out of the clothes in the corner of my room. I hear him grunt softly as he lies down.
"Ransom, you can sleep in my bed. I won't do anything to you. I promise," I murmur.
He slinks over to me. I don't miss the wary way he sits on the bed.
"So, um, what do you want me to do first?" he whispers, gazing up at me timidly through his thick lashes.
"What are you--Oh. I'm not after that," I reply.
"So you wanna see me do it myself?"
"No. I didn't adopt you for that."
He looks so confused.
"Is that the only time you've been allowed on a bed?" I ask.
He nods quietly.
"I'm not like that. I promise," I tell him gently.
"This is really weird," he mumbles.
"I bet. I'll take care of those cuts after my shower."
He's standing in the middle of the bathroom floor when I get out of the shower. It scares me.
"Ransom, how long have you been in here?" I ask.
"A few minutes. I had to pee. A-and I thought--Sorry," he mumbles.
He runs from me and hides under the bed. I can hear him whimpering.
"Ransom, I'm not mad. Can you come out please? You're not in trouble," I murmur gently.
It takes him forever to crawl out. When he does, I don't miss the fear in his intelligent almond-shaped eyes or the way his ears are flattened. He draws his long, skinny body into a tight ball.
"See? It's okay. I'm not mad," I murmur.
"Y-you won't hurt me? I'm not supposed to hide from you. I-I won't cry or scream or fight back," he whispers timidly.
"Ransom, I understand why you hid. You were afraid I was going to hurt you, weren't you? I'm never going to hurt you. I promise."
"I'm not mad at you. I never was. You scared me. If you wanna be in there with me, you can be, but you need to knock first or ask beforehand. Is it okay if I clean those cuts now?"
I hate cleaning his cuts. He makes these soft whimpers in the back of his throat each time I dab one gently.
"I know it hurts. I'm sorry," I murmur.
I'm very glad when it's over.
He curls up immediately under the blanket on the bed when I get done tending his injuries. He flinches when I lie beside him. His ears flick back nervously.
"You're safe, Ransom. I promise," I tell him.
I watch as he curls up into the tiniest ball possible. He's trembling. His wide eyes watch me fearfully.
"I'm not gonna do anything to you. I promise. I'll hold you if you want," I murmur.
He doesn't move. He just lies there and watches me fearfully. It's sad. I finally can't take the staring and turn to lie with my back to him.
I wake up at four in the morning to no Ransom in the bed. Worried, I start looking for him. I can't find him anywhere. I'm almost sure he's run away until I hear crunching in the kitchen. He's eating leftover wontons. The look of terror on his face when he sees me breaks my heart. He darts under the table.
"Ransom, it's okay. You're not in trouble. I promise," I murmur, kneeling on the floor.
He crawls out reluctantly without being asked. I watch as he starts to cram two fingers down his throat. I grab his wrist gently and stop him before he can make himself throw up. He tenses at the contact but doesn't pull away.
"I'm not mad at you, Ransom. I thought you ran away. You can eat as much as you like here, okay? We're not gonna be mad at you for eating. Do not make yourself throw up," I tell him gently.
"H-he was really strict with my food. S-s-s-sometimes I went without it for a long time. M-may I have more of those? They're really good. He taught me to make myself puke if I ate something I wasn't supposed to or if I ate too much or if he wanted to be mean. Sorry. I shouldn't say things like that. I'll shut up," he murmurs.
"Of course you can. Ransom, your opinion is as important as mine, okay? Not that it's really opinion that he was a bad person."
He eats three more wontons before following me back to bed.
I know it’s stupid, but I want Ransom to see what it’s like to actually be cared about instead of used as a sex toy and being abused. I want him to come out of his shell and feel safe with me.