The Freak was washed, dressed, and exited the facility. She had no possessions, whatever she had owned she had outgrown.
Smith made a phone call from the car and drove her to an empty gun range. Only one other man was there, about the same age as Smith, but instead of having white hair, he had short, spiky hair the grey of storm clouds. He was introduced as Doyle and The Freak was introduced as Alice. If Doyle was surprised by the presence of a child, or if he even noticed, he didn’t show it.
“You ever shot before?” Doyle asked.
She shook her head. He led her to a bench where there were two Colt .45 handguns in pieces.
“Watch me,” Doyle said, and put the gun together piece by piece, making sure she saw every action as he attached the slide to the frame, checked the chamber, slid in the magazine. When he was done, he put the gun down. “Now you,” he said, and she complied without hesitation, imitating his movements flawlessly.
“Good,” he said when she was done. “Now, can you take it apart?”
She had trouble with one of the release catches, but she managed it.
“Put it back together and you can shoot it,” Doyle said. She assembled it and then Smith stepped forward with a box of ammunition.
“Now,” he said, showing her the box. “This is lesson one. You like learning, I can tell. I know you also like hurting, even killing others.” She didn’t deny it, her eyes just bounced back and forth between his face and the box of rounds. “So I, and some friends of mine, are going to teach you how to get better at it. How to be the best at it. And then we’ll let you do it. And you will be very happy, I can promise you that. How does that sound?”
She just nodded.
“Now,” Smith continued, “when I hand you these, you can turn that gun into a weapon. Right now it can’t hurt me much, but when you put these in it, you can kill. You will kill, just not today. As a reward for learning, we will let you shoot one magazine worth of rounds today. Every day you behave, you will get more rewards. If you act up, if you disobey the rules, you won’t get to learn anything, and you’ll be very bored. We won’t hurt you, we won’t punish you, we just won’t let you have any fun. When I give you these, you may be tempted to kill both of us, but if you do, someone outside will kill you and the fun will be over, is that clear?”
That seemed to demand an actual response. “I understand,” she said.
Smith handed her the box. She loaded the bullets herself, after a moment of figuring out how the fit, and then Doyle showed her how to take the safety off, and she shot at a target 20 feet away. Only half the rounds hit the paper, but she was assured that was fine, the gun was way too big for her, and she did very well. She was also told she couldn’t shoot it too much, or it would hurt her wrist, she wasn’t strong enough to shoot it a lot yet. But she would again, and more besides. She didn’t trust Smith, but she did believe him.
The Freak moved into a house where she was watched by a man and a woman Scott and Maggie. They weren’t married, but they acted married. They let her do what she wanted to, and when she misbehaved, they made notes and she lost rewards.
She didn’t see Doyle every day, sometimes she saw a woman named Tominda, but she went by Tom. Tom taught her how to fight. The Freak thought she knew how to fight of course, and Tom was only a little bigger than she was, but she could never hit her. Tom let her try as often as she wanted, and when The Freak was exhausted from trying, Tom reassured her that she’d learn.
Her favorite days were the days with Freddy. Freddy had a narrow, ugly face, and he taught her about knives. Just like fighting, she thought she knew all about them, a thousand cats could testify to that, but no one had ever handled a knife like Freddy did. It was like magic, he was so fast, he was so good. The Freak couldn’t help but like all of her instructors a little bit, but for one year in her adolescent training, Freddy was her idol.
Once a week she was visited by Smith, who took it upon himself to teach her how to talk. “I used to speak like this,” he said, using a broad New York accent. “Then I went to school in England and learned to speak like this,” he said, using a clipped Oxbridgian voice. “Now why do I sound like this?” he said, returning to his normal tone.
“Because it’s boring,” she said.
“A nicer word is that it is inconspicuous,” he responded. “Do you known what that means?”
“Sometimes you want to be boring or inconspicuous,” Smith continued. “Sometimes you will want people to notice you, to be conspicuous. Do you understand?”
“Good,” he said, and put a small device and a piece of paper on the table. “Now, I want you to read this poem into recorder, and then you can hear what you sound like. I promise you will be surprised.”
As she grew, Scott and Maggie taught her other things, simple things she would need to learn, like how to cook, how to take care of her clothes, how to take care of herself. She learned how to put an hour’s worth of exercise into an exhausting 15 minutes. She learned how to do yoga stretches after anything strenuous so her body wouldn’t get stiff. Scott taught her how to shake hands in different ways, how to smile to be scary or to make people like her. They both taught her how to dress in different ways and do different things with her hair. Maggie taught her how to use tampons and pads, and when she reached a certain age, Maggie told her about masturbating and gave her a vibrator. If she had a need, it was fulfilled in the house.
As days went on Doyle taught her how to move with a gun, how to shoot different guns, how to take everything apart and clean it after she was done. He had her run 100-yard wind sprints and try to shoot while her hands were shaking. He had her stand outside in the cold, shooting a clip every ten minutes, just to see how bad she got. The other aspects of her training expanded as well.
After more than a year, when she was approaching 14, Smith ended one of their dialect sessions early.
“Do you remember when I told you I might have a job for you?”
The Freak’s interest leapt. “Yes,” she said, not showing any reaction.
“Do you understand the term trial by fire?”
“It means you’re going to throw me in the deep end.”
“Where, I might add, we are all very confident you will swim like a fish.”