The tiny shop was lively as its owner looked haughtily out across the crowd who inspected his wares. His lips curled into a smile as he saw a young girl approach the counter. “Welcome.” He said with a polite inclination of his head. “Is this your first time in my shop?”
The child nodded. “Yes, sir.”
The man’s smile broadened, and he pushed some hair from her face. She was a thin little waif. Her fingertips were red, and her feet bare and dark. “What would you like to buy? I’m sure you can afford anything here.”
She seemed surprised. “I don’t have any money.” Her objection fell on ears that no longer listened as he served another customer, who handed over a spilling bag of gold for what looked like a simple steel spoon, while another person paid a toenail clipping for a grand-looking ruby, which another person eagerly bought with two heaping bags of gold.
Confusion clouded the waif’s face as she watched the bizarre transactions. With stumbling, uncertain steps, she backed out of the last shop that had not banished her. As her warmed feet sunk into the snow drifts outside, pain erupted that shot through her body mercilessly. Her cold-darkened feet refused to hold her, and she fell.
The waif woke to pain throughout her body. She looked around, only to find the strange shop-owner holding her. His suit was warm, and she pressed her face against it as he carried her. The only thing she could see was his face and arms, all else was frightening blackness that threatened to devour her. Deliriously, she whimpered, and a hand through her hair calmed her and soothed her back into the darkness.
The second time she woke, she was in a bed that felt very warm. Her feet ached horrendously, and she was in the dark once more. Instead of investigating, she curled up under the comfortable blankets and resumed sleep, only to wake with a start as she heard someone approach. She peeked out and looked around frantically. A warm hand rested on her head, and she looked about. Her eyes found only blackness until they fell on the strange shop owner.
“Now now, you’re safe. No need to fret.” His voice lacked the cocky air from before, when a sales counter stood between them. Despite the darkness all around, he was fully visible, as though illuminated.
With trembling hands, the waif reached up to him, and he took her tiny hand inside two of his.
“You will stay here, and you will not leave.” he urged. “What is your name?”
She felt her mouth move, but no sound came out as she tried to speak. Fear latched onto her with a vice grip until the man squeezed her hand.
“I heard you, calm down. Screaming will do nothing. Just speak normally, and I will hear, even if you don’t hear yourself.” He smirked haughtily. “Since you don’t have a name, I’ll give you one. Consider it a priceless gift, so you’ve no need to repay that debt, as well.”
She spoke again, a question.
He chuckled. “Little I do is free. Remember that. Now, as for your name, I think I shall call you Una, because you are a lone one.” He released her hand and poked her nose. “You are Una because you are the lonely one.”
The girl was quiet for several moments. Was she truly the lonely one? She had him near, didn’t she? She looked up at him and once more spoke, to which he replied, “No. You don’t even have my companionship. I am simply the only person you can see or hear anymore. You’ll eventually figure out why.” He shrugged absently and walked away. His casual step gave no indication that he felt anything for the girl who had only him.
As the days passed, neither of Una’s senses returned, and she began to feel hungry. She called out in silence many times, to no avail. Nobody answered. Her mute voice called and called, but the strange shopkeep never answered, and her hunger grew.
Una worried about rising from her bed. Would she find it again? She sat up and called once more, desperation catching in her throat as hot tears began to build in her eyes. Maybe, she thought, she really was alone. Small lungs inhaled deeply, and she gripped at her face. Knees pressed against her chest, she began to sob helplessly. Her screams did nothing but hurt her throat, and none of her cries brought any help to the blind and deaf child.
Time moved, as it is wont to do, and she fell asleep. Her fingernails left gouges in her face before her hands fell to her sides as sleep’s sweet and warm embrace met her.
As before, she woke. Again, she was alone, and this time, she wandered from the bed quietly. Her legs rammed into things, and she stubbed her toes many times. The room was filled with furniture, and walking a straight line uninterrupted seemed impossible. When she tried to find the bed, she instead found herself utterly lost. She had no idea how to return to the safe refuge of the bed.
Una began to cry again. She felt as alone as her name. Did the strange store owner abandon her? Where was she? She took a slow step forward, and her foot landed in snow. The pain wasn’t crippling, but the icy temperature was a shock to her fragile body.
She stumbled forward, begging for help with as much force as her hoarse throat could muster. She fell to her knees and onto her side. The snow was soft and crunched beneath her weight. She struggled to right herself. In her struggle, she lost her sense of direction once more.
The waif screamed in irritation as she finally sat up. She forced herself to stand, then began to walk, arms out in front of herself as she squinted and felt her way ahead. There was nothing.
Her stumbling forward continued stubbornly, until she fell, exhausted, onto a frozen, gravel-covered road. As hands gripped her and wrapped around her, she began to scream silently in terror as she kicked and struggled.