|Date of birth:||2094|
Cruelty does many things to a person, and when one lives in a post-apocalyptic wasteland where cruelty is all one knows it seems to be the biggest motivator humans have to continue living; but cruelty manifests itself in everyone differently. All Ashley knew was cruelty, and in him, cruelty denied him his humanity.
- "Runty little thing, ain't he?"
- ―Ashley's brother Jackson seeing him for the first time
He was born on January 9th, 2094; a new life in the wasteland, but to his parents, he was an unfortunate mistake. Ash's parents, to his knowledge, lived in a well-to-do community that allowed them a comfortable lifestyle amidst the wasteland but to keep this leisure the town limited each family to one child; the penalty for breaking this golden rule was banishment. Ash's mother wasn't aware of her pregnancy up until the actual birth because the fetus was quite small and located in the back of the womb and she associated the morning sickness and stomach discomfort to an illness from possible radiation exposure. As per the one child limit, Ashley's family was banished from their settlement and thus marked the beginning of Ashley's miserable life.
To understand why Ash's parents resented him so much one must examine the family. Before Ashley's birth his mother, Mayella, was a border guard who suffered from an undiagnosed case of schizophrenia. Mayella ruled her home and dominated her husband whom she had great contempt for, but put up with because otherwise, she could not afford her home. She gave birth to her first child, Jackson, who was the apple of her eye. Jackson enjoyed the affection of his mother and the envy of his father, Taylor. Taylor was a pathetic shell of a man who was an inventory keeper in the town's food storage. Taylor was terribly afraid of Mayella and had only once crossed her, and this dissent was probably the only instance of affection Ashley ever received.
Upon Ashley's birth, Mayella grabbed a meat tenderizer and attempted to smash Ashley's skull only to be stopped by her husband. Taylor, although being an insufferable coward, summoned the courage to protect his offspring. Mayella, shocked due to his ballsy move, gave up killing Ashley. Mayella later severely beat Taylor with the same meat tenderizer but by some magic became terrified of killing Ashley, should Taylor become brave again.
Mayella tried hiding Ashley at first, but the thin, battered walls of their home could not mask their baby's crying and they were banished.
- "Here's your grub little guy. Read that paper I left- Oh, I see. You crapped on it."
- ―Taylor bringing food to Ashley while fruitlessly trying to help him read
Ashley's family moved to a mostly intact home in what was left of the suburbs miles from their previous home. The difference in the quality of life was instantly palpable. They had to resort to eating mole rats, dogs, and anything else that looked edible. Lack of purified water meant that they had to make long trips to the city bimonthly to scavenge for supplies to ward off radiation sickness. Mayella's mental instability made her doubly impossible when thrust into this new living situation, but rather than take it out on her beloved Jackson, she found solace in using Ashley to relieve her intense rage.
Upon moving into their new home Mayella tolerated Ashley; Mayella even breastfed him at the pleading of her husband, but to her, Ashley would always be the reason for her family's misfortune. Eventually, once Ashley learned to walk and mumble unintelligible words Mayella confined Ashley to the attic, where because of debris, had only several holes about the size of a quarter each, in the roof to let light through. Initially, Taylor would feed him some type of mush because he was certain Ashley couldn't stomach any mutant meat, but as soon as Ashley turned four, Mayella refused to let Taylor treat him as nicely as he did. Taylor had even tried to teach Ashley to read with no success since he was only semi-literate and did not really try very hard. Mayella would collect food scraps after the family had eaten in a tin dish if there were any left, and that would be Ash's meal. On days where scraps were lacking all Ashley would receive was dirty water that Mayella brutishly force-fed to him. When Ashley turned five, Mayella found herself vindicated in beating him. On days that Mayella was especially stressed, she would beat him at the smallest provocation.
- "Fath- Father? Why are your eyes like... that? You look like a raccoon."
- ―Ashley asking about Taylor's pair of black eyes in a moment together
At age fourteen, Ashley was a pitiful excuse for a human. An education lacking, Ashley knew only how to communicate his needs in the most basic of language. Ashley's father would occasionally go up to the attic when Mayella was out hunting and sit with him, sometimes bringing Ashley paper and crayons or pencils. Taylor gained a distanced affection for Ashley when he noticed his savant-like ability to draw, but Taylor's fear of Mayella prevented him forming a bond with Ashley.
Taylor's conscience was haunted by Ashley's situation, and he would often beg Mayella to just let him leave with Ashley which enraged Mayella to no end. Mayella, although having no affection for her husband or second son, would rather have them both dead than out of her control which took Taylor a few beatings to understand.
One night after being beaten to within an inch of his life, Taylor rested on the kitchen floor in a pool of his own blood and vomit, Mayella asleep at this point. Taylor turned the valve on the propane tank they used to cook, he held out as long as he could, waiting for the propane to disperse through the house before using what was left of his strength to turn a lighter. As one would imagine the house exploded; Mayella was blasted through a window and her son, who slept at the other end of the house was surrounded by flames. The blast catapulted Ashley through the wall of the attic onto the land outside their house. Malnutrition had prevented the growth of a sturdy skeleton which caused the fall to break all his limbs, save for his right arm.
Ashley never learned what became of Jackson or his mother because as soon as the blast granted him his freedom his feeble, terrified mind directed him to crawl until he passed out.
- "Hello, my name is James. Stay still, I want to remember this moment."
- ―James introducing himself to Ashley
Ashley had escaped his prison, seemingly a joyous occasion, but in the wasteland joy is fleeting; we needn't forget that Ashley's story isn't one of happiness.
After passing out Ashley awoke in a well-lit room, on a pristine bed, handcuffed to a headboard. He was left in the room for hours, but the combination of paranoia and fear made it seem like days; his wrist had welted into a bloody mess from his various attempts at uncuffing himself.
Hours after Ashley had passed out from blood loss he awoke to a figure, obscured by his hazy vision. When Ashley finally regained his bearings the figure, who introduced himself as James, was laying next to him.
Digressing from this biography; James was the leader of a cult-like brotherhood called the American Nomads. James himself was uninterested in the brotherhood; to him, it was simply a way to lessen the likelihood of dying. A self-proclaimed avant-garde artist, James had great enthusiasm for collecting bodies after raids and mutilating them, later adjusting them in various positions and photographing the spectacle; he had an endless fascination for gore and suffering. His private "army" consisted all of the formerly abandoned teenage boys whom he convinced to pledge allegiance to James' command.
James' interest in Ashley stemmed from how pitiful Ashley appeared; James, an insatiable sadist, feasted on Ashley's very essence. He planned on using Ashley as a social experiment as, on top of being an "artist", James also thought himself an anthropologist.
Returning to the previous state of affairs, James now next to Ashley, explained to him the details of his organization, talked incessantly about himself and opined on Ashley's possible role in his grand scheme; what the "grand scheme" was Ashley never found out and was too illiterate and cowardly to ask.
- "Do you want to fuck her before I finish her, Ashley? Shame for a girl to go to waste in these times, even if they're a little one or a bit torn up."
- ―James offering Ashley a tortured girl which Ashley refuses
Following Ashley's first encounter with James, he was freed from his cuffs; Ashley was not free however, he was not allowed to leave the Nomads' compound.
Ashley's life with the Nomads was a pleasant change from life with his mother. He was fed regularly which metamorphosed Ashley from an animated corpse to something that resembled a teenage boy, but not quite. Ashley honed his talents for drawing as James provided an endless supply of paper and paint; much to James' delight Ashley shared James' dark art fetish. Despite the change in scenery and the facade of good intentions James had put up, Ashley was consumed by fear and anxiety. He would often hide food under his bed for fear of there being none the next day; it took Ashley several weeks before he got used to the idea of being treated decently. Also, with cigarettes provided by James, Ashley started smoking incessantly, giving him a rather yellowish pallour.
A few months after Ashley had gotten used to his surroundings in the Nomad's compound James deemed him ready for one of his tests. He left the compound with an entourage of three boys, no older than sixteen, dressed in black attire. Ashley's first glimpse of the outside was terrifying; being accustomed to isolation Ashley had never expected the compound to be located in the middle of a town, but it was so. The town was unapologetically seedy; it ostentatiously advertised its out-for-yourself attitude with bright neon signs on various shop windows and written slogans that undermined the deals of the last.
James directed his crew across various meandering paths until they reached a residential neighborhood; a collection of makeshift homes which could be most easily described as a slum. James whispered instructions to the other three boys who later turned up with a gagged adolescent girl, followed by the entire group's return to the compound.
At the compound, James started to cut the girl, slowly running the blade on her arms; he did it with the finesse of an artist and the sadistic joy of a maniac. Ashley was witness to the slow torture of the girl but he wasn't sure what to make of it. He never experienced true kindness and this situation seemed as normal to him as breathing; the only thing that caused him to pause was the muffled screams of the girl, who was likely no older than thirteen. Ashley felt an unsettling discomfort about her torture but lacked the interest or bravery to do anything about it. Although James' narcissism craved the attention of shocked onlookers, Ashley's indifference interested him far more. He didn't not want to take part in the bloodshed, he just didn't care.
The following months were a strange experience for Ashley. James would sporadically enter his room and talk for hours, uninterested in whether Ashley acknowledged him or not. Other times he would show him his photographs or compare each others artwork. Ashley knew not to trust James but could not help but feel comforted by his presence and charisma.
The aberration of those months would reach its peak when James entered Ashley's room and declared that the time had arrived for the boy to prove his undying loyalty to the Nomads: James wanted Ashley to draw his portrait.
This discomforted Ashley, as he knew that any mistakes in making this portrait might mean a death sentence. However, submissive as he was, Ashley agreed to draw the portrait.
James proved to be a difficult subject, as he insisted on posing in the nude and moved around every other minute, insisting that Ashley make do with this. However, after a difficult two-week long period, the portrait was finished.
After the portrait was finished, James seemed to like it very much, hanging it up in his bedroom and staring at it before going out on raids. However, as the weeks went on, James began to instead hate the picture. The reason for this was beyond Ashley's feeble artistic tastes and confused him. For this, James took his loathing out on Ashley.
Scared and alone, Ashley tried to take the pain as he always had, but James was especially good at doling it out. By the time Ashley's beatings were over, his face was a bloody pulp and he hurt all over.
After the first beating, James did not stop the verbal and physical violence, feeling that his social experiment on Ashley had failed and the boy was responsible for the failure, not him. Ashley was forced to draw progressively more gruesome pictures for James, and if they were not up to James' standards, there would be a beating.
This behavior reminded Ashley of his previous experiences with his abusive mother Mayella. This began a kernel of hate for James, which soon enough grew into a malignancy that hung over Ashley his every waking hour: he needed to kill James.
Ashley had been too young and weak to ever confront Mayella over her abuse. Also, the abuse had mostly been towards Ashley's father Taylor, which Ashley was ignorant of. However, Ashley was now not just a feeble scared boy but was something more. Ashley had grown more intelligent over time and recognized what James did was wrong, killing people for his own pleasure. The teen had an internal battle occur, with one side hoping James would forgive him for his thought crimes and the other side wanting to murder James.
Wanting to make something akin to a journal but lacking literacy, Ashley started to doodle his seditious thoughts on paper James provided, hoarding it. This led to a lack of artistic output that made James both angry and suspicious.
Eventually, one of the boys, a recently recruited American Nomad, found one of Ashley's treacherous sketches and stole it out of his stash to show James. Ashley noticed some of his art was stolen and managed to deduce what had happened. Panicked over the thought of what James would do to him, Ashley gathered as many of his sketches and pictures as he could into a satchel. Growing a bit of backbone but not enough to try to kill James, Ashley escaped the American Nomads' compound in the dead of night, out of the town and into the woods. He headed east, hoping to head towards the River he heard about on occasion and lose James there.
Unfortunately, James was not about to lose Ashley so easily and soon set out with the rest of the Nomads to find the escapee. It did not take James' dogs long to find Ashley's scent, and he soon could hear their baying from afar.
Scared out of his wits, Ashley decided to take refuge in the ruins of a nearby radio station, hoping to hold out there until the American Nomads passed by. This was ignorant of the fact dogs could smell him out, and soon enough, James and his band were upon Ashley, beating on the barricaded doors.
It took about ten minutes, but James himself managed to beat down the barricaded door to the sight of a cowering Ashley.
- "You miss me? I missed you."
- ―James upon finding a cowering Ashley
As he was dragged out of radio station, Ashley dropped the satchel containing his drawings and sketches, and those were lost to him.
James physically dragged Ashley back to the compound and locked the boy in a cage for two days. Those were the last bearable days of his life.
After much consideration, James decided upon Ashley's punishment. Putting a chain on the ceiling of a small room in the compound, James attached a gas-mask to the chain and made sure it was too short for Ashley to stand. What exactly this was supposed to do to him, Ashley did not know.
Ashley was put on a stool and had the gas-mask secured on his face. James took out the stool after about a minute and let Ashley dangle above the floor, kicking feebly around. It hurt his head severely but did not break his neck like a hanging. It appeared that James just wanted to leave Ashley there to rot, not to mutilate him. That was exactly what James he did, locking the door behind him after he left. All that anyone could hear for the next few weeks were pitiful moans. Then, silence.
That door was not opened for another thirty years. That was when James finally died of old age and the town's militia stormed the American Nomads' compound. Numerous horrific sights were found inside the compound but one of the strangest was the skeleton hanging from the ceiling by a gas-mask.
- "I sense a lot of pain from this picture. Almost seems like a cry for help."
- ―A observer of Ashley's art in a Rouyame noble's private gallery
Ashley's lost art was rediscovered more than one hundred years later in the 2240s. A young raider named Brian found the radio station Ashley took refuge in and decided to commandeer it to become a raider hub. Brian discovered Ashley's artwork in his satchel and was very impressed, sharing it with many other raiders.
Later in 2250, Brian joined the Vampire Raiders and renamed himself, Vlad, using Ashley's dark sketches to further show his own obsession with blood and flesh.
During the War of '50, Vlad's radio station was burned down and many of Ashley's drawings were destroyed. However, some pieces survived and in particular two, both sold by a former Vampire Raider, made their way all the way to the Big Easy and are held in private galleries by the Royaume. The few others are scattered.
Art critics (who are far and wide between) say that Ashley's art has its own distinctive style, similar to Picasso's Blue Period but more gruesome and in pencil. This art is Ashley's only legacy and beyond that, no one knows anything about him, not even his name (as Ashley was not literate).
Ashley had a rather resigned submissive attitude his entire life. Both his limited intelligence and natural subservience led to this.
Although not all that unattractive, Ashley was always too scrawny or plain looking to turn any heads. An American Nomads symbol was (forcefully) tattooed on his left palm.
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