Authors: Tessa Escalera
I was so cold. I climbed onto the cot and wrapped myself in the blankets, staring at the blank TV screen. The bright colors of the old Disney classics stood in stark contrast with the rest of this horrible place.
I was so hungry. My stomach felt as if it might eat itself, twisting and turning in an attempt to find something to digest.
I was so numb. It was like the part of my brain that dealt with emotions had given up and run away. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't seem to muster up the amount of fear I knew I should be feeling. Even when I cried, it was like watching someone else. The tears flowed, my head pounded, my nose ran, but I felt disconnected from it all.
I had no idea how long I sat there. There was no way to tell time besides the gradual changing of the light outside.
As my hunger grew and the sugar in my blood faded away I lay down on the cot and drifted into sleep, one sentence of Jenny's repeating over and over in my head:
Welcome to hell.
I woke with a start to the creaking of the door down the hall. The light outside my window was dusky. The light in the hall clicked on, and heavy footfalls approached. The jingle of keys, and one of the other cell doors opened. The click of something being slid across the floor. The process was repeated with Jenny's cell. I sat still and quiet as the lock on my door rattled, unable to reconcile the sight of Travis, cold and emotionless, outside my door with the smiling picture of the man I had gone on a date with. The memory of that date was like recalling something from ages past...something completely unconnected with the present.
The door opened slightly, and a tray was set down and slid just inside before the door was closed and locked once again. I didn't move until the footsteps had retreated, until the metal door to freedom had closed behind the silent form of the man I had just recently thought might be my first boyfriend.
Finally my hunger overcame my fear. I picked up the tray and set it on the desk, on top of the other one from earlier. On a paper plate lay a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, cut into two triangles. Another glass of orange juice. A boiled egg, peeled and wrapped in plastic. A single pill that looked like a multivitamin, which I refused to take and flushed down the toilet instead.
Even once the food was gone, I was still hungry. I had thought I knew what real hunger meant before, but now I understood how wrong I had been. This gnawing, twisting feeling, only slightly eased by the sandwich and egg, this was real hunger. I could have sworn I could
my body eating away at my fat reserves.
The orange juice left a strange taste in my mouth and as soon as it was gone, I went into the bathroom and drank handfuls of water to get rid of the oily sensation. Once I was done I stood there, staring at myself in the mirror. Already my hair looked duller, my cheeks a little hollow. The face that stared back at me was that of a frightened girl that I barely recognized.
“Jenny?” I stood at the door and called. “Jenny, are you there?”
No movement, but a quiet voice answered. “I'm here.”
“Please, please tell me what's going on.”
Jenny sighed. “It's better if you don't know beforehand. It only seems worse when you know what's coming.”
“I'm scared.” As I said it, I realized it was true. A deep unease, threatening at any moment to transition to full-blown panic, was growing in my throat. My heart felt weary from the strain of beating so fast for so long.
“Why is he doing this?”
I couldn't see Jenny's face, but thin fingers appeared in the window of her door and gripped one of the bars. “I don't know. I just know that it's best not to fight. He likes it when you fight. But it will make things worse for you.”
My breath caught in my throat, but I managed to strangle it from a scream back down to a sob. “I want to go home. My parents....”
“It's best if you don't think about them. It's best if you don't think at all. Just do what you're told. Focus on surviving. Someone will find us eventually.”
A terrible thought lanced through my head, one I was terrified to ask, but too scared to hold onto. “Jenny, how long have you been here?”
The fingers disappeared. I heard a sound that might have been a sob, or a laugh. “What's the date?”
When I told her, she responded with what was definitely a laugh, albeit a short and humorless one. “Long enough. Longer than any of the others.”
A thin wail came from Annabelle's cell. It sounded like the cry of a child. A pale face with huge blue eyes and pitch-black hair appeared at the third door. This must be Annabelle.
Annabelle didn't say anything, just began to sing. Her voice had an edge to it, a note of desperation and depression beyond anything I could imagine.
The itsy-bitsy spider crawled up the water spout
Down came the rain and washed the spider out
Out came the sun and dried up all the rain
But itsy-bitsy spider would never climb again!
The song trailed off into hysterical laughter, followed by furious shushing from Jenny and soon after by quick footsteps and the door at the end of the hall banged open. I ran back to my cot and curled up on it, wrapping myself in the blankets. I was trembling, my heard thumping so hard that it made my chest hurt.
The footsteps approached, then stopped. There was a jangling of keys, a door clicked open.
“No! No!” Annabelle screamed. “Out! Go away!” There was the wail again, that childish sound of utter terror. But the owner of the boots and keys was silent. Annabelle's screams raised in intensity, something thudded against the wall, there were several sounds like blows landing, and a repeated thumping like something metal was being hit on the cinder blocks.
I stuffed my blankets into my ears, trying to stop the noise. Annabelle's screams echoed into the core of my being, grating into my bones. I bit my lip until it bled to keep from crying out. My throat was so tight I could barely breathe.
Please. Please. Make it stop. I'm sorry. Please stop hurting her.
I don't know if I begged these words aloud or silently.
Please stop screaming. Please stop. Please make it stop.
I lay on my cot, blankets and pillow clutched tightly over my head, begging and pleading for Annabelle's shrieks and cries to stop. I was sure that she was being beaten to death...and I was going to be witness to a murder. My blankets were soaked with sweat and tears.
As suddenly as it had started, the sounds stopped. Annabelle's screams turned to whimpers and sobs. Boots on the floor, a lock clicking. Then the steps approached my cell and I lay paralyzed, staring at the window in my door.
A face appeared through the bars. It wasn't Travis this time. This man was older, taller, crueler. A scar slashed across one cheek, the skin on that side of his face rippled and puckered as if it had been burned. Dark, oily hair hung into his eyes, and a thick beard covered most of his face. He looked into my window, and one side of his mouth twisted up into a sinister smile.
“Tonight.” That was all that he said before turning and striding back down the hall. The door slammed shut behind him, and we were plunged into silence once again, except for the sound of Annabelle's diminishing sobs.
“Oh Anna...” came Jenny's voice from her cell. “Anna, are you okay?”
The only answer was a sob.
“Anna, I told you not to fight. It's better if you don't fight.”
There was no answer, the only sounds were my heartbeat in my ears and the distant sounds of crying. I wept silently, floating away into oblivion on those last words:
It's better if you don't fight.
Mom's face appeared in the doorway to my bedroom. “Hey Sarah, you got a minute?”
I was doing homework, of course I had a minute. I gladly pushed the papers away and swiveled in my chair as she walked over to sit down on my bed. I wasn't one of those girls who thought parents were awful, stupid and totally uncool. Yeah, we had our moments, but for the most part we got along. Mom and dad were “safe” when the rest of the world went haywire under the influence of early teenage hormones and the new self-consciousness that comes with acne and periods.
Mom looked nervous, which was unusual for her. She smoothed a wrinkle in her jeans and tucked a hair behind her ear.
“Mom? Is something wrong?”
She looked up at me and smiled. “Oh, no. It's just, I wanted to talk to you about something.”
I wasn't sure how I knew this, but I immediately knew from her tone what “something” was.
“Mom, they already teach us about that in school.”
Mom looked surprised. “How do you know...”
“You look like you did when you talked to me about periods and tampons. Like you might throw up in a minute.”
She had to laugh a little at that. “I know they teach you about sex at school, so I don't have to give you the whole talk. I just wanted to know if you had any questions that the school might not be able to answer, or that you might be too embarrassed to ask of the people there.”
I was surprised that I wasn't feeling as awkward over this as I'd always thought I would. I shrugged. “I don't know.”
“You know that we teach you a different philosophy regarding sex than school does. Any questions about that?”
There it was...the one thing we didn't get along about. My parents were devout Christians, and all that went along with that set of beliefs like no sex until marriage, no cursing, etc...
I sighed. “Not right now, mom. I will definitely let you know if I do though.”
Mom stopped her fidgeting and looked me straight in the eye. “Just remember, no boy and no relationship is worth letting yourself be pressured into something you will regret. Don't give into sex just because you are afraid to lose something.”
Now it was my turn to fidget. “Mom! You know I don't have a boyfriend, and I'm way too young for that stuff anyway!”
Mom laughed and stood up. She kissed me on the forehead then turned to leave. “I know. I wish you would stay too young forever, but I know you won't. Just remember, I'm here if you need to ask anything. Okay?”
“Okay.” Feeling grateful that she hadn't pushed me to talk, I turned back to my homework, for once happy for the drudgery of busywork that let me avoid awkward conversations.
I woke with a start to the door at the end of the hall slamming shut. I scrambled upright in my bed, blinking in the sudden light coming through my door. I pulled the blankets tightly around my shoulders, my heart pounding, as heavy boots approached my door in a steady rhythm.
“Tonight,” he'd said. What was tonight? A quick look at my tiny window in the wall revealed darkness outside.
All too soon, that scarred face appeared at my door. Keys clinked, door lock clicked. Door scraped open.
The man filled my doorway, and I shrunk back. As he stepped forward and pulled the chain to turn my light on, I saw that he had a tray of food in his hands.
Maybe he's just here to give me food,
I thought as I relaxed just little.
But as the man stepped forward and set the tray down, my fears returned full force. He straightened and stared at me with a strange expression on his face. It was an expression I had never noticed or seen before now...but one I would learn to know all too well in the time to come.
“Take it off.”
I clutched the blankets even tighter. “What?”
With a snarl, the man lunged forward and grabbed me by the arm. I shrieked as he pulled me out of the bed, letting the safety of my blankets fall to the floor. He growled and yanked on the neckline of my gown, and it gave with a loud ripping sound. I cried out and clutched the fabric to my chest, but it was savagely pulled from my hands.
No. No, this can't be happening. This can't be real. It's just a dream...just a dream...wake up, Sarah! Wake up, please!
But it wasn't a dream. And I couldn't wake up. No, this was a nightmare worse than anything my sleeping mind could have imagined. And it was happening to me...while I was awake.
I was pushed onto the cot, my head hitting the cinder-blocks with a thump that made my senses swim. I prayed desperately for unconsciousness, to pass out and not remember. For him to stop. For mercy.
But I guess God wasn't listening this time.
What came next is something I will never forget, nor will I ever fully remember. I was being torn apart, inside and out. Assaulted in the most humiliating way possible. I was dirtied in a way that could never be made clean. I screamed, I fought, I struggled. But he was stronger than I, and held me with ease. After I made one furious heave that broke one of my arms free, he reared back and slapped me on the face so hard that my consciousness broke into a million pieces. I swam in a dark spiral of pain and shame, unable to faint, but unable to truly touch reality. He punched me...in the shoulders, in the ribs, in the belly. He slapped me with curved fingers so that my skin bled. With one hand he held my wrists and with the other he hurt me, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.
God, make it stop. Please make it stop. Please. Please. Please.
Eventually my prayers turned into an incoherent, wordless pleading for relief, for an end to the horror, for the sweet darkness of unconsciousness.
I don't know when it stopped. I don't remember him leaving. I remember vomiting over the side of my cot, I remember crying until my throat was raw and my eyes burned. I remember huddling on my bed in a fetal position, unable to move except for the vicious trembling that wracked my limbs.
The pain. So much pain. Pain like I could never have imagined. It was in my body, but also in my soul. A darkness that could never be cleansed or washed away from the depths of my mind.
I lay there for what might have been days, or it might have been only minutes. When the pain eased enough that I could walk I pushed myself up from the bed, clutching the remains of my gown around me. Avoiding the vomit puddle, I stumbled to the bathroom and pulled the chain to turn the light on. I was still shuddering so hard that my teeth were chattering. I turned the water on in the tub, but I did not plug the drain. I could not sit in the puddled water which washed off the man's filth.
I scrubbed my skin until the scabs on my hands broke and water swirled pink down the drain. I put my head under the faucet and let steaming water run through my hair until my head was sweating from the heat. I sat and washed and scrubbed until the water ran cold. My tears were constant and joined in the cleansing. But no matter what I did, I didn't feel any cleaner.
Finally the coldness of the water forced me out, and I pulled myself up. I left the gown lying in a tattered heap on the floor and wrapped myself in the one clean blanket that had fallen near the foot of the cot. I couldn't stand to touch the cot after what had happened. In a daze I pushed the button on the TV that made it flick to life and shoved a random movie in. I pulled the chains to turn off the bathroom light and the one in the cell.
That night I sat in the corner between the foot of the cot and the wall, huddled in my blanket, numbly watching the scenes of Bambi flicker across the screen. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't think. I couldn't feel. I couldn't eat the food on the tray even though my stomach roiled with hunger.
I told you not to fight.
God, why? Why did you let this happen? Why?
Mama. Daddy. Mama, come find me. Take me home. I want to go home.
And Jenny's voice in my head again:
I told you not to fight.
“Are you crazy?” I shouted. “How could I not fight? Why would you even
“Oh, Sarah.” Jenny's voice sounded infinitely weary, infinitely hopeless. “It won't hurt as much if you don't fight. He won't hurt you so much. It makes it easier.”
“But why? Why are they doing this? What kind of person does this?”
Jenny sighed. It sounded as if she was standing at her door. I could envision her pale, bony fingers curling around the bars. “Don't think about it. You'll go mad. Just survive. Survive...and pray. Eat your food, stay quiet, do what they say. Don't fight, and maybe you'll survive long enough that someone will find us.”
“I can't do this. I want to go home.”
“I know, Sarah. I know.”
The tears began to fall again, and I laid my head against the cool concrete and watched the TV without really seeing it, until my eyelids drifted closed and I drifted into sleep.
I was startled awake to my door rattling, and I immediately began to tremble, trying to make myself as small in the corner as I could. Maybe he wouldn't see me. Maybe he would just go away.
But it wasn't the man again. It was Travis. I watched, unable to move, as he walked over to me and knelt, setting a tray on the ground that held a bottle of juice and various first-aid supplies. Under his arm was a roll of cloth.
When he reached out to touch me, I flinched and cried out despite myself. He withdrew.
“I'm not going to hurt you.”
“Travis, what's going on? Why are you helping that man? Please, let me go!”
He shook his head. “I can't do that.”
“Don't worry, Butterfly. It will be okay.”
Fresh tears started. “It's not okay!” I cried. “He hurt me!” I couldn't bring myself to say what came to my tongue next.
He raped me.
Travis sighed. “I'll be right back.”
He got up and left, leaving the door ajar behind him. I heard keys rattle in a lock and he came back, followed by Jenny. I gasped when I saw her fully for the first time. Today her dark hair was bound in a messy braid that fell to her waist. She was clad in a simple nightgown much like the man had ripped off of me. She was thin, so scary thin. But what turned my stomach the most was the sight of her belly, swollen with pregnancy. She looked like she would give birth any day.
“Help her. I'll be outside.” Travis turned and walked out, locking the door behind him.
Jenny knelt on the floor where Travis had been a moment before. “Sarah?”
“You're pregnant.” It was a stupid thing to say. Obviously she knew that.
“I know. And if you want to survive, you will be soon, as well.” She didn't give me time to process this before she pulled the blanket off of my shoulder, exposing my nakedness. I squeaked and pulled it back. Jenny sighed and lowered herself painfully to the floor. “I need to clean the wounds or they will get infected. And you better believe The Master won't let you out for medical care.”
Numbly, I let her pull the blanket down. Gently, her touch as light as a feather, she dabbed alcohol on the cuts. She rubbed a sharp-smelling ointment into the bruises. She wrapped a bandage around my ribs where she thought one might be fractured.
She pressed the salve into my hands. “You'll want to keep this. Put it on your legs where he bruised you. It helps.”
I didn't know what else to say but “Thank you.”
She handed me the rolled up fabric, which turned out to be another nightgown. I eased it gingerly over my head and my bruises.
Jenny used the end of the cot to push herself to her feet and walked, off, but only to my bathroom. She came back carrying the brush that had been left earlier. She motioned for me to get up and to sit in the chair at the desk, gingerly placing the soiled blanket over my vomit.
“Eat the sandwich. You need to keep up your strength.”
I looked down and realized that the food was still there from earlier, the food that the man Jenny called the Master had brought. I didn't want to eat it, but I knew she was right. I took a bite of the sandwich.
Without another word, Jenny began to brush my hair. Her touch was gentle, motherly. As I ate she brushed, and, if I closed my eyes I could almost believe I was at home and Mama was standing behind me.
Jenny pulled the band from the end of her hair and braided mine with deft hands. Then she came around to the side and leaned back against the wall, crossing her arms on top of her swollen belly. She watched silently as I choked down the now-dry bread and followed it with the lukewarm juice.
“Look,” She said as I finished. “Travis is the lesser of the evils here. He's under the old man's spell. I don't know why. But he doesn't hurt us without reason. He's just a servant, I guess. If you need something, you ask him. He'll bring you things, within reason. Master won't let you wear anything besides that gown, but you can ask for other things. Soap, toiletries, books, paper, blankets, food, stuff like that. They don't like us to die, at least not right now. So don't be trouble for the Master, keep quiet, and ask Travis if you need something. Okay?”
I nodded numbly. None of this made any sense. Jenny spoke so matter-of-factly, as if we were discussing the weather. You'd never guess from her attitude that she was imprisoned in a cell below the ground, pregnant with her captor's child.
My door creaked open and Travis stuck his head in. “Jenny, you need to go back before he catches you out.”
Jenny nodded and pushed away from the wall, clasping my shoulder as she passed. She walked quietly back into her cell and Travis locked the door behind her before returning to me. He watched me as if I were a deer that might bolt, moving slowly and carefully. He gathered up my soiled blanket and left, reappearing immediately with a plastic bucket full of foaming cleaner. It smelled like Pine-sol, and the familiar scent made my heart clench. He silently sponged the puddle from the floor and wiped it with a towel thrown over his shoulder. All the while I stayed in my chair, afraid to move.
When he was done cleaning he rose. “It will be okay, Butterfly.”
Travis turned to leave but I stopped him. “Wait.” When he turned to look at me, I cringed.
“C-can I have something? Some soap...m-maybe some paper? A pen?” Those seemed safe. Surely he couldn't object to such simple things.