Authors: Tessa Escalera
Travis nodded silently and left. A clean blanket was tossed through the door then it closed, locking with a click. Footsteps receded down the hallway and I was left alone.
Birth and Death
When I woke, a new tray of food sat on my desk, along with a spiral notebook and a package of pens. A little paper bag proved to hold two bars of soap and a bottle of shampoo.
This time the food was scrambled eggs and toast. A tall glass of milk stood next to the plate, the sides still covered in condensation. I didn't know how Travis kept managing to get in and out of my cell without my noticing, and the thought was pretty disturbing, but on some level I managed to be grateful for what he had given me. I didn't know his role in this. I was struggling to believe that someone so handsome, so kind and so eloquent could truly be as evil as the man who had assaulted...raped...me. Surely he was a prisoner, just like us. Yes, that must be it. A prisoner, or a servant. Kept silent and subservient by some unknown and invisible chains. It was the only explanation that made any sort of sense.
Then again, I didn't have a lot of experience with evil, or depths of darkness that existed in some souls.
After eating the food, I returned to my cot with the notebook and pens. For a long while I stared at the first blank page. I wanted to pour my soul out on those pages. I wanted to fill them with the thoughts that my brain didn't know how to process.
Finally I decided. I had never been good at journal writing. I had also never been held captive by crazy evil men.
Much of my memories of my captivity come from my journals. After a while, with no clock or other ways to tell time apart from the lightening and darkening of the tiny window in the wall, the days start to blur together.
So, I pulled the package of pens open and set one to the paper. I couldn't remember what day it was, so instead I put the day of my captivity, based on the light and dark I had seen from my window.
I don't know where to start. I don't know what to say. I don't know where I am. I don't even know what day it is.
I want to go home. I want to wake up from this nightmare. I want to feel the sun and the sky, something other than this faint basement light and this constant cold. I am so tired of being cold. The bruises ache as if his hands were still on me. I hurt in a place I didn't know I could hurt.
Please .God, let it be the last time. Please God let him leave me alone. I don't know if I can survive that again.
“Wake up.” I opened my eyes and immediately shrunk back against the wall when I saw the tall figure looming over me, silhouetted in the light from the hallway. He moved to the side, and I realized it was Travis. There was a strange noise coming from the hall.
“What's going on?”
“Come on.” Travis took my hand and led me from the cot, out into the hall. I blinked in the sudden increase of light. Had he changed his mind? Was he going to help me escape after all?
No such luck. Without any explanation, Travis put a hand on my shoulder and pushed me through the door into Jenny's cell. I turned around to ask him what was going on, only to see the door close and lock behind me.
I turned back to see Jenny lying on her cot, clutching her belly. She groaned, and I realized that was the sound I had heard. I rushed to her side. Her cell was set up the same as mine, but she had hand-painted pictures taped to her wall, a calendar and a clock, as well as a couple rugs, and a much larger collection of movies as well as some books piled on her desk.
“Jenny? What's wrong?”
Jenny's face was pale, and beads of sweat stood out on her forehead. “The baby...” she trailed off into a moan of pain. I gasped as I realized I could see her belly contracting. I laid a hand gently on the fabric of her nightgown, feeling the skin hard as a rock beneath my palm.
“The baby's coming?”
Jenny just nodded. After a moment the contraction eased and she relaxed. “Yes.”
“Do you need to go to the hospital?”
Jenny laughed bitterly. “The Master would rather I die here than be seen at a hospital. No, the baby will be born here. Just like the others.”
I couldn't speak for a moment. “The others?”
She nodded. “This babe is my third.”
“What happened to the others?”
“Gone. Ahh!” she tensed and grabbed my hand as another contraction washed over her.
I held her hand until the pain had passed and she lay there panting. “They died?”
“No. Not dead, gone.” Jenny's eyes were closed, but she opened them and held my gaze. “I need you to help me.”
“Help with the baby? But I've never...”
“That part is simple. The birth will go as births always go. No, the help I need from you is much more important.”
I felt ice in my stomach as I realized that she meant me to help her deliver her baby. “I don't know anything about delivering babies.”
Jenny lunged upward and grabbed my gown. “Listen,” she whispered fiercely. “He takes the good ones. The babies born without fault. The only reason Annabelle keeps her child is because the girl was born with a club foot. She will never walk without surgery. My last two babies were perfect, and he took them. I cannot survive losing another.” She let go and fell back, gasping with pain.
“When the babe comes out, I want you to use this.” She pressed a spoon into my hand, the handle sharpened into a spike that felt razor-sharp.
“What is this for?”
Even though she was in the midst of a contraction, Jenny fixed my eyes with hers. Her voice was barely more than a whisper. “I want you to cut him. Not enough to damage, but it needs to leave a scar. If he's not perfect, they will let me keep him. Please, please, Sarah promise me. Promise me you won't let them take my baby.”
My throat hurt too much to speak.
I can't do this...hurt a baby? No, I can't.
But then that little whisper that persisted despite my best efforts to keep from hearing.
You have to. You want the man who hurt you to take that little baby, and do who knows what with it? You'll never forgive yourself if you let that happen. You have to do this.
And so, with tears streaming down my face, I held Jenny's hand as she writhed and groaned in the grip of her contractions. I wasn't a midwife. I had no idea what I was doing. I had never even been in the delivery room when a baby was born. Yes, I'd seen birth in movies, but this was nothing like a movie. Jenny didn't scream, there was no posse of nurses and doctors urging her on, encouraging her. Just a pale, thin girl on a hard cot, biting her lip until it bled. Her travail was a combination of primal ferocity and hopeless pain that exhausted me to the very core of my being...and I was only the one watching.
In the long hours I waited. I brought water. I placed cold washcloths on her forehead. And I prayed.
God, please protect her. Please let the baby be born alive. Please let Jenny be okay. I don't know how to do this. Please let me know what to do.
And amazingly, a sort of peace settled over me as the clock ticked ever forward. If Jenny's markings on the calendar were correct, it was September 20
. 5:32. Probably evening, based upon the light outside.
At 6:01, the pitch of Jenny's groans changed. They became deeper, stronger. She was curled around her belly, her hands below her thighs, pulling her legs back toward her shoulders.
“I need...you to look,” she panted. “Baby's coming.”
“I, are you sure? You want me to look there?”
“Just look!” She roared, and I hurried to obey. At first I was cringing, not sure what I was seeing. I would never in a thousand years have imagined myself helping someone give birth. Medical subjects had never been something I was interested in.
It quickly became evident that I was seeing the baby's head. I put my hands out to catch the little body as it slid into the world. With one final push Jenny fell back, gasping for breath.
“Hurry,” she panted. “Before it cries.”
“Please, Sarah! Do it now!”
Tears sprang to my eyes as I took the sharpened spoon in my hand. My heart thudded wildly as I cradled the tiny baby in my arms, her body limp and barely pink.
With a small cry, I laid the sharp end to the baby's cheek and drew it down, leaving a dark red mark from corner of her eye to the edge of her perfect, rosebud mouth. Blood beaded on the cut. My stomach roiled, and I was afraid I would be sick.
With a huge gasp, the baby began to wail. She screamed with all the indignity she could muster, her cries echoing from the concrete walls. Jenny laughed breathlessly and reached for the baby, which I wrapped in a blanket and handed to her.
At the same moment of the baby's cry Travis burst through the door. I pushed the spoon into the crack between the cot and the wall. The “Master” followed close on Travis's heels, pushing past him to reach Jenny first. Travis had his arms full of what looked like towels, which he set on the floor by my feet.
The older man took the baby from Jenny's arms. I pressed myself back into the wall, hoping he wouldn't notice me. I looked at Jenny, who stayed silent, a gleam of defiance in her eyes. She watched as the Master unwrapped the baby.
A loud growl, and the Master shoved the baby into my arms. I cradled the wailing little girl against my chest, fighting back tears of fear.
The Master leaned over and shook Jenny by the shoulders. “What have you done? “
Jenny spoke calmly, steadily. As if all the fear I knew she held did not exist. “It happened during the birth. An accident. It could not be prevented.”
The man pulled back and raised his hand. He slapped Jenny—hard. Her eyes glistened with tears, but she stayed silent. He roared, and raised his hand again.
Without thinking, I leaped up, the baby still in my arms. “Wait!” I shouted.
Stupid. You are so stupid.
“It was my fault. I've never delivered a baby before. It was me. Please don't hurt her.”
Snarling, the Master took the baby from my arms and deposited her, wailing, on the bed. He grasped my arms with fingers like iron and shook me, his breath hot and foul in my face. “Fool! Worthless, stupid girl! Do you know what you've done?”
Don't fight. Don't respond. Don't scream. Don't cry.
I fought the terror in my throat, the pounding of my heart that made my head swim. The blood was leaving my face, leaving my brain. My stomach twisted violently.
The Master shoved me, a motion I was not prepared for, and I fell. My tailbone hit the floor with jarring force that made my whole body seize with pain.
“Get up! You stupid, worthless...” There were other words, words I will not repeat. Stinging on my cheek. Desperately I bit my lips, praying silently. I cried out to the God I had for so long denied. I cried wordlessly, begging for the pain to stop, but also desperate to keep him from hurting the new mother or the innocent little one that cried on the cot. Time seemed to slow. Each blow was years apart, shuddering through my body in avalanches of pain. I think I passed out, because eventually I couldn't feel the pain anymore. I only knew I had fallen when the blows turned into kicks. My legs, my ribs, my back. I curled into a ball and waited for it to end, as I prayed for mercy.
Gradually I realized that the only pain I was feeling was the throbbing of my wounds, and the catch of my breath in a throat raw from crying. I let go of my knees and slowly, tenderly straightened my limbs and rolled onto my back. I lay there, staring at the concrete ceiling, at the swinging of the light bulb chain.