Authors: Tessa Escalera
: Action and Reaction
I swallowed my heart out of my throat and opened the door slowly, quietly. Travis was playing with what appeared to be a Rubik's cube.
Then I was moving. I ran, pushing through the open door, while Travis shouted behind me. I sprinted down the hallway, my bare feet slapping on the concrete, my gown gathered in my hands to keep me from tripping.
The door at the end of the hall had a simple handle. I twisted it, wrestling with the heavy metal. The skin on my back crawled, as if waiting for hands to seize me from behind, even though Travis's footsteps were still dozens of feet behind me.
I squeezed through the door. There was a lock on the handle on this side. I heaved the door shut and locked it, just as Travis reached it.
“Sarah!” he cried, banging on the door with his fists. “Sarah, don't do this!”
It was a basement, a normal house basement with a water heater and a washer/dryer...and a set of stairs along the wall, the lowest step the farthest away. I ran for the stairs, swinging around the end of the banister and clattered up toward the door at the top.
The door gave, and I burst into a kitchen. White linoleum, an old white fridge, plain brown cabinets. My heart skipped a beat at the sight...of normalcy. Sunlight poured through the window over the sink. Glorious, amazing sunlight. I wanted to stand there, soaking the blessed yellow light into my pores, and never move again.
To my right, a doorway led into a dining room. To my left, a living room. It all looked so normal, so peaceful, so achingly beautiful in its simplicity. I could never have imagined faded armchairs, floral couches and shag carpet could inspire such a feeling of joy.
But there was one notable thing about all of this that wasn't normal, and that was the bars on the windows. So, no leaving that way.
I walked silently through the house, my eyes constantly sweeping from corner to corner, my breath tight in my throat, jumping at every creak of floorboards or flickering of shadow. I had no idea if the Master was here. He could be hiding around any corner or behind any piece of furniture.
Through the living room was a door. Heart in my throat I ran for this, yanking it open. I stepped out onto the porch, gulping in the fresh, cool air, hope so large in my chest that my ribs hurt.
I raised my eyes past the porch, and past the gravel driveway.
In that split second all vestiges of hope exploded into shards of glass. I staggered, feeling as if every bit of air had been knocked out of my lungs. Clinging to one of the posts that held up the porch roof, I cried. I gasped for breath, held up only by the splintery wood beneath my hands.
Out there, beyond the driveway and a short barb-wire fence, was the reason for my despair. A bare, wasted landscape rolled out before me, rising in the distance to soaring mesas, plateaus upheld by dark, sheer cliffs. In the spaces between here and there stood the pale green of sagebrush and dry grasses, animated by the erratic flutters of rolling tumbleweed.
I'm never going to escape.
My home was a place of trees, and green things, and water. I had never even been to a place like this before, except through movies and TV. I had no idea where I was, nothing besides my feet to transport me, and not even any shoes.
My heart fell even further at the noise from behind me. “Shouldn't have done that,'' Master growled, enclosing my arm in a grip of iron and pulling me from the post so quickly that I cried out with the sudden pain of splinters embedding themselves in my palms.
I was dragged, by my arm and my hair, back into the house. Through the living room and the kitchen, down the stairs, through the basement to the door where Travis still pounded and yelled. Master unlocked the door and pushed it open, revealing the rather disheveled young man just inside.
“Fool,” Master snarled at Travis, releasing my hair for a moment to backhand the younger man across the face. Travis reeled back, colliding with the wall.
Master swept past him, hand once again wound painfully through my hair, pulling me toward my cell.
By now the part of my brain in charge of emotion had shut down completely. I saw everything as through the eyes of someone else. I was thrown roughly to the ground.
Master knelt beside me on the ground, shoving his face into mine. He grinned, his foul breath washing over me as he revealed his ragged teeth. “It was a test. You FAILED!” He roared in my face, making me cry out and flinch back from the heat of his breath. He stood up and began to unbuckle his belt.
I failed. Now I'm going to die.
Stand up.” Slowly I rose, not bothering to move the hair falling across my face. Master sneered at me, snapping his belt in front of my face. “Take it off.”
Uncomprehending, I didn't move. Master reached out and ripped my gown, leaving me shivering and exposed in front of him.
“Please. I won't do it again.” Was that my voice? It sounded like me, but I hadn't meant to speak.
“Too late.” I was taken by the arm and pushed onto my hands and knees. I heard the belt snap again above my head.
Then pain. Oh, the pain. Sharp, blinding, pain that reached into my soul and ripped away any vestiges of control. Again the belt struck me, and again. I crumpled onto the floor, my arms unable to hold me up.
I will not repeat the words he spoke to me. The things he called me. Words that hurt worse than the belt lashing across my back.
I screamed each time the leather hit. I had no choice. If I didn't scream, my breath would have stopped in my throat. The screams were the only evidence I was still alive. Beyond that it was only pain, rapidly swirling down into the darkness of obscurity.
Then the pain changed. I was thrown on the cot, the blood on my back hot and sticky beneath me, and he hurt me in a different way. His anger was poured into me, his hate, the essence of his evil. I did not fight. I couldn't...my strength was gone. All I could do was grip the sides of my cot and fight for each breath, fight to keep my heart beating, fight to stay alive.
Without warning I was sick on him, which angered him even more. The beating turned to fists and feet as I lay on the floor, curled up to protect the most tender parts of my body, my hands over my head.
What little I remember of the rest of that day is what I put in my journal, written a couple days after, when the pain of the beating had lessened enough that I could sit upright again.
Travis let Jenny put medicine on my wounds. I know I screamed at her when she put ointment on my back. To have her gentle fingers touch where his belt struck me...it was too much.
She said I'm lucky to still be alive. I disagree. I've made up my mind. I don't want to live anymore. I'm never getting out of here. What's the point in surviving? No one will ever find us. Isn't that the point of all those cop shows? These men go on for decades before they are ever found. And those are the ones in the cities, not out here in the middle of abso-freakin-lutely nowhere.
I guess part of my punishment is to be treated like some sort of animal. My blankets are gone. The TV. Even the bible. I get plain toast, bologna and water for every meal. I can't even eat it...it makes me too sick. I threw up this morning just from the smell.
They didn't find my journal though. I keep it under the tub. They'd never find it unless they looked really hard.
I guess it's a good thing I can't eat. Every day I don't is just one less day I have to spend here. God, if there really is a heaven, please take me there soon. Or even hell...I can't imagine how it could be worse than this. If what I hear is correct, at least it has to be warm.
I can't sleep. I can't eat. I'm so cold. Is this what dying feels like? This cold and hunger that can't be cured? It hurts to die. But living hurts even more.
That stupid pregnancy test still taunts me from the back of the toilet. They left it. I would laugh if it didn't hurt too much. If there was a baby in me, I'm sure that last beating would have taken care of it.
I wonder if Annabelle is still alive. I haven't heard anything from her for days now. Maybe she's gone. I envy her.
Jenny says I am stronger than her. She's still fighting and I've given up. I don't see how that makes me strong.
I'm so sick. Travis noticed I wasn't eating so he stayed here and forced me to eat my food and swallow my vitamin in front of him. It came back up before he even left the cell.
Maybe my body is just giving up.
God, why? Why won't you just let me die?
Travis is still letting Jenny into my room to help me with the lashes on my back. She says tomorrow I have to take the test. She says she's tired of listening to me puke through her wall.
I know I'm not pregnant. I can't be.
The next morning Jenny woke me by shaking my shoulder. I startled awake and immediately had to run to the bathroom, where what little was in my stomach reappeared into the toilet.
Once the spasms passed I sat on the floor with my forehead on the edge of the toilet seat, for once grateful for the coolness of the porcelain. Jenny stood in the doorway with little Hannah in her arms, regarding me with no expression on her face.
“You need to do it, Sarah. You need to know.”
I tried to get up, but my stomach heaved and I settled back onto the floor. Past Jenny I could see Travis, sitting at the chair in front of my desk. He had been much colder to me ever since my failed escape. I guess I couldn't really blame him.
“I don't want to know.”
Jenny glanced over her shoulder at Travis then turned back to me. Her voice was lower as she replied. “You need to do it. If you keep doing this, not eating, you are going to die. And even if you don't, Master only gives a certain number of chances before he decides you aren't worth keeping around.”
That last sentence shocked me out of my misery. “What?”
Jenny nodded. “I can guarantee whatever he does with you then would be far worse than dying of starvation. Take the test.”
Resigned to the fact that she wasn't going to leave me alone, I sighed and pushed myself up to perch on the edge of the tub. At the very least, I would take it just so I didn't have to listen to her all day. I didn't have energy for that. “Fine. Go out.”
“You better not...”
“I'll take it. But I'm not gonna do it with you watching. Out.”
A minute later I emerged with the stick in my hand, test window turned where I couldn't see it. I handed it to Jenny and crawled onto my cot, curling up around the knot of pain in my stomach. “I can't look.”
I watched as Jenny watched the stick, her face unreadable, jiggling Hannah in her other arm. Eventually she sighed and showed the test to Travis, who nodded and stood up. “I'll be outside. Let me know when you're ready to go back to your room.
“You can go,” I said when Jenny turned to me and opened her mouth. “I don't want to know. Just go, please.”
Jenny obviously didn't agree, but she complied. She placed Hannah next to me for a moment so that I could give the baby a kiss, then she left.
I got up long enough to turn my light up before curling back up on the cot, I pulled my gown down over my feet, trying to get warm.
I didn't need to see the test.
Whether I wanted to admit it or not, I already knew the answer.
Child of Sorrows
They say war is like long periods of unbearable boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror.
Abuse is like that too. Moments of incredible pain, fear, darkness. Then days and days of nothing. There are times where you relax, where everything seems almost normal. Moments of peace before the cycle starts again. Every morning I wake in fear, certain he's here to hurt me again. But I am alone. Sometimes Travis is here bringing my food, sometimes not.
I haven't seen Master since the day he beat me. I know I should be grateful, but all I can do is worry about when he will come back.
It's amazing what food does to a person's outlook on life. Travis brought me the strangest breakfast yet—cinnamon toast with butter, and a pickle. It should have been disgusting. But for the first time in days, I was able to eat and keep it down. Maybe I'm getting a little better. Or maybe it's just another sign of the reality I am trying to ignore.
Today I got a bagel. With cream cheese. An apple. Oh, heaven. I never knew food could create such a feeling of euphoria. I feel like I've pulled my head above water and I can breathe. It's stupid, because I'm still here in the dark. But the pain in my stomach is a little less, and I can breathe again.
Jenny doesn't come help me with my wounds anymore. I guess they're satisfied I'm not going to get an infection and die. Travis gave me a blanket today. It was the first time he's spoken to me since the beating, except to give orders. He told me to hide the blanket during the day.
Jenny's baby has been crying a lot. Last night I'm not sure she ever stopped. Maybe she's sick. Please God don't let Jenny's baby die. I don't think she could handle it. She tries, I know she wants to live, but she looks so weary. I don't know how much more she can take.
God, please make Hannah stop crying. Now I hear Jenny crying too. I heard Annabelle for the first time in days last night, screaming at the baby to shut up. I know it's not Jenny's fault. She's doing the best she can.
I miss the sun so bad. This one light bulb does nothing to erase the gloom. If anything it makes it worse. It highlights the barrenness.
A ghost stares back at me from the mirror these days. I think every teenage girl out there wants to lose weight, but I'm pretty sure this isn't the recommended way. I can see all of my ribs and my hips. It looks unnatural. I think it's time to start avoiding the mirror for a while.
I got toast and bolgona for breakfast today. I couldn't eat it without puking. I managed to keep the toast down, but that slimy lunch meat turns my stomach even from across the room.
That night, Master visited Annabelle's cell. I hid in my bathroom with the tub running, laying in the hot water with my head submerged to cover my ears. Still the cries echoed in my bones.
Over the next few days I started to see a pattern. The days I got good food, they were also the days when the Master did not appear. Every time I got the nasty toast/lunch meat sandwich for my meals, it was a guarantee that our captor would show up later in the day.
I should have been grateful that he continued to leave me alone, but it only served to reinforce the conviction I was trying so desperately to ignore. According to my journal I had been here for about a month now, and though I knew stress could affect these things, so far I had no reassurance of the absence of what I feared. My stomach was still extremely sensitive, and what little energy I had while in this nightmare basement seemed to have deserted me. Almost all I could do was lie on my cot and stare at the walls, listening to little Hannah cry.
A month. It's been a month now. I'm sure my parents think I'm dead. I wonder if they've stopped looking for me. Please God, don't let them give up on me.
I don't know what to think about today. Annabelle was coughing a lot and Master and Travis came and took her away. Travis brought me her little girl and the pile of blankets that the child apparently sleeps in. He said Annabelle is sick and she has to leave us.
I am afraid that means they are going to kill her.
The little girl is scared of me. I think the only people she's ever seen are her mother, Travis and Master. She looks about a year old but she's so tiny. She just stares at me with these huge blue eyes. I'm not sure if she can speak. I'm not even sure if she can walk. She just sits in her little nest of blankets and stares. Surely Travis and Master don't expect me to keep her? I don't think babysitting qualifies me for being a mother. I certainly don't want this little girl to die. But I'm also not quite sure why they are keeping her around. Master doesn't seem the type to have compassion for something that isn't of any use to him.
I woke up freaking out this morning when Annabelle's little girl crawled into my cot. I was sure it was Master, about to beat or rape me again. She's so quiet that I almost forgot she was here.
I have forgotten what it means to feel the touch of another person that isn't intent on hurting me. She is so warm with life. She curled up in the space in front of my belly and she buried her little head in my shoulder. Her hair is so long for a child so young but it's hopelessly tangled, as if it's never been brushed. She is so thin and fragile. Her limbs feel like the bones of a bird. I wonder if she's ever seen the sunlight or anything beyond this prison.
meant to be the caretaker of Annabelle's child, at least for now. When Travis brought my breakfast (bagel and banana, so no Master today), there was another tray with oatmeal and a sippy cup of milk. Even after a month, it still felt strange seeing such ordinary things sitting on that plain desk, surrounded by concrete and darkness.
“What's her name?” I asked as Travis set the food down.
The little girl raised her arms and Travis picked her up, the child snuggling into his chest. It was profoundly strange, to the point of being disturbing, to see the girl so obviously trusting of one of our captors. Travis held her silently for a moment before handing her back to me. “I'm not sure she has one. Annabelle's grip on sanity has been tenuous ever since she came here. I'm not sure she even recognized that the child was present most of the time.”
A random wave of weakness washed over me and I sat down on my cot, still cradling the little girl in my arms. “Do you blame her?”
For a moment I thought he wouldn't reply. Finally he shook his head. “No.”
What is your role in all of this? Are you a prisoner too?
“What is going to happen to Annabelle?”
Travis's demeanor changed and he turned to leave. “You don't want to know.”
As the door clicked closed behind him, I thought that I wanted nothing more at the moment but to know what was going to happen...to Annabelle, to Jenny, to me.
I set the little girl on the chair and pulled her tray in front of her. She just looked at me, eyes wide and lips trembling.
“Hey, don't cry! What's the matter?”
All of a sudden my own eyes began to fill with tears. I tried to strangle the sobs erupting from my chest but one managed to escape as I gathered the toddler into my arms and held her to my chest, cradling her fragile body against mine. “I don't know, baby girl. I don't know where your mama is.”
I need to think of a name for this little girl if I really am to keep her...
Travis brought a little box of toys that he says were kept in Annabelle's room. They all look like they've been through several generations of use. Faded blocks, a teddy bear with all of his fur missing in places, a threadbare baseball.
He loves this little girl. That much is obvious. He is still a mystery I can't figure out. I don't trust him. I don't like him. I want to hate him, but it's hard. He never does anything worth hating. Besides not letting me out, that is. Someday I will find out his role in all of this.
Jenny's baby is a month old now. It seems like years ago that I held her hand through that night. I haven't seen her, but I hear them. Hannah and her endless crying. At least she's still alive. I just don't know for how long.
God, please keep us all alive. Just for a little while longer, until someone finds us or I can figure out a way to escape.
I named the little girl Esther, after Mama. Because she's quiet, but she's so strong. She hardly ever cries. She's started eating at least, though she still asks for her mama a lot. I have never seen a little girl so quiet. She hardly even plays, just wants to sit snuggled into my side or my belly. She likes when I call her Essie. So I guess that's what I'll call her.
This morning Essie was looking up at the window. In the early morning a few thin rays of sunlight sneak in and you can watch the dust motes dance in light. Essie pointed at the window, and looked at me expectantly. “Outside,” she said. “Up. Look outside.”
I guess when the silent child asks for something, you don't say no. I pulled the chair over and lifted her up. All you can see is the bush, a bit of landscaping rock and the sky, but it made her happy and she smiled for the first time since I've had her.
I noticed something while we were up there. The window is small, but if it weren't for the glass I know I could climb through. I tapped the glass and I doubt I could break it, but that gummy looking stuff around the edge is sorta old. A bit of it crumbled in my fingers when I touched it.
It's not much. Even if I could get out, I have no idea how to get home, or how I would get there.
But it's a chance.
So, even though it felt stupid, I used the spoon from Essie's breakfast to scrape bits of the plaster away from the glass. It was incredibly slow. I honestly wasn't sure if I was making any progress. But I kept trying, with my ears straining for the sound of the door at the end of the hall letting me know that someone was coming.
The sickness continued to grow. Even the foods I had previously loved now returned with a vengeance anytime I tried to eat. After a couple of days of vomiting up even the water I managed to choke down, I was too weak to do anything but lie on my cot and watch Essie play listlessly with her faded toys.
When Travis realized that I wasn't eating, he brought a pill that he pressed into my hand, along with a cold glass of what smelled like ginger ale.
“Come on, sit up.” He helped me into a sitting position. He sat in the folding desk chair, elbows propped on his knees. “This will help the sickness.”
I sipped the soda gingerly, closing my eyes in relief as it hit my stomach and stayed there. “What is it?”
“It's commonly given to pregnant women to help with morning sickness.”
“Who says I'm pregnant?”
Travis looked surprised. “You mean you never asked Jenny for the results of the test?”
“No. I don't want to know.”
Travis shook his head. “I'm pretty sure you already know. And I'm not leaving here until you swallow that pill, so you might as well do it.”
I sighed and tossed the pill in my mouth. “If it will even stay down long enough to work.”
“Butterfly, it will be okay. Just take the medicine.”
I swallowed the pill with a swig of the ginger ale, praying it would stay put. It didn't immediately come back up, though I was keeping my eyes open for the quickest route to the bathroom.
“About this, anyway. Does the ginger ale help?”
“Well, you need to drink something before you become too dehydrated. If you do, I will have to give you IV fluids.”