Authors: Robert J. Crane
THE GIRL IN THE BOX, BOOK FOUR
Robert J. Crane
THE GIRL IN THE BOX, BOOK FOUR
Robert J. Crane
Copyright © 2012
All Rights Reserved.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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One Year Earlier
I was sitting on the couch watching a stupid sitcom when she came out of her bedroom. There were times I could tell Mom was on edge, ready to pick a fight, and that was one. “You didn’t clean my bathroom,” she said. I ignored her the first time. Don’t know why I did it; it’s not like ignoring her had ever stopped her before.
She walked across the living room. The darkness from all the windows being covered was kept at bay by the lamps I had on. The dull flicker of our TV (an old, square boxy one, not the new, flat HD kind) cast shadows that jumped as it switched between scenes, casting the room in a brighter shade of bluish light. Our brown suede couch was pressed against my cheek, the smoothness of the material felt oddly warm, heating up the side of my face that lay against it. I was stretched out, the hot dogs I had eaten for dinner making me sluggish and sleepy, the smell still hanging in the air from an hour ago when I had microwaved them.
Our house was small, and the main living area was over half of the first floor. Mom didn’t even have to shout to be heard over the television, standing only ten feet away from me, at the entrance to the hallway that led to the bedrooms. “Sienna. You didn’t clean…” she said, forcing my eyes to come to her for a moment before they went back to the TV, “…my bathroom.”
“I’ll get it once my show is over,” I said, uncaring. On the screen, Neil Patrick Harris was propositioning a woman, and I wanted to see if she’d fall for his line of bull or not. I suspected she would; fictional women were prone to being blindsided by jerks who just wanted to get in their pants. I knew this because I watched an hour of TV a day and read copious amounts of books, and there was a distinct common theme when it came to most of the women I saw – get used, abused, and discarded. Bleh.
She took another step, blocking the TV, casting her shadow over me, her silhouette outlined by the light from the screen. “You’ll do it now.”
“Hey!” I sat up, all thoughts of laziness and lying on the couch evaporated, the heat already in my face from irritation.
“Your chores aren’t done,” she said, a smug, self-satisfied look on her face. “Clean the bathroom and you can finish watching it.”
I glanced at the clock. “It’ll be over by the time I get done cleaning,” I said, and pointed at the digital clock on the microwave. We didn’t own a DVR, those magical things I’d heard others talking about – on TV, only. I hadn’t left my house for as long as I could remember.
“Then I bet next time you want to watch a show you’ll make sure your chores are done before I get home,” she said, and her smile was overly sweet, patronizing.
“Really?” I asked, my studied disbelief allowing me to keep a calm I didn’t feel inside. “You’re that bent out of shape about me failing to do one little chore that you want me to shut off the TV ten minutes before the end of my show?
“No,” she said, and there was an undercurrent in the way she said it that caused my muscles to tense involuntarily. “I don’t want you to shut off the TV.” She reached down and pushed the power button on the front of the unit, and it flipped off in a flash that seemed almost in slow motion as it disappeared into a pinprick of light at the center of the screen. “I’ll take care of it for you.”
“What the—” I was on my feet in a quarter second. “I was watching that!” I knew my voice was raised; dangerous ground. I didn’t care.
“Now you’re not,” she said. “If you want to be watching it again, go clean the bathroom.”
“It’s not my fault you shed hair like a cat,” I said, not bothering to keep my voice down. “I shouldn’t have to clean up your mess!”
Her eyebrows tilted down, and I knew I was edging onto her nerves. Good. “Cleaning my bathroom, as well as yours, is something you clearly know to be part of your weekly responsibilities. This is not new. It has occurred every week for years, and is not something you simply forget and do later – it is something that you pretend to forget every so often, because you find it unpleasant. That’s a shame,” she said without any remorse. “But as an adult I find all sorts of things I do unpleasant, such as working to pay for your housing, your clothes, the food you eat, the television you enjoy—”
“When I abide by your tyrannical commands.”
“When you follow
,” she said, slow, steady, the cadence of the words drumming into my head. “When you do
as I say
. You need to learn responsibility to accompany your self-discipline, and it’s as important as any martial art I could teach you.”
“I don’t care about any of the things you want to teach me,” I said, and I heard a hiss in the back of my throat, like air escaping from an overinflated ball.
“That’s not a luxury you’re afforded,” she said, the faintest hint of dark clouds beginning to gather around her head. I was steaming, though, and I wanted to push; I could feel the heat boiling off my skin. “You’re edging closer and closer to testing the boundaries,” she said. “Do you need a reminder of what happens when you push the limits in this house?”
“What limits?” I snapped back. “Nothing is allowed in this house! Oh, wow, I get an hour of TV per day after all my schoolwork and chores and if I haven’t offended the warden! Wow, that hour of TV really makes my other twenty-three worth living; it’s a standard of living one step above life in a French prison a couple centuries ago.”
“If you’d like, I can take away your TV and your copy of ‘The Man in the Iron Mask’ as well,” my mom snarked. “Then you wouldn’t have a frame of comparison for the tragic cruelties of your life, and maybe you’d realize that you’ve got a bed to sleep in and enough food to eat, somewhere warm to live, and safety from all the other dangers you don’t even know exist out in the world—”
“Because you won’t let me out in the world to see.” I glared at her. “It’s all a big mystery, and when you walk out the door every day and shut it behind you so I can’t see what’s going on, you leave me here in the dark – unless we’re talking about the times you lock me in the box, because then you REALLY leave me in the dark—”
“Someday you’ll understand,” she said, a fire taking over in her, her hair bobbing as she shook her head. “Someday you’ll see, and realize how lucky you were I protected you all these years, kept you safe, even if you don’t like the way I do it—”
“You always say that, you self-righteous bitch!” I let it fly before I could stop myself. My shoulders and chest heaved with the reckless emotion. Mother blanched almost imperceptibly. “Protect me from what? Keep me safe from what? You won’t tell me, you won’t say a damned word about what it is that you’re saving me from. You just throw me in a metal box in order to keep me here,” I gestured at the walls around us, “in this box so we can’t talk about what goes on outside it—”
“We don’t discuss what happens outside these walls,” she almost hissed.
“I’m talking about what happens inside them,” I said. “About you locking me in. Unless it’s all a desolate, post-apocalyptic world outside, you’re keeping me away from something.” I smiled in small triumph. “You can’t keep me in here forever, Mother. Someday—”
She moved fast, faster even than she did when we would spar in the basement while she taught me martial arts. “Not today,” she said, her face a mask and her hand gripping my upper arm, pinching into the flesh and causing me to cry out as she jerked me off-balance. “And I’ve had enough of your smart mouth, your casual disdain, your insolence—”
“And I’ve had enough of you!” I yelled, and she jerked my arm again, dragging me along behind her toward the basement. “I hate you! I hate you!”
I couldn’t see her face, but her dark hair swayed as she pulled me down the steps. I tried to resist, and halfway down I caught the railing. She pulled me so hard my sweaty fingers slipped off of it and my knee hit the floorboard. I felt the skin tear and cried out, but she never stopped. I was forced back to my feet as she half-walked, half-carried me down the stairs. When we reached the landing I tried to pull away again. I could feel the tears coursing down my cheeks, partly from rage, partly from the humiliation of having my whole person violated by being treated so roughly. I could feel the trickle of blood running down my shin under my pants.
“Someday you’ll realize,” she said, dragging me around in front of her as she stopped at the foot of the wooden stairs, “all this is for you.”
“I don’t care about someday! I hate you!”
“So be it,” she said, unflinching, unreacting, emotionless. “But you will still respect me – and the rules. And you will obey.”
She twisted my arm again and I cried out as she pulled me the last few steps toward the box. It stood a hair over six feet in height, metal, a couple feet deep and a few feet wide – big enough to imprison me easily enough – and with enough space that I could slide to my haunches and sit with my knees folded in front of me, so I could rest my head on them and fall asleep. “I’ll never respect you,” I said. “I hate you and I always will.”
“Fine,” she said, her voice iron. She pushed me into the box, and I hit the back and felt it wobble, as though it would tilt and fall over, leaving me on my back. My eyes widened but she stepped in and stabilized it with one foot, returning it to equilibrium. I had tipped it before, in the past, and it was horrible, being stuck laying flat. I preferred it the way it was, end up, and she knew it. “Don’t push me, Sienna,” she said, holding me inside. I saw her eyes, and there was something else in there, something deep, behind the irises, something beyond fire or anger. She shut the door and I heard the pin secure it – there was no escape, not now. “And I won’t push you,” she said through the small, mailslot-like hole that hovered in front of my face.
“I’m sorry,” I said, not really sorry but realizing at last, as my fury abated, that this was not where I wanted to be. “I’m sorry! Please, let me out!”
“You should spend your time in there thinking about how you’ll do things differently when you get out,” she said, her inflection dull, dead, as bored as if she were doing something menial that required no thought. Cleaning the bathroom, perhaps. “We won’t have this happen again.”
“I hate you,” I said, and I sobbed, and realized I hated myself for doing it, for showing this measure of weakness. “I wish my father were here. He would have loved me. He wouldn’t have ever done any of this to me. Not like you, you f—”