Authors: Stacia Stone
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2015 by Stacia Stone
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission of the author.
ne night for $1,000
A black-gloved hand slid the contract soundlessly across the glass tabletop. My gaze rested for a moment on the neat stack of papers with their tiny printed lines of exhausting legalese before rising to meet an impenetrable gaze.
“With you?” I tried for flippant, but even I could hear my voice crack on the last word.
The older man laughed, deep and full-bodied, but the smile didn’t quite reach his eyes, which surveyed me with a calculating coldness. Silence stretched for a long moment as his gaze never broke from mine.
The steady tick of the grandfather clock in the corner of the large office where we sat was the only sound. Heavy curtains draped the windows, obscuring any light from the sun I hoped was still firmly in place.
How long had I been here? Minutes, hours, more? Time had become meaningless as I sat on the edge of a wooden chair that creaked softly with my every movement.
“My tastes reside elsewhere, dear Dalea,” the man said, finally breaking the silence. He bent the fingers of one hand to inspect the manicured nails. “I am merely a procurer of rare and beautiful things.”
If there was irony in his tone, he hid it well. I didn’t feel particularly
at the moment
More like – twenty-year-old college dropout, living in a two-bedroom apartment with her family of four and pulling doubles at a crap diner six days a week to just barely not make the rent each month.
My hand moved over the contract, idly flipping pages. In the back were what looked like lab results, likely from the blood and saliva tests they’d insisted be done before anyone would even speak to me. I didn’t bother attempting to read it all, since that would have required several days and an industrial-strength microscope.
“What does all of this mean exactly?” I asked.
“The terms are quite simple, really, and I thought they had already been clearly explained to you.”
The Procurer, as I’d decided to call him, reclined back in his leather office chair. He bent his leg and gently rested one foot on the opposite knee. His movements were measured and precise.
“One more time, then.” I clenched my hands together to stop them from shaking. “Please.”
“Of course, my dear.” The small smile on his lips told me he knew that I was simply playing for more time, nerves too wrecked for good decision making. “I am prepared to offer you $1,000. Cash. In exchange, you will spend one night in the Dollhouse – for the pleasure of one of our patrons.”
“What would I have to do?”
“Whatever you’re told.”
The shock of his words was like a splash of cold water. I stood abruptly and crossed behind the chair. My fingers dug into the wooden back hard enough that the skin of my knuckles turned white. “I can’t do this.”
The Procurer stood as well and came to my side. His hands touched my back and stroked down in a gesture that, under any other circumstances, could have been described as fatherly.
“It’s alright, my dear. It can seem daunting at first I know, this testing of limits and pushing at boundaries.” His fingers touched my hair, the rings on his fingers catching in the curls. “We have a very select clientele, with very
desires, and I can promise that you will be treasured like the jewel you are. You will not be harmed – at least not permanently.”
I didn’t like the slight emphasis in his voice on the word
I thought back to how this had started. One of my customers at the diner, not a regular like most of them, but a man wearing a three-piece suit. He never spoke a word to me except to place his order, leaving a black business card with his generous tip.
was all that was printed on one side and a phone number on the other.
Everyone had heard about the Dollhouse, whether they actually believed that it existed or not. A secret place for the rich and well-connected where almost any desire could be fulfilled – for a price.
It was hard to believe that they wanted me. My face was pretty enough, but not exceptionally so, and my body was much to lean and boyish for anyone to think of it as sexy. My cousin, Sulela, gave me an itty-bitty-titty committee membership card as a gag gift for my last birthday. The bitch.
Thick brown hair that cascaded around my shoulders and down my back with a natural spiral curl was probably my best feature. It nicely framed large and round eyes that were so dark they were almost black. Momma told me I was pretty all the time, but that’s something mommas had to say. Most of the time, I just felt invisible.
I don’t know what made me call that number. The woman on the phone had asked for my name and given me an address before hanging up on my half-formed questions.
Maybe it was my insatiable curiosity and sense of adventure, only allowed to be satisfied with library books and my own imagination, that made waitressing at the diner seem like just a slow way to die. Anywhere was better than where I was, even a road that led straight to my own destruction.
The Procurer had moved away to lean casually against the desk. His hands were clasped and legs crossed neatly at the ankle, as if he sensed the weakening in me.
“When I would get the money.”
“Half now and half on completion. To protect all parties involved, you understand.”
“Right. And about the completion, when would that be.” I cleared my throat against the knot of fear that tried to steal my voice. “When would I start?”
His teeth glinted in the light when he bared them in a crocodile smile. “There’s no night like tonight.”
My heart beat hard against my chest, the sound so loud that I was sure he could hear it. I thought of Momma, pale and fragile as she moved around the house like a wraith. And of Lucy and Julio, who should be able to get all the things that kids need, like food that wasn’t leftover and clothes that weren’t worn by somebody else first. And I thought of $1,000, how it was more money than I’d ever seen in one place in my entire life. It could change our lives.
“Do you have a pen?”
He pulled a Montblanc from the pocket of his suit jacket and laid it gently on the table. “You won’t be sorry.”
I already am.
I picked up the pen and held it for a moment, poised over the precipice of a fall into darkness. The blood rushing in my ears was deafening and my fingers trembled so badly that my name looked jagged and rough as I slowly signed.
Dalea Elizabeth Moreno
The Procurer seized the contract from under my hands, just as I made the last loop and flourish. The expression that stretched his lips into an imitation of a smile was equal parts paternal and threatening.
“Welcome to the Dollhouse.”
will be waiting outside of your apartment at precisely nine in the evening. Do not keep the driver waiting. The windows will be heavily tinted and you will enter the backseat on the passenger’s side. Do not speak and you will not be spoken to. Do not attempt to ascertain the identity of the driver or you shall be…reprimanded. Further instructions will be provided when you arrive. Do not disappoint us.”
Lucy’s voice tore me away from the window where I had been watching darkness creep slowly through the streets as the evening sky deepened to true night.
“Shh!!!” I whispered, pointing to the recliner where Momma was lying asleep, her breathing raspy but steady under a pile of blankets. The pain medication would have already worn off and it would be impossible to get her back to sleep if she woke up, without providing another pill that we couldn’t afford.
I spun around and looped Lucy up in my arms as her chubby fingers automatically caught on my shoulders. “You’re up past bedtime, sugar bear.”
“You didn’t wead my stowy.”
My four-year-old sister had just lost her two front teeth to a caramel apple the night before and now every other word that came out of her mouth was an adorable lisp.
“What story do you want?” I asked, settling her more firmly on my hip. The nightly ritual of dinners, bathtime and storybooks was a refuge from the dark places that awaited me.
“Tick Tock Cwock!”
I carried her out of the living room and past the kitchen to the little bedroom that we shared. The faint thrum of Julio’s rap music beat against the thin wall separating the only two bedrooms in our tiny apartment. I thought about asking him to turn it down, but Julio’s perpetual bad mood and teenage angst was more than I could deal with at the moment.
“Get in bed, sugar bear.”
Instead of clamoring onto the double bed we shared, Lucy leaned forward to touch the hem of my skirt. “Pretty dress.”
I was wearing a thin spaghetti-strapped dress made of light blue cotton that I’d found in the back of Momma’s closet. It was a leftover from the days when getting dressed up and getting dressed at all weren’t so closely related for her. She would never notice that it was missing.
“I have to look nice,” I said, ushering Lucy up onto the bed and under the covers. “Big sis is going out later.”
“Wike to a pawty?” She asked, her big brown eyes round and shiny in the dark.
“Just like a party,” I said, deliberately suppressing the cold shiver that ran down my spine. I reached for the stack of books near the foot of the bed, reminding myself we were due for another library trip. She had most of these memorized already. “Let’s read
Tick Tock Clock.”
“Next to me,” Lucy said, burrowing deeper into the blankets. I slid in next to her and held the book up between us.
“Tick tock goes the clock.”
Do not keep the driver waiting.
“Tick tock, knock knock.”
Do not speak. You will not be spoken to.
“Who is knocking at my door?”
Do not disappoint us.
“Tick tock goes the clock.”
Whatever you’re told.
“Do you hear footsteps on the floor?”
Welcome to the Dollhouse.
I abruptly closed the book over Lucy’s loud protest. “We’ll finish the rest tomorrow, okay.”
Lucy wrapped her arms around my neck and pulled me down into a hug. “Don’t weave me awone.”
“I have to, sugar bear.” I kissed her on the forehead and pulled away. “I’ll be back before you even wake up.”
Her crestfallen expression was the last thing I saw before flipping off the light and softly closing the door. I leaned back against it, feelings of shame and helplessness washing over me in a wave.
The thought of just taking the money and running came to me for the thousandth time in an hour. The crisp stack of twenty dollar bills, smaller than I’d thought it would be, was hidden under a loose floorboard in our bedroom. I never knew that money could smell like that. I’d fanned the bills in front of my face before hiding them away, inhaling the sweet scent of fresh linen and freedom.
Five hundred dollars was enough to start a new life far away from here, enough for a bus ticket and the deposit on a new apartment. There had to be a place I could hide where even the Procurer’s cold gaze couldn’t reach. I would be a liar and a cheat, but at least I wouldn’t be a whore who didn’t even know exactly what she was selling.
Except I wasn’t any of those things and I always kept my word.
And my family needed me here.
Dim numbers above the stove glowed too red like blood on fire. Julio must have finally gone to bed I realized, because his awful music was finally turned off. Silence weighed down on me, heavy like shroud. I was surrounded by my family, but completely alone.
I stood up straight, shaking off the feelings of guilt and fear. If I was seeing fearful portents in the kitchen clock then it was time to pull myself together. The Dollhouse was paying me for a service, like any other business transaction. It was a shame my body was the only thing I had left of any value, but I wasn’t the first girl to pick the cold comfort of reality over the too easily broken illusion of innocence.
Momma stirred as I passed by the couch and coughed in that hacking, awful way that meant she hadn’t done her breathing treatment before falling asleep. I froze, not daring to exhale. If she woke up now, there was no way to explain where I was going and what I was about to do.
To my relief, Momma quieted. I waited a moment for her gasping breaths to grow more slow and even before I moved towards the door. Trembling, I fumbled for the knob in the dark, nerves making me awkward and slow. I tried to rationalize the fear away. There was no gallows waiting for me, no firing squad. It was just one night with a stranger, in exchange for $1,000.
There’s no night like tonight.