As I swung open the door to my house, I saw that my parents had left home once again. I sunk into the couch by the door and dipped my head into my hands. I could hear my neighbors arguing outside.
“We have the money back. We caught her in the act. It’s all over.”Mr. Marshall was comforting his wife.
“I told you that kid was no good. You left her with our son! Just imagine what she could've done to him while we weren't there. Thank God I cancelled that cruise! And what about the rest of the money?”Ms. Marshall cried.
They slammed their front door shut, the noise ringing down the block. And that was the last time I was ever invited inside their house.
My parents would be furious. They knew I couldn’t keep a job for more than a week or two. This was the final straw. At every place of employment, I was told that I was either too young to hold up the responsibilities or that my parents were too neglecting for me to “function properly,”a store manager once said. And I had to admit, they were all right.
I was the good-for-nothing, poor kid living in the broken home down the street in the house that nobody thought anyone lived in. All but until one day, we were caught for living in a foreclosed home. And the worst part was that I had no idea. Ms. Bethany, my favorite teacher at school, dropped me off at home after school. She knew my living conditions and how my parents were, but she never thought it would be that bad. She helped me out whenever I needed it. But the minute my parents realized we were going to be exposed, we rushed out of that town in a matter of days and I never heard from Ms. Bethany again. Every month or two, we moved. Right when things would begin to settle and I slowly adjusted to being comfortable, all of the town and its people became a thing of my past.
My parents weren’t bad people. They were just struggling with money, just like anyone else. But for some odd reason, I felt holes in my stomach. We were living in this neighborhood for too long. Ten weeks. My parents were gone for days at a time. Usually, they would be back by morning and I would be trying to sneak into the neighbor’s house to get at least a loaf of potato bread or that book I always saw the kid next door read. When I babysat, I had access. Now that I had just lost this opportunity, I was afraid of what else I was going to lose.
I locked the door and closed the blinds, leaving the porch light off. I made way onto my bed. The cool metal hugged against my elbows. I was growing too big for my bed, but I never complained. Just as I slipped myself into a deep slumber, I was awoken by a bang coming from outside. There were three possibilities. It was either my parents (highly unlikely, considering that they had keys), the police (all of whom could have been phoned by the Marshalls), or someone else entirely.
The sound was hard to make out. Whether it was a gun or someone trying to get inside the house, I didn’t know, but I trusted my instincts and the advice my parents once gave me and hid under the bed. It was dark. I felt as if I had slept for ten minutes, if not five, but I kept my eyes open wide. I took slow, short breaths against the floor.
A silhouette appeared at the foot of the doorframe. A wavelength outlined large muscles and shaggy hair appeared dusty from the vehicle headlights emitting directly into the house.
It got quiet. I could hear my heart beat against my chest. I could hear my hair rub against my skin.
His fingers cuffed tight around my hand and he dragged me out from under. My ankles scraped the floor.
My ears were red hot and my neck was boiling and tearing with fear, my vocal chords scratching against my throat. I yelled, “Please! What are you doing? Who are you?”
I couldn’t conjure the idea of an escape. My hands were tied, bounded together with plastic, while he kept my hair gripped back. My eyes were forced to stare diagonal. I began to stare up and down. There was someone else behind this.
This other man was in the front seat of the car. His hair was straight-combed and his eyes were fixed closely on me. I tried to look around; anywhere but their faces. The wind cut through my eyelids and it was hard to keep them open. But I wanted to see where I was going. Where were they going to take me?
Wrapping and tying a cloth around my mouth, he thrust me into the back of the truck. The metal against my back was frosty and shelled a deep feeling of anxiety into my spine. My nails felt numb and my fingers were forcibly erected. The plastic wrapped around my wrists dug indents unto my veins. I wished there was a way out.
As the truck clanged down what seemed like a mountainous rock abyss, I begged.
“Please God, please. I don’t know what’s happening, but please help me,” I prayed. My lips shook.
“Hey!” the man driving the truck, spat. “Bill, would you tell her to shut up?”
All Bill had to do was turn around. His pupils dilated and his mouth was curled in obsessiveness. I gulped.
“Just drive, Pete.” Bill said, rolling his eyes.
Pete looked into the rear view mirror. Something in the truck rolled and clanked around, and punctured my foot. I took a deep breath. My face was a pasty mess of dirt and salty tears. Everything dripped to my lips. I tasted the blood. I was hindering his ability to drive. Something about me intrigued him and everything about him disgusted me.
“Eyes on the road, idiot!” Bill yelled, slapping him from behind as he gripped onto the wheel himself.
Pete took his eyes off me. My shoulders felt a little lighter.
I opened my eyes. I had slept. The car dragged into a stop after rolling over a path of huge stones. Pete and Bill stepped out of the truck. I could hear their footsteps closing in on the back door. I backed away from the exposing part of the truck. I jolted back and wrapped my hands around my knees. The truck door rattled open and a wash of dry, cold air whisked against my legs. Bill stepped on. I felt his breathing on my neck. I wanted to cry. He wrapped his large fingers around my wrist, adding additional pressure. My hands were translucent.
He began to chuckle softly. My neck dipped in terror and the goose bumps enveloped my skin.
“Please, please, don’t. Please…” My voice disappeared in the quiet. No one was going to save me and nothing made sense.
“Come on,” he said, with a repulsive smirk on his face.
We were all in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by desert. The sun was long away from setting. Not one tree was in sight, but some shrubbery existed beside the boulders. My tongue caught bits of sand and dust. In the pitch dark, the moon gave away little emission of light. I could make out a building across from us. We began to walk toward the concrete slab. From our perspective, there was only one door in sight—only one way out. Everything looked heavy and dense, and there was no sign of life. Nothing positive could come out of a place like this. There was another truck, about the size of the one I was taken in. No license plate on either of the vehicles.
Pete stepped aside to open the door. The door must have been made of steel. I looked around. My instincts told me to run and panic, but my body was constrained together by the narrow hallway.
Bill looked around. “Look at them, they’re not ready,” Bill said to Pete.
Pete kept his hand on my shoulder. I shuddered.
There were cages. It was a prison, designed to confine and protect. The only difference was that the people being held were girls, mere children, and soon, me. None of them looked dangerous. Like I was soon to be, they were.
Bill threw me into a cell and locked the door shut. I gasped. There was a girl curled into the corner. She had on nice clothes. I think she was taken recently, like me. Her head was crammed in between her legs, either to sleep or to not face her surroundings. Either way, I felt the same.
I wanted to sleep, but I was too alarmed to do so. My eyes watered and they were irritated from the constant wiping of my sleeve.
I missed my parents. I wondered where they were. I wondered what they would think when they arrived home and for the first time, I wasn’t there.
The girl across from me looked up. I didn’t know what to say, so I decided not to stay anything. I felt that it would be better this way. The last thing I needed right then was chit-chat, I thought. But soon enough, it was the one thing I failed to realize was my only reality in this confinement. I spent my hours in the cell, listening to coughs and sighs coming from the other girls. Everyone looked and sounded tired.
Every few minutes or so, Pete or Bill would walk by, checking up on us. They would provide food and water. They took care of us, but not in the maternal or paternal way. Bill would repeatedly hit the girls.
“I told you! Eat the food!” he slapped the girl in my cell. And for the rest of the night, I’d be awake from her cries. Again, Bill would come back into our cell.
It was a repetitive cycle of wrong-doings. I was smart not to talk back, but I had some instances of my own. For the first meals, I was too scared to eat them. The recipes were simple, but they were always three-course meals. Usually fruit or some boiled vegetables and water. They made sure to include the water. They kept us full. But what if they had put something in the drinks or the food?
Pete opened the door to the cell one day. He held out a tray of food with a cup of water on the side, “Take it.”
I shook my head. Pete stepped onto his knee. “Take it or else.” I could feel his large eyes staring up and down me. I shivered. I accepted the food.
The girl had scars running down her red face. Her pale skin was peeling and as her emotions began to decay, she was forced to stay physically healthy. They wanted to keep all of us looking nice. I asked myself, for what?
I felt the seconds pass by as if they were days. Everything felt dragged; my breath, time. I tapped my knees and paced back and forth a few times. My legs felt numb. At least I wasn’t as cold as I was in the truck. As soon as I thought I could finally sleep, there was a rapid noise of people marching along the clearing.
“Take the girls,” Bill said.
The cell door opened and she looked furious, not sad. She didn’t scream. She didn’t defend herself, not even at least with words. It was like a ghost entering and disappearing into the ever-night.
Where were my parents? Were they even looking for me? I felt a rush of anger and fear and it dropped into the hollow of my stomach. This blending of confusion just made everything else worse. My eyes pounded from a headache and they were aching from the beating.
A few moments had passed when the people paraded down the hall again. They took a girl. Every minute, they came back. I knew the clock was ticking. They had given us fresh clothes to wear. I embarrassingly dressed into the assigned clothing quickly.
This is it. Bill and Pete arrived to my cell. The men towered over me. Just like when I was entering the building, I tried to observe every little detail.
The new room looked like a corridor or an empty parking lot. It was dimly lit, barely any lighting at all. The light coming from the few hanging bulbs hugged the floors in a pathway, leading to what seemed like a center stage. I quivered. I felt dizzy and my head felt heavy. There was a small crowd of people. I saw a few female faces, but there was a bigger ratio of older men. All of whom were creepy and instilled panic into my lungs. I was brought up and chained to the platform.
I was utterly disoriented. This was, until, I saw scuff marks and smudges of blood in the center. Now, I was horrified.
Hands shot up into the air.
“One thousand!” a voice shouted.
“One thousand, five-hundred!” another voice said.
People began to bid. The prices climbed. Each voice was eerie.
An old man stepped up to the stage. He looked grizzly. Long nose, sweaty cheeks, he was ghastly in formation. I wanted nothing to do with him. But this, I realized, was no longer my choice to make.
I whipped my head and struggled to get out of the chains. I wanted to burst out of this place. I wanted to see my parents. I wanted to be anywhere, but here.
“Sit back down,” the man said firmly and he pointed down to the floor.
“No. There is nothing you can do! The police are going to have this place shut down and I’m not going to do whatever sickening thing you have in mind.” I was yelling and crying, but this time I felt strong, but they were all laughing.
“Who do you think sold you, honey?” he chuckled.
My heart dropped to my feet and I felt paralyzed as their sinister faces looked up at me. Just like that, I was an object being bid off. Bill unchained me and thrust me towards the man.
His fingers felt up my top.
There was nothing I felt I could do. I never thought I would feel this abandoned.