I stared through the bars of my prison at the girls surrounding me. Skin in shades of pale, nude, brown, and black glimpsed through dirt and grime. My hair was clean because they didn’t want to shave it off; it was valuable. We were only worth what we had to offer. Nobody wanted to buy a girl with a shaved head. Selling girls was a niche market all on its own.
My name is Dorothy...sometimes I forget what my name is among the solitude of insanity. It’s funny, even surrounded by dozens of bodies I still felt decidedly alone. Don’t talk, don’t think, don’t even move, don’t draw attention. That’s pretty hard since I’ve got bright red hair and pale skin. I stifle the urge to scream when I see my captors...I stifle the urge to feel anything at all. I felt myself going insane, I couldn’t tell what was real and what was just a dream.
One of the men who ran our brick and mortar prison came down the stairs and into the all-encompassing darkness, dark except the harsh light from a naked bulb - a pendulum above the stairs. His suit didn’t fit quite right, tight around the shoulders and too long - bunching around his ankles.
He opened the door to my cage. “Get out here, you little wench.”
I could feel putrid vehemence gurgling in my stomach. A nervousness and a desire to escape sinking into my veins. It was as if I had slit my wrists and the blood was pouring out I couldn’t escape. I was weak...I was a coward.
I was dragged out of my cage, as weak and as dirty as a starved animal lying in its own feces. My muscles ached from being in the same position for so long, and my joints crackled. We were shoved in dog kennels too small for even a dog.
I couldn’t see my captor’s face through the hair hanging in my face; I had lost all sense of my reek. The scent of fear hung stale in the air, stronger even than the smell of piss. All I could make out was a belly that protruded further out than his shoulders were wide. His pants hung low and his shirt didn’t even pretend to come near his bellybutton. He wrapped me in cold heavy chains, shackling my hands to my feet. He pulled me up against him so I could see his shit-eating grin and feel his hard-on pressed against me.
He sneered, “it’s time you had a bath.”
His teeth were a dark orange-yellow and the smell of tobacco on his breath wafted around my face like a chloroform soaked cloth, suffocating me. I couldn’t move, not even to shudder in disgust. I was wracked with a feeling like I was a cornered animal, more trapped than even within the walls of my cage.
He dragged me up the stairs and I followed him. I knew that refusing would mean worse than anything he currently had planned. It’s not as if I could resist anyhow; I was weak from starvation, from fear, from the cloud of doom hovering over me--a vice preventing any defiance, my soul broken.
He threw me into the bathroom and I fell in a heap. He was suddenly on top of me, his lips against mine and I did nothing. I didn’t combat him, I didn’t consent to him, I lay there as he groped me. He removed my shackles so he could spread my legs and then salvation came. His phone rang. He wrenched himself up, anger and displeasure permeating his eyes.
“You stay there. Don’t move a God damned muscle.”
I saw him leave, the door closing behind him with a resounding thump and a moment of clarity came over me. I had a choice, a moment of freedom. I had been relieved of my shackles, my cage, and nearly the last dignity I had left.
I heard him shouting over the phone and hoped he wouldn’t hear me. I reached a hand out and grabbed the first thing it touched. I wrenched it from the wall and came to my feet with a towel bar in hand.
Silence unfolded outside of the bathroom and I knew that he was coming back. I pressed myself to the wall behind the door as much as I possibly could. The door slammed open. I was left looking at the back of the buffoon who had kidnapped and attempted to rape me. I raised the towel bar above my head and before I could think to hesitate I slammed it back down. He collapsed in a heap on the floor and blood began to pool around him.
And then I ran. I ran as fast as I could, getting lost in the maze of the house. Shouts came from somewhere behind me-- someone had found him. I don’t remember how I got out...one moment I was encompassed by beige walls and oak doors on all sides. The next thing I knew I was breathing fresh air and standing on a freshly trimmed front yard. A white picket fence and houses like the one I had exited surrounded me on all sides.
I heard a crash from within the house which spurred me on. I ran down the paved road, feeling the heat from a blazing summer sun on my back and burning the bottoms of my feet. I kept running. I stopped when I heard screaming. I found myself standing in a park where a man in joggers was holding an earbud in one hand and goggling at my breasts. The screaming was a mother covering her young daughter's eyes.
The adrenaline leached out of me and I fell in a heap. I kept trying to scream for help but I couldn’t hear the familiarity of my voice or even a high-pitched wail surround me. All I heard was the raspy croak of a person who had no voice, a whisper of desperation before I blacked out.
I felt a scratchy wool blanket enfolding me in its warm cocoon. I felt safe for the first time in what felt like years but could only have been a few weeks. My entire body had become limp both from my lack of energy and all of the stress seeping from my bones. I couldn’t open my eyes; exhaustion encircled me and pulled me into its depths. And then I fell into a deep dreamless sleep.
When I awoke I didn’t open my eyes right away. I listened to the sounds around me: the clattering of metal against tile floors, the swish of thin cotton curtains, the hum of dozens of machines all with their own pitch and rhythm. An IV dangling from my arm, the alien sensation of a needle under my skin.
When I finally got up the courage I opened one eye just a crack, enough to see filmy curtains on all sides decorated with lavender and big blue chrysanthemums. There was a man sitting in an uncomfortable-looking brown plastic chair. His legs stuck out at odd angles like a gangly baby horse just beginning to get its feet. His face was slack and a bit of drool hung from the corner of his mouth. He had messy brown hair with a cowlick across the top. The skin on his neck was a tomato red sunburn that had just gotten to peeling whereas his face held the golden tan of someone who had just returned from a vacation in the Bahamas. I almost missed the navy blue uniform decorated with a shiny golden police badge that read “Los Angeles Police Department, District 9.”
I opened both eyes and stared. I stared until I realized I was holding my breath in a mixture of anticipation and fear -- anticipation at meeting this oddly handsome young man sitting across from me and fear at having him wake up and be anything but innocent. I had lost all sense of optimism in the wake of cynical realism. The world was not my oyster; the world wanted to crush me.
His eyes began to flutter open and I slammed mine shut.
Please don’t notice me, please think I’m asleep I prayed to the world.
Apparently the world didn’t think this was worthy of its time.
“Hey there darling, no need to be afraid o’ me,” the stranger said. His voice was sultry with a Southern cadence. “I know you’re awake, sweetheart.”
I opened one eye to look at him, and a grin spread across his face, giving him the biggest dimples I’d ever seen. They were like craters in his cheeks. I opened the other eye and openly stared at him.
“Well, there she is.”
He handed me a glass of ice water and I downed the whole thing in just a few seconds. The gush of cold water down my throat was a masterpiece all its own. It only took a couple minutes of prying on his part before I was pouring my entire story out to him. I was crying and talking faster than a train racing down the tracks. He never lost eye contact with me, though, even when I had snot bubbling out of my nose and he could likely only hear every fifth word. When I finally stopped talking he just reached into his pocket, pulled out a handkerchief, and cleaned my face slowly and methodically. He didn’t say a word for so long I thought I must’ve done something wrong.
“We’re gonna catch those bastards, darling.”
For some reason I was inclined to believe him. I felt safe for the first time in what felt like forever.
And then I woke up and realized I had never even left my cage.