Someone near me was crying. I wished she’d shut up before we all got in trouble. I knew it was too late. I heard the man’s footsteps behind me, making his way over to her. I stared hard at the wall in front of me. I flinched when he hit her. He’d already hit me so many times—the sound was too familiar, the sting on my cheek. So many blows they all began to blend together. Already I was growing numb.
There were six of us. All girls. Crammed in the back of a U-haul. Four blondes, two red heads—I suppose we were the most desirable—and a man. He was some big burly guy I had never seen before. His job was to keep us in line. Keep us from making any sounds as we drove around. Even bound and gagged I suppose we could have made enough noise to draw attention. Maybe all six of us together could even have taken our lone guard. Maybe even the driver. But I had seen the other girls. I had seen their dull expressions as they forced us into the truck. I had seen their slumped posture. Bruised bodies. Deadened eyes. These girls had given up long ago. Maybe I had too.
It had started at the mall. It was the first time my parents had let me go just with my friends. Jessica, Madi, and I. I having just turned 16. Jessica and Madi were only slightly older.
There was a man. Madi saw him first, watching us from across the store. We were browsing earrings in Hot Topic or some other—I don’t remember. “Look Kayla,” she had said, “you’ve got yourself a fan-club.” I smirked, though the man made me uneasy. I could feel his piercing gaze, even through his aviators.
He was a smooth guy, I’ll give him that. I suppose he had to be.
“You’re a very beautiful girl,” he said. Just straight up like that. I should have ran right there. I should have smashed his face in. Madi and Jessica were just a step away. I tried to reach out to them, turn to them for help, he held me back by my elbow. A strong grip, and yet so relaxed in his posture. I should have yelled. Madi was smiling. A cocky smile. It scared me. “Listen,” said the man, “I can hook you up. I can make you famous.” He nodded at the Victoria’s Secret on the other side of the mall. “Wouldn’t you like to be like that.” The front of Victoria’s Secret was plastered with larger than life posters of models. All very beautiful women. “You could be like them. You’re a very beautiful girl.”
“I can’t,” I said. “I have to go.” Madi looked disappointed. Jessica looked at her feet.
Madi moved closer to me. Please save me. “Could I be like them?” Madi asked. I pulled away from the man.
He smiled. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, I think… Actually, why don’t all three of you come with me—I’ll hook you up.” It was a very wide smile. Too calculated.
Madi pushed me to follow the man. “You’re being ridiculous,” she hissed at me. “Didn’t you hear about Katy’s sister? She was discovered at a mall too. Actually, I think it was this mall.”
Jessica nodded. It was true after all—I had heard that story repeated many times in school. I thought then that maybe I was being ridiculous. I thought a lot of things.
The man was leading us to the nearest exit. He told us his coworkers were waiting there. They could get us a contract. It was one of the lesser used exits of the mall. We passed only a few onlookers.
His coworkers turned out to be men like him. Older than us, but still young enough to be attractive. The fattest of them looked up as we approached. “Let’s go out to the car,” he said. “I’ve got some forms you can look through.”
It was dark outside. Cold, and quite deserted. I tugged Madi’s arm, but she only scoffed at me. The hell were we getting ourselves into?
The men asked our ages and seemed uneasy at the responses. One of them said we should have been older, but the one who had “discovered” us silenced him with one word: “Rico.”
I did not know who Rico was then, but I do now. Rico was driving the U-haul with six unwilling passengers. I was staring hard at the wall of the truck. There was nothing else I could do.
When the truck stopped and the back thrown open a hoard of burly men jumped aboard. They grabbed us and pulled us into a building—some warehouse, I think. I did not struggle as I had before. None of us did. We were broken.
I don’t know how many days we were kept in the warehouse. There were no windows in the warehouse, only flickering fluorescent lights somewhere far above us. Half of them were dead and had never been replaced. The large open space was divided into steel cages. Like for cattle. I had one all to myself and it was all I knew of my surroundings. I had no idea how big the building was, nor how many of us were trapped there.
They fed me hardly anything. Just enough white bread with Cheez Whiz to keep me alive. They must have drugged me too, though I don’t remember them actually administering anything, because I started to hallucinate. A lot. On good days I hallucinated my parents. They had come to save me. Or Liam Neeson, though I had never actually seen Taken. I wished I had, maybe it would have taught me something. Probably that I am an idiot. Anyway, I doubt it’s that realistic—it is Hollywood after all. But it doesn’t matter, I’ll never see it.
I was woken up suddenly. A rough hand clamped under my armpits, dragging me to my feet. I could hardly stand, but it’s not like I needed to—the hands dragged me all the way. Another U-haul, but this time I was alone with my guard. Thankfully, he seemed very bored and uninterested in me.
At the next stop I was given a bath. The hands had to wash me as I could barely do it myself. I can't believe how much grime I was covered in—I think most of it was my own fecal matter. I just didn’t care anymore. I was also given a full meal, tons of makeup, and a set of clothes—some skimpy miniskirt and a tank top. Soon I could think clearly again.
This time I was given a ride in a car. I don’t know anything about cars, but it was a really nice one. Leather seats and I don’t even know. There was a guard sitting next to me, but he was wearing a suit. A really nice suit. When the car stopped, he jabbed me. “Smile,” He grunted.
I was pulled out of the car and handed over to another man in a hoodie. I guess he had already given them some money. I don’t know how much.
The new man led me into a house. From the outside, the house was just an ordinary house. It looked no different than any of the other houses on the street. Even the lawn was freshly mowed and the garden was well-tended to. I was led inside and immediately to the basement. There I was tied to a wall and left for a few hours. It was dark in the basement, so I couldn’t see anything, but I could smell and it smelled bad, I can’t even describe it—it was unlike anything I had ever smelled before. Also, the wall I was tied to was quite cold and sticky, but these were the only observations I was able to make.
When the man returned, he had with him several more men. They were all hooded, though this time not in sweatshirts. They were actually wearing full length cloaks—like monks or the KKK, except black cloaks. It sounds stupid, but in real life, in the dark basement, it freaked me out quite a bit.
The monks or Klansman or whatever the hell they were began to move around the room lighting long candles supported on metal stands. As the room slowly began to be illuminated I first could make out that the walls were almost completely covered in shiny red splatters. I suppose that would explain the stickiness. On the floor in front of me were two stone tables. One was quite large and the other rather small. Another hooded man appeared coming down the staircase. He was carrying some animal, which I could soon tell was a goat. The man placed it on the smaller of the stone tables and his associates help him to bind the goat to it with chained shackles. The goat barely struggled during the whole process.
I was observing how perfectly designed the small table was that the goat fit perfectly within the grooves and shackles, when I realized the larger table was meant for a human. In other words, me.
But whatever ritual or whatever the men were preforming started with me still chained to the wall. The men drew pentagrams on the floor, set things on fire, and chanted in languages I didn’t recognize. The room grew smoky fast and I began to fade back into my usual hallucinations, but just before I went out completely I made out one of the men raising a dagger high in the air. After a moment he brought it down swiftly in such a way that blood splattered the walls once more. The goat was gone and I, mysteriously, was still alive.
When I came to, the basement was dark again. From what I could tell the basement had been cleared out of all animal carcasses, pentagrams, and other humans. I was to stay tied to the wall for a few more days. The man who had bought me fed me every couple of hours, but other than that I was left alone. He rarely talked but I was able to learn from him that his friends had decided I was not ready yet. I was also pretty sure he was trying to fatten me up. Obviously, his plans for me were very different from those who had held me before.
One day (or night—I couldn’t tell) I could hear a lot of commotion upstairs. I knew this was it. I was so far gone I didn’t care anymore. It was simply a fact of life. However, when someone finally came down the stairs he was not wearing a cloak, nor was he carrying a goat. He was carrying a large black flashlight and wearing a police officer’s uniform. Another hallucination of mine, I knew it.
“Hello?” said the hallucination. “Anyone down here?”