I’m screaming from under the covers of my bed again. My shriek pains my own ears. It's a shriek that chills the blood. I rarely sleep at night. When I do, the lights are 'on'. I must have fallen asleep in the afternoon. The darkness and silence envelop me and fill me with fear. I can feel him in the room. Feel his presence. It’s like he’s watching me. Stalking me. Celia rushes into my room. Mom’s working late again. My younger sister pulls me into her arms. I tremble with fear. I didn’t use to be this way. This—afraid. Ever since… Him… His ghost haunts me. It’s been a year since we were rescued. Celia now dwarfs me. She’s bigger and now she’s my protector. I begin to sob as all of the fear melts with Celia’s presence. “Shhh. I’m here. Shhh. He can’t hurt you anymore." All the treatment and therapist in the world can’t free me from him. Even in death, he assaults me.
I calm down bit more, “I’m so sorry.” Her apology takes me back to our captivity. Celia was the lucky one. She was left unharmed… At least physically. She hugs me tighter, hoping to squeeze the memory from my soul. It just brings it to the surface…
“It’s you or her. I’m not picky.” He says to us; my stomach is twisting in knots. Celia is behind me. The fire light from the hearth throws our shadows along the bare hardwood floor in the cabin. To look at our shadows you would think two sisters retreating from an imposing figure. We’re not sisters, I’m Celia’s brother, Corey.
Celia is not that much smaller than I am, but we’re both dwarfed by our captor. He is an imposing figure; more monster than man when our fears rule our minds. His steel grey eyes paralyze us. I don’t even have to look at my sister behind me to know how scared she is of him. I push her further backwards with my right hand. She grabs my wrist with both hands pleading for me to retreat with her. I know there’s nowhere we can go. I know what he wants. As long as I’m willing to put myself between the monster and her, she’ll be safe.
I think he enjoys the choice I make more. That I would do it willingly each time to keep my sister from harm. My eyes drift to the pail of water near the fire. The fire crackles and pops as smoke rises. The wood burning there is damp from the recent spring rains. It’s a musty smell that grows more intense as the fire grows and the wood dries. Already, I can see the steam rising from the pail. I’m thankful Celia had set it there to heat the water for washing. Cold water makes washing ‘him’ off me worse. The fire he lit was not for warmth, but for light; so he can see my face. It’s something in my expression. He sees it. Embarrassment? Revulsion? Distress? Whatever it is that he sees, it pleases him.
“Alright then” he says, “just like the last time.” His gravelly voice is stoic, but his eyes bubble with delight. The heat from the fire rises to the ceiling the rafters creak and groan; they are the only witnesses to my plight. I lower my head and release a slow, sad breath. I can’t fight him; I can only please him enough that he would leave Celia alone. She’s all that matters. “You have to watch out for your sister.” Mom always implored. “You’re her big brother.”
Celia’s tears drip silently on to my forearm as I push her back further. Her hands don’t want to let go of my wrist. I push her back far enough that she’s in the closet. She won’t let go. “Celia, let go. I need you to let go. It will be fine, I promise. He won’t hurt you.” I say softly. He steps closer to me. Takes a sniff of my long brown hair. I shudder as he takes in the scent of my fear. With his approach, Celia releases my wrist and cowers in the closet. His hand extends above my head to close the closet door shutting my sister inside. It brings me relief that she never sees what happens to me. A small mercy from a merciless monster.
“I’m so sorry, Corey.” My little sister’s small voice barely audible through the heavy wooden door.
“You know” He says with delight, “I’ve never seen a boy so protective of his sister.” He says that every time; I see his smirk teasing me for my choice. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve surrendered my body to him. He’s still never touched her. I’m convinced that I’m the ‘girl’ he wants. He locks the door to the closet. “Just like before, yeah?” he repeats his request. Waiting for my ‘permission’ for him to use me. My stomach churns again, this time, not from fear, but from revulsion. I pause before relenting to his advance.
“Just like before.” I say on the edge of sorrow.
“Look me in the eyes when you say that.” his voice stern, but not angered. He waits for me to look at him. The fire is behind him. There’s no glint in his eyes. Just darkness.
I repeat, “Just like before.”
“Straighten that dress of yours. I don’t want you disheveled.” My seams are straight, they always are. I have to look perfect for him. Perfect to keep him in the mood, away from his anger. “Maybe, I should have her instead.” He points to the door.
I obediently look down and sweep the wrinkles on the skirt to smooth them. I pull my hands to the bodice, crossing them almost hugging myself. I know what he’s doing. It’s the same dance, every time. He pushed me down to my knees. I can feel him staring at me, undressing me. He wants me this way. Reluctant, but not defiant. Coerced, but not willing. He drinks in the power he has over me.
He strokes his hand through my hair that frames my face. His touch sends a wave disgust through me that I have to conceal; I want to cry. He stokes it again, lustfully and hits a tangle. It jerks my head to the side as he pulls through it. “Your hair needs brushing.” He chides. It must be the humiliation that he must crave. That I’d lower myself for his pleasure.
I’m on my knees. The hardwood floors of the cabin cut into my bare knees. The floor, like my captor, is cold and unyielding. Here’s where he decides. ‘Lift my skirt or lower my jaw.’ He wants my tears falling now. I’m right on cue.
I can hear Celia’s muffled sobs in the closet. She knows what comes next, though she’s not witnessed it. She’s heard my pained wails before, through the door. Afterwards, she’s had ‘to clean me up’ when he was finished with me. At least it is not twice a day anymore. It seems like months since he brought us here. The middle of the forest. We’ve been outside the cabin twice since we’ve got here. The cabin is barren most of the time. Nothing to use as a weapon. Nothing that we can use to escape.
I use to cry-out as he used me. He loved the pained screams, he loved it when I squeal. Now, he doesn’t want to hear me, not even a sob. He just wants to see the sadness on my face, after. That’s when he has the widest grin. A toothy grin that is dull with tarter. I tune out as he uses me. He shakes me so I’m not long in my trance. He doesn’t want to pleasure himself with ‘a corpse’. He want’s me awake. Present. Humiliated. “Wake up!” He’d scream. Sometimes he’d pull my hair to get me to yelp, just so he knows that I know what he’s doing to me. He’s never gentle. Never kind. Never.
He finishes with me then walks over to the closet door and opens it. “Clean her up!” he hisses at my sister. He leaves for the kitchen. Probably to pour a mug of some fermented concoction he brews when he’s bored. I’m left there shaking and silently crying on the floor.
Celia works quickly. She is quiet now. Whether it is from guilt or from a desire to avoid reminding me of how I had been violated, I don’t know which. He doesn’t want us making noise, not after. He enjoys the silence the seclusion it gives him. When he really wants quiet, he’d leave us alone for a day or two. There is nobody around for miles. When he would leave us locked in the cabin, we’d scream at the top of our lungs for days and nobody ever heard us. He used to chain us down. He doesn’t bother anymore. We’re not going anywhere. He knows it.
My sister dips a rag into the pail of water heated by the hearth. I don’t have to watch. My eyes are closed shedding more tears. I lay there with my knees curled to my chest. My body fidgeting from his violation of me. The skirt of my dress draped over my legs covering where he entered me. The hem is unraveling. The dress is threadbare with small worn holes where moths have feasted on the frock. I lay there, like a door mat. Even the floor coverings he treats with care. Why not me?
I’ve stopped wondering why we were in this cabin in the first place; stopped wondering why nobody came for us; stopped wondering why I was being punished. It’s unlikely anyone would follow the trail. It was well hidden when we found it. The stranger we encountered asked us if we had any food. Celia was content to share what she had. She felt sorry for the man who would be our captor. Sorry enough that one day when he said that he needed ‘small hands’ to reach the key to a cabin he had found. She cheerfully, volunteered to retrieve it from the crevice.
Darkness came quickly and he offered her shelter for the evening. I had followed behind out of sight. I tracked the pair as they walked further and further into the forest. I watched her retrieve the key and hand it to the stranger. He thanked her and offered to return her to the trailhead. He warned her that it would be dark by the time their journey would end. I did not see what happened to her that evening. I’m now convinced he didn’t touch her then. She wasn’t afraid of him even that morning. I waited for her to come out so we could make our way home, sleep must have taken me instead. That morning, I found myself inside the cabin.
He offered to take her home. He might have taken her home just like he said he would. Celia found me in his bed instead. She stayed and became his… complication. She knew I was here. He knew Celia could tell others I was here. When he saw my concern for her, she became leverage rather than a liability.
I hear the droplets of water rain back into the pail until they slow to a trickle. It wakes me from my trance. She wrings the rag, sending a second rush of water that slows again. Drop. Drop. Drop. Then there is the slap of her bare feet on the floor that sounds her approach. I’m still on my side, I don’t bother to wipe my tears. She gently wipes the salted streaks from under my eyes.
Unlike his grips and paws, Celia’s touch is gentle, soft. The touch of someone that cares. I’m sure mine would be as well. We have so little strength left between us. I’ve memorized the face she gives me. It’s burned into my memory. I’ve endured so much humiliation, the price for her safety. Her face mired in shame. She blames herself. I try to forget that she is the reason we are here. Her kindness was our downfall.
I reach for the rag. She pulls it away from me. I need to clean ‘him’ off of me; what he left me. She walks over to the pail dips a second rag and walks quietly over to me. She washes his spunk from me. She’s wiping me like I‘m a soiled infant or one of her dolls. It’s her turn to take care of me.
He just stands there lording over us. He’s leaning against the door frame to the threshold between the kitchen and the main room with a steel mug in hand and a satisfied grin on his face. “Don’t forget to brush her hair, I want it smooth for next time.” He commands my sister, but his eyes are focused on me. She looks up and nods softly acknowledging his request. I wince at the thought of the ‘next time’.
It should be past Celia’s 12th birthday. I had just celebrated my 13th when we were ‘taken’. We’re not the first. I don’t want to know what happened to the last. He left us with her clothes, the girl who was before us. We had to share them. They are tattered and smell of soil and shame—sour. There is no underwear though. No boy clothes, nothing to remind him that I am a boy, Celia’s brother, except what the skirts hide and he reveals, though his hands never seek it. No, I’m no boy, except when it’s useful for him to taunt me or compel me to put myself between him and my sister.
He must have thought we were sisters at first. My hair was already long. It’s down below my shoulders. Mom taught Celia to brush her hair out. It’s smooth and she now attends to hers and mine daily. It has been so long since we’ve seen our mother. Celia hums just like like mom does, almost. Mom’s hum is sweet and staccato. Celia’s is slow, unsteady and sounds like she’s trying to keep herself from crying. Celia works the brush though her cinnamon hair deftly making use of the fews shafts of light that pour through walls of the windowless cabin. I sit with my back against the wall facing her I watch her hair gleam from the reflected light. I watch the strands straighten and shine. She had just finished brushing her hair and was about to start on mine when we heard the rustling of keys from the other side of the front door. We weren’t expecting him to be back. Not so soon.
He came into the cabin and silently lit the fire after he tossed a few logs into the fireplace. The practice he follows to light a fire is deliberate. A ritual of sorts. He is more attentive to starting the fire than he is to us.
That same fire still glows late into the evening. We fall asleep on the floor in front of the fireplace. We’re huddled like sisters. Celia wraps her arm protectively around me. We rest our heads on top of folded rags. Our tattered dresses are our only coverings. The fire dies leaving us in darkness as we await the sunlight, hoping he was satiated until tomorrow evening.
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