The girl with the soft smile
The door opens with a horrid shriek. My still weakened body immediately brushes up against the wall in an attempt to disappear and remain inconspicuous. I must have been here for hours. I can’t remember looking at my watch once since I woke up in this basement. It’s all been too blurry and scary to even think of it. Something tells me I’ve fallen back asleep a while ago, but I’m not sure. Now all I know is that I’ve tried hundred of times to liberate myself, but all I ended up with were sore hands and bruises around my wrists. And my head nearly bursts off my body with pain.
I paid attention to familiar sounds during my clear moments, like passing cars or barking dogs. Maybe even a train in the distance. But nothing happened, there was not a single thing to be heard, except for my own breathing. And that, let me tell you, is deafening to absorb in a room where there’s only silence.
And now that door is open, and I’m too afraid to open my eyes. In my imagination, I’ve vanished and whoever will walk into this room, will stumble upon an empty place. I can be quiet enough to convince someone I’m gone.
My breathing has stopped, maybe my heart too. I am crying, though. I can’t seem to stop crying.
Suddenly, there’s the sound of light-footed steps that shifts the entire energy in this room. They stop, as every possible worst case scenario rushes through my mind. It’s a guy with an axe. It must be. Or a muscled ex-con that finally wants to live out his murdering wish. What about a psychopath, ready for his tenth religious murder this year? Or maybe I’m facing a hideous rapist.
As all the possibilities cross my mind, I suddenly realize that some time has passed, and nobody has grabbed me to brutally murder me yet. I’m terribly afraid, but after some inner discussion with the rational part of my brain, I manage to carefully open up one eye in fear. This is the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done. I forget to breathe.
But what I’m seeing completely startles me. There’s no muscled ex-con. Not even a tattooed mafia boss with a golden ring around his middle finger and a secret obsession with The Godfather. All there is to see is a slim, blonde girl. She looks a bit like Ellen. Her hair is long and tied up in a ponytail. She must be my age. While smiling softly and nervously, she’s just standing there, arms held behind her back, patiently waiting for me to relax a little more. My tied up hands are still pressed against the wall, just like the rest of my body. Seeing her makes it easier, though. I’m pretty sure I’m able to knock her over if she tries to get closer to me.
Both of my eyes are open now and I’ve found a breathing pace again. What is going on here?
“Hi.” she softly utters.
I frown in all of my confusion. What the … ?
Her voice is kind of deep, but it suits her. I can’t come up with anything that won’t come out in a panicking way. She couldn’t have been the one that dragged me off my bike. She’s just too fragile, too small. I kicked the living shit out of the knees of my opponent. She seems fine as she waits there.
She takes a step towards me, and even though there’s not an inch left between the wall and me, I manage to absorb into it even more. The rope around my wrists starts to hurt again. The mysterious girl realizes just how afraid I am, so she holds up her hands and tells me to calm down – in a soft voice.
“I won’t hurt you.” she promises. “I’m here to meet you.”
“Meet me?” my trembling voice asks.
She nods innocently and in that exact moment, I discover how unaware she is of the complexity of this situation. I swear, it’s like she’s meeting a friend for the first time, and me being tied up to the wall means nothing at all. It’s just a formality.
“I’m Lauren,” she introduces herself.
Tears are still rolling down my face, but I’m not actually crying anymore. I refuse to answer, though. What is this shit? She looks around and bites her lower lip in anticipation. This girl’s weird. Fascinatingly weird, that is.
“Will you please let me go?” I ultimately beg in a whispering tone as I hold up my sore hands to her. The rope’s so tight. It cuts through the flesh. There’s blood everywhere.
She shakes her head apologetically: “I’m sorry, he told me not to. But he did tell me to settle you in.”
“Settle me in?”
“Yes. Tell you about how it’s going to be.”
Her words come easy.
I nod with confusion: “Going to be …”
This conversation is one-sided. All I do is repeat everything she tells me. But her riddles don’t make any sense. Nothing about this does.
“There’s a few rules I need to tell you. Like, how you need to be quiet while you’re here. He doesn’t like a lot of noise.”
“John. His name is John. He’s the one that found you.”
I frown offendedly as soon as she says it: “That asshole didn’t find me. He kidnapped me.”
She shakes her head nervously when she recognizes the verb and puts one finger to her lips.
“Please. Don’t say that word ever again. He doesn’t like it.”
It seems like this John creep doesn’t like too many things.
“What does he like?” I ask in a surrendering way.
Talking to her comes easy. I’m not even that scared anymore.
“Silence. Obedience. And metal.” she informs me, as if she has summed up the words a thousand times before.
My back loses contact with the wall behind it for the first time in minutes.
“Metal?” I smirk sarcastically, reminded of the pin the rope’s attached to and the door that’s keeping me hidden from the world outside.
She nods: “The music.”
I breathe in heavily: “Oh.”
Another silence takes over the space we’re in. Glass could break right now and we’d still hear nothing. I need to get out of here. I need to go home. That’s all I can think of.
It’s early in the morning. Six A.M., actually. I finally peeked at my watch. My dad’s probably at work right now. But why is this girl even awake at this hour? The oversized clothes hanging around her fragile, yet muscled body aren’t meant for her. They look like leftovers, found somewhere in a dumpster. She’s not even wearing shoes. Come to think of it: she has funny toes.
My feet waddle around like a drunk person. Everything about my nervousness makes her feel uncomfortable. I can tell. It’s not her fault that I’m here. It’s not her fault that I’ve been kidnapped. But what part in this whole thing does she have?
“Why are you here?” I ask courageously, as my curiosity finally kicks in and tops the fear.
She puts one foot in front of the other to rub the floor and shrugs like the innocent girl that she seems to be.
“I’ve been here as long as I can remember. John takes care of me.”
I frown with confusion: “You’re his daughter?”
A soft smile flashes my way. It’s too soft to display actual happiness.
“No. He found me when I was eight. My parents didn’t want me anymore, so he took me in. In return, I welcome the girls that come here.”
“The girls? There’ve been others? Other girls like me, tied up to the wall?”
That sounds too impossible to take in at this exact time. My body starts trembling again, like my heart’s about to explode. Somewhere deep inside, I hope they’re still around. Any other outcome can’t possibly be good.
She nods, like it’s a normal thing. I guess, when you don’t know any better, it might just be.
“Five, maybe six. They never stay long.” she calmly replies, with sadness filling her expression.
At the same time she looks confused, as if she’s wondering where these girls go when they leave. Something tells me she never asks.
I blink. Then I blink again, just to make sure I did it once before. A deep sigh forces me to relax. So this asshole kidnaps girls and – then what, murders them when he’s sick of them? Oh, God, I can’t get a break from the nausea. I need to puke!
I put my arm against my belly and close my eyes for a second to talk myself into calming down. That’s when she walks over to me. Her movement scares the hell out of me and I jump to the side, while the rope keeps my arms back from following my body. She feels sorry for me, I can tell. Look at me, the resemblance of a captured wild animal, in contact with a human being for the first time.
“I’m sorry for all of this. John just … This is who he is. It’s never been different. You’ll be untied soon, once you adapt.”
She’s preaching a standard speech. This poor thing doesn’t have a clue. I bet she was kidnapped too, and he told her differently.
“I’m so scared.” I admit.
It’s the first time I’ve ever said words like that. Desperation is taking over. I can’t handle this. I can’t handle being brutally murdered, or locked up for all eternity. I’ve read stories about this in the newspaper. They were horrible. People are capable of doing horrible things.
I start crying again, sobbing like crazy, actually. She holds out her hand to me, so very kind and gentle that I let her. What the hell can I do anyway? I’m attached to a rope, I won’t get very far. The tips over her fingers caress my dark, messy hair. I didn’t realize I’d be so happy to feel sympathetic gestures from someone I’ve never seen before.
“What’s your name?” she asks me again, so silently that it’s too soft to call it a whisper.
That’s when I break and fall down on my knees. Her body follows me, so that we’re face to face. I look at the rope around my wrists and squeeze my eyes, praying for the millionth time that it’s all just a bad dream. I want this to be a bad dream so badly. All I want to do is go home, and crawl into my mother’s warm and loving embrace. I miss the brutality that my Abuela handles me with when she commands me to be a though girl. And my dad, he’s been so absent all my life – busy with work – yet whenever we spent time together, it was intense and pure. Oh, God. And Ellen. I even miss that vicious bitch of a best friend.
But reality is: there’s no one else but her in this place. And that’s clearly dawning.
“Mariana.” I nearly choke after telling her. “It’s Mariana.”
My body’s shaking, while my knees continue to hurt.
“Hello Mariana.” she welcomes me, too genuine and gentle to even be mad at her.
I open my eyes to look up to her. That’s when I realize she’s got bright green eyes. And freckles decorating her nose. I feel the tears streaming down my face and that’s something she doesn’t like. Her index fingers touch the skin under my eyes, and she wipes one away. My cheek’s in her hand right now. It feels warm and comfortable. This girl, who is she?
I need to know. Because if I don’t, I’m afraid I’ll collapse.
“Now I won’t let him hurt you.”
She sounds convincing, but still – this situation tells me differently.
A deep sigh overshadows my panic: “Promise?”
Her eyes glare as they pierce into mine. Just when she’s about to open her mouth to answer me, the sound of a stranger’s footsteps on their way to the room reverberates loudly. However quiet and calm I just was, that all changes the second I come face to face with a man I’ve never seen before, yet seems way to familiar to be normal.
“Please, don’t hurt me!” I immediately beg him as I stay on my knees obediently.
I know it’s him. I am certain it’s this John figure.
Lauren’s hand slips to the tips of my fingers, while her face freezes. In the most subtle way, she’s trying to comfort me. The man behind her is surprisingly skinny and ordinary. His hair is short, brown and greasy, while the clothes he’s wearing are exceptionally clean. He has a thin scar on his left cheek, which turned pink over the years, like someone once tried to scratch out his eyeball. If it was one of the girls that were here before me, it wouldn’t surprise me.
“So, you are awake.” he states the obvious.
His voice is raspy and hard. This skinny dude, how is it possible that he kidnapped me? I don’t respond in any way. I just sit here, counting my own heartbeats as time passes so slowly. My eyes are focussed on the tips of my fingers. They are trembling like crazy. I’m incredibly afraid – so afraid that he’ll hurt me. But the man just stands there. He doesn’t move a muscle as he orders Lauren to get up on her feet. It’s remarkable how quickly she obeys. This girl has been trained for years, anyone can tell. She’s not a daughter to him. She’s just a slave. Or more like a dog. Her head’s bend downwards, like she’s not used to looking him in the eye. I wouldn’t do that either, he carries a death scare that reaches every fiber in your body.
“Go upstairs and start preparing dinner. I will eat at six.”
Calm and strict. That seems to be the way he talks.
Lauren nods, that’s all she does before she starts walking away from me. And that exact thing scares the hell out of me. If there’s anything that made me feel even a little bit less panicking, it was her presence. And now that’s gone as well. I’m left here with this creep.
“What are you going to do to me?”
It’s not like I want to know the answer, it’s just that I need to ask. Because not knowing scares me even more. Truth is he’s probably capable of doing terrible things to me. Expecting the worst will bring me the furthest, I gather.
The man, John, paces up and down as I’m just kneeling in front of him.
“Lauren will bring you some food in a while. And a bucket. You stay here until I know for sure that you won’t try anything that will make me want to hurt you.”
His tone is soft and controlled, like it’s a well-prepared speech that has been repeated a lot of times in this room. Yet, it sounds so threatening that every fiber in my body shivers instantly. Even though I haven’t eaten in a long time, I’m not hungry. I don’t want food from this man. He might poison me, or drug me again. My head’s still spinning from before.
“I just want to go home.” I finally whisper with desperation that fills my heart.
And as I say it, I start to sob like a little child. Home. Oh, I wish I was home.
“I’m afraid that’s not possible. You’re staying here for a while.”
“A while?” I repeat.
His words scare me. Is he going to kill me after a couple of weeks?
My fingers are still shaking. He notices.
“Once here, you can never return, girl. I have plans for you.”
I sigh nervously: “My dad has money. He can …”
“No.” he abruptly stops me.
A swallow calms my nerves for a second. After that, I’m back to full blown panic.
“Are you going to kill me?” I ask surprisingly resentful.
He shakes his head, while smirking. His eyes inspect the body in front of him. It seems to excite whatever he’s seeing. I wish he’d stop staring at me like that.
“You’re not of any use to me dead, girl. What’s your name?”
I refuse to answer. My hands are in my lap, kneading the flesh of my thighs. I put up a fight, but it’s the scariest thing I’ve ever done. I don’t have any control in this situation, not even the slightest, littlest bit. Sure, I refuse to answer him, but where is this going to get me? Tied up on a rope, it can’t get much better.
“Fine. No name. It doesn’t matter. You won’t be here that long to call you anything anyway.” his calm words let me know.
It’s like he really doesn’t care. A lost tear rolls over my cheek. I look up to him and frown my confusion away, to let him know I’m angry at him. That’s his cue to leave. He just steps back and slams the door on his way out. The massive, metal door deafens me for a second. A shrieking sound lets me know there’s a massive bar locking the only way out.
And then it happens: I’m alone again. My body crawls into a fetal position, to seek comfort. The floor is hard, and cold, but what do I care? I don’t care about anything that happens to me anymore. I just want to get away from here.