Chapter 45, The Lad She Saw
[BY VENESSA MACARTAN]
“But, Grandmaw, I thought ye said Foxglove can kill people,” I expressed with mah arms crossed. There was a piece of curly red hair danglin’ in mah face, but I couldn’t bother to tuck it behind mah ear.
Grandma and I were both in the shed behind our hoose, sortin’ through herbs like we do every week, but I’ve just been given the news that Foxglove apparently ain’t the only poisonous flower out there.
“Aye my wee tube, there are plenty of poisons. Common plants like Oleander and Mistletoe could be used or even Hydrangeas. There are many ways to kill a person,” Grandma explained. I watched her dice up some herbs, her glossy brown eyes fixed on the task as she added, “Sometimes ye don’ even need poison to kill someone.”
“What? How does that work?” I asked amazed.
“You’ll know when yer older,” Grandma laughed, “Besides it’s much more useful to learn herbs that can save a person. Come, come here over to the English Marigold. Ye can dry it up and use it to rub onto insect bites to reduce pain and swellin’,” Grandma explained, gesturin’ to the dried orange flowers dangin’ from one of the posts keepin’ the shed up.
I yawned in boredom. “I don’ care about healin’ flowers. I want to know more about the dangerous ones,” I explained.
“Ye’ll need to know how to take care of yerself for when I’m gone, Venessa!”
“Pfft, yeah, ye ain’t dyin’ anytime soon, ye old hag,” I laughed, “Yer goin’ to outlive us all.”
Getting distracted, I reached for the foxglove plant on the counter and went to pick it up, but a sharp voice made me stop.
“Ey, ye better listen! I’ll give ye a skelpit lug!” Grandma threatened.
I immediately dropped mah hand and looked at grandma with innocent eyes. Grandma was never one to not follow up on her threats. Mah ear still hurts from the last time she slapped me silly.
“Oi, ye look jus’ like ye father. What a meddlesome lad,” Grandma sighed, “And to think ye’re only fourteen. What will I do when yer old enough to bring home some lad.”
I scoffed at that. “Don’ worry, Grandmaw, there’s nobody around for miles. The only time I see the opposite gender is when we visit the city every once a year. I doubt I’d be able to snag a boyfriend in the span of twenty-four hours. The closest thin’ we have to company out ‘ere are the goats. Or wait, I saw a mountain hare this mornin’! Maybe I’ll ask him to date me,” I complained. I was pretty sour on the subject and mah grandma was all too aware. I was a teenager. All I wanted to do was hang out with other teenagers and joke around. Not talk to mountain hares and get slapped by mah grandma.
“Alright alright, let’s call it a day,” Grandma laughed.
I grinned right back before followin’ her our the shed and towards the farmhoose not too far away. We really did live in the middle of nowhere. That’s Northern Scotland for ye. I wished I could stay in the city, but I knew grandma needed mah help out there on the farm. I jus’ wished I could meet people mah age. Just last week I went to the city for the first time that year and I was overwhelmed with how much it changed since I last saw it. We stayed with a friend, but while grandma was asleep, I snuck out to explore the night. I met some interestin’ people, includin’ a few older gentlemen who called me pretty. I was flattered that these foreign men flirted with me. The guy who did most of the talking had black hair and dark eyes. He was probably in his twenties and though I knew he was too old for me, I pretended to be interested. Flirted back for a while before I left. It wasn’ every day that braw men thought I was something to look at. Mah red hair was always stocky and I was covered in dirt more than anythin’, but still, I was flattered.
Tired, grandma and I quietly ate dinner before we both headed to bed. I slept in the attic while grandma was downstairs. We used to share a cot but since I turned fourteen, I was in need of mah own space.
And that was when it happened.
Thud. Thud. Crash.
I woke up, eyes wide and heart racin’ at the sudden sound comin’ from downstairs. Were we gettin’ robbed? Was grandma jus’ clumsy? In mah panicked state, I decided to stay perfectly still in mah bed, hopin’ to hear more.
“What do ye want?”
That was a shot! That was a gunshot and my grandma’s voice! Was I dreamin’? I had to be dreamin’! Or maybe grandma shot whatever got inside? Maybe an animal? A red deer or one of the goats?
“Split up and look for the girl.”
Footsteps. Many footsteps.
True terror washed over every inch of mah body. Like a cold bath, mah limbs were too frozen to move. I knew that voice. I knew that voice! It was the same accent as the man that called me pretty last week!
Feelin’ mah breathin’ become erratic, I clasped mah hands over mah mouth in an attempt to suffocate any noise that was to come from me. I felt mah heart beat uncontrollably in my chest, beggin’ me to move. To just to somethin’, but I couldn’t. I was petrified. I was sure this was all a nightmare.
Creak. Creak. Creak.
I heard a heavy set of footsteps slowly walk up the creaky steps to the attic. To mah room. I knew I should do somethin’. I should move or hide or just do anythin’, but in my panicked state of mind, I could do nothin’ but pretend to sleep. I heard the old door swing open and those heavy steps walked inside. I heard the floorboard creak closer and closer to mah cot, but I simply shut my eyes tight and hoped this would all go away. I thought that hopefully when I wake up, this would all have been nothin’.
I was wrong.
“There she is,” I heard the voice say. It was that man. That man that called me pretty! I could still recall his handsome face with those dark features. He had the same accent that I couldn’t place. It was without a doubt him.
“My little red flower,” he said before I felt the blanket gettin’ pulled away.
As if all mah instincts to fight kicked in, I jumped away from the man. I was in mah nightdress and felt the cold northern air grab at my exposed legs. Or was it the man’s hands? Because just as I jumped to my feet on the cot, I was yanked back down. The man grabbed my ankles and pulled me towards him and I started kickin’ and screamin’.
“Grandmaw!” I yelled, “Grandmaw!”
“Granny isn’t coming for you,” The man said. He moved on top of the bed, on top of me, and pinned mah body down with his legs while his hands held mine in place. I tried resisting. I tried gettin’ out of his grip, but he was too strong. My useless female arms couldn’t so much as budge an inch of this man on top of me.
“Grandmaw!” I continued to yell, “Help me!!!!”
“Shut up, bitch,” the man said and suddenly mah head jerked to the side. I felt a warm sting across my cheek and already my left eye was startin’ to swell. He slapped me.
I... I needed white willow bark to get rid of the swelling. I knew we must have had some of it at the back of the shed. Grandma would know where it is.
“You could either make this easy or hard, Little red flower,” the man continued, “You come with us without a struggle and you won’t get hurt, but if you make this difficult, I’ll have to make you learn.”
Fight, mah mind said. Fight! I ain’t ever goin’ to stop fightin’!
“Fook off, ye piece of shite!” I cursed and spat at the man. I raised my knee as high as I could and kicked the fooker in the nuts. He loosened his grip for jus’ a moment before I got mah right hand free and slashed away. Mah nails were pretty long and I clawed the man’s face. Blood started drippin’ the second I got my target, right across that pretty face of his.
“Fucking cunt!” the man yelled as he clasped his face.
I scrambled out beneath him and ran to the creaky stairs that led out of the attic. But just when I got to the first step, I felt a blow dealt to mah back and I was sent flyin’ forwards. I fell down the steps, rollin’ and hittin’ the floor as I did. I felt pain all over my body. I think my nightdress was torn.
With the breath knocked out of me, I looked up in a panic as the man with a bleedin’ face came walkin’ down the stairs. He kicked me in the stomach. Kicked again and again and I curled to my side but the pain was too much. I coughed up blood and heard a ringin’ in mah ear before the sound of more footsteps came closer.
“Fuck, Adrik, you’re going to kill her!” someone yelled.
“The bitch clawed my face!” Adrik shouted back before kickin’ me again. More blood came from mah mouth and I started coughin’ uncontrollably.
“The boss will have your head if you kill her! She’s rare! A redhead! And better yet she’s probably a virgin! Do you know how valuable that bitch you’re kicking is?”
“Fuck, fuck, fuck!” Adrik yelled, sendin’ a kick with each curse before he stopped.
I couldn’t move at that point. Mah body was too limp and broken to do anything and yet still...
Fight, mah mind screamed. Fight!
With everythin’ I had left, I lunged for Adrik’s feet and bit his ankle, puttin’ the last of my strength into my jaw in hopes I could bite his foot clean off.
“Get this fucking cunt off of me!” Aldrik yelled, kickin’ with his foot, but I would not let go.
“Hey, stop that! You’re only going to get hurt!” the other man said as he started pulling me away from Adrik, but I was rabid. I was mad with anger. I was a feral dog that would not let go no matter what.
“No money is worth getting my foot bitten off!” Adrik yelled and I looked up just as he pointed a gun at mah head.
Fine. Kill me. But I will not stop fightin’.
“Adrik, wait!” the other man yelled. I felt a sudden rip as the man pulled mah hair back. The pain was so sudden and unexpected, I let go for just a moment, but long enough for Adrik to kick me in the face.
I was out of it. My body, void of any strength, was limp as I was kicked and punched to a bloody pulp. It was hard to breathe. I think mah nose was broken. At some point, I felt mahself being lifted up and carried away. My vision was blurry. All I saw while getting carried off was a corpse in the door frame of mah hoose.
“Grandmaw,” I croaked, “Help.”
My vision went dark and I fell into a restless sleep.
Weeks. For weeks I was kept in a dark room that smelled of mold. An old man that never spoke would come in every day to treat mah wounds, but I had to be tied down every time because I kept kickin’ and yellin’ at every person I saw.
I wasn’t sure where I was but I knew I wasn’t close to home. I was on a boat at some point and later in a crate on a truck. There were other lassies sometimes, but they kept me separate from them because I was too wild. Like a dog with rabies, they kept me away from all the good pups.
“It’s almost been a month and she’s still feral,” a voice said outside the door.
I looked up from the corner where I slept in the darkroom. I saw light from underneath the door and two sets of boots.
“She has to be force-fed, but whoever is unlucky enough with the job gets his fingers nearly bit off. At this rate, we can’t sell her off to anyone! Nevermind a high bidder with a rare taste.”
“It’s a shame we can’t keep her pure for the sale,” the other man sighed. This one was older. “There’s only one way to tame a wild animal. You break it.”
That same night, I was dragged out of mah darkroom. My hands were tied behind me so there was nothin’ I could do but kick and scream. Mah voice was hoarse from these last weeks, but I would not stop screamin’. Even when they gag me with a filthy rag, I keep on shoutin’ with everythin’ I had.
I was brought to a clear room and thrown on a large bed. There were other men inside as well. They all looked the same to me with dirty looks and greedy eyes. I had no idea what they were plannin’. I thought they would just kick and punch me like usual, but no...
Without warnin’, the clothes I had on were ripped off of me and I panicked. I was completely naked in a room with half a dozen men. But my embarrassment was shadowed by my will to fight. Naked and all, I kept kickin’ and screamin’, threatenin’ to bite off their dicks. Two men stepped closer to hold my tied hands above me in place while a second pair of men desperately tried to keep my legs pinned as well.
I was exposed. Completely exposed to these strangers and my eyes burned with the threat of tears at the thought of these filthy men seein’ mah naked body.
“Let’s get you nice and wet,” the man said.
Mah memory went blank that night. I’ve buried it so far deep down in mah soul that it would never see the light of day ever again.
For two years, mah memory went black. For two years, I opted for simply forgettin’ everythin’ that was done to me. It was the simplest thing to do. All I can remember from that time was the words of a lass before she died. I think she was a friend. Maybe somethin’ more.
“Hey, don’t fight them. Don’t fight them when you can’t win. Save your strength for when you see the chance to escape. Don’t resist. Someone will come to save us.”
I never followed her advice. Though my memory is blank, I knew that I never stopped fightin’ for even a moment. Even after... Even after they broke me. Even after I no longer felt human, I was clawin’ and bitin’ like an animal. Because the momen’t I stopped fightin’... That was when...
Sometimes ye don’ even need poison to kill someone.
That’s when they win. The moment I stop fightin’ is the moment they kill me.
But who knew... We knew mah final breakin’ point wouldn’t be filthy men clawing at mah body or drugged food being fed to me. Who knew what would ruin me beyond repair wasn’t the violent hands of men that wanted to hurt me, but rather...
The warm hand of someone that saved me.
I was in a room that looked exactly the same as any other. I was starin’ at the ceiling, while my body swaed rythmaticly on top of a dirty bed. My limps were tied and I was gagged silent. After two years they still had to chain me like a wild animal.
I think... there was a man on top of me. I can’t remember. I wasn’t payin’ attention. But out of no where, the door suddenly swung open and I looked over at a lad that rushed inside with a shotgun in his grasp. Before I could react or really comprehend what was happening, a loud shot was hurt. Blood splattered on top of me and when I looked down the brute that was on top of me just a moment ago, he was... dead.
“Hey, you okay?” the lad asked.
I looked over in disbelief. He had brunette hair that was gelled in a way that it looked like one of the cattle at home licked him. He had dark lashes and so very kind, worried eyes that... This was... this was the first time that anyone asked me if I was okay and... This was the first time that someone looked at me with such worry. The last person I knew that cared abou’ me was dead.
I shook mah head no, the gag in my mouth preventin’ any words.
I broke right there. For two years I refused to cry. I was gagged and held down, but I would glare at the men in my life. But now... now I would cry uncontrollably.
“Whoa, it’s going to be okay. You’re saved. You’re safe now. Nobody is going to hurt you,” the lad said as he rushed over. He looked like he had a lot on his mind, constantly checkin’ over his shoulder but he pushed the man that was on top off me off and sat next to me as he started inspectin’ the restraints. “I won’t let anyone hurt you,” he said. He removed the gag from my mouth and started untyin’ me with just gentle, warm hands.
With everythin’ crumbling down around me, I didn’t care anymore. I clung to the lad once my restrainst were removed and sobbed mah heart out. Sobbed as I broke to a point where nobody could put me back again.
“It’s alright, it’ll be alright,” the lad whispered as he held me in his arms.
I was sobbin’ like that for who knows how long before the lad got up and told me there were still a lot of girls to be saved. He didn’t have a jacket, just a bulletproof vest with a shirt on, but still he didn’t hesitate to take it off and give me his shirt before he put the vest back on.
“Let’s get out of here. I’ll show you the way to the rest of the girls,” the boy said as he took my hand and lead me out of that dirty room. He was speakin’ with someone else through an earpiece. “Yes, this side is cleared. I’m bringing over the last of the girls before we blow the place up.”
The lad took me to where other men were escorting the lassies out of the buildin’. Everyone had these dead, cryin’ eyes. I was the only one that was cryin’ furiously. I couldn’t stop cryin’.
Not because what happened to me was cruel, but because the boy that saved me was so kind.
What followed next was a series of gunshots and explosions as me the rest of the lassies and I were escorted out. For a moment I thought we were just goin’ to be taken to a new place with the same situation, but when they loaded us into vans, the men were kind and gave us all water.
I drank the water greedily. It was clean! The sweet tang of poison could not be tasted.
We were in the vans for a few hours, maybe two before we stopped. When I stepped out of the van, I marveled at the place. We were in a spruce forest with neatly trimmed headges surrounding us and a long cobbled driveway leadin’ up to a mansion of a hoose. It was old and still held enough windows to seem modern. The east wing was under construction though. I noticed the blackened brick of that side of the hoose and figured there must’ve been a fire recently.
I stepped into the hoose with the other girls and we waited for soup. I had just stopped cryin’, but when I was handed a bowl and it was my turn in line, I immediately started bawlin’ mah eyes out again.
The lad! The kind lad that saved me was handin’ out the soup.
“Hey there’s no need for you to cry anymore,” he said sincerely, “Everything’s going to be okay now.”
His words only made my sob even more. I was breakin’. Stop being’kind to me, I wanted to yell at him. Stop bein’ so kind, it’s breakin’ me. Every man I’ve know till now was poison. Why are ye different?
“I’m not cryin’ because I’m sad. I’m cryin’ because I couldn’t be the one to slaughter those men,” I lied.
The lad looked at me a moment longer before he said, “You’re scary.”
I smiled. And so, I lived by that lie.
Oh, I would be the scariest lassie out there. If they fear ye, they can’t hurt ye.
A week had passed and I met the leader of the men that saved me. Xavier Jilten found me cryin’ in the gardens when nobody was around. He asked me if there was anythin’ he could do to help me and I told him I wanted to stay. All the other lassies were in the process of being found a home. Me on the other hand? No, I wanted to stay here because I wanted to kill every trash piece of man that would dare hurt anyone.
Xavier gave me a long look before he said that he’d love for me to stay. And that, if I wanted to cry, the roof was a perfect place. Especially durin’ a sunrise.
So that’s what I did.
The next mornin’, I crawled out of the window of mah room and scaled up the roof of this place called Isabella. Mah new home. The sky was still a dark blue, but I could see it gettin’ lighter. It was winter. Snow covered the spruce forest and it reminded me of Scottland. That musky, earthy smell. That cold breeze caressing mah face.
“Hey, what you doing?”
I looked over and the lad that saved me was poking his head out of the window. It must have looked strange to him. This broken lass on a roof.
He couldn’t know. If anyone knew how broken I was, I was sure they would tell me to leave. The only reason Xavier kept me around was because I was a fighter. I needed to be strong in front of these guys and prove myself worthy if I was to be given the opportunity to get revenge.
“I’m thinkin’ of all the ways I could kill someone,” I lied.
“Can I join you?” the lad asked.
“If ye must.”
He grinned as he climbed out of the window and came to sit next to me. I felt awkward havin’ this lad so close. Just a week ago, he saw me in that awful state... He must think I’m pathetic. I don’ want him to think I’m pathetic.
“It’s pretty cold, isn’t it,” he commented.
“Hmpf, yeah happens when yer not hot enough,” I scoffed nonchalantly.
I wanted to thank him. Why hadn’t I yet thanked him for what he did?
“Oof, and you’re the standard for being hot? A ginger?” the lad asked.
“Yeah, I’m fire.”
“Let us see,” the lad asked as he stuck out his hand.
I frowned at him before givin’ him mah hand. He held it for a moment. A moment too long.... And yet... not long enough.
“You’re not that hot,” he grinned.
“EXCUSE ME, YE FOOKING IDIOT I’M AS HOT AS IT GETS!”
“Hey, no need to call me an idiot!”
“Well, that’s exactly what ye are! A beetroot. A tattie.”
For the first time in a long while, I laughed. I actually laughed on that roof while jokin’ around with this kind lad. I couldn’t stop insultin’ him and all the while I promised myself...
I would thank him. Some day, I would thank him.
“I’m Daniel by the way,” he said. “I’m pretty useless when it comes to this gang. I have no particular skills except for flirting, which I’m great at by the way. I’m trying to finish highschool but I keep failing annnnd Xavier is my only true friend. I’m a nobody but I hope we can get along all the same.”
“I’m Venessa, but ye can call me Nessa,” I replied, “I’m amazin’ at everythin’ and I ain’t friends with nobodies.”
“Well then, I guess we’re not friends,” he smiled.
“Aye,” I grinned right back, “We can be rivals.”
“Hey, hey, Manwhore, what are ye doin’?”
“Ye’ve been zonin’ out the whole mission. What’s wrong with ye?”
I look at Daniel with concern. His mind has been wanderin’ around all day. This is a dangerous mission and if he’s not thinkin’ straight, something could happen to that idiot and... What is he thinkin’ about? Is he rememberin’ what happened to me? I hope not. I don’ want him remembering that.
“I’m just thinking too much,” he lies.
His brown eyes look downwards and for a moment they look so much like my grandma’s eyes that day... No, don’t remember it, Nessa.
“Well, stoop thinkin’! Ye need to keep whatever’s left of ye brain. It’ll be dangerous and ye ain’t kicking the fookin’ bucket jus’ yet! Ye hear me? If ye die then...” I can never thank you for what you did... “It won’ be as fun snaggin’ lassies anymore! There’s no point to it if I can’t damage ye frail ego!”
Daniel looks at me and for a brief moment, I think he sees mah lie for what it is. I feel as though he can look right into mah soul and see how broken and worried I am. But then he smiles. Grins. And I curse at mahself for it.
“Fine, Bagpipes,” he says, “I ain’t dying just yet.”
Tell him. Thank him. Do it now. You might regret it. He’s going to go out there and distract these assholes for you. Now’s the time, something might...
Naw, nothin’ will happen. He said it didn’t he? He ain’t dyin’. He’s Daniel for cryin’ out loud. The idiot won’ get offed that easily. I’ve been tryin’ to get rid of him for years.
“Don’t fail me,” I warn the beetroot before I’m off.
I hear Daniel runnin’ the opposite direction and without helpin’ it, I turn around and watch him go. He’s so much different than that first day we met. He’s grown to be a decent man. But for a single breath, as I watch him disappear, he looks a lot like the lad I saw.
I’ll thank him when this mission is done. When I see him again.