I really should have thought this through. No food, no water and no idea where I’m going doesn’t make it seem like I’ll find her anytime soon. The fact that the sun is beating down and burning my exposed skin doesn’t bode well either.
“Why do sunburns hurt so much!” I groan, gingerly stretching out on my mom’s couch.
“Probably so you remember to wear sunscreen next time,” My mom answers smugly from behind me.
“You know that’s worse than just an ‘I told you so’.”
“But I did tell you to put some on.” I can hear the smile in her voice, and groan as my shirt pulls against my skin.
“I get it, now will you please put some aloe on?”
The memory fades just as quickly as it popped up and I stumble. In my life I never really had many of those memories popping up out of the blue moments, and now, after losing everything that makes the memory; It’s a struggle not to fall to my knees and start crying again.
“There’s nothing you can do, move on,” I whisper to myself. It takes a few minutes of repeating the sentence but soon I’m back on my way, looking at the scenery to keep my mind occupied.
None of the buildings are untouched. Many have broken windows or gaping holes in the walls, most have both. A few are just barely holding up, their foundations swaying in the breeze. Every now and then I’ll pass a house that’s been burned to the ground; although, I see it as a kindness. I can’t say the same for the used to be owners. My town was on the smaller side of the scale, no big mega marts or malls closer than a forty-five minute drive. The biggest store we had was a small locally owned convenience shop, but it was enough. There’s not as many cars as you’d think there’d be, just a few here or there parked on the side of the road. I stop in my tracks as a shadow looms over me blocking out the sun.
I look up and scream. Falling hard on the ground, the crisp dirt cuts at me as I scramble backwards before I back into what used to be called a building. The bloated corpse of a woman not even in her thirties is hanging by her neck from a rope that’s tied somewhere inside the house she’s hanging out of. The heat has done her no favors. Her skin is covered with blisters too numerous to count. Some of which have burst letting the sickly yellow liquid make its way towards the ground. I turn my head and gag trying to keep what little food I have in my system there. I turn my back to the woman as I try to control myself. Trying to think of something else, anything else to distract me from this gruesome sight, I look, really look, at the building I’ve been up against. I’m in front of an abandoned cafe; a broken window sits in front of me with nearly all the glass broken out of it. There are overturned tables inside and chairs broken in pieces. Coffee cups lay scattered about the cafe, some completely shattered on the ground while others are completely untouched. Taking deep breaths I’m able to control myself and I make a small sigh of relief. I’m about to turn away when I see something move in the corner of my eye. However, I see nothing as I scan over the cafe again. My eyes fall on a small piece of glass that’s managed to stay in its place. In its reflection I see myself. I see how pale my skin has grown, how long and tangled my hair has become and the bags under my eyes, but I’m not the only thing visible.
There’s another body hanging from the house, but this one is considerably smaller. The remaining color in my face drains as I realize why. This time there’s no controlling myself as I vomit on the ground. The last of my food splattered in the dirt. I want to turn around, to cut them down or leave at the very least, but I can’t bring myself to look at them directly. I can’t imagine what would drive someone to do this to his or her child. What could’ve been worse than the fate that befell them both? I’m pulled from my despair by the sound of footsteps. “Something isn’t right,” my thoughts scream at me. The steps grow louder as I sit there on my knees frozen by my own paranoia.
The footsteps grow deafeningly loud before my body responds and I dive through the open window and hide off to the side barely beyond the window frame. Just as I do the sound stops. I hold my breath waiting for a hand to reach down and pull me from my hiding spot. I press my back further into the wall as I try to make myself invisible.
“Now I know you’re there,” someone says, their voice cutting through the silence. The sound is rough and grates on my ears, but I don’t dare make a move. I look down at my hands and curse inwardly. The damn sleeping bag is gone I must have dropped it back when I saw her.
“I heard you scream so there’s no point in pretendin’ little lady,” they taunt. I curse myself for forgetting about it, and chance a look outside. I press my hand against the wall and quickly pull myself to my feet as I whip my head around to look out the window. The sleeping bag is a few feet from me. I’d easily be seen before I could even grab it. There’s a man standing in the middle of the road gun in hand. I’m not going to push my luck, I move to go back into hiding. As I turn back a bullet hits the wall in front of me. I freeze.
“Now, now, why don’t you just stay right there,” he says as the crunching of dirt starts up again. I’m screwed. I’m so screwed. There’s no way I’m going to get out of this. I look around the cafe hopelessly. There are no walls to hide behind, no stairs to climb, not even a damn back door. Looking down in defeat as the crunching of dirt gets louder and closer I notice a shattered mug at my feet, and I silently thank whatever God you choose to believe in. I strain to reach down and get a shard in my hand, my fingertips just barely brushing its smooth surface. The man is almost directly behind me, as I struggle to bring it closer, the quiet scraping against the ground threatening to give away my plan.
“Now why don’t you come over and introduce yourself proper?” The man orders as he jabs his gun in my back. I reluctantly obey straightening up and turning to face him. The first thing I notice is his beard. It’s sticking out the bottom of the red bandana he has wrapped around his mouth and nose. The second thing I see is the pistol he is pointing at my chest, his grime covered hand like a vice around it. His hair is a thin pale brown that is ratted, it is beyond hope of ever being brushed, suiting his personality.
“Come on now don’t leave me standin’ all alone,” he taunts. I resist the urge to roll my eyes as I start for the window to join him. I grab the rough frame with my uninjured hand and carefully look at my feet to keep from stepping on shards of glass. I chance a glance behind him and see the sleeping bag just a foot or two away, I couldn’t have planned this better.
“Now what is a pretty little lady like yourself doing all the way out here?” He asks as I stare down the barrel of his gun. I want to speak up, or tell him off with a witty one liner but there’s nothing I can do to make my situation any less dire than it already is. I defiantly keep my mouth closed looking him in the eyes as sweat drips down my burning face.
“Now there’s no reason to be so shy. I’ll go first, my name is Hunter,” he says bowing, keeping the gun trained on me. “You’re in my territory. I’d like to know why,” his tone loses any hint of joy as he speaks and my resolve to stay silent waivers. He looks at me expectantly, emotionless eyes stare at me like they’re just waiting for an excuse to pull the trigger.
" I.. I got lost is all,” I stutter weakly.
“Well I can help with that,” Hunter smirks putting a hand on my waist,” just where is it you’re tryin’ to go?” I instinctively look down, uncomfortable at his unwelcome filth covered hands roaming my waist.
“Stop!” I order, swatting his hand away and out from under my shirt. He latches onto my wrist before I even have time to move my hand away and shoves me into the wall of the cafe, his face contorted in anger.
“You don’t seem to understand. I make the rules. You have nothin’ to bargain with. So you’ll do what I say, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll let you leave alive,” Hunter’s authoritative voice rings in my ears as I struggle weakly. He chuckles at me and before I can even look up I’m met with a sharp stinging pain in my cheek.
“Strip,” he orders pressing the gun to my head, the cold steel of the barrel welcome against the raging heat of the sun. I stand unable to move, my whole body trembling before I’m met with another searing slap and the sound of a gun cocking. I whimper slightly as I fumble for the zipper on my pants with shaking hands.
It’s a painstakingly slow process of peeling my sweat drenched jeans off my skin. After a few minutes, I’m able to get them down to my ankles only to be stopped by my sneakers. Damned things always were a pain to put on. It would without fail make my mom angry at how long it took me to put them on, but it didn’t matter to me. I loved them, even with their overly complicated laces. I silently curse these stupid shoes as I slide them off my feet with ease continuing with my task. I don’t want this. I want someone to come in and save the day like they do in the books just before the villain would drop them into whatever evil trap they had, but life isn’t like the books. There’s no charming hero that’ll come in and save the day, whisking me off my feet to my happily ever after. There’s no conveniently placed object of some kind just within my grasp I can throw to my savior to help; there’s just me and this deranged psychopath who’s pointing a gun at me as I strip. I shiver despite myself, straightening up, clutching my arms with shaking hands as I look at my tormentor with utter disgust. I reach for my shirt about to bring it upwards before I pause.
Why should I let someone like him decide what I do. He’s not going to let me go even if I do. If I’m going to die it’s going to be with dignity.
“No,” my voice trembles a bit despite my newfound resolve.
“Who said you got a damn choice!” Hunter yells face going red in anger.
" I did!” I yell back my voice wavering slightly. “If I’m going to die, I’m going to do it on my terms not after you decide you don’t want me anymore! Definitely not after you...” the words get stuck in my throat as my voice cracks. I can’t bring myself to say it. Hunter chuckles. It’s a deep resonating sound that at one point would’ve been comforting to me, now it just fills me with a sense of dread. My view of the world tilts. My stomach rolls at the new found copper taste in my mouth. When did I get on the ground? Fingers digging into the dirt, desperate to get up, I lift my head and the world spins; the crunching of dirt starts up behind me. I try to still my breathing in hopes of gaining my bearings. The forgotten sleeping bag is just in front of me.
“I can do the rest myself,” Hunter mumbles from behind me. Suddenly my head is clear and I push up off the ground in one swift movement I’m lunging desperately for the sleeping bag. Caught off guard, Hunter fires his pistol. The shot whizzing by my head by a few centimeters. I slide in the crisp dirt, gravel embedding itself into my legs. Dust kicking up as I move, my hands make contact with the soft material of the sleeping bag.
Before I can clear the dirt and dust from my lungs, a bruising pressure spreads on my leg. A boot comes down on my back. I bite the inside of my cheek to keep from calling out, as the barrel of the gun is shoved into the back of my head.
“You try to even breathe without my say so, and I’ll shoot you in the head and take what I want anyway,” His voice is low, and brimming with rage and hate. I know he’s serious, there’s not a doubt in my mind. This can’t be happening.
“Now, turn over and face me, real slow like,” He orders, pulling the gun away from my head. I can still feel it as I turn, my hair brushes against it with just the slightest movement. I reluctantly let go of the sleeping bag and plant my hands firmly on the ground, the dirt holds a little warmth but it’s hardly a comfort. All too soon I’m facing him again, the sick parody of a grin pulling at the corners of his mouth.
“Now you’re going to stay there,” The hand that isn’t pointing the gun at me goes to his belt. “And you’re not going to fight me,” The sound of it unbuckling echos in my head. “Because if you even move an inch,” The leather of the belt slides against his jeans, rustling the fabric softly. “I will not hesitate to shoot you.” His sentence is punctuated with his belt thudding against the ground.
No. This isn’t happening. This isn’t happening. I got away, or I hit my head when I saw those bodies. This isn’t happening. But then his pants are falling to the ground, and he’s kneeling over me trapping my legs between his. He’s so close. Too close. His boxers are old and stained, their original color lost beneath the dirt and grime, and much too close.
His legs press into mine, an uncomfortable warmth seeping into my skin. And then his vile fingers dig into the skin of my thigh. I bite my cheek harder to keep from whimpering. He drags his hand up and down my leg. After a few passes he grabs my other thigh roughly, hate behind his actions. The gun is trained on my head, never moving never wavering; and I want to cry. I want to yell and scream until my throat is raw at the unfairness of it all.
The smell of him clogs my throat, and I have to fight the urge to vomit. He smells of dust and sweat, like an old gym sock forgotten in a locker at the end of the year. Every time I breathe or think or try to move, he’s there. The idea that I... that he… that this will ever be over, seems laughable. His hand feels like it’s everywhere, even though I know it can’t be, like there’s just a constant pressure on me that I can’t get off.
I have to bite back a scream when his hand brushes the edges of my underwear. He’s toying with me, he’s enjoying every second, every flinch and shudder. Suddenly his hand is under my shirt, grabbing at me. Tears, spring to my eyes and a shudder racks my body. His hand keeps traveling upward, I just want it to stop, his probing fingers only pause on my bra.
And then his hand is in my bra, squeezing and fondling and I can’t help the tears that fall from my eyes. He hasn’t said a word this whole time, he just silently looms over me, relishing in his acts. My eyes snap open, when did I close them? His breath hits my face and I meet his eyes. His face much too close and suffocating. He smashes his mouth against mine, his tongue forcing its way passed my lips.I try to turn my head to deny him access. I can’t control how my body responds, but I will absolutely control this. The barrel of the gun is sharply pressed into my forehead and I know I’m wrong. So I steel myself and try not to breath the scent of him in. I’ve never kissed anyone like this in my life, I’m not… I wasn’t the type of person to show affection like this. Everything is wrong, this kiss feels like nothing more than a grotesque invasion. But slowly the gun falls from my forehead, and his hand moves from my breasts. I watch as the gun points further and further towards the ground, moving almost in tandem to the hand the is trailing further and further down my body. Almost. The gun is almost low enough, I know his hand is when it slips below the fabric of my underwear.
I can’t take it anymore, his hand is rubbing and pinching and he finally pulls back from the kiss. With all the strength that I can muster I throw, practically launch, my head into his. The gun goes off behind my head as I bring my knees up into his crotch. He starts leaning into himself, I don’t think I only act. I push him off me, onto his side and quickly flip myself over grabbing the sleeping bag under me.
“Bitch!” He snarls bringing his gun up, pointing it squarely at my middle. A shot rings out and I tense for a moment waiting for the pain before I hear moaning from ahead of me.
“This way!” a yell pierces the desperate haze that has enveloped my mind and I scramble to my feet hastily searching for the source. In the distance I see Mia, of all people, frantically motioning me towards her; without thinking I take off in a sprint towards her, clutching the sleeping bag to my chest like a lifeline, leaving my clothes in an adrenaline induced panic.
“I just have to make it to her and everything will be fine; I can make it, no I will make it,” my thoughts are interrupted by the sound of another gunshot. Mia’s started running, but she’s...coming towards me? My vision blurs for a moment, when did I fall? The ground is rough and uncomfortable, but somehow pleasantly warm this time. Why does my side feel like it’s on fire? My vision is going dark, but that’s ok, Mia’s here now.... she’ll help me. I don’t understand why I know that she’ll help but I blink and suddenly I’m on my feet again. “Mia,” I think, struggling to keep my eyelids open. I manage to drag my feet a few steps before my vision starts to go again. Mia will help, I know she will. I blink again, barely able to keep my eyes open. Mia is looking at me with panic and... fear in her eyes, as she drags me forward. “Heh, this is yours,” I smile lifting the sleeping bag up before everything fades to black.