“I can’t escape this now unless you show me how,” - Demons by Imagine Dragons
"At least he’s not pot-bellied and balding. If I’m fertile our kids will be gorgeous,” Harper said, running a brush through my honey-colored hair.
I sat in front of our cracked vanity mirror, minutes away from screaming. “He’s a pedophile rapist,” I whispered. “He’s eleven years older than you!”
Harper’s face hardened and the brush going through my rat-less hair jerked. “I’m nineteen, Kender! He’s hardly a pedophile. Plus, you can’t rape the willing and when the time comes, I will be. Willing, I mean.” She stumbled over her words and cleared her throat. “I will be ready. I have to be ready.”
“He’s ancient compared to you!”
“Suí tā ba!”
I shook my head, dislodging my glasses. I lifted a finger and pushed the black rimmed spectacles back up my nose. “I can’t let it go.”
“You know age doesn’t matter anymore. I wish Momma would stop filling your head with that nonsense. It could’ve been worse, Kender. He could’ve been worse. Do you understand? I’m lucky compared to the others.”
“Do you - wait... are you looking forward to this?” I asked.
The hand that clutched the brush shook and Harper’s eyes glistened with unshed tears. She didn’t answer but I could see despair, even fear, in her face. Her haunted expression passed and she offered a smile.
“Okay,” she whispered over a swallow. “All done. Go downstairs. I’ll be ready in a minute.”
I nodded and stood but paused at the door. Harper didn’t seem to notice me standing there as she glared at herself in the mirror.
“This is your life now,” she whispered to her image. Within a minute, her once beautiful, strong face crumbled and her hand muffled her broken sobs as she fell to the floor.
“Harper, he’s here!” Parker, my twelve-year-old sister, called from downstairs.
This wasn’t right. He couldn’t have her. Maybe we could all work off the debt in our spare time. Maybe one person didn’t have to pay the price.
Wanting to get there before Harper, I jogged down the stairs and came face-to-face with the most beautiful man I’d ever seen. Today was the day for many things, an anniversary of sorts. How strange that it was also the day my older sister was being taken away from me.
Thirty-four years ago today, the New World Order took over. Conspiracy theorists were right and media was the platform for the popular introduction. It was a slow progression but it wasn’t long until atrocities became the norm, like human trafficking. The very thing I was afraid this beautiful man with his penetrating, cornflower blue eyes would do to Harper. Legalizing human trafficking didn’t change much in the way of profit; it was still a multi-billion dollar industry.
Nǐ zhǐ ké yǐ yī cì mài Dú pǐn, dàn gè rén ké yǐ měi sān shǐ fēn zhōng bèi mài. You can only sell drugs once, but a person can be sold every thirty minutes. It was Chinese and English dialogue from a commercial that played on the streets of Uptown-where all the rich people shopped-all the time, and the words raced through my mind with sickening precision.
What did he buy Harper for?
My stomach rolled as I descended the stairs but I missed the second to last step and stumbled into the man who was ruining everything. He smelled like pine and burnt leaves. I used to love the smell of burnt leaves. He killed my love instantly.
I jerked away from him. “Are you Hayden Marks?”
A stupid question. I knew the answer. No one that clean would be in our house unless they had a good reason. He nodded and he dusted off his tuxedo jacket. The action made me wonder, if he didn’t want to associate with us dirty poor folk, why he didn’t send one of his other purchased slaves to get Harper.
I shook my head and focused on the more important question. “The hospital was accepting our credit. I have over three and a half million Yuan on my bar-code. We could’ve paid it ourselves.”
Hayden licked his lips and tilted his head as he watched me. “I heard the hospital denied the last payment.”
There was no point in trying to keep my voice down now. “Because of you, you troll! You pressured the hospital, didn’t you?”
It wasn’t like Harper was offered as a sacrifice - sometimes that is how it works - but most of the time the rich troll places, like hospitals, trying to find the poor who are in severe debt. Rich want three things from the poor: slaves, breeding, and trafficking. And usually, there’s no offer to pay; it just happens and someone gets taken.
That ‘someone’ should’ve been me —as the female version of my twin I was the closest thing to Spenser paying the debt himself- but there was something about Harper that Hayden Marks wanted.
“Kender-” Parker’s voice quivered as she clamped a hand on my bicep.
“Does it matter?” he asked with an indifferent tone. He had a very distinguished voice, with the grit of the poor and that privileged lilt of the supremely rich. He was known well in the business world as ruthless and amoral, and I could hear why. He blended.
“Why? Can’t you just tell me? I know Dad is maxed on both his wrists. Momma can’t use her business bar-code, but I have mine, and Harper was just about to get another on her other wrist. She got approved for more credit, you know.”
He sighed. “In the end, it’s still credit, not cash.”
There was one type of currency but two ways to use it, credit or cash. The idea was to avoid credit at all costs. Unfortunately, credit -for the most part-was all the poor had.
“If you hadn’t interfered they would’ve continued to accept the credit. We all have jobs.”
Smirking, he took a step closer to me and stooped down to make eye contact. “Tā bèi wánchéng!”
I shook my head and clenched my fists. “It’ll never be finished.”
Lifting a hand, he smoothed his fingers down a strand of my hair, and my skin crawled. I resisted the urge to jerk away and angled my chin upward.
“I could take you too. All I’d have to do is pay another one of your family’s many debts. You know I don’t have to ask permission to pay them. Now, I want Harper for myself, but with you-” his fingers moved from my hair to clutch my pointy chin, “I could make my money back and then some. I know quite a few men and women that go for this nerdy school girl look. Or maybe you would like to be with me. I’ve never done sister-on-sister.”
I spit in his face, and the sight of the luggie dripping down his perpetually upturned nose was awfully satisfying. The horrified gasp and gentle sobs coming from Parker made me feel a little guilty but it was worth it. I pushed past Hayden and walked towards Parker. Her curly, light-brown hair bouncing as her shoulders shook.
“Let me apologize for my sister’s behavior. She acts more like a child than a sixteen-year-old,” Harper said as she came down the stairs.
It was an insult of mass proportions. At thirteen poor people were considered adults, and an electronic bar-code with three and half million Yuan of credit gets tattooed onto the wrist to prove it. I was sixteen.
I’ve been an adult for more than three years!
I slapped a hand on my unused tattoo and scowled at Harper as she took the last step. She stopped just before the crooked, chipped window near the front door, and the sun streaking through made her brown -almost auburn- colored hair glisten like dark gold. Her cheeks were pinched to replicate the appearance of blush. I scowled as she bit her lip. She stood in front of Hayden, bowing her head and clasping her hands together. Harper once told me that biting the lips worked better than the lipstick we couldn’t afford. Biting made the lips red and plump... enticing to men. So what the hell are you doing, Harper?
“I’m very sorry for her behavior. You’re welcome to use my shirt to wipe it off,” Harper said again, pinching the neck-line of her over bleached, dingy white top and offering it up.
I rolled my eyes. Harper was anything but submissive. Why is she doing this? I wondered as my eyes darted to glare at Hayden. The needy look on his face as he watched Harper made me want to spit on him again.
Wáng ba dàn!
“It’s alright,” he said with surprising gentleness as he pulled out a handkerchief. “The results came back.”
Harper bit her peach painted bottom lip, continuing to keep her eyes cast down. “Did you make a good investment?”
He nodded and took a step closer. He reached a hand out but pulled it back at the last minute. “I have.”
Results? Results for what? I watched Harper’s eyes widen and she gasped. Her hands lifted and rested against her stomach.
“I can have children,” she whispered with a shaking voice.
The smile he gave her was the first genuine one I’d ever seen from him. “You can.”
During the mass takeover -disguised as Word War III-a chemical was released in each major area of the world. It was an airborne opiate that was supposed to make everyone docile for a certain period of time while the NWO did the finishing touches. The long term side effect of the chemical made most women barren, particularly those in the northern ‘rich’ areas, Uptown. It was supposedly unintentional. I say that’s a crock a shit. They knew exactly what it would do. Rich women couldn’t have kids but half of the poor women could. In the end it was all about money and promoting human trafficking of the poor.
“Are you ready to leave?” he asked.
Harper was trying not to cry. I could see the struggle on her face. Was it because she could have kids or because she didn’t want to leave with him?
“You don’t have to be afraid.”
If Harper wasn’t going to ask the real questions I sure in the hell would. “Are you going to sell her? Turn her into a baby making machine?”
Hayden’s shoulders stiffened and he swiveled towards me but he didn’t answer. The angry glint in his eyes warned me not to ask again.
It was Harper that answered. “All that matters is that Spenser is getting the treatment he needs.”
My heart clenched at the mention of my cancer ridden twin brother. He’d lasted this long because he was a fighter but the cancer came back. Without treatment he would die within one or two years. We didn’t have any choice, just like Harper didn’t have any now, and when they left it was without a goodbye. He was like a vulture. Swooping in and taking his prey, his merchandise.
Harper was Owned.
I bit my cracked lip at the thought and exhaled. Harper was no more than a pet to him. Legally, she had no rights. I’ll bet she even gets tags around her neck by tomorrow. It was an Owned trademark.
Wáng ba dàn! = Bastard