Balloon Man

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Chapter 38

Alouette hummed softly while plucking feathers from a quail. Long wisps of red curls cascaded down her back, swaying in time with the tune. “Alouette, gentille Alouette, je te plumerai.”

“Where the hell’s my dinner! I don’t have all day! Damn it! I want to eat! You’ve got work to do later and need to clean yourself up.”

Though she’d heard Herme yell at her countless times before, something inside Alouette’s brain snapped. She threw the dead bird at Herme’s head, screaming at him in French. “Prendre cet oiseau, et le pousser dans votre oreille!”

“You’re getting on my last nerve! If you don’t watch that mouth of yours, you’ll sleep outside in the cage!”

Alouette lost control and spit at him. “I don’t care you pig! I’m a prisoner no matter where I’m chained! At least I’d be away from you!”

“Knock off the French girlie!” Herme picked up the quail and threw it back. “Go cook my food! Now!”

Shaking with anger, Alouette hobbled over to the cook stove, the heavy chain around her ankle clanking with each step. The chain just reached from the inside of the house. She tossed in the quail and stirred the pot, watching the swirling water bubble. If only she was stronger and could lift the pot and throw it on Herme’s head, ending his life and saving her own.

Aloutte sighed, knowing the dream of killing her captor would never happen. Since her mother’s death, life with Herme went downhill. Not only did she have to cook and clean for the mean man, she was forced to let strangers do unspeakable things, making her feel dirty and worthless. No matter how hard she scrubbed, Alouette still smelled the stench of the men on her body.

When it dawned on Alouette she was Herme’s income after her mother’s passing, Alouette lost hope. Herme didn’t care about Alouette’s age. All he cared about was cash.

Sometimes, when her shattered mind couldn’t take anymore, she’d daydream about the times before life with Herme. The little room at the dry cleaners with her mother had been Heaven compared to her new existence. Alouette did not remember too much since she’d been so young, but what she did recall was sweet and precious.

God, how she loved sitting by the open window after dark, listening to the whole swamp sing. It was beautiful. When the frogs joined in, it became an orchestra. The musky, earthy scents mixed with sweet aroma of flowers filled the room as her mother told her stories about princesses and operas and ballet dancers. They would fall asleep exhausted with big smiles on their faces.

Alouette still remembered her mother’s, wavy, long red hair and the prettiest blue eyes that still held a hint of a sparkle despite their situation. Thinking about her mother made Alouette happy and sad at the same time.

Alouette used to be mesmerized as she listened to her mother’s tales about France, the bakeries with hot coffee and beignets and the opera.

“The music was beautiful! “Oh, to be in France again, surrounded by beauty rather than ugliness.”

“Momma, can we go there sometime? See the Phantom of the Opera?” Alouette would ask.

A sad smile would crease the corners of her mother’s lips. “Not this year baby. When you are old enough, you need to leave at your first chance.”

Alouette started shaking her head back and forth to toss out the bad memories in her mind. The daydreams always turned sour when she recalled her mother’s desperation and conviction for Alouette to escape.

The quail finished cooking. Herme pushed Alouette out of the way, slurping his food down greedily, his thick, ugly tongue licking the last drop on the outside of the pot.

Once finished, Herme glowered at her, using a crooked finger to beckon her closer. Alouette froze, unwilling to move an inch.

“You little bitch! Think you can defy me and not get punished?”

Herme yanked the chain so hard Alouette lost her balance and fell to the ground. Scrambling to her feet, she stood and tried to back away. Herme grabbed her arm and pulled, attempting to yank her back inside. He picked her up and threw her over his shoulder, brought her into the house, and threw her down next to the bedroom door.

“You will work for me, just like your mother! And you will do as I say!” Herme shouted before turning and slamming the door shut.

Alouette sobbed on the cold, dirty floor. “Dire une petite prière pour moi, maman,” she whispered in French, begging her mother to say a prayer for her in Heaven.

Catching her reflection in the mirror, Alouette’s sobs increased. “I look just like her. Oh, Momma, I miss you!”

After a while, she gave into exhaustion and fell asleep with only her head on the mattress, the rest of her body on the floor.

When Alouette woke up and crawled to the door, she listened for any sounds from the other side. Hearing none, she cracked the door open and peeked out. Herme was nowhere to be seen.

Grateful for a little bit of peace, she looked at the heavy chain Herme had locked onto her leg. He had the key, and only hung it on the wall when he was in the house. She was not able to reach the wall, although she tried multiple times and had bruises to show for it. She couldn’t even cry out for help there was nobody around in this part of the swamp. Herme’s little shack was hidden by never ending green moss and foliage.

She turned and looked at the bed. Over five years had gone by, and Herme didn’t even get new sheets for the bed. It was stained with blood and the liquid from her mother giving birth to the last child. The ugly splotches made the memories of that horrible day burst inside Alouette’s mind. She could still hear her mother’s last words, spoken in weak, shallow breaths.

“Alouette, come closer. I need to tell you something. Promise me you’ll find a way out of here.The first chance you get—run. Even if you have to live a hiding place for a day, please get yourself out of here and be careful, there are many men just as bad as Herme. Promise me—oh, God! The pain! It’s coming!”

Those were her mother’s last words.

It was too late by the time Foret arrived with a midwife.

Herme screamed at Alouette. “What did you do to her? Damn! Get the baby!”

They pushed and pushed on her mother’s stomach until fluid and blood rushed out. The gore was followed by a loud crack and a whoosh as the small, blue body slid out. In horror, Alouette watched, noticing it was a boy and it wasn’t moving or making any noise.

Herme picked up the infant, whacked it a few times, but the boy didn’t move. Herme freaked while pacing around, yelling and screaming at Foret, the midwife, and even Alouette. Finally, he stopped and put her dead baby brother in an old shoebox.

“You see that you clean that mess up, it best be done by the time I get back, you hear me?”

Alouette only nodded her head, watching with somber eyes as the three mean adults left the room. After she heard the front door shut, Alouette lay down next to her mother’s cold body, hugging her while silent tears streamed down her face.

Unaware how long she’d remained by her mother’s side, Alouette’s tears finally dried up. With gentle movements, she wrapped the cold body in a sheet and slowly moved her little by little outside and out into the yard.

She washed the mattress and other sheet, trying to scrub the blood away, but the rusty brown blood stain became the new color of the fabric. Herme returned and buried her mother’s corpse out back. Alouette wanted to know, but never dared to ask, what happened to the body of her little brother. It hurt her heart mother and child weren’t buried together.

The next day, Alouette had decided she would do as her mother told her and leave. She planned it all out in her head. When morning came, Herme slept in his usual spot slumped over the kitchen table. Alouette walked out the door, closing it very quietly behind her.

She was only feet away from the road when a car pulled up. A man she would later learn was Cooter Lafuente rolled down the window and yelled, “Hey girl, ain’t you supposed to be cleanin’ and cookin’ for Herme and not outside playin’ around?”

Herme woke up and came outside, grabbing Alouette’s arm. “Where do you think you’re going?”

Alouette fought and spit and hissed like a cat, alternating between screaming for help and yelling, “Let me go! You killed my mother! I hate you! If I could kill you myself I would!”

Herme looked around, spying an old dog chain around a tree. He yanked Alouette over and secured the thick metal around her ankle. For three days he left her outside with barely any food to eat. She had big, red welts from bug bites all over her small body. When he brought her in, he made the chain just long enough to reach out of her bedroom door. To go outside, he brought her out with the chain like a dog, and secured it to a tree.

From that day forward, Alouette’s life was spent in chains. The great escape was nothing more than a sad attempt at freedom.

“If that lousy Cooter hadn’t of come along, I would have made it!”

Tears welled up in her throat, but Alouette swallowed them away. She was alone, which meant she’d either find a way to escape, or end her suffering once and for all.

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