My name is Lisa Bowden and this story begins when I decided to run away from home on July fifteenth two thousand and fifteen. I was desperate and I didn’t know what else to do. I know it’s usually the same story with sixteen-year-old runaways, but when I decided to leave, things at home had become unbearable. I am not going to make excuses for my poor choices, but at the time it felt like the only thing I could do. It hadn’t been always terrible, not when my dad was alive. I was never much of a girly girl; I loved being out fishing with my dad. On Sundays, we would all go to the park and while my mother made us peanut butter and strawberry jelly sandwiches, we would play catch. That all had changed about a year before I ran away.
It was May the fourth and we were returning home from a late night showing of Return of the Jedi. Sweet Child O’ Mine was blasting on the radio and we were both singing along when we stopped at a red traffic light. I remember him looking at me just before the light turned to green.
“Put your seatbelt on little bug” He said to me.
I grabbed the seatbelt and started stretching it towards the lock as my dad advanced the car and that is the last thing I remember before everything turned dark. I woke up in the hospital three weeks later. This doctor came in and started talking. A drunken driver had missed the red light and had crashed into our car at full speed, being killed instantly while we were rushed to the hospital in critical condition. My dad, being on the driver seat had received the majority of the impact; I had gone through the windshield and landed about ten feet away from the car. The concussion I suffered when my head hit the pavement had put in me into a coma, but my dad has sustained massive internal injuries. He had fought bravely for five days, but in the end it was too much. The doctor’s mouth kept moving but his voice was slowly fading away. I felt my head was about to split open as my whole world crumbled around me.
From then on everything went downhill; almost as if all happiness in the world had been buried along with my father. My mother couldn’t go on with her life and in her despair she turned to alcohol, so I had to step up and be responsible for myself and her too. For the next year it wasn’t unusual for her to spend all day at the bar and later at night I would always get a call from the town’s bar tender asking me to go pick her up as it was already last call and my mother was passed out drunk. But she was my mom and I kept doing it thinking that eventually things would get better. That was until that afternoon.
I came home from school and dropped my backpack on the couch. I heard a huge trashing sound coming from the kitchen. I stopped for a moment and then I heard a scream, it was my mom. She hadn’t been anywhere near there, not since my dad died, so I ran towards the kitchen, thinking she might be hurt. She was there crawling on the floor among pieces of broken dishes, the shards had stabbed her in the palm of her hands and the whole kitchen floor had turned into a bloody mess.
“Mom!” I yelled and I dropped to my knees on the floor to try to help her up. But she kept pushing me away.
“Get away from me!” She screamed at me.
She wasn’t drunk; probably she had caused all that mess while she was looking for booze. She finally grabbed a hold on some kitchen cabinets and pulled herself up from the ground. I just looked at her in disbelief; she didn’t seem to notice she was bleeding from her hands. She tried to wipe away her tears, smearing blood all over her face.
“Why did he have to die?” She cried out. I couldn’t bear to see her that way, I wanted to hug her and tell her everything was going to be alright; that we would find our way out of it together. “Why couldn’t it have been you?”
It was a low blow, one hard to take. Before that I thought there was hope for me and my mom but right then I realized it was only going to get worse. Later on, after my mom had left the house and I was done scrubbing the blood on the floor, I went up to my room and packed my things. There wasn’t much to pack, I just threw a pair of jeans and a couple of t- shirts in my school backpack. The next thing I needed was money and I knew exactly where to get it. My mom was always careless with money, leaving it lying around. Lately there hadn’t been so much money but I was sure I could find something to at least get me by. At that point I didn’t care what mom would think, so I just ransacked her whole bedroom but all I could find were fifty dollars, so that would have to do.
I was all set and yet I found myself hesitating. I took one good look at myself in the mirror that was placed next to the entrance of my house. People always said I looked like him and maybe before that had been true; I had his green eyes and blond hair. But his eyes were always filled with so much joy and hope, there was none of that in mine. His hair always shined like it was made of strands of gold but right then mine looked as if it was just a bunch of straws tied together in a ponytail. It was over; there was nothing left to look for in that reflection or in that house for that matter. It was time to go. I slowly closed the door behind me, taking one last good look at the interior.
“Goodbye mom” I whispered before closing the door completely and setting out into the unknown.
I’m not sure what was I expecting it to happen, I didn’t exactly have a plan and I had no idea where I was going. A week later I found myself in some town in Louisiana with only ten dollars left. I didn’t know what time it was, but it was pitch black; you couldn’t see much beyond the buses that were coming and going. I didn’t know what my next step was going to be, but I knew that going back or calling home was not an option. And for what? So my mom could yell at me some more and keep blaming me for my dad’s death? I didn’t even know if she had noticed I was gone. Or maybe she had, and she was entirely happy I was gone. If I did come back maybe she would laugh at my face for being so stupid and leaving like that in the first place. Pride, my first mistake.
“Kid, are you lost or something?” A security guard asked me.
I had not seen where he came from, so when he talked to me he spooked me a little. He was wearing a black uniform with a golden sigil sewn onto it. Easthollow Train Station it read.
“No. I’m just -” I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to say.
I was very nervous, and he must have picked up on it. I looked around for some sign but there was nothing I could use; the place was almost empty but for the bus parked right in front of me and the people boarding it. A guy and a girl all dressed in white were standing at the far corner talking to each other. The guy was leaning back against the wall and the girl was right in front of him. She was wearing an all-white dress, with a bit of dirt at the bottom of the skirt; her curly black hair was down and almost reached her waist. The guy had a pair of white pants that seemed almost too big for him and a white shirt; but the most striking thing about him was revealed when he turned to the side and I noticed his right ear was missing. I know it was very rude and that I probably shouldn’t have keep staring at it, but I just couldn’t get my eyes away from the scar that had formed where his ear once had been, even after he noticed me and stared back. How had he lost his ear? What could be the story after that?
“Hey you two!” The security guard screamed at the two people I had been staring at. “I told you, you can’t be here. Go on.”
They just looked at him with this smug grin in their faces, laughing at him. Apparently this is something those kids did very often, enough to get on the security guards nerves. He took his focus out of me and started walking towards the kids, but as soon as they saw him going towards them they started running; that was probably a part of the routine as well. I know I couldn’t be there when the guard came back, so I chose to take the window those kids had given me. I grabbed my backpack and walked out of the station and into the night without a clue of where I was headed next.
I must have walked for the better part of an hour before my feet started to hurt; I had to sit down for a while. I could feel the heat on my feet, so I knew they must have been swollen, but I didn’t want to take off my shoes in case I had to make a quick run. I pressed my head against the wall of the alley I had chosen to take a break in and closed my eyes. I was so tired; maybe it really was time to call everything off and just go back home. I had seen a police station a couple of blocks back all I had to do was go in and asked them to contact my mother, or at least get me back to my own town. I was just starting to drift off when I heard a voice. I opened my eyes to find another face about six inches from mine.
“Hi friend” The girl said.
At first her face was so close to mine that I could barely recognize any specific details about it. But then a hand appeared over her shoulder and gently pulled her back. It was the guy and the girl from the bus station. They were looking at me with the same weird smiles they had looked at the security guard. They were barefooted; I hadn’t noticed that back at the station or perhaps they had ditched their shoes to run faster.
“Hi” I awkwardly replied.
“My name is Sarabeth, this is Richie. Why are you here all alone?” Why did they keep smiling at me?
“I’m just taking a break.” I got up from the floor and strapped on my backpack. If things kept going as weird as they were I would probably have to make a run for it.
“Are you all alone?” The guy said.
“What do you care? Look, I just want to be left alone”
“We were once like you. Strays, runaways without a penny and trying our luck on the streets” He started.
“Until he founds us and gave us food and shelter. You see he has this big house and all he wants is to protect people like us” She finished.
What the hell were these kids talking about? I knew I wasn’t interested in whatever it was; I knew I had to get out.
“Stanley. He sent us out to help all those who are lost find their way to a new home, a better home.” The guy named Richie said. It was all turning into a creepy telemarketing scene.
“Look guys, I am really not interested in whatever it is you are selling. I am not looking for any trouble, so I’m just going to get going and I hope you have a great night.”
I clutched my backpack’s straps tightly in my hands and started to walk away.
“You can’t walk away from this!” Sarabeth yelled “You’ve been chosen!”
Watch me, I thought to myself and then I felt someone grab me hard by the arm.
“What the hell are you doing?” I screamed at Richie. “Let me go now!”
I struggled to free myself from his grasp, but the more I fought the more he tightened his grip on my arm. I could feel my circulation being interrupted; But Richie and Sarabeth kept on smiling, as if it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. My heart was racing, and I felt the urge of screaming and waking up half the town. I guess this wasn’t the first time Richie did something like this because somehow he knew what I was thinking
“Don’t be scared. Everything will be better in the morning.” And then he banged my head against the wall.
I woke up screaming in my bed. It was all so dark, and I couldn’t see anything, but I could hear them. These faceless creatures creeping around in the floor of the room, beneath my bed; I could feel them slowly climbing my bed sheets. I cowered on the corner of my bed and closed my eyes tightly, but there was nothing else I could do. Fright wouldn’t let me move an inch. I felt them reaching out for me and I imagined their claws slowly slicing through the air. I covered my face to try to protect myself from the horror I was seeing in my head. I screamed before that one claw could reach me. Then, my bedroom door opened, and my dad walked in, holding a lamp. He sat in my bed and I immediately ran into his open arms. He hugged me and suddenly all the creatures and claws were gone from the world; I wasn’t scared anymore, I felt safe.
“I am here baby” he told me as he stroked my hair.
“There were monsters in the dark… they were trying to get me... They wanted to kill me.”
“No, baby. There is nothing to be afraid of in the dark.” He turned off the lamp and extended his hand into the darkness. “See? Darkness means emptiness and nothing can thrive in the void. You can always make it go away.” He turned his lamp back on.
“But what if I don’t have a lamp? “
“You don’t need a lamp baby.” He said, smiling while I looked at him baffled. “You just have to find the light within yourself”
Something was not right; I could hear Sweet Child O’ Mine playing in the background. Wait, this is not how it happened, I thought to myself. I looked at my father again, trying to make some sense out of the situation and I saw a bright light coming from behind him. I could barely see him as it grew brighter and brighter. I reached out to him, but I couldn’t touch him; then I felt a blow that sent the whole room spinning around me. I tried holding on to my seat, but the force of the impact send me flying through the windshield and as I flew into the air I heard my father’s voice calling out for me.
I woke up again, this time for real. My head hurt like hell and I felt dizzy, I could barely open my eyes. I felt with my hands the surface where I was lying and tried to open my eyes, slower this time. It was a big room but besides the mattress I was lying on, there was nothing in it. There wasn’t a light bulb or a lamp either; the room was solely lit by the sun light that came in through the window and my head hurt too much to consider how dark it would be in the night. The walls were covered with a yellowish wallpaper, but it had turned gray in some areas and in other it was ripped and coming off. I wasn’t wearing my clothes anymore; instead of my jeans, t-shirt and hoodie I was wearing a simple brown dress with sleeves. The fabric felt so rough against my skin that I had the feeling that it had been fashioned out of a burlap sack. I wasn’t wearing any shoes either; whoever had changed my clothes hadn’t replaced them with anything, so I was barefooted.
Where the hell was I? How had I gotten there? It me took a while before the events of the last night started dawning on me. I slowly got up; if I tried to move too fast my head fought back and I felt the urge to puke, so I tried to ease into it. I leaned up against the walls to keep myself from falling and slouched my way to the door. But when I got there and turned the knob it wouldn’t open. I tried pushing it and pounding on it with all the strength that I had, which at this point wasn’t much. I wanted to scream but when I opened my mouth not a sound came; then everything started to spin around me and my legs faltered, so I dropped to the floor. After getting a grip of myself again I decided it was time to try again, so I got up and decided to try for the window. Once more I walked with caution, trying not to fall flat on my ass again. As I got closer to the window I started noticing something else about the environment; my nostrils were tortured by the smell rotten eggs and sweaty socks and when I got to the window I could see perfectly were all that came from.
The swamp extended as far as I could see; beyond the water a few islands partially obscured by the steam rising from the water. There was nothing special about the land upon which the house I was in stood; I could see no one out there, just trees and overgrown plants, and no lights that signaled the presence of other houses anywhere as far as my eyes could see. It looked as if I the room I was in was located on a second or perhaps a third floor.
“Where is this place?” I whisper to my self.
Confusion soon gave away to fear and the adrenaline started kicking in. Since the door was locked my only hope was trying to make myself noticed through the window, so mustered the strength I had left and opened it. The stench of the swamp came bursting all at once and it made me feel even lighter headed. Trying to keep myself from gagging because of the smell, I pushed half my body through the window to get a better look at the surroundings, but once again all I could see was trees and water. I started to feel like a caged animal and the urge to bang against the walls became unbearable to me. As I kept trying to make something out of the surroundings, a figure walked past the house, just below the window I was practically dangling from.
“Hey!” I called out.
It was a man for sure, but I couldn’t tell much more about him because of the height. He heard me, stopped and looked up to the window.
“Hey! Help me get out of here.”
He just kept looking at me without saying anything. That was the first time I saw Nick.
From where I was I couldn’t make out much about him; he was a few years older than me for sure and his hair was long, almost at shoulder length. He was wearing all black but just like me he was also barefooted. Despite looking straight at me for more than five minutes he never uttered a single word or moved a muscle in signal of giving me assistance. He just looked at me with this weird expression; he looked mortified as if the sight of me caused him discomfort. Finally, he lowered his head and resumed his walk toward what appeared to be a boardwalk over the swamp, a few meters away from the house. There was a small rowboat tied to it and he got in, untied it from one of the poles and pushed himself away from the pier, rowing away into the swamp.
“Asshole!” I screamed after him, but even now I don’t think he listened.
I heard a clicking sound behind me and I turned in the spot to face the door; it gave an acute screech as it slowly opened. Richie, the guy from the night before, came into the room holding a tray with a bowl and a glass of something yellow in it. He laid it down between us but didn’t move a single inch forward; as a matter of fact he tried to remain as close to the door as he could. Maybe in case he needed to make a quick getaway and lock me up again.
Seeing the door open behind him and fully driven by the adrenaline rush coursing through my body, I decided to make a run for it. I sprinted towards the door, but all Richie had to do was move a bit towards his left and with a nudge he pushed me back onto the mattress. Despite it softening my fall, I still felt the backlash of it in my sore head; out of instinct, I took my hands to the spot where it hurt and noticed the cloth that was strapped around it, held by a strap o fabric tied to the back of my head. Richie kneeled in front of me.
“I am so sorry for that. And for what I just did” He said, but his voice had no hints of honesty.
I wanted to comeback with some clever spiteful comment, but everything was spinning around me again.
“I brought you something to eat. Orange juice freshly squeezed and some chicken soup.”
“Where am I?”
“You should also take these” He handed me two white pills.
“What the hell do you want?!” I slapped the pills out of his hand.
Richie’s face started to turn red, but his expression remained undeterred.
“Please Lisa. Don’t make me hurt you again.”
Calmed and collected he picked up the pills from the floor and once again offered them to me. My heart was racing so much that my chest started to hurt; I didn’t want to cry but I realized I already was when I felt the streaks of wet running down my cheeks.
“What is this place?”
“This is your new home silly. Now, I’m going to leave you so you can eat and rest for a little while more and then you can come out and meet the rest of our family.” He left the pills on the mattress and got up. “Welcome home Lisa”
And with that he left the room, locking up the door behind him.
I was afraid to eat the food Richie had brought, but after a while I was just too hungry to ignore it. It was cold but it didn’t matter to me, I devoured it seconds as if I hadn’t eaten in months and then I drank down both pills with the orange juice. I fell asleep sometime later, maybe as an effect of the pills I had taken. It was already dark by the time Richie came back and woke me up again, but he was not alone this time; another boy accompanied him. While Richie sat next to me on the mattress, this other boy leaned against the wall holding a candle to illuminate the room.
“Come” Richie said “It’s time you join us for dinner”
“I don’t understand, please just let me go” I pleaded with him, scared of what he might do if I started yelling at him again or if I tried to run again.
But even though Richie had already physically assaulted me, the other boy in the room frightened me much more. I didn’t like the way he was looking at me, kind of as if he was undressing me with his eyes, trying to picture what was behind the sack of potatoes I was wearing as a dress.
“Hush sweetheart. Come on, let me help you.”
He grabbed me in his arms and lifted me from the mattress. The other boy left the room first and led the way through a hallway and then to the left on another one that lead to a staircase. I kept begging him to let me go but he just ignored me all the way, they both did.
Finally, we went into a room where a big table was set and lit up with candles. Three other boys were seated, including the one I had seen taking off on the boat earlier, and four girls including the one that came in and out of a small door on the side of the room and every time she came in she put more food on the table. At the head, there was the biggest chair in the room, but it was empty. Richie sat me down next to the girl that had accompanied him the night he had taken me; the one that said her name was Sarabeth.
Everyone was chatting and eating, completely oblivious to the fact that there was a strange girl with a big head injury sitting with them. I wasn’t tied down by any kind of rope or chord but something more powerful kept me glued to my seat, fear. Across from me sat the boy I had seen earlier, still dressed in black, and he was the only who wasn’t interacting in any way with the other people in the room. There was still that sad expression on his face, his yellow eyes glowed in the dark and gave him the appearance of a cat waiting to jump his prey. Maybe that was all I was to these people, prey.
“I hope you didn’t run into too much trouble while in town Nick.” Sarabeth asked him, trying to get him to be involved.
“I know my way around” He replied and took a sip from his glass, but he never lifted his eyes from me.
“Family, we are gathered here tonight to welcome Lisa.” Richie raised a glass, and everyone but Nick and I followed. “I know you will love us every bit as much as we are going to love you”
“Look, all of this has been a terrible misunderstanding. I don’t know who you are or what you’re trying to do here, but I don’t want it. I promise if you let me go I won’t mention this to anyone” I pleaded once more. Everyone but Nick laughed.
I was starting to realize there was no talking my way out of this, and I didn’t have the strength to fight my way out either. I started shaking uncontrollably as the air surrounding me began feeling incredibly cold.
“Damn it Richard! Look what you’ve done.” Nick finally snapped. “This is supposed to be a choice! Not forced upon! Why does he keep sending you?”
“Stan doesn’t complain about my methods because they get results. Unlike yours, who hadn’t come up with anything in months.” Richie calmly replied, as if he were talking about picking up stuff from the supermarket.
“Well, Stan isn’t coming tonight, so I am taking her back to her room.”
Nick got up from his seat and walked towards me. He pushed my chair out and grabbed my arm putting it around his shoulders, then he grabbed me by the waist, providing me enough support to walk and climb the stairs.
“You’re overreaching yourself Nick.” Richie’s voice replied but Nick paid him no mind and just kept ushering me back to the room I had been held in all day.
We had no candle to guide us, but it didn’t seem to matter to him, he knew the house’s layout like the back of his hand. We walked straight to the room and never bumped into anything. He opened the door and walked me back to the mattress carefully laying me down in it. I grabbed his arm before he could walk away from me.
“Please, help me.” I pleaded with him.
The moonlight coming into the window bathed him in a strange blue halo, but his yellow eyes still shone like the flames of the candles we had left burning in the dining room downstairs. He looked at me once more with such a sadness and pity and for a second I thought he might cry with me, but it was just my silly thoughts.
“I am so sorry… So sorry.”
And then he left me alone in the dark and damp room.
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