November 13th, 1976
Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane” blared from the kitchen and into the screened-in lanai as the disintegrating end of a doobie passed to Cindy Durant withered to a bud. With the unusually crisp windward air, and the dense fog of burning grass engulfing the room, her moment of freedom stretched into eternity. Cindy’s heavy gaze traveled at a snail’s pace across the room. On Cindy’s left, her older sister, Robyn, drifted on a cloud miles higher than her - as evidenced by tracks of bruises adorning her boney arms and the used needles discarded onto the coffee table.
Robyn straddled herself over her long-haired, tattooed boyfriend, Koa, while he peppered her neck with sloppy kisses. Cindy watched them both, two hollow shells of themselves, as they descended deeper into a euphoric whirlwind. Simply observing Robyn and Koa elevated Cindy closer to their high and shifted her senses. Trying to muster some clarity, Cindy scooted off her lounge chair and motioned to the sliding lanai doors.
“Hey, it’s getting late. Can you take me home? Maybe you can sleep over, since tomorrow morning we’re going out for my birthday,” she suggested. Her sister’s sunken chocolate eyes rolled back as she tossed her chestnut waves to one side.
“I’m gonna stay… Go on home, Cindy,” Robyn slurred incoherently.
“You have the car, though.”
“It’s not far. You can walk. You like walking, right?”
Robyn hardly looked at Cindy as she brushed her off. “You’ll be fine, princess,” Koa chimed in while lowering his hands to Robyn’s ass. Cindy left them with an eye roll and pushed her way through the lanai doors, dragging her feet to the front entrance of the rundown ranch.
The soundtrack of the night was her only company as she abandoned the cul-de-sac and attempted to navigate to the Kalaniana’ole Highway. The moonless sky and her foggy mind soon left Cindy lost in the curves of the Waimanalo streets. After taking a few more aimless turns, her ears twitched at the faint buzz of passing cars. As she walked in the direction of the highway, Cindy noticed a set of headlights inching up behind her. She spun around and squinted at the blinding glare of them, unable to figure out what car it was until it pulled up beside her and revealed a rickety, red Ford pickup. The driver exited casually and approached Cindy with such smoothness, she questioned if she somehow knew him. He felt familiar, but perhaps that was simply from the pearly, charming smile he shot her.
“You lost, miss?” Even as he spoke, he maintained that smile.
Cindy nodded. “A little… Do you know where the highway is?”
The man laughed in a manner that lit up his whole face. “Yeah, I do. You don’t look too, uh, sober right now. Not to mention, it’s no time for a woman to be walking alone at night. Do you live close by? I can give you a lift.”
“No, I don’t want to be any trouble,” Cindy said.
“Trouble? It’s a Friday night and I have absolutely no plans. Honestly, driving a stoned girl home might be the highlight of my day.”
His light-hearted sense of humor, and possibly his good looks as well, was enough to convince her into his car. Cindy’s mother always warned her about getting into cars with strangers, but she must have hitchhiked across Oahu enough times to believe in the hospitality of people. Before either Cindy or her driver knew it, they were cruising at a calming thirty down the silent highway.
“Just let me know where to turn,” the driver said.
“Will do. Hey, what’s your name?”
“Cindy,” she shyly murmured while turning her gaze out the window.
“That’s a nice name. Looks like it suits you… Pretty girl, pretty name.”
Cindy felt herself bite her lip and blush. “Surely, he couldn’t have been flirting with me,” she thought. The driver looked well into his twenties, or maybe even early thirties, while it was obvious Cindy stood no older than seventeen. Despite the visible age gap, she entertained his lingering glances and coy smirks. Cindy never got much attention from the boys at school, but she also tended to dive too deeply into her studies to even notice. However, partially to appease her older sister, Cindy let her hair down tonight. Cindy wouldn’t call Robyn a bad person, per se, but every now and then Robyn would drag her with her on a rebellious bender. It often rewarded Cindy with a hangover or a two-week grounding, but tonight it led her into the car of a beautifully charming stranger.
“Have you lived in Hawaiʻi your whole life?” Cindy asked, trying to make small talk. “I moved out here about fourteen years ago, but I was so young that I can’t even remember life before it. My folks and I are originally from San Francisco.”
“I love the Bay Area. I went to visit a buddy there two summers ago. As far as where I’m from, I’ve lived in the 808 my whole life. Doubt I’ll ever leave.”
“I’m not sure there’s a reason to ever want to.”
As he continued down the highway, Cindy returned to admiring the landscape zooming past her. Monkeypods canopied over the road, while wispy pine needles of ironwood and the wide leaves of palm trees swayed and rustled with the salty wind. The silhouettes of horses and grazing cattle belonging to a local ranch outlined itself through the darkness, while within the brambles lining the shoulders of the highway hid a family of playful mongoose and singing crickets. Brian turned off his radio, allowing for nature’s symphony to come clearly within earshot.
“Sounds like a jungle out there, doesn’t it?” Brian, asked.
Cindy glanced back at him. “A peaceful jungle, maybe. I love the sound of the night.”
Brian gave off an amused chuckle while white-knuckling the steering wheel. “You’re probably right… You want to know something interesting about Hawaiʻi? Because of its isolation, it has no natural predators. Did you know that?”
Cindy humbly nodded. “Learned about it in science class.”
“But isn’t that incredible? Even the animal kingdom, as merciless as it is, manages to find peace in a place like this… Say what you want about Nixon, but he’s done a lot for the environment. They guard the ecosystem here like its a fortress… You know why?” He zoned in on Cindy’s doe eyes, pouring every ounce of his attention into her. “If the wrong species - an outsider or predator of sorts - slips its way onto these islands… Well, then you’ll have yourself a real jungle on your hands.”
Cindy became entranced by Brian and the intensely husky voice he spoke with. She soon took notice of how he strangled the steering wheel with his vise grip, but snapped out of her fixation after they passed the turn off the highway.
“Oh, we missed the turn,” Cindy told him. “You can just turn left onto Hilu Street.” Cindy waited for him to signal, or at least slow down at the intersection, but he maintained his speed and zipped right past the street. “Um, you missed it,” she muttered, suddenly feeling uneasy.
“Actually, you don’t mind if I run an errand first, do you? It won’t be long.”
In one fell swoop, Cindy’s heart sunk to her gut while a heavy tension engulfed the car’s atmosphere. “My parents are expecting me home any minute. I’m just two blocks away! Maybe you should let me out here.”
“Here? No, a gentleman doesn’t just leave a woman on the side of the road.”
“No, that’s okay! Just pull over!” she exclaimed. Again, Brian’s knuckles went white at Cindy’s command, but despite his displeasure, he veered to the shoulder of the road. Hardly another car drove down the lightless highway, but Cindy felt a sense of relief when he put the truck in park. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to yell. I just don’t want to upset my folks… Thank you for the ride.”
He sighed sharply with a clench of his jaw. “It’s alright. Just roll up your window before you go.”
“O-okay,” she stammered.
She began rolling up the squeaky window as he asked, but just before she closed the shrinking gap, a sudden pressure snaked itself around her neck. She couldn’t speak. She couldn’t scream. She couldn’t breathe. Her nails clawed away at the flexed forearm locked against her, but within a matter of seconds, the corners of her vision faded black like the vignette of a photograph. She desperately tried forcing her eyelids open, but the suffocating sensation overwhelmed her. Cindy’s spaghetti limbs made a weak attempt at kicking open the passenger’s door and prying his arm from her neck, but before long, she found herself launched head-first into unconsciousness.
By the time she came to, Cindy’s entire landscape transformed. No longer could she look out the window and find familiar street names, or the houses of her neighbors. Instead, when she took a glance, she found leaky, exposed ceiling pipes, rotting hardwood floors reeking of mildew, and a paneled wall before her lined with various blades and knives. She tried moving, but a pair of handcuffs kept her bound to a frigid metal chair. As she struggled in her cuffs and clinked them against the metal, she heard the thump of heavy footsteps splitting against the wooden staircase ahead. Her wide eyes traveled from his muddy boots and didn’t stop until they confronted his deceiving stare.
“Please, I-I’m s-sorry… D-don’t hurt me, p-please,” she stuttered as tears pooled in her horrified eyes. The edges of his lips curled as he approached the gruesome wall ahead. His index finger danced across each blade, stopping at the last one.
“Let me guess: you’ll do anything?” he asked, his back facing her. “They all say that.”
“I-I have money,” Cindy replied in hysteria. “I have a lot of it, just call my house. M-my parents, they can give you a-a lot of money. Please… please, this doesn’t have to happen.”
Her pleas rewarded her with snide laughter. Instead of picking up a blade, he spun around, dug into his pocket, and fished out a set of keys to uncuff her. Brian walked around the chair and stood behind Cindy with his towering presence. The sensation of him hovering, as well as the image of his shadow looming over hers against the floor, had sparked a chill deep in Cindy’s gut. Suddenly, a handful of her hair entangled itself in his grasp. Yanking her out of her seat, Brian tossed Cindy to the floor like a ragdoll, where she scraped her knees against the unfinished, wooden planks. Before she could bring herself to her feet, a merciless kick collided into her ribcage. A series of labored coughs poured out of Cindy as Brian knelt to her level and planted his lips against her ear.
“You know what? I forgot to show you to your room. I hope you like it… The last one didn’t.”
His hot breath stung her skin. Cindy yelped when he hoisted her up from the floor by her hair, and dragged her across the basement and to a steel door with a padlock. On the same set of keys he used to uncuff her, Brian used a different one to unlock the door and reveal the windowless dungeon behind it. Cindy’s eyes wandered from the bare, blood-stained mattress sitting on the concrete floor to the shackles hanging from the ceiling. A shiver shot through her spine as the cold touch of Brian’s index finger traced the curve of her cheek.
“Welcome home, Cindy.”