I ran as fast as I could, ignoring my inner self, which was telling me to look to see who, or what was behind me. With the exception of short breaks to catch my breath, my legs would carry me far from the nightmare from which I had just escaped. The night air had a chill to it, and the moon hung high above the tree lines. Over my heavy breathing, I could hear the wind rustling the leaves, and sounds from animals off in the distance. As I ran my leg muscles burned, my heart pounded, and my throat ached from the lack of hydration. The gash on my forehead was no longer throbbing, and I could feel a tightness on my cheek from blood that was now dry. I couldn’t help but think about the others who hadn’t been as lucky as I had been in escaping. I knew that they were back there… back in that hell hole, still being tortured, starved, and confined, all of which weighed heavily on my mind. But maybe there was a way that I could find help to free them.
I was dressed in a light blue cotton gown that was spotted with blood stains and covered in dirt. I had learned to survive by disconnecting my mind and emotions from the everyday suffering and distress into which I had been forced. Being in captivity underground, I was unable to see outside, which in turn, prevented me from knowing whether it was day or night. We were all locked inside cages like dogs, were fed small bits of food and only sips of water, we were surrounded by darkness and fear. One by one, the cages would be opened by men who were dressed in dark-colored robes with symbolic patchwork along their sleeves. They would chant as they commanded us to crawl out of our metal imprisonments. I would try hard to focus on their patches but because of the dim lighting, the designs were difficult to see and decipher. If anyone of us made a sound, in the presence of the hooded men, she would surely be beaten that instant, or would be taken into another room, where dreadful screams lasted for what felt like hours. Only once do I recall a girl who was taken into ‘the room’ and never returned. I counted as many as eight other women, they were, all blondes just like me, and roughly the same ages, late teens to mid-20’s. We spoke to each other only through our tears and sad, desperate faces.
I felt my legs getting weaker and my tired lungs strained to keep up with every overpowering breath. I stopped running and leaned over propping myself up on my knees. Trembling from fear and exhaustion, eventually tumbling over onto the forest floor of soil and leaves. Images of the dark robes filled my head, and the smell of damp wood and clay crowded my senses, sending me into an uncontrollable sob. I Hugged my knees to my chest in a shielding position and armed myself with a small jagged rock, by clutching it tightly in my hand and ready to strike out at anyone. My breathing began to slow and the ache in my chest was replaced with the frantic worry of not knowing where I was or whether the kidnappers were searching for me.
“God please.” I whispered softly. “Please let me get back home to my family, I beg you.”
I held myself in a tight grip feeling glad to be out of that hole in the ground, and filled my lungs with the cool refreshing air. The rock that I clutched so solidly, caused my skin to burn and my fingers to throb. I loosened my grip and opened my now bleeding hand, revealing it to the moon light. With closed eyes, I exhaled, concentrating on the sounds around me and I listened for footsteps or voices. I centered my hearing and attention on the environment around me, focusing on each cricket chirp, the light breeze, and the frogs croaking. “Frogs.” I breathed out. I could hear croaking sounds in the distance. Then sitting up, my stomach screamed out from hunger pains, my head was pulsating and my mouth was dry and withered. I reached my hand up to my forehead which was throbbing in pain. The aches all over my body were unbearable. Scratches and cuts covered my legs, bruises danced up and down the insides of my thighs. There were also slash marks around my wrists from me being tied up and dangled from the beams in that underground shack. I had no idea of how long I’d been held captive, I only remembered the day that I was stolen…..
“Mel. are you coming?” my best friend asked, smiling back at me as she tightened her pink shoe laces. We had been meeting every Tuesday at 4:00 sharp for the last two months to train for the yearly marathon that was held in Boston. It was an event that raised money for Alzheimer’s, and always brought our small community together as a whole, while shining a light on the disease that had taken the life of April’s grandfather. She always looked forward to the time she and I spent together running, as much as I did. The park we used for our training was partially wooded with a gravel path, it was full of twists and turns, hills and a small creek that emptied into a river. I loved being with April. The two of us had been close friends since grade school. The day I was taken, it was sunny, about 70 degrees and we were on an absolutely gorgeous 3-mile run. We chatted about life, and how I desperately wanted my boyfriend Stefen to move in with me. We had been dating for 2 years, spending the night at each other’s apartments, and I recently started keeping some of my belongings at his place. I felt like I wanted more from our relationship, and was ready for the next step. When April and I returned to our vehicles I reminded her of our dinner date that we had planned for next weekend, and that she wasn’t to be late.
“I’m never late”! She yelled to me out of her car window. I finished my warming down stretches, and hopped into my car. I didn’t lock the doors before our run and the stranger must have been hiding in the back floorboard of my older model Civic. I didn’t see him, nor do I know how he took control. I was buckling my seatbelt one minute and then the next, I was waking up in a cage surrounded by dirt and darkness.
There were other crates and cages around me, some had lanterns placed on top of them and from the dim light they gave off I could see other girls inside of them shivering, and wearing hardly any clothing. I strained my eyes to make out more details about them. They all had blonde hair, similar to my age, with terrified looks on their faces. But yet, when they saw me looking at them their expressions turned remorseful. I gasped while looking around the shadowy room, then as I tried, to sit up I thumped my head on the top of the metal confinement, making a loud bang. The women jumped in fear and covered their heads.
“Where am I, what happened?” I whispered to myself. Is April here too? I wondered. NO! NO, this cannot be happening! I screamed inside of my thoughts. I started to take a quick inventory of myself. I was still wearing my blue and white running outfit and pink Nike tennis shoes, but my watch was missing, along with my head band. I crouched down on my hands and knees to look at the other girls and maybe make eye contact with them, but the ones that I could see, still had their hands covering their faces, or their heads hiding between their knees.
“What is this place?” I said. Then the realization that I had no memory of how I got into this dungeon, my where-bouts, or if anyone even knew that I was missing came to a paralyzing feeling inside my core. A lump in my throat was forming while tears filled my eyes and my heart beat thumped to a horrific tune of sorrow.
“How will I get out of here?”
Fumbling around on the cage that I was in, I felt for a latch or a hinge of some kind that would release me. Panic was taking over as my fingertips touched and fumbled the metal bars coming up without any answers. I clutched the sides of the cage and shook the walls in a desperate attempt to open the door to freedom.
“SHHH, please you have to be quiet, they will hear you and then come down here.” Said a voice.
“Who?” I whispered.
“Answer me!” I pleaded.
“Who said that?” I begged. I held my breath needing to hear that voice again, but when it never came, I slouched my shoulders, then sat on the backs of my tennis shoes as tears dribbled down my cheeks and into the dirt….