I don’t know how long I stayed there on that floor. Time is relative when there are no windows and you don’t care if you die there on the dirt-covered tile in the basement. The redhead left a long time ago and when she did, I realized that I am afraid. If I stand up and look at her cold, dead body it makes it real. I desperately don’t want it to be real. Myla is lying there on that table with her naked body exposed. She’d be mortified if she were alive. If she were alive.
I erupt into a fit of laughter. Myla is dead and my pathetic ass is laying in the dirt crying and worrying about how she’d die of embarrassment if she were alive and knew people were touching her naked body. My laughter is a volcano spilling through my lips like lava and I don’t stop until my voice is hoarse and I am too tired to keep myself upright. When I finish I lay on my side and let the rest of the tears spill from my eyes and catch the dirt pile I rest my cheek on.
Waking disoriented and not knowing when my body gave up and fell asleep, I scan the room without moving my head. Almost immediately my eyes settle on where the table used to be. I am on my feet in milliseconds, scanning the small room desperately. I realize now that this is an entirely different room than I fell asleep in. I fell asleep on a dirt-covered tile floor in a basement made of brick. This room is ocean blue with crown molding hiding the connection between the wall and the grey hardwood flooring. There are still no windows but there is a soft, circular area rug positioned in the floor’s center about an inch from where my head had been.
I cut my thoughts short as the door on the far side of the room swings open and hits the wall with a large bang. I yelp and fall back onto my knees with my hands pressed into my ears. I look up and in the noise’s direction to find a woman leaning against the doorway.
She is beautiful, magazine level picturesque, and that does nothing to quell the storm raging inside me. Her beauty isn’t soothing, it’s sharp and unsettling. I know that something is about to go horribly wrong. Her hair, not unlike my own, lies down on her back like an oil spill; sleek, straight, and looking almost unnatural as it glints in the light. Her piercing jade eyes are mischievous and knowing, sitting below perfectly shaped eyebrows set onto perfectly smooth, ivory skin. A tight black bodysuit encases every inch of her from her ankles to the curve of her jaw, and it looks almost as if someone painted it onto her. There’s no other way it could fit her so perfectly. Her presence causes me to panic, not because I feel insecure or inferior, but because I am utterly and completely trapped. Though I want to fight, it paralyzes my body and all I can do is look up at her and try to keep my face neutral.
My tongue snakes out of my mouth, wetting my lips. Neither of us has said a word, and it seems as if every drop of saliva has dried in my mouth. Fantastic I think to myself Not only am I about to die, but I will die with cotton mouth. I am about to speak when she cuts me off suddenly with words of her own.
“I bet you’re wondering what is happening” the woman purrs as she prowls toward me. The leather of her bodysuit creaks as she moves to kneel in front of me, her face hovering centimeters above mine. She smells of freshly washed hair with a subtle hint of vanilla, and the smell of peppermint is heavy when her hot breath hits my face. Her small hand reaches out towards me and I flinch hard enough it sends a jolt of pain through me when her hand meets my hair. I want nothing more than to look away from her, but my fear holds my gaze where she wants it. Her tongue darts out of her mouth before I know what is happening and she laps up a stray tear that runs down my cheek. Her tongue leaves a trail of white-hot fire on my skin.
“I see now why she chose you.” She leans back enough to study my face, crossing her arms over her full chest. “You’re beautiful”
Incredibly, a warm feeling of gratitude spreads through me then, mingling with my fear and confusing my terror-stricken body further. I realize then I must look pathetic laying on the ground, puffy faced and red-eyed, in front of someone who looks like her. Slowly I move to my knees so that our noses are almost touching. You will not be intimidated I repeat to myself.
I work to make my face a smooth mask of impassivity, my eyes meeting hers in a challenge. She scans my face briefly, her expression never changing. I must please her because her face suddenly breaks into a large smile that stretches across all of her features. Her teeth are stark white and perfectly straight. It’s unsettling.
“Oh, little bird, I know that this confuses you.” She says, her words dripping with sweetness. Suddenly her hand darts out and grabs me by my chin, just like the redhead did. I close my eyes and try to will away the pain that comes as her fingers dig into my fresh bruises. One of her fingers traces my lower lip tenderly and then plunges into my slightly parted lips and exits just as abruptly. Confusion breaks through my mask and clouds my brain. What the fuck? My mouth tastes strange suddenly.
“But confusion looks excellent on you. I have to remember that.” She grins wider. A chill runs through me.
I draw my brows together and look away from her, trying with all of my might to connect all of my thoughts together. The terror coursing through my veins is making my mind blur in and out of focus and all of this thinking is making my head heavy. So heavy, in fact, that I cannot even lift my chin to look at her anymore. I do not even know if she’s there. I am so tired, maybe if I close my eyes I’ll wake from this nightmare in a few hours. Yes, that’s it. This is a nightmare.
My eyes slide shut and I feel my weight shift back onto the floor again. My terror dissolves into a calm, and for the first time in forever, I can taste the sweetness of serenity as I drift off into a dark, dreamless sleep.
A small ruffling of something moving and I am sitting bolt upright, regretting it immediately. The pain in my head is so severe that black spots coat my vision and I think for a second I’ll vomit. When was the last time I ate? How long have I been down here for?
Once nausea settles and I can see straight again, I take inventory of my situation. Besides my headache and the throbbing of the bruises on my jaw, I have little pain. I am lying naked on a carpeted floor surrounded by the same ocean blue walls. Mud streaks the side of my body I was lying on and my hair hangs in long, caked strands that stick to my sweaty face. The fact I am naked fills me with dread.
Though I am naked in a strange room, I am not cold. It is hot and very humid, which is inconsistent with the winter weather in New York where I was the last time I can remember. They must’ve moved me. I reach up and trace my lower lip absently, recalling the last memory I had. I have so many questions but the only thing that makes it to the front of my brain is the awareness I am in explicit danger and that Myla is still dead and I don’t know where her body is.
I am on high alert. My head swivels around the room looking for an exit. Solid walls, no decorations or windows, carpet floors, and yes a steel door that has no handle and appears to melt into the wall. I am on my feet before I realize what I am doing, sprinting towards the only conceivable exit of this small, hot dungeon. Forgetting what I’ve done and how badly I wanted to die hours before, I pound my fists hard and fast against the steel and scream at the top of my lungs.
“HELP ME! HELP PLEASE! PLEASE!” I scream at the top of my lungs, tears cascading down my already slick cheeks. My throat is raw and my mouth is dry with dehydration but I do not cease. My weak arms scream with pain and my knuckles split with the force of my frustration, leaving streaks of blood in their wake.
I scream and cry and pound on that door until my voice crackles and disappears, until my fists are tender, bruised, and coated with blood, and I collapse on the floor with exhaustion and unheard sobs tightening my chest. I don’t know if my tirade lasted for days, hours, or minutes. All that I know is that no one came, no one heard me, and no one will ever find me. Hopelessness settles like a rock in my stomach and I allow myself to fall the rest of the way to the floor, curling my knees up to my chest.
I am unconcerned with the tears falling down my face into a pool next to my head, so unconcerned in fact I close my eyes and let my brain wander. Myla is dead and I am never going home again. I bet my family thinks I’m dead, and now instead of having one dead child and a dead wife, he has two dead children. He’s all alone because I was careless. I deserve to be here, to die.
Something stirs in the room’s corner and my eyes fly open. Had I fallen asleep again? I keep myself stiff and I control my breathing, hoping to look like I am still asleep. I hear the noise again, but this time with a tortured groan follows ending in a sob. I decide then and I roll painfully from my curled position on the ground so I am on my hands and knees. I painfully crawl my way over to what I see now is another person laying curled away from me, shaking with loud, pain filled sobs. I pick up my pace and continue crawling across the floor towards the figure, gasping with pain as my exhausted, dehydrated body screams at me to stop.
By the time I reach the body lying on the floor I am gasping from the pain. I arrange myself into a sitting position behind the person, that I see now is a female, and place my hand on her angular shoulder. She flinches away roughly and I remove my hand, staring at her. The girl can’t be any older than 16, maybe 17, and is so underweight that her skin looks as if it were stretched over her bones. She has a large, deep purple bruise that spans the entire length of her spine and blossoms like a flower over her exposed hip; the purple and blue disappearing over the crest of her body. She is frail and tiny, and I know without looking at her face she lacks the innocence of a normal teen.
I feel a primal need then to protect her. It takes over every cell in my body and lights me on fire and for the first time since I’ve been here; I feel a purpose, a glimmer of hope. I may have failed to protect Myla, but I won’t fail this time. Whatever it takes.
“Hey,” I say in a raspy, pain-soaked voice. I am so dehydrated that it sounds like a whisper. I clear my throat and try again
“Hey, are you all right?” she shifts uncomfortably underneath my gaze, curling her knees further into her chest. Though she does not show she hears me, her small body stops shaking. I take it as an encouragement to push further.
“It’s okay, I don’t know where I am. I’m not one of them” I say, partially for her and partially for myself. For my sanity, I need to say the facts I’ve gathered out loud. I need to collect the fragments in my brain, and what better way to collect them than to explain the fuckery to someone else.
She shifts below me and turns slowly to meet my eyes. The girl is very pretty, but in the same way that Myla did; like a child. Her curly honey-colored hair hangs in matted ringlets around her angular features. Her hazel eyes are red-rimmed and deeply set into her too thin face, making her look gaunt and even more terrified than she already is.
Though her face is all sharp angles, her olive skin softened by freckles peppered across the bridge of her nose and her high cheekbones. When she raises them I realize it is not terror I see. Yes, the fear is there but something else is more prominent in her gaze. Not only did she have a hardened look about her, like she had seen and experienced things no one ever should, but hidden deep was a flicker of a flame. I finally understand what the redhead was talking about.
I hold my hand out to her and she takes it reluctantly to help herself to a sitting position; her features contorting in pain. By the time she is able to stay upright, her breath is coming in gasps. She leans against the concrete and closes her eyes, trying to steady herself. With a deep breath that ends in a grimace, she speaks.
“I’m Iya, pronounced like eye-uh but spelled I Y A,” she says, her words lilted with an accent that almost sound southern. Iya crosses her arms over her bare chest in an attempt at modesty, frowning. “Do you have any idea what happened?” she says in a hoarse voice. I guess no one has brought her any water either. Tears stream down her cheeks again, seemingly uncontrollable.
“I’m....” I pause. Saying my name out loud feels wrong like I’m introducing a stranger. No matter how much time I’ve spent down here, I know subconsciously that I will never be the same after this. The identity connected to my name is not me anymore.
“I’m Cassius.” I extend my hand towards her, trying to make my face look inviting.
She takes it, but instead of shaking it she places her other hand atop mine and looks up at me, finally meeting my gaze. I muster a grin.
“But because of the circumstances we’re in, you can call me Cass.” I give her fingers a squeeze, hoping to bring her some comfort “And I do not understand where we are or why we’re here. When they put me here, I was alone,” I lift my shoulders in a shrug “You showed up later. I don’t even know how long I’ve been here.”
She nods slowly, taking all the information in. “It can’t be anything good. There’s nothing good about this.” Iya says this out loud, but I’m positive she is saying it to herself. All I can do is nod my head along with her.
Suddenly a noise sounds directly outside of the door, causing both of us to turn our heads in slow motion. The door swings open and three men storm into the room, their tall, muscular bodies filling the room. I suddenly feel suddenly claustrophobic, my head pounding in time with my rapid heartbeat.
I grab Iya without thinking and pull her tiny, naked body into my lap protectively, wrapping my arms around her underdeveloped chest. I look up into the face of the man standing nearest, bearing my teeth like a wild animal. These men do not deserve to see her this way. She’s too young, too vulnerable.
Before I can think about what’s happening, one of their hands darts out and fists into the top of my hair, lifting me off of the ground effortlessly. I am startled and from some deep part of my brain I hear Iya scream as my hands fall from her body and my feet lift from the ground.
I grit my teeth against the pain of my hair ripping from my scalp and meet the man’s eyes. I will not cry, I am hard as stone. His gaze is the iciest shade of blue I’ve ever seen. I am completely captivated for a moment, not only by his eyes but by his face. Though his eyes are unnaturally light blue, every other feature of his is dark; dark chocolate brown hair shaved neatly down on the sides, dark well-groomed eyebrows, long dark eyelashes that veil those eerie looking eyes, and golden skin a shade lighter than mine that exactly matches the color of his hair. He is captivating but I am angry. I thrash and scream hoping that my scalp rips clean off so I can be on my feet again. Or dead. Either choice would be welcome.
I get my wish when he roughly sets me on my feet and my knees buckle with the force of my feet hitting the ground. The room is spinning and before I know what’s happening my hands are bound in front of me. Satisfied, our captors grab a spare piece of rope and loops it through my intact binding Iya and I are together. There is enough slack separating us that we can easily walk alongside each other without our shoulders touching; though our height difference makes it so I have to hunch over to accommodate. One man grabs the slack that hangs down the middle and drags us, his two cohorts falling into step perfectly beside him. We both stumble and bump into each other for a few steps, then fall into rhythm with the men.
Outside of the room, there is a long, brick hallway. The pounding in my head triples. Humidity hangs like a curse here, its heaviness chokes me and causes sweat to pool on my brow and drip into my eyes. I realize now I am upright it must be days after my initial arrival because I am dizzy and the hunger I feel in my stomach is like a thunderstorm with its persistent growling.
The hall curves suddenly and jerks me out of my thoughts. They thrust us through a door and into the blinding sunlight, making us both trip and stumble again for a moment before we gain our footing. I turn my head slowly, dread sitting like a rock in my belly. There are no buildings and no human life. We are alone with these men and the trees that reach further into the sky than I can see.
We shake on our legs when they force us to walk forward, not knowing if it is from fear or if we’re just too weak. I look to Iya and she back at me, the connection between us humming with electricity. Before today we were strangers and from this day forward we will be connected by a bond neither of us wanted - a bond I’m nearly positive we have both made before. A bond created by trauma.