My Name is War
Book 2 of the Scream Series
Human Trafficking Facts:
“Trafficking involves transporting someone into a situation of exploitation. This can include forced labor, marriage, prostitution, and organ removal.”
“It’s estimated that internationally there are between 20 million and 40 million people in modern slavery today.”
“Globally, an estimated 71% of enslaved people are women and girls, while men and boys account for 29%”
“Estimates suggest that about 50,000 people are trafficked into the US each year, most often from Mexico and the Philippines”
“Human trafficking earns global profits of roughly $150 billion a year for traffickers, $99 billion of which comes from commercial sexual exploitation.”
I don’t know who I am, or what I am, or what I’m doing, or what I’m going to do. I started out four months ago, with no memory in a schoolyard with walls surrounding me that were taller than buildings. I was given the name Scream by my abuser and my enslaver. I was quickly and violently submerged in a merciless world run by children. For four months, I was a prisoner to my ignorance, to my loneliness, and to Tobias.
Then I met a young boy. Charles befriended me when no one else had. He made me laugh. He taught me love. He gave me hope. I began to think I could stay and be happy. I began to believe I could form a home in Hell.
I lost the light Charles ignited when he was murdered in front of me. Getting out is still a thought that lingers, locked behind despair and loss. The only thing connecting me to life is a string that’s calling himself Shakes. A man I’ve just met ten minutes ago. And I have given all of my control, if I had any to begin with, to him.
Shakes walks in front of me. We enter an underground crawl space, beneath the Teacher’s Lounge. It’s the middle of the night, a time I usually hide. The other man, a big orange haired brute called Brick, takes the lead in the darkness, taking a small flashlight out of his pocket and exposing our surroundings. It’s a basement or a cellar, forgotten and abandoned. Cobwebs and dust have taken over and stretched over boxes, chairs, desks, wheelchairs, gurneys, walkers, and other medical equipment, some broken, most rusted. We follow a path cleaned by many feet to the back where a hole has been dug up from the concrete floor.
We drop through a tunnel darkly lit by a single lantern at the end of the long hall. I have to stop from grabbing Shakes’ hand in trepidation. The worry that I’ve always suffered from, being betrayed and beaten, doesn’t scratch at me. My old problems, my old troubles, anxieties, dreams, thoughts, have wilted. I have even given up my name and I’ve adopted a new one for a new me, Jewels. And the person I am, will become someone.
“Many are not happy about this, boss.” Brick attends to Shakes as his guard. He hasn’t yet looked at me and I haven’t been brave enough to look at him.
“They don’t have to like it.” Shakes replies simply. He glances back, giving me a reassuring smile. My head drops further insecurely shying from any eye contact. “She doesn’t seem so dangerous to me.”
“You’ve heard the rumors--”
“Enough. Has everyone arrived?”
“Yes. They wait for you in the gym.”
As I make this trek, I release everything that I’ve ever known. All my previous knowledge of this entire place I let go. I’m wiped clean. A brand new babe in a world full of monsters. The tunnel leads up and up is the only direction left. I have hit bottom and Shakes has become the anchor to pull me to the surface.
Brick pushes through a metal wall and light shines in through the crack. I gasp finding us inside the school. We exit from inside a locker into the hallway. Lights are off, there is no one else. Shakes and Brick are quietly walking but my shoeless feet smack against the cold ground. There had been a time I was good at stealth but my losses have been great and I no longer have the same care as before. We climb five levels of stairs
The school has six floors. It is meant as a time tracker. If a student makes it to the sixth floor, they have been here too long. If they are not part of a clan, they are never seen again. I have only hit my fourth month and I hope I never see the top floor.
The fifth floor is better known as PE. Physical Education takes place in a large open spaced gym. Before us are the double doors, leading into it. Shakes looks back at me, smiling, shaking his head. “You have nothing to be afraid of here, Jewels.” He moves in closer. My first instinct is to flee but I only manage a feared step backward and I watch his shaking hand rest on my face and tuck a strand of ragged hair behind my ear. His finger hooks under my chin. “Head high. No one will hurt you here. I’ll protect you.”
He is so genuine in his expression. His eyes match Charles’ green gaze, so innocent and free that nothing could destroy its light. His hand grabs mine and we step into the room, blinding by lights from all angles and my free hand moves out in front of me to block the overbearing rays.
That’s when I hear the whispers. My eyes adjust to the brightness and I see people all around me. Row after row, children scattered in sections, sitting, standing, sleeping. There’s blankets hung up to act as walls but their heads stick out as we pass by, going through a rough pathway. I have to trot to keep up with Shakes’ pace. He passes people without even looking at anyone going until we hit the center of the room and he makes a sharp turn and climbs the wobbling wooden bleachers. He keeps a hold of me and helps as I struggle not as sure-footed as he is, standing in an alcove on one of the steps as he stands on the seat to remain higher.
A man calls out. “What is she doing here?” Followed by wails of agreement. My courage is nil and I keep my head buried. Brick is on the other side of Shakes and is unperturbed by the distress caused by my presence. “She shouldn’t be here!” another voice rallies and many holler with him.
Shakes raises his free hand and slowly the crowd quiets. “Do you trust me?” All the disagreements and the whispering shut off like a switch. Silence surrounds and only shifting can be heard from people uncomfortable. “She’s been tested. She’s passed.”
A girl upfront stands, “I trust you, boss. I don’t trust her.”
Trust me? She’s the one in a clan. I can spot clan members a mile away. They are clean, well-dressed, and egotistical. I’m used to her kind of looks. I’m a rat, a person without a clan, and hated for no other reason. If she wants to fight me, I’ll rip her nicely pressed dress.
The girl begins to walk to the exit when Shakes speaks again. “How many of you were there on Tuesday?”
My eyes dilate.
Tobias reached into his vest and took out his gun.
I lurched. “Tobias, don’t!” My body slammed into the ground. A knee dug into my back. I pushed against it but there was so much pressure. I could only watch his feet step closer. “Please. I‘ll do anything. I‘ll be with you. Please” I cried. I cried and I cried.
Charles finally caught my gaze. His big green bright eyes that would shine so beautiful when he was happy. There was a gun against his temple and I thought he would fight against it. Throw a wild fist or fight the men that held him. And then the gun shot and his body fell face first. With his eyes still looking at me.
Within his eyes, those glistening young naive eyes, I watched consciousness dwindle until his gaze was dull and sightless. His lips, always spread wide with an exciting smile, was left open as blood trickled out.
Shakes’ hand that holds mine, I grip now with terrible ferocity. My knees shake, my body quivers and I stare at the floor only seeing Charles’ eyes stare at me as the gun pushes against his head.
“Whatever hold Tobias’ had on her, he destroyed it. You saw it as well as I did. She can help us find what we need to get out of here. I’ve done horrible shit too, you know, and yet here you all are standing beside me. Her only fault is surviving. Will you condemn her for actions even you yourself have done?” It is quiet and no one voices disagreement. But from the looks in their eyes I know it’s not over.
They want proof that I do not belong to Tobias. Tobias has become a monster that keeps me chained no matter how I go against him. I will burn every link connecting me to him if it’s the last thing I do.
Shakes changes the subject. “She is not up for discussion. I called you all here to warn you. The Snatchers have been assigned to twenty by the end of the week.”
Panic courses through them in confusion. They voice questions and concerns and after a few short minutes, Shakes raises his hand again and calms them. “This happens every school season. We are trying our best to keep you all off their radar.”
Snatchers take children and these children are never seen again. Part of me wants to believe that it’s freedom but from the horror in their eyes, I can’t hope for something like that.
Brick continues in the same direction. “We get a shipment on Sunday. Our option is to grab as many as we can and put them on the front lines. What we need to do is get another twenty feet dug up.”
A person from the audience speaks. “If we go any faster the tunnel will collapse. We almost lost Greg’s team yesterday.”
“then we must put more beams in place.”
“Beams take a week to make.”
“Look, I understand it’s hard. But the quicker this gets done the quicker we can leave.” That stops any more resistance.
Shakes pulls me behind him going off the stage. My attention stays glued to our hands so as not to meet any distrustful gazes. Our hands are so similar. They are dirty like mine, small like mine. Shakes’ hands are so different from Charles’. I like them. I don’t feel like I’m ruining them.
With each step, he’s addressed by friends. He interacts with a smile, a laugh, a handshake, a hug. I don’t let him leave my fingers and everything that’s going on I pay no attention to. I’m struck by my need for this person. Everyone completely forgets I exist. I am invisible with Shakes as my guide. I don’t want to ever leave his side.