My name is Hazel-Grace. I’m writing this story to to take you through what I went through. To tell you the ins and outs and everything in between. To inform you and to warn you. I’m writing this story for you. But beware, if you aren’t willing to take off your shoes and slip into my worn out ones, then don’t read a line more. I’m writing this story to bring you to the inside. Or as close to the inside as you can get. I’m going to take you through it all. Through all the tragedy, the heartbreak, the crying, the fear, the cruelty, the anger, the heartbreak. Yes, it’s always the heartbreak. But before I get too ahead of myself I should start from the beginning.
February 15, 2017
Today is the day that will change my life forever. The day where my whole entire life is flipped upside down. As if I’m a dice inside of someone's hands getting rattled and shook around and then rolled out to see what I came out to be. This day was the turning point for me. If only I knew what was coming.
At the beginning of the day, nothing was unusual. I was dropped off at school by my older brother, Ezra, who was a senior. I went to my same-old locker and grabbed the same-old books I need for my first hour, Mr. Scotland. After the bell rang, I walked myself to class and I shuffled into my seat. And everything was normal. Then in the middle of going over every country in Europe along with its flag, the pounding screams of the fire alarms went off. I didn’t think it was a big deal; we have fire drills all of the time. The fluorescent strobe light flickered as everyone casually walked to the door. As the hallways get filled up with students, there was a noise so surprising and terrifying all at the same time. Gunshots. There were 5 that I counted. The second everyone heard those gunshots, the hallways became so deranged and uncontrolled. They were right next to us, so close I could feel the vibrations. Close enough to hear the ear-piercing cries of the students. It was like being in a horror story. There were students dropping on the ground like flies covering their heads. Immediately teachers and students started yelling things and it was every man for themselves. I was already out into the hallway so the only choice I had was to run. It was a maze; so corput and chaotic that I couldn’t see a step ahead of me. The shooter was close, I knew it. I felt the gunshots and heard the yells. Seconds later, 6 more. These were even closer. The hallways erupted with screams and cries, as this only made everyone push and shove even harder. I had to get out.
I couldn’t tell which way the gunshots were coming from, so I took a risk. There was an exit probably 20 feet behind me. The crowds were much less dense in the back of me so I did it. I took the risk. Either I was making the right decision and running as fast as I could away from the shooter, or running directly at him. I peered over my shoulder but could only see people’s chests. So I held my breath and did it. I turned around and pushed up the flow of people. The crowd became less and less thick with every step. And then came the moment that I realized I had just made the biggest mistake of my life. There, only 7 feet away from me, stood the shooter, back towards me. Instantly my breath shortened and my muscles became stiff. Only 30 seconds ago I was walking out of the school as if it was no big deal, that it was just some stupid drill. The exit was only about 6 steps away. I had to at least try. So I ran as quietly as I could to get there. 8 more shots. My instincts tell me to look but I instantly regret it. Laying on the floor in pools of blood, were my classmates. Then I get the first look in the eyes I will never forget. I froze. I’m making direct eye contact with a school shooter 3 feet away from a door. What do I do? Do I run? Do I start crying? Do I let him shoot me? Then something strange happened. There were 9 more shots. How could there be 9 more shots when I was staring the shooter right in the eye? That’s when I found out, he wasn’t alone. There were more of them. For a split second, he lifted his piercing stare. I should've ran. I should’ve sucked it up and bolted it out that door. But I didn’t. I stood there, frozen, like a fool.
By now only about a minute had passed since the initial shots. As I stand there, his eyes lay back down on me. 6 more shots. But now he wasn’t just staring. He raised his gun and closed one eye. Now, I don’t know what made him do this, maybe it was the terror on my face or the tears boiling in my eyes, but he didn’t shoot me. He walked toward me. 7 more shots. The hand free of the gun clasped over my face. I can smell the gunpowder on his fingers. 5 more shots. The shots were coming quicker now, making everyone even more frantic than before. He rests the gun barrel on my temple and pushes me forward.
The hallways ahead were still so dense with people’s shuffling feet, he barks at the crowd ahead in a menacing voice to freeze and clear the way. I heard footsteps behind me but don’t dare to look because with one jerk of a finger, a bullet could go blasting through my skull. I soon find out it’s the others behind me. The other shooters. He hollers out in a deep voice that if anyone moves a muscle they’re dead. To make it even worse the other men behind me are shooting people on their way out. That walk was the most traumatizing part of it all. My teachers, my classmates, my friends, they’re all staring me dead in the eye. I go down the row one by one making eye contact with everyone I’ve ever known, not because I want to, but because I can’t look away. I will never forget those eyes. All of those afraid, shaken, petrified, terror-stricken eyes. That image is burned into my mind. And then my teacher, Mrs. Grandoli, made a very regretful move. She lunged toward us. For a second, he took his hand off of my mouth and the gun off my head. I let out the most terrified wail, crying for her to stop. She didn’t, she was going to put up a fight if it was the last thing she did. He aimed and shot.
In a hurry, he grips my mouth pointing the gun at my temple, rushing now. And then at the very end of the hallway, I saw Ezra with his hand over his mouth to silence his cries. And then the tears came. Only a few more steps and I would be in the backseat of a school shooters car. This was it. With my eyes swelling, to myself, I said my last goodbyes.
The shooter shoved me into the back seat of his lime green sports car. It surprised me that someone who was trying to dodge the cops had chosen such a noticeable car. There were 4 other shooters that I knew of and one of them hopped into the front seat. He locked the doors and peeled out of the school so quick I fell backwards. I don’t know how long we drove; probably 4 hours. I tried to keep track of where we were, looking for street names and welcome signs. They were talking in the front seats, but I couldn’t quite tell what they were saying. They talked in low voices, probably so I wouldn’t hear. In this time, I could really get a good look at their faces, or their costumes I should say. All of the shooters that I saw were wearing some creepy mask or face paint so you couldn’t tell what their faces looked like. The shooter that took me was the joker. He had wet, green, curly hair, white face paint with the long red smile, and a shiny gold grill covering most of his teeth. The other one however was wearing a scream mask and so once he took it off I could see who he was. He had short bleach blonde hair that had looked like he dyed it a couple of times and brown eyes. Other than that he had a pretty normal face. Throughout the car ride I was trying to pick up on their names and finally concluded that the joker was Amari and the ghost face was Jay .
About 6 cities in, we needed gas, or that’s why I thought we were stopping. We pulled into a shady, run-down gas station. Immediately a Mexican guy came rushing out of the small building holding a rag with some sort of items in it. Seconds after, a big black van with a of logo on the side comes peeling around the corner, ramping the curb. Amari ran out to them, sliding the van door open as someone else jumps out of the passenger seat of the van. Jay whips open my door picks me up by the arm and rushes me to the open van door. I try to quickly scan the vacant building for cameras. None. I get thrown into the van with everyone rushing to get moving. The van’s back seats were all down with just an open space with all kinds of boxes and weapons.
A few seconds later the van is whipping out of the parking lot and what confused me was we went back the same way we came. And then I got even more confused when I saw their abandoned sports car with wide open doors left there. Then I figured out what they were doing. That car was their bait. Obviously, some students saw what the getaway car looked like. They wanted everyone to think they were headed in the opposite direction than we were really going.
Amari shouts back “Hey Carlos, you got the stuff?”
“Yea man, just let me get it ready.”
And then the mexican, Carlos, unfolded the dirty rag and spread the items out. Needles, syringes, bottles of who knows what, wipes, and gloves; disgusting.
“Is it ready yet? We have to put her out before we get there.” Amari says.
They were talking about me. They were going to drug me. At the beginning of the story I had told you a list of emotions that occured to me. And at this moment, this was the first but definitely not the last, feeling of anger. Complete rage went through me.
Why did I have to be the one who walked the other way? Why did I have to be the one to get kidnapped and brought down a hallway of teachers and students who had to just watch as he took me? Why did I have to be sitting, shaking, face to face with a complete stranger in the back seat of a van that’s being driven by school shooters about to get drugged? Why me?
“Yea, don’t worry she’ll definitely be out by the time we get there.”
The question layed in my mind for the minutes of watching him prepare for the injection; where were we going?
Seconds later, Carlos looks up at me with a threatening stare, sucking the drug up into the syringe.
“Lay down” He barked at me.
Nervous, I slowly lay on my back, with my hands resting on my stomach.
He stretched over to me piercing the long needle into my neck. I could feel the mysterious drug start to spread through my body as it flowed through my veins. Immediately, my sight got fuzzy and my limbs got weak. Slowly blinking my eyes, my hand dropped off of my stomach and I heard the mumbles of Carlos’ voice.
“Okay, she’s out.”
And just like that, the day of complete tragedy, was over.
February 17, 2017
As if waking up from a bad dream, I jolt awake, only to find that my mind is still a little blurry. My head quickly falls back on the pillow, with my head pounding. And then just for a second, I forgot. I forgot that I wasn’t home, I forgot that I was kidnapped, and I forgot that I was drugged. But that didn’t last long. When I opened my eyes I wasn’t in my purple bedroom under my fuzzy blanket. Then I was quickly brought back to reality.
But what I did find when I opened my eyes was strange. I was in some sort of basement, with stained, cement walls and dusty air. I was laying on what seemed like a dog bed with a thin blanket over me. But that wasn’t the strange part; it was his lab.
In the corner of the basement, under white, fluorescent lights, there were tables, shelves and tubes with smoke coming out the top. I tried to gather myself enough to get up and check out the place and when I finally stood up, my legs felt like I had just ran a marathon. With every step my legs collapsed just for my other one to catch it. Just as I was approaching the lab, my leg wouldn’t move, as if it was caught on something. I thought it was just the not completely worn off drugs, but I was wrong. Wrapped around my ankle, was a wire.
I froze as I heard the basement door being unlocked. I frantically run back to my bed and cover my legs with the blanket. Hard boots stomp down the stairs and just as they touch on the last stair, I close my eyes.
The man who came down the steps did not look like Amari. He was thinner, his hair was shorter, and he seemed to be taller but maybe that was because I was laying down. He walked over to his lab, grabbed a rag and poured some water on it.
“Are you up yet!”
And that’s when I saw those bright eyes that were far too familiar. That was Amari, I knew it.
“You like my new look,” he asked, turning in a circle, “The cops will never find me looking like this.”
I don’t answer. What am I supposed to say?
“Oh, you’re a quiet one. It’s okay, don’t be shy, I don’t bite.”
His smirk gives me chills. He tosses the rag at me.
“Clean your face up with this.”
I slowly take the rag and start wiping my cheeks. The rag smells of alcohol.
“You were out for all yesterday,” he says, now messing with bottles and tubes in the lab.
“Hey Amari, food’s ready!” Someone shouts from the top of the stairs.
He glances in my direction and starts to walk toward the stairs. His arm bumps a box of nails on the shelf sending them everywhere. He says some curse words, blaming one of the guys upstairs for leaving them too close to the edge. I stare at him struggling to get the ones under the shelf. Eventually he gets up, now in a bad mood, and walks up the stairs. I let my pounding head fall back on my pillow. I try but can’t fall back asleep. So then I wait. Though I didn’t quite know what I was waiting for, what else was I supposed to do? Maybe for some hero to burst through the door and save me; spoiler, it never happened.
I think about an hour later, Amari came back down the stairs.This time I didn’t move or try and pretend to sleep, I didn’t care. He just stood there and looked at me, with no emotion just a straight face.
With my stomach growling I finally got up the courage to ask in shaky voice, “Uhh, can I have something to eat?”
His straight face turns into a smile.
“Oh and she speaks! Sweetheart, I don’t know what you think this place is but it’s definitely not a soup kitchen. You’re going to get food when I feel like giving you food.”
The joy in his voice scared me.
“And right now, I’m not in the mood to give you food.”
He started walking towards me, reaching for a baseball bat leaning against the wall. And then he beat me, for no good reason. Pelting me in the shins, chest, and knees.
Back to my list of words at the beginning of the story, this was the first of many acts of cruelty. It had felt like whatever part of me that felt as if this was going to be okay, was ripped out. The part of me that thought I could survive this, just wait it out until someone came for me, that was all gone.
That night was the hardest. I couldn’t close my eyes without being brought back, so I didn’t. I sat there staring into complete darkness. And then I felt something sharp go into my arm; something like a nail. I grabbed the nail and on the base of his wooden desk beside my head, I carved my first two tallys.
March 1st, 2017
Day 13. The days went by slow and all the same. I had considered giving up so many times, but always had to fight myself to keep going. Everyday showed the same or more cruelty than the last. I got food every other day and drank from a hose. I was abused regularly with whips, bats, and drugs.I thought maybe one of these days I’ll just stop fighting myself, stop counting the days, and give up; just maybe.
April 2nd, 2017
About 2 weeks ago I heard Amari on the phone with someone. He had told whoever it was to come by for their money. So a little while later about 6 other guys showed up, I considered screaming for help but I’m guessing these weren’t exactly the kind of people who would do something about it. So I kept quiet. But I did hear some strange things. Amari had told them that “she was all taken care of” and “you don’t need to worry about it anymore she’s gone.” And that’s when I found out that those were the other shooters, and they had no idea I was still alive.
August 27th, 2017
Day 183. I had been planning this day for weeks, but terrified of how it might end. I was going to try and escape today.
Every Sunday Amari goes to the grocery store, and today I was going to convince him to bring me with him. I know It was going to be hard but this place was like prison, you have to be good to earn their trust. So I was good, I sat in the same spot day in and day out and did just as I was told. So maybe he’ll give in to my idea.
Today I get food so when I woke up he came down the stairs with a bowl of oatmeal.
“Careful it’s hot,” he said setting the bowl next to me.
As he’s walking back toward the stairs I ask, “Can I go to the store with you today?”
He immediately halts to a stop.
“What did you just say?”
“Well, It would be a lot easier because then you wouldn’t get anything I’m allergic to, like you do every time.”
I’m not allergic to anything but desperate times call for desperate measures.
“Now why in the world would I let my hostage go to the store in public with me?” he
asks, almost laughing.
“I won’t say a thing I promise. I’ll dress up so nobody can see who I am, I just really want to get some fresh air.”
After contemplating in his mind he said,“Fine. I’m leaving in a couple minutes.”
See how trust changes things?
I couldn’t blow this, I needed to figure out a way to escape. A few minutes later Amari comes down the stairs holding what looked like a pile of sheets.
“Put this on. It’s a niqab, what muslims wear. They can never let anyone see their face except their family and husband. If anyone asks you to take it off according to you, you can’t OK?”
Suddenly he takes me by the color and whispers,”I swear to God kid, if you get me caught I have people, many people, who will kill you and your whole family. So if you plan on screaming or turning me in, plan on also getting murdered.”
He shoves me off and hands me my outfit. Shaking, I put the old outfit on. What the heck am I going to do now? There was no way I would put my family in danger. At least the car ride would allow me to see where we were.
The second I stepped outside I was blindsided. My town, I was right under everyone's noses this whole time. He quickly pushed me into the front seat pulling out of the driveway.
The car ride was quiet. I saw people walking along the street just hoping they would notice me.
When we got to the store, I jumped out of the car beginning to walk to the entrance when Amari grabbed my hand. While we were walking through the store, I saw so many familiar faces. I wanted to cry but I knew Amari would just make me leave. So I waited, waited for the same people I’d known for years to see my eyes and save me. Throughout the whole trip I starred so hard into people’s eyes just hoping that they would realize it was me . Nobody did.
We were nearing the end of our trip and I needed to make a move. I needed to think. Whatever I did, it would only get me into more trouble, so as we were walking out of the sliding doors, I let it go. I wasn’t going to escape today, and that was okay, I needed to be sure of the move I make.
But something else happened when I was walking out of those sliding doors; I saw the missing persons board. I stopped and went from top to bottom scanning name and pictures. I wasn’t up there.
“You’re not up there kid, what happened was months ago, you’re forgotten.”
And at that moment, I had the first feeling of heartbreak. My stomach sank to the floor, slowly walking out of there.
I was forgotten. How am I supposed to be found if nobody remembers? At this moment all hope was lost. The hope of being saved, of someone storming in and saving me like a hero, it was all gone.
When I layed in my bed that night, I fell asleep right away. For I wasn’t wide awake, waiting for my hero, I marked my 183rd tally, and fell asleep. My heart was shattered that day along with all hope, so no, I didn’t wait, wide awake to be saved, for I wasn’t going to be saved.
September 10th, 2017
I had been depressed for weeks, I knew nobody was going to find me so why have hope? Unfortunately, hope is what kept me going so without it, I stopped trying. And this was where the crying began. Hours and hours of just crying until I got too tired to even be sad anymore. As if my emotions and feelings were frozen.
But on this day I realized something. All along I was waiting for someone else to be my savior, my hero, when nobody was coming for me. I knew I needed to escape and be saved from this torture, but who was going to do it? And that’s when I realized I had to be my own hero, suck it up, and save myself.
October 19th, 2017
Today is the day where I reach my breaking point. I couldn’t take it anymore. I was forgotten, nobody was looking anymore. I had to do something, but what? That’s how I spent these days, just thinking, planning on how to get out of here. But nothing was good enough, it would have to be so thought out that I would be long gone before Amari even noticed. So then I sat there, thinking.
November 12th, 2017
Day 260. Most of my time was spent on mental games like doubling the number two until I made a mistake or trying to lift my leg while rolling my eyes in a circle. Before I was captured, I wrote many stories. Many wonderful stories. I was writing one in my head too, something similar to this, actually. A classic villain and superhero story. Amari was the villain and, well, there was no superhero yet. Soon, I would tell myself, there will be a superhero to this story and there will be a happy ending, all you have to do is wait.
November 17th, 2017
Day 265. At first this started out as any other day. I woke up, washed my hair under the hose, and sat there playing mind tricks all day; well some of the day. I didn’t know it yet but today was the day I was going to try and run away.
I wasn’t expecting to ever have the chance to run. I wasn’t expecting that someone like Amari would ever make a mistake, but it happened. He left the basement latch unlocked.
He had left to go somewhere, usually to drug deals, but didn’t lock the door. He was in a hurry and running late so with everything he did I was scanning for error.
When I heard the roar of the van leave the driveway, my stomach was flipped upside down. Though there was still a problem. I was chained up.
The whole time I had been there I noticed a knife on the very bottom of his shelf, just in reach. I never went to go chop the wire off of me because then what? Every window was boarded up, the door was locked, and Amari was on the floor above me. Even If I did get that wire off of me, I had nowhere to go.
But this time I had an escape to outside so I crawled over to the shelf, reached as far as I could and finally got ahold of the knife. I was in a hurry, I needed as much time as I could to run. So I took the knife and was free within seconds.
At first I didn’t know what exactly to do.The dream I had been wishing for was finally about to come true. But I had to get moving so I started for the stairs. Right above the stairs was the door, I was about 4 stairs away from the top. I was so close.
And then I heard the doorknob jiggle, and froze. He caught me trying to escape.
What happened next was so brutal. All the whipping, the hitting, the shoving and the choking. Too brutal to explain.
December 7th, 2017
At this point I don’t know what else to do. I’m stuck here. I’ve tried to escape twice and both times have failed, so the odds aren’t exactly in my favor. But that’s okay.
While I was sitting down there for weeks and weeks I realized how important optimism is in this situation. For a long time I didn’t have optimism. Whenever my mind would wander to the thought of getting out of there, I would force myself back into the reality that escaping was simply impossible. But I realized I was going to go crazy if all of these days were spent doing, well, nothing.
So I made myself believe again. Believe in a happy ending. It’s like believing in Santa Clause; you know he’s not real but you still make your mind believe, just for your own spirit of Christmas. For your own satisfaction that there is magic in believing in something that doesn’t make sense.
It doesn’t make sense for me too escape, not this late in the game. But I believed that maybe I could. I mean, what does it hurt to believe in Santa? What does it hurt to have hope? I wasn’t waiting for something to happen, but was looking for mistakes. Mistakes in Amari’s diabolical plan is what I was looking for. There were 3, so far.
The lock on his front door was jammed and he didn’t get a new one yet; one. He set a container of lab supplies full of lighters, tubes, and glass just within reach; two. And finally, he was starting to be careless of what he said and where he left things; three.
So this wasn’t exactly planned, but I was prepared for it. Whenever he made the mistake that would give me the opportunity, I was ready for it.
And on this day, he made that mistake. He left the keys to the basement door laying on his lab table while he was out. Of course, this is where the carelessness comes in. I had to cut my wire off before I could get to it, but, hey, I could still get to it.
So with a deep breath, I got up from my bed, and crawled as close as I could get to container. My fingertips were just grazing the tops of the glass bottles and finally got ahold of the one closest to me.
As I stood up I fiddled with the bottle, trying to decide how to break it. Eventually I realized there was no good way to break glass so just chucked it at the ground. Shards of pointy blades bloomed out from the breaking point. I carefully picked up the biggest and sharpest one and started to saw off my wire, shaking.
After much blood was lost from the cuts, I was free. And then all of a sudden I had this weird urge. I picked up a glass from the container and threw it at the wall. Glass after glass was whipped at everything he ever cared about. I threw them at pictures, at his lab, at his computer, just everywhere. Every part of me, the sad part, the heartbroken part, the scared part, the angry part, just came out of me more and more with every throw. I was letting it out. Everything.
This was so satisfactory. Amari had broken everything of mine; my spirit, my courage, my heart, my hope, and the worst of all, my soul. I was finally breaking something of his. I mean, I knew it was only his bottles but it felt good, almost like closure.
After every single glass bottle was shattered to pieces, I ran. I ran up the stairs and out the broken door onto the dark street. As if I was running from everything that ever held me back. It felt like with every step I felt lighter, as if every second that passed I was getting closer and closer to freedom. As if there was fire on my heels. I ran and ran and ran and ran, miles upon miles.
And then I stopped in the middle of the road, fell on my knees with my arms high in the sky. I was free.
March 7th, 2018
Day 0. Today is the day of my court hearing. For I poured it all out on that stand, like I have many times before to the police, my friends, and my family. I spoke the awful, brutal truth, starring Amari in those bright eyes of his. He would act as if he was sorry, as if the man holding those dirty hands to my neck wasn’t the man he had wanted to be and maybe that was right. Maybe he didn’t want to be this awful man I was describing, but the thing is, he was. The acting of sorrow didn’t stop me from unleashing the truth from it’s chained up cage. He had broken me, now it was my turn to break him.
When I stepped off that podium, I felt something standing feet away from the face in my nightmares, but this time it wasn’t fear. It was glory. For I didn’t have to run from him this time as if fire was on my heels, for now I am walking with that fire on my back. For my story did have a happy ending after all. For he is the villain and I am the superhero.