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Falling, falling, falling. I wasn’t sure where I was falling to exactly, but I knew it wouldn’t be pleasant. I fell past clouds and stars into blackness. It felt like hours before I reached it, and I was not scared, but my stomach flipped and churned with anxiety all the same. I knew the blackness was infinite because I’d been there before, and it was all too familiar. I passed through it, and as my surroundings faded, so did I, alone in the dark.
I’m not sure how much later I awoke, but I was still plagued by my dreams, and my fear of being engulfed in the infinite blackness. I hear the sounds of my adopted “uncles” bustling about in the kitchen, while I calmly remained in the attic, my prison, and I, its only prisoner.
Hey girl,” came the grisly voice I now referred to by his request as “Uncle” Emmet.
“Good morning Uncle Emmet,” I quickly replied as to not upset him. I did not want and unfriendly meeting with the belt my “Uncle” Sam carried around with him; just in case my behavior wasn’t satisfactory, as a young girl’s should. The thought of the belt plagued me as often as the infinite blackness. They were often connected.
“Get up now!” He commanded, “We are going to the thrift store. We can’t have you all grimy looking for your Uncle Sam now can we?”
“Yes sir. No sir,” I gently squeaked out. If I did not look appealing for Uncle Sam that was two swats with the belt, and the darkness might settle upon me, and that would make Uncle Sam angry. Another swat with the belt and I would certainly be banished to my attic prison with no supper and extra chores the next day.
Uncle Emmet pulled me by my hair off the cot in the corner. He yanked me down the spiraling metal stairs and his boots clanked against the metal.
When we reached the first floor, Uncle Emmet shoved me into the den to put my shoes and coat on, while he stumbled into the living room to tell Uncle Sam we were leaving. I heard gunshots blaring from the television, which was always too loud, and they unsettled me deeply.
We walked out to the old car, our boots crunching the fresh snow. I hadn’t played in snow since my last winter with my parents died, and that was four years ago. After my parents died, my aunt and uncle put me in an orphanage, to be placed up for adoption.
I spent three years in the orphanage, and never once were we allowed outside. The only time we were allowed outside was if we had chores and even then, we were chaperoned by one of Miss Monie’s many assistants.
Then finally one day a man came in. He talked to me softly and gently and I began to like him. When he left, Miss Helena, my favorite assistant, came and told me he wanted to adopt me. I told her I was pleased, for I was not to shout for any reason, joy or not, because it was very improper.
The man came back a week later to take me to his home. The house looked very nice on the outside, and just as nice on the inside, but as soon as we walked in, a gravely voice asked, “Emmet, is that her?”
I jerked my head to the left to see a man. He wore jeans and a plaid shirt, and was lying on the couch watching television, eyeing me closely. I felt stalked at the moment, and slightly afraid. I turned around to Emmet and his calm, dark eyes erupted in piercing fury.
“You get upstairs! Your room is at the very top,” he growled at me. Emmet turned to the man on the couch and bellowed, “Why are you lounging around like a lazy bum?” Emmet paused slightly, “Wait! Don’t answer that you piece of scum! Grab the gun, bring it down here, and stow it under the cushion.”
The shabby man stood up and hissed at him, “You don’t ever order me around again, or so help me I will take that gun and shoot you in your sleep. The girl is mine, not yours. You best be doing what I say, or I will kill you.”
With that I darted swiftly up the stairs. I did not want the men to know I was listening to them. When I reached the top of the steps, there was a big oak door, looming in front of me. I turned the knob and stepped silently inside. There was a small cot in the corner with a quilt and one flat pillow. The quilt was a deep crimson with gold embroidering. I slowly drifted to the cot and with every step there was a long suspenseful creak.
A soft giggle escaped my throat, “I have my own room!”
I heard someone slinking up the stairs, so I sat down on the cot, crossed my legs, and folded my hands in my lap.
The shabby man burst into my room and asked, “Who said you could sit down?”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know I wasn’t allowed,” I calmly explained to him.
“Are you mocking me girl, because you don’t want to mock your Uncle Sam,” he said with a raspy voice. He ripped his belt from his pants and swatted it in the air. “No you really don’t”
“Gwen!” Uncle Emmet growled under his breath.
I groggily turned my head to see Emmet holding the door open for me.
“Didn’t’ you get enough sleep last night?” He stared at me and I nodded. “Well then why were you sleeping?” He said with a throaty voice.
“I’m sorry, Uncle Emmet, I just nodded off, I won’t do it again,” I stammered.
We had arrived at the decrepit thrift store I was all too familiar with. I turned and began to walk to the store while Emmet sauntered in front of me. He opened the door and looked at me expectantly, so I turned and replied, “Thank you, Uncle Emmet.”
“You’re welcome, Gwen, “ he said with a smirk.
Valerie, my favorite sales clerk, greeted us cheerily. Not even regarding my new purple bruises on my left and right arms. She asked how I was, and escorted me to the clothing section.
“Gwen, listen to Valerie. I’m going down the street for a coffee. I’ll be back in ten minutes,” Uncle Emmet told me.
“Okay,” I said as I skipped back to the dresses.
“Please, Valerie, please. You have to listen to me,” I pleaded.
“What Gwen, what’s wrong?” She replied.
“Uncle Emmet and Uncle Sam hurt me. Uncle Emmet dresses me up, and if Uncle Sam doesn’t like it, he hits me with his leather belt. Haven’t you noticed my bruises?” I pointed to the newest bruise on my arm. I continued showing her the purple, black, and yellowing blotches scattered on my arms, legs, back, neck, and stomach.
Valerie gasped, “How long? Why haven’t you told anyone?”
“Four months,” I started to hyperventilate, “I’m scared! ‘This is only minor’ they say, ‘It could be worse’ they say, ‘It will be worse’ they say!” I began to cry, “How much worse? How can it be worse? I need help Valerie, please do something!”
“Oh, Gwen! Please stop crying! Mr. Emmet will be here soon. If he sees you crying what will he think. You need to calm down, take a deep breath, “ Valerie whispered. She wrapped me into a tight hug and rocked me back and forth. “I’ll help you, it will be alright.”
I nodded with gratitude, “But Valerie, he’s going to wonder why I was crying. What should I tell him?”
“Here, I’ll go into the back room and get you some ice. We can tell Mr. Emmet you fell and hit your head,” she soothed.
I buried my face in her brunette hair and silently sobbed. “I should probably get you into the changing room. I’ll help you find something, something real pretty,” she told me.
“But I can’t go back to that house! It gets worse and worse every night!” I began to shake violently and I began to scream.
Valerie clamped a hand over my mouth before I uttered a sound. “You don’t say another word. You understand? Mr. Emmet will be back very shortly and I will inform him you told me about the belt. You will go with him, and stay with him until he says you’re free. Now go find some clothes while I go get the ice!” Valerie hissed at me, her eyes cold.
I sat on the floor in shock, staring at her as she walked away. She betrayed me. I had trusted Valerie, and she left me to die.
“No,” I whispered to myself.
“No,” I repeated louder.
I stood up and at normal volume I retorted, “No!”
I bolted to the door and screamed, “NO! NO! NO!”
“Gwen! What are you doing? Calm down right now! I will call my broth- Mr. Emmet!” Valerie threatened.
Emmet was Valerie’s brother. No wonder she disregarded my bruises and bumps. I had momentarily forgotten my rage, but it just as quickly came flooding back with all its force and momentum.
“NO!” I screamed at the top of my lungs, “Get away from me! I will not stay here. You were my last hope, but now I have no one! I am alone!”
With that, I wheeled around, pushed the door open, and stumbled right into him, Emmet Shane, my captor. I fell backwards and hit my head on the cement. Emmet pulled me up and dragged me back into the store.
“No, let me go,” I whispered in defeat. I thought it would come out as a scream, but I only managed a whisper.
Emmet picked me up and hurled me to the floor next to Valerie, who was cleaning up the ice she crushed in her rampage.
“What happened here?” Emmet demanded menacingly. The words were spread apart and it sounded like each word was its own sentence. Again he demanded, “What. Happened. Here? TELL ME NOW!”
I began to wail, and he turned his head to me. I instantly felt rage, hatred, betrayal, dread, fear, and panic all melt into one black pit of agony in the middle of my stomach.
I screamed in blind fury, “LET GO OF ME! LET ME GO! I HATE YOU! WHY WON’T YOU LET ME BE? YOU BROUGHT MY LIFE TO-“
Emmet brought his hands to my face. His left hand held my mouth clamped shut, and the other he brought back. He turned to Valerie and said bitterly, “Get some ice.” Then, he hit me. While I was crying he threw a black dress with polka dots on it at me, and told me to put it on.
“Sam will not be pleased with you at all,” he laughed manically, “Nope, not one bit!” Emmet drew out a belt -gulp- and Valerie held my hands together behind my back, her eyes icy and bitter.
Emmet picked me up and he put me in the trunk of the Subaru Forster and slammed the door. He did not get in the car immediately because he was murmuring to Valerie.
I only caught pieces of what he said, “Leave town- Sam has allies- You’re coming too-“ I was paralyzed with fear. A new town, more people who won’t believe me, and Sam’s friends, his partners in crime. I began to sob recklessly. I was terrified and I needed a plan, but I was so tired, and one moment I could see and…
I awoke, not sure of what happened or aware of my surroundings, in discomfort. I began to sit up and slammed my head. I thumped back to the floor and its bristly carpeting. I reached my hand up to my head and felt a large crusty bump. Great, my head had been bleeding.
Light began to creep into my abode, and I closed my eyes and pretended to sleep. I heard Sam’s voice and I was scared. “It’s settled. We are going to Amsterdam on Tuesday. We have four days to pack. Valerie, go get boxes, lots of boxes, and Emmet you rent a moving van. Izzy’s number is on the table. Call him after you get the van. You need to tell him to go to the Swamp at eight o clock p.m. tonight. He’ll help us. Pick me up here at six thirty so we get there early, we’ll need to hide the car.”
“Okay, I’ll take the girl, and lay her on the couch until six. When it’s time to go I’ll throw her back in the trunk,” Emmet said.
“All right, but keep her tied tight,” Sam commanded. I could tell he objected.
The door closed again, and I knew I was still in the trunk. I needed a plan. Sam will be here –wherever here is-, Valerie will be getting boxes to move, and Emmet will be upstairs using the phone and gathering things. That leaves me alone downstairs, downstairs with the gun under the couch cushion.
The car sputtered to life, and Emmet pealed out with Valerie riding shotgun. A short ten minutes later, the car stopped and Valerie got out. I was alone with Emmet, and when he left me downstairs I would act.
Another fifteen minutes passed and the trunk opened. Emmet dragged me out and into the house. He rebound the belt that held my wrists together, and sat me on the couch.
Emmet ran upstairs and I kicked my legs out and onto the floor. I pushed the bumpy couch cushion up with my chin, and prepared to grab the gun with my teeth, but it wasn’t there! I looked under each cushion of every couch and chair, but it wasn’t there.
The gun was the one thing I kept tabs on in this prison. I didn’t understand it; where could it be? I stood up and sat down on the couch. During the same instant the cruel, gravely voice chilled my bones, “Looking for this?”
I spun around and took a deep breath. Every muscle in my body tightened as I cringed preparing for the shot. It finally came, but not from Emmet, it was from Valerie. I opened my eyes as Emmet’s body slouched to the floor.
“He will not kill you! Over my dead body he will not kill you! That’s my job!” Valerie cackled.
She pulled the trigger, and those were the last words I heard before my blackness became infinite. Permanently.