There was once a woman named Scarlett who was trapped in a stone tower with ivy vines climbing up towards the single window she looked out of.
The tower she lived in was buried deep, deep in the woods, and a little village rested on the outskirts of this forest. Every day, Scarlett would count the clouds tucked in the bright blue sky, and every night, count the golden stars encircling the moon. Her life was merely a routine of nothingness, except for counting everything she saw.
But every seven days, Scarlett counted, a group of six teenagers would visit her at the tower. Well, they wouldn’t really visit her, but they would yell words like “slut” and “whore” up at her window. I assume they are compliments, Scarlett would think, but every seven days, their voices eventually faded to deep, amusing growls and evil cackles.
It was on the fourth day, not the seventh day, when a familiar yet haunting voice erupted from below the tower.
“Scarlett!” it shouted, anger flickering in its voice.
Bewildered, fear swirled in Scarlett’s stormy blue eyes. Peering out of the only window in the tower, she immediately recognized the man standing on the ground. Even from the tower’s distance, she could identify him by his curled, chocolate brown hair and square-like face. She could even see his eyes, colored like dark evergreen trees dipped in mud. Oh God, she thought. Scarlett’s mind stopped, and everything was a blur. Her memory of this man was faded, but she definitely knew him.
Scarlett’s heart dropped to her feet. She immediately kneeled down so the man wouldn’t see her, but while moving, one of the pots with a rose inside of it fell and shattered. Shards of dried clay scattered the floor.
“I know you’re up there, Scar!” the man screamed, infuriated.
Scar? Why is he calling me Scar? Scarlett thought.
“Come down here!”
Just thinking of the ragged way he talked, how on each vowel his deep voice cracked like a fire, made Scarlett shudder and think of three random but interconnected things: Wet leaves. Torn dress. Big man. Scarlett panicked. Why am I thinking of these words
Wet leaves. Torn dress. Big man.
Then it was all rushing back. In her mind, the rainy day in late fall a few years ago where she met this man replayed like an old memory:
She had been roaming the woods, picking berries for her mother’s world-famous pie. Suddenly, thunder boomed in the distance. The wind began to growl, and the sky grew black like a rotten apple. As she plucked the last few berries before returning home, a man approached her. He greeted her with a mischievous smile and daunting eyes colored moldy green. In that instant, the rain began pouring, and the man pushed her to the ground. She slammed against the wet leaves. Her vision was blurry, and she could barely see the big man grinding against her body, nothing but her thin, torn dress in between them. Soon her soaked dress was ripped off her body, and the grinding continued. The moment lasted for what seemed like an infinite amount of time, and the pain and violation progressed on an endless loop.
Since that day, everyone shunned her. The man who had raped Scarlett convinced the village that she seduced him. Villagers protested against her for displaying her body in such a revealing and disrespectful way, so she was locked in the stone tower deep in the woods. Her side of the story was never heard; no one had believed her.
Scarlett opened her electric blue eyes to find the man pounding his feet on the ground. He was the reason she was locked in the tower. The entire village thought that she had seduced that man, but he had raped her. The word echoed in Scarlett’s mind. She never thought that it would apply to her.
“Scarlett, come down here, please,” the man said in a calmer voice.
“N-no,” Scarlett finally shouted, scared.
He smiled, just the way he did that rainy day when it all began. “Scarlett, I won’t hurt you.”
“How am I supposed to know that?” she scowled back, remembering the way his fingers had grazed on her thighs. “You r-raped me.” Just one look at the man’s face, and the nightmare became as vivid as ever.
The man sighed. “I am here to make amends.”
What? Scarlett thought.
The confused look on her face spurred the man’s next command. “Come down, Scarlett, and I will apologize for my mistake of hurting you.”
Scarlett had always been gullible; before she was held captive in the tower for a crime she was innocent for, she had been tricked into thinking that the earth was flat by her “know-it-all” big sister. She’d fed into the fear that was created, like how in an instant, her entire world had changed. So, it was normal for her to believe that the man would actually apologize to her.
The tower that Scarlett lived in had no stairs or doors - just the window. The man stood and watched as she climbed down the intertwined vines of ivy. Her heart was pounding faster and faster, racing like a marathon runner. She wasn’t afraid of falling from the ivy, though - she was scared of the man that would be there if she fell. Her hands shook and were barely able to grip on the vines.
Finally, Scarlett’s bare toe touched the ground, followed by the rest of her body. The feeling of dirt seemed so foreign and beautiful in the strangest ways. She ran her fingers through the long, thin grass. The last time she had done that was when her friends and she rolled down the grassy meadows near their houses long, long ago.
“Scar,” the man interrupted, annoyance etched on his face. “I need to tell you something.”
“Why are you calling me that? Scar?” she questioned as she stood up, “and why are you saying sorry? You don’t feel sorry for me at all. You took advantage of me. You hurt me, and the whole village feels bad for you.” Everything from that rainy day was rushing back to the front of Scarlett’s mind as she spoke.
The same, mischievous smile was plastered on the man’s face, but the words he spoke differed from his physical expressions. “You have no idea how sorry I feel,” he confessed. “The sympathy I get from your seduction still continues today, and I feel awful for you. I wanted to apologize. I convinced the village to forgive you and release you from your tower.”
All of Scarlett’s memories leading up to being trapped in the stone tower flashed before her eyes: her family, her friends at school, and just the safe feeling of being at home. “You - you mean I get to see my family again?” she stuttered.
The man slyly grinned. “Yes. But, let’s hug it out. As an apology.”
“I don’t - I don’t know if I sh - ”
“Come on, Scar. I’m here to say sorry. After this, you can return to your family. I feel awful for my actions towards you in the past.” He took a step closer.
A million thoughts swirled around in Scarlett’s head. Should I trust him? He did hurt me in the past. Is it possible to give people second chances? Maybe he learned from his mistakes. He looks like he wants to apologize. Would it be wrong to not forgive him? Eventually, she took a single stride towards the man, and the three phrases flashed in her mind. Wet leaves. Torn dress. Big man. She tried to ignore them.
Wet leaves. Torn dress. Big man.
The man smiled.
He touched her arm.
Scarlett jumped back.
“You can trust me,” assured the man. “I just want to say sorry.”
Flustered, Scarlett stepped in and let the man hug her. At first it was embracing, like their warmth was exchanged in between each other. Scarlett’s heart raced faster and faster. Wet leaves. Torn dress. Big man.
It was during that moment when Scarlett realized that the man was not hugging her - at least not anymore. His large, sausage-like fingers poked the skin on her thighs. A tingle of shock ran up Scarlett’s spine. Her flowery dress was ruffled up, and the man continued to grope her. Scarlett’s guts tied up inside of her and squeezed until they were about to explode and she would throw up.
In that instant, everything changed. The storm in Scarlett’s ocean blue eyes rumbled, and her red locks of hair turned into flames. With every ounce of strength in her body, Scarlett pushed the man away.
He fell to the ground, dirt skidding his hair. Scarlett’s rage didn’t end there; she opened her mouth to speak to the man. As the memories of being raped by the man years ago, being hurt by him again today, and all the pain and anxiety she felt in between flickered in her mind, she screamed, “No!”
The man seemed shocked. He opened his hazel eyes wide, eyebrows creased. “What did you say to me?”
Scarlett gathered up all the courage inside of her, but she couldn’t find any. In a panicked wince, she whimpered, “N-no.”
The man remained lying on the ground, as if the word “no” was a foreign word in a different language.
Not knowing what to do in the moment, Scarlett began counting the freckles on the man’s face. One, two, three, four, five, six…
Then she began to run.
“Come back here, you slut!” the man harshly screamed, calling her the name that the teenagers had called her. His voice cracked in defeat.
Scarlett ignored him and kept running. Though she was yards away from him, she could still feel his hands all over her skin, groping and squeezing and poking and touching. Her heart beat to the rhythm of her footsteps as she entered the deep woods. Every time she closed her eyes, Scarlett pictured the man’s mischievous, sly grin.
He had engraved himself and his damage into her mind.
He was a scar.
The storm in Scarlett’s eyes erupted, and tears rained to the ground. She ran further and further into the woods until she was out of breath. Exhausted, Scarlett lied on the ground scattered with wet leaves. Her dress now torn. In front of her, however, there wasn’t a big man.
Not this time.
She was free.