Twenty-Nine Days Ago

“HONEY! HONEY, YOU’VE GOT TO GET UP! WE HAVE TO GO! NOW!” With a hushed troubled tone, quite familiar to her now, her husband’s voice came to her from the darkness. Forcefully, she was shaken into consciousness.

Although exhausted Amy was out of the seat and on her feet again in less than a second. She knew this was no time for hesitation, those days were gone forever. That was one lesson this ugly new reality taught her all too well.

She snatched up her gym bag and blanket; all that she owned, and watched him collect his own things from their latest home, a minivan abandoned on the side of the road. Now they were both ready to go.

He shouldered his own bag, “There’s five guys headed this way. I don’t like the looks of them … we’ve got to get out of here. I don’t think they saw me.” He took his wife by the arm but with only one step she brought them both to an abrupt halt.

Immediately she dropped her possessions next to her on the ground, kneeling down to tie her shoe.

Her husband nervously kept lookout, “Hurry!”

Those tennis shoes were immaculate white only the month before, now they were a filthy blackish-brown. So was she. The woman couldn’t help but laugh as she thought about it, how she used to love spending hours soaking in the tub. How she wished she were there right now.

For a moment her eyes became affixed to those shoes. She wondered when they were off last but couldn’t really say. It was probably when they had to flee their beautiful home in the suburbs, nearly a month now, all those years ago. The tears returned as that painful image of her burning home, completely engulfed, assaulted her mind again.

She was brought back to the present as he seized her by the arm and lifted his wife to her feet. “We’ve got to go Honey! Come on!”

Quickly he led his wife by the hand as they scraped through the underbrush. They bounded across a shallow drainage ditch with two oversized steps, bringing them to the entry of a large open field. As the couple rushed through the meadow he picked up the pace, still dragging her along. “Honey, come on!” Then he pointed out something on the far horizon she could barely make out, “Those trees over there! We can hide there! They would never find us! Come on!”

The husband broke into an absolute run, still dragging his wife along, and they raced through the wet grass being careful not to fall. With just a dozen or so steps more he dropped face first, flat on the ground, dragging his wife along.

The wife stood up and went to her husband, wasting several seconds trying to prod a response from his unmoving form. After a second more she noticed the blood. The crimson stain in the middle of his back was small but continued to grow. She never even heard the shot.

It took all of her strength to roll him over. The instant she saw his eyes she knew he was gone.

From her knees she stared at this man. This man she loved and cared for. This man she planned to have children with, not even a month ago. The tears began to flow.

After a lifetime of agony she was startled by voices approaching, the sound of men shouting and laughing, loud and rough.

She knew to go now. Her husband would want it. He would understand. The woman grabbed the first thing she saw, her blanket, and took off running. In less than a minute a heavy weight brought her back to the wet ground.

More voices approached as a man held her down, the full weight of his body holding here there. His cruel laugh was soon joined by four more. He got to his feet just as the others surrounded her.

One of them, more vile than the rest, said, “Take your clothes off, bitch.” He stared at her as if she were nothing while he handed his rifle to one of his comrades. Then he undid his trousers and repeated himself, “Take your clothes off, bitch.”

She couldn’t believe this was happening; this was some kind of bad dream, not the country she grew up in, not any world she knew. The woman’s instincts told her to get up and run but a boot buried in her stomach pinned her to the ground.

The one doing the talking for the group spoke again; he was growing angry now, “Take your clothes off, bitch!”

The others closed around her, blocking the sun from the morning sky.

With all her strength she tried to push the boot off but it was no use. There was only one other recourse; desperately pleading with these men.

The one continued undressing; her words meant nothing to him, to any of them. He never bothered to answer her pleas but instead said to his friends, “Help her out guys.”

Wildly she flailed as she was held to the ground and brutish hands tore at her clothes. The only sounds to be heard were her screams and the callous laughs and taunts of those men surrounding her. From a distance came the song of a Field Sparrow, the only other witness to the horror of it all. In a few moments she was completely exposed to them, her torn clothes scattered about.

The woman continued pleading to deaf ears. She could see they were all actually aroused by her fear.

The one stood over her now, completely naked, completely in command. He dropped on top of her and her worst nightmares began.

She tried to kick claw and bite at him, but every time was awarded a punch in the stomach or mouth. Finally she could resist no more; she closed her eyes tight, only hoping that this nightmare might end, somehow.

Sometime midday she passed out after being repeatedly violated by stinking men and their inhuman hands. She wanted to die. She didn’t, somehow.

Early the next morning she woke, bruised and bloody, partially covered with her blanket, the only thing she was wearing.

A light boot in her sore side brought her back to consciousness. He crouched down, the one that started the horror show from the day before, and smiled at her with an unpleasant smile, “Time to get up, honey.”

The others were packing their gear, she had a faint hope they might leave her behind.

Those hopes were immediately crushed as he stood up; prodding her with his boot again, “Put your clothes on, bitch. We ain’t waiting all day for you.”

He kept kicking her in the side, a little harder each time. Finally she stood up; her old blanket the only thing covering her shame.

In a daze she drifted around the campsite, picking up her dirty shoes and clothes strewn around, trying not to expose herself to her captors any more than she had to. Her pants and bra were ruined; all the buttons were torn from her blouse. That top, her panties and that old blanket were the only things left keeping her from being completely naked. She turned her back to the men and dressed as the five of them applauded and whistled, she was mortified, she wanted to die.

Then their leader bound her hands in front of her, tethered to him with a long length of rope. With that done they were all ready to go. The group’s daily wandering began.

Throughout the day the five men crossed the countryside, searching every old building or vehicle they came to and taking shots at any animal they saw. The men took turns leading the woman around by her leash as the long day continued to drag on.

Towards nightfall they saw a large dog in the far distance that one of the men put down with a single shot.

The poor animal’s unpleasant end reminded her of her own husband lying in the grass back there, somewhere, she never even had a chance to mourn him.

One man cooked while the others sat around the campfire waiting for their supper, the jumping flicker of the fire their only source of light now. Some were already eyeing her again.

By the time the meal was done every one of them had that hungry look in their eyes.

Their leader stared right at her while he finished his supper and then wiped his mouth with his filthy hand. He stood up and walked straight to her, standing over the woman, watching her with that indifferent stare that frightened her so.

She sat on the ground staring up at him and didn’t dare utter a word. She only wished this terrible dream could end. She didn’t know if she could survive this again.

He knelt down next to her and said with a faux caring voice, “What’s wrong, honey? Don’t like dog?”

In fear she could only stare at him, after a few moments of silence he picked up her small portion and tossed it to one of his men, then said, “Well we’ll try again tomorrow. You get hungry enough, you’ll eat it. You’ll get to like it.” He smiled wide with that cruel smile he had, “Besides, I’ve got something else for you to do right now. Something I’m sure you’ll get to liking too.” The man stood up and as he did snatched the blanket from her terrified grasp.

She sat there exposed to all of them; her only recourse wishing this nightmare could end.

He walked a few feet from the fire and spread out her blanket there on the ground. Then turned to her again, “Come on, honey.”

She only stared at him.

He patted his knee and called her like he would a dog, “Come on.”

She only continued to stare at him, afraid to go, afraid to stay, or even to make a sound.

Suddenly his tone grew much colder, “I said come here!”

Finally, she slowly stood up with all of them watching. She was unsure what to do but knew she couldn’t fight them again. She was no match for these men. She was still hurting badly; her teeth were still loose from last night. She was afraid to refuse this man, or even talk back to him.

He continued to pat his knee and talk to his pet with that once more feigned friendly voice, “That’s right, come on.”

She fearfully approached him by the light of the fire.

When she was close enough he took her hand and led her to the makeshift bed. His smile grew even wider, “That’s right, come on.”

He gently sat her down on the blanket then began tugging at her underwear.

She pulled away and he immediately drew his hand back. From his enraged face she fully expected to get hit again.

Quickly and carefully she slid out of the panties, her greatest fear that he would ruin them, that last remaining vestige of her humility.

He watched her undress and that malevolent, terrifying smile returned when he said, “That’s right, you’re learning.” Hastily he stripped himself, throwing his clothes aside and then crawled on top of her just like the last time.

As he began to defile her once more she was surprised to find she couldn’t cry. She realized there were no more tears inside, her only remaining desire to be completely numb to it all.

As the five of them violated her through the night she let her mind go somewhere else, somewhere were these men couldn’t hurt her anymore. She wouldn’t allow them to hurt her again.

She was awakened by the sound of voices in the darkness, arguing, two men trying to shout each other down. Just as she sat up the loud report of a single gunshot echoed around them, punctuated by a man dropping in the grass right at her feet.

Wrapped in the safety of her blanket she watched the man at her feet bleed out by the light of the fire, and listened. The others continued to argue around her and soon she realized they had been fighting over her, she was the cause of the dead man lying there. When that revelation finally sank in a brand new hope suddenly filled her mind. Although certainly no match for these men physically perhaps, somehow, she might find some other way to kill them.

By the new morning light she tried to take some clothes from the dead man but their leader stopped her, saying, “No new clothes for you, honey, we like you just like you are.”

She spent the day being led around by one man or another, wrapped in her blanket. Unlike the previous day that she spent in a stupor this one she used to quietly listen and observe.

Throughout the day she noticed things that gave her cause to believe her idea had value. A plan began forming in her mind.

The four remaining men were constantly bickering and didn’t seem to like one another at all. Their leader, she came to find out was named Mike, and it appeared he was universally loathed by them all.

Most of the major arguments that day were between him and another man named Carl, the two just couldn’t get along. Through the long hot day they nearly came to blows several times and more than once Mike threatened to shoot Carl’s “stupid ass.”

At the end of the day she sat by the fire eating the small portion of cat she was allowed to have. She was famished and greedily devoured it without ever thinking about what it was or where it came from. She had more important things on her mind.

After dinner was through she once more had to go to that special place where these cruel men couldn’t hurt her again.

By morning light she had a plan that she hoped would get at least one of her tormentors killed.

Throughout the day she made every effort to be near Carl and even smile at him occasionally, but more importantly she made sure Mike and the others clearly saw it too. Early that afternoon they took a break from the hot sun and she made sure to sit right next to him and even flash a soft sweet smile when Carl gave her a portion of some rabbit from his own stash.

Late that afternoon it was Carl’s turn to hold her leash again and she closely followed right behind him. Unlike with all the others when she would run out her rope to the very end. She also made a special effort to smile at him every time someone else was watching the two of them.

By day’s end she noted that tempers seemed short, noticeably more so than the day before; and Carl was the main recipient of most of their bile.

When dinner was done she knew it was that horrible time again but she couldn’t go away. This time she had to stay. She had important things to do.

She lay their still the entire time without a sound, like she was a corpse on the ground, until Carl had his turn.

With his touch she came alive and made quite the show for every one of them to see and hear. Like the rest Carl made her flesh crawl but you would never have known it as her phony screams of delight pierced the peaceful night. She could see the rest of the men jealously watching the two of them by the low glow of the fire and it gave her hope that with a few more days work one, if not more of them, would die.

At dawn she was again wakened by the sound of men arguing at the top of their lungs. Mike, Dutch and Jimmy were standing around the dying fire, shouting at one another, Carl was still in bed with his throat cut.

Carl appeared to have been dead for quite a while as the blood that covered his throat and shirt had already dried.

The three men stood around a while throwing accusations with their hands on their weapons. She silently prayed that at least one of them would get shot.

Jimmy even suggested that she could have done it. That brought a laugh from the others as she remained mute and did her best to appear the simpleminded fool. Even so it gave Mike a good excuse to closely paw her clothes and naked body for any traces of blood.

As the morning dragged on all of them repeatedly denied doing it and with the question still unresolved the three men at long last packed up their gear, never taking their eyes off one another.

She thought that Mike had done it but honestly couldn’t say, but regardless of guilt felt this morning’s work was a good start.

Like the previous time she tried to take some of dead man’s clothes but was once again stopped, being told that she was fine like she was. She found one of the few things the three men could agree on was that they preferred it be quick and easy to get her undressed.

Mike and the others split Carl’s gear and once she was bound again they were ready to go.

As Mike led her away that morning the only question in her mind was who should she start on now.

They made little progress that day as the three men spent far too much time watching each other instead of looking for food. Mike kept her on a short leash the entire time.

She spent the time trying to come up with an idea, because it didn’t take too long to realize that overplaying her hand might get her killed. While getting Carl murdered wasn’t that hard she was doubtful the same plan would work a second time. These men weren’t that dumb.

Jimmy still thought she was the main suspect and several times throughout the day told the others, loudly, the awful things he was going to do to her if he ever proved his suspicions.

After the fourth time Mike finally shut Jimmy up when he told him, “she’s my bitch, try doing anything to her and see what happens.”

With those words at last she had another plan come to mind.

She remembered that previously when Jimmy came to her in the night he wouldn’t take off his clothes or even his boots, and in his right boot he kept a small knife. What she had in mind for him was dangerous but just might work.

When their evening meal was through they all came to her for dessert, like they did every night. This night though she prayed that Jimmy would be the last in line and that prayer was answered. After Mike and then Dutch were done she could at last see Jimmy approaching by the dim light of the campfire.

She was petrified and didn’t know if she had the courage to go through with it, but had to try. Her only consolation was the thought that if she did die tonight it was still better than how she was living.

Jimmy was close to her now and she quickly checked around one last time. It appeared that the other two men were falling fast asleep there by the fire; she had to do it, now.

Just like the night before Jimmy stopped right in front of her and undid his belt and trousers.

She was ready and as Jimmy pushed his pants down made her move. Instantly she sat up and grabbed the knife handle protruding from the top of the boot. Before Jimmy even knew what was happening she made a quick slash across both of her breasts and dropped the knife at his feet.

Puzzled, Jimmy picked up his own knife from the ground, that’s when she started screaming.

The other two men were awakened by the sound of a woman’s hysterical screams. Mike found his flashlight and shined it on her; the woman was covered with blood and recoiling from a man towering above, a bloody knife in his hand.

Jimmy barely had time to say, “This bitch is crazy, she cut herself,” before being jumped by both angry men. They wrestled him to the ground and started pounding on him. He never had the chance to speak again or even fight back. In less than half a minute Jimmy was beaten into a bloodstained lump lying prostrate on the ground.

Afterwards he led her there by the fire. Mike seemed almost caring as he spoke to her, “It’s alright, that bad man isn’t going to hurt you again, I’ll make sure of that.” Once the bleeding was stopped he wiped away the blood and began dressing her wounds, then turned to Dutch as he approached holding her blanket. “The cuts aren’t too deep. They look a lot worse than they are.”

Dutch draped the blanket over the sobbing woman’s shoulders but didn’t utter a word. He only looked back and forth between her and Jimmy several times trying to resolve the unanswered questions there in his mind.

The whole time she watched that lump named Jimmy across from her. His breathing was shallow but he wasn’t dead yet. The woman had a very real fear of what he might say if he lived long enough to talk. As far as she was concerned he couldn’t die soon enough and tried to quickly think of a way to hurry him along.

Finally she spoke, the first time since that day she met these men. From out of her mouth came her best imitation of mousy, terrified voice that she hoped would get the job done. She looked right at Mike with her pretend pathetic eyes and begged him, “Please don’t let that man hurt me again. I’ll do whatever you want, but please send him away, I’m afraid.”

Mike immediately stood and went to Jimmy, then started viciously kicking him right in the head.

The way Jimmy’s skull snapped back the third time she was sure that he was dead now. She tried her best not to show the joy on her face.

Dutch watched it all without a word although it seemed to her there was something he wanted to say.

When Mike returned he helped her to his bed and told the both of them, “You’re sleeping with me from now on.”

Her skin crawled whenever Mike touched her but she took comfort in the fact that it wouldn’t have to be for too much longer. She only wondered of the two which would be the next man to die.

Early that next morning they were traveling again. The men divided Jimmy’s best gear and unknown to them the woman now had a treasure of her very own. Hidden in the back of her panties was the small knife she found just where Jimmy had dropped it in the grass the night before.

The day was a quiet one and the two men hardly spoke at all. Twice Dutch did drop hints about how he was looking forward to dessert that night, Mike’s only response was how the woman was hurt and should “take a few nights off.” She decided to continue to keep her mouth shut tight and only hoped this conversation would lead to the death of at least one of them.

Just after supper Mike stood up and led the woman to his bed but Dutch was having none of that. The two began arguing over her and it wasn’t very long before both drew their guns.

Dutch paused just long enough for Mike to kill him; he put two bullets square in his now ex-partner’s chest.

When Dutch was shot she knew this was the moment, the one she had long waited for, the one she had endured an eternity in hell waiting to arrive.

As Mike watched his rival drop he was immediately blindsided by the woman with her knife. She began stabbing and slashing him multiple times in the arm and side until he dropped his gun. He wildly back handed her with all of his might and she was flung to the ground. Mike went for his pistol but she was already up again and kicked it, sending it flying into the tall grass.

Mike seized her by the throat with both hands as they both fell to the ground hard. She continued to stab at this man she hated so but was hardly hurting him at all. Her target was his neck and face but she couldn’t get at them with his brawny arms blocking her blows. She could feel the life draining from her and had to try some other way, quickly, the woman knew she only had scant seconds to make an end of him. She plunged the knife deep into his leg and then wrenched it sideways, opening a massive gash in his inner thigh.

Immediately he let go of her and got to his feet again. He staggered around, the blood freely gushing from his leg now. Pulling off his belt he tried to make a tourniquet above the wound.

She stood up and took in a huge gasp of air, she could breathe again. Watching him teetering there and fumbling with the belt she knew this was her chance to finally bring this to an end. While he was preoccupied she calmly walked right up to him and buried her knife deep into his throat. Then she quickly stepped back out of his range before he could get his hands on her again.

He took only one step towards her before toppling to the ground, the blood freely flowing from his two wounds. She kept her distance while he slowly crawled in her direction, one hand clutching his throat, the other continuing to grasp at her.

With another second he collapsed in the grass as she stood some distance away watching him. As he finally died the woman became aware of the sound of a tortured screaming shattering the peaceful night. After a few moments she realized that it was her making that horrible sound. It was the sound of all the rage she held inside, over her husband’s murder, over all those times she was violated, over what she had to become to survive. She stood there screaming almost forever, until there was no more left of it inside.

That next morning, free from these men at last, she went through all of their things selecting only what she needed from among their gear and clothes. She took the finest rifle and pistol she could find and soon was ready to go her own way.

She didn’t know where she was going now and in fact didn’t have a place to go. One thought had been to trace her steps back and find her husband, out there, somewhere, where this horror show began. The man she loved certainly deserved a proper burial but in her heart knew it wasn’t likely she would ever find him again.

Amy checked her rifle to make sure it was loaded; the one thing she did know was that she would never play the victim again.