This story is by Jane E. Ruth and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
My fourth night of isolation and darkness surrounds me again. I lay
on a wooden bed frame of slats, listening to the noises in my room. Something
is crawling on my arms. I slap it off, but swarms of insects are all over me,
I feel them creeping on my face and into my ears. They are teeming over my body. I
scramble from the bed, but I can’t leave the room because the door is locked. I have no
lights to flick on to see the bugs.
Running around the room, I slap my body, trying to rid myself of what I am
guessing are ants. Feeling my way to the opposite corner of the room, I stay awake until
daybreak, hunched on the floor. After the ants leave, I return to bed and try to sleep.
Isolation was my punishment for being a stepchild my mother’s husband did not
want. My stepfather insisted I leave the house, saying he refuses to see my face again.
Stepdaddy takes good care of his children, and they get the best of food, clothing, and
whatever they want. Daddy Dearest threatened my mother he’d shoot me if he saw me,
and people would call the shooting an accident.
Too frightened to fight back, my mother obeys his every order. His children said he
had shot two hikers three years ago for trespassing on his property. The men didn’t have
any weapons, but the authorities ruled the shootings as self-defense.
Sometime after daybreak, my mother comes to my room. She calls to me and
unlocks the door. I guess I will not have any sleep time.
Handing food and water to me, she cries and hugs me and talks of escaping. We
live high in the mountains, thirty miles off the road. I haven’t any supplies that will help
me endure the freezing weather. The land is unknown to me. I am twelve years old, and
my neighbors do not live close. Besides, I have never met them to make friends. I would
not survive past a few days in the wild.
Father Dearest keeps a sharp eye on my mother’s activities. He has beaten her for
disobeying him. She is allowed to feed me and bring water once every two days. I have a
chamber pot for my toilet.
My mom brought Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books today, a wind-up clock, and
another quilt. I was glad for the pillow and extra blanket to keep warm. A small heater
plugs into the only electrical outlet in my room. The top plug-in does not work. My mom
said my choice is a lamp or a heater. And, since it is cold outside, I do not have a choice.
I am dreading tonight. I look at the floor and notice a couple of dead ants I had
slapped off my body. Will they return?
A chair is the other piece of furniture in my cubbyhole. I may have to sleep on it.
My room, built onto the side of the barn, is home to bugs and critters.
The darkness creeps into my room, and I guess the time. Minus a light, I can’t see
the clock. I lay on my hard bed and doze off, my body aching from the lack of sleep.
A gnawing sound wakes me up. It sounds like a rat, and I am not too fond of rats.
The rodents in the barn next to my room are gopher size. I saw a rat one time when I was
helping to clean out the barn stalls. Another night of sleeplessness until the gnawing
sound disappears at daybreak. No ants tonight, for which I shout hooray.
I could not sleep much the past week. The sleep I get is short times only, and I have
nightmares of being eaten alive by rats. I wake up sweating and even screaming.
A flashlight or lantern to light my room at night would be super. Daddy Dearest
saw my mom bringing a lantern to me and told her she could not give it to me. He wants
it for the barn if the electricity goes out.
The ants now continue to come every night. One morning, I found a dead
cockroach I had smashed with a book. My mom told me once, if a cockroach gets in your
ear, it can’t escape. Whenever I sleep, I cover my ears with my hands.
Two meals for two days is not enough food, and I am often hungry. I worry the rats
and cockroaches will eat the leftover food. Dividing my plate into six areas for food makes
it look like I eat three meals a day.
My mom said to place food in the fridge when we are through eating. It can’t be at
room temperature over two hours. If the food has bacteria, you could become sick with
food poisoning. But I am so hungry, I take the chance and eat it the next day. Besides, I
don’t have a refrigerator.
Reading the same books is monotonous. I could enjoy a few card games, even
Bingo, to pass the time.
Each night I keep my body still and move little. Without a light, I can’t see objects
in the room. I have to feel my way to the chamber pot and reach out for the lid when I
need to use the bathroom.
I have no one to talk with except my mom every two days. Her stepchildren don’t
want me around either, so it does not upset them I live in isolation. I asked my mom to
please visit me every day because I need company. She hasn’t answered me yet.
Four weeks have passed. My mom brought a calendar to me two weeks ago to help
me keep track of time. What time and for what reason? I cry every night, and my body is
getting weaker. I see snakes in my room. Snakes are wriggling on the floors and walls, but
they disappear if I blink my eyes enough times. I can’t decide if I tremble more because of
rats or snakes.
I try sleeping in the chair because the ants own the bed at night. Not enough food
makes me tired and weak. I’d love a candy bar: I can’t remember the last time I ate one.
One rat gnawed a hole in the wall, and I blocked the opening with a dish my
mother brought. What if it pushes the plate away? I shudder to think of what could
happen if it gets in.
I talk to myself to hear a human voice. My mom brought pens and writing paper to
pass the time. I write stories and think of being an author someday. Then I realize I am
locked in this room, with no way out. If I try to leave, and he sees me, he will shoot me
and not be sorry.
Two months have passed. I am not me anymore. I am losing weight, and my hair is
falling out. Mom had to bring different clothes for me to wear because nothing will fit me.
I act zombie-like and sit and stare into space. I can’t believe what is happening to me.
I watch my stepfather’s children sledding on the hills nearby, laughing and
boisterous, and having fun. I can only wish and peer through the window. I talk to the
spiders every day and enjoy watching them make lacey cobwebs.
I can’t sleep because I worry that a poisonous snake could slither through the rat
hole. There is no telephone to contact my mom. I can’t open the door, and the one
window won’t budge because of being nailed shut. My tears have all dried up.
I can’t hold a book to read for very long, and I am dizzy when I walk.
Today, I woke up and realized life could get better for me. I do not have to live with
this horror forever. I had a dream of running through fields of gorgeous neon-colored
flowers with the wind blowing through my hair. I was laughing and free and twirling
around with my face uplifted to the sky.
Mom brought my meals, and I ate both of them. My thoughts and fears of insects,
ants, snakes, and rats are fewer, and my mind is quieter. I slept well for two nights. I
reread a Nancy Drew book and wrote a letter to my mom. I kept busy drawing scenes of
flowers and happy times before my dad died. It took me a long time to read and draw
because I’ve lost strength and tire so easily.
When mom brought my food today, I ran out the door and shouted at my
stepfather. He was coming out of the barn with his gun. As he turned and looked at me,
his face twisted with hate.
Lifting his rifle, he aimed and fired.