This story is by Clennell Anthony and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Reports on the news said women should travel in groups of three or more even during daylight hours. Twelve women disappeared and their bodies were found posed in the most intriguing places: lounging on the steps of the courthouse in Downtown Jacksonville, leaning a shoulder against the Florida Times Union building on the Northside, and casually posed with her legs crossed sitting in front of the Jacksonville Sherriff’s Office substation on the Westside. The evening broadcasts and newspapers speculated there was a serial killer terrorizing our city, but like all women of twenty-one, I never thought it could happen to me. I never imagined I’d be next.
It was dark and so hot I swear I saw waves of heat flow up from the pavement to waft around me. Anger propelled me forward: my hands in fists, tears streaking down my face, and my senses dulled by rage. I had an argument with my mother. I had to get out of the house. It was June, in Florida. The sky was clear for once, no clouds covering the silver disk of the moon or the shining orbs of the stars in the distance.
I walked at a fast clip, nearly running, and fumed under my breath.
“God, how I wish I were adopted,” I steamed. “She can’t possibly be my mother.” As soon as I mumbled these words under my breath, I was grabbed from behind.
At first, I struggled. I felt a prick in my arm. A palm covered my mouth, muffling the scream I almost thrust into the tranquility of the night. No one was around. Would anyone have heard me? I didn’t think so, as the strong arms dragged me into a stand of trees. I wasn’t scared yet. It seemed surreal, like a nightmare happening to someone else. My body relaxed as I was lifted into a powerful set of arms and carried to a hidden car and placed on a leather seat. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t fight. As the hand was removed, I couldn’t scream, but I saw and I heard. There was no interior light. I didn’t think it had anything to do with me. I realized in my paralytic state I was never coming home, never going to argue with my mother, never going to get to go on a rampaging walk to burn off steam, again. I felt the malevolence wasting out of my captor’s pours, as if it were a scent he wore, like cologne or aftershave. I got scared.
I don’t know how long he kept me. After being raped and tortured repeatedly, it didn’t matter anymore.
He stabbed me in strategic places: the fatty meat of my thighs, a sliver across my breasts, a slice at the round of my bottom.
“You won’t die from this, Princess,” he said, patting my short cap of hair.
Unlike the car, plenty of light illuminated the dank room where I remained hostage. Halogen lights glared into my eyes every time he came to me. There were times I wanted to survive. On those days, I prayed for him to come, so he would feed me and give me water. Then, there were days I had an overwhelming urge to die, and I prayed for it to be the day he killed me. He wouldn’t let me live, not when I had seen his face, not when I knew every inch of his body as if we were lovers instead of female slave to tyrannical master.
I didn’t see a chance for escape. He always tied me to something, whether I was shackled in the bathroom or secured to the bed. My bonds were never loosened in the slightest. I could never leave the room where he kept me prisoner, isolated from all humanity. I knew he had finished my transformation and turned me monstrous.
I didn’t have an idea where I was. I couldn’t distinguish if I was in someone’s basement or a cabin outside the city. I didn’t know if there were people nearby or not. It felt like I was the last person on Earth. The isolation was so complete I was relieved when he came back to me.
All I knew was I wouldn’t be freed. How long could I live like this? I wanted to die so bad I could feel eternal life on the other side reaching out to me. Now and then, I dreamed of heaven and what it would be like. Since, this life wasn’t going so well, and I had already spent my time in purgatory, burning my sins away, with this deviant, I figured I earned my way behind the pearly gates, the right to walk the streets of gold, and the serenity of finally seeing the promised land.
Today, I vacillated between wanting to live and begging to die. I never begged him not to kill me or to let me go. I knew those weren’t options. I took all he did. No, I’m ashamed to say I wasn’t stoic about it. There were times I begged him in my head, but never aloud. He demanded my supplication and ordered me to beg. It was the one command I never obeyed.
For some reason, today, I couldn’t take it anymore. I wanted to die. I was tired of starving, of being strangled nearly to death, then brought back from the brink; of being stabbed repeatedly, then having the cuts tended. Why wouldn’t he just let me bleed and get an infection or strangle me and let me die? I was tired of being commanded to beg for him to stop, of being raped. I was just tired.
The glow of the halogen lights were more piercing today. They had tiny halos around their globes. The faucet in the nearby room let out plaintive drip, drip, drips. The rest of the room lay in shadow. I couldn’t see him. This was always the part I dreaded. If I saw his face, I could gauge his mood. Today, he hid in the shadows like a boy playing hide and seek. I strained against the blistering blaze of the light to see beyond it, but it only made my eyes burn all the more.
My ears strained to hear anything above the sink. My skin felt itchy, and the little hairs on my nape stood at attention. My breath came in pants, and my throat was so dry that the little saliva in my mouth couldn’t wet it. I didn’t want water today. There was no reason for water or food if he let me move to the other side.
Out of the dark, I heard his voice. “Beg me to stop!” he commanded and punched me in the left breast. It was sudden, unexpected, but the pain barely registered.
He had begun the game, but I would change it on him today. “Kill me,” I croaked, through parched and cracked lips.
For the first time in our acquaintance, I saw his dark brown eyes register surprise. Oh, I saw them fiendish before. I saw them gleeful while he tortured me and made me cry out in terror, rage, or shame. This time, something different flared in those eyes. He was genuinely shocked, and I think he was speechless.
“Please,” I begged, “Kill me. There’s nothing else you can do to me, nothing you haven’t already done. There’s nothing left for me to live for. Just kill me.” At the end of the monologue, I was crying, ready to die, sincerely tired of life as I had come to know it. I’m not going to heaven, I thought. I’m committing suicide by proxy. Maybe hell won’t be so bad if all I’m doing is burning. I thought he would do it until he smiled at me.
“I got a better idea,” he crooned, pushing my damp hair away from my face. “How ‘bout I let you go?”
I shook my head, frantic. I never asked or begged him for anything no matter how many times he commanded it. Just this one thing! I didn’t want to be a victim because no one would see me as a survivor. I didn’t feel like one. “Please,” I whimpered.
I knew, then, why he insisted I beg. He intended all along to give the exact opposite of what I chose. Life and death weren’t his concern. He didn’t care what I begged for. His only desire was to deny my plea. I sobbed; the grief leaking from my soul indescribable.
I would never truly have freedom. Living would be my life long torture. I’d always remember these summer nights spent with him; always remember I was the only one who begged to die. I was the only one who went walking in the dark on a clear cloudless June night and lived to talk about it.