This story is by Sherrie L. Stewart and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Amber stood on the edge of the dirt road. Her bulging belly rolled and squirmed with life ready to burst into the world. She rubbed circles around her belly button and whispered, “Not yet. You don’t really want to come out here into this cruel place.”
She looked up and down the road.
Nothing familiar. In one direction, a ribbon of dust edged by barbed wire disappeared on a hilltop. Looking the other way, she could make out an intersection and the shape of a building.
Sorry bastards snatched me, used me, then dumped me in the middle of nowhere.
“No use standing here,” she said to no one. Turning toward the building in the distance, she shuffled along in mix-matched flip-flops scavenged from a pile of discarded clothing in the corner of the trailer where she had spent the last year.
Had it been a year?
Amber searched a foggy mind. The drugs made weeks into days and hours into months. All sense of time had melted away.
Her soft blue eyes rebelled after spending months in muted darkness. Discarded sunglasses found along the side of the road eased the stabbing behind her eyes. The intersection and building came into clear view. She recognized the orange circle with a K in the middle and searched her memory for the associated name.
Sitting in a shady spot in the Circle K parking lot, Amber struggled to lift one bare foot at a time to inspect blisters and cuts. She dabbed at her toes with a wet napkin. Feels so good. Cool, damp, clean. She felt anything but clean. Sweat soaked a spaghetti strap top that wouldn’t stretch over swollen breasts and jeans she couldn’t button anymore. The intense sun had burned across her upper arms and back under a mop of shoulder length blonde hair. Legs like stumps, a breaking back, and sunbaked from nose to toes – Amber felt like a scalded lobster in a cookin’ pot.
Then she heard it, the chug of a Cummings diesel.
A one ton diesel dually grunted up next to where she sat. But the young man wearing jeans and work boots climbing down didn’t resemble her bearded, no-neck, and overweight Grampa.
The young man looked down at her with disdain, and then asked, “Can I get you some water or something?” when he realized her condition.
“Water would be great,” she said, looking up at him.
The jeans and workboots returned with a plastic bottle of the best tasting water Amber had ever swallowed. She noticed his close cropped dark hair, clean t-shirt and the cell phone clipped to his belt.
“I’m a little lost and need to call home. Can I borrow your cell to call my Grampa?”
He obliged by punching in the number for her.
Amber’s hand shook as she took the ringing phone. If Grampa did answer, what would he say? How would she tell him what happened?
“What’s up, Doc?” came Grampa’s familiar greeting.
“Amber? Are you okay? We’ve been worried. Where are you?”
“Grampa,” Amber’s voice cracked, “Can you come get me?”
“I’m on my way.”
Jeans and work boots helped with directions, then drove away. Amber sat sipping water for about an hour before her Grampa’s dually pulled up. Relieved, Amber hugged him. They wiped away mutual tears before she climbed into the shotgun seat.
That evening, Amber brushed her hair, applied aloe to her sunburn, and thought about her situation. Grampa had grilled her, demanded she call the police, and relented only after Gramma intervened. “Stop pushin’ her. She’ll talk about it when she’s ready,” she had told him, stepping between the hysterical Amber and her angry husband. “Right now, we’ve gotta see to her health, and the baby’s.”
After handing over Amber’s favorite ham and cheese sandwich and a glass of cold milk, Gramma had placed a clean towel and a fresh bar of soap on the toilet seat. She changed the linens on the bed in Amber’s old room, closed the curtains, and then found and old pair of sweat pants and a t-shirt for Amber to sleep in.
“Get some rest. We’ll see to ya and the baby tomorrow. I’m right across the hall if ya need anything,” she told Amber, giving her a hug.
Amber couldn’t sleep even though exhausted. She lay on her back and raised her knees to relieve the pain in her back. But her soul still ached.
“Grampa can’t help it,” she whispered to Gizmo, the cat she had rescued from the tree in the front yard as a kitten. She knew that her grandfather had been raised by an alcoholic father and no mother in a rough neighborhood. His method of surviving had been simple – be quicker, tougher, and never hesitate, back up, or back down.
Gizmo curled up on the pillow and purred into her damp hair. “Your motor’s runnin’,” she told him and scratched his head. The room smelled of kitty litter and laundry detergent. The baby kicked Amber in the ribs. She gasped.
“But sometimes fighting isn’t the answer.”
She could feel the weight of the chain that had shackled her to the floor, the burn of retching into the slop bucket in the corner when the drugs wore off, and the scratch of the bare mattress. She had fought like Grampa taught her, but it had brought more pain.
“Then I begged.”
Gizmo patted her cheek with an extended paw. Here, in the dark, between clean sheets in the room where she grew up, Amber allowed her vacuum-packed feelings to breathe and unfold. The beatings had worn her down. The drugs numbed her senses. The herd of men trampled her spirit. She had given up.
“Then I prayed, Giz. I prayed to die.”
She thought that her prayers had been answered. Everything she ate made her sick. Even water came back up before it hit her stomach. The men kept coming, but she didn’t care anymore. She would die soon.
“But I didn’t die.”
Instead of wasting away, she began gaining weight. A life began to grow inside her. She tried to hide it under oversized t-shirts. But eventually her captors noticed.
“Then this mornin’, well, they just let me go,” she whispered into the dark.
Gizmo licked her wet face, stretched, and then moved down to curl up next to the sleeping baby in Amber’s belly. He kneaded the comforter stretched across the bulge and his motor started running again.
The youngest one had unlocked her ankle cuff and motioned her to get up. The sky turned pink as he pushed her into the back of a pickup. The scent of freshly baled hay, and then cow manure, came to her from farms they passed. Then the truck pulled over. The young man got out and dropped the tailgate. He ordered her out, threaten, “They’ll kill you if you ever say anything. And your family, too.” His eyes softened as he pointed at her belly, then became venomous again before he turned toward his truck.
“I believed him, too.” Amber reached down and stroked Gizmo’s back and tail. “So, I can’t tell Grampa. Or the police. Or anybody.”
“Amber, ya okay?” Gramma’s voice came from the hall.
“I will be, Gramma, I will be. Gizmo came to visit me. I’ve been talkin’ to him.”
”Okay, sweetie, wanna talk a bit?” Gramma sat on the edge of the bed. “Your Grampa loves ya. He’s tough on ya, but he means well. He just wants to punch out whoever hurt ya.”
“I know, Gramma, but I can’t.”
Amber had punched, but lost the battle.
“I mean, well, that life was conceived in a traumatic place and time. Ya might not be able to get past that until ya confront that pain. Ya know, talk to us, tell the police, get justice. It’s your choice, but that’s all Grampa wants, too.”
“I . . . I don’t know.”
Gramma rose and shuffled to the door. “I’m goin’ back to bed. See ya in the mornin’.”
Amber turned onto her side and placed splayed fingers across her bulging belly. Gizmo licked her fingers with a sandpaper tongue. Her mind drifted through those alternatives.
She could tell, regurgitate the story over and over and relive that burning pain. It would be like being raped and battered all over again, and again. She might get justice, but maybe not.
“Grampa’s gonna keep asking me,” she whispered to the cat.
But talking about the three of them grabbing her, how helpless she felt, and pointing out her kidnappers might help her heal? Keep them from hurting another teenage girl?
One thing for sure, the telling would bring pain to her family. After all, he had pointed at her belly, at the baby.
“Telling could bring lots more pain.”
Gizmo stretched, placed a paw over Amber’s mouth, and stopped purring.
“Okay, Giz, I’ll go with your choice.”