Such a modest word.
It carried very little importance for those who had it. But for those who didn’t, it was the most precious¸ prized, and promised hope of all.
I supposed I was lucky to know what freedom felt like.
For eighteen years, I’d been free. Free to learn what I wanted, befriend who I liked, and flirt with boys who passed my rigorous criteria.
I was a simple girl with ideals and dreams, encouraged by society to believe nothing could hurt me, that I should strive for an excellent career, and no one could stop me. Rules would keep me safe, police would keep the monsters away, and I could remain innocent and naïve to the darkness of the world.
I had it.
But then, I lost it.
Murdered, resuscitated, and sold.
I lost my freedom for so many years.
Until the day he entered my cage.
Him, with the black eyes and blacker soul.
The man who challenged my owner.
And set my imprisonment on an entirely different path.
No, that didn’t sound right. Far too light-hearted for my tale.
Scratch that. Too grandiose.
To The Person Reading This.
To The Person I Wish Would Help Me.
That would get me in trouble. And I refused to sound weak. Not if these words were the only thing a stranger would remember me by.
Tapping the broken pencil against my temple, I did my best to focus. For weeks, I’d been confined like a zoo animal being acclimatised to its new cage. I’d been fed, washed, and given medical attention from my rough arrival. I had a bed with sheets, a flushing toilet, and shampoo in the shower. I had the basics that all human and nonhuman life required.
But I wasn’t living.
I was dying.
They just couldn’t see it.
Inspiration struck as I came up with the perfect name to address this sad letter to. The title was the only right in this wrong, wrong new world.
To No One.
The moment I pressed those three words onto my parchment, I couldn’t stop the memories unfolding. My left hand shook as I kept the toilet tissue flat while my right flew, slowly transcribing my past.
I WAS EIGHTEEN when I died.
I remember that day better than any other in my short life. And I know you’re rolling your eyes, saying it only happened three weeks ago, but believe me, I will never forget it. I know some people say certain events imprint on their psyche forever, and up until now, I haven’t had anything stick in such a way. You see, No One, I guess you could’ve called me a brat. Some might even say I deserve this. No, that’s a lie. No one would wish this on their worst enemy. But the fact remains, only you know I’m not dead. I’m alive and in this cell about to be sold. I’ve been hurt, touched, violated in every sense but rape, and stripped of everything I used to be.
But to my mother? I’m dead. I died. Who knows if she’ll ever truly find out what happened to me.
The scribbling of my pencil stopped. I sucked in a ragged breath, trembling hard as I relived what I’d been through.
My will to stay breathing had vanished. It’d taken them a while to break me, but they had. And now that they’d achieved their goal, I was nothing more than cargo waiting for the transaction to line their pockets.
For days, all I’d had for entertainment were my chaotic thoughts, awful memories, and overwhelming panic of what lay ahead. But that was before I found the chewed up, snapped in half pencil beneath the bed.
The find had been better than food or freedom; better because my traffickers minutely controlled both those things. I had no power to sway the regimented arrival of breakfast and dinner nor the ability to halt the fact I was being sold like meat to the highest bidder.
I had no control over being alone in a tiny room that had once been a hotel suite before its premises were bought for more unsavoury stays. The towels were threadbare with the sigil of some decade-ago establishment, and the carpet swirled with golds and bronze, hinting the décor hadn’t been updated since the seventies.
Was that how long the pencil had lurked beneath my bed? Were the bite marks on the wood given by a rowdy toddler waiting for its parents to stop fussing so they could explore a new city? Or had a maid lost it while tucking starched white sheets with military precision?
I’d never know.
But I liked to make up fantasies because I had nothing else to do. I spent my achingly boring days going over every nook and cranny of my jail. They’d broken my spirit, washed away my fight, but they couldn’t stop the determined urge inside me. The instinct everyone had—or at least, I thought everyone had.
I’d been alone for so long now I didn’t know what the other girls processed with me would do. Did they lie star-spread on the bed and wait for their future? Did they huddle in the corner and beg for their fathers to stop this nightmare? Or did they accept, because it was easier to accept than to fight?
Me? I ran my rubbed-raw fingertips over every wall, every crack, every painted and locked window frame. I crawled on my hands and knees, searching for something to help me. And by helping me, I didn’t know if I meant as a weapon to fight my way out or something to end my struggle before it truly began.
It’d taken me days to go over every square inch. But all I’d found was this half-mangled pencil. A gift. A treasure. The nub was almost down to the wood, and I wouldn’t have long before I had to find a way to sharpen my precious possession, but I’d worry about that another day. Just like I’d become a master at shoving aside my worries about everything else.