Drip. Drip. Drip.
The sound penetrates the blackness first, and all I can process as the loud plopping continues is that something is wrong. Something is terribly wrong, because that’s water. I hear water.
I shouldn’t be, because I just had the plumber in last month to check all the fixtures after Romy almost tore the pipes from the bathroom walls to stop the dripping.
The next thing that seeps into my brain is the coldness beneath my back. Hard. Unyielding. Alien. I should be warm and snug in my bed, the soft mattress conforming to my back, not plastered against an iciness that is making my skin burn.
And the air. God, the air is so cold it burns. I groan when I roll over, only to sit up, my eyes springing open in fear.
Oh God. Oh God. This isn’t…
Darkness surrounds me on all sides, and I whimper when the frigid air caresses my skin, making me aware suddenly, so quickly, that I am naked, in the dark, and…
“Ssshh! Don’t make a noise.”
The hiss coming out of the dark startles me, and I whip around, disoriented and afraid and so confused it’s hard to process thought. I’m groggy too, my body moving in slow motion, slumberous as I try to scuttle away, only to come up against a barrier, cold again, so cold I jerk away from the contact with the flat surface that I recognize as a wall.
It’s redundant, silly to cry, but I can’t help the tears that flood my eyes and pour down my cheeks when the reality of things hit me. I am not at home. I just woke up in a dark place, a cold place that I shouldn’t be in, and I have no idea how I got here or what’s going on.
I’ve been drugged. It’s the only explanation I can think of as I clamp my lips shut to stifle more sound and feel the dryness of my mouth, tasting the rancid flavor of something bitter and foreign.
“God ain’t here, honey, just you and me and the monsters outside that door.”
The voice comes again, but this time it’s a rueful, acidic whisper in the gloom, the soft lilting accent that I recognize as Southern coming at me as waves of terror hit me.
“What’s going on? Where are we? I got no idea, but it’s probably hell, from the screaming and crying I heard earlier.”
“I…I should be at home. I need to go home! I—”
The slap rocks me a second before I feel a hand over my mouth, drowning the hysteria that rises like a tide. Skin. Her skin is on mine, and I feel the iciness envelope me anew when her cold breasts press into my already numb skin.
“Shut up! You want them knowing we’re awake and coming in here for us? Just shut the hell up.”
Her voice is a hiss, this time filled with fear and anger, and all I can do is sob quietly into her hand, my breath strangled in my mouth when she pushes harder and forces me to hold the sounds in.
“Ssssh. Hush now. It’s okay. Shhh. Don’t cry. Please. Please don’t make any noise. They come for us as soon as we wake up and start screaming and crying. I heard all them other girls, and they always come when we cry. You gotta be quiet now.”
Quiet? I want to scream and claw my way free to light and heat. I want to snarl and sob and howl. Everything inside me is panicked and vying for freedom as she pins me to the floor and keeps crooning, her voice so soft it isn’t above the faintest whisper.
Somehow, I manage control I shouldn’t have and finally nod against her hand, my embarrassment at the naked skin touching mine eclipsed only by the little warmth her nearness adds to my frozen limbs.
She snorts at that but pulls herself up, bringing me with her and into her side where I huddle for warmth.
“I don’t know. I woke up in here a few hours ago all alone and freaked out. I was fucked up out of my mind and numb on whatever they gave me, so I couldn’t move when the door opened and they dumped you in here.”
“And no, I don’t know who they are or what they want, so don’t bother to ask. I already asked myself that same question, and I have no clue. One minute, I was dancing in the club with my girl Trish, and the next, I’m in a dark room, naked, cold, and drugged.”
The internal wail is loud and reverberates in my head, but I manage to bite into my lip to keep the sound inside even as I shift closer to the naked girl, my natural shyness gone with the need for warmth and human contact.
“I went to sleep in my bed and…and it was warm. I was cramming for a test and—”
“And they stole you out of your bed,” she finishes in a whisper, putting an arm around my trembling shoulders and shuffling me half into her lap. “Well, we’re here now.”
Yes, we are, I think, near hysterical again as terror and the need to run hit me hard. I need to get out of here and run and find…find someone to protect me.
I need to just go home and hide and…
And I can’t. The thought has everything inside me chilling and freezing into place, and it’s then that I realize that I’m in shock, not just shivering from the extreme cold of the room.
“I am so confused and scared.”
“Who are you?”
“Lori. Lori Staneslovsky.”
“Danny Bright. What are we gonna do?”
“Nothing. Huddle down and try to share our body heat.”
“There’s no way out of this place, Danny. I’ve felt all over the door, and there ain’t even a lock on the inside. And those guys who brought you in earlier…huge. One was so big that if I hadn’t been messed up on whatever they roofied me with, I’d have shit myself.”
Oh Gooooooood! Oh God, this can’t be happening, I think in a daze, my heart beating in a rhythm that isn’t natural. I should be frantic and struggling not to have a heart attack, and yet I’m one big lump of useless dough with a sluggish blood flow and just enough consciousness for words.
“I don’t understand.”
“Me neither, and that’s a lot because I actually understand some of what these yahoos are saying,” she snorts beneath her breath. “They took us. Took a lot of other girls too, babe. I heard one screaming for her mom an hour ago and at least four others crying when they woke up. We have to be real here. We’re…screwed.”
“I think they’re trafficking women,” she adds when I start breathing hard again, my need to cry so strong it hurts to hold my breath, the lump in my throat a ball of fire that’s burning me up from the inside out.
“Yeah. And the worst part? Smell that air?”
I try not to sob as I do as she says, my eyes watering even more when the briny scent fills my nose. We’re near the ocean. I shouldn’t be near the ocean! I live in Wyoming, where there’s just farms and land for miles and—
“Yeah, man. Me, I came from Texas, central. Ain’t never seen the ocean before.”
“They’ve had us for days, then,” I finally manage, closing my eyes against the new flow of tears and screams that try to spring up.
“Hours at least,” she confirms, using her icy hand to rub my arm, trying to give me a heat I know I won’t ever feel again.
God, I…I don’t know what to do. I’m so confused and scared that just thinking isn’t possible and—
A scream and the sobs of a woman pierce the air, and I feel Lori stiffen before pulling me closer to her side. Footsteps rush past, the echo of heavy boots drowned out by wails and then metal clangs as a door squeals open.
The crying gets louder, and we hear a scuffle and grunts before a male voice barks out something in a foreign language. Then footsteps again, coming closer. More wailing. Coming closer, so close I squeeze my eyes shut and bite until my lip bleeds.
“Please! Please let me go. My name is Minnie. I am an American. I need to go—”
We don’t hear any more because they’ve passed us by, but it’s what I do hear that makes the need to sob much harder to stifle. We’re Americans. All of us.
“We’re still in the States.”
“Near the ocean.”
“I heard one of the guys say we’re in Seattle.”
“God no. Oh Lord,” I breathe, my mind racing with the implications.
I am thousands of miles from home. Lori even more so, and that can only mean one thing; they’re transporting us by sea. From here they can take us to…Russia.
Russia, I think, swallowing loudly as it all sinks in. The Eastern countries are a destination to consider, but from those accents—
“They could take us anywhere. I watched a show about trafficking. They sell women on auction to the highest bidder. Could be anyone. They’re just keeping us here because it’s easier, and they aren’t Russian, sweet thing. They’re Slovaks.”
“My mama was from the old country,” she interrupts, laying her head against mine when another shiver rushes through me.
It’s so cold I hurt all over, the temperature in the little room probably somewhere around the freezing point.
“We’re gonna die.” I finally say it though I’ve been trying not to think it since I woke. And that goddamn drip is so loud in my ears. I feel everything inside me tense up and engulf me in a wave of pure hopelessness.
“Not if we keep our head, Danny girl.”
“Listen to me, Danny,” she suddenly hisses, her hands digging into my arms in a tight grip that sends shrieks of pain through my frozen arms. “Don’t fight or cry like the others. You stay quiet and watchful. If you can run, you run, but do not fight. You can’t get far if you’re hurt or bleeding.”
“Lori, I…I can’t—”
“You can and you will!” she hisses again, shaking me a little. “Stay strong and be smart.”
“Then you just get through it and wait for the first chance to get away. Don’t fight unless you have to. Above all else, you stay alive. Nothing is worse than getting yourself killed, Danny. You can survive anything, just stay alive.”
God, I can’t…the thought of someone, a complete stranger, coming in here to get me is overwhelming to the point that my heart finally gets in gear and starts beating so hard I can hardly draw a breath.
I want to scream and cry and refuse her logic, but a small part of me, the part that is the daughter of an admiral, has me squashing it all down and listening to Lori.
What would Daddy tell me to do? I think as I force myself to be calm and rest my head against Lori so she can feel my nod.
Well, he’d tell me to be smart, I think with a little smile, refusing to cry at the thought of my dad hearing that I am gone. Shit, he’ll go crazy. He’ll tear the world apart.
And just like that, I feel my resolve strengthen and the survival instincts Daddy drilled into me take hold. Stay calm. He told me that every single time he gave me self-defense lessons.
Stay calm and be watchful. Never panic. Use everything to your advantage, and run if you can before engaging an attacker.
“Good girl. They’re gonna come in here eventually, but don’t…no, don’t get scared. Remember, we’re smart and strong. We can survive this,” she reminds me again, pushing closer because the temperature keeps dropping and we’re both shivering violently now.
My teeth chatter, forcing me to grind them to keep the sound from escaping.
Freezing. I feel like I’m submerged in nothing but ice as we huddle together and try to share body heat that just isn’t there.
“We’ll be okay.”
But we aren’t, are we? We’re not okay in this room where it hurts to sit because the floor is so cold and yet can’t stand because we’re weak.
Lori starts mumbling softly after what feels like hours, and I grunt in reply every so often just to let her know I’m still alive as she tells me about herself.
She grew up in a trailer on her uncle’s ranch in what she calls rattle snake country because they’re so rife there you can paper your walls with a week’s worth of catching the things.
She tells me about her mom dying when she was ten and living with her dad, a ranch hand who didn’t have time to raise a little girl who missed her mom and would eventually get her period.
I giggle a little at that snide remark and feel her shake her head.
“I got outta there soon as I could and went to college. Worked my way in and finished with honors. Got a job at a little accounting firm and made some friends.”
“I was getting my master’s,” I whisper through a moan of pain.
My legs have gone to sleep, numb from the cold, and every single inch of me is on fire under my skin. Daddy once told me that heat isn’t the only thing that burns, and I didn’t believe him until now. I literally burn, and it’s only getting colder as we cuddle and try to stay alive.
“Are getting. You’re still doing it. Don’t give up yet, little Danny,” she murmurs, her speech sluggish.
I want to cry again because I know what this is. I’ve been here before, if only in Daddy’s scenarios, and the fact that she’s groggy and slurring isn’t a good sign.
I’m terrified when she just slumps against me, her lack of shivering letting me know that she’s getting past the point of survival. The thought drives me on, and before I can second-guess myself or allow the fear to stop me, I am up and banging on the door.
“Hey! Hey! She’s gonna die in here. It’s too cold.”
I yell until my voice gets hoarse, slamming aching hands into cold metal—after what seemed like hours of searching—and praying that someone comes.
Boots. I hear heavy boots coming our way and jump back towards Lori just when the door rattles and the iron slab collides with the wall. I gather her close, hiding our nakedness, stupid at this point, I know, but hell…
The man I see in the doorway is nothing but a dark mass, the light behind him making him seem demonic as he looms in the doorway and just looks at me.
I make out small details after the initial glare fades from my eyes and feel my heart miss a beat. He’s huge. So big he would dwarf my daddy, and the man is six five.
And that face. Cruel. I have no other word to describe him properly, but cruelty and coldness seep from him when he comes closer and glares down at us, his eyes shining a deep green down at me.
I’m terrified and fighting not to sob, but I have to remember my training and the reason that I banged on that door in the first place. Lori. She’s not doing well, and if I can’t get her help, she’ll die.
“She’s going to die if she doesn’t get warm soon. Please, you have to help her.”
“Help her!” I yell when all he does is glance at Lori, dismissing her slumped form and almost-frozen figure.
His eyes narrow at the yelled command, but for some reason, I see him still before a deep sigh wafts forth.
I scuttle back only an inch and almost scream when his hands brush my skin, sending forks of pain through me. He’s so warm I feel it coming from him in waves, the urge to crawl all over him hitting me hard.
I resist only because I’m terrified, and watch as he scoops Lori up and cradles her to his chest, the action almost gentle.
I follow, crawling at first on the hard concrete floor until my legs are steady enough to support me as I pull myself up at the door and wobble into a brightly lit corridor.
The walls are an off-white, the kind of white that looks creamed from age and stains and—I cringe when I realize what some of the brown staining is and almost fall before righting myself and pushing to follow the big blond giant.
The corridor is long, so long I don’t know if I can make it, and it’s only as I stumble to the end that it hits me that there can’t be less than ten doors here.
The yell rips me from my stupefied horror, and I look up to see him holding a door open. The minute I cross the threshold is burned into my brain because heat hits me in a wave so hard I feel my knees buckle and dump me to the floor in a moaning heap of pain.
I should be happy for it, I think, when he lowers Lori to the carpet beside me and stalks away, but all I can do is groan and clench my teeth against the agony that bombards me.
Needles of fire everywhere under my skin. Stabbing. Burning as I fall face-first into the thick plushness and pant through the return of feeling to my screaming limbs.
Don’t cry. I keep up the litany as minutes pass and everything inside me starts calming. I keep saying it when my mind breaks free of the aching tingles and I become aware of more than my own suffering.
First off, I’m naked with my ass hanging in the air. Second, I’m on carpet. Now, I know I said it already and acknowledged the stuff, but it’s now a confirmed reality as I force myself to keep still and absorb my surroundings the way Daddy taught me to.
The carpet beneath me is a deep red, so red it’s the color of congealed blood. What I see as I slowly roll my eyes to the side without moving is what appears to be a sitting room. It’s swanky and richly appointed in creams and gold, with a fire roaring in an open hearth just to my right.
Okay, so now I know why I feel like I’m sweating despite the cold I felt just moments ago.
More quiet observation yields nothing else, and I finally look over at Lori, her pale face so beautiful I can’t help the gasp that springs forth. Lord.
Our hair. It’s the same shade of golden, coppery blond, almost identical in shade. That’s where the likeness ends though because Lori is all curves and boobs, at least a big C, while I’m more of a sapling with small B’s. The only curve I have is slightly wide hips and a butt that you can rest a tray on, thanks to Mom’s genes.