If you haven’t read the Prologue & Chapter One of Pennies, please head to the original blog post before reading below so it makes sense 🙂
CHAPTER TWO – PENNIES
Releasing 20th July 2016
TWO DAYS passed.
In the world I’d been stolen from, two days was nothing. Two alarm clocks, two days at university, two evenings of talking on the phone to my friends, and two nights of wonderful protected sleep where I stupidly believed no one could harm me.
In this new world?
Two days was enough for me to scratch at non-existent itches just to feel something. Two days meant I wore down my pencil then slowly picked at the wood to reveal more lead so I had something to occupy my time.
Two days meant I continued writing my toilet paper novel, all the while not knowing that at the end of two days, my brief stay in limbo was over.
My processing was over.
My sale date complete.
They came for me at dinnertime. Instead of the usual bland rice and chicken or watery stew shoved through the hole in the wall, the door opened.
The door opened!
For the first time in weeks.
I’d been so alone with only grimy mirrors reflecting my slowly sallowing complexion for company that the visit clutched my heart. When I’d first been taken, I’d been curvy with adolescent softness, perky breasts, and rounded tummy. My brown hair curled and dyed a rich chocolate thanks to an appointment with my personal groomer at my mother’s demands to look my best for her charity function.
The same function I’d been stolen from.
Before, my thoughts had been superficial, wondering how to lose my puppy fat and apply my makeup like models on YouTube. Despite my prissy appearance, I was smart and had just enrolled at a prestigious university to become a psychologist—just like my mother wanted. Following in her footsteps like she’d arranged all my life.
Now, my appearance and thoughts were of an entirely different girl. No longer a teenager, but woman. My hair had faded back to its normal dark treacle brown. My frame had lost its curves thanks to the low-calorie infrequent menu I enjoyed.
I supposed I would’ve been happy if I still had my freedom. I got what I wanted. I was a little skinnier and no longer cared about hair dyes and fashion. Instead, I hated my transformation because it added another chain around the proverbial collar webbing around my throat.
“Come.” The man clicked his fingers.
Seeing another human ought to have filled me with some sort of relief. Something intrinsic inside me needed company—even if that company was my doom. But I couldn’t see his eyes or mouth or nose. He was a phantom, a caricature, hidden behind the Venetian face mask of a black and white joker with tears dotting his cheek.
Were the tears for me? Or just a mockery?
I took a step toward him, hating the obedient cower they’d instilled in me the first few days of my imprisonment. The bruises had faded, but the lessons had not.
But then, I stopped, looking back at the toilet tissue sheets of letters.
Letters telling my story.
A story that would forever change the moment I left this room.
I had nothing of value anymore. The rags I wore from so many previous trafficked women weren’t mine. The pillows I cried myself to sleep on weren’t mine. My life wasn’t even mine anymore. The desire to keep my scribbled thoughts was nonsensical, but I refused to leave yet another piece of me behind.
If I must face this new trial, I would do it with my past fisted in my palm like a talisman reminding me if I could breathe it, I could write it, and when I wrote it, I would find freedom from it.
“Now, girl!” The man stalked into the room, his posture ready to hurt.
Before he could grab me, I scurried to the desk and scooped up the flimsy pieces of my life. Clutching them tight, I ducked around his large girth and vanished out the door.
Out the door!
I’m out of the room.
The familiarity of my imprinted space was gone as I padded barefoot down the corridor graced with the same gold and bronze carpet. The heavy footfalls of my captor thundered behind me.
He didn’t grab me or force me to slow. He knew as well as I did there was no escape. I’d been blindfolded when I’d been driven here but they’d let me have my sight back once inside the building.
As we moved past locked rooms like any normal hotel, I forced myself to stand taller and brace myself for whatever came next.
You can get through this.
They wanted me alive, not dead.
For some reason, that thought didn’t give the intended comfort…if anything, it made my fear escalate.
“Get in the elevator. We’re going down.” The man’s voice boomed in the claustrophobic space.
Turning left, I entered the open foyer where four silver doors sat two by two. I cursed the slight shake in my hand as I pressed the button summoning one of them to open.
The chime sounded immediately, the doors groaning wide, welcoming me into a dingy mirrored box.
I couldn’t look at my reflection as I stepped inside and turned to face the closing doors. My legs peeked beneath the faded yellow shorts I’d been given. My skinny arms held the last remnants of my juvenile age in the baggy moth-holed grey t-shirt. I didn’t care to look at myself because the outward body didn’t portray the inward soul.
Yes, I looked broken.
Yes, I obeyed implicitly.
But inside, I’d somehow glued the parts they’d shattered into something I treasured. I was stronger now than when I’d first arrived. I was no longer the screaming girl who’d been stripped, rough-washed with angry paws, and catalogued with other girls. I kept my screams inside because there, no one could hear me.
No one could use them against me. Silence was a weapon I could wield better than panic. And if it meant I never uttered another word until I found freedom, then so be it.
The man crowded beside me, pressing level four.
Judging from the numbers on the hotel rooms we’d passed, I deduced they’d stored me on level twelve. How many girls were locked behind those doors? How many floors held prisoners just waiting to be sold?
The descent swooped a little too fast, gravity clutching my tummy. I held my breath as the doors opened again, revealing an identical landing platform.
The man nudged me between my shoulder blades.
I shot forward. No stumbling. No begging. Not one question or plea.
There was no point.
I rubbed my cheek where I’d been punched within hours of my arrival all those weeks ago. I’d demanded all sorts of things. I’d promised them pain once my mother found them. I’d believed I was a princess with a regiment of knights who would chase after me.
I’d learned quickly with their boots in my stomach and fists in my face that everything I believed was a lie.
“Down here.” The man pointed at the left corridor.
Padding in the chosen direction, I shivered as the softness of the carpet did its best to comfort me. The hotel was the perfect backdrop of nothingness. The temperature hovered at comfortable, so I never shivered or sweated. The lights shone an even illumination, so I never squinted or strained. Every sense controlled until I forgot what the wind felt like on my skin and the sun’s rays upon my face.
Would I be allowed outside now?
Where is he taking me?
The man paced in front of me, pushing open a door to the old gym. The hotel must’ve been a four-star establishment, once upon a time, before it’d been bought and shot to ruin.
Entering the female changing room, where white tiles had turned grimy and ancient hairdryers hung like gas masks, I stopped for further instruction. Hanging on the wall was a garment bag, zipped but translucent, showing a white dress. Even from here, the pearled bodice and diamante scarf draped on the hanger spoke of finery not welcome in such a downtrodden place.
The man behind his Venetian mask muttered, “Shower, do your hair, and get dressed. I’ll collect you in one hour.”
One hour of primping? For what?
He leaned in close, smelling of fried food and beer. “Don’t get any thoughts of running.” Cocking his head, he stepped back as two other girls entered the space. “Ah, company.”
The recent arrival’s shepherd pointed at matching garment bags on the opposite wall. Their dresses were black and grey. “Get ready, both of you.”
Just like every facet of sensation was stolen by regimented air, heat, and approved stimuli, so too were our wardrobes. White, black, and grey. Monotones with no spectrum of colour.
My handler nodded at his lion-masked colleague. “You stand guard. I’ll tell the boss we’re almost ready.”
The girls glanced at me. I glanced at them. We all glanced at the men who held our fate in their dirty paws. The urge to ask what would happen burned my tongue. But I didn’t. Not because I daren’t or lacked the courage, but because I already knew the answer: the cold laughter, the mocking undertones, and the cryptic reply meant to terrify rather than console.
No, I wouldn’t ask.
But my conclusion didn’t reach the girl closest to me wearing a tatty pink sun dress with tangled blonde hair. “Why are you doing this? What’s going to happen to us?”
Venetian Mask looked at Lion. Together they advanced on her, backing her against the tiled wall. They let the force of their aura hurt her rather than physically maul, leaving me to think they’d hurt us to control us at the beginning but now, we were worth more unmarred.
After all, what good was merchandise if it was ugly and bruised?
“You’re going to be sold, pretty angel.” Lion stroked her cheek. “You’re going to be chosen and transacted, and when that sweet, sweet money lands in our hands, you’ll be gone. Bye-bye. No longer our concern.”
The other girl with lacklustre red hair tripped backward, her mouth parting in a silent wail.
As if they didn’t know? As if they’d spent the same amount of time as I did locked and alone and didn’t see something like this coming. Perhaps I’d read too many dark books or watched too many crime shows on television. Either way, I wasn’t stupid, and I definitely wasn’t naïve anymore.
Just like I would never go to university to finish my psychology degree, these girls would never return to their lives. Unlike me, who blamed her mother for her mess, they might blame a bad boyfriend or stupid decision of drinking too much and trusting the wrong person.
No matter what led us here, we were on the same journey. Just with different destinations, determined by whoever bought us.
Turning away from the tears and laughing captors, I stripped from my shorts and t-shirt, placed my precious toilet paper words on the counter, and walked straight into a shower. There were no blinds or screens. My nakedness remained on display as I turned on body temperature water and squirted un-scented shampoo into my hair.
Being nude in front of strangers would’ve petrified me a month ago.
Now, I no longer put stock in such things because I had no control over who looked or touched or ultimately raped and destroyed.
Don’t think about that.
Gritting my teeth, I lathered shampoo into bubbles. No aroma or comfort came from the soap. I missed my watermelon body scrub and raspberry lip-gloss. I hankered for fizzy drinks and a soft fleece blanket after a long day of studying.
What I wouldn’t give to smell again. Hear again. Feel again.
While the other girls mourned their lives and feared their future, I welcomed relief. I was glad this stage was over. Another day in that room would’ve driven me completely mad. At least this way, I had something to do, someone to challenge, someplace else to go.
And who knows, maybe I’ll find a way to escape.
The noise of the shower as I held my head under its water stream blocked all sounds. I kept my eyes closed while lathering my hair and didn’t turn around until I’d washed, used the razor provided to shave, and wrapped yet another threadbare towel around myself.
The men and their masks had gone, and the women had copied me, each taking a stall and dutifully but tearfully washing.
This didn’t feel like a simple cleansing or preparation.
This felt like a baptism into Hell.
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