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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.
The one thing I didn’t find was any paper. Not in the drawers of the weathered desk or in the cupboard beneath the non-functioning television. The only apparatus I could write on was toilet paper, and the pencil wasn’t too keen on that idea, tearing the soft tissue rather than imprinting its silvery lines.
Nevertheless, I was determined to leave some sort of note behind. Some piece of me that these bastards hadn’t taken and never would.
Taking another deep breath, I shoved aside my current conditions and clutched the pencil harder. Glancing at the door to make sure I was alone, I spread out my square of toilet tissue, making it tight and writable, and continued with my note.
I wish I could say a monster killed me. That a terrible accident caused this. And I can say that…to a degree.
However, the real reason I’m dead and a new toy about to be sold is mainly because of my upbringing.
That poise and confidence my mother drilled into me? It didn’t grant me in good stead for a profitable career or handsome husband. It pissed people off. I came across as stuck-up, a know-it-all, and vain.
It made me a target.
I don’t know if anyone will ever see this but you, No One, but if they do, I hope they forget what I’m about to admit. I’m an only daughter to a single parent. I love my mother. I do.
But if I ever survive what’s about to happen to me, and by some miracle, I find freedom again, I’ll keep this next part to myself when I recount my time in purgatory.
I love my mother, but I hate her.
I miss my mother, but I never want to see her again.
I obeyed my mother, but I want to curse her for eternity.
She’s the only one I can blame.
The one responsible for me becoming nothing more than a whore.
TWO DAYS passed.
In the world I’d been stolen from, two days was nothing. Two alarm clocks, two lessons at university, two evenings of talking on the phone to my friends, and two nights of wonderfully 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 forty-eight hours, 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 study psychology—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 a 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 to 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 mountainous 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 elevator 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 exit. 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-eaten 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 wailing girl who’d been stripped, rough-washed with angry paws, and catalogued with other women. 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 room doors we’d passed, I deduced they’d stored me on level twelve. How many girls were locked behind those barricades? 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 elevator 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 trusted 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 ivory 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?
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 arrivals’ 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 clutches. 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 batter 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?
“I told you already. 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 had 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 idiotic 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 hour 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 stream blocked all sounds. I kept my eyes closed while lathering my hair and didn’t turn 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 wasn’t a simple cleansing or preparation.
This was a baptism into Hell.
TO NO ONE,
My mother always told me that bullies are people, too.
She warned me never to judge first impressions or be superficial like others. She said it wasn’t my place to critique—not knowing if they were hurting or living a terrible life while picking on others.
Well, I would disagree based on my current predicament, but then again, these men aren’t bullies, they’re monsters. So I guess my mother’s rule is safe.
Don’t judge. Listen.
She promised me it would keep me in good stead, and I’d make friends, not enemies. What she didn’t tell me was nobody liked to be watched like a specimen, and everyone hated a compassionate know-it-all.
And that was why I was targeted.
Or at least…I believe it was.
You see, No One, it all started as a normal evening. I dressed in my bedroom opposite my mother’s. I slipped into the low heels she’d chosen, into the off-the-shoulder gown she’d selected, and hopped into the taxi she’d arranged.
I was thankful to be included because normally I wasn’t.
I was proud of my mother. Respectful, wary…but not adoring. She loved me but didn’t have time for silly children, even if that silly child was her own. She made sure I was old and wise so I could fend for myself while she dealt with adult bullies on a daily basis. She sold her services to the State to ease the burdens of psychopaths and paedophiles.
She treated us all like guinea pigs, wanting into our minds—asking why I did something instead of reprimanding. Demanding articulated words rather than messy displays of emotion.
My friends called me crazy for trusting my mother’s guidance. But I was a good girl, a kind daughter, a child guided by a woman who earned her living by lifting the veil in which humans hide. She made me believe I had the same magic, and it was my duty to help those without such a gift.
She made me what I was.
I suppose I have to be grateful for that because, without her strict upbringing, I would be like the girls snivelling even now in the corner while we wait to be collected for whatever comes next. I’m thankful to the woman who birthed me for giving me these life skills, but it doesn’t mean I’ll ever forgive her.
From the hours of 9:00 p.m. to midnight, I was safe. I mingled with suits and entertained in whispers, representing my mother and her business with the poise she demanded.
Only, around that witching hour when rules relax and tiredness creeps beneath fun obscurity, I met a man. While my mother intoxicated benefactors with her wit and hard-edged charm, earning generous donations for her charity for the mental well-being of people on death row (why anyone would want to donate, I had no idea), a mystery man called Mr. Kewet flirted with me.
He laughed at my teenage jokes. He indulged my childish whims. And I fell for every goddamn trick in his dastardly arsenal.
While others skirted this man, instinctually noticing something evil, I made it my mission to make him feel welcome. I didn’t let the voice inside my head warn me away; instead, I believed in the firm and fast rule of ‘Don’t judge. Listen.’
My mother taught me wrong.
She made me sympathise rather than fear.
She made me believe in good rather than recognise the bad.
I danced with my murderer.
I smiled when he corralled me outside.
I tried to soothe while he threatened.
And when his hands went around my throat and strangled me, I still believed I could redeem him.
He killed me on the balcony of the ballroom only metres away from my mother.
And the entire time he did it, I still thought he was the one who needed saving, not me.
“Time’s up. You’d better be ready to go.”
My pencil stopped hacking at my toilet vellum. I needed to write what happened after I fell unconscious into Mr. Kewet’s killer embrace. How he’d brought me back to life in a world I no longer recognised. How everything I’d known and everything that’d made sense was suddenly scrambled and utterly foreign.
But Venetian Mask had returned, crossing his arms over his huge untoned bulk. Even his voice was nondescript with no accent or hint. Without facial features or racial clues, I had no idea where I’d been transported and what country I would belong.
Scrunching up my handful of pencil-scribbled paragraphs, I stuffed the tissue down my pearl-beaded bodice. My fingers trailed up the decorative dress to whisper over my throat. Even now, the shadows of finger-bruises marked me. Being strangled was a painful death. And one that left remnants in both aches and contusions, always there to remind when glimpsed in a mirror.
He’d killed me. I hadn’t been able to stop him.
So why couldn’t he have left me dead?
Why couldn’t this have been over rather than just beginning?
Because you’re worth far more alive.
I straightened my back.
I’d blow-dried my hair and applied the mascara and lipstick provided. I didn’t know why I bothered. However, prettiness might be a curse that could grant me a kinder fate. In my unsettling rationale, I figured the more someone paid for me, the better my overall treatment might be.
Unless that backfires and a psychotic billionaire buys me for marksman practice.
My throat closed as my heart did its best to find a stepladder and climb its way out of my chest. I swallowed it down again. As much as I didn’t want to face this, I needed my heart beating if I stood any chance of surviving.
Clipping over the tiles, I smoothed my white gown as if being presented to the prime minster. The quaint buttons on the back had been secured thanks to the help of the redhead. The satin kissed my body with no underwear to protect the sensitive skin of my nipples and core and whispered over the floor a millimetre from being too long. The measurements were exact, right down to the size five white heels on my feet.
I’d never been a fan of white. I much preferred to wear black—because it gave the image of authority (according to my mother)—or pastels and colours depending on my mood at class.
White was too high maintenance. It got dirty with life stains within moments of putting it on. But it also granted an innocence that I understood why my traffickers had dressed me in it. My hair seemed glossier; my green eyes bigger, my complexion prettier.
The girl gowned in black looked harsh and older while the redhead in grey seemed washed out and already begging for a grave.
If we were about to enter a wolf’s den, I didn’t want to smell of blood before the fight. Keeping my shoulders back, I strode past the guard and fell into step with Lion Mask.
Silently, I followed our shepherds and led the sad train of slaves down the corridor, into the elevators, and down to level two.
There, commotion welcomed with sounds of conversation, masculine laughter, and a softly played piano.
It’d been so long since I’d heard music or felt the warm buffet of bodies that I lost myself. Forgetting my need to remain aloof and untouched, I slammed to a stop. My forgetfulness earned me a swat to the side of my head as Lion Mask shoved me forward.
I stumbled for the first time since I’d answered back during the first beating I’d endured and suffered through the lesson all over again.
Eyes locked onto me from all corners of the room.
Lust-filled, terrible eyes.
All peering from behind a treasure trove of paper mache and plaster of paris masks.
A spotlight moved from the glittering silver ball drenching the space with twinkling lights directly on us. The piano stopped playing as the two girls and I made our way to the centre of what used to be a dance floor under the guidance of Venetian and Lion.
Now, it was a market pen. Complete with podium for inspection and auctioneer with his gavel. The two girls I’d showered with sobbed quietly as they were lined up in a procession of other women. Women who’d lived in this hotel with me, but I’d never seen. Women of all ages and ethnicities, all stolen from their rightful place and treated like livestock.
My friends wouldn’t really miss me because they didn’t understand me. I had no boyfriend to mourn me, no father to come search for me. As far as connections and family went, I was lacking.
I supposed it made it easier for me to switch off the desire to love and be loved, knowing I would never feel such a thing again. But it also hurt more because, at least, if I’d had those things, I could say I’d lived briefly; that I hadn’t taken my freedom for granted.
Now, all I would know was captivity.
As a man in a perfectly pressed tux and black executioner’s mask strode around the room holding a microphone to his hidden lips, the atmosphere hushed in expectation.
“Welcome, gentlemen, to the QMB, also known as Quarterly Market of Beauties.” Sweeping his hand down the line of merchandise, he said, “As you can see, we have quite a turn-out for you tonight.”
One by one, he pointed at us.
We were the only ones bare faced and on display.
One by one, we shrank into ourselves.
Twelve counted before me.
I was lucky thirteen.
Or was that unlucky thirteen? All I needed was a black cat, a fallen down ladder, and a witch’s superstition to well and truly curse me.
The man strode proudly as if he’d personally created each and every one of us. If he was in charge of stripping us of everything and rebuilding us into nothing, then perhaps he had. Maybe he did own us and had full right to sell something I no longer recognised.
“As usual, we have a range of beauties available for your pleasure. You’ve all had time to peruse their files and photos we supplied.”
Wait, what photos and files?
Had our rooms had cameras? Were we secretly catalogued and investigated? My chest rose and fell, pressing against the words I’d scribbled on the stolen toilet paper. Did they know about my tentative writing? Would they take it away from me?
My questions kept me occupied while the man cut over the dance floor and grabbed the first girl in the lineup. Dragging her forward, he forced her onto the podium, holding her until she caught her balance.
The spotlight showed her every stress line, every terror, every tear. She couldn’t hide anything beneath such an invasive glare. Her facial nakedness was made worse as no humanity stared back. Only animal masks and robot masks and all manner of creations.
I don’t want to look like her.
I wouldn’t let these assholes see my horror. If they refused to let us see them, I refused to let them see me. I didn’t have feathers or diamantes to hide my true self, but I did have willpower.
It took four girls to school my features into a rigid, unfeeling shell. Another four girls for me to delete emotion from my gaze and grab what was left to stuff into a newly formed suitcase inside (or should I say soulcase) and slam the lid closed. It took the final four girls to find a way to lock that soulcase, banish all my secrets, hopes, and aspirations, and toss away the key.
My name was Tasmin Blythe, but as my turn rolled around and I was forced to stand proud and prideful on the podium, they gave me a new name. A name forever reminding me of where I came from but stripping me of everything else at the same time.
After the London suburb where my mother’s function was held.
No longer Tasmin. Pimlico…Pim.
I no longer had to fake being strong and aloof; Pimlico was strong and aloof. Tasmin was locked deep, deep inside and forgotten as I blinked in the bright lights and heard the most damning thing of all.
“I’ll pay one hundred thousand.”
“I’ll go two hundred.”
“I’ll outbid you all and double it.” The room sucked in a gasp as a silhouette of a tall, slender man stepped onto the dance floor. “Four hundred thousand dollars for the girl in white.”
My heart once again tried to build a parachute and escape. That was the highest bid of the evening.
It disgusted me.
How dare they decide my worth? What my fellow slaves were worth. No price tag existed on a human life.
I hadn’t said a word since the third day of my incarceration. I hadn’t answered their questions about my age or sexual history. I refused to share any number of invasive requests.
I’d taken that small power even though they no doubt knew everything they needed thanks to my driver’s license and social media.
But now…here, on the eve of my sale, I had something to say.
Balling my hands, I glared at the indistinct man who wished to own me. My voice rang out, soft but pure, the only feminine sound in a nest of men.
“I bid one million. Let me buy myself, sir, and I will forget any of this ever happened.”
The bought girls, already ushered and clung to by new masters, gasped. My audacity could shorten my life or prolong it. Either way, it was a gamble I willingly and knowingly chose.
I didn’t have a million. My mother might if she sold our two-bedroom flat in London. But just like I pushed other worries to be solved on a later day, I pushed this one aside, too.
Money was just money.
Pennies added to dollars and dollars added to hundreds.
In the end, the prettily printed paper was worthless because inflation stole its numerical profit, unable to keep those who owned it happy.
My life, on the other hand, would increase in value, growing wiser and richer in experience the longer I survived. I was an investment, not a liability. And I would invest everything I had into giving myself a future.
The man stepped forward, cutting through the glare so his silhouette turned into physical mass. His dirty blond hair was the only thing visible behind the princely mask of some English Lord. “You’re bidding on yourself?” His voice sounded foreign, but I couldn’t place the accent. Mediterranean, perhaps?
Tipping my chin, the podium put me higher than him as I looked down as if he were my subject and I was his queen.
I would rule him. I would never bow.
“That is correct. I am too expensive for you. One million pounds, not dollars. I bid well over your pathetic amount.”
The auctioneer fumbled, clearly uncertain what to do with this change of events. His business was in the money-making game. Selling women was high profit, but if he could earn more by selling me to myself, what did he care if certain corporate rules were broken?
He got paid either way.
Ignoring the man in his English Lord mask, I faced the executioner, begging his gavel to fall on my offer. “One million, sir, and I walk away and never mention this again.”
What about the other girls?
My mother would curse me for the shame and guilt I suffered at the thought of leaving the sold women. But she’d also be proud because I’d chosen a path with decisiveness and conviction. Something she said I’d always lacked.
Happy now, Mother?
The room erupted in murmurs of deliberation while I stood in the sea of ebbing voices.
For a moment, I stupidly believed I’d won. That I’d played my hand at the perfect time and earned my freedom. But I hadn’t learned my final lesson.
Pride goeth before the fall.
And I was about to plummet.
“I see your offer and raise you,” Lord Mask murmured. “One million, five hundred thousand pounds, not dollars. What say you?”
Before I could reply—before I could increase my bid and change my circumstances, the dreaded gavel fell.
“Sold!” the auctioneer yelled. “To Mr. Lord for one million, five hundred thousand pounds.”
* * * * *
To No One,
That was the last time I spoke. The last time I lost. The last time I knew what it was like not to live every day in pain.
From that day onward, I was Pimlico the Mute, the Voiceless Woman in White.
No matter what that man did to me, I didn’t break.
No matter the beating he gave or the sexual punishment he delivered, I remained speechless and strong.
I’d like to say I found a way to escape. That I ran. That I’m writing this to you from a quaint coffee shop in London with a handsome boyfriend on my left and a best friend on my right.
But I’ve never been good at lying.
This toilet paper novel was never going to be fiction.
This is my autobiography so that one day, when my worth has been used, and every penny my master paid for me has been cashed, someone might recall the wordless slave who endured so much.
Maybe then, I’ll be free.
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