A single fluorescent light buzzed in the flickering ceiling. Shadows and dust danced together in the flickering light. Dawn blinked her eyes. The room came into a hazy focus. Cardboard boxes lined one entire wall, thrown on top of one another. A table was pushed against the wall opposite her, two metal chairs sat askew beside it. There was a door, heavy and metal, maybe four feet from the foot of the bed she sat on.
Dawn ran her hand across the mattress. It was grimy with tiny grains of something. She stared at the mattress, trying to remember. Sand. They had been at the beach earlier, her and Tommy. She could feel the itchy grains under her legs now, on the back of her thighs. She brushed at it, suddenly aware she still wore her wet bikini. It clung to her like sweaty hands gripping her body. She drew her knees to her chest, wrapped the blanket up to her chin and looked at the door again. Was it locked? The blanket smelled faintly of gasoline and oil. She coughed.
“Chink” – a light went on to the right of her. The sound of water running came through a partly open door. “Tommy?” She turned and put one foot on the floor. The sharp coldness stung her bare foot and she jumped back against the wall. The door must be open if someone else was in the room. Who was in the room? Her eyes swept back to the bathroom. Breath rushed from her in relief. Tommy stood in the doorway. She closed her eyes. A pulse began to beat in her head. Tommy was still standing in the doorway (of the bathroom?). “Tommy? Where are we?” He was looking at her like that again. Her heart beat now, in sync with the pulse in her head. The door lured her, but she kept her eyes on Tommy. “Tommy?” Did her voice tremble?
The corners of Tommy’s mouth curved up, but the smile didn’t seem to fit. It looked like a clown’s mask, painted on so the wearer’s true expression would never be caught. His blue eyes glittered, but they were too sharp, too hard. Dawn drew the blanket tighter around her and coughed again as the gas smell hit her.
“Here, have some water. Sorry about the smell. That blanket has been in my truck a long time.” He sat down next to her, close. “Here.” Dawn took the yellow plastic cup. The water was cold and she enjoyed the drizzle of it down her throat. She drank slowly until the cup was empty. She surveyed the room again now, moving her head slowly to take it in until her eyes came to rest on Tommy. She scrunched her forehead and arched her brows in confusion. Tommy looked at her, his lips like a bow. But then that clown smile was back. He took the cup from her, set it on the table and pulled a black bag from underneath. Dawn sat up straighter. They weren’t here by accident then. “I have clothes for you, if you want to change. You can shower, if you want. The water is hot. I have towels, soap, shampoo, all of that for you.” He kneeled down and pulled clothes from the bag. They were her clothes, from her closet. The underwear, the bras, her green halter dress. When had he collected them? How? The pulsing continued in her head, like those emergency lights that start dim, get bright, and then flash off. What the hell was going on here?
She started to ask Tommy just that, but something in his eyes made her pause. “Okay, yeah. I’d really like to get out of this bathing suit.”
“Good. I’ll just put this stuff in here for you.” Tommy disappeared into the bathroom with an armful of things. That door had to be unlocked. But what was on the other side of it? What if someone was waiting outside the door waiting for her to come out? But why would someone be outside? Had Tommy brought us here? Or maybe we were both locked in. Who the hell would kidnap me and Tommy? “Hey, are you coming?” There was that clown smile again.
The room swayed and blurred. The pulsing in Dawn’s head became all-encompassing; the objects in the room zoomed in and out, switched from black to color in a repeating pattern. Her knees buckled. “Okay, I’ve got you. Easy. Just sit here a moment.” Dawn felt the mattress underneath her. She could feel herself breath again. In 1..2..3..4, out 1..2..3..4.
“Why is everything black?”
“Your eyes are closed.”
He was right. Sometime during this she had closed her eyes. In 1..2..3..4, out 1..2..3..4. She forced her eyes opened, expecting another topsy-turvy carnival ride. Nothing moved. She let out her breath. “It’s better now.”
“Okay, just stand up slowly. Don’t move too quickly. Still okay? Can you stand on your own?”
“Yeah, I think so.” Tommy let go of her arm. Dawn swayed a little. Dots waited at the edge of her vision, like a swarm of buzzing insects waiting for their chance to rush in and swallow her up. She blinked a couple of times and they receded. “Yeah, I’m okay.” Was she sick? She transferred her weight from one foot to the other. Picked up a foot and set it back down. Tommy’s hand grabbed hers, the fingers a familiar fit, the pressure as alien as his smile. She stumbled a little trying to move with him. “Hold on, not so fast.”
Tommy stopped moving and looked at her. His eyes were cold, just for a second, but Dawn saw it. Or thought she saw it; the insects were waiting to pounce again. She let her eyelids fall shut, and then lifted them right back up. What the hell was going on? This was Tommy, damnit. “Alright, you got yourself?” Dawn nodded. “You sure?” Dawn nodded again, feeling a little like a young child who had fallen down and gotten a scrape. I’ll be right out there so just yell if you need me.” I must have looked confused because Tommy moved past me into the bathroom. Before I could turn around I heard the spray of the shower. “Go ahead, clean up.” He sounded more impatient than worried. No wonder. I was standing there in the doorway like a total idiot. In an effort to recover, I moved inside the bathroom and shed my bikini. The insects were becoming less and less in number. Tommy stared at me. I ventured a small smile that I hoped looked easier than the effort to summon it. For a moment, I thought Tommy was going to say something. He had that air of disclosure one gets right before they impart some juicy gossip or offer some witty criticism.
A single fluorescent light buzzed in the ceiling. Shadows and dust danced together in the flickering light. Dawn blinked her eyes. The room came into a hazy focus. She shook her head and blinked again. “What?” Her head lolled backward and she brought it back up slowly. The room swirled around her. Tracers followed her eyes as she surveyed her surroundings. Cardboard boxes lined one entire wall, thrown on top of one another. A table was pushed against the wall opposite her, two metal chairs sat askew beside it. There was a door, heavy and metal, maybe four feet from the foot of the bed she sat on.
“What is this?” she thought. A red flannel blanket covered her. There were matching sheets and even a pillow. “Ugh,” Dawn jumped off the bed, throwing the blanket down. The sharp coldness of the floor stung her bare feet, shocking her out of a slight dizziness. She stared at her feet. Why were they bare? She shivered, hugged her bare arms. Her skin was gritty. Sand. Sand from Miller Beach, where she had been earlier with Sara and Jenny. Where the hell was she now? She brushed at her arms, suddenly aware she still wore her wet bikini. It clung to her like sweaty hands gripping her body.
A pulsing began to beat in her head. Her wet bikini. She frowned down at herself. Her bikini was still wet! She couldn’t have been here very long. The thought motivated her, snapped her out of her immobility. Dawn looked around the place again. This time she noticed a window, high up above the boxes. It was small, maybe 2 by 2. She must be in a basement. There was a grate on the ceiling, probably a ventilation shaft. A mini kitchen was set up in the corner. Counter, cabinets, sink, mini fridge, toaster oven. Silverware? Knives? A door stood partially open to the right of the table. Bathroom? She crossed to it now, her head pulsing louder with each step, threatening to block out all thought. Dimness wrapped around her as she stepped through the door, quiet and calm. She leaned against the sink and lowered her head. For a moment she concentrated only on her breathing, careful not to keep her eyes closed between blinks. The pulsing resided to a dim throb. With a loud exhale, Dawn raised her head. She stared at her shadowy reflection. The lack of light paled her skin, made her hair color indistinct. The dark was not so calming anymore.
She reached her hand out to the wall and felt around. No switch. She turned slowly, squinting at the walls. Dawn stopped in her slow turn and looked up. A beaded chain hung down directly above her. “Chink.” Harsh yellow light flooded the small space. Dawn glanced back at the mirror. Freckles, red hair, scar on her left eyebrow. Much better. THE water came out of the faucet fast and cold and was like an electric shock to her brain when she splashed it on her face. She had been in the water, with Sara and Jenny. It was the first time this summer all three of them had been able to make it to the beach and they were taking as much advantage of the opportunity as they could. There were some guys on a raft floating near them, on in particular that kept checking Dawn out. Sara and Jenny had been teasing her about and she had ducked under the water. When she came up, Sara and Jenny were gone. The cute guy from the raft was in front of her, for just a second and then someone had put a bag of some kind over her head and lifted her from the water. A lilting, sleepy sensation had come over her and then nothing. She didn’t remember anything else. Whatever had knocked her out before must be why she was dizzy now.
“Shit. I don’t know which is worse, knowing you don’t remember or not knowing what you do remember.” She stepped quickly back into the main room and looked around for signs of her friends. At the foot of the bed were a pile of clothes she hadn’t noticed before. She crossed the room cautiously – no dizzy rush this time; the drugs were wearing off – and sucked in her breath. Those weren’t just any clothes on the bed, they were her clothes. Not the ones she had worn to the beach, but a green sundress and orange sweater from her closet. She had bought the outfit to wear to the company luau her boss threw every summer. She lifted the dress up from the bed. Underneath were underwear and sandals, her things.
She shook her head, a motion that became an all over shudder, and dropped the dress back onto the bed. Dawn looked around the room again. There were no signs that her friends had been there. Maybe they got away? Or maybe they were in other rooms just like hers? She was cold; she was wet, confused and scared. With a silent prayer to the ceiling, Dawn pulled the sundress over her head, and then removed the bathing suit. She pulled on the underwear, nearly falling over in her haste. The sweater provided a warmth of comfort to combat the uneasy chill creeping over her bare skin. She sat down on the bed. Her eyes wandered to the kitchen area.
Dawn jumped back up so fast she almost fell over. Her wobbly momentum carried her across the short distance and she caught herself on a drawer handle. Silverware! Forks! She pulled one out and continued opening the cabinets. Dish soap, hand towel, oven mitt, sponge. Casserole dish, paper bag, drainstop. Inside the refrigerator were bottles of water, a subway sandwich, and string cheese sticks. It was the contents of her cooler from the beach. She took the sandwich, a bottle of water, and the fork back to the bed with her.
Nothing to do now but wait. She tore a bite off of the sub and chewed. There was no clock in the room. It was eerily quiet; just the rustle of the sandwich wrapper as she ate. No sounds from the floors above or the outside. Maybe she should try to yell out the window. The door had to be locked. She blinked slowly, letting her eyes stay closed before opening them. Still, she should probably check it. Her hand that held the sandwich now lay on the bed, the arm tingling slightly. Her whole body tingled. The sandwich weighed a hundred pounds. She swung her head toward the door, the metal rectangle the last image she saw before her eyes closed a final time.
Dawn heard voices. Two men were talking quietly, laughing about something. Her? Blurry images, living ghosts, they moved around the room; into the bathroom, opened the fridge. The cardboard boxes were walking by with legs attached. One of the figures bent over her. “She’s totally out of it.” He walked away.
Another blur at the bed, a whisper, “just rest.” A hand passed over her eyes. She could no nothing else.
Dawn awakened slowly. She remembered the room, but the pulsing in her head did not encourage movement. It was dark. How long had she been asleep? She came up on her forearms. It was dark…that meant someone had turned off the light. With a start she remembered the blurry figures. So she hadn’t been dreaming. Someone really had been in the room. Someone had also laid her down and covered her up. She groped around the mattress. Her fork was gone.
The light in the ceiling blinked on. Dawn shrieked and jumped to a standing position on the bed. Just as fast she fell back, missing the bed and landing on the concrete floor. Her tailbone ricocheted sharp pain up her spine. The room swayed and blurred. The pulsing in her head became all-encompassing; the objects in the room zoomed in and out, switched from black to color in a repeating pattern.
“Okay, easy. Just sit still a moment,” she told herself. “Why is everything black?”
“Your eyes are closed.”
The voice was right. Sometime during this she had closed her eyes. She took a deep breath in 1..2..3..4 and exhaled out 1..2..3..4. Dawn forced her eyes open and looked directly into a pair of brown ones. She pulled back toward the wall. It was the guy from the raft.
“Take it easy,” he said. He held up his arms. “Are you okay?”
Dawn’s mouth was dry. Her heart banged against her ribcage, whether from the fall or from fright she wasn’t sure. She swallowed hard and forced out an answer. “My ass hurts,” she said.
“Yeah, I bet. Try to get up.” He held out his hand. Dawn grabbed the edge of the bed instead. Her knees buckled slightly and raft guy grabbed her arm. She swayed. Dots swam in front of her eyes, and then retreated to wait at the edge of her vision, like a swarm of buzzing insects waiting for their chance to rush in and swallow her up. She blinked a couple of times and they vanished. “Here, sit down on the bed,” he said. Dawn looked at him sharply. Raft guy let go of her, putting his arms up again in that conciliatory gesture. He backed away and went over to the fridge, coming back up with a bottle of water. He took a couple steps toward her and held out the bottle.
“More drugs?” She cocked her head to the side and smirked. “No thanks.” Raft guy shrugged and took a long drink from the bottle. H smiled at her and turned back to the refrigerator. “Who are you?” she asked. He didn’t answer, just kept looking in the refrigerator. “Did you hear me? Who are you?”
“My name is Bryan.”
What the hell is this? Ransom? Sex trade? Organ theft? What am I doing here?”
Bryan closed his eyes and stood up.
“Turn around and answer me, damnit,” she said. She couldn’t tell if she was yelling or if it was the silence in the room that made her voice sound louder.
Bryan turned around. He had that same calm, non-threatening look about him. “Dinner is in the refrigerator. You’ll get your meals as you need them. There is shampoo and soap, toothpaste, all of that stuff in the bathroom. If you need more, you’ll get them. There is a television here, some books, magazines. If there is something you want, within reason, you’ll get it. Be patient. When my boss gets what he needs, you’ll be let go.”
“Who the hell is your boss?” Bryan moved to the door. “Wait…what about my friends?” Bryan paused.
Without looking back he said, “You don’t need to worry about your friends.”
Bryan closed the door behind him, sliding the bolt into place. He slumped against the door, his hand in a fist. God, he hated this. But he didn’t have a choice. Lucas had him by the balls. He slid the key into the lock, turning it slowly. Click.