Authors: JM Darhower
Copyright © 2012 by JM Darhower
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locals, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Except as permitted under the US Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the author.
is a work of fiction, the concept of modern-day slavery is not make-believe. There are an estimated 27 million people in the world today, coerced and forced into sexual or labor slavery. The majority of them are female, half being young girls. They’re our mothers, our fathers, our sisters, our brothers. They’re our friends, our lovers, our neighbors, our kids. They’re us. It could happen to anyone, even you.
Human trafficking is the second most lucrative crime in the world, making more money every year than Google, Nike, and Starbucks combined. It happens everywhere, from the poverty-stricken providences of Cambodia to the affluent suburbs of California. Two children are trafficked every minute—that’s 2880 a day.
Become an abolitionist.
If we don’t fight for them, who will?
The building was in shambles, decades of dry desert weather taking its toll on the exterior. The dingy wooden boards were splintered, all traces of white paint that had originally coated it long gone. It had started out as a town hall, back when the mining companies still had a stake in the land, but those times had long since passed. Now it stood alone, withering away in the dark of night—the sole lasting reminder that the area had once flourished.
What had been a place of assembly now held another gathering of sorts, a more sinister one that seven-year-old Haven was still ignorant about. Her legs shook and her stomach churned as she followed her master into the building, staying on his heels but doing her best not to step on the back of his shiny black shoes.
They walked down a dark, narrow hall, passing a few men along the way, but Haven didn’t dare look up at them. She kept her gaze focused on the floor, the sound of their voices as they greeted her master sending chills of fright down her back. These were new men, strangers, people she hadn’t known existed until then. She'd never been off their ranch before, the sights and sounds and people overwhelming.
He led her through a door at the end of the hallway, and what greeted them there made her stop in her tracks. The stale scent of sweat and mildew permeated the room, heavy cigar smoke burning her nose. Masses of men stood around, talking loudly, as the sound of crying echoed off of the walls and hit the child like a freight train to the chest. She gasped, her heart racing as her eyes darted around for the source of the pain, but she couldn’t see past the sea of bodies.
Her master grabbed a hold of her, forcing her in front of him. She cringed as his hands clamped down on her shoulders, and she started to walk again at his command. The crowd parted for them, giving the two a clear path, and Haven dutifully made her way to the front. She could feel the men staring, their eyes like lasers that burned down deep, making her blood boil as her face turned bright red.
In the front of the room was a small stage. A few girls, some as young as her, were kneeling in a line, their skin filthy and their clothing rags. They all wept, a tag pinned to their shirts with a number scribbled on it in black marker. Haven stood as still as possible, trying to ignore her master’s rough touch, and watched as the crowd tossed money around. One-by-one the girls were brought to the front and auctioned off to the highest bidder. Tears stained their cheeks as men dragged them away against their will, another girl immediately replacing them from a room off to the side.
Haven turned at the sound of her master’s name and recoiled from the man approaching. His face was like cracked leather and mangled with scars, his eyes a blackened pit of coal. In her frightened mind, she thought he was a monster.
Frankie tightened his grip on the girl, keeping her locked in place as he greeted the man. “Carlo.”
“I see you’ve brought the child with you,” Carlo said. “Are you getting rid of her? Because if so, I’d be glad to—”
Frankie cut him off before he could finish. “No, I just thought it would do her some good to see her own kind.”
Her own kind
. The words fascinated Haven, and she looked back at the stage as a new girl was brought out, a teenager who looked as if she’d been in a fight with a pair of scissors. Dozens of holes dotted her clothes, and her blonde hair was haphazardly chopped in a sort of pixie cut. She resisted more than the others but succumbed to the pressure, getting on her knees at the end of the line. She was gagged and shackled, the number 33 affixed to her shirt. Unlike the others, she didn’t cry.
Haven wondered—was she like her? Could they be the same?
They continued bringing more girls to the front, but Haven couldn’t keep her eyes off of Number 33. After a few minutes, it was her turn, but she struggled when the man grabbed her arm. It happened fast, a split second changing everything. Number 33 pulled away, the metal binding her wrists and ankles making it difficult for her to escape. She jumped off the front of the stage and stumbled, but managed to stay on her feet as she started for the crowd.
Chaos erupted like a volcano, suddenly and violent. Men shouted when the girl ran directly for where they stood, and Haven held her breath as she trembled from fright. Frankie acted quickly, his movement fluid as he reached into his coat and pulled out a .44 caliber Smith & Wesson. A gunshot exploded right beside Haven, and she jumped, startled, as her ears rang from the loud bang. Number 33 dropped, the bullet ripping through her forehead and splattering Haven’s blue jean dress with blood.
Hyperventilating, Haven’s chest painfully heaved as she stared at the body on the floor by her bare feet. Blood streamed from the wound, soaking into the cracked wood and pooling around the girl’s head, painting her hair a deep shade of red. Her icy blue eyes were wide open, boring into Haven like they could somehow see right through her.
Haven sobbed, unable to catch her breath, as Frankie returned the gun to his coat. He bent down to her level, and she tried to turn away, but Frankie gripped the back of her neck and forced her to look at Number 33.
“That’s what happens when people forget their place,” he said, his voice as cold as the dead eyes she stared into. “Remember that.”
He stood back up, resuming his earlier position behind her as he clutched her shoulders. The auction continued as if nothing had happened—as if the body of an innocent girl wasn't displayed in front of them all. Number 33 lay lifeless on the floor, and no one in the room seemed to give her a second thought.
No one, that is, except for Haven. The vision of it would haunt her
Ten years later…
The hot, dry air burned Haven’s chest. She gasped, struggling to breathe, as the dust kicked up by the frantic movement of her feet made it hard for her to see. It wasn’t as if it would help anyway, considering it was pitch black out and she had no idea where she was. Everything appeared the same in every direction, nothing but the vast desert all around. She didn’t know where she was going; all she knew was she needed to
And run she did. Her feet felt like they were on fire, and every muscle in her body screamed for her to stop. It grew harder to continue with each step, her strength deteriorating as her adrenaline faded.
A loud bang rang out suddenly, and her footsteps faltered. She swung in the direction of the noise and spotted a faint glow of light in the distance. She darted toward it, trying to yell for help but no sounds escaped her throat. Her body was revolting against her, giving out when she needed it most.
The light grew brighter the closer she got until all she saw was a flash of white. Blinded, she tripped and collapsed to the ground in sobs. Pain ran through her body in waves as the light surrounding her burned out entirely.
* * * *
The basement was dark and damp, the only exit a set of metal doors locked with heavy chains. With no windows, it was sweltering. The air was polluted with the stench of sewer and bleach, while dried blood tinged the concrete floor like old splatters of red paint.
Haven lay in the corner, her frail body unmoving except for the subtle rise and fall of her chest. Her long brown hair, usually somewhat frizzy, was so matted it appeared half its true length. By society's standards, she was as sickly as they come. Jutting collar bones and limbs like twigs, her ribs could be counted through her bruised and bloodied skin. She thought herself to be fairly healthy, though. She’d seen people worse off than her before.
The day had started like every other. She woke up at dawn to start her chores and spent most of the morning cooking and cleaning. In the afternoon, she spent some time with her mama as she recovered from a long night of
. She’d come home after dawn, bruised and limping as usual. Haven wasn’t sure what she did in the city, but she suspected her mama was tortured when she was gone.
They’d been outside, leaning against the side of the old wooden house. Neither one spoke as the sound of the television filtered out of the open window above them, a news program reporting stories of robberies, accidents, and fires. They told of a hurricane brewing in the south and a war waging in Iraq, but the significance of both was lost on Haven. Her mama said even listening to it was a waste of time, because their slice of the world was barely a blip on the big radar.
But Haven couldn't help herself. The five o’clock news was the highlight of her day. She needed to feel like she was real, that something—or someone—she'd had contact with still existed out there in the world, somewhere.
Screaming started up inside the house, interrupting the news as the fighting moved its way from the hallway to the living room. Haven climbed to her feet, not wanting to be caught eavesdropping, when she heard something that stopped her in her tracks. “I want the girl gone!”
“I know, Katrina! I'm working on it!”
“Not hard enough!” Katrina screeched. She was the lady of the house, a harsh woman with short black hair and wickedly pointy features. “I want her gone now! Bury her in the back yard for all I care, just get rid of her already!”
Get rid of her already
. The words nearly suffocated Haven. The fighting moved from the living room to upstairs once more, their voices fading as a tense silence crept in.
She was in serious trouble.
“The world’s a scary place,” her mama said. “There are people who will hurt you. They'll do things to you, sick things…”