I knelt beside my bed and clasped my hands together, praying silently in my heart. I had only started doing it a few weeks ago, and it was the strangest thing in the world for me at first, but then I got used to it. My priest said that the Lord would bring me good things in life if I prayed every night to him. I wished for him to bless all in my family, and then I crossed myself and crawled into my bed. I rolled onto my side and stared out the window and up at the moon.
"I don't know how long it will be, but I hope it will be soon. I need a man to love me. Please, bring me a man to love me, soon. Very soon." I closed my eyes and began to think about what he would be like, how I would want him to act. My dream man. I fell asleep late that night, after going to bed at midnight sharp.
I was woken up by a shrill bell. I sat up sharply in the cot I found myself in, and stared around me as women and girls were jumping out of the beds and making them. When the one next to me had finished in about thirty seconds, she dragged me out of mine and let me fall on the floor as she began to make mine. I stood and I saw she was wearing an old, tattered dress that looked like something that a jailed Pilgrim might wear. I looked down at my clothes, and I saw the same idea on me, only in a brown color rather than blue. She turned back to me, and cocked her head as she studied my face.
"You're new, aren't you?"
"Huh?"
"You just came last night, didn't you?"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Yeah, he took me like that too."
"Who?"
"Jesus."
"Jesus?"
"That's all we know him as, anyway. No one knows his real name. He's never told anyone here." There was a loud, squeaky scratching sound that rang through the vast room, and then a deep voice echoed after.
"Breakfast in the conference hall today!" Then there was a loud drum-like sound, and then silence. All the women and girls began to walk, and the one that had just been talking to me took my wrist and dragged me behind her. I slipped my hand into hers, and we walked like that to an even larger room, where so many women were sitting on a hard wood floor, old women, and girls as young as five and six. Over in a corner were three children, two girls and a boy. The smallest of them was shivering in the older girl's arms, and the boy was putting on one set of two sets of glasses he had. I held the girl's hand as a man went to the front of the room, on a raised step, and looked out at all the women. There was a ghostly silence as he stared, and then he turned his head at the sound of thunder outside. He looked back at us all, and turned his palms up to the ceiling and raised them. Every woman stood, and I was compelled to follow in their actions. I saw his head drop down into the crowd's, and then I lost sight of him. I heard his footsteps, his shoes making an echo in the silent room. I heard him muttering to himself for a few minutes, and then I saw him approaching the part of the crowd I was in. I could see him through the spaces. I watched him as he scanned every girl, and they all looked at him in fear. He scanned them with a lustful eye, and as he walked the girls shrank away from him, making a path. He stopped in front of me and the one I was holding hands with. He scanned me first, and shook his head. I heard his whispered words: "Not in the mood just yet." He turned to the one beside me, and pointed to her, and spoke clearly. "What's your name?"
"Laura." I heard some women whisper, and he clapped his hands loudly and they were instantly silent. He took her hand, the one that was holding mine, and dragged her out of the room. He left her out in the hall, and yelled back into the doorway.
"Bring them their food!" So all the women and girls sat down, but I stayed standing for a short period of time. I heard the gasps as I stared around the room at all the sitting females, and then I glanced over in the corner, to the children again. They were staring at me in awe, and glancing at the door in fear. I walked through the women and girls and over to them, and sat down with them. There was a unanimous sigh of relief through the room, and then many large, muscular men, all dressed in black, came in with food for everyone. One of them approached me with the children in the corner, and tsked me.
"Not good form on your first day." He dropped four plates in front of us, and the children inhaled the food like it was pizza and soda. They then stared at my plate, and the oldest of the three took it and put it in my lap.
"You should really eat this. It's the only meal you get for a week."
"This is supposed to last me a week?!"
"It's all he gives you guys."
"What about you?"
"Once every two weeks."
"How do you survive?"
"We have to eat the grass and leaves outside, when he takes the rest of you out to exercise."
"No, I want you to eat this." A woman nearby heard our conversation, and she took a great, quick gasp at my words. She looked at me with her eyes wide.
"No no no, honey you eat that. If you really want to give them food at the proper time, eat now and wait till next week's."
"This is the only day we eat for another two weeks. We get breakfast lunch and dinner, and that's all."
"Why does he do this?"
"He's Jesus."
"He can't be. Jesus is not cruel."
"This one is. So eat that, and wait until next week to feed them something." I decided that would be the best thing to do, if I wanted these children to survive much longer. They were so starved. But I gave them three portions of my food nonetheless. I ate my tiny little quarter that I'd left for me, and then after ten more minutes talking with the children, and getting to know why they were here and what had happened to their mother, more large men came and took all the plates away from us. Then, another scratching over the loudspeaker, and there were screams in the background as a familiar voice echoed through the room.
"Back to your places!" So a woman who had seen me with Laura led me back to the room I was supposed to be in, then left to go to hers. I went to the bed I thought was mine, and sat down on it. I looked at all the women around the room. It was amazing. Some man had brought them all here, and God knew how many of them had had to go through the tortures that Laura was going through right now. Everyone was talking about her, too.
"I just hope she doesn't go to the maternity ward."
"Oh no, if she goes there we'll never see her again."
"But did you hear those screams? Good God, it sounded like he had her on the bench."
"Oh no, not the bench!"
"Yes, it sounded like the bench. Remember Milly?"
"Oh no, poor Milly."
"No no no, not the bench."
"Did anyone else hear him grab the whip before he turned off the loudspeaker?"
"You heard a whip?"
"Yes, I heard a whip."
"Oh no!"
"Oh yes."
"Oh no, Laura. And she lasted for so long."
"Oh, the poor dear."
"Why her, today?"
"Oh no, you know him. Anyone thinks something, he hears it. He hears and knows all."
"Oh no, oh no, Laura."
"He wouldn't."
"He would, he did it to Elizabeth."
"Oh no."
"Oh yes."
"Oh, the poor girl." And so I listened to the same thing until noon, when lunch came, and then we were to go outside to exercise. But once we were out there, the women turned and faced the building in the sweltering heat. Then, someone leaned out the window and yelled down to the crowd. Screams came sneaking out the window with the torso.
"Take off your clothes!" And so, that's what every woman and girl did. But I could only stand there. I stared up at that cruel face, and I marked where the window was. While the females were stripping, I snuck through the crowd and into the building once more. There was a large man waiting inside the door. He grabbed my arms and began to drag me along many flights of stairs. We were approaching a place where there were horrible screams emitting. I shivered as they continued to get closer. The large man continued to drag me, almost as if he were following the screams.
"You might get expelled on your first day. And he has a special way of doing that." The screams were even louder now as we reached the top of another flight of stairs. I stared at the end of the hallway. The screams were coming from there, most definitely. As I was taken down the hallway, the door was shaking on its hinges. Someone was on the other side, hurting someone else. We were about twenty yards away before I turned away and wrenched my arms out of the large man's. I ran down the hallway and back down the stairs. I heard him yelling after me. I heard a loud bang, that sounded almost like a gun going off.
"What the hell is going on out here!" A familiar voice from the conference hall and the loudspeakers.
"The new girl, she was causing trouble and now she's trying to get away."
"Get her, damnit!" I heard two sets of feet running down the hallway now, and I bolted as fast as I could. I ran through the whole building, looking for the children. I wanted to take them with me and escape. I opened all the doors that I could, broke down the locked ones, but no sign of them anywhere. I only had one last chance. I turned at the sound of a door opening down at the far end of the ground level hallway.
"There she is!" I saw a naked man and the large man running at me. I bolted back up the stairs, going straight up, and I found myself on the top floor very suddenly. I went in the nearest door to my right, and turned and locked it. I turned into the room, and it was like a house. Except there was blood all over, and a beaten girl lying in the middle of the floor. I went to her side and took her up on one of my arms.
"Laura?"
"New girl."
"Where are your clothes?"
"He tore them up. There's nothing left."
"Here." I laid her down gently, and rose and took off the dress. I handed it to her, and she took it and pulled it on. "Is there another way out?"
"Only the upstairs is a place I know of, but only someone tiny can fit through."
"Like the children."
"Yes. And they're up there."
"Shit." I glanced at a set of stairs off to our left, and then the door that I came in through banged loudly.
"Open up!"
"Get up there, now. Hide up there." I turned to the door and watched it, and I tore off the rest of the things I had been clothed with. I saw her run up the stairs, and then I ran to another room that was like a living room and grabbed a blanket off the couch. I ran to a place that was like a kitchen and wrapped the blanket around me. I heard the door fall down.
"Where the hell are they?!"
"I'll look down here. Go upstairs and look." I heard heavy footsteps running up the stairs, and I heard much more quiet ones walking through the house. I heard a gentle voice cooing for Laura. I held the blanket tighter around me, and I watched as the man everyone knew as Jesus came into the kitchen. He stared at me in anger.
"You." He came over to me and grabbed my arm. He took me out the way I had come, and dragged me outside and took me beyond the first gates. I heard the women moaning in despair behind me. He put me in a circle of spears, all of them around my neck. He adjusted them so that they just barely pierced my skin.
"You will stay here until I say otherwise. Stand perfectly still, or there will be serious consequences." I saw him kiss the tips of his fingers and rub my cheekbone, and then he left me alone. I stared straight ahead at the stone wall. I looked up at the sky, and I held the blanket under my arms and clasped my hands together and prayed.
"O Holy Jesus, spare me and the women here. Spare our lives and forgive our sins. Forgive the imposter and his servants, spare us all and forgive us all. O Holy Jesus, Lord on high, spare our lives and we all shall be forever grateful." I closed my eyes and began to hum my favorite hymn to the Lord, humming loud enough so He could hear. Soon, on the other side of the wall, I heard someone else singing the words. It sounded like one of the older women. I sang with her, and then more women joined in with us, more and more until everyone was singing with us. Somewhere up high, I heard the children calling their song to us all. The hymn was repeated over and over until their exercise time was over, and they were taken inside. But I continued to sing, even when the night came and I was so tired I felt I couldn't stand anymore. I felt the spears give a little, and someone spoke to me from the other side of the wall.
"Turn to the right." I obeyed, and a door opened, and one of the large men came, carrying water for me. He approached me, and he beckoned to me. I ducked under the spears, and I went to him. I prayed in my mind to the Lord to give me the strength to obey, until I could think of a way to escape this mad place. He gave me the water, and I drank deeply. "You've pleased Jesus. I'm starting to wonder if you'll last a week or a year." I handed him back the cup of water, and he took my arm and took me back inside. I was taken to the room full of women and girls and laid down on my bed. Laura was awake at the bed adjacent, I could see, but the large man didn't seem to notice. I laid down, still wrapped in the sweat-soaked blanket, and waited until he left before I moved again. I heard Laura whispering to me.
"Thank you." I ignored it, and I dropped the blanket I'd been wrapped in the whole day, and climbed into the blankets of the cot naked. I closed my eyes and gave my thanks to the Lord, and then I fell asleep.
Another early wake-up call, and we were all called to the conference room. I had gotten clothed in the night with my own clothes, and I made my bed in fifteen seconds, faster than any of the women, and then I took Laura's hand, both for her comfort and mine, and we walked together with the rest of our group down to the conference hall. Jesus stood before us all once again, and spoke.
"The wind has changed. The rains will return. One of you will perish when they have passed. We will prepare for the funeral." All of the women were whispering to one another as he gave orders to every room. It turned out the old women had their rooms, fifty and up, and the middle-aged women had theirs, thirty through fifty, and everyone between thirty and thirteen had their rooms. He had an entire system set up, and I remembered seeing pregnant women in another room. He had an entire community in this building, with perhaps more around it. Everyone was given food, to which the women all kissed his feet, and then we were taken back to our rooms to begin our tasks. The necessary tools were given, and then we began to work. Ours had the task of making the coffin. We were given the very raw materials, the straight up tree, still with branches and leaves and bark, and a few saws and chisels and scrapers. We all began our work. I was given most of the harder jobs, namely stripping the damp bark with my bare hands and taking all the branches off.
"He didn't take anyone today. Something's wrong."
"I think it's the new girl."
"What about her? She caused a great ruckus, how can it be the new girl?"
"Didn't you see the way he looked at her her first day?"
"God, Lily, you think everyone's the one he's in love with, don't you?"
"It's not so tentative with her, though." They all watched me as I worked alone with the children. All the women and girls were talking about me while I worked. I listened to their chatter, and once the children and I had finished with the bark, we began on the branches. We started at the top and worked our way down. At the lower ones, the thicker ones, Laura approached me with a saw. I took it thankfully, and I smiled at her. She smiled back and went backwards to her bed and continued to watch me with the rest of the women. The children were helping me all the way through, and once we had finished, the next set of women came forward. I sat back on my bed and watched them, rubbing my hands together and trying to get the splinters out of my palms. The children were all around me, and rather than talking with the rest of the women, I talked with the children. The oldest girl was Christine, the boy was Eric, and the littlest girl was Amelia, Mia for short.
"My goodness, that was hard, Lisa."
"Yes, I know. But you didn't have the honor of being the subject of the conversation."
"All of them were once, too. They just never said anything."
"Well, my children, we won't have to live like this much longer, don't you worry."
"What do you mean, Mommy?" That was Mia, she just started called me Mommy, and I didn't mind a bit.
"We're gonna get away from here real soon."
"Oh no, Lisa, we can't."
"Yeah, we'll get caught."
"No we won't. I just need some time to think about how to get out."
"Oh please, Mommy, don't try, please don't try." Even little Mia was scared of the one they knew as Jesus.
"Didn't you ever know a life outside of here?"
"Only knew there was a world. Never seen any of it."
"First chance we get, we're going to get out of here and you'll see how good life can be."
"Really, Lisa, don't try. He'll get you and he'll punish you."
"He can't hurt me worse."
"You don't even know." I turned to Christine.
"If he's torturing these women for his sick pleasure, then he needs help. We'll bring him the help he needs once we get out of here."
"But you don't see, we won't get out of here. It's the rest of your life here, Lisa."
"Over my dead body. I've got a man outside these walls, and he's waiting for me somewhere out there."
"What do you mean?"
"There's more than one man in the world, so many more. And so many can be kind and gentle. Oh, they have an animal charm about them, but there's always a kind side hidden in there somewhere. And Christine, you can know that. You don't have to be trapped here just to look forward to his rape. You can know true love, and happiness, and what a honey ham tastes like, Mia, and contact lenses, Eric. God, there's so much more out there."
"Like what, Mommy?"
"There's animals, Mia, animals. Cats and dogs, ferrets, oh the birds, some of them look like rainbows."
"Rainbows?"
"Oh, don't you know color? Red, yellow, green...Look in my eyes. My eyes are green." I looked deeply into their eyes, and their own grew wide.
"I didn't know there was color in eyes."
"And you'll know much more in school."
"School?"
"He doesn't even teach you here? Oh, lovely, you've been missing out. You'll learn so much in school. You'll learn how to count, how to write, how to spell, how to read. Oh, there are some books that are wonderful."
"What's a book?"
"Oh, books, they're filled with words, to fill your minds with pictures. Sometimes, there will even be a mermaid, or a pirate ship. Oh, there's books that can take you around the world in a few hours. It's wonderful. Mia, you would love to read. Oh, the adventures you could have. But you don't need just books." I rose and took up the blanket from Laura's bed, and wrapped it around my shoulders. "All you really need is your imagination." I took the blanket and wrapped it around Mia's shoulders, and then I curtsied low to her. "Mia, you are a beautiful enchantress. Now, you can make any man fall in love with you." I turned to Eric and I straightened, and I took his reading glasses and put them on his eyes, replacing his everyday glasses. "Eric, you can see through walls with those. You can see across the world with them, you can see whatever you want." I handed him back the case, and then I moved on to Christine. I rubbed her cheek gently and smiled. "Christine, the most beautiful girl in the world. Every man is falling to your feet for your hand. The queen-" I took Mia's hand and took her in front of Christine "-has dubbed you her princess. And the boy who can see all, he seeks..." I glanced around me quickly, and thought fast. Then I tore off the top layer of my brown skirt, and draped it over my head. "He seeks the beautiful Siren, who sings with the most beautiful voice in the world. The queen, she seeks the Siren for her help to sing, and the most beautiful girl in the world seeks the Siren for her magical powers, the most powerful in the world."
"But Mommy, I was magic."
"Oh you are, Mia, but the Siren can make you more powerful. In fact, the Siren is your link to your magic. Oh, but alas, the siren has been kidnapped!" I moaned and ran to the other side of the room, holding the top layer of my skirt over my head. I turned back to them. "You must seek the brave knight, who can rescue the Siren! You must find him to save her!" I ran back to them in wonderful extravagance, not caring about all the eyes on me. "You must find him through the darkness of the Cave,-" I crawled under my bed and three others in the row, "-over the tallest mountain,-" I climbed over the beds, and then I turned to the bare tree that women were working on, "-and across the rickety bridge! But watch for the witches!" I leaped onto the tree trunk and I walked, kicking at the women who were trying to stop me, drag me down. I went to my original place. "There you will find the fearless knight, and he will take your Siren back to you so she can sing with you!" All the way, the children had followed me, and they began to play along. Now Eric was the knight as well as the all-seeing boy, and he came and rescued the Siren from the clutches of the evil sorceress. Now, they all sang together, and the sorceress came and heard, and she became good, and she joined them in their quests to save the world. The women were screaming at us to stop, they were trying to work, but we didn't stop. We were having too much fun. We continued to laugh, even as everyone around us stopped moving. There was a great yell in the room, and we all froze. The one known as Jesus was standing in the doorway, staring at the children and me. I felt the tenseness in the room, and I felt my heart shrink at the unanimous feeling.
"New girl." He beckoned to me with one finger. I came to him, and he took me up to the place I had locked myself in once. I let him lock me in a room. "Three weeks! No food!" Then I heard him walking away. I turned to face the room, and I saw a single cot over on the other side. I took off my clothes, every piece, and then I went and laid down. I forced myself to sleep, without my prayers.
I woke up at night, someone walking into the room. I sat up and I looked. A large man was coming in, carrying three glasses of water. He handed me one of them.
"I'd suggest you drink all of them. It'll help to keep your mind off hunger." I drank all three glasses, and then he went to the doorway. I heard him locking it on the other side, and then he spoke through. "Jesus will be here soon. Hide your clothes, he won't give you any replacements." I obeyed, taking my clothes and stuffing them into the darkest corner, so he would not see them. I knew what I should expect, and I entirely expected it, with all of my heart. I stayed up all night, and when the moon was high, someone came into the room. They closed and locked the door behind them from the outside. I could see where he had put the key. He came over to the cot and put one knee at my hip. I slid my hand to where he had put the key. He was speaking very softly as he began to take off his clothes and I slipped the key.
"You're quite a little troublemaker, new girl. What's your name?"
"Lisa."
"You told the children before me, didn't you?"
"Yes, I did."
"It will be four weeks now."
"Four weeks?"
"Four weeks." I took the blanket and held it with one hand up to my chin. I rolled on my side, away from him, and huddled against the wall. He merely pulled me away and forced me to lay flat. I obeyed, while he stood to take off his pants.
"Why is this a punishment? I don't understand what I did."
"You were playing, Lisa. Nobody plays here."
"You seem to play a lot." I sat up, still holding the blanket to my chin with one hand. The key was hidden beneath my skin.
"I play with the women. You were just playing."
"I won't stand for it anymore." I stood, and I dodged his push and went to the door. I heard him fall as I unlocked it. I heard him yell as I opened it. I wrapped the blanket around me as I ran to the main door, but I found it too was locked from the outside.
"Get back here, bitch!" I turned to the stairs quickly, and then I jammed the key into the lock. I tried to turn it, but no luck. Well, we were both locked in here for the time being. I ran as I felt his hand brush my shoulder, and I heard him fall to the floor. I turned back to him, and he was only wearing his underwear now. I ran to the kitchen, and I turned, and I did a complete twirl and fell against the wall. The blanket collapsed, but I caught it at my waist before it could fall to the floor. The wind had been knocked out of me. I had gained most of it back by the time he reached me. "That's it. Titty twist!" He reached his fingers to my nipples, and he squeezed hard and turned them sharply, and I screamed in pain and begged for mercy, sliding slowly to the ground as tears began to fall down my cheeks.
"No! God, no! Please!" I let out one long scream, before he let go. I could feel blood trickling on the underside of my breasts, and I was crying so hard. I was sitting on the floor, against the wall, and I heard his panting breaths. My head was turned to the side, my eyes closed, and I heard him kneel beside me. I felt his eyes on me as I cried, and I brought the blanket up to my chin again. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry." I looked at him, and I saw something in his eyes I'm sure no other of the women had seen here. "I'm sorry." He brought my face forward with one hand, and parted my legs with the other. I heard fabric tearing, but I'm positive it wasn't the blanket. He held me close, and I felt his knees pressing at my inner thighs. He used both hands to slide me up to his hips, and as he did, he kissed me, but he was gentle. I didn't feel a need to scream. I breathed heavily as he turned me so my side was parallel with the wall. He laid me down on the hard floor, and I felt this man's hands on my breasts, and I wanted to pull away, but I couldn't, for some reason. I felt something within just a few minutes, something I couldn't explain. But once it had passed, he pulled out of me, and as he stood, he helped me to stand. I was still crying, but certainly not as hard. I looked up at him, and he took my chin between finger and thumb and kissed me again, just briefly. He let me go, and I took a step away.
"You are the strongest woman I've ever seen. And yet, you're also the most pathetic. I don't know what I'm feeling right now, but it's a first." I held the blanket tight in my fists, and I held my knuckles up to my lips. I wanted to start crying hard again, but it wasn't because of what he said. Far from it. He came up to me, and he put his hand on my shoulder, and let it follow my arm to my wrist. He brought both of them down with one hand, and kissed me again. I pulled away again, and I took two steps back. I heard the main door open, and I turned. One of the large men was standing there. I held the blanket up, and I ran to the doorway, and I turned back to the one known as Jesus. He was only watching me, and he wasn't making any sign he wanted me to stay, or to the large man to get me to stay. I turned away again, and I ran down the hallway, down to the first floor and out to the exercise place. I ran past the place with the spears, and out to the desert beyond. I fell to my knees beneath the moon, crying with my hands clasped together. I sobbed as I prayed.
"O Holy Jesus, bring me a saviour. Bring me someone to save me from this hellhole. Anyone. And please, God, don't let the imposter love me." I opened my hands like a book and sobbed into them. It wasn't that I didn't want the imposter to love me, but I knew that the Lord could hear me no matter how I prayed. It was that I didn't want to love the imposter. He wasn't the one I was supposed to love. I was supposed to love someone with a kind heart, not someone like this man. He was cruel, unweilding. I wasn't supposed to love someone like that. It wasn't supposed to happen like this.
I continued to sob, and soon I heard someone panting behind me. I ignored the breaths, ignored the gentle hands, just trying to sort my heart out. I let someone carry me back, and they took me to a different room. I could tell by the sounds. It was silent, nothing to be heard. I felt a soft bed at my back, and I rolled away from the one who had carried me away, and I cried into the softness. I felt that same someone at my back, holding me close to him. He knew what he felt for me, I knew what I felt for him. But I didn't want it to be so. I didn't want it to be so. I cried myself to sleep that night, but it was early morning when I was actually asleep.
I woke up at noon the next day, still in the blanket. The one known as Jesus was pacing somewhere in the room, I could hear him. I rolled over and I looked, holding the blanket tight around me. I stood, and he watched me and came up to me.
"I've changed your punishment. No clothes for four weeks."
"You would like that, wouldn't you?" My throat felt harsh, and it was hard for me to speak. I cleared my throat, and I saw his eyes turn cold as my words sunk into his head. He took me down to a cafeteria, where every woman in the building was sitting on the cold hard floor. I went with the children as soon as he had let me go and left the room. They all hugged me, and watched as the women ate their funeral banquet.
"When did the rain pass?"
"Late last night. Jesus says that someone wasn't here to see it."
"Someone wasn't."
"Do you know who?"
"Yes, I know."
"Who?"
"I'm not at liberty to say." I turned to the corner, put my head on my knees, and I began to cry again. I felt little Mia's arms around me, trying to comfort me. I slipped in and out of a crying fit the rest of the day. Every time Jesus came, and he took me up to his home, by knowledge of the rest of the people for punishment. But when there, he let me be alone, and once I was able to control myself again, he would take me to where all the females currently were.
Night came, and I was lying on the cot I had first woken up in and found out where I was, and every woman was lying awake, whispering to her neighbor about me. I listened to them, and then the door opened. I sat up, and I saw the children. They stared around the room, and then they saw me. They came over to me and crawled into the bed with me.
"Mommy, I'm scared."
"What happened, Mia?"
"Jesus came to me tonight."
"Did he hurt you?"
"No, but he was going to hurt Eric."
"Eric?!" I looked over to him, and he nodded. He was wearing his everyday glasses, and they were foggy with tears.
"Please, Lisa, don't let him hurt me."
"He won't, lovely, he won't." I wrapped an arm around his shoulders and brought him close to me. "How did you escape?"
"The one we were supposed to be with protected us. He took her away, to the upstairs."
"The upstairs?" I heard Laura sit up, and I turned to her. She seemed genuinely concerned. I felt little Mia's head moving up and down in a nod.
"Yes, he was going to hurt Eric. Mommy, please, don't let them hurt him."
"I won't, honey, I won't. No one's going to touch any of you with a harmful hand, you hear? No one." I hugged them all to me, and then I waited until they fell asleep. I slipped out of my bed, and asked to borrow Laura's top blanket. She let me have it, confused at first, and then I left the room. I followed screams until I came to a familiar door. I broke it down with my shoulder, and I saw Jesus on a beautiful middle-aged group woman, beating her. He looked up at the loud sound and saw me, and his eyes grew wide.
"What are you doing here?!" He got off the woman, and I went to her and helped her to stand. I handed her the blanket, and she took it and wrapped it around her body, trembling in fear.
"You go on back to your bed. You can wash in the morning. Go on now." I sent her out the door, and then I closed it and locked it. I turned back to the one known as Jesus. "Were you going to hurt Eric?"
"He was misbehaving."
"I don't care what the hell he was doing! Were you going to hurt him?"
"He needed to be disciplined, and she got in my way."
"You will not hurt those children! Not in any way! Do you hear me?!" I approached him and looked up at him, feeling such raw anger. "I don't care who the hell you are, you will not hurt them. Even if you are the real Jesus. But, the real Jesus, he would not hurt these women like you have. The real Jesus would not starve these women like you have. The real Jesus would feed these women. The real Jesus would heal the sick women. The real Jesus would love these women. The real Jesus would help these women. You can love me, if you want, take me if you want! But let them go! For Christ's sake, let them go!"
"Why, Lisa? Why should I let them go?"
"Because unlike them, I would stay. And not out of fear, or anger, or revenge. I would stay out of love. I would have to stay out of love." He was stunned to silence. I let him hover for a little bit, and then I spoke again. "If you are Jesus, let them go. If not for anyone else's sake, then for me. Let them go for me." He shook his head.
"I can't, Lisa. They wouldn't know what to do without me."
"Then you are not the real Jesus."
"I never said I was. That's only how they know me. The only man in their lives. My father made all those women, and me. He chose me as his legacy. I have to continue that legacy."
"You're very sick if you think like that. God, if only I could help loving you. I wouldn't if I could!" I ran out of the place and back down to my bed, crying. I laid down with the three children, now under my wing. I slipped beneath the covers with little Mia, and was careful not to kick Eric off the bed. A few minutes passed, and I had calmed down enough to stop sobbing. I heard Christine roll over onto her side.
"Lisa?"
"Yes, Christine?"
"Can we talk?" She sat up onto her knees and leaned onto her arms on the edge of the bed.
"What do you need to talk about?"
"My thirteenth birthday is tomorrow. Then, I have to join this group. Jesus has been planning for it ever since I turned twelve. Everyone is going to have a celebration, all day, and then, I'm going to have to spend the night with him. And Lisa, I don't want to. I know what he does to every woman there. I don't want to spend the night with him. Can't you do something about it?"
"I can try, Christine. But I can only do so much."
"Please, try your hardest. Please."
"I will try, lovely." I reached a hand over and brushed her cheek. "Most beautiful girl in the world."
"One more thing, Lisa."
"What is it?"
"Can I call you mom?" I smiled at her.
"Of course." She smiled back, and then leaned over and kissed my cheek. Then, she went back to laying down on the ground. I brought the covers up a little higher over Mia and me, and then I looked up at the ceiling. I had unofficially adopted two daughters and a son now, and there was a man up high that called himself Jesus who loved me. And I loved him, though I didn't want to. I closed my eyes, and I began to cry again, for no apparent reason. I didn't sleep that night, which gave me special privileges the next day.
The whole day was a celebration for Christine's birthday, just like she said it would be. She was beside me the whole day, and as night came, everyone was called into the conference hall. Christine and I were in the far back, as far away from Jesus as possible. I watched as he went up onto the raised step and stared out at the crowd. I watched as he scanned, possibly for Christine, possibly for me, possibly both, and watched as he saw us. He pursed his mouth in two separate, silent kisses, and then began to speak.
"Tonight is the official initiation of Christine's thirteenth year. The tradition will begin at midnight." While he continued to speak, I felt Christine tense up as he said "begin at midnight." I whispered to her.
"What's wrong?"
"That means he's going to do it over the loudspeaker. Mom, don't let him do it, please."
"I won't let him. When he tries to take you, I won't let him."
"I love you."
"I love you too." She wrapped her arms tight around me, and I held her, and as he exited, there were more large men that were bringing the feast. I was still getting the punishment of no food, so they brought neither me nor Christine nothing. Jesus came up to us, and offered his hand to Christine.
"Come along, Christine."
"You won't take her." His eyes turned to mine and flamed with the fires of Hell. I felt a dash of fear in my heart, but I stayed strong in my will.
"What did you say?"
"You will not take her. I won't let you."
"I'm afraid you have no choice, darling." Christine took a short breath. "Give her to me, now."
"No. I won't."
"I'll have to take her by force."
"I'll fight you all the way. You will not take her."
"All right, then, lovely, you'll just have to go the hard way. You both will come." He took me and Christine by the arm, and she screamed. All the women in the room didn't seem to hear. We were dragged out, and he handed me to one of the large men. He gave Christine to another, and gave them separate instructions. We could all hear both.
"Take Christine to the private room. Get some blood and put it on her. At least make it look like I've had the final tradition with her. In her place will be Lisa." I turned to Christine, and she looked at me in true happiness as she was carried down the hall. She knew I had been through it, she just didn't know how many times. She mouthed her gratefulness to me, and then she disappeared. I was taken up to the upstairs, and to a familiar bed. I was tossed down onto it, and then the door was closed and locked. He stripped and came over on the bed with me.
"You didn't hurt her."
"I love you. I'll do almost anything to keep your happiness."
"Thank you so much." He was about to kiss me, but I turned away. "What's your name? Your real name?"
"My father called me Jonas in private. The one who betrayed Jesus."
"Did you ever know your mother?"
"Only for a few years."
"What did she call you?"
"She would always call me Aaron whenever no one else could hear her."
"Did she ever tell you if she named you after anyone?"
"No. She told me she was never married, an only child and an orphan. She was kidnapped when she was fourteen, and she was seventeen when she had me."
"Did your father love her?"
"I don't know." There was silence afterwards, and then, at midnight, the tradition began. He brought me pain, and I was forced to scream, but an hour later, he was gentle with me, letting me sleep. Until then I had wondered why I loved him. Then, I think I figured it out. I loved him because I had seen how good he really could be.
I was woken up by the shrill bell again. Today, it was rumored that there was another man coming here to choose a wife. For a fair price. It was a piece of the gossip I'd heard as the women had eaten their dinner feast yesterday. I took the top blanket from the bed I was lying on, and I went out of the upstairs and back down to where I had first slept here. Laura was lying on her bed, coughing up blood.
"Oh God." I went to her side, and looked up as one of the women came over and looked down at her.
"She was coughing last night too. It's either morning sickness or she's dying."
"She has to get treated!"
"He'll never buy the medicine we need."
"How can you say that?! You're just going to give up before trying?!" I stood and I began to run to the door, but someone held me back in the middle of the room.
"I wouldn't go to him today. I saw the man."
"You saw the man?"
"That's going to pick a wife?"
"Yes, I saw him. And Jesus is with him, discussing the deal. He's a young one, so he will probably take one of us."
"Oh my God!" I saw the door open, and every woman stood and looked. But it was Christine, coming for her first day as a member of our group. She came to me and hugged me tightly.
"Thank you, Mom. Thank you so much."
"And I'll do it for Mia, too. And for all the rest of my children." I hugged her back, and I held her. I watched as the doors opened once more, and Jesus came into the room. He stared at me, hugging Christine, just for a second, and I saw what seemed like jealousy in his eye. Then he scanned over the crowd, and called specific women forward. Very few. Christine and I were among them. Laura as well. I looked back at the rest of the women. He had left more of the less appealing ones.
"The rest of you will stay here." He beckoned to the ones he had called, and we followed him to the upstairs. Every woman cringed when the door opened. He needed to have the large men push them in. I turned away from the blood and stared at the doorway, still hugging Christine to my side. I watched as he scanned us once more, called a couple of women back, and then closed and locked the door on us. Then, every woman fell kneeling to the floor, crying for joy.
"Oh God, thank you! He has not hurt us!"
"Thank you, thank you, thank you!" Such happy screams, but they didn't seem to see the distant future. They were stuck here even longer, probably for another twenty or thirty years. As the minutes passed, more women joined us, all crying for joy once the door was closed. Then, a solid three hours of waiting. Finally, Jesus came back and escorted the women back to their rooms. When our group was called, he told me and Christine to stay, specifically. He took the rest back to their rooms, and then he came back up, and looked down at the two of us.
"Lisa, you seem rather attached to her."
"And Eric and Mia, too."
"Mia was sold."
"She what?!"
"The man wanted a daughter to raise."
"Oh no!"
"Mia!" Christine flew away from me and yanked the door open. While she ran down the hall, I could only look up stunned at Jesus.
"How could you? How could you sell little Mia?" The window that was barred shut at the end of the hall was no barricade for Christine. She tore the bars right out of the wall and jumped out of the window. Then I ran, Jesus behind me, to the window, and leaned out and looked down and almost fell myself. But the one who loved me caught me. I looked down, and I saw Christine had landed like a cat, and she was running after a car. I could hear her screams to the man driving. "Give her back! Give her back, God damn you!" Then I screamed to the car, hoping Mia would hear me.
"Mia! Open the door and jump out!" The automatic gate was opening. The car was halfway through. I saw a door open on the car.
"Jump out, Mia! Jump out!" She fell out of the car and rolled, and Christine picked her up. The gate was beginning to close.
"Christine, take Mia out of the gate! Go out of the gate!" She looked up at me in fear, and I jumped out the window. Jesus tried to grab me, but he was too late. I heard him call my name in fear. I ran across the courtyard to the gate, already halfway closed. I was approaching Christine and Mia. I took Christine's arm and dragged her through the last quarter of space left between the gate and the wall. I looked back, and I saw Jesus up in the broken window, staring down at me in hurt. I put my fingers to my lips, and I blew him a kiss. Then, I tied the blanket above my chest and took Mia, and we ran around the back. We were running until we couldn't see the horrible building anymore. We walked and walked for miles, and when evening came, we had to dig a burrow in the sand so that nothing would harm us. While Mia slept, Christine and I dug something about five feet deep. At least it was a little cooler in the hole. It was on a diagonal slope, so we could get out if we needed to. I took Mia and took her down into the hole. I laid her in the wettest part, and then I took a few steps up our ramp and looked in all directions. I waited for night to come, and then, off where the sun had set, I could see lights. The lights of civilization. I turned back as Christine called up to me.
"Come and sleep, Mom."
"No. I need to watch in case someone comes. We head west in the morning."
"What's there?"
"City, honey. A city."
"What are we going to do there?"
"We're going to have the time of our lives, honey."
"All right. See you in the morning. Love you, Mom."
"Love you too babe." She went to sleep soon after that. She'd been wiped from our run, and our all-day walk. I was too, but I couldn't sleep. I had to protect them. I had to stay awake. So, I stayed up all night, but nothing seemed to happen.
Just before the sun began to rise, I took Christine and Mia out of the hole and began to fill it in. There was a large dent in the sand, but it would just seem like quicksand. I picked up Mia, and she wrapped her arms around my neck, and then I shook Christine awake with my foot. She opened her eyes very slowly, and rubbed them with miraculously clean hands.
"Are we leaving already?"
"Yes, before we lose track of where the city is. Come on, lovely." I offered her my hand, and she took it and stood. We began to walk once more, in the west, the direction of the city. The lights of the city were dim, but they were still there. Christine took my free hand, and we walked together, as far as we could. This was our second day without water. We would probably begin to hallucinate. Three days and we would be done for. We walked and walked, but it seemed like the city wasn't getting any closer to me. Luckily, I had Christine to tell me otherwise. It was about noon when I could hear the cars in the oasis. Without thinking, I began to run.
"Mom, why are we running?"
"Because, Christine, sound travels at two hundred feet per second. We're so close. Just a little further." And we ran over the last sand dune, and we saw the edge of the miracle. I was panting in unison with Christine, but I couldn't believe it. There was the city below us. I took three steps with Christine, and then I heard a motor behind us. I turned and looked at the sand, but nothing was there. Then I looked up, and there was a helicopter. "Oh shit."
"What?"
"Run." I turned back to the city and I ran as fast as I could, running for the streets. There were cars crowding every single one. But I'd rather take my chances playing chicken with a car than going back to that horrible building. I was running so hard, I felt like my legs were going to collapse on me. My lungs had exploded a while back. I looked back up, and the copter was right on top of us. I saw a tranquilizer barrel come leaning out of its side. "Run faster, Christine, run faster." I looked straight ahead, and the street was there. Mia was holding on tight to my shoulders, and as I approached the curb, a car came in front of me. I leaped onto the hood, and Christine was being dragged along on the side. The car was swerving, and I was holding on to Mia with one hand and Christine with the other. The car gave a hard left and right, consecutively, and I banged my head on the windshield. I heard the glass crack, and I could taste a lot of blood in my mouth.
"Oh God, Mom!"
"Hold on Mia. Christine, when I say now, jump."
"All right." The car gave a left U-turn.
"Now!" She jumped with us, and then I rolled onto my stomach and crawled up onto the hood. I clawed my way to the back window, which was open, and I held on with one hand. Christine and Mia were on each of my legs. I held on for dear life, and the wind whipped my hair as the car gave a final fatal turn. It went rolling. As it flipped upside down once, I let go and pushed off with my hands, taking Mia and Christine with me. We landed while the car was still flying. I scrambled to my feet, and took Christine's hand and Mia's hand, and then I began to run with them. The copter was still searching for us. We were on the inside of the street now, and we were headed for the center of the city. I ran along the sidewalk and into an old, condemned building. I finally stopped running, and I let Mia and Christine collapse with me onto the grimy floor. Then, for no reason, I laughed. I laughed into the air, and then I heard someone land on the roof.
"Mom!"
"Come on, get up. Get up." Christine stood on her feet, and picked up little Mia. I took her, and then we walked out of the doorway and down the street, Christine in front of me to hide the opening in the blanket. We walked until we came to a beautiful apartment building, and we went in the front door, and we sat inside, waiting for the danger to pass. It wasn't long until a car came to a screeching halt in front of the complex, and a frenzied man came running in. He stared at the three of us, then pointed.
"What the hell were you doing on the road?!"
"Nothing. We were just running away."
"From what?"
"Nothing much." I didn't want to tell him about Jesus. I didn't want the powerful man to be put away. I wasn't ready for that yet. He sighed, and came and stood over us.
"Would you like a place to hide away from it for a little while?"
"That would be wonderful. What you got?"
"A penthouse downtown."
"A penthouse?!"
"What's a penthouse?"
"Christine, it's like a really really big apartment."
"Oh. What's an apartment?"
"It's like...like...like the upstairs at the other place."
"Oh. He had an apartment?"
"Somewhat. Anyway, we'll take it. I'm Lisa, this is Christine, and this is little Amelia. We call her Mia. You would be...?"
"John Roberts."
"So glad to meet you." I offered my hand, and he took it in a shake. Then he took the three of us out to his convertible. At first, Christine and Mia were somewhat afraid.
"No, Mommy, I'll blow away."
"No you won't, baby." I laughed at her innocent fear. "You won't blow away, I promise."
"But what if...what if he sees us?"
"He won't, we'll be going too fast."
"Fast? How fast?"
"Faster than we were running, I'll tell you that."
"Really?"
"It's fun, I promise. Come on, now. Here, I'll show you." I put Mia down, and I jumped in over the door and into the front passenger. I put up my arms in emphasis. "It's that easy. But I suggest you open the door."
"Open the door?"
"Yeah, just pull that little metal thing."
"I don't know, Mommy."
"C'mere, Mia." She came to me, and I leaned in to her. "This car is a magic carpet. It will take you to a wonderful palace, where you can be happy, and no one will ever hurt you ever again. You'll have all kinds of food every day, and you can wear pretty dresses, in green and black and purple and orange, all different colors than just grey."
"Really?"
"Really. And, Christine, this is your ticket to meet the men in this city."
"Oh, I've always wanted to see a man my age."
"Oh, you will, baby. And not just your age, my age. Then we can double date."
"What's that?"
"I'm not gonna tell you until you get in the car." When I said that, she opened the car door and climbed in the back seat. Mia followed suit. I leaned back and slammed the door, and they both jumped and cried out in surprise. "Sorry, babes."
"It's all right, Mom."
"Okay, good. Can we go straight to your penthouse, Mr. Roberts?"
"Just John is fine."
"John." He began to drive, and the first thing Christine did was ask me for an answer.
"So, what's double dating?"
"First, do you know what a date is?"
"No."
"It's when a boy and a girl who usually like each other get together and do something, like watch a movie or get something to eat."
"What's a movie?"
"Which do you want to know, double dating or movies?"
"Double dating."
"Well, double dating, you just have two of those pairs. You get me?"
"Yeah."
"Now, at home, I'll show you what a movie is. I think I know of one you would love, Mia."
"What is it?"
"It's called 'Lady and the Tramp'. That was my favorite childhood movie."
"My mom always used to talk about that. My original mom, I mean. She always said she would love it if I could see it, just once. She sang all the songs for me. You know, you sing like my mom. She had a beautiful voice. Just like you, Lisa. I mean, Mom."
"It's good to remember your mother. And I'm going to give her what she could have ever hoped for for you. Tonight, you guys can eat whatever you want, within a budget."
"What's a budget?" I laughed.
"That's something that tells you how much money you can spend."
"What's money?"
"Something you trade in for food and clothes, toys, games, pictures, all sorts of things."
"What's a toy?"
"And a picshure?"
"I'll show you when we get to where we're headed. Hey girls, sit up on the top of the seat. It's a lot of fun." So they did, and I heard their squeals of delight. I kept watch on them in the mirror on my visor, and I talked with John. "Thank you so much for taking us in."
"It's nothing. But that must have been some place you're running away from."
"You wouldn't believe. Even if you saw it, you wouldn't believe."
"I'm sure. Why do they deprive you of everything, where you came from?"
"I'm not really sure. It's almost like...it's like a marriage orphanage. Every woman there was unmarried."
"Women?"
"Yeah. But I really shouldn't say anything about it. It had its good points." Yeah, the lover upstairs. That was about the only good thing.
"Do they even know what...milk is?"
"I'm not sure they quite know what water is."
"Wow."
"It was harsh, but like I said, it had its good points. It wasn't all that bad." I was just glad they couldn't hear, or they would probably give Aaron away.
He pulled into the parking lot of another apartment complex, and I took Mia off the back seat and then jumped out. Christine followed, and he put the top up. They were awed by the sight. He took us up to the penthouse, after signing in with the desk secretary, and showed us the room we would be sleeping in and where everything was. I asked if I could borrow some of his clothes, and he approved. All I wanted was a shirt. He left us money, about five hundred dollars, to go shopping wherever we wanted. I thanked him greatly, while the girls examined the money. I promised him we would be out of his hair as soon as we could. He promised us it wasn't a bother to him, just he needed the Friday nights from five to midnight. I promised him we would be gone for that time but that time only, and we agreed everything was settled. Then, he left, taking his cell phone and pager in case we needed to call him for any reason. I took the money from the girls, and then I went to the fridge.
"All right, little ladies, first lesson. This is where the food goes when you buy it and if there's leftovers." I opened it up, and it was well stocked with a whole variety of things. I could only come to one conclusion after scanning it all: he was a gourmet cook. Grand, then the girls would know both good fast food and good restauraunt food, without the pricy checks at the end of the meal. The girls wanted to touch everything, but I kept them limited to everything on the shelves. No opening drawers or moving anything around, leave everything as is until a later time. While they looked through, I used what I could from the bedroom. A pair of used panties from one of his girlfriends, and a bra from another, and then I pulled on one of his shirts and a pair of girl shorts I found lying in the clothes hamper. I grabbed some sandals, and I walked out with the money in my back pocket.
"All right girls, now we go shopping."
"Where?"
"Where else? The Gap."
"What's that?"
"The best place to find clothes in the world." I thought about it for a second, and then came up with something better. "Then again, we'll go to the mall instead."
"What's a mall?"
"You'll see. Just hold on tight to me when we walk in, okay?"
"Okay." I picked up Mia, and carried her down to the street. I was wary to call a taxi, but I figured I had five hundred bucks, I could spare a little. I put up my hand and hailed the next oncoming taxi. He pulled over, and I put the girls in the back, and climbed in with them.
"Where to?"
"Shortest route to the mall."
"Right then." He put the timer down, and then began to drive. We were there in fifteen minutes. I held the girls from leaving for a second.
"How much?"
"Twenty two fifty."
"All right, hang on a second." I pulled two twenties out of my back pocket and handed it to him. "I'm paying you twenty-five for tip."
"Thanks, lovely." He gave me fifteen dollars in change, and then I put that in my pocket, the five on the outside, and then I got the girls out and looked up at the mall. It must have been at least six stories, but that made it all the better. I gave a hand to Christine and a hand to Mia, and we walked in together. I held on to them as they tried to turn tail and run. The place was huge, with so many people it was amazing. The crowds were awesome, with so many guys. I showed Christine, and she saw and instantly looked down at her dress and began to cringe against me.
"It's all right, babe, we'll get you both some clothes first thing." I held on to them tightly, and took them to a JCPenney. I let them choose three shirts and three pants and three shoes. The shoes were what really cut into the budget. I was left with three hundred fifty, roughly. We were given permission to change into the clothes in the dressing rooms, and then we walked out with my girls sporting their new fashions. I carried the bag on my wrist, and then I stared around, looking for a bookstore.
"Ah ha. Come on, girls, I'll show you some good food while we're at it." I went up to a Greate American Cookie Factory and bought two large M&M-and-chocolate-chip cookies. I swear I had barely put them in their hands than they had tasted them and inhaled them. I laughed, and they begged for more but I had to say no, we're at half budget already so let's wait a little. We were wandering through the mall, when I heard someone yelling.
"Lisa!" Both the girls turned, but I kept walking.
"Mommy, it's Jesus."
"I know. Just keep going, baby."
"Lisa! Don't walk away from me!" I began to walk a little faster, until I felt a heavy hand on my shoulder. The girls and I turned in unison and looked up at him, holding hands together. "What the hell were you doing running away like that?"
"Giving these girls a life, for one. Giving them freedom, and happiness. Something you would never do."
"They are mine. I inherited them from my father."
"They're not just objects! They're living things! They have feelings, they know what's going on around them! Maybe you don't think so, because you're God and all, but it's true. We're not coming back."
"Oh yes you are." He grabbed my shoulder, and I pulled away quickly and screamed.
"Rape!" Three men came up to him and held him away from me, the mall security. I thanked them, and then I walked with the girls, but he continued to call me as they dragged him out of the corridor.
"Lisa, please! I love you! Be Mary Magdalene with me, please! God, please don't leave me forever!" I continued to walk, looking for a bookstore. I soon found a Waldenbooks, and we walked in like a family, and they looked at the pictures while I read over titles. They both would start on a first-grade level, but they would be moving up. I went through children's books on up to young adults. I had about two hundred dollars' worth carried up to the counter and bought. I carried the bag on my other wrist, and walked out with my girls, left with about a hundred and fifty dollars. I figured maybe some fast food, to satisfy their hunger and thirst. I went to the bottom level of the mall, the food court. Christine and Mia saw all the people eating, and their shock and awe was palpable in the air. I grinned and began to walk with them to the McDonald's stand.
"This is the best place you'll ever find food. I think Mia, we'll get you...I know what you guys will love." I went up to the cashier and ordered for all of us, and brought out the twenty-five dollars it needed, and had Christine carry the food to a small table. We sat around it, and I put the bags at our ankles and we began to eat, Mia her Kids' Meal, Christine her double cheeseburger, and me with my Quarter Pounder. They both were absolutely enthralled with the food and their chocolate shakes. We had finished in barely seven minutes. I had Mia go throw it away, and then we went back up and went to a CD store. I chose one CD from every type, the best by popular opinion, and a few of my Disney movie favorites and some of my more recent favorites, about a hundred dollars' worth. I had bought out pretty much to our bottom dollar, and made smart change on the last fifty we had. I took two of the quarters and put them in a separate pocket, and took the girls and the bags to the arcade.
"What's this, Mommy?"
"This, my child, is where the games are kept. The arcade versions, you'll see the home versions soon."
"How do you do it?"
"Well, I'll show you. We'll start with something easy...um..." I decided on the virtual driving game. I went over and put the bags on the floor, guarded by my girls, and I put in two quarters. "This is a car racing game. You press the gas pedal, which is down here,-" I showed them where the gas pedal was "-to select something, and you use the shift, here on your right, to move the stuff around. Now, you should start with automatic, and I'm still not good enough for manual, but it's all good so far. All right, you choose the track you want, select it, and then when the screen has green letters on it, you press down the gas pedal and turn the wheel. Christine, this would be especially easy for you. Mia, we'll find a game suited for you here. All right, this is the demonstration race, so watch closely Christine." I watched the screen for the green word go, and then I pounded the gas pedal with all my weight. I was trying to talk while concentrating on the race. I hadn't done this in ages, so I needed to get used to it first.
"So, Mom, you just select the track press the gas and green means go?"
"Exactly. You know right from left, right?"
"Um...yeah..." She held up her left hand. "Right?" I laughed, finished the race, and then turned to her. I held up both my hands.
"Do this." She obeyed. "Do you know what the letter 'L' is?"
"No."
"Well..." I went behind her, still holding my hands up. I grabbed her left wrist. "This is your left hand. When you start reading, you'll see that it makes an 'L' shape. Just trust me on that. Left, right. Have fun with your race." I put her in the driver's seat, and then I put her in charge of the bags while I took Mia by the hand and walked to the middle of the arcade, staring around for something good...
"Mommy, what's that?" She pointed to the Skee-Ball game.
"Oh, perfect. Come on, lovely." I took her and I put her in front of one of the rows, and put two quarters into it. Loud music started up, loud annoying music, and then the balls came rolling down. I picked one up and put it in her hand. "Okay, what you do, you're gonna bring your hand back like this,-" I moved her arm to show her "-and then you're gonna bring it forward to right about here, where you let go. You want me to show you?"
"Yeah." She handed me the ball and moved to the side instantly. I laughed, and I went in front. But I didn't look at the thing, I looked at her.
"Ok, now watch my arm. You're gonna bring it back like this-" I showed her once again "-and then you're gonna bring it to about here and let go. I'm gonna do it now, okay?"
"Okay." I turned to the machine, and I brought it back in perfect form, and I slid the ball up the ramp and into the fifty. The machine rang about twenty times. I grinned in pleasure, and turned to her.
"You wanna get it in the one I just got it in, okay?"
"Okay." She took up a ball, and took my place, and she slid it up so perfectly. She made it into the thirty, which surprised me a lot. I barely expected her to make it to the ten.
"Awesome, baby!"
"I didn't make the small one, though!"
"Oh, mine was just a lucky shot. You just wanna go as small as you can, okay?"
"Okay."
"I'm gonna go check on Christine, you stay here, okay?"
"Okay." I ran over to Christine, and I saw her stuck in a turn.
"Mom, I can't get out!"
"Hold down the gas and give me the wheel." She let go, and I took it in one hand and steered her out of it. "Now get to the finish line, lovely. You can do it." She took the wheel in her hands once more, and at least made it in third place. Pretty awesome for her first try.
"Oh my God!"
"You did it, lovely!"
"I didn't even expect to finish!" She laughed, and turned and hugged me. She heard the loud music, and turned. She saw Mia playing the Skee-Ball game. "What's that?"
"A lot of fun. Come on." I grabbed the bags in one hand and her wrist in the other, and I took her over to the Skee-Ball game. I put in two quarters, showed her really quickly how to do it, and then she threw the ball and got it to the ten. I applauded her sincerely.
"Oh, Mom, this is fun!"
"Baby, you're gonna be a pro in no time!" I hugged her really quickly, and then little Mia, and then I heard a great crash in the front of the store. I turned, and I saw a familiar man staring around at the silenced people. Mia and Christine both grabbed me suddenly.
"He's back, Mom, he's back."
"Mommy!"
"It's okay, babes, it's okay. We're gonna be fine."
"I'm scared, Mommy."
"It's all right, nothing's gonna happen." I put an arm around each of them, and held on to them as he came up to us in the arcade. We only stood there, and he pointed to us and said one word.
"Stay." He turned to the rest of the room, and stared at all of them. I could smell his anger. "The rest of you, leave. Now." His power sent them running. I watched his eyes as he turned back to me. They were red. He'd cried. The thought made me shiver. "All of you are going to come with me back to the city now."
"We are in the city. And we're perfectly happy here."
"You know what I mean."
"We're not going with you. We'll never go with you."
"I will get you, Lisa. I'll find you where you are, and I'll get you."
"You poor, sick man." I reached a hand up to his neck and ran my hand over his skin. He closed his eyes for a brief moment, and opened them. He bent his head and kissed me. I held on tightly to my girls until he pulled away.
"Lisa, I love you. I don't want to lose you."
"That's the only reason you hid me upstairs with the rest of those women. So you could sell little Mia. You don't seem to understand the concept of human life. Were you ever out of that place either?"
"My father put me in charge when I was seventeen. I never had a chance to leave."
"Take that chance now. At least for a day, experience what those women your father took in were able to experience. Just for a day, Aaron. That's all."
"I can't. I have to take care of them."
"Then understand, you can't take me, or the girls."
"Oh, but I have one thing you don't."
"What would that be? To be feared? We don't want that, we want to be recognized for doing good, not evil."
"It's not that. I have Eric." I felt my heart skip a beat at the thought.
"Mommy?"
"Mom, you have to get him out of there. Whatever it takes."
"Listen to your daughters, lovely. Get your son out of there." I sighed, and then I pushed Mia and Christine away from me gently. I knelt down to Mia.
"Lovely, I love you. Don't forget, the magical queen can always find a way. Her Siren will come back. It's a promise." I kissed her and hugged her, and stood and turned to Christine. "You know how to count, babe?"
"I know one through ten. My mom taught me."
"Good. Here, take the money." I dropped all the bills in her hands, and she put them in her pockets, and then I gave her all the change for the arcade and the phone. I slipped a receipt out of one of the bags, and took her to the arcade counter. I took a pen from the other side, and wrote down two numbers. I handed it to her folded up. "I want you to take Mia with you, and call the first number. Tell him to come to the mall and get you and take you back to his apartment. Then have him call the second number, okay? Tell him to say he wants a son and a wife." She nodded, confused, but she would find out my plan soon. I kissed her on the forehead and hugged her, and then I looked over at Aaron. Poor little Mia was dragging the two-ton bags while he walked up to me without noticing her. Christine ran to help her, and got them up to where we were.
"I don't have time for long goodbyes, Lisa."
"I'm almost done." I crouched down to Mia once more, and hugged her and kissed her, and then I went to Christine and did the same. Then, Aaron took my hand and kissed my neck.
"You made the right choice, Lisa."
"I love you girls." I kissed my fingers and touched both of their cheeks, and then Aaron finally dragged me away from them. He took me to the roof of the mall, where a settled copter was waiting. He put me in, and strapped me down into one of the seats. He strapped himself in next to me, and took my hand as the copter took off. He took me back to the horrible place, and in to his penthouse, as Christine had so properly put it. He brought me my clothes and handed them to me. I slipped out of the ones I had borrowed, and into those grotesque clothes he had made a uniform. I looked up at him, and he pressed himself up against me and kissed me. I pulled away, and turned and ran out of the penthouse and down to the room I was trapped in. I collapsed on my bed and cried. I cried so hard. My girls were alone in the big city, never been there before. Good God, how could I have left with him? Because I didn't have any other choice. I cried and cried until I could cry no more, and then I just lay there, my eyes all dried up, my heart still full of so much pain, but I couldn't show it anymore except in facial expression.
I heard the door open, and I rolled onto my side and looked. Eric was standing there. His glasses were still fogged from crying, and dirty and smudged. I sat up and smiled at the sight.
"Oh, Eric." I opened my arms to him, and he came running to me. We both began to cry then, from the loss of our adopted kin and the knowledge we weren't going to be out of here for a while at least. I finally pulled him away and looked down at his face. His glasses looked like a fog made out of pea soup, and I couldn't help but giggle. "Here, baby, let me help you with those." I took them off his face, and held them to my mouth and breathed on them. Then I took up some cloth from my dress and gently rubbed them. I did the same with the other lens, and then I put them back on his face. I could see his innocent brown eyes again. "That's better."
"Momma, I missed you."
"I missed you too, baby. I was gonna get you out of here, I really was. If I could have just stayed away long enough, I would have gotten you out of here."
"I know you would have."
"But then he got me again. The girls are still in the city. But we'll be there soon."
"I don't know that we can."
"We will. We're going to be bought by a wonderful man who will help us. Trust me." We sat hugging each other on the bed, and then the door opened, and one of the large men came and took us both up to the upstairs. We were forced to stand in the middle of the kitchen, while Jesus talked on the phone to a man.
"All right, they're both here now...Are you sure you want to talk to them? They're not exactly...All right, it's your loss." He gave me the phone, and left the room, to both mine and Eric's surprise. I put the phone to my ear.
"That you breathing on the other end, Lisa?"
"It's me."
"How much do you think it will be?"
"I don't know. But I can tell you it's probably not gonna be cheap."
"Why not? Someone I know on level three bought one for two hundred dollars."
"It's a different case with me. He loves me."
"So how much would that make it for you?"
"Probably at least a thousand. And Eric comes as part of a set, I'm sure Mia wasn't cheap."
"Let me talk to him, he might have a better idea." I turned down and handed the phone to Eric.
"You know how to use this thing?"
"Yeah, you put this part in your ear and this part at your mouth and talk."
"Yeah, but someone's gonna be talking in your ear."
"Really?!" His eyes grew wide behind his glasses, and he held the phone to his ear. "Hello?" He jumped at the voice on the other line, then brought it back to his ear again. "Yes, this is Eric...I don't know, I know my friend was three thousand and he was one of a twin set...I'm not really sure...Oh wait, there was one girl, she was the oldest of three, and she got sold for fifteen hundred. But I guess that's nothing cheap...Okay." He gave the phone back to me, and I held it to my ear.
"This is gonna be a lot of money on me."
"I'll pay it back to you, every cent. You don't have to feed us except once a week, but please, you have to get us out of here. You're our only hope."
"Hey!" I jumped and I saw Aaron in the doorway. He came up to me and wrenched the phone out of my hand. "I'm sorry, that's the wrong girl...These men, they don't know an ass from a face, what are you gonna do, you know?...Yeah, sorry for the mix-up. But hey, we got plenty more, you know where to drive if you need one. Adios." He hung up the phone, and then stared at me with such anger in his eyes, such fury. He grabbed Eric by an ear and threw him at the wall near the door without even looking. He was taken away, and I was left with Aaron. "What the hell were you doing, Lisa?"
"Trying to get back to my daughters."
"Your daughters?!"
"They agreed to call me mom, I figured it was mutual I call them my children."
"Don't you even dare."
"Why do you care? You don't give a damn about them anyway."
"I care because I love you." He wrapped his hand around the back of my neck and head. I forced the touch away. His eyes flashed with hatred. "All right, that's it. Lisa, you're going to lose your son too. He's the next one to leave this building, within the week, and I don't care how I have to do it." Then he threw me against the wall, and I felt a familiar short spurt of blood from my mouth. Except something was wrong this time. It kept on coming. I held back my coughs, but as soon as I was a floor down, I began to cough into my hands, literally cups of blood as I made my way down the stairs. I collapsed at the bottom floor, and I kept coughing. Soon a pool of blood was between my hands. I felt someone's hands helping me to stand and taking me back to my room. I shivered as something slithered down the back of my neck, and I felt a hand pressing at the base of my skull. I laid flat, my head turned to the side. There were fingers shifting my hair around, very gently, and soft voices all around me. I could make out very few of them.
"She's not gonna last much longer."
"We gotta tell the boss."
"He won't do anything for her."
"Oh yes he will. He's playing favorites with her, haven't you noticed? And remember what he called her on Christine's birthday?"
"Someone go get him!" I felt something soft on the back of my head, and another was placed beneath my cheek to catch the blood. It wasn't long until I heard a loud bang, and footsteps. Then, someone else was carrying me, running with me and making blood come up faster. I knew I was losing a lot of blood. I heard someone giving out orders, and I opened my eyes and looked at the face. He looked back down at me and brushed my cheek, so gently.
"I'm sorry, lovely." I closed my eyes and turned away, and I felt someone tearing clothes away from my body and replacing them with new ones, and then when I opened my eyes again, the room was pure white. It was calm, so quiet. I was lying on my back. I rolled to the side and I coughed, and I saw a small spatter of blood fall to the floor. I felt a hand on my shoulder, laying me flat on my back again.
"Where am I?"
"In the hospital. They need to get you some more blood, and they say that you'll be fine in a few days."
"What about Christine? And Mia, and Eric? You haven't hurt them, have you?"
"No."
"Good." I turned my head away and coughed again. "How did I end up here?"
"I threw you. You hit the wall, and that reopened the wound you got from running away from me. There was so much blood, all through the complex."
"You can't have hurt me. You love me."
"I do love you, with all my heart. But you wouldn't let me touch you."
"That's impossible. Why would I do that?"
"You were angry, lovely. You were very angry with me."
"I can't get angry at you."
"You were." I turned my head and coughed again.
"Bring them here."
"Who?"
"Christine, Mia, Eric. Bring them here, I want to see them."
"They can't come."
"Why the hell not?"
"Christine and Mia are still gone. Eric was sold."
"Why did you sell him? He belongs with Mia and Christine."
"I know. That's why I would only sell him to one man."
"Thank you, Aaron. Thank you so much." I felt his kiss on the side of my neck, and I turned away and coughed once more. I felt his hand wrap around mine, a tender gesture. I looked up at him, and I held my breath. He kissed me for a very brief time, and then pulled away.
"Oh, lovely, I'm so sorry."
"It's not your fault." I turned away from him and coughed. "You didn't mean to."
"I love you so much."
"I love you too." I heard a door open somewhere on the other side of the room, and then I closed my eyes, and sighed. Life could be good, and it could be bad. Today, despite the circumstances, it was a good day.
I opened my eyes lying in my bed. There was a girl sitting on the edge, watching over me. She saw my eyes open, and then she yelled out the door. I tried to sit up, but she put a hand on my shoulder and put me back down.
"You shouldn't do that, Lisa. They say it's bad for you to move too much."
"Where am I?"
"Back home."
"Mia, Christine, Eric."
"We're here." I felt three separate hands on my arm, and I turned to them. I smiled up at them, and pursed my lips in three kisses.
"You're safe. I'm glad."
"He hasn't tried to hurt us once. The day you came back, he bought us all."
"Mommy, I missed you."
"I missed you too, Mia."
"How much longer before we can play again, Momma?"
"When the next potential customer comes."
"That won't be for a long time."
"Why not?"
"It's raining."
"It's what?"
"He's got five women up there with him. All of them from this group."
"Oh, no." I sat up, and I stood, and I staggered my way to the door. But my children and Laura were trying to get me back to the bed.
"Mom, don't."
"I've gotta go and help those women."
"No, you're more important."
"I've gotta help them, get off me!" I yelled at them for the first time, and they all let go instantly. I went and I struggled just trying to find the doorknob. When I finally had, I opened it, and I went zig-zagging down the hall, alone. I went looking for the stairs, and I began to climb, all the way to the upstairs, and down to the end of the hall. I listened at the door, and I heard screams on the other side. I hit my shoulder up against the door about three times before I banged my head on it, real hard. I groaned and slid down to the floor. The door opened, and someone was able to catch me before I hit the floor. They dragged me in and up to the bed, sending the other women out.
"Lovely, do I have to lock you up just to make you better?"
"Don't hurt any more women." I sat up, and I looked at the man. He was dressed, to my surprise. I nearly fell back, but caught myself on my arm.
"Lovely, you have to get better. I'm going to keep you here until you do."
"I'm fine, I don't need to get better."
"You lost so much blood. You have to just rest. Please."
"I'm fine. Promise me you won't hurt any more women."
"I can't promise you that."
"Promise me!"
"I can't, lovely. Not until you get better."
"If I get better, will you promise me?"
"Yes. But I'm going to keep you up here, just in case."
"Just do me a favor." I slipped my arm out and let myself fall flat onto the bed. I laid on my side, and he came and rolled me onto my back.
"What favor?"
"Stay with me until I'm better."
"I will." I felt a small kiss on my lips, and then I felt his hand over my breast. I fell asleep before I felt anything else.
I woke up with someone sleeping beside me. I felt significantly stronger than before. I sat up, and my head instantly spun again. I fell back on the bed, and I felt the one beside me wake up. He moaned softly.
"What's wrong, lovely?"
"Nothing, just burning up." I rolled onto my stomach and pulled the back of the dress open. I was able to slip that off easy enough, but it was the damn corset that made me frustrated. I fumbled with the strings for about five minutes before I felt someone else saving me the all-nighter. I slipped out of the corset, and I rolled onto my back again, and slipped out of the rest of the stuff without doing what I normally would have, namely untying the petticoats and pantaloons and everything else. I kicked them off the bed, and I turned my head to the side and looked at the one next to me. He put his hand over my breast again, and I felt his fingers begin to knead my flesh.
"Do you remember our first night?"
"I remember well."
"Do you remember exactly how it happened?"
"I was up against the wall, crying, and-"
"Demonstrate to me." So I did, pulling myself up against the head of the bed. I took the top blanket and wrapped it around my body.
"And I was wrapped in a blanket, and I said I was sorry. Then, you knelt in front of me..."
"Like this?" He did his own demonstration, and I nodded.
"Like that. And then, when I thought the worst of the night was to come, it peaked."
"Like this." And once again, he slid me up his thighs, and I felt him entering me once more. He dragged me flat on the bed once more, and played with my breasts once more, just like my first night with him. It was heaven and hell at the same time. I listened to his breathing and his heartbeat, and I waited for a familiar feeling I couldn't explain. It came once more, just like that first night. I sighed as he pulled out of me and laid beside me, his arm over me. He took a side of the blanket I'd wrapped myself in, and brought it over his body. I felt his cock against my hip, still hard. I rolled onto my side, and I felt him pressing into my ass, ready to do me like Daddy again. But I pulled away at an unfamiliar shot of pain, and he didn't force me to take it. I felt his arm over my side, and he held me against him, and I waited until I was asleep again before I let my mind wander.
I woke up late the next morning. He was still beside me in bed, still holding me against him. I moved away a little, and he let me go. He called one of his men behind me, and I heard the words "city" and "variety" and "food" in the same sentence. I smiled, and I leaned over my shoulder and kissed him once his cronie had left us. When I pulled away, I felt his nose in my hair.
"What was that for?"
"Because I love you." I heard his happy sigh, and I heard a knock at the door.
"Who is it?"
"Christine, sir."
"Come in." He pulled away from me as the door opened, and I sat up on one elbow and looked down at her. She came over to me and wrapped her arms around my shoulders. I hugged her back, and then she kissed me on my cheek.
"I missed you, Mom."
"I missed you too, babe."
"When will you be back downstairs?"
"Soon, very soon. I promise." She smiled at me and hugged and kissed me again, and then turned to Jesus.
"Sir, there's a man here. He says he wants to buy a wife."
"Bring me my men." She nodded, gave me a final hug, and then left the room. Soon one of his bigger men came into the room.
"Wutchoo need, boss?"
"Send one of your guys to the customer, and get my regulars out of the rooms. And don't let him see the children."
"No children?"
"No."
"Why not, boss?"
"We don't want him taking any away. This is the low point in breeding season. We can't be low on girls who are going to move up." He grunted in response, and left us alone once more. I looked over my shoulder at him.
"I hope that was a lie."
"What?"
"That shit about breeding season."
"Of course."
"Good." I laid back down again, and I felt his arm heavy on my side, his hand around my breast. "What is the reason?"
"I don't want him to take your children away."
"Thank you." I closed my eyes in the warm sunlight, and I listened to the morning pass. He sold three girls for nine hundred dollars, and I prayed for mercy on them. The copter returned from the city just a little while before noon, with so much food, according to rumor from the children unloading, it would have lasted them for the rest of their lives. Then, twelve o'clock, and lunch, came rolling over. I was brought one of my favorites of the fast food-junk food market: Pizza Hut deep-dish pepperoni and sausage extra cheese pizza with garlic breadsticks and garlic sauce for dipping. I shared my lunch with my lover, and we enjoyed a plentiful conversation along with it.
"I don't need all this."
"You need to get your strength back."
"All right, if you insist." I smiled and took a piece of the deep-dish and took a bite off the tip. He tore the strand of cheese still attached to the slice off the end and put it in his mouth, and he began to pull it in by means of his tongue. I played along, and we played the spaghetti scene from 'Lady and the Tramp' quite passionately. I laughed when he pulled away, and hummed a verse from 'Della Notte'. "Why did you demand so much for me?"
"You will need more once you've gotten your strength back. And your clothes are going to be transferred."
"Where?"
"The maternity ward."
"What makes you think that?"
"When you were at the hospital, I called for an ultrasound. They called for a sure thing."
"Great, and it's going to be the next Jesus, right?"
"I can only hope so."
"Do I get any say in the matter?"
"No."
"Damn." He laughed as I took another bite of the pizza. It seemed like years since I had had Pizza Hut pizza. And boy, was I reveling in it now. I remembered the short time in the outside world I'd been able to have with Christine and Mia. That had been so wonderful. God, the best time of my life. Nothing would beat it, not anything. I smiled at the memory. He moved my wrist and took his own fair share of the slice in one bite. He had torn it off, and I brought it just out of his reach. He looked at me in mock indignation.
"What? No more for me?"
"No more for you, you got it."
"Why the hell not?"
"You ate half the pizza in that one slice, I'm scared to give you the rest." He laughed again, and brought me up against him. He took my arm with the hand that held the pizza by his chin.
"I get all I want." He took another bite from the pizza, and sneered at me. I pulled away and laughed. I stuffed what was left of the first slice-the crust-in my mouth, and then I picked up the next slice. He stole it from me before I had even gotten started.
"Hey!" He laughed and took a bite, taunting me. I laughed, and then I took it back from him and took a large bite. One of his men came into the room before he could take it back.
"Boss, the trio wants to see their mother."
"Should I, lovely?"
"Oh yes, bring them in." He looked at his worker and nodded, and then my three children came running into the room. I handed him back the pizza slice he had taken, and gave them each a hug. The first thing Mia did was climb into the bed beside me. I took the pizza slice, and offered it to her. She hestitated at first.
"What is it?"
"When I took you out of here, did I show you things you didn't like?"
"No."
"This is as good as that stuff." She took it in her mouth, just a corner she could reach, and bit down. I think her core temperature rose about three degrees, and she turned to the other two and smiled. I looked at Christine and offered it to her. She took it eagerly and took a large bite. She seemed to like it too. She passed it like a peace pipe to Erik, who hesitated, and then saw the urging looks on his sisters' faces, and took a large bite. I took it back from him then, and listened to their praise and their pleas for more. I looked at Jesus, and he nodded. I gave them each a piece of the pizza, and they inhaled it in about ten minutes, which was good because they took their time somewhat instead of eating it all at once. They begged for more even, but then Jesus had them taken outside to exercise, one hour no more. Then he stole the piece I was holding from my hands and put as much as he could in his mouth and bit it off. "Hey!" He laughed while trying to chew, and I took the piece back and kissed him. "You take much more than that and you're gonna choke." He swallowed it whole somehow, then.
"I'll die happy as long as I'm with you."
"Let me ask you a question." I took another bite of my pizza.
"What?" I offered it to him, and he took another bite, small for him.
"Why didn't you love any other women before me?"
"I think you're the first one that actually fought me. I like spite. But none of these women have it."
"My girls and my son are going to be taught to fight for what they believe in. If you go for any of them, I swear I'll kill you, and I'm not kidding." He laughed, and I felt his kiss on the side of my neck.
"You haven't kidded me yet, baby." We finished off the pizza together, in pretty much the same way, but enjoying every moment of it.
"I desire more."
"Like what?"
"Amusement."
"I've got your amusement right here." He began to tickle my sides, and I brought my knees up laughing, trying to get his fingers away from my skin.
"Oh God, no!"
"Aha, now I know your weak spot!"
"Oh God, stop please!" I tried to get away from him, but he brought me back and tickled me more vigorously.
"I'm going to start doing this for your punishment!"
"Oh God! No no no please stop!" I was laughing so hard I could barely breathe. Almost no sound was coming from my throat.
"This is fun, I like this!"
"This is torture, stop!" I screamed laughter through the room, and then I heard the door open and bang loudly. But he ignored it, and continued to tickle me.
"Baby, you're cute when you laugh!"
"Just tell me a good joke, don't tickle!" I rolled onto my stomach, and he began to tickle my sides and my inner thighs. I laughed so hard I was crying. I saw the girl in the doorway was Mia. She was staring at the two of us in awe. He got beneath my stomach and tickled me more, and I bit down on the mattress trying to calm down. I saw Mia go running down the stairs, and he continued to tickle me.
"We should do this to all the women here! I never knew how cute a girl could be when she laughs!"
"Please just tell me a joke! Don't tickle, don't tickle!" I squealed in delightful torture and rolled onto my back, laughing and kicking past either of his sides. I heard thundering footsteps, and I looked up and I saw my children looking in, watching me. I kept pushing at his hands, and then I finally got a hold on his wrists, and I was able to get his hands off me. I brought my feet up under me and sat up on his thighs, so close to his face. He was smiling with such joy. "No more tickling." I was still giggling as I said that, and then I was able to get a good look at his face when I had completely calmed down. "You know, you're real cute when you smile like that. You look your age." I let his arms go, and he put his hands on my waist.
"How old am I?"
"Young. Not much older than me. Early twenties, I'd say."
"I'm two thousand two years old."
"It's not hard to do the math, genius. How old are you really?"
"Twenty."
"Sweet. Not too far from my age at all, I was right." I wrapped my arms around his shoulders and brought myself even closer to him. "It's still raining, isn't it?"
"I sure hope so, 'cause I don't want this to ever stop." We kissed as a flash of lightning released a deafening clap of thunder around the whole premises. He pushed me back flat on the bed, and I heard a gasp from the doorway. I looked up at the trio standing there. Little Mia and Eric had their faces buried in Christine's stomach. She was staring at us in awe, confusion, and fear. All her feelings seemed pure, and justified. I sat up, and brought his face close to mine again. "Something wrong?"
"Yes, my kids have been watching for I don't know how long."
"We can fix that." He called over my shoulder for one of his men. They came and took my children by their shoulders instinctively. He was told to take them to Laura, and so he did. Then, Aaron and I were left alone, the doors closed and locked from the inside.
"He won't hurt them, will he?"
"No. He won't hurt them."
"Good. Because I would have to hurt him if he did." He laughed and kissed me.
"I think that highly unlikely."
"I don't." I pressed my lips against his again, and he brought me down to the mattress once more. I felt his hands on my breasts, kneading like our first night together. I ran my hands over his chest, his smooth chest, and I felt his heart beating beneath my fingers. I smiled at the feeling, and then I felt his lips moving down my neck. I wrapped my legs around his, wanting this to be over with. God, this was wonderful. Our first time of actually making love, not a gentle rape but actually making love. This was a real breakthrough, not only for me and him but for the rest of the women in the complex. It meant he didn't have to rape anymore. I felt his lips press against my still-healing nipple, and gently flick the scar with his tongue. I moaned softly as he bit just a little, just so I could feel it, so gently. There was another clap of thunder, and he went to my other nipple. His right hand played with my left breast, not hurting me at all. I felt his left hand down in my pussy, and I opened my eyes and found my back curled away from the bed. I stared up at the ceiling, and watched as it flashed on and off in the storm. I sighed heavily, and then the door banged open with thunder. He pulled away from me slowly, and looked over at the man in the doorway.
"Boss, we got a group getting together in the conference hall. Sounds like the topic of discussion is..." There was silence, but Aaron seemed to get the idea without words.
"Break them up. Work them outside, two hours. They're gonna learn." I heard the doors close, and he looked down at me again.
"Think about it, Aaron."
"About what?"
"Why they would be talking about me. My daughters and son were watching for some amount of time. We don't know how much they saw. What if they're getting together to help me escape?"
"Why would they do that?"
"Do you remember the day after our first time?"
"You cried so much that day."
"They thought you were hurting me up here. Just stop playing favorites with me, and they won't get any more groups."
"I just don't think you're ready to go down there just yet. You're still weak."
"I can be strong." I sat up and kissed him, but then I began to fall back. He caught me before I hit the bed and the foot.
"You see? You're weak."
"I'm just tired." I went and crawled back to the top of the bed, and I laid down and closed my eyes. "Wake me up after I've woken up."
"Then there's no point."
"Exactly." I sighed, and I felt his arm over my side. He did love me, but I didn't understand why. I fell asleep trying to figure it out.
I woke up at sunset, and the sun was shining bright orange in my eyes. Aaron was still beside me, asleep. I closed my eyes and waited until the sun was just below the horizon to open them again. When I did, Laura was standing over me.
"Come on. The men are all away."
"I'm fine here, thanks."
"What? What are you saying? We have to hide you now."
"Really, I'm fine. Just go on, I'll be back soon."
"But, your kids said-"
"I could tell you exactly what happened, if I wanted to. But I'm too tired right now. I need to sleep. Until then, good day." I closed my eyes again, and I heard her walk out of the room. When I heard the door close, the arm over my side slipped away.
"Lisa, go down there. Get your clothes and go down there."
"But I don't want to go down there."
"I'm telling you to go down there. Go down there now."
"Only because I love you." I rolled onto my other side and kissed him, very quickly, and then I went and grabbed my clothes and got dressed as fast as I could. But that goddamn corset slowed me down. I was trying to string it up for about fifteen minutes, and then he came and did it for me.
"Do you just never take these off? Is that why you have so much trouble?"
"That would be the reason." He finished lacing it up, and then I pulled on the rest of my clothes with ease. I went to the door, and then I felt his hand on my shoulder, and his kiss on my neck.
"I do love you, Lisa. More than you can ever know."
"I know." I turned back to him and kissed him once more, and then I left him. I was taken down to the maternity ward, where there were women still with a flat stomach, some that looked a little chubby, and those that didn't have to wait much longer. I was put at the far end, far away from the door. I fell back on my new bed and looked out the barred window. I had been out there once, free once. I would probably have had to wait a little longer before I would have gotten pregnant, but I still would have. But now, I was trapped in this horrible place, that was beginning to seem not so horrible. I fell asleep late that night, waking up every so often to footsteps down the hall. But nothing really happened at all until just before dawn.
I was awake and on my side, staring at the farthest wall over the stomach of the woman in the bed adjacent to mine. I heard a door open, and a few of the women sat up in horror. I heard footsteps through the halls, and they stopped at the foot of my bed. There were two voices whispering.
"She's just conceived, just a few days ago."
"I'll take her. How much?"
"Fifty thousand dollars."
"What?!" The new man's yell woke every woman in the room.
"Fifty thousand, no less. Take it or leave it."
"It better be worth it." I heard a few steps, and then I saw my love kneeling before me. He helped me to sit up, and then to stand. He handed me to the newcomer, and then we walked to the upstairs. I was taken up to the bedroom, and there I had to take off my clothes and lie on the bed. Both were scanning me with lustful eyes, and then the new man came forward, taking off his jeans. I looked up at the ceiling and closed my eyes. I held in the urge to cry out has he raped me, so roughly and hard, unlike Aaron, who had given it to me gently. I pressed my lips together as a wave of pain came over me, so suddenly I almost lost my tongue. I heard Aaron shift his feet; either he was turning around or his leg got tired. I felt the new man pull away from me, and I opened my eyes and relaxed my mouth again. I refused to look down from that point on.
"How much just for rental?"
"Why would you need to rent her?"
"To show my ex."
"Three thousand a day."
"Three thousand?!"
"No less."
"It's not worth it. I'll just take one of the fat ones with an excuse."
"Go and take your pick. I need to do a follow-up on her." I heard the door open and close, and then I looked down at my lover. He came to my side, and took my hand. "I'm sorry, lovely. He was a spur-of-the-moment, I didn't have time to get you out."
"I understand." He reached his hand down between my thighs, still watching my eyes, and he felt the sticky blood on his fingers. He shook his head.
"I don't care what the women think, you're staying up here until you're well again."
"I wish I could stay until I gave birth."
"Maybe I could arrange something." I smiled at him, and leaned forward and kissed him. I heard the door open, and someone was panting.
"Boss, we got a problem.
"What is it?"
"The guy who was gonna buy, he just stole."
"Who'd he take?"
"Christine. The new one." I snapped my neck in the worker's direction, and I felt my eyes turn to ice.
"I hope to God you're kidding."
"I'm not. We're in a lockdown right now, but he's got her tied up and he's tryin' to break out of a window. He's got a knife and he's threatenin' to kill her."
"Kill him first, then. And take his car into the front lot." The worker left, and the door closed, and my lover crawled over me and to the other side of the bed. I looked at him and watched him as he stripped, and once he was completely bare I went into the comfort of his arms.
"If he takes my Christine, I'll kill him myself without the aid of a tool."
"Believe me, lovely, you would regret it soon after."
"No I wouldn't."
"Why did you run that first night we had together?"
"I was scared. God, I was scared to death."
"I loved you as much then as I do now."
"And I the same. I just didn't want it to happen then. I didn't think it should have been like that."
"Would you still not love me, if you could?"
"I don't know. I just don't know anymore." The door opened once more, and I saw Christine, Mia, and Eric in the doorway. They came forward tentatively, and I rolled onto my other side as they came beneath the blankets with us. Mia was right up against me.
"Mommy, I'm scared."
"What's wrong, baby?"
"I had a bad dream."
"Aw, poor baby. Do you wanna tell mommy what happened?"
"No. I just need a buncha hugs."
"All right." I had my arm over her side, and I squeezed her gently in a brief hug, and then I relaxed.
"Momma?"
"Yes, Eric?"
"Were you being hurt...before?"
"No. Jesus and I were playing." They all gasped at what I said.
"You were playing? With Jesus?" Christine's eyes were wide, and I knew her trauma from tonight would only add to her nervousness.
"I'll play with you guys like we were later. I'll show you how innocent it is."
"Just tell us when you're going to."
"Mom?"
"Yes, Christine?"
"The first night you...I mean, the day after...during the funeral feast, you said that you knew who had missed the passing rain."
"Yes."
"Who was it?"
"I don't think you're ready to know yet, Christine. Not just yet."
"Yes I am."
"Maybe soon. Try and sleep now." And so, Christine and Eric laid down, both trying to keep as far away from Jesus as possible. I could feel Mia's relaxed body beneath my arm, already asleep, but Christine and Eric took longer. I could tell by their breathing. But they were asleep by dawn, and I soon followed them into dreamland.
I was standing on a small stool, looking in a long mirror while a woman worked on the dress I was wearing. It was absolutely lovely, shining golden cloth and covered in gold dragees in intricate designs all over the skirt and arms and torso. The sleeves were long, with a triangle over the back of my hand, a string to keep the design stiff that went around my middle finger. The cuff was lined with a thin strand of golden colored lace, and a line of evenly-spaced dragees just beneath that. Most of my hair was waving down my shoulders in soft waves, shining with the golden sheer cloth hanging all around. The rest of my hair was on my head in a bun, at the highest point on my skull. The cloth over my head had a halo of the dragees all around the top of my head. It looked like something from the sixteenth century England. I looked down at the woman working on the dress, finishing the hem, the very last part of the dress.
"When is the ceremony?"
"Noon." I looked out the window, and I could still see an early blue sky. It looked like we had plenty of time. The door behind us opened, and I looked in the mirror and I saw Christine. Her eyes were wide, staring at me. I turned around and looked back at her. The skirt she wore was the same idea as mine, billowing out like a bell, with a small, narrow torso. It was a beautiful green silk, lined with sequins at the waist and along the arms. She was a few years older, or probably just filled out more. Her hair was placed atop her head in a bun, with two locks on the sides of her face, dyed blonde, in contrast to the shocking black of her hair, and twisting around in curls. Her breath was somewhat shallow, and I smiled at her.
"Do you like it?"
"You're beautiful." She could only stare at me for a moment, and then turned slowly for me. "What about me?"
"Still the most beautiful girl in the world." I heard the woman working on my dress sigh in relief.
"Done, Lisa. Now I have to go get dressed in an hour and a half."
"Would you like some help, Marge?"
"I've got all the help I'll need from my girl. Thank you, though."
"If you need a hand, just call me."
"I can't call the bride." She stood and left me and Christine. I stepped off the pedestal, and Christine came forward and hugged me.
"I can't believe you're marrying him, Mom."
"I didn't believe it myself, at first. But, after all that happened, I think it's the right choice to make."
"Do you think he'll let them go?"
"I think he'll change the rules. I don't think he'll let them go."
"Why not? Why won't he let them go?"
"Because, he still believes he has to follow in his father's legacy. But, at least he'll let them out in groups now."
"They have so much fun when they can leave."
"And their daughters will have it easy, and their daughters after that, and their daughters after that, until the earth disappears and there is no more life to live."
"Will you be there, Mom?"
"No, lovely. I won't be there."
"Will I?"
"No, of course not."
"What about Mia?"
"No. None of us will be there. We're going to be together in Heaven to accept the blessed souls." She finally pulled away from me, and her eyes looked wet, like she wanted to cry.
"Mom, there's so many things going through my head right now. But, there's only one that I'm really scared of."
"What's that?"
"You're going to be married, but I'm never going to be married. I'm going to be trapped here."
"You just wait. Sometimes life will give you something good." I smiled at her, and she smiled back and I saw a tear fall down her cheek. I wiped it away with my fingers, and she hugged me again. The door opened again, and one of the large men was there.
"One more hour, Lisa. You both might want to get down there now."
"We'll be right there." He closed the door once more, and then I pulled away and looked at Christine again. "When I went to see my mom, and she found out I was getting married, God, she threw a fit, but then she gave me some advice. She told me, 'The church is the gateway to Heaven, and marriage is the assurance you'll make it in. You're doing this because you love him, so you'll make it through, for better, for worse, in sickness and health, and only in death will you part.' You may not be getting married just yet, but I think you can use that. Don't forget it, all right?" She shook her head at me.
"I won't, Mom." She hugged me once more, and then I pulled away and took up my last accessory. I took a couple of steps back, and then I presented to my daughter.
"The costume's complete. Am I pretty?"
"I hope if I get married I look as beautiful as you do." I grinned at her, and lifted the cloth over my head with one hand and leaned forward and kissed her on the cheek. Then I pulled away and dropped it. I transferred the bouquet of golden flowers to my other hand, and then I took her hand and we walked out of the door together. He had built a place adjacent to the building especially for occasions like this. And that was where Christine and I were headed. We walked down the stairs very slowly, taking each flight together, keeping in pace with each other. I thought about the past few months, and how happy all the women had seemed. They had chosen what they wanted to wear, each had made a rough drawing and Aaron had had it made for them. All for this one occasion. I had chosen my dress, what the church would look like, and had helped the children with their costume. This was the result. My mother and father were somewhere in that crowd, and so was Aaron's mother, and Christine's original mother, and Mia's and Eric's. We were at the end of the hallway, facing the doors of the church and getting ready to walk the final stretch. Christine hugged and kissed me one last time before going to the halfway point. This was the longest hallway, and the church was just as long. Christine was like the pre-presentation, to drop the glitter over the flower petals Mia had dropped just a few minutes ago.
Christine turned back to me one last time, and smiled. I smiled back and put my hands in front of my stomach, holding the golden bouquet. Then, we began to walk. There was a short bit of music, like a prologue, when Christine went down the aisle and stood beside my place. As she reached the end of the wedding aisle, I reached the doorway. The music began, and everyone in the room rose and turned to me. I began to step down the aisle, seeing my love at the end, waiting for me. I'm doing this because I love him, and we'll make it through, for better, for worse, in sickness and health, and only in death will we part. I was grinning broadly as I walked down the very last stretch. I could turn tail and run, oh yes. It wouldn't be that hard. But it was so much better to be married to the one I loved. I found my place at the end of the aisle, and I turned and handed the golden bouquet to Christine, to hold, while I got married. I turned back to my love, and he held his hands out to me. I took them, and then the music ended. And the wonderful ceremony began.
"Friends, family, honored guests, we are gathered here today to witness, in holy matrimony, the joining of these two young people." So many words, and finally, at sunset, the time had come. I saw Eric come and stand just beside us, in line with mine and Aaron's hands. The question had been modified without names, so no one had to be in the wrong or disgraced.
"Do you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife, to love, honor, and cherish, in sickness, and in health, for better, or for worse, as long as you both shall live?"
"I do."
"And do you take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband, to love, honor, and cherish, in sickness, and in health, for better, or for worse, as long as you both shall live?"
"I do."
"Then, sir, take the ring and place it on the third finger of her left hand, saying these words." Aaron took the ring, and held it in front of my finger, his eyes never leaving mine. "With this ring."
"With this ring."
"I be wed."
"I be wed." I felt the little golden circle slide onto the base of my finger, and then I heard the same request of me. I did the same as he had done for me, and then the whole crowd was asked if we should not be wed. I heard Christine take a breath, but she didn't say a word. And then, the most beautiful words in the English language.
"Then, by the power vested in me, I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride." He lifted the golden cloth and folded it back over my head. Then, he leaned in, and I leaned in, and we kissed. I heard applause all around us, and beautiful music surrounding us. We pulled away and turned to the entire crowd. Every woman in the room was smiling, standing and applauding, all in happiness. I think they could sense the good times ahead of them. We were going next to the conference room, for a reception. Aaron and I led the way out of the beautiful church, where the Sunday sermon would take place two days from now. We entered the conference hall, and the decorations blew the women away. Only the large men had been in this room for the past two weeks, getting everything ready. On the raised step was a long table, for the immediate family of the bride and groom and they themselves. Aaron and I walked to that head table, leading Christine, Eric, Mia, and our living parents. The rest of the women and men were to sit at long tables lining the room. And then we feasted, the rest of the night until dawn the next day.
No one noticed the sun had risen until it shined in the windows. Then, the women were given the day off for rest. Aaron and I were in the upstairs, lying on the bed together. His arm was over my side, and my back was to his chest. I was so happy right then. Nothing would have made the day better.
"Lisa?"
"Yes?"
"Do you love me?"
"With all my heart."
"You won't leave me again, will you?"
"Only if I feel it has to be done." I heard him laugh softly.
"You're still the strongest woman I've ever seen, and still the most pathetic."
"Is that the only reason you love me?"
"Perhaps." It was my turn to laugh then. "How long have you loved me?"
"I'm not sure. But one thing's for sure right now: today was my dream come true."
I woke with a gentle shake, and found Mia still asleep under my arm. I stayed quiet, and slipped out of the bed and into my clothes, skipping the hassle of the corset, and went down to the main part of the upstairs. I slipped out the door and down the stairs, down to the first floor. I went into my old group, and I saw all the women lying with their eyes closed. There was Christine, with Eric. I went and woke them up. I took them out of the room and kept them silent until we were on the stairs again.
"Where are we going?"
"Where we went before, Christine. Due west. I just need to get Mia."
"We're going back out?"
"Yes. And we're going to the same man. If we can find him. Come on now, there's not much time." I took their hands and began to run up the stairs, back to the upstairs. Both of them were cringing before we were halfway there. But I pressed them on, and I got them into the main place. I took them up to the bedroom with me, and I had Christine carry Mia this time. We were going out the same way I had gone when I'd run away the first night with Aaron. We were running so fast, all of us excited to escape. We ran out the exercise way, and out beyond the spears and ran and ran to the west. We were running all day, our hearts beating so fast and so hard, all of us so happy to be free. Night had come, and we were still running to the west. Then, I saw the aura of light over the final sand dune. Christine could see it too.
"It's the miracle again."
"And it's more beautiful than ever. Run faster." And so, we pumped our legs so hard, and we ran up and over that sand dune and over the last street and into the city. We were almost free. I walked with them to the downtown, and I glanced at all the convertibles. I had lost all track of the days, so if this was a Friday I knew I was done for. So many convertibles were passing us, and none of them were the friend that had taken me and my girls in so long ago. But our luck was extreme. Another type of car pulled over, an SUV, and a woman rolled down her window and leaned out.
"Where you four headed?"
"Anywhere that's inside."
"Mom, can you take Mia? My arms are so tired."
"Sure, babe." So I took my youngest adopted daughter and looked back at the woman. Her eyes were contemplating.
"You're a mother?"
"Adopted mother."
"I've already got five of my own."
"Well, do you know a John Roberts?"
"He lives on the same floor as me."
"Oh, really?! Could you take us there please?"
"Sure, hop in." She pulled in and leaned back and opened her car door. I put the three children in the back, and then I slammed the door and went around to the front passenger and climbed in. I had closed the door and then she began to drive. We were there within five minutes. She was even kind enough to show us to his door. There she had left us. We waited until she was long gone, and then I pounded on the door. I just prayed it wasn't a Friday.
Our luck was still with us. The man who had given us a little more time before came to the door, and his eyes grew wide when he saw us.
"Can we still stay here until we can get on our feet?"
"Come on in. I just got home a few minutes ago, you're lucky you caught me."
"Yeah, we get that sometimes." He took us in with open arms, and the four of us went to the room we would be sleeping in. The very first thing me and my girls did was throw off the dresses and put on some normal clothes. But poor Eric was left with what he had run away in. I went out to John in the kitchen, and leaned across the breakfast counter to him.
"Something wrong?"
"Yeah, Eric's got no clothes. Any people with kids around here?"
"There's someone down the hall. I think ten ten."
"Thanks." I pulled away, and went back to the bedroom. I took Eric's hand, and went out and down the hall, following the numbers until I came to the right place. I heard a great ruckus of screaming inside. And a woman yelling, who sounded familiar. I smiled as I knocked on the door. How far one short trip could take you. A three-year-old boy opened the door, and Eric actually shrank away. He was the only boy that had survived at the strange place, and he didn't want to be near someone he thought was going to be killed.
"Hi!"
"Hey. Your mom here?"
"Scott! What are you doing?! Didn't you hear what I just told you?!" He turned, and I looked up and I saw her coming forward. She saw me, and grinned and blushed. "I'm sorry, they've been going crazy since I've been gone. They literally threw the babysitter out of the house."
"Oh no."
"Come on in." And so, I took Eric and went into the apartment.
"I'm just here for some clothes for him. You got a nine-year-old somewhere in here?"
"Yeah, just happens to be a boy. His room's the one with all the posters on the wall."
"Thank you so much." I went with Eric and went on a search for the room in question. We found it easily; the door was open and there was some type of music coming from it that sounded like a bunch of men screaming into the microphone. Eric was fighting me when he heard screams on the track.
"No, Momma! Someone's being tortured in there!"
"No no no, baby, it's just the music! Come on!" So I dragged him in the room, and he actually put his arms up to the air, actually afraid something was there ready to beat him. I went and turned off the CD player, and then he put his arms down and glanced around. I went over to the dresser and opened the second drawer. A whole mess of shirts inside. I drew one out, and I tossed it to him. He amazingly caught it, and stared at it. It must have been one of the boy's first shirts that brought him into the world of heavy metal music. It was just solid black.
"Do I have to wear this?"
"It's that or what you're wearing now. Close the door if you're gonna change." And so he did, and I kept my back turned while I looked for some jeans. All I could find were some army-print ones that were absolutely grotesque in my own eyes, and probably one of the boy's first pairs. I wasn't going to have my son wearing leather on his first day in the outside world. I gave him the jeans, and he pulled them on willingly. They were too big, and I shouldn't have been surprised. I tossed him a pair of the boy's summer sandals, and he slid into them and picked up his own clothes without me telling him to. We walked out together, and back down to the familiar penthouse. We went in, and to the bedroom, and there he threw his clothes to the side without another thought. Both my girls looked at him in surprise.
"Mom, he's wearing black."
"Her nine-year-old son's a Satanist."
"What's that?"
"That's someone who doesn't believe in God."
"I don't wanna be a Satanist."
"You aren't if you believe." I thought about it for a second, and figured I should take them to church on Sunday. Straight Catholic, where could I find that? I would probably have to look around a little bit. I left them to their resources in the bedroom for a few minutes while I went to talk with John.
"Hey."
"Hey. You know of a church anywhere?"
"I don't go to church."
"You don't?"
"No. And there's no one I know that does. Why?"
"I just happen to go to church, every Sunday. Except for when I was in that place."
"Wow."
"You sure you don't know of a church? A Catholic one?"
"All the blacks in the city go to the Catholic church."
"Oh? Do you know any black people?"
"I repeat, 'And there's no one I know that does.'"
"Right, forgot that."
"But one of my friends has brought a couple of black people along with us to the bar."
"Truly? I'll need to talk with them. What day is it?"
"Wednesday."
"Good. I've got some time."
"Why do you need a church?"
"I slipped my tongue around the kids about Satanists. They don't know what it is, so I'm thinking a priest could tell them better than I could."
"Oh."
"Yeah."
"What was it like there?"
"I told you before."
"You weren't specific."
"Some guy harbored women in this recluse and sold them and raped them every time it rained."
"Every time it rained?"
"Yeah."
"Someone's in for a lot of pain, then. Supposed to rain steady from Monday through an indefinite amount of time."
"Tell me you're kidding."
"I'm sorry, I'm not."
"Damnit."
"Will he do more than one?"
"Most likely at least one every night, unless he wants an orgy."
"Jesus Christ."
"Yeah, that's what they know him as."
"Are you gonna do anything?"
"Yeah, I'm gonna go back and get those women out of there."
"You can't be serious."
"As serious as those kids in that bedroom are mine."
"How the hell are you gonna do that?"
"I don't know. But I have to, or a lot of women are going to get pregnant."
"You're not, are you?"
"I am."
"How?"
"Well-"
"Forget that. When, why?"
"He was horny and I don't know when."
"There wasn't anything else behind it? He was just horny?"
"I guess so." I felt glad I wasn't looking up when I said it. Not only for my sake but for his.
"Good."
"I might need some help getting them out of there."
"I would be willing. Just show me the way."
"They've only seen a different man about every other week. To see one man coming back again and again would cause a riot among them."
"You're probably right."
"I don't know that Christine or Mia would be willing to help me. Going back to that place and risking our freedom..."
"You can't be thinking about going alone."
"I would rather go alone and escape a million times than have my kids come with me again. I'll go alone if I can't find anyone by Friday."
"I can't watch them on Fridays, remember?"
"Who said I was gonna ask you?"
"There's no one in the building to watch them. It's me or nothing."
"Then all I would need from you is to make sure they don't leave that bedroom, for anything. I don't want to take the risk of them trying to sneak away and get to me. And I would have to borrow your car."
"That I can't do."
"It'll take me a day to get there. I can't hotwire a car without him noticing. How am I-?" I heard a copter hovering over the building. I felt my heart begin to race instantly, and I bolted to the bedroom. All three of my kids were leaning out the window and looking up, their eyes wide. I ran to them and brought them in, but it was too late. He knew where we were hiding now. All he had to do was search the building for us.
"Mommy, why's he following us again?"
"Because he doesn't like it when people leave that place without his permission."
"How are we gonna get away?"
"I don't know, I don't know."
"Momma, I don't wanna go back there."
"We're not going back, babe, don't worry. All of you just be quiet for a minute. Let me try and think." I heard dead silence, and I paced, holding my hands to my forehead. "All right, can't get out, we're trapped. Can't hide, he'll search. We either fight, or we run for our lives on the street. All right, babes, come on." I took Eric's and Mia's hands, and Christine held on to Mia's other hand, and I took them out of the penthouse. I went with the stairs rather than the elevator, and we were running down ten flights of stairs. We came to the main door, and I put Christine through first, then Mia and Eric, and then I followed them. We took the same formation as we had before, and we began to walk along the street. I didn't know where we were gonna go. I just knew we had to get away. I walked as fast as I could, dragging my children behind me. I could hear thundering footsteps behind me, to the right and left of me, and in front of me. But it was just the people around us, walking steady. What I listened for was the off-beat of someone running on the sidewalk. But the people were getting fewer and fewer, and it was getting later and later. They would be able to see us easy from the sky soon. I looked behind me, and I saw a hard angry face through the crowds, their eyes on me like a hawk. I turned back and I felt my heart racing faster than the convertibles in the street. I began to run, so fast none of my kids could keep up with me. I was dragging them along behind me, trying to keep track of them all. I swept Eric up into one arm, and Christine took up Mia. Then she and I held hands, and we ran like that, much faster now and more together.
"Lisa!" My heart felt fear inside, and I was trying to run faster, but my legs were beginning to slow down. I looked up at the signs, and at the times, looking for a place that was open that we could run through and hide in. But there wasn't any place in the city that looked appealing to teach my kids just yet. They knew more about sex than they did about anything else because they had been bystanders of it all their lives. There wasn't even a strip joint nearby. "Lisa!" Louder, closer. I ran faster, now even dragging Christine a little. I felt like my heart was going to explode. I felt blood coming up in the back of my throat. I was going to choke. I panicked, and I went into the next place I saw. It was a bar, in the middle of happy hour number twelve. Every drunk in the place was either laughing or punching out his neighbor. I took my kids through at a jog, and went over behind the bar. The bartender was trying to get us out, but I glanced at the door and saw that hard, angry face searching the crowd.
"Hey, get out from behind there!"
"Please, help me just this once and I'll do anything. Please don't give us away." I ducked down and dragged Christine to her knees behind the counter, and I put Eric down on his hands and knees beneath me. Christine did the same with Mia, and there was a yell and the bar went silent. We were panting and holding our breath at the same time, our hearts stopped. I heard footsteps approaching, and I heard the bartender shuffle his feet. Aaron must have had such a look of fury on his face. I heard the footsteps pause, and the bartender was beginning to pant as well.
"You get them out from behind that counter now, or I will be forced to take drastic measures."
"What sort of measures?" I looked up, and I saw a hand holding a pistol, and the thumb cocked the hammer. I rose out of fear and anger.
"Don't hurt him." The hard eyes turned to me, and he pulled the gun away from the man's head.
"Where are the children?"
"They're not here. They went out the back. I had to dive back here." Then he pointed the gun right between my eyes. I didn't feel the slightest bit of fear, for some reason, only a motherly instinct to protect them.
"You get them out of there now. I'll kill you if you don't."
"They're not here." I saw his eyes flash beyond the barrel, and then he pulled the gun away from my skin and pointed it to the ceiling. He fired a shot, and every one of them jumped up with a cry. He looked at me triumphantly, and I put them all behind me.
"You're coming with me, all of you."
"No. We like it here. We're staying here."
"Come out from behind there now."
"Leave them alone." I turned to the doorway, and I saw our landlord standing there, a pistol in his hand. I saw Aaron turn, and he raised the gun and took aim. He cocked the hammer again with his thumb.
"Stay out of this." I heard a gunshot, but I didn't see smoke out of Aaron's barrel. Instead, I saw blood on his hand, and the bullet falling onto the bar counter, covered in blood. Aaron's face didn't even flinch. He just took aim again, and then I began to move my children away. I saw another door, probably the place where they kept the kegs or whatever. I took them back there, watching Aaron's hand bleed and shake while he tried to get a shot. He had it, I knew he did, but he wasn't taking it. There was complete silence in the bar, and I looked beyond to John. He saw where I was headed, and raised the gun once more. I mouthed three words to him, and he understood perfectly. He put a hole through Aaron's other hand, and while he was concentrating hard, I slipped through the door with my three children. I ran them through a maze of racks to the back door. It came out at an alleyway. I picked up Eric, and Christine took up Mia, and we walked holding hands. I tried to retrace our steps, but I failed. I found myself in a place I didn't recognize, with that damned copter hovering over the city, looking for us. We only had one last chance. I looked to the east, and I saw a dim light. We had been up all night. I followed that light, and soon I saw that sand dune that was our entrance and exit to the oasis.
"We're not going back, are we?"
"No. We're just going to hide for a little bit." I went over the sand dune, and I slid down sideways. I saw the copter up above us, and I lost my footing. Someone jumped down onto the sand about twenty feet beyond the sand dune, and I dropped Eric as I rolled down. He was sliding, but Christine caught him with one hand and watched me fall. My glimpses of the world around me let me know that the one who had jumped was running forward. I felt arms beneath my body that picked me up as I reached the bottom of the sand dune. I looked up to hard eyes that were turning soft so quickly. There was blood flowing onto my leg, I could feel the tickle of the little droplets sliding. I watched the eyes turn up to the children, and back down to me.
"Make a choice, Lisa. Either you come, or they come."
"I'll come."
"No!"
"Momma, don't go!" I was placed on my feet, and I felt blood sliding down the back of my leg and down to my ankle.
"All of you, go back to the city. Christine, look for him. I love you all."
"Mom, don't go!"
"Go back!"
"I don't want to lose you again!"
"Mommy!" I saw Mia jump, and she came rolling. I ran up and scooped her up, and put her on her feet on the steep sand dune.
"Don't worry about me. I'll be fine."
"Mommy, don't go!" She threw her arms around my neck and held on. I forced her to let go, and then I kissed her on her forehead.
"I'll be fine. I promise."
"I don't wanna say goodbye, Mommy."
"We're not saying goodbye. We're saying good night. Tomorrow's a new day. Look forward to seeing me tomorrow, and you'll be strong."
"Mommy, don't go."
"I have to." I stood and turned and walked down to Aaron. He took me in his arms, and he began to walk with me back to the recluse. I heard Christine dragging a crying Eric and a screaming Mia back to the city. I leaned against him, not wanting the strength to walk. I knew he was still very angry. I was scared. I was very scared. But I didn't let it stop me from planning again. We were walking back to the place. I assumed it was my punishment. The heat of the sun beat down on us as we walked in the day, and we were there at least by six that evening. I was taken in the way I had come, and back up to the upstairs. He threw me on the bed and tore off my clothes, literally to rags. I swallowed the blood that had cumulated in my mouth. He saw the motion and took it for an action of fear. He looked down at me with a horrible smile.
"You're not so strong anymore, Lisa."
"You wouldn't believe." I swallowed the blood that had come with my words, and I watched his eyes. Unchanging, still hard as granite. I saw his watching me, and he must have seen something I didn't feel. He turned away from me, and I turned my head to the side, looking out the window. To the west was the city, and the orange aura was beginning to return. My children were in that city, and I would return to them. I had to return to them. I heard him take a deep breath, and then he leaned forward on top of me. I felt his chest pressing against mine, his chin on the side of my neck, and I closed my eyes.
"You can't leave me, Lisa. I'd be lost without you."
"Why? You have more women to please you."
"But you're the only one I love."
"We're not supposed to be in love. It's not supposed to be like this."
"But it is. Why are you fighting it?"
"Because I hate it."
"Why? Why do you hate it?"
"Because it's not how it's supposed to be." I felt his lips touch my skin, and I pushed him away. I kept my eyes closed. I didn't want him to see me crying again. I felt him get off me, and I heard the door open and close. I drew my knees up and slipped under the blankets. I could hear him talking to one of his workers beyond the door.
"Top security on her. She's not gonna get away again." I heard steps down the stairs, and more coming up, and then there was a quiet in the room. I stared out the window. I could do this easily. This was the tower at the top of the house, the torture tower. There was roof all around. I could slip out a window and down over the wall. It wouldn't be too hard. But I had to rest. I'd been up all night and all day. I had to rest for this time in the sun. I closed my eyes once more and imagined my kids safe in that apartment. I only hoped they were safe.
I woke up late the next day. I was alone in the room, but I knew there was someone outside that door, watching that no one but Jesus went in or out. I stood and took the sheet from the bed and wrapped it around my body. I went to the west window, and I took the bars down quietly by unscrewing the knobs with my fingers. They were raw when I had finished, but I had done it. They had been loose, it was no wonder Christine hadn't had any trouble before she had leaped out her window. I opened it up and looked down at the roof. Black, it would be hotter than hellfire. I remembered the blacktops back home in the middle of summer, and how I had walked across them so many times without a problem on all those hot and humid summer days. This would be no different. I put one leg out, and then the other, and then I walked, very carefully, along to the corner. I looked down. The sand seemed a long way away from me. But it would be a soft landing. I turned around and went backwards. As I dropped, I heard the door open in the bedroom.
I fell in a cloud of sand, and I picked up the sheet that had floated a short distance from me when I fell and wrapped it around my body again. I ran along the wall in the direction of the city, as fast as I could. I ran the entire day, like my children and I had on our escape. Night came, and I saw the sand dune. I ran even faster, and as I ran, I saw three small forms coming up over. And those three forms saw me, and they began to run in my direction. I tied the sheet as I climbed, and we ran into one large group hug. Everyone was ecstatic. I looked back over my shoulder, and I saw only shadows. I had to break up the hugs and take their hands and begin to run again. I was scared he would have already started following me. I looked straight ahead at the city, and then above. Behind us, there were a billion blinking stars. But in front of us, there was none. Just dark clouds, looming on the horizon and coming quickly.
"Come on, Mom, he's waiting by the road." I began to run again, and I saw the convertible waiting for us on the side of the highway. The driver looked worried and relieved at the same time. We all leaped into the car, I in the front and the kids in the back, and he began to drive, speeding along the highway as fast as the car would go. No cars to stop us or slow us down. We were at the apartment building within a ten-minute time span. Within that time, I also could hear the faint hum of a helicopter.
We ran up the stairs and to the apartment. I put the children in their room, but for my hiding place, I chose John's bedroom. I slipped beneath the covers still wrapped in the sheets. I cringed at the sound of distant thunder. Somewhere a woman was being abused, as long as the rain was falling. I shook my head and buried myself deeper in the comfort of the sheets. At one in the morning, I heard the bedroom door open, and someone came in front of me. I could feel their eyes on me.
"Lisa? Do you mind if I sleep with you tonight?"
"It's your bed, you can if you want to." I heard him walk around to the other side, and there was a fair amount of movement before the bed shifted with his weight. I felt him at my back, his arm over my side beneath the covers, reaching into the sheet tied around me.
"I love you, Lisa."
"I'm getting that a lot lately."
"It's true."
"I'm getting that too." I didn't mean to be cold to him, but I couldn't take every man who saw me fall in love with me. It was hard enough with that first one.
"I'll protect you."
"I need all I can get."
"Why is he after you so much?"
"I couldn't say." That was obviously a lie, but he didn't smell me out. I felt him pull me even closer, and sigh as he did so. I felt his relaxation, and I was able to take a little and fall asleep soon.
I woke up to someone's yell. I snapped over and fell out of the bed. I felt my head hit the bedside table, and more blood went into my mouth. I sat up and I saw Aaron standing there.
"Lisa, you will have a very harsh punishment for this."
"Aaron, it's not what you think." I stood and I went to him. I put my forearms against his chest and my hands on his shoulders. "It's not what you think."
"Then what is it?"
"I didn't do anything with him last night. I didn't do anything."
"Doesn't look that way to me."
"No, we didn't do anything, I swear."
"You're going to be punished severely." He took my arm and began to take me away.
"Don't you dare take her." I was shocked when Aaron actually listened to the man and paused in his steps and turned around. His eyes were aflame with such hatred.
"I can take you as well and have you killed. And the three children. Don't tempt me."
"You won't take her." I watched as John slid out of the bed and stood. I felt the hand around my arm loosen, and I slipped out of the grasp.
"Don't try my patience, boy."
"Please, John, don't. He will kill you, he's not kidding."
"Lisa, I promised I would protect you. I'm not gonna break that promise."
"You're giving your life for her. How noble. But shameful."
"I love her. I'll do anything for her."
"Then don't risk your life for me. Please, don't." His eyes turned to me, and he saw my innocence. He hesitated, but agreed to my wishes. I felt the hand on my arm again, and I was dragged through the apartment and to the door. As it opened, I could hear silent, small pattering feet coming up behind us. I felt two hands on my waist, and I was suddenly behind four people, protected. I heard an impatient sigh out beyond them.
"You've got such a loving little family, Lisa. They'll do just about anything for you, it seems."
"So it seems."
"I'll give you a choice, Lisa. You can let me kill this man and let me stay here with you, or you can come with me and not lose anyone." I felt my heart actually rip in my chest. Some choice. I could give a life for my freedom, or spare a life for my imprisonment. WWJD says that I should spare the life, but I wanted to give my adopted children the life they deserved. And I had just told him not to risk his life. What hipocrisy on my account. Oh God, what should I do? What should I do? "I need an answer now, Lisa, or I will make the choice for you."
"What about a trade? Him for me. He can work for you. My freedom for his." I heard a hesitation, and then the sound of failure. He knew I wasn't going to give up, whether he took me back or let me stay here.
"I'll give the both of you one month. You will prepare for everything you need to, and then I'll come and take him. If either of you fails, the deal's off." I heard footsteps, and a door closing. Every one of us heaved a sigh of relief.
"One month. I hope you're a fast learner, Lisa."
"I hope your job pays well. I want to hire someone to take care of these three while I'll be away."
"Maybe a live-in housekeeper and nanny."
"Maybe. All right, you three get to the bedroom and get dressed. We're gonna have to do some more shopping." I went to John's bedroom, and I took one of his large shirts and pulled it on. I went on a much harder search through the apartment for the rest of the things I would need. I had to live without a bra for a short time, but I could get one at the mall. I was able to find some underwear and shorts, and then my only problem was shoes. I went into the kids' bedroom, and I tried a pair of Christine's shoes. I fit pretty comfortably for the time being, and she was willing to let me borrow them. When they were all dressed in the clothes they had, I took them out to the main room, and I saw John waiting, fully clothed.
"Where we going?"
"We've got a lot of shopping to do at the mall. You got money?"
"With more to spare. Let's go." We went out to the car, and we all climbed in and claimed our places. The ride to the mall was quite a trip. But I think the real battle was when we got in, and Christine and Mia were trying to get into every store in the whole place. Little Mia gave up long before Christine. I had to keep subsiding her with sweets. When most everything that had to be done was done, I bought each of my kids lunch, and took John off to the side.
"I need seventy bucks. I gotta go in Victoria's Secret."
"They're that expensive?"
"It's just to be safe. I haven't gone in a long time. Literally everything I had at home was a hand-me-down."
"All right." He gave me the seventy, and I put it in my back pocket and went running. All I needed was something cheap, just four bras to last me the week. I looked for my size, C38, and found them in short supply. All the cheap ones were taken. All except for three. Bigger breasts were becoming more common now. I was able to find three, and I threw them down on the counter and was able to keep about twenty-five dollars of what I had been loaned. I ran back to the food court, and gave John his change. I waited until the kids were finished with their food before I began to walk them out of the mall. They all were having so much fun, I didn't want to end it. But I knew I had to. I had to begin a search for the housekeeper nanny, and get all of the clothes washed so we could wear them, and I had to do some studying on John's job so that I could take his place, and I had to make sure that I could earn enough money for food and everything else. If I had to take two jobs, I would. And I had to find a church, I had to get back in touch with my parents...There was so much for me to do in this single month. But I had to do it, for my kids, and to prove to my love I could survive on my own, and that he could survive on his own. He had for so long without me.
We arrived back at the apartment, and the first thing I did was put on one of my new bras. I didn't like John looking at me the way he had all day. I made sure everything got washed, and then I went to John in the bedroom. He was pacing inconsolably.
"Something wrong?"
"Yeah, I don't know how to do your job."
"I'm a lawyer."
"Great, that means I have to go to law school and pass within a month."
"We have to find you another job somewhere else."
"Like what?"
"The only thing I can think of is waitressing."
"That only pays tips!"
"Well, you can't work at a bar."
"Just find me a strip joint and I'll go to work there."
"You're only fifteen!"
"Your point? I've adopted a thirteen-year-old. She's already in the hellraiser years. I've got two more coming. I have to get a job somewhere, where do you expect me to work and get paid like that?"
"Anywhere else."
"All right, I'll work on the street as a prostitute."
"No one would buy you."
"You would. Aaron did. Any other man would fall in love as quickly as both of you did."
"And then he would take you home and not let you go. Our freedom would be sacrificed and your kids would be left to their own devices. What would you expect them to do?"
"Our only chance is for me to take over your job. We have clarification if we need it, we have an excuse. Someone to take your place. Just let me work with you for a month."
"We don't have much choice, do we?"
"No." He nodded.
"All right. We'll start tomorrow."
"Good. Now I have other things to do, so if you'll excuse me." I went out of the bedroom and out of the apartment, out of the complex and out to the street. I looked up at the sky, and I remembered the freedom I'd had out here, that I could have out here. But the imprisonment of someone else wasn't worth it. It just wasn't worth the guilt.
I turned to the east, and I began to walk. I went through the city, and to the final sand dune. I saw it looming just beyond the highway, and I walked across the temporarily empty street and up to the peak. I stared out at the darkening horizon, and I saw even further than that the building that my lover had inherited.
I sidled down the sand dune, and then I began to walk in its direction. Rain for an indefinite number of days. And I would be the one in bed with him, God as my witness. Not only to protect those women, but just to be with him. Just to be near him. That was all I wanted. This love wasn't supposed to happen, but I guess I had to pay the consequences and accept my life. I wanted my dream to come true, and I knew it would take time. It would take a lot of time. But I could buy that time. I had the ability to buy that time.
I looked up at the stars as I walked, and soon they disappeared. A flash of lightning ran through the clouds and in the desert, near me. I didn't care. With it came the thunder and the rain, and as it began to pass me by, I began to run with it. I ran through the desert with the storm, and as I saw the shadow of the building rising up in the horizon, the storm began to slow. I walked with the rain now, back into the building. I walked through the back, soaking wet, and inside. I went to the upstairs, and I heard tears. But they weren't tears of sadness or pain, they were tears of joy. I went and opened the door, and I saw a woman with her hands clasped together, crying and praying her forgiveness to the Lord. I ignored her and went up to the bedroom. I went in, and I saw a man pacing. He yelled without looking up.
"I said I wanted to be alone!"
"All right then, I'll just go back the way I came." I saw his eyes rise up to mine, and I saw him smile.
"Is the deal off?"
"I'm staying here. And I will stay. Or you can have me raped and killed a thousand times."
"I would never." I took another step into the room and closed the door behind me. "I would rather bring you back every day of my life than kill you once."
"That must prove your love."
"I just wish I had been able to the first day."
"You did. I just didn't want to accept it."
"Why didn't you want to love me?"
"I wanted it to be different."
"How had you imagined it?"
"I pictured something like...I would bump into him on the street...he would ask me to a bar...we would go to a nightclub somewhere with huge crowds of people dancing...and every night, when he took me home, we would say goodnight with a kiss..." Here I began to get more extravagant in my daydreaming, beginning to move around the room more freely. "...And sometimes on the weekends...when it started to rain while we were walking home...we would stop under a canopy somewhere, and listen to the rain fall...and then we would find a place where we could be alone, and we would stay there and make love until the rain passed. And every time, after we began to head for home again, he promised to make an honest woman out of me...and support me if I had a baby... That's how I imagined it, at least."
"You're a true romantic, Lisa."
"That's what everyone has told me." I fell to a sitting position on the edge of the bed, leaning back on my hands and staring out the window at the dark sky, flashing with lightning every so often. "Did you ever dream of falling in love?"
"I never thought it would happen. I grew up here, I expected my life to be exactly like my father's."
"Did he ever say if he fell in love?"
"No. But there was one woman he seemed to favor. And she favored him. I remember, many times, he would be here, punishing someone, and she would disappear for the day, and the one he punished would take her place. And every time she was hurt, no one saw her until she was better. And once, when he was bringing his favorites up before the buyer came, I heard him whisper something to her."
"Did you hear what it was?"
"No, but I have an idea."
"What's your idea?"
"I'll tell you after sex." He came in front of me, and leaned forward and put his hands on my wrists. His mouth was so close to mine, I could taste him. He spread my arms out to the sides, and that brought us down, slowly. I brought up one wet leg and pushed myself backward on the bed, urging him to follow. He pressed his mouth against mine, and there was a short bang of thunder. I slipped my wrists from his grasp and tore away my shirt. I forced the shorts I was wearing off my hips without unbuttoning them, and my shoes went with them onto the floor. I pushed my lover away, and tore his shirt open. I ran my hands up his chest and over his shoulders, and brought him down again. I slid my hands over his arms and down his sides. I felt his pants at his waist, and my fingers crawled along to the front and unbuttoned them and forced them down. I felt his warm skin against my own, so wanting. I wrapped my legs around his, but I felt his hands go down and untangle them. Then, they moved back up to my breasts. I felt his lips kiss my nipple, now healed, his tongue flick the sensitive skin. I could feel my heart beating beneath his tongue, fast and hard. My mind was spinning with different thoughts that would become one and then disapparate to another million again. My feelings were coiled just below my ribs, twisted up and undefinable like a snake. I put my hands on his shoulders and pushed him down even further, down to my stomach. I felt him licking over the surface with his warm tongue, reheating with his hot breath. I felt like I wanted to cry and laugh and scream at the same time. My lungs had exploded like when Christine and Mia and I had first escaped together, and my heart was nearing the same point. I was beginning to pant, as hard and fast as my heart. Time seemed to pass so quickly, and yet not at all at the same time. My blood was boiling when he kissed me on my mouth again. I felt him enter me, and I hit my hips against his many times. I could feel my inner thighs bruising, and then he pulled away from me once a wave of relaxation flooded through my muscles. The storm had passed its peak, and was now running over us very quickly. I heaved a deep sigh beside him, and rolled onto my side and looked at him.
"So what was your idea of what he said to her?"
"I think he said 'I love you.'"
"Do you love me?"
"I do love you, so much."
"Strange. Jesus loves me." He laughed at that, and then kissed me again. We made love that night and didn't stop until the morning had passed us by.
Months had passed, and Christine, Mia, and Eric were back with us. He had changed the rules. Now that I was his wife and I ruled with him, I was able to have a say in what happened to the women. I had lessened their punishments significantly, increased their food rations, and changed their clothing. They only did what they wanted to now, and he had made a new place just for lesbians. We were preparing for the wedding and getting decorations set up. As time passed, Christine grew up more and more, and Mia began to act more mature. And Eric...well, Eric was realizing himself very quickly, and what he wanted to do. I was prepared, my parents had approved, and now all I had to do was get married. The church was expected to be finished before we would finish with the preparations for the wedding. I was waiting extremely impatiently for that day, keeping myself calm by going and joining the women when they went into the outside world. All of them had become very happy, and it was a wonderful thing to see so many smiles and hear so many laughs in a once horrible place. And then, finally, the church was finished, and all that had to be done was the dresses.
I was standing on a small stool for about five hours, looking in a long mirror while a woman worked on the dress I was wearing. It was absolutely lovely, shining golden cloth and covered in gold dragees in intricate designs all over the skirt and arms and torso. The sleeves were long, with a triangle over the back of my hand, a string to keep the design stiff that went around my middle finger. The cuff was lined with a thin strand of golden colored lace, and a line of evenly-spaced dragees just beneath that. Most of my hair was waving down my shoulders in soft waves, shining with the golden sheer cloth hanging all around. The rest of my hair was on my head in a bun, at the highest point on my skull. The cloth over my head had a halo of the dragees all around the top of my head. It looked like something from the sixteenth century England. I looked down at the woman working on the dress, finishing the hem, the very last part of the dress.
"When is the ceremony?"
"Noon." I looked out the window, and I could still see an early blue sky. It looked like we had plenty of time. The door behind us opened, and I looked in the mirror and I saw Christine. Her eyes were wide, staring at me. I turned around and looked back at her. The skirt she wore was the same idea as mine, billowing out like a bell, with a small, narrow torso. It was a beautiful green silk, lined with sequins at the waist and along the arms. She was filled out more, and the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. Her hair was placed atop her head in a bun, with two locks on the sides of her face, dyed blonde, in contrast to the shocking black of her hair, and twisting around in curls. Her breath was somewhat shallow, and I smiled at her.
"Do you like it?"
"You're beautiful." She could only stare at me for a moment, and then turned slowly for me. "What about me?"
"Still the most beautiful girl in the world." I heard the woman working on my dress sigh in relief.
"Done, Lisa. Now I have to go get dressed in an hour and a half."
"Would you like some help, Marge?"
"I've got all the help I'll need from my girl. Thank you, though."
"If you need a hand, just call me."
"I can't call the bride." She stood and left me and Christine. I stepped off the pedestal, and Christine came forward and hugged me.
"I can't believe you're marrying him, Mom."
"I didn't believe it myself, at first. But, after all that happened, I think it's the right choice to make."
"Do you think he'll let them go?"
"I think he'll change the rules. I don't think he'll let them go."
"Why not? Why won't he let them go?"
"Because, he still believes he has to follow in his father's legacy. But, at least he'll let them out in groups now."
"They have so much fun when they can leave."
"And their daughters will have it easy, and their daughters after that, and their daughters after that, until the earth disappears and there is no more life to live."
"Will you be there, Mom?"
"No, lovely. I won't be there."
"Will I?"
"No, of course not."
"What about Mia?"
"No. None of us will be there. We're going to be together in Heaven to accept the blessed souls." She finally pulled away from me, and her eyes looked wet, like she wanted to cry.
"Mom, there's so many things going through my head right now. But, there's only one that I'm really scared of."
"What's that?"
"You're going to be married, but I'm never going to be married. I'm going to be trapped here."
"You just wait. Sometimes life will give you something good." I smiled at her, and she smiled back and I saw a tear fall down her cheek. I wiped it away with my fingers, and she hugged me again. The door opened again, and one of the large men was there.
"One more hour, Lisa. You both might want to get down there now."
"We'll be right there." He closed the door once more, and then I pulled away and looked at Christine again. "When I went to see my mom, and she found out I was getting married, God, she threw a fit, but then she gave me some advice. She told me, 'The church is the gateway to Heaven, and marriage is the assurance you'll make it in. You're doing this because you love him, so you'll make it through, for better, for worse, in sickness and health, and only in death will you part.' You may not be getting married just yet, but I think you can use that. Don't forget it, all right?" She shook her head at me.
"I won't, Mom." She hugged me once more, and then I pulled away and took up my last accessory. I took a couple of steps back, and then I presented to my daughter.
"The costume's complete. Am I pretty?"
"I hope if I get married I look as beautiful as you do." I grinned at her, and lifted the cloth over my head with one hand and leaned forward and kissed her on the cheek. Then I pulled away and dropped it. I transferred the bouquet of golden flowers to my other hand, and then I took her hand and we walked out of the door together. He had built a place adjacent to the building especially for occasions like this. And that was where Christine and I were headed. We walked down the stairs very slowly, taking each flight together, keeping in pace with each other. I thought about the past few months, and how happy all the women had seemed. They had chosen what they wanted to wear, each had made a rough drawing and Aaron had had it made for them. All for this one occasion. I had chosen my dress, what the church would look like, and had helped the children with their costume. This was the result. My mother and father were somewhere in that crowd, and so was Aaron's mother, and Christine's original mother, and Mia's and Eric's. We were at the end of the hallway, facing the doors of the church and getting ready to walk the final stretch. Christine hugged and kissed me one last time before going to the halfway point. This was the longest hallway, and the church was just as long. Christine was like the pre-presentation, to drop the glitter over the flower petals Mia had dropped just a few minutes ago.
Christine turned back to me one last time, and smiled. I smiled back and put my hands in front of my stomach, holding the golden bouquet. Then, we began to walk. There was a short bit of music, like a prologue, when Christine went down the aisle and stood beside my place. As she reached the end of the wedding aisle, I reached the doorway. The music began, and everyone in the room rose and turned to me. I began to step down the aisle, seeing my love at the end, waiting for me. I'm doing this because I love him, and we'll make it through, for better, for worse, in sickness and health, and only in death will we part. I was grinning broadly as I walked down the very last stretch. I could turn tail and run, oh yes. It wouldn't be that hard. But it was so much better to be married to the one I loved. I found my place at the end of the aisle, and I turned and handed the golden bouquet to Christine, to hold, while I got married. I turned back to my love, and he held his hands out to me. I took them, and then the music ended. And the wonderful ceremony began.
"Friends, family, honored guests, we are gathered here today to witness, in holy matrimony, the joining of these two young people." So many words, and finally, at sunset, the time had come. I saw Eric come and stand just beside us, in line with mine and Aaron's hands. The question had been modified without names, so no one had to be in the wrong or disgraced.
"Do you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife, to love, honor, and cherish, in sickness, and in health, for better, or for worse, as long as you both shall live?"
"I do."
"And do you take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband, to love, honor, and cherish, in sickness, and in health, for better, or for worse, as long as you both shall live?"
"I do."
"Then, sir, take the ring and place it on the third finger of her left hand, saying these words." Aaron took the ring, and held it in front of my finger, his eyes never leaving mine. "With this ring."
"With this ring."
"I be wed."
"I be wed." I felt the little golden circle slide onto the base of my finger, and then I heard the same request of me. I did the same as he had done for me, and then the whole crowd was asked if we should not be wed. I heard Christine take a breath, but she didn't say a word. And then, the most beautiful words in the English language.
"Then, by the power vested in me, I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride." He lifted the golden cloth and folded it back over my head. Then, he leaned in, and I leaned in, and we kissed. I heard applause all around us, and beautiful music surrounding us. We pulled away and turned to the entire crowd. Every woman in the room was smiling, standing and applauding, all in happiness. I think they could sense the good times ahead of them. We were going next to the conference room, for a reception. Aaron and I led the way out of the beautiful church, where the Sunday sermon would take place two days from now. We entered the conference hall, and the decorations blew the women away. Only the large men had been in this room for the past two weeks, getting everything ready. On the raised step was a long table, for the immediate family of the bride and groom and they themselves. Aaron and I walked to that head table, leading Christine, Eric, Mia, and our living parents. The rest of the women and men were to sit at long tables lining the room. And then we feasted, the rest of the night until dawn the next day.
No one noticed the sun had risen until it shined in the windows. Then, the women were given the day off for rest. Aaron and I were in the upstairs, lying on the bed together. His arm was over my side, and my back was to his chest. I was so happy right then. Nothing would have made the day better.
"Lisa?"
"Yes?"
"Do you love me?"
"With all my heart."
"You won't leave me again, will you?"
"Only if I feel it has to be done." I heard him laugh softly.
"You're still the strongest woman I've ever seen, and still the most pathetic."
"Is that the only reason you love me?"
"Perhaps." It was my turn to laugh then. "How long have you loved me?"
"I'm not sure. But one thing's for sure right now: today was my dream come true."
"Mine too, lovely. Mine too."
"I still can't believe that Jesus loves me." He laughed and kissed me, and we had our arms around each other when the door opened. I pulled away and looked up. Mia, Eric, and Christine were standing there.
"Mom?"
"Yeah?"
"Can we sleep with you tonight?"
"Sure." I smiled at them, and they came and crawled into the bed with us. I held little Mia in my arms, and Eric leaned onto my shoulder. Christine had long since made her peace with Aaron, and she was wrapped in his gentle arms. I felt somehow, I'd taught him to be so gentle. I turned and looked at him and smiled. He seemed genuinely happy to have children now, children that loved him. I rested my chin on little Mia's head, and soon she was asleep. I laid her down beside me, and I felt Eric fall to the bed in a deep sleep as well.
"My goodness."
"Who'd have thought two children could fall asleep so fast?"
"Quite." I straightened Eric so his head was on the pillow, and then I laid back in the blankets. Aaron and Christine lay down on the other side of Eric, and I saw his eyes flash in a bit of a memory long since over and done with. I saw Christine close her eyes and fall asleep, and Aaron leaned over her and Eric to kiss me. I held it for a moment and let it linger in the air, and then he pulled away and laid back. I heard him sleeping too, and then I looked up at the ceiling. Some women were still afraid to come up here, but many were able to come on their own, very freely and comfortably. The strangest thing was, I had been able to do that since the beginning. Perhaps I'd known all along: Jesus does love me.