blinked blearily at the sliver of sunshine coming through the window where it
wasn’t boarded up. The sun was setting. Another day gone.
at the wall where he’d just finished scratching a line into the cinderblock
with his fingernail, briefly glancing up the wall at all the similar hash
months. It had been over three months since he’d woken up in this very
room—covered in his own blood, with a headache so bad he’d been convinced he
was gonna die. He had no idea where he was. A tiny office in a really old
building, he thought. Cream-colored painted cinderblock walls. It had an
institutional feel. Maybe a hospital?
There was a
thick wooden door with a tiny rectangular plexiglass window, but all it showed
was the end of a dark alcove, so no clues there. Through the tiny bit he could
see through the outdoor window, he could only see the plumbing of another
first woken up, part of him had wanted to just give up and die. Because no
matter how many times he shouted questions at the guards who occasionally
delivered food and water, no one would tell him anything about his sister
bastards killed her right there by the spring where they’d knocked him out? Or
did she manage to run away after all?
In the end,
he’d fought for consciousness and clung to life as hard as he could. Because
what if she was here? What if these motherfuckers had her too? What if they
He cut that
line of thought off just like he did every time it sprang up. He’d go fucking
insane if he let himself go there.
sounded in the hallway and he scrambled to his feet. Well, as much as he could
with the handcuffs and connected ankle fetters. He shuffled hunchbacked toward
the door and the small plexiglass window.
And saw her.
she was a mirage the first time she came and pushed his tray of moldy bread and
sour mush through the skinny two-inch rectangular hole that had been sawed in
tiny with long dark hair, wearing a faded white dress. Like some sort of
she got closer and he saw that no, she was a flesh and bone woman. Because
surely an angel wouldn’t be walking with a limp and have a black eye and a
to approach with the tray until he backed up to the opposite wall. Then she
slid it through and ran away as fast as she could.
couldn’t even be mad that the tasteless bowl of mush spilled all over the
floor. If he were her, he wouldn’t voluntarily get within three feet of a man
spent the last eight years hiding Audrey away from the world for nothing. Which
was when it hit him—Audrey. If Audrey
was here, this woman might know her.
It was all
he could think about. So the next time the woman came, he ran for the door and
started firing questions. “Do you know a girl named Audrey? She would have been
brought here the same time I was. Two months ago.”
had been so startled by his voice she’d dropped his tray and fled.
he’d shouted after her. “Audrey. Do you know her? She’s my sister. Please!”
But all he
heard was the sound of rapidly fleeing footsteps. And then nothing.
come back for three days.
unusual to go that long between meals. They gave him a gallon of water once
or—if he was lucky—sometimes twice a week. But meals were hit or miss.
next time he heard light footsteps approaching, he backed away to the furthest
wall and raised his hands in surrender.
dare say a word. If Audrey was here,
this girl could be the key to getting information about her and he wasn’t going
to fuck it up again.
cautious as she approached. Hesitant.
patiently as he could manage.
the tray through the hole, sending the bowl splattering again, and then ran
As much as
it killed him, he did the same thing the next three times she came.
And on the
fourth, he said in his calmest, gentlest voice, “I won’t hurt you.”
startled so much she almost dropped the tray again.
didn’t make a run for it.
that a win, he continued, still not moving from the wall and keeping his hands
up and visible. “My name’s Charlie.”
push any further than that.
say a word. Just shoved his tray through and skittered away.
next time, he started talking about Audrey. “I have a sister about your age.
Her name’s Audrey. She drove me crazy growing up. Little sisters, you know?
Always coming in my room and bothering me and my friends when we were playing
video games. Trying to tag along when I’d go to the mall.” He shook his head.
“Jesus, it feels like a million years ago.”
hadn’t bolted. The tray was paused halfway through the slot.
didn’t move an inch but he kept talking.
“Dad and I
couldn’t believe how lucky we were when all the girls and women in town got
sick but she stayed healthy. It was like a miracle.” Charlie huffed out a sad
laugh. And then, when the woman still didn’t leave, he told her about what
happened with his dad and the mob that came to the front door, and how he
escaped with Audrey out back.
was so soft at first Charlie thought he might have imagined it.
He sat up
straighter and she flinched backwards, tray clattering against the slot as she
yanked it back.
sorry,” Charlie said, chains rattling as he lifted his cuffed hands again and
put his back flush with the wall. “I didn’t mean to scare you. I— I don’t know
where she is. She was with me when—” He swallowed, looking down. “The men from
here, they attacked us when we were getting water.” He lifted his eyes to hers
where she watched him warily through the plexiglass. “I thought if they brought
me here, then maybe they brought her too.”
dropped and Charlie’s heartbeat sped up. What did that mean?
here? Do you know her?”
flicked back up to his. “A lot of girls come through here.”
Charlie fast and hard. She was confirming his worst fears. No, his worst fear
was that Audrey was dead. But what this woman was describing was a close
It was an
open secret that girls were trafficked all over the territories. The President
had officially outlawed it, but there was a reason Charlie chose to stay with
Audrey in an underground bunker for almost a decade. Law and order were so far
from a reality yet, it was fucking laughable. The old wild west looked like a
picnic compared to the Texas of today, and Texas was actually way better than
his cheek against the million questions he wanted to ask. Don’t press it. She’s just opening up. Push too hard and she could bolt
those big doe eyes of hers blinked up at him again. “I could maybe… ask
word came out half-strangled. Was she really just— Just offering like that when
he’d— “Cause that would be— It’d be fuckin— Sorry, I just, it would mean
promising anything,” she said sharply. Then, as if she’d just remembered the
tray in her hands, she gestured down to it with her eyes. “Here. Take this.”
she watched him warily, she stood still as he approached. He came slow,
careful. She was skittish as a deer. When he got close enough to take the tray,
he saw her hand was shaking.
And for the
first time since she’d shown up, he thought about her. Really thought about her, and not just in relation to the info she
might be able to get him on Audrey. What was life here like for her? She said
girls came through. But not her? She obviously had some sort of position h