By G. Padron Sarmiento

I have always been patient of him, the way he calls on me with no regard for the anger it instills to be treated like property, a mere trophy that longs for nothing more than a case to stand in for life, a glass case to protect me from my winner. I long to see and be seen by the outside world and when worse came to it, the beatings made me forget all about it. I never wanted to forget about it, about the anger, the beatings, and the desires that kept me alive as a young girl. Nothing can keep me alive anymore. I am not truly here, turned to shadow that follows his pace, only worth the sweat he sheds every time he punishes me. Nevertheless, here I am. This is my life and if he says I am worth only sweat and pain, then so be it. If it keeps me alive, I suppose it's better to forget what I lived each day, even if it's only for a moment.

I lost my innocence the day I turned eight, the day my mother died. I refused to speak after that. My father wept for thirty days, a time I hardly saw him. I suppose I always thought he blamed me. It never occurred to me he was trying to hide his own weakness, his tears icy reminders of the way things were and how they would never be again. Mother would never have scrambled eggs ready for us every Saturday morning, never go to the movies with me, or read to me as I drift to sleep. I was a single step away from becoming an orphan and for those thirty days, I considered myself one, shunned from family and left to fend for myself. The grief never really went away but her memory started to fade.

By the time I was 15, I couldn't remember the way her hair smelled, though I kept a vanilla scented candle beside my bed so I would force myself to remember. I tried the rebellious stage but it only lasted a week. I was back to being simply sarcastic and moody before I could start fidgeting with the idea of a tattoo. My Sweet 16's would never be sweet without her.

That's when father started getting distant. I was 17 and about to graduate high school and he figured I was going to leave him too soon enough and he should start detaching himself from me emotionally. By the time I graduated college I hardly spoke with him except on the occasional holiday, and even that was forced. I was involved in a bad relationship after the next, never lasting with anyone longer than 3 weeks and even that was a feet. I never let the depression show. That's when my feelings seemed worse and unfortunately, they would be the last ones I had regarding anyone other than my captor.

My 24th Christmas, my aunt Lauren took me up to her cabin in Vermont, for a family dinner one my father would surely be attending. It was admirable to try to reconcile the family bonding but it was nothing less than ridiculous. Halfway through dinner, my father finally opened his mouth, only to completely ignore my question and pass it over to my cousin Joseph. That's when I realized he was literally trying to ignore me. I wondered why but thought of no answer. I foresaw no answer.

That very night, I was invited to stay over at the cabin when, mid-slumber, the place catches fire. I awoke to the smell of burning plastic and rubber, my aunt's childhood dolls being turned to disfigured remnants of their former selves. The flowery wallpaper turned black and receded while the fire chased it. The heat couldn't be felt but the sweat that ran down my back and on the palms of the hands that gripped my sheets. I screamed, seeing no escape from my fiery cell.

A person dressed in black, a ski mask and sweater, lifted my frozen body from the bed and carried me down the side of cabin through my only window. For a moment, I sought to fight back but in my mind, I saw the face of my father under that ski mask. So, I closed my eyes and took in the snow of the outside world, letting my captor take me away into the woods until his pace seemed like a rocking and I was stolen from my deadly fate for one far worse.

I awoke in what seemed a dungeon, with cold bricks my cell walls. Snow had been piling at the entrance so I knew escape would come just past that door, salvation from a threat I had yet to see. My pajamas smelled like smoke and had become gray from the ashes around me. I had a cough that rasped through me like stones rolling down a dry precipice and my once-ebony hair was dried and flaky like straw. When I went to remove my bangs from my eyes, I began to feel the cold irons that wrapped themselves around my wrists and ankles.

Panic smacked me straight in the head, the feel that whoever was about to come through the door had the keys to my freedom but would see them burn along with me rather than see me freed. I hated being right all the time but there he was, a tall, muscular figure whose face I couldn't make out in the fuzziness of the hair that covered my face. I tried to swing it back, to try to see his face, a tattoo, anything! But he just kept coming closer towards me, and lifted me up off the wooden floor by my waist as if I was a mere toy to prop up. He was stern; I could tell.

Then he uttered his first words to me, words I would never forget, "You are mine now, my Anna, and only mine. Remember that. Obey me and I'll let you live." His voice was raspy like mine, so surely it'd been he that rescued me from the cabin. It had to have been. He smelled like gasoline and smoke. I could tell from behind brown lines his blonde hair that fell over his jade-green eye all the way to the edge of his nose. He seemed familiar somehow, the way he moved as he ripped the pajamas off me, leaving me in my underwear, my hair covering whatever shame I had left. I squealed and yelped but I couldn't get words out. I froze again in the middle of another dangerous situation. Every time I said anything, he would put his hand over my mouth, shush me, and slap me so hard my eyes started to cry without my consent.

That was when I first realized the meaning of his words. I was his slave that I would be there, tied to the walls like a dog, ready to his every whim. Escape never even crossed my mind all the years I was with him.

Every day thing got worse. I refused to cooperate with my kidnapper and he only got more creative. He never tired of slapping me or hitting me with some metal thing he had by his corner in the wall. I never found out what it was but it felt like his hand, a metal glove. When he wasn't raping me against a wall, pulling my hair back until I screamed out, he sat in the other corner of the dank prison for hours. He just sat there staring at me, leaned against the wall with his hair covering his eyes. I don't remember ever sleeping the whole time I was his prisoner, only standing still, my eyes closed, hearing every raspy breath from the other corner.

My dungeon was dark and wet. Snow had started to melt. Through boarded windows, I could see a ray of light every morning. I stopped counting when it seemed months had gone by. He started coming in more often, sometimes three times a day. Twice, he pulled the chains from my right side so he could turn me over and force into me from behind. My cries meant nothing to him, my sobs and pleas to stop.

A year had passed and this became routine. For some reason, I never stopped beseeching him to let me go, to set me free. He never spoke after those first words. How he knew my name was baffling to me even a year after. I still talked to him, though, every morning when he brought food and changed the bucket under me.

The slapping started to get harder, by now I could sense it in the twitching of his muscles just before he struck me. I once asked him if he did this anyone else, if he had another girl in the next tower. He stopped what he was doing and looked at me, paused, then continued out of the tower. I had no idea whether it was truly a tower or dungeon or if I had traveled back in time to a place where people like me had to be punished. I came to believe he was punishing me, ridding me of my sins as he took them in himself three times over.

One of the many countless days, he brought in another girl and made me watch as he beat her to the ground, blood spilling from her tattered head. I could tell what he meant. The same thing would happen to me eventually, whether I obeyed or not. That was when I decided I would have to find my way out and the only feasible way was through him. I had to kill him. I figured he'd purged me of my sins to a point where killing in self-defense would seem like nothing to my score. If I had to go to hell, I had to make sure I would meet him there.

As I planned to execute my escape, my mother came to mind, the vanilla I could still smell every time I closed my eyes, every time the smallest ray of light came through those windows. I thought of my father and the way I had behaved that Christmas. I tried to think whether he'd welcome me when I escaped, or if he'd throw me back in the dungeon with my captor. That's when he came through the door, my captor in good spirits. I could tell from his walk, the slightly less ravaging motion of the arms that had thrown me to the floor so many times.

I taunted him, making his anger match mine, calling him a weak coward that had no other way of getting laid than by tying up a stranger in his basement. He dismissed me at first but I could tell it was getting to him. Finally, he threw a bowl of milk from the wooden table across the dungeon, a table he'd used to make me his more times than I could count. That was where I was going to kill him. I made the table seem the only way he could shut me up, make me his submissive doll once more, one last time.

He stomped to my side of the room. Fear and adrenaline cursed through my veins like the blood that had once carried the last bits of an innocence I thought I had lost. I fought, resisted with all my might but he was far too great for me.

He had both my wrists, refusing to let them go even as I stomped on his black rubber boots. He grunted with anger and threw me down on my back, with my hands held down beside my head, and started biting at my bare chest and neck, working his way down.

I kicked him before he could try to take me again, kicked everywhere and anywhere that would hurt him, make him weak, but it seemed impossible. My hair was finally free from my face and I could see his, his blonde hair thrown so asunder that I could see just what he hid.

His eye. His left eye was scarred, almost burned all around his hairline. The eye itself had turned white, like acid's mark.

"I know your secret… I know what you hide!" I yelled out and with my words came enough strength for me to grab the metal object he'd used so many times to make me bleed. I lunged it at his head, throwing him off the table and onto the floor, but still not taking him down. I warned him not to come closer but he didn't listen and came at me again.

I swung that thing so hard that it made him spin before he touched the ground. My legs out of use and swollen, bleeding from all the times he attacked me, found new life and carried me through the heavy, wooden door, into the snow. I was blinded but I ran for my life.

My exposed body meant nothing to me anymore and I ran and ran, not bothering to look where I was going, only at the snowing, pine-filled floor. I don't know how long I ran. I was so tired and lightheaded that my legs ran under me by themselves, hoping never to see the bricks again.

I collapsed somewhere near some hollow logs of once pine trees, now decomposing into the world around them as I would soon if I didn't get myself up and running again. The cold had made me numb all over. I no longer felt or smelled anything and my vision was clouded by the sunlight. My own stench became evident, but I just got up again and returned to my fleet.

The sounds of the snowy woods became calmer and I realized they had been overtaken by the noise of cars and horns and fumbling engines.

Someone would find me. All I had to do was get to the road.

I saw the snow at my feet become dirtier, sparser, and piled into never-ending rows like small, white walls. I tripped over them and fell face first onto the concrete of the highway. I tried to get up but my body caved and I collapsed in the middle of the road. As my vision turned dark, the last thing I remembered was the honking of horns and the brown eyes of my savior as he spoke to me words I could never make out.

I was questioned by the police, by random officers again and again and as many times as they asked, the pain never seemed to trivialize as with tall tales told. My family was brought in, all except my father. I didn't ask for him when they arrived at the hospital, and when they seemed to be about to tell me some excuse for why he wasn't there, I changed the subject.

My savior was always there beside me, my Prince Charming who still held my hand when I awoke.

Prince Ethan, always my savior.

Two months after my rescue, I was still supposed to be in the hospital but I refused. I demanded to Ethan, "Take me to my father!" and so he did. He opened the car door for me and helped me to my crutches, then walked me slowly through the tombstones of Rockbridge Cemetery till one marked "John Calvin."

I knelt down before my father's grave and wept openly for the first time since my captor's beatings as I read his grave marker.

"He never gave up looking."

The police came to find me that afternoon. They'd found my captor's dungeon some 12 miles from where I collapsed, an old mill beside a cabin. They needed me to identify the bodies of three girls found buried under the snow. I knew one, the one he'd beaten before me. The rest were faceless victims.

There was still no sign of him and I still never felt safe.

A year passed and I had taken over my father's estate aside Ethan. He took me away from the dungeon, away from my captor and all the memories that came with it. I could never let Ethan near me the way I wanted, but he understood and shared my bed nonetheless. He always told me that if I could survive my captor, I could survive anything.

We married a year after that and stayed happily married nearly 50 years. The year he died, my only daughter took me to see him at the hospital one last time. When I entered the room, nurses and doctors were flocking over him and incessant beep sounded in the background, rapid and never-ending, and that's when I realized it was my Ethan's last breath escaping him and leaving me all alone again.

The night of his death, I couldn't go to sleep without his arms wrapped around me, keeping me safe and secure in the darkness. Tears flooded my pillow and sheets and when morning light hit me that morning, I felt like I was back at the dungeon with my captor, reliving the pain and torture.

That morning, I had a heart attack in my kitchen reaching for my pills. When I wake up nearly a month later, my daughter tells me something had gone wrong during the procedure and they had to give me a new heart. I had no idea how to feel. Relieved surely, but at whose cost? My blood type is rare and to find a heart that quickly was insane. So, I ask them to take me to my donor, my savior since Ethan.

When I reach the morgue, I see the body of a graying old man just like my Ethan, but as I approach him, I feel my breath scurry and heartbeat intensify. I had no idea why but the dead man on the gurney seemed so familiar. For a moment I thought it was my Ethan, and then I felt that for a moment it was my father, and then I saw it.

Over his left eye was the smoldered flesh of my captor and in his eye, the white of the acid's mark.