Chapter Ten

Stacy- October 03, 1989

Time was starting to melt away. We lost track of when it was daytime and nighttime. Our keeper never seemed to want to enlighten us on how much time was passing. He just kept us here to eat and sleep. We never talked, either, it seemed. Though it must have been months, we just couldn't seem to talk. We didn't know that, however, that would change very quickly.

We were all sitting on our mattresses, staring off into space, when he was at the door. We all stiffened as we heard each lock being unlocked. At last, when he finally entered, we gasped in surprise. He was carrying two bundles that seemed to be the last things we would ever expect to see. One was a medium sized box. The other was a small baby. We don't say a word until he had leaves, after gently placing the baby and the box down on the floor.

Suzy is the one to get up. She goes and picks up the box, placing it at my feet. Then she picks up the baby, handling the child with ease, then settling next to me. "I wonder," she says, moving the blankets away from the child's face. Then we see there is a letter pressed against the child's chest. Suzy nestles the baby in her lap before taking out the letter and reading.

"'This is a little baby girl named Annie. She is only two months old. The outside world believes that both she and her mother were killed in a car crash. Little do they know; the child survived. Now, she is yours for the keeping. In a few hours, I'll return with formula, clothes, diapers, etc for her use. Take care of her. You'll be soon to understand why.

"'In the box, you will find a reward. Yes, in addition to the child, you have a reward. In the box, you will find it all. I have taken the liberty to sorting them into four different stacks. You may read them at your leisure.

"'Just remember, you are now the caregivers for the new baby girl. I am unsure of how long she shall be with us, for her family has a history of severe illness. But, for the time being, raise her as if she was your daughter. I expect you all to pitch in, although, I will decide one of you to be the designated mother. I may be able to find one for each of you or, at the very least, one other child. But, for the time being, treat her well. You are all the family she has. Behave yourselves.'"

I look anxiously at Suzy, then Amber, and then finally at Cecelia. They all look odd, as if unable to decided whether this was a good thing or not. But then all our eyes settle on the box that sits at my feet. Cautiously, I open it to find a very good surprise.

"Letters!" All at once, I dive into the box and pull out four equally large bundles of letters. Each was addressed to one of the four girls. I set my own down first, and then distribute the remaining three to Suzy, Amber and Cecelia. Over the next hour, so it felt, we read letter upon letter. Many of them were simple 'I miss you' letters; others were just silly pictures from little siblings.

It is our keeper, returning with a large bag full of baby things, that interrupts us. Suzy, with baby Annie still in her arms, gets up to receive the package. Our keeper merely nods before leaving, locking us in again. Our attentions doesn't return to the letters for a while, for we wonder what is in this bag.

Suzy sits down, laying Annie on my mattress in the little nest of blankets. The baby has been sleeping this whole time, and we are clearly grateful that she has been silent. Suzy opens the bag, immediately pulling out three packages of diapers, a box of baby wipes, a bottle of baby powder, and several bottles of baby wash, shampoo, and lotion. She then goes through the mounds of clothing, pulling out half a dozen onesies, each a different solid color of a shade of pink, purple, and yellow; a dozen dresses in all sorts of colors; half a dozen shirt and short combinations; and several packages of socks. Then she finds the same things, only bigger than the last. A note on top said 'For latter days'. There were three other piles, almost identical, though they were bigger in sizes each time. Beneath the clothes, we find shoes, for when the baby must be older. We find rattles, binkies, bibs, little stuffed animals, and half a dozen baby bottles. With these, there were three containers of baby formula. And at the very bottom of the bag, there were four different blankets, each a different level of thickness, and six disposable cameras. With these, there was another note.

This time, I take the note. I unfold it and start reading. "'These cameras are for your use. You may use them however you like. However, you will only be getting a select few every so often. For now, it is six. I want you all to be documenting your lives here, but sparingly. I prefer the photos to be used on people, not objects. Four of these are to be given out, one to each girl. One of the final two will be for the designated mother of Annie. Whenever I am able to find a second infant, the second remaining camera with go to the other designated mother. Behave yourselves.'"

I frown. "I hate how he always ends his letters that way. It's as if we are planning some revolt against him." Amber gives a grunt in agreement.

Cecelia hands each of us a camera. She takes the other two and puts them on the bookshelf. She then grabs four pieces of paper and four markers. She sit down again, giving one of each to each of us. "I think," she says, as she hands the last paper and pen to Amber, "that we should write down when we take each picture and what it is of… That way we can remember it years later. And if and when we get the pictures developed, we can write it down on the back of the picture."

We all nod in agreement. Then, Amber frowns. "But we don't know what date it is. How can we write down when we have taken a photo?"

We all consider this. Then Cecelia replies in a small voice. "Maybe we can ask him for the date… And maybe the privilege for a calendar."

I think, surely, that someone would protest. I didn't think it was a bad idea, but I thought, maybe, Suzy would. But they all think it over before nodding in agreement. Suzy then says, "I will, holding the baby. I'm sure if we tell him why he will be fine with it."

It was settled. We wait a while until he comes back. It was as if he knew we wanted to ask him a question, but he had come back with yet another surprise: fast food. We knew that it was unhealthy, but it was hot food, something we had not had for a very long time. Suzy gets up to take it and when she does, the keeper turns to leave. She hesitates at first, but goes on with our plan.

"Sir," she says quietly, though loud enough to have him stop and turn back to Suzy. In one arm she holds the sleeping baby, in the other, she holds the bag of food. He nods at her, indicating it's okay for her to continue on. "We were wondering if, perhaps, we could know the date. And, if we are worthy for it, have a calendar. You see, we want to keep track of when we take the photographs, so that we would never forget a moment… So when Annie grows up and sees the pictures, we can tell her how old she was and when the picture was taken."

For a moment, it looks as if he is angry. Then, for the first time in our time here, he speaks sentences to us. His voice is cold and terrifying, but it is good to hear words, rather than read them "I suppose I can oblige. However, dates are never to be transferred into letters against me. You may speak of milestones for Annie, but nothing more. I will supply a calendar, and I will mark Annie's birthday, as well as your own birthdays. I'll mark down today's date as well. Expect it to come later today." With that, he leaves.

We wait a few minutes before we speak or eat, but after a while, hunger for our first hot meal in months breaks our silence. Happily and hungrily, we sink our teeth into warm hamburgers and French fries. We eat well, thoroughly thrilled to have our stomachs full of warmth rather than cold. Then, we start talking.

"I cannot believe he is actually going to do this for us. It'll be bearable to at least know the date," Amber says, taking the trash and throwing it in the rubbish bin, gagging slightly by the smell. We had grown accustom to defecating and urinating into that rubbish bin, and soon we had grown used to the smell. However, we avoided the bin as much as we could, so whenever we went near it, the smell was horrid.

"I can't either," says Cecelia. She looks at the baby for a moment, thinking. "This just proves his plan for us, doesn't it? He wants us to practice our hands with a baby or two, so that when we have our own, we'll be able to handle it."

No one answers this statement. For a moment, we all stare at the baby. Then, Amber breaks her gaze and returned to her letters, which everyone does as well. Suzy struggles, for she has the baby back in her arms again. She was trying to read from a journal, but it was too hard with the baby. "Here," I say at last, stretching out my arms. "I'll take her for a bit." Suzy puts Annie in my arms, smiling in thanks, and then turns to her journal, which she had nearly finished. All of her other letters lay beside her, already read. I, too, was on my last letter, though it was much shorter than Suzy's. I notice that Amber and Cecelia have only made it through half of their letters.

After I finish reading the letters, I have little to think about. Hardly anything new was happening back at home, and they hardly even talked about home. They just rambled on about what they were missing about me. It was good for the moment, but now I was left wondering a lot. I was wondering what little day-to-day things were different, and whether things were any easier or harder.

But amidst my wondering, I suddenly realize that Suzy was crying. Amber and Cecelia have just noticed, too, but only stare at her. I get up, careful to not wake Annie, and sit beside her. "Is everything okay, Suzy?"

At first, she does not answer. She just closes the journal, setting it beside her, and after a while she dries her eyes. "I told everything to Jodie. She's my brother's girlfriend and my best friend; she had to know. And so I told her everything. Of all people, I knew she'd understand. She's been through it more times than all of us combined, though that's going to change here very soon." She doesn't continue for a while, which gives me a chance to think.

The first thing that crossed my mind was that this was the first time she had spoken of her home. I never knew anything about her family until now. And then this girl Jodie… If I had not mistaken her, she had said that she had told a girl, who had been raped over a dozen times, about the things this man was doing to us. I couldn't tell if this was brave or weak. But, by the look on her face, I couldn't call her weak. It seemed to have taken a lot of courage.

"But Jodie wrote back to me. She said that she was crying from the thought of it, but she told me that we'd get through it. She told me that even if he forced us to have eighty children and forced us through sessions twice a day, we'd be okay. She told me that it would hurt for a long time, but she knew that we'd be okay. It means so much to me… If she has been through it so much herself and can still write to me and tell me that I'll be okay like her, then it must be true. She hasn't ever been wrong, and I doubt that she ever will be. I didn't think there was that much hope left."

I watch Suzy rub her eyes in irritation. I don't know what to say, though Amber does. "Well, then that must mean it'll be okay. We have to believe her, don't we?"

"I think so," Cecelia says softly. She's surveying Suzy, as if trying to make up her mind about something. Whatever it was, she had. "I bet that would be what my mother would say. Her daddy was like that to her when she was a girl. She had had two failed pregnancies by the time she moved out. Then she married my daddy and lost two more babies, though she wasn't forced into anything with him. But she has been through a bunch of stuff. She's lived with the bad side of Daddy a lot longer than I have. Even so, I'd bet she'd know that we're going to be okay."

This doesn't entirely make sense to me, but I nod anyway. At that moment, my connection with the other three girls grows tremendously. Knowing things like that seems to strengthen the feeble bond we have. By having these glimpses of their personal lives, I was getting an insight on who they really were. Yet, of all the girls, I feel most distant to Amber. See, Cecelia and I are both fairly poor. Suzy and I are similar in personality. But Amber and I… We are quite different as far as I can see. She is the baby, while I am the oldest. She has money, more money than three times what my parents pulled in. I wonder if the only thing remotely alike that we shared is this dismal place…

Amber has been watching the little conversation quietly. She seems oddly quiet. As if to prove me wrong, I strongly recognize the look she has on her face. She wanted to say something; something that was significant, but felt it was too painful. In my own mind, I was thinking the same thing…

Every person has secrets, so they say. I had one that dated back since I first moved in with the Freeman family. It was one that could land one of the children in deep trouble. It was how I was able to cope with this hell without crying on and on like Suzy did at first. It was as if I was destined for a life like this since I was eight years old…

And for a wild moment, I think that Amber is going to say something first. By her expression, I have the distinct feeling that something terrible like this has happened to her before. Whatever it was, though, she's not eager to share. It troubles her deeply.

At that moment, Annie begins to cry. I hadn't noticed her wake, so her cries make me jump. Suzy rushes to her subconsciously and scoops her up. "Hush, now, it's okay." She settles down on her own mattress, where much of the baby clothes still lay out. Suzy fusses with the baby, trying to see what was making her cry.

The baby was not wearing any other clothes other than a diaper, which makes it easy for Suzy to change her diaper. While she is doing this, Amber puts the clothes and other things that would not be of use to us away on the bookshelf. She leaves the other things out, waiting for use.

As Suzy pulls the sticky ends of the straps tight, she sighs. "First baby experience here. Feels kind of weird, to be honest." She consults the pile of clothes, trying to decide what baby Annie would be wearing.

The baby was still whining, which gives me the impression that she is hungry. I get up and take a bottle and a can of formula and go over to where we had made our makeshift sink. It's not much, merely a bucket in which we washed our hands and poured water over, but good enough for now. I quickly make up a bottle of the milk, handing it to Suzy just as she is fastening the last button of a magenta onesie. She thanks me, taking the bottle and setting it beside her. She carefully wraps the baby again, nestling her in her arms, and then taking the bottle to feed her.

It's quiet for a while. Everyone seems to be deep in thought. After a while, the baby falls asleep again. Suzy, though slightly reluctant, puts the baby in one of the cradles I had forgotten about. She makes sure everything is right before she comes back to her mattress. After a while, she and Cecelia fell asleep while I watch them. Amber has been watching too, leaving only her and I awake. I hoped that she would talk; maybe say something about that look that made me have the impression this situation wasn't completely foreign to her. My wait was not in vain.

"Stacy," she whispers quietly, as if she thinks Suzy or Cecelia are only pretending to be asleep. I look at her with mild curiosity. Her voice is very soft, unlike her sure, strong tones that she normally has. For the first time, she sounded feeble, weak, and scared. "I was wondering…" She fiddles with her fingers, as if trying to phrase a touchy subject in the least offensive or in the least disturbing way possible. "What is he going to do to us if we miscarry a baby, or have a baby with… problems?" To make the impact of these words on me that much stronger, she looks up at me with her brilliant forest green eyes, shining with tears. She looks terrified, and yet she has a knowing look in her eyes.

Trying to remain calm, I take several deep breaths. I steady my mind, restraining it from going crazy with the commotion alive inside. I try looking her in the eyes, but I can't, so I look to the floor, trying to decide whether the truth was best to be told here… But I knew it was.

"I think," I say slowly, "he would punish us somehow. Maybe he would beat us. Maybe he'd force us into another session. But I don't think he'd be happy."

It was as if I had confirmed her worst fear, for she starts crying. It was the truest emotion I seemed to have ever seen from Amber since we'd first met. I go to her and hug her, trying to understand why she hurts so much. I have a feeble idea, but I didn't want to be the one to prompt an answer.

She cries a while, shaking and sobbing. After a while, I can tell she grows very tired. She falls back from my embrace onto her mattress, curling up and crying silently. "I thought he would go away," she whispers, as if a little child.

"Who, Amber?"

She looks at me in a horrible way. Her eyes look like black holes, no light of happiness in them at all. I could feel the pain in my own heart, finding myself afraid of this person, too. Her lip trembles as she quickly inhales. And then, against my own thoughts, she whispers, "Uncle Thom," almost too quiet for me to hear. But I hear it, and for a split second, I just seem to know… But it's gone a moment later.

I want answers, so I push a little deeper. "Tell me about Uncle Thom, Amber."

She squeezes her eyes closed tightly, gripping her hair and pulling on it almost too hard. I'm afraid for her and the pain she is going through, but I don't dare back down. "I hate him," she says in her firm, venomous tone that I was fairly familiar with. "I'd kill the man if I didn't know that I'd spend eternity in hell burning for the deed. I'll let him burn instead." She sits up, looking at me with a gaze that was quite odd. If this gaze spoke words, it would say, 'Why don't you understand?'

"When I was five, my dad's brother moved in with us. He lived in the room next to mine at the time." She pauses, but continues as if this was an easy topic to talk about. "He had an extreme liking for little girls. He would babysit us when my parents worked. Adam and Aaron would always play together, because they were close enough in age. They liked to go to the park and play sports stuff. Alice would go to her friend's house. She usually did homework or studied. But I was five. I had no reason to go anywhere. So Uncle Thom liked to 'play.'

"After the first time, it was like I had signed a contract to always be home with him whenever everyone else was gone. He was what he called 'gentle' when I was little. I just knew that if he made me scream from pain, he'd never be able to get away. So, he just played 'doctor' all the time. His hands had no boundaries. And I had no say or defense. I couldn't go to my brothers, because we weren't exactly best friends. And Alice was too much older to be bothered by a little girl. And he threatened to kill if I was to tell my parents.

"When I was eight, after Alice went to college, it was because of Uncle Thom that I wanted to switch rooms. For a while, it put a stop to many of the unwelcome visits. But then he came back, and I couldn't just switch back to my old room, now. So I just went on with it. For a while, I was able to pretend that it was normal. But that lasted only for a couple years.

"I was ten the first time he…" She looks up for a moment, a lok in her face that makes me think she is going to vomit all over the place, but she manages to hold it down, though she looks pale. "He liked it so much that he made sure to visit me once a week. He moved out when I was eleven. But he only moved down the street, a few houses away. He rented out a room at that house because he was now working for the man living there. I thought I'd never have to experience the horror again, but my parents thought I still needed a sitter. And Uncle Thom just 'happened' to be free every time they needed him.

"The torment went on. In sixth grade, I started puberty. And that was also when I started losing babies. I wasn't sure, at first, what was happening. But by the time I had turned twelve, I had gone four months without a period, and I was 'gaining weight' like crazy. My parents went with Aaron and Adam to a weekend sports tour and left me with Uncle Thom. He seemed to think I was pregnant because he beat me about the stomach for hours. The next day, I miscarried it. He didn't even take me to the hospital. I was lucky to escape the ordeal with no damage to my health. But I was suddenly scared for my life. And over the course of that year he… continued to get me pregnant and force me to miscarry.

"The first baby was the hardest because I must have been about fifteen weeks or so. There was an actual baby there and losing it was painful and messy. The others weren't as hard, I guess, but it took another piece of my heart every time. To this day, I can't help but wonder…"

I watch Amber subconsciously put her hands on her stomach, so much like mothers do when they are pregnant. It made me wonder if, perhaps, she was already pregnant from her uncle… But she reads my mind. "Three days before I got taken, he forced another one. I think I was close to three months along." A look of an incomprehensible pain comes about her as she crumbles in front of me, crying. But she has herself built back up quickly, trying to keep herself strong.

Through tears, she says, thickly, "That's why I try and make myself so tough. That's why most things don't affect me. But this… The whole objective that the Keeper has torments me. It's something I've already faced for three years."

I look at her bravely, knowing I have to do something. What I had to say wasn't nearly as horrific as anything she had just told me, but I hoped that she would trust that I at least had a vague understanding. "When I was eight, my family and this other family moved into this house together. The other family had a son who was a little more than three years older than me. And this boy had lots of problems. He had walked in on his parents too many times to be okay. He was sexually perverted by the age of six. I read in one of his sister's diaries about how she was five, him six, when he started trying to have sex with her.

"And so, when we moved in, he saw this girl who was younger than him, and I immediately had a target on my back. He didn't dare try to sexually assault anyone until he was in high school. But I was only eleven by that time. And so, whenever he could, he'd take out his premature sexual confusion out on me. I never had to deal with… you know. I am what most people consider a late bloomer. I only started a couple weeks before I ended up here."

Amber looks at me for a few minutes, as if trying to overcome her pain to let her and I connect. But in the long run, she eases up and looks at me with much more acceptance, almost like a good friend. I knew it would be a while before we would get close enough to be on friend status, but this was a start. She gives me a little nod before curling back up on her mattress again and falling asleep.

Not long after, the Keeper comes back. He nods to me, deciding to speak again. "Today is October third. It's 11:05 PM. I have brought you an eighteen-month calendar, marked with particular dates, and a clock. It plugs in, so that it won't get off in time. I'll check it now and then, though." He hands me the clock and calendar. Then he leaves, locking us in again. Hastily, I put up the clock and calendar with pins the Keeper gave me. I then mark the time we received this on the calendar, so that the other girls know. After this is done, I lay down, falling asleep into a restless dream state, waiting for the next day to begin in terror once more.