Chapter One-

"Officer Kirk?"

A man shakes his head sleepily. "Yes, sir?"

The captain lowers his voice, but not enough to keep me from hearing. Not that anyone is noticing me at the moment. "Have you identified the children yet?"

Officer Kirk shakes his head. "No, sir. None of the kids will talk. I think they're too little to do it on their own. I can only imagine all the hell they went through. I haven't tried again on the oldest kid. I was waiting for more information. Maybe if we talk to her knowing something, she'll speak up."

The captain nods impatiently. "Well, we talked to the two adults. Didn't say much. Just said a bunch of jibber jabber most of the time. They finally spat out one name. That body in the dumpster was a little girl named Alyssa. That's the only sure thing they said. Nothing else is clear. But upon searching the house and car, we discovered three other bodies. One we have identified as the missing Wilson girl who went missing about two years ago. The case had gone cold, if I remember correctly. The other two we're not sure about yet. One male, approximately four years old. One female, approximately six years in age."

Officer Kirk shutters. "How many bodies are there exactly? I don't remember there being more bodies. Where did these others turn up?"

The captain shrugs. "We searched the house and vehicle. Found the Wilson girl in an unlocked chest in the trunk of the car. The unidentified male and female were found in trash bags in a closet. That's just what we've found. When we interviewed the adults, we asked them how many kids they've had and they answered twelve. We only have nine accounted for if there really are twelve."

"Sir, are you sure there's twelve? I mean, they seem pretty crazy. I saw the state of the dumpster girl. They are nowhere near sane. They could be making that up."

"I know, Kirk. However, I think we may have three other bodies somewhere. I don't see why not. They certainly are crazy enough. The easiest way to find out would to get the oldest girl to talk."

I turn my head so they don't think I'm listening. Across the room, I see Audra sitting with a social worker who's trying to figure out who she is. The only thing Audra has said was that she wanted her parents. I suppose they just assumed that Audra was a missing child. At the next desk are Cora and Madison, too shaken up to talk. At their feet, Zach is asleep, as peaceful as can be. I know we should be at the hospital, but I guess the police are willing to take their chances first.

I feel a hand on my shoulder and it makes me jump. Of course he picked the bruised one. "Miss? I need you to talk to me," Officer Kirk says. He gets on one knee so he is eye level with me. "Can you tell me the names of you and the other kids? I need that so we can help you."

I bite my lip, not wanting to talk to him about any of this. But it's staring at Audra that makes me realize that I want her to get home. If I give her name, her parents can come get her. "The little girl with red hair is Audra Platt. They snatched her right up off the street a while back. Been with us ever since."

"Audra Platt? The little five-year-old that went missing a couple years ago?"

I nod. "Except she's seven now. Closer to eight."

Kirk wipes his forehead, which has started to sweat. "Can you tell me any more names?"

I sigh. "It's too much right now."

"Then at least give me yours. And those three little ones over there if you can manage that. We just want to help you."

I doubt it. But I mainly want them to stop pestering me. "The brunette little girl is Cora Lynn King. She's six and a half. The blonde is Madison Noelle Shuler, an eight year old. And the baby is Zach Allen. I don't know which last name he has. He's the girls' half-brother."

Kirk scribbles away, writing down what he can. I ignore him, staring at Cora and Madison. Their eyes are wide, hollow and dead looking. They've been through a tough night and I don't blame them for being in shock. Finally, Kirk frowns. "And what's your name?"

I sigh, not really wanting to give him that. But I'm tired of him calling me 'miss,' so I give in. "My name is Nelly. Nelly May King. I'm twelve. I've always been the oldest."

Kirk looks up at me. "What do you mean by that?"

I sigh. "There were twelve of us. Maybe not ever all at one time, but I can't remember that for sure. But there have been twelve of us. Seven are dead. I bet you're missing three or four bodies."

Kirk is shaking like mad, and it pisses me off. He's not the one who should be freaking out. It should be me. But I'm not. I'm the most normal person in this entire building. "Do you know where the other bodies are?"

I nod. I must have spoken too soon, feeling a stabbing in my chest. A tear falls before I can catch it. "I've been the one to bury them all. I was supposed to bury the two in the house this coming week. Because I didn't bury Alyssa. Mama buried Alyssa. But she didn't want to work. She thought the dumpster would be okay."

Kirk is just staring at me for a long time. But then he shudders. "Can you tell me the other names of the bodies?"

I shake my head. "No, it's too much right now. Please, just take us to a doctor. I think Cora and Madison might be really hurt. I've never seen them like this."

Kirk nods. "Fair enough. But when you all are feeling better, we have to talk. Understood?"

I grimace. "Yeah, yeah, sure. Whatever you say. Just get us to the hospital."

"The nurse gave us full descriptions of what injuries are where. I'm no doctor, but I'm really shocked that these kids can go through such injuries and still be alive. I bet the dead kids will be worse."

The captain's voice is loud and sharp. "Damn, Kirk, of course the dead kids will be worse! They're dead, ain't they? Now just talk to me about what the nurse gave you. I don't need every detail. Just give me a general idea."

I want to plug my ears. Of course I know it all already. But I don't want to hear some stranger say it out loud. "Well, all of the children have been raped. The baby has burns over thirty percent of his body, particularly his back, buttocks, and stomach. X-rays show he is healing from some stress fractures and minor fractures throughout his body, but mainly centered on the abdominal area.

"Seven-year-old Audra has fractures throughout her body, the most severe being her pelvis and four ribs. She has burns that cover about fifteen percent of her body, mainly on her thighs and back. There are bite marks all over her body. She is covered heavily in bruises and scars from ongoing abuse. The same can be said for the other girls, varying on location of fractures, burns, and other damage, and also considering some have had more of certain abuse acted upon them. Such as Cora and Madison. Both girls have more burns on their bodies, including burns on their hands and feet that have happened years ago."

"Will they be alright?"

Kirk heaves a heavy sigh. "Well, all the kids are malnourished. They are skin and bones. They are sickly. They will need a lot of medical care. But they are expected to live. It will just be a long process."

The captain is silent before saying, "Well, we need a story. The children have been in medical care for four days. The oldest girl should be able to talk now. You brought her, didn't you?"

"Yes sir."

"Good. Well, let's bring her in."

I hear the door open. "Nelly, could you come in here please?"

I nod, terrified of what this might mean. I go in to find a large room. In the middle is a fairly large table. On one side is the captain and a woman I've never seen, sitting. On the captain's left is a vacant chair. On the other side of the table is another vacant chair. "Nelly King, is it?" The way the captain said my name reminded me of my grandpa. I had only met him once. It had been almost six years. But I remember him. Yet, at the same time, the captain was cold feeling. I didn't like him. But I nod politely. "Good. Well, sit there," he says, pointing at the chair across from him.

Kirk sits next to the captain, looking at me expectantly. "Nelly, we need to ask you some questions. Dr. Hart is here to assist us. She is a psychologist who specializes with situations such as this. Anyway, we need as much information from you as possible. Do you think you can give it to us?"

I nod. "I'll do my best."

"Alright. First, we need the names of all the deceased children and the locations of their bodies."

I start shaking. "I can't do that. Not like that."

The captain is annoyed with me, I can see it. "Nelly, we need to find the bodies and recover them. And we need the names of all the children so we can start processing them and setting up proper burial arrangements. Please, we're not going to do anything bad with this information."

I nod. "I know that, but I just can't say their names like that yet. I can't tell you they're dead yet. You don't even know who they are. They all were alive. But you never knew them."

The captain and Kirk are about to protest when Dr. Hart steps in. "Gentlemen, relax. I think what Nelly is trying to say is that she doesn't want the memories of these children she knows to be defined by their deaths. She wants them to be defined by their life. Does that sound right, Nelly?"

I look at Dr. Hart, who looks like she is barely out of high school, if that. But she seems nice enough. Something about her makes me trust her, so I nod at her. "That's the closest words that say what it feels like."

Dr. Hart nods. "We understand. However, we do need the information. But we could settle the basics first. We have no idea of your situation. Who are these adults? Who are the children in relationship to you and the others who have survived? How long have these things been going on? Can you tell us that?"

I nod. "Five years. Just about exactly. For me and some others, at least. It started off complicated. It's always been complicated."

Dr. Hart nods. "Well, if it started five years ago, start there. Tell us what we need to know that got this to start when it did."

I frown. "What exactly do you mean?"

Dr. Hart sighs. "Nelly, you have been through so much, and no one knows exactly what happened in that home. All anyone can do is speculate and piece together little pieces that we do know. Regardless, we need to hear your story. The story of you and those other children. Do you mind telling us everything you remember? From the time it all started?"

I frown again. "Like telling a story?"

Dr. Hart nods. "Only, this story will be true. It will be about you. You and the others."

I nod slowly. "You want everything? All of it?"

Dr. Hart nods. "Everything you remember. It will help you to talk about it, and it will tell us all of what we need to know. And if we have questions, we'll ask you. I know this will take a long time. It might be really hard. But I think it will be best to hear all you have to say. Everything that you can tell us is really helpful. And it will help us understand the lives of all those poor children who haven't made it this far. Okay?"

I nod. "Okay." I sigh. My brain is spinning, but I know I have to just start talking. Talking like it was merely about the weather. "Well, I am the daughter of Sasha King. Kenny isn't my dad. My dad's name was Russell. We were a happy family. Mama was a stay at home mom with me, my brother and sister. Dad worked as a taxi driver. He worked a lot, but he made enough money to keep us on our feet.

"Not long after my sister was born, though, my dad's taxi got mugged. He was shot and killed. I was only six. Reed was three. Mama was a mess. We got kicked out of our apartment and all we had was the car, which was stuffed with as many possessions as we could fit in it. We lived like this for a few months before Mama met JT. JT was a mean man. He hit Mama when she didn't sell enough stuff. That's how she got on drugs. She got them from JT. I don't know how it worked, but Mama sold the drugs and was able to keep some of it too.

"Well, the drugs messed her up real bad. She stopped taking care of us. I had to take care of Cora and Reed, but I could barely care for myself. People would throw us some money out of pity or worry. When I got enough, I'd take Reed with me to get some food from the McDonald's down the block, and then buy some baby food for Cora. And if we had enough I bought food to last us until we got more money. It was tough because Mama never seemed to have the money for us. There would be days when Reed and I didn't eat at all."

I pause, thinking back then. I remember how everything had just crumbled. Reed and I didn't understand the pitiful situation. But in hindsight, it was nothing. I look up and notice the three adults scribbling down notes. It's then that I notice I'm being video recorded as well. It makes me nervous, but I don't say anything. If I do, it will just psych me out too much.

"All three of us had birthdays on the street. First was Cora's. Then mine. Then Reed's. A month after Reed's, Mama said she found us a place to stay. She said she met a real nice guy who had kids too and that we'd go live with them. We moved in that very day. It was the place we lived in for the next five years. Kenny was nice at first. He had a sick sense of humor and he had a temper, but he was nicer than JT. Well, at first he was, anyway. He had a son, Joshua, and two daughters, Madison and Lauren. At the time, Joshua was five, Madison three, Lauren about one.

"I heard from Joshua that their mom was killed, kind of like my daddy. But she was killed by someone she was selling herself to. He wanted to do stuff she didn't, so he killed her. Kenny has told the story so much I'm pretty sure I know more than even he does, because he doesn't know how scary it is to almost be dead. I do. We all do. Or did."

I pause for a minute, unsure what to say next. I close my eyes gently and let myself see the place. I melted into the place that became hell on earth. The only place where good and evil can coexist, as well as life and death. A place I never hope to return to…