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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Chapter 5

That was the sum total of my existence for about six months.  In the early days he came almost daily, sometimes more than once.  Even when I had my monthly he would come by and talk at me.  And I mean just that, he talked at me rather than to me.  He rarely needed a real response but he did require that I appeared to pay attention to what he was saying.  Most of the time he wasn’t rough which made it hard for me to fight him but there were days he seemed to come spoiling for a fight.  He never hit me but there were a few times he did hurt me.   

Only one time did he come in drunk and I think it was that time that you happened.  He was on me so fast and hard that protection never entered either of our heads.  It was also the only time he slapped me around, only it wasn’t just slapping by the time he wore out.  Apparently his brother had come to do a surprise check up on him and whatever business he was overseeing.  He used me to take his frustrations out on.  I’m still not sure he meant to do what he did.  He’s never brought it up and neither have I.  It doesn’t matter.  It wasn’t the first time I’d woken up in a pool of my own blood and it wasn’t the first time that I’d seen hate in a man’s eyes as he blamed me for what he’d chosen to do to me.  It also wasn’t the first time that I’d seen fear in a man’s eyes as how far he’d gone sunk in. 

Emerald got involved that time.  She took her job seriously.  Sure she was mean and hateful, cynical and sarcastic, but she prided herself on doing the job she had the right way and sticking to the rules.  There were plenty of rules for the whores but there were also rules for the men and women who used them.  First off was to pay what was owed.  But the second rule was that while some rough housing was expected, men were not allowed to permanently deface the merchandise since they were only renting them for however long their contract was for. 

It didn’t break the contract because I didn’t die.  And he didn’t die from the beating he took from Emerald’s enforcers.  But it was awhile before he did much more than come by and throw a bag on the table.  He couldn’t stand to look at me.  He wasn’t exactly a beauty queen either and I got the impression that after Emerald’s enforcers had had at him the brother had added to it. 

“Why does he have to come around anyway?!  It’s like they don’t trust me or something.  I’ve never given them any reason not to.  The money I take out is my fair pay and I don’t care what they have to say about it.” 

I must have been bored that day because for some reason I asked, “Him who?  They who?” 

“Oh so now you’re interested.  You never ask questions and the one question you do ask is about HIM?!” 

I wasn’t up for another beating and he looked in the mood to deliver one so I calmed him down by saying, “Normally you explain things so good I don’t have to ask.  If you don’t want to tell me then don’t.  It is your business.” 

“Damn straight it is.”  He went stomping around.  “Roman … my brother.” 

After a moment I said, “Roman is the him and he’s your brother.” 

“Yeah.  The rest of them … well … hell, family is family and what would you know about it anyway.” 

That was just one of his little digs to try and make me less of a person, someone that since I didn’t’ understand what was happening to me he didn’t have to feel so bad about it.  I’d learned early that they only hit harder when you made them think you were human and not just some unfeeling doll built for their use.  Guilt does strange things to a man. 

“So basically your brother is giving you grief.” 

“Roman is always on my case.  That’s why I left.  But a man needs to make a living and I’m a hell of a lot better at this than most of them would be.  Let them live out in their little enclaves and have their special little members-only clubs.  I’m the one that brings home the bacon so they get to keep playing in the dirt out in the woods.” 

I’d known he didn’t have a lot of respect for his family in general, or at least in whatever it was his family did, but for the next three months or so I suddenly became his confidante for every wrong he felt he’d ever been dealt.  It got old.  It got old real fast.  On the other hand I could live with it.  I figured out if he used up his energy on that he had less for the other.  Then during one of my monthly physicals, required by state law so that Emerald could keep her business license, I got handed the news. 

It was Emerald that told me.  “You’re knocked up Thorn.  Doc isn’t sure if you’ll keep it or not ‘cause he said you told him you spot off and on.  I thought you were smarter than that.  It is too late for a pill now and the abortionist costs money.  Better hope you man will pay up.” 

That’s when I realized when it must have happened.   

Alex didn’t want to believe it.  He wanted to know who I’d been fooling around with behind his back. 

I didn’t feel calm but I tried to sound calm when I answered him.  “You and Emerald are the only two people that ever come in here and that door stays locked unless you or she opens it.  How am I supposed to have fooled around with anyone else?” 

Eventually he believed me.  It took about a week and by then he found out his family had put him on a short leash and he didn’t have the money to pay for an abortion.  It took me a week to realize that I didn’t want one and that they’d have to kill me first and by then it wouldn’t matter. 

“Don’t think you can blackmail me Thorn,” he said menacingly. 

“Forget it Alex, things have changed.  I’m not out to blackmail you, it doesn’t sound like you have the money for it.  But you are going to help me.” 

“Bull shit.” 

“Right back at you.  And no slapping or hitting.  I’ve stuck to the contract to this point but from here on out I’ll fight you … and I know lots of dirty tricks that will hurt you permanently if you fight me.” 

“Then you can just starve.” 

“For that to happen you’ll have to break the contract.  You’re already in enough trouble with your family, you want the kind of trouble that Emerald can make for you? 

He blanched the whined, “You said you weren’t going to blackmail me.” 

“And I’m not.  But we are going to get a few things clear.  You are going to keep bringing food like the contract says, and it isn’t going to be crappy rotten stuff either.  I’ve heard how some men are when they want out of a contract but want to push the girl into it so they aren’t the ones that have to pay the penalty.  You’ve only got three months left to put up with me.  Between now and then you’re going to help me save up a little extra so I can disappear and go have the baby some place besides the dock.” 

“Yeah right.  They’ll have you right back where you came from.” 

“Wrong.  Word has come down.  Mother Mary only has a couple of weeks at most to live.  I hear she isn’t much more than skin and bones these days.  And no one wants what is left of her stable because it is some kind of STD that got her and now the men all think the girls have it too.  I know Emerald, she’ll still try and make a few bucks off of me but I’m done with that.” 

“What are you going to do?  Go teach Sunday School?”  He laughed at his own joke. 

“Don’t worry about it.  That part isn’t your problem,” I told him.  What I didn’t tell him was that I didn’t have a clue, all I knew was that I was getting away from the dock and getting as far away as I could.  Not the best plan in the world I admit but it was what I had at the time.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Chapter 4

Mother Mary wasted no time.  She was a big woman then, before the sickness really got into her, but even big she could move fast when it suited her.  She contacted the customer who sent money and the contract was made.  I was put into a taxi – a glorified rickshaw kind of thing since gas was rationed and reserved for the government and their special friends.  I left the stable yard for the first time in four years, since I’d arrived and it was disorienting; seeing stuff up close is different than seeing them through a small window far away.  And the light was too bright and the sun hot against my exposed skin.  I saw the faces of my “sisters” at every window of the old office complex.  For a brief moment I could swear I even saw Mother Mary from her office window but I’m not sure if it was a trick of my imagination or not. 

I was driven to an area further down the wharf where there were “condominiums” made of old shipping containers where higher priced and supposedly higher classed whores lived.  We had the appearance of a little more freedom and a little more space but the reality was we were still prisoners … the prison just had different guards. 

I was escorted to my “condo,” pushed in, then locked in.  It felt odd.  Compared to the way I had been living – sharing a room with at least ten other girls when we weren’t working or when I wasn’t fetching and carrying for Mother Mary – the shipping container was almost a palace.  Compared to what my life had been like before Mother Mary the “condo” wasn’t much better than a doghouse. 

The furnishings were simple.  A wooden bed with a fairly new mattress supposedly guaranteed to be bug free.  A small table and two chairs.  A closet in the back.  A small window with bars across it to remind you where you were.  That’s it.  Nothing else.  The whole place said that when a visitor came it was for one purpose and one purpose only.   

I was dealing with a wave of self-doubt, second guessing my decision, when the door behind me began to unlock.  Cautiously I turned around and watched it open.  A vaguely familiar figure stepped in and shut the door behind him. 

We stood looking at each other.  I may have decided my own fate this time but I didn’t decide to give up who I was.  No way was I just going to go lay down on the bed like a side of beef.   

Slightly uncomfortable he continued to stare and then blurted, “Is your name really Thorn?” 

I snorted, “You tell me.  Apparently you are renting me for a year.  You can call me whatever you want.” 

I saw his jaw harden.  “I did.  And I expect to be treated with some respect.” 

I shrugged.  “Is it respect when you have to pay to get it?” 

He took a threatening step towards me but didn’t raise his hands.  “Dammit.  Why are you making this so hard?  I thought you would be … be …” 


A little plaintively he said, “Yeah.  Yeah grateful.” 

I sighed.  “I suppose I am.  What is it you want?”  I stopped and rolled my eyes.  “Stupid question.  You’re a man what else would you want.” 

“Well for starters … tell me truthfully … is your name really Thorn?” 

I sighed.  I hated it when they tried to be nice.  It was so much harder to straight up hate them.  “No.” 

“What’s your real name?” 

“Why?  I haven’t used it in a long time.” 


“Why what?” 

“Why haven’t you used your real name?” 

“Because Mother Mary took that away from me and gave me a new name.  If you don’t like Thorn then pick something else.” 

“She named you Thorn?  Why?” 

“She started out calling me Flower.  Thorn suits me better.” 

“Sure as hell does.  But,” then he got a ferocious look on his face. “I own you.  At least for a year, so I want to know what your real name is.” 

Trying to be nonchalant I told him, “Narcissa.” 

He rolled his eyes this time and in a pretty good sized pet snapped, “I said your real name.” 

“Why the heck do you think she decided to call me Flower?” 

He blinked.  “So … that’s your real name.” 

“That’s my real name.” 

He grinned and said, “That’s a hell of a thing to hang on a kid.  Were your parents crazy?” 

Trying to rein in my temper at bringing up a past and memories I tried to protect and keep separate from the life I led I snapped, “Family name.  Pick something else or just stick with Thorn.” 

“Hell yeah.  I’m sure not going to go around calling you Narcissa that’s for damn sure.  Makes you sound like an old woman and that’s not what I want.” 

He finally got down to what he wanted and afterwards he sat a bag on the table.  He didn’t say much beyond he’d know if I tried to run off and to not get stupid since he’d come back around when he was good and ready to and what was in the bag would need to last until then.” 

After he left I cleaned up using the strong soap I preferred that I’d brought with me from my old digs.  It cleaned the smell of him off me.  So what if it took a layer of skin with it at the same time.  The problem was the new was starting to wear off and I began to wonder where and when and how I was supposed to get stuff like soap and toothpaste that Mother Mary had always supplied.  I wondered where and when and how I would get more water and cursed myself for not making sure to have some kind of container around to save what had been in the jug on the table. 

I had just enough time to really get worried when I heard noise at the door and wondered if the man had come back so soon.  “Room service,” a woman’s voice called. 

“I didn’t order anything,” I said back through the locked door. 

“Geez … you really are a newb,” came the cynical reply.  “Stand back and no funny business.  He may be paying for your keep but I’ll still get the guards to beat you if you pull something.” 

I stepped back and the door eventually opened to show a woman past her prime but still kind of handsome if you like that sort of thing.  She looked behind her and said, “Bring it in.” 

Two men brought in a plastic barrel and took it over to the closet space which was actually two closets.  I got my back to the wall and carefully observed them attach a pipe to the top of the barrel then close that section of the closet.  They walked out only to walk back in with a plastic foot locker which they put against the wall and a half barrel that they sat in the middle of the floor.  When they walked out this time they didn’t come back in.  I looked at the woman and she looked at me and then shrugged.  “My name is Emerald.  I hate newbs.  It gets old having to explain things enough so you’ll stay out of trouble.” 

I kept my mouth shut.  She snorted.  “Yeah, I heard.  You’re supposed to be tough.  Well you better hope you are.  Just don’t be a smart ass.”  I continued my silence.  I’ve learned it rattles people and I felt I needed to in some way win this round or my life would become an endless misery.  Emerald was tough and she didn’t rattle, all she did was get annoyed and decide to try and rattle me.  “You see this place?  Consider it solitary confinement.  The men want to make sure you don’t have no extry company to make any side money off of.  Some of the girls here, they go crazy after a while and get pretty damn grateful when the men do come around.” 

I continued to keep my mouth shut.  “Mark my words, no matter what you think you’re really just like all the rest.  And lucky you has a year lease.  You better pray he don’t forget about you or you’ll wind up crazier than most.”  She gave a derisive chuckle then said, “Now for the rest of it.  That barrel in the closet is hooked up to the water system.  What you get is what you get and refills depend on the weather so don’t waste it.  And speaking of weather, during the summer these things can get pretty damn hot and in the winter they get pretty damn cold.  It’s up to your man whether you get any help for either condition.  That container?  Sheets, rations for when your man forgets to feed you, and a few other odds and ends to help you hold off the crazies.  You’ll get restocked every two weeks.  If you run out before then, too bad unless you can talk your man into bringing you something.  The one you got though, don’t expect to get much extry out of him.  He bitched about every penny.  That other thing is a tub.  Use it.  No one wants the place getting stunk up.  I’ll scrub you raw myself if you forget.  Now for the rules … no fighting, no drugs unless your man brings them, no liquor unless your man brings it, no trying to bribe the guards male or female, yada, yada, yada.  If you’re smart you’ll learn the rest of the rules before you break them.  If you’re stupid you’ll break them a couple of times before the beatings sink in.  Your choice to screw this up or not.  You screw up we beat the shit out of you and send you back to Mother Mary … unless she don’t want you then we’ll work you down on the docks until you’ve paid off your contract.  Any questions?” 

I shook my head.  She snorted and then left, locking the door behind her. 

I decided that it was time to investigate what was in the bag the man had left and it was cheese, sausages, some rolls, and some fruit.  Not much different than the crap I ate at Mother Mary’s Boarding House for Wayward Girls. 

I investigated the foot locker and the rest of my cage as well.  When that was done I sat at the table, put my head down, and for the first time in a very long time I cried.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Chapter 3

They changed my name.  They started out calling me Flower.  Soon enough though it was changed to Thorn.  I’m not going to go into all the details of those early years.  I don’t like having to live with them, I sure don’t want you to have to live with them too.  Suffice it to say that my life was a living hell of revolving men that stripped me of my innocence and the remainder of my childhood.  I learned to stop thinking about yesterday and tomorrow.  I learned to survive today.  But I never stopped fighting.  I suffered for it but some men like that and Mother Mary as she demanded we call her was happy to supply what men liked regardless of the flavor … for the right price she’d supply anything they wanted.  

One of the few things I can say for myself is that I never did was fall for the drugs or the drink.  My other “sisters” used it as fast as it was dished out, mostly to numb the pain I think.  But for whatever reason not me.  Mother Mary used to laugh at me and say I must like the pain.  Some of the other girls and women made fun of me too, would wind a man up just so he would hurt me more so they could see just how much I could take.  Sometimes I wondered myself.  Some days the pain was the only thing that felt real, that made me feel alive like a real person.  Sometimes the pain was the only thing that kept me from going crazy. 

I know that is a terrible explanation but it is all I have.  I don’t think about it anymore than I have to.  It is in the past.  I’m never going to live that way again.  I’ll never let you live that way.  I’ll kill us both before that happens.  I’m going to make sure you are safe from that life one way or the other. 

What I haven’t explained yet is how I eventually came to understand that it wasn’t just my world that had changed, but everyone else’s too.  It took time but I did eventually notice there was a world outside my hell.  It came in dribs and drabs.  Like how Mother Mary was always complaining about the cost of feeding us constantly going up, how she had to sell a couple of girls to another stable to deal with increased expenses.  Then instead of money she started taking barter from men to allow them to spend some time with “her daughters.”  Eventually she got rid of the cleaning staff and we “sisters” had to help with housekeeping chores and the smarter of us had to help in the office.  She stopped having to buy girls and started turning them away at the door when they came begging for work just to get fed.  The changing world is one of the reasons why I can still read and write and do math.  I got a lot of practice as it turns out that I was the only other one in Mother Mary’s gang besides herself that could do more than the basics so I had to do a lot of the office work. 

I hated it in there.  And I hated Mother Mary.  But it was better than the alternative so I put up with the beatings and being ordered about.  Anything was better than being on call.  Night or day didn’t matter; if it was your turn then it was your turn. 

Then the lights went out.  It started in the District and spread through the city.  Riots occurred often and sometimes they even touched us.  I made the mistake of saving Mother Mary once during one of these riots – I don’t know why, it was mostly by accident to be honest – and the next thing I knew I was her pet.  Oh she still sold me but the clientele she sold me to changed.   

Because she kept me close I was one of the first to figure out that Mother Mary was sick.  Actually the witch was dying and dying hard.   

“I’m selling the stable,” she told me out of the blue one day.  I froze.  “Did you hear me Thorn?” 

“I heard.” 

“You want me to slap you B****?  I’ll give you to Brian; maybe that will pull you back in line.” 

Brian was her enforcer and he was a wicked mean sadist.  He’d had me once as punishment and I knew I wouldn’t survive a second time.  I turned to look at her.   “I heard you Mother Mary.” 

“That’s better.”  She looked at me hard.  “You remember that blonde scarecrow what had you three days ago.” 

For the sake of argument I told her yes as I tried to forget every man as soon as they left my sight. 

“He’s offered me a proposition.  He’s willing to pay your keep for a year so long as he is the only one that gets to have you.” 

I didn’t believe her.  In the world I was living in that was tantamount to saying Prince Charming was coming and the shoe was going to fit your foot.  Before I could stop myself I asked, “Why?” 

“Hell if I know.  You’re easy enough on the eyes but there’s others that are better looking than you.  Maybe he just likes it rough.” 

Then I remembered and shuddered.  He’d been the man that had tried to be nice.  Mother Mary cackled believing the exact opposite.  I let her. 

“Thorn, I own you.  I own everything about you.  I own the clothes on your back, the food in your belly, and even the air you breathe.  I could sell you and there’s not a damn thing you could do about it.  You know this?” 

“Yes Mother Mary.” 

She stopped for a moment then glared and threw some papers on her desk before going over to the window to stare out.  “Take this offer.  Do what you can with it.  He says that he’ll give you something to tide you over between his visits.  Save it.  In a year … in a year you could have you a nice little stake to start your own business maybe.  Or close.  It’d be a start anyway.” 

She turned back to me and caught me staring back at her suspiciously.  She snorted and then winced in pain.  “Don’t be a dumbass girl.  If I’m alive in a year I’ll have you back and you’ll be on your back as often as I say and with whoever I say.  But, say I ain’t around …” 

I had convinced myself up to that point that I wasn’t like the other girls.  I fought.  I always fought.  Whores don’t fight, they give in.  I knew what people thought of me but this was different.  I was facing a choice that would make me a whore, making me a willing whore. 

I’m sorry.  Maybe I was weak.  I wanted out of the life I was living so badly that in the end I convinced myself it was just another type of fight … this one a fight for survival.  But that’s not much of an excuse for saying yes.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Chapter 2

There were people in uniform crawling in and out of every place on the farm.  I remember crying and screaming.  I remember some guns and some shooting but it wasn’t just the people in uniform shooting and it wasn’t just my family either.  Other people were there on both sides and it got really crazy.  Then things get black like for some reason I passed out or something.  I remember I woke up in the bedroom I shared with my parents but they weren’t there.  Everything is still hazy and confused even after all this time.  People were still crying but it seemed far away, like it was not just outside but away from the house, maybe behind the barn.  There was a woman in the room with me and I remember she said, “Good.  Get up.  You are old enough to pack your own things.” 

She wasn’t very nice but I remember she was wasn’t exactly mean either, not then.  I remember thinking it wasn’t me that she disliked but her job and that I just was getting caught up in that.  I’m not sure why I thought that, maybe I was still inclined to give people the benefit of the doubt back then.  It was just an impression that I got from her.  She pushed me to hurry up and was giving me instructions faster than I could follow them which made her angrier than she already was.   I was allowed three sets of clothes and some hygiene articles.  I tried to put pictures in my bag, a book, some toys and the old raggedy bear that I’d had since I was a baby.  She pulled them all out except for the clothes and told me I didn’t need any of that stuff where I was going and that I was too big for it anyway.  When I started to cry she slapped me.  “Enough.  Stop being such a baby and do as you’re told.” 

That was the first time that anyone had ever slapped me.  It wasn’t the last.  What the woman didn’t know was that the bag that I had chosen to pack my stuff in was a special one that Mom and Dad had made for me.  It had pockets in it that they had sewn specially.  The pockets held important stuff but I didn’t even remember it at the time I was so shaken up.  

Then I was marched out onto the porch and then onto a bus.  I kept looking for my family but they weren’t there.  Not in the house, not in the yard that I could see, not on the bus.  Then I remembered the lessons about strangers. 

“I’m not supposed to go with strang …”  SMACK! 

This time the smack came from another woman.  “You’ll speak only when spoken to.  I’m not going to put up with any crap from some six toed hillbilly that probably hasn’t bathed in months.  And don’t give me any other kind of trouble either or you’ll be sorry.  This is your own fault you selfish little retard.” 

I had no idea what she was talking about; I’d had a bath just the day before, I’d always made good grades in school, and I grew up hearing that there wasn’t room to be selfish in our family.  But I was already learning.  Don’t talk.  Don’t cry.  Don’t make noise.  And don’t get noticed. 

I wasn’t the only kid on the bus; there were others.  Some I kinda recognized from school and church, most I didn’t.  I imagine we all looked scared.  I was one of the oldest ones on the bus which was a weird feeling because normally I was the youngest in the family.  It’s why I didn’t have my own bedroom and still slept on a cot at the foot of my parents’ bed.  Before the end of the day the bus became crowded and smelled.  Some of the kids had puked and not a few of them had messed themselves.  When it happened that kid got the snot smacked out of them, but they didn’t get cleaned up.  After a few times this happened the rest of us got the message loud and clear. 

Eventually we arrived at this place.  I can’t remember the name.  It was something-something re-education center.  It was dark and they started separating us; boys and girls, by age.  Suddenly one of the women from the center grabbed the back of my neck and started dragging me away.  A harried looking man yelled over to her, “Hey!  Where are you taking that one?  You’re throwing my count off.  She’s assigned to B Dormitory.” 

“This one?  She’s already got demerits.  She’s going to the Director’s Office.  Where she goes from there is up to him.” 

Again I didn’t know what the woman was talking about.  I didn’t have demerits.  I was a good girl.  I didn’t give anyone any trouble on the bus.  I’ve always wondered if I had would the same thing have happened to me.  We turned the corner and suddenly something covered my mouth and nose and I couldn’t breathe. 

I woke up in a dark, smelly place.  I tried to scream for help but I found that something had been stuffed into my mouth.  I couldn’t move my hands or feet either.  I was in a near panic when suddenly there was a bright light as a door above me was opened. 

Two people looked in.  “Good.  Another young one.  She’ll fetch a good price.  Can you get more of these?” 

A woman answered, “I don’t see why not.  So long as the Director keeps getting his cut.” 

There was some nasty laughing and I was jerked out of what turned out to be the trunk of a car.  I was carried like a sack of potatoes – strike that, like a bag of garbage since potatoes have value – and thrown into the trunk of another car.  I don’t know how long I was in there; a long time.  I came in and out of consciousness. Between the rag stuffed in my mouth and the tape holding it there and then the fumes in the car trunk I would have probably suffocated eventually.  I do know that when we arrived at the final destination some woman had a fit and started beating up the guy that had delivered me saying that if he’d botched it and she lost her investment she’d take it out of his hide. 

Once again I was carried and then thrown onto the floor of an office, I knew it was an office because it reminded me of the principal’s office at school the one time I had been in there.  I was closer to dead than I understood at the time.  In a way that was a good thing.  What the man and woman did to me afterwards didn’t register as much.  When they were through with me they sent for another woman – actually she was a girl only a couple of years older than me but she looked far older because of all the make-up and the type of clothes she was wearing. 

“Get her out of here so I can make some phone calls.  Find her a place and get her dressed in something better than what she had on but play up the little girl angle.  You know the drill.  This one is going to make me some money.”

Friday, July 25, 2014

Chapter 1

“Children!  Children!!  Listen to me.  I want you to all sit at your desks, put your heads down and be quiet.  The busses will be arriving soon.” 

A boy in the front raised his hand.  “But Miss Preston, I don’t ride a bus.  My grandmother or auntie picks me and my sister up.” 

The teacher nodded though we could all see that something was wrong.  There were giant sweat stains under her arms like the air condition had been off, but it was blowing full blast and so cold I wished that teacher would let me get my jacket out of my cubby hole. 

“Everything will be just fine.  Office staff will call you when your parents – or your ride – arrives to pick you up.” 

It wasn’t that very long later that a voice on the intercom said, “Bus 1055 has arrived.  Please check your rosters and have all children that ride this bus ready for pick up.”  My hand shot up; that was my bus. 

I grabbed my stuff from the cubby hole that had my name on it and then they walked us down to the bus circle.  It was weird to see 1055 to be the only one there.  I heard all of the adults talking quietly and could tell something bad was happening but I didn’t know what.  When I got on the bus it was very scary to see that all the big kids were there until I saw my brother and I went running back to him and almost got in trouble. 

“Young lady …” growled the mean, fat woman that had been the bus driver that day. 

“It’s ok.  She’s my sister,” Tim had said before pulling me into the seat with him and a girl that I can just barely remember being his girlfriend.  I don’t remember her much and she isn’t a part of the story anymore but I mention her because my brother treated her nice, not like men do today, and he was just a kid too.  He was fifteen. 

“Where’s Geri?” I asked. 

“Shhh.  Keep your voice down Sissa.  She’s already at home.  The bus from the middle school is already home.  Look, I know it’s going to be weird but I need you to sit on the floor here.” 

“Ew.  It’s dirty down there.  And your feet stink.” 

He jerked me around and that was the first time that I got really scared.  Tim had never been rough with me and he didn’t look like he wanted to be rough with me then either, like it hurt him to do it.   “You can’t cause problems Sissa.  Just do what I say.  And when we get off the bus you hold my hand and we are going to run home as fast as we can.  You got that?”  All I could do was look at my big brother and nod. 

And that’s what we did.  Mom met us at the door crying.  Geri was crying too and I didn’t understand why a big thirteen year old girl would be crying.  Then I saw Daisy and her husband there and it got really freaky. 

“Where’s Daddy?  I want Daddy!” 

Tim turned around and said, “Knock it off Sissa.” 

Daisy came over and snapped, “Take it easy Tim, she doesn’t understand.  I’ll take her up to her room and get her packed.” 

“Packed?  Where are we going?  And where’s Daddy?!” 

Daisy took my hand and pulled me up to the room that was mine alone after Daisy moved out and Geri got her old room.  “Daddy is picking up Uncle Rick and his family.”

“You promise?  He’s not sick or anything?” 

“Why would you think that?” she asked as she dumped my dirty clothes bag out and started putting my clean clothes in it. 

“’Cause Momma looks just like when Uncle Wesley died.  She’s all white and crying and stuff.” 

“Mom’s just … look Sissa, you’re too little to really understand and I know you hate it when we say that to you but this time it is true.  Something bad, really bad, happened in the world today.  A big bomb went off in this place called the United Nations building.” 

“I’ve heard of the United Nations.  It’s in New York.” 

Daisy said, “It is … was I mean.  Now it’s not anymore and all around where the building used to be there is this bad stuff called radiation.  And the people that did it are … are scaring people and telling them they are going to do it in other places too.  Daddy and Uncle Rick are going to take us to the farm. We are going to stay there a while and be safe until things can get back to normal.” 

I really didn’t have a clue.  All I cared about was that Daddy would be home and the family would be together and we were going to the farm and then we’d be with more family. 

We did move to the farm and we lived there until I turned ten; long enough for life to change forever.  I learned lots of things from my grandmother, mother, and aunts.  How to make do, make over, or do without.  How to hoe.  How to stand on a stool and help make whatever we were able to grow … and keep, because the government was always around taking a bunch of it away to keep the people in the cities from coming out into the country and taking it themselves.  Long enough for Daisy’s husband to get drafted and never come home.  Long enough for my brother, cousins, and other male relatives to get involved in something called a militia and get the whole family in big trouble. 

That was an election year, the last one there’s been since.  Just in case they still don’t have them by the time you are old enough to read this an election year is when people are supposed to be able to vote for who they want to be the boss of certain things.  Only there were a lot more people in the cities than there were in the country so it was their people who won the elections and those newly elected people had promised the people in the city that had voted for them more food and more other stuff and when they couldn’t deliver on their promises fast enough they blamed the people in the country for being ignorant and selfish.  That’s when things blew up in my life all over again. 

I think they are all dead.  I think they would have tried to find me if they weren’t.  Or maybe they did try and they think I am the one that is dead.    One of these days I would like to know for sure.  If they think I am dead I’m pretty sure that I’ll let them keep thinking it.  My family were nice people, I don’t think they could deal with what really happened to me.  I think it would hurt them too bad and I don’t want to have to live with that on top of everything else.