I have no idea where I am.
It’s dark, and getting cold. I’m afraid of the dark, but it’s a hell of a lot better than where I’ve been. I’ve got nothing on me, aside from the clothes I’m wearing, and those are hardly clothes. I want to go home, but I don’t know where home is. I haven’t been outside in a while. It feels strange to have a breeze on my face.
The last time I spoke to my brother, he was helping me gather school supplies out of my locker. I had long, pretty hair then, and now it’s thin and chopped off to my ears. I don’t like it like this. Obviously, it wasn’t my choice. I miss Jax. I wonder what he’s like, now.
“Elizabeth. Come upstairs for breakfast.”
It was the same every day. I lived in their house, a sad, lost daughter, but I was just a fraud. I looked like Elizabeth. I saw a photograph of her on the woman’s front table. After awhile, it was easy to believe Elizabeth was me.
I wander, in a random direction. I don’t know what time it is, or how on Earth I’m going to get home. Maybe I won’t get home. Maybe I’ll die out here, cold and starving. At least I won’t die at the hands of my abductors.
Nancy and Alfred Ronnigan. I’d better remember those names. If I ever find the authorities, they’ll want to know everything. But that’s all I know, and it isn’t good enough.
It’s not winter. It’s fall, maybe, but it hasn’t snowed yet. I missed the snow. I’ve missed a lot of things.
I didn’t mean to kill Nancy. All I wanted was to get away, and things got out of hand.
Someone is following me. With the help of their headlights, I can tell it’s a police car. I want to run. I’m not dangerous, but I’ll get in trouble anyway, because that’s how things work. I’m scared. I can see Alfred running at me with a hammer, and I fall to the ground.
“This is our daughter,” they would say, whenever they took me out in public. “This is our daughter, Elizabeth. Say hello, Elizabeth.” I didn’t understand, at first. Nancy was the one who hit me when I didn’t respond appropriately. Alfred only threatened, but he never followed through.
Someway down the freeway, a police car pulls up beside me. I’m freezing. I have no idea where I’m going. Under my hood, my hair is ratty and uneven. A light shines on the ground. A man with a deep voice pokes his head out of the car. “Son, what are you doing out on the freeway in the middle of the night? Where are your parents?”
I look like a boy. I have small breasts. Under my large sweater, they arent even visible. I know how old I was when I was taken, but there’s no way to tell how long I was locked away. Maybe it was years. It felt like years. I shiver. “I’m trying to get home.” I don’t know where that is. I just really want to find my way back someday.
I wonder if this cop can see the blood on my clothes. I tried to wash myself off before I
left, but it stained, and I have nothing else. My hands shake. Nancy threw a glass at me, and when she got on top of me, I stabbed a jagged piece into her face. She wanted to kill me. I don’t want to die. The man shines his light on my face. He looks suspicious. ‘How old are you?”
I stare at my feet. “I don’t know.”
A lot of people know about me. I’ve seen myself on the news, even, a couple of times. Nancy and Alfred sometimes let me watch television. There were photographs of me all over their home. Maybe they were supposed to make me feel at home. They just made me feel terrified. I used to be convinced I was nothing like Elizabeth. I think I’ve become much more like her than I’d like to admit.
The police officer gets out of his car. I know what happens next. He takes me into custody, he questions me, I get in trouble for murdering a woman, even though I didn’t mean to. “You don’t know how old you are? Where do you live?”
Now here’s something I’m certain of. “Rochester, New York.”
“New York?” The man has a beard, long and scraggly, like my dad’s. “Son, you’re in Nebraska. That’s nearly a sixteen hour drive.” He looks me over, shining his light over different parts of my body. I’m sure he’s a nice man, but his examination makes me anxious. “How did you get all the way out here? Are you in trouble?”
I want to run. When I try to move my feet, they glue themselves to the ground. Apparently, I’m very far from home. I remember being in the back of a van, nine years old, bound and on my way to God knows where. I never left the neighborhood. I was barely even allowed to leave the house. “I was kidnapped.” I whisper, fixated on my shoes. There’s a scuff mark on one. I was never afraid to speak to people. I don’t want to get in trouble. A large, loud truck drives by, and I jump off the side of the road.
The officer has a nametag on his chest that reads Sergeant Scotty Masterson. He’s short, with a round belly. “What’s your name, son?”
It’s starting to rain. I just want to hug my mother. I look up, and meet the sergeant’s eyes. “Hattie Fleet.”
I got my first period at my abductor’s house, locked in the basement with nothing but the clothes on my back. I was chained to a radiator; I remember because it was hot, and because when I stood up, there was a pool of blood underneath me. I didn’t know what it was, at first. Mostly I bled because Nancy beat me up. But she hadn’t touched me that day, I’d be home by myself. And when they got home, she saw the blood, and I thought she’d be mad. Instead, she threw a long, packaged thing with a string at me, and told me to put it in, and I didn’t know how.
The air out here smells like smoke. Someone must be having a backyard fire.
Nancy threw a vase at me, this morning. It hit me in the face, and that’s why there’s a gash on my cheek. It hurt, but not as much as other things. “I’ll kill you!” she screamed at me, her flabby hands wrapping around my neck. “You’ll never escape, do you hear me? I’ll kill you
first!” She was angry, because the window was unlocked, and she’d caught me trying to climb up to sneak out. She squeezed my neck until I couldn’t breathe, and I was so scared, I don’t want to die. I didn’t mean to kill her. I reached behind me and snatched a piece of long, jagged glass from the broken vase, and I stabbed her in the neck.
I’m being questioned. The fat police officer and a woman sit across from me at a large table. They have a clipboard, they scribble on it. I want my mom, but she’s far away across the country. It has to be the middle of the night by now. “Hattie,” says the woman officer, her red hair in a thick, tight bun on the top of her head, “you were kidnapped nearly five years ago, and somehow survived. Can you tell me how you escaped?”
It’s been five years. That means I’m fourteen, now, a teenager. So much has probably changed. My brother was sick, the last time I saw him. He could be dead by now. But he could also be better. I rock in my chair. “I don’t know.” Alfred was there, shouting, everything happened so fast. I was covered in blood, and then I was out on the street, all by myself. “I don’t know.”
The woman officer’s name is Jaime Rosado. She looks at me kindly. “I know you’re in shock, Hattie. You’ve been through a traumatic experience, but I need you to try really hard to remember how you escaped. Just tell us anything you remember, okay?”
My name is not Elizabeth. This is my daughter, Elizabeth, isn’t she beautiful? Now be a good girl, and eat your dinner. And I’d fight at first, but I’d stop after I felt the slap on my face, or the screaming, or whatever else Nancy could think of. But my name isn’t Elizabeth. “My name isn’t Elizabeth!”
The room sways. Somebody is saying my name.
I miss Jax. He always knew how to make me feel happy.
“Hattie, can you hear me?” Jaime Rosado is looking at me, a soft look in her eyes. “You’re safe here, I promise. We’re going to do everything we can to help you get home.”
It takes me a moment, but I manage to calm down. “I ran away.” I sputter, remembering. “The man called the ambulance for his wife, and I ran out of the house while they were distracted.” I’ve missed so much. I’ve spent every day thinking about my family.
It’s very warm in here. “Thank you.” The fat man writes down what I’ve said. “Now Hattie, I’m going to ask you something very important, and I need you to be honest, alright?” He has an intimidating face. I nod. At least, I try to. “Did you kill Nancy Ronnigan?”
This is the part where I get in trouble, isn’t it. I’ve watched television before. They always say you’re not in trouble, but then you are. My hands are wringing in my lap, tight and white. “I didn’t mean to.” I think I’m entitled to an attorney. I’ve seen that on television, too. I can see her face still, in front of mine, angry and red and mean.
“But you did.” Scotty Masterson waits for me to speak. Or maybe that’s just what his face looks like. “How did you kill Nancy, Hattie?”
Maybe I’m about to get arrested. I’m only fourteen. I know that if I do get arrested, I get a phone call. I’d use it to call my mom and tell her that I’m still alive. I just want her to know I’m still alive. I’m sweating a little, there’s no use trying to hide the blood stains on my shirt anymore. Jaime Rosado smiles at me. “You aren’t in trouble, Hattie. In fact, we’re very happy to know that you’re alive and out of harm’s way. We just need to know what happened between you and Mrs. Ronnigan. Can you try and remember, please?”
I nod. “Can I call my mom after this?” I memorized my home phone number years ago. My mother made all us kids memorize it, in case there was ever an emergency and we needed to contact her.
Jaime Rosado nods. “If you answer all of our questions the best you can, then you can call your mother. There’s actually a phone you can use right over there.” I look. The phone is hanging from a wall on the other side of the room. “So Hattie, please tell us what happened. What did Nancy do to you? What did you do to her?”
My hands are pale. The room spins a little. I try not to mumble. “I tried to escape out a window. Nancy threw a glass vase at my head… and then it broke. She tried to choke me, and I got scared, and so then I picked up a piece of glass…”
“And you stabbed her with it.” Scotty Masterson is making notes. I don’t like him much. The woman is much kinder, and makes me feel safe. “Where did you stab her, Hattie?”
I swallow. My hands wring faster now. When I answer, I barely sound like myself. “In the neck.” She yelled, and began to gargle when the blood spurted out of her neck. There was a lot of blood. I cried a lot, when I ran away. I didn’t mean to kill her. I’d never mean to kill anybody. It was an accident. I was afraid. “Can I call my mom now?” I’m crying, rocking in my chair. I’m alive, but I don’t feel alive. I don’t know if that makes sense.
It’s hard to steady my hands. They shake so badly it takes three tries to dial the correct number. It’s likely my mother is sleeping, so I don’t really expect her to answer. She does, after five or six rings, sleepy and disoriented. “Hello? Whoever this is, calling in the middle of the night-“
“Mommy.” Her voice makes me shiver, it’s been so long since I’ve heard it. I feel like a little girl. “It’s me, Hattie.”
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