“What the fuck, boy?!?! Again?” he screams as he shoves me down the dingy hall toward the basement door. “You fucking lost me a lot of money tonight. It’s like you didn’t even try!”
Because I didn’t try—I’m fucking done. The bruises, the cuts, the broken bones, they all eventually heal, but nothing else changes. When he first brought me to the fights, I stupidly believed his promise: if I brought in enough money, he would let me go. Since then, though, I’ve come to the realization that he’s never going to let me go. Why bother trying? I don’t give a shit how much money I make him or he loses because of me.
“You’re going to be fucking sorry for what you did tonight,” he hisses as his heavy foot lands on the back of my knee sending me to the floor and my head into the heavy basement door. The room goes black for a moment before I blink it away, knowing that if I lose consciousness again it’ll be much worse. “Just remember, whatever happens tonight is your fucking fault. If you just did what you needed to do, it wouldn’t have happened.”
I should probably be scared, but I’m so fucking tired of being scared. Part of me is giving up—I know that. I’ve tried escaping but he always finds me before I can get out of this shitty house. I’ve tried playing by his rules: winning the fights like he said, but nothing happened. I’ve lived through all of his punishments so far: each time he’s whipped me with the belt to the point where I’m bleeding, when he’s brought his friends over and let them use me, when he injected me with something that kept me awake for more than two straight days–and so much more, but I survived. What if I’m tired of surviving?
“Get down to your fucking hole, boy,” he growls and opens the basement door.
He wouldn’t dare kick me down those steps—the hard concrete floor at the bottom would likely kill me. Though as I stand here looking down into the darkness, not for the first time, I wonder if I threw myself down the steps, would I land with enough force to put me out of my misery?
“Get down the steps, you’ve lost food for the next two days,” he hisses. “Remember what I said. Whatever happens tonight is your fault, boy–your fault.”
Just as my feet hit the first step the door slams behind me and I hear the multiple locks engage. Part of me is relieved as I slowly make my way down the dark steps, counting them as I go. The sixth step on the way down has a hole in it; if you step in the center your foot will get stuck. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way when it sent me flying face first onto the steps above me. I split my lip open, sprained my wrist, and added more bruises to my face that night. Since then, I’ve learned to count the steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
The basement has been my… I don’t even know what to call it. My bedroom? My home? My respite? At first, it was my hell; it was cold, pitch dark, damp and the fucking scariest thing I had ever seen. Considering I was homeless and squatting in abandoned buildings after my last foster father beat the shit out of me, that says a lot. I thought I knew what hell was before. I thought living on the street would have been better than with someone who beat the shit out of me regularly.
What the fuck did I know?
This became my hell for those first few… days? Weeks? Months? Fuck if I know how long it was, but, eventually, the daily whippings stopped. Eventually, he gave me more than a few sips of water to drink and dry bread thrown on the dirty floor. Eventually, he told me that if I did as he said, he would stop. What he needed was simple: for me to work out in his gym, learn to fight, and then win him lots of money by fighting other boys.
If it meant he would stop whipping me until I bled, I’d do it. Foolishly, I thought that if he took me out of the house I would have a chance to escape. The first time I tried to escape was the first time I learned what his punishments were really about. After that, I didn’t try when he took me to the fighting ring. Instead, I tried to please him—I tried to win him the money he said would buy my freedom.
After that, he stopped coming down here. That’s when this place became my respite. He gives me food and water by leaving it on the top step. He allows me upstairs once a day, for an hour, to work out in his gym, only because he needs me in shape for the next fight. Otherwise, this dark, damp, dingy basement is where I can be alone.
There’s a toilet in the corner and a filthy twin mattress on the floor where I sleep every night. No blankets or pillows, but at least it’s better than the hard floor I slept on the first few nights. After my first fight for him, my reward was a fully stocked first aid kit, though it was void of any medications or anything that could be taken to end my misery. Yup, I checked.
I strip out of my shorts and underwear on my way over to the shower, though I use that term loosely. A showerhead hangs from a pipe attached to a stone wall in the corner of the room; a drain lies a few feet from it. That’s the shower: no door, no curtain, hell it doesn’t even have walls surrounding it. But it’s clean, and lukewarm water allows me to wash away the blood from tonight’s fight. I could have easily taken that kid; I was bigger and stronger than him. Like he said, I didn’t try though. What’s the fucking point? Whether I win or lose, nothing changes.
I wash my shorts by hand before turning off the water and hang them on the sink to dry. I don’t have any other clothes, and if these get ruined, he’ll punish me before giving me a new pair. So, I wash them each night, letting them dry when I sleep in my underwear. Tomorrow afternoon, I’ll switch and wash those as well. I collapse on the bed, the exhaustion hitting me the moment my head lands on the mattress.
“Wakey wakey boy!”
The bite of a belt wakes me from a dead sleep. I scream out in pain—jumping from the bed and away from the source of the pain. I immediately start to panic, wondering what the hell he’s going to do now; he hasn’t come down here in ages. Even when he’s punished me, he just yelled for me to come upstairs. I learned very early on not to make him come downstairs, or my punishment would be worse. Yet, he’s down here now.
When he flicks a light on, it takes my eyes a few seconds to adjust, and then my stomach drops even further. Hanging from one of the old, large pipes in the ceiling is a young, nearly naked girl who looks like she’s either been knocked out or drugged. In all the time I’ve been here, he’s never brought anyone downstairs; hell, he’s never had another kid in the house before that I know of.
“I want you to meet your new roommate.” I hear the belt cut through the air before I even have a chance to realize what he’s done.
Her scream pierces through the room. I swallow back the vomit that threatens to come up, knowing exactly what she’s feeling right now. I close my eyes just as the next one hits her back.
“No, you watch.” He cracks the whip against my thigh forcing me to open my eyes. “It’s your fault she’s here.”
“I didn’t do anything!” I cry out.
“Exactly, you didn’t fucking do anything tonight, and that caused me to lose even more money. On our way home tonight I realized what the issue was—you have no reason to fight. So, I came up with the perfect solution: meet your new motivation. Let’s see how you feel about someone else taking your punishments for you.”
She screams out when the belt comes down again on her bare flesh.
“Stop, please, stop,” I sob not able to watch it any longer.
“I thought she might be exactly what you need,” even his voice is sinister. “You lose, she pays. You argue with me, don’t do what I want, she pays. Remember all the ways I broke you when you first came here? I’ll do it all to her, only now I’ll make you watch, each and every time. My friends may have taken a liking to you, but I think they’d like her almost as much.”
“No!” she cries out just as he yanks her head back by pulling on her hair.
He steps behind her, rubbing himself against her battered body as she hangs from the pipe. Her eyes are squeezed shut and she has tears running down her face. I need to do something, but I don’t know what to do. I can’t take him—god knows I’ve tried—but each time, he manages to pull out his knife before I get close enough. If he pulls the knife on me now, I won’t be able to help her.
“Are you going to win the next fight?”
“Yes,” I don’t even consider another option.
“Maybe I should give you a little more motivation?” His hand goes between him and the girl. I hear his zipper go down, and it makes my stomach sink even further at the realization of what he intends to do.
“I’ll win, I swear I’ll win,” I vow. “You don’t need to hurt her anymore.”
“It seems your new roommate has a soft spot for you already,” he hisses in her ear.
Reaching around her, he grabs her breast forcefully, twisting it enough to make me cringe. She sobs and tries to arch away from him, but he’s got her bound so tightly, that getting away is impossible. He’s a fucking pro at knots—he tied me like that once and left me for hours. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get out of it.
“Keep her quiet. I swear if I hear one fucking peep, I’ll come back down and punish her again while you watch.” He takes the knife I knew he had within reach, and slits the rope that had been holding her up.
She immediately crumbles to the floor. He grabs a hold of her blonde hair just before she can crawl away. He looks from me to her before fixing his gaze back on me, warning me, and reminding me at the same time that the reason she’s here is because of me.
“The light goes off in ten minutes.” He tosses the sobbing girl hard to the floor before stomping up the stairs.
I wait to hear the locks engage before I look away from the door. I need to hear those locks to know that he’s not going to sneak back down here and attack when I’m not looking. It happened when I first got here, before I learned to try not to fall into a deep sleep. Nights after a fight are always the worst though. Even when I don’t make an effort, I’m so exhausted from the increase in work-outs, the lack of food and dehydration, that I always collapse as soon as we get back. Tonight proved just how exhausted I was. He had somehow got a passed out girl down the steps and strung up from a pipe without me waking up.
“I… I need to clean—”
“No! Don’t touch me!” she crawls away from me quickly.
“I’m not going to hurt you, I swear. I just want to help you.”
“Then get me out of this hellhole.”
“I wish I could. There’s no way out.” there’s nothing I wouldn’t like more than to grant her wish. “Look, he’s going to turn the lights off in a few minutes and then it’s going to be pitch dark in here. He won’t turn the light on again, he never does. I have a first aid kit, let me bandage you up so your back doesn’t get infected.”
What’s with the damn questions? Can’t she just let me clean her damn wounds and bandage them before he fucking turns the light off? He said ten minutes, but I guarantee the lights go off before the time is up. Not that I have a clock down here or any other way to tell how much time has passed.
“Why did he take me? Why am I here? What does he want?”
Fuck… she had to go there. I can’t fucking tell her that she’s here because of me, that I’m the reason he took her to begin with.
“I don’t know,” I lie. “Look, he’s going to turn that damn light out real soon, I promise. It’ll make… checking your back that much harder in the dark. He doesn’t turn the light on, at all.”
“I want to go home,” she sobs.
I don’t have a home to go to, yet that’s what I want too. Her voice forces my attention back to her, and I slowly make my way over to the spot under the steps where I’ve hidden the first aid kit. Sometimes he takes things, even when he has no reason to punish me. Once, my mattress disappeared for three straight nights, even though I had won the fight for him the previous day. I think he does it to remind me that anything he gives me can be taken away. After that, I hid the first aid kit under the steps hoping he wouldn’t find it and try to take that away too.
The moment I get close to the girl she flinches, but I don’t blame her. I also still flinch at any sound, new voice, and even a change in what has become my daily routine. Seeing her like this reminds me of when he first brought me here. I was drugged for the car ride, but it was the bite of the belt that had me coming to, just like she did. Those first few days were hell: I was scared of everything, sleeping was impossible, and my body hurt like it never had before.
I don’t think he hurt her as bad as he did me that night, but it’s not like I’m a doctor, so what the hell do I know? He could have hurt her in worse ways… ways that I can’t even see. I shake my head, refusing to go there, when the vomit threatens to come up again.
“I’m going to check on your back okay?” I softly warn her.
She barely nods, but it’s there. She’s wrapped herself in a small ball on the floor, her arms around her bare legs and her head tucked in. Her long blond hair covers her face, not giving me a chance to see if he hurt her there too. She’s trying to make herself as small as possible, as invisible as possible, something I tried as well. I cough to hide the gasp when I see her back, when I see what he’s done to her. Slashes cross her skin, from shoulders to waist, in various directions, both new and old—several of them have blood dripping from where the belt pierced her skin. I cringe, realizing he whipped her before bringing her down here. Probably in the van…that’s where he hit me the first time.
“I’ll try to be gentle.” I sit on the floor behind her and open the first aid kit up.
I don’t have many options: some alcohol wipes, ointment that is supposed to prevent infections, and lots of bandages. I slowly make a plan of which ones to tackle first, prioritizing them, because when the light goes out I won’t be able to do much without being able to see properly.
“What’s your name?” she whispers.
“Luke,” although I haven’t been called that in a long time, “what’s yours?”
“Emily,” she hisses when I apply the alcohol pad, but she doesn’t try to stop me.
“How old are you?”
It seems silly to be asking her these questions, but I’m guessing she started it as a way of distracting herself from what I’m doing. If it helps, I’ll keep asking her whatever stupid questions I can think of. It’s my fault she’s here and not at home, in her own bed.
“I just turned fifteen yesterday.”
Happy fucking birthday.
“How old are you?”
“Fifteen… maybe sixteen? What’s the date?”
When she tells me the year, I find myself struggling to even move my fingers, much less the rest of my body. I’ve been here for so fucking long. I knew it had been at least a couple of months, but I didn’t think it had been close to an entire year. Ten months ago, I had woken up briefly in the back of his van, but that had only lasted a few seconds before he injected me again with something that knocked me out. Ten months ago this nightmare had begun, and it shows no sign of fucking ending anytime soon.
“Are you fifteen or sixteen?” her quiet voice pulls my focus back.
“You’ve been here…?”
“Almost a year.”
She’s silent for several long moments, taking in what I said and what it means for her. The moment she realizes it, a shiver goes through her body.
“He’s not going to let me go is he?” she realizes.
I can’t lie to her; I can’t give her the false hope that he gave me when I first got here. Does that make me an ass? Maybe, but I’d rather her hear the truth from me now so she doesn’t accuse me of lying to her later. She’ll already hate me when she finds out that I’m the reason she’s even here right now I can’t have her hating me for lying about this too.
The lights dim, and I take it for the warning that it is, quickly trying to bandage up as many of her cuts as possible. I shake my head, knowing the scars these will leave, because I have those same scars on my own back, arms, and legs.