This is a work of fiction, a short story of 1100 words.
Sandy was dreaming again.
As usual, the people were nice. The man had a thick jumper on, and it felt good to snuggle under his arm. The lady stroked her hair, and kissed her head. She smelled good, a mixture of perfume and soap. The lady was wiping her lips with a tissue, something like ice cream or frosting on them, Sandy thought. They were happy, heading home after being out somewhere, wrapped up against the cold air of the early evening.
That was the good dream.
The bad dream was more like a memory than a dream, because she sometimes got that one when she was awake.
She was sleeping, cuddling Mildred tight to her chest. The elephant toy was made of corduroy, and had huge ears, with tiny soft tusks, and a trunk that was sewn onto its face. Sandy called her Mildred, and she felt just right. Then there was the cold. It was suddenly cold, and the light wasn’t on in her bedroom. Something over her face, held tight, no time to cry out. Lifted from the bed by someone strong, as if she weighed nothing at all, wrapped in something that smelled like it had been outside, cold and damp. There must have been two of them, because one held her close in the back of the van, and the other one drove.
But this was the good dream, and she didn’t want to wake from it. She didn’t want to leave those nice kind people, the ones she was sure must have been her Mom and Dad. But wake she did.
Sandy climbed off of the mattress, and squatted over the large bucket in the corner of her room. When she had finished, she walked across to the mattress again, and picked Mildred up from the floor, placing her carefully back onto the pillows. If the light came on, she knew he would be coming soon. He always put the light on just before he opened the door. She crossed to the small sink, and turned on the tap. She didn’t need any extra light, as she had become used to the darkness, over time. She felt for the washcloth and ran the water over it. When she had washed, she pumped some toothpaste from the dispenser onto the brush, and cleaned her teeth.
She had to always be clean when he came, he insisted on that. If she wasn’t clean, he would leave. He would turn the light out, and just leave. No food, no magazine to look at, and no time with the light on. That was the punishment for not being clean. Sandy had learned to be clean.
She had no real idea how long it had been. She thought she might have been five or six when they took her, but couldn’t be sure. There was no calendar, no TV, no radio, and no windows. She had never learned to read other than some easy books, and didn’t know how to tell the time before it happened. Her only sense of time was when the light came on, and then went off again. Her life was ruled by a naked bulb, in a light fixture on the ceiling. When her hair got long, he would cut it. Not neatly of course, but Sandy never knew what it looked like anyway, as there were no mirrors. He did the same with her fingernails and toenails too. Sat her down, and told her to sit still as he worked quickly.
Her body was changing, she could sense that. Her chest was developing, and her feet getting bigger. She sensed getting taller by her legs moving further down the bed, and having to bend at the sink. When her clothes didn’t fit, he brought different ones. They were not new ones, she could tell that, just different ones. They were crumpled, and smelled of the ground. The magazines were mostly just for the photos. Sometimes, they were animals, and strange people. She could make out some of the words, but not enough to read the captions. Other times, they were picture stories, young girls in nice dresses, riding ponies, or shopping with friends. She so loved those magazines, and looked at them over and over.
At first, she had cried. Then she screamed for as long as she could. An old woman came, and slapped her until she stopped. Then she hugged her, and told her to be a good girl. She let Sandy keep Mildred, as long as she behaved. When she had problems with her teeth, she gave her tablets to make her sleep, and when she woke, up her tongue would feel the gaps where the teeth had been. Once, she had a fever, and the old woman gave her some syrup, and slept with her on the mattress, holding her until she felt better. The food came twice a day, and the old woman emptied her bucket as she ate, bringing it back washed and clean, leaving it in the corner, with the plastic lid on top. Back then, there were picture books; Fairies, Princesses, animals that could talk. The magazines came later.
Sandy didn’t like the man. He came for the first time when she was a little older, bringing her first magazine. He didn’t smell good, and spoke very loudly. When he took his clothes off, Sandy looked away, but he turned her head with his hands, and made her look. He told her to undress too, and when she didn’t, he slapped her until she did. Then he made her get under the covers, and when she screamed, he slapped her until she stopped screaming. After that, he was always the one who came. He brought the food and the magazines, turned the light on, and emptied her bucket. They never spoke now, as Sandy had learned fast what she had to do. And the quicker she did it, the sooner he would leave. If she was lucky, she had time to look at her magazine, before the light went out.
Just twenty-three miles away, a tired-looking housewife drove her car along a street in the direction of her house. On the lamp posts, old paper leaflets fluttered, each bearing a photo of a pretty young child. If you looked carefully at the faded print, you could just make out the header, “Have you seen this girl?” The woman pulled up on her driveway, dreading walking through her door to face the routine of the evening.
She smelled good, a mixture of perfume and soap.