Please Help Me


I’m dying.

Gabriele was killing me, his arm pressed into my neck and cutting off my air supply. My fingernails clawed at his arm, but he didn’t move. I felt myself slipping into calm, cool darkness and it was a welcome relief.

But then I heard shouting, and suddenly he released me. I took a deep, desperate breath even though I’d been reaching toward that bright light at the end of the tunnel that turned out to be the grime-covered lightbulb hanging from the ceiling instead. As soon as the humid, putrid air filled my lungs I started coughing and couldn’t stop.

“What?” Gabriele shouted as he pulled on his pants and threw open the door. I couldn’t hear what the guard said, but Gabriele cursed under his breath as I brought my shaking hands up and clutched my neck where a bruise was surely forming. More coughs came, and Gabriel shoved me aside, cursing at me to be quiet.

“Get her some different clothes,” he growled. “And make her eat. Force her if need be. I don’t want her losing any weight in that ass. I have plans for it later. Then you boys can have your fill.”

I had just enough strength to roll over and off the mattress before I threw up. The door slammed shut and I was left alone, but the shouting in the hallway didn’t cease for what felt like several minutes. Was I being rescued?

The thought spurred me back to reality. I wrapped the sheet around my shaking body and moved to the door when things quieted down. It was locked up tight. I held up a fist, my hand trembling and soaked in dried blood from the wounds left behind by the handcuffs.

I pounded on the door, but no one was out there. I started to scream, pleading for help. Nothing. Just silence for what felt like an eternity.

But then… sound, from above? I looked up as little puffs of dust drifted off the ceiling and settled on my shoulders. What was happening?

Footsteps sounded in the hallway and I backed away from the door.

“Please help,” I croaked. “Please, help me. Please!”

Several locks sprang loose from the door, and it opened, spilling light over my toes and legs and…

A guard dressed in nothing more than a sweaty white shirt and jeans with a huge pistol gleaming on his hip, stepped into the room. He shoved me backward. Hard. I stumbled and landed hard on my bottom while he rolled a toothpick over his tongue, grinning down at me before tossing a first-aid kit on the floor beside me.

“Clean yourself up.” His voice was void of kindness and sympathy. He turned on his heel and hesitated before leaving, casting me a sneer over his shoulder. “You’re fucking disgusting.” He slammed the door behind him.

I began to hyperventilate, hearing the locks snap back in place. My heart cracked and splintered, whatever shred of hope I’d had for rescue shattering in my chest. I tried to take a breath, to force even a bit of air into my lungs, but I couldn’t breathe.

I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die. I just started living.


I closed my eyes and the darkness behind my lids glittered with fantasies of a disco ball shimmering over the heads of students as they danced an arm’s length apart. I imagined Jim taking my hand when nobody was looking and taking me out into the hall outside the gymnasium where it smelled like sweaty gym bags, dirty socks, and Axe body spray. I pictured him pulling me in close, grazing my lip with his soft thumb so unlike the callused hands that had been running all over my body before. I felt his lips, warm and velvet soft against mine. But it wasn’t real. Only the tears streaming down my cheeks were.

Had it really only been a few hours since I’d been speaking to Jim in the school parking lot? How much time had passed? Had he or Emma riddled out that I was missing yet?

I wasn’t sure, but as I curled my fingers over the first-aid kit and opened it, finding it bare bones with nothing but a shred of what looked like used gauze and a few packets of pre-soaked alcohol wipes, I closed my eyes and let my fantasies run wild, imagining the kidnapping hadn’t happened. That I’d simply gotten into my shitty old car and driven to the home I shared with Emma.

I’d have gone upstairs to our apartment and started making spaghetti and meatballs for dinner with the jars of fresh tomatoes I’d canned over the summer. I’d make it the same way my Nonna always had—stewed for two whole days with fresh basil, sea salt, lemon, and garlic.

Emma would’ve come home from her afternoon meeting with the Mathletes and we would’ve joked about our day over pasta and wine, then sat on the couch and graded papers while reality TV trilled in the background. She’d tell me I have no business being such a good cook. I’d tell her the dishes were on her. She’d put up a teasing fight, but would eventually cave, and once the kitchen was righted and our home smelled like the bergamot candle on the coffee table, we’d start getting ready for bed.

While we stood side by side in the bathroom washing our faces, I would have told her about Jim asking me out for drinks. She would have been so, so excited for me—for us.

And then she’d have helped me pick out a dress for the dance. Something modest, of course, but I would have taken off my cardigan before Jim and I went into the bar after the dance.

Emma would have made me pack the heels I could barely walk in that made my petite frame look several inches taller. Like she did with washing the dishes, I would have protested and then caved.

Jim would have flirted with me. I’d blush and flirt back. And at the end of the night, he’d kiss me, asking me out again. I’d have been glad I wore the heels even though they pinched my toes.

Eventually, we would’ve gotten married, bought a house, and realized that dream of adopting a golden retriever.

My hands burned as I passed the alcohol-soaked wipe over my torn and blistered wrists, but my breathing began to return to normal as I tossed the bloodied wipe aside and looked at the metal door shielding me from the outside world, from my life, from freedom and everyone I loved.

I’d escaped this life before. I’d thrown caution to the wind. I’d survived the storm and found a way to live.

And I would continue to do so. I promised myself. I would live. I would live. I would LIVE.

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