Bella's Story

Chapter 1 I awaken on the floor of a room that I do not recognize and yet still seems familiar. To my left are two staircases; in front of me a door stands open, flooding the room with a dazzling light. I walk to it and try to exit, but the light is so bright that it blinds me, causing me to cover my eyes and stumble backwards…now I find myself leaning against the door trying to take stock of the situation. I look down at myself checking for any noticeable injuries, but there do not appear to be any. I am not hurt and I know my name? Yes, I know it…so just how did I come to be here and where am I? I leave the safety of the entrance and try to find another way out. As I wait for my eyes to adjust to the darkness of the room I notice that the wall paper in the entryway has the same pattern as the one in the kitchen of my childhood home. I shake off the eerie feeling that has settled in my heart and continue walking until I come to a dimly lit hallway. On both sides of the hall are pictures of people that I have known dating back to my childhood and between each picture is a candle suspended in midair which provides the room with its only light. I consider touching one of them to see if there are strings holding them up, but decide that I don’t really want to know so I walk on. If it were not for the changing faces in the pictures I would think that I was making no progress at all and I am just about to give up when I see a door ahead of me. I can hear people talking on the other side. Finally I reach the door and enter… it is as if I have fallen into the past. This is the house where I grew up. There is the dining room, it hasn’t changed – the walls are dirty beige; on my left windows line the wall - the same windows that I was thrown through years ago. In front of me, against the wall, is my mother’s desk, the one that I now own, covered with bills and lists in her handwriting. The walls are unadorned except for a single picture of Jesus praying in the garden. I turn to the right and see my father’s recliner, his chair, his throne as the king of the castle. Beyond his chair is the living room painted in beige as well with huge windows on two walls. They are completely covered with both blinds and heavy forest green drapes…never are they opened and this room is always in need of light. There is a couch that is worn and falling apart against one set of windows, end tables with lamps on each side and a black and white television in the corner. Mom has tried to spruce the room up by learning to antique and even the TV is a weird greenish brown color. The floor has carpet, but it is covered by a huge throw rug. There on the left is my parents room and next to it the stairway leading to my room. I hear the voices once again and go back through the dining room in search of their source… There stands my mother in the kitchen arguing with my father. She is exactly the way I would remember her – if I did indeed have any memory of her. I grew up never hearing her mentioned or seeing any pictures of her, save one and here she was, looking just like the picture. Her hair, which is naturally blonde like mine, has been dyed a dark brown and is very long, hanging about midway down her back. She is small only about five feet and very petite, her blue eyes flash with anger as she and my father’s angry voices grow louder. The shock of seeing her alive once more overwhelms me and I race to touch her, to hear her voice, to have her memory inside my heart once again…but I run straight through her and into the wall on the other side. Confused, I sit on the floor and turn to watch. She throws a dish at my father to try and slow his advance. It hits the wall shattering on impact. He reaches her sending her sprawling with one punch. I spring to my feet with the intent of stopping him, but stop when I see myself – as a child – run at him with same intent. I suddenly realize that I don’t want to witness this and make for the door, only the door no longer leads to a hallway – but to another room. . This is my bedroom. I see myself, very small, waiting to be tucked in. My mother sits beside me and taking my hand in hers she traces a heart in the palm with her finger. I am caught up in the memory when my father enters the room. I can see the fear in my eyes and knowing what comes next in this ritual, I find myself backing out of the door and into yet another room. This room is not from our house. Standing in the doorway, I find that my feet have a mind of their own and refuse to go any farther. My eyes scan the room. It is a very large room in the shape of a rectangle, the floor is carpeted, and the décor is subtle and understated, but lovely. Along the walls that run the length of the room are couches and armchairs with people already seated and talking in low voices. On my left is a wooden table, I suspect it is maple, and on the table is the guest registry. The room is dimly lit and soft instrumental music can be heard coming from well-concealed speakers. I look to the far end of the room and see that there is a line forming to greet our guest of honor, but it is the line forming behind me that jars me from my thoughts and makes me finally step into the room. I make my way to the table and sign my name on the next available line then turn to look at the people gathered inside. I see my grandmother crying, but almost everyone appears to be in various stages of shock and disbelief. My grandfather sits in the front row watching wordlessly as his wife plays out her role of grieving mother in front of the box containing their oldest child. He never makes a sound, but every once in awhile a single tear escapes and runs down his cheek. His silent grief is too difficult to watch and I turn to the rest of the room. It is arranged much like a wedding, with his family on one side and hers on the other, but unlike a wedding this separation is one more along the lines of the Civil war. People are dressed in suits and dresses of navy blue and black. It could be church on Palm Sunday or Easter. There are lilies, roses, chrysanthemums, just a sea of flowers in the front behind a minister at a pulpit. I take my seat as he begins his sermon, slowly, the words he is saying capture my attention and I look up at him. He is a small man, very thin, with a birdlike nose, but he possesses a very loud and authoritative manner of speaking. “Whore. Slut. Unfaithful…better off dead.” I decide I hate him and turn to look at my father. Surely, these are fighting words? He sits motionless as a statue, his face hard as marble, his eyes fixated on the box in front of us. I whisper his name, but he doesn’t respond; lost in his memories, he can neither hear nor see anyone or anything else. As I stare at this man, I see no trace of the hardness and anger that he usually carries in his eyes, but something new. I see a hurt that has enveloped him into a cocoon of grief where he is now unreachable. There is no glimmer in his eyes as the tears fall wordlessly in a stream down his face and onto his shirt where the wet mark slowly grows wider and wider. He seems as lost as grandma is hysterical. Someone taps my shoulder and I see people are standing to leave. So I go out the glass doors and stand at the top of the cement steps, watching as six of my relatives come out carrying my mother inside the last bed she will ever sleep in. They put it in the back of a big black car, and shut the door. I notice the windows have curtains, and smile because that seems an odd thing when the person back there can’t see them. I turn at the sound of crying to see my grandma’s family helping her to a car, followed by my dad and his family doing the same. The engines start, and cars maneuver to get in the processional. It is only then that I notice the child standing beside me…the nine year old me who is as lost as any of the grown ups that everyone is so concerned about. As the cars start slowly following each other, I see one stop. It is my uncle, who has noticed her standing up here on the cement steps. He wordlessly picks little me up and puts her in our father’s vehicle. I close my eyes to what is a very cruel reality and retreat, backing through the door that just moments ago had led into the funeral home…now I find myself outside of my childhood home in the body of my nine year old self. I remember this day; we have just come home from the dinner following mom’s funeral. I can feel the coolness of the fall in the light breeze. The sun has started its journey back toward the earth and the shadows are growing longer. My father walks across the yard and to the top of the hill where the barn is located. It is time to feed the animals, but he makes no move to enter the building. He just stands there, staring off across the fields ready to be harvested. Like a statue he stands, motionless, except for an occasional blinking of his eyes. I watch him for what seems like an eternity. It scares me to see him like this… so still, like a statue, or like my mother had been only hours before. An irrational fear sweeps over me as I run toward him, calling out his name. Finally I reach him, and pull at his arm, totally hysterical by this time. I never see him move; never see any change in him at all, still I find myself flying backwards. I hit the ground hard, but I know better than to get up. I look back at him. He remains unchanged. There is no indication that I have interrupted his silent reverie. I wait silently until he finally turns, and looks down at me, “You’re getting your clothes dirty. Get up from there,” he says with a half smile playing on his lips. He puts out his hand to help me up and I take it. What choice do I have? He drags me by the arm to the barn. I hate the barn. He sits me on a bale of straw, and explains to me in detail what is expected of me now that mom is gone. I am the woman of the house now. It is my responsibility to take care of the housework, the cooking, the gardening, my siblings ...and him. I hear him talking, trying to take in all that he is saying, but I must answer wrong because he hits me. .. Just once, it is only one hit, but it is a very good one. He turns and leaves the barn. I get up and stand in the entrance. There he is by the house, just standing there, lost once again in his own world. A haunting picture of a man haunted by things that only he can name. I step through the barn door and into another room. This time I find myself in a room with an old woman. She does not look familiar, but seems to pose no threat so I go to her. I don’t speak, nor does she and yet I can hear her words. “I am sure that you have many questions?” “Yes. Where am I” What is this place? How did I get here?” “Shall we try to deal with one question at a time?” she says with a smile. “Okay. How did I get here?” “What is the last thing you remember?” “I was arguing with someone.” “Yes and the violence that ensued resulted in your being brought here.” “I don’t understand. Where is here?” “You are inside your own mind.” “What?!” “You are in the dark recesses of your own existence. Here there is no time. All life events happen simultaneously. From here you can choose to go downstairs, which is to say, into your past, or upstairs, which is the futures that could happen if you choose them.” “I don’t understand. My futures? Plural?” “Yes. You see each person is given many different roads on which to travel in their life journey. It is only through your deciding which one you will travel that your future is actually determined.” “You - do you not have the same choices?” “No. I am not of the mortal realm. My job is to assist, in this case, you on your journey.” “Who, or should I say what, are you?” “I am neither here nor there. I am the wind gently whispering through the trees. I am the sun creating both light and shadow. I am what was, what is, and what will always be.” “Let’s try to be a bit more specific this time. Who are you?” “It would be beyond your understanding. Suffice to say I am here to assist you by answering your questions.” “How do I get out of here?” “Through the door of course.” “But the doors change, the rooms change, the house even changes!” “As does the human mind.” “Okay, try this – can I EVER get out of here?” “That is totally up to you.” “Alright then, yes or no…can I ever get out of here?” “Yes.” “How?” “It depends entirely on the road, or in this case, the door that you choose.” “And you won’t tell me which one is the exit?” “Sometimes the only way forward is backward,” and with that the old woman disappears. As I ponder the old woman’s cryptic message, I look around the room for the first time. The walls are a very dark blue and scattered throughout are dozens of doors. Each entryway has a person sitting in front of it, varying in age from very young to adult. The doors themselves have no apparent rhyme or reason and some even stand alone, unsupported by walls and appearing to lead nowhere. In the center of the room is what appears to be a huge ball of light and it is from here that the room receives its only source of light. I can only imagine that the wise one with the answers that I need has exited through one of these doors, I just have to figure out which one. As I look around the room at the entrances, I realize that I no longer remember which one I entered ….I have no other choice, I will have to pick one and try to find a way out. I walk around the room looking at the girl sitting in front of each door and am stunned to discover that it is myself at different ages. I decide to start with the entryway of the five year old. She smiles as she reaches out taking my hand and opening the door, leads me inside. It is darker here than in the room and as my eyes adjust to the difference; I feel a breeze flutter softly through my hair. We are outside and it is evening. We appear to be exiting a woods and entering a clearing. I can hear people talking and as I push past a bush I see what appears to be a bonfire. The little me pulls free from my grasp and runs ahead, laughing as she greets her friends and family. I cannot help but smile until I see the “stage.” There on a wooden platform are the ghosts of my past… my heart stands still. The meeting is just beginning and apparently it is a member drive. The leader recites our creed: “Our god, we of the brotherhood acknowledge our dependence on you and your loving ways. Let us never forget that each brother, by his conduct and spirit determines his own destiny, good or bad. May he forsake the bad and strive for the good as truly being in the image of god. Keep us in the powerful bond and fraternal union of fidelity towards one another and devoted loyalty to this, our great brotherhood movement. Let us remember that the crowning glory of a brother is to serve his race, his community, his nation, and his own high principles. God save our race and help us to be free people, masters of our own destiny.” It has begun. I know the rhetoric; I memorized it very early in life and believed it for many years. The leader continues to instruct the potential members,” Why do we light the cross? The cross stands in every gathering of the brotherhood as a constant reminder that Jesus Christ is our criterion of character and His teachings are our life blood. It was bathed in the blood of Jesus and became the symbol of faith, hope and love. Today it is used to rally the forces of Christianity against the ever increasing hordes of the anti-Christ and the enemies of America.- We light the cross on fire, to signify to the world that Jesus is the light of the world. Where this holy light shines from the darkness there will be dispelled evil, darkness, gloom and despair. The light of the truth dispels ignorance and superstition as fire purifies gold, silver and precious stone, but destroys wood, hay and stubble, so by the fire of the cross of Calvary we cleanse and purify our virtues by burning out the vices with the fire of His word. The cross is never allowed to burn down, but is put out when the ceremony is over.” With these words the members behind him light a huge cross that stands behind the stage. The speaker continues with his diatribe, seeking to instruct the new members as well as to inform the potential members. “What do we believe? We believe that our race is the hub of our nation and faith. We believe in the constitution as it was originally written and intended. We believe in free enterprise with the right to private property and the ownership of our own businesses. We believe in positive Christianity which is the right of the American people to practice their own faith. We believe in the Bible that existed before the liberals translated it. We believe we came from Adam and Eve, not monkeys. The Bible clearly shows that we are of one lineage and makes reference to beasts that walked on two legs. It also spoke of the wrongs of sleeping with these beasts. We believe that other races are not our brothers and sisters, but are beasts of burden. To accept evolution fully, is to say we are equal with these animals, which history shows that we are not equal to, and in fact are superior to. While the Supreme Court has accepted people of any complexion to vote and marry with any race, we have not and never will accept this.” The devious leader now looks down upon the people in his audience and asks the question, “Who do we accept you ask? We do have very high standards that must be met. A member must accept the tenants of the Christian religion. This means you must accept God as creator. A member should encourage fellowship and prayer, but be wary of liberal preachers. We do not accept people who follow the occult, whether it is paganism or Satanism. Atheists are also not welcome. Does this mean we should shun non-Christians? No. While our beliefs may differ, we are all fighting to maintain our racial supremacy. They might not be brothers, they might not be Christians, but they are our allies and should be treated with utmost respect. To do otherwise is to do a disservice to our race.” I notice that I have been unwittingly backing up while the deceiver spoke and have backed into a tree, behind which a person has been tied and left for “punishment” after the speeches. I recognize the boy and start to untie him “Stop,” he cries, “I have been sinful and I must face my punishment!” I stop, remembering my own beliefs as a child. I can’t stay here…but where is the door? I can hear the “sermon” beginning as I search through the brush for the door. “’I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service (Romans 12:1)’. By that we are reminded that we are brethren not only in common cause, but by racial blood as well. Our attention is also directed to the mercies of God, which we too often forget and fail to recognize and appreciate. We are also commanded to make a tremendous sacrifice, OUR BODIES. In the Old Testament the people were accustomed to offer as sacrifices the dead bodies of animals, but the apostle here demands that we offer OUR OWN BODIES, as a living sacrifice. The soul may be sin-sick, and nearing the portals of eternal death, but it is not alarmed. -To lay our bodies, yet living, on the altar of service, is the supreme sacrifice. We are further informed that the living sacrifice, our bodies, must be holy, and acceptable unto God. This demands a clean consecrated life. God will not accept an unholy offering. But this is just our ‘reasonable service’,” and with these final words I finally find the door. I turn the handle, but it just spins in my hands. I sink to the floor of the woods in tears… “I can’t stay here…please, please….open,” I whisper so as not to be overheard and then I find myself looking up into the eyes of a shrouded man. He points his rifle at me and tells me to come with him. My captor never speaks a word as he directs me into a wooden shack and shackles me to a wooden beam inside. The door closes behind him and the room goes dark. Time passes and the meeting outside starts to break up. I hear the farewells and laughing of the people as they pass the shed, but I do not call out…I have remembered too much to make a sound. Finally, it is quiet outside and I hear, rather than see, the door opening. A man enters and removing my cuffs leads me at gunpoint to a line of people standing in front of a long table of elders. The first sinner steps forward. The charges are read and the man is pronounced guilty before he is even allowed to speak. It is only then that he is allowed to try and explain his sin against his brothers. The punishment is swift and severe. He is beaten and released. The next up is a woman who has betrayed not just the brotherhood, but her race; she has been caught in the presence of a person of a different color. She is offered no chance for explanation, but is hooded and tied to a waiting cross where she awaits her punishment. It will be a fiery and final justice aimed at cleansing her immortal soul. I am next. I am charged with unlawful trespass and found guilty. It is only now that I actually look at the elders and realize to my surprise that the old woman sits among them. I unconsciously take a step towards her and am hit with the butt of the guard’s gun. “The sinner will not move! Keep your eyes averted from the elders, you heathen!” “Does the guilty have anything to say on her own behalf?” I decide to lie, “I am a sister from another state. I have only recently moved to your fair city and wanted to check out your faithfulness to our beliefs.” “Our faithfulness?” “Yes, too many of our brothers have veered from our core beliefs and I wished only to observe your beliefs and practices.” “And are we found lacking?” “No. You are an honor to our brotherhood and a model that should be observed and followed by all brotherhoods.” I am then questioned quite intensely on my own beliefs and tenets. The elders ask to be excused as they will have to discuss my punishment. I look around and see the altars of redemption set up in three of the corners of the clearing. It is upon one of these altars that the woman from earlier is tied. I see movement near her and watch in horror as the wooden cross upon which she is tied is lit on fire. I know that nothing that I say or do will change what is happening. The fire of the cross will cleanse her immortal soul and allow her entrance into heaven. I close my eyes as the screaming begins. The guard beside me smiles as he watches her burn, “Did they cleanse the sinners for heaven in your brotherhood?” “Yes.” “It is with great love that we prepare a lost one for our Lord. I am proud to be a part of such a brotherhood.” The pride on the man’s face as he says these words isn’t lost on me. I know the rules of this game and the length that they will go to in the name of brotherhood and “Christian” love. The screaming has finally stopped and I know that the woman is dead, burned to death for some archaic belief that has no basis in truth. I close my eyes and say a quick prayer, not only for the woman, but for her so-called brothers. I am snapped out of my thoughts by movement in the brush. The guard hears it also and goes to investigate.

Suddenly, appearing out of nowhere, the old woman stands in front of me. She takes my hand and leads me back through the woods and up to a now open door. I walk through it and find myself back in the room once again. The entrance I used disappears as I step through it and another is added to the room. Looking around I realize that if what the old woman said is true and I am really in my own mind, then these must be the locked doors of memory. Things that I had to lock away, memories too difficult to remember…. if the only way forward is backward, maybe I have to open the sealed memories in order to find the exit that leads out of here. I look around and once again see the five year old... I thought that I had just returned from her memory, curious now I decide to take another walk with her and taking her by the hand, we open the door and step in. We now enter my childhood bedroom. I always hated this room that was too cold in the winter and too warm in the summer. I look around with the eyes of both an adult and a parent. It is immaculate. There are no toys or books anywhere. The windows stand bare, without shade or curtain to cheer them. Wallpaper is missing in places and without looking I know that the small cupboard holds all of her clothing. The child pulls away and letting go of my hand climbs onto her bed… the bed that consists of a mattress on the floor complete with sheets and one blanket. I watch her smile and run to her mother realizing that to her – this is normal. A shadow in the doorway with no door attached brings me out of my thoughts. It is father standing there filling the doorway, so tall, so handsome, with a smile that is contagious. When this man looks at me I have no choice – I cannot say no. Even now the very thought of him immediately makes me feel stupid… evil… worthless. It is as though these feelings are as much a part of my identity as my name….always there, not hidden, but not recognized for what they are. His presence brings a tidal wave of worthlessness crashing over me that knocks me to my knees – leaving me completely powerless to fight back. But along with these feelings of desperation and helplessness are equally strong feelings of love for a person who has sought to destroy me all my life. I have to calm myself – remind myself that mom is really dead – my actions cannot bring her back….such a crazy thought to have to battle – but the sight of my father brings everything hurtling back once more. “Is it my turn yet?” He calls out as our mother stands up and walks over to him. “I don’t think she is old enough yet,” she tells him putting her hand on his arm to stop his advance. “Really? Who’s tired of being a little baby? Who wants to learn how to be daddy’s big girl?” “Me! I’m ready daddy!” comes the reply from the very excited little girl who is now sitting up. “Jim – please…” He grabs her arm and drags her into the hallway. Their angry voices carry into the bedroom and I look over at the child to see if she notices. She is listening to every word, but I know that she has no understanding of what the fight is about. The sound of a body falling down the stairs tells me that the argument is over and he will soon return. I grab the child’s hand and drag her towards the door that we had come through. “Where do you think you’re going?” The child pulls free and runs into his now open arms. He carries her to the bed and sets her down, then sits on the other side, bending down to remove his shoes. He pulls off his shirt and throws it at me with a smile. His eyes find and hold mine as he continues talking to the child behind him. “Do you trust me?” he asks her, but it is my voice that answers. “No.” “Do you love me?” I find myself struggling with this one but hear myself answer him, “Yes.” He smiles. Standing up he slowly removes the rest of his clothing, never taking his eyes from mine. I want to warn her, to tell her to run as fast and as far as she can, but his eyes have ensnared me. It is as if he is a snake and I am the rabbit held hypnotized by his gaze. When he finally looks away I feel my strength fail and slowly I slide down the wall to the floor. I go away deep – way down deep… It is like I leave myself… like I am falling backward, except I can see myself way up there. I remember the night this happens as clearly as I remember yesterday and now I find myself falling back through time and into my childhood nightmare once again. I am in the floor and yet I am in that bed reliving the unforgivable trauma of that night He climbs into the bed and straddles my body, leaning over to give me what I think will be a goodnight kiss. I am not afraid, this is my daddy and I know that he would never do anything to hurt me. He leans in and kisses me lightly then with more urgency and I feel an unknown terror rise within me. I push his chest and try to kick him to make him stop. He rolls onto the floor, doubled over and moaning in pain. From the floor I witness his fall and without hesitation I begin to go to him, but the child gets there first. “Daddy! Daddy! Are you alright? Daddy, I’m sorry! Please daddy, tell me what to do!” From where I am sitting, I see him open his eyes, and realize immediately that the pain has been replaced by fury. He sits up, grabbing the child and slamming her to the floor. I know what is coming next and frantically search the barren room for anything that can be used as a weapon. I see a chair in the hall and rush out to get it. A hand on my arm stops me, it is the old woman. “You cannot alter history my dear, no matter how much you may wish to.” She opens her arms and I find myself falling into them crying openly for the child who has no tears of her own. “You cannot hide from this any longer. Turn and face your fears.” I walk back to the doorway just in time to hear him shouting at her, “Tell me what you are!” “I’m evil. Is that right sir?” the child answers hesitantly,” Satan’s spawn… I’m all poisoned…I’m worse than everybody…I don’t have a mother…I wasn’t born…I won’t get upset anymore…I won’t go near anybody…I’ll keep my mouth shut…I am the worst thing you’ve ever met…All the people who have died, all the things that have happened; it’s all my fault...I have to be taught a lesson…I am going to be sorry… I am sorry… I already am sorry…I’m sorry for everything I’ve done to everybody.” “Don’t you ever forget I own you! You will be obedient to me!” With this her heartless father throws the child onto the bed and turns, glaring at me…the hatred in his eyes seeming to have a life of their own. “I own you!” He tells not her, but me. “Now what do you say to me?” “Thank you daddy.” “That’s better, I think that it is time that you started to earn your keep around here, don’t you?” “Yes sir.” “Are you ready to be instructed in you true life purpose?” “Yes sir.” “Close your eyes and listen to my voice. Take slow deep breaths – in and out.” I find myself obeying without hesitation just as the child beside him is. “Relax. Feel yourself relaxing as you slowly breathe out.” He continues to talk, very low, very soothing, and I can feel the tension begin to leave me. The child on the bed has been forgotten as I become lost in the sound of his voice. The sound of muffled screams shakes me from the spell his voice had cast on me and I open my eyes. Only now it is no longer the child on the bed, but me inside her body. I can’t move, my captor holds both of my hands in one of his and with the other he has covered my mouth. I try to escape, but his body is all encompassing, smothering me beneath his weight. I am not this child anymore and I know full well what is about to happen, but even as an adult, I am powerless to stop him. There are no magic words that will make this better; no wand to make it disappear. I am trapped here – alone in my pain. The thoughts that swirl through my mind have become screams. I tell myself over and over again that this is just a memory, but it is so very real, so vivid – it possesses me and I have no ability to fight it. I can’t seem to escape – not then and not now. I can feel the weight of his body on mine, hear his breathing as it grows more intense; see his sweat dripping onto my face, but I cannot wipe it away. I feel his legs pinning mine beneath them and I cry out silently from the pain… “This isn’t working,” my ruthless owner rises from me and I feel a rush of cool air hit my body. . I watch him walk through the door and then hear him go down the steps. I want to hide, to run away, but I don’t see any way to escape. I grab his t shirt and throwing it on, tiptoe into the hallway. He is still gone so I run to my sister’s room and climb into her closet. I pull the clothes over me and try to calm my breathing. I know daddy is coming back and I know the punishment for disobedience will be severe if he finds me. I hear him come up the steps and then slam his fist through the wall. “Dammit, you better get you’re a... back here right now or I am going to have to teach you a lesson!” I stay silent, praying that God will rescue me or make me invisible…He does neither. The closet door swings open and my attacker throws the clothes out and onto the floor. He reaches in without a word and grabbing my hair, drags me back into the bedroom. “Lie down and hold still or I will make you sorry you are alive.” I obey instantly and he reaches down to the floor and comes back up with kite string. My instructor ties my hands together and then slips the other end through a metal ring in the wall. Next he gags me with a dish towel, then stands up and looks down at me. I feel a coldness seep into my body… I shiver and the monster pretending to be my father smiles. The beast climbs back onto the bed, but this time he doesn’t straddle me, this time the monster means to punish my disobedience and as he finally penetrates me I feel a pain that I did not know could exist…it is everywhere all at once and I try to scream – to break free – anything to stop this unbearable invasion. He looks into my eyes and I can see that he is furious. “What have I told you about disobedience? Now you have given me no choice, but to hurt you. I have to teach you to listen to me,” and with that my rapist thrusts forward, but before I can even fathom this new wave of pain, he is out again…I don’t know, I can’t understand that this is how it is supposed to be as he drives into me faster and harder until at last the blackness in my head swirling just out of my sight takes me into its arms and the pain stops. Moments later, I awake with his face, inches from mine, and his eyes are ablaze with fury. “You know you can’t sleep through your lessons, how will you ever learn?” The monster from my nightmares reaches behind me and unties the towel from my mouth and then moves forward until he is straddling my chest. The beast reaches down and begins to strangle me with one hand until I gasp for air then he moves his hips forward until I am choking and as much from reflex as anything I bite down on him. He yells in pain and jumps from the bed. For the second time my master leaves the room and when he returns he is angrier than I have ever seen him. He has his belt in his hands. “Obviously the little whore needs another lesson.” With these words the tyrant begins to whip me indiscriminately, the belt whistling as it flies up and then back down again. I begin to scream as the pain becomes unbearable. The animal finally stops and looks down at me, seemingly surprised at the damage that he has inflicted upon me. “I think we understand each other now, do we not?” He tosses the belt onto the floor and once again climbs on top of me. “Are you ready for your lesson now?” But I have gone somewhere else and no longer have the ability to respond to his questions. The outrage of being ignored rises in him and he begins to punch me over and over, finally his rage spent, he stops hitting me and seems to notice for the first time how excited the act of violence has made him. My caretaker pushes my legs, which can no longer resist, apart penetrating me once again. He doesn’t realize that I can no longer hear him or feel what he is doing. It is only when he is finished that the savage realizes the true damage that he has done to me. He goes downstairs and makes a phone call. I find myself leaving this body filled with nothing, but pain and terror. I am standing alone when I see a very bright flash of light and I am unable to continue looking at it. I look away and when I look back I see a shiny man standing in front of me holding the five year old me. As He stands there she lays her head on His shoulder and I can see the tension leave her little broken body. He talks to her in words that are not spoken, but which, for some reason, I can understand. He tells her she is special, that she is so much more than He can ever explain. She lifts her head and looks into His eyes and tells Him that if He really cares about her He will let her die. He sits down taking her hand and placing it inside of His. He tells her that He understands her pain and that He will never leave her – not ever. He puts her down and turning to me says – “She doesn’t understand her importance. She cannot see that she is the light that overshadows the darkness of your world. I cannot explain her life to her anymore than I can explain why she – or you – has survived. You are a miracle… She is a miracle… a broken miracle, but a miracle nonetheless. She places her trust in humans and they have and will always betray that trust. I promise that one day all of this will make sense. There is always a purpose, but it is not always one that you can accept or understand in this life. “ I find myself back in my bedroom. It is dark and I cannot see anything. I try to get up, but the effort to move steals the breath from my body. I can hear voices. It is Doctor Mark. He is crying as he pulls up a chair beside the bed. I try to tell him that it is alright, but I have no voice. He picks me up and gently carries me to his car. I recognize the smell of antiseptic when we reach our destination, but it is awhile before I realize that this is his office. He x-rays, stitches and bandages while he talks very softly, telling me everything he is going to do before he does it. My father arrives and the two men step out of the room and begin to argue. Doctor Mark wants me in the hospital, but my father’s clone says no. He tells my “father” that he will call the police and although I cannot hear what is being said I know the threatening tone in my father’s voice. They decide to tell people that I was in an auto accident with mommy because she is bruised as well from the fall down the stairs. I fall asleep after the shot I am given takes affect. I find myself outside of my five year old self once again and shudder as I look down on her. She doesn’t even look human any longer. Her eyes are blackened and swollen shut, she is covered in bruises and welts….there is dried blood around the many stitches that Doctor Mark used to piece her back together…her hair is no longer long, and silky blonde, but red and matted with dried blood…there is a splint on her arm and everywhere I look are bruises, welts, cuts or a combination of all three. There doesn’t appear to be anywhere left for her to be injured and I remember that dad always was quite thorough in his “lessons”. It is much later before I find myself walking through the door. I take a step forward, but the floor gives way and I find myself hurtling downwards. When I finally land I find myself sitting with eyes tightly closed, hands over my ears trying to find escape from a memory that resides inside my very soul. I open my eyes, or at least I think they are open, to a world completely devoid of light. I reach out, but can find no walls. I stand, but there appears to be no floor under my feet. I call out for help, but my words are swallowed by the darkness. I stand, still and silent, for what seems an eternity before I sense a change. There in the distance is a flicker of light. I find myself drawn to it. The light is hope…I must find the light. I feel so alone, so ashamed and dirty…I feel dead inside this darkness. I run towards the light, but the harder I try to reach it the farther away it appears. I am ready to give up when I feel a hand on my shoulder. “Where are you going?” asks the old woman from the room of doors. “To the light.” “Well, you’ll never get there that way,” she says and taking my hand she leads me through a door and back into the room. I look around and see the past. It surrounds me, smothering me under its weight. There is no future here – only yesterdays; no hope - only acceptance. Here there are no outside doors or windows – no way in or out – yet come and go they do. Nightmares become reality as horrors are revisited, and relived, but never released. From here there is no escape. The room built as a fortress has become a prison. Here I am trapped – my soul slain only to be resurrected and slain again. Where is the door? To die – never to sleep again – nightmares strewn as flowers over my grave. Is death the only door of escape? If hell ever came to earth I could tell you where to find it - it is here in this room of broken children. I have felt their pain and shared their suffering, but now as I look around I ask myself why? Has it always been like this? “Why am I here? When can I leave?” I ask the old woman. “You can leave anytime you would like, no one is forcing you to stay here,” is her reply. “Then I wish to leave.” “So leave.” I look around the room and to my surprise find that all the entrances have disappeared except for one. The old woman now stands between the door and a stairway leading up. “Choose. The stairway leads out of the past and into your present. This entry holds the answers to how you came to be in this place. It is up to you.” The old woman turns and opening the door walks through it and is gone once again. I walk towards the stairs. I tell myself to take them, but I find that my hand is on the doorknob. I turn it and opening the door see nothing except blackness. I lean in, holding onto the knob to keep from falling in, the doorknob disappears and I find myself tumbling out onto the floor of my present home.

Chapter 2 I have landed in the living room. I hear shouting from down the hall and look up in time to see myself running down the hallway trying to escape the man behind the angry voice. It is here that she is caught and thrown back into the room, flying over the back of the couch and landing hard enough to knock the breath out of her. As I struggle to breathe the realization hits me that I am once again inside my memory and it is now me who is laying on the floor looking up as my crazed husband reaches me. He takes hold of both shoulders, and straddling me slams me into the floor. I am trying to remember the reason for this fight; the reason for his extreme anger, but the world has started to grow hazy and I find myself fighting to remain conscious. “How many times do you have to be told that you are not leaving unless I let you go? You are a worthless piece of trash! You are mine… I own you!” The violence has excited him, as always, and he puts one hand around my throat as he tears my clothes off with the other. His attention is diverted for a moment as the dog grabs his pants leg and tries to pull him off of me. He reaches down and punches the animal and it is barely enough time for me to break free. I pull myself to my feet and run down the hallway and into the bedroom where I frantically slam and deadbolt the door. He is only moments behind me and the door will only slow him down for a couple of minutes. Looking around the room for anything I can use as a weapon I spot my father’s 22; it isn’t loaded. I rummage through the drawers until I find the shells and then quickly load the rifle. I back against the far wall and wait. I have only seconds before the maniac uses his body as a battering ram to crash through the door and onto the bed. He looks up at me and smiles when he sees the gun. “You know that isn’t loaded don’t you? If you put it down right now I won’t have to make you pay for aiming it at me.” “I loaded it, check the drawer.” He looks in the drawer and sees the box of shells strewn all over it. He turns now, smiling confidently. “You won’t shoot me. You don’t have the guts,” he says as he slowly advances. I fire over his right shoulder. The bully stops for the first time realizing that he could actually be in danger from his “little slave.” He backs up to what is now a broken doorframe. “I will have to punish you for this, you know that don’t you? You will be very sorry for making this choice.” With these words my husband exits the room and I slide down the wall sitting with the gun pointed at the door, feeling safe now, even if only temporarily. The next morning I am surprised to find that I am still here, I thought I would be returned to the room of doors by now. I walk quietly down the hallway, gun still in my hands and look out the windows to see if the savage has gone to work or not. His vehicle is not in the driveway. I take the gun back into the bedroom to put it away. I keep it on the top shelf because of the kids and am attempting to reach high enough to set it down safely when I feel him behind me. My “owner” takes the gun and slides it back on the shelf out of my reach. I stand silent, waiting for his next move. I can feel the heat of his body against mine as his arms tighten around my waist, trapping my arms at my sides. He backs away from the closet, still holding me in front of him until we are into the open area of the bedroom, then the madman picks me up and throws me. I slide down the wall and onto the floor. The animal is on top of me immediately, taking both of my wrists into one hand as he reaches up into the dresser and pulls out his handcuffs. My uncompromising master drags me to the bed and cuffs my hands around the steel bar that he has inserted into the wall by the headboard. He then stands up and walks from the room. I hear the dogs begin to bark and realize that someone must be here, but he has reached the same conclusion and comes back with duct tape to make sure I don’t make a sound. I listen to him talking and try to discern who he is speaking to, but the voice is unfamiliar. Hours pass before he finally returns to the bedroom. When he does it is with a new door which he installs as he talks to me. My demented dictator is very displeased with me, not only for the weapon, but for breaking down the door which he now has to pay to replace. He finally turns, setting down the screwdriver on the dresser and removes his clothing. He then tells me that he wants me to tell him how much I missed him last night…to tell him that I want him. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” is the reply that comes from my mouth before my brain has fully computed the danger of such a statement. The outrage in his eyes tells me that it was a mistake, but there is nothing that I can do and nowhere to run this time. My assailant’s fists seem to be hitting everywhere at the same time and the world has become a haze of pain. Finally my loving husband lands the perfect punch and I am out. I don’t know for how long, but I do know that I awake in the hospital with a concussion and several broken ribs. I am questioned repeatedly about what happened, but I don’t say a word…they will just arrest him and let him out and I know that he will make me pay for talking. I wake up in the middle of the night to find someone sitting beside me…it frightens me until I recognize the profile of one of my brothers. I smile to know that he is protecting me and nod back off, sleeping better than I have in a very long time. The next day I am released and my brothers are both there standing sentry over me. They tell my husband that they will give me a ride and he angrily agrees. The three of us get into their pick up truck – me in the center, just as always. We make a five minute drive last for hours as we share stories with each other. It has been many years since my departure from the brotherhood and we have not been in contact since. I ask them why they are here now and they tell me that they received a phone call from a friend of mine who asked for their help with my present situation. I ask them who and they tell me Charisse, at which point I start laughing. They look at me stunned, trying to figure out what I am laughing about. “You have never met her have you?” “No, why?” “She is Bethie’s daughter.” At the mention of Bethie’s name, the color drains from both of their faces. They know about my best friend. She is the reason I left the brotherhood and worse than that, in their eyes, she is not of our race. Luckily, it is at this time that we pull into the driveway. They tell me to wait in the truck and they go inside. I am certain that whatever they are doing is going to cost me dearly, but I do what they ask. After about ten minutes they return and help me into the house. They say their goodbyes and leave. I hear the truck as it pulls off from the road, but I am not the only one listening to their departure. I never see it coming, as the blow to my face knocks me to the floor, where he instantly leaps on top of me and begins to strangle me. “Sic those damn brothers of yours on me, huh? Well you won’t get the chance to do it again! I am going to kill you this time!” I hear his words and feel his hands tightening up, closing off my air. The room is beginning to grow dark when suddenly I find myself gasping in air without anyone stopping me. I lay there trying to get my senses back and hear what sounds like a fight, but still can’t focus enough to understand. Suddenly it is still, and I hear my brothers talking about dumping him at the emergency room. I open my eyes, but the room is spinning. I think I see my brothers carrying my unconscious spouse out the door and then I hear the sound of their truck leaving. I must have lost consciousness because the next thing I remember is waking up with my head on my brother’s lap and he is talking very softly to me. “Please sis, don’t leave me. I missed you so much; life just isn’t the same without you in it.” I open my eyes and try to speak, but my voice is very low and strained. He puts his hand to my face and smiles. “What happened?” I whisper to him, “Truth.” “We just taught him a little lesson in what happens to people who hurt someone we love. He will be alright, don’t worry. He should be home later tonight.” I close my eyes, relieved that they haven’t done anything that can’t be undone. I feel one of them pick me up and take me into the bedroom. He covers me up and leans over kissing my forehead. “I love you sis.” They spend the next week taking turns watching over me, one of them always there to make sure that no revenge can be sought by my obsessive husband, who had returned that night just as the boys said he would, bruised and bloody, but with nothing broken or permanently damaged. He sits quietly, never speaking to them and only saying nice things to me. I know it is an act, but I am afraid of what they will do if they find out. It is a week before my brothers feel confident to leave me alone again. They take the truck and go into town to get a drink. I hear them leave and wait to see what will happen next, but nothing does and when they return they seem more at ease. They joke around with me that my old man just needed to be shown the error of his ways and that they had put the fear of God into him. The next night they both have dates with girls they met the previous night; they even make a point to tell me not to wait up for them and put on a big show of how they will get lucky tonight. I know them, they are up to something, but I have no idea what it might be. Alone in the house together, my husband sits down next to me on the couch. He moves closer, pressing his body against mine, and then puts his arm around my shoulders. I can feel his arm slowly tightening, pulling me even closer to him. He leans into my neck; breathing harder now and I decide to get up before things get out of control. As I stand up he reaches out and grabbing my arm, pulls me back onto the couch. As I struggle to get away he pins me under him using this opportunity to whisper into my ear what he “wants” from me. “You are my wife, b…. and I will f… you anytime, anywhere, anyplace…the day that you stop being mine is the day you will die!” It is with these loving words that the man who claims to love me finally manages to get inside of me. He covers my mouth with one hand and uses the other to push forward into my ribs with every thrust. I know that I am screaming, but I also know that no one can hear me, it doesn’t matter…all that matters is the pain that shoots through me with each and every forward movement of his body. I know he is very close because his hands loosen as his eyes close and I push him off of me and onto the floor. I try to get up, but can’t stand so I crawl towards the door, but he grabs me and pulls me back. Now my rapist is angry. He has finished on the floor instead of in me. He grabs my hair and rubs my face in it. I hear the truck at the same time that he does, but I see the look on his face…my ruthless aggressor jumps up and races for the bedroom. I pull myself up and meet my brothers at the door, pushing them ahead of me to get them out of here. I know where my murderous spouse has gone, I left the rifle loaded on the top shelf and I have to get my brothers out of here. They grab me and thrust me into the truck and we pull out just as the would-be assassin reaches the door, gun in hand. My brothers are somewhat intoxicated and not in a very good mood, telling me that they are going to go back and finish their brother-in-law off. I beg them not to confront him; I don’t want anyone hurt or killed. They agree on one condition – that I go for a ride with them. I agree. I am not afraid of my brothers. I have no fear that they would ever harm me in any way, but I should have realized where they were going to take me. Even when we pull onto the dirt lane that leads into a clearing deep in the woods, still I never doubt them or their motives. It isn’t until we get out and I see the armed guards and the altar with the burning cross behind it that I realize – that the true meaning of what my brothers want becomes clear to me. They escort me to the front of the fanatics gathered to hear the leader speak, the “man” that I had been promised to by my grandfather when we were just children. He takes the stage and all eyes are on him. This ambassador of deceit exudes confidence, strength, charisma and evil. It is something in his eyes, it is as if he is totally devoid of a soul, but to the believers gathered here, he is a god, and his word is law. My brothers stand staring at this militant messenger in awe and I begin to slowly inch my way backwards through the crowd, slowly, carefully, making certain not to draw any attention to myself, until I find myself at the very back and cautiously make my way around to the backside of the shed. I then peek around the corner to make sure that no one is looking and then I head into the woods. It is a bad time of year for hiding as there are only the trunks of the trees to hide behind, but I think I will be safe until the meeting ends. The woods seem endless and I wonder if I am making any progress at all when I see headlights on the path coming from the meeting. I hide behind a tree and wait. I can see the spotlight shining through the trees as they search for me and I tell myself to stay calm, that they can’t see through tree trunks. Finally I see the light move forward and I inch forward trying to stay behind the light, but close enough to a tree to hide if needed. As I come to the edge of the woods I stop in the ditch and crouching low, look both ways down the road for headlights, there are none. I climb up out of the ditch and onto the road; I have no idea which way to go so I just start walking. I never hear a sound, but suddenly standing in front of me are my brothers and they are not happy. I see the headlights from the truck come on as it comes out from the spot in the woods where they sat waiting. The guys drop the tailgate and they pull me into the truck bed by my arms and head back down that dirt lane to the clearing where we had just come from. When my oldest brother gets me out of the truck he puts one arm around my waist and the other around my neck, then he whispers in my ear that no one makes a fool of him. He half carries, and half drags me back toward the clearing, where I hear the others following and laughing about who will be in what place in tonight's line up. When we get to the steps in front of the altar I see their dark prophet and I stop trying to escape because I am so totally surprised that he is still here...the deceiver is angry, it is in his eyes and he orders my brothers to bring me to him. I surprise them and manage to get away, but only momentarily because there is a circle of his followers around me by that time. I turn around and see that their unholy instructor is coming down the steps towards me. I know what I should do, but I don't do it...I won't bow to this demon’s superiority or in submission because I - I don’t know why I don't...a smart person would just do it - just bow, why is that such an issue? The leader never stops looking into my eyes as he slowly walks toward me and stops in front of me. My brothers grab me and force me to bow. Their malevolent messiah tells them to let me go and they are surprised, but obey instantly. The beast is still looking in my eyes as he begins to explain to the men in the circle how I have been led down the wrong road by heathens and animals masquerading as humans. This mercenary of hell explains that there is only one choice in such a situation and that they all know what it is...a rejoining ceremony will have to be performed to signify my rebirth into the human race and to replace the enemy’s influence on my mind, body and spirit...he will join in this ceremony as a way of instructing those present who have never been involved in this ritual. The tyrant motions for my brother to come to him and whispers something to him, then turns and walks away. My brother talks very low with the others and they seem to have forgotten about me, so I start to slowly inch my way backward towards the trees. As I reach them I turn to run and run straight into the chest of one of the sentry’s. The men retrieve me and we head toward the shelter house – the leader’s refuge. I have been inside this dwelling only once before, but I remember it. We reach the building and I am "escorted" inside. I look up onto the lighted “stage” and see him. Their leader. .This sinister butcher owns me right now and holds my life in his hands. A word from him will result in my death. No one questions his intentions and armed guards block any chance of escape. If the devil were a man – this would be him. Like a snake he hypnotizes his supporters as he poisons their minds with his words. He is a born leader. They don’t question anything that this detestable dictator does. He kills, tortures and mutilates with a smile on his face, but his eyes …this is where this heretic hides his true evil. If you look into this charlatan’s eyes – you know – he enjoys it. He then nods and exits through a side entrance. This door leads straight to his private chamber. It has two bedrooms- one normal and one with straps, chains and assorted torture devices. We enter and the son of darkness tells my brothers to leave us. He catches me off guard when he suddenly grabs my wrist and pulls me towards him to kiss. My reaction is immediate; I push him from me and slap him very hard. The immoral zealot motions for his henchmen to hold my arms and punches me six or seven times. The guards then drag me to his playroom and put my wrists into the ceiling straps pulling them taut so I am no longer a danger. Once in the playroom the emotionless creature walks up to me and tells me that I will do what he says. The brutal ruler is very close as he speaks and he winds his hand into my hair. He uses it to pull my head up and ask me questions and then strikes me regardless of the answer given. Finally my legs give out and I can feel the pain in my ribs growing steadily worse. The prince of pain pulls my head up once again to make certain that I see the knife that he now holds. I have ceased to care what he does to me. The spiritual assassin must sense the difference because he scowls and cuts my hands free from the straps. Then he picks me up and takes me to the bed where I am retied. The leader of lies keeps asking questions and punishing accordingly, sometimes physically, sometimes sexually, but always verbally. The sadist then sends for his five captains to come in and have some fun, but he doesn’t leave. He stays to watch and make sure that this remains a punishment and not just a good time. I must be redeemed from my sin. I must be taught my place. The captains are not certain who I am as he put a leather mask on me before they enter. When they are finished he thanks them and returns to his own lessons. The savage Shepard takes the knife and cuts one of my hands free, then the other. I know what is next so I bolt for the door, but his henchmen block my escape…I turn around and face him. The inhumane inquisitor advances very slowly, with the strangest expression on his face – I am not sure how to read it. As the master of control finally reaches me he smiles and slowly backs me against the door. He grabs my hands, thrusts me against the door and starts to kiss me. I turn my head away and he whispers that he will kill me before he loses me and tells me in great detail exactly how he will do it. A couple of quick punches and my knees give out. The guards drag me back to the bed and secure me to it. His die-hard devotees are then allowed to stay and watch what will happen next. The author of deception leans over me and looks into my eyes – I cannot explain the depth of pure, cold evil in those eyes. He grabs one arm – never losing eye contact as he takes his knife and cuts it. He nods to a guard, who brings a chalice, holding it under my arm to catch the blood, which the ritualistic assassin then brings to his mouth and drinks. He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand and tells the guards to prepare me for the rejoining ceremony. The guards escort me back to my brothers who are waiting outside the chamber. My siblings each take an arm and lead me back into the shelter house where the personification of evil is now standing on the stage. He tells my brothers to bring me to him. The perverse paragon walks up to me and asks if I know that the brotherhood’s help was requested on my behalf. I stand mute. He asks if I realize that there is a price that must be paid for such a request, and then asks if I am ready to rejoin my family and honor the promise made years ago between our grandfathers. I look the merciless maniac straight in the eye and say “no.” His eyes flash with anger for just a moment before he regains his composure and orders my brothers to hold me down. They drop me to the floor, each taking an arm and restraining me as ordered. He then orders me stripped. The devil incarnate then stands looking into the darkness where his followers are seated before turning to walk off the stage. When the depraved apostle returns he is naked and holds something that shines in the light. He sets it down beside me and looking down at me begins speaking to his audience. He tells them that I must be punished; I must be purified and made holy before I am allowed to depart this earthly realm. I can see that this is exciting him and I struggle to free myself from my brothers. “Let this heathen thus be purified. Let her body be a living sacrifice unto you and may it become the chalice that will hold the very gift of life itself which is to be found within the bodies of your humble servants.” With these words this demonic creature lowers himself onto me and begins to forcefully perform what to him is a cleansing ceremony. As the beast moves I can hear the crowd behind him yelling amen and hallelujah. When he finishes, he leans over me reaching onto the floor for the object he carried out earlier. I see the terrorist lift the knife, I see his arm, and hand and then it feels as if I have been hit by a baseball bat. Pain explodes in my shoulder and I know that he has done it, but still can’t seem to comprehend what it is. The unmerciful savage leans on the knife, sending shockwaves of pain running through me. I can see his smile as the unholy patriarch leans down to whisper into my ear...”Choosing Michael over me was a mistake that you will now pay for.” He begins to pull the blade out very slowly, making certain that I feel every inch of it as it cuts through my shoulder. At last it is out and hell’s agent holds it in front of me, blood dripping from the blade onto my chest. . The maniacal minister sets the knife down and going to the edge of the stage calls up two “brothers” from the audience. They look uncomfortable and are not sure what is expected of them. Their perverse prophet tells them that it is now their turn to punish me. They look at me and then at him, still obviously not wanting to participate in this. He walks up to them and putting a hand on each man’s shoulders asks them if they want to be servants of god, used by him to cleanse my soul and prepare me for heaven. I see the change in their stances, their shoulders pull back and I know that they are convinced. The two obedient slaves walk over to where my brother’s still hold my arms and look down at me with a joint look of determination. “Don’t you worry we will cleanse your soul real good.” With these words the first man strips down and bends to begin, but the demigod of despair comes back out on the stage and tells them that he thinks it would be much more effective if the men work together. The second man undresses and my brothers let go of me as the two men grab me sandwiching me between them. I try to close my eyes, but their abusive advisor notices and stops them to show them what I have done. “You can’t cleanse someone who isn’t paying full attention to the process.” As the first of the two finishes I feel him roll away for a moment and then return. The pain from the knife he uses matches the last one. The knife has gone through my back and out the same wound that was inflicted just moments before. When the second man finishes he too takes his turn with the knife only this time in the other shoulder and nowhere near as deep. The two leave the stage and the leader returns calling my brothers to him. He tells them that it is now their turn to prepare their sister for heaven and that the oldest will go first. I see my brother’s face; I know the anguish that he is feeling as he is torn between his faith and his love for me. He slowly lowers himself onto me and I can see my blood covering his chest. He leans closer and puts his face into my hair, his tears fall onto my face. I look at the face that I know and love and see the torment that is in his eyes. Slowly I reach up and wipe his tears away, “It’s alright. I don’t blame you,” I say. With that he finishes and is handed the knife. He looks at me with anguish and tosses the knife onto the floor. He stands and the two brother’s eyes meet for a moment and both nod. My other brother leans over me trying to speak to me with his eyes; I understand what the plan is and nod my consent. He leans down as if to follow the actions of the ones before him, but instead he very swiftly brings the knife down, intending to finish this thing once and for all; but the leader sees and understands what is happening and knocks the knife from my brother’s hands before he can deliver the fatal blow. I watch my brother fall back and close my eyes, I know now that my end will be a fiery one. When I open my eyes once again, I am sitting on the edge of the stage. I can see my body still lying in the middle of it with blood running in a stream across the floor and off into the darkness. My body is as white as a ghost and obviously no longer conscious. The leader is making arrangements for the final atonement by fire with some men in the audience. I see my friend Michelle run up to the leader and tell him that he has an urgent phone call. The deviant disciple of death follows her to the office and I look out and see the followers who are now going outside to the cross to await my execution. I see someone still sitting in the front row… it is the old woman. Our eyes meet and she stands making her way to where I am sitting. “Look at your body lying over there. Would you like me to punish these people for you? I will mete out the punishment that you set forth for these people. Name it.” .” How can I look at these people who are being deceived and led astray and not feel compassion for them; they believe in what they are doing.” “Then will you allow them to kill you?” “I know what is expected of me and that I will do. I will stand and believe that it is in the true God’s hands. To do any less would negate who I am - and I can't do that. I cannot take the options provided to me - I have tried to talk myself into it, but I can't. So I have no choice. I have no words of hate or condemnation for these people and revenge is not mine to mete out. I have to believe that there is a purpose for all of this and if it requires of me that I leave here then, am I not the winner? They have no power over me, they can kill this body, but that isn't me...maybe that is my lesson.” “So you have no feelings of hatred towards these people? No need to get even?” the old woman asks. “It is not my place to judge or condemn others...that is for another to decide. It is my job to accept whatever lesson there is supposed to be in all of this and to learn from it. Yes, I am bitter - I don't want to be and I keep trying not to be, but it is a struggle. I don't like feeling this way - it isn't who I am or who I want to be. And I know that this is my own attitude and only I can change it. Sometimes I can't help but ask why? What have I done to deserve this? But I know that El Shaddei never gives me more than I am able to bear, so even though I feel like I can't do this - I must be able to...” “So you are above the rest of mankind? You seek not to find revenge for things that surely need to be atoned for. Have you no anger? No love for yourself? “ “I understand anger and feel it, but I just look at things differently and incorrectly I am told. I try to understand the why of what people is automatic for me to try and put myself in their shoes - how would I feel in this situation? Why are they reacting in this way? How can I help make it easier for them? I know that others think it is stupid, but that is my way of dealing with people - the ones who hurt me as well as those who love me. I have been trying to change and do what others tell me is right, but I don't know how to be what they want me to think of me first, to get angry and defend myself - how can I defend myself without first understanding the other person's side of it? I have tried to be mean and angry, but I just - I just don't know how to be that person...I don't want to be hurt anymore, but how am I supposed to be someone or something that I'm not? I have a temper just like everyone else does, but what purpose is served by hurting others? If I don't like to be ill treated then why would I knowingly do it to anyone else? I know that I have very simple ideas on love and honesty and compassion, but it is who I am. I just don't think that it is the puzzle that everyone makes it out to be - honesty is simple; love is simple and compassion is a daily choice, but a simple one. To make everything so difficult is incomprehensible to me. We choose how we will react to others until it becomes automatic and a core part of who we are - everyone does this, but we feed ourselves on different things...some have a diet of anger and mistrust and abuse - developing these same things in the core of is a ritual self abuse that needs to be broken before they become unreachable...people make everything so much harder than it has to be. I have tried to discover the inner workings of love and compassion; the reasons for trust and honesty - I have tried to change the simplistic way that I look at things, but I just can't seem to do it. I'm told that I should get angry at the people who hurt me - that I should hate them and want them punished...maybe I should -- maybe that is the correct response, but it isn't mine. I can't get angry at people who are so very much engulfed in the darkness of what they call do I hate someone who by their own actions show me that they have no love for themselves, their god or anyone else? I have to forgive what is done in the name of religion by people who honestly believe that they are helping is a mistaken belief, but an honest one. I want to be able to be angry and blame them for this pain that sometimes I don't think I will be able to stand another second - I want to, but I can't. I wish the people who want me to change would show me how to do it, I have tried to find someone to blame in all of this but that just doesn't seem to be my specialty.” “And what of your brothers – they didn’t protect you. You thought they loved you… What they did to you is unforgivable.” “They do love me of that I have no doubt. They are lost in this mire of religion that I walked away from years ago. They are torn between what they believe will save my soul and the love that they feel for me. I believe that we look at things differently. If someone is on the wrong path or "wrongs" me – I can't just turn my back on them. What if I am the person that is meant to make the difference for them? How can I walk away without knowing that I have done all that I am able to help them? I look at my brothers and I feel such sadness for the pain that I have unknowingly caused much pain must a soul be in to treat someone that they love the way they did me?” “So they are now dead to you?” “I cannot look at a living breathing person and see them as dead in any way at all - as long as we have breath we have hope that we can turn around and change our lives. I see them as a work in progress with very human flaws and failings - just as I am.” “Come child.” With this simple statement an exit opens up in the wall and taking my hand she leads me through it. The entrance takes us once again to the room of doors, and it is here that she turns to me and reaches out to pat my face gently. “You will find the way out if you truly wish it.” She smiles and letting go of my hand, steps into the ball of light in the center of the room. I look around the room and try to decide which exit is the one that leads back to my world. One of the children that have been sitting in front of a door runs up to me and tells me that it is her birthday. She pulls my arm and tells me to come with her and go to her party. The child is so happy that I cannot resist so I take her hand and follow her. We step out and into the yard of my childhood home. I hear my parents inside fighting. I look down at my side to see if the little one hears them, but she isn’t there. I am looking around the yard for her when my grandmother pulls into the driveway. I know how much I love her so I am surprised when I don’t come running to greet her. Grandma steps from her car and looks at me with an odd expression, “Since when do I not get hugs from my girl when I get here?” I look around and then look down at myself and realize that I have become the child and she is talking to me. I look up at her smiling as I rush to hug her. She wishes me a happy birthday and then goes inside the house. I stay out here where no one is fighting. I hear the door open and watch as grandma gets back in her car followed by my mom and my siblings. I wonder where they are going and why they didn’t take me. It is January and very cold outside, but I don’t want to go inside with dad so I go into the barn to warm up. I love the barn, the way the straw smells and petting the animals…it is my favorite place in the world. I hear a vehicle pull into the driveway and expect it to be gram coming back to get me, but it isn’t. I watch a man get out and head for the house, but this isn’t just a man, no, this is a giant. I have never seen anyone that big before. I hear my dad calling for me from the house, but I don’t answer. He knows how much I hate the cold so he comes out to the barn and gets me. As we are walking back to the house he tells me that today is the day that I will get a special treat. He makes it sound so exciting and after all it is my birthday, so I begin to get excited too. When we enter the house I can see the gigantic man standing in the dining room. He makes my father seem very small. The two men begin to talk about how my father is going to repay him the money that he owes….I look up to see both men staring at me. I don’t like the way they are looking at me and turn to leave the room, but dad tells me to go to his bedroom, sit on the bed and wait. I do as I am told. The massive man comes into the room and reaches out to touch my hair…I crawl across the bed to the other side. He smiles at me and leaves the room. Then dad comes in with money in his hand. He says for me to be a good girl and do what the big man tells me to do, and then he leaves. I hear his truck start up and pull out of the driveway. Am I all alone? I look out the door, but it is dark… there are monsters in the dark. Then the giant is there. He smiles as he gets closer, I have backed myself into a corner and now there is nowhere left to run. He reaches out and tears my clothes. I close my eyes and wish him away, just like mommy taught me to do when monsters are in my nightmares. My nightmare picks me up and tosses me onto the bed. I go to the other side and wait. My father’s acquaintance laughs as he undresses. He is very big and suddenly I know what is next and I run for the door, but he catches me and brings me back. I try to crawl under the bed, but he just pulls me back. I try to fight. I don’t want to be here. I try to scream, but don’t want to open my mouth. My assailant slaps me until I stop fighting and do what he wants. I can’t breathe – he is everywhere… I can’t move…suddenly he stops and I suck in air so fast that I get dizzy. I once again try to escape. This time he laughs as he slams me onto the bed. I don’t understand. He’s violating me and he won’t stop. He holds me so tight that I can’t move…I can’t get away…where is my father? My mother? This abomination stabs into me over and over again until at last he exhales loudly and stops. The gigantic creature rolls over, but doesn’t release me. It has been a long time and still no one is home. I wait until my rapist falls asleep and then sneak out to the barn. He won’t find me here only daddy knows and he isn’t here… I hear the monstrous beast come into the barn. He is calling out for me to answer, but I am quiet. I hear him climbing the ladder to the hayloft and I cower behind the bales of straw. The brutal creature is so tall that he has to hunch over. He reaches out and gets the pitchfork, then uses it to stab into the bales. He barely misses me and I scream. My ruthless master hears me and grabs my arm as I try to run past him. He stuffs me under his arm much like a football and climbs down the ladder. The terrifying behemoth looks around the barn telling me that this place has potential, but not today. He informs me that he wants to get his money’s worth. My father’s treacherous colleague brings me back to the house where he makes a phone call and when he hangs up he is smiling – never a good sign in my experience. He picks me up by my arms holding me out in front of him. My mommy told me where to hit… I kick him as hard as I can and he drops me. I land on my feet and run out the door. I know that in the snow he has only to follow my footprints, so I head for the barn. I hesitate for only a moment before I climb into the pen with Angus. This bull terrifies me, last summer he would have gored me if my brothers hadn’t come to my rescue, but I am hoping that the giant man won’t want to climb in here with him. I move slowly and quietly so as not to upset the nervous bull and hide behind his food trough. I don’t wait long…the monstrous distortion of nature is already in the barn looking for me. I can see his anger escalate as he searches in vain. Suddenly he stops and looks at the bull. He picks up a pitchfork and says,” I wonder what would happen if someone stabbed this bull with a pitchfork? Why I bet he would go crazy and destroy everything in his pen.” He walks up to the pen with the pitchfork poised to strike, the idea scares me so much that I stand up, revealing myself. “Slowly little one, walk very slowly and don’t upset him. Come here and I will pull you out of there.” I do as he says and the enormous man pulls me out. He carries me to the middle of the barn where there is a pile of binder twine; he pulls out a long piece and ties my hands together in front of me. Next my captor pulls the lever to lower the bale hook, and hooks my hands onto it. He walks over to the handle and turning it raises me off the ground until I am at eye level with him, laughing he tells me that this will be so much more fun than the bull would have been. The colossal creature turns and looks at me, then spins me saying,”yes, this will work just fine.” He reaches into his pocket and takes out his pocketknife, and opening it uses it to cut my clothes off. I offer no resistance because all I can think about is the pain in my arms and shoulders from hanging here. The unnaturally immense man puts his knife away and slowly removes his clothes. “Hmmm, I see a problem here,” he reaches over and lowers the hook, dropping me almost to the floor, “this should do.” He grabs my head and forces me look at him, “if you hurt me in any way I will haul you all the way to the top and drop you…understand?” I nod my head and he says to open my mouth. I close my eyes tight and do as he says. I can feel myself gagging and choking, but the unspeakable abuse doesn’t stop….then I feel myself begin to rise and I am terrified. I didn’t mean to hurt him, but my assailant isn’t going to the top of the barn, he is just lining me up for what he wants to attempt next. “Open your eyes little one. You must see everything…open your eyes!” I obey looking into his eyes and seeing the same strange look that my daddy gets…I look down just as he moves himself forward I hear the screaming, but don’t realize it is coming from me. His laughter mixes with my screams and the animals sound their protests at this interruption to their sleep, then he stops laughing, grabbing a hold of me, very tight. He stands still and uses me to do the moving for him as he pulls me harder and faster onto him as the screaming continues piercing the night as he pierces me……and then he is laying on the hay, exhausted as I hang here, his semen mixing with my blood and running down my legs …dripping onto the hay below me. The agony in my arms and shoulders is now a fire in the joints and blessed darkness finds me once again. When I wake up I am tied to the bed. He notices that I am awake and smiles at me, throwing money on top of me and telling me that I earned it. I don’t know what he is talking about, but I don’t care. I just want him to leave, but he doesn’t. The man who defiled and degraded me climbs into the bed; throwing one arm across me to make sure I can’t escape and falls to sleep. I lay there with no chance of escape and hum happy birthday to myself. No cake, no presents…just the hideous giant …maybe daddy is right…maybe I’m not human and this is all I deserve. I close my eyes and fall into a troubled sleep filled with demons and giants. I am awakened by the mysterious old woman who holds out her hand to me. I take it and step from the child still sleeping fitfully beside the monster. We walk to the now visible door and step through it and into the hallway of my high school. She smiles at me and disappears the way we arrived taking the exit with her. I look down at myself and see that I am wearing my cheerleading uniform. I am trying to guess my age when I hear a familiar voice behind me and I freeze inside.

CHAPTER THREE Chapter 3“Hey there Angel,” I turn around and find myself looking into the most beautiful eyes that I have ever seen. “Can I give you a ride tonight?” We both have the same schedule tonight, first the football game and then a meeting. I have seen this boy frequently, but he was always with my best friend Michelle. “What about Shel? Will she mind my tagging along?” “No, we broke up.” “Okay, let me check with her and make sure it is alright and I will let you know later.” He leans toward me and kisses my forehead. “Don’t forget Angel.” I watch him walk down the hall and then shut my locker and head for class. Shel sits beside me and when I tell her what happened she pales, but tells me to go ahead as she is planning on going with Ben anyway. She watches my face as she says this as Ben and I have been seeing each other. What she doesn’t realize is that we too had recently broken up and are now just friends. That night Michael and I had our first unofficial date, as I am not allowed to date, and yes, the irony of that is not lost on me. We ride together to the game and no one is surprised to see us together. We are the quarterback and the cheerleader; does it get any more cliché than that? That night Michael starts a new tradition – one that is ours until the season ends. He runs the ball for a touchdown and then instead of slamming the ball on the ground, he runs to where I am standing on the sidelines cheering. He grabs me with one arm around my waist and very gently kisses me – “For luck,” he says as he runs back onto the field. The fans cheer and I am left just standing here watching him in amazement. When the game ends the coach stops me and tells me that I am now the teams lucky charm, or at least Michael’s, then laughing he joins the team in the locker room. I am standing talking to some guy friend’s of mine when Michael comes out. He doesn’t say a word, just takes off his varsity jacket and puts it around my shoulders. He takes my hand and we walk to his car. He opens my door and leaning in kisses my forehead. We don’t really talk on the way to the meeting, but it is a comfortable silence. When we get there we are joined by Ben and Shel…the four musketeers as we would come to be known. We find our seats in the front row as I am required by lineage to sit here. My grandfather takes the stage and the meeting is begun. He hands it over to an elder and takes his seat on the podium. Michael reaches for my hand and I pull quickly away knowing how very closely I am always watched. As the meeting finally concludes we gratefully stand and head for the exit, but Michael is called back inside by an elder. Fear grips me as I look around for my grandfather or brothers and don’t see them. It is almost an hour before he returns with the makings of a black eye. I can see the anger in him; it is coming off in waves. I turn to leave, but feel his hand on my arm stopping me. “Where are you going?” “It’s alright; I should never have come here with you.” “Yes, they told me that you are off limits because you have been promised to another.” He grabs both of my arms now, “Is this true? Are you engaged? Are you in love with this person?” I am startled by the anger I hear in his voice and the urgency of his tone. My arms are starting to hurt from being held so tightly. “Tell me!” “Yes, my grandfather has promised me to someone.” “Do you love him? Tell me that you don’t love him!” “No, I don’t.” The relief on his face is apparent and I find myself totally bewildered. “Let’s get out of here.” He grabs my hand and we run back to his car. He pulls out so fast that gravel is sprayed everywhere. He is silent and I don’t ask where we are going. Finally we stop. He jumps out and opening my door, pulls me out as well. He leans on the hood of his car with my back to him. His arms are around my waist and I lean my head back onto his shoulder. We are a perfect fit. I feel him rub his face in my hair and finally he turns me around, now we are face to face, only inches apart. He is looking into my eyes when he tells me that I am his future. I half laugh and pull away, but he grabs my wrist and pulls me close. “You are my angel, my future; and I will die loving you.” I can tell how serious he is just by looking into his eyes, but I am not yet ready to be loved the way his eyes tell me that he loves me. I pull from his grip, turn and run. I have no destination in mind; my only thought is to flee. He is following because I hear him. I change direction and head for the lake. When I reach it, I just keep going, straight into the water until I have to start swimming. I know that I am tired and that swimming after dark can be dangerous, but all I can hear is my father’s voice…whore…never be good enough…no decent man…. I am just past the middle when I stop swimming and just allow myself to sink. I have heard that drowning isn’t a bad way to die. I open my eyes, but see nothing. I take a deep breath and the water makes me cough which only causes me to inhale more water. I am attempting to swallow more water when I feel the tug on my arm. He pulls me up to the surface where my waterlogged lungs cause me to cough uncontrollably. He never lets go of me as he swims back to the shore. He carries me to the grass and puts me down, leaning over me and looking at me with such betrayal in his eyes. “Why? Is the thought of me loving you so terrible that you would rather be dead?” I fight the desire to wipe his tears, to touch his face, to kiss away the pain that I have put into those beautiful eyes. “Don’t love me. Run…run as fast and as far as possible. I will only hurt you. I am incapable of anything good,” he stops my words with his lips and then looks at me, “Nonsense, I love you.” He slowly kisses me again and his hands begin to wander. My reaction is totally instinctual. He stops and looks at me. “Angel, are you alright?” He pulls me onto his lap, rocking me and trying to stop the tears that are falling wordlessly as my entire body shakes involuntarily. “What have they done to you?” The months pass and I am still here. I have willingly stayed, not even wondering about finding the door to return. Only my time with Michael gives my life meaning. For the first time I feel loved, cherished, protected and I won’t give that up without a fight. We have become inseparable, he and I. One morning he meets me at my locker as always, but I won’t look at him. All day he tries to make eye contact with me, but I manage to avoid him. It is the end of the day and I think that he has gone home. I am at my locker. I put my books away and turning around run right into him. His eyes flash his anger before he even speaks. “Who did this?” I shake my head and turn away from him. He grabs my arm and I flinch. He pulls up my sleeves “I will kill them. It was them wasn’t it?” “Don’t – it was all my fault!” “We’ll see about that,” Michael spins around and dragging me behind him heads for the gym. He never slows down, but heads straight for the boys’ locker room with me in tow behind him. When he reaches the one’s he holds responsible he stops and pushing one of them demands to know who did this to me. “Sorry man, but she is wild in bed.” “Yes, it was all we could do to handle her; you got yourself a real good f… there!” And they all start laughing. “She is expensive, but worth it! Hey, how about we have another go right now?” He throws his wallet at my feet and the fight is on. Michael hits the one with the wallet and two of the others grab his arms. I run to the gym and call his friends who rush in to help him. When it is over the four are lying on the floor. “Tell me the truth now. She says it is all her fault. If you lie to me I swear on all that is holy – I will kill you.” The story is told. Michael is finally told the truth that I have been too ashamed to ever reveal. My father sells me and these four had paid to have sex with me. The fact that I fought them had only made it more fun for them. As the realization reaches him, Michael slowly turns and looks at me – his angel – what a joke. I bolt, but he doesn’t follow. I go to my locker and get his varsity jacket then to his locker and put it inside so that he won’t have to speak to me again. I have already missed my bus so I begin the ten mile walk home. I hear a vehicle… hear it stop, but my tears have blurred my vision and without even looking, I continue walking. “Angel, please?” Michael yells from the car. “I put it back in your locker.” “I have my jacket; now get in here before you freeze!” I keep walking so he pulls into the ditch and jogs to where I am. “Come on, talk to me.” “No. Go away. I warned you on that first day, now you know that your angel is nothing but a whore!” He grabs my arm, spins me around and throws me over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. When we reach the car he puts me into the passenger side and then runs around to the other side. He doesn’t speak until we reach “our place” and then he shuts off the car and forces me to turn and face him. “You are not a whore and I don’t ever want to hear you say that again. Your father is nothing but trash and one day he will pay for this.” “No, he won’t. This is my purpose.” “I am your purpose! We are your destiny! I love you! Why can’t you believe that, trust that?” I want so very much to believe him. I look at his perfect face and see that his jaw is swollen and bruised. “Oh baby, your face!” I gently touch his face and he grabs my hand and kisses it. “I want to kiss away all your pain,” with these words he leans over and gently kisses my eyes, then my lips and I know how much he wants me. Who am I to let everyone else except the one that I love have me. He pulls off my sweatshirt and looking at my bruises begins to swear under his breath. I quiet his anger and he opens the car door. He takes my hand and leads me inside the cottage. He lights a few candles and then notices that I am cold. He takes me into his arms and picking me up heads to the bedroom. I know that this will be the night and I brace myself for the violence, but there isn’t any. Every move he makes is slow and gentle, as if I am a porcelain doll that he is afraid that he will break. I have had sex many times since my father put me up for sale at the age of six, but Michael was my first. The first person that I said yes to, that I didn’t fight, that didn’t pay, that didn’t hurt me. I have been shown what it means to love someone and as wonderful as that discovery is, it makes everything else so much worse. We became one that night, body and soul. I gave myself to him and along with my body I gave him my trust – something no one had ever been given before. After that night we would sneak time together whenever we could. I wanted only to be held in his arms, the only place that I have ever found safety. I have only to look into his eyes to know that he loves me. For my fifteenth birthday he introduces me to his grandmother, who he adores. She and I hit it off almost immediately. He drops to one knee and proposes, telling me that he did it in front of her to show me how very serious he is. I smile at him and wish that I could do something besides joke with him about it. The absolute best present that I receive though is my father going out of town for awhile….or so I think, until Michael accidentally gives me a gift that neither of us ever expects. We are young and madly in love and that can cause people to forget things that they should remember – things such as protection. I find out I am pregnant in March about a week before my father is scheduled to return. I don’t tell Michael, I don’t tell anyone, except Dr Mark, who is bound by privilege and thus the perfect person to confide in. When Mark tells me that I am pregnant, he assumes that I won’t know who the father is... he is wrong. The only person I have been with for almost three months is Michael and since I am just over a month along – well there is no doubt. I was going to tell him, but he is trying to sort out his future…should he go to college or the military? He graduates in June and I don’t want him to think I am trying to trap him, so I remain silent. The days pass into months and much too soon it is June and Michael’s graduation. I watch as he walks across the stage to get his diploma. I am so proud of this man that I have grown to love. He turns and smiles for the cameras of his family and friends before walking back to his seat. I put my hand on my midsection as our child moves for the very first time. When the day is over the two of us go to our place. He wants to talk to me about what he has decided to do. We sit on the grass and he tells me that he has been accepted to his father’s alma mater. I smile at him, but I know that my smile doesn’t reach my eyes. He is leaving me in September. I want to be happy but I’m not. I know now that I will have to leave this place before this child is born. I must have been deep in thought because I didn’t notice when he pushed me back onto the grass and began trying to pull off my shirt. I grab his hands and slide back away from him. “Please tell me what I did wrong; you haven’t let me touch you in months.” I can’t answer him truthfully so I stand up and head for the lake. I don’t want to have this discussion tonight…I don’t want him to give up his plans because of me. When he catches up, he sees the tears and pulls me into his arms. The gentle kiss that he gives me turns more urgent very quickly and I want him as much as he wants me. His hands find their way under my shirt; suddenly he pushes me away from him, even as he holds onto my wrists. “Angel, who hurt you?” I don’t immediately understand the question and he shakes me and repeats himself. Then I understand….the wrap. Doctor Mark uses tape to wrap me and conceal my pregnancy from my father. I don’t exactly know how to answer him. “I’m not playing, you tell me right now or I will go and ask your father.” That gets my attention and I tell him that no one hurt me…to trust me and not ask any questions. “I’m asking… no, I am demanding that you tell me what happened to you.” I jerk my wrists from him and turn away. I don’t know what to say to him. I only know that I can’t look into those eyes right now or all is lost. As if he realizes what I am thinking he turns me around and tells me to look into his eyes and tell him the truth. I take a deep breath and look away. He must sense my fear because he takes me into his arms and holds me. As the sun goes down we walk hand in hand back to the cottage and sit down on the couch. He pulls me close and we kiss. “I love you so much angel, trust me.” I am lost in his eyes and the sound of his voice…”tell me, don’t you know that you can tell me anything?” He pushes the hair from my face and waits for me to speak. Finally I look into his eyes and tell him that I am trying to hide something from my father. He looks confused for about a minute and then I see the realization in his eyes. He sits up very fast and grabbing my arms begins to yell. “Who? Tell me who it was!” I do not understand the question and his shaking me isn’t helping. “I will kill whoever it was, just give me his name!” It is at this moment that I understand his anger, now it is my turn to grab his face and look into his eyes – “Michael… You are the father.” He looks into my eyes first with anger and then with something I don’t understand. The words he speaks now seem to come straight from his heart, “How do you… how can you the others…your father…” it is as if his heart is pouring from him in incomplete sentences. “Michael, listen to me. Remember when my father left town? Remember those three months when we were so happy? This child is the result of that…there was no one else but you.” “Why? Why didn’t you tell me? Wait – you had no intention of telling me did you?” “No, I wasn’t going to tell you.” “But why? Don’t you know that I love you? Don’t you love me?” I stand up and walk away from him at this point. How do I tell him the truth? He needs to go to college and I can’t stay here. His future is at stake and I don’t want to ruin it. He comes up behind me and puts his arms around me, I lean my head back onto his shoulder…still a perfect fit. “You are always protecting everyone except yourself. You think that college is more important than you are. You believe all that garbage that your father is always telling you. You really believe that I would be better off without you, don’t you?” I just close my eyes as I hear my thoughts’ coming from the one that I love’s mouth. He slowly walks me over to the counter and reaching into a drawer, pulls out a pair of scissors. He turns me around and looking into my eyes tells me…. ”You are wrong.” With these words he cuts the tape used to hide my condition….he drops to his knees placing his head on his child, “You are so wrong.” I feel his shoulders begin to shake with his sobs and I drop to my knees beside him, pulling him into my arms and kissing him as I have wanted to for months, with no reservation. He stands up and pulls me to my feet, “you are wrong angel, dead wrong.” With these words he picks me up and takes me to the bedroom …the room where this child was conceived …and very gently, very slowly, we make love. I fall asleep in his arms…safe in the arms of love. I wake to his voice ….he is talking to his child. He has his hand over it as though he has already begun to love it. I listen to him without his knowing that I am awake. He is planning our future – the three of us. I smile at first and then the realization of what he would be throwing away hits me. I reach down and take his hand, “No, Michael, no.” It is all I can manage to get out before the tears begin. I get up and dress, leaving him still on the bed confused as to what he has done wrong. “We have to go.” He walks me out to the car and wordlessly drives me home. My father meets us at the door and he is furious. He forbids Michael to ever see me again and throws him off the property. He has a paying customer waiting for me…I turn and watch my heart drive away before I go back to my nightmare. The summer passes with Michael trying to call me and my father hanging up on him. I am not allowed to leave the property except for the meetings and it is there that we finally run into each other again. I am sitting in the front talking to some friends when someone taps my shoulder and asks if that is my boyfriend coming in with Michelle. I see them and nod. Michelle drags him to the seats directly behind mine making certain that I can hear what she is saying to him. She discusses their lovemaking in vivid detail as he tries to shut her up. Finally I can take no more and leave in tears. I run straight into the arms of the man that I have been promised to and he is more than happy to hold me, even though I am struggling to free myself. Michael has followed me and is standing watching the two of us when my grandfather walks up to him and patting him on the back asks him if we don’t make a good looking couple. Michelle grabs Michael’s arm and they head for the parking lot. I finally break free and slap the barbarian’s face…his response is immediate…he hits me hard knocking me to the ground. My brothers try to intervene, but are stopped by our grandfather who tells them that my chosen mate is only trying to establish who is in charge of the relationship. I get up and he grabs my arm and tells me to apologize for hitting him, I refuse and the fanatic hits me again. I pick myself back up again looking around at the crowd that has circled us to watch. He once again tells me to apologize to him, and to the crowd for being a worthless whore that he is willing to marry and retrain. I look into his eyes and see something that I have never encountered before…pure evil. I turn to walk away, but he stops me. He spins me around and demands that I apologize. I just look at him and shake my head. This time he punches me and when I hit the ground he is on top of me striking me over and over…yelling at me to do what I am told. I hear him, but his words are all nonsense to me as I fight to try and get him off of me. All at once my brothers are there pulling him from me and holding him as he rages about being the one in charge and me learning to do as I am told. I am lying on the ground watching the sea of faces blur in front of me when I see Michael. Michelle dragged him back to see the fight and my brothers held him back until he told them that I am pregnant. That is when they stepped in and pulled the psychopath off from me and restrained him as Michael picked me up and carried me to his car. Michelle is screaming obscenities at him, but he just keeps walking. He puts me into the passenger’s seat, runs to the other side and we leave in a hail of flying gravel. He reaches over and takes my hand. I can hear the worry in his voice. “Are you alright? Is the baby alright? I am taking you to the hospital.” “No, to mark’s – he will know what to do, “I say as I feel my fragile hold on consciousness finally collapse and I sink into the darkness. When I wake up I am in Doctor Mark’s office and the two men are talking outside the door. Michael is explaining what happened and asking if I am alright. Mark tells him to calm down, that I will be fine and so will his child. “You know? How do you know?” “She told me on the day that I told her she was pregnant. I was worried because of what she has endured that she wouldn’t want this child. She told me it was yours and that she loves you very much.” “She said that? She said that she loves me?” “Yes, but you should know that she is making plans to leave here permanently.” I hear him inhale sharply and then he comes into the room and takes my hand. I turn to look at him, but his head is down and I can’t see his eyes. He finally looks up and into my eyes… “Angel, your face…I will kill him…” I turn my head away from him. “Look at me,” I turn back towards him. “Angel, forgive me.” “For what?” “Everything…for doubting your love for me…for being with Michelle…” “You are forgiven, now please leave.” I pull my hand from his. “Don’t do this!” “Just go. Go back to Shel, I don’t want you anymore.” I know that my words are hurting him, but I don’t know any other way to keep him from throwing his future away. He just stands there; finally he turns my head towards him and says, “Look me in the eyes and tell me that you don’t love me and I will go.” “I don’t love you,” with these words a pain shoots through my heart, but I don’t look away. He lowers his head and begins to walk away, then turns back and tells me that this child is his and he will fight me for it. Then he goes out the door. Doctor Mark comes into the room and reaching me he opens his arms as I collapse in tears. I know that I have done the only thing that makes any sense at all, but my heart is breaking. “You love him don’t you?” He says as he gently lays me down, “you need to calm down and talk to me. I won’t tell a soul.” And so I tell him about the person that I love…about my Michael. I tell him about the problems with my family and how I felt when I heard that he had been with Shel. I spill my heart out to the one person that I know is bound by privilege to keep my secrets. When I finally stop I am exhausted….he tells me to get some sleep and he will be back later. I close my eyes and find myself falling asleep almost immediately. When I open them it is dark in the room, but I can see that Michael is here. He has pulled up a chair beside me and is asleep with his head lying on the side of the bed. He holds my hand in his and it is my trying to get loose that wakes him. “What are you doing here?” “I love you and I’m not leaving you.” “Can’t you hear, I said I don’t love you, I don’t want you here!” I am crying by this time and he takes me into his arms …not talking, just holding me very close. I try to make myself push him away, but I just can’t seem to do it and I hold onto him even tighter. “I never left Angel; Mark stopped me and told me to stand outside your door. I heard everything that you said to him. How could you ask me to leave you and our child?” “I’m sorry that I am so selfish, I just don’t want anything to interfere with your dreams for the future. I don’t want to hurt you.” He pulls back from me and looks into my eyes. He shakes his head. “Angel, don’t you know that the only future that I have ever dreamed of has you in it? Don’t you know how much I love you? Don’t shut me out, let me be the one who holds your hand when our child is born, let me hold you every day until the day we are separated by death. Please, angel.” He lays me back down, and then asks me to talk to him, to tell him my fears. He takes my hand and lays his head down beside me and waits. “Am I scared? I guess the short answer would be yes. Fear seems to have become my driving force. The fear that I might be pregnant, gave way to the fear of being pregnant which now breaks new ground with the fear of the delivery and being totally responsible for another. The realization that I will have to leave everything and everyone that I know, but my greatest fear is that I will somehow harm this child or hurt you because of this child. Am I doing the right thing? Part of me feels like maybe this child is the purpose….the reason for everything that has led up to this point. My life ceased to have meaning long ago, but for some unknown reason I have been offered a second chance. There are things that I have no questions or doubts about. My father can never know of this child’s existence. It will never meet my family. I will not follow in the footsteps of my mother. I won’t offer up my child as the sacrifice meant to atone for my sins. It will never attend a rally or be taught the fine art of hatred and murder. I will not allow it to be ensnared by my world. I have to leave…not only is my father a threat, but if the wrong people find out about this child.” “You don’t have to be alone…I am here, I will do this with you, if you will let me.” “You know I see pregnant women and I always wonder what it must be like – for your family and friends to know, to be allowed to be happy, for it to be alright to look the part. I’ve only gained a couple pounds and still Mark has to tape me…what would it be like not to feel sick all the time from the pressure of the tape, especially when it moves….like now” Michael puts his hand on my midsection and the look of awe on his face catches me off guard. The idea that someone other than me might care about this child is one I never expected to have. “This is my child and I am not going anywhere. You are not alone Bella…please allow me to share in this. I love you. I will love this child and I will find a way for us to be together….please let me back into your life.” “I don’t want to ruin your life…I love you Michael …don’t ask me to watch you throw everything away because of me…I can’t and I won’t.” He lays his head down on my chest and begins to cry. I run my fingers through his hair and pray for the strength to walk away from the only person I have ever given my heart to. Doctor Mark returns and tells Michael that I need to get some rest now and that he can help get me into bed, but he needs to go home afterwards. Michael picks me up and carries me to Dr. Mark’s spare room where he lays me down and then lays down beside me. He has made his decision and will not leave. He falls asleep with his head on my shoulder and his hand protecting his child. I watch him sleep knowing that the only chance for him to have a normal life….the life he deserves to have…is my leaving. I get up carefully, trying not to disturb him and quietly make my way out of the house. It is fall and the air is chilly, but it feels good on my face. I am leaving this place, but I have no destination in mind and no money in my pocket …up ahead I see a door in the middle of the road and with nowhere else to go I use it.

Chapter 4 I step through the new door and into a room that I have never seen before. I look around trying to find something that will tell me where I am…I look out the window and see the lights of a city, not the small town that I am from. Someone pounds on the door and tells me to get out of there. I look around; I am in a bathroom….a very dirty, disgusting bathroom. I hear my father’s voice and open the door. He is standing with one of them, an animal, and it is talking. The animal is giving him money …I don’t understand why we are here. Daddy knows the rules and this is definitely not allowed. My grandpa says that the only good animal is a dead one. I step back against a wall and find myself looking for the way out. I see the door and run for it, but my father is quick and grabs my arm dragging me into the hallway…a dark hallway with cockroaches crawling up the walls. “Just where the h… do you think you’re going? This man has paid a lot of money to take you to a party tonight.” “But daddy it’s an animal…I can’t go with him…grandpa will…” he cuts me off, grabbing both of my arms and shaking me hard. “Your grandfather is a bigoted fool. These animals are people just like we are and don’t you forget it…do you think I would leave you alone with him if he were not even human? Well do you?” “I guess not, I’m sorry daddy.” It is at this point that I look down at myself and realize that I am just a child. “Daddy? How old will I be on my birthday?” He laughs at this…”You just had your seventh birthday and you are already worried about the next one?” So I am seven. “Now are you going to be a big girl and help daddy pay for his new truck or will you need to be punished first?” Some choice, I think to myself, but to him I merely nod and look down at the floor. “Alright, this MAN’S name is Tyrone and you will be staying with him until tomorrow.” I look up at him in disbelief…he is going to leave me here with an animal? The adult in me wants to slap him but I know that the child will not win so I remain mute as he grabs my wrist and pulls me back into the room of my temporary master. “Problem?” Asks the talking animal named Tyrone. “No, she just had a question.” Then bending down to hug me goodbye he whispers in my ear,” you do what you are told or I will make you wish you had. This could lead to some real good money for your family – don’t blow it.” Standing up, he smiles and walks out the door, leaving me with this what? Person? Animal? I find that my mind doesn’t know who or what to believe and I keep backing up until I my back is against a wall. “So little one, I’m thinking I should test drive you before I decide what to charge the others.” He walks towards me and I find myself examining his face very closely. I have never seen his kind before …his skin is shiny and his eyes are almost as dark as his skin…I watch his mouth move as he talks…his teeth are so white against the darkness of his skin that it scares me. He bends down in front of me and tells me to take off his shirt. I look at him still stunned to hear an animal speak… (My grandpa should really see this). The slap is totally unexpected as I have not been paying any attention to what he said, only to the surprise that he could speak. My immediate thought is that my grandpa would kill him for touching me and then I see his face….I know that look…fear grips my heart and I run. No matter where I go he is there, he is very fast and I cannot out maneuver him. He grabs my arms and picking me up, takes me to what I can only guess is his bedroom. He drops me onto a pile of blankets. “Your father told me that you are well experienced so no games, get undressed and come here.” It finally dawns on me what he is expecting me to do and I know that this is definitely against God’s law….I refuse. He laughs and says obviously I need to be talked into it…he tears off my clothes and holds me down as he lowers his pants. I am so totally stunned by all of this, that I am in tears. How could daddy do this? I try to tell him…to explain that this is wrong…that my grandpa says…but he doesn’t care. He holds me down and uses his legs to pry mine apart and even as I scream for him to stop he enters me…I know now that daddy is right. Everything he said is right…I am evil…worthless; Satan’s spawn…and I will go to hell for this. He covers my mouth and tells me to stop screaming. He stops what he is doing and finishes orally. He says that he wants to make sure I know how to do this for the clients later. I am gagging and choking, but he doesn’t care or even notice, and when he is finished he lights a cigarette and smiles. “You will make me a fortune tonight…a little blonde haired, blue eyed child that can do what you do is in demand around here. Don’t worry… they won’t all be dark…I may just have to keep you.” He stands up and puts his pants back on then tells me to clean up and get dressed because we have places to go and men to see. I do as I am told and then go out to the other room where he is waiting for me. “I don’t want any trouble from you tonight, but a little fight is good for business and you sure can fight.” With this he takes my hand and we leave the apartment, go downstairs and onto the street. I have never seen a place like this one with all the lights and traffic. There is something going on everywhere my eyes look and I am overwhelmed by it all. I find myself gripping tighter to Tyrone’s hand in fear; I guess it is true what they say about the enemy that you know being better than the one that you don’t. He takes me to a street corner and tells me to stand on a certain spot and not to move until he tells me to. It isn’t long before a car stops and Tyrone walks over to talk to the man inside it. He is pointing down the street so I assume he is giving the man directions…I figure wrong. He calls for me and taking my hand we both get into the backseat and the man drives on. When he reaches a sleazy little motel he pulls in and goes to get a room. I am still trying to figure out what we are doing here when he returns with a key and gives Tyrone some money. He tells me to go with the man and when I refuse, the dark one pushes me out of the car. The man seems very old to me, he must be at least fifty. He is short, has gray hair and wears weird little metal framed glasses. He takes my hand and leads me to the room that he has rented. I am wondering if I am staying with him tonight and thinking that my daddy will not know where to find me. I ask him his name… he smiles and says to just call him John. He closes and locks the door then turns to me and asks me what I do. I have no idea what he is talking about and my confusion registers almost immediately with him….and he seems to like it. He sits down on the bed and tells me to come sit on his lap…a strange request, but I do as I am told. He asks me if I have been naughty and I shake my head, but he says that yes, I have been very bad and need to be punished. Once I hear the word punished, I try to jump from his lap, but he is expecting it and holds tight to my arm. He holds me in a hug with one arm that circles both of my arms and with the other he makes his way up my leg. There is no escape and John gets what he paid for, and then carries me back to Tyrone, who is very angry at the shape I am in and demands more money. John offers him a deal for the rest of the night and suddenly Tyrone isn’t upset anymore. Tyrone tells the man he will take his car and be back for me in the morning. The man agrees. “John” takes me back inside the room and puts me on the bed, where he joins me and turns on the TV. He leans back on a pillow with one hand on the remote and the other gripping my arm. “Watch and learn…we will be going around the world after while,” he says with an odd little smile. I look at the screen and can’t believe what it is showing. This place must be hell. People don’t really do those things and the man named John wants me to do those things with him. I close my eyes and pray for Tyrone to return, but “John’s” grip on my arm tightens, “I said watch!” He is angry and I am afraid. I watch grown ups doing things that I had never believed people would do and when it is over John looks over at me and tells me that it is time I took a little trip. I still don’t know what he is talking about…from his smile I would guess that he will be happy to educate me. The next day Tyrone arrives as arranged to pick me up. He takes one look at me and draws in a swift breath, “what the hell did you do last night? I want more money; she will be useless for at least a week.” John laughs and refuses, but Tyrone threatens to call the police and he coughs up more cash, and telling my dark captor that when he is back in town he would like me for another night. Tyrone carries me to the backseat and the man drives us back to where he picked us up. He asks the man to take us to the apartment because it wouldn’t be good for anyone to see a dark man carrying a bloody, seven year old, blonde haired child down the street. John laughs and agrees. When we reach the apartment building daddy is waiting and he takes me from the backseat. He has the same reaction as Tyrone and demands that he be paid more…Tyrone obliges and asks to have me again real soon. Daddy is not happy that I will be out of commission for awhile, but he has received more money than expected and that puts him into a good mood. “Your grandparents are coming to get you this afternoon. There is a meeting tonight. Don’t worry, I will tell them something about how you look.” When we arrive at home mommy wants to know what daddy did to me and she is very angry because her parents are in the house. Daddy immediately replies that it isn’t his fault…that I ran away to the city and he found me having sex with an animal and had to make me return with him. I look at him…how can he say those things? How can he lie like that? Mommy looks at me in disgust and walks away. I can hear my grandfather yelling inside the house. “Well by God if she doesn’t know any better than to be with an animal then that child needs some correction in her life!” I hear things crashing and I cower in the backseat. I don’t understand why he is so angry…I didn’t want to do anything wrong…and what does he mean “be with an animal?” Grandpa opens the car door, picking me up and dropping me into the bed of his pick up. He drives away, leaving grandma behind. He pulls into the woods and I know where we are headed. Another man waits for him at the altar of redemption that stands to the far right of the main stage. They pull me from the truck and carry me to the foot of the cross, setting me down as they pull it down, then they tie me onto the cross upside down and pull it back upright. The idea is that the sin will run out if left here long enough. “What we gonna do about her?” the man asks my grandfather. He tells him that they will have an emergency meeting in a couple of hours to decide on the best way to reclaim me to the proper race and to cleanse and redeem me from the influence of the dirty animal who obviously was allowed to know me in a carnal fashion. The two walk back to the pick up and drive away, leaving me alone to think about what I have done. I don’t know how long that I have hung here before I finally see headlights coming down the lane. I watch as the hooded creatures get out of vehicles and come towards me chanting something that I don’t understand. I hear my grandfather’s voice tell them to remove the sinner from the cross and four of the creatures come forward and lower the cross. “This is to be a reclaiming ceremony. We will be reclaiming as one of our own one that has fallen from grace and broken every tenet that we hold sacred. Lay her under the cross and bind her hands to the bottom.” There is no mercy in his voice only anger and for the first time in my life I am truly afraid of my grandfather. “Strip the sinner and stand in waiting. “ My grandfather’s voice is coming from the hooded beast closest to me and I am confused as to whether he is alive or not when he lowers himself over top of me, lifting his hooded disguise out of the way and enters me. I scream in terror as the ghost of my grandfather comes closer to me and looks into my eyes…”Silence her!” A hooded one beside me covers my mouth as I continue to scream… sinners are shown no mercy here…not under this cross…”gaze upon the cross above you and contemplate the error of your ways!” With these words he pounds into me harder and harder taking out his rage upon me in fear that a member of his family would betray him in this fashion. When he is done he turns to the next unknown creature and he then tries to drive home to me the error of my ways….I lay there looking up at the cross lit up by the moon and wonder when God died…for surely He must be dead to allow this. When the reclaiming ceremony is finally finished two of the men hold me up because my legs will not support me, they want his name…and don’t believe me when I tell them all I know is Tyrone. I am locked in the shed to consider what course of action I would like to take and they go to my father for answers. My father tells them that he knows where I was and they arrange another meeting between Tyrone and me. Daddy takes me back to Tyrone, who is very pleased to see me again and is happy to pay his new asking price….then he leaves me there. Tyrone drags me into his room again and is in the middle of enjoying what he paid for when my grandfather and the brotherhood burst in. They bind both of us and throw us into a pick up truck headed for the clearing. It is a very long drive and Tyrone is full of questions that I don’t know the answers to. When we arrive I see the men of the brotherhood put on ghost outfits and then retrieve Tyrone. His eyes are so wide that he looks like a cartoon. They haul him in front of the board of elders and I see my grandfather sitting there and know that this is not going to be good. They read his charges, starting with the minor offense of touching an uncolored girl….he is found guilty and sentenced to a beating before he is allowed to even speak. When Tyrone steps forward they ask him if he had in fact touched an uncolored girl and he says yes but…they won’t hear him and he is dragged to the whipping post, where he is bound and stripped. The beating is awful…the screams…the blood and my grandfather standing there with a look of satisfaction on his face. They untie him and once again bring him to the elders, this time for the offense of having carnal knowledge of an uncolored girl and fellow sister…he is found guilty and sentenced to hang. I ask the man who is guarding me why he is not purified for heaven and he tells me that animals aren’t purified because they have no soul. They put a rope up over a tree branch and tie it off, and then they put him in the back of a pick up with rope around his neck. The order is given and the truck pulls forward…the men cheer as Tyrone swings back and forth from the tree. It is my turn for punishment and I am ordered to be tied at the foot of the cross. Then they take down his bloody body, still wet with blood from the whip he was beaten with and throw him on top of me. I can’t get away and soon I have blood all over me. My grandfather stands over me telling me that because of my actions this animal’s blood is on my hands, then he walks away leaving me lying there with a corpse on top of my body. When I am removed from the cross, I am locked in the tool shed with a reel to reel playing their “truths” to me over and over again. I am taken out at night and asked questions to see if I have been redeemed yet. They take out the Bible and have me put my hand on it to answer. They ask me if the animal that died was a person and I answer “yes.” They remove me from the stage, take me to the shed and hit my hand and fingers with a hammer. They tell me that it is punishment for lying with my hand on the Bible and then quote, “if thy right hand offends thee cut it off.” I have been given a break this time. I receive a beating every time I manage to avoid saying what they want me to with my hand on the Bible. I think that they realize that if I ever agree then it will be what I really believe and that is their goal. I did make the mistake of reminding them that Jesus was a Jew – the penalty for that was three hours upside down on the cross. They have this little bottle. They put a needle in it and they put it in my arm. It makes me feel bad things. It makes me go backwards. It stops my feelings. It’s like walking in my sleep but I’m not sleeping. It’s like everything is going dead inside and there isn’t anything I can do to stop it. It is like being crazy and dead, with no control and no feelings and you can’t move and are going to sleep, but my eyes are wide open all at the same time. My head feels squeezed as if caught in a vise. There’s something wrong with my body. I’m scared of what they’re doing. My head hurts. It hurts all my bones. Then you can’t do anything. I don’t want to be scared anymore. Make the God voice stop now…why does hearing God’s voice make me so sad? Why does the cross hurt so much? I want to go away…I’m lost anyway…I can never be clean or whole or good again…God hates me…my family hates me…its my fault for being bad and dirty…they won’t let me go. Why won’t they let me go? I don’t know how to be what they want. I am brought to the stage to be questioned once again. My grandfather looks down at me and says, “Recite the known” “One country, one school, one flag…brothers never attack innocent victims, they respond to encroachments of the god given rights of uncolored people with vigor and righteousness….organization is divided into regions, locales, domains, spheres, and realms….led by Grand Masters, Autocrats, Pilots and Conductors…practice racial integrity, keep the rainbow intact….preserve your family’s pure blooded ancestry…” “Why are you being punished?” I respond by telling them what they want to hear, “I didn’t keep our den or rainbow intact and without blemish. I must be dealt with severely. I must be retaught and punished for my sins. I must be cleansed and reintroduced to my realm. I am stupid and stubborn, I must be broken and killed and reborn into purity. Each member of our realm must assist in my cleansing. My sins will be a burnt offering on the cross. Fire is cleansing. My mistakes must be burned into my brain. A brand will forever burn the truth into me. I defied my brothers and destroyed my spheres rainbow. I must repent; I must learn and remember our god’s messages to me. When I have been cleansed and burned my body will be pure again and I can return as a sister in good standing to the forgiving arms of my den. Nothing is more important to my existence as the forgiveness of my sphere. My brothers and sisters are all forgiving if I can prove my sincerity and willingness to change. My time on the cross sets me free of my sin. It is for my good. I must be upside down to let my lustful ideas run out. I must be made to see the errors of my ways. Man shall not lay with animals nor shall woman. If I need to be with someone they shall be provided and appointed by my leader. My talent for our realm has been found and I will be further instructed in it by our leader. I will have my clothes returned when I can learn to behave. I will be given food when I have been cleansed and reclaimed. It is worth a little discomfort to be a part of my realm. Blood must be shed to be a worthy sacrifice.” I am allowed to leave with my father, but he takes me back to the city. When we return he and grandpa get into a fight and grandpa says that he is going to kill him. I jump between them and tell him that it isn’t daddy’s fault, it was all my idea. I look at daddy and he just smiles. I am led back to a cross for further instruction and punishment. They say I it must be my father’s bad blood so one of the hooded ones cuts my wrist while I am tied there. They say I need intensive training now. The blood runs down my body into a pool at the foot of the cross and I find myself getting dizzy….finally one of them comes forward and stitches my wrist to stop the bleeding. It doesn’t matter to me as I am not conscious. When I don’t wake up they finally call Doctor Mark to check on me. He makes them cut me down from the cross and then puts in two IVs, one with blood and the other with saline. The men are watching and can see how very white and cold I have become. They begin to whisper among themselves about how to dispose of my body. They decide on a car accident, but Dr Mark says not to be in such a big hurry and carries me to the shed. It is here that he treats my injuries as I drift into a nightmarish delirium. …muddy rainbow…bad blood…cross…so thirsty…don’t want blood…demon spawn…turn from evil ways…so tired…sound of whip hitting animal…screams…blood…writing on me…get rope…dirty dark one must die…eyes bulging…cut down…body against mine on cross…weight of guilt …blood on hands…weight of evil overwhelming…no escaping justice...talent revealed…lock in shed with animal’s body…blood everywhere…won’t come off…so thirsty…cut it into pieces... I am invited to the body disposal and Holy Communion. I have escaped twice but they just catch me and drag me back. They hand me a cup with blood in it and tell me to drink…to atone for the blood upon my hands. I take the cup and throw it into the face of the brother closest to me. They grab me and drag me back to the cross, where I am tied so that I cannot resist any longer. The order is given to make me drink and I am forcefully made to drink. My reaction is almost immediate and I am sick. This is an act of defiance to a direct order. They ask me if I have anything to say. “This is sick and disgusting, and you will all be damned for your actions here today. You are nothing but cowards, liars and murderers and I will never be what you want me to be.” Without intending to, I have thrown down the gauntlet in front of them and they are up to the challenge. My grandfather then steps in front of me. “You will become one of us and your union with the one you are promised to will solidify your family’s future in the brotherhood. We will break you and you will be totally obedient, without question, fear, tears or hesitation…you are part of my family and the one with the purest bloodline in this state…the loss of you is not an option ….you will become one of us or we will lock you up and use you for your bloodline. The choice is yours…” I don’t understand what he is talking about, but I do know that I have sisters that are not made to come to these meetings, so I ask why… “Your siblings are mutts, your mother muddied our bloodline with that trash that she chose to marry…but you are the result of a perfectly planned union to create a perfect bloodline…that man is not your blood father.” “What? My daddy isn’t my daddy? How can that be? I don’t understand..” “It is only important that we do, you will know all in the future, but for now just know that he is not your father.” I am crying by now…how can they take my daddy away from me? I still haven’t gotten it right – he still doesn’t love me… The orders are given but I am too upset to hear them or even care what they may be. I am escorted back into the shed where I am given a plate of “food” and a cup of “water.” I look into the dishes and refuse them. They tell me I will not leave here until I partake of my sin. Have you ever seen a cup of blood after it sits awhile? Congeals, thickens, clots? Or raw meat? Pork, beef, human? I sit down on the wooden floor; pull the stitches from my wrist and lay down to die. The fear is now gone from my eyes, which are blackened by their hate. I just lay here, all curled up, eyes closed….I am no longer hungry or thirsty and the darkness of this prison passes unnoticed. My hand, swollen from a well-placed hammer, no longer hurts. The sound of their god echoing through my dark world has lost its power and become as a fly buzzing around constantly. I wear a suit of red, caked with the streaks of my many tears. I have finally discovered my sin – it is that I live. My punishment for living? I must be cleansed by the blood, redeemed by the spirits in white, sanctified through denial, reclaimed by the brotherhood, and purified at the foot of the cross. It is my cross to bear; my hands are covered in blood. I must be made to claim my rightful place and accept my true talent – then and only then will my guilt be forgiven. When I am found, I am near death and Dr Mark is called. He stitches the wrist and takes me to a different shed that is not blood soaked. He inserts IVs and stays with me until he knows that I will pull through. It is not what I wanted. I know that the next punishment is the cross of water and I try to prepare myself for what is coming. The door opens and I cower but it is the old mystic. She looks around the shed and shakes her head as she holds out her hand. I take it stepping out of the seven year old and following her through the shed door.

Chapter 5I step back into the room and immediately notice the child curled up in a fetal position in the corner. She is crying silently and I go to her, bending down to see if she is alright. “Can I help? Are you alright?” “I’m sorry. I’m so tired…I can’t fight anymore. I know that I am evil. I am a bad daughter, I made mommy cry. She hates me.” “I don’t understand, why would you think that she hates you?” “Daddy says that she called and won’t come back if I am here. She left because no one could love someone like me. I don’t mean to be bad…I know it’s my fault that the angels come. I need discipline.” “I am confused…how old are you?” “I am nine.” “Your mommy didn’t leave because of anything that you did or didn’t do. Your mommy was in a car accident. She didn’t run away, she is dead. She didn’t want to leave you, she had no choice.” “No! She left because she found out about what I am and she is ashamed. Mommies don’t just leave like that. How could she call daddy if she died? He has her address and if I am good enough he will give it to me.” “That is a lie; can’t you see that he is lying to you? He is tricking you to make you do what he wants.” “My mommy used to love me, but I am worthless and dirty and made her leave and go far away. I really want to be good enough to be loved – but I don’t know how. I never get it right.” I look at this child and try to find the right words to say to her, but inside my own head I can still hear my father’s words…The evil inside me must be destroyed before I hurt anyone else…Pain is a good teacher, I will feel it and remember his words….it hurts me but it is alright because mommy told him that it’s all a dirty, little whore like me is good for….I stand up to try and shake the words from my head that are pouring in from every side now. I understand her…she has been told that on the day she gets it right mommy will return and take her from this place. I remember the fear that I would never be good enough, that no one would ever love me because of who and what I was…I turn to walk away and feel a hand on my arm. “Please don’t leave me. Everyone leaves me…I promise not to care about you.” “What are you talking about?” “If I care about you then you will leave. I hurt anyone I care about; I promise not to hurt you if you will just stay with me for a little while.” I turn and taking her hand, promise to stay with her for awhile. She looks at me with skepticism and grasping my hand leads me to her door. I look at the door and then at the child beside me. I take a deep breath and turning the knob the two of us step, hand-in hand into the nine year olds world. We have stepped into the barn and standing in the middle of the room are two men dressed as angels. I look at them and wonder what in the world is going on. My hand is released and the child is gone. I don’t like the look of this and turn to return through the door, but it is no longer there; with no choice, now I step into the light of the room. The men turn and look at me. I look behind them and see the bale hook; a fear enters my heart so quickly at the sight of it that I find it suddenly hard to breathe. My father walks towards me and I find myself fighting the desire to run. He looks into my eyes and explains that tonight will be the beginning of my religious teaching and that god sent these angels to help instruct me and try to save my soul. I have been on the receiving end of “god’s” help before and I look around for a way out, but there isn’t one. Taking my hand he leads me to the “angels,” and I ask them why they are dressed up like it is Halloween, they just smile wordlessly. The taller of the two takes my hands, ties them in front of me and then turns me around to face the other, who is standing in the center of the room with the bale hook in his hands and a smile on his face. I refuse to move so he drags me to the hook and puts it through the ties on my hands. The slack is taken up and I am standing with my arms pulled taut over my head. I look from one to the other then my father steps forward. The “angels” turn to him and ask for his input. He explains what a disobedient child I am and that my actions have caused his wife to desert her family. I stare at him in total disbelief…but I don’t speak. “Let the lessons begin.” They ask my father to go first and he looks at me very oddly, even for him. “What is your purpose?”He asks me. I look from him to the “angels” and am totally uncertain what answer he is looking for. I know that there will be punishment for the wrong answer and I am trying to guess what he wants me to say when I feel the tug on my arms as I am lifted high enough that I am no longer touching the floor. “To the top then,” I hear the words but am uncertain as to their meaning until I feel myself slowly rising. I see the hayloft as it grows smaller and I close my eyes as my fear of heights begins to make me panic. I hear voices down below me. “Can you hear me?” comes floating up to me. I answer yes and wait to see what they will do next. “Do you like it when you fulfill your purpose?” My answer is instantaneous without any thought at all, “No.” I feel myself begin to fall fairly fast and then suddenly stop. I hear a snap and the pain in my shoulders is overwhelming. The question is repeated and I answer yes this time. I am lowered to the bottom where my father steps from the shadows, a look of insanity on his face as he begins to hit me calling me a dirty whore and worthless trash. An “angel” finally steps in to stop him and I am once again raised to the barn rafters. I know that the “angels “are asking me questions, but all I understand is the pain in my arms and shoulders. Finally I just say the things that daddy always wants to hear, anything to make this stop…yes, I am a whore, dirty, evil, and bad; my true purpose is to make money for my father. I am dropped again, this time when my body abruptly stops I hear myself screaming. My father is telling me to shut up, but he is no longer real, only this pain is real and I am drowning in it. I tell him that he isn’t real, that this is just a memory. He lowers me to the ground, and sitting on my chest beats me until I have no choice but to believe. I try to stay grounded, try to remember that this isn’t real…just a memory, but as I am once again raised to the top of the barn, it is hard to believe… the drop is so very real. I feel every thrust of the “angels,” feel their release, and feel the ropes around my wrists as I am brought back up. I can see the distance to the floor from the top of the barn….see the floor rushing up to meet me… the pain as I am stopped in midair. The helplessness of being tied and forced to do whatever I am told…the fury of my father’s face, the fists, the way he sounds and smells… the feel of his hands as he steadies me for the “angels”. The robes and wings movement as I am crushed between them…the pain in my arms as I continue to hang from the bale hook. The surprise on their faces when I am hauled back up before they are finished; dad telling them to trust him …back up and then down again. This time they are not as careful, as they want to finish. Then back up again but the third time is the charm and the rope holding me onto the hook slips. I feel myself falling, my hands still tied…useless to stop the fall and then the impact with the floor brings blessed darkness. My father calls Dr Mark and together they get me to his office. I have four broken ribs, a cracked disc, my spine is dislocated, both ankles are broken, and both knees are sprained, my shoulders are dislocated and one arm is broken…but I survive. Dad comes back later, “So just where was this God of yours when you fell? I believe it was me who came to your rescue. You are too dirty for God to pay any attention to. Remember that the next time you feel the need to disobey me. It was me who saved you tonight.” He takes every opportunity to barrage me with questions about God, mom, my worth, my purpose and before he is done – I believe. I lie here all broken – not just outside but inside…my chest is full and there is no room for air in my lungs anymore. It is a constant struggle to keep from being drowned in this blackness. It would be so easy to just quit fighting and let the darkness envelope me…but I hate the dark. If I stop it will overtake me and I will be forever lost. Everything that I have been told spins inside my mind… the “angels”” said that God sent them to teach me obedience. Doctor Mark said he was surprised that I was alive, but god doesn’t want to kill me – just teach me. I am a very stupid, selfish, bad girl, who only cares about what she wants. The voices continue walking through my troubled mind and as hard as I try to resist the lessons that they carry, I am beginning to believe. Dad is angry with me again. He came in for me to take care of and he hurt me. I hear the crack and see that my ribs are sticking out all weird. I ask him to please stop because I think something is wrong. I am so stupid. I never learn. I’m unreachable, ignorant, selfish and stubborn; a useless whore that needs to learn to do as she is told. I don’t matter to anyone. Why would anyone care about the trash? I need to learn my place unless I want to get locked up in an asylum for crazy, evil children. My world is pain, terror, trauma and death to me. Everything hurts and I hurt everything that I touch. As my father hits me over and over again I finally understand that there is no way out, there will never be a finish line to cross and I can not win this fight. I can’t run…my legs don’t work. I can’t do anything except lay here and take it. Doctor Mark told me not to move, but daddy has lessons for me and I am not given a vote in it. When Dr Mark arrives he yells at me. I don’t understand why he yells at me…he knows the truth. I understand the frustration on his face as he tries to gently move ribs into some kind of order and tape them in place. He tells dad that if I move around I could put a rib through a lung or worse. Dad just smiles at him and says, “If she dies, she dies.” I hear his words and finally understand that I have no value - no worth at all. My father is an honest man, he tells me all the time that he never tells lies…and he says that mom won’t return until either I leave or die. I find myself very calm as I finally realize what I must do…there is a way out. I find that with this decision I am finally able to make sense of everything that has happened leading up to this point. I long for my death like the dying long to live. This is not an impulsive decision; I have given this a lot of thought and can find no other way to fix this broken life. Every breath or movement brings pain and my father’s words play in my mind like a needle stuck in a record groove. I am surrounded by the darkness that I fear and am not able to see even a glimmer of light or hope at the end of this very long tunnel. Tonight the “angels” return for the next round of lessons, but I have a plan. So much for plans…the “angels” tie my hands to the bale hook and begin the ascent to the rafters, but I pass out about halfway up and they haul me back down. Luckily it seems even angels want to get their money’s worth these days and my passing out seems to excite them. They are a little rough, but it doesn’t really matter, I just pass out. Dad came in a couple minutes ago, picking me up and taking me inside the house to his room, where he ties me to the bed. My tormentor is angry at me for passing out with paying “angels.” I pass out as he begins and when I awake, I am screaming in pain…he covers my face with a pillow to drown out the noise. He tells me that if I scream or pass out again he will kill me, and then puts one hand around my throat to make sure I know that he is serious. He reminds me that I made mom leave and now it is my job to fulfill her duties without question. As always, hitting me has excited him and he fulfills what he refers to as his “fatherly duties.” I am not making a sound, even as I cry. I hear Dr Mark arrive, but he is waiting outside the door. Dad tells him to get in here and get his payment from me…he then watches to make sure that Mark is having his turn before he leaves. Mark stops as soon as dad goes, and then unties my hands. He looks very angry as he heads out the door to argue with dad again. I lay here in the darkening room and find my mind filled with questions that I know will never have answers. I understand Mark’s anger, but if this is so wrong then why would he join in? Why doesn’t he call the law? When mom found out she left dad but why didn’t she call the authorities? If it is illegal then why doesn’t anyone ever call the law? Why does everyone always turn their backs – am I so unimportant and useless as he has always told me? I know what I am and why I was born…there is no question of why for me. I get it. I have no illusions of my worth or importance. It took me years to accept the truth….but somewhere inside this nine year old is the adult me challenging everything that she has accepted as truth and reality. What am I supposed to think? What is real? If the adult is correct then the “whys” are too overwhelming to even contemplate. How can everything be a lie? If I am not the person that I have come to accept that I am – then who am I? Dad’s way is my reality, but the adult’s way is my hope. It seems very risky to believe this adult, wouldn’t it make my nine year old reality that much harder? How do I cope with this life if I actually have any worth? How do I go with the men that my father sends if I am not a whore? How do I pretend not to care if I have value? If this isn’t my purpose then what is? How could I ever live with the things that I have done…not just what I’ve been made to do, but at times done willingly to avoid violence? It seems to me that if I ever did have any value then I have decreased it into a debt at this point. If my life isn’t the very definition of a whore, then what is? Any value that I may have had at one time is by now long gone….I have traded it in for this masquerade of life that I lead. I have been used so often that there just isn’t anything worthwhile left. Any goodness was removed from me long ago. I don’t see the point in trying to save a sinking ship. I notice that I have stopped crying as Dr Mark returns to the room to reset and retape me. He wants to sedate me, but is told no. Dad drugged my drink tonight, but doesn’t expect my low drug tolerance. I find myself in a pain filled maze – a maze with no exit. I see things that are not real flying in front of and around me. Pink elephants from the movie “Phantasia” circle my head at amazing speeds until the spinning finally makes me sick and I pass out. Dr Mark tries to wake me, but has no success and I am taken to his office where he finally asks what happened. Dad shakes his head and tells him that I took some horse tranquilizers that he had removed from the barn to dispose of. I step from the nine year olds body and look down at her…she is pale and barely breathing. If she had died it would have been ruled a tragic suicide and dad would play it to the hilt just as he has with his title of widower. Dr Mark pumps her stomach and gives her something to counter the tranquilizers, but she is still unconscious. He tells dad that without admitting her for more tests he has no way of knowing when or even if she will wake up. He tells my father that she could have permanent damage, to which dad tells him that if she does, he will put her out of her misery. Dr Mark has put her on oxygen which has caused a big problem as dad smokes and now has been told he cannot smoke inside the house. He is so angry that he jumps into his truck and leaves. I sit with her, holding her hand and talking to her when she cries out in her sleep. I tell her over and over to fight…not to let him win. I don’t know why this is so important to me but it is. I know her heart, she needs someone to hold onto, someone to trust. I fall asleep beside her and awake with the sun; she is still unconscious and appears to be in pain. She is still very pale, except for the black eyes from her dad’s attempt to wake her yesterday. Her breathing doesn’t sound right; it is very slow and shallow – almost as if it is work to take every breath. I listen as it gradually slows and finally stops. Mark does CPR and after what seems an eternity she comes back. She has finally awakened, but has not uttered a sound. She just stares straight ahead. Dad asks Mark if she is awake and he tells him yes, but until she moves or speaks he has no way of knowing how she is. Dad leans in close to her and whispers something into her ear…slowly her tears begin to fall but that is the only reaction she has shown to anything. Slowly, she makes the journey back to herself. Finally she speaks, “You are the adult in my head.” “Yes, I guess I am.” “I saw you. When daddy hurt me you turned all white and then fell on your knees and prayed. I tried to tell you that would only bring the bad angels, but you didn’t hear me.” “I’m sorry. It isn’t your fault, it was mine.” “Are you bad too? Are you like me?” I find that I have no words to answer this question and turn my head from her so she cannot see what I am thinking in my eyes. “Why does everyone leave me? Will you leave me too?” “No, sweetie, I won’t leave you.” “I’m very bad you know. You just don’t know me or you would leave too. I’m bad…I do things with the bad angels and dad and other men. I do it for money. I looked it up in the dictionary…I’m a prostitute. Dad was right. No one will ever love me now, not mom, or dad, or grandma…not anyone. I am broken. I will always be bad for money. I am dirty, bad and evil. I’m lucky dad cares about me at all…no wonder everyone leaves.” “You are not a prostitute! You are a very confused, misled, little girl. Do you get the money or does your dad?” “Dad.” “Then trust me …you are not a whore. Take it from someone who knows…you will never be a whore or bad or dirty or evil or any of the lies that your father tells you. You are a sweet, kind, gentle, little girl doing the best that she can in an impossible situation.” “Are you bad? Are you a whore?” “Yes, so if you were then I would know wouldn’t I?” “Maybe you aren’t evil. You’re too nice to be bad. Do you do bad stuff too?” “Yes. You know what? All you need to know is that you are good and I am not. What else matters?” “If you seem good but you are bad, maybe everyone is bad.” “No, most people are not bad. Remember that….most people are not like the ones that you have encountered.” I kiss her forehead with the intent of finding the door that leads out, but instead I am drawn back into the nine year old laying in the bed. I recognize the sound of the door opening and there stands my father. He is pleased to find me awake as it is time for another lesson. I quickly scan the room searching frantically for the old woman to come and take me out of here. He leads me to the barn where the angels are waiting once again. They try to tie me to the bale hook, but cannot seem to find a way with the splint on my arm, so they remove it. They pull me to the top of the barn and begin to ask questions, but I am unable to focus on their words in a world consumed with pain. I can hear my screams growing louder with each sudden stop made on the way to the bottom where they stand waiting. When I finally reach the floor dad steps forward with a handful of straw which he shoves into my mouth to silence me but I cannot stop even as the straw is inhaled into my throat and I am racked with coughing. By the time the angels are finished and it is dad’s turn I am fighting to stay conscious. I feel so much despair at this point – so totally alone – so devoid of anything good. Why can’t I just let go? It would be so easy. This night flashes through my mind…the view from the top of the barn – during the fall – and worst of all when I stop abruptly and my shoulders pop from their sockets. By the third time up my joints are swelling and it hurts, but I also know that very soon I will find the relief of blessed unconsciousness. My father is always there, telling me how dirty and evil I am….I have found a way to step mentally from my body and it works until I hit bottom the first time – knocking the wind out of me and sending pain through every inch of my being…the pain that sucks me back into this body like a giant vacuum cleaner. I try so hard to do what the angels say – I need someone to care about me – anyone to notice that I am alive and hurting and need help…but dad is there with threats and pain, always telling me to repeat what he says…to answer his questions….and always at the end of the night is Doctor Mark is waiting with his big needle that brings relief and darkness –only broken momentarily as he puts my shoulders back into place. I am not this child, but I can see it, and feel it – a pain so big that there are no words to describe it. The shame, the awful dirty, useless way it feels. The whole thing is just so big that it seems to tear a whole in my heart and maybe even in my very soul. I hear her before I see her. I hear the way her feet scuffle along as she moves slowly forward towards me. It is the old woman and she stops in front of me, lowering her head as she reaches out to take my hand and lead me out of this hell and back to the room of many doors. I sit down on the floor with my back against a wall and just look around me. Where is the child? Did she leave when I did or does she have to remain there? The thought of a stiff drink is sounding very good right now, but would it make this go away? This room, the barn, the eyes of these children…I know that I am sitting here, but I feel so unreal. Does that make sense? It is the only word that seems correct…unreal…not here and not there – just in a fog of both worlds mixing in and out until I don’t know what is real and what is not. I try touching something to stay grounded, but it isn’t helping much. The old woman bends down taking my hand and I find that I can breathe again. The real and unreal seem to unmesh and my world is almost tolerable again. “Tell me,” is all she says to me. Then I look into her eyes and find myself trying to explain something that makes no sense. “Will I ever feel safe? Or real – I would settle for alive – just to feel that I am alive. I feel like I am my own ghost – haunting myself on two separate planes. I can cross easily between them in my ghostly disguise but neither seems real to me anymore. It is as if the chasm between me and my life just keeps growing. The barn is real…the way it affects every part of my being is real and it is terrifying. Am I doomed to spend the rest of my life halfway between now and then but not really alive in either? Tell me where to hide from these memories that are haunting me…I have no safety anymore. Help me, please make this stop.” She never makes a sound as she stands back up and wipes the tear that is running down her cheek; she pats my hand and turning, walks back into the light in the middle of the room. I drop my head into my hands and silently begin to cry.

CHAPTER SIX Chapter 6After what seems like hours I stop crying and lift my head to look around the room. I see the many different children scattered throughout, but it is one of the little ones that catch my attention. I rise and walk over to the six year old; she looks up at me, wordlessly taking my hand and leading me through her door. I find that I am able at this point to understand what she is feeling and thinking. As we enter the house she makes note of where her mother is. The note pinned to her shirt is becoming heavier and heavier. She heads for the stairs; maybe she can change clothes before it is noticed. She turns the corner and runs right into her mother, who sees and then takes the note from her shirt. The anxiety that she feels is heightened by the nervous glances from her mother. Biting her lip nervously, her mother bends down to speak to her “You’ve really gone and done it this time.” The mother squeezes her child’s shoulder, stands up and leaves the room. The six year old is confused, as am I. What has she done? She changes clothes and sits down on the bed to wait. She hears her father’s heavy footsteps on the stairs, and then he is there, standing in the doorway. She can feel his anger from across the room and looks down in shame. He enters the room, closes the new door and pushes a chair under the knob…never a good sign. Wildly, she searches her mind for what she has done wrong, but it is her book shattering the window as it flies across the room that is her first real clue. “You forget your place little girl…your lot in life…your talent!” with these words she finds herself flying across the room. “You think you are smarter than me? Don’t you?” The words are accompanied by objects flying through the air at her which she is trying to dodge. “You are not allowed to have books, are you?” She answers no. She sees the fist but it is too late; dazed by the blow, she realizes that he has picked her up and thrown her. She tries to crawl away, but he is quick and picks her up, holding her up against the wall and banging her head as he slams her repeatedly “Don’t you? Don’t you?” A teardrop escapes her eyes and he sees red. “You want something to cry about?” He drops her on the floor and leaves the room, returning moments later with her book. He throws it at her – “Tear it up.” She ignores the order and tries to escape; dragging her back by her hair, he slams her to the ground, “Now!” She looks up at her father and then down at her book. The tears start to fall as she looks from one to the other. “You will not read in this house ever again.” Silently she waits hoping that he will forget about the book. He reaches down and picks her up by her arms. He smiles at her as he tosses her onto the bed. She quickly crawls to the headboard and curls into a ball. He grabs her arm and drags her towards himself. She tries to stay in the ball, but she has angered him and he has no patience. He picks her up violently shaking her until she is lightheaded then tosses her down and undresses himself. He straddles her and reaches down to retrieve her book. Slowly he rips out the pages, and shoves them in her face. “You tell them it was a trick. You are alive because I allow it…you will not read anything unless I give you permission, do you hear me?” She fights these words, and as always, remembers too late the greater threat of violence that may be inflicted. He holds her to the bed with his hand on her throat as he tries to get her flailing legs to cooperate. The fight lessons as the air is cut off and the scream is cut off entirely with a tightening of his hand. He has achieved his goal and stops to look at her. “Why do you have to be so difficult? This is your talent. You will learn to enjoy this.” He smiles and returns to the task at hand. He finishes on her stomach, which tells the child that he will be only the first for tonight. He rises, looks at the book pages strewn everywhere and tells her to clean up her mess. After he leaves she picks up the pages – smoothing them and returning them to the book in proper order. She works quickly trying to salvage her precious book. She doesn’t hear him standing behind her; she looks up at the sound of his laughter. Fear grips her as she realizes who is with him. Her father grabs her with one hand and the book with the other, dragging her outside to the burning barrel, where he throws her to the ground. The book is tossed into the barrel and caught afire. The child screams, “No!”as she is lifted from the ground and carried to the barn. “You’re quite the little scrapper…I like that,” the giant says as he drops her in the straw. “Come here. You know what I want and what I like.” She tries to flee, but is caught and returned. Laughing, he takes her hands and uses them to undress himself…he then uses her wrists to guide her to the ground and pins her arms and head with his legs. She knows what is expected, but refuses to obey, until she sees the knife. She remembers the knife. She knows what it is capable of. “Now!” is all he has to say for her to comply. He stops and stands; she looks up at him and sees what he is reaching for – the bale hook. He picks her up and sets her on a bale of hay, then using his knife; he cuts the twine and uses it to bind her hands to the hook. He grabs her and slams her into the wall, hanging from the hook means he doesn’t have to worry about dropping her or supporting her weight. The giant then removes her clothing and pins her to the wall. She kicks at him, but can not stop him…holding one hand over her mouth and trying to steady her with the other; he finally succeeds in entering her. Her muffled screams excite him and he moves faster. Finally he is finished and looks at his hand where she has drawn blood. He looks surprised and then angry. “I paid for this you f…… whore,” and he hits her hard. He leaves her hanging from the bale hook and returns to the house. She stays there until daybreak brings her father. He cuts her down, leaving her hands tied and taking her to his room where she is thrown onto the bed. She was bad… she hurt a customer… he must be reimbursed for the money that he had to refund. She closes her eyes and waits. She doesn’t wait long. She feels the blows and knows that she is bleeding and hurt, but keeps her eyes tightly closed. “Look at me when I am talking to you!” She keeps them closed, the blows continuing until the blackness rescues her. The following day is the test at school that the note had been about. They want to test her reading aptitude but she has been told to pretend that she can not read…none of the other children read and he will not permit her to stand out in any way. The teacher takes her to the counselor’s office where two other people are waiting for them. They begin the test and she makes certain to get everything wrong. They are very nice to her and she relaxes until they bring her teacher back into the room. She likes her teacher and when the two people tell her that she obviously was mistaken about seeing her read, she can see the sad look on her face. The little girl stands and walking to the desk once more, asks to see the books that were brought in earlier. The two adults look at her with a kind of patience and bring the books. The child sits down and begins to read them, with no mistakes and no hesitancy…her teacher smiles. They work with her and books for the rest of the afternoon and then pin a new note on her shirt to send home to her parents. She tries to object to this but they tell her that her parents will be so proud of her. She knows what will happen when her parents are given the note. She hangs her head as she hands it to her mother. Her mother inhales slowly and opens the paper. She reads it and then looks at her child, “Go upstairs and wait for your father,” is all she says. The child obeys without hesitation… sitting alone in her room, she has plenty of time to think about all the things that she has done wrong today. He told her – no test – but she had taken it. She had the opportunity to flunk it, but had felt bad for her teacher and done well instead. Disobedience – daddy really hates that one… Reading without permission – sin #2. Her thoughts are interrupted by a scream and crash from downstairs. The stairway door opens and then slams shut…her father’s footsteps are loud, they echo off the walls of her room and begin to press in on her from every side. The sunlight coming through the doorway disappears as his body blocks its entrance. The anger on his face is terrible and she feels the fear in her begin to build. Silence. Why doesn’t he yell or something? She sees his arm move quickly and decidedly, his finger points to the ground at his feet. She rises slowly to obey and as she reaches him, he swings…she feels her feet fly out from under her as she is sent airborne across her bedroom. She looks up at him. Once again the finger directs her to the space directly in front of hm. Still dazed, she nonetheless, immediately complies. As she reaches the designated spot another swing sends her into another wall and the world disappears. Confusion reigns as she opens her eyes and finds herself face to face with her father…scared, she lashes out and is slammed into the floor. His anger is driving him into a state of madness and his eyes are wild with rage. He grabs her and throws her onto the floor; sitting atop her he screams,” no reading without permission! Did I give you permission? You will learn to obey me! You will learn…you will obey….” Each sentence is screamed into her face and followed by her head being slammed into the floor. “I own you …I can sell you…I can kill you…I am your lord and master,” by now nothing makes sense and her world is beginning to dissolve into blessed silence. She opens her eyes. It is dark and she is alone. She can’t move…unsure of her surroundings she looks for anything familiar…straw – she smells the animals and the straw. She must be in the barn, but why? She senses she is not alone but can make out nothing, until a movement catches her eye…a small light (flashlight covered by something?) offers the first glimpse. It is a man, tall, muscular, dressed all in black with a ski mask on. He steps toward her and tells her that he is there to relieve her of the sin of disobedience. He will tell her what to do and if she is obedient, she will not be hurt, but rather she will be forgiven. She sees the light’s reflection on the blade of his knife. He cuts off her clothing, very slowly…piece by piece. She tries to foresee what will happen next but her mind is too dazed and her eyes too swollen to be of much use. He gently guides the knife down her body – cutting – not deep, just enough to bleed...Then he cuts the ties to her hands and she falls as her shaky legs cannot hold her up. He stands over her, looking down and he begins to undress. She watches helpless to escape with legs that won’t support her. He turns to retrieve his tools, then bends down and handcuffs her hands behind her back. He picks her up and throwing her over his shoulder marches to the middle of the room, where he reaches up for the bale hook and hooks it through the cuffs. He climbs the ladder to the loft and then turns the handle to start her upward journey … her arms cuffed behind her scream their complaint, but the screams fall on deaf ears. When she finally reaches him, he pulls her into the loft and unhooking her, tosses her into a mound of straw where he soon joins her. Scared and barely conscious, the child lays waiting…it doesn’t take long for the man to grab her legs and pull her over to him. He tangles his hand in her hair and pushes her head down, she must obey to find forgiveness and when she is done she is allowed to lie back down. The loft is dimly lit when she awakens. She wants to leave but can’t climb down without her hands, which are still cuffed behind her... She stays very quiet and listens to the voices down below, “likes it rough…must be punished…this one is on the house,” it sounds like daddy. “Daddy! I’m up here!” she screams to him hoping for salvation from the one who has condemned her. Someone is on the ladder. “Daddy?” That is not daddy, it is the masked man. She tries to back up, but she is too slow and he grabs her shoulder, his fingers digging deep into her flesh until she unwittingly makes a sound. Too late she realizes what sound does to him. She knows what is expected but never goes willingly. Her fear only excites him more and he pushes her to the floor. Her attempts at escape seem to amuse him and he digs through his pants until he finds his keys…flipping her over he unlocks and removes the cuffs. He then stands back up and undresses – never taking his eyes off from her. She crawls into a corner and huddles into a ball, but he just picks her up and brings her back to the center of the room, where he slams her down hard enough to knock the wind from her. As she fights for air, he manages to get himself ready and as he moves forward a scream escapes her and laughter can be heard downstairs. She continues to fight, but cannot stop him. He tells her to keep fighting, but she doesn’t hear him…she is lost in a world devoid of anything good, a world where reading is a sin…a world filled with nothing but pain upon pain …she hears the screaming but doesn’t realize that it is coming from her. Then as suddenly as they started, the screaming stops…she is no longer aware of her body, she stands in the loft and watches as the child becomes bluer from lack of oxygen…she finds herself hoping that this will be the last time….then she feels the warmth of a hand on her shoulder…a feeling of peace descends upon her – like a shower of love. She doesn’t look at Him. He gently turns her around to face Him, “Child, the road before you is treacherous. The enemy will try to crush and destroy the innocence that is your essence. He will not win as long as you use your gift wisely and unselfishly. You must return now – but remember – I am with you always.” “No! Don’t go! Don’t leave me here!” the child screams, but He is gone. As the child returns to her body, I look up on the bales of straw and see the mysterious old woman. She is watching wordlessly. She holds out her hand to me and together we step through the door that has magically appeared behind her. Upon our return to the brightly lit room of doors, I turn and ask the old woman who she is. She looks deep into my eyes, as if she is trying to determine whether it is safe to reveal this to me, then she begins to softly shine. At first I believe it to be a trick of the light in this room, but the glow continues to get brighter until I have to look away from her to shield my eyes. “You are an angel?” I ask her when she finally returns to normal. “Yes,” is her only reply. I ask her why she is here. “You have a very special purpose here on this earth, but you have been so tormented that you are beginning to lose yourself in all the lies. I was sent to try and help you discover the truth of your past…it is here that you will find your true strength and be shown the gift that was bestowed upon you many years ago.” “Gift? What gift?” “Be patient. Wait on the One who has all the answers and it will be revealed to you. Be strong and He will deliver you from your past. Stand in your faith and allow Him to set your spirit free from the darkness that engulfs it. He has never left you, never forsaken or stopped loving you...accept the truth of these things, and your true path will be revealed.” With these words the angel in the guise of an old woman steps into the ball of light in the center of the room and disappears. I look around the room trying to decide which of the many doors to try next and notice the six year old sitting quietly, appearing to be deep in thought. I walk up to her and wordlessly outstretch my hand to her. She takes it and together we walk through her entryway. I step into the parking lot of a little white church which lies in a valley of my small hometown. I notice immediately that the six year olds hand has been replaced by a bigger one and I look up to see who it is. It is my mother’s hand that holds my small one as I have become the six year old. I can feel the warmth of her hand in mine as we climb the cement steps to enter the building. We walk through the double doors and take a seat in the very last pew. The church bell can be heard calling out its welcome over the sound of the piano being played by a sweet looking elderly woman. My mother sits quietly, looking straight ahead and I know that I must follow her example. The minister stands up from his chair on the altar and steps up to the podium. Everyone stops talking as all eyes turn to this man of God in front of them. He opens in prayer and then speaks of God’s great love and compassion for His children. As I listen intently to Pastor “Smith” I know that this is more than just a man. He is telling us how he speaks to God – I have never met anyone with a hotline straight to God. This is surely God’s messenger and he is giving me words and lessons straight from the Almighty. If Pastor Smith had walked on water I don’t think I would have been surprised. I am in awe of this man who makes it his mission – his life’s work – to help and inspire others…I can imagine no greater ambition. I hear him give an altar call, although at the time I didn’t realize that was what it was called. I only know that my friend is tugging at my heart, pulling me to my feet and towards the altar. I feel the people’s eyes on me as I make the long journey up the red carpeted aisle to the place where another person is already kneeling. She looks to be about my mother’s age and is crying and screaming very loudly. I am afraid…what if whatever is hurting her wants to hurt me next? Pastor Smith senses my uneasiness and smiles reassuringly. If he thinks it will be alright then I believe him. I kneel at the altar and bow my head. I am not praying, just waiting to see what is supposed to happen next. I begin to feel this warmth, but not from the outside….no, this is on the inside and slowly a stillness descends on me. The altar, Pastor Smith, even the little white church itself seems to melt away and I look up into the face of peace. I am not afraid; in fact it is the most natural thing in the world to me. This is the shiny man that I met last year. He is not an unknown or a mystery…talking with Him comes as naturally to me as breathing. This is my best friend and I know that even if everyone else on this planet leaves me…He will not desert me. He holds out His hands and I smile as I take them and stand up. It never ceases to amaze me that every time I see Him I always feel better. He holds me close as He always does when we meet, but this time seems different somehow. He speaks to me, not with words as others do, but it is as if His heart speaks directly to mine. I understand the words of hope and peace that He instills inside the very core of my being. His words speak to me of battles and spiritual warfare, things that my six year old intellect can barely comprehend, but that my spirit seems to understand instinctually. He reminds me that He is with me always and to hold fast to that when I feel alone and unworthy. His words feed my spirit and leave me with a sense of completeness. Then He is gone and I find myself back at the altar in the little church and I hear Pastor Smith saying “amen.” Unsure of what to do next, I remain kneeling until my mother walks up to me and sets her hand on my shoulder. The pastor then asks to speak to my mother privately so I go sit in the front pew to wait. I am studying the “stage” in front of me. There is, of course, the pastor’s podium and the traditional red carpet, but it is what is on the wall behind all of that that has caught my attention. I see a very big cross and on it is my friend…He has nothing on except a cloth and a crown with giant thorns. I find myself being overcome by sadness as I study this scene. Why is it here? Why would anyone put such a horrible thing in a church? I stand and walk to the cross. I am looking for the binds that holds my friend in place, but instead I see nails in His hands and feet. The reality of what someone did to Him is breaking my heart and I find myself crying uncontrollably as I reach out and touch Him. I feel the hands on my shoulders and without looking know that it is Him. He kneels and holds out His arms to me…I throw myself into them and sob into His shoulder. He says nothing, only allows me to feel my pain from the comfort of His arms. Finally I am out of tears and He holds my hands as He looks into my eyes…I can see the love in His eyes, but also the sadness…it is a sadness that wraps itself around my heart and makes me wonder why. My friend looks at me and smiles…it is a sad smile, but one that reaches from His heart to mine. “My child, I have given you a gift.” “A present?” I am six and my idea of a gift and His are worlds apart. “I give you the gift of empathy.” “Empity?” He smiles. “No, little one, empathy. You will find that you can understand what cannot be understood. You will feel and understand the pain of others. You will be misunderstood, but it will give you the heart and strength to make it through what is coming.” “I don’t understand…what is coming?” “A storm…tumultuous times are ahead for you little one. You will find that you have within you the ability to forgive and have compassion for those that would remain in the darkness. You will find that you have the endurance to withstand the darkest hours imaginable, and you will overcome this darkness with the purity and faithfulness that is your moral compass.” “I don’t understand.” “It is alright…your spirit hears me and understands. I give to you peace that you may find solace in the midst of the unbearable; courage to face the inhumane and immoral; comfort to still your trembling heart; bravery to combat the assaults upon your body and emotions; faith to guide and reassure your troubled spirit; protection to shield you from every weapon that man shall form against you; healing to restore and renew your body and spirit daily; clarity of mind to know without question what is pure and upright, to be absolute in your knowledge and understanding of the shadows which shall haunt your steps; compassion to reach the one’s to whom you shall be entrusted; and finally I give to you confidence that you shall always know that there is no act perpetrated upon you which shall leave you defiled, contaminated or defeated. This is my covenant with you…I shall be with you and love you always, even unto death. I look at my friend and see that He has spoken the truth. I may not understand what He has said to me, but somehow I know that His words will be very important in my future. A sound in the back of the sanctuary makes me turn and look…it is my mother and the pastor. They are walking up the aisle towards me. I watch them and realize that for some reason the two of them cannot see my friend standing with me. I look up at Him and am going to ask Him why when He smiles at me and disappears. The pastor calls me down to him and I join the two of them in the front pew. He asks me if he can pray with me. I am honored and readily agree. He takes one of my hands and my mother takes the other and we bow our heads. The pastor asks for God’s help in my instruction, and then he asks God if He has a message for me. When he is finished the pastor opens his eyes very quickly and looks very deeply into my eyes. He finally tells me that I have been given a special gift from God. I ask him what it is, but pastor Smith just looks away saying nothing more. It is now a Wednesday night and my mother and I have come to church for a prayer meeting. When the meeting ends I look around for my mom, but I don’t see her anywhere. I go down the stairs to the basement in search of her. Soon I hear her voice, so I follow the sound. As I turn a corner I see Pastor Smith grab her arms and kiss her. She pushes him away, slapping him very hard across the face. It is at this moment that the two of them notice me standing there watching. My mother grabs my hand dragging me from the church and out to the car. It will be the last time the two of us ever go to church. I would not see Pastor Smith again for almost three years, on the day of my mother’s funeral. I am now nine and attending my mother’s service. As I sit here listening to this man of God, a person I look up to, calling my dead mother a whore and telling the mourners that she is better off dead the questions swirling around in my head are almost overwhelming. After the graveside service both families (my mother’s and my father’s) meet for a luncheon at the little white church where I had seen Pastor Smith kiss my mother. I can see people shaking the pastor’s hand and thanking him for a beautiful service. I can make no sense of anything that I am seeing or feeling, so I turn to God’s messenger, a person I trust….a man who would never lead me astray…I turn to Pastor Smith for answers. I wait until he is alone and then go to him to try and get answers to my many questions. Surely he can explain what I saw transpire between he and my mother. He is the only one who can explain why he said such hateful things at her service. My father sees me speaking with the pastor and asks if he can have a moment of his time. When my dad returns he tells me that he has arranged for me to receive private counseling sessions with the pastor every Thursday for as long as needed. I smile; it makes me happy to know that I will be spending time with someone who really knows God’s heart. I have so many unanswered questions and I can’t wait until our first session. The wait for Thursday seems almost unbearable, but finally the day arrives for our first session. When I arrive at the church it seems empty and a little eerie. I have never been in a church alone before and it is a little scary. I go down the stairs to the pastor’s office. He is there at his desk with papers strewn all over it. When he sees me he stands and taking my hand leads me to a couch on the other side of the room. We sit down side by side. He looks at me and smiles. His smile relaxes me and when he reaches out to take my hand I offer no resistance. “Your father tells me that you have been having a difficult time following God’s plan for your life.” I look down immediately, feeling guilty even as I am unsure of what I have done wrong. Pastor Smith reaches out and lifts my face towards him. “Do you believe that I know what God wants for your life?” “Yes sir,” I answer even as I feel a familiar uneasiness beginning to build. He reaches out and sets his hand on my leg, watching for my reaction as he slowly moves it higher. In my mind I flash to my mother slapping him, but I have no authority to stop this man of God. He pushes me down on my back and kisses me very hard. Every instinct in me is screaming that this is wrong, but he is my minister. How can I defy him? “This is good. This is the perfect will of God,” he whispers huskily into my ear as he undresses first me and then himself. He pushes my head into his lap, leaning his head back on the couch. He is making small noises then lets out a moan of “sweet Jesus.” Finally he lifts my head up and asks me if I trust him. I look into the eyes that no longer hold anything that I have ever sought and say nothing. “Trust me child. I know what God wants you to do,” it is with these words that my minister positions himself over top of me. “Trust me my child; this is holy in the eyes of God.” the words are barely out of his mouth before this man of the cloth rapes me. When he is finished, he begins to talk to me…he tells me that he was given a message from God that my mother was to be his, but that she had committed a grave and deadly sin in turning him away. He explains that her death was the result of her actions and that I am to be her replacement….that I will become the willing vessel for his godly seed. I am afraid now. “My mother died because she said no to you?” “Yes. I am an emissary of Jesus Christ and as such have been given the power of life and death.” “You killed her?” I am sobbing now. “Trust me child, you have nothing to fear from me. I believe that you are worthy of my private instruction and you shall receive my blessing weekly.” He takes my hand and places it in his lap, “You are very special child…to offer yourself in such a loving manner will bring you many rewards and one day when you are older maybe He will bring my holy seed to fruition and you shall know the joy of giving me an heir.” He seems to be lost in his own fantasy and doesn’t seem to notice that far from feeling blessed by this encounter, I feel as if God has been forcibly ripped from my heart. I see a door appear behind him and the old woman enters the room. She is visibly angry as she holds out her hand to me. I take it, stepping out of the child and into my adult self again. I join the angel in turning to look at this evil man who is masquerading as a man of God. After about five minutes she takes my hand and leads me through the door and back into the room again. I try to speak to her when we get back, but she is too upset to talk and just shakes her head at me and steps back into the ball of fire in the center of the room. I look around the room once more, wondering what horrors lay behind these doors in front of me. I see myself at fifteen crying uncontrollably and decide that hers is the door that I shall enter next. I try to comfort her, but she is beyond my reach emotionally…she is beyond any comfort or understanding that I can possibly provide. I decide to go through her door on my own; .I open the door and walk through it and into Doctor Mark’s office