S is for Scintillation.
Their arms and elbows locked as they vied for control. Major released her grip and dredged her beet-colored nails across his muscled chest. Zane glanced at the four lines of ripped skin, blood dripped onto the rim of his pants. He lunged forward, grabbed a clutch of her hair and pulled her close. His sweaty face was too close. Wafts of garlic and marsh invaded her nostrils. Her stomach rolled and she had to swallow the bile as the edges of her vision waned.
“Bitch,” he seethed. “I don’t know many times we have to go through this. You know the game. You befriend them, and then you bring them to me. End of story.”
“Zane, these ones are too young. They’re scared. They don’t want the drugs or the booze. They cry day and night. What the hell am I supposed to do with them? They won’t trust me.”
He loosened his grip and flattened her hair back into place. His finger followed the trail of blood down to his navel. He brought the bloodied finger to her lips and applied the macabre lipstick.
“I don’t give a fuck how you do it. Knock them unconscious for all I care. When I say I need two, you bring me two. When I say I need one with no hair or breasts, you bring me one with no hair and no fucking breasts. If you can’t get your head around this, Major, then we can conclude our business right here and now.”
His coal eyes bored into hers. Conclusion meant death. Fear curled its metal coil inside her belly. Zane doesn’t play. He doesn’t exaggerate,
“That’s my girl. I knew you would see it my way. Major, now get out there and bring me those girls. We have an important aficionado who has paid a premium for his delicacy.”
She felt the palm of his hand on her back as he shoved her toward the door. “Don’t come back until you have what I need.”
“Sure thing, Zane. Sure thing.”
A is for Annihilation.
Major opened the metal cage door of the elevator and stepped into the apartment lobby. The scent of wealth and power permeated the space like a high-quality perfume. A soft white sofa surrounded by dark leather chairs and glass-topped coffee tables welcomed small gatherings. Soft music from the bar wafted through the lobby. In her red-bottom spiked boots, Major walked through the revolving glass doors and past the taxi that stood
Outside she slowed even though it was beginning to rain. The wet would make her hair curl tighter, but she didn’t care. She slowed her pace even more.
A couple of blocks down, she swung open the door to the pub and breathed in the familiar smoke and sweat stink as she stepped into the dim room. When the door closed, darkness soothed everyone once again. Major nodded to the regulars at the bar. Billy, the local waterman, sat nursing his standard gin and tonic. His callused hand raised and then thudded down on the bar. Major knew he was two sheets to the wind even though it was barely noon. Tom, the handsome young attorney, sat two seats down from Billy with his shot of whiskey and Budweiser bottle in front of him. Tom did not acknowledge her, but she knew that he had recently been busted for a DUI. In the far back corner, Marge was draped over the table fast asleep. Understanding that she was no different than any of these people, she ordered a double.
L is for Loath.
A few hours later Major stumbled back to her apartment. When she opened her door, she stepped on an 8” x 14” white envelope. She tossed it onto her dining table and headed to her bedroom to exchange her leather pants and boots for boxers and a spaghetti strap top. She grabbed her fleece throw and the envelope and flopped on the sofa.
Like all the others, a gold sticker embossed with a heron sealed the envelope. Major sighed as she tore it open and pulled out a set of four photographs. This time they were girls, too young, with scared eyes and bare shoulders. This group was pretty with their light brown skin and dark silky hair and she thought they could be sisters. In the lower right corner of each photo was a number: 15, 17, 14, 12.
Major shook her head. Her stomach roiled with nausea, something resembling fear and disgust, but she didn’t know whom she feared and despised most, herself, Zane, or the customers. Something about the way the girls’ eyes stared at Major from their glossy prints unsettled her. They appeared in wait to see what Major would do. She pulled the photos close to her eyes, looking for any distinguishing marks to identify them. Nothing. Their skin was smooth and unblemished, as the young often are.
Major reared back her arm and launched the photographs across the room. They flitted like tiny airplanes and landed on her coffee table, white sofa, and pink shag carpeting. Something inside of her moaned. She leaned her head against the back of the sofa and closed her eyes. Visions of her parents, laughing in the sunshine and running down the beach, danced into view. She and her sister ran after them with buckets of water intent on drenching them. The teal blue waves crawled forward and back upon the shore leaving trails of tiny holes where the sand crabs buried themselves.
Major opened her eyes when the movie of her childhood faded. Her stomach knotted. No matter how hard or how many times she tried, she could not bring forth the remaining memory of that afternoon. She reached down beside the sofa and pulled up a half-empty bottle of Kors Black. Raising the bottle, she guzzled the vodka.
V is for Verisimilitude.
Major awoke to the incessant buzzing of her cell phone beside her ear. Her head hammered with the bells of a hard night of drinking. She lifted her head and pulled pink fuzz from her carpet out of her mouth. Relief, the phone silenced. She reached for the popcorn bowl beside her and puked the remaining bile from her stomach. To her horror, she saw that the bowl was encrusted with old vomit.
The phone buzzed again. “What, Zane?”
“What do you mean, what? Where the fuck were you last night? You were supposed to meet Mateo last night and cruise the spot with the girls. He said he waited until 2 am, but you didn’t show… Major? What the fuck?”
Major groaned. “Something came up last night.”
“Bullshit, Major. You’re hung over, aren’t you?”
“No, man. I told you, I’m working through my shit.”
Silence pulled back the veil of her deception. Major focused on the sound of birds chirping outside her kitchen window and leaned on her hand to help her stand up, the phone still on her ear.
Major sighed. “OK, Zane, OK. Let’s try this again.”
“Dammit, Major. When you didn’t show last night, I had Mateo pick up the girls and drop them off at the next drop off point. You can’t pull this shit. You were lucky Mateo was there to cover your ass last night. If he hadn’t been, those girls would have been dead before daybreak.”
“Virtuous, are we?”
“Fuck off, Major, and do your job.”
A is for Absorbed.
Major, with the blur of the previous night behind her, walked through the neon-lit streets of downtown Baltimore. Establishments extended invitations with names like Big Top and Hustler. Women with diaphanous clothing and glossy-painted nails attempted to lure in customers. A woman with bronzed skin approached Major and smiled. She leaned in close and asked Major if she wanted a date.
Major returned the smile. “No thanks.”
“Are you sure, baby? You look like you’ve had a rough night. I can help you out with that.”
Major shook her head. “Nah, I’m looking for the kiddie stroll.”
“So, that your
“Shit, do I look like a cop?”
The woman mugged her up and down then said, “No, I guess you don’t. You look like shit anyway. The kiddie stroll is one block down near Wolfe.”
Major slid a twenty-dollar bill into her hand.
The woman tucked the bill between her breasts. “Thanks, baby. You want something more substantial, you come on back.”
Along the block-long walk, both men in dark shirts and women in high heels approached her with offers. Major made eye contact and motioned her head no. No point in making enemies. Once she reached Wolfe Street and rounded the corner, the whole game changed.
Children, perhaps even as young as ten, wore painted faces in garish colors, lips cherry red, eyeshadow dark shades of seaweed and smoke. A young boy with his hair slicked back approached Major. He slipped his hand into hers and asked if she wanted to spank him. Major pulled her hand
“I’m looking for some fresh girls that came in last night. I understand they arrived with Mateo. Do you know of anyone new who came in last night?”
The boy’s dark eyes lowered. He laid his red Converse on top of the other one and put his hands in his pocket.
“Don’t know anything about no girls,” he said.
“Come on, don’t play with me.” She showed him the tip of a 50-dollar bill.
The boy glanced beyond Major to see who was nearby. He reached for her hand and casually transferred the money from her hand to his.
“Imagine a world with no evil. Come with me.”
T is for Tenacious.
The boy led Major down a darkened alley where shadows of movement and whispered groans and grunts filled the air. If it had not been for the boy pulling Major’s hand hard to the right, she would have missed the door completely. The door slid open soundlessly into a darkened hall with only the small red pinpoint of light shining from the fire detector. The boy put his fingers to his lips and drew her into the building.
The air smelled stale with a faint odor of cheap perfume and cigarette smoke. Drops of perspiration snaked down Major’s forehead. The noises coming from the rooms seemed odd; the snap from straps connecting with intended targets, mechanical noises that sounded like grinding gears and chain links. Behind one door, Major heard a male sobbing, behind another, clucking noises like a humanoid chicken. At the end of the hall, the boy took Major’s hand and laid it upon a warm smooth doorknob, then turned and ran back down the hall.
Major took a deep breath and swallowed hard to prevent the bile bubbling in her stomach from traveling toward her mouth. Her palm was slick on the doorknob. She wiped the sweat on her jeans, then turned the knob and opened the door slowly to avoid any noise that could betray her. The room was dark except for the faint blue light cast from a lava lamp. She stepped into the room and pushed the door closed. The outline of a snoring lump lay on the sofa. She stepped across the cushiony shag carpeting and put her ear to another closed door. Silence.
She opened the door quietly, her heart pounding, and saw four slender figures in a king size bed. They were covered to their necks and apparently sleeping. When her eyes adjusted to the low light she realized she was peering into the faces of the girls from the photographs. Major’s fingers slid down the cheek of the girl closest to the edge. The girl’s eyelids fluttered open and she exhaled with a start.
Major put her hands
I is for Incessant.
The girl’s panic subsided. She sat up in bed and looked at Major, then reached up and Major encircled the girl with her arms.
“Britta, Sasha, Gina, wake up,” Chloe whispered. Chloe wriggled Britta’s shoulder. “Come on, wake up. It’s time to go.”
Britta’s eyes opened. “Yes! It’s time. Wake up, you two. Wake up!”
The four girls started talking at once.
“Is it time?” Gina asked.
“Where are we going next?” Sasha asked.
“Shhhhh. Stop it, you’re going to get us caught,” Chloe scolded.
Britta pulled back the covers. They had been sleeping in their day clothes, ready for the pick-up. Wordlessly the girls climbed out of bed and slipped on their shoes. They started for the door, but Major stopped them.
“No, we can’t go that way. There are too many people up and about tonight.”
She pulled a chair underneath the small bedroom window and slid the glass to the left. The girls would be able to squeeze out and jump to the alley below.
“Here, go through this window. When you hit the ground, climb into the dumpster. Sit there until I come to get you.”
“But why? Aren’t you coming with us?” Sasha asked.
“I can’t fit through that tiny window. I’ll go back down the hall and leave through the door,” Major explained. “You stay in the dumpster until I come to get you.”
“But what if someone catches you?” Britta asked.
“If I’m not there in 10 minutes, run up the block and onto Baltimore Street. There will be a lot of people walking around; some might try to talk to you. Laugh like they’re telling you a funny joke, but be careful not to look scared. Two blocks down there will be a sign for the Savior’s Christian Shelter. Go there. Pastor James will know what to do. Now come on, get up outta there. We don’t have a lot of time.”
Britta helped the youngest, Gina, up and through the window. One by one each of the four girls slipped through the opening and down onto the ground. Major watched below as they climbed into the dumpster.
“OK, I’m going now. Remember what I said,” Major whispered.
She crept through the blue-cast light and opened the door to the apartment and peered down both sides of the dark hallway. Nobody. She closed the door quietly behind her and tiptoed down the hall. The sounds coming from the rooms seemed louder and more aggressive. Major quickened her step and when she arrived at the door, she opened it slowly and listened. Just the night sounds of the city.
She breathed a sigh of relief and turned to close the door. A heavy, strong hand grabbed her shoulder and spun her around.
“Shit, Mateo,” she spat. “You scared the shit out of me!”
Perspiration dripped down Mateo’s bald head, his breath hot.
“What’s up, Mateo? Why are you here?” Major tried to pull away but his grip tightened on her shoulder. “Ow, what the fuck?”
The big man whispered in her ear. She could smell his body odor and something more sinister, his fear. “Don’t fuck this up, Major.”
“Mateo, calm down. Your breath smells like shit. Stop breathing in my face,” Major said, pushing him away. “I sent them to the shelter. They’re waiting for us there.”
Mateo leaned in closer again. “Are you sure? Are you sure they didn’t run off somewhere?”
“Look, I told them to go straight to the shelter if I wasn’t there to get them. I assume they’re sitting on the old, ripped couch in the game room. Don’t be such an asshole.”
O if for Oblique.
At the Christian shelter, James sat across from the four girls and offered them small cups of red Kool-Aid. The girls slurped down the sugary drink and laid the cups back on the tray.
When they’d finished he pointed to each girl. “Chloe? Britta? Gina? Sasha? Did I get your names right?”
They nodded but said nothing.
“Now girls, don’t be afraid. You’re safe now. There’s just one thing we need to do before we can get you to a nice safe place,” James crooned.
“Jamie! Glad we’re all here now.” Zane entered from a back room and clapped his hands. “How’s it hanging?” Zane slapped James on the back.
“We were just getting to the best part. Did you bring everything?”
“Oh yeah…” Zane answered. He took four elongated packets from inside his jacket pocket and handed them to James and backed away.
“Girls? See these packets?” He opened one and pulled out a small plastic wand. He screwed off the cap to reveal a small paper tip. “Now, you’re going to go into the bathroom, one at a time you know,” James’ laugh revealed a missing front tooth. “You go pee on this stick and then bring it back to me. You hear?”
The girls nodded.
“Ok, now Chloe, you’re first.”
One by one the girls went into the small dirty bathroom and sat on the toilet. Fear caused each girl to struggle to pee, but eventually, they all managed and returned to the grubby couch.
James looked at the four wands. “Yes, yes. Now, this is very nice. He turned each wand to show the girls the small blue cross in the window. Do you know what this means?”
Chloe nodded, but the other three stared at James.
“It means that you’re all going to have little itty bitty babies! Now isn’t that a treat?”
The girls held hands.
“Brilliant, Jamie. Just brilliant. Let’s get them dressed and fed before we drop them off to their permanent homes.”
N is for Neutered.
Outside the shelter, SWAT officers surrounded the building. One of the officers threw a
The old woman ducked under the yellow police tape and put her hand across Major’s shoulder.
“Hey there, Missy-miss. Found yourself some other lost girls?”
Major hugged the woman. “Olivia, you old bear,
Olivia smiled. “You’d think after forty years in the field, I’d tire of the job. There’s something in being in the right place at the right time and helping someone get started anew. “
“Well, it looks like we got another set for you. They’re pretty young this time.”
“And pregnant, like the others?” Olivia asked.
Major nodded. “Probably.” Olivia stroked Major’s hair. “You know, Missy-miss,” she whispered, “You took a horrible experience in your life and made it into something really important. I’m proud of you. You’re saving other girls, just like you were saved.”
Major batted a tear away. “Water under the bridge, Olivia. That was a long time ago. I survived.”
Olivia squeezed Major’s shoulder. “Indeed you did.”
Author Bio: Teresa is a lifetime member of Writers Village University. Several years ago, she began taking MFA courses in fiction. Her submission is the product of taking MFA 703 Maps of the Imagination. "Salvation" is a short story written in a modular style, which she learned in another MFA course, MFA 700 Narrative Design.
She is a clinical social worker and professor at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. Her publication record consists of approximately fifty academic manuscripts in the areas of mental health and social work in the deaf and hard of hearing population. She has one literary publication in 2009, "Overlooked," that was published in the journal Reflections: Narratives of Professional Helping. She has one literary non-fiction book in press with Deaf Life Press, "Casual Slaughters," a true crime book about two murders that occurred at Gallaudet University.