prompt: Coalition | Word Count: 1200 Words | Genre: fiction
Due Jan 29, 2020
Warning: Human trafficking
Grace Comes at Night by Peggy Rockey
Grace came at night. An unlooked for favor I could not have hoped for, nor ever thought deserved.
I saw her from the window of my darkened room upstairs. She was taking pictures of the house from the bottom of the rickety staircase, where moments before I had seen Sammy Scumbag, who’d left the door ajar when he entered.
She looked like an Angel. Like innocence personified. Standing in the light of the open doorway, her pale skin shimmered with an otherworldly radiance. Blond hair haloed by the light of a nearby street lamp. She wore a green sweatshirt and black jeans, clean and crisp. She was older than me, maybe early twenties. She stood with head held high, shoulders pulled back, legs hip-width apart; projecting confidence and strength, despite her slight frame and thin arms.
I couldn’t fathom why she was here. Did she know what went on in this place? Surely she wasn’t planning on going inside?
I’ve lost track of the number of girls who've passed through these walls in the two years I’ve been here. None of us had ever come of our own free well. We were taken by force or coercion, secreted into the house in the middle of the night. Five rooms occupied, two girls per room. Except mine, since Raina escaped last week.
But I wouldn’t think about Raina right now, gaining her freedom only to be found murdered the next day.
“Please.” The little voice trembled in fear. “Please, I don’t want to.”
I followed the sound of Marisol’s childish plea with my eyes, landed on the cracked mirror on the dresser by the wall separating my room from hers.
“He’ll hurt me, like last time. Please don’t make me do it again.”
I cringed at the sharp crack of palm against face, instinctively raising my hand to my own swollen cheek, now reflected in the fragmented mirror. I closed my eyes, hating the sight of my own face; wishing I could as easily shut my ears to Mari’s desperate cries.
Madam Esther’s stern voice carried through the wall. “You’ll do as I say, girl, or I’ll have you beaten and locked in your room without supper.”
I could smell the burnt crap she called supper wafting up through the unused heater vent.
“Do that! I don't care.”
Another slap, a stifled cry, and two sets of footsteps making for the stairs.
“Be strong, girl,” Keisha called from her room across the hall. “Don’t let him see your fear.”
Or your shame, I thought, bombarded with memories of Sammy Shithead’s vulgar tendencies. Futility and rage warred inside me. Breathing became suddenly more difficult.
I should have taught Mari how to shield her thoughts, how to go away in her mind until it was over and she was alone again, back in the safety of her room.
Except, the last girl I’d given this advice to had lost herself, and never found her way back. After two weeks of unresponsiveness, Esther had her removed. We dared not ask to where. She’d been replaced with twelve year old Marisol.
The house went quiet after the footsteps receded down the stairs to where the “guest chambers” were located. I turned to look out the window again, just in time to see the Angel take a step closer towards the stairs.
“No! Oh, no! You can’t go in there!”
I would’ve run down the stairs, risking my own safety to warn her off, if I hadn’t already heard Esther lock my door when she passed it by on her way to fetch Mari.
“Go away!” I tried in vain to open the window, though I knew it was sealed tight.
I waved my arms in large motions, hoping to catch her attention, gesticulating wildly at the Angel and willing her to run away while she could.
Something flashed in Grace’s peripheral vision, above and to her left. A teenaged girl waving frantically, motioning for Grace to go away. She looked worn down, despondent, though Grace sensed a core of defiance that’d kept her from sinking into utter despair.
Grace knew exactly what the girls in this house endured, having lived through similar circumstances herself. Her heart ached at the memories; for herself and for this girl. She backed away from the open doorway, headed towards the shadows again, where she had hidden for the last three hours to watch the comings and goings of the house. Her job was not to draw attention to herself, but to observe and report her findings.
Once she was partially hidden behind the trash bin and a large, dying tree, she raised her camera and took a closeup of the girl in the window. The teenager kept repeating that shooing motion, clearly warning Grace to go away. To beware of the threat of capture and captivity.
Not gonna happen this time, Grace affirmed to herself, reassured by the feel of the device strapped inside her bra, recording and transmitting her location to the Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking, and the police officers they’d engaged. With her reconnaissance today, she was certain they now had enough evidence to prove there were kids being held here, forced to engage in sex against their will.
Grace gestured to the girl, using hand signals and body language to say “I see you. I’m gonna get you out.”
She tried to convey a message to let the girl know that she knew what went on in this house and that steps were being taken to free the girls held here; to punish their captors. “Maybe not tonight,” Grace said in body language, not wanting to give false hope, “but soon.”
Someone came to the open doorway, blotting out the light. Grace pushed further back into the shadows, but managed to snap a quick photo. An old Asian woman peered out into the night before closing the door firmly behind her.
Taking this as her cue to go, she repeated the message to the girl in the window and hoped it was understood: “We know you’re here. Tell the others to be ready. I promise. We’re gonna get you out.”
Whether she had understood, Grace couldn’t know. But the girl pressed her palm to the window and nodded. Grace wrapped her arms around herself, pointed to the girl, and passed on a virtual hug that she hoped would touch her soul.
It took all her will to walk away and leave this girl behind. She didn’t know how long it would take to get the warrant, or convince the authorities to make a move. She could only pray it wouldn’t be long.
The glass was cold under my palm where I’d left it, as I watched my only link to the outside world disappear down the alley.
I flung myself to the mattress as soon as the Angel was gone from view. Wrenching sobs caught in my throat, long denied tears flowing down my cheeks. Hope and despair filled me where moments before had been only futility and rage.
God’s grace had found me tonight, but I didn't know which hurt worse, watching her go, or the kernel of hope she’d left in my heart.