"Don't be afraid," the hulking man standing over me says. His voice is gruff and menacingly contradictory to his words.
A single incandescent dangling from a wire lights the room. I allow my eyes to flick upward though the fringe of my bangs toward the man's shadowed face. I'm not sure how long I've been here, and the details of how I got here are still fuzzy in my mind. I do know, however, that this is his third visit to the room in which he is keeping me.
All I know is that my name is Kaylin, I'm fifteen, and I live in Harrisburg, VA. I have a pet dog named Rosie, my mom told me she loved me last time we spoke; and I'm really cold.
There's a rough woolen blanket on which I am sitting, naked, with my wrists bound behind my back. The tightly tied rope feels like it has rubbed my skin raw.
"Miss." He says again. "Please don't be afraid." He takes a step forward, his heavy boot lands only a few inches from my leg and I instinctively recoil, pressing my back up against the wall.
It's the cool damp wall of an unfinished basement. I can't contain the tremors that run the whole length of my body from a combination of terror and cold. I shut my eyes, trying to shut off my brain.
It never works.
I feel something rough brush my cheek and then run across the top of my head. I realize he is patting my head. "Pretty girl." He says almost childlike. "I'm sorry. Tomorrow it will be your turn. Just don't be afraid. It will not be much longer."
I shut my eyes tight. The screams come again not long after his visit, just as they have after every visit. They are the screams of a different girl every time, but they begin the same: with whimpered pleadings accompanied by the sound of a body being dragged past right outside my door. "No, please. Please don't hurt me."
Then a door is opened somewhere down the hall and they change to confusion and fear: "Oh my God. No! Oh my god! What is that? Please no!"
It ends not long after with bloodcurdling cries of pure terror and pain, cut short just a few seconds later.
I cannot imagine what awaits me.
I awake from a nightmare with a start. Has it been hours or minutes? I'm trying my best to not think. I've spent days locked in this cell, thinking. Thinking of ways to get out. Thinking of ways I might die. I've tried to remember how I ended up here. But thinking, I quickly realized only makes things worse. I somehow remember every single news story involving the disappearance of girls my age and I realize they all end the same way, with the anchor looking grimly into the camera and saying: "the remains have been positively identified as..." or "the body of the missing girl has been found."
Now I hear shuffling footsteps outside the door. The handle moves, jiggles, then the door creaks open. Is the man back already? I wonder.
The small silhouette standing in the doorway is slight. Whoever it is slips in quietly and closes the door again.
"Hey." It's a girl's voice. "Hey. Is there someone in here?"
"Yeah." I manage to answer back.
There's no reply, but a minute later a feel body warmth radiating off the girl who is crouched right next to me. I feel fingers picking at the ropes binding my wrists. Then the rope comes loose.
The girl is on her feet now, standing in front of me. The sudden sound of a heavy door clanging open startles me. "Come on." She whispers urgently. "We have to go."
With the girl's help I climb to my feet. "I'm Trina." She says hastily.
"Kaylin." I reply. We can hear the man in the hall. He is opening the door to the room next to mine.
We wait breathlessly. We hear his heavy footsteps go in, so we slip out into the hall, Trina leading the way. She is a little taller than me and looks a little older, too. She had also fashioned her wool blanket around herself like a dress. I realize how vulnerable it feels to be running naked.
At one end of the hallway is a large metal door. At the other is a ladder leading up to a trapdoor. Trina heads for the ladder immediately, and I follow. She starts climbing. I pause at the foot of the ladder and look back, thinking about the other girls that must be locked up here. The man comes out of the room. Our eyes meet for one moment and then he yells.
"No!" He barrels our way. I look back up at Trina and see she is at the tops of the ladder, struggling to get the door open. She looks back and sees the man running, before turning back to the trapdoor and doubling her efforts. Something breaks in the door and she is finally able to push it upward. Fresh air comes rushing in. I climb up the ladder behind Trina. My arms and legs are trembling to support my full bodyweight.
Trina hoists herself up through to the surface, turns around and reaches down to me.
"Come on! Come on!" She urges me on.
I muster all my strength and reach up to grab her hand. Just as I grab at her wrist, something yanks me back by the leg. Our fingertips brush before I fall just out of reach. I'm still hanging onto the ladder, but the man below me has a firm grip on my ankles. I try to kick him away, but it just throws me off balance and he pulls me further down. Rungs slip through my hands as I try to hang onto the ladder.
For a moment time stands still. I'm looking up at Trina, and she is looking down at me. There's a panic in her eyes. She's trying to figure out how to save me. Then the look in her eyes changes. The man is pulling himself up behind me. With one hand still holding me down, he reaches his other up toward Trina. She looks at me, sadness in her face. Then fear as the man makes another swipe upward. I see her face harden, and the trapdoor slams shut.
The man lets out a guttural scream and he drops back to the floor pulling me with him. I hit hard, and everything spins. The man is dragging me by the ankles across the dirty floor as I try to blink away the swirling stars in my eyes.
I cry out: "Trina. Help. Someone. Help..."
A mix of emotions rush over me. Hysteria seizes me and I claw at the ground and try to beg to be let go between heaving sobs.
We're at the metal door now, which the man opens. A wave of stench washes over me. A mix of rotting flesh, acid and bile makes me gag. I can taste it in my mouth with each shaky breath.
He drops my leg and clumps back out of the room. The door slams shut and everything is dark. I can hear some sort of breathing. It sounds inhuman. There is a shuffling noise of something moving in the dark. I am barely in control of my actions. I know that I'm screaming now. I think I'm crawling toward the door, but I'm so disoriented. My head is a mess of emotion.
Everthong comes clear when I feel something grab my leg. It's cold, clammy, and soft. I try to pull away, but it moves with me. I feel a solid wall in front of me. I have nowhere to go.
Whatever it is that has me is quickly moving up both legs now. It feels like long, groping fingers, grabbing and pinching at me skin. The coolness is quickly replaced with a burning sensation, not of heat but from the viscous liquid that oozes from the thing. Wherever the thing touches me, it stings.
I can feel drips on my back and a chill runs up my spine. I try to kick at it, but my feet just sink further into the cold mass.
I try to get on all fours and flip over, but suddenly, it pulls me back toward itself, making be land flat on my chest. I'm try to grab at it with my hands and feel a mass of sticky, pulsing flesh. My hands recoil, but it siezes my wrists. I am completely trapped now. My back is arches as is swarms up around my body. The thing lifts me backward up off the ground. The fingers press into every part of my body.
I can feel it between my legs, forcing its way into me. I try to force my legs shut but it's no use.
It squirms inside me, pressing in as deep as it can go.
The burning of the liquid has intensified, too. It feels like every inch of my skin is on fire. I can feel the creature enveloping me, drawing me in. Strong tendrils find their way around my neck and begin to squeeze. I open my mouth to gasp for air and another finds its way to the back of my throat. I'm choking and gagging and trying my best to break its hold on me, but for all my struggling, it only squeezes me tighter. The creature moves slowly up and over my face.
In the moment that I realize I have been completely swallowed up, there's a strange sense of relief that washes over me. My mind goes quiet and I am able to think clearly. I have heard that drowning victims experienced a peaceful moment just before death and I wonder if this is mine. I try to empty my mind and accept the end.
But there's something still there in the back corner of my mind. It starts like an itch, that quickly spreads through my whole body. It morphs into a tingling that begins at the tips of my fingers and toes. The tingling changes to piercing needles. And suddenly the burning of my flesh is back stronger than before. It is so intense I can think about nothing else.
The creature moving inside me again. Deep inside me. Inside my chest cavity and abdomen. The sensation is disturbing, but all I can do is shake uncontrollably. Everything has gone quiet now, except a ringing in me ears. I begin to lose a sense of where my body ends and the creature begins. For just a moment I think I hear a voice saying, "Just don't be afraid."
But I am afraid. Afraid of the pain. Afraid of what happened when the paid ends. Afraid of being gone.
A final wave of pain rushes over me, wiping away everything, leaving behind nothing. Absolute, infinite nothing.