When no one comes to save you...you have to save yourself
Maia Duncan learned "Stranger Danger" and the perils of the internet when she was just 12 years old. Unfortunately after her captivity and forced participation into the sex trade, it was a lesson she learned too late.
But after six long years when her next assignment was to groom other young girls in the sex trade, Maia knew she had to escape...or die trying.
Maia’s heart pounded in her chest as she was being lead to the minivan. As always, they were taken out in the cover of night, rarely seeing the sunlight or enjoying the fresh air on a spring day. Her life had become that of a vampire, waiting for the sun to set then sneaking around town like a thief in the night. It had been so long since Maia had seen daylight, she was certain she’d go blind from its brilliance.
Maia stood in the line behind the other girls as they waited to climb into the minivan. She shivered from the chill in the air, though she was sure most of the chill she felt was from the trepidation she felt about what she had planned for tonight. If she isn’t careful and is caught in her scheme, she knew her life would be forfeit. And though she wasn’t ready to die without giving her idea for freedom a chance, she couldn’t help but feel the cold hands of fear grip her soul.
When the last girl climbed into the awaiting minivan, Maia began to climb in behind her. As she lifted her leg to ascend the step, she was yanked back violently by the hair. “You follow me, girl,” Drago said between clenched teeth.
“Ow. What are you doing?” Maia cried out as she was being pulled towards the docks, her body was being half-dragged as she fought to keep up the pace set by the brute escorting her towards the darkened area.
“Shut up! I’m gonna to give you a glimpse into your future,” Drago let out a short bark of laughter. “Whatever you have planned, this should put a stop to it.”
Maia’s heels pounded on the wooden board as she trotted to keep up with Drago before he pulled a chunk of her hair from her head. Her breath came out in short pants as the fear began to mount inside her. No matter what, Drago was a cruel and violent man and whatever he had planned for her was not going to be pleasant. In all the years she’s known him, he’d managed to put a fear inside her that would only be outdone by the next deed.
Drago continued to drag Maia through a confusing maze of buildings and alleys. The skittering sounds of rats in the darkness was enough to make Maia want to yell out, but her fear of what was to come outweighed her immediate danger of being eaten alive by rodents. She was sure what Drago had in store for her would make a rat pit seem like a vacation in paradise.
Drago stopped in front of a building that was known to house the new cargo when they arrived. Maia could hear the wails and whimpers of the people inside as they were trying to come to terms with their new lot in life. It was a piteous sound she had grown accustomed to hearing. Not too long ago it was a sound she had made…but now she learned how to remain silent and take life as it came. All the years of crying and pleading and the unanswered prayers weren’t enough to bring about the solace she craved. In the end, she only had the strength of compliance in her heart and body to keep her alive.
Maia looked up at the three-story building. The windows were covered by boards and appeared unused and abandoned. But that was just a cover. It was how all of the buildings on this pier looked. They were all owned and operated by the same man…Paolo Freitas. But inside, there were people…women, children, boys, girls…all used for the same purpose. To make more money for Paolo.
“Go inside!” Drago ordered and shoved Maia so forcefully she nearly fell to her knees.
Maia blinked a few times as she walked into the dimly lit building. The scurrying sounds of rats seemed more profound in this enclosed quarters. She pressed down on her lips tightly as she attempted to prevent herself from crying out in distress. Her steps slowed as her feet touched something on the ground in front of her, but Drago didn’t seem to care and gave her another shove forward.
“Move it!” he barked out.
The anger in his voice made her feet pick up the pace. To where, she didn’t know. She only did what she was told. Afraid to go forward…afraid to stop. The wailing sounds of young children on the other side of the doors made her wish she could do something…anything to help, but at the moment, she was not in a position to help herself. For all she knew, she was walking her last mile to her execution.
Funny, she imagined herself fighting ‘til her last breath, yet here she was walking to an unknown destination for an unknown purpose, like a sheep being lead to slaughter. If it came down to her life, would she fight or would she pray and ask God to accept her wretched soul into Heaven? Do I deserve to go to Heaven? Would hell be similar or worse than the last six years of my life?
“Here. Open the door,” Drago’s voice growled behind her.
Maia didn’t question him. She reached for the knob and turned. The room was smaller than the one she shared with Becca and China. It was bare except for a pallet that was made in the corner of the room by the clothes on their backs. One little girl lay sleeping on it as the other three girls…approximately 13 to 15 years in age, remained huddled on the other side of the room.
The room was lit by a single, low watt bulb in the center of the ceiling and the shadows that were cast off the walls appeared like demons waiting to collect the souls of the damned.
“Choose,” Drago said.
It was a single word command, but it spoke volumes to Maia. Choose. “I…I can’t,” Maia’s voice squeaked, showing her fear and her weakness. She resented her voice for betraying her, but she was frightened. Not for herself, but for the others. “What are you going to do?”
This time she looked at Drago. For the first time she saw the feral expression on his face. It was a look of a man gone mad. Maia realized Drago loved what he did, instilling fear in the heart of a defenseless person. In his pathetic life, this made him strong and bold. But he was a coward and a bully. He was pure evil.
Drago pulled the gun he had concealed in his jacket and pointed it to the girl who stood as they entered the room. One bullet to the head and she slumped on the ground. The other girls screamed and cowered in the corner, but to no avail. They too will meet the same fate.
“Choose!” Drago demanded. This time he pointed his gun at the sleeping form on the pallet. Maia was certain she was no older than 5 or 6…the same age as China when she had come to these shores.
“No! Please, don’t. I’ll choose,” Maia pleaded.
Drago pulled the gun back and waited for Maia to make a choice. “Well, I don’t have all night.”
“I…I choose the child, the one who’s sleeping.” She squeezed her eyes shut as she knew what this meant. Drago was going to execute the other girls right in front of her, leaving her to forever remember their lives were in her hands and she failed them. She did not want to watch…she couldn’t.
“Ah…so you have a soft spot, huh?” Drago teased. He aimed his gun at the girls cowering in the corner and pointed his barrel at one. “Come!”
The young girl was clearly traumatized and her knees shook as she made her way over to Drago. She looked imploringly at Maia, but Maia turned her eyes, ashamed of what she’d done and afraid of what she’d see in the other girl’s expression.
The gun went off with another loud bang that echoed through the small room and reverberated straight through Maia’s heart. But she didn’t look. She had seen enough dead girls in her lifetime and she did not want to see another. Still, she knew she would forever dream about this night. Much like she did the other nights that haunted her dreams.
Another shot rang out…another thud landed on the floor where the doomed girl stood. Maia let out a small yelp of surprise at the noise. She knew it was coming, but it still made her startle with helplessness for being unable to stop it. It was the sound of a life being taken. For the second time in her life, Maia felt the blood of another person’s life on her hands.
The blast of shots ringing out in the silence woke the sleeping child. She sat up and wiped her eyes and began to wail as she found herself in a strange place with strange people and death surrounding her. Maia was sure she wasn’t old enough to understand what was happening, but she knew she was frightened. Who wouldn’t be? It was all Maia could do not to wet her own pants at the moment.
Maia rushed to the startled child and scooped her up in her arms. She tried to quiet her down, but her attempts only made matters worse. “Shh…don’t cry. It’s going to be alright,” Maia said in a soft, motherly tone. She knew the tiny, little girl didn’t understand her words, but she hoped she was familiar with her tone. The tone of a mother’s love.
Drago took two long strides over to Maia and the crying child and placed the muzzle of his gun to her small head. The gesture brought out an instinct in Maia she didn’t know she possessed. Maia twisted her body in such a way she was protecting the child with her own body, but the gun was now pointing at her. But she didn’t care. If he killed her right now, she would not be here to witness him kill this poor, innocent child. She would never be able to live with herself if he did. In her heart, she knew she would fight until he was forced to kill her, too.
Drago looked at Maia for a long moment, his jaw clenching in a rhythm that showed his discontent. His finger itched to pull the trigger. Maia could sense his taste for blood as he bit down on his tongue to resist the overwhelming urge to shoot. His eyes grew dark and empty, hatred marred his ugly features. Then he did the unthinkable…he pulled the gun back and put it back in his holster beneath his jacket and shoved Maia and her sobbing bundle forward and out of the room.
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