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Genre – Literary Fiction
Rating – PG
A New Truth
Loud noises banging from the trunk didn’t even make the two men flinch. It was an all too familiar sound. They traveled down a long dirt road toward what seemed, to the untrained eye, to be an abandoned warehouse. The town car didn’t fit the road traveled, but it had been there many times before.
The thumping had finally subsided as they pulled near the desolate building. Quickly, they passed through the guarded entrance and could see another man waiting in his dark green clothing, waving them forward. The large wall receded up, opening into what looked to be an airport hangar. Several small planes, cars, and other equipment were parked inside. The two men got out of their vehicle and walked to the back of the car. The taller man turned to his partner and grinned while he unlocked the trunk.
Inside lay a thirteen-year-old girl, still passed out from the drugs she had been given steadily over the last few days. Her body was twisted from being knocked around during the three-hour trip from the hotel to the warehouse.
“Another one,” the shorter man said with a half-hearted laugh.
“The second one this month; I wonder what’s up,” the shorter one responded.
“It ain’t our business to ask. Let’s just get her in here and get out. I want to get home before four a.m. this time.”
“You take the feet and let’s get a move on.”
They each did their part and carried the young girl to the door where a gurney and two other men were waiting. They placed her on the rolling bed and headed back to their vehicle. It was as easy as that, and they were done. The town car drove off into the night, not to return until another package was to be delivered.
In her unknown destination and an hour after delivery, Elani Benjamin woke up. With confused, red-rimmed eyes and blurry vision, she could make out a tall woman hovering over her. The woman had long red hair and a much-too-wrinkled face to be in her forties. She was dabbing Elani’s forehead with a cold, wet wash cloth knowing full well the young girl would protest soon.
“Where . . .” Elani tried to make sense of her words and surroundings, her head still foggy from the last few days. She darted up from the gurney and scanned the room for something, anything familiar. A nauseous feeling tugged at the lining of her stomach.
Everything was concrete, or white painted over concrete. The room smelled sterile but unclean at the same time. Confused about how she got there, she closed her eyes and tried to remember. The last thing that came to her was stopping at a Quik Stop for something before heading home.
“Elani, I’m Jolene. I need you to keep calm while I explain where you are. Please try and control yourself so you don’t upset the other girls when I put you in your new room.” Jolene paused for a response. “Do you hear me, girl?”
“How do you know my name?” Elani pleaded to Jolene with surprise and a growing concern.
“We know everyone we bring here to The Hub. It’s our job to know who we’re dealing with.”
“Where’s my mom? Does my dad know I’m here?”
“Look, girl. I’m just going to tell you like it is. This is your new home. What you will have is a bed, food, and work. It’s not much, but that’s what it is. Now change into this so I can bring you to your new room.” Jolene threw a blue sweat suit at Elani that was stenciled with an L, along with some old, worn sneakers, and then lifted her hands in a quick attempt to get her going. Elani slowly pulled the clothes toward her and reluctantly changed.
“Here, put your clothes in this. You won’t be needing them anymore. We all just wear the same thing,” Jolene said as she held a plastic bag in front of her.
“I want to go home,” Elani said, panic rising in her voice.
“That’s what you say now, but things will change,” Jolene quickly responded, in hopes to diffuse the pending breakdown. “You’re a big girl, you can do this.”
“I don’t want to do this. I don’t even know what this is,” Elani snapped with tears forming in her big blue eyes. She used her sleeve to rub the salty drops from her face and nervously pushed her dark hair behind her ear.
“Girl, we gotta get a move on. We don’t have time for this. The quicker you realize what is happening here, the easier it gets. I’ve been here for twenty-two years and I ain’t got no qualms about that.”
“What?” Elani was shaking. “I can’t go home, ever? What about my mom and my brother? My brother needs me. I need to get back home.”
“Your brother is fine. Your mom is fine. They will learn to get on without you. Now get dressed and let’s be going.” Jolene was losing her patience and it was obvious she had been through this routine too many times before.
Elani’s heart plummeted in her chest as the lack of control sunk in. She retreated to silence, feeling she might pass out from terror. She had no clue what these people wanted or what new future was being laid out without her permission. It all felt too unreal to comprehend.
She finished changing her clothes and surrendered her old life in a small plastic bag to Jolene. Jolene led her through several dimly-lit corridors with four doors on each side. Each hallway reminded Elani of pictures she had seen on television of the rooms for inmates of a mental-health facility. Small windows, about three inches wide, served as the room’s only peek outside of the personal cells. Elani’s mind was racing. Was this a prison? Had she done something to get put in juvenile hall? She knew of several kids in her neighborhood who had been to juvie, but from what she remembered, the kids went to court first.
Elani was always a fairly good kid. She had never done anything that deserved this kind of punishment. She tried not to shake, and watched Jolene as she stoically continued to lead her down dirty pathways with no hint of natural light to be found.
Finally, after several minutes of walking, they reached a long hallway that was just the same as all the others they had passed. The only difference was a large L stenciled at each entrance. “This is you, girl. L17.” Jolene reached into her pocket and pulled out the biggest ring of keys Elani had ever seen. “You are locked in at all times. We can’t have you girls trying to run about, now. Just keep your head straight and do what you’re told. You got that, girl?” Jolene asked as she unlocked the door and ushered Elani into her tiny room.
“Yes ma’am,” Elani said without thinking.
“Good girl, Elani. That will do. Now meet your bunkmates: Sophie, Jada, and Isabel. They are all nice girls who like being here. You get right, like them, and you’ll be fine.” Jolene turned to the girls in the room, “This is Elani. Tell her what she needs to know.” She then turned back to Elani to confirm she understood.
Elani nodded in confused agreeance as she surveyed the room. There were two sets of metal bunk beds on each wall. The two-foot space between the beds held a single garbage can. To the right of the door was a frayed sheet thrown over a rusted metal frame, serving as a space divider. It seemed to be covering a small toilet and a sink. Elani cautiously moved further into the room and stood there in complete disarray. She was jolted to reality as she heard the heavy door close loudly behind her. Jolene was gone.
“You can have the bed over there,” said a small girl on the bottom bunk across from what was now to be her permanent bed. “I’m Sophie, I’ve been here awhile. About six months, as far as I can tell. I’m trying to keep track but wonder what the point is sometimes.”
Sophie had green eyes and blonde hair. Here hands where tiny, and fit her small frame. She was far too young to be in a place like this and Elani could tell it had aged her too quickly, just like the rest of the girls.
“Where is here?” she asked in a once-again growing panic.
“The Hub,” said the girl in the top bunk above Sophie. “I’m Jada. Been here awhile now, too; it ain’t so bad. Better than what I had before, I guess.” Jada was obviously the oldest. The one who attempted to keep the peace. She had dark brown skin and jet-black hair with beautiful big brown eyes. Her hair, like all the girls, looked matted and dirty.
“Before?” Elani asked.
“Yeah, before they brought me here. I was pretty much livin’ on the streets or from foster home to foster home. Now, I get my own bed and at least one meal a day.” Jada attempted to be reassuring but her sullen gestures gave the truth away.
“Don’t you miss home, though? This isn’t right,” Elani protested. “We shouldn’t be here. I want to go home.”
Tears forced their way down her burning red cheeks and she collapsed on her bed holding her knotted stomach and aching muscles.
“Hey now, don’t upset the other girls. I know it’s weird but you get used to it quick,” explained Jada. “It gets better, I promise. Hopefully the worst is over.”
“I don’t want it to get better. I just want to get back home. I don’t even know why I’m here.”
“You’re here to work,” chimed in a new voice she hadn’t yet heard. “I’m Isabel, and we are all here to work.” A thick Hispanic accent escaped her lips and she twisted her dark hair anxiously. Her brown eyes were bulging slightly from her head and she was far less confident than Jada when she spoke.
“To work? I’m only thirteen, why would I have to work?” Elani said through her blanket of tears.
“That’s why we’re brought here; to work,” Isabel said in a quiet and comforting voice.
Jada jumped in, “You are now a part of what you may have heard called a sweat shop. It’s a place where people are forced to work. We make things like clothes, and put together phones and stuff like that, whatever they tell us to do. We always do what they tell us to do. It’s better that way.”
“So we are here just to work, nothing else? Why would anyone do that?”
“Because it’s cheap and people are greedy. I was fifteen when they took me, and I already knew what nasty things people did for money. Or to save money. I’ve been here a year or so and I don’t mind it. This place is different than most. From what I’ve heard, we get treated pretty damn good compared to other places like this,” Jada tried to reaffirm.
“Why? Why would they treat us good? They kidnapped us and threw us in a cement box to never see our families again. How is that good, anyway?” Elani said, her eyes welling with tears again.
Listening to them talk, she was slowly realizing these kids were brainwashed. Trained to say what The Hub needed them to say, and do what they were told to do. Fear was sharp and palpable from wall to wall.
“There’s not a lot of conversation that goes on here. We all stay pretty quiet, but sometimes we hear the leaders or guards talking. From what I know, they pick people who need a place to stay and food to eat. They don’t really care if we’re happy, but want us to be content enough to stay, or . . . I guess . . . not fight staying. I don’t know how many have tried to break out, but from what I’ve heard, no one has,” Jada explained.
“So this is my life, then?” Elani wimpered.
“This is your life,” Jada said with little comfort.
With that new and shocking information, Elani rolled over into her pillow and tried to hold herself to sleep. The other girls peered over at her from their beds.
Isabel looked down at Elani from the bed above to try and offer one last round of comfort. She pulled herself back up when it became clear there was nothing she could say. Isabel had been there once, too, and the fear never really went away. The girls all lay back in their beds as the room went dark. It was lights out for the night.
Elani was frozen in the dark hoping this was some bizarre slip in reality that would be rectified come morning. Her emotional wounds dug deep under her skin making it difficult to breath. She thought that any moment she might lose consciousness, but almost welcomed it. She buried her face in the flat pillow that sat on her sagging mattress. Everything reeked of dirt, sweat, and fear. The salty tears that crawled inside her mouth served as some familiar comfort. The confusion was unbearable and shock took over. Elani fell into a sleep as her body shut down. She hoped that the morning would prove this was all but a bad dream, and nothing more.