A TOUCH OF DAWN Excerpt on Eat Sleep Write

*This originally posted here, but I will post it below as well.

A Touch of Dawn - Excerpt by Erica Sutherhome

October 10, 2013

               “Miss Johnson?” a man called from above.
            Frightened, she recoiled away, trying to catch her breath.  She heard steps coming towards her.  She knew what to do.  She knew that she had to treat this situation like anything else she’d had to endure.  She had to accept it distantly.  If she didn’t allow herself to feel it, it wouldn’t matter.  Her body might feel it, but nothing else.  She didn’t have to think about it.  Not until she was alone.  And if she separated herself from it, she couldn’t go crazy.
            “Miss Johnson?”
            His voice was gentle, but she knew better.  Her captors had used that tactic before.
            A hand touched her shoulder.  “Caitlyn?”
            She flinched, but her mind flashed on a memory.  Her sixteenth birthday when her parents had given her a gold necklace in the shape of a C.  C for Caitlyn.  Her life came back in short flashes.  Her high school graduation, that sorority she’d been a part of briefly in college, the office job she’d had as a reporter later on.  Her dream of making the front page, of seeing her name in print in a meaningful way. 
But, what about the rest of her life?  She couldn’t remember.  She felt empty, removed from that person.  She shook with the uncertainty of it. 
            “Caitlyn?” he asked again.  “It’s all right.  You can trust me.  I’m with the police.  My name is Jack.”
            “Jack?” She hadn’t realized she’d spoken aloud until his hand patted her gently.  She hadn’t realized she could form a sentence until now.  Her silence had been her weapon against those men.  Of course, that didn’t keep her from screaming or crying.
            “That’s right.  Jack Thomas.  But, we don’t need formalities, right?”
            She shook her head.  Then, she looked up to see his face and she was blinded again.  She cried out and scrambled away.
            “Caitlyn, what is it?  You’re safe now.  I promise.  It’s over.  Those men that took you?  They’re dead.  You can go home now.”
            Home.  It was a foreign word.  She couldn’t really remember her home or her family.  She just had a few memories, that was all.  She shivered.  Did they still want her after all that had happened?  How could they?  She was overused, a piece of trash to throw away.
            “Is that what you want, Caitlyn?  Do you want to go home?”
            “I want to leave,” she replied.  Back against the dark corner, she could open her eyes easily and see his shadowed figure. 
            “I can help you get out of here.  Would that be all right?”
            “Yes.”  Then she remembered the light.  “But, I can’t leave.”
            “Why not?  What is it?”
            She swallowed hard.  “I can’t,” she whispered. 
            “Just talk to me, Caitlyn.  Explain it to me.”
            She heard movement in the room above, as if the other men, the police, were shifting and restless.  She sighed.  “The light hurts my eyes.”  She heard an exhale.  He sounded relieved for some reason.
            “It’s all right.  I understand.  We can take care of that.”  His gaze moved over her body, and she had no idea why that should make her feel warm.  He cleared his throat, then turned away.  “Can we get some blankets down here?”
            Eventually, several blankets were handed down.  Then he stepped close to her, blocking out the light.  “I have to touch you to get you out of here, Caitlyn, but I won’t do it without your permission.  Will you let me?”
            She had been touched and violated enough to make her afraid of people for the rest of her natural life.  But, somehow, she knew she could trust him.  He was here to take her home.  He wouldn’t take advantage of her.  “Okay.”
            He wrapped the blankets around her from head to toe and then lifted her against his chest.  He handed her up through the cellar door.  She couldn’t see the light through the blanket, and she was grateful for that.  When she was set down and all she could hear was movement, she felt the old panic return.  “Jack?  Jack!”
            “It’s all right.  I’m here.  I’m going to take you to the hospital first.  You’ll have to be treated.  And then you can go home.  One step at a time, okay?”
            She forced a tight nod.  “Okay.”
            Instead of driving her, he held her close in his lap in the back of a vehicle on the way to the hospital.  The firm, but gentle grasp of his arms calmed her.
            At the hospital, her exam was invasive but the nurses were kind enough to provide a mask to cover her eyes because she just couldn’t stand the light.  And one nurse held her hand, whispering words of comfort, as the doctor pressed around her belly and checked for other bruises on her body. 
Then there was the examination that was below the waist.  She heard some kind of reassurance in the doctor’s tone, but it did not help the invasion.  Nothing could have kept the tears from coming then, it was so humiliating.  Finally, blood tests were run and an x-ray was done to be sure they hadn’t missed anything.
            She shuddered afterwards and another nurse led her into a shower stall, where she was allowed to bathe.  She could hardly bear her own touch, let alone a stranger’s hands.  The tears and humiliation came again.  This time, though, there was compassion to accompany her pain.

            Jack sat in a plastic chair out in the hallway.  He pulled on the ends of his hair and covered his face, sighing.  He had already received the news from the doctor, and it was just what he’d expected.  But, it never got easy, hearing it.  It was still as fresh as his first case.  According to the doctor, she had been raped far too many times to count and they had to stitch her where her soft, feminine skin was torn.  He shuddered with that reality.  She wasn’t pregnant or disease-ridden, and that was a wonder.  But, sometimes in these situations, the human body could fight an invasion on that level.
            They had given her antibiotics, some pain medicine, extra vitamins for strength and some sleeping pills, but nothing more.  Guess there wasn’t a cure-for-all for the worse trauma imaginable. 
The one thing he had found unbearable, though, was her tears.  He had heard her crying hysterically in the room several times.  It wasn’t the result of what had happened to her, though in a way it was the reason for it.  Her circumstances hadn’t hit her fully yet.  No, it was the shame of feeling human touch, however kind it was, a humiliation she could not bear for a long time.  He knew this from experience.  Touch was equated with an invasion, with terrible cruelty, a reminder of that worthlessness, and until she saw otherwise, it was going to be rough for her.
            The door opened and he got to his feet, suspecting it was one of the staff.  Maybe he could wring more news from them.  Sometimes he felt so powerless as a consultant. 
But, Caitlyn came out then, the nurse behind her, and he saw her clearly for the first time.  Caitlyn’s hair was still damp from the shower and the hospital had lent her a pair of blue scrubs, a robe and some house slippers.  He sucked in a breath. 
She was striking with pale skin, large, luminous brown eyes and straight brown hair.  She had dark circles under her eyes, but that was to be expected.  It was her that he couldn’t get over.  He wasn’t supposed to notice it, but she was beautiful.  It was a damn shame that her innocence had been taken so swiftly.  Even as an adult, a person could be so violated that they were never the same again.
            Curiosity was in her eyes as she stared at him.  “Are you Jack?”
            He nodded.  For one, he still wore the uniform he wore on rescues to make people more comfortable.  “Sorry you couldn’t see me clearly until now.”
            She shook her head.  “It could not be helped.”  Her eyes closed and she lifted a hand to her temple.
            “The lights again?”
            “They’re worse inside the hospital than out.  Once we get in the car, you’ll feel better.  I mean, if you want me to take you home.  I could just as easily have a uniform take you.”
            She shrugged.  “The current arrangement is fine.”
            Jack slowly made his way over to her, then drew her to his side until her face was pressed against him.  “I can get you out now, if you’re ready.”
            “Yes.  Thank you,” came her small voice.  He heard pain and weariness there, which made his throat tighten.
            A doctor saw him and headed in his direction.  Jack waved him off.  “Please.  I’ll take care of everything later.”
            With a nod and a grim look, the doctor turned away.
            He tightened his arm around Caitlyn’s back and led her down the hall to the emergency doors.  “Easy,” he said as she tried to navigate the steps without her vision.
            “It’s strange, this.  I haven’t walked around much for awhile.  I mean, I did a little in that cellar.  But, not much.”
            A long breath came out of him.  “Did they feed you?”
            She shrugged.  “Some.  Not much.”
            “You’ve lost weight then.”
            “I don’t know.  I…”  She shuddered.  “I’m not sure I want to look in a mirror right now.”
            “I’ll be your mirror, if you like.”
            She laughed a little. “Do I look as terrible as I feel?”
            “No, Sweetheart. Other than the fact that you’re obviously tired and you’ve been through something awful, you look okay.  You were patched up down there, I assume.  But, from what I can tell, most of the scars are on the inside.”
            She pressed her face into his jacket and he wondered if she was trying to stifle the urge to cry.
            He spotted his car, then led her straight out to it.  He urged her into the vehicle, then closed the door behind her.  He got into the driver’s side, reached over and clicked her seatbelt into place.  He did the same for himself.  Then he shut his door and turned the car on.  He waited until they’d left the parking lot before he spoke. “Okay. I think you can open your eyes now.”

            Caitlyn could see the town a little in the darkness. There were streetlights here and there, but they didn’t hurt her.  It was so odd to see things now.  It was pretty routine what he was doing, she could tell that clearly enough. But, it meant more than she knew how to express.  He had taken her out of that dark place. He had removed her from the situation.  Now, she would have to deal with life again. 
            Oh, God.  The idea of it was so daunting.  Life.  Real life.  Not being in a cellar, kept for someone’s needs. Doing something for herself instead. How was she supposed to do that?
            “Where are we going?” she asked Jack.
            He seemed to hesitate.  “Your apartment was vacated long ago.  Supposedly, the landlord would not cooperate.  I thought of taking you to your mother’s.  Is that all right?  We could get you a hotel room instead, if you’d prefer that.  If it would make you feel better, I could have an officer placed outside the door for security.”
            She shuddered.  There was one thing she knew instinctively.  She should not be left to her own devices.  After what she’d been through, her grip on herself was tenuous.  She had struggled to stay sane in the cellar.  But, if she had the opportunity, she might try to kill herself.  Part of her wanted the release from life.  And part of her was terrified of dying.  “I should probably go home.”  Home.  Wasn’t that a strange word?

posted by Adam Scull