I was walking down a suburban street. What I found is how this story begins.
The story that I have to tell started when I was on a trip, the Australian Aboriginals called it walkabout. The reasons for doing something as ridiculous as picking a random direction and just walking are too complex to put into words so I shall not. All I shall say is that, in my mind at least, I had good reason for disappearing from the face of this earth.
It was two years after this trip began when the story I have to share starts. I was walking an ordinary looking suburban street that could be anywhere in the world. Walking past houses that were ‘off the rack’ and so could be anywhere in the world. I was walking when suddenly, inexplicably; I stopped outside one particular house.
The house was exactly the same as the one to the left and the right. Big, double garage, large front doors, single story yet still four bedroomed. To an observer there was no real reason for me to be interested in this particular house, yet there I stood, my curiosity piqued.
What had made me stop was the fact that the garage door was open, about ten inches from the concrete floor. This was strange in itself on a cold morning like this. Yet, the strangest thing lay beyond the door, a pair of large feet, clad in work boots, frozen in fear.
I took another step closer. I was at an impasse. Why would a man with feet as large as those, be suddenly afraid at the sound of my approach? Yet, then again, this man, whoever he was, could be trying for ballet and didn’t want anyone to know. Stranger things have happened in the world. I know, I have seen many of them.
Suddenly, the feet took a dive towards where the button to close the door obviously lay and I was prompted into action. I dived through the gap under the door, leaving my backpack and all my worldly possessions out on the driveway where anyone could see or take them.
As I stood up inside the slightly dim room I surveyed my surroundings in absolute shock. No-one could have guessed at what lay inside that room.
The feet that I had seen earlier belonged to a heavy set man who was perhaps in his mid-thirties, to anyone he was as ordinary as you could be. He was frozen halfway between where I had seen his feet and the garage door remote looking at me in confusion. I favoured the much more disturbing sight.
Near to where the man had been standing before was a young girl. She was perhaps ten years old. But this was not what was so shocking. She was chained by the wrists and hanging from the ceiling, naked but for a gag across her mouth. She was terrified, but I could also see that this was a normal state for her. And there was worse. Bruises and cuts covered her entire body, sometimes overlapping. Her body and soul had taken a beating worse than so many others.
Suddenly the man became animated again, becoming quite fearful but covering it in false anger. “You’re trespassing on private property. Get outta here!” He took a lunge at me. Obviously trying to push me out the way I had come before I could see anything wrong.
The man was out of shape. No match for someone who had been walking for almost two years. I sidestepped him and he ran into the garage door with a thud that would have surely forced him cross-eyed.
He was dazed and no longer a threat, at least for the moment and I took the opportunity to run over to the girl in an attempt to help.
“Do you want me to get you out of here?” I asked. Making sure to keep an eye on the man that was now leaning against the inside of the garage door trying to get himself to see straight again.
Again, I could see what was going on written in her eyes. She was afraid, afraid that I might be the same as that man that had done this to her. Afraid that the hope I held out to her was in fact false and I would just take her from this hell only to force her into a new, worse one.
I saw the man lunge for me again and I stepped quickly away from her in order to make sure that the man’s wild and brutish swings would not hit the helpless girl.
The man was severely out of shape and I easily dodged each attempt at a blow. Eventually, too exhausted even to stand, he collapsed to the floor breathing heavily.
I stepped back to the girl. “Do you want me to help you?”
This time, instead of fear, I saw firm resolve in her eyes. She nodded.
There was a pair of bolt cutters on the bench nearby. I used them on the chains and we ran for our lives pausing only to grab my bag.
Soon we were clear of that terrible place and I wrapped the girl in a blanket to cover her nakedness and took the gag from the girl’s mouth.
She hardly noticed. She was too busy drinking in the sight of the sky and grass and sun. The world was beautiful to her and for the first time it occurred to me how much of a captive she really was.
I have seen many sights over the years. Some as horrible as seeing the girl chained up in that garage and some so beautiful that it has brought tougher men than me to tears. Yet, nothing, nothing in the world could possibly compare to the smile that spread across her face at the sight of these simple pleasures.
Unfortunately I had questions to ask her and so I needed to drag her from her joy, I knelt down so that we were level and waited for the girl to notice that I wanted to speak to her. Eventually she looked at me.
“My name is Michael. What’s yours?”
In her gaze I saw two things. The first being her weighing up the possible advantages of speaking to me against the equally plausible dangers. And the other was disbelief at something I had said, at what, I could not fathom.
“You don’t have to talk to me if you don’t want to.” I desperately wanted her to though. I wanted to know so much. Yet, as much as I wanted answers, she needed to know that I was safe more. “However I do want your answer for this next question okay?”
She nodded her head cautiously, worried as to what this question might be.
“Do you want me to call the police?”
She looked at me in confusion. She genuinely did not understand why I would want to call them.
“I want to call them so I can have that man arrested.”
She considered. Again I could see that she was weighing up the benefits of doing this against the costs. Eventually, after many minutes, she nodded her assent.
I took out my mobile phone. I may have abandoned my car but a phone I still needed for just such a moment. I dialled in the three numbers necessary and I was connected.
“What service please?”
The girl smiled a wry smile at my simple statement.
“Police. How can I help you?”
I relayed all the details I could of the situation to the man on the other end of the line then hung up before I was pressed for details.
Then I turned back to the child and read the new emotion that had overcome her. Acceptance of what is happening, and understanding that you are powerless to change it. An emotion that perhaps she had felt more times than ever before.
I spoke. “Don’t worry. You are in control of everything that happens. Nothing will happen without your agreement.”
I saw some of the initial joy at her newfound freedom return albeit dampened by the new worries that were creeping up on us. None-the-less, I couldn’t help but smile at the sight. In all reality, she was stepping out into a new world. A world of freedom. But first; we had to make sure that the old world was gone completely.
I stood and held out my hand to take. She did not take it. I did not think she would. But I had to offer anyway.
“Come on. Let us watch the man responsible for of all your past horrors go to a place that he justly deserves.”
We walked together, side by side, back to what had been a prison; her own private hell, for too long However long that really was.