“You’ll get forty dollars.”
She pursed her lips. “I don’t know,” she confessed. “All I was doing was looking at the paper for a job-” She shook her head, dizzy and confused. She didn’t know why she was dizzy, only that she was. It irked her. The irkness was in her mind, and it quieted her.
“Shut up. You know the paper regulates those things, don’t you?”
“Then you’re one of the few who still know about them.”
“I am one of the last,” she confessed. “That’s what they told me in fifth grade.” Her mind traveled back to the time in her real school, the real school she had before she found out about computers and what they could do. It wasn’t a good idea to talk about the aliens. How they crash-landed on earth and destroyed the dinosaurs. It was an accident, they said in the papers, long after it happened. They wanted to help fix it. Well, the wars came, and everyone knew the wars started because of the dinosaurs.
“Well?” the pimp was staring at her expectantly. “You’ll get a lot of money.”
“A lot of money,” she said. “Yeah. Forty dollars, first, then-”
“More than you have now, that’s for sure!” he said gleefully, and chuckled behind his hands.
It had always been like this. Ever since her mother had been taken away-she refused to call her mother a criminal-strange men had approached her and offered her money. She tried to go to a community college for three months, until the feds found out and took away her credit cards. She got several credit cards, and bought a small car with it-she thought she was going to get a job right away, and didn’t. She fumed at her family for forcing her to be in this situation. It was forced upon her because of the crime rate. Forced upon her, she insisted to herself. Forced upon her; it was not given to her. No, it was never that.
“Okay,” she agreed. “I’ll do it. I don’t got a choice.”
“None of us do,” he said. He led her down the street and into an alley. Shadows crisscrossed across the pavement. Pain in her feet, and the painful memory of trying to block out all those other times…the times when she was weakest. She didn’t know why, even though her daughter asked her why. She thought about her daughter in a half-bored, half-amusing, distracted way, the way a neglectful mother would think of her lonely daughter while she was fucking some dumb man.
She was alone in the enormity of herself, in the largeness, the grandness of herself. She was an overly large woman. Her daughter was an almost nearly byproduct of a rape, because the man didn’t want a fat wife-he wanted a skinny wife, he put emphasis on the word, she remembered with a sneer. She wanted a daughter and had one.
She couldn’t go that one route, what’s it called, artificial insemination, she couldn’t born her baby in a test tube because that was supposed to be a secret. She knew a lot of secrets. She understood how the world worked in her own special way-the psychologist said she was special. But, she wasn’t. She was trapped. It was in the Before-Time that Reanna thought about suicide, before she was born as a Hybrid, when she was floating in space in a test tube-that was how they made humans now, in a test tube, and put them down on a manmade planet that suited the aliens purposes, to be looked upon, and studied in such a way that was credible. She didn’t know what the aliens looked like, but they planted what they looked like in her dreams. She could feel them when they did it and she was being born in a test tube, feel it creeping on the edge of her mind.
The only thing that was outside of free will was forcing their thoughts upon hers. She thought she could feel their thoughts sometimes, in the way that their thoughts moved fluidly like water, slow and unearthly like the glowing of the lights. Sometimes, she thought about It-the thing that was more horrible than actually committing suicide, the actual thinking about it. She didn’t think of suicide in a way that she was going to actually do it, but she thought of it in the way that she actually wanted to do it but wouldn’t go through with it-she thought about the how and why and the liking of it and what other people would say about her after she passed. The darkness of suicide was always there, and the anger was there, fresh in her mind.
She didn’t approve of anger. She thought it was bothersome. She remembered once, her mother said she never got angry at anything, ever, that the anger was not how she expressed herself. It was, what they called it, the Remembering, the Time that was Before-After the Before time, and how it was sequestered in the rhythm of her life, the life that was half-lived. She had a half-lived life. She knew it now, could feel it in her bones.
The taking of one hundred pills or more, and dying in the living room, was romantic to her when she was living in the cold place underneath the floor boards in the man’s house, and the man called Todd came and fed her twice a day. She soiled herself. She was his pet; he was called a pimp, and she had been fourteen when she came To the Bad Place, and would be nineteen now. She always thought of her life with her parents as Before; this was Now.
The Days passed, longer more than ever, and everything seemed like a dream, or stepping stones on top of one another. Her face was streaked with dirt and tears; her ears were covered in crusted blood. She’d had a few ticks, and a few bruises. Her eyes were blue. She stared at them in the mirror in the bathroom in the basement.
Made faces at herself in the mirror, and squinted her eyes shut tight. She knew what the days were because they had left a computer in the basement and she turned it on and watched it hum to life, and she wrote stories and played poker and War, but she could not connect to the Internet to ask for help. The Internet would have been a great deal.
She remembered, a few years before she was kidnapped, she and her classmates had been learning how to use the computer and she was a fast typer, typed almost 50 words per minute.
It was the strength, those memories of good times that kept her alive, and everything inside her mind was shut off when the kidnappers came and made her strip for money.
They let her go outside, but someone was always with her-Ronnie or Howard or Denni, she was the worst, she was always getting guys’ phone numbers and wanting to do them and she took them down to the basement and sent her, stumbling, up the stairs to the living room-Boner was there, and Clyde. Clyde wanted some, but Boner said she was too young for the job-said the cops would come and find them, cos she was missing for a long time.
“You a missing girl?” Clyde asked her.
She nodded. “Yes,” she whispered.
“You wanna come home wit’ me?” he asked her. “You won’ be missin’ no mo.’” He chuckled, and Boner slapped him upside the head, and they glared at each other. Clyde snorted and stomped out of the room.
“Look, girl,” Boner told her. “I know you think I want some. You ain’t getting none from me. I’m in a committed relationship, okay? You safe wit’ me. I don’ need you, but you git some bones on you, gi’, you be a good one for my clients.” He smiled, as if proudly. “You be her dodder.” He nodded matter-of-fact like.
“What does she look like?” She sniffed, and wiped her hand on her nose.
“She real big,” he told her. “But, she pretty. She has red hair, kinda dirty, but not pimp dirty like Wanda.”
Reanna’s lips curled. She loathed Wanda; she was a terror.
She remembered Wanda, and how the woman didn’t know she was in a Dream Capsule. Stupid woman. Everyone knew that. How come she didn’t know it? She needed to talk to her counselor. She never did anything without talking to her counselor. Everyone was against her. She knew it. She couldn’t put her finger on it.
“I’ll take you, gi’,” he promised. “I gotta take somethin’ home to my wife-otherwise, I ain’t getin none o’ dat from her-nor you,” he added quickly, as an afterthought. She rolled her eyes. He grunted asset. “Get in, girl.” He shoved her in. the car sped away. She was tense. She settled against the seat and tried to enjoy the ride. The car stopped. He pushed her out and the car sped away. She watched it go and went inside the tall, nondescript building. It was a pale brown. The windows looked dirty. Everything about the place was old, drab, dirty.
“Are you Reanna Chanceitt?” the counselor woman asked.
“Yes,” she managed to whisper.
“We’ve been looking for you,” she replied.
She promptly burst into tears.
“Who was looking for me?” she asked a few minutes later. She wiped her hands on her jeans. They were dirty. Most girls didn’t wear jeans anymore, they wore the plaid dresses that were authorized by government officials-the aliens, she was told.
The woman looked surprised. “Why, your parents, of course!” she replied.
She blinked. She didn’t know what to say. No one was allowed to say parents. “What do you mean?”
She looked away, a little embarrassed. “You know. Parents. You look like you don’t know what I’m talkin about. Like it wasn’t implanted in your brain like all dem odders.” Reanna was amused. She didn’t know counselors talked in that way-most Foreigners spoke eloquently.
“I don’t. We’re not supposed to talk about that.”
“Oh, yeah, well,” she fumbled. “They changed the rules, now. We got some bad peoples coming in, the Pope had to act fast.” The pope was big and had a big chin.
She frowned. “Who’s in charge around here?” she asked. “I thought it was the Mayor, now, after the little problem at the post office.”
She nodded. “Yeah, the scientists are trying to bring the dead guys back to life-as zombies.” She shook her head and tsked. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. The good lord’ll fix it, I’m sure.”
“Yeah, sure you’re sure. You were sure three thousand years ago, weren’t you, during the Civil War.”
The counselor was shocked. “You’re not supposed to talk about that!” she said in a hushed voice. “We’re not supposed to mention War-the aliens are listenin’ now, what if they do th’ hangin’?”
The girl looked down at the floor. “I forgot.”
“I figured as much. We’re going to have to fix you, girl.” She nodded her head. “We’ll take care of it, right away.” Her eyes looked distant, sad, as if she were staring at some great distance, far away. She sniffed. Reanna sniffed, too. It was going to be a long day.
The paperwork was filled out, and then the parents came and took her away-to the Dream Time, the reality that was more based on reality than actual reality, based more on a calming realization of fictional thoughts being pressed against hers. She was being brainwashed, it was certain.