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Caged

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Hazy. Foggy. Dark. You felt your body begin to regain consciousness and control behind your closed eyes. Awash with a wooziness and unease, you tried hard to recall what had happened before now. Where am I? Where’s Jackson? Am I still asleep? Am I dreaming?

A throbbing pain in your skull took you out of your own head temporarily. What happened before now? You tried to remember the last words you heard. “Lord,” you recalled, “give me the strength to do that which you ask…”

The strength to do what?

You moved your hand to caress the back of your head, still warm and throbbing with pain, but were met by resistance and the rattling of chains. You opened your eyes and turned your head, weak and disoriented, to look at your right wrist. Your arm was outstretched, both of them were; your wrist wrapped in a brown leather strap chained to the cage bars. Pulling did nothing. Tugging did nothing. You mad a fist and pulled downward, to break the leather or allow your hand to slip free. Nothing.

Without looking forward, you felt another presence close by. Light breathing. Subtle movements. The unmistakable knot that forms in the pit of your stomach when you feel someone’s stare.

You squeezed your eyes shut to attempt to blot out the aches and pains that crept over you. Turning your head slowly to your front, you allowed your eyelids to part open. Directly in front of the cage, sitting on the floor, was Jackson. Next to him was a bag of frozen peas, its plastic packaging coated in beads of condensation. The back of your head and neck were warm with the rushing and throbbing of blood, but cool and damp as the sensation of soothing ice tapered away.

A toothpick sat in the corner of his mouth, making jerky movements as he maneuvered it with his tongue. His eyes and hands were occupied, holding what you recognized as your cell phone. He bumbled through your pictures, your apps, your social media, all with furrowed, disapproving brows.

In your gut you felt the urge to scream. To scream at the top of your lungs for help. But you remembered now the isolation of the home; the distance of it from anything or anyone. What was then an alluring quirk to a home was now part of your own undoing. More than even that, more than the uselessness of wasting your breath on a scream, you were keen to avoid endangering yourself.

Just behind Jackson, propped upright against the wall, was a long, glossy shotgun. You remembered it as the one from his bedroom, the same one you couldn’t discern as real or fake. Your heart jumped at the sight of it, and your mind was thrown back in time, to the metal cracking you’d heard right before blacking out. Drawn again to the throbbing pain in your head, you let out a whimper of pain. You moved your arms as best you could, limited in their mobility, to relieve some of the numbness in your fingertips. You did the same for your legs, tucked underneath you as you sat on them in a kneeling position. You sat yourself up on your knees, as high as you could before your head hit against the top of the cage. At the sound of your awakened maneuvering, Jackson took his eyes from your phone and looked at you. At the very least, he hadn’t removed any of your clothes.

“You’re finally awake, I see. Good. We got some things t’ talk about.”

You glare at him blankly and say nothing. You see the corner of his mouth turn upwards, as if to mark the beginnings of a smirk, but his mouth turns back downward once he looks back down at your phone.

“How many ‘f the deadly sins ‘r you familiar with?”

Jackson looks up at you expectantly for an answer, but you say nothing. Blowing a huff of air out of his nose, he continues to speak.

“You don’t wanna talk. That’s alright. You ain’t gotta talk right now.”

With your phone in his hand, he turned the screen toward you. Using his finger on his other hand, he flipped through the pictures in your gallery. Selfies. Pictures with friends. Bar nights out. Food. Drinks. You. Friends. You. You. You. Friends. Drinks. You.

“You know,” he said, his finger still flipping from one picture to the next, “It actually took me a little while t’ get the hang of this thing. All things considered, I ain’t really been around phones like these before. I think I got it now, though.”

He turned your phone back towards himself, continuing to peruse its contents.

“You ever heard of 'em at least, darlin’?”

Jackson again awaits an answer, but you don’t speak. He licks his teeth and clears his throat.

“I’m sure you have. And I gotta say, I’m seein’ quite a lot of ‘em in this phone. Pride. Gluttony. Lust. But I found out about the lust thing the first day we met, didn’t I?”

“Go to hell.”

Just as soon as the words left your mouth, you began to regret them. You didn’t know why you were here, what your purpose was, or what Jackson’s plans were. Defiance could leave you dead like a caged animal.

Jackson laughed, running his hand over his beard to stroke down a few stray hairs. He licked his lips and glanced toward his shotgun on the wall. Your throat tightened, as did the rest of your body as you straightened your back. He turned his head to meet your gaze, and you met his as confidently as you could. He reached his arm behind himself, his hands wrapping around his shotgun. He adjusted it against his shoulder, then snuck the barrel between the cage bars. The cool, black barrel knocked against your forehead and pressed into your skull. Jackson yanked on the gun, releasing the loud click of its pump, and sending a jolt through you. Your palms were wet with sweat, as were your underarms. The numbness in your hands and legs was replaced by a nervous shaking, an electric tingle. Jackson’s finger hovered over the trigger and you closed your eyes, your throat sore and constricted as you fought the urge to cry. No matter how hard you fought, the tears fell anyway, falling from your shut eyes, running down your cheek toward your quivering lips. A few whimpers escaped your mouth the longer you felt the barrel and waited, anxiously, for the inevitability of your own death. You let your head tilt backward as the shotgun barrel forward, forward…

The pressure on your neck and forehead releases as the shotgun barrel recedes backward, toward Jackson. You hear a clatter and open your eyes to the sight of the shotgun returned to its position against the wall, and shift your eyes to see Jackson, staring at you.

“You’re really scared I’m gonna kill you down here, ain’t you, sweetheart?”

A shuddering breath escaped from your parted lips, but Jackson’s eyes never left your face. He waited several seconds for an answer, then spoke again.

“I think you been quiet for long enough now. Speak up. We should talk.”

You swallowed hard, your own saliva struggling to find its way down your tightened throat. You shifted in the cage, the numbness in your limbs beginning to return.

“Why are you doing this?”

Your voice was still shaky and strained, and Jackson’s head tipped to the side as you spoke. In his eyes, you saw some semblance of compassion. A sympathy, you thought; the kind of kind stare a friend gives when they listen to you vent your frustrations, and want you to know they’re there. To comfort you. To ease your pain.

Jackson shifted the toothpick in his mouth with his tongue, the removed it, twirling it between his fingers.

“Sweetheart, I want you t’ know somethin’. Honestly. From the bottom of my heart. I don’t wanna hurt you. And I sure don’t wanna kill you. Not at all.”

“Then why, Jackson?”

He seemed visibly shaken from hearing his own first name from your lips. But in the emotion, and the fear, you couldn’t bring yourself to care about formalities. How much of what you’d seen and heard was real? How much was fake? Who was Jackson Pritchard, really?

Jackson bit at the inside of his cheek for what seemed like a long while. He replaced his toothpick in his mouth, and scooted closer toward the cage. His side was facing you, his face turned toward the wall, his body leaning against the cage bars. He gripped one of the bars and peered into the cage to look at you.

“You ever hear God speak to you? Directly? Like hear his voice an’ everything?”

You shook your head.

“Well, I did. I really did, darlin’. He told me I have to help you. That I gotta save you. Cleanse you of your sins.”

“I don’t want it. I don’t need it. I wanna go. I wanna leave.”

Another well of tears builds and falls from your eyes, but you let them fall without succumbing fully to your sobs. You swallow down a lump in your throat inhale sharply to prevent a runny nose, and meet Jackson’s gaze directly. You watch as his hand slips between the cage bars, closer and closer to your face until you feel his arm palm caress your chin and cheek. He wipes away some of your tears with his thumb, and continues to stroke your tear stained cheek.

“Why’re you cryin’, angel? Tell me what’s wrong. You c’n talk to me.”

You squeezed your eyes shut to allow a few remaining tears to fall. Some collected on and dripped down Jackson’s hand, while some others ran down your chin and neck. You balled up your hands in fists, both to combat their numbness and contain a new growing anger.

“What’s wrong? You want me to tell you what’s wrong? What’s wrong is I’m scared to fucking death, Jackson!”

Your words were loud and scathing, and sent Jackson’s hand away from your face and out of the cage. His recoil gave you the confidence to go further.

“I’m locked in a fucking cage in a basement in the middle of fucking nowhere, with a delusional farmer who wants to play nice after knocking me out and putting a shotgun to my head, that’s what’s fucking wrong with me.”

As the last words left your mouth, Jackson’s head tilted down towards the floor. After chewing his toothpick several more times, he took it from his mouth and placed it on top of the cage. Placing each hand on a separate cage bar, he leaned his head forward. He was now facing you directly, his all black pajamas beginning blending with the dark air of the basement with each flicker of the lightbulb that hung from the ceiling.

“And thou shalt be secure, because there is hope; yea, thou shalt dig about thee, and thou shalt take thy rest in safety. Also thou shalt lie down, and none shall make thee afraid; yea, many shall make suit unto thee. Job. 11:18. D’you know what that means?”

You sat still. Motionless.

“You’re safe here ‘cause there’s hope. There’s hope f’r you. You c’n rest easy ‘cause you’re safe. You won’t lose your life here. I don’t want that. You don’t want that. Right?”

You looked at the floor to avoid his gaze, but Jackson reached his hand inside to pick up your chin, forcing you to make eye contact with him.

“There’s no one here to make you afraid. I’m not here t’ scare you. I’m here t’ help you. An’ give you hope. ‘Cause that’s what God wants outta me. I’m just tryin’ t’ do my best t’ listen.”

You turned your chin away from his hand and grimaced. Rather than yelling, for voice remained low and steady.

“You’re a psycho. You’re a fucking freak.”

Jackson’s hand stroked your face, then cupped your jaw. You felt his fingers squeeze against the bone of his jawline as he pulled your head forward. Your faces were inches apart, and each time you pulled back, Jackson pulled forward.

“I want you t’ listen t’ what I’m about t’ say. An’ I want you t’ listen close. I don’t wanna kill you. I don’t even wanna hurt you. But I take my relationship with God very seriously. I live t’ serve. So believe me when I say that no matter how much I don’t wanna hurt you, I will do what I have to t’ teach you. T’ get you t’ listen. D’you understand?”

After hearing nothing back but silence, Jackson shakes your head and tightens his grip on you jaw.

“D’you understand me, girl?”

“I don’t wanna learn. I don’t wanna be here. I don’t wanna listen to you. I just wanna leave.”

“Unfortunately, darlin’,” Jackson said, reaching down toward his belt, “You ain’t really got no choice but t’ learn.”

From his pocket, he pulled out a set of keys. After studying them for several seconds, you recognized them as your own. Jackson dangled them from his finger in front of the cage.

“’Cause you ain’t really got a place t’ go, d’you?”

You grind your teeth and stare at your own car keys with your puffy, reddened eyes. With the oncome of a sudden realization, you crack a smirk.

“Mrs. Bea knows I’m here. I told her where I was going. She gave me her number. She expects me to call.”

Jackson nodded, shoving your keys back into his pocket as they jingled, muffled, against his thigh.

“That’s alright. God’ll see me through that problem when it comes.”

You were taken back by his apathy toward the knowledge that someone knew you were here. Someone who could grow suspicious if they didn’t hear from you, and he brushed it off like you hadn’t said anything. You watched as his arm outstretched toward the top of the cage. He pulled down a bible, the bookmarked one that you’d seen earlier, and began to flip through the pages. Pen marks and highlighter streaks littered many of the pages that you could see, including the one on which Jackson stopped. He began to read aloud.

“First Corinthians. Chapter six. Verse twelve. ‘All things are lawful unto me…”

The sound of his voice sent a range and bubbling in your stomach. If you were going to sit here and rot, you thought, you could at least do so without being forced to listen to word, after word, after word of a book that led someone to do something like this.

“Shut up.”

Jackson’s lip turned upward, baring his teeth, but he continued. Your hands again tightened into fists as you found your voice. Louder, crueler, more accusatory.

“…But all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me…”

“Stop talking, Jackson.”

“But I will not be brought under the power of any—"

“Shut your fucking—!“

Jackson’s hand wrapped around your throat before the last word even left your mouth completely. His grip was tight enough to constrict your airway as he yanked his arm forward and sharply back, sending the back of your head on a collision course with the back of the cage. A shriek of pain filled the room as shockwaves of pain cascaded from your head and down your back. Jackson loosened his grip on your neck only enough to allow you to breathe.

“I told you city girl,” he started, his voice much rougher than it had been before now, “I ain’t got no interest in hurting you just to hurt you. But I ain’t gonna tolerate disrespect. I c’n see what you really are. Who you really are. An’ it’s my job t’ fix that.”

Huffs of warm air left your nose as he spoke, but you opted not to respond.

“An’ while we’re talkin’ about respect, I think you oughta go back t’ callin’ me Mr. Pritchard from now on.”

Jackson’s hand slid up from your neck to grip around your jaw.

“Now,” he said, with a slight smile, “Are you gonna be a good girl an’ behave f’r me? You gonna sit an’ listen?”

You close your eyes and sigh. You were tired. In pain. Numb. You didn’t have the energy to fight. Or argue.

You nodded.

“Yes. Yes, I’ll listen.”

“Yes who?”

You lip quivered and you sighed. A tear fell down your cheek as you relented the last of the fight you had left in you.

“Yes, Mr. Pritchard.”

Jackson allowed your tears to collect on his thumb before he wiped them away. He brought his thumb up to your forehead and drew a cross, beginning with a long stroke down from the top of your forehead to the bridge of your nose, then crossing a second, shorter line through it. He let his thumb rest in the center of the cross and closed his eyes.

“Lord,” he began, in a voice reminiscent of the one he took on when saying grace, “May you take this child of God into your flock when she’s ready.”

When he let go of your head, you allowed your head to fall back and rest against the back of the cage. Your eyes remained partially open, but exhaustion hung heavily on your eyelids.

He started over.

“First Corinthians. Chapter six. Verse twelve…”

The words seem to echo in your ear as you hear them all again. All things are lawful… not expedient… brought under the power of any…

You lost track of time as Jackson continued to speak. You couldn’t tell if seconds, minutes, or hours had passed. Steadily he continued to read scriptures allowed, commenting now and again on their meaning. Each time your body started to become limp with the onset of sleep, he reached his hand into the cage to reposition hour head directly forward, to ensure you were looking and listening to him.

“Amos. Chapter eight. Verse 11. ‘Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD’…”

Again.

“Galatians. Chapter five. Verse thirteen. ‘For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love, serve one another’…”

And again.

“Ecclesiasties. Chapter twelve. Verse thirteen. ‘Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man’…”

Verse after first, pause after pause to adjust your tired head, your ears only filtering the sound of his voice, until he stopped. You’d become so accustomed now to the sound of him speaking that you lifted your head to look at him as he closed the bible, setting it back on top of the cage.

“I think that’s enough for t’night, darlin’. I know this is hard f’r you. A lot of things are happenin’ t’ you right now that you don’t quite understand yet. But that’s alright.”

Jackson stood and turned back toward the stairs and the basement door, beginning to walk away.

“You should try an’ get some sleep, darlin’,” he called back. “You’ve had a long day.”

Leaving you with those parting words, Jackson’s feet trudged up the stairs and out of the basement door, the door swinging and clicking shut behind him, followed by the clicks of the locks on the other side.

You tried to adjust your feet beneath you in a more comfortable position. Leaning left. Leaning right. Directly beneath you. You settled on sitting cross legged, and shook your arms again in their chains to keep them from falling asleep. You leaned your head back and closed your eyes, recounting your day. Your week. Everything prior to this. You remembered home. Your family. Your friends. You remembered your first meeting with Mrs. Bea. Her glowing review of Jackson. Jackson’s levelheaded demeanor when you first met him. His innocent parting gift. Were you being naïve this entire time? Were you foolish? Or would anyone have made these same mistakes?

Thinking back a second time to Mrs. Bea’s glowing review, you were convinced Jackson had everyone in town fooled. A hollowness grew in your chest. If everyone loved Jackson, how long would it take someone to check in on him? On you? Hours? Days? Months?

Too exhausted to continue thinking, you kept your eyes shut and tried to doze off. It took several long minutes. Perhaps half an hour. But in time, your mind relented to the oncome of sleep, and allowed your aching bones to rest.

***

The following morning had been nothing short of disaster. Hours of rest had given you the strength of will to challenge Jackson, and from your current entrapment back in your cage, you knew it was wholly unsuccessful.

He’d come down to check on you that morning, and you’d told him how badly you needed to pee. You promised not to run. You lied.

You followed his lead up the basement stairs and into the downstairs bathroom after he unchained you. “It’ll be good f’r you t’ move around,” he’d said. “I know your limbs must be awful tired.”

You did your business and washed your hands. You could’ve left it at that. You didn’t.

When he opened the door, you bolted past him, shoving the door in his face and hightailing it toward the front door. But your wobbly, weakened legs were met with his extended boot, and you tripped, just in the hallway, the front door just barely in view.

He bent down to grab you and drag you back toward the basement. You fought him. You thrashed and kicked and screamed and cried,

But he was strong. So strong. Too strong for you to break free. Your heart fell into the stomach as the front door and the natural light of the kitchen faded, more and more, as you were drug down the stairs and forced back into your cage. You even tried to fight the chains. To kick open the cage door. Nothing worked. Here you sat, now, back at square one.

Faint clangs, rattles, and sizzles emanated from the kitchen. You couldn’t smell anything, but figured he was cooking breakfast. You weren’t sure of the time, nor sure if breakfast was for only Jackson, or for the two of you. You simply sat and listened, anxious for the next opening of the basement door.

A while passed before anything more transpired. But then, as the noise in the kitchen drew to a close, and stayed quiet for some time, you heard the distinctly familiar clicks of the locks on the basement door, followed by a growing beam of light from the kitchen above. Jackson closed the door behind himself as he descended the steps, a plate and a cup in his hands. He took a sitting position in front of the cage, setting the cup and plate down beside him as he readied the fork in his hands. Sausage. Bacon. Eggs. Hashbrowns. Toast. The cup opaque, but peering into the top you could see something orange, which you could only assume was orange juice. Jackson tore off a piece of sausage with the fork, piercing it with the prongs before offering the fork to your mouth.

“Go ahead an’ eat. It’s been a while.”

You turned your head away from the fork, but a growl from your stomach betrayed your defiance.

“You’re hungry, sweetheart. Eat.”

Jackson tried to reposition the fork in front of your mouth, but you snapped your head in the other direction.

Jackson sighed, putting the sausage back on the plate and instead picking up the cup of orange juice. He offered it.

“At least drink somethin’. You c’n go on a hunger strike, if you really wanna do all that, but I won’t have you dyin’ of dehydration down here.”

“Maybe I just wanna rot.”

Jackson pushed the cup closer toward your lips.

“Drink. Please.”

Your lips parted slightly, and Jackson tipped the cup into your mouth. Despite how much you wanted to defy him, you couldn’t deny how refreshing it was to finally have something to drink again. You took a few giant gulps, and allowed a final bit of orange juice pool into your mouth before your turned your head away.

“See? That wasn’t so bad, was it?”

The orange juice in your mouth swirled from cheek to cheek as you positioned your tongue in your mouth. With a quick inhale, you jolted forward and spat it in Jackson’s face, leaving only a few drops to dribble from your lip.

Jackson sat silently, with his eyes closed for a moment, before he brought his hand to his face to wipe away the juice. He took off his shirt, a long sleeved green button up, and used it to wipe his face. He was left in only a gray tank top and brown pants, both of which were stained with set spots of orange juice. Jackson cleared his throat and put on a smile, however fake it may have been.

“That’s alright. You’re upset. That’s okay.”

He reached again toward the plate, and this time, offered a piece of bacon. The strip was hot and crisp, just barely touching your lips. You were tempted to take a bite, but just as tempted attempted to continue your tirade of defiance.

You bore your teeth and snapped out toward Jackson’s hand, taking the strip of bacon, and a couple of his fingers with it. He grunted in pain, and pried your head backward. You dug your teeth in deeper, ushering further grunts of pain from Jackson, as he squeezed your jaw with his free hand. With the pressure in your jaw growing too great to bear as his fingernails crowded in toward your gums and teeth, you released your bite. Jackson recoiled his bitten hand but used his other hand to continue grabbing your jaw as he spoke, seething, through his teeth.

“D’you really think after growin’ up with animals all my life, I don’t know how t’ make a wild one behave?”

“Fuck you.”

Jackson knocked your head back against the cage, and you winced in pain. The pain wasn’t as intense as it had been last night, but the snapping motions still made your head throb.

“Listen,” he said, lifting your chin, “I’ll give you one more chance. One more. I want you t’ eat somethin’. But if you pull somethin’ like that again, you can sit here and wait ‘til dinner. D’you understand me?”

No words came out of your mouth. You listened to the gurgling and churning of your empty stomach, your appetite whet with the strip of bacon you’d opted to chew and swallow down. Jackson picked up some hashbrowns with his fork and offered them to you, and you reluctantly took them, with hunger finally triumphing over pride. And so happened over and over, bite after bite, until the plate was clean and the cup was empty. He set the cup and plate aside and stared at you, and you stared back, until he broke the silence.

“I know you’re mad at me. Very mad. But I told y’ before. I don’t get any pleasure outta this. I’m a servant of God. I do what I’m told. I hope you understand that someday.”

Jackson shifted into a cross legged position and grabbed the bible atop the cage, setting it in his lap.

“An’ I hope you forgive me.”

With those final words, Jackson began another influx of bible scriptures. Quotes, verses, chapters, miniature explanations. “Today we c’n focus on Romans,” he’d said. “It’s got a lotta stuff I think we c’n learn from today.

And so it began again.

“Romans. Chapter six, Verse eighteen. ‘Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness’…”

And again.

“Romans, Chapter six. Verses twenty-two to twenty-three. ‘But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death’…”

Your body tensed at the prospect of dying down here.

“…but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

And again.

“Romans. Chapter eight. Verse twenty-one. ‘Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God’…”

Over.

“You see, darlin’, sin does nothing but hold us back from true enlightenment…”

And over.

“You have t’ see the chains your sins have shackled you in before you c’n break ‘em…”

Again.

“Corruption gets you nowhere. Sin gets you nowhere. Lust gets you nowhere. But God…”

Until Jackson paused his sermon full stop. He looked at you, your tired, defeated face, you slumped body, and closed his bible. He put it back on the top of the cage and scratched his beard before reaching for his belt, where your car keys hung flush against his thigh. He unclipped them, then unclipped a second set of keys.

He grabbed your wrist and, with the second set of keys, began to unlock one hand. Then the other. You looked on, anxious and horrified at what he was doing. What he planned to do with you.

With a different key, he unlocked the cage door and swung it open. He grabbed your hand, turned it palm side up, and dropped your keys in the middle of your hand before curling your hand shut.

“You wanna leave?” he said, shuffling aside. “Then leave.”

You stood stock still for a while before beginning to crawl from the cage. Jackson made no move to stop you. In fact, the farther out you crawled, the farther aside he moved, giving you space to maneuver. You stood to your feet, with your keys in hand, and looked down at Jackson.

“Go’n. I ain’t gonna stop you.”

With an instantaneous burst of speed, you turned away from Jackson and bolted up the stairs. “Be careful, now” is all you could hear being called up from the basement as you ran, pushing the basement door aside and running for the front door.

The knob gave way, the front door completely unlocked as you stepped out onto the porch. The sun was nearly blinding now, having eluded you for nearly 24 hours now.

You started to run down the porch steps, but felt your leg caught by a line of wire, quickly followed by a sharp pain in the back of your right calf. You shrieked in pain as you tripped, fell, and tumbled down the stairs and onto the dirt. You examined your leg, and could see an arrow shallowly embedded beneath your skin. Your face contorted in pain as you broke off both ends, and on a first attempt to pull the arrow out, you quickly realized it was too painful to move. Frantically, you looked up toward the front door for any sign of Jackson, but saw him nowhere. You tried a second time, and a third, but both attempt were met with shaky hands and a searing pain that you couldn’t move past as the blood streamed down your leg.

You stood, hobbling now on one foot, and noticed your car was no longer at the front of the house where you’d left it. Your lip quivered in an instinctual urge to cry from frustration, but channeled your energy into dragging yourself toward the back of the house, where you’d seen Jackson’s truck, to look for your car.

It took hours, it felt, to get anywhere on that one leg. You hopped without placing it on the ground. You dragged it behind you. You placed only a gentle amount of pressure on the ball of your foot. You tried a multitude of ways to maneuver, switching between them all to manage your pain, all without seeing or hearing any sign of Jackson. Finally, at the back of the house, your car came into view, parked with the front of it facing yourself, at the back of the house. You pulled out your keys and pressed a button to unlock it, then hobbled until you reached the front door. You struggled to sit in the car without aggravating your wound, but managed, slamming the door shut and turning the key.

You drew in several breaths before turning the key. If you knew anything, you knew how good chances were that it was dead. You turned the key.

You practically cried with relief when the engine hummed, but quickly pressed your foot on the gas, hell bent on getting the fuck out of there, and asking someone, anyone, for help. You looked back a final time toward the porch and still saw nothing, and no one, but never looked back. Your car barreled down the road, but not quick enough. You wished it could go 80, 100, 200 miles per hour to get away from Jackson, to get away from that house, and to finally get somewhere safe. But as the thoughts crossed your mind, you realized your car was beginning to slow. Sixty, fifty, to forty miles per hour as the scenery around you slowed from blurry figurines to clear cut images again.

A flicker of orange caught your eye and your heart began to break.

“FUEL LOW.”

You glanced at the fuel gauge.

E.

A panicked attempt to press your foot harder on the gas did nothing as the car struggled more. Thirty. Twenty.

You stomped your foot against the gas pedal repeatedly as the car slowed to a complete stop. You turned and turned your key.

Nothing.

Pressed the gas pedal.

Nothing.

You slammed your hand against the steering wheel and screamed yourself into a sob. You grabbed and shook the steering wheel in a tantrum, awash with fear, with anger, with frustration.

You stayed in your seat for a while, undecided on what to do next.

Where do you go from here?

It didn’t take you long to realize that decision was being made for you. You heard the loud rattling and grunting of a truck in the distance. Peering into your rearview mirror, you were optimistic for a moment. Please be someone who can help. Please help me.

Optimism faded quickly as you recognized the truck, white and green, that sat always at the back of Jackson’s home. His truck pulled past you, then pulled over ahead of your own car, before he stepped out, still in his gray tank top. You moved your hand to lock your car doors as he approached. He reached out and grabbed for the handle of the driver’s side door, and tugged, feeling its resistance and letting him know you’d locked it. He pointed down toward the lock in an attempt to get you to unlock the door. You didn’t move.

You see him breathe out a sigh as he walks back to the bed of his truck, reading inside for a long yellow rope. He kneels down and attaches one end to his own truck, then unravels the rope, kneeling down to attach the other end to the front of your car. You pressed your foot against the gas pedal, hoping maybe, possibly, there was just enough fuel left to hit him and end this. But no such luck befell you.

Jackson stood from the front of your car, and walked again to the passenger side window, tapping on the glass. You didn’t turn your head or respond. Jackson leaned over so that his face was in view in your peripherals.

“I know we ain’t on good terms right now,” he said, “But I meant what I said. I don’t want you t’ die out here. And I know you’re hurt. Let me get you back t’ the house so I c’n clean you up.”

Silence.

“Please, angel.”

You closed your eyes, and felt your cheeks get warm as a tear fell. You couldn’t deny your wooziness, or your pain, and unlocked the door.

Jackson pulled your car door open and reached for your arm, wrapping it around the back of his neck as he used one arm to support your back, as the other shuffled beneath your legs. He lifted you out of your car and used his foot to shut your car door as he carried you to the passenger side of his truck. He set you down slowly and gently, allowing you to move your body in a way that was as comfortable for you as it could be before he shut his truck door, walked around the front, and got into the driver’s seat.

He turned his key in the ignition, starting the car and turning the truck back around toward the house. He drove at first in a large circle, turning wide enough to allow your cars wheels to adjust as he towed it. Once both cars were facing back toward what was now home, the ride was smooth and steady. With green patches of land beginning to fade again into view as the truck drew closer and closer to Jackson’s house, you enacted one last ditch effort to escape.

You yanked on the door handle and swung open the truck door, and began to jump out, but felt Jackson’s hand grip around your arm. He yanked you back, and the car door swung back shut, the car tenser now with the aftermath of your miserably failed escape attempt.

“You’re hurt, sweetheart. I know you’re scared, and you’re confused. But there ain’t nothin’ outside this truck but dirt. Don’t be stupid.”

You sat back upright in your seat, your leg becoming numb to the pain. The remainder of the short ride back home was done with Jackson’s hand gripping your arm, ensuring another escape attempt wouldn’t ensue. He drove the truck to the back of the house, where it had been before, and parked. He helped you out of the car just as he’d helped you into it, carrying you in his arms up the porch stairs and into the house, onto the couch, where he examined your leg.

Jackson poked and prodded, however gently, looking at the depth and severity of the wound.

“It didn’t go that deep. Didn’t hit anything major. But I need some supplies t’ get this cleaned up for you. Can I trust you t’ stay put while I go in the bathroom, or am I gonna have t’ drag you along t’ keep an eye on you?”

“I’ll stay.”

Jackson nodded, but whistled to call Earl over.

“Sit, boy.”

Earl sat, paws together, upright, his ears pointed directly toward the ceiling.

“Watch ‘er, Earl.”

Earl looked at you, standing tall as you sat slumped on the couch. Jackson walked into the downstairs bathroom, rummaging and clattering loud enough for you to hear. As you listened, you thought to yourself. “Can I trust you?” he’d said. What if he did trust you? What if you gained his trust? Where would he let you go? What would he let you do?

Jackson was looking for a child of God. Someone willing and obedient. If you gave him that, you thought, you could leave. One day. Some day. Right under his nose.

From then on, you’d decided, you’d play his game. He’d get his servant. He’d get his slave to God. Just long enough, you thought, to throw it in his face.

Jackson turned the corner back into the living room, his arms and hands full with supplies. He set them all on the couch beside you. Alcohol, gauze, cotton balls, and a plastic syringe. He sucked a generous amount of alcohol into the syringe and lifted your leg, squirting the alcohol on the wounds on either side. It stung, but wasn’t unbearable. Then, however, Jackson gripped one side of the arrow stick in his hand, keeping your leg steady with his other hand.

“This is gonna hurt a lot, darlin’. But I gotta do it t’ clean you up.”

Before you could react or respond, a shooting pain rain up your leg as Jackson ripped out the arrow. You cried out in pain, and Jackson shushed you.

“Shhh, darlin’. I know. The worst part is over.”

More alcohol followed as Jackson cleaned the wound, sending more searing, stinging pains up your leg. You curled your toes to contain your pain, and decided to distract yourself with questions.

“Why are you doing this?”

“Cleanin’ your wound?”

“No. All this. Why all this?”

Jackson sighed, dabbing away some of the dried blood on your leg with a wettened cotton ball.

“I explained as best I could. God asked me to. It’s part of His plan, I think. I don’t know why. I just know it’s somethin’ that has to happen.”

“How long are you gonna keep me here?”

“However long it takes t’ satisfy Him.”

Jackson finished cleaning your wound and your leg, then began to unravel the gauze.

“I hope you understand one day. I truly do. Last thing I want is for you t’ have a bad impression of me. I have faith, though. God’ll show you the light when it’s time.”

Jackson wrapped your wound and allowed you to relax on the couch as he put away the supplies. The rest of the day, he seemed to serve you, making you lunch and dinner, letting you hobble around to test your strength, allowing you to flip through books and watch television (despite the limited channel range). Each time you wanted to move somewhere more distant than you could handle, he eagerly helped you walk. You did no chores that day, and he asked nothing of you.

During dinner that night, he offered you wine, which you took, in attempt to numb both your pain and your nerves. Having not bathed in a while, Jackson ran a bath for you, complete with bubbles and your own bath soap, as well as a bath bomb, at your own request. You had to explain to him what it was, and what it looked like, but he came back to the bathroom with it, holding it curiously in his hands.

“Is this it?”

“Mmm-hmm,” you said, nodding and dropping it into the bath. As it spun and swirled, releasing a cascade of foam, fizz, color, and odor, Jackson almost looked amazed, albeit confused.

“What’s it do? Why’s it doin’ all that?”

“It looks fun. It smells nice. It’s basically soap.”

Jackson nodded slowly, still somewhat in awe, and looked around the bathroom.

“I’ll get you a towel or two. But I forgot about your clothes. May I have permission t’ go down an’ go through your clothes? If you’re more comfortable doin’ it yourself, I can help you down t’ the basement.”

You nodded.

“Go ahead, Jackson.”

You shook your head, realizing your mistake.

“Mr. Pritchard. You have my permission, Mr. Pritchard.”

Jackson smiled and left the bathroom, returning shortly with two towels and your clothes. He left you alone to bathe, and after you’d finished your bath, dried off, and put on your clothes, he carried you down to the basement. With you in his arms as he descended the stairs, he caught a whiff if your scent.

“Hey, guess you were right,” he remarked. “Those bath bombs, ‘r whatever y’ call ‘em, they do smell mighty nice.”

You expected now to be carried toward the cage and put back in your chains, but Jackson turned in the other direction, toward the bed you had yet to sleep in. He laid you down, taking extra care not to jostle your legs.

“No cage?”

Jackson pulled the covers out from beneath you and draped them over you, his arm crossing over your body as he did so.

“Not t’night. Maybe not f’r a while. I don’t see it right t’ put you back in there after everything that’s happened today.

He leaned over you in bed, his arm crossed over your body, pinning you lightly to the bed.

“But if you get out of line,” he said, with a drastic shift in tone, “I’ll do what I have to.”

As if he’d said nothing at all, Jackson adjusted your pillow and bedsheets. He took your hand in his, and cupped his other hand over yours.

“Get a good night’s sleep t’night, sweetheart,” he said with a gentle smile. “The real lessons start t’morrow.”

He leaned down and kissed your forehead, and spoke with his lips still lightly pressed against your head.

“You’ll be one of God’s angels soon enough.”

He stood, letting go of your hand and backing away toward the stairs.

“I know you will.”