THESE ARE THINGS I DIDN’T KNOW:
When you first wake up in a dark wooden box, you’ll tell yourself this isn’t happening. You’ll push against the lid, of course. No surprise there. You’ll beat at the sides with your fists, pummel your heels against the bottom. You’ll bang your head, again and again, even though it hurts. And you’ll scream. You’ll scream and scream and scream.
Snot will run from your nose. Tears will stream from your eyes. Until your screams grow rough, hiccuppy. Then, you’ll hear sounds that are strange and sad and pathetic, and you’ll understand the box, truly get, hey, I’m trapped in a dark wooden box, when you realize those sounds come from you.
Pine boxes aren’t composed entirely of smooth surfaces. Air holes, for example, can be crudely drilled. When you run your finger around them, when you poke your fingertip into them, desperately seeking . . . something . . . you’ll get splinters. You’ll chew out the wooden shards best you can. Then you’ll suck on your injured digit, lick the blood beading the tip, and make more hurt puppy dog sounds.
You’re alone in the box. It’s frightening. Overwhelming. Awful. Mostly because you don’t yet understand how much you have to fear.
You’ll get to know the box well, this home away from home. You’ll wiggle against it with your shoulders to determine the width. You’ll trace the length with your hands, attempt to bring up your feet. Not enough room to bend your knees. Not enough room to roll over. It’s exactly your size. As if it’s been made just for you. Your very own pine coffin, straining your lower back, bruising your shoulder blades, paining the back of your head.
One convenience: newspapers lining the bottom. You don’t notice this detail in the beginning. Don’t understand it once you do. Until the first time you wet yourself. Then spend days lying in your own filth. Like an animal, you’ll think. Except most animals are treated better than this.
Your mouth will grow parched, your lips chapped. You’ll start jamming your fingers into those air holes, ripping apart your own skin, just so you have something to taste, swallow, suck. You’ll know yourself in a way you’ve never known yourself before. Broken down. Elemental. The stink of your own urine. The salt of your own blood.
But you still don’t know anything yet.
"You scream, but your throat is too dry to make a sound.”Chapter One
When you finally hear footsteps, you won’t believe it. You’re delirious, you’ll tell yourself. You’re dreaming. You’re a lost, pathetic waste of human skin. A stupid, stupid girl who should’ve known better and now just look at you. And yet, the sound of a metal lock jangling on the other side of the box wall, inches from your ear . . .
Maybe you cry again. Or would if you had any moisture left. When you first see his face, the man who has done this to you, you’re relieved. Happy even. You gaze upon his puffy cheeks, his beady eyes, his gaping mouth, yellow-stained teeth, and you think, thank God. Thank God, thank God, thank God.
He lets you out of the box. Lifts you up, actually, because your legs don’t work, and your muscles lack all strength, and your head lolls. Which makes you giggle. Head lolling. One of those words from English class that nevermade any sense. But there you have it. Heads loll. Your head lolls.
God, the smell. Garlic and BO and unwashed clothes and skanky hair. Is it you? Is it him? You gag, helplessly. And that makes him laugh. As he holds up the bottle of water. As he spells out exactly what you’ll have to do in order to earn it. He’s fat. Old. Disgusting. Repulsive. The unkempt beard, the greasy hair, the ketchup stains splotching the front of his cheap checkered shirt.
You’re supposed to be too good for him. Young, fresh, beautiful. The kind of girl who could have her pick of the litter at a frat party. You have moves. Had moves?
You cry for your mother. You beg him to let you go as you lie in a crumpled heap at his feet. Then, finally, ultimately, with the last of your strength, you remove your clothes. You let him do what he’s going to do. You scream, but your throat is too dry to make a sound. You vomit, but your stomach is too empty to yield any contents. You survive.
And later, when he finally offers up that bottle of water, only to dump it over your head, you lift your hands shamelessly to capture as much of the moisture as you can. You lick it from your palms. Chew it from your oily, filthy hair. You wait till he’s distracted, then suck that spot of ketchup from his now discarded shirt.
Back to the box. The box. The Box.
The lid hammers now. The lock snaps shut. The repulsive man walks away. Leaves you once again all alone. Naked. Bruised. Bloody. Knowing things you never wanted to know.
“Mommy,” you whisper.
But this monster’s real. And there’s nothing anyone can do to save you anymore.THIS IS WHAT I DO KNOW:
There’s not much to do day after day trapped in a coffin-size box. In fact, there’s really only one thing worth imagining, obsessing, contemplating minute by minute, hour after terrible hour. One thought that keeps you going. One focus that gives you strength. You’ll find it. You’ll hone it. Then, if you’re anything like me, you’ll never let it go.
But be careful what you wish for, especially if you’re just a stupid girl trapped in a coffin-size box.
Originally published in the February issue of Advance
Book Title: Find Her
Author: Lisa Gardner
Sub-Head: Victim or Vigilante?
ISBN: 9780525954576 | $26.95 HC | Dutton Books
Cover and excerpt from FIND HER by Lisa Gardner. Text copyright © 2016 by Lisa Gardner. Reprinted by permission of Dutton, and imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.