Rapunzel – Ashleigh Cutts

Once-upon-a-time I had a real life. I played in the street with the other kids; imagining princesses with long flowing golden hair and princes battling dragons to win fair maidens honour. The estate where I lived was grey and dull, covered in the grime of the nearby Power Station; but we transformed it into a fairy-tale paradise. Those dreams were shattered as soon as we went home. Every day at tea time reality set in and we went back to our grim existences. Single mothers, violent fathers and alcoholics. Mine was the worst.

 The drug abuse started when I was about three. My mother said she needed it to ‘calm her nerves’. It started once a week then escalated to frequent visits from dodgy, hooded men in the middle of the night. I didn’t know who her dealer was but I always stayed away from the ‘transactions’ hiding in my tiny box room. We couldn’t afford a bed so I would curl up onto the mattress on my floor and cry myself to sleep while my mother injected her way to oblivion. Eventually the benefits couldn’t pay for her habit anymore and she needed a way to get cash. Fast. We had already sold nearly all of our belongings and were living in a dump with no furniture. We couldn’t afford to pay the electricity bill, not that it would have been much use as all our appliances had been flogged months earlier. The only thing left was me.

 I was 5 when it happened. There was a knock on the door one day. My mother staggered into my room and grabbed me by the arm, pulling me off the bed. She reeked of alcohol and body odour. “You’ve been nothing but a pain since you were born.” She spat in my face. “You were a big mistake. All you do is cost me money. Prove yourself useful for a change” she slurred. Her hands shook as she opened the door to a bony and haggard looking woman, flanked by two burly men. “I believe you have the child?” she quizzed in a mouse like voice. My mother thrust me forward. “A little skinny, but she’ll do” snorted the witch like woman. She clicked her fingers and the men stepped forward picking me up. I screamed and kicked, lashing out and biting their hands but they weren’t fazed. “Please!” my mother begged. “I need the stuff now! I’m desperate!” The bony woman simply glanced at my mother, throwing a small bag of brown powder over her shoulder which my mother scrabbled subserviently on the floor to get. The men dragged me outside and threw me into the van, bashing my arms and face. They drove for what seemed like hours eventually braking hard and opening the van doors to drag me out again. I didn’t fight the second time.

 They took me into a rundown house with music blasting from the inside. “You can stay here with the others” said the bony woman, sticking her skeletal fingers into my shoulder and tossing me into a room. There were other girls there, some were older and looked ill, like mum did when she had taken the drugs. I was scared when I entered the house, now I was terrified. They were skeletal and malnourished. How had we come to deserve this fate? I could understand she never really wanted me, She always liked the ‘gentleman callers’ that came around much better. I slumped on the floor in the same defeated position as many of the other girls and accepted my doom…

 *************************************************************************************

 My name is Rapunzel. It’s strange I know, something straight out of a fairytale book you used to have when you were a kid, or like I had before my mother sold it to the first person who would buy it. It’s not my real name. I don’t like to use my real name in this place. So I created a fictional image for myself. In my fantasy world I can escape the beatings and the leering glares of the ugly men that come here to use, in more ways than one. I have been kept away from them, considered too beautiful to ‘waste.’ I’m destined for auction. The other girls think I’m strange and need to get a grip on reality. But I think they need to get a grip on their imagination. Why live in squalor when you can live in a palace in your mind. It beats living in this place. “Be grateful you have anywhere to live at all” the evil witch cries. “Some girls like you have to live on the streets and don’t have the tender loving care you receive.” She cackles. We are allowed out of course, but only around the rest of the dingy rotting house. It mirrors the emotions of the people inside it, depressed, hopeless and despaired. The girls don’t do what they do out of choice they do it as a way to survive.

 A man leers at me from the main room where I’m standing. “Hey sugar, looking for a good time? I can show you one.” I look away in disgust. “You couldn’t afford her” sneers the witch lady. “We’ve been saving this one. She’s special; no one’s allowed to touch her until she turns sixteen. “Ain’t that right precious” she says caressing my cheek before roughly grabbing my chin “she’ll fetch a pretty penny on the black market. They’re always wanting virgins. Probably fetch us a couple hundred thou.” The other girls glare at me. I feel sorry for them as they lead men by the hand to the back bedrooms. I know what goes on in there and it hurts my heart to watch them go, especially Penny. She’s only 13. She gives me a small smile as she follows a fat, balding and downright dirty man into one of the grubby rooms. I however am paraded up front in the main room. ”Got to protect looks like that” the witch sneers “all that pretty blonde hair and those big blue eyes, worth more than the filth we get in here, isn’t that right?” she cackles as she walks away to pander to her ‘clients.’ A man falls over in front of me. His eyes are glazed and he has a small satisfied smile on his face. “What’s up with him?” I ask one of the girls cocking my head in his direction. “He’s been chasing the dragon again” she said holding up two fingers to her lips. Aah… heroin, one of my mother’s favourite pastimes. I sidestep the man and look at him disgustedly, but really I feel sorry for him. I saw how it ruined my mother. One day without a hit and she would be curled on the floor shaking and vomiting crying for more. She was a slave to it. But then why should I pity her? She is the reason I am here. Destined to be auctioned off to the highest bidder when I have reached full maturity. The witch thinks I will fetch a high price for my virginity. Who knows what will happen to me afterwards, probably a similar providence to the girls in the bedrooms.

 Loud banging interrupted my thoughts. “Get down on the ground!” The girls in the bedrooms were screaming. I stood frozen. “Move! It’s a raid” screamed the witch. The men were scrabbling over each other, trying to pull up their pants as they ran for the exits. I started screaming along with the girls in the bedroom. The strange men in black uniforms were running around the house. The witch woman grabbed my wrist and tugged me along “you’re coming with me.” She hissed in my ear. She crouched low in the kitchen opening the pantry door. Once inside I could still hear the muffled screams of the girls as the men tried to round them up. They said that they wouldn’t hurt them, that they were here to save them. I tried to open the pantry door to shout to them but the witch broke down one of the wooden walls revealing a dank passage. “I’m not losing my most prized possession.” She scowled, dragging me into the tunnel. I squirmed, fighting her, but her bony fingers dug into my wrist. The muffled noises from the house got quieter and I knew they wouldn’t be able to hear me now.

 We emerged into what looked like another cupboard. She opened the door still jerking me along a dimly lit corridor and into a metal box. I remembered these from before. It was an elevator. The witch pressed a button and it began its ascent. The heavy metal doors clanked open revealing another dingy corridor. The witch continued to pull me along doors on either side of the corridor with numbers on them we stopped outside of313. She pulled a set of keys from her pocket, fishing through them until she found the one she was looking for. Sticking it in the lock the door creaked open. She pushed me through the door locking it behind her “I’ll be back!” she screeched through the keyhole, a voice like nails on chalkboard. The walls were not painted, with lumps of plaster knocked out making holes in the surface with damp creeping down from the ceiling creating a nauseating musty smell. I walked around; there was another room off to the side and a small mouldy bathroom. I sat defeated in the middle of the floor and sobbed until I fell asleep.

 When I awoke a bright light shined through the only window. I walked over to it noticing a small catch. I flicked it and jimmied the window open with a ragged movement before opening it fully. There was a small concrete balcony on the other side. I climbed through the opening and stood on the small grey sill. Peering over the edge I could see cars zooming along underneath me. I was extremely high up and there was no way down. I looked to the sides but there was no one around. I counted the windows beneath me. 13 floors up. There was no way I could climb down, unless I wanted my head smashed open like a melon on the street below. But there were more balconies below me. Some people had to live here. What if… no I would never be able to climb over the edge without falling. I would have to have some kind of rope. Then it hit me I had noticed grubby stained sheets on the bed in one of the other rooms. I could tie them to something and climb down to one of the lower balconies. I rushed and stripped the sheets off the bed, then ran back to the window looking for something to tie my makeshift rope to. I decided on dragging the bed closer to the window. I was pretty sure it was heavy enough to carry my weight. I only had to get down one floor, and I would be free. I was becoming giddy with the thought, grinning to myself as I ripped up the sheets and tied the ends together. I then tied it to the bed and climbed back through the open window to peer over the side. I wasn’t sure it would be long enough but I had to try.

 My head snapped round as I heard a key turn in the lock. My heart was in my mouth. She was back. It was now or never. I shimmied over the side. My breath hitched as I heard her calling for me. Then she noticed the open window, the bed and my rope. I was almost half way down now. Squeezing my eyes shut so I couldn’t see how far I had to fall. She let out a blood curdling shriek and I heard her heavy footsteps rush towards the window. I opened my eyes peering up at her. She had a knife in her hands. She put it to the rope. “You can’t escape me!” Her eyes were crazed orbs of fury. Time seemed to slow down as she sawed through the sheets. “No!” I screamed as I felt my weight begin to plummet towards the streets below. I swung and the rope snapped sending me flailing, gravity taking over. I shut my eyes waiting for the inevitable crunch of my bones. Instead there was an earth shattering smash and I howled in pain. I had fallen onto the balcony below and rolled through the window, smashing it as I went. Glass protruded from the open wounds on my arms and legs. I looked up to see a young man running towards me “Are you alright? What the hell were you doing?!” His voice was distant and his face blurred as tears came to my eyes. “You’re safe now.” He shushed me. “I’ll call an ambulance.” I sat on the floor in the small flat, blood trickling down my face and body, and then it hit me. I was free…

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