Kori Frazier Morgan received her MFA in fiction writing from West Virginia University. Her fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in Shenandoah, SN Review, Rubbertop Review, Switchback, Prick of the Spindle, Up the Staircase Quarterly, Forge, and other publications. She is the author of the chapbook Bone China Girls: A Poetic Account of a Female Crime, which explores the 1965 murder of Sylvia Likens though persona poetry.
In the Barn
You think you’ve there for two weeks. It’s hard to say. At first, it was easy to count the periods of time between the sun coming up and going down, because you could feel the passage of the days, as though it were ingrained in your bones. But little by little, time, like so many other things, became an abstract concept—the same way you’re having trouble remembering faces (mother, father, boyfriend), concepts (school, freedom) or things that were already intangible to begin with (future, life). But now it’s been too long, and two weeks is just a best guess. It could be a month. Maybe a year. This routine has become the new normal: wake up to the crackle of truck tires outside; ready yourself for whatever is coming at you today; if you feel strong enough, make a run for one of the six or seven places you’ve found in the barn that he’s too big to get to. Except he always does, and you’ve started wondering if it’s worth the energy it takes to even comprehend hiding. The first night he brought you here, he cut your hair. You wondered if anyone would be able to recognize you if they came to find you, if they wouldn’t know this strange girl with hair chopped so close to her ears and the nape of her neck instead of blonde-brown crimped curls. Then he threw you over a haybale, tore off your panties, and tossed them out what must have been a window once. He shaved you with a dry razor, then raped you. You think that by now, you should be used to the driving force of it, the bloody stubble, but each time seems to only hurt more than the last. If you’re good (which means you don’t make too much noise, because even though it doesn’t seem like anyone’s been here for years, you just never know), he lets you sleep in a haystack and ties you to a heavy beam that runs from the floor of the hayloft to the ceiling. If you cry too much, he ties you to a ring in the floor that must have once been meant for cattle. Sometimes—and this is the thing you still can’t figure out—he takes pictures. Not even sexy ones—the first time you saw the camera, you backed away in horror, fearing that he’d have you in porno slut poses, legs spread, the whole bloody mess on display. But no: he just takes pictures of you while he follows you around the barn. Sometimes you wonder if he’s waiting for you to fall over—after he raped you the first time, he took the blue sweater your boyfriend got you for your birthday and gave you a black dress and high heels that don’t fit. You’ve been wearing that dress for however many days or weeks it’s been. You can smell yourself mixed with decades-old manure. You move as far into the corner as the chains will let you, then squat and poop and wipe yourself with a handful of straw. When you’re finished, you sit up against the wall of the barn, your head tilted backward. If you look up at just the right angle, you can see the field outside the barn, the tip of the roof of an abandoned farmhouse, waves and waves of unkempt grass. The field is grey, then gold, then green, depending on how the light hits it, sometimes beautiful, sometimes terrible. Sometimes you get bored with the fear, the uncertainty of knowing when he’ll come back, and you play a game—wondering who lived on this property once. You remember when you were a kid, your grandma gave you a series of books about little girls growing up in a cabin on the prairie, all of them with pastel covers. You never were a good reader and only made it through one of them, but you liked it, and maybe a family like them lived here, and they tended the pigs and rode horses. Maybe the little girl would come out here sometimes to talk to the animals. She’d milk the cows and swing an empty bucket as she walked. Perhaps she’d dance on the now broken floor joists, backwards, letting an imaginary prince lead her. She would sleep in the hay sometimes, but only when she wanted to, and dinner would be waiting inside at night. You wish that maybe, if you picture her hard enough, she’ll come to life, then travel from the past to now and rescue you. Then you see something outside the barn that you’ve never noticed before. Far away, at the edge of the overgrown field, is the roof of another building. It could be another abandoned barn, or it could be a house. Somewhere to run to. You wonder if you could do it. Sometimes he unlocks the chains, and if he did, there might be a brief moment of opportunity to bust away from him, maybe kick him in the face and gouge his eyeball out with the heel of those stupid shoes, then kick them off, eyeball still attached, and run, run, run, run. Would you have the energy to do it? You feel so weak and tired all the time, but if you had to, you’d conjure up every bit of hope and adrenaline you had left and run so fast you could fly, the rough edges of the grass slashing at your skin, but you hardly feel it because you’ve felt so much worse and now you’re free, free, free. When you reach the house, you don’t even knock, you bust through the door, and there’s a woman with a kettle of hot soup, and she just stares at you for a moment and says, “Child, why you wearing that dress?” and you’ll just hug her and say to call 911 and then tell her everything. It could happen. You could do it. The truck pulls into the driveway. You don’t sit down. You have to be ready—if he unlocks you, there won’t be time. He comes through where the door to the barn must have once been, and your spine goes stiff. In one hand, he’s holding that stupid camera. In the other, a contraption made out of a thick wire noose with sharp, jagged edges, attached to a wooden board. He doesn’t unlock you, but you try to move away from him, walking backwards, hands outward, as if a hex in your palms can stop him. He grins and snaps a picture, and you can’t imagine why he would want this, to capture it. You keep walking away, your eyes on him, the heels slipping on your feet, threatening to knock you off balance, your hand over your mouth as though protecting your breath from him. “Please…” a voice says, gravely and soft and hardly your own. “Please…” and then you hit the end of the chain and there’s nowhere else to go.