It was hot, hotter than any day she could ever remember. She reached into her bag and pulled out the steel thermos that carried the precious liquid to quench her parched throat and, hopefully, soothe her searing lips. Sipping slowly, she savoured each precious drop, daring not to take too much. It would run out soon enough. She looked to the sky. Hers was a different kind of thirst, she thought, the kind that gave her strength and fed her soul.
They had dropped her not far from here, thinking she would die. She thought she was going to die, and truth be told, she wished for a release from the blisters and bruises that covered her body. Every step was agonizing, every breath painful.
She gazed ahead into the distance. Nothing. Nothing but an endless road ahead and behind. The blistering heat of the noonday sun and vultures overhead were her only companions. Even the wind was afraid to come out on this scorcher of a day. She was alone. “No, not alone,” she whispered. “You are with me. This I know to be true.”
The week had started with such excitement. She had left home for her first solo trip, taking only the essentials. In her bags were all the things she held dear and needed. Now they were her treasures, clothes, water, a few snacks, some money and her bible.
Wincing, she returned the thermos with its precious liquid into her bag. They hadn’t even looked in the bag. Their faces were engrained in her brain like a tattoo that would never fade. Hers was the story of nightmares.
She had been waiting for the bus that would carry her to California and the ocean. Perhaps she would check out Bakersfield before returning home. She had read about it in a book once and thought it might be an interesting place to see. Maybe after the ocean and Los Angeles. The road was hers to travel, and she could go wherever she chose.
She had lived in this forsaken desert her entire life. Eighteen years seemed like a lifetime to her. For the last five of them, she wanted only to leave and see the world, starting with the ocean and the movie stars. Her parents never went anywhere. They were content to stay planted where they were and couldn’t understand her desire to see the world.
It had been early. She remembered thinking how quiet everything was. No one was around, so she sat in silent prayer, waiting for the bus to arrive. She was always early, never wanting to miss out. This week, that eagerness cost her dearly.
She remembered hearing the laughter of boys and the scuffling of feet, and just as she turned to see who it was, they grabbed her. They covered her mouth and carried her off. There were four of them, each holding an appendage as she tried to scream and wriggle her way out of a horrific situation before they shoved her into their van.
They drove for what seemed like hours. She pleaded with them, and they only laughed. One of them told her to shut up and punched her until she passed out. When she woke, she couldn’t immediately register what was happening. Over and over, they used her. It seemed like hours, yet the sun wasn’t far in the sky yet. They smelled of sour whiskey and stale cigarettes. “Please, please stop.”
They seemed deaf to her pleas. If anything, it seemed only to make them enjoy it more. She retreated into herself, begging God to help her, to give her strength. The answer was clear, and she knew it to be true. “I forgive you,” she whispered. It was so soft they asked her to repeat it.
Over and over again, she tried to get the words out. They became angry and bored with her and began kicking her. First in the ribs, then the head. Each shouting obscenities before driving home their foot into her soft fleshy skin. “I forgive you.” She mouthed the words repeatedly until one of them finally told the others to stop.
Bending over, he asked her to speak up and laughed. Her teeth were broken, and she was pretty sure her cheekbone was shattered. She could barely see through swelling eyes that bled red. Mustering her strength, she gazed at him through the pinky red haze and spoke as loudly as possible, “I forgive you.”
A blinding light appeared behind his head. She remembered thinking the angels must be coming to take her home. Looking back at him, she saw the horror on his face. He pushed the others and steered them toward the car. She closed her eyes and surrendered to the sweet darkness of salvation.
God, it seemed, wasn’t ready to bring her home just yet. When she woke, the sun was overhead. She tried to move and was immediately injected with a thousand different pains that flew through her body like lightning streaking through the sky. The pain was too intense, and she drew back into the sweet embrace of unconsciousness.
She couldn’t be sure what day it was, but this time when she woke, she knew more than a day had passed. The blood no longer oozed from every wound but was caked to her skin and clothes. Her skin was burned and blistered from the desert sun. Memories of shooing away vultures, who mistook her for dead, and shaking off flies and insects flashed across her vision. Even now, she could hear them calling to each other, terrorizing her further.
“I will not become fodder for those beasts.”
Forcing herself into a sitting position, she surveyed the damage. Her legs, as if by some miracle, were not broken. They were covered in cuts and bruised and caked in dry blood, but they would work.
Her left hand was another matter. The fingers refused to move, and her wrist hung limp. She had used it in an effort to protect her head. Not wanting to think about what her face looked like, she scanned the area around her, peering through the slit of her one remaining eye. The other could be gone for all she knew as she couldn’t feel or see anything. Without thinking, she tried to raise her left hand to touch her face and quickly dropped it as pain tore through her arm. Probably better she didn’t feel it anyhow, she thought.
She saw her bag lying a few feet away and dragged herself over to it. Just as she reached for it, another pain burst through her rib cage, and once again, she succumbed to the void where pain and sorrow didn’t exist. This time she dreamt of home and her parents.
When she awoke, it was night, and she was cold. Off in the distance, there was a light. If only she could get there, she would be okay. Grabbing the bag with her good hand, she pushed herself up and began to walk, well hobble really, toward the light. Hours seemed to pass, and the light was no closer. ‘Keep going,’ said the voice in her head.
Eventually, she came to a large boulder. Dropping to the ground, she leaned back and propped herself against it. It was still warm from the midday sun. Exhausted, she dozed off and on, waking only when coyotes howled or other creatures stirred in the night. ‘You will not die here,’ the voice said.
She tried to eat a protein bar, but her broken teeth made it impossible. Her thermos had been full, but she had greedily drank from it earlier. Now only a third remained. She sipped at it sparingly.
Her eyes adjusted to the dark as she reached for the comfort of the book. She did not need to take it out. Touching it brought all the comfort she needed. “For thou art with me,” she whispered. “I will not die here, God. Please give me strength to endure.”
There, in that moment, was her true thirst. A thirst that was never fully quenched. She wanted to see Him, to hear His voice. The voice in her head spoke to her more often now, ‘One day, my child, one day we will be together, but there is more for you to do. You will be a symbol to others and give courage to those who have lost hope. Walk, my child. Get up and walk.”
She walked for several days. Her water long gone, she looked to the cactuses along the road for hydration. It wasn’t appealing, but the flavour reminded her of watermelon with a hint of some weird bubblegum flavour. It was tart, but it kept her alive. She tried eating the flesh but continuously spat it out. More than once, her skin was pierced by the protective needles of the cactus.
At night she would search for the light, and during the heat of the day, she covered herself with the clothes from her backpack to keep the sun from burning her further. She was covered in blisters, her skin raw from the suns burning rays. The only reprieve was that she had become used to the pain, so she no longer felt her skin, or any other ache, unless she moved too quickly or fell. She had fallen several times today.
No one would be looking for her, she thought. Not for weeks. She was supposed to be gone for a month and told her parents not to worry. It didn’t dawn on her that when she didn’t call to say she had arrived that they would worry, or even that they would check the bus station and find she never made it onto the bus. No, nobody would be looking for her, she thought and rested against yet another boulder just off the road. It wasn’t long before she fell asleep.
‘Wake up,’ the voice said. ‘Wake up and stand!’ She opened her eye and saw the lights of the car approaching. Her mind raced as she tried to stand, searching for her flashlight, and then sat down again, cowering. What if, she thought, what if it is them coming back to finish the job? She made herself small and watched as the car drove by. It was an old station wagon, not a van.
She struggled to stand and went to the road flashing her light. The battery gave out, and she screamed in frustration. “Stupid!” She hurled it towards the car before crumpling to the ground. “I’m going to die out here.”
‘No,’ the voice said, and once again, she succumbed and passed out right there in the middle of the road.
He had been searching for her, the missing girl whose parents had been on every news and radio station begging for her safe return. His daughter had died out in this God-forsaken desert. They had found her body battered and bruised, half eaten by vultures. It had happened more than once too. He would not let it happen to another girl if he could help it. “Please, God, not another one.”
Something caught his eye, and he looked in his review mirror just in time to see the flickering light. It could be nothing, just an old fool’s mind playing tricks on him, but he turned around. He raced back toward where he saw the flash and saw it, a crumpled body lying in the middle of the road. Slamming on his brakes, he threw the car into park and leapt from the vehicle.
His eyes clouded with anger at what he saw. Her face looked like somebody had put it through a meat grinder and maggots crawled in and around open wounds. He knew he needed to get her talking. “Miss, miss, are you okay.” Definitely not okay, but he needed her to wake up. “Miss, please, wake up.” He was afraid to touch her, to injure her further, but he knew he must get her into the car.
Unconscious, she was unaware of being lifted like a rag doll into strong arms and carried tenderly to the back seat. Voices echoed around her as she came to, but she could not hear them clearly. They were muffled. She pushed herself into consciousness just as they lifted her out of the back of the car and screamed, “GET OFF OF ME.”
Slapping at helping hands, she struggled to get free. It didn’t matter that her one hand hung limp. She tried to fling it to push them away. She yelled in pain. The hands immediately stopped, and the voices went silent. Her one good eye came into focus, and she saw them. Several police officers and emergency medical responders all stood back and waited.
It was a woman who came forward and spoke, “It’s okay, we’re here to help. You are safe now.” She tried to soothe the matted hair plastered in dried blood and dirt. It was almost as if she couldn’t understand what was being said. Looking back at the woman, she questioned, “My bag?”
“Here it is.” An older man stepped forward and handed it to her. “You were holding it so tightly when I picked you up that I was afraid your fingers had broken around it.”
Shaking her head, she whispered, “No,” and with her good arm, she reached in and pulled out the one thing that would soothe her, her bible. “For thou art with me,” she whispered and again dropped into unconsciousness.
They left the book in her hand as they carried her to the waiting ambulance. She would be safe now. Details would come, and they would catch those that did this to her, but she would be okay, he thought. It would be a long road of recovery ahead of her, but she was a fighter. He would be there, if she allowed him, to help in any way he could.
The older man pulled his hat from his head and fell to his knees. Tears ran down his face as he said, “Thank you, God, for hearing me. Thank you for saving this child.”
His own thirst had now been quenched. He had thought it was a thirst for blood built out of revenge, but it was a different kind of thirst. One that brought peace and comfort to his tormented soul. ‘Yes,’ he thought, ‘she will be okay. We both will. Thank you, God. Thank you for the strength to endure.’
Here ends part one of this short faith story. If you’d like me to write part two, drop a comment and let me know.
If you liked this faith story, you can find others on the Faith Stories link of Leslie’s website.