I dream in vivid color, my mind's imagined scenarios bright and alive. And, in many ways, real. My subconscious forms nightmares much in the same way, trapping my mind inside an elaborate maze of mayhem. But I am not alone in the labyrinth—the obsessive, relentless inner monologue that haunts my waking hours serves as my cohort.
I've been quite ill this past week, and in my delirium, experienced one of the most terrifying nightmares I've had in quite some time. But for someone who writes about the supernatural, it is not monsters and bumps in the night that frighten me. No, this world is much too full of real danger to concern myself with make-believe.
In the light of day, in memory, nightmares lose some of their power. But when I wake in a dark room, faded triangles of light peeking in through the curtains, the clock reading 4:58 a.m., fear is very real. For a few brief moments, I am happy to feel it—I am lucky to be alive.
There's a group of us walking down the bright, busy street, lined on both sides with strip malls sporting flashing neon signs. The words are not English, this country not my own. But I am safe here, in the company of acquaintances, in the light of day.
A friend and I stop in front of an abandoned house, nothing but sticks and ash and black. We are both wearing headphones, but decide the distraction may not keep us as alert as is wise. The headphones go in my purse, along with a few loose items I’ve been carrying. Caution is important—I can feel it in my bones.
We start walking again, the group of us down the street toward yet another shopping center. There is a young blonde girl with us, the daughter of one of the guides, but she splits with some others from our group as we make our way inside. I glide through double glass doors into the busy corridor of the mall, and that’s when I sense danger. That’s when I wish I’d done more to protect the little girl.
It is imperative to find our group. That is my main thought as I start my search through a Chinese restaurant. Is that where I am? China? Or some other Asian country? It is impossible to make out the faces around me, to glean any clue as to where I may be.
I gaze across the expanse of the restaurant, to the corridor outside—where three young men are on their knees, their hands behind their backs, facing the wall. One of them, a brunette I recognize from our group, locks eyes with me and shakes his head. There is no helping him, I understand that much. I fall back into a booth, hoping to go unnoticed. And that’s when I see him—a faceless someone I know, walking over to greet our friends. A simple hello could possibly end his life, and I can’t let that happen.
I spring from my seat and sprint into the corridor, grabbing onto No-name’s hand to silently veer him away. He says nothing as we hustle down the hallway, our hands clasped together. It isn’t safe to go back to our hotel, even if I can remember where it is. What about my passport? Do I have it on me? Why didn’t I buy one of those tasteless money belts that you wear under your shirt? I plan for everything—why hadn't I planned for this?
No-name and I are out on the street now, walking along a busy sidewalk, lost in a crowd of faceless strangers. I still don’t know where we are, day turning to night as we shuffle along.
The streets are lined with strip mall after strip mall, their neon signs begging our attention. There is a half moon of letters lit up in green, though I can’t make it out. We’d eaten there the night before, hadn’t we? I remember it distinctly because there was a double entrance. We’d walked in the front door only to find dark gray hallways, and a maze of cheap black railing herding us toward another door. This one is padded in dark brown leather, and slightly ajar as a yellow glow beckons from the other side.
We could go there now. Get something to eat, gather our thoughts. It isn’t safe to go back to the hotel. Is it safe to call the police? What if they want a bribe? What if they want more money than we can come up with? What if they don’t want money at all?
I know how human trafficking works. They kidnap you. They get you hooked on drugs. They make escape impossible. They rob you of your dignity. Death is a welcome companion.
But I am not the kind of woman to give up without a fight. Going back to the hotel is not an option.
I look down at my shoes, and note they are my nude Cole Haan heels. I am wearing socks with them, gray with tiny black stars. Where are my boots? My feet are killing me.
I am still holding No-name’s hand. I’m not sure what we’re going to do, but at least we have each other.
We cannot go back to the hotel.
“There’s snow ten blocks or so up ahead,” No-name tells me.
I stare down at my feet, and picture my boots going through airport security. Why hadn’t I worn them? Ten blocks is going to be a long walk.