Her hands flew to the heavy metal collar around her neck as a scream tore from her throat. Nine-year-old Calista Zaragoza squeezed her eyes shut for only a moment to compose herself. She knew better than that. Stupid move, Calista chided herself. To resist meant to be punished. And it hurt, bad.
“I’m sorry,” Calista murmured. She kept her eyes to the floor. Anger burned in her heart but she knew she couldn’t let it show. She wasn’t sorry that she had not come at the summon of her master. She wasn’t sorry that he had to stomp around looking for her. She was sorry that she was trapped, a slave-collar around her neck. Powerless.
“I shouldn’t even have to call you,” her master snarled. “You know your duties. Now get into the kitchen!”
“Yes, Master.” Calista walked into the kitchen without looking up at the man. She grabbed the peeler and started in on the carrots. She’d have to really hurry now or she’d be late. That would earn her another shock. She felt that tears wanted to come but she wouldn’t let them. One day she’d be free.
Slavery was common in those days. Illegal, but common. Especially the slavery of children. There were no orphanages, no foster care. Abandoned children were captured and put to work.
As Calista stood at the sink, washing potatoes, she looked out the window into falling snowflakes. A thick layer of snow lay over the landscape, like a comforter, swathing the world in silence. The sun was already setting. It got dark so early in the winter. Calsita loved to see the beauty of nature though the window. That’s the only way she ever saw it. She had not been outside in years.
A short time later, the master’s wife, Margret, came home. The large woman usually just yelled rather than using shock control. Calista thought it was funny the way her face got all red when she yelled. The woman swept into the kitchen.
“Will dinner be ready in time?”
“Yes, I think so. It’s all cooking.”
“Good. Quickly now, you need to have a shower before dinner and then change into your nice dress. We will be having company.” They often had company. But no one who came over ever helped Calista.
“Yes, Ma’am.” She walked down the stairs to the basement where her closet- sized bedroom and a small bathroom were located. Margret clomped down the stairs behind her. When Calista stepped into the bathroom, Margret pulled a controller from her pocket and clicked the slave collar release button. The collar had to come off when she showered. Calista undressed and stepped into the plastic shower stall. Margret scooped up her clothing.
“Call on the intercom when you’re finished and I’ll bring down the dress.”
Calista turned on the water as Margret lumbered away and up the stairs. The woman had not closed and locked the door as she usually did. Opportunity. Leaving the water on, Calista stepped out of the shower. Danger. The plan was so risky. But she felt certain that no one was going to save her. After five years as a slave, no one had. She needed to take action herself. Calista felt that, if she could take control of her own situation, then everything would be okay. She toweled off with the hand towel from the rack and then let it drop to the floor. Calista grabbed the folded bath towel from the counter and clutched in to her chest. She figured it was now or never.
Calista crept up the stairs. No one in sight. She dashed to the large, heavy front door. She had seen them work the locks often enough. She flipped the three deadbolts in succession and then yanked away the locking bar. Carefully, she put the metal bar down on the floor, quietly so it wouldn’t ring out. She was in the clear! Calista pulled open the door and dashed out naked into the snow, still holding the towel to her chest.
The icy air made her breath catch in her throat as she took off running. Street lamps lit the city. She could see the steeple of a nearby church. It looked to be only a couple of blocks away. If it was unlocked, she could use the phone to call the police. Her feet felt like they were burning as she sprinted through deep snow. The cold wind on her bare skin stole her breath.
Calista only slowed a little as she reached the glass door to the church. She let her momentum carry her into the door. She bounced off the closed door and fell into the snow.
“No, no, no,” she whispered, righting herself and pushing hard on the door. Then she tried pulling. To her relief, the door pulled open. A warm puff of air embraced her as she slipped inside. The door swung closed behind her. Calista’s feet were in agony, like the carpet was a hot skillet. She brushed the snow from her chilled flesh. Calista glanced around the brightly lit vestibule as she unfolded the towel and wrapped it around herself. No one was there. But a phone sat a small, nearby table. She hurried over to it. With shaking fingers, she dialed the emergency number for the police.
In only minutes, two officers, one male and one female, entered the church, surprise written on their faces.
“She’s young to have gotten away,” said the male officer.
“And naked,” remarked the female. “Well, come along then. We’ll take you to the precinct to get your statement.”
Calista followed the officers, running through the snow to their car parked just beyond the door.
At the precinct, the police officers gave Calista some clothes to wear. They were too big but much better than just a towel. Then she gave her statement in the usual way of the times. She was hooked up to several machines and video recorded as she gave her testimony. It took about half an hour to go over what she figured would be the important parts. The two officers and three technicians scrutinized the readings from the machines.
“This is enough for a conviction,” pronounced one of the technicians, finally.
“Good to hear. They’ll both get a six months sentence,” said the female officer. “Brad, can you message penitentiary to pick them up? It’s been a long day. I’m ready to head home.”
“Sure. But what do we do with her?” The male officer pointed to Calista. “If we just put her outside, she’s sure to be collected by the slavers.”
Calista looked intently at the female officer. “I’ll be helpful. I can cook and clean. I won’t be a bother at all; I promise.”
The woman pursed her lips and then spoke. “Frankly, that sounds great. My house cleaner charges way too much and I hate cooking.”
“I’ll make things very easy for you. I’m excellent at cleaning house,” Calista said, with as much enthusiasm as she could muster.
The officer smiled. “You’re brave and hard-working. I like that. I’ll send you to school, of course. Have you ever been to school?”
Calista looked down. “No.”
“Well, don’t worry. Initiative and a good work ethic will get you far in life. I’m sure you’ll do fine.”
“Thank you.” Calista looked up into the woman’s face, honest eyes and a hint of a smile. Everything was going to be okay now.
“I’m off shift. Follow me,” she said to Calista. The officer walked towards the door. “See you tomorrow, Brad,” she called over her shoulder. She pushed open the door and walked away from the brightly lit building. Calista followed her into the dark parking lot and into a new life.