Photograph by Charlie Sawyer

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Diary August 31
He loves me. He loves me not. I think I’ve plucked off every single pedal from every wild daisy around me. It doesn’t matter anymore. I should go home. Mom is worried by now or maybe not. She doesn’t care or I don’t care. I’m so tired. I wish I could fall asleep, fall in and sink to the bottom of the Ochlockonee River. I can fill my pockets with big heavy rocks, jump into the river and let it carry me out to the Gulf of Mexico, out to a sea of love.

Addie was lying on a bed of cool, wet grass alongside the bank of a sinkhole surrounded by summer lush bald cypress, live oak, ficus, maple and pine trees. Her head and shoulders were slightly elevated in his lap. She felt his hands wiping the dirt off and gently pulling her hair out of her face. The air was thick with dew as the early morning sun peaked between each tree trunk; sparkling rays shining across Addie’s wet face.

Addie had originally fallen asleep in the back of an old pick-up truck. Sometime, while the moon still reflected off the surface of the water in the sinkhole, she stumbled out of the pick-up and walked toward the bank. She sat down next to the water with her legs against her chest; resting her chin on top of her knees. The water was dark and quiet while the night creatures tiptoed around, watching her curiously. The air was anchored by an orchestra of crickets and other insects serenading on dew soaked leaves and swooning their potential mates. She lifted her chin and lowered her right leg toward the water then placed her toes just above the surface anticipating the moonlight dancing over every ripple. She dipped her big toe in and out watching the ringlets of water spiral outward until encircling the sinkhole. The sinkhole was only seventeen feet in diameter. She looked down into the water hoping to see a summoning but the water was black and anything even only inches below the surface was not visible. She saw the moonlight cast a hazy halo and shadow where her face would normally cast a reflection.

Addie waved her long hair side to side a few inches above the surface; watching the moonlight scatter between strands. She could to fall into the 90 foot depths and go straight down without the want or need to swim back up. She could breathe, she had gills, and her eyes were like that of a deep sea creature allowing her to see through the darkness; inspecting every tiny single-celled organism squirming under the water. As she sank farther down the water grew colder numbing her fingers and toes. Her body slowed and began to hover in the murky depths noticing caverns all around. She spun, twisting her body in circles, trying to count each cave but found herself recounting the same ones over and over not knowing where she had begun. Every cave looked alike and every opening was exactly the same size. Franticly, she stopped, realizing the sinkhole was expanding around her; the bank evading the splash of water rings. She thought she must return to the surface but with every effort to swim upward she was cast farther down. Suddenly, she felt something grab her hair as her body was pulled up quickly. She felt the rush of warm air hit her face and fill her lungs. She coughed and as the water drained from her ears she heard the crickets again. A large arm came across her breasts holding her body upright from behind while seated on the ground a few feet away from the sinkhole. She heard him breathing heavily but he didn’t say a word.

Addie was exhausted and could barely hold her eyes open. She sneezed a few times as she was lifted then carried and placed on the open tailgate of the truck. She closed her eyes and drifted into sleep. The orchestra of insects sounded muffled like cotton had been stuffed inside her ears. She heard a voice but it was low and mumbling. Another voice, and another chimed in and she thought she may be dreaming. Her shoulders hurt and her arms were aching. She was pulled up by her arms into a seated position on the tailgate.

“What’s happening?” “Where am I?” Addie heard no response but instead felt the caress of fingers on her cheek. The fingers found their way towards her mouth and carefully pried apart her chattering teeth slipping something small, soft and spongy on her tongue.

“Swaller dis, baby. It’ll make ya feel bedder.” The voice with the fingers replied.

She felt a straw placed between her lips and something sweet and bubbly came through which cleansed her pallet of the rancid taste of sinkhole water she had swallowed. She coughed and felt the aching sensations race through her arms and legs from exhaustion. Maybe this was all a bad dream and she would wake up at home in her own bed surrounded by her younger brothers and sister urging her to get up.

Addie didn’t think she would ever see her siblings or her home again. She had run away and was charmed by a man with a pick-up destined to take her anywhere she wanted to go; away from Woodville, away from Florida, away from the heat and away from her life. She never intended on hitchhiking but after the head gasket had blown on her 1987 Reliant she thought her only chance to get away this time would be to hitch from town to town with truck drivers. They all had sleeping arrangements in their cabs and she thought it would be more exciting than sleeping on a campground. She couldn’t afford a motel room so maybe a few blow jobs could earn her some meals and rides across the country. But it was Derrick and his baby blue 1974 old pick-up that stopped for her rather than a busy, tired trucker trying to finish his route.

She was strolling up a 2-lane state highway when Derrick pulled over in front of her. There wasn’t much of a shoulder so Addie was practically walking in the road. He had just swerved in time to miss her. When he slowed and looked in the rearview mirror he noticed she hadn’t even flinched. Addie heard the pick-up pass and saw it pull off the road twenty yards in front of her. She looked up but the driver remained in the pick-up. She kept her pace walking slightly down the steep bank then passing the pick-up on the passengers side struggling not to fall into the drainage ditch. She walked back up the bank and hung her head low; staring at her feet while taking each step deliberately and carefully along the edge of the asphalt. She listened to the wind in the trees blowing late summer leaves, crispy and ready to die. She occasionally heard the flapping of wings most likely various hawks and kites that nested in the tops of pines. Autumn was soon to arrive and the hurricane season gulf stream winds had every creature preparing fledglings to leave the nest and venture out into the Apalachicola National Forest alone.

Addie had run away from home a few times since she was fifteen after her father had died in a shrimping boat accident during a tropical storm; his body was never found at sea. Everyday for months, her mother sobbed while holding the wooden trinkets her dad had carved and brought home after several weeks in the gulf. Her mother became very depressed and anxious all the time. She would scream and cry for hours before collapsing on the couch holding a carved wooden dolphin covered in dry salty tears. Her mother was also obsessed with collecting plastic milk jugs to eventually fill with salt water and white sand from the gulf coast. She claimed that this was a mission to find her husband but she developed a fear of the water and lost the courage to go anywhere near it. Every evening she went out after dinner to seedy bars and drink herself into someone’s bed returning in the morning to pretend to a mother again. She remarried some alcoholic she met in Crawfordville. Her dad had only died eight months prior.

Addie had to leave the toxic atmosphere of a drunk stepfather and the rotten stench of hundreds of milk jugs and trash bags in which her mother refused to throw away. She was tired of caring for her younger sister and two younger brothers; one who was too old to still be in diapers. After two years of overnight runaway adventures with boys from school she thought it best to plan an escape alone with no returning home. She was dating a boy named Eddie whom she met in middle school but decided to leave him behind with the rest of the past.

“Hey there? Y’allright?” Derrick yelled to Addie up ahead.

Addie did not answer; she kept her head low walking the shoulder of the road carefully like a it was a balance beam.

“Hey, Ya needa ride, sumwer?…HEY!

She waited a few moments then stopped and looked behind her. The man wore brown steel-toe work boots, blue jeans and a white short-sleeve undershirt. He had a red and black flannel tied around his waste with a pack of Camels almost falling out of one of the pockets. As Addie’s eyes moved upward she noticed the man was tall and had wisps of dirty blonde hair barely touching his shoulders; an outdated mullet. He had a small mustache and some scruff on his chin like he was trying to grow a goatee. His nose was long and slender and his eyes were piercing green almost glowing from all the greenery of the forest behind him.

“C’mon now, I take ya.” Derrick insisted.

Addie turned around and walked toward the pick-up. She walked along the slanted shoulder to get to the passenger door, taking a quick glance in the side view mirror hoping she didn’t look too windblown or teary-eyed before getting in.

“Looks like rains a comin so hop in.”

Derrick started the hesitant engine. It had stalled while waiting outside for her approach. He pumped the gas a few times as the it finally cranked. Addie placed her backpack on her lap and stared straight ahead in silence. He looked over at her waiting for her to initiate conversation. He noticed the runny black mascara around her cat-shaped blue eyes. He noticed her little round nose and a small mouth with shapely lips. Her face was round with high cheek bones; maybe some Cherokee in her genes. Her hair was dark brown, almost black, thick, and very long and hung down along the side of her face. She was wearing a brown leather necklace with various colored beads; some looked painted with flowers and little suns and moons. She wore a black tank top which showed little cleavage of her B-cupped breasts. Her body was slender and the olive green cargo pants that sat on her waist had three pockets running down each leg. She wore black laced-up boots with worn soles. Derrick was impressed and satisfied that he had stopped.

“Hey, wuts yer name? I’m Derrick.”
“Adelaide, but you can call me Addie.”
“So wer ya headin Addie?”
“I am going anywhere but Woodville.”

Derrick sat up, put the truck in gear and floored the gas pedal jerking the pick-up onto the road.

“Ok, so no Woodville…How old are ya?” Derrick was gauging his prospect.
“Seventeen, but I’ve been on my own since fifteen so I’m more mature than I look.”
“I can see dat.” Derrick said with a little enthusiasm.
Addie was curious. “So how old are you and where are you from?”
“Well, I from Old Bainbridge, Georgia an I’m…” Derrick stopped himself from divulging too much information to his hitchhiker then he slumped down in the seat and relaxed.

Addie noticed his demeanor and began mumbling like she was talking to Eddie. When she saw Derrick’s smile she spoke more loudly and freely like he was her new found savior rescuing her from the peril of a dysfunctional world. She noticed him looking at her breasts with his hand moving up and down on his crotch over his jeans. She stopped to take in a breath before continuing into another long-winded explanation of why she hated Woodville, her life and her stepfather. She even complained about the mail lady’s snide glances when stopping to deliver the mail. Every day the mail lady would scowl; contorting her face in such an absurdly melodramatic fashion while scanning the yard full of trash as if seeing it for the fist time. Then she’d roll her eyes underneath that hideous safari hat before returning her attention to the road and pulling away from the mailbox.

Derrick leaned over Addie’s lap toward the small cooler on the floor under her legs. He brushed his hand across her thigh before grabbing two cans of beer then handing one to her. He pulled out a couple of cigarettes for her to light them both. She inhaled the cigarette smoke like she was smoking a joint. He belched has he exhaled and slapped the steering wheel. He began to sing along with an old Merle Haggard song on the radio. Addie took a long swig of the beer to impress Derrick then began to sing along as well. He looked over in disbelief but satisfied.

With every gulp of beer, Addie began to feel the weight of Woodville slowly being left behind. But she rambled on about the fun she had swimming in nearby lakes and rivers in the summers and sleeping under the stars on clear cold winter nights next to a fire. Derrick listened as she told her story like a child describing her first trip to the county fair; his pick-up was the Ferris wheel all lit up with carnival music floating through the air like a blown dandelion. But it was his radio blaring the sulking sound of an old country ballad which was swept out the rolled-down windows scaring away any deer, squirrels or feral cats nearby in the woods.

It was a Sunday morning and very few cars were on the road. They drove up on one large four-door sedan crawling at 30 miles per hour packed with a family of seven. Derrick yelled out the window as if that would speed things up. As soon as an oncoming car had passed, he floored the gas pedal and turned the wheel to the left to pass. Addie let go of her backpack and let it fall to the floor as she grabbed the door rest with one hand and the seat belt latch with the other.

Derrick turned left on a narrow dirt road and drove about a half mile before pulling into a small parking lot at TJ’s Pub. It was an old small cottage painted blue with a tin roof and a porch on the front with rocking chairs. He turned off the ignition and sat drinking his beer and smoking his cigarette. Addie wasn’t sure if she was being kicked out or if this was a pit stop. She hoped for the latter considering the dark clouds ahead. She still didn’t know anything about Derrick except his first name and where he was from but wasn’t sure if either were the truth.

“So why we stopped?” Addie looked around.
"I gotta git some stuff from ma buddy. I be right back. Yup fer partyin ?”
Here? Addie shrugged her shoulders. She felt a twinge in her gut but it subsided. She had already started a second can of beer.

Derrick jumped out and slammed the door. He was gone for what seemed like an hour. It started to rain so Addie rolled up the windows. She drank down the beer and watched the windshield fog up from her steamy exhales and long sighs. She got out a small book with a brown leather binding from her backpack. She opened the book flipping through the pages then stopped.

June 13 Mike
School is out, finally! I’m swimming in a sea of love. I love that song! Sea of Love. Do you remember where we met...I want to tell you...I love you. Mike is so cute. He told me I am beautiful and that I look like an angel with my hair floating all around my naked body in the water. We smoked some pot and went swimming in Camel Lake today. I felt like I was in heaven. I wanted stay in the water with him. I sucked him under water. He loved it and kissed me. This is our secret. Eddie doesn’t care anyway.

June 22 Home with Eddie
Oh Eddie makes me feel so good. He cried when he saw me. I said sorry but I don’t know if he believed me. We sat for a while without talking. Maybe he doesn’t care anymore.

July 15 Billy
I wanna stay high. The joint Billy gave me was the shit. I think I will fuck to him tonight. Billy seems nice. He’s quiet. I think he’s a virgin. I haven’t asked him yet. He seems nervous. I may go home tomorrow. Only been gone for a few days but it is so humid and Billy won’t take me out of this town. At least Mike took me to Panama City one weekend! But he left me on the beach one night and didn’t come back until the next day. Bastard! But not Billy. He wouldn’t do that to me.

July 17
I sucked Billy off and he really liked it. Maybe he likes me now. I think I’m getting better. I like it okay as long as he doesn’t start pushing my head down. I hate that. It makes me gag and I almost puked but that’s when he finally did it.

July 18
We were in my car. Billy was driving me home in my car? WTF?
OMG he said he had to cuz I was crazy! I’m crazy? I’m gonna kill him! I had to pretend I was sick to get him to stop! When he got out to help I jumped back in and left him there. On I-75. He deserved it. He’s a jerk! I hate him!

July 19 Home
Eddie loves me. I know it. We made love at our favorite sinkhole today. I will never leave again. I love him so much!

Addie uncapped her pen and began to write a new entry. She shook her head as she glanced back at the old entries.

August 24 Derrick
He is so cute. I love his hair. He stares at me like Mike used to and I can’t wait to…

Addie jumped when she heard Derrick come out the door and slip off of the wet porch, colliding with the hood of his truck.

“I meant ta do dat!” Derrick swung himself around and opened the door quickly then hopped in like a kid ready to show off a new toy.
“I got us some good shit. Sorry took so long. Ya still up fer a party?”

Addie adjusted herself awkwardly. She had the diary hidden between her legs. She leaned over to slide the diary out and into the backpack. Derrick peaked over to glance down her top. She immediately sat up after the diary was secure.

“Yeah, sure, I’m game. Where we going?”

The rain had stopped. Derrick rolled down the windows then headed back in the direction they had come.

“We goin ta ma friend Bubba’s house. He’s gotta pool table an plenty uh beer and some weed and mushrooms if yer up fer it.”

Addie sat back and nodded in agreement. She had already drank several beers from Derrick’s cooler and felt open to anything. As they headed south he turned up the radio. The humid air blew in and around the cab forcefully. Addie closed her eyes and leaned back resting her head against the glass behind her. She imagined herself flying off a cliff lifting her arms while her body sank into the seat. She saw herself flying through the air like a hummingbird darting and twisting and dancing to the music of the forest. Derrick looked over and watched her. He noticed the beer between her legs and slowly reached over. She felt the tension of the air change then opened her eyes.

“What are you doing?” Addie gasped as if surprised.
“Oh nuttin’. Is dat can empty? Wanna nuther one?”

Addie opened her legs and leaned her head back again. Derrick reached for the empty can sliding it against her as he lifted it out from between her legs. She closed her eyes and let the wind blow her hair across her face. He threw the can out the window and grabbed another out of the cooler. She heard him open the beer but did not move. He placed the full can between her open legs, slowly. She waited a few moments then opened her eyes, looking down at the beer with his hand still around the can. He slid his hand up from the can forcing the backside of his fingers against her crotch. Addie let out a soft hum then she chugged down half the beer opening her legs wider while looking over at him. He placed his hand over her left breast cupping it and running his thumb over the tank top across the nipple. She shuddered. He ran his hand down her belly and between her legs pressing firmly over her cargo pants. She jumped and closed her legs quickly. She drank the rest of the beer then looked over at him with a coy smirk. He handed her a cigarette then continued to drive focussing on the road.

He pulled into a driveway and he assured Addie this was his friend, Bubba’s house. He got out and slammed the door, pulled up his jeans and went straight into the house. Before closing the door, Derrick looked back and motioned for Addie to come on. She opened the door and almost fell out before her feet could find the ground. He had already gone inside when she stood upright and looked toward the front door of the house. She was dizzy but not sick. She stumbled out from behind the pick-up door then closed it gently. The sun was directly overhead between huge cumulonimbus clouds moving southeast. It must have been around noon and the church crowd would be out and on the road soon. Addie thought she’d better slip inside before anyone saw her; though they were in the middle of nowhere. She walked slowly to the door watching her limited shadow stay underfoot. She was free and wanted to dance. This beer had a strange effect but she didn’t question.

She walked inside and saw Derrick standing over a pool table hooting and hollering over breaking the rack of balls. He handed Addie his beer knowing she would drink it. She gulped down the rest of the can and he laughed telling her to slow down. Bubba walked over to Addie and introduced himself and another guy named Mike.

“Addie as in Adelaide?” Mike reached out to shake Addie’s hand but she didn’t return the favor.
“I know you. You member me? We had some eight grade classes togedder.”
“Oh yeah? Is that all?” Addie knew the voice but the face was blurry. “I need to sit down.”
“C’mon sweets, you member me.” Mike urged.

Addie started to think about eighth grade. Her memory was a bit foggy. She spent much of her time off campus skipping school, smoking pot and skinny dipping with a group of friends. As she glanced over each face from her memory she realized Mike was the first guy to kiss her. She was only fourteen and fell for Mike because he flirted with her during Physical Ed period. He used to study her every move whether she ran around the track or slammed a volleyball over the net. Addie enjoyed the attention until he finally invited her to skip class one Friday and go swimming with him and his friends. Many daisies were destroyed in trying to determine her fate with Mike.

Derrick walked over and stood between the two of them. He turned his back to Mike and leaned toward Addie. She found herself consumed with passion for the heroic Derrick. She wasn’t sure if it was to avoid Mike or avoid her past. She leaned on Derrick pressing her breasts against his chest. He reached down and pulled her hands around his back then tilting his head downward placing his mouth on hers forcing her face upward. Her head fell back and his mouth drifted down her neck. He grabbed her breasts squeezing tightly. She flinched but pushed her pelvis into him. He grabbed her face and pushed his tongue into her mouth kissing her vigorously.

Bubba walked over and pushed Derrick off. “It’s yer shot, loverboy!”

Derrick let go of Addie like a used up doll, grabbed his cue stick, then leaned over the pool table to take his shot. He looked over at Addie to be sure she was paying attention. She acknowledged Derrick’s wink but at the same she felt Mike’s presence in the room grow uncomfortably tense. Where did Mike go?

Addie felt strange and flushed unusually more than a beer buzz would normally provide. She looked around the room and noticed an old dusty couch and a small table beside it. There was a lamp sitting on the table without its shade. Her eyes were drawn to the incandescent bulb. She stared at the light for several seconds then looked away admiring the haloed blotches of green and yellow hues scattered in her view. Every color in the room began to dance away from the object from which it came. The purple trim on a movie poster squiggled off forming an ocean of waves perpendicular to the lines of paneling on the walls. The haloed blotches bounced inside the waves while various colored balls rose off the pool table. The numbers were running around on the spinning balls to avoid being identified.

Addie wanted Derrick back in her arms. She closed her eyes and turned around in circles feeling the window fan beat the air into her face blowing her long hair back like a horses mane. She felt the arms of someone stop behind her. He was tall and his chin rested on the top of her head while he rubbed his hands up and down her breasts and crotch. He growled into her hair as it flowed around his face and neck. He grind himself against her back and she felt his erection through his jeans. She turned around to kiss him. Mike slid his tongue into her mouth still grinding. Derrick looked over and shrugged as Bubba laughed. Crack. Addie heard Derrick’s cue stick hit another ball.

“I want some uh dat.” Bubba said while motioning his hand in a jack-off.
“Yeah but I’m first, so back da fuck off.” Derrick replied.

Mike grunted something under his breath then walked away from Addie as she stood leaning into the air waiting for more attention. Derrick handed his pool stick to Bubba and walked over to Addie; catching her as she pretended to fall in his arms. He walked her to the couch and lay her down while unbuttoning and unzipping her cargo pants. He pulled her tank top up over her breasts and began sucking and biting her nipples. Bubba taunted and teased while Derrick climbed on top of her. Addie did not respond. She lay blinking with her mouth open, breathing slowly.

Derrick unzipped his jeans and pulled out his erection.
“Wanna suck it baby? Mike said you can suck real good.”

Addie didn’t move. The corners of her mouth turned upward into a half smile while her mouth opened wider. Bubba laughed and encouraged Derrick to stick it in her mouth. Derrick grabbed himself and forced it in. He pumped himself back and forth while Addie drooled all over herself gagging.

“Close your lips and make me cum, ya dumb whore!”
Addie did as she was told but couldn’t keep her mouth closed as she struggled to breathe in and out of consciousness. Derrick pulled his erection out and reached down between Addie’s legs. He spit in his hand and stroked himself then slid it into her, pumping back and forth for a few minutes until he let out a yell of relief.

Bubba gestured and laughed when Derrick sat up and said, “Whose next?”
Mike hobbled over with his pants already around his ankles. He flipped Addie over on her stomach and climbed on top of her. She turned her head to the side as she lay flat on the couch with one leg hanging down; knee on the floor. He pushed apart her legs and plunged himself in. Addie began to moan.

“She likes it! She fucking likes it!” Derrick laughed embarrassingly.
“Oh fuck er, man! Fuck her hard!” Bubba chimed in.

Addie started to lift herself but Mike pushed her down. She moaned and mumbled something but no one could understand her. Mike arched his back and thrusted faster and faster until he finished. He tripped over his own pants while getting up and tucking himself back in his boxers. Bubba walked over for his reward.

“Ha ha ha sloppy thirds, bitch!” Mike yelled at Bubba.
Bubba turned Addie over. She was crying.
“Please…stop...Derrick help...stop…” she mumbled.

Addie felt queazy and a cold sweat came over her entire body. She opened her eyes widely but saw nothing but black as a soft sizzling sound echoed inside her head. She could still hear voices, but faintly. She tried to sit up but there was a heavy weight of 260 pounds straddling her waist. Bubba grabbed Addie’s shoulders and shoved her into the couch. She felt a sudden surge of pain where her head had hit exposed splintered pieces of wood in the arm from worn down and ripped cushioning. She tried to yell out but it was hard to breathe. She laid helpless, whimpering softly. "What’s going on? Somebody help me?"

Addie lifted her arms attempting to hit or distract whoever was on top of her. She felt someone pull her arms up over her head holding them firmly. Something brittle was being wrapped and tied around her wrists. The heavy weight straddling her body began to shift and squirm. Struggling to breathe, Addie knew within a few moments she would not be awake.

Bubba was pulling his shorts down by the elastic waistband exposing his hairy genitals and pimply ass. He stood up naked wanting to pull Addie’s legs farther apart so he could fit in between. The extra fat around Bubba’s belly and legs was making penetration difficult. He forcefully yanked her pants completely off from around her ankles then plopped himself on top of her again. He looked at her face noticing her eyes were closed. With one knee on the couch and the other foot on the floor he grabbed himself trying to put himself inside her. Struggling, Bubba became angry while the other two laughed pointing at his small appendage.

“Shut da fuck up, assholes!” Bubba was furious and his erection became limp.
“Ah fuck it, we betta get the hell outta here before ma wife comes home from church.”
“You have dis much trouble with yer wife, too?” Mike teased as Bubba pulled his shorts back up. “C’mon Derrick, let's take yer truck out to dat sinkhole I told y’all bout.”

Derrick untied Addie’s wrists and pulled her tank top down. He grabbed her pants then picked her up. Bubba grabbed several beers and orange sodas from the refrigerator and followed Derrick with Addie’s limp body hanging over his shoulder. Mike opened the passenger side door to the pick-up then Derrick sat her down inside. Addie opened her eyes squinting at the afternoon sun shining directly in her face. She felt weak but the sizzling sound began to go away and she could see a little more than just black spots. She realized she was sitting naked on Derrick’s vinyl seat in the pick-up with her pants laying across her lap. Her mouth was dry and when she attempted to speak her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth.

“Can I have some water?” She whispered.

Derrick handed Addie a can of beer while starting the pick-up. Without hesitation she drank then abruptly stopped. She looked down at the can and asked for water again. He tossed a canteen of water into her lap. She leaned back putting her pants on then began to drink the water slowly. Derrick quickly put the truck in reverse and floored the gas pedal throwing Addie and the canteen into the dashboard. Then he slammed on the brakes for Mike and Bubba to climb up on the tailgate throwing Addie back against the seat. He made some snide remark as they left and headed further south.

The windows were down and the air was a little cooler after the rain. Though it was still summer, autumn was only several days away. Addie missed the water in the autumn and winter months. When it was warm she spent as much time in the water as she did outside it. Whether it was a lake, Ochlocknee River, Apalachicola River, The Gulf, or a sinkhole she swam every day. She enjoyed just floating on her back, watching the mockingbirds and cardinals fly overhead before closing her eyes and listening to the rush of water fill her ears. The water would cradle her body swallowing every pore of her skin. She especially loved to swim in the Gulf of Mexico where she felt closer to her dad. This was the only time she felt at peace.

In the autumn Addie liked to watch the colorful leaves fall from bare branches waving into the sky before going fast asleep in a dark, quiet, dormant winter. She envied the trees as they disappeared for months at a time with no regret and no turning back until spring. She imagined herself falling asleep soundly; entangled in the roots of an old live oak to keep warm under the ground safe and away from all the bad smells and voices. She wanted to run away without the eventual regret that would creep up into her throat. Addie jumped when she heard a sudden pounding on the back window.

“Turn left here! HERE, Derrick!” Mike yelled from the back.

Derrick turned onto a dirt road full of deep ruts and holes. Addie knew exactly where they were going. There were several waterholes in the area but this particular one was small and less people visited it. Most of the visitors were young teenagers smoking the pot they stole from their parent’s stash in a nightstand drawer. Eddie’s place is only a few miles away. Addie thought about an escape plan but three men against one girl wasn’t going to be easy especially since they were keeping her doped up on something. Derrick was driving too fast hitting the holes in the road. He smirked in the rearview mirror watching Mike and Bubba fly up on every bump. Addie dropped the can spilling beer all over the floorboard.

“Dammit, you clumsy bitch!”
“I don’t feel well. I’m gonna puke. Stop the truck...STOP the fucking truck!”
“Bitch, don’t puke in my truck! Hold on!”

Derrick slammed on the brakes sliding the pick-up sideways after hitting a soft sandy part of the shoulder. Addie jumped out of the truck and tried to run into the woods. She stopped and bent over retching until she threw up water and some beer. She glanced up into the woods through glassy watery eyes. Tears streamed down her face as she tried to catch her breath. She squatted down peering straight ahead after she wiped her face. This was her chance. She didn’t have to look back. She knew all three pricks were still in the pick-up. She could hear them talking over the engine. She waited after a silent pause before making a mad dash into the woods.

“Oh shit! C’mon grab the rope!” Mike saw her running away.

Derrick reached under his seat and pulled out his rifle. He checked to see if it was loaded then ran after Mike passing Bubba who was already winded.
“Stop runnin’ Addie. There’s nowur fer you ta go.” Derrick said loudly in a calm stern voice.

Addie kept running trying not to trip over her own feet. She was too weak to continue the chase but knew they were going to kill her one way or another if she didn’t get away now. Suddenly she heard a gunshot. She stopped abruptly but didn’t look back.

“Addie...baaaaaby girl, where ya goin’? Come back.” Derrick was pleading sarcastically.
Addie turned around. She knew she couldn’t outrun his rifle and didn’t want to chance his aim.
“Please let me go. I promise I won’t say anything to anyone!”
“Bubba needs some, baby. You woke up and disrupted everything. C’mon be a good girl and come back to ma truck. I got sometin that’ll make ya feel reeeeeeal good.”
Derrick turned to Bubba “Go tie er damn hands behind er back, tight!”
Bubba walked Addie back to the truck holding her shoulders. He pushed her toward Mike. “Here, you’ve had dis bitch before. She better behave!”
“Or what? You gonna sit on er?” Mike looked over at Derrick as the two whaled out in laughter.

When they reached the sinkhole Addie glanced around. She had been here many times before but remembered the first time vividly. Her and Mike had stayed in a tent for a few nights after running away from home. After a few days Mike wanted to go home where Addie didn’t. He eventually left her sitting on the edge of the sinkhole, holding daisies, dangling her feet in the water while she cried.

Addie’s arms were already cramping. She pushed her shoulders back so to avoid the slipknot around her wrists getting tighter. The passenger door opened and Derrick pulled her out. Mike and Bubba had already lit up a joint passing it around. Derrick placed the joint in Addie’s mouth. She sucked hard hoping to deaden the pain. Then he shoved something into the opening of his can of beer and told Addie to drink. She took a sip then spit something out of her mouth.

“What was that?”
“THAT was to make ya feel good.” Derrick picked it up off the ground.
“Here, take will like, baby.”

Addie closed her mouth, lips perched and wincing like she had eaten a lemon. Mike and Bubba swallowed some pieces and Derrick swallowed the rest. The three chugged down their beers and looked at Addie. She knew what was next but didn’t know who would begin. Bubba grabbed her by the arm tightly and bent her over the tailgate. He pulled down her pants while Derrick and Mike stood on either side to keep her from trying to run. Bubba pushed his shorts down frantically exposing himself. His hips were grinding the air as he frustratedly tried to push himself between her legs. He arched his large body backward but couldn’t penetrate.

“Spread your legs!” Bubba pleaded holding himself.

Derrick and Mike pulled Addie’s feet apart allowing Bubba more room. He rammed himself inside of her then forcefully used the same hand to hold her head down against the truck bed. Addie tried to scream but she couldn’t open her mouth. The side of her face rubbed against the bed of the truck with every thrust as Bubba struggled to stay inside of her.

“Hold er still! C’mon man, hold er still, dammit!” Bubba pleaded again but he stopped. He was winded. Mike pushed Bubba but he pushed back and Mike fell to the ground, snarling. Bubba plunged himself in again but this time he thrust himself in so hard that Addie heard her own pelvis thumping into the tailgate. She couldn’t tell what hurt worse: her insides, her hips, her legs, her face, or her wrists. Bubba let out a series of low grunts and panted heavily as he thrust faster and faster until he finally came. He let out an abrupt shout then pulled out quickly and fell to the ground. Addie whined trying to scream but Derrick and Mike teased and laughed as her cries were exciting them for more.

“Please, no more. It hurts. Please stop...” Addie cried but no one paid any attention.

Derrick unzipped his pants and shoved himself inside her. Addie squirmed back and forth. Mike went under the tailgate to hold her feet apart and watch. Derrick grabbed the back of Addie’s hair and slammed her face into the bed of the truck demanding her to calm down. He held her hair while ramming himself in and out. After a few minutes he was done and cued Mike to come up and take his turn, again. Addie stopped crying. She knew no one would hear her effort of a scream. She tried to visualize herself in the sinkhole floating alone; redwing blackbirds flying overhead. The sinkhole drifting off into a cloud where no one could follow. She was safe. It was quiet; only the sound of the occasional splash underwater from hands propelling her body to stay on the surface and float. With every thrust of Mike’s intrusion Addie imagined another blackbird flying overhead. But soon the sky began to darken and the birds turned into black spots. The soft sizzling sound returned and Addie knew she was going to pass out again.

She opened her eyes noticing the night sky. The stars were faintly visible due to the moon shining so brightly. She heard snoring so she slowly sat up. She was completely naked in the bed of the pick-up next to Derrick on a blanket. Her arms were still tied behind her back. She looked around and didn’t see Mike or Bubba but assumed they were sleeping somewhere close by. She felt dizzy and was dehydrated and hungry. She inched along on her butt pulling herself closer to the edge of the tailgate with her feet and legs. She slid off the edge slowly trying not to make any noise. She stumbled over to the sinkhole and sat down carefully. Her eyes were heavy and her legs too weak to stand. She knew trying to run would be hopeless. She was five miles and too far away from the highway. Even if she could get to the main road there wouldn’t be anyone there to rescue her. She thought about finding a mobile phone. At least one of them had to have a mobile phone. But her heart felt heavy and she wanted everything to stop. She wanted to sink to the bottom of the sinkhole and get sucked into one of its caverns and shoved into the Gulf of Mexico; a sea for a grave to cradle her limp dead body and finally be able to rest with her daddy.

Addie put both feet into the cool water. She thought about her hands tied around her back. There would be no returning to this world. No amount of guilt could make me turn back. This is my chance. She watched her hair fall around her shoulders. She leaned over far enough allowing her hair to graze the surface. She looked up at the moon, closed her eyes, then scooted herself into the water feet first gazing toward the sky. The water was dark and thick all around her. The silence was calming. She was sinking slowly as she watched the moonlight disappear above the surface. After a few moments she kicked her legs wanting to return to the surface. Her lungs began to burn for air. Just as she sucked in water to breathe she felt her hair being pulled upward. Then suddenly the rush of warm hair hit her face trying to replace what the water had stolen. She coughed; spitting up all the water she had swallowed and the black spots had returned.

Addie opened her eyes but everything was blurry. She was laying down in the back of the pick-up again. She heard low voices conversing and knew Mike and Bubba were still around. Derrick put something in her mouth and she did as she was told and swallowed. There were clumping and thudding sounds all around her. She was turned to her side and felt someone untie her arms then turn her back over while her arms were being tied up above her head. All three of them were in the bed of the pick-up. One in her mouth, one inside her and one sitting on the side fondling himself. They rotated around taking turns with Addie’s helpless body. She couldn’t stay awake any longer.

She dreamt of the autumn trees creating a floating bed of leaves. But a fire began and there was no water to put it out. She looked around quickly but there was nothing but empty space. Her floating bed burned while she lie on top. Each yellow, orange and red leaf burst into flames. Addie was unable to decipher the fire from the brightly colored leaves but felt the heat as it began to singe the hairs on her body. The fire began with her feet burning upward between her legs and into her belly. She screamed silently. She couldn’t open her mouth. She couldn’t move. She knew she needed to wake up and begged her eyes to open. She heard chanting and moaning as her body burned.

Suddenly she opened her eyes. It was a gun shot. She was alone in the pick-up but heard stomping and grunting all around her. There was a crashing thud against the side of the truck. The stomping continued then stopped as another gun shot was fired. Addie’s body was untied and carried out of the pick-up and unto the grass. She was awakened by the sputter of Derrick’s engine and the dirt that was flung up as he sped off down the dirt road. Mike and Bubbu scattered and ran into the woods.

“Addie wake up. Addie please wake up. Please be okay. Oh Addie,…!” The voice was interrupted by Addie opening her eyes.
“Oh my God! Addie, its me! Please stay awake! Help is on the way.”

Addie looked around. She saw the sun’s sparkling rays peaking above the horizon through the cypress trees. She saw the sinkhole a few feet away. She saw the colorful leaves dancing; a performance for her return. She saw the figure of someone behind her in the reflection of the water. She saw a blanket covering the her body. She saw his arms and hands holding her across her chest. She heard the morning songs of frogs and mockingbirds singing praises. She heard her own breathing. She heard the voice pleading. She tilted her head back to see Eddie’s face wet with tears. Addie wept for relief that the night was over as Eddie held her gently whispering “You’re safe, Addie. I got you. You’re safe.”

September 22 First Day of Autumn
I welcome the cooler weather. I like it here. It’s quiet but not as quiet as the water. I’m not sure how long I will have to stay but so far everyone has been really nice. I’m on some kind of medicine. It makes my mouth dry but helps my nerves and helps me sleep. I feel calmer. My mom came to visit yesterday. It was nice to see her. She cried and blamed herself. I tried to comfort her and told her it wasn’t her fault. She said she was going to Apalachee Center for Human Services in Tallahassee to see a therapist. I know we both have a long road of recovery but for now I have to do this on my own; so my therapist here has said. I miss Eddie and hopefully he will be allowed to visit me soon. Only family members can come see me twice a week. When I get out I will never leave Eddie again. He saved me and I am beginning to love him too. My therapist tells me to try and focus on myself rather than Eddie or my family. That I have co-dependent tendencies; whatever that means. I kinda get it. I have to go to a court hearing soon and face my rapists. I have had to relive it over and over in support groups and giving statements repeatedly to the police. I guess someday when I am out of here I will look back at all this differently, but for now I think I will stay here awhile. At least I can see Eddie in my dreams. Goodnight.