Rust: Episode Six
by Alan Augustson
15 March 2017

“Mariah?”

The girl looked up without a word. Her face was clean now; her hair styled. She wore a short dress, pretty shoes and a hint of makeup, and sat on the edge of a bed, clinging to a stuffed rabbit and looking terrified and sickly. The man came in from the dark hallway and knelt in front of her.

“My name’s Paul. I’ve come to get you out of here. Would you like to leave this place?”

Her eyes widened and she nodded, fearful but enthusiastic.

“I have a place you can go. There are other girls your age, and the grown-ups are pretty nice, too. But here.”

Paul opened a small bag and took out some nondescript clothing, and she noticed he was wearing gloves, even though it was summer. “You’ll be noticed in that dress,” he said. “I’ll leave the room so you can change. Please don’t be too long.”

“May I keep the bunny?” were the first words Mariah spoke in days. Paul smiled, nodded, winked and lightly squeezed her hand, then shut the door behind him after leaving.

The girl made quick work of the change; in barely two minutes she was opening the door and peeking out into the hallway. Every light was out.

“I can’t see,” she said.

“I know, honey,” Paul whispered. “Trust me, you don’t want to see anything just yet.”

He led her by the hand to the door. Mariah felt something squish underfoot as she walked.

“Is the fat man still here?”

“He was. He’s gone now.”

“I hate him,” she growled.

Paul nodded sadly. “I know. Did he already hurt you?”

“Not yet,” she said, and her sour intonation gave away her knowledge of what she was there for.

“Well he can’t now. Okay, stop here and kick off your shoes. Don’t take them off with your hands.”

Mariah did as told, and Paul gave her another pair to wear, not nearly so pretty but they hurt less to walk in. As the two hurried out the service entrance, she looked back and noticed the red footprints that ended where they had changed their shoes.

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Social scientist, public policy analyst, emergency management consultant and author. U.S. Marine Corps veteran and former firefighter. Former candidate for U.S. Congress.

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