Two weeks ago, the whole state of Iowa delved into a state of fear and panic as a fifth person was reported missing in only two months, causing parents to closely monitor their children and teenagers to head home right after school. Heather Austin, a twenty-two year old girl living in Des Moines was allegedly abducted by an unknown person on a Friday night as she headed to a bar where her girlfriends were waiting for her. Heather, who’s five-foot-five with blue eyes and dirty blonde hair with bangs was last seen wearing light blue jeans and a gray crop top.
Most recently, a man who went by the name of James and lived in Aurora stumbled upon my online profile. He offered me five-hundred dollars (plus a train fare refund) in exchange for sexual favors; although I wasn’t eager about the idea of leaving town for a job, I knew traveling would become a necessity at some point, and the money was good enough, so I took it. I thought about reaching out to Ryan and telling him I was leaving town, maybe asking for a ride to the train station, but since we haven’t spoken in a week, I didn’t want to be exploitative and decided not to burden him. The train took less than two hours to get me there, and I had to take a cab to the address given. The man’s house was isolated from the rest and set at least a dozen yards away from the sidewalk. Under the searing sun, I slowly walked past the withering, dying grass covering the entire front lawn and reached towards his porch. I knocked on the door and it took him a while to open it. As soon as I saw him, I thought about turning away and leaving; he was acting peculiar; like I showed up unexpectedly — like he didn’t want me there. He didn’t say a lot, and when he invited me in, his voice was low and strained. That was probably the first time I was so aware of making a step forward through a doorway. Somehow, I knew that once I’m in, I’m in, and that it would be impossible for me to reconsider and leave.
His house was sparsely furnished. I sat on a stained couch opposite the television, a medium-sized coffee table in between the two. Thick layers of dust covered his furniture. He asked me if I wanted to watch a porn flick and I had to decline because I was already running late, not to mention the unsettling feeling I had; all I wanted was to collect the money and run out the door. He told me to sit down and wait while he went upstairs; he didn’t mention why. I heard cracks of footsteps moving above me and tried to imagine what he could possibly be doing upstairs. The noise then stopped and started again as he came back down the stairs. I tried to stay vigilant, but for some reason I didn’t move from my seat. Looking in front of me, I could feel him approaching, his shadow slowly embracing me until I was completely covered by it. He stopped, and when I rotated my head to see what was going on, he made a quick sudden movement; he stung me in the right side of my shoulder with a sharp needle containing an injection. I made a jerking move before abruptly standing up and tripping on the uneven rug below me and falling on my back. I crawled as far away from him, screaming at some point, and he just hovered around, incautious and negligent, waiting for me to drift away into a deep sleep. I felt a pair of strong hands pulling my feet and dragging me out of the room and into a colder, damp and dusty one; I felt them undressing me as I slowly faded away and lost total consciousness.
I woke up naked in a basement or a cellar, I couldn’t tell for sure; a thick towel stuffed in my mouth so deep I could only breathe through my nostrils. I let out as much saliva as I possibly could to moisten it and allow myself to partially open my mouth. I blinked repeatedly to push my vision into focus and inspected the room; it was moderately small with a high vaulted ceiling. My focus then shifted to the other corner where I saw a girl in awful shape hugging herself in a corner. Just like me, she was naked, a chain wrapped around one of her legs. I immediately asked about her name, and after a timeless silence, she finally moved and answered. It was her: Heather Austin. She got as close to me as she could so I could see her. She had feminine chipped lips that contrasted with her other features which seemed more masculine to me. Then again, she’s been held captive longer than me and looked horrible because of the neglect and physical abuse. Her eyes were the puffiest eyes I’ve ever seen, and her eyeballs popped so distinctively it almost seemed as if they were about to fall out. I could sense a pleasant looking girl underneath her overall petrified and beatdown physical state.
James has been keeping her hostage since her abduction and was planning on enslaving her. She said that another girl just died by extreme causes of starvation, untreated sickness and physical torture. She suspected that her dismembered and shredded body parts were mixed with regular food he’s been feeding her. As I gathered as much information as she could provide to assess the seriousness of what I was dealing with, we suddenly heard him clump down the stairs. She gasped and stifled a cry while I huddled in fear not knowing what to expect; seeing her intense, horrified reaction, I could tell it wasn’t good. The door made a harsh discordant sound when he opened it. When he walked in, he looked edgy, raunchy and plain bad. The humid air plastered his black hair to his head, and his face was pale and drawn. Lifeless. His eyes had an unusual hazel color to them; they looked like well water. Vagueness and indirectness was his primary method. He mumbled words we couldn’t understand and said the most random, obscene things. One thing was for sure, though: he was doing this in the name of God; whatever that meant. People like us were an abomination, and he considered himself a God-sent, some sort of vessel to the divine, sent to earth to make things right and eliminate sin and blasphemy.
I made the mistake of not telling Ryan about my whereabouts. I should’ve listened and refused to come here, but it was too late; I was already there, not hypothetically, but for real. I was physically there, held captive and chained to a pole. I was there, and the only thing that mattered was me finding a way through the hellish days I was about to experience.
He unzipped his pants, pulled his penis out and made me take it in my mouth. He then moved over to Heather, spread her legs wide open and forced himself inside of her, pumping away until he ejaculated. Hearing the screams and groans was uncomfortably agonizing; I was motionless and cramped with disbelief as a kaleidoscope of horror happened in front of me. I needed an urgent refuge from the awful reality. A depressive wave swept over me as I looked back and thought about how responsible I was in creating my own destructive path. After he was done, he stroked her hair reassuringly before violently lurching and charging up the stairs. Heather gathered herself together and retreated back to her corner where she cried big, deep sobs while I stared at her, elated and dejected. I could tell with all certainty that darker days were ahead; days I was hoping I’d be out of there before they arrived.
When you’re stuck chained in a basement, naked and without food or water, a day feels like a year as the quietness of the space and its seclusion from a decent source of lighting create the illusion of a time stopped. Growing up watching forensic shows, I knew the only way to survive was to put mind over matter and examine every inch of our surroundings, searching for anything useful for our escape. There was a small window in the room located at head height and far away from us that we couldn’t reach due to the chains around our ankles. Whenever we seemed to have the energy to stay awake and plot for a way to escape, James would inject a sleeping drug into our system, sometimes keeping us unconscious for a little less than a day. We’d wake up in a druggy haze, often forgetting where we were and what day it was. At some point, we lost track of time. Thinking about it now, he probably violated our bodies countless times during our sleep. During the last night of our captivity, he made me take a metal dildo up my ass; he swiftly shoved it in and it hurt like hell. Heather had to endure another degrading form of torture. She had to keep her mouth wide open while he peed all over her. Once he was done, he paced around the room for a while, then said, “Life owes me,” before turning and retreating up the stairs. Whenever he interacted with us, he seemed torn; every time he inflicted his violent acts, regret followed. It wasn’t the usual kind of regret, but more had to do with shame. The fact he was disgusted by us yet still engaged with us sexually didn’t make any sense; he was a repressed religious fanatic who practiced the things he claimed to be sinful.
The next morning, I decided to finally use the remaining bits of hope I had in me to fabricate a plan to escape. But first, I had to make Heather promise me something.
“I want you to promise me that, if and when we make it out of here, that my involvement in all of this would be kept a secret”, I bluntly said.
She didn’t immediately assimilate what I was telling her due to the awful amount of stress and the danger we were in. When I repeated myself, she seemed to get the point although I could tell she thought I was crazy for suggesting that when our lives were on the line, but the fact I was more focused and confident we could beat him and escape made her agree with whatever I said or suggested. When she promised she wouldn’t tell the police about me, I revealed to her what my plan was; I told her to convince James to let her go out, promising him to bring back another girl for him; it would be easier for her to lure in another captive than him since, unlike him, she was a pretty and approachable young girl. She was doubtful he would agree, but it was our only shot for survival. I proceeded in telling her that if he agreed to use her as bait, she should immediately run away from him whenever she found herself in a public space, and scream asking for help; whether it was to a stranger or a cop.
When James showed up downstairs, Heather confidently proposed to help him find his next prey. At first, he was very reluctant, but he eventually expressed an interest in her idea. He stood in front of us for a few minutes before going back upstairs. We weren’t sure whether he had totally agreed to it or not, until he came back downstairs with a bucket full of water, dish soap, and some women clothes. He unchained Heather, revealing a gun hidden in the back side of his pants, and asked her to clean up while he warmed up his truck engine. As we heard the rumble of the engine, I told her to skip the cleaning up part and just put the clothes on. As she did so, I heard the loud vehicle being pulled out of the parking garage and to the front of the house. I got a bit too agitated and taken by the moment and told her we were changing plans which instantly confused and scared her. I told her about the gun and ordered her to get hold of it by attacking him from behind when he came back downstairs. She repetitively expressed she was against the idea, but I persuaded her into following my instructions. Not knowing how big our time window was to fabricate our escape plan as James could’ve been back at any minute, we were kept on our toes throughout the whole thing. I told her to push the chair located in the corner to the other side of the room, locating it underneath the window. Next, I asked her to get on it and use her elbow to break the window, and she did. I then guided her through the motions by telling her to pick up the sharpest piece of glass and quickly position herself behind the locked door while I remained seated on the floor. On his way back downstairs, James turned on the radio and increased its volume to the maximum. With each step he took, we took a deep breath, making constant eye contact and hoping it would all be over soon; all we needed to do was stay focused so we could successfully execute our plan.
His heavy footsteps were even louder than the music blaring away upstairs. My heart leapt, and Heather’s jaw hung open and her eyes widened; she almost burst into a set of wracking sobs but managed to keep it together. His anticipated arrival came to us as shocking waves, and for a second my mind seemed to stop; I doubted Heather’s capability to physically overcome him, but he was too close to entering the room for us to get back into our initial state; I don’t think our strong craving for survival would’ve allowed us to give up anyway. Once the door opened and he walked in, Heather ran and stabbed him in the back; her body weight and the injury caused made him fall on the floor face down. She snatched his gun away, and I urged her to look for the keys and release me; she did. When the chains fell off right leg, I swiftly got up and fell down on my knees; I haven’t walked in almost a week my legs had forgotten how to function. They were also so stiff I was struggling to remain standing, and the whole world seemed to be spinning when I finally did. I grabbed her hand and we both ran upstairs. I ordered her to keep a vigilant view of the corridor, pointing the gun in the basement’s direction in case he came up while I went upstairs to look for clothes and my wallet.
I couldn’t find my own clothes so I grabbed pants and a t-shirt from his closet and turned the room upside down looking for my wallet; it was in one of his drawers. I heard a gunshot and my heart stopped. I didn’t move until I heard a scream coming from Heather, more gunshots and sounds of struggle. I rushed downstairs with a baseball bat I found lying in the corridor upstairs to the sight of him disarming her, grabbing her and throwing her across the room. I swiftly took a couple of strides forward and swung the baseball bat and hit him in the back; the terrible blow made him fall again. I tried reaching for the gun, but he grabbed my ankle and I fell down. I looked up and realized there was a pot on the stove with gas running. On the kitchen counter, a large bottle of vodka was located. The thought of creating a chaotic environment immediately came to mind, so I kicked him in the face and rushed to the counter, grabbed the bottle and smashed it in the stove’s direction; the liquid’s instant contact with the flames caused an ignition. The whole kitchen lit up in less than a minute, but our fight wasn’t quite over at that point. James grabbed me from behind, pushed me to the floor and punched the taste out of my mouth before carefully positioning both arms around my neck and squeezing. I tried reaching for the baseball bat but he kept on pulling me further away from it. My temples were pounding so hard and my stomach cramps were killing me I almost gave up and surrendered myself to him; as soon as I did so, Heather showed up next to him, and hit him as hard as she could with the bat, creating an instant lesion on the left side of his face. I heard something snap as he howled and collapsed sideways. I got up and reached for the gun and pointed it at him. He didn’t acknowledge the fatal danger he was in and totally ignored us. He opened a dialogue with God, saying:
“God, Here I Come.”
I wasn’t intending on pulling the trigger but I accidentally did, blowing his brains out.
The whole house burned down right after we made it out. I told Heather to make her way to the nearest house and ask for help before running away and disappearing in the darkness.
James’ mental retardation was what helped us survive; he suffered from some kind of psychosis, but I couldn’t quite determine what it was. I was very scared of him at first, thinking that he was fully conscience and in control of his actions, but he wasn’t. He made a lot of threats toward us, but they were never heeded. We definitely wouldn’t have survived if it weren’t for his serious lack of focus and judgment.
The past week was the worst week of my whole entire life. I never imagined I’d be part of something as gruesome and dangerous as being held captive in a murderer’s basement. Every day, I felt myself slowly reaching the bottom of a downhill slide; I was hopeless. I would’ve never thought I’d survive something like that. And the seriousness of the issue which initially prevented me from contacting anyone after my escape to inform them about the danger I’ve been through made me feel so isolated and alone. It all comes down to how much of myself I’ve kept away from people; the lack of communication with my parents during that week could’ve been alarming and a red flag, but it didn’t because of my refusal to stay in constant contact with them. I thought: “If I were dead, no one would’ve known”, and that makes me a little sad. At the end of the day, I realized that I was human and sometimes humans need saving. As I dragged myself to the nearest gas station, I fought so hard not to lose consciousness; I had become ill due to malnutrition and I knew I wouldn’t be able to make it alone, so I called Ryan as soon as I reached a payphone; I told him not to say anything to Tye, and he made sure he didn’t suspect anything when he took his car and drove halfway to get me. When he saw my awful state, he asked about what had happened, but of course, I couldn’t tell him; I lied and toned down the tragic event to a simple story where I was catfished by a man who masqueraded himself as someone who wanted to hire me only to end up being a homophobe who physically assaulted me upon my arrival. Ryan urged me to go to the police, but I explained to him I couldn’t due to prostitution being illegal. I also had to refuse medical treatment because my health insurance coverage hadn’t kicked in yet. We were both worried something might happen to me, though, so after grabbing food, I asked him to drop me off at the hospital where I sat in the waiting room, a large bottle of water in hand to keep myself hydrated, and waited for the pain to subside and for my energy to get back. I stayed there for five hours just in case I ended up fainting, knowing that if I did, someone would immediately see me and I’ll end up getting treated. However, I knew that was unlikely to happen and that all I had to do was go through the physical torment until it went away; and it did.