The Paper Swan
Author:Leylah Attar

Really close.

“Ropes, chains, fishing equipment . . .”

I was starting to make out faint lines running vertically above me, inches from my face.

Yes. I can see! My eyes are okay!

I heard a lock turn and then the room flooded with glorious, blinding light that made me want to weep.

I tried to align my eyes with the gaps above me, the ones that allowed the light through. It looked like I was on the floor, trapped under planks of wood.

A man’s silhouette appeared on the stairs, with another figure behind him.

I’m here.

I started to rock furiously.

“Looks like one of your crates fell over,” said the customs officer.

I pushed it over. Find me. Please find me.

“Yep.” He walked towards me. “I just need to secure them.” He jammed his leg against my crate, preventing it from moving.

I could see the lady clearly now, through the slits of the lid—not all of her, but her hands and torso. She was holding some paperwork, and there was a walkie-talkie hanging from her belt.

I’m here.

Look up from your clipboard. You’ll see the light shining on my eye.

One step forward and you can’t miss me.

One. Lousy. Step.

“Need some help?” she asked, as the man picked up the crate that I’d managed to dislodge and put it back on top of me.

Yes! HELP. Help me, you dumb twat!

“I got it,” he replied. “A bit of rope, some hooks and . . . we’re good to go. There. All secured.”

“Those are some good-sized crates. Expecting a big catch?” I heard the thud of her steps on the stairs.

No! Come back.

I’m sorry I called you a dumb twat.

Don’t leave me.

PLEASE.

DON’T. LEAVE!

“Sometimes I manage to reel in a good one,” he replied.

The smugness in his voice sent a chill down my spine.

Then he shut the door, and I was plunged back into complete, utter darkness.





I WAS CRAWLING THROUGH A tunnel of sandpaper. Every time I moved forward, my skin caught on the rough, dry surface.

Scrape, scrape, scrape.

The sound of my cells sloughing off, layer by layer. My knees were raw, my back was raw, my shoulders were raw, but I could feel the warmth of the sun. I knew that if I just kept reaching for it, I’d make it out. I kept going and going, and soon I had room enough to stand. There was gravel all around me.

My heels sank into small stones and pebbles.

Crunch, crunch, crunch.

I kept walking. Everything hurt, but I trudged towards the light. And suddenly it was on me, all around me, making me squint from the sheer brilliance. I blinked and woke up, letting out a deep breath.

Whoa. Talk about a freakish nightmare. I was safely tucked away in bed, and the sun was streaming through the window. I sighed and snuggled back under the covers. A few more minutes and then I’d skip downstairs to collect my three kisses before my father left for work. I wasn’t going to take them for granted anymore.

Crunch, crunch, crunch.

I frowned.

It wasn’t supposed to follow me into reality.

I kept my eyes closed.

The covers felt funny, rough and coarse, not at all like my soft, silk duvet.

The window, the one I’d caught sight of momentarily, it was small and round. The kind that belonged on a boat.

And I hurt. I could feel it now. I hurt everywhere. My head was thick and heavy, and my tongue was stuck to the roof of my mouth.

Crunch, crunch, crunch.

I knew it was bad, whatever that sound was. It was coming from behind me and I knew it was bad and evil, and it was going to pull me right back into hell.

“About time,” it said.

Fuck, fuck, fuck!

Dah-me-yahn.

Damian Hair-ripping, Skull-bashing, Coma-Inducing, Caballero.

He was here and he was real.

I squeezed my eyes tight. I’m pretty sure a wobbly tear would have escaped, but my eyes were so dry, my lids felt like sandpaper. All of me felt like that—raw and scraped, inside and out. No wonder I had been dreaming about tunnels of sandpaper. I was probably dehydrated. Who knew how long I’d been out or what the side effects were of whatever he’d used on me?

“Did you . . . what did you do to me?” My voice sounded weird, but I had never been more grateful for it. The same went for my arms and my legs and the rest of me. My head hurt, my bones ached, but I was still in one piece and I was never, ever going to hate my belly or my ass or the dimples on my thighs again.

Damian didn’t reply. He was still behind me, out of my line of sight, and he kept doing whatever the hell it was he was doing.

Crunch, crunch, crunch.

I started to tremble, but stifled the whimper that threatened to escape.

It was a slow, psychological game—him, being in total control, and me not knowing what was going to happen next, or when, or where, or why.

I startled when he slid a stool next to me. It had a bowl filled with some kind of stew, a hunk of bread that looked like it had been ripped off—no knife, no niceties—and a bottle of water. My stomach jumped at the sight of it. I felt like I hadn’t eaten in days, and although I wanted to throw it all back in his face, I was ravenously hungry. I lifted my head and sank back down—the motion, combined with the rocking of the boat, making me woozy and disoriented. I attempted it again, more slowly this time, coming up on my elbows before sitting up.

Crunch, crunch, crunch.

What the hell was that?

“I wouldn’t turn around if I were you,” he said.

Interesting. He didn’t want me to see his face. If he planned to kill me, why would he care? It would only matter if he didn’t want me to be able to identify him.

I spun around. The world went all dizzy and blurry, but I spun around. Maybe I was a crazy-ass bitch, but I wanted to see his face. I wanted to memorize every last detail so I could nail the bastard if it ever came down to it. And if he killed me, so be it. At least we would be more even.

I saw your face: Bang Bang.