/depTH/ noun

  1. the distance from the top or surface to the bottom of something.
  2. the quality of being intense or extreme.
  3. a point far below the surface.

Content warning: violence, language

5:57am. Saturday, August 2nd. 54 degrees Fahrenheit. Still air.

A rusty metal pole. Faded ‘76’ and ‘45’ lettered near the top in yellow paint. Cigarette butts scattered at its base.

A woman, leaning, waiting. Hands in the pockets of her oversized half-zipped hoodie. Low cut v-neck cropped tank underneath. Jean shorts cut off at her upper thighs, ripped hems. Scuffed black and white sneakers. One foot scraping back and forth on the pavement, shredding the cigarette remains through pure friction.


Another girl walks up the sidewalk toward the bus stop. She’s dressed in scrubs. A high schooler, part of the hospital’s teen summer intern program.

The woman has been expecting her.

The 76 just left, she comments with a shrug. The girl flips out.

But it’s not supposed to be here till 6:10!

I don’t know what to tell you.

Shit, my mom is gonna kill me. Shit!

Look kid, just take an Uber.

My mom will know I used her account, and then she’ll think I was running late. Shit!

Hey, it’s okay, let me call one for you.

The girl begins to protest, but the woman looks at her watch and cuts her off.


It’s no problem. My sister was in the program a few years ago. I’ll have the Uber drop you off at the Building 3 Entrance, where she always went. The woman pulls her phone out and opens the app with a tap.

The girl smiles weakly, thanking her softly. Her reservations turn to animated delight when the car pulls up not a minute later.

Thank you thank you thank you she squeals. The girl hops in, confirming with the driver they are indeed en route to Building 3. The woman salutes as the car speeds off.

6:02. Thank goodness.

6:03. The woman composes herself.

The bus pulls up. It’s a city bus, making its hourly rounds. The woman is familiar with this bus. Years ago, before she could drive, she took it daily to school and back. It went past the city center, the high school, the edge of the shopping district, the library, the hospital — a very busy commuter route.

It’s the 76.

The doors open with a begrudging sound, the mechanisms seemingly on their last legs. A smiling man, full brown beard bushy on his face and a transit agency hat on his head, peers down at her. He’s a large man, a handful of rotund, hairy belly peeking out from the bottom of his shirt as he sits in a seat just a smidge too small for him.

“You’re early,” the woman says with a smile.

“Not by much,” he replies good-naturedly.

“By 7 minutes,” she teases.

“Well we’ve got a bus schedule savant on our hands here! Maybe I should just leave if you’re complaining about me being early, huh?”

She doesn’t move to climb the steps, just frowns a little pout as she leans forward ever so slightly. Her v-neck frames the cleavage on display.

“All good fun!” He coughs. “Come on and how about you take a seat, no use standing when I’m already here.”

The woman bounces up the steps, then stops in front of the ticket machine. The threshold. She notices him eyeing her up and down. His smile. She makes to pull her wallet from her hoodie, but he waves her along.

“This one’s on me today, Miss Time Table. If you’ll overlook me leaving a bit early—” He pulls a shiny token from his pocket, and slots it into the machine. “Then we won’t have any trouble.”

“You sure?” Her eyes are wide, wondering.

“I’m feeling like a gentleman this morning, what can I say?”

She sits in the first seat and crosses her legs, hands still in her pockets.

“Thank you so much,” she coos out from her seat.

The bus pulls away from the curb and cruises down the street with ease. No other cars on the road at this hour on a Saturday.

The man glances into his rear view mirror at the girl. She smiles at him. He smiles back. Then returns his focus to the road.

Now she uncrosses her legs. Spreads them as wide as a confident man after nailing a job interview. Her hands are still in her pockets, her shoulders hunched over her lap. “You go to the hospital right?”

“You work there?”

“Summer intern.”

The man chuckles. “Don’t you kids need to wear those scrubs, like the doctors and such? Not that they do you any favors.”

“Yeah, they’re so strict with the dress code. Interns aren’t even allowed to wear jewelry.”

“Dress codes! They don’t make any sense! If a girl wants everything hanging out, I say let her!”

The woman laughs prettily, encouragingly, and the man continues.

“You’ve definitely got the assets worth showing off.”

She lets out a single laugh. He keeps going, guffawing loudly.

“You know what, what if interns wore those backless hospital gowns, now that would be something, huh?”


“So why aren’t you in scrubs then?” They’ve stopped at a light, and he checks her out again in the rearview mirror, frowns slightly at her posture. “You a rebel?”

The light changes to green.

“Actually, my internship was a while ago. Five years.”

“Is that so?” He steers them around a corner.


Silence. Just the rumble of the engine beneath them. The man slows to a stop at the yellow light before them. The streets are so empty, he probably could have made it. But he reckons it’s best not to draw attention.

“Actually, now that I think about it, I never interned there. My sister did.” The woman stands up, hands in hoodie pockets still.

“You may remember her. Hair in braids. Glasses.”

The driver tenses. The light changes from red to green.

She continues. “She didn’t take off her jewelry that day. A bracelet.”

The bus zips forward.

“Pastel pink scrubs.”

He changes lanes with a lurch, beelining to the ‘76’ bus stop ahead. “I think it’s best you get out here.”

She’s already behind him. Hands out of her pockets. The cold barrel of a gun against the back of his neck. “Keep. Driving.”

He lurches back into the previous lane, the bus nearly tilting from swerving back and forth. They zoom past the stop. “You fucking bitch—”

“Take me to them.”

“I don’t know what the fuck you’re on about—”

“Take me to them.” She shoves the gun harder against his neck. He winces.

“Shoot me and we both die when this thing crashes.”

“That would just speed up my plans.”

“Fuck you.”

“Take me.” She roughs the barrel against him again. “Now.”

And so he does.

They abandon the bus in a dirt lot outside of town amidst a copse of trees, far from the shopping district or the library or the hospital. But not far enough that the woman doesn’t feel the bitter pang of anger and self-hatred shoot through her heart. So close, this whole time. So, so close.

The woman leaves her hoodie and her phone on the bus. She walks a few paces behind to keep him from turning back for the gun. He already tried once, as they walked down the stairs of the bus. She aimed her shot to whiz past his face into the surrounding trees. A warning.

He lumbers ahead, leading them around the trees. They come upon a cellar door. She spies the remains of a cabin beyond, but she doesn’t allow herself to look for long. Just a glance, then she trains her eyes back on the man. Sweat stains the armpits and lower back of his t-shirt, which rides up, plumber’s crack on full display.

He holds his hands up as he turns back to her. “I have the key in my pocket.” He gestures with his whole body toward the pocket in question. She points her gun to his groin.

“If you don’t pull out a key, I shoot.”

He hurries to pull out a keyring and holds it out to her with gusto. “It’s a key, a key!”

She cocks her eyebrow. Then the gun.

“Alright, alright! I’m unlocking it!”

He pries open the cellar doors and scurries in, a worm crawling into its hole.

She allows herself one long breath in. And out.

Then follows.

The rickety, wooden stairway opens up to a short, cramped hallway with a door at the end. A horrible, pungent smell wafts from it, like a latrine that hasn’t been emptied in months. With another key on the ring, he unlocks that door as well, and it swings inward.

A chorus of feminine voices, low and devoid of emotion. Welcome back. The woman falters a step.

The man says nothing in reply, just pauses a few steps into the room. She follows behind and stops in the doorway.

She had pictured this moment, imagined it countless times in her daydreams and nightmares and hours and hours of planning. Finding the bodies. Maybe even one girl alive, his latest plaything.

Not six girls, all alive, though just barely. Not—

She gasps.

Not her sister among them.

The six forms before her are varying ages, varying stages of ragged and worn to the bone. Six pairs of eyes haunted with memories she can’t even begin to imagine. Six ankles cuffed and chained up to the wall behind.

And yet. She’d recognize her sister’s features anywhere. Even five years later. Her face is sunken and lined. One of the lenses of her glasses has a splintering crack straight through. Her hair is longer now, and matted to the point of grotesque. No more pastel scrubs; She’s in a ratty oversized shirt that looks like it was bought at a dollar store. But her bracelet—she still has it on. The two hearts entwined on a rope cord glint from across the room.



That moment of realization—that hesitation with surprise, with a burning hope—that’s what does Alicia in. With the moment’s pause, the man whips back around and lunges for the gun. In her surprise, Alicia misfires, and the bullet ricochets off the wall. The girls shriek.

The man and Alicia grapple, fighting for control of the weapon. He shoves her against the wall to the side of the doorway, and without thinking, she throws the gun forward, away, out of his reach. It clatters onto the ground.

He grabs her, hands around her neck, and though she claws back, he growls but doesn’t budge.

“Stop.” A small, timid voice. “Stop.” Louder this time, more sure.

Jessica stands, trembling. Chain taut as far as it can go. The gun is in her shaking grasp.

The man yanks Alicia in front of him, one hand pulling the hair hard at the base of her scalp, one hand clutched around her shoulders. “Sisters, huh?” He says wryly. “Always had a thing for sisters.” His lips curve up greedily.

“I’ll shoot,” Jessica asserts shakily.

“Go ahead,” he laughs. “Shoot your sister. She’s too much of an uppity bitch to bother keeping anyways.”

The last time Alicia had seen Jessica had been at the bus stop. The same one from that morning. Five years ago, Alicia had been running late to make it to her friend’s house before the carpool left bright and early for their “last hurrah” trip before everyone went their separate, collegiate ways.

She’d given her 16-year-old sister a ride to the internship that entire summer. Mostly without complaint. There’s one car and two of you girls, their mom had scolded when Alicia protested her predicament back then. You do the math.

So she’d dropped Jessica at the bus stop instead, just this one time. So what. She’d deal with her mom’s punishment later. After the weekend.

She’d never, not in a million years, considered her punishment would be to be hated—to be disowned—by her own parents. For something she had never, not in a million years, expected to happen. But it had, and Alicia has blamed herself for it for the past one thousand, eight hundred, twenty four days of her life, ever since she came back from the weekend away and found out Jessica was gone.

“Take the shot.” Alicia speaks gently, evenly.

“I, I don’t know—” Jessica says.

The man laughs harder, his belly protruding and jiggly at Alicia’s back. She’s revolted, feeling his massive form surround her frame. Pushing past her disgust, she realizes he more than peeks out behind her. He’s immense.

“Please, Jessy, please take the shot. Whatever happens, I love y—”

The man yanks Alicia’s head from behind. “Fuck this—”

A shot. The man cuts off. He falls back, caught off guard by the force of a bullet piercing through the right side of his abdomen.

Alicia falls forward.

Jessica drops the gun and moves to catch her, but trips roughly, the chains working as intended.

A scream. It’s one of the girls, the youngest. Another shushes her.

The man lies on the hard ground, blood pooling around him.

Alicia slowly pushes herself up. She holds a hand to her right side. It comes away red. Grazed. She flattens her palm back to her side tightly.

The man’s keyring had fallen to the side in their struggle, so she picks it up now with her other hand. Alicia staggers to the girls.

“Leesh, you’re hurt,” Jessica starts, voice thick.

“I asked you to. I’m fine,” Alicia takes her hand off her stomach to hurriedly fumble with the keys, finally finding the one that fits the lock on her sister’s ankle. It breaks away, and Alicia keels over in pain, clutching her side once more.


“Don’t—” Alicia halts her. She holds out her free arm, keyring in hand, correct key aloft. “Get the other girls.”

The others have already crowded around, and eagerly hold out their ankles to Jessica. She moves fast, nimbly, strength seemingly returned to her all at once. Likely adrenaline.

Alicia looks up from her place on the ground. “The bus is in the dirt lot out front. Go in and find my cell phone on the first seat. Password is 5377. Call the police. Get to safety.” She’s suddenly overcome with a wave of tiredness, a swell of exhaustion. The ocean of one thousand, eight hundred, twenty four days catches up with her.

The girls slink around the man’s body, scramble through the doorway, and stumble up the stairs.

Jessica frees the last girl, the youngest, who follows the other four out of their prison. Now only Jessica, Alicia, and the man—bleeding, sprawled out on the floor—occupy the cellar.

Jessica tugs at her sister. “Leesh, we’ve got to go,” she commands.

Jessy’s 21 now.

“It’s really you,” Alicia whispers, lightheaded.

“Yes, and now let’s GO!”

Alicia had not expected this part. This isn’t in her plan. Her sister, able to be saved. To live for.

“I’m so sorry,” Alicia sobs now. “I’m so, so sorry.” She unclasps her stomach and reaches out, pulling her sister down into a fierce hug. The keys jangle noisily in Jessica’s grip.

When they part, Jessica notices Alicia’s stomach. More than a graze. Much more. She holds her free hand to Alicia’s wound, and Alicia winces. The metal of the entwined hearts on Jessica’s bracelet feel cool to Alicia’s skin.

Alicia holds her hand over Jessica’s. Their bracelets clink together. Two sets of entwined hearts. Reunited.

Jessica pulls Alicia up slowly, and together they limp through the doorway and up the stairs.

Jessica is pulling Alicia through the cellar door frame into the light of the day when it happens.

Another shot.

Alicia cries out and falters. Jessica gasps and accidentally lets go. Alicia staggers back, mangled flesh of her newly bullet-wounded ankle toppling her balance.

At the bottom of the staircase, the man spits venom. “You’re not going anywhere, you little cunt!”


“Lock it!” Alicia screeches before falling back. Down, down into the dark.

Jessica slams the cellar doors shut and turns the lock. She throws the keyring far, far away from herself, into the brush.

Beyond the cellar doors, she hears a crash. More shouting. Another gunshot. Two. Three.

And then, finally, nothing at all. No evil, horrid, hideous man.

No Alicia.

Jessica keels over and vomits up stomach acid. She collapses onto her side and curls up into a ball, hugging her legs close to her chest.

She stays like that for a long time. It feels like forever, a new type of forever, because that cellar had been forever too.

She stays curled up until the youngest girl comes back for her, lets her know that they’ve called the police, the police will be here soon.

The young girl waits, but Jessica does not move. The girl takes a deep breath, then turns back to the bus.

More time passes. Jessica notices blades of grass, damp with morning dew, tickle her side. She feels herself make the motion of getting up, recognizes that she is looking around and seeing trees and sky and the world, and not her prison, not her tattered and broken cellmates. She spies something glinting in the grass at the base of the cellar door.

It’s Alicia’s bracelet. The corded rope is snapped and frayed. Jessica must have tugged it off by accident when her grip slipped. When she let Alicia go. When she let Alicia fall.

Jessica picks up the broken bracelet. She doesn’t have any pockets, so she simply clasps it tight in her hand.

Sounds in the distance. Sirens. She turns toward the noise of salvation.

She's free. But.

It’s her fault Alicia is gone. Her big sister had come to save her and it’s her fault. Alicia’s gone. Her fault.

Jessica steels herself. And steps forward.