As light poured through treetops, spilling onto the dirt and Skinny, she found herself staring at the rays, taken far away from the woods and Egger and Pa and her nightmare, away from running away and trouble breathing and waking up screaming. By staring, Skinny felt calm. It was a release from reality she learned under the porch. When light poured through the boards and to her feet, she’d stare. When Egger lifted the loose board to grab one of the others, she’d stare. When they screamed, called for their ma’s, cried, and were eventually tossed back, a barely alive lump of flesh, Skinny would stare.
Egger’d rarely take her out. When he blindly-reached under the porch and his filthy hands pulled up his sister, he’d say “Git the fuck back in there. Why’d you let me pick you, you dumb bitch?” He’d beat her bad and toss her back in. Pick up another, and be gone for the day. Some of the kids that never came back, Skinny learned, ended up chained in Egger’s room for torture until they collapsed into little balls on his floor. When all the kids, including Skinny, were forced out from the porch and told to dig, she knew why—but so did all the others.
Skinny found trouble talking to the other kids under the porch. If she were caught by Pa or Egger, she’d be left a bloody heap of flesh. One little boy, Mikey, spent three months with Skinny under the porch before they dug for him. He was nice to Skinny, always trying to calm her down after a beating or worse. At 8 years old, Mikey was two years younger than Skinny, he carried a teddy bear with him to “protect me from the bad men”, he said. When grabbed by Egger, Mikey would throw his bear to Skinny, who would hide it for him until Egger was done. Coming back to consciousness on the dirt under the porch, Mikey explained that he knew his teddy couldn’t help him all the time, but Mikey didn’t want his teddy to know he couldn’t help. He didn’t want him to see what Egger did. Skinny could remember the last time Mikey tossed her his teddy bear, the light shining a last time on his beat-down, weathered eyes on a dirty face. When he never came back, Skinny decided to keep the bear. Whenever she looked at it, she pictured Mikey: clean, combed black hair, light blue eyes, and tiny nose. Pretty. She pictured his face on the teddy bear, and it became all she saw when she looked at it.
Night time was the worst under the porch. Kids would cuddle together, on top of each other in the winter, and cry themselves to sleep. There were “we’ll help each other”s and “I won’t let him take you”s. Skinny liked hearing their plans about killing Egger, but one-by-one, they were all pulled out. Skinny barely talked to the other kids, and the longer-lasting of them understood her as part of the family. They thought she was a spy, kept under there to watch them, to listen to everything they said and report back to Egger. They’d beat on her, too, sometimes saying the kinds of things Egger would say to her and them. She could hear Egger walking above them, listening and laughing to her shrieks and cries for help from below, all while she stared stared stared at sprinkling rays of light. When Egger brought Skinny up to his room and chained her ankles, there weren’t any rays of light to escape in.
A year ago, Skinny was let out from under the porch for no reason at all. “Git the fuck out, ya little bitch” Egger said, and she did. Skinny had never had a really good look at the sky before, except for those few moments between being plucked out from the porch and forced into the house. When she emerged with Mikey’s teddy bear, Egger promptly took a knife from his pocket and shredded its belly, almost tearing its body from the head. “Oops” he said, tossing it on the dirt and walking towards the hill, chuckling to himself. Skinny picked it up and stared long, the mutilated bear drenched in sun. She saw Mikey, cut from belly to neck, the stuffing-turned-blood covered her hands while she tried to push it all back in. His light blue eyes faded, and Mikey disappeared from his teddy bear.
Against a tree in the last of the day’s beams, Skinny examined the teddy bear remains while listening for Pa and Egger. They were long gone in the wrong direction, and she was probably safe for the time being. She touched the little stuffing left in it, trying to prod it back to life. For a second, the bear’s eyes turned blue again, Mikey’s, then back to the black, lifeless buttons. She dug inside her pocket, pulled out Lansing’s badge, and rested it on the bear’s wound, covering the hole Egger made. Her eyes heavy from crying, pain, and lack of sleep, Skinny fell asleep under a tree deep in the woods murmuring for her ma, unknowingly just a few hundred feet from her mother’s shallow grave.