Victim by Chloe Riggs

The small flame illuminated the dark room cramped with sweaty bodies. I was thankful the smoke from the fire was close enough to cover the foul colognes and perfumes originally used to mask their naturally repulsive scent. Unfortunately, the candle did nothing to drown out their singing. 

“Happy birthday to you,” my family and friends sang as an off-key choir. 

We were all huddled together in the small dining room my mother begged my stepfather to remodel. I didn’t see why it mattered so much to her until I sat in that uncomfortable wooden chair. 

“Happy birthday, Lucy,” my mom whispered to me after the horrific song ended. She stared at me through her long black eyelashes; her greying brown hair frayed out of the loose ponytail she pulled it up in. “Make this wish count.”

The wish. The one I had been counting on from ages five to thirteen, but dreading from ages fourteen to that very moment. This was the one and only wish I got to make that would have a result. My one and only chance to change a part of my life. 

I smiled at my mom in return and met the eager gazes of my friends, the longing looks of my elder family members, and the averted stares of my scared little brothers, who took it quite literally when I said I would wish them away if they stole my laptop one more time. Well, here I was, laptopless, with a burning wish in front of me. 

I leaned a little closer to the burning flame of the big eighteen shaped candle, feeling the heat creep its way onto my lips as I closed my eyes. I have thought a lot about this wish. I debated on wishing for the love of my life to show up at my doorstep or to have superpowers; the latter being the best option of the two, but neither of those were what I wanted at that moment. I didn’t want another person who constantly needed me and my attention. I didn’t want to give any more reason for people to come asking, or more so demanding help from me. Instead, I wanted to live life in a way that I could help real victims of bigger crimes. I wanted to have a team who treats each other like family, rather than a family who treats each other like a team. 

Criminal Minds may be just a tv show, but it’s what got me through a lot. The entire team on the show was there when my dad left and my mom’s personality changed entirely. They were there when I was bullied. They were more of a family to me than my own family ever was.

I sucked in a breath of smoke as I puckered my lips. Mentally, I whispered the words: I wish I lived every day of my life as a character in every episode of Criminal Minds. I blew out the candle, feeling the smoke dance against my skin. After a moment of hesitation, I opened my eyes, but I was no longer in mom’s tiny dining room. 

Instead I was in the side cubicle of a dim and gray office. I took a quick glance around at a familiar surrounding. Behind my desk was a corkboard with a poster of two dogs and pictures of familiar looking people. The desk was cluttered with notebooks and decorated with a vase of fake orange flowers.

Thinner and paler fingers than my memory remembered having danced over the fat keyboard on the desk in front of me, with a mind of their own. I watched as the letters they typed appeared on the screen, taking note of new purple sweater sleeves on my arms. 

There was a conversation opened up between Z4SALE and Heather. A photo popped up on the screen of an orange

Datsun 2407

I assume Heather finished my thought. Z4SALE was asking Heather if she wanted to take the car for a test drive. The fingers that must belong to Heather skimmed over the keyboard, typing out a word of agreement with an address of what I assumed was this office. 

Heather? Okay, so the wish turned me into a girl named Heather with thin fingers and pale skin? 

That wasn’t what I wished for.

Heather’s body rose from the seat as her arm reached out and grabbed a purse. Her mouth fumbled over the words “I’m going out for lunch,” as she nodded at the coworkers she passed on the way to the elevator. A handsome man entered the elevator after her, someone Heather seemed to be attracted to. Her eyes traced his suited muscles from top to bottom, until he glanced over at her with a smirk, catching her in the act. She produced a quick smile before averting her gaze to the floor as a light blush crept up her face. Her hand pushed a strand of hair behind her ear. 

The elevator dinged, allowing her to flee from the elevator. She pulled a red umbrella out of her purse as she exited the building. Popping the umbrella open, she walked under the heavy downpour of rain. 

Standing at the edge of the sidewalk, reminded me of something. What, I didn’t know. But this all seemed way too familiar and odd. I tried to close my eyes to help me drown out the loud environment, but Heather’s body refused the request, forcing me to watch. 

An orange car pulled up to the curb, its horn honking three times. Heather smiled at the beauty of the vehicle. The driver, who I assume was Z4SALE, got out. He ran up to Heather and shook her hand in greeting. He instructed her to hop in. His face was hard to get a good glimpse of with the heavy downpour and rushed interaction. 

Her feet ran to the driver’s side of the car as he hopped into the passenger seat. Her wet shoes squeaked on the car mat as she placed her umbrella on the floor below her. She buckled her seatbelt, gave Z4SALE a genuine smile of excitement, and pushed her foot on the gas. 

They took off, an adrenaline rush soaring through her veins. Z4SALE started discussing the unique parts of the car, when Heather’s soft voice finished his sentence. He seemed as impressed with her knowledge of the vehicle as I was. 

“Want to take a look under the hood?” his rough voice asked. 

When she spotted an empty spot by a curb, she pulled the car over and parked. She killed the engine and exited the car, relieved the rain let up its heavy pressured shower. The man propped the hood open, naming off the parts inside that Heather already knew. He kept his hood on, despite the downpour ending, which gave me a sinking feeling. 

Something about this whole scene seems way too familiar. Heather’s body ignored me as they both slid back into the car, but this time he drove. 

“So it’s just right up here,” she mumbled as his car stopped at a red light, but he passed the turn. “Oh! That was,” she giggled nervously. “Hello? There was the right. Maybe just pull over here and we can try to do a u-turn,” she suggested as she pointed to an empty lot. She tried to read his facial expression, but came up short from the hoodie being in the way. When he passed the turn again, her body’s stomach started to churn. 

That moment. That scene. It was all too familiar. I needed Heather to close her eyes. I needed to think instead of watch. 

“What are you doing?” she asked, wishing this was a mistake. “Ok. Stop the car now. Pull over now!” He didn’t flinch. Her eyes moved to the door as she plotted to jump out. I felt her heart sink when she noticed the missing lock.

His calloused fist connected with her jaw, slamming her face against the window. Her eyes closed, and it all hit me at once. 

My family was singing happy birthday to me. 

She blinked. 

I made a wish. 

Her body fights for a clear vision. 

I sucked in a breath of smoke as I puckered my lips. Mentally, I whispered the words: I wish I lived every day of my life as a character in every episode of Criminal Minds. I blew out the candle, feeling the smoke dance against my skin.  Heather’s eyes burst open. She looked straight ahead, afraid to stare at her captor. Our captor. I’m not one of the agents. I’m the victim.

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