The Heat is On

"Get out!" The cry was sharp before it was snuffed out by a cough. Smoke filled the air, choking her into a stupor before she heard it one more time. "Kim, leave this place!" Her body responded before her mind did, rolling off the raised porch until she smacked into the hard mud below. The stabbing pain in her hip hadn't halted before the explosion came, rattling her very being. If it had not been hot before, she couldn't help but shriek at the blast of heat licking up around her. Struggling to her feet despite the inferno, she caught a glimpse of her mother flung from their home, face an unrecognizable mass of burned flesh. Get out. Get out. Get out. Kim, leave this place. Kim, leave this place. Kim, leave this place.

The words and nothing more echoed in her mind as her feet struggled to move. As long as she could escape the heat, as long as she could escape the vision of her mother's featureless face - leave this place, leave this place, leave this place.

Her chest heaved with panic, heart in her throat by the time the village was behind her with her feet caked in mud. When did I get so far away? A few moments ago, she was right there, her mother's body flung –

Fists tightened around her white dress, and she couldn't decide if it was to keep them from shaking or not. Despite the wild pandemonium in her head her face remained calm, unblinking, and did not speak of the atrocities still smoldering in her mind's eye. If she let herself grow too aware of her pulse, or the thick feeling of her smoke-coated tongue in her mouth, or the acrid stench rising from her burnt hair, all hope was lost. So she did not. She swallowed it, she let it fuel her, and her eyes caught on a neon sign promising hope in the middle of a desert. Dreamland.

"Hey! Hey, come here!" The words rung in her ear, and a thick hand was wrenching around her elbow before she could process what was happening. "Come inside." She scanned his gaudy, foreign clothes before seeing the sign again - then she understood. This was the place, the place where girls from the village went and never returned. When their parents died or the money ran out or they could not marry for some reason the adults only spoke of in hushed tones. This was the place.

"Look here!" Kim subconsciously yanked her arm back and began to struggle when she saw women like she hadn't ever seen before. Paint on their faces, hair down and in the way, every curve of flesh and protruding bone exposed in garments so tiny and tight she felt her cheeks flush. "This girl was outside, get her ready. She is from a village, never touched before by anyone." The man leered as if it was a compliment.

Kim jumped when another girl with chopped hair protested, "Just give that virgin act a rest." Kim's stomach tightened as they spoke so flippantly of her, in her white dress compared to their scraps of clothing like she had never seen before.

"Alright, come on. You don't need to take so long!" He smacked one of the girl's rears as if he owned her, as if she was his to dispose of. "Get your asses up there. We don't have time to waste, who knows how much longer they're going to be here."

Their voices circled and swirled above her head, the language harsher than she heard spoken in her home. And the marines were coming - the marines? Why would these girls want marines seeing them in their tiny garments? She swallowed hard at her own ignorance. This is where those girls went. And never came back.

"You're my new princess." That man grinned at her, his teeth too white and too square, foul breath hardly startling her after the smoke. His stench was covered by something sickly sweet, something that managed to make her stomach churn when she caught wind of it. "This is just what they need, a new girl from the country before they head on home. A souvenir of their time in Vietnam, right? Those men would give their souls to be first." His words dimmed as he turned to bark instruction at the girls, her arm still stinging from the pinch moments before. This is where those girls went. And they never came back.

The panic and shock hadn't begun to settle when those men stomped in - those men - she had never seen white men like them before. They were so loud and so boisterous as if they owned the place, with their Western noses and square hands that gripped these women of her country as if they owned them. Her Vietnamese sisters, her comrades soiled by foreigners. Her heart hammered up in her throat while she watched these women reciprocate wholeheartedly. Bodies never moved that way before, grinding and rubbing in a sick new way. Her mother told her of the ways of men and women - but she made it seem like a sacred act, an act of love and commitment to further a home. Not this desperate, malicious, loveless crime.

Soon the girls were parading themselves on the tables, words garbled nothing in her ears. And suddenly someone grabbed her elbow again and she was thrust forward, stumbling past the G.I.'s and their thick arms the size of her head. "I'm seventeen years old, and I have never been here before," she forced out around the lump in her throat. Her own voice sounded so tiny and small in her head. "I am so far from home - " Kim, leave this place. "These girls may know what to do and say -" How could she tell them? How could they know that she wanted so much more, so much more than this place where girls went and never returned? That she wasn't like these poor, helpless women treated like food as they had no other choice? "I'm so much more than I seem - !"

"Holy shit, John, who is that?" The words caught her off guard, and she could hardly see the face of a Western man, jaw so strong, towering over her like she was a child before the gaudy man from before shoved her behind again.

That terrible man in his flashy clothes was yelling, the words too harsh in her ear. "Attention, attention please! According to the crowd's wishes, Miss Gigi Van Tranh is Miss Saigon!" They soon surrounded the girl with the chopped hair again, the one who squawked at her for being a virgin. "And now who wins the pleasure from her tonight?" He crooned. "Number 66!"

Kim watched her pull a man between her legs, his touch rough and needy with her. How could someone live like this, in the place where girls went but never returned?

- 4 -