By Katherine Chariott

All rights reserved.

There was something in that apartment that crossed from Nevada, 2010, into Poland, 1940 — this is proven in the unofficial reports about the Las Vegas case, but official reports don’t admit its existence and never will. So rather than begin with that something (wormhole? portal? bridge?), with questions about that something‘s nature and potential uses for travel across time and space, or details about its known dangers (how it managed to transform an ordinary American bathroom into a concentration camp and an ordinary American girl into a Jew, marked for death), as logic dictates, official reports invariably start at the moment the Las Vegas girl encountered the police. Such reports tell us that, when officers first spotted her on that summer sidewalk, half-naked and shivering despite the heat, they thought she was a little lost girl, eight or nine at the most. Of course, when they got closer, her shorn head and skeletal face, her skeleton’s body, gave her away, even before she told them the truth: that she was sixteen years old and starving, and just one block away from her own home. According to the first officer to question her, the girl “looked like a victim of a Nazi concentration camp;” she looked “just like a Holocaust survivor, like she just got out of Auschwitz.”

     But you’re already familiar with this version of the girl’s rescue, and even with the particular words I have chosen to tell this part of her official story. They’ve been repeated on your television and in your newspaper, on your Internet and your radio, and not just by the police and the media, but also by doctors and nurses, social workers and lawyers, and government representatives. In fact, the same few pieces of information, told in the same language, and using the same imagery, can be found in all official reports about the Las Vegas case, resulting in a narrative whose uniformity is both suspicious and disconcerting. Authors of the unofficial reports, including my own organization,2 have pointed out this unsettling consensus from the beginning, but no official report has acknowledged it, let alone questioned it. Nor do official reports ask an even more important question: why the girl was imprisoned and starved. Instead, they give a mere timeline of the case, in an order that implies causation; one that reaches only so far back as the moment the crime (they claim) began.3

     To quote one official report, which is in a sense to quote all official reports, “the girl was eleven when she was locked in a bathroom of her family’s West Las Vegas apartment. She was held there for five years.” As we all know, on the other side of that locked door were the ones the police arrested for the crime, the girl’s parents. The Las Vegas girl’s mother and father: their faces smile out at us from every official report about the case. It’s always the same snap shot, the one of them in the desert, leaning against their old Buick sedan; a picture that (as official reports unfailingly remind us) was taken during one of the many family vacations they enjoyed while their daughter was locked away in her cell. Surely, you’re sick of that snap shot by now; surely, it makes you want to turn away. But you need to look at that picture again. This time, ignore the foreground — those happy, healthy pink faces; those soft, self-satisfied limbs and torsos — and focus on the background. There is something there that shouldn’t be, just to the right of the car: a ghost image of the kind we find in twice developed film, blurry and incomplete but still there, and still clearly a girl, whose shaved head and sunken features give her identity away. She stands there on that bland beige sand — where, you will argue, she could not possibly be,4 but where she most certainly was, and where she most certainly remains — staring out at us with black eyes that challenge us to read countless secret meanings. Can you read her meaning with me? Or do you look at that snap shot, even now, and, even now, only see what the official reports tell you is there: those fat guilty adults, the same two who are now locked away in cells of their own?

     Probably, those parents are all you are willing and able see;5 let’s concentrate on them together. Memorize their images: the blue of those eyes that refuse to give a clue about the blackness of their souls; the soft pink of their mouths, which, you hate to admit it, seem kind, rather than otherwise; their awful resemblance to your neighbors and, maybe, yourself. Now let’s take that hated pair back in time to their old lives, the ones described in your newspapers and on your TVs, and so the only ones you can believe in. It is the day before their daughter’s escape and the family is gathered in their living room. They sit eating chips and dip outside a door locked against a girl so thin that her bones have started to wear away. Of course, we want to see that girl, but official reports won’t let us do this — theyreduce her, and her years of captivity, to a few meager sentences that refuse to tell us anything real. The only way to get to her, and to get to that time, is by abandoning the safety of government-approved words and ideas, and following the unofficial reports, a dangerous thing, for so many reasons.

     If you are willing to brave that danger, you will find yourself stepping, as she did, through that something and onto another land and into another millennia. There, you will learn that the room, known in official reports simply and ridiculously as the bathroom, is more accurately called the death room, and that this death room is amazingly, unbelievably, but truly, located within a concentration camp, one which is not merely similar to Auschwitz, but which is the very same Auschwitz that you had supposed (and who could blame you) to be on another continent, and firmly anchored in another time. Come with me into that awful place now, just for one minute. There is the girl, right in front of you. She sits on a hard tile floor, wearing only an old cotton tee-shirt and worn cotton underpants, with only the thinnest layer of muscle and skin to protect her protruding bones. The other prisoners are conspicuously missing from her cell; the girl is alone, perhaps part of some bizarre experiment (she is covered with scars so strange they are difficult to explain in any other way) whose results we’ll never learn, because there’s no one to collect them, no Nazis scrupulously writing things down. She leans forward to rub her frozen hands over her frozen feet; then falls back on the floor and lets the cold rush through her joints, hollowing them out. Now all that moves are her lips. They spell out words in slow motion with the seriousness of a prayer or a curse. But when we lean closer to hear them, we find that the girl is naming food, a list that includes all the food of her people, and all the food of her captors, too — apples and honey and tacos, smoked salmon and chocolate chip cookies, pierogies and ice cream, matzo ball soup and French fried potatoes, gefilte fish and Twinkies, noodle kugel and cheeseburgers — in the startling combinations of the starving.

     When the list is complete, the girl crawls to the door and looks through the keyhole. What she sees — her parents in that living room, America, 2010 — makes her tremble. Of course, she would give anything to join them, but she is trapped on the other side of that something (that wormhole, that portal, that ungodly bridge). She must stay where she is, but we can leave her behind. Let’s go back to the official reports about the Las Vegas case. Stand with me to the side of that living room, invisible, where we can watch the family together, without any fear of what is happening just out of reach and just out of sight. Now, we will see something that surely made the girl weep. There is a knock on the door and the father rises from the couch to let in two happy couples, carrying two covered dishes. Soon, that living room is bustling with friends and neighbors, guests of a party who later will report that, even on this final day of her captivity, no one suspected the existence of the Las Vegas girl in the very next room. Amazing. More amazing is this: the door opens again and two boys walk through it, and then walk straight into their own bedroom. Five minutes later, they are back in the living room, eating hot dogs and chips, and gulping down Cokes.

     These two boys are the key to so much that needs to be known about the Las Vegas case, but official reports barely mention them, and so they have remained mere outlines, up until this moment. Here they are revealed as a thirteen-year-old and a fifteen-year-old boy, with light hair and light eyes and red-burned skin, just like countless boys in this country, except that they share a terrible secret. Even now, you can see the weight of that secret in their stooping shoulders; in the slow steps forward that one of them takes as we watch. He stops, at last, in the middle of the room. He stands there for a full minute, looking at that bathroom door with a blank expression on his face, with absolutely expressionless eyes, before turning to rejoin his brother against the wall, where they two keep their unbroken secret with an unbroken silence for the rest of the night.

     The importance of that dual silence — ignored or glossed over, of course, by official reports — is impossible to overstate.6 However, perhaps even more important than what those brothers didn’t say in public before their sister escaped, is what they did say in private afterwards. For those words, we must, once again, turn to the unofficial reports. There, you will find the police interviews of the two brothers: a dozen closed-door sessions that the State (of course) has never and will never acknowledge. In the first of these interviews, the officers asked why the family had imprisoned their only daughter. The older boy’s answer was recorded in its sad brief entirety. “Look,” he said. “There was a concentration camp in the bathroom, sosomeone had to be locked inside, and it wasn’t going to be me.” But, in another room, the younger brother told a different story. That the girl, his sister, suddenly became someone else — a stranger whose dark hair and eyes were as surprising to her family as the incomprehensible language that came out of her mouth — and then everything else happened as a result of this metamorphosis. According to this second son, it was the mother who first noticed the change, a discovery that sent her into a frantic rampage through the apartment that left doors and furniture broken, that left the girl running for cover, and then the girl cowering in a corner, and then, finally, the girl locked inside the bathroom, crying so loudly that she drowned out, even, the weeping and the wailing of the rest of her family.7

     If we believe the story told by these boys about their own family, then we must also believe the greater story told by this book about own lives, and our own world. But there are many who will insist on doubting this testimony: because it was given by children, or because it can only be found in unofficial reports, because it contradicts so much of what we think we know (and what we want to believe) about our world, or because, it contradicts the words of the State. There are many who will demand further proof; and proof that comes from outside of these unofficial reports. To those, I can only offer this: the proof that is inside the official reports themselves. Read those reports again, but this time you must read them as carefully and as critically as you read the words in front of you now. If you do this, you will find that, not only are the official reports about the Las Vegas case all suspiciously one and the same, but that they also bear striking similarities to the unofficialreports. You will notice, for example, how “the Holocaust” keeps popping out of every official mouth; how “Nazis” are ever-present, as well, and on the tip of every official tongue; how there is no escape from the words “concentration camp” and “Auschwitz” (the very same camp that CFUR argues the girl was held in, surely more than mere coincidence) in these same official accounts. In fact, if you read carefully enough, you will find that, more than similar, the two narratives are basically the same.8 Or maybe it is more accurate to say that they are two parts of one whole, which can only be fully understood when they are read together.

     Perhaps, as many (including some in CFUR) argue, there are those who meant for us to read the two together, all along. It may even be the case that the police officer who gave us our first information about the girl purposely wove in clues that would allow us to discover her true story, even as he told the first official version of the Las Vegas case to the world. Or perhaps it is as others argue and he gave his lies a skeleton of truth only to confuse us more.9 Whichever is the case, one thing is clear: that officer could not directly tell the public what he surely knew. The reasons for this are obvious: fear of punishment by the State for saying what he must not, fear of ridicule by so-called decent citizens who would refuse to believe him; fear of the panic and chaos that would ensue if he were in fact believed and everyone in this country and then others searched their apartments and their hearts for secret portals leading to miniature concentration camps; fear of the consequences if even one fellow citizen found another such something and went through it, bent on erasing the wrongs of the past, and journeying as far back, perhaps, as the beginning of our species as we know it, when the very first one of us committed his first inhuman act (some long-forgotten brutality which may well have been his first act as a man), or perhaps really just bent on inflicting his own brutalities, in another time; fear, finally, of the end of history itself, and so the ability to avoid reliving it.

     Such fear is legitimate. I felt it myself, when I first learned of thatsomething; I feel it to this day, and more strongly each day, because of the path that I chose and that I continue to take. You should feel that fear, too, and understand, before you read any further, before it’s too late, that there is only one way to truly escape it. Close this book now, and close your mind and your heart with it, on all that you might learn if you turned the page; those terrible truths that might force you to change your mind, your heart, and your life. Give up on that something, and go back to the past, while it still exists for you. Go back where you are safe, to the point when this story was a lie, and so one that a person could bear. Stand outside the scene of the crime, before anyone even knew of the crime’s existence. Look in the window. There’s a family in the living room: a mother and father and their two handsome, strapping sons, all of them happy and smiling and full. If you turn the page, if you read even one more word, you will, like me, never be able to see them that way again.

  1. An introduction to these unofficial reports — famous, or infamous, already — might seem superfluous. But the actual content of the reports, and the risks and rewards of reading them, are known to so few, that I ask you to bear with me for these few pages before making the decision that faces every person who opens a book. – X.Y. Li, Editor
  2. CFUR. Surely, you’ve heard of us. We’ve been attacked in every possible forum as conspiracy theorists and kooks, as opportunists willing to exploit even the Holocaust for our own obscure purposes. I have been attacked, in particular, as a madman and a fool and a liar, one who willfully refuses to see that time moves in only one direction, and that place is bound by specific coordinates that must never change; one who, worse yet, would dare to deny the singularity of an evil which is defined for so many by its uniqueness, thereby reducing its significance and increasing its danger at the same time.
  3. But, of course, that’s all the official reports can do. To do otherwise would be to admit that we’ve entered a new age, one where past, present and future, where here, there, and everywhere, where history and the news and our own diaries can and will collapse into one, whether we want them to or not, again and again, and, oh God, again.
  4. I will not now attempt to explain the Las Vegas girl’s presence in this photograph that was so famously taken during the time of her imprisonment-that is the business of the reports that follow.
  5. I know, too well, the limits of common understanding and vision, having come up against them countless times myself before I joined CFUR, to pretend that they do not exist, or even to blame those who are trapped by such comforting boundaries.
  6. Think about it: it was not just on this one occasion that those two were silent. Those boys left their home day after day to go out into the world and they never said a single word about what was going on in that apartment. They never once wrote, singly or together, a disturbing story for English class, one that might have drawn the suspicion of their teachers. They never once, singly or at the same time though in different rooms, burst into tears while their math teachers wrote numbers and symbols on the board. Neither one of them, not once, told a friend or a neighbor or a policeman anything. This silence, surely inhuman, is impossible to account for if we believe the official reports about the Las Vegas case. If, in fact, what happened in that desert apartment was nothing more than an extraordinary case of ordinary abuse, then those boys (the girl’s brothers) must have spoken out. However difficult, surely, they could have said, ‘My parents have gone crazy and locked up my sister in the bathroom.’ Or, at the very least, they might have whispered, ‘There is something terribly wrong in my house.’ No, the only reasonable explanation for such silence is that what happened to their family was outside the realm of the known, a crisis unlike any that had ever befallen anyone in their acquaintance; in short, an unspeakable event, such as the one described in unofficial reports. For, how could anyone expect a boy or even a man to say, ‘Listen to me. I have something to tell you. We have an Auschwitz at home, and a sister locked away in there to die.’ Even a child would know the impossibility of speaking those words.
  7. That son insisted that he was not sure how the girl ended up in the bathroom; the entire family insists that they do not know how that happened. However, a passage, typed neatly on white paper, which was found in a notebook under the kitchen sink, seems to answer that question for us. It reads in part:

    ….the mother, looking at the girl she had always believed to be her daughter, saw at last who she really was, and when she saw this, she began searching the apartment, looking for something that no one else could understand. She was frantic in her motions, tapping against walls, tapping the floor, looking for a hollowness that might suggest secret passages, even lifting the carpet to look for trap doors so subtle they did not make a sound, convinced that some Anne Frank-like dwelling must be in that Las Vegas apartment, that a crawl space might really be an attic in Holland, that the bus stop on the corner (if she could only get the girl there undetected) might be a stop on some underground railway to freedom. Silent and frantic and desperate, she searched for these things, which she was sure must exist, if her child was a Jew, transported to Nevada and the present from Poland and the past. But what she found, in the end, was that something and the tiny piece of Auschwitz on the other side of it. And, as soon as that was found, into the camp the girl went, shoved in there by her own mother’s shaking hands….

  8. This claim may seem unfounded to you. However, if we refuse to be fooled by literary devices, by those too-common tricks of language, and, instead, read and understand all statements in the official reports as the literal truth, then we see that the difference between these and the unofficial reports lies almost exclusively in the amount of information presented, not in the kind or content of that information.
  9. Arguments can be made for both cases. By choosing to tell the basic truth about the case, cloaked only by similes, the officer might have been inviting us to understand that the things he was comparing were, in fact, identical, not merely related, and thereby arrive at the full truth from the partial. However, by hiding it out in the open, where, he might have assumed, no one would notice it, the officer might also have been trying to conceal the truth about the Las Vegas case all the better.

Katherine Lien Chariott’s prose has been published (or is forthcoming) in The Literary Review, Post Road, Columbia, and Sonora Review. She lives in Shanghai.

This story is included in issue #44: DV8. Copyright © 2011 by Fiction International. Authors of individual works retain copyright, with the restriction that subsequent publication of any text be accompanied by notice of prior publication in Fiction International. Please contact the editor for reprinting information.

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