Somewhere in the remote desert of Nevada, I passed a sign for the infamous Moonlite Bunny Ranch. I was pleasantly surprised to stumble upon the world-famous brothel. In fact, I had already encountered it twice before on my journey. First, as the subject of a documentary I watched in my “Philosophy of Sex and Love” class in college. Second, as the site of the near-fatal drug overdose of Khloé Kardashian’s ex-husband just a week before.
I’ve never been one to judge someone for participating in the world’s oldest profession. As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing wrong with exchanging sex for money as long as all parties involved are consenting. Unfortunately, far too many are forced into the industry against their will.
I admit that the well-being of prostitutes had never been a concern of mine until I encountered some in the small South Dakota town where I live. The circumstances surrounding it are strange, but it really did happen.
One completely ordinary summer night, I accidentally stumbled into a brothel. I was walking home alone one night from a party when I suddenly felt the unwanted presence of someone behind me. I heard the sound of an evil laugh and booked it across the street as fast as possible. I ran up the front steps of the first house with its lights on and banged on the door. A group of girls was standing on the porch.
“Let me in!” I screamed. “Please let me in! There’s something following me. Please let me in!”
As soon as the screen door opened, I stumbled inside and collapsed into the floor. I’m not sure how long the panic attack lasted or how long I was passed out. All I knew was that when I finally woke up and looked around, I was in a house of ill-repute.
I looked at the faces of the four women surrounding me. All four of them were staring at me with concern. The first, a tall, skinny girl with her wig askew atop her head. The second, a petite, curvy girl with long, natural hair. The third, a pasty, pregnant girl with broken teeth and unnaturally long toenails. Finally, a beautiful, young blonde girl whose face I was certain I’d seen somewhere many years before.
“Are you okay?” asked the Blonde Girl. “You totally freaked out.”
“What happened?” I asked. “Where am I?”
All four women looked at each other at once.
“We can’t tell you,” said the Blonde Girl. “This isn’t our house. We’re only staying here temporarily.”
I looked up at her and nodded understandingly. We maintained eye-contact for just a moment. I was certain I’d seen her somewhere else before.
“Who are you?” asked the little girl.
“I’m Betsey Horton, Writer Extraordinaire.”
The pregnant girl smiled wide at me, fully revealing the scariest set of sharp, jagged teeth I’ve ever seen.
“Betsey?!” she exclaimed with a cackle. Her Southern accent was thick and heavy. “I got another personality named Betsey!”
I stared at her in horror. She cackled again.
“I’m just kidding, Sugar!” she said. “Liz is the one with the crazy split personality.”
I looked at the Blonde Girl again. Suddenly I remembered exactly where I’d seen her before.
“I’m Shirley,” said the little girl.
“Like Shirley Temple?” I asked.
“Thats right, sweetie. Just like Shirley Temple. I’ve got the curls but I don’t like to dye my hair blonde anymore. I like to keep my hair natural. You know, keep in line with The Movement.”
“Not me,” said the tall girl sassily. “I am all about the wigs, baby!”
“That’s just cause you was born a man.”
“Honey, those days are over! My name is Shantae now. I got me a different hairdo for every day of the week. Someday, I’m gonna get me a different hairdo for every day of the year. That’s my American Dream, baby!”
“And I’m Ellie Mae,” said the scary, pregnant girl. She pointed down at the pouch between her unbuttoned Daisy Dukes and shrunken crop top. “And this here is my baby, Kelsey Kaye Covington. I just love that triple-K sound, don’t you?”
Both Shirley and Shantae exchanged a sideways glance.
“So it’s a girl?” I asked curiously.
“Oh honey, I don’t know what it is! It could be a demon baby for all I know! I just know Satan’s comin’ for me! I haven’t been to church in years! The Devil always gets his due!”
I stared at her for just a moment with wide eyes before turning my attention back to Liz.
“And you’re Liz,” I said slowly.
We stared at each other again. Was I her alter-ego, or was she mine?
“You said you’re a writer,” said Liz. “What do you write?”
“Nothing interesting right now,” I said. “It’s hard to explain. I don’t think I could do it if I tried.”
“I’m not stupid,” said Liz defensively. “I used to read a lot of books. I know a lot more than you think. You can explain it to me. I can understand.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean to imply you were stupid. I would never think that about you.”
Liz’s gaze softened.
“Do you want something to drink?” she asked. “I’ll go inside and get you some water.”
“Tell Big Mama we gotss ourselves a visitor!” said Ellie Mae. “I’m gonna stay out here and talk to the writer!”
Liz disappeared inside while the other girls crowded around.
“Are you a student at the school here?” asked Shirley.
“I actually just graduated,” I said.
“Do you have a student ID?” she asked hopefully.
“Actually yes, as a matter of fact I do.”
“Can I see it?”
“Uhh… sure. I guess.”
I took out my wallet and fished out my student ID. Shirley snatched it out of my hands and looked at it longingly.
“Wow,” she said. “So this is what they look like. I’ve always wanted one of these. Someday I’ll get one. I always wanted to go to school to be a veterinarian. Nobody believes me when I say I can talk to animals, but I can. I really can. I just want to help them. I know I can do it. I know it. That’s my American Dream.”
“You can do it,” I said. “You can do anything you put your mind to.”
Shirley laughed at me and handed back my ID.
“Maybe in a different life,” she said ruefully. “But not this one.”
Suddenly I heard the thunderous sound of heavy footsteps approaching from behind me. I turned around to see a big, bossy-looking lady glaring at me.
“Who are you?” she demanded angrily. “And what are you doing in my house?”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t know it was your house. I was walking home from a party and I thought I heard somebody following me, so I ran over here for safety.”
“Who are you?” Big Mama asked again.
“I’m just a writer. I wasn’t looking for any trouble, I swear.”
Big Mama looked at me suspiciously.
“You’re a writer?”
“Yes, a writer.”
“But you say you’re not looking for trouble.”
“No. I was just freaked out that someone was following me home.”
“I don’t believe you,” she said. “If it’s true you’re a writer, I don’t want you snooping around my house. Writers are always looking for trouble.”
“Are you saying you have something to hide from me?”
“Maybe I am. What’s it to you?”
“In that case, I’d appreciate it if you’d get up out my business right about now.” Big Mama stormed across the porch and pulled open the door. “Get out of here right now!”
“Wait,” said Liz. “You’re not just going to let her go back out there alone, are you?”
“What’s it to you?” asked Big Mama.
“She said someone was following her. That’s why she came here.”
“Why should I believe her?”
“Because it’s true! She was totally freaked out when she came in here. She was hyperventilating and collapsed on the floor and everything.”
“I was?” I asked.
“See?” said Liz. “She doesn’t even remember what happened. She’s just like me.”
Liz and I made eye-contact with each other once again.
“How far are you going?” asked Big Mama.
“I just need to get to my car,” I said. “It’s parked right across the street from Bloody Mary’s.”
“Have you been drinking tonight?”
“Not really. I only had two drinks at the bar and just smoked pot at the party.”
“Maybe that’s why you freaked out.”
“Maybe,” I said. “But I doubt it. I was brought to this house for a reason.”
Big Mama gave me the once-over judgmentally, then let out a heavy sigh.
“All right,” she said. “We can walk you as far as the gas station, but you’ll have to carry on from there alone.”
The four girls jumped around excitedly.
“Oh boy!” exclaimed Ellie Mae. “I can’t wait to get out this house, ya’ll! I am going stir crazy in here!”
“Aren’t we all?” asked Liz dryly.
The six of us made our way down Main Street together in a huddle. We talked and laughed together, getting along as if nothing was out of the ordinary. When we finally reached the gas station, I was sad to see my new group of girlfriends go. As the girls gave me a group hug and said their goodbyes, Liz and I looked at each other one last time.
“Thanks again,” I said.
“I hope I see you again someday soon.”
Liz smiled at me and tossed back her blonde hair.
“Maybe you will.”
I parted ways from the prostitutes and continued on my journey alone.