I read fiction. I don’t write it. That said, I was compelled to write the piece below in response to a call from Flash Fiction Friday because it benefits two fantastic causes and also because Fiona Johnson is an admirable writer and is celebrating her birthday with this challenge (which was limited to 700 words).
So here’s my crack at fiction. It’s very much a work in progress…that might never get finished. Your thoughts, comments, and criticisms are more than welcome and always appreciated. And special thanks to my husband and to Jen Forbus, for giving me the courage to post this, and to keep exploring the story.
The walk to school was much longer than it should have been.
There were obstacles—the dog she was certain would chew off her right arm if given half the chance—but also the distractions that comprised her secret life, the one in which she was alternately a thief, an avenger and a zoologist.
Everyone knows that looks are deceiving. She learned early to use this to her advantage. It was easy to steal things because nobody suspected the kid with the bright eyes and innocent smile. She wasn’t really shy, but she knew that out in the world, she could be anyone but herself.
The Swiss Army knife was nothing special really, but it gave her power. It was a weapon and a survival tool. It was tiny, and in the days before metal detectors at the entrances to schools, it was easy to keep it in her pocket. Having it close comforted her. When she was told by the cranky owner of the store from which she stole it never to return to his establishment, she simply turned and walked out.
It never occurred to her to wonder how many kids led multiple lives. Whether it was normal to be a teacher’s pet, thief, miniature zoo volunteer, and the one who let women keep getting killed? She almost told the docent at the Woodland Park zoo, the one who let her hold the tiny baby snow leopard.
It’ll be our secret the docent said, because letting her touch the baby leopard was most definitely against the rules. The docent was talking about the leopard-holding, but she wondered just for a moment whether this frumpy woman with tortoiseshell glasses could keep a real secret.
Running away was never a serious option, mostly because she didn’t want to. She had a routine. She had a knife. And best of all, nobody really noticed her. She didn’t have to tell anybody much of anything because nobody ever asked.
She knew that eventually someone would probably want to know what she wanted to be when she grew up, and so she tried a few different professions on for size. Got a part in a school play. Learned to play the piano. Used the shavings from the pencil sharpener to lift fingerprints from the windowsill. Ultimately, the future seemed at best unlikely, and so she focused on the immediate. On her distractions.
She stored her loot in a hole in a tree trunk. She shoved it into a plastic bag, where she knew it would be safe. She never left the knife there, though. As items accumulated, she sometimes redistributed them, handing a dollhouse chair to a little girl at the zoo who looked sad and a pack of gum to the boy who whose mom had just smacked him.
She had heard that the rain somehow attracted killers, caused them. She knew the truth, too, that the rain for which the Pacific Northwest is famous made it easy for people to…ignore. Running from shelter to cover, never looking up. It made people easy to grab, to hide. Anonymity was a given when everything is covered in constant sheets of gray. She also knew that most serial killers are never caught.
Because cops are fucking inept, she concluded, yet again.
The thing was, they’d had him in custody. She was home with the sitter she liked, the one who let her stay up to watch Mr. Bill on Saturday Night Live. Dad was expected back by midnight. But he was late. Really late. Or early, depending on how you looked at it. Turned out he had been picked up because he matched the description.
Yeah, no shit. He matches the description because he kills people.
But they let him go. Probably because he had a kid waiting at home.