Piper

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One Page Stories – Third Web

Not This Time

The van hadn’t gone very far; after the little boy had tumbled out and run off, it had taken nearly a full minute to get the girl back into the van, and another minute to careen out of the neighbourhood. By then, the boy’s screams had attracted more attention than the three men had wanted or anticipated, and they sped conspicuously when before they had tried to blend in with regular traffic.

Several minutes went by, and the driver of the van began to think they had gotten away; the girl was still struggling, but the other two men were holding her down – she couldn’t kick her way out again, and her mouth was still taped up. The driver started to relax.

But suddenly a police car appeared behind the van, and then another, and another. Their lights were flashing; their sirens wailed. The driver of the van panicked, flinging the van recklessly from one lane to the next, but the police cars kept pace. Soon six cars had surrounded the van and forced it to the side of the road.

The three men jumped out of the van and fled on foot, pursued by half a dozen police officers with guns drawn. The other officers cautiously approached the van, opening the back doors to find a girl tied up and wrapped in duct tape. “You’re okay!” they shouted, climbing in and kneeling down beside her. “You’re okay!” The girl looked scared and relieved at the same time; as soon as the tape was removed from her mouth, she croaked, “Where’s the little boy?”

One of the officers put a hand on her shoulder. “Jacob?” he said. “He’s how we found you. He’s okay.”

The girl slumped down and began to cry. “Thank God,” she sobbed. “Thank God.”

Two of the officers helped her down out of the van and led her to one of the squad cars. The officers left in the van began looking at piles of items collected in the corners amidst the tangle of ropes and blankets. There were articles of clothing, odds and ends of jewelry, and a few handbags. “Collect all these,” one officer said to another. “It looks like this girl and Jacob aren’t the first ones thrown into this van.”

“Look at this,” a third officer interjected, tipping up a wooden shadow box. “It’s a jersey,” she noted, angling the box so that the others could see inside it. “It’s been signed by Stan Lee.”

“There’s a receipt taped to it,” the first officer said. “It might tell us who owned that jersey.” He stepped out of the van. “Stop collecting,” he decided. “Let’s seal it up and take the whole van in for processing.”

The officer holding up the shadow box laid it gently back where she had found it. “I think Jacob and this girl are really lucky,” she commented as she climbed out of the van. “It looks like a lot of people didn’t get away.”

“Yeah,” the first officer said. He closed the doors to the van. “Yeah.” He went over to the car where the girl sat sobbing into her hands and shaking. She had saved little Jacob’s life, and could easily have lost her own. “But you’re safe,” the officer whispered to himself. He shook his head, and glanced back at the van. “You’re safe.” He wondered about the owners of all those items they had found, wondered how many of them were dead. “What the hell’s wrong with people?” he asked no one in particular, and got into the squad car.

The Thing I Like About …

Smallville: the one where the Bart Allen (the young Flash) is kidnapped by Lex Luthor.

Lex has, for whatever reason Lex has, kidnapped Bart and put him in a circular cage with an electric floor. If Bart can run fast enough, he can stay alive, but if he stops running as fast as he can, then the floor will be able to electrocute him.

Bart starts running. As fast as he can.

He runs for who knows how long, running so fast that he’s just a blur, running so long that sweat streams down his face, and he looks so tired. And he has no idea if anyone even knows he’s there, if anyone’s even looking for him. He doesn’t know if Clark Kent is on his way; he doesn’t know when Clark will arrive. But he knows he wants to live.

So he just keeps running.

I can’t even say how many times, and in how many ways, life feels like that circular cage, and we feel like Bart, just running as fast as we can for as long as we can, just to survive. Some days it doesn’t even feel worth it. We have no way of knowing when life will stop feeling like that, or even if the floor is really electrified, but we don’t want to find out the hard way by stopping and being killed. We don’t really know if anyone knows that we’re struggling, or if they care that we’re in trouble.

It just starts to feel easier to give up, to lay down and die – metaphorically or literally – to stop running before a rescue that might never get there.

But Clark knows about Bart. He cares about Bart. He’s looking for Bart. And he finds him, and saves him.

Is it about having faith in the Clark of our lives, having faith that people care about us and will help us? It is. But it’s about more.

It’s about running anyway, about having that faith in ourselves, about wanting our lives enough to keep living them. It’s about that kind of faith, and that kind of patience, and that kind of endurance – that if Clark doesn’t find Bart in time, then Bart will die trying to live.

That’s what it’s about … and what I try to remember when I feel like I’m stuck in that cage.

One-Page Stories

Decisions

Mike had sat for a moment, listening to the situation next door and waiting for the familiar wail of police sirens. But today, something had snapped inside him. He understood now why the factory had let him go yesterday – sure, they had let a lot of people go, because, as his boss had explained, the “economy’s bad” – but now he understood why he personally was let go. He could see now, too, why he and Maria had ended up here in the first place, taking the factory job a year ago instead of pushing on to Missoula as they had planned when they left Texas.

“Maria,” he said, coming to his feet and staring out the window toward the Davises’ house. “Get the blue folder and the photos and anything else you really care about. Put them in bags and get them into the car.”

Maria was holding little Sammy. She blinked, nonplussed, at her husband, and switched Sammy from one arm to the other. “What are you thinking, Mike?” she asked, her voice expressing concern rather than actual confusion.

“I can’t watch this anymore,” Mike told her, never taking his eyes off the neighbours’ house. “That guy terrorizes his family, and then scares them into silence. They’ll never tell the police the truth, and the police never seem to do anything anyway. They think it’s her problem for her to solve … and maybe it is, but what are the kids supposed to do?” He shook his head. “They’re helpless in there, Maria. It’s not right.”

Maria had placed Sammy in the playpen. “I’ll be ready in five minutes,” she said, as though she had been preparing for this for a long time. “We’ll be leaving the furniture and all.”

“I know,” Mike said. “I know.” He walked out of the house, out the back door into the garage.

Maria watched him go, then she glanced out the window to the Davises’, where she could hear the sound of shouting, screaming, punches impacting with flesh. It sounded like the kids had already been allowed to flee – eventually Mr. Davis’ anger always turned exclusively to his wife. Mike wouldn’t be able to do anything for Mrs. Davis. Maria spun around then and hurried to the kitchen.

Mike pulled the sedan out of the garage and into the alley behind the row of houses. He drove slowly up to the Davises’ yard, to the place beside the garbage cans where six-year-old Derek Davis always hid when his father was angry. Derek was sitting there now, his hands covering his ears, his cheek bloody. He didn’t see Mike at first, but then their eyes met through the open passenger window, and Mike inclined his head and held his hand out toward Derek.

Derek stared at him with wide eyes for a long, long moment. His hands slowly came away from his ears, and his legs, bunched up under him, uncurled. He blinked at Mike. He looked toward the house, toward the yelling and the pounding and the noise. He looked back at Mike.

“Get your sisters,” Mike said. “Let’s go.”

Derek blinked again. Suddenly he climbed to his feet and ran toward the back of his house.

Mike didn’t know if Derek was coming back. He waited for two interminable minutes, his eyes focused on the Davises’ back door, his ears straining to hear the sirens that he knew would be coming any second. Glass shattered somewhere in the Davises’ living room, followed by more shouts of anger. Then the back door opened and Derek came out, followed by his two younger sisters. They scampered across the yard toward Mike’s sedan, and Derek’s small hands pulled the passenger door open. “Get in,” he said to his sisters, pushing them into the front seat of the sedan and then crawling in after them.

Mike put the car in reverse and brought it back to his own garage, backing it in so that Maria could get to the trunk. True to her word, she had quickly packed two large garbage bags with the things they really needed – the blue folder with all their important papers, the photo albums, Anna and Sammy’s favourite toys, her mother’s quilt, some clothes and shoes and toothbrushes. She dumped the bags into the trunk. “Anna,” she said to her three-year-old daughter, who had been roused from a nap and was now rubbing her eyes and glancing around her in confusion. “Get in,” Maria instructed. She opened the rear car door and slid inside, strapping Sammy and Anna into their car seats even as Mike pulled out once more into the alley. “I left a note for Mr. Franklin,” she said to Mike, referring to their landlord. “I told him the factory let you go, and that we couldn’t stay. I told him to do what he wanted with our furniture. And I left the keys on the table.”

“That’s good,” Mike said, nodding his head. “That’ll do.” He steered the car onto the street. At the far end, he saw two police cars speeding toward the Davises’ house, their lights flashing. “Stay low,” he said to Derek and his sisters. He drove with deliberate care to the corner, and then headed the car toward the interstate.

“My parents will wonder,” Maria said. “Where these three extra children came from.” She hugged the cookie jar to her chest – the jar full of what little cash they had managed to save up these past months. “What do we tell them?”

“We have eight hundred miles to figure it out,” Mike said. He pulled the car over to the curb beside the entrance to the freeway. “Is this what you want, Derek?” he asked, looking down at the little boy. “Amanda? Jenny? Did you want to come with us, and live with us now?”

It seemed like an eternity that they waited by the curb, cars whizzing by them. Eventually, Derek and his sisters curled up close to Mike; they never spoke, but they nodded their heads. In the rearview mirror, Mike saw Maria nodding her head as well.

“All right, then,” Mike said, and put his arm comfortingly across the pile of Davis children. He drove the sedan onto the freeway heading north, and didn’t look back.