Over there, where I was a second ago, lies a body. Not just a body. It’s my friend, Stacy. Only it’s not Stacy, not anymore. I’m not sure if she went somewhere, like heaven, or her ever being rest only in my mind. But, I can say with certainty she’s dead from the wide open stare and her expression of horror and confusion. Though, her lifeless eyes suggested nothing. It’s her mouth ajar in a cry, and a solemn why that tells her story. What’s left of her lay fetal, vulnerable… posed fearful.
I came out of a stupor staring at the cop with his weapon drawn. The same cop Stacy chastised for making us leave before dark. He had a scared look in his eyes as he scanned the park. I stood there waiting for… I can’t say. Maybe a part of me thought Stacy would get up, and we’d run together, create distance between us and the cop.
“Stay right there,” he said, kneeling next to Stacy.
“You killed her.”
He leaned over Stacy’s body and touched her neck. “Shit.”
I focused on Stacy’s journal a foot from where the officer stood. Her words were there, everything that happened to her, her dreams, our friendship, Joey. That’s how I learned about Joey. I told her Joey was too old for her. He had a driver’s license, and she was only twelve. Anyway, Joey was Stacy’s secret shared only with me, but now the cop will read her words. I didn’t want him to because they were private. But then again, it didn’t matter anymore, she’s gone. Besides, there’s another entry in her journal that occupied my mind. Stacy feared the police. She said they’d rob, assault, and commit murder. Her uncle Bernie was a cop, she said, and he told her stories about corruption. The cop will read our journals and kill me for sure.
He shoved the journal under his belt and said, “Come with me.”
I turned to run, not knowing if it was a good idea, he had a gun, I had my journal. What could I do with my journal? Cower feebly behind the six by nine soft leather pages of my life? Truth, that’s what I did, even tried to hide my face behind it as I took a tiny step.
The cop held his hand out, palm facing me. “No, no, no. Listen, you need to come with me.”
Car light’s flashed across the ground and a moment of hope entered my fast beating heart. I didn’t have to do as he demanded. I could run.
The cop stepped over Stacy’s body and reached for me. I stumbled back in fear as he grabbed my arm and pulled me close. A few seconds later we were behind a tree. I realized I was a witness to Stacy’s murder, and he hid me to prevent a witness to mine. Stacy wrote in her journal; they’d leave no survivors.
“I want to go home.” The cop pressed his hand across my mouth, my head against the tree.
Moments later he removed his sweaty hand. “What’s your name?” As if it mattered.
“I don’t have to tell you my…”
Twigs snapped over to the left. Branches and leaves rustled. Someone’s over there, hiding in the bushes.
The cop forced my mouth shut with a firm squeeze. I kicked and wiggled my body. I believed whoever it was, they were there to save me. Who else would be in these woods after dark, but a hero, a concerned citizen who saw the cop kill Stacy. With only seconds to think out all the possibilities, one resounding conclusion came to me. I wanted to go home.
So I bit the cop. Hard.
He yelled, in a loud whisper, though, and then he released me. The freedom now scarier than being forced to hug the tree, should I run? He could shoot me in the back or chase after me, he could choke me, and I wouldn’t be able to breathe. For a few seconds, those fears held me to that tree until a loud voice trumped the myriad of thoughts in my head. It screamed.
I forced my body away from the tree, dropped my journal, and raced deeper into the park with the cop’s metallic blood in my mouth. Visibility diminished in the darkness as I headed in the opposite direction of home.
The flight being my best chance, it didn’t matter where I ran as long as it got me away from the cop.
The sound of the gun blasted, followed by an echo. I kept running into the darkness of the woods. Tree branches whipped my face and flailing arms. Bullets whizzed by, close, grave. I spit the blood from my mouth as I searched for a place to hide before the edge of the trees met the river.
During my race for life, the woods developed a grave quiet. Not the sanctuary I imagined, thereupon I found loneliness to be upsetting. Of the many noises from insects, birds, and small critters, even the wind easing between branches, not to mention my breath. It was the silence of the cop, worrisome and creepy, that boosted my fear.
I slowed my breathing. Every bone in my body cemented in place. The slightest movement uncharacteristic of wildlife would expose my position. I heard everything and nothing. Where had the cop gone? A branch snapped. My body trembled, knees shook. The darkness I coveted earlier proved peril. I ran myself into a fifty, fifty chance of survival, likewise the cop of success. His steps were slow, methodical and raising hairs on my neck. I situated myself using a tree as a barrier. Wary of sounds, I eased forward to search for a silhouette of a man holding a gun when an arm wrapped around my chest and a hand covered my mouth.
I recognized his voice and his scent, a commodity from the local dollar store, where most teens purchased cheap cologne. In agreement, I nodded until he removed his hand.
“Come on, Shelly.”
He joined our hands pulling me along the path to safety. I squeezed his hand. Though, better described as a death grip because nothing could have pried me loose. We traveled alongside the fast flowing water of the river a hundred yards, then broke off southwest.
“We should go the other way, toward town,” I said.
“That’s where he’ll go looking for us.”
I went along with him. He was seventeen and I thirteen, he’d find a better place to hide. Right? The path narrowed as we went, Joey maneuvered around the trees and rocks with ease. That didn’t strike me as odd, my mind told me the cop was on our trail and Joey was my liberator. I’d follow him off a cliff, or in this case, off the river bank.
The path opened to a clearing and Joey pointed to an old shack. “Over there.”
There was no way that shack could block a bullet. The structure had patches of wood planks covering holes. Joey nudged me to keep moving. I stared at the wicked fort. The building leaned to one side, the door was missing a hinge, and there weren’t any windows.
I halted and snatched Joey back. “Joey, it might fall on us.”
He grabbed my arm and led me to the door. I leaned forward and peeked inside.
“I can’t see anything.”
He shoved me through the door. I stumbled inside the small dirt-floored space and cowered in a corner.
Before I could complain, Joey, stepped in and closed the door behind him. “Be quiet.”
He must have hidden in the shack before because he seemed confident we’d be safe. Not that I could see him. The inside, darker than outside, concealed his demeanor. Regardless, I welcomed Joey’s presence, and besides, most of my focus lay peeking through the cracks in the walls, there a question remained. Where was the cop?
“I had to do it.”
“She wanted to tell her Mom.”
He paced the small interior. Something in my gut told me I didn’t want to know the rest.
“She refused to listen.”
The journal. Stacy wrote it in her journal. I didn’t have time to read it before we left. That’s why she was mad at the cop.
Joey slowed his pace as I leaned against the rugged wall.
“I’m sorry you’re dragged into this mess.”
“Joey, what are you saying?”
He dragged his right foot as he approached. As he drew closer he said, “I’m sorry.”
His ominous shadow towered over me. He fumbled for something from his pocket. Whatever it was it seemed to be stuck. I heard his feet scraping across the dirt, his grunts as he battled the item in his pocket.
He’s going to kill me! There I was trapped inside, and I couldn’t run unless I got past Joey. I rushed toward him and grabbed his arm. He pushed me back slamming me against the wall. I bounced off and fell to the floor.
Joey managed to get his gun out of his pocket and he aimed at my head. At first, I squeezed my eyes shut, but he paused. Why? I squinted my eyes open in time to see him turn and face the door.
A bright flash accompanied the sound of the gunshot. Last I saw, before I blacked out, someone yanked Joey out of the shack. A scuffle, yelling and a concise, “You’re under arrest.” I lay there, fetal, wishing I was home. Then everything went dark.
The door creaked partly open, and I opened my eyes to a bright light glaring through the
entry. I lifted my face from the tear-wet ground and used my feeble arms to push myself up on my knees. The light offered hope. I crawled and cried as I reached for the officer. “That’s it,” he said. “Take my hand.”
Our hands clasped. I rose and walked out of the shack with weak legs and a dry throat.
“It’s ok. You’re safe now.”
There were people with flashlights wandering between the trees. I’m sure they were looking for me. Why else would they be there?
“Where did Joey go?”
The cop waved his hand to a group of police officers, “Bring a blanket.” Then he turned and kneeled, “You don’t have to worry.”
“I thought you…”
“Was a bad guy. I know.”
“It’s ok. It’s hard to tell the difference these days.”
He wrapped a blanket around my shoulders then picked me up and carried me, princess style. I glanced back at the shack.
Ten years has passed. I’m twenty-three now. I finished school two years ago, then graduated from the police academy. Cal Hoover’s my partner. The cop who didn’t give up on me, even when my perception of him led me on a dangerous path holding hands with a murderer.
“I have a name.”
Cal grinned as he approached, “I knew I’d find you here.” He glanced at the shack and back at me. “The one save I’m most honored with, Shelly, you ok?”
I sighed. “Yes.”
Relations between cops and citizens got worse while I schooled. Distrust and paranoia spread fast and infested a large population like an illness. I kept my head straight with memories of the night Stacy died, and of a good cop. I read the papers every day, out loud so Stacy could hear, and this week a shift emerged. People now realize the battle isn’t between cops and citizens. It’s between good and evil. Cal was a hero when he saved me, but the most profound were his words; it’s hard to tell the difference. It got me to thinking and I haven’t stopped.
“Did you forget your date with the kids?”
I elbowed him. “Nope.”
Every night, I visit a youth center and mingle with troubled kids.
“The guys at the station think I am wasting my time.”
Cal removed his jacket. “No, you’re beating the crap out of bad guys.”
He wrapped his jacket around my shoulders. For a moment there I thought he’d carry me, princess style.
“How am I beating them?”
“Those kids respect you…. The guys at the station? They’re fools waiting for the big gun battle that wins the war on crime. But, you had vision. You reached those kids. Your effort hasn’t gone unnoticed. The captain wants to see you in the morning.”
“Channel 7. They want to interview you. Parents are raving about you.” He smirked. “They called the news station.”
We stopped where Stacy died, Cal hugged me tight. “I tried to save her.”
“I was there.”
Cal grinned. “Concerning the young man you’re dating.”
I palmed his chest. “Cal, my dating life is not your business.”
“Did you run a criminal background on him?”
“No. Cal. We’re not talking about this.”
He jogged ahead. “I got it.”
“Got what? Cal, don’t you dare!”
I glanced up at the trees, then at Stacy standing at the path, smiling. I tucked her journal under my belt and faced Cal. He had the phone to his ear. Is he calling for the background check?
He held his hands out, palms up, “Just kidding.”
I ran to him and punched his arm. “I’m happy you’re in a good mood because the kids want to meet you.”
“Me? Wait a minute, Shelly.”
“I planned to ask you next week, but since you’re here.”
“No, no, no. I’m not good with kids.”
“Ha. Since when?” I walked to the driver’s side of my Chevy. This time, I wore the grin. “They want to meet the cop who saved my life. Call Lydia, tell her you’ll be late for dinner. Never mind, I’ll call her.”
I pulled my phone from my pocket as Cal walked to his vehicle, grumbling. I went to open my car door and caught a figure in the tree line. Over there, in the shadows, Joey watched from whatever afterlife he dealt himself. I expected revenge, but he appeared mournful. Over to the right, Stacy turned and sung along the path until she disappeared in the mist.
“Ok, ok.” Cal interrupted. “I meet your kids, you let me drill your new boyfriend.”
“Deal. He’ll be there. He’s the director of the youth center.”
Cal wobbled his head. “He’s the director.” He paused. “That doesn’t mean…”
“You’re impossible. Let’s go.” I plunged in the driver’s seat. In the rearview mirror I saw Cal leaning on the car door, staring at me, something told me to look further, so I leaned to my right, peered through the mirror.
I saw Joey standing next to Cal with his fists balled. I scrambled out of the car. “Cal!”
Then Joey disappeared.
Cal got in the car and started the engine. “All right. I’m coming.”
I searched the tree line. No sign of Joey or Stacy. I guess that night will always haunt me.
I sprinted to the Chevy, shifted into drive, and headed northwest. Cal followed.
“Lydia, he’s following me to the youth center. Thanks for understanding. I’ll have him home by ten.”
“Yes, I still see them.”
“I know, I know. I’ll make an appointment….”