This story is by Don Watts and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I live alone, but not anymore, so when I heard very faint tapping as I walked past the front door of my previous home to get my briefcase for work, it was the friendly ravens on the roof that were blamed.
“Be quiet up there, you hungry birdies! I’ll put out more bread when I get home tonight!” I yelled upwards, slapping my hand hard against the wall next to the coat closet door, mildly hurting myself of course, as usual. The faint tapping continued, much louder, as though it was a warning threat from a proverbially higher power. Okay, that silly thought did not cross my mind at the time. Pompous asses do have their inner id too; reference Forbidden Planet.
I laughed out loud as I got my keys, put on my raincoat, picked up my briefcase, and opened the front door. I have no choice about opening my jail cell “front door” anymore, but way back then I did.
A big mistake. There was no Warning Shadow to save me.
I almost ran over the little “Girl Scout” blocking my exit. If she had been another delivery from Barnes and Noble, I might have just stepped over it as usual.
She had a small box placed on a big box, assumed a cookie box, wore a green hat and dress with many mommy-sewed-on badges, and smiled up at me as though posing for a another Saturday Evening Post cover by — you know the artist. I almost had to leap over her to avoid knocking her down onto the steps. That is the memory I have in my nightmares. I almost put a shoe into her cardboard box of assumed samples, recovering my balance just in time. She did not flinch or move at all.
“Oh, hi little girl,” I said. “I’m very sorry. I’m late for work. Can I just fill in your order sheet?” Get the inevitable over ASAP. I was already late.
“Think nothing of it,” she replied, sounding way too adult, like Rhoda Penrose in The Bad Seed. Shame on me for thinking that of a sweet moppet. No prior restraint.
My brain just can’t avoid stupid lines and analogies from old movies on discs. I owned 23,742 DVDs and Blu-rays at the time. I was a Hoarder for sure. And a push over for cute little girls. Evolution rules?
She held up the clipboard in one hand and a cheap Bic pen in the other, its cap already off.
I scribbled my name on the line (wait for it) beside my complete home address and phone number, and an “X” already in the little square for “Chocolate Chip,” which were already printed in by a computer printer, obviously. I thought, how Modern a Sales Pitch. Make the Customer feel instant Helpless Guilt for not ordering any Product. Not ordering would be un-American, and an insult to my neighbors no doubt.
One important detail almost missed at the time was the last column on the Order Sheet: single-letters, either M, V, A, D, or P, also printed in.
“What’s the ‘P’ mean after my name & cookie choice?”
“PayPal,” she said, smiling. “That’s the safest way to pay, you know.”
“But I haven’t paid yet! You gotta be kidding! What the hell is going on?”
“It simply saves time, and EVERYTHING is online you know.”
Her mom would delist me next year because of my rude final question. I hoped for that? Not really. Rhoda was a doll. We all start out beautiful.
“Thanks, Sir,” she said nicely, with a little curtsey. OMG I almost said. A 1950s curtsey; a perfect one!
Then I caught the wording details on her Merit Badges. There were the usual forest and field ones, Home Economics, Smokey The Bear, Survival, you know, but the one that I couldn’t take my eyes off was COMPUTERS.
“Oh, do you play fun games on your Toys-R-Us computer?” I asked. She slowly shook her head, almost frowning as if insulted. No, really insulted, she looked.
“I program them,” she added, smiling again, but not exactly demanding an Oscar, but real close.
I wish I could say that a wave of fear came over me back then, but it didn’t. Amazement, yes, but not fear. What a mercenary little s… I thought. The hairy drunk next door will take care of her, he will, and grab her inside his rundown house, maybe. Should I warn her about him? Naw, she might tell him what I said. Armed and dangerous in the Preview. He was just another Pod Person who voted for….
“Oh, you do, do you? And what computer language do you employ?” I said, making the appropriate doubting face down at her little one, hoping she would not start bawling for being caught lying to a superior adult who might demand to speak to her mother and father.
“One devised by myself.” There was no smugness in her comeback ,only Certainty, like when a university professor answers a freshman IT student’s ignorant, because he is late to class, question. I might have guffawed but did not, dared not. I would never have harmed a beautiful child.
“Really,” I replied, hoping that a crack would open in her rock-solid composure, not making it a Question any more but an Affirmation, at the level of “on the third day He rose again from the dead” repeated in church.
“May I take your picture and put it on your avatar?”
“Oh, okay. What kind of game is it? Lots of little talking animals chasing away a fire-breathing dragon,” I said, not as a question, assuming that she really didn’t know how to program, or what an “avatar” really is.
“A nepiophile attacking a minor.”
I had to quit this conversation as fast as I could, wanting to go inside and look up the meaning of “nepiophile” and then to go straight through the entire episode list on Wikipedia or Imdb of “The Twilight Zone” for similarity to this autocratic enigma on my doorstep, maybe “To Serve Man.”
“And uh, what wallpaper music have you chosen for the game?” I said, still believing I could trip her up.
“Unbelievable! You mean composed by the same man who did the score for The Thing?!”
“On fulfillment of his Contract.”
“Oh, you paid him?! You’re kidding me!”
“No, Sir. He does not work for free,” she concluded. “Can I go now?”
Where had I heard that line before? Now I remember, it was in Aliens, by the little girl.
“Yes, uh, please. Have a nice day.”
“You will get your cookies by tomorrow after your automatic payment is processed, Sir, and bon voyage!”
“Where am I going?” I asked finally.
She raised a very-expensive SLR camera hanging from around her neck on a rough leather cord that she doubtless had made with her own two hands at a Lolita-esque Summer camp.
“To prison, Sir.”
I went inside slamming the door, sweating like crazy. I slowly opened the door but she was gone.
I stood there looking up and down the block for a long time, with no success. And there was no flying saucer in the sky like at the end of The Man Who Wasn’t There. No little box with a red button.
No aliens standing above my block on a hill talking about how easy this was.
Sure enough, the following year, and from a tough woman judge, I was sentenced to 40 years in prison. I had no chance to convince the jury that “an innocent little fake girl scout had taken a single photograph of my face and attached it to an animated photo-realistic naked man attacking a little kidnapped girl, and placed that horrible video online in The Dark Web via hacking a photo-sharing site in Russia, then disappeared into thin air.”
I searched for years online for such a link, using the computer in my cell. Apparently it has one of those porn blocking programs like they have at schools and libraries.
The cops are probably still digging in my yard for forensic evidence, hoping for a promotion to a higher rank. The little girl in the fake video looked exactly like the sweet little “Cookie Monster” who got me into this fine mess.
The Made-for-TV Movie is not in production, yet. (OJ has at least two, you know; lucky guy.)
No one in my neighborhood had opened their door to such a suspicious little “girl scout.” No one had bought cookies, maybe because real Girl Scouts were not actually selling that month. No one in a radius of 200 miles had any knowledge of her. Cops had gone door to door for over a week. Maybe I will start a novel and title it “Gone Girl.” I have a lot of time left, and titles cannot be copyrighted.
My last shout in the packed courtroom was “You’ve got to FIND HER !”