This story is by Daniella San Martin-Feeney and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
She turned the collar of her coat up against the wind. The clouds had rolled in, promising rain, but Cheryl wasn’t ready to go inside yet. She was walking the streets, looking for her daughter again. Amelia had been gone since mid summer. Cheryl couldn’t forget the feeling that had grabbed her one morning, when she realized her daughter hadn’t come home the night before. Staying with a friend, she told herself. Teenage runaway, the police said. Everyone had told her not to worry, but the feeling had never left her. Amelia had run off before, spent a few days away to cool after one of their fights, and then come home. But Cheryl had known it was different this time. Her stomach had clenched and sweat had poured off her body when she had seen the empty bed, unslept in. As the days passed without word from Amelia
That fight – she couldn’t think of it as the last fight – had been intense. They’d yelled, screamed at each other. Said things that couldn’t be taken back. Even now, thinking about it, Cheryl felt her pulse quicken, her face flush. But it was tempered now with the guilt. She was the mother, she should have stopped the fight, been the adult. But Amelia was an adult too! Seventeen, but she knew how to push her mother’s buttons better than anyone ever had.
Cheryl took a deep breath, trying to push down the anger. She slowed down, trying to ground her thoughts, and looked around. She had ended up at the downtown park. It was usually a happy place for her. This was where the summer fair was set up each year. Growing up, Amelia had loved the fair. Even as a teenager, and even when their relationship was strained and fragile, the two of them had always made a trip to the fair together and tried to have a nice time. It was their mother-daughter tradition, the only one they really had. Now, the wind blew dried leaves along the ground. They gathered at the side of the path, against the stone wall. When Amelia had been a child she loved stomping on dry leaves, laughing as she heard them crunch
Cheryl kept walking, going further into the park. Towards the back, in the trees, she could see a few spots where there were camps set up. Homeless men and woman would squat here until the police arrived and moved them along. Cheryl spotted a small group of men sitting on the ground, jackets pulled tight against the autumn chill.
Moving towards them, she fumbled in her pocket for a crumpled photo.
‘Have you seen this girl?’ she asked, holding out the photo. ‘Her name is Amelia’.
The man nearest to her took a quick glance. ‘No, can’t say that I have.’
‘What about you?’ Cheryl pushed the photo towards the other two men. One of them made a ‘tsk’ sound and looked away.
‘Just have a look’ Cheryl pleaded, taking another step towards him.
‘Maybe your person doesn’t want to be found lady. Ever think of that?’ The man’s voice was low, gravelly. It sounded like the voice of someone who wasn’t used to speaking very often, and it carried a note of disgust directed towards Cheryl.
The anger that she’d carefully tamped down came rushing back all at once.
‘Of course she wants to be found! She’s in trouble! She needs me to find her.’ Cheryl snapped.
The man who had spoked turned and looked Cheryl straight on. ‘You know that, do you? You know that she’s in trouble and just waiting around for you to rescue her? A lot of people don’t want to be found you know.’ His eyes flicked towards the photo. ‘Maybe she doesn’t want to go home with mommy. Maybe she is fine on her own.’
‘She is not fine on her own. She would have come back! She would have called. Something’s happened to her, something’s happened to Amelia’ her daughter’s name caught in her throat, and Cheryl felt something break inside of her. ‘Something has happened to Amelia’ she repeated. ‘She’s hurt or someone is keeping her from me! Someone is keeping Amelia from coming home.’ Cheryl’s eyes darted between the men. She was now standing in the middle of them. She whirled, eyes landing on the man behind her. ‘You stay away from me, you stay away from Amelia” Cheryl screamed.
‘I can see why she ran away’ one of the men muttered.
‘No! It’s not true’ Cheryl kept screaming even as she started to cry. ‘Someone is keeping her from me’ she repeated again and again, as she backed away, trying to keep her eyes on all the men at once.
‘Lady, leave us alone’
‘Yeah, fuck off’
‘Get out of our camp’
Cheryl stood there, muttering under her breath, tears dripping off her chin, swaying slightly.
After several seconds, one of the men lurched to his feet. Cheryl’s instincts took over, telling her that he meant her harm and she turned and ran back towards the path, towards the streetlights that had come on while she was in the trees.
The man sat back down, shaking his head. ‘I was just going to walk her out of the woods, make sure she was ok’ he muttered to the others.
As Cheryl ran down the path, the first few raindrops began to fall. She circled out of the park, back towards her parked car. The wind pulled her hair out behind her as she ran. The rain started to slide between her collar and the skin of her neck, chilling her. Finally, Cheryl reached her car, drenched and frantic. She dropped her keys twice before she managed to unlock the car and escape the storm. Despite the relative refuge of the car, Cheryl’s tears kept coming. It felt as if all the emotions of the past months had doubled up and were sitting on her chest, pushing the air out of her chest with each sob. She was light-headed, but that didn’t stop her as she turned the key in the ignition and flicked the windshield wipers on. Watching them swish back and forth, back and forth, Cheryl was hit with a moment of clarity. She had to find him. Him. The man who was keeping Amelia from her. It was so clear now. This was the reason Amelia hadn’t come home yet. She wanted to, but she couldn’t! She would find them. She would find him, stop him, and Amelia would come home.
Cheryl put the car in drive and started down the dark street. She didn’t know where she was heading, but she had to move, to do something. She had to start looking. She would do whatever she had to do.
And then, as she turned the corner, she saw them, cutting across the street and running back towards the park. Two figures, a man and a woman. She was wearing a bulky black jacket, one Cheryl had never seen before. She had probably picked it up when the weather turned. But her hat! Black and nondescript, Amelia had worn it non-stop last winter. Then man was tall, and as her attention turned to him, Cheryl’s heart pounded and adrenaline coursed through her veins. Without a second thought she turned the wheel towards him and slammed her foot down on the accelerator. The car punched through the night and didn’t stop until it slammed against the stone wall across the street. As she heard the man’s scream and the scaping of metal on stone, Cheryl saw the woman from the corner of her eye, safely out of the way. Cheryl smiled.