This story is by Anna Mae Dickinson and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
“Let me go!” A child screamed out from the alley beside me.
I stopped and turned in the direction of the frantic voice. A feeling of dread overwhelmed me. I didn’t need any trouble right now. It had been a week straight from hell.
A chilling wind struck me from behind. It drew my attention away from the alley. I reached out to grab my scarf, but the wind whisked it through a vortex of misty snow. It hovered momentarily, than floated toward the ground. I leapt to trap it beneath my black boot. “Got ya.”
I gasped as cold air pierced my throat. My teeth chattered and a cloud of frosty breath dispersed into the air as I exhaled. I hurried to cover my neck. It’s nights like this when I miss the warmth of the Arizona sun. I shivered and wrapped my jacket around me tighter.
“Let go of me!” The same voice yelled out.
I sighed. This was the last thing I needed, but it’s my job to keep children safe. I wanted to begin my weekend free of drama, paperwork and family problems. Maybe I’d get lucky and it would just be kids fooling around or an unruly child who missed curfew and the parents are here to retrieve him. Maybe everything is fine.
Even with the second plea from the boy, I turned to leave, but my inner voice beckoned deep within me. I mean, what kind of person would I be if I kept walking, but on the other hand what if it was a trick? It could be a mugger or a murderer. I paused and cleared my throat. It couldn’t hurt to ask a few questions, than I’d head home.
I searched through my purse for my phone. Shit, of course I’d left it charging back at the office. I eyed the poorly lit street for anyone who could assist me. The usually bustling street appeared abandoned at the moment. That’s just my luck. Against my better judgement, I crept into the alleyway. I had to. I couldn’t leave in good conscience. My heartbeat echoed through my ears. I swear if it beat any faster, it would have jumped clear out of my chest. A nasty smell of rotten food hung thick in the air. I covered my mouth with my hand. It took all of my strength not to puke.
A faint light shone from a tiny window in the dim alleyway. That could be useful. Someone could be in there.
It was hard to focus, but I searched the shadows and was able to make out a couple of figures kneeling by an overflowing dumpster. My instinct told me to investigate, but my exhausted body and mind had other thoughts. It’s Friday night. I’m supposed to be done for the week. I want a hot bath, warm pajamas and an opened bottle of wine. Not spend the next twelve hours processing another kid. I held my breath when I saw movement.
A male figure stood up. The man grasped something with his hand. I strained to try to see more clearly. He stayed in the shadows, but as I feared, I saw a small arm. I shifted a few feet to the left to get a glimpse of the child, but he was hidden behind a pile of trash bags. I gathered my courage and approached the man.
His expression chilled me. His eyes were wild and bloodshot. The hair on my arms stood up. My throat tightened. Apprehensive, I struggled to speak. “Excuse me, is everything all right?”
The man stepped into the light. I saw the young boy’s face. The man bent down and whispered into the kid’s ear. The child recoiled.
I needed information so I called out to the boy. “What’s your name?”
The man shoved the kid before he could finish.
“Lady, it doesn’t matter what our names are. Mind your business.”
I realized I was in way over my head. I couldn’t call the police if this goes south, but I certainly couldn’t walk away. I drew a breath and swallowed. My first thought was to leave. If I did, they’d disappear and the man could hurt the boy. If I stayed, I could be hurt or worse. I tried to calm myself. I was trained for bad situations. This should be easy, but when faced with the unknown, I panicked.
“I’m Lily Waters.” I heard the nervousness in my voice. My lip quivered. I held my breath and hoped he didn’t sense my fear. I tried to compose myself. The child looked distressed. I stepped forward to offer some assistance.
“Do you and your son need a ride somewhere? You must be freezing out here.”
The man sneered “No.”
The boy struggled to get free. “He’s not my dad.”
“Shut your mouth boy.” The man scolded. “I’m his step dad. We had a fight, but it’s all good. My car is parked around the corner. You have a nice night, now.”
The man dragged the boy a few feet down the alley. It would have been easy to accept his answer and be on my way, but something told me to wait. Call it intuition from years of experience.
The boy swung his head back toward me. The color drained from his tear soaked face. “We need a ride.” He cried hysterically. “Please, lady. We need a ride.”
“Excuse me sir. I can’t let you leave unless you show me proof the child is your stepson. Can we call his mother?”
The man approached dragging the child by the arm. His eyes narrowed. “I think you should mind your own business.”
“Children are my business. I’m from child services.” I raised my voice in hopes someone would hear me. My stomach knotted and twisted. It was obvious I shouldn’t be here. In an attempt to resolve the issue, I approached them and nearly gagged from the man’s foul odor. This guy obviously lived on the street. He was filthy and his clothes were tattered. He moved into the light. His face distorted. Most of his teeth appeared broken and stained. I step closer toward the building. Again, I hollered to the man. “I want to help you, not cause you any trouble.”
“Lady, trouble may not be what you want.” The man half smiled. “But it’s what you found.” His face reddened and his nostrils flared. I sensed immediate danger and needed help. I cowered back and glanced to the window in total desperation. I saw the curtain move or did it?
The boy whimpered. I was desperate to help him.
I glanced at the man’s hands clutched in a white knuckled fist. It could turn ugly and the bum could go berserk at any moment. Back step is what I needed to do and get help quickly. My heart pounded. I began to tremble. A rush of heat crept over my body and my mouth became dry and pasty. Sweat dripped profusely down my back. I was terrified. I had to take control. I’d be no good to anyone dead.
I forced a smile. “I’m sorry to have bothered you.”
“Please don’t go.” The boy sobbed.
The man struck the child, knocking him to the ground. “Stay down.” He ordered. The boy didn’t move. Not a muscle. The crazed look in the man’s eyes told me to flee.
I was crazy to think I had this on my own. I turned to run, but was jerked backward. I nearly lost my footing. A razor-sharp object pressed up against my throat. The steel felt cold against my skin. I stiffened in fear it would cut me. Everything I learned, all the training should have prepared me for this moment, but I felt utterly helpless. How could I let this happen? I’m smarter than this. My arms went numb and dangled at my side. I felt a warm sensation pour down my legs. Was it blood? Did I pee myself? I wanted to scream, but the pinch of the blade demanded silence. The alley appeared to fade around me. Tears streamed down my cheeks. Is this how my life will end, in some cold dark alley? Was my family right about the city being no place for a small town girl? No, this can’t be it for me. I haven’t fallen in love with the man of my dreams. I haven’t started a family. I’m not even close to being ready to die.
A loud voice echoed inside my head. “Lily.”
The deep voice I recognized instantly. It was Michael’s, my self-defense coach from back home. “Stop acting weak. You have the advantage in every situation.” He always drilled. “You can beat a man two times his size. You got this. Take him. Take him now.” A surge of adrenaline rose within me. I took a deep breath and a second to focus. I could see the light from the street post and fixed my eyes on its glow. I’ll not die tonight at the hand of this monster. I refuse!
I screamed out as loud as I could to distract the crazed man. “Release me!” The blade pierced my skin. It burned like hell. In a split second, my fear and confusion vanished. All my training came flooding back. I clasped the attacker’s arms, bent his pinky finger and back kicked his knee. I seized the knife handle pulling his arm away from my throat. I maneuvered behind him and applied pressure to his arm. It snapped like a twig. The man howled in excruciating pain. Everything from that point moved in slow motion. I could hear the sound of muffled voices echoing in the distance. Once free from his gripe, I lost all control like someone else manipulated my body. Never had I felt such uncontrollable rage. I repeatedly beat on the attacker’s back. The knife still clenched in my hand.
Sirens sounded in the distance. I froze and glanced down. Warm blood soaked my hand and jacket sleeve. The blood-covered man staggered a few steps. He turned and peered into my eyes, mumbled something and collapsed at my feet. My body quaked. Sweat trickled down my forehead and a gagging feeling formed in the back of my throat.
Something grasped hold of my waist. I looked down. The boy had wrapped his arms around me. Tears soaked my face. I raised my sleeve to wipe it clean. The smell of blood repulsed me. I closed my eyes. “It’s not my blood. Oh God. It’s not my blood.” Reality hit me hard. What have I done?”
“Drop the knife.” A voice demanded. My eyes sprang open. A police officer’s spot light blinded me.
I raised my hands and glanced at the tiny window. The curtains were pulled back. An elderly woman gazed over. She nodded and flashed a kind smile.
The police officer called out to me, “Drop the knife and a step back.”
My grip loosened on the bloody handle. The knife clanged as it hit the concrete. It was over.