I pushed my fliers out of my hands and into those willing to accept them within the crowd. A few either handed the fliers back or crumbled them on the ground. Most didn’t pay attention to anything I had typed on the fliers, but a small cluster snatched them out of my hands like hotcakes. I had recognized the cluster as a pack of locals around town. A lady from the group grabbed my shirt and pulled me back. I was too distracted by her yellow t-shirt featuring a giant rattlesnake to notice how concerned she looked.
She said, “You’re from the family that just moved in on Jordan Street?”
I tried to pull away but this only strengthened her grasp. Her group, donned in matching t-shirts, was also awaiting an answer from me. I said, “We moved in a few weeks ago,” and pointed to the flyer, “Have you seen my father?”
The lady chuckled to her friends, but I apparently had missed the punchline of the joke. Her lips opened up, making way for two rows of cigarette stained teeth, “Have we seen your father? Why, our neighborhood watch could smell him when entered the town.”
I involuntarily sniffed my shirt. I couldn’t’ help it. Did I have a smell?
She continued, “We don’t like a lot of change in our town and your father brought in a whole wave of change when your family moved in.”
“Well, he’s gone missing,” I interrupted, “And I really just want to know where he’s run off. I don’t know about any trouble.”
“Sounds like there is still hope for you, but I’m afraid it’s all over for your father. If he knew any better, he’d stay gone.”
I made one more attempt to pull away, but a voice, girlish, pretty, and youthful, yelled from behind me. It said, “What are you doing, Mom? Let him go.”
The angry woman released me and started in on my savior, but her demeanor had changed. She said, “I was just having a one on one with a new neighbor,” she eyed me, “Wasn’t I?”
I turned around to sneak a peek at the girl who saved the day. It was the red headed girl. I felt time stop. All of the confidence I had when I was interacting with people in line was sucked right out of me. I heard her ask “Are you okay?” but my lips wouldn’t move. I just nodded my head. What in hell was wrong with me? She looked at me like I had snot on my face, so I took the opportunity to run to the end of the line.
I reached in my book bag to pull out more fliers, but my bag was empty. I knew I hadn’t given them all away, so I darted my eyes back to the family who were in the middle of a heated argument. I worried it was about me. I saw the red headed girl standing with her arms crossed, probably more embarrassed by her family’s matching t-shirts than anything. For a second I imagined me swapping places with her and spending my time in line with the Dream Catchers, wearing matching belts on our heads but quickly shook the image out of my head. After all, I didn’t want to vomit while I was standing in line.
To make matters worse, I spotted the missing fliers in a trail on the ground leading back to the red headed girl. I was thankful for the heat because my face was too red for her to see that I was blushing when I returned to their little circle. As I got close enough to interact with her, she scooped up a flier and studied it. She said, “Does your family always look like they are staging a stock photo?”
I racked my brain for something witty. I muttered, “History may never know,” which was probably the dumbest thing I could have possibly said. I wanted to scream and run, but I figured that was not socially acceptable. To my surprise, the red headed girl laughed hysterically. It sounded like a laugh that had been waiting to be released for decades. Judging by her mother, I didn’t imagine they laughed a lot in their home.
“Sarcasm is always acceptable,” she quipped. “What’s your name?”
“Alan. Alan Quinn. I’m sorry. This is weird for me.” I started for the back of the line, feeling stupid. It was kind of like a monster was taking over my brain.
The red headed girl ran and caught up to me, “Hey, did I say something wrong? I thought we were joking around.”
I wish I knew how to dial back the awkwardness around her. Something about the girl made me want to go home and hide. “Yeah, I guess we were,” I responded. “Do you want to help me pass out fliers?”
She shot a glance back at her family. I wondered if she was trying to hang out to spite her mother’s reaction to me. She pushed a strand of hair behind her ear and smiled, “Well, Alan, I think I would.”
The red headed girl’s name was Jessica. I know this because she told me three times in the short walk to the back of the line. I had heard her the first time, but still found it difficult to respond. I’m concerned she is mistaking my fascination with her for deafness. The few mumbles I managed also may have implied a speech impediment.
Jessica, likely in the throes of questioning why she followed me, shifted the direction of our conversation. She said, “So, Mr. Mumbles, do you want to tell me more about your dad? Maybe that will get you to calm down.”
I took a deep breath. Answering her should be easy. I said, “It’s complicated.”
She rolled her eyes. If I ever was going to get a chance to be her friend, I think I blew it. She said, “It can’t be that complicated. My father ran out on my mom when I was a toddler in case you were wondering what gave her such a charming personality. I love her, but she makes it difficult when she gets angry like that. How’s your mother handling things?”
“She’s fine,” I said. An image of Mom draining another bottle of wine had popped up in my head. Jessica frowned, seeing right through my lie. I recovered, “She’s taking it a day at a time.”
A hand gripped my shoulder and yanked me around. The owner of the hand, a middle aged black man dressed neatly in a pitch black business suit, said, “Do I know you?” I noticed a pin on his right chest pocket decaled with a paintbrush painting a globe. I said, “I don’t think so,” and turned my attention back to Jessica whose eyes were piercing me. “Eyes forward, Quinn,” she whispered.
The man persisted, “No, I am positive that I know you from somewhere. Maybe it was in a picture or a painting.” I showed him one of the fliers. He shook his head, “No, it was something much bigger. I’m sure it’ll come to me in a minute.” He was obviously messing with me, but I was too frightened to call him out on it. There was something devilishly cool and calm about the way he spoke.
Jessica forced her body to face forward; acting like the man was a figment of her imagination that would disappear as long as she ignored him. I wanted to ask her if she was okay, but thought better of pressing the issue.
The man grabbed a flier off of my stack, “What are these things for? Is it common around here to hand out family photos? Such a friendly place.”
I took a queue from Jessica and faced forward. I still didn’t know why she was freaking out, but I figured she must have a good reason.
The man bent down so only Jessica and I could hear him, “Be weary of what you see and hear for the next few days. I know you don’t want to trust me, but I know your family. Your name is Alan and your father is Reese. If that isn’t enough, Maggie is your mother. “His voice took on a darker, more sinister tone, “A man covered in shadows approaches. Please, take a look around.”
My heart was beating faster than my eyes could dart up. The whole of my body felt cold in spite of the radiating heat. Everyone in line was frozen in place. Jessica joined them still in her nervous position. I wondered if she had been frozen earlier.
“Don’t act so surprised. You weren’t paying attention and that certainly won’t do. Truthfully, your father is an asshole. You are lucky to have lost him.” I wished I had the guts to kick him in the balls, but I was busy trying not to pee my pants. I wished I could wake up from this dream. The man flipped me around. My feet were floating a few inches off the ground.
The man’s eyes shined with the blaze of fire. His voice multiplied into three different tones and volumes, “Alan, you are thinking small. It makes sense because you are small. Small minded. You aren’t just human small. You are grain of sand small.” I tried to look away, failing. My neck wouldn’t operate.
He said, “Listen to me closely. You are going to make friends and allies in the next few days. Well, they will feel like friends and allies, but they are lying to you. They are trying to get to you. You are a coward, so you will let them. On the third day, I will reappear with a solution. Can you hold on till then?”
The man flicked his wrists and raised them slowly up and down. I could feel my head moving with them. He was in control of me.
“I promise you, Alan,” he said, “You will find your father. When you do, you’ll wish you hadn’t.”
Regaining control of my mouth, I said, “Then should I just give up? Is that what you want?”
“No,” he frowned. His expression was almost melancholy, “No, Alan. I want you to find him. But, when you do, I want you to kill him.”
He snapped his fingers, freeing up everybody in line. Unfortunately, for me, that’s when I passed out.
Thomas William Shaw is an author and stage actor from Birmingham, AL. He lives with his wife, Lauren, their children, and their cats in a quiet place. Occasionally he will post about it.