“Does this come in another color, miss?”
Twenty-year-old Clara O’Haren was dragged away from her little world as a much older woman on the other side of the check out counter held a green-designed t-shirt that was still on its hanger. She looked at that woman and after a second much longer to huddle her senses back to smile her kind employee smile. “That shirt? Hmmm... What color are you looking for, ma’am?”
“I would like to get this shirt in blue if you have any,” the woman seemed kind enough. Curly silver hair, thin, and her smile brighten up the room. Perhaps the kind of woman who makes cookies for her grandchildren with slender hips. It didn’t take long for Clara to remember who she was, she was a regular who came to the shop often to buy new things like clothes, body lotions, and cat food.
“I want to get it for my grandson Jr, and this shirt is his size but I wonder if there is a color blue. He likes blue.”
“Sure. I will go see if there is a blue shirt in the back for you. ”
She left the counter with the green shirt and went to the door with the words “EMPLOYEES ONLY” written in bold letters across the front. She pushed the door and stepped inside, wondering where the other shirts that were similar to this one were even back here. Luckily they were not too far from the door so the travel wasn’t that far.
When she went back to the woman and made a quick transaction of payment before putting it in a bag for the woman to continue on her way.
A sound of a hammer thumping a nail attracted her attention to a large board beside the counter. It was a young teenage boy who worked here that seemed young enough to still be in high school, his face greasy, and a little chubby with curly brown locks of hair. Jimmy Langely. She had trained him the first day he came here three months ago and after a month he seemed to be doing fine on his own without needing any more of her help for anything. He was a God sent sometimes.
He was putting up a large MISSING board on the wall with the largest recent picture of a woman on there with a description, contact information, and even reward money. It matched the other twelve that were already on the board before he nailed it to the wall.
“Hey, Jimmy,” Clara leaned her hip against the counter and pushed her side fringe back to mingle with the rest of her raven hair all to one side and folding her arms. “What are you doing?”
“Clancy asked me to put this up on this wall,” when Jimmy was finished he stepped back and looked to make sure the board was straight and neat like the others, proud that he managed to put it up himself. One of his little OCD traits. “He is off work today because he has been going around the town looking for his eighteen-year-old daughter who randomly left her room last night through her window.”
Clara’s brow arched. She met the girl once a month ago at a small party that the manager was having for his wife’s anniversary of marriage for him. Clancy is his name. Janice was a bright blond pretty eighteen-year-old that didn’t talk much to anyone and usually stays to herself, still going through and in the second semester of her senior year in high school.
Her boss’s straight-A daughter. Seventeen-year-old Jimmy had a crush on her but she already had a boyfriend, as she was told by him, the poor guy. And now she was missing. “She is gone? Was there evidence that someone took her?”
“When her dad called the police they searched for hours in the dark for any sign of where she went, with dogs and everything. Turns out she went into the woods for some unknown reason and just... Well, disappeared. They found her phone along with some of her hair on a twig she must have gotten caught on but nobody else knows what seemed to happen. Maybe they will find out more today...”
“Why would an eighteen-year-old girl walk in the woods in the middle of the night?” Clara found it all silly, Janice could have used a little bit more brainpower at the idea. Who would freely walk into the creepy woods in the dark? That would be like entering a never-ending maze. The woods always scared her. She made sure to stay away from the woods at all times. Maybe Janice had a reason? “What about the other twelve girls?”
He looked at the wall and each woman, calling out each name:
“I didn’t mean reading out all of their names. I know how to read,” Clara held back a giggle. “Just if any was found or any leads. I would like to know about crazy skilled kidnappers around.”
He pouted at her humor, “why did you let me read it all out then?” Jimmy continues to stand there and look at all the pictures. “But how on earth can the police possibly miss the stuff? I mean, see this one Mia Burch? It says here that she was taken in a mall with her friend. These police around here are doing a pretty lazy job. Wouldn’t the cameras pick up something?”
“Out of all the names you could have chosen that is the one you select,” another deep voice interrupted the conversation, the suddenness caused Clara to do a half jump and turn her head. She saw a man wearing a black suit with dark brown hair with hints of grey along with the roots and a salt and pepper goatee. She hasn’t seen him around in this store before. She took a small breath, “I’m sorry that I didn’t notice you, sir. Did he accidentally say something to upset you? If so I apologize for him, he tends to talk without thinking.”
It was a joke by the sound of humor in her voice but Jimmy tucked his arms over his chest.
The man placed his items on the counter, his items consists of beef jerky, newspaper, and coffee mix. All small items. A perfect start to a morning. “No, it’s just... Well, I knew her. I knew her well,” He had a solemn look on his face. “She’s my daughter.”
What are the chances of that? She thought as she moved the items over the red beam to scan it, tapping numbers in with her finger. “I’m sorry.”
His shoulders moved as he heaved with a sigh. “It’s fine, I know he didn’t know. It’s been a while since that picture has been up everywhere when she had disappeared with her little friend in the bathroom of the mall after two strangers entered before them- yet all of them never exited. The police think the men are responsible for the kidnapping but couldn’t find them. If not for that proof I would think she would have run away, her mother had always been so strict with her rules... Oh,” he grabbed his wallet from inside of his suit pocket to grab some money and place it on the counter. “I’m sorry for keeping you waiting.”
“Oh, no sir, you’re fine,” she gave him his change. “I’m sorry about your daughter. I do hope you find her.”
He grabbed his bags, “Thank you,” he looked at her tag. “Clara. I would ask you to call me anytime if you needed a lawyer but I don’t want to jinx you into trouble,” he chuckled his sadness away. “Good day,” He left for the exit.
Clara turned to Jimmy and gave him a deadly glare. He held up his hands in self-defense, “I didn’t know the girl’s dad would be standing nearby! I would have picked another girl.”
“Don’t talk about any of them,” she shooed him away. “Go put the tuna cans on the shelf or something.”
He walked away after having nothing else to say to her. Clara turned and looked back at the wall to see all the pictures of the women, the pictures looked like they were taken by others at the girl’s happiest moment. Mia was sitting in a chair with a black cat in her lap smiling into the camera, Tina was on the couch, and one girl Ivy was standing with a Spelling Bee trophy in her hand for first place. Each girl different yet had the same thing in common. Missing.
If she could she would take Kane out of the town and to another one with all of these disappearances going around, it was something she already had planned to do for some time now. These two men were scary good at taking all these people without a single trace of where they went. Even in the bathroom of a very public mall and was never seen leaving it, but tore every sink in there and flooded it with water. The kidnappers were strange. Who could even pull that off? Ocean 12 maybe if any of them wanted to kidnap people.
She didn’t let it bother her long before she went back to her work as usual after finally putting up her thick mess of hair into a bun and out of the way. The day went on like any other day, working at the register and stacking boxes in the back and putting up items on shelves just to see those items again when she checked other people out with them.
It was near the time she had to leave so she can walk to Kane’s Elementary school in time. She looked at the time on her phone although she knew it was against the rules to pull it out behind a register but the store was empty of people.
Jimmy was always nice enough to cover for her (the times when he becomes her angel from heaven) because he knew her schedule when she needed to leave, so she puts on her coat and hurries out of the store.
The trip from her job to the school was not that long if she pushed herself to a jog to get there five minutes before the bell rang. It also helped gather some body heat in this cold at the price of moderately burning lungs. She always wanted to be there before he came out of school and he could see that she was there, he had this horrible habit of running off to try to look for her if she wasn’t or took too long.
So she made it there before the bell, stood outside with the other cars waiting for their children, and waited with her arms crossed.
It was cold outside. It always was in this town in the middle of winter but her jacket provided enough protection. She left her gloves at home. A mistake she wished she didn’t make, but she did make sure Kane had his.
The bell rang and a tsunami of small children ran out of the school and to their vehicles to tell their parents of their day. It wasn’t until the front was less filled with kids before the door opened again and the smaller body of a little boy pushed his way out with a paper in his hand and his bookbag on his back bouncing while he ran to her.
He ran to Clara, and their usual tradition at this time of day would be for her to crouch down and hug him. A tight hug later he takes her hand and begins down the sidewalk over the large hill to get to the flatter land. She eagerly grabbed his glove hand today, the boy was incredibly warm. And he always liked to hold her hand rather than her holding his, although small.
Kane looked at Clara and presented a big carefree grin. “I had fun today, sissy. Miss. Sammy told us to make pictures of our hero’s ’cuz we were reading hero stories, and she said mine was the most creative in the class! What does creative mean?”
She giggled. She was often reminded of how much she missed him during the days at work. “It means you can make anything up easily.”
“This is my picture,” he held it up to her. “Tell me what you think? Is it creative?”
She grabbed his picture with her other hand and looked at it once the ground was leveled and she didn’t have to worry about tripping, which she would easily do. Her eyes landed on the picture, the smile fading her face when she saw the drawing made out of crayons.
The five-year-old drawing wasn’t like a normal artist, but it did show a figure of a man with wheat blond hair and opaque blue eyes, but that wasn’t what made the picture unique. It was the ears of a cat on his head and a long yellow line behind him. She pointed to it, “what’s that behind him, buddy?”
“A tail, silly.”
A tail? Her face was more confused than proud but luckily Kane didn’t take the time to notice the difference. “Where did you get this idea from?” A kid’s tv show he had been watching, hopefully.
“That’s my hero,” he grabbed the paper to look at it again. “He is in my dreams and he talks to me so I drawn him down. He’s so cool. He can climb, jump, fight, like a superhero! He doesn’t have a name yet but I called him Neon. My teacher said it was better than my original name Goldy. I am bad with names. ”
This must be the imaginary friend stage the books talked about or his wild childlike dreams. She watched him stare at the paper some more. Then again the books didn’t talk about the kid talking to their imaginary friend in their dreams, but couldn’t they come from there? Kane was known to have a wild imagination anyway. “You can name him anything you want, he is your hero.”
“He can be your hero, too,” he said proudly. “You should have seen him! He climbs these big, big trees almost to the top! And fall from high places without hurting his feet. Or maybe he does and can hide it very good.”
She giggled at his wild stories, “he sounds cool,” she opened the gate to the front of their home to let him through first and shutting it behind them. “Put your backpack in its spot and I will make you something to eat so you can play with your toys in the backyard. You can get as dirty as you want because later you’re taking a bath,” she rubbed her thumb over a glitter smudge on his cheek. “P-U. You stink already.”
“You’re just being funny. I don’t stink,” He jumped up each step like a game, his wild energy always surprised her. “I don’t need a bath.”
“Well you’re getting one anyway,” she opened the door and stepped inside, relieved when she saw the actual inside of her home instead of the strange jungle scenery. Then again it didn’t seem that he was the only one having these weird moments. “I will keep your hero captive until you do.”
“Because I’m the bad guy.”
“Aww. Don’t rip it at least, ’kay?”
“I was just thinking of putting it on the fridge if that’s alright.”
He ran upstairs to get to his room so he could put his book bag away. She chuckled at the weird turn of that conversation.
Those two words that were spoken by Richard was enough for her to tighten her grip on the railing of the staircase and look down to keep from looking at him. He made her stomach churn when she did.
It was silence for a while and she hoped that he wouldn’t say anything else and just went back to watching the television. Instead, he took another gulp of the can while he eyes the regular outfit she wore to work. “I like that apron, looks good on you.”
Always with the dirty intentions behind the seemingly innocent compliment. She knew better. He always said unpleasant things like that. Like the time she walked out of the shower with her towel on, and he stood in front of her bedroom door seemingly “fixing it”. No, she had to wait outside until he was “done”.
She didn’t allow him to use that time to watch her, she waited in Kane’s room until he was done, which he finished magically quick when she shut the door and waited for him to leave before running into her room to lock the door. Yeah, the door that needed to be fixed now squeaked each time she opened it like a bell.
He was crude. Nasty. He was the reason she wanted so badly to leave with Kane. That would be a problem, mainly because that man was her brother’s blood father. By law, Kane was still his.
He just ruined this apron for her. His words always made her uncomfortable, he disgusted her a lot. When he spoke about something he liked her wearing made her not want to wear it anymore and even considered burning it, but this was something she had to wear to work.
He just ruined it for her mentally.
She didn’t answer back. She just went to her room to change, making sure to lock the squeaky door as she did so.