Seven Years Ago.
The Day of Erin Lockwood’s Disappearance.
Mia hobbled forward, the damp undergrowth of the forest floors moshed between her toes, squelching beneath her bare feet with each step. Keila trembled beside her. The red summer dress she wore, decorated with blue flowers, was caked in filth and grime. Akin’s long, bony legs wobbled, and Opal’s arm hung around Aries’s shoulder, and his arm wrapped around her waist which kept her bolstered at his side as she hopped on one leg. Her other knee grazed with a deep gash seeping with dark blood.
They all emerge from out of the woods, scathed, broken and irrevocably traumatised. Soon all they could hear was blaring sounds of sirens that screamed into the midnight sky, tyres screeching as four police vehicles abruptly halted before them. Eight officers rushed out of the cars, briskly and yet cautiously made their ways to the dazed children.
Bright, blue lights reflected in Mia’s unblinking eyes as a policewoman approached her. Mia remained stagnant. Frozen. Trapped in a paralysing stupor, her mind mercilessly replayed the harrowing image of Erin’s body, inert and the light in her eyes snuffed out. Lifeless.
“Hello, little one. I am a police officer; I’m not going to hurt you. I’m here to help.”
Mia remained still.
The policewoman neared her and paused right in front of her; she dipped into a low squat to align her face with Mia’s, and she slowly lifted her hands to gingerly place them on either side of her small frame. But the moment her hands touched Mia’s bare skin, she jolted as if she had been burnt and gasped as if struck. Mia’s eyes rapidly blinked, darting from place to place as the horrific reality of what happened finally dawned on her.
“Jim!” The policeman exclaimed and he clasped his hand on Akin’s shoulder in gesture. “This one, claims that his other friend is still in the woods,” he said to the other officer who scooped up a whimpering Opal into his grip and carried her to the passenger seat of one of the police cars.
“Carter, John. Go with Jim and find the other kid,” he ordered. The three police officers sprinted into the woods, engulfed by the darkness as the other four remained and tended to the five children.
“Let’s get you into the car, warm you up.” The policewoman cooed and rubbed Mia’s arms. “And take you back to the precinct. Your parents are worried sick.” She then moved her hand and had it placed behind her shoulder to gently guide her to a police vehicle, but Mia refused and slipped from her grasp.
“N—no. I—I have to go back! She needs me!” Mia cried hysterically and she swivelled around to run back into the woods, but the policewoman lunged forward and swiftly wrapped her arms around her petite frame. Mia thrashed and wailed in protest.
“She needs me!She...needs me.” Her wails quietened and softened into snivels as she bowed her head. Tears welled in her eyes and slid down her cheeks in strings. The policewoman receded but kept her at arm’s length as she gently forced Mia to turn around and face her. Head still bowed, she tried to get Mia to look into her eyes.
“What do you mean, sweety? What happened to her?”
Mia slowly lifted her head and the policewomen stared back into her haunted gaze. “It killed her—we killed her—uh um,” she stuttered, and the policewoman eyes widened with an alarmed look. She impulsively adopted a formal tone.
“Hey, I need you to focus for me. What is your name?” she demanded.
The policewoman nodded and flashed an encouraging smile. “That’s good, Mia, really good. My name is Annabelle.” She patted her hand on her chest and placed it back on Mia’s shoulder. “I need you to do me a small favour. Can you do that for me?”
Mia’s trembling head bopped a yes.
“Can you tell me what happened here?” she asked and flicked her gaze at the woods. Her eyes drew back down to Mia’s face that creased into a woeful expression.
Her hands covered her face and she slid them to the sides, and glimpsed officer Annabelle’s troubled expression. Mia’s one hand lowered to clutch onto the pendant that hung from her neck.
“Mia.” Brusque. “What happened?” she asked firmly.
Mia yielded and her hands numbly dropped to her sides.
“I killed her, Annabelle. I never meant to. I didn’t have a choice.” She whimpered.
Annabelle’s eyes exploded wide with horror.
“I killed her.”