Amanda is rescued from an Escaped Mental Patient, who she calls "The Farmer"
|Slivers of light peek through the tiny cracks in the walls. The only time the door opens is when The Farmer brings food, a slice of meat slapped between two pieces of bread and wrapped in a napkin. The sandwich is always wet, but 9-year-old Amanda doesn't mind. She simply sucks the water out because it's the only water she’ll get until he returns. The bread doesn't taste too bad after it dries up some. She nibbles on half and wraps the rest up for later. The paper will keep most of the bugs out and what they do eat doesn’t amount to anything.
She saw something out of the corner of her eye and noticed a car slowly drive up and park close to the old barn Amanda was in. She quietly scrambled to the dusty window to watch. A man got out of his vehicle and went around to the trunk, taking out a small case. It looked like a camera, but one of those old-fashioned kinds. She figured he was one of those people who took professional pictures since he had so much equipment, but she didn’t know why he was back here. The only thing she could see around here was this old barn.
The wandered around a bit before pulling the camera up close to his eye and, pointing the camera towards Amanda, started taking pictures. If he saw her, he didn’t show it. She hoped he did, but Amanda soon realized he was simply taking pictures of the outside of the building. She didn’t think he saw her in there at all. She kept her eye on him, though, and watched for The Farmer. She hoped The Farmer wouldn't see him poking around and felt nervous for the man with the camera.
Amanda almost opened the door and ran out when the man taking pictures held the camera up to his eye again. He turned the circle at the end back and forth; she guessed he was focusing it on something. Her, maybe? He seemed to be taking a lot of pictures of this barn.
Amanda moved slightly and held her breath, reaching for the door. But she held back. She couldn't take the chance that she would be found out. The wooden floor was too creaky and old. For sure The Farmer would hear Amanda walking around and come running. She didn’t even know where The Farmer was when he wasn’t in the barn with her. He could be anywhere. He wasn't very predictable.
When the man was done taking his pictures, he lowered the camera and steadied his gaze toward the door for a moment. He appeared to look right at her. Maybe he could see her. But even though he hesitated, he just turned and walked away. He put all his fancy equipment back in his car and drove away. Just like that.
A silent tear crept out of her eye and rolled down her cheek. Amanda watched him through the dusty window. "Come back!" she whispered. Of course he didn't hear her. She watched him until he was gone. Amanda sat back down on her smelly old mattress and waited. For what, she didn’t know. She pulled her bruised and tiny knees up to her chest, wrapped her arms around herself, and waited.
Hours passed and she was still lying on that mattress. It had pretty much become her home in that dirty old barn she shared with a few mice and one noisy Barred Owl. It was dark by then and she had slept some, but not very well. Her legs had fallen asleep and as she stretched them out in front of herself, tingles shot through them as the circulation started to come back. She rubbed them to hurry the process along. She hated that feeling…that pins and needles nonsense.
Amanda stopped suddenly as she heard the slow “thump thump” sound that meant The Farmer was on his way back in. Holding her breath didn’t do any good, but that’s what she did, anyway. It’s funny what your mind tells you to do, even when it doesn’t make any sense anymore. She knew what was coming and it wasn’t good. It wouldn’t do any good to find a hiding place, either, because he knew that barn like he knew the back of his dirty, sweaty hand.
The tears started to fall as the dirty old rag went over her face and darkness came over her once again.
Rand carefully returned his equipment to its rightful place in the back of the Land Cruiser. Making sure everything was cushioned carefully, he slammed the hatch shut. The day was perfect for what he needed and thought he had the shot he was looking for. He leaned against the vehicle and considered his days’ work. The barn was perfect for his vision. He had been looking for the ideal picture to hang in his cabin for some time now. Satisfied with the piece he had photographed, he wiped the dust from his hands and crawled into the front seat.
Pulling away from the almost non-existent drive, something was nagging at him. Had he seen something inside the barn? Was it something he heard? He grinned at himself and shook his head. It was probably only a mouse or some small animal. Although he loved shooting nature shots, he didn’t like being around abandoned places. They gave him the creeps and he felt like he was being watched. He had been this way ever since he was a kid and will probably never outgrow it.
‘Stupid sissy’ he kidded himself. Still, ever since he’d heard about 9-year-old Amanda Nivens’ disappearance from Wakefield County, people have been nervous around these parts. And wouldn’t this be the perfect place to hide a small child? Taken from her bed in the middle of the night, with no evidence of foul play and no clues to finding her has put a lot of people on edge. Anything out of the ordinary would set a man to thinking.
Rand dismissed the idea. He was just being a little paranoid. The barn appeared to be unused and he didn’t see anyone else around. Of course, he hadn’t been looking for any evidence of other people and he hadn’t noticed footprints, scattered garbage, or anything else that would indicate that people were using this area. But he couldn’t shake the idea that something was amiss He thought about driving back to the place he had just returned from, but he decided to develop his pictures instead. He was alone. He had no concrete evidence of anything. And you can’t just go off on a hunch. He had to occupy his mind with something real, something concrete.
Amanda woke up slowly. She can smell The Farmer sitting close by, but she doesn’t want him to know she’s awake yet. Her head aches, as it always does when he puts that stinky rag over her face. She’s not sure why he does that, because she’s not going anywhere. Where will she go? He would just chase her down anyway. She doesn’t even know where she’s at.
"I know you're awake, Girly", he said in his surprisingly soft voice. "I wish you would open your eyes and talk to me." He sounded calm and in a good mood.
"I don't want to talk right now, if you don't mind." Amanda keeps her eyes shut and curls up in a tight, little ball. "I want to go home."
"You know I can't let you do that. They’ll find out I kept you here and I’ll get into trouble.”
The Farmer shifted his eyes from Amanda and looks down. He didn't like keeping her, but what choice did he have? He doesn't remember why he took her and it was getting too complicated for him to keep her. He wished he could let her go, too.
"Not if I don't tell them", Amanda said, looking up at The Farmer hopefully. "If I keep it a secret, no one will know."
“I haven’t hurt you, Amanda; that much is true. But taking you from your parents’ house when you were sleeping was wrong. And they will put me in jail. I don’t want to go to jail.”
Amanda was frantically shaking her head.
“No, they won’t! I’ll tell them you fed me and kept me warm! I’ll tell them you didn’t hurt me! I’ll tell them you were nice, that you just wanted a friend! You won’t go to jail! I’ll tell them you’re my friend. I’ll tell them I left on my own!”
Amanda started to cry.
“Just let me go home!”
The Farmer, whose real name was Billy, stood up and started pacing. He looked back at Amanda, crying into the crook of her elbow and tears ran down one of his cheeks. He angrily pushed them aside.
“No! It has to be this way. Can’t you see? It’s been decided.”
Amanda looked up at The Farmer.
“Your fate. And mine”
Rand’s pictures were developed when he went into the developing room to check on them. He was excited to pick out just the right picture for enlarging and framing for his cabin. After looking over a few, something caught his eye.
“This can’t be!” He wasn’t sure what he was seeing, but needed more light. He unhooked them all and rushed to the table in the dining room, spreading them out. On two of the pictures, he could clearly see a young girls’ face in the dusty window of the barn he had just shot! It was faint and in the corner, but it was there!
He grabbed his cell phone from his pocket and dialed the sheriff’s office.
“Sheriff Wilker, I think I know where that Nivens girl is! I was out taking pictures of an old, abandoned barn on the end of Babcock Road yesterday and when I was developing the pictures, a couple of them have an image of a little girl’s face peeking out of the window!”
Rand listened for a moment as the sheriff spoke.
“Sure, let's go! I’ll be waiting for you on the front porch.”
A few moments later, a sheriff’s car pulled up in Rand’s driveway and just as he said, Rand was waiting. He quickly yanked open the door, developed pictures in hand, and got in the driver’s seat. He practically shoved one of the pictures into the sheriff’s face.
“Does this look like the Nivens’ girl to you?”
Sheriff Wilker looked over at the pictures and took one look. “That's her! We'd better hurry; we may not have much time!”
He turned on the sirens and lightbars and squealed out of the driveway toward the old barn. Rand just hoped they weren’t too late.
“Please don’t do this.”
Amanda was weeping quietly now. She was trying to appeal to The Farmer’s soft side. She knew he had one. She just had to reach it. She could see he was like a hurt, little boy inside, scared and angry. If she could somehow find that part of him, maybe he would listen to her.
“You don’t have to do this. You can let me go and you can run away where no one will find you. I’ll just tell people I got lost. They’ll believe me because I’m little. Everybody believes little kids.”
Billy appeared to be ignoring her, but he was listening. He didn’t want to hurt her. He didn’t want to hurt anybody. He especially didn’t want to hurt himself. He had been hurt too much himself. Those people at the hospital had done some really mean things to him and he was tired of everyone saying he was bad. He wasn’t bad.
Billy just wanted a friend. Amanda was nice and pretty and had a lot of friends. He thought if he could keep her, he could have a lot of friends, too. He knew now it didn’t work that way but he didn’t know how to get out of the trouble he was in. He was confused and scared. He was sure if he let Amanda go, she would tell. How could he let her go and convince her not to tell?
The gardening shears! He knew where they were! He saw them hanging on the wall by the back of the barn! He could cut off her tongue and then she couldn’t tell! He could let her go, she could go home to her parents, and he could run away!
“Amanda, I have a plan and it will work. I have a way where you can go home.” Billy looked over at her with eyes as big as saucers and a look in his eye Amanda hadn’t seen before. She didn’t like it and it scared her. She scrambled back toward the wall and hugged her knees.
“You see, Amanda. I like your idea of not telling. I like your idea of me just running away where no one can find me. Those were good ideas. You’re really smart! But I can’t trust that you won’t tell so I had to come up with an idea where I know you won’t tell. I don’t want to do this. Believe me; it hurts me to think about hurting you. You’re my friend and I like you. But I have to make sure you don’t tell.”
Amanda started to cry harder now.
“Please don’t cry, Amanda. This won’t hurt for very long and then I’ll let you go. You can go home to your family. Your mommy and daddy will be so happy to see you again, right?”
Billy stood up and walked slowly toward the back of the barn. Amanda watched as he reached for the gardening shears. She screamed as she realized what he was to do with them.
Just then a different type of screaming filled the air as the sheriff’s car squealed onto the property and Sheriff Wilker and Rand burst through the door. Sheriff Wilker had his gun pointed right at Billy.
“Don’t move or I’ll shoot!”
Billy immediately started crying and dropped the gardening shears. He didn’t want to go back to the hospital, but he especially didn’t want to get shot.
Rand moved over to where Amanda was curled up in a tiny ball on the reeking mattress and lifted her in his arms. He held her tight as Sheriff Wilker cuffed Billy.
“Don’t hate me, Amanda. I just wanted to be your friend.” He said as he was led out of the barn and to Sheriff Wilker’s squad car.
Another car was waiting outside with Amanda’s mom and dad inside.
A reunion was never so sweet.