by Lenard Soie
A man finds a small girl lying in an alley, but something about her is off.
| I looked down at my small black wristwatch and wiped off the small flakes of snow that obscured the clock face. It read 8:47 and I sighed in silent relief. I was only five minutes away from the restaurant that she had told me to meet her at and that gave me plenty of time to arrive and defrost the snow reddening my cheeks and nose. It was nights like this when I wished I had a car, but the with everything in this town being so close together, I seldom needed it. Of course, if this Tinder date went well it would be a lot classier for me to drive her home than walking her through the storm that only seemed to be picking up. I quickened my pace when I saw the dim light of Cafe Italia's street sign illuminating the patch of sidewalk in front of it.
I dug my heels into the snow as I walked to crunch the snow louder. I hated the cold and the dimness of the angry clouds during the wintertime but the one thing that made up for it was that sound of crunching snow. I pulled my scarf closer to my face and a glimmer of something caught my eye coming from an alley to my right. I stopped for a moment and checked the dark space between the drug store and some old thrift shop but saw nothing but a dumpster and some garbage bags tucked beside it, both covered in snow. I continued walking but something inside me nagged that there was something there. I dismissed it as probably just a cat or something.
The few minutes that it took me to finally reach the restaurant seemed to drag on for an hour but when I walked into the warmth of the front doors it all felt worth it. The smell of homemade pasta sauce filled my nose with delight and I made a mental note to get the spaghetti when we ordered tonight. I hung my coat on the rack and met the short bald man for my reservation. He had a thick, finely groomed grey moustache that hugged his upper lip and wore a white dress shirt that almost matched his skin tone. When I mentioned my reservation he seemed to light up like he was an old friend of mine and we had just met again after a long period of time.
"Yes, yes, the far table with the candles!" he gleamed excitedly. I wasn't sure if he was just really loved his job or there was a joke somewhere that I wasn't picking up on. Regardless, he had a strange air of excitement that unsettled me. He hobbled a little which further displayed his age, and it was more apparent as he almost ran towards the table to seat me. "So do you have any requests for the staff?" He inquired when he pulled out my chair for me in one swift motion.
"Excuse me?" I sat down nervously and cocked an eyebrow at such a strange question. "Well, you know," He stuttered, "People only ever ask for candles for special occasions. Special occasions like... proposals?" When he spoke the last word he smiled at me like we shared a secret together. "Oh, uh, no." I confessed, "Just a first date." I expected the man to be embarrassed and retreat back to his place at the front of the restaurant but he put a hand on my shoulder. "We all start somewhere, my boy.". I noticed that already there was a line starting to form at the doors in the man's absence. He met my gaze and saw that he was needed and jumped back towards the entrance. What a weird man, I thought to myself.
I almost started to regret coming so early because it seemed to take forever to reach 9:00 like we had agreed upon, but still no one that matched her description came. A sanguine knee length dress is what she told me to look out for. I had to lookup what sanguine was and it baffled me why she didn't just say red. The staff had come over a number of times to refill my water with sympathetic looks on their faces but now they just seemed to keep their distance. By 9:30 I had the entire menu memorized and had gone through two baskets of cheap table bread. One of the waitresses, a pretty red-haired girl with bright green eyes, came to me at quarter to ten and asked me if I wanted to order for myself and start eating while I waited. Without thinking, I said yes and realized that it'd be really rude to start eating before your date arrived but it was too late because she had already taken out her notebook and looked at me expectantly.
My spaghetti arrived at almost ten o'clock and by then my appetite had completely left, both because of the metric tonne of bread I've eaten and the disappointment of being stood up. "Can I have that to go?" I stopped her before she had finished setting it down. The pity in her eyes almost seemed to bore a hole into my soul as she muttered a small "Oh.". I looked down at my placemat in front of me and the flowery design that decorated the corners. Another few moments passed until my takeout dish had arrived and the waitress fled away from the awkward situation as soon as she placed it on my table. Atop the package, a message was scrawled in quick black permanent marker "On the house" it read. As much as I disliked receiving handouts I was in no mood to debate this with the staff so I grabbed it and began my trek back home.
The worst part about walking out of the restaurant was not the cold of the outdoors or even the feeling of betrayal, it was the feeling of the old man watching me on the way out, pity just dripping off his gaze. I was back in the blowing snow again, the winding ripping and tearing at my footing, threatening to topple me over if I wasn't careful. I felt my toque loosened from my head and when I pulled it on tighter my scarf flew from my neck and into the wind. I ran after it and it landed softly in the snow, just a little off from the sidewalk. I was just about to bend over and snatch it up when I realized where I was. The very same alley that I saw a fleeting glimmer or something before now laid out before me. I paused and surveyed the dark area, the narrow brick walls that were only far enough apart for a dumpster and not much more to fit between them and the snow piled atop everything that sat in the small alley.
I scooped up the scarf quickly and shook some of the snow off, not that it mattered much because more snow just fell onto it from the angry clouds above. Another glimmer caught my eye, this time, however, I saw exactly where it came from. I approached the round garbage bags that sat beside the large green dumpster carefully so as to not slip on any ice if there was any underneath all this snow. My heart raced unreasonably as I probably just saw a candy wrapper or something that escaped from the garbage pile. But t wasn't a candy wrapper. Tucked in between the dumpster and the bags sat a little girl, probably just barely school aged. Her straight black hair was tangled and messy, covered in snow and her face was white. I would have thought she was dead if she didn't blink.
I hesitated for a moment, after all, it's not every day that you find a girl freezing to death in an alleyway. "Are you alright?" I asked, bending down to her. She shook her head no, stupid question. "Where are your parents?" I probed further. She just shook her head no again. It occurred to me that the most rational thing to do would be to call an ambulance, but when I checked my phone I found that I had no service, which was odd because I was in the middle of town. "Come with me, I'll take you someplace warm.". I whispered, unsure why I wanted to be quiet. I resolved to use my home phone back at my place to call an ambulance and get her looked at. The blank expression on her face didn't change but she did stand up, bits of snow falling off of her as she did so. I handed her my jacket which was much too large for her but she took it without a word and put it on. I wasn't really much of babysitter myself so we walked back to my place in a thundering awkward silence. The only thing keeping my mind distracted from the fact that I was being followed by a freezing little girl was the burning warmth of the takeout spaghetti in my hands.
When I opened the door to my house the warmth didn't feel as welcoming as I had hoped, in fact, the room seemed to have a feeling of uneasiness to it. She followed in behind me and continued into my living room, without taking off her shoes and tracking snow onto the floor the whole way. I made a conscious note to never had children and bit my tongue. I set my dish of steaming Italian food on the coffee table and made my way to a phone. I tapped 911 into it and held it to my ear but the only noise it made was a solid tone. The storm must have knocked out the phone lines I figured to myself.
"What's her name?" A voice squeaked from behind me, making me jump and drop the phone on the floor. When I turned around the little girl was sitting on the couch beside my black and white calico cat scratching its head as it slept a soft purr emanating from it. "I'll make you a deal," I suggested, picking up the phone and setting it back on its stand. "If you tell me your name I'll tell you hers.". I tried to think of my best course of action, but everything seemed to turn up blank, so I chose instead to see if I could get some information out of the girl. Her face remained expressionless, "She's pretty.". I looked at the girl, who had still had on my black peacoat, clean blue jeans and princess sneakers. Remarkably she was completely dry, which was more than what I could say for myself as I was covered in melted snow and the dampness wasn't improving my mood any.
"Why don't you have some food while I go change clothes?" I suggested, hoping to improve her blank mood any with bribes of spaghetti. She stopped petting the cat, opened up the container and paused for a moment while looking me in the eyes. "It's cold" she glared and returned to the cat. I slid the container back towards me and found that she was right, it was close to being ice. I scooped it up and headed towards the microwave to heat it up. "Meisha" I called back to her while on my way to the kitchen, "Her name is Meisha." I punched a few numbers into the microwave and waited beside it. "Sarah." she called back. I smiled to myself in a small success. When I came back with the freshly warmed food she still sat silently with the cat beside her.
"Do cats dream?" She asked, not taking her eyes from Meisha as I put it back on the coffee table placing a fork beside it for her. "You're asking the wrong person," I answered back to her, "I have no idea." There was a moment of silence before I tried again with her. "You should really eat som-" I started before Sarah interrupted me, "I think they do.". Her low childish voice was almost a whisper that my eyes had to strain for to properly hear what she had said. It was her monotone lifeless voice that unsettled me the most about her. Not her straight, perfectly groomed black hair or her snow white complexion, but her voice. I decided to play along. "Okay, what do you think she's dreaming about?" I challenged, trying to meet her gaze but she remained transfixed with the cat. "I think she's dreaming about swimming." she conceded after a moment of thought. "Now that's silly, cats hate water, why would she dream about that?" I asked; perhaps a little too harshly, I realized."Because she's holding her breath." She rebutted as-a-matter-of-factly.
It took me a moment to process what she had just said before I realized the gravity of it all. I lept from my chair. "Sarah come with me." I exclaimed reaching for her hand. "But I'm petting the kitty." She whimpered, not taking her eyes off the cat that I now knew was dead. I grabbed her by the arm and practically dragged her into the kitchen where I brought her to sit down at the dining table. "Sit." I ordered, trying to decide what to do with the dead pet that sat in my living room. She sat without saying anything, still expressionless. She handed me back my coat then as if that was the reason that I had raised my voice at her. I took it from her hand and went to the closet to deposit it and buy some time for me to decide what to do.
I had just about reached the closet when a small ribbon caught my eye from inside the coat, it was red and velveteen. I took it out and examined it. It seemed to not be a ribbon but rather a scrap of fabric torn from something bigger. "Sarah," I called, opening the doors to the closet. "Is this cloth yo-" I stopped short of completing my sentence when I saw something lying on the floor of my closet. A woman was lying on the floor, motionless and in a pool of blood. Her dress matched the colour of the fluid beneath her. "S-Sarah..." I whispered in shock, unable to comprehend what was going on. A searing hot pain blasted into the back of my skull and I flew forward into the closet from the impact.
The last thing I saw was the knee length sanguine dress and the impending darkness as the closet doors shut behind me
Prompt: Your walking home one day when suddenly out of nowhere you hear a sound coming from an alleyway. You follow the sound and find a little girl lying in the snow...but is she really just a little girl? Wordcount: 2495