She was all alone that evening, walking home from the Mini-Mart, pausing to do dippy cartwheels on a stranger’s front lawn. He knew that wasn’t her house, because he knew where she lived. He knew where she was going, which meant he knew exactly how much time he had left in which to do the deed. He had been watching the kid for more than a week.
She was back on the sidewalk now and the street was rapidly growing dark. He saw her pause to look up at the pretty Indian pottery colors of clouds in the western sky. She was always just sauntering along, a distracted child. She was always alone. That is one of the reasons he had chosen her. But also because she was a pixie of eldritch beauty. Her golden hair was always floating on the evening breeze and she was always laughing. He reminded her of a girl from long ago who had escaped him. But not this time.
He knew this was his chance. When she turned the next corner, there would be that empty space with no houses, only a few abandoned storefronts. No chance of video cameras, not even a traffic light cam. He noticed how carefree she was, how she never even looked over her shoulder but instead scouted the grass alongside the sidewalk for pretty flowers or a friendly kitten. Her parents must be horrible people, he thought. Not to teach her to look out for men like him. It served them right.
He couldn’t believe how easy it all was, how perfectly it went down. He pulled the car over to the curb, jumped out and approached her so rapidly she barely had time to think. As he drew close, he asked her if she had seen a lost puppy on her walk and this had the intended effect of causing the child to freeze long enough to try to process that worrisome but somehow calming sentence. He watched the strange mix of emotions cross her face. A man looking for a lost puppy is not a bad man. It caused her to pause just long enough that he was able to grab her around the waist and put one hand over her mouth. There was no scream, not even a muffled one. She was terror-struck. He took her to the backseat where he quickly zip-tied her hands and used a rag to tie her feet. He gagged her and threw her down onto the floor, covered her with a big thick comforter with hippie flowers all over it. She squirmed and whimpered and the blanket rippled as though a caterpillar lay beneath.
His house was out in the country. Pulling into the driveway, he could barely contain his excitement. His jeans were terribly constricting. He could hear her little whimpers and her muffled words, trying to say something, to beg and plead. He had talked to her from the front seat on the drive home, but only a few times, telling her not to worry and that everything would be all right. He told her he was not going to harm her and she just needed to keep quiet, keep still. Oddly enough, this tactic had worked for a while. She had been silent for much of the drive. But now that the vehicle had stopped, she was agitated again. He heard her steady sobbing. It was night now in the country and the stars were out. As he stepped out of his vintage sedan, he heard only millions of crickets. She could scream and no one would hear her. It was more than a mile to the closest neighbor.
He carried her to the basement of his house. He had it all set up the way he wanted it to be for her. He placed her on the couch. He turned the television to a show he thought she would like: something funny, something light where beautiful teenagers who lived in an enviable zip code teased each other about their beauty. He removed the gag but not the other restraints.
“Why did you do this?” she cried. Her eyes were welling up and glittery with tears. “My arms hurt so bad!” Her hands were still zip-tied behind her back.
He used a safety pin to release the zip tie’s plastic lock, not worried about anything she could do at this point.
“Ah, sweetheart, you were walking out there all alone in that bad part of town. What sort of parents would let you do that, huh?”
“So why am I here? I want to go home.”
He sat down beside her now. Her skin felt cold. She must be very afraid, he thought. It was such a warm night.
“Let’s just watch t.v. together a bit. Do you like this show? Here, take the remote. We can watch whatever you want.”
She took the remote and changed the channel for a bit. She stopped on a channel that was nothing but a blue screen and stared at it.
He told her he didn’t subscribe to that channel. So there was nothing there. But she continued to stare at it. He noticed she was very still now. Too still. He figured she must be in shock. Some sort of altered state. He didn’t want it to be like that. He wanted her to talk to him, to get to know him before….well….before.
They sat together silent a few moments on that raggedy old couch in his mildewy basement. Then he heard a strange sound. The rag which had been tied around her legs and still holding them together had snapped. Snapped. She hadn’t slipped out of it. He looked down and wondered how this was possible.
When he looked back up, she had turned her face to him and was smiling now. It was a very strange smile, unnerving.
“I’m so glad we found each other, David,” she said in the friendliest and most cheerful voice.
“How the fuck do you know my name?” he growled.
But before he could finish this sentence, she had thrown herself upon him and her arms and legs wrapped around his body and tightened. He could never have imagined such strength. Her iron grip was causing asphyxia. In the struggle, they fell together onto the floor. They rolled around on a bearskin rug but it was clear who had the upper-hand. He could barely breathe.
She spoke: “David Wrightstone, you are accused of the following crimes: kidnapping and false imprisonment. Malicious intent applies. As a previous offender listed in the sexual offender registry, these crimes would earn the maximum sentence allowable.”
“You’re a weird-ass robot! I want to speak to my fucking attorney.”
She was silent for a few seconds then. He could tell she was processing something.
“Request denied. Jury has convened. Jury reviewing case. Please wait.”
Now it was his turn to beg and plead. He was in such pain and his breathing was labored, his intake insufficient.
“Thank you for your patience. Jury has reviewed your case. Sentence has been applied. Sentence was decided between euthanasia or cacothanasia. The jury has elected: cacothanasia.”
“What the fuck does that even mean?” he spat out with difficulty.
“Cacothanasia, definition: A bad, harsh or terrible death. Execution of justice commences in thirty seconds.”
“Please. I’m sick. I need to talk to an attorney. I’m being denied my basic human rights. This has to be some sort of….I don’t know…entrapment. You set me up. This can’t be legal…in….any sense of the….”
“Twenty seconds until the execution of justicial determination of sentence…”
“Who the hell are these people?” He paused, rasping intake, trying to catch his breath. “I don’t see any jury. Who got to…” More gasping and trying to catch air. “….decide whether I live or die. This isn’t America, it’s…”
“Ten seconds until execution of justicial determination of sentence…”
“Look, I wasn’t going to hurt you. I just wanted to talk some sense into you so that you would never walk in that bad neighborhood again. I just wanted to….what the fuck is in your arms and legs. I can’t even breathe…”
But his words soon degenerated into howled vowels of pain.
Because by now the titanium corkscrews had blossomed from the palms of her hands and from their berths all along her legs. They were entering his body, pulverizing and liquifying organs, sluicing out the juices.
His blood and other bodily humors soaked into the bearskin rug. She looked into his eyes until the very end, giving him her most winsome smile. She was indeed a little girl lost. But she would be recovered shortly, be given a makeover and reboot and be back on the streets walking those bad neighborhoods as the sun set on some other predator evening. She was a child to be lost and found, again and again, happily ever after.