Friday, February 28, 2014

Tales from the Dark Side...of Love: Cheryl Bradshaw and a Stranger in Town

October 17, 2010
Six-year-old Olivia Hathaway tiptoed down the center aisle of Maybelle’s Market, stopping once to glance over her shoulder and make sure her mother wasn’t watching.  But Mrs. Hathaway was too engrossed in selecting the right card for her sister’s birthday to notice her daughter had slipped away. 

Olivia looked left and then right before scooting one aisle over.  She peered at the products lining the shelves and then shook her head.  “Nope, not this one.” 

She frowned and moved on. 

The colors from the paint samples on the next aisle were like bright strips of candy, beckoning her to come closer.  So she did.  She loved plucking the cardstock strips from their slots and adding them to her collection at home.  She’d gathered so many over the past few months, her mother had bought her a notebook to glue them all in. 

The star-shaped colors were Olivia’s favorite because they weren’t plain and ordinary like the rectangle ones, and they had fun names like “Summer Sparkle” and “Twinkle, Twinkle.”  She tapped her pointer finger on the top of each card like she was playing a game of “eeny meeny miny moe” and then selected her favorite color: green.  She’d always wanted a green room, but her mother said green was for boys and had painted Olivia’s room pink instead. 

Olivia held the green star out in front of her and twirled around and around, fascinated with the glitter that had been mixed in to the paint.  If only her room could be as beautiful as this.  Maybe if she wished hard enough, one day, it would be.  She kept that thought in her mind as she spun around one last time before she collided with something hard. 

“Hello, Olivia,” a man’s voice said.

A man in a black ball cap and mirrored sunglasses smiled and pointed at the ground.  “You dropped something.”

Olivia froze.

“Here, let me get it for you,” he said. 

The man scooped up the painted star and held it out in front of Olivia.  “Go on, take it,” he said.  “Don’t be afraid.”

Olivia didn’t know why her stomach felt like a bunch of ants were crawling around inside, but she did know the way it made her feel: scared.  She wanted to shout for her mother, but when her mouth fell open, nothing came out.  She looked down at the ground, hoping when she looked back up, the man would be gone.  But he wasn’t. 

“Come here, sweet thing,” the man said.  “It’s okay.  I don’t bite.”

When Olivia didn’t move, the man knelt down in front of her.  He lifted up her stiff body and set her down on his knee.  “Do you want me to take you back to your mommy?”

Olivia squeezed her eyes shut, but when she opened them, the man’s hands still wound around her tiny arms like a boa constrictor.  If he wants to help me find my mommy, why is he holding me so tight?

“How far away is your mommy?” the man said. 

Olivia pointed. 

“How about this—give me a hug, just a little one, and we’ll look together.”  He held a finger out in front of her.  “Pinky promise.”

Olivia wanted nothing more than to be back with her mother again.  The man’s breath smelled like her mom’s when she hadn’t brushed her teeth in the morning.  Olivia leaned in just enough for the man to hold her close, but jerked back when the mountain of stubble on the man’s chin scratched her face.  She knew her cheek wasn’t on fire, but it burned like the metal from a seat belt on a hot day. 

The man patted Olivia on the back and stood up.  “There now, take my hand.”

Olivia looked down.  Her fingers were clenched in a tight ball, the edges of her untrimmed nails digging into the soft skin of the palm of her hands.  She stuck out her tiny hand, and the man wrapped it in his.  But when they got to the end of the aisle, he didn’t turn toward where Olivia had pointed, he kept walking. 

A faint whisper echoed in the distance.  “Olivia, honey, where are you?”

She wanted to cry out, “Mother, I am here!”  But the man clasped her hand so tight, she was too afraid to say anything.

Hand in hand, they walked through the front door.  The sun had just started to go down when they stepped outside, but it was still light enough for Olivia to recognize the person walking toward them. 

“Olivia, is that you?” the woman said. 

It was her white-haired, wrinkly-faced neighbor, Mrs. Schroeder. 

“Excuse me,” Mrs. Schroeder said to the man, “I don’t believe we’ve met.  I’m Helen Schroeder.  Are you a relative of the Hathaway family, in town for a visit perhaps?”

The man looked down and kept walking without responding to the old woman.  He stopped next to a silver car and turned to Olivia.  “Get in.”

She did.

He shut her inside and turned around to find Mrs. Schroeder glaring up at him.    

“I really must insist you answer my question,” Mrs. Schroeder said.  “Or I’ll have no choice but to call Olivia’s parents right now.”

Mrs. Schroeder tapped her wooden cane on the back window of the car.  “Olivia, dear, do you know this man?”

The man glanced around.  Seeing no one, he pulled a knife from his front pocket, clicking a button on the top.  The knife sprung to life.  Before the old woman had the chance to scream, the man thrust the knife into her side.  “I’m sorry, but I’ve had enough of your stupid questions,” he said. 

The woman tried to grab for the door handle, but collapsed to the ground.  The man stepped over her and got into the car.     

Olivia shielded her eyes and thrashed her head from side to side.  “It’s okay, everything’s okay.  Mommy will find me,” she whispered to herself.  All she could think about was being at home in her pink room.  If she could just go home, she’d never run away from her mommy again.         

The man started the car and backed out.  The car bounced up and down for a moment.  It reminded Olivia of the time her dad ran over the neighbor’s cat by accident.  Olivia gathered up enough courage to move one of her fingers away from her eyes just enough to see Mrs. Schroeder through the car window.  She was on the ground, motionless. 

The man turned around, smiling.  Olivia noticed a hole in his mouth where a tooth should have been. 

“Mrs. Schroeder will be okay, Olivia,” the man said.  “She fell down, that’s all.  Lie down now, and try to get some sleep.  When you wake up, you’ll be home.”

Olivia stared down at her star, wishing what he said was true.

Inside the store, a frantic Mrs. Hathaway ran up and down the aisles begging anyone she came in contact with to help find her missing daughter.  A few minutes later the store was locked down.  But it was too late.  Olivia was gone.

Bianca’s Note: All too often, kids can be the target of some sinister stuff; such is the case in Stranger in Town.  I won’t give away the ending (enter below for the chance to win a signed paperback copy!), but the book really does delve into disturbing exploitation – another aspect of the heart of darkness.

Thanks to Cheryl for this excerpt and for offering a signed paperback copy of her book.  Today is the LAST DAY to enter the Tales from the Dark Side…of Love Giveaway, so don’t miss out!


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1 comment:

  1. Gets the adrenalin racing and the heart thumping just reading that excerpt. There's a court case happening here in Oz at the moment dealing with this. Heartbreaking stuff.