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The Runaway

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The girl didn’t say much on the trip home. In Officer Daniels' experience this tended to be the case with runaways. They usually sat in the backseat of the squad car in silent contemplation of the punishment they would receive from their parents. Rain beat down against the cruiser’s windshield. Officer Daniels looked in the rear-view mirror and smiled. The girl was definitely not looking forward to talking to her parents. It was never as bad as the kid thought it was going to be though. Usually the parents were so relieved to have their child back that the kid didn’t even get in trouble. Officer Daniels glanced up from his driving and into the rear view mirror again. The girl stared silently out the window, biting her lower lip. She leaned her forehead against the window, her breath fogging the glass.

Although Daniels was a small town cop, he had worked a few runaway cases. Ten at least. A couple had been actual cases of abuse. A few had just been over-privileged teens who didn’t like their parent’s rules. None had had a crazy story like this girl.

Her name was Kristy Garnett and she was ten years old. Officer Daniels had picked her up when she had tried to beg for a meal at a local diner. The diner’s owner had given her a bowl of hot beef stew and surreptitiously called the police. When Daniels had arrived he found the little girl just finishing the bowl of stew. She was wearing a pink sweater which was so big on her that it emphasized how small she was inside it, making her look weak and vulnerable. The girl knew she was busted. She gave Daniels her name and he radioed it in. She got into the back of his squad car with no fuss.

On the way to the station house, Daniels had looked into the rearview mirror and seen tears streaming from the girl’s eyes.

“Please don’t take me back, mister.” She said, sniffling.

“Why don’t you want to go home?”

“Because I want to stay me,” she said.

“What does that mean?” Daniels asked. The girl did not answer. A prickle of unease wormed its way into a corner of Daniels’ mind.

They had arrived at the police station and contacted the girl’s parents, who had been up all night looking for the girl.

“Thank the Gods you found her,” the mother’s voice said over the phone. “Her father and I have been so worried.” The sound of relief in the voice of the girl’s mother washed away any sense of unease Daniels had. This wasn’t a case of a child escaping the clutches of an abusive stepfather and an inattentive mother. This was merely a girl with two loving parents who didn’t want to follow the rules. He could hear the little girl’s voice in his head saying, “I want to stay me.” She probably wanted to pierce her nose or something and her parents had said no.

When the girl was told that her parents had been contacted, she clammed up, refusing to say another word. Daniels tried to talk to her. So did a detective from their Special Victims Unit who had more experience working with children. The girl simply would not speak.

It turned out that the girl had made it quite a long way from home for a ten year old. It would be a three hour drive. Daniels, hoping to get the happy feeling from helping others, volunteered to drive her back to her parents. He was looking forward to seeing the family reunited. Plus, her comment was still bothering him. “I want to stay me.” It was phrased oddly. A three hour drive would be more than enough time to talk to the girl.

Once on the road, Daniel’s tried several gambits to get the girl talking. He asked her about movies and television shows, books and music. Nothing got a response. The girl stared blankly out of the window. They had been driving in complete silence for an hour and a half when Daniels finally just asked his question.

“What do you mean ‘You want to stay you,'?” The girl turned her head from the window and stared at him. Her mouth opened slightly, but no sounds came out. Daniels was having difficulty keeping his eyes on the road and watching her in the rear view mirror.

“I mean…” he went on, “Do you want to dye your hair pink or get something pierced or something? And they won’t let you?”

The girl continued to stare for a moment. Their eyes locked in the glass of the mirror. He could see something in her that wasn’t right. Her eyes were glassy and dead looking. Finally he broke eye contact, looking back to the road. Silence hung in the car like a wet blanket. Finally the girl spoke.

“They say I’m its vessel. That it has no ‘co..co..corporeal form.’ As she struggled over the word Daniels could see some of the glassiness in her eyes subside. “They say that this is my sole reason for being born. And that I have to fulfill my part in Its divine ascension. Mommy and Daddy have been getting me ready for years. They say I need to be as close to an empty vessel as I can be so there’s room inside me for It. It’s soon now, and I don’t want It to be inside me. I…I just want to stay me. Sometimes I hear It talking. In my head, you know? Like through a wall or something. It’s always so hungry.”

She stopped speaking and the squad car was silent. He leaned forward, a little bit, looking into the mirror, as though by making eye contact he might will her to continue. Their eyes locked and the glassy dullness had returned. Suddenly the car’s police radio squawked, startling him so badly he almost ran off the road. He swore to himself, and then brought the car under control.

They finally arrived at the parent’s house of the girl. Daniels got out and went to the side of the car to open the rear door. Up. He could see the little girl through the fogged up window. She simply stared out. He opened the door, and the little girl shifted slightly, and got out. They started to walk up the walkway to the house’s front porch, when thinking about the girl’s dull eyes, Daniels stopped her. He took his wallet out of his back pocket and removed a card, with the number for “Child Protective Services” on it. He handed it to the girl.

“If anybody tries to hurt you, you call that number.” The little girl smiled emptily and put the card into the pocket of her jeans. They continued up the walk to the front porch and rang the doorbell. The door flew open. It was the girl’s mother, flanked by her father. The mother dropped to her knees and embraced the little girl. The girl did not embrace back. Her arms hung limply at her sides.

“Gods, I was so worried about you,” the mother said, tears filling her eyes and running down her cheeks. “Please don’t ever do that again.”

“I can assure you she won’t,” said the father, extending his hand toward Daniels. Daniels took it and shook. It was cold and vaguely slippery, as though the man had recently used too much lotion.

“Thank you so much, officer. I don’t know what we’d do without our little Kristy,” said the father as he drew his hand away. Daniels fought the urge to wipe his hand on his slacks.

“Yes, thank you so much, officer. For everything.”

“It’s all part of the job, ma’am,” said Daniels, feeling a little like John Wayne. This was the real reason he had become a cop. To help people. The reunited family shut the door, and Daniels returned to his cruiser. The relief in the mother’s eyes had assuaged his doubts. The little girl was a little rebellious with a big imagination, or she was sick and needed help. Either way, she was with the people who could best give her that help. Her parents.

“Thank the Gods,” he heard the mother’s voice repeat in his head. “Gods, I was so worried.” Maybe they were those… what was the word… polytheists? He didn’t know. The wording kept bothering him, much like the little girl’s “I want to stay me." He glanced into the rear-view mirror, almost as if expecting to see her dull glassy eyes staring at him. She wasn’t there, of course but there was something in the back seat. Officer Daniels looked over his shoulder and saw that she had left her big pink hoodie, the one that had made her seem so small and vulnerable. He looked at the clock in the dash of his squad car. He was only thirty minutes away.

He turned the car around and drove back to the girl’s house.

When Daniels arrived it was around 3:00 a.m. He intended to leave the hoodie on the porch and drive away, but oddly every light in the house was on. All of the curtains were pulled, but bright light escaped from around every corner. Daniels got out, got the sweater and began the walk up the pathway to the porch. As he got near he could hear sound. It was some kind of music, heavy with dark bass drums. It was odd that he couldn’t hear it at all from the street, but as he crossed the threshold into the girl’s yard, the sound of the music overpowered him. Daniels walked up the walkway and to the porch. As his foot landed on the steps, he began to hear voices. People, lots of them were chanting words that were lost to his ears in the rhythm of the pounding drums. Another voice, higher-pitched than the chanting broke through.

“Help! Please! Mommy, no!”

Daniels dropped the sweater and drew his weapon. He raised his foot and kicked the door directly on its locking mechanism. The door jamb shattered, trim flying away into the house. Daniels followed it inside, bellowing, “Police! Put your hands where I can-"

The scene that greeted him was like something out of an H.P. Lovecraft nightmare. The girl hung naked, strapped to a wall in the living room. She was in a cruciform position, family photos knocked askew, arcane symbols drawn in blood where they used to hang. Several other people, all wearing dark maroon monk’s robes were kneeling at her feet, chanting. Daniels could not see where the music was coming from. Two robed figures, the girl’s parents, stood next to the girl, one holding a heavy porcelain bowl of a dark red liquid, the other trying to force her mouth open. The girl jerked her head away, but her father finally managed to get his hands on her jaw and force it open. The girl’s mother slammed the bowl to the girl’s face with an audible crack. The girl’s teeth shattered. Dark red liquid ran into the girl’s mouth and dribbled down her body. The girl coughed and some of the red liquid splashed onto the carpeted floor.

The chanting people increased in volume and tempo. They began to rock back and forth like Pentecostals overcome with the Holy Spirit. The little girl’s body began to shake and writhe spasmodically against her bonds. As the writhing and the chanting and the drum music reached a crescendo it abruptly cut. Off. The little girl stopped moving as the music stopped. Everyone watched in silence. The people in the robes in awe. Daniels in horror. The girl’s eyes flew open and her head jerked up at an unnatural angle. It began to speak in a raspy voice, no language the Daniel could comprehend. Hearing it made his ears ache deep inside.

Daniels' horror broke. He turned and ran. He heard the raspy voice raise an octave. It sounded like it was giving commands. He ran for his squad car, but the robed figures were on top of him before he reached his car. They took his gun and several of his fingers with the slash of a long ceremonial dagger. They dragged him screaming and bleeding back through the door. They dragged him into the living room and forced him to kneel at the feet of the little girl thing. Sanity fled him as he made eye contact with it. The dull glassy gaze replaced by an infinite darkness of despair and hatred. She had lost herself. She had become it. He could see It in the endless chasms that were the little girl’s eyes. It was finally here, and It was hungry.

He didn’t even feel it as her broken teeth tore into his throat.

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