A Frog's Life
What a lovely building. One of these new condo types. Sheesh. Expensive. Too expensive for my blood and too small too. I like my cozy ranch house.
"Excuse me, sir?" I ask the first person I see who's coming out of this building. "Have you seen this young lady? She's been missing for some weeks now. I'm going around asking the community and posting these flyers all around the area.
He takes the poster and gives it an outstanding up and down; a few times. He looks at it for a while.
"No, sorry, pal. I haven't. Pretty girl, though. So unfortunate." he says. His tone says otherwise. He hands me back the poster.
"No, you keep that. I've got plenty. Just in case you want to show anyone else in the building, or in case you want to give it another look-see."
I post another one to the bulletin board in the lobby and leave.
"Goodbye," I say.
He gives a wave and walks the other way. That young man seems a bit strange, but many of the younger ones do these days. I see a few people up ahead and hand out some more posters. Someone has to have seen this young girl. I stick a sign on every store window I see, from the school to the library. I ask everyone along the way, too—still nothing.
I take down some information from a few places. They're also going to let me check their security camera's from the day she went missing. Hopefully, that will give me something; anything. It's been a couple of weeks since her mother last saw her. Police have been canvassing the whole neighbourhood. They've got a few tips, but it's led to nothing. That's why I have the case file now. 'They'd like my expertise,' they said. I feel awful because, as of right now, I have about as much information as them. There has got to be something or someone that can tell me something.
I lay in my bed, looking at the clouds outside my window. I see the shadows of the trees shift, and it makes my heart shutter and raises the hairs on my arms.
My doctor should be back to give me my medicine for the night. Hopefully, I can sleep. I'm always looking over my shoulder because I'm alone in this world. No one believes me, so what's the point in speaking?
I get lost in the shadows outside my window. I hear my doctor come in, but I don't turn around. I stay facing the window. He usually just rushes in and gives me my shot and shoots right back out the door.
It's then I hear the door click. Dr. Hans never shuts the door. What's going on?
I feel a plastic bag go over my head. It fills my mouth as I struggle to take in a breath. I feel my hot air bounce back at me.
"Just giving you a little reminder, Billy boy," says a voice I recognize. It's Bobby. "Keep quiet, or I'll keep you quiet, permanently."
I feel his hands around my neck, squeezing whatever air is left in my lungs out. That's it. Bobby is really going to kill me this time. I hear talking, some ways down the hall. Air fills my lungs back up, and in an instant, he is gone. Just as quickly as he got there, he left.
I hear the door again. This time it was my doctor. Finally, he's here to give me my meds.
"Billy, you're sweating like crazy. Is it too hot in here?" asks Dr. Hans.
I don't answer him. I never do, but he always talks to me anyway. He gives me my meds and turns down the heat. How did he not see Bobby?
"Sweet dreams, Billy. Sleep tight. Don't let the bedbugs bite!" he says while shutting the door.
I hate that saying. Bobby's the fucking bedbug, and I am going to get bitten.
"Long time no see, Claude. I hope all is well with you?" I ask.
I stand up and hug Claude. He's an old, dear friend of mine, who works in the university's forensic area—many beautiful things going on over there.
"How are you healing?" he asks, "I heard about what happened, so scary!"
"That's why I called you here, Claude," I explained. "I'm not safe."
I tell Claude that I believe I've found new evidence and that I'd like his help looking into it.
"Are you sure about this, Hans?" he asks reluctantly. "It seems someone already doesn't want one person poking around. I don't think they'll be too happy with two."
"One of these teeth is not Bobby's. Ducas was there at the time Bobby blew himself up. They did leave the orphanage together! I knew that one of those teeth looked whiter than the rest. That was my first clue." I explain. "Can you tell me how this tooth came out? Did it fall out? Was it pulled out? How was this missed originally?" I ask, in utter shock at what I've found.
"So, what is it you'd like me to do, Hans?" he inquires. "Yes, I can tell you that. Then what?"
"I need you to access the forensic database for me. I'd like to see if I can find anything on Ducas Pope recently. I'd like to know if he is, in fact, still alive. I only have limited access because I have permission to work on the case, but you can get me in further. Please, I need your help. Something is going on. I already suspect Dr. Rockleigh is up to no good. I think that's why I was jumped in the first place. They beat me and stole some test results from the electroshock sessions with Billy Blake. It's all connected. I just know it, Claude."
I've never seen anyone so beautiful. Not beautiful in the way you're thinking. Not in the way everybody thinks. In the way I think. She's real. She just smiled at the clerk, and it brightened up my day, even though she wasn't even smiling at me. She looks busy. She doesn't notice me watching her. Thank goodness. I'm not that creepy guy, I swear, even if I'm him right now.
I can smell her perfume as I'm standing right behind her in line at the corner store. I haven't seen her around here before, but I'm glad I didn't miss seeing her today. Lost in the ramblings of my mind, I don't even realize that it's my turn. She turns around to leave, and I walk ahead to pay for my stuff, and we collide. She drops her chocolate bar and soda pop, and I drop my wallet. I bend down to pick everything up, and well, so does she. Again, we collide.
"I'm so sorry," she says, "I'm such a klutz!"
She brushes away the loose hairs falling out of her pony-tail. It lands around her face and frames it.
"My fault. My fault. I, too, am a klutz." I laugh nervously.
She looks up at me, and our eyes meet for the first time. I couldn't look away. We both don't say anything, not a word. We lock eyes there for what seems like infinity.
"Hey, buddy! Are you going to go or what?" asks the impatient asshole behind me.
"Go ahead, sir. My apologies." I wave my hand to give him the go-ahead to proceed first, with a bow. When he turns his back, I flip him the bird.
I turn back to her, but she's already gone. I don't buy anything and run outside to the store's front, hoping to catch her still. She was out there fumbling through her bag, with a smoke in her mouth.
"Need a light?" I ask.
I hand her the lighter.
"You can keep it. I have a few." I lie. It was my only one.
"I know I have one in here, somewhere," she says.
She stops looking through her bag and takes the lighter from my outstretched hand.
She takes a long drag. I pull out a smoke, too.
"Got a light?" I ask her and laugh.
"I thought you said you had a few?" she laughs back.
"I do, just not on me."
I take the lighter back for a second and light my smoke.
"I haven't seen you around here before. I come to this store all the time."
"I just moved here a few months back."
"Like it so far?" I ask.
"I like it more and more every day," she says while looking me up and down.
Was she flirting with me? God, I sure hope so. Fuck. Why am I so awkward around girls I like. Kingston was so confident, and this type of shit was so easy for him. Not me.
The park; it's simple yet romantic. Too many people don't value the little things. They value money over magic. Lust over love. Attention over effort. I treasure magic, love and action—the rare stuff. I'm glad she likes coming here. Some girls would put their nose up at the idea of a date at the park. Not this girl, though. That's why I like her; she's different from the others. The universe broke its mould, making her.
"Hey, handsome. Come back down to earth. What'cha thinking about so deeply?" she asks.
I don't see her coming because I'm all up in my thoughts about her.
"Hello, cuteness," I say.
"Hey, hun," she says back. Arms outstretched for a hug.
"How was your day?"
"It could have been better, but it could always be worse. How was yours?"
Her positivity is something I need in my life. These other girls are always so negative, and they forever make everything about them. Not Nylah, though. When she asks about how your day was, she wants to know.
"It was OK. I hung out with Kingston, played some games, went to work. You know, same old shit just a different day, scenario."
Her phone rings. It's her dad. She answers it. Usually, this girl would ignore her calls when she's with me, but it's her dad. I can see her beautiful face drop. The smile that was just there was gone and has been replaced with a frown. Tears roll down her cheeks. What's going on?
"Everything OK?" I ask. Knowing it can't be.
"It's my mom. She's dead. I've got to go!"
"I'll go with you," I say, without any hesitation.
We look for a cab, but nothing.
"I can call one, but it's going to take about 10 minutes or so."
She sees one come out of nowhere and whistles for it. The street was empty a minute ago. I put my phone away. We quickly slide in.
"Shady Acres Memorial. Please hurry," she says.
I can hear her voice trembling. I hate to see her like this. She starts to sob uncontrollably.
"I can't believe this. It's my fault! It's all my fault!" she yells.
"What's your fault? What do you mean, Nylah?"
"My dad said that my mom just collapsed. He doesn't know CPR, and my little sister is too young to know it, so he rushed to the phone and called 9 1 1. The ambulance took about 8 minutes to get to their place. They performed CPR and used the defibrillator on her, but they said it was too late. She died right there in the bathroom. But I know CPR! If I was there? If I didn't move out? I just moved out six months ago! For those eight minutes, I could have been performing CPR on her. I could have saved her! I know it! She begged me not to move out, but I did," she wails.
"Nylah, I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry about your mom. It's not your fault, baby girl. Don't blame yourself. Please. You don't know if it would have saved her."
"You don't know that it wouldn't have!" she snaps. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to snap at you."
"No need for apologies, beautiful. I'm here for you. I got you."
She snuggles into me, crying into my chest. My heart breaks for her. How can I take her pain away? I can't. But I can make sure that she doesn't go through it alone.
It hasn't been three days since our date at the park. Should I call Nylah? Maybe she doesn't believe in that whole stupid, three-day rule thing. Perhaps she's going through too much right now and doesn't want me to bother her? Maybe she's going through so much that she needs to talk to someone, though? I'm so confused. Fuck it, I'm calling her. I grab my cell and hit her name and send, quickly enough, that I can't change my mind. It's ringing.
"Hello? Nylah?" I say. I sound like an idiot.
"Hey. Took you long enough." Nylah jokes.
I knew I should have called earlier. I laugh.
"What are you up to?" she asks.
"I'm just working on this creative writing paper for class. We're supposed to write a scary short story."
"Oh, I love scary stories. Read it to me?" Nylah asks. "I need to take my mind off of some shit. Please, read it to me?" she asks again.
"Are you sure? I'm not Stephen King or anything, but I'm not too bad either if I do say so myself. If it makes you feel better, I'll do anything, my love."
I'm not lying. I'm a pretty great writer. When you're good at something, you tell everyone. When you're great at something, they tell you. People tell me that I'm a great writer.
"Of course, I love that you write. I do, too, sometimes. Go on, read it."
"OK, OK, here it goes. It's called 'Ghost Ride,' and it's about that old Shady Acres highway legend of Abigail Adelaide."
"Oh, I know that one!" she excitedly exclaims.
I start to read my story.
"I'm tired. It's raining. Hard. The road ahead is so foggy I can barely see it. It feels like I've been on highway 48 forever. My eyelids feel like they weigh a ton. I feel my head start to fall. It's just me and my little red car out on the road tonight. It's late. Extremely late. What a long day.
"Wake up, Jasper! You're falling asleep!" I say aloud to myself.
I've been driving for about 4 hours. I should've stopped at that motel a few miles back. I'll catch the next one, I guess. It's been a long day. I'm so exhausted. I look up and see something white off in the distance. It's a person. A little girl. In a white dress with pink ribbons. She's holding a teddy bear. The teddy bear has a pink ribbon tied around its neck. It looks like it came from her dress. She's quite dishevelled. There appears to be black soot or dirt on her face. The dress is dirty, too.
What is she doing out here in the middle of the night, alone? It's 3:15 am. I put my turn signal on. I pull into the lane closest to the side of the road. I start to slow down. She doesn't wave or walk closer. She just stands there.
"Hello? Do you need help? Would you like a ride anywhere?" I ask.
No response. The little girl was looking at me, but it's like she can't see me. Or more so, it's like she's looking right through me.
"Hello? Little girl? Can you hear me?" I wave my hand at her, but still nothing.
Should I call someone? I can't just leave her out here like this, alone. I surely can't just pick her up and put her in the car, either. What should I do? How did she get out here?
"M-M-Morely." says a quiet, shaking voice.
"Morely?" I repeat.
She nods her head yes, slowly. She doesn't blink and keeps eye contact with me.
"As in Morely Road? Do you need a ride there? Is that where you live?"
She walks all zombie-like towards my car. Her tiny, pale arm reaches for my car door handle. It almost looks as though a pull on the door would snap such a frail-looking limb. She opens the door and gets inside without shutting it and without saying a word. I reach over her and pull the door closed.
I start the drive to Morely Road.
"What's your teddy bear's name?" I ask. I'm trying to make conversation until we get there.
She doesn't answer.
"What does your house look like, do you remember? Do you know your house number?"
Still no answer.
I start to slow my car down as we approach Morely Road. Maybe she will see her house and let me know. I drive slowly past each house. The dark, tree-covered street has an eerie feel to it. I look at her face for any reaction, but nothing. All of the lights are out in all of these houses; well, all, except one. One has a candle in the window. The flame flickers as though it were fire fingers, calling us to it. As we approach the cozy-looking, dimly lit dwelling, she slowly raises her arm and points to the house.
"Is this your house?" I ask.
I stop the car. Before it's even entirely stopped, she opens the car door and runs to the front door of the house. She knocks. I stay in the car to see if anyone answers. An older-looking woman opens the door. The little girl jumps in her arms, and they hug and quickly go inside. The woman looks like she could be the grandmother of the little girl. She seemed too old to be her mother.
So odd. Should I knock and ask the woman why this little girl was out here all alone, this late at night? The little girl knew the woman, and the woman knew the little girl. It's not even like she was missing at all. Strange.
I fight with myself about what to do. I choose to leave. I begin to drive off. I notice something pink out of the corner of my eye. I look down. In my passenger seat is her teddy bear with the pink ribbon around its neck. Oh no! She forgot her teddy bear!
I immediately press the brakes and put my car in park. I get out and walk up to the door, teddy in hand. I knock quietly, a few times. It's late, and I don't want to disturb her neighbours. I hear some shuffling coming towards the door. It opens.
"Yes? May I help you, sir?" says the older-looking woman from earlier.
"There's a little girl who lives here. I just drove her home. I saw you open the door and let her in. She was out here in the middle of the highway, alone, at this hour. She left her teddy bear in my car, so I'm just bringing it back. Every little girl needs her teddy." I say—handing over the teddy bear with an awkward smile.
The woman smiles. Surprisingly, she doesn't look angry or confused about why this little girl was out at this hour; or why I'm at her door this late. Her smile turns to a frown. She looks up at me as though she has just lost her best friend. Tears fill up her eyes.
"I'm so very sorry for your loss, sir." she apologizes.
"My loss? What loss? Why are you sorry?" I ask.
"There is no little girl who lives here; however, one use to a long time ago. Her name was Abigail Adelaide. She and her poor mother were in a terrible, horrific accident a few years back, out on that highway. Her mother fell asleep while driving home from Abigail's birthday party. It was pouring rain, much like it is tonight, and they were both killed. The car burned in the ditch. It rolled over a few times. Caught fire. The body of Abigail's mother was found inside the car, severely burned. Abigail's body never was found because she was so tiny. Poor little thing probably just burned away. There were just pieces of pink ribbon floating everywhere. And her teddy bear. That cemetery right across the street over there? That's where her mother is. She comes out of her grave on nights like this one. She watches over Abigail and the sleepy souls of the highway."
The older woman pauses.
"Nowadays, you just hear stories of little Abigail, bringing home the souls of others who died on that highway by falling asleep at the wheel. Please, sir. Do come in. Again. I'm so extremely sorry for your loss."
I'm speechless. My legs feel weak, but somehow I step inside. The woman shows me a seat and turns on the radio. It's full of static, but I can hear it. She doesn't say another word and points to the radio. I sit. My legs are shaking badly now. The guy on the radio is giving the traffic report from tonight. I can feel my heartbeat in my knees.
"This just in. Horrible, horrible accident on highway 48, just north of Shady Acres, early this morning. It happened between three and four, says a witness. You might want to stay away from that road if you can. Try and find another route. Police and ambulance are on the scene now. One of our reporters drove by the scene a few moments ago. She told us, and I quote -- 'I can't see much. It's pouring. All I can see are the remains of what looks like a little red car. And a teddy bear. There are also ribbons, pink ribbons, floating everywhere. Back to you at the station, Tom.' "
"So what do you think?" I ask, nervous about her response. I usually never let anyone read my writing. Well, except for teachers, of course.
"I love, love, love it!" she exclaims.
"You're just saying that," I say.
"Hey. Do you want to come to a Hallowe'en party with me? I wasn't going to go, but I will if you'll be my date?"
"OK, sure. Thanks for the invite. Who's having the party? Oh, wait--not that Ducas douchebag? He won't let me at his party."
"He really wants me to go, and he said that I could bring anyone. I choose to bring you. It could be fun."
"Anything for you, darlin'." I shoot back at her while flashing her the crazy eyes.
She laughs. She has a great laugh. I'm going to spend the rest of my life making her laugh, just like that. I wish I could have started making her laugh sooner.
Look at them, all happy. It makes me sick. Nylah shouldn't be with Malachi anyway. What does he have that I don't have? I'm rich. Hot as fuck. I bang like a champ. Who wouldn't want me? Look at him trying to be all sweet. Who goes on a date at the park? Cheap ass, broke ass, motherfuckers. That's who. Wait until she sees what I can offer her. Wait until she sees how life can be. We will see how much she loves you then. I haven't met a whore yet who is immune to my money and charm. You're no different, sweetheart; your type just tries to act like you are. Watching them so happy makes me tired. I need to lie down. I'm getting another one of those headaches, and I'm feeling sleepy again.
I grab my cell and call my wife. She always expects a call from me around now, and I'm still sure never to miss it. I promised her this when I took this job. I knew I wouldn't be home all that much, so our phone calls are our everything. I hate leaving her alone so much, but she understands.
"Hello, honey. How's your day been?" I ask.
"It's been eventful. I got a knock at the door, but no one was there. Then I got a phone call about an hour later, and no one was there either. So odd," said my wife.
"Probably some kids just playing pranks. Do you want me to come by the house?" I ask.
"No, no, dear. Everything's fine. Stay at work. Find that poor girl, Emmett. Her mother must be worried sick!"
"I'll do my best, love. Her mother is frantic, as expected. There doesn't seem to be a father in the picture, from what I'm reading."
"The world is a crazy place, my love, and it's getting crazier by the day. Stay safe. I love you."
"I love you more, baby."
I hang up.
I flip through the pages of the case file. Justice was last seen around 4 pm, coming home from school. She usually comes right home. Straight A student, she doesn't get into much trouble, according to her mother. How much do mothers know about their teenage daughters, though? Only what the adolescent daughter wants their mother to see, I suppose. She's spoken to the young girl's friends, and they all said she was supposed to go and drop off her due books at the library. The library says Justice never put those books on the return rack.
What happened between school and the library, Justice? I ask her picture. Long, blonde hair in low pigtails. Eyes like the sky. Small framed, with freckles.
I knew it! One of these teeth is not a match to Bobby's found at the explosion scene; one of them matches Ducas Pope. They both disappeared from the orphanage on the same day. No one knew if they planned this and stayed together or if they parted ways. Now I know they were together.
Why is there one singular tooth belonging to Ducas at the barn explosion, and why hasn't his body ever been found? A missing tooth doesn't mean he is deceased; however, it is incredibly odd, indeed.
Where is Ducas Pope? He is assumed missing to this day. Even his brother stopped looking for him. Ducas's brother claimed Bobby killed Ducas until Bobby was found dead in the barn explosion from suicide. Before they concluded it as a suicide, though, they thought it might have been Ducas who killed Bobby. When they couldn't find Ducas, the sights turned to him as a possible murder suspect.
Ducas's brother stopped asking so many questions after that, and it became just another cold case. Ducas Pope has been missing for years and is now presumed dead. Maybe we should leave sleeping dogs to lie. I don't have a good feeling about this, but I must let my findings be known.
Her costume looks fantastic. But she'd look fabulous in a paper bag.
"I can't believe you convinced me to come to this stupid Hallowe'en party, Nylah," I say.
In all honesty, though? I'm just excited to just be anywhere with her.
"Watch out. You might fuck around and actually have a good time." Nylah jokes.
"Anywhere with you is a good time, girl," I say.
Her cheeks turn red. We walk into the condo together, and it's packed. There have got to be over two-hundred people here, at least—what a sweet ass place. Too bad a complete douche owns it.
"I'm going to go and get us some drinks. I'll be right back, beautiful." I say.
I rush to the beverage table and pour us both some champagne, but when I get back to where she was waiting, she wasn't there. Nylah, where did you go?