Written by Casey A. Childers
Photo: © Depositphotos.com/igorr1
They found her between two dumpsters in the Denny’s parking lot on the morning their mom died — a stained doll Shirt refused to let alone no matter how much Abby insisted.
Abby was all, “Godammit, Shirt. It’s gross. There’s a reason it’s in the fucking trash.”
“You should be in the trash,” was Shirt’s response.
So they kept her. Shirt, because keeping weird stuff was his thing and with mom dead there was nobody to intervene. Abby, because with ten years on him, keeping Shirt calm was her thing.
They wandered for a while after that. Abby held down a couple jobs here and there for long enough to put together some walking money. Shirt hid between dumpsters between shifts. Eventually he’d kill a cat or jump off a roof and they’d be off in the night before anybody came around to ask questions.
For her part the doll never caused much harm. Shirt took to calling her Mrs. Greensleeve and making a voice for her, but he never asked for anything in that voice that wasn’t his to begin with. Plus she tended to talk him out of doing anything with the old pocket knife their dad had given him before ditching, so Abby figured it was at least a decent set-up for Shirt’s conscience.
In a Kingston-bound pickup out around Bristol is where it all fell apart. Abby was chatting up the driver, a thirsty-type named Shat or Jort or whatever guys with seven miles of teeth are called when Shirt leaned in through sliding rear window and said something to the effect of, “This is all nice and all but Mrs. Greensleeve has to pee,” which point Skort or Jimmy or whatever his name was said something like, “Who’s that, your fucking mom?”
Anyway, Shirt stabbed him in the neck with his dad’s knife. It was a mess, blood going every which way. Abby did her best to hold it together and grab the wheel, but it was a bad situation before it even got started and it was the best she could do to keep from screaming long enough to ease the truck into a ditch.
“Wasn’t my fault,” Shirt yelled before Abby could say anything and what with the driver wheezing beside her and the blood in her ears she barely heard him.
Shirt was good at two things: running and hiding. He was great at other things, but they were all negative and Abby preferred to focus on merit. Point is I don’t want you to judge Abby for leaving the driver by the side of the road without giving a thought to his status. You might. I can’t help that. I think it’s worth keeping in perspective, though, and Abby’s perspective was that if she didn’t chase her brother at that moment she’d never catch him.
To that end: she felt the pickup buck as Shirt leaped from the bed and like a dog cued on a mechanical rabbit she was out the door, eyes sticky, pulse pounding. Being horse and tobacco country, this was a solid patch of land for Shirt to lose her in, but Abby was no slouch in running and seeking.
The chase ended at a decrepit farm outbuilding near a wide swath of gravel road. Shirt’d had the speed advantage most of the way, but he caught a gopher hole there that twisted his ankle hard enough to drop him, and by then most of the escape was out of his system. She found him there crying, his right hand gone white with how tightly he held the knife, his left arm hugging Mrs. Greensleeve with something close to sweetness.
He looked like a baby, and something warm and kind, like love maybe, swoll in her chest, something she’d never felt before. She wanted to keep him safe. She wanted to hold him and build some kind of stronger body with which to cradle and carry him, but she was sixteen and tired and covered with a stranger’s blood and in all that soft and glowing warmth the only kindness she could think to do was kick him over and over again until he was quiet.
He cried. She cried.
They found the doll there, beside the body of the unidentified minor, half a mile from the deceased driver of the pickup. They had no leads to speak of.
Casey A. Childers is a novelist and former copywriter turned software developer. He co-produces the competitive literary fanfic event Shipwreck, the fruits of which you can read in the book Loose Lips, hitting bookstores September 27, 2016.