His sneakers squeak as his five-year-old feet shuffle across the Supercenter’s shiny linoleum. Trickles of tears flow freely down his pudgy cheeks from his green eyes. His head darts back and forth down the aisles in an effort to find his mom. He doesn’t ask to himself, why did I stop to look at that toy for so long? He is only five after all. Confusion has a grip on his mind and anxiety has a grip on his throat. His voice is lost from the dryness within due to his crying. Grown-ups look down at him, but nobody stops to ask him if he’s alright, he obviously isn’t.
A light bulb flashes inside his head as he sees what reminds him of his mother’s red shirt at the end of the row which contains kitchen pots and pans. An excited feeling races through his veins and into his heart as he runs in the direction of the recent sighting. He approaches the end of the shelves. It spills out into the men’s clothing department. The racks of pants and shirts tower over him. There is no redness to be found. His sobs return as he rounds some hanging clothes.
“Are you alright little boy?” A gruff question comes from in front of him. His eyes slowly leave the floor and go up the stranger’s body. The man’s light brown boots are tattered and scuffed, his blue jeans worn, and his navy blue and black flannel shirt disheveled and not tucked in. His pale face is cleanly shaven, his glasses thin but too large for his face, and his dark brown hair is combed neatly to one side. “Are you okay?” The strange man asks again as he stoops down toward the boy.
“I can’t find my mommy,” he explains through his sniffles. The man’s eyes are caring and a bit comforting. He’s been told not to talk to people he doesn’t know, but now it seems an appropriate thing to do. He wipes his tears with his shirt sleeve.
“Well, you’re in luck. I know where your mommy is. She is waiting in the car. I saw her crying in the parking lot and she asked me to help her. So, here I am, getting you for her,” his voice doesn’t go much beyond a whisper as he tells the boy the story. The man stands and takes the boy’s hand as he leads him toward the exit. Beyond the squeaking of his tennis shoes, the little boy doesn’t here the announcement over the store’s intercom system, “Kurt Williams, please come to the customer service desk.” They step out the automatic exterior doors and the warm summer air blows in on their faces. Kurt smiles as his tears begin to dry with the aid of the breeze.
“Huh, she was right here,” the tall man announces as they get to the nearest empty handicapped parking spot in the lot. “Hold on a second.” He takes out his cellular phone and pretends to dial. He places the phone to his ear. “Mrs. Williams, I’ve found Kurt. I know, I know, I’ll tell him. What would you like me to do?” His conversation breaks for a moment as he responds with nods and uh-huh’s. He gives the imaginary person on the other end an okay and hangs up. “She told me to take you to my house and she’ll be over in a couple of hours. She also mentioned something about cookies and milk for you. Would you like that?” Any apprehension Kurt had been feeling suddenly vanished and turned itself into excitement. His head nodded quickly almost like the wagging of a dog’s tail prior to it receiving a delicious treat.
The man takes his hand again and leads him through the parking lot to a black Audi with deeply tinted windows. He takes out his keys and pushes the button. The locks click from within and he opens Kurt’s door for him. Kurt immediately jumps inside and buckles his seatbelt as the man closes his door and enters the driver’s side of the vehicle. He starts the engine and they leave the parking lot.
Kurt’s mother waits at the customer service desk with tears flowing down her face. Her mascara and eyeliner streak her face with lines of black. She tries to breathe while panic sets in. One of the women at the counter tries to console her, but her words are overtaken by his mother’s cries. She searches beyond the check-out counters for the little boy she’d had only moments beforehand.
The sunlight beats down through the windshield as the vehicle takes many turns. So many Kurt loses count after the tenth one. He sits quietly, but glances up for a moment.
“Why are your glasses dark now, they weren’t like that in the store?” Kurt’s five-year-old inquisitiveness takes over due to the automatic tinting of the man’s eyewear.
“They are glasses that help me see and they get dark to protect my eyes from the bright sun. I could get ones that flip over the top of my glasses, but I think they’d look silly.”
“They sound pretty cool to me, but I like the ones you have too,” Kurt replies as his eyes go back to the road through his window. His mother never lets him sit in the front seat and this is a new view to him. Countless houses glide passed the car as they drive thirty miles-per-hour down the residential streets. Trees sway lazily and randomly as their leaves flutter about. Children play on their water toys and miniature vehicles in the yards. Parents wash the real cars in the driveways and the water runs down the pavement to the gutters. The trickles flow together to form creeks before being gobbled up by the iron grates on the sides of the road.
The car takes a final right turn into the parking lot of an apartment building. Only a few cars are parked in the lot. He pulls into a spot and turns off the engine.
“We’re here, Kurt,” he announces as he opens his door and gets out. He goes to the little boy’s side and opens the door for him. As Kurt struggles to get out, the man helps him by grabbing him under his arm and almost lifting him. After closing the door, he places a hand on Kurt’s shoulder and leads him to a nearby door on the bottom floor; there are only two levels to the building. He fumbles with his keys as he glances around suspiciously for any onlookers. He slips the key in the knob and turns the handle.
As the door opens, the smell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies hits Kurt’s nostrils. A sudden feeling of hunger becomes overwhelming and the unexpectedness of it makes his stomach turn uncomfortably. They step inside as the man guides the little boy in by steering him with his shoulder. He locks the door behind them, three latches secure. Kurt immediately notices a plate of cookies placed neatly on the small, two-person kitchen table against the wall. There is no wall to separate the living room from the kitchen and no dining room. It’s just one big room divided by carpet for the living room and tile marking where the kitchen begins. Kurt starts toward the table instinctively.
“Hey,” the man says as he stops Kurt’s progression with a hand grabbing his collar, “don’t you know that it’s rude to walk into somebody’s home with your shoes on?” The man’s voice sounds calm yet annoyed. Kurt’s eyes drop toward the floor.
“Sorry,” he apologizes quietly as he slips his shoes off with a toe-to-heel maneuver. Once shoeless he looks up for permission and it is granted. The man follows to the kitchen and opens the refrigerator to retrieve the milk. He opens the cupboard and grabs some glasses as Kurt begins to nibble on a cookie at the table. He enjoys the chocolate as it touches his taste buds. “My mom never lets me have cookies.” The stranger smiles with his back to the youngster. He reaches into the cupboard and takes out a bottle of medication. He pours the milk, pops the bottle top, and takes out a pill. He then breaks it open, dumps the powder into the white liquid, and stirs the mixture with a spoon. Satisfied, he delivers the drink to Kurt and sits down across from him. The boy smiles as he begins to work on his second morsel of doughy goodness. He places the cookie, half-eaten, on the table and begins to gulp the milk down. The stranger smiles a delighted smile. The boy comes up for air with a gasp of satisfaction.
“When’s my mommy gonna be here?” The man holds his head up with his hands as he admires the child’s innocence.
“Pretty soon, Kurt, would you like some more milk?” The man begins to get up. As he nears the counter, he hears the light smacking of flesh against linoleum. He turns to see his guest asleep on the floor.
Butterflies flutter excitedly in his stomach as he scoops the young boy into his arms and carries him to his bed.
Kurt’s eyelids begin to flutter open, he’s in a haze. Darkness is all around him. His head flips to one side, a wall. To the other, a room filled with dull but numerous colors only illuminated by the streetlights streaming in through a small window high up the wall. He pushes the blanket back and discovers that he’s only wearing his Spiderman underwear. Embarrassment flushes into his face as he pulls the covers back to his neck for concealment. An achy pain resonates from his backside into his back, he moans a bit.
Light comes from the bottom of the door across the room. He wants to move, but it hurts. He wants to go, but he’s in his underwear. Maybe I’m dreaming, he thinks to himself, it’s a bad, bad, bad dream. “Mommy,” he yells. A shadow covers the light beneath the door and begins to speak.
“Kurt, be quiet. Your mom said she can’t make it today and it was okay that you spend the night. Go back to sleep or I’ll call her and tell her you’re being a bad boy.” His voice is gruff and low as he speaks through the door. His shadow reveals the light again as he walks away. Eerie chills flow through Kurt’s body as he pulls the blankets over his face and tries to go back to sleep.
Sunlight pours into the room from above as Kurt groggily opens his eyes. He looks around the room. There are shelves covered with toys, boy playthings. There are Matchbox cars, trains, puzzles, and coloring books. A small, multicolored kid’s table with only two miniature chairs sits a few feet from the bed. Some new clothing sits on top of the table, folded neatly. He begins to get out of the bed, embarrassed by his near-nakedness, and goes to the clothing. The door suddenly flies open.
“Oh, no you don’t, Kurt. You cannot put clean clothing onto a dirty body.” Kurt immediately goes to cover himself as the man takes his hand and hurriedly leads him into the bathroom. A bubble bath is already drawn. Kurt stands looking at the suds. “Go ahead, get in.” The little boy stares at the man as he looks back at him. “There’s nothing to be embarrassed about. We’re both boys. It’s no big deal.” The words don’t comfort the young boy’s mind, but he does as he’s told as quickly as possible. “I’ll be right back. Get yourself nice and clean, don’t forget your hair.” The man leaves the bathroom and he hears a door slam.
Kurt rises from the bath, suds sticking to his body. He peeks around the door of the bathroom toward the apartment entrance. He quickly slips his Spiderman underwear back on over the bubbles and returns to the bedroom. He grabs the new clothes and dresses as quickly as a five-year-old can. He throws on the blue t-shirt and pulls on the jeans. Kurt struggles with the button of the pants for a moment and decides to leave it open, the zipper is enough.
He dashes to the front door and turns the handle, it turns but won’t open. He remembers the man locking the locks when they’d come into the house and flips the deadbolt knob. The lock clicks back into its housing unit and he pulls the door open. He looks to the right and then to the left. The man’s car is still in the parking lot. He glances back to the right one last time as he tries to decide which way is the best way to go.
Fear and adrenaline have a hold of him and instinct is his primary drive. He knows something isn’t right. His mother wouldn’t just leave him in the store and then let him stay over at a stranger’s house. Suddenly the man appears from a corridor within the apartment complex, he is reading his mail. The decision is made, left Kurt goes. The tiny pebbles digging into his bare feet don’t go totally unnoticed, but he pays little attention to the pain.
The man glimpses up from the letter in his hand and he sees the young boy running from him. Panic sets in as he throws his mail to the ground. He sets out after him.
“Kurt, where are you going? You’re mom just called and she’s on her way!” The man yells after the boy hoping his lies will have an effect. Kurt ignores him and continues his strides. He glances back momentarily to gauge the distance between himself and his abductor, he’s just getting onto the yard Kurt is more than half way across. Kurt sees some bushes ahead on the other side of the road. His bare feet slap the asphalt as he scampers over it and darts into a small break in the hedges. He passes through them easily and nearly smashes into the side of the house on the other side. He stops himself just in time with both hands against the home’s siding. His breathing is heavy and his heart is racing. The leaves rustle behind him.
“Kurt, come on,” the man says through the brush and through labored breaths. “Your mom is on her way.”
The little boy’s head turns to the right, a porch. He quickly dives into a hole in the lattice. The new clothing is become less and less so with every movement as the fabric gathers up the dry, brown dirt from beneath the porch. The button digs into his belly uncomfortably as bits of soil makes its way into the waistband. He continues to crawl like a soldier dodging bullets from above. The crawlspace opens beneath the house. Large bricks and wood hold the home up from the ground in numerous places.
“Don’t make me come in there, Kurt!” The man’s head appears in the hole where the boy had entered. His voice echoes in every direction. Kurt continues to crawl as the man enters, he grunts with his movements, but begins to quickly gain ground. The breathing starts to get louder in the boy’s eardrums. Another break in the lattice at the far side of the house shines with the daylight. Kurt focuses on his escape and claws his way as quickly as he can. The dirt inches further and further into his pants, the button digs more deeply, and his fingernails fill with dark samplings of earth.
A hand grips his left pant leg and immediately stops his forward motion. He looks back at the man’s face. It’s the scariest look he’s ever seen on an adult. The man’s forehead is wrinkled and his mouth is in a snarl like a dog protecting his yard through a fence at a passerby.
“Gotcha,” the man growls through his clenched teeth. Kurt starts to kick wildly and lands a heel in the man’s nose. Blood gushes but the grip doesn’t lessen. Kurt struggles, his pants begin to slide down as his body slithers its way forward. He doesn’t care. All he knows is that he has to get away. His legs free themselves of their restraints and the boy lurches closer to the opening in the lattice. The dirt focuses on crusting his upper legs and knees.
Sunlight and lush grass greet Kurt as he slides out onto the yard and jumps to his feet. Now, not only his backside hurts, his legs have joined the fun. He doesn’t bother to look down at the tiny droplets of blood forming where pebbles and bits of dirt have penetrated the skin. He starts to run again, down the sidewalk. A white Astro van passes beside him and begins to slow down. It pulls to the curb and a lady jumps out.
“Kurt? Kurt Williams?” The kind looking woman in flip-flops and a bright yellow sundress asks him frantically. Tears immediately begin to flow down his dirty face. “Your mom’s been on the news looking for you since last night.” She places her hands on his shoulders and looks him in the eyes to confirm his identity. They then notice the man approaching in the background. She pulls open the back door to the vehicle, tells Kurt to get inside, and slams it closed behind him. As he gets closer, she grabs the cellular phone from the passenger door’s built-in pocket. Keeping her eyes on him, she dials 911 at the same time.
The man reaches with an earth painted, open palm as he nears the back of the van. “Give me the phone lady, I don’t want any trouble.” His hair is messed and blood is pouring, it paints his upper lip and down his chin. His clothing is tattered and stained. He goes for the cellular device with his open hand. A sudden blow to the back of his head sends him to the ground between the curb and the sidewalk. The woman’s husband falls onto the kidnapper as he buries his knee into his back. He pushes his hands into the man’s shoulder blades. His face is sideways against the grass, face wrinkled and bloody. A knot is already forming on the back of the man’s head where his class ring impacted. He leans in toward his ear as the man begins to wriggle.
“Don’t move you sick son-of-a-bitch,” the husband says forcefully into his ear. Bits of saliva sputter as the sick son-of-a-bitch portion is pronounced. The monster obeys him. He tries to catch his breath under the knee’s pressure and focuses on the blades of grass directly in front of his uppermost eyeball. A tiny red spider crawls up a piece of grass, alone, vulnerable, nothing. Kurt watches from the van’s window as the tears flow freely down is grimy face. The salty water washes gentle paths down each of his cheeks. The sounds of police car sirens approach quickly.
He sits on his mother’s lap in their home, in their living room, on their couch. He is asleep in her arms as she strokes his hair and watches the news.
“Joseph Wilson, a local resident,” a mug shot of the man is posted on the television screen, “was arrested today when Vicky and Darrell Burch noticed a young boy running down the sidewalk. It wasn’t until they pulled their van over when Vicky recognized the boy, Kurt Williams. The boy had been taken from a neighborhood Supercenter yesterday afternoon where he’d been shopping with his mother. Wilson is in police custody and is suspected to be connected with the disappearance of four other boys ranging from four to six years of age over the last three years. He is being held without bail,” the picture flashes away and a weatherman starts his spiel.
In a cold, dark cell at the county jail, Joseph sits quietly on his bed. He has no sheets, no boot laces, nothing to assist him with carrying out the suicidal thoughts running through his brain. He stares down at a picture in his hand as a lone tear frees itself from its confines. The smiling face of a boy with dark brown hair and brilliant green eyes stares back at him from the photograph. He flips it over. Joseph Wilson Jr. Age 5 is written in faded black ink on the back.