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Today's Story by Darren Callahan

Kasey ranks her fears: Being drugged and unable to speak is third.

City of Human Remains – Chapter 45


Oh, but Mrs. Jackson, she protests, I don’t want to go.

You have to.  It’s time.  Your mother will be expectin’ you.  Knocks at the door.  Hear dat?  Mrs. Jackson points.  Vinita’s on the dot so you cain’t stay.   Kasey slides from the piano bench, leaving a trail of notes with her fingers.  ‘Sides, you the only student I know that wants to keep practicing.  Most cain’t wait to get outta here.  More knocks.  Mrs. Jackson, short and dowdy, 50s, flecks of white in her Afro hair, with short fingers that used to be nimble, dials the lock of her door and welcomes inside Vinita.  This student is 11, Philippino, tan-skinned and brown-haired, with pink dress and patchy yellow jacket.

Hi ya, Mrs. J.!  Vinita skips through the door.  I brought a new song today.  The girl is digging in her school bag before it is even off her shoulder.

Kasey is curious.  What did you bring?

‘Make Believe Girl.’

I like that song, shines the teacher.

Can I stay and hear it? asks Kasey.

Mrs. Jackson funnels Kasey to the apartment door.  You’re mother is gonna be here any minute.

She’s always late.

Last time she had to get outta her glide and come and get you, I never heard the end of it.

It’s cold.

Naw, weather is good this after’.  ‘sides, Vinita hates you spyin’ on her, and you know that.   The piano teacher opens the close and unhooks the girl’s coat.

Kasey, resigned, pulls her blue-cloth jacket from the hanger and buttons it tight.

Mrs. Jackson opens the door for Kasey as Vinita scoots onto the piano bench.  The piano is a black baby grand with 71 dampered keys, a type especially made to be soft for apartments, with uncounted knicks in the wood.  Vinita fans the pages of her song on the music stand.  She then folds her hands in her lap, impatient.

Kasey peers out at the ribbon-thin sidewalk where she is supposed to wait.  The bricks are dusted with fallen leaves and the dying grass of the median is filthy from dogs.  But the scent of the morning rain touches her nose, along with the accumulation of glide exhaust from the nearby street, and it makes her feel a little better.  Kasey turns and asks, Will you watch me?

‘Course.  Day like today, says her piano teacher, I’m not gonna let you out of my sight.  But if you worried about goin’ missing, Kasey, you got ‘bout as much chance as being run over by a rhino as stolen.  Mrs. Jackson moves into position by the apartment’s plain front windows.  She plants the frayed, terrycloth ottoman against the wall – a perfect vantage of the sidewalk where Kasey must kill the minutes before her mother’s arrival.

Can I just wait—?

You cain’t stay in here.  You know how Vinita feels.

You make me nervous, sniffs Vinita.

And you shore know how your mother feels.

Fine, Kasey laments with mock indignation, go and play that stupid song.  Kasey feels the gentle pat of Mrs. Jackson’s hand on her bottom.

Mindful of the weight of her orthopedic boot, the necessary support for her improving club foot, Kasey hops the first step, then the second, until she is level with the sidewalk and street.  She glances through the part of the curtain.  Mrs. Jackson waves, watching over her as promised.  Kasey waves, too, and steps forward to the curb.  She balances on the divider as if it were a trapeze.

‘Make Believe Girl’ begins.  Vinita’s interpretation is not very good.  The rhythm is wrong and the technique clumsy.  Kasey barely recognizes the melody.  Through the walls, Kasey hears Mrs. Jackson stop Vinita at the second verse.   She starts again from the first bar.  Kasey squints back at Mrs. Jackson’s window.  The teacher is still on the ottoman, a guardian angel.  Mrs. Jackson rolls her eyes at Vinita’s playing (for Kasey’s amusement) and this makes Kasey laugh.  The girl returns to balancing, arms outstretched, wavering, an airplane coming in for landing, the weight of her backpack full of schoolbooks and her special shoe giving her troubles.

I’m better than she is, Kasey sings-songs.

She feels a jab into the skin of her left hand.  She drops her book bag onto the sidewalk.  The puncture doesn’t hurt or make her cry out, but she feels it.

A man is beside her – in a suit, smiling oddly, his face pale white.  Her first impression is that this man is ill and should visit a doctor.  A deeper look into the man’s eyes frightens her.  She begins to speak, but her mouth won’t move.  Her tongue has grown fat and the only thing she can do is shift her eyes to the apartment window.

Mrs. Jackson is gone.

Maybe she’s coming to the door, Kasey hopes, because she has seen this weirdo touch my hand.

Panic drives into her veins, along with a strange rush of a poison that paralyzes her with one arm out, the other left by her side.  Her heartbeat slows, but the throbbing in her hand where her skin was pierced intensifies.

Come to the door, Mrs. J… Pleeeease.

Follow me, the man says in low and controlled voice.  His eyes nervously assess the street.  He doesn’t touch her.  Follow me, he repeats.

To her surprise, she responds to this stranger’s command.  She tries to open her mouth once more but nothing comes out.  When she puts a foot forward, the man steps quickly in front of her, as if he may start running.  Go, go, run far away, she hopes, but this does not come true.  Her throat trembles, but not a word – not even a moan.

Follow me.

She walks.

Mrs. Jackson’s apartment is soon completely out of Kasey’s sight.  She can still see the apartment door.  But it’s not opening.  Mrs. Jackson is no longer watching.

Kasey returns her eyes to the street – to where her mother’s glide is set to arrive.  Please, Mom, please.  Please, I don’t know this man.  Please, Mom.  Kasey’s mother is late.  And Mrs. Jackson has forgotten her.  Vinita and her poor rendition of ‘Make Believe Girl’ have taken attentions.  Please, Mrs. Jackson.  I don’t want to go with this man.  Please.  I don’t know him.  I don’t want to go.  Please.  LOOK OUT YOUR WINDOW!

The man motions to a glide parked in the alley.  The doors are shut and he takes a moment with the key to get the back seat open.

Get inside and sit with your head down, he instructs.

Kasey obeys, though every ounce of her flesh begs to resist.

Two other children are pushed down between the rear seat and the front panel.  One is a boy, younger than Kasey; another is a girl, about the same age.  She is black and he is white.  Both are restrained by heavy-fiber duct tape wound tightly over their mouths, shoulders, hands, and feet, rendering them unable to speak or move.  Both begin to struggle as Kasey is pushed down into the seat beside them, but they can’t help the new arrival.  They’re trapped, just as Kasey is trapped.

Mrs. Jackson will come around the corner any second.  My mom will pull up and know what’s happening.

Kasey shouts for her mother, but her tongue won’t cooperate.  She is a slave to something from the puncture – her hand is burning.

Lay down.

Quickly and without precision, the man tapes her as he’s taped the others, only tighter.  She can barely breathe.  Her nostrils are covered and she’s smothering and he doesn’t even notice it.  She begins to gag and twitch with asphyxiation.  This forces him to act.  With a trembling hand, the man frees the tape over her nose and stretches it lower to Kasey’s lips.

As he finishes, the poison that controls her body begins to seep away.  Her faculties are returning, her mind loosening.  And as quick as the drug attacked her system, the paralysis has ended.  She is again her own motor.  Her first act is to scream against the gray fiber tape, but too late.  She can’t be heard except as a muffled, human presence against the seat.  The door slams.  He’s starting the glide.  Quickly, the vehicle speeds out of the alley.


There she is!  Her mother’s glide rounds the corner onto Mrs. Jackson’s street.  Kasey can see her through a split in the glass.


But her mother may as well be on the other side of the city.  Another turn and Kasey loses sight of her mother’s glide completely.  When she tries to rise above the dividing seat, something whacks her on the head – a briefcase, swung from the front.  She slips down and nearly blacks out.

When she recovers, her eyes meet those of the other children.  In them is what is in her: terror.  Kasey now realizes that she has become 1 of the missing, 1 of the city’s missing children.

Kasey wonders what she has done wrong.

Kasey wishes she had stayed inside Mrs. Jackson’s apartment.

Kasey hates Vinita for not letting her wait inside and hear ‘Make Believe Girl.’

Kasey fumes that her mother wasn’t on time.

She remembers the playground stories about the first six to be found – children butchered, cut to ribbons.  She shivers uncontrollably and flops forward, her feet stuck next to the footboards.  The leather of the seats gives an odor that is sickening.  She wants to throw up, but the tape holds her back.  The chopping of her fingers and losing her ability to play the piano frightens her the most.  This awful doom stays with her for blocks and blocks.  Kasey sweats into the thick tape that barely holds her pieces together.  To not see her impatient but loving mother again, or her kindly father, even her spoiled brother, 5 years younger, makes her weep.  Her legs warm as she wets herself, as the others have done long ago.  She can smell it.  She knows now that she will be found without legs or arms.  This scares her into silence as the glide takes another unknown turn.

The dashboard Eye Dial rings.

It rings several more times before the man impatiently answers.  Hi, honey… I had a meeting… No, I’m offsite.  I’m almost done… Oh, Christ, sorry.  That was today?  There’s a quaver in the man’s otherwise unruffled cadence.  I’m sorry.  I don’t think I can… Well, they’ll just have to wait there… I know… I know… Of course, but—

Kasey hears the bird-like chatter through the line.  A woman is upset with him.

ALL RIGHT! he snaps and the bird goes quiet.  Let me think, he says.  Five seconds later he continues: Okay, let me get organized.  I’ll be there in 10 minutes.  I know.  It’s not far.  They’ll just have to come with me on an errand… Yes, sounds good.  Turkey is fine.  All right.  Fine.  Fine.  Yes.  Fine.  I love you, too.  Goodbye.

The man disconnects.

A few minutes later, the glide stops.

The man gets out.

There’s a compression of air from the trunk popping open.

The kidnapped children meet each other’s terrified eyes.

The man rounds the other side, opens the rear door, and reaches in.  He grabs the black girl by the scruff of her foam coat and hauls her out.  She disappears.  Kasey listens to a thump and feels the sudden shaking of the glide.  He comes back for the boy, who is harder to lift and takes two hands.  Thump.  With the boy, the glide rocks back and forth twice as much as with the girl before him.

The man next comes around to Kasey’s side.  He grabs her roughly, without any regard to her brittle position, her orthopedic boot, or the twist of her arms under the binding of the tape.  She gets a glimpse of the landscape – the glide is stopped behind a grocer’s loading dock, hidden on all sides by dumpsters.

The man stuffs Kasey sideways into the trunk of the glide.  Thankfully, it is a large trunk, but with the three of them it is nearly insufferable.  He has trouble closing the trunk because of her orthopedic boot and he forces it with a painful twist of Kasey’s leg.  He starts to slam the trunk and all three children protest in panicked, muffled blasts.  He halts.  Leans in.  Says with spit from his mouth: If you stay quiet I will let you out in 15 minutes; if you don’t, I’ll kill you.  He pushes Kasey’s arm so she’s out of the way of the edge and slams the trunk.

The children are dropped into pitch-blackness.

The glide lurches forward again.

Kasey ranks her fears:

Being drugged and unable to speak is third; being led to the glide’s rear seat and stuffed inside – that’s second; first is definitely now – stranded in total darkness with little air, darkness, and the breathing of two helpless strangers, wondering why your mother is always late and why your piano teacher is so obtuse.

It isn’t long and the glide stops again.

A door opens and shuts, then another does the same.

Kasey can hear two girls’ voices seep from the rear seats where the kidnapped children once were, and into the trunk where they are now trapped.  The words are indistinguishable, but the voices are most certainly those of young girls.

Only these children are not gagged.

They’re not screaming.

They are laughing.