This story was written for the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge round 1; I was set the genre mystery, I had to work in pen pals, and needed to feature a 10-year-old child as a character.
By Lauren McMenemy
Written February 2012; 2500 words
By the time she was discovered missing, it had gone viral. As these things do nowadays. Pretty little thing like that? She was destined to be all over the internet. Add in the disappearance and the kidnapping and the ransom note and the public at large was positively salivating.
Of course, there was a twist with this one: our missing child with the blonde ringlets and the big blue eyes, 10-year-old Sarah Moore, of Ealing Common, Middlesex, was not the kidnappee, snatched by a paedophile ring or a disgraced absent father or even an opportunistic thief breaking into her semi-detached family home.
Ten-year-old Sarah Moore was, instead, the kidnapper. Or so it seemed. And she had lured eight-year-old Lissy Stuart with her (brown hair, brown eyes, olive skin), who knows where, to do who knows what.
That was yesterday.
I know this because this is my story. It’s my fault.
So all of that excitement, that was yesterday. By now the police have worked out the connection between the two girls. By now, the police know that the two girls had no real connection. By now, the police are racking their brains trying to find out why, trying to work out where. There is one clue: 10-year-old Sarah Moore’s handwriting. It’s been compared against samples provided by her fifth grade teacher at St Joseph’s Primary School – that school in the leafy suburb that’s always making the news for achievement? Yeah, that’s the one. Miss Harper supplied some of 10-year-old Sarah Moore’s English homework, and it’s been confirmed by the sorts of handwriting experts that the police use that yes, 10-year-old Sarah Moore wrote the letter.
And yes, there’s a reason I keep repeating her age and full name. This may become important later.
So in this letter, the one left by 10-year-old Sarah Moore, she keeps things quite simple. She says, simply:
Lissy is with me.
I have taken her with me.
She is ok.
I like her.
We’re having fun.
Write back please.
Put the note by the dead tree on the grass at 2 o’clock. It will find me.
Sarah and Lissy are somewhere, hidden from the public at large, the same public that is now sharing their photos on Facebook and Tweeting the phone number for Crimestoppers and sending chain emails to friends across the world with the simple message: have you seen these girls?
The police, you see, they haven’t told the public at large that the girls are together. They haven’t told the public that Sarah took Lissy herself, as I know she did. They are just holed up in their headquarters, staring at Sarah’s note – the one that it’s been confirmed that she wrote herself, for sure, for definites – and they’re trying to work out what to say in their reply. For there is now no doubt that they will reply. They must. That is, if they have any hope of finding the two children any time soon. They need to cling on to this contact in any way they can.
The police, they also don’t believe that Sarah orchestrated this herself. They think she must be working in behalf of someone. Someone older. More male. More evil. More capable, in their minds, of luring a young girl away and hiding her from the world for some as yet unknown reason.
The police, they refuse to believe a child is capable of this. But if you ask me, they forget Thompson and Venables, and poor Jamie Bulger. And they forget Mary Bell, and her many victims. And they forget Joseph McVay, and his unsuspecting mother.
Sarah, for those who know her, would be more than capable of this. Wouldn’t she?
Let me tell you a thing or two about 10-year-old Sarah Moore.
I once saw Sarah Moore, who thought she was alone and unseen, giggle as she threw the family cat, Whiskers, out of a first floor window. Turns out cats don’t always land on their feet, and a suddenly-sobbing Sarah told mummy that Whiskers fell. She was six.
I once saw the after-effects of Sarah Moore’s playground fight with a schoolmate. Michael required hospitalisation. He was 10; Sarah was seven.
I once heard that Sarah Moore’s puppy was three-legged through no fault of its own.
I once was told that Sarah Moore was a devil child.
I believe Sarah Moore is capable of anything, and she will only get more violent and more wanton as she grows older.
I believe 10 years of age is the time that punishment becomes a true deterrent for crime in even the most evil of children.
I believe 10-year-old Sarah Moore needs to be punished, or we will all be responsible for what she becomes.
Ten-year-old Sarah Moore is more than capable of luring away poor Lissy Stuart. Ten-year-old Sarah Moore is more than capable of a lot more than kidnap.
The police, not knowing what else to do, they write back to Sarah as requested. They write the note and leave it by the dead tree on the common, as requested. They write:
This is the policeman.
We need to know where you are and that both you and Lissy are ok. Can you tell us that?
Tell us what you know about where you are, and we can come and find you.
As one policeman pins the note to the dead tree in the common, others are hidden away in various lookouts to see who comes to get the note. The place is surrounded. Nothing could get past these police.
But it does. An hour after placing the note, the police go to the tree to see if it’s been taken, if they’ve missed something. And they have. The note is gone, replaced with another.
Dear Mr Policeman,
I can’t tell you where we are. And you can’t find us. If you try, bad things will happen. I know it. I was told.
Write back by 4 o’clock. Pin it to the tree. It will find me.
The police can’t understand what they missed, what they didn’t see. They also know they not only need to write back within the hour, but that the Facebook and Twitter campaigns are starting to gather a lot of media coverage and they really need to issue a statement sooner rather than later. The police, they know they are somewhat over a barrel here.
After much discussion about its contents, they write back and leave the note pinned to the tree. They keep it simple.
Who will do bad things? Can you tell us who has you and Lissy? Do you know where you are being held?
The note, again it disappears despite the surveillance on the old dead tree. And again, there’s a new note.
No one has us. We are together. Lissy is getting annoying. She won’t stop crying and talking, not even when I put the pillow over her face. I don’t like her anymore.
Stop trying to find out where we are. This is the way it is and it is ok.
Write back by 5 o’clock. It’s getting dark now.
There is much discussion among the police about the next response. Finally, those who want a strong stance are the ones who win. The statement has been released; the public at large is aware of the nature of the case now. They know that it is suspected Sarah has taken Lissy. This is the story gone viral.
The police know they need to get to the bottom of it soon or they will appear stupid in front of the world’s media. So strong they must be.
Your parents are worried. Lissy’s mum is worried too. They’re talking about you on the news, too, and now the whole country is getting worried. Everyone is worried that the people who have you will do bad things and that maybe your family won’t get to hug you for a very long time. It’s getting dark now and this will be your second night away from your own bed. Your mum asked us to tell you that Mr Peepers misses you terribly and wants you to come home.
Let us come and find you, Sarah.
The police, they sit in their lookouts and they keep their fingers crossed that this time the guilt will work on the child. It’s now dark, and the common is empty. And yet no one sees who takes the reply and replaces it with the next in the chain.
Dear Mr Policeman
I told you already, you can’t come and get us. If you do, bad things will happen to me too. Like they happened to Lissy. She hasn’t moved since I wrote the last note. I think she must be sleeping. At least she’s not crying or talking anymore, because she was annoying me.
It’s dark now, so I can’t write again until morning. But please write back. We like your letters.
Just in case, the police leave one more note for Sarah, pinned to the dead tree in the common.
We’re watching the tree. We will find you.
And so they sit and wait.
And so I sit and wait.
I told you this was my story. I have a vested interest in this one; Sarah is someone I’ve been watching for years. I need to know the outcome, and so I hurry it along a little.
I make a phone call, a quick one, from a payphone not too far from where the police are watching a dead tree. When they answer – “Hello, Crimestoppers” – I disguise my voice, and I say one thing:
“Sarah Moore. Ten years old. It’s not what they think. Tell them to check down by the tube line.”
And I hang up. Before I can be traced. Before they can ask questions.
And I head to where I know the girls are waiting.
I head to the cabin by the side of the train tracks, down by the junction of where the Central Line meets the District Line.
The cabin usually used during engineering works, for the workmen to shelter and have a cup of tea.
The cabin that I spent last week in, getting it ready. Kitting it out. Mattresses and pillows and a big warm duvet. And sweets. Lots of sweets.
And the wire cage that fit so snugly inside. Just the right size for two girls under the age of 10 to fit into with a little bit of moving room. (I’m not cruel.)
I had got it ready, and I had watched 10-year-old Sarah Moore go about her nasty business for several days before making my move. I had merely planted a seed. I had suggested that Lissy might be easily led. I had suggested that 10-year-old Sarah Moore take Lissy to the cabin, where there were lots of sweets and toys and all those movies their parents wouldn’t let them watch. And where she could do what she liked. Whatever she liked.
And, just as I suspected, 10-year-old Sarah Moore did as I suggested.
And when the girls arrived, I locked them in. It was for their own good, I told them. And I encouraged Sarah to write to the police, to tell them about Lissy and all the fun they were having. I told Sarah that when two young girls such as her and Lissy couldn’t be found in the usual places, that the police would panic and they would come and take away the sweets and toys. And Sarah, being as she was, thought it would be a good idea to write to the police.
But now I’ve grown tired of these girls. I thought Sarah would be such fun to engage, but she hasn’t quite lived up to expectations. I planted another seed: I had suggested to Sarah that Lissy needed to be quiet or they would be found, and she found her own special way of dealing with that. It was fascinating to watch.
And now I need to punish Sarah one last time, to make sure she knows she can’t do such things anymore. I need to do this because 10 years of age is the optimal time. It’s the most suggestible time. It’s when a devil child starts to really understand what they are doing, and why.
I know I don’t have long. Experience tells me that from the phone call to Crimestoppers until the police arrive at the holding pen, it usually takes around 30 minutes.
I see the cabin now; it’s not too far. I know that in there lies the dead body of eight-year-old brunette Lissy Stuart, and the still-breathing body of 10-year-old Sarah Moore. The devil child. I’ve been watching her for a long time, for many years, and I know what she is capable of. She just needs a little nudge every now and then.
The final part of the scenario now comes into play: Sarah, she writes one last note.
Dear Mr Policeman,
I’ve done a bad thing. Bad things will now happen to me, I know that. I’m sorry. Please help me.
I look at that as her confession. The suggestions were all planted, sure, but the ultimate act was at her fingertips. She behaved as suspected; just like a devil child.
The note is pinned to the cabin door. And I remove the cage quickly from the cabin, flattening it and putting it in the back of my car. And I tell Sarah that if anyone ever finds out there was a man here with her, helping her, that the devil within her will consume her entirely, and she will cease to be. And I tell 10-year-old Sarah Moore that the police are coming, and they will take her back to her family.
And with that, I leave the cabin. And I get in my car. And I watch as the police surround the cabin. And I watch as the devil child is discovered for who she really is.
My favourite part is always the parents. The parents of both parties finding the aftermath of my handiwork. That’s what I love best.
I take one last glance at the scene unfolding, and I drive away. Back into the City. Back to my office. And I get out my journal, the big leather-bound one that’s in the hidden compartment of my desk, pages well-worn with age and use. And I turn to the page where I’ve taped the photographs of 10-year-old Sarah Moore and eight-year-old Lissy Stuart. And I put a big red cross through Lissy; RIP. Your sacrifice will be remembered, child.
And on the next page, there lies the photograph of the devil child Callum Taylor. I’ll work out his fate soon enough. So much work to do.
I really should buy a new journal; this one’s full.