if the length is a problem, please feel free to let me know: i'll hide it under a link as soon as i figure out how. um...as a warning: this involves some kind of magical logic, so it's a little higher rated than what i normally do. if you don't like small children plotting to kill people, this might not be for you. personally, i think that all small children are evil, anyhow, and bent on world-domination...so, yeah.
She first met him when she was very young: a lone child, feeling very lost and forlorn, who had mistakenly been parted from her parents. It wasn’t quite nighttime when she found herself unaccompanied, but soon the shadows seeped, long and strange, through lawns and trees and concrete streets; they veiled the faces of those few stragglers who yet traversed the sidewalks, making their eyes seem too bright and their teeth too sharp as they gnawed and gnashed at the air while they talked to one another.
She cringed as they walked by her, and hunched down into herself when they paused and asked, "Are you lost?" She kept saying, "No, no, I’m waiting for somebody," and turned her head so as to avoid looking at them, hoping that they weren’t as dreadful as the monsters who devoured bad little girls’ hearts in the scary books that Mommy and Daddy would sometimes read to her on her brave days.
"Today is a brave day, too," she told herself comfortingly. "I’m being very brave--"except that she wasn’t, she realized, not even a bit. She was frightened and lonely and very, very sad; at once when she realized this, a multitude of small, self-pitying sobs broke through her throat. But as the streetlights flickered on and bathed her in sick orange, reflected shiny-bright off of her wet cheeks and hands, her sadness subsided. Boredom, instead, rooted itself in her mind; for with no-one around of whom to be fearful, she had very little to do.
The grass soon became a victim of her interest, then the little pebbles by her feet. She threw them upwards and tried to catch them; she tried to juggle, even though she’d never been taught how. Then she began to throw bigger stones, as hard and fast as she could, into the trees that lined the street. For a time, this amused her—-until, by one particular tree, something met the earth with an odd, soft thump that was quite unlike the sounds that her rocks had made.
Her boredom made her curious, and so she abandoned her safely-lit curb in order to explore the origin of that peculiar noise; but as she did so, the nearest streetlight fluttered and snapped off, and it became rather too dark to see: her foot caught in a stray root, and she tumbled to the ground. She lay there for a time and listened to her breath whisper across the grass beneath her cheek.
She wasn’t bored, not any more: the fleeting braveness that the streetlights had lent to her had gone once she fell, and she was once again frightened by the darkness. Small familiar sounds, once innocuous, were made remote and terrifying; when she heard a rustling near her sprawled left arm, she was almost too afraid to discover its origin. But she did look towards the sound, and she found that the reality was far less cruel than her imaginings.
For a small bird had made the noise—-its right wing bowed inwards at an angle that spoke of injury. Its unnatural posture fascinated her; she crept towards the bird and laid it upon her palm, fingering the bent limb so that the bird pecked at her fingers and struggled feebly to free itself. Its yellow beak and tiny claws drew blood once, twice, but she didn't flinch until a much larger pair of hands suddenly descended upon her own. And mightily she flinched, then, for she was terribly startled; those hands stole away the bird from her and cradled it, carefully avoiding the broken wing. A voice from far above her spoke: "You like to injure birds?"
"I like to hurt everything," she answered, because she wasn't quite old enough to have memorized the complicated adult scale of morality and was wholly too spoilt to empathize with a fellow creature's pain. But she had learnt some things of good and bad from her parents. Honesty she knew to be good, and so--for she always strove to be a good child--she spoke the truth. She did like to hurt things, after all.
She dared to tilt her head upwards, but she found that the motion was unnecessary, as the man next to her awkwardly knelt down so that his face was nearer to hers.
He said to her sadly, "You're a very cruel child."
She tipped her head to the side when she heard this, the movement quick and fragile like the bird that the man still held. "Is that bad?"
"I'm not sure." He sighed sadly and stood, and she scrambled to her feet, too; "This bird's not going to make it," he said. "Don't look."
Away she turned, obedient until she heard a quiet cracking sound; and then she snuck a glance at the man. At first, she couldn't see him, but then she looked to the base of the tree and saw him kneeling on the ground once more. One hand combed sleepily through the soil; the bird in the other hand was still.
"I told you not to look," he said, but he spoke without anger.
Annie walked over to him, wary of the roots this time. "I'm sorry," she said.
"For what?" he asked. He began digging more vigorously; he placed the small broken bird on the ground, next to his small pile of dirt, so that he could use both hands.
Annie didn't answer, but she sat next to him and helped him bury the bird. Her fingers were blackened with slick crumbly earth once they finished. She wiped them off on first the grass, and then her skirt, before looking at the man again.
The streetlight flickered on for a moment, and she saw that he was younger than she had first assumed; he was older than her, but not old enough to be old. Before the light died for the second time, she saw a great bruise that bloomed across his face. It was shaped rather like a hand.
He looked at her. "Come on," he said. "You shouldn't be out this late." He held out one of his large skinny hands, and, with both of her own hands, she grasped it; in some places where their skin met, she could feel strange circular marks pocking his skin. She didn't know what they were, but she didn't like them, anyhow. She pulled away from him.
He misinterpreted this action, and he laughed. "I can see why you wouldn't want to follow me—poor boy, right? It's okay, I'm one of the good guys." He paused. "Well, maybe not, but look—I can't just leave you out here—tell you what, you're lost, right? Do you know your parents' address? Number?"
"What number?" said Annie.
Telephone number, he scathingly said; but his tone became softer when Annie shied away from him. "Look, it's not that important. Don't be upset—oh, God," he said, as she began to sniffle quite pathetically, "Don't cry. Please don't cry. I'm sorry, all right? Don't cry. Here," and from his pocket, he produced a sad scrap of fabric that he offered to Annie. "It's clean, don't worry."
Annie took the handkerchief, and she said politely and automatically, "Thank you."
He patted her awkwardly on the head, and then he stood up abruptly as a pair of headlights lit his face. Annie, by now used to the cover of darkness, stared at his exposed features and saw the hand-shaped bruise again, and a split lip that she hadn't noticed before. When he squinted at the brightness and shielded his eyes with a hand, she could see the ugly black circles that had previously frightened her. At once she knew what they were, for Daddy smoked cigars often and left those same black circles in the upholstery.
She could hear Daddy, now: "Get away from her," she heard Daddy say. He sounded angry; for a moment, she was afraid he was going to scold her, but then he swept her up and carried her to the car. Annie heard Mommy's angry voice, too, but she didn't know a lot of the words that Mommy said to the boy. Whatever she said, though, caused the boy to shout back at her, using many more words that Annie didn't understand. He quieted very quickly once he realized that Annie was looking at him, and he began to walk away. Mommy still yelled after him, but he didn't turn back.
Annie wriggled and squirmed until she was no longer within Daddy's arms and ran towards the boy. She caught his rail-thin waist from behind; he stood very still as she buried her face into his back and then turned her head to speak.
"You are a good guy," she told him.
He reached a hand back to pat her head like he had done earlier, but she caught his hand in hers and held on to it. He turned to face her, his eyes and lashes made very pale by the headlights, and he smiled at her: a bitter flash of brilliance across a scarred face, and he freed his hand and walked away.
Even as the darkness ate him up, her eyes followed his departure. Then Daddy picked her up once more and buckled her into the backseat, and Mommy started to coo and cluck over her scraped knees and elbows. But Annie didn't pay any attention to Mommy or Daddy, for she could think only of the tall boy and the dead bird, and how sad the boy had looked.
He killed the bird, thought Annie suddenly. He killed the bird, and he's a good person. He killed the bird because I hurt it. Hurting is bad; he's hurting. Good people kill things that are hurting.
Her mind whorled violently and frantically sorted this new information, processed and filed it into Annie's two neat perceptions: that of the good, and that of the bad.
Annie thought again, He's hurting. She tilted her head and considered the notion. Very soon, she arrived at her conclusion.
Hurting is bad,-—but she knew this by now. So she continued, and she decided: I want to be good. For him, I'll become good.