I recently participated in Yeah Write’s Super Challenge #4, and this is my submission during the first round. I’m still getting back into the groove, but here you are!
(CW: Death, Word Count: 996)
‘Jai! We’ve got to leave soon or the tickets will be sold out!’
Trish heard a garbled shout of acknowledgement from her son’s bedroom.
The Kiwanis Club hosted the opening night of their annual carnival every 4th of July, at the local high school, and was a much-awaited event each summer. They always saw a steady stream of attendees from all three neighbouring towns, and rightly so; their fireworks show was unparalleled.
Jai bounded down the stairs a minute later, with Trish’s least favourite footwear in hand.
‘Honey, we don’t have time for those,’ she sighed.
‘But everyone else will be wearing them,’ he whined, slipping on his pair of Vans Old Skool sneakers.
‘We’re running really late—’
‘I want to wear these,’ he insisted, gritting his teeth.
Trish fought the urge to shove a pair of velcros in his face and watched him struggle instead. Despite the years of training he’d received from almost every family member, the eight-year-old was quite inadept at tying shoelaces. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts, the last of which left him in tears for the umpteenth time, Trish helped him get into them. It was all about picking the right battles, she calmed herself, and she wasn’t going to risk picking one today; she had some exciting news to share with him.
Little did she know.
‘Jai, you’ve had enough already—’
‘I don’t care! I want another one!’
She inhaled deeply before reaching into her handbag for the wad of change.
‘You little brat,’ she mumbled, handing him another five-dollar bill. He frowned at her, before rushing back to the line by the candy floss cart.
‘You’re enabling him,’ Jaron chuckled.
‘Honestly, I just want him stuffed and content before I release a torrent of confusing emotions his way.’
‘He hates me, doesn’t he?’
‘No, he just really loves his dad and isn’t used to the idea of us together yet.’
‘Then let’s not do it today. Let the kid have his 4th of July.’
‘But I meant what we talked about last week,’ she squeezed his fingers.
‘I meant it too, but we have all the time in the world. Let’s just sit him down some other time and break it to him. At least then, even if he doesn’t take it too well, he won’t develop a subconscious hatred of fireworks.’
He had a point. ‘You make me feel like a terrible mom.’
‘You’re not a terrible mom,’ he responded firmly, ‘You’re just being uncharacteristically hasty.’
‘I just feel like we’ll be missing our moment if we don’t do it soon,’ she reached up to kiss him. ‘I can’t wait for you to move in with us.’
‘You’re moving in with us?’
They turned around to find Jai had returned with his candy floss, a crestfallen look on his face.
‘Jai—’ she began, before he dropped his floss and darted away from the two of them, engulfed by the crowd within seconds.
It had been three hours since Jai had gone missing. Jaron had decided to involve the cops when they’d found Jai’s emergency-only cell phone lying by the carousel. The authorities had been instructed to cordon off the entire school, and the festivities had come to a screeching halt. People hadn’t been allowed to head home just yet, and witnesses were being questioned about the missing boy.
Trish felt her stomach lurch as she watched the cops emerge from inside the school building. Squinting into the dimly lit night, she could make out two of the officers carrying something between them. As they drew closer she could make out a body bag.
An involuntary wail escaped her lips.
‘No!’ Jaron exclaimed, in disbelief.
One of the officers approached them, an evidence bag in hand. In it was a red sneaker.
‘Ma’am I have to ask,’ he mumbled, holding it out for her to see, ‘Does this belong to your son?’
‘Y-yes. What’s going on? Where’s my son?’
The officer didn’t respond. Instead, he looked toward a colleague and gave him a couple of instructions.
She sank slowly to the ground. The night had taken on an unearthly tone, and she felt herself falling into the darkness that surrounded her. Jaron bombarded the officer with questions, distraught.
Before the officer could answer Jaron, they heard the officer’s radios scratch into life, the transmission riddled with shorthand speech and urgency. He looked at the two of them quizzically.
‘Ma’am, are you sure this belongs to your son? What’s his shoe size?’
‘He’s a s-size three,’ she croaked, watching the body bag as it was moved around.
He turned over the sneaker. His face took on an even grimmer expression.
‘It’s a different shoe size.’
The officer barked out instructions into his radio, and gave them no further explanations. Instead, the crowd around them stirred, and another man in uniform led a terrified looking child towards them.
Trish whipped around. Jaron let out a shocked yelp.
In a dreamlike state, she lifted herself off her knees and made her way towards the boy. He was clearly terrified.
‘You’re okay!’ she cried, hugging him.
‘I’m sorry, Mommy,’ he whispered.
‘We found him by the woods,’ the officer began, ‘He realised he was missing his phone, figured he’d get into trouble and scared himself into a hiding place.’
‘Oh honey,’ Trish whimpered, overwhelmed by tears, ‘I’m so sorry I upset you. But you know you aren’t allowed to run off on your own like that.’
He mumbled in response.
Trish pulled him into a tighter hug, ‘Don’t ever do that to us again, okay?’
She felt him nod, and kissed his ear.
Over his shoulder, she watched another terrified family being confronted by the little red sneaker, a few yards away.
‘We just received a second call,’ the officer mumbled, ‘Another child was reported missing.’
Everyone will be wearing them. Jai hadn’t been joking about the popularity of those sneakers.