A shadow blocked the sunlight bleeding through the blinds. They flickered in her vision as she peered into the police station. The chief had dark circles under his eyes and stress lines on his forehead, masking the days of joy he once had. He looked years older than he should have. The light shone on his polished floor. Time was running out. She had to go. She slipped away from the window, feet whispering across the grass.
“RING RING! RING RING!”
“Uhhhhh, I don’t want to deal with this right now. I only have three years until retirement.” Chief Hodge said, voice slurred from exhaustion. He picked up the phone all the same, hoping it was just a missing pet.
“I… I… I need help. I don’t know what is happening! What is happening to-” the voice was cut off by a guttural scream. The scream was halted by a dull thud, and a different voice took over that didn’t sound like they knew the phone was on.
“She got away by herself. Thank goodness,” There was a long pause filled with heavy breathing. “The fool! She is going to get us caught! Why did she call the police?” There was some scuffling heard and then a low, ominous, whisper closer than before, “If you think you can find me, you will be searching for decades. I have done this many times before.” The dial tone filled the station. Chief Hodge stood, stunned, with the phone still in his hand.
~A FEW HOURS LATER~
“It sounded like a young female, but there was no caller ID, and the phone was tracked to the park,” Chief Hodge explained. “Everyone available needs to look into this.”
As the police split into groups to search the park Chief Hodge sighed and rubbed his eyes. Sometimes it seemed like the world wanted him to be sleep deprived forever.
~THE NEXT DAY~
“There was no sign of anything happening at the park. According to surveillance cameras, very few people were in the park at midnight on May 12. All we found at the park were these.” The officer dropped a small, muddy pair of shoes on Chief Hodge’s desk. “They seem to be those of a little girl. They were placed perfectly under a tree, like the person wearing them took them off to play.”
Chief Hodge stared at the officer, half annoyed, half baffled. “Who called me then?” The officer’s eyes were following Chief Hodge back and forth, across his office, a jaded expression on his face. “Put up some flyers. We need to know what happened,” Chief Hodge said, warning the officer not to question.
“Yes sir. I will put up flyers to see if anyone else was there that night. The cameras may not have been able to see them.” As the door swung shut with a final sounding click, Chief Hodge sighed. He should probably get some sleep. He slumped against his seat and his eyes started to close almost immediately. “Maybe they will have a lead when I wake up…”
~3 DAYS LATER~
“How do we know Chief isn’t making this up? Apparently he hasn’t had much sleep recently, he could be hallucinating,” an officer said.
“There have been no leads,” another agreed.
“One could turn up. If anything awful happened that night and we didn’t do anything to find out what it was, I would feel guilty. Wouldn’t you?” Chief Hodge said, as he walked by.
Hodge didn’t want to believe it, but the officer’s theory did sound plausible. What if he was hallucinating, or even dreamed the phone call. No evidence had been found and all the people who said they were at the park at that exact time said they hadn’t seen anything. He was so fatigued. Why couldn’t they just leave this case? As he was about to give up he heard the door open.
“I don’t want to have to deal with anything right now. Especially not if it is another person saying they saw nothing at the park. We should just take the signs down, and file it as unsolved” he thought. All the same, he told the person to come in.
The door opened and a girl, who could be no older than 10, staggered in. Her long black hair hung in strands around her gritty face, and she was trailing mud through Hodge’s spotless office. One of the many rips in her dress caught the edge of a stack of paperwork on his desk, nearly causing it to fall, making Hodge feel a burst of frustration. “H-hello sir. My name is Lena,” the girl said, just above a whisper.
“Well, what did you come here for?” Hodge asked, a bit sharply, surprising himself and Lena.
“I-I-I think I have something you need to know,” she said, looking down at her bare, muddy feet. “I saw the signs you put up and…” - she took a breath - ”thought you should know that I was there.”
“Really?” Hodge said. “And what exactly did you see?”
As Lena started to tell her story, it felt like she was thrown into the past. She felt the thud of her feet hitting the ground, her breath whistling out of her lungs as she gasped for breath, the wetness of her cheeks, the shouting of her parents disappearing behind her, and the relief that hit her when she got to the park. She took off her shoes to rest her sore feet in the wet grass. She placed her muddy shoes nicely under the big oak tree and spun slowly in the grass, relishing the feeling on her feet. The night was beautiful, not a cloud in the sky, and the stars shimmered above her. As she lay on the ground, she started to think about how much trouble she would be in when she got back home, especially if her parents kept drinking. They never wanted a child. She was just a mistake. Suddenly, a familiar feeling that something was wrong washed over her.
She bolted up and ran to the nearest phone booth. “I… I… I need help. I don’t know what is happening! What is happening to-” a scream ripped out of her throat and she let go of the phone, seeing it swing above her head as she collapsed. When she came to, she was in a dark alleyway, covered in mud with her dress ripped. She jumped up when she realized the sun was rising. She had arrived at the park just before midnight! She ran home where her parents were waiting for her.
“WHERE THE HELL HAVE YOU BEEN!” her mother screeched, red faced and panting. “ANSWER ME YOU INSOLENT CHILD! You were gone ALL night!” The smell of alcohol on her breath made Lena take a step back.
“I am sorry mother. It won’t happen again,” Lena responded quietly.
“It better not. Now come inside and eat. I can’t have you dying on me.”
Lena took a breath and looked up at the officer. “I was grounded for awhile, which is why I didn’t come sooner. I’m sorry,” she said meekly.
“It’s ok. I think you have helped in more than one way.”
The door swung shut as she left, but this time the click felt hopeful. Hodge had finally got the lead he needed. Lena was the mystery caller, but that doesn’t explain why she screamed and another voice took over.
Goosebumps erupted over Hodge’s skin, chilling him to the bone. He ran out of his office and froze in shock. Lena had turned with a different look on her face. She seemed threatening. Suddenly she started to scream, collapsing in a heap on the floor. Hodge cautiously walked toward Lena when she didn’t get up. As he got closer, Lena rose, seemingly fine, and turned to him with a murderous look.
“I am all she has. Her parents are incompetent, and it seems you are too. You thought you could find me and stop me, but I am not doing anything wrong. Lena won’t remember a thing when she wakes up, but she will remember one day soon. You know too much. It is time to say goodbye.” With those final, resounding words, Lena turned and ran, leaving Hodge standing, staring at the door. He licked his lips as bile rose in his throat.
“This is all just a dream. Why couldn’t I dream about retirement?” Hodge whispered to himself, eyes bloodshot and darting. “Why?”