"... We have received news of a mugging turned foul.. At three forty-five, this afternoon, a thirty eight year old father was killed during what seems to have been a theft. Police are looking for twenty year old Jason Grey, who is a suspect in the incident. He is a caucasian male last seen fleeing the scene of the murder. He is described as being: tall, brown haired, and clothed in jeans, a white shirt, a black jacket, and black work boots. Citizens are asked to be cautious as he is armed and dangerous. Anyone with information is asked to call the police hotline, at 555-555-555. Again, that is 555-555-555, with any information on Jason Grey.
In other news, five year old Lizzy Greene has been declared missing after she wandered from Douglas Community Park twenty four hours ago. Her mother says that she is wearing maroon overalls, a long sleeved white shirt, and purple sneakers. She has blond hair, blue eyes and carries a small stuffed mouse..."
Little Lizzy sniffed, and rubbed her nose on her sleeve. Her tiny round cheeks were grimy and tear stained, and her blue eyes were red rimmed. Clutched in one tiny fist was a grubby stuffed animal.
The little girl shivered and curled herself into an even smaller ball, where she lay huddled by a dumpster. Her stomach grumbled hungrily, and the hunger pangs made fresh tears well up in her eyes.
"Mommy," she whimpered, tugging her toy mouse to her chest.
A noise made Lizzy look up hopefully. "Mom?" her voice was low and scratchy, raw from crying. It was hardly loud enough for her to hear, let alone anyone else. She closed her eyes tightly when her only answer was silence.
I broke my promise, she thought. "Mommy will be mad; she told me not to wander."
Suddenly, at the sound of footsteps, the five year old's eyes snapped open again. They were wide with anticipation, and something akin to hope.
Jason kicked a can out of his way as he walked down the secluded alley. The noise was louder than he had anticipated it would be. Anxiously the twenty year old glanced around, half expecting the police to show up out of nowhere.
The police did not appear, and he cursed his jumpiness. "Dammit, Jason," he muttered, one hand adjusting his hold on the backpack slung carelessly over his shoulder. His mouth turned down in a self depreciating frown.
Eventually, Jason came to the end of the alley. The early evening light made him blink his eyes reflexively. The delinquent glanced around cautiously. Ahead was an old factory, clearly abandoned long ago. The windows were dark, and covered with filth. Aged posters and paint peeled off of the exterior, revealing the grungy skeleton beneath.
After looking around once more, Jason proceeded towards the door, which was chained against intruders. It would be easy to pick the locks, especially with the dumpster to shield him from prying eyes. He reached into his pocket and withdrew two small strips of metal, but then he heard it.
Lizzy could not believe her innocent eyes. The man just walked up, out of nowhere. He can help me find my Mommy, she thought. This was all the encouragement needed for her to struggle to her feet.
The man glanced down at her, surprise flashing through his eyes. His hand fisted and he looked ready to run away.
I can't let him leave! I have to get back to my mom! She reached out a hand, and grabbed his pant leg. "Wait!"
The man jerked away furiously, his face tense. "Who are you?" he demanded.
Lizzy let go of his jeans and stumbled back. As a five year old she had never been met with such aggression before. "I just wanna find my mommy."
"Well I don't know where she is, so scat!"
Lizzy's lip trembled, and she tightened her hold on the mouse gripped in one small fist. "Please," she begged, "can you help me?"
The man shook his head, "I said no! Now get!" When she didn't move, he took a threatening step towards her, causing her to scramble back a few steps. "Go," he commanded, before looking around the parking lot warily, and turning back to the door.
Lizzy sniffled, and looked at the ground unhappily. Where am I supposed to go?
Suddenly the man mumbled something triumphantly, and swung open the door of the looming grey building. A cloud of dust and stale air was released, making Lizzy wrinkle her nose.
Inside was dim, the lights no longer working, and the daylight was not able to penetrate the gloom, because of the dirty windows. Jason walked in, eyeing his surroundings thoughtfully. It would be a good place for him to lay low for a little while. He continued on down the musty hall, not hearing the patter of tiny feet following him.
"Why are you here?" a voice asked skeptically.
Jason spun, his eyes landing on the little girl once again. "Just leave, kid. I am not going to find your damn mom."
"Please, Mister, I do not know where to go."
Jason glared at her. Why he didn't just smack her up the side of the head was beyond him. Something about the way she looked at him, spoke to him, reminded him of his little sister. The way she would just stand the and watch him. "Not my problem," he snapped callously.
"Can you take me to the police?"
"No, I will not-" Jason stopped himself, a dawning realization making him shut his mouth with a snap. If this kid were to find someone, she might mention him, and connections could be made. His location would be jeopardized. Now what the hell was he supposed to do? He certainly couldn't let her leave. "Damn kid," he cursed under his breath.
Jason sighed and crouched down in front of the child. "What is your name, kid?"
She beamed, believing that he would help her. "Lizzy Greene, and this," she held up her mouse, "-is Mr. Mouse."
Jason nodded, only half listening. He would have to keep her with him until he figured out what to do with her, until he came up with a plan. He could always kill her; the concealed gun was a heavy reminder of that, but he didn't want to. She reminded him too much of his sister.
"Mister? Are you going to tell me your name?"
He could not give her his name. She was a loose tongued five year old, and it would be too risky. "No."
Lizzy frowned, eyeing the man. "How come?"
"Because," he snapped impatiently.
"Because-" he stopped. There was no way he was going to argue with some pre-schooler. He stood up, ignoring Lizzy's annoyed sigh. "Follow me."
"What is the magic word?" she sang.
He glared, making her squeak nervously. Then the young man spun on his heels and carried on down the corridor. He needed a place with a good view of the streets, and an escape route.
"Mister? Are you gonna help me find my mom?"
"Follow me," was his only reply.
Lizzy paused, her mommy had always told her not to talk to strangers, or follow them. She glanced at Mr. Mouse, holding it tightly in her fingers. "I got to find my mom," she whispered, before glancing up at the back of her would be savior. With the certainty of youth, she stuck her chin into the air and followed him.
Lizzy and the man walked through the dank halls of the old factory for sometime. He would stop every so often, looking behind doors at old rooms and labs, trying to find one that would be good enough for him to hide in.
"Hey Mister, what are you looking for?"
Lizzy fell silent for a few moments before, "Did you lose something?"
She frowned, she wanted to know why the man was acting so strange. "Can I help?"
"Do you always ask this many questions?" the man asked.
"No," Lizzy stated, defiantly. Then, "Well, I don't think so, but mom always says that I never stop talking. She says I'm like a chick-a-dee in the spring. My kindergarten teacher says the same thing."
Jason groaned and resisted the urge to bash his head against the wall.
"You okay, Mister?"
"No, and stop calling me that."
"What should I call you then?" Lizzy asked.
"Don't call me at all."
To that, Lizzy had no reply. For a few moments they travelled in relative silence. Jason led them up the stairs, ignoring the screeches of the neglected metal, Lizzy however, squeezed her mouse closer every time the grating sound reached her ears.
"Uh, Mister, I do not think this is a good idea..."
"Didn't I tell you not to call me that?" Jason asked, annoyed beyond all belief.
"Well you didn't tell me your name," Lizzy pointed out stubbornly.
Jason twisted around, fed up. "No I didn't, did I? Now shut the hell up."
In her surprise Lizzy stumbled back a step, nearly falling. She managed to catch herself by throwing out her arms. Once she had regained her balance, she focused on him. Her eyes began to fill with tears, and her chin started to tremble.
Jason felt his gut drop. "Aw do not- do not cry. Just call me Jason, okay?" the minute his name slipped from his lips he winced. Idiot. What happened to not telling her your name. Stupid, stupid, stupid. He cursed quietly to himself. All the same, everyone panics when kids start to cry.
Lizzy nodded, hiccoughing. Then she did something that utterly shocked him. She stumbled forward and hugged him.
"Uh," he hesitated, before awkwardly patting her head. "Okay, you can let go now."
Lizzy backed away and smiled at him. "I am sorry, Jason."
He nodded warily before turning around and heading off the landing and walking down the hall. Eventually he came upon a room in the second story, clearly once full of cubicles. "Here, we can stay here."
He sighed and sat down on the floor, swinging his backpack off his shoulder. "Just do it."
With out any further hesitation, Lizzy settled down and and started to play with her mouse. She seemed relaxed and content. Shouldn't she be wondering why I am not taking her to her mother? Jason thought.
He frowned. It was so unexpected that he was stuck babysitting a kid who spoke too much. Then again, it was unexpected that he had killed a person, and ended up on the run. Sure, he'd carried around a gun, illegally, since he was seventeen, but that didn't mean he had expected that he would use it. Now he was hidden in an old factory with some lame pre-schooler to deal with.
What would he do with her? He knew that some of his more unsavory friends would just shoot her and be done with it, but Jason didn't want that kind of blood on his hands. He could drop her off at the police station, anonymously, but she might say something that would have the cops chasing him down like dogs after a squirrel. He could also just ditch her, but he knew he would feel guilty about it. She reminded him so damned much of his sister, it was disturbing.
"I'm hungry," Lizzy complained, interrupting his thoughts by tugging on his sleeve.
"So? What am I supposed to do about that?"
She only gazed at him unabashedly.
Jason sighed, and grabbed his pack. Inside was an extra sweater, a hat, some gloves, a few granola bars, half a bag of chips, a wad of cash, a crumpled up paperback, some change, and clip for his gun. "Here," he grunted, tossing one of the bars to the kid, whose eyes lit up like it was Christmas morning.
"Thank you, Jason," she exclaimed before greedily ripping into the packaged bar.
Jason didn't comment, simply peeling back the foil wrapper on his own bar.
Silence fell as the two reluctant companions ate their meager meals. However, it did not last long.
"Hey, Jason, how come we are here?"
"I can't tell you, Mouse."
The five year-old giggled at her nickname, fingers automatically wrapping around Mr. Mouse. "Why not, Jason?"
"You just have to trust me, Mouse."
Lizzy nodded seriously, the way only a child can, wisely, understandingly, but oh-so-innocently. "Okay, Jason, I trust you."
Immediately he felt guilty. Here he was, deceiving the only person he felt could trust him. Even if they were strangers, he felt somewhat responsible for her. "Whatever," he said gruffly.
Lizzy smiled condescendingly, before returning to her spot on the floor where she played with Mr. Mouse.
Hours passed this way. Jason sat, trying to figure out how he was going to get out of this city. Occasionally he would get up and check out the windows for police cruisers, or walk around the room to stretch out his legs. Lizzy sat on the floor, playing with her mouse, and when she got bored with that she began to draw pictures in the dust on the floor.
"Jason, can we play Hide and Go Seek?"
The young man looked over at her from his position by one of the windows. "No." What kind of ridiculous question was that? He had more important things to do than play games with a five year old.
"Why not?" Lizzy whined.
"I am too old to play Hide and Go Seek, Mouse."
"Nuh uh," was her obstinate reply.
"Mouse," he drawled, frowning.
She huffed and started to trace her finger through the dust again. She was pouting, that much was obvious. Her lip was stuck out, her little brows furrowed, and shoulders slumped. "Fine." She didn't look him in the eye.
He stared at her, feeling bad, and feeling resentful of her for making him feel that way. He had no obligations to her, and certainly didn't have to play games with her.
"When do I get to see my mom?" she asked.
"Soon," Jason lied. He still didn't know what he wanted to do with her. Makeing her promise not to speak of him would be an unreliable course of action. Little kids could not be trusted.
Suddenly Lizzy yawned, one hand rising to delicately cover her mouth.
Lizzy nodded. "Mm hm."
"You should get some rest."
"Okay. G'night Ja-," her words were cut off with another yawn.
"Good night Mouse."
She nodded and curled up on the floor, one arm supporting her head. Mr. Mouse was held tightly to her chest. Before long her breath had evened out to a light snore, thumb creeping towards her mouth. In her sleep, she shivered.
The criminal sighed, and draped his jacket over her before pacing back to his window, pulling his sweater out of his back pack in the process, to keep watch for any police men who might come their way.
In the distance people continued on their merry ways, brightening the night with their city lights. Cars sped past, traveling to and from their homes. Occasionally a person could be viewed, ambling along the sidewalks.
Eventually Jason relaxed his vigilance, and settled down in a corner to get some sleep of his own. His problems could wait until morning, and with that thought he drifted into sleep.
Lizzy woke, eyes wide with fear. It was dark. "Mommy," she whimpered, hugging her toy. Her mother was always there to comfort her from nightmares. Now, however, Lizzy was on her own. Except for Jason, she did have him.
The little girl got to her feet, tugging the jacket she discovered on her shoulders. In the dark she could see nothing, and only had her hearing to direct her.
Carefully she padded towards the soft sound of breathing she heard in the corner. Jason sat, head tipped back, with his hands folded in his lap peacefully. He looked more content than she had ever seen him when awake.
"Jason?" she whispered, tugging on his sleeve. He did not wake, and Lizzy shifted from foot to foot nervously. Her eyes scanned over the dark niches and crannies, and her knuckles whitened as they fisted around Mr. Mouse. "Jason?" she pushed his shoulder.
"Huh?" he breathed, opening his eyes.
"Jason, I had a nightmare."
He stared at her uncomprehendingly. "Mouse..."
Lizzy sniffed, and shuffled closer to him. "I am scared."
Jason sighed, and wiped his palms across his eyes. "What about?" he blinked at her.
"I was trying to find my momma, but there were monsters stopping me. They kept pulling me back into the dark. You were there, and tried to help me, but then the monsters ate you." Tears once again glittered in her eyes.
"It isn't real. I am right here, see?" Jason comforted.
"I-I know, but what if I never find my momma?"
Jason frowned guiltily. "You will. Do not worry, you'll find her."
"Are you gonna help me?"
"Uh..." Would he? Could he? What was he gonna do with little Mouse? "I am going to see what I can do."
"Thank you Jason," Lizzy mumbled.
"Are you still scared?"
"I am a little bit."
Jason nodded, having expected this. Whenever hissister had nightmares, she had never felt right until morning. "C'mere," he said, extending an arm.
Lizzy paused shyly, before approaching him. She curled up at his side, and closed her eyes. "Will you sing for me?"
Jason blinked, and felt as though she had just stabbed him in the stomach with a knife. "What kind of song?" he managed to choke out.
"Mom always sang when I had a nightmare," she stated, not really answering his question.
Jason hesitated. He was a thug, not a day care worker. He did not have to sing to her. Yet, this scene was so similar to him.
"Fine," he took a breath and started to sing the standard lullaby. "Twinkle, twinkle, little star..." he drifted off, coughing to cover his embarrassment.
"How I wonder what you are," Lizzy sang back.
Jason smirked, and shook his head in amusement. "If you already know the song, how come I have to sing it?"
"So sing a different one," Lizzy replied with child like logic.
"I do not know any others."
Suddenly a memory washed over him. Lying in his bed, his little sister huddled beside him, frightened. He remembered the song he used to sing to her, when she had nightmares about chemo. His poor little sister, who was only seven when she died of cancer. When he began, his voice cracked, but it eventually grained strength. "Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away. Now it looks as though they're here to stay, oh I believe in yesterday..."
After a while, they had both fallen into a deep dreamless sleep.
When Jason woke , it was to the light of the early morning struggling its way through the filthy windows. Lizzy was still huddled under one of his arms, her mouse sitting loosely in her hands.
He sighed, realizing that he needed to stretch. His muscles were protesting from having to stay in one position for so long. Carefully he scooted away from Lizzy, who only yawned and snuggled into a different position.
Standing up, he looked around his temporary home. It was empty, save for the dust. As it should be. He prowled around, peering out the windows to make sure nothing had shifted out of place while he slept. When he got back, Lizzy was awake, and watching him gravely.
"Good morning, Mouse," he replied.
She brightened, and smiled at him approvingly. "You are my best friend."
The man in question froze, his heart squeezing painfully. Her blue eyes we so bright, so trusting. Just say thank you, Jason, he thought to himself. Instead he found himself saying, "I am no friend of yours, Mouse."
Lizzy frowned. "How come?"
"I am not a good person, Mouse," Jason admitted, his voice low.
"You are," Lizzy denied, "you are going to take me to my mom."
"No, no I am not." Jason shook his head. "I was never going to do that, I cannot. I did something very bad by accident, and if anyone sees me I will be punished. I only kept you around because I did not want you to tell anyone of me." Also, because you remind me of my poor little sister.
His small companion shook her head miserably. "Uh uh. That isn't true."
"It is," he needed her to believe him, "I cannot be your friend because I lied to you."
"What did you do?" Lizzy asked, crossing her arms stubbornly.
"I killed someone."
She staggered back, arms unfolding and arms widening in astonishment. "Why?" she breathed.
"I was stealing from him, but I panicked, and shot him. I did not plan on doing it, but it was instinct, I just did." To prove his point he pulled out the concealed weapon.
"But you did not mean to," Lizzy whispered, eyes brimming with tears.
"That doesn't matter, Mouse, what I did was unforgivable."
Lizzy stared at him, brow furrowing. She gazed long and hard at his face, then at his hands which bared the gun for the world to see. She seemed to be in the process of trying to make up her mind about something, and Jason waited on baited breath for her verdict. The little Mouse' opinion had become a high priority.
Finally she met his eyes. "I forgive you, Jason."
Of all the things he had expected her to say, this was not one of them. Perhaps for her to cry, and tell him he was a bad person, at worst. Or, at best, for her to not fully understand what he was saying to her. Instead she was saying that she forgave him.
A little girl had found it with in herself to forgive him, despite the fact that he had not really asked her to. Maybe, even though he had not asked for it, forgiveness was what he wanted all along. She had granted him pardon, when all he had done was lie to her. Now he felt the need to prove himself worthy of her forgiveness.
With out consciously thinking about it, Jason began to gather his things. He was getting ready to leave. "Come on, Mouse."
"Where are we going?" she wanted to know.
"I am taking you to the police."
"Aren't you going to get in trouble though?"
Jason smiled tiredly, and crouched down in front of her. "Yes, but it is the right thing to do."
Lizzy pondered this thoughtfully, before smiling. "You are very brave."
He shook his head, he was terrified. "Come on, Mouse, I will give you a piggy-back ride."
Lizzy squealed in delight and eagerly clambered onto his shoulders. He scooped up his back pack and headed out into the morning.
"...We received news that Jason Grey, a twenty year old male wanted for the murder of a thirty eight year old father, turned himself in. He appeared at the police station at seven forty five, this morning. Reports say that he did it to bring back Lizzy Greene, a five year old girl who went missing from Douglas Community Park forty five hours before hand. Her mother was ecstatic at her return and went so far as to thank the man."
Lizzy's mother smiled and turned off the radio. She glanced at her daughter who was presently sitting at the table, coloring and humming happily.
"What are you humming honey?" her mother asked.
Lizzy smiled, but did not look up from her paper. "Yesterday."