Updated: Feb 8, 2021
By N.M. Brown
“Fucking banana laffy taffy,” I mutter through exhaustion as I shut off the engine. I look at the time, 2:03 AM. I’ve got to wake up for work in less than four hours, but Jenna needs her laffy taffy. She rubs her swollen belly, looking up at me through pouty, crystalline eyes as she explains that it’s for the baby.
The Wal-Mart candy aisle is thankfully empty. I gather six bags and head to check out. As I’m leaving, a small, frightened woman runs past me, clutching a masked toddler to her chest. “Please help me! That man’s trying to take my daughter.” Tears well in her eyes as she begs breathlessly. I agree and walk them to their vehicle.
A frenzy radiates from the exit as I buckle the exhausted child’s seat belt. Panic washes over her mother’s face as she looks to the area behind me.
I barricade myself between the parking spot and the man rushing towards me. His face shows sorrow, not the rage I initially expect. He screams out the name Annie, frantically explaining that it’s his daughter.
I steal a glance at the window before the car turns out of my line of sight. The little girl sits up and looks out at me in desperation. I was too caught up in helping that I’d ignored a now obvious possibility. Annie’s mask falls away, revealing the strips of duct tape placed over her mouth.
I didn’t even think to get the license plate number.