Aftermath: Part One
Eight years ago
It had all happened so quickly.
One minute I was eating a grilled cheese my babysitter had made me for lunch on a lazy Sunday, and then the next the door burst open. Three men with masks came in. We didn’t have time to react that they grabbed me and put me in a lock. I tried to fight but they were were far too strong for my six years old self.
“Please, don’t!” Sammy, my babysitter, screamed. She then let out a loud pained cry as one of the man grabbed her by her hair.
“You’re going to be a good girl and call her parents.” He said in a deep gravely voice. “Give them this. We’ll call them. If the cops or anyone else hear about this… well let’s just say there won’t be anything left to bury.”
That was all they said before dragging me away. I tried to kick and scream, but they quickly put an end to that, stuffing something in my mouth and taping it shut before putting a bag over my head. They dragged me down the stairs and into a van before driving me away somewhere.
When they took me out of the van, I had no idea where we were, but it was cold, dank and dark. A gross sewage smell lingered in the air. The men tied me up and set me down on the ground, removing the bag over my head, revealing we were in some kind of warehouse. They talked among each other as well as a fourth man who had been waiting here but I couldn’t hear them.
After a long time, they made a call and soon after, the door to the place opened. Mamá and Papá came in, still wearing their police uniform. I tried to scream for their attention but I still had the gag in my mouth.
“Where’s our daughter?” Mamá asked.
“She’s right there, unharmed.” The man guided them toward me and my mother ran my way.
“Charlie. You’re alright…” Mama said in our language. Kneeling down and taking me in her arms. “Did they hurt you?”
“Mamá…” I broke down and started to cry. “What’s going on?”
“Don’t worry Corazón, everything’s going to be alright.”
“What do you want from us?” My dad asked them.
“For you to stop your investigation.”
“Fine, you’ve got it. You’ve made your message clear enough.” My dad answered. “We’ll stop the investigation. Say we found nothing conclusive.”
“That could work…” The man mused. “But that would be a little short sighted, wouldn’t it be? We have to do something about the future Mr and Ms. Cruz, let them know the consequences of saying no the first time… And I’m sorry for that.”
It all happened in a flash; there was the loud roar of gunfire, bright flashes and then I was covered with something warm and viscous. In front of me, Papá fell down to the ground. His eyes were still open, unmoving like the rest of him. Part of his head was missing and a dark pool of liquid formed around him.
“Papá?” I muttered.
I reached out with a shaky hand.
“Corazón… Close your eyes.” Mamá said with a cough while holding her belly. She crawled toward me, putting her hand over my eyes. I closed my eyes and waited.
I didn’t see what happened next, but there was more gunfire and I heard people scream. After a moment it all became quiet again, save for me and Mamá’s breathing and I heard steps coming close to us.
“Medic!” One man I hadn’t heard before yelled. Someone grabbed me and I opened my eyes to see a bird-masked person. I tried to struggle, but his words stopped me. “Shuuush… I got you little girl. You’re safe now.”
More people came toward us and they put my parents on gurneys. I tried to stop them but the birdman stopped me.
“Everything is going to be alright.” Birdman said. “They’re going to take care of your mom, make sure she’s alright.”
“Charlie…” Mamá spoke. “Be nice, listen to the man. Be a good girl for me, alright?”
I didn’t answer and they wheeled her away. Birdman carried me out into the street where an ambulance and a crowd had arrived.
“Does someone have a towel or something?” He asked. Someone got him one and he carried me to the hood of a car, setting me down on it and wiping the blood off my face. Someone gave us a blanket and birdman wrapped it around me.
We didn’t say anything, I just stared at the ground, my brain still trying to process everything that had happened. After a moment, a woman came toward us.
“I’m Julie Newman with social services,
“Guess this is goodbye, kid.” He said. The woman extended a hand toward me.
“No!” I screamed. I wrapped my arms around birdman. Mamá had said to listen to him, she trusted him. But I didn’t trust the woman. “I don’t want to go.” I pleaded.
“Charlie, I’m here to help you she said. I’m going to take care of you until your mommy gets better.”
“I don’t want to go.” I repeated, holding onto the birdman even tighter.
“Maybe I can hold onto her until she calms down?” Birdman offered. “I’m registered, so it shouldn’t be a problem…” he then said, taking out a card from his pocket.
“I thought you Legion folks weren’t big on registering.”
“It’s up to individual members, my identity is largely an open secret anyway so it wasn’t much of an issue for me.”
“Very well. I’ll see what I can do.” She said before leaving us.
“Alright, we’re going to get to my house, okay?”
I nodded, and kept holding onto him with all my might. One of the police cars gave us a ride to an apartment complex and we went in. He removed his costumes and helped me out of my clothes before putting me in one of his shirts, which was big enough that it reached past my knees. A safety pin kept the collar small enough so I wouldn’t fall through.
Even now that I was safe, I didn’t cry. I was old enough to understand what had happened, but all I felt was this numbness. It was like everything was distant and unreal. Like watching a movie… My body was acting automatically while my mind was lost in limbo.
Birdman — his name was Ian he told me — tried to get me to eat, watch tv or anything, but I didn’t have the strength to do it. Eventually, I fell asleep. Although really I just passed out from exhaustion. I woke up sometimes later because of the ringing of the phone.
“Hello? Oh hey Julie.” the birdman said, picking up. There was a long pause. “Oh my god… Crap… I don’t know what I’ll tell her. I said her mom would be alright…” He sighed. “Oh crap… She’s awake.” He said noticing me. He put down the phone and walked toward me.
“Did you hear?”
He wrapped his arms around me.
“I’m sorry… I wish I could’ve arrived sooner… Whatever happens, I’m going to be there, you understand?”
Once again I nodded. It was all I could do. I was all alone… I’d lost everything in the span of a few hours. Who else could I trust?