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Damn it, I wouldn’t be so far behind if I’d have tied my shoes, and maybe Ashley and I would be safe in my hiding spot, together. The impact a tiny decision can make on the bigger picture is hard to comprehend and impossible to predict. In an effort to get us safely into the cover of the woods I slipped on my New Balances, (which I always keep by the back door in case we have to flee) and decided that tying them would take time we did not have to waste. [Note to self: Go with Velcro next time]

What bought us a few seconds of a head-start ended up costing much more in the long run. In a full-on sprint through the thick of the woods I stepped on one of my neglected laces and sprained my ankle in the fall that followed. I also managed to hit my head on a tree stump protruding from the ground. The blow to the head did not render me unconscious but it did leave me in an immobilizing daze for a short time. So there I sat, with half my face in the dirt, as I watched Ashley run deeper into the woods and out of sight.

Yes, it hurts that she would leave me there, alone, injured and bloody, with those monsters hot on our tail. Especially, after all we have been through together. I can't blame her. She has been so scared ever since I made us leave our homes in Bangor, Maine. Scared during those countless nights on the run where we had to hide-out in crusty motels or an unkept trailer park somewhere off the beat. Even scared once when we had made it to my cabin off the grid in Stroudsburg. No matter how I tried to explain to her that we had to leave, she would always say she wanted to go home. That she missed her life and her family. She didn’t understand. She didn’t understand that we would never be safe there.

I tried to make her feel safe. I tried to make a new home for us. She was always scared. I could see it in her eyes when I would be washing her back in the tub and she would get lost in thought staring at her reflection in the bubbles. I could see it behind her smile that one time at dinner when I dropped the salt shaker in my mashed potatoes and some flew up onto my nose. Even behind her laughter I could see the sadness and fear.

It doesn’t matter. I love Ashley. I loved her the day I first laid eyes on her. She was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen in my life. It was an autumn day and I was walking my dog through the park near my house. Something I did every day as part of the mundane routine I had sunken into. That’s where I saw her swinging by herself on the swing set. Her long blonde hair chasing her head like the tail of a comet and then whisping over her cheeks in a playful cluster. Seeing her warm smile as she swung back and forth felt like being wrapped in a wool blanket, fresh out of the dryer on this cool day. I was mesmerized. I knew right then and there that I NEEDED to be with her. I was completely unable to look forward in time to see a future without her. I knew I was looking at my soul mate.

The Blue Men are why we had to leave town. I hate the Blue Men. They would never let us be happy. They would never let our love unfurl. Everything had to be their way. We are all slaves to the Blue Men, forced to abide by their system and follow their rules or they hunt us down and kill us in the street like animals. They have performed plenty of public executions on innocent people for no reason at all. They spew propaganda and try to convince us that their victims were out of line but I know it's just to scare us. To make an example of how things will be if we ever cross them. Possibly worse than death they may choose to lock us away in one of their remote dungeons, where they keep their prisoners alive just for the sake of torture and to live out the rest of their miserable life in solitude. The Blue Men are evil. And I knew, even though they would never stop hunting, we would have to run away if I ever wanted a happy life with Ashley.

Shit!…shit shit shit!… I have been limping through the woods by myself for a while now but I just heard Ashley! Oh God! She’s screaming for help! Oh shit, they found her! NO! I have to get to her first! We’ve gotten this far I will not lose her now. Come on, Vernon, your ankle is sprained not broken. Fuck the pain, you can run. Ow! Damn it, thorns keep whipping my face, cutting into my skin. Ignore it. This is too important. Getting closer. I can hear her. She’s screaming for me. They must be close too. Shit…Flashlights.

There she is. They see her. Ok, hide behind this tree and think. Think think think. There has to be a way out of this. Oh God, what is she doing? She’s walking toward them! No no no they have her mind. It's too late; they have her brain washed. I didn’t make it. It's too late for her. I could hide and slip away. These woods are huge they would never find me. …..No….what then? I already know there is no future… No purpose without her… I’m either going to fight them off or die trying. I need a weapon. Sharp rock. This will do….okay, Vernon... here it is. For Ashley…for Love.

My heart hurts.

Not because of the shards of metal that splintered into my chest. But because the last thing I will ever see is Ashley being taken by these evil bastards as I lay here, helpless and bleeding, unable to save her as the life escapes my body. So much blood. Only so much blood can be outside of your body until you die and I can see so much of my own. Too much. Here I am. Another innocent man slaughtered by the Blue Men. Slaughtered for refusing to stay in line. Wiped from existence for the crime of falling in love. I wish I could see Ashley’s warm smile one more time. Because dying is so very very cold.


“Please state your name for the recording.”

….

“Detective Daniel Milton.”

….

“Detective Milton, in your own words, please describe your encounter with, Vernon Bankroft, and the events leading up to his death.”

…..

“On September 16th, 2016 we received a call that a 13-year old girl had been abducted from a public park in Bangor Maine while her mother had stepped away for a moment to use a portable lavatory. Further investigation led us to the conclusion that Ashley Withers had been taken by a registered sexual predator who lived in the area. Vernon Bankroft. We pursued the suspect south, through multiple states by following his credit card which he used to book motel rooms. We finally pinpointed his location to a cabin owned by his deceased father in Stroudsburg Pennsylvania.

"On May 2nd, 2017 I led a tactical unit and surrounded the cabin in an attempt to extract Ashley Withers. They fled out the back door and I ordered my men to hold their fire to protect the girl. After a long pursuit through the woods we heard a female voice screaming for help and came across Ashley Withers who had become separated from her captor. As we moved-in to extract her, Vernon Bankcroft emerged from behind a tree and violently advanced towards the girl with a large rock in hand. With the girl safely out of my line of fire, I discharged six shots into the sternum of the assailant. EMTs arrived to the scene and at 11:48 pm on May 2nd, 2017 Vernon Bankroft was pronounced dead. That is my official statement.”

“The recording of this conversation will now come to an end.”

[CLICK]

“Thanks, Dan.”

“No problem, Stace. I need a coffee, you want one?”

“Sure. I'm so glad you found that girl. This was a crazy one. How is she?”

“Off the record?”

“Of course.”

“She’s totally fucked. When we found her she was hysterical and wanted to go home. But now she’s in a pediatric mental facility because she won’t stop asking for Vernon. He fucked her up so bad she actually misses that piece of shit. Her mother is beside herself.”

“Oh my God, poor thing….thank goodness you reacted the way you did when he lunged at her. It sounds like you saved her life.”

“Ha...oh yeah. She was already surrounded by the tac team at that point. Safe and sound. When he jumped out I guess his ankle gave out. Autopsy said it had been fractured for a while.”

“But….”

“Yeah…landed on his knees and just started to cry… so I dumped a clip in his chest.”

“Jesus fucking Christ, Dan, you really can't tell me that... you ... you could lose your badge.”

“Off the Record Stace... besides... I've got a 12-year old daughter…you want cream and sugar?”



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