People around town called him Bobby, but this was not his name. He wasn’t sure from where the name had come, or who had first called him by it. He even thought of himself as Bobby whenever he visited Brooksfield.
He came out of the Ultra-Mart store and sat on the bench, placing his shopping bag on the seat beside him. Here, he would wait for his ride to arrive. He hoped it wouldn’t be long; there was no greater waste of time than waiting, as far as he was concerned. He’d rather be forced to eat a Krokarian Flea Turtle, and that was saying a lot, since they were known to actually turn a person’s tongue blue.
The sky was cloudless, the sun shining in the subtlety of spring, not yet close enough to the earth to cause unbearably high temperatures, which was fine by Bobby. It still felt a little uncomfortable, though, since he preferred nothing warmer than a few degrees above freezing. His thick, fatty flesh was made for cooler temperatures.
People were moving in and out of the store at all times, gathering purchases into cars, stuffing children in backseats. Nearby, a brother and sister were arguing over who got to sit in the front seat. “You can both get in the back, now,” the mother said in frustration. But there was one man who was walking across the parking lot to the store that stood out; he wasn’t dressed oddly, he didn’t move with a funny gait, and he certainly wasn’t extraordinarily large or small, but something about his manner drew Bobby’s attention.
Bobby pulled his package close, protectively.
The man stopped directly in front of Bobby, stared. Bobby met his eyes, looking back intently, trying to probe his mind and glean some information. He could do this sometimes, not mind-reading exactly, but a general sense of emotions. He could often use those readings to discern a general intent. He didn’t get that this time, however, but he did get a sense of unease, maybe dread.
Bobby looked down, breaking eye contact. He shivered, suddenly cold.
The man continued into Ultra-Mart.
Bobby clutched his bag close to him. He hoped his ride would be along shortly.
“Hi, Bobby.” Bobby looked in the direction the voice had come from, but could only see the silhouette of someone’s head against the sun’s rays. Then the person moved to the side. “Haven’t seen you around in awhile.”
It was Bill, one of the members of the Ultra-Mart security staff. He was tall, a little on the chubby side. A cap with the store’s logo emblazoned on it perched atop his head, obscuring all but a few tuffs of his bright red hair. “No, I’ve been very busy,” Bobby replied.
“Glad I can’t say the same. People are either not shoplifting as much as they once did, or I’m not doing my job very well. Used to be, I’d catch one or two at it every week, but now it’s been three weeks since I had to bust anyone.”
“That is good. Perhaps there is some hope for the human race, after all.”
Bill laughed. “I wouldn’t count on that. Just watch the news on any given day.”
“I do, Bill. Believe me, we all do.”
Before Bill could say anything more, his walkie-talkie crackled and a voice was summoning his response. “Go ahead, Jeffery,” Bill answered after pressing the TALK button, “I’m out here at the front, Entrance One.”
Bobby caressed his package as he listened to Jeffery’s reply. “We’ve got a code three Bill—a little girl, five years old, blonde, blue dress, about forty-five pounds. Stay at entrance one, Bill. Larry, get over to the seasonal exit.”
“So much for not being busy.” Bill took a few steps so he was between the two sets of doors. If anyone came out from either of them, he would be sure to see. “Little girl gone missing; I only hope she’s just wandered off, and no one took her. Man, I’d rather deal with a thousand shoplifters.”
Bobby had no response. He closed his eyes and concentrated.
The image of the man who’d made him feel uneasy moments earlier came immediately to mind. He had looked into his eyes and hadn’t liked what he saw. He had dismissed the bad feeling because nothing had been specific, which usually meant there was nothing urgent. But now he knew the malevolence for what it was. If he tried hard enough he might be able to make a connection. He pictured his face, the downward turn of his mouth, his posture as he’d looked down at Bobby seated on the bench. It was almost like he knew who—what—Bobby was. The look, in retrospect, had been threatening, the eyes evil in its most natural, purest form.
Bobby hated this but knew it had to be done.
There were boxes stacked everywhere, a cart for moving heavy ones directly at his feet. He held the little girl, who was whimpering quietly, in his arms. “Quiet,” he instructed the child, “If you want me to get you back to your mother, you need to keep quiet.” Someone was up ahead. The man—Sean, Bobby suddenly knew his name—ducked behind a row of shelves. He put his hand over the girl’s mouth.
Two people—a man and a younger woman—wearing store uniforms passed closely by. “No one back here,” said the man. “Now security can just seal the loading bay from the rest of the store and the guys can get back to work. We’ll find her soon.” Then they were gone.
The little girl trembled and tears began rolling down her cheeks.
It was nearly too much to bear; it was the only part of visiting that always proved difficult. When—if—something bad happened, and he was involved, it took a toll. But he couldn’t not take a role; to do so, would mean abandoning the little girl to the evil man, and he couldn’t do that, no more than the last time he could allow the mother and her child to freeze to death in their crashed car.
Contact was broken. The loading bay, Bobby thought, that’s where they are. But not for long, he knew, not with a clear escape route now available. The image of the possible future played out before his eyes: the man carrying the girl, looking around in caution, sneaking out the loading bay door. His car was out that way, in the gravel lot next to the Ultra-Mart. The man had only pretended to come from the parking lot, earlier.
Picking up his bag, he went to stand beside Bill. “Get someone to the loading dock, that’s where she is. A man has her and if you don’t move quickly, he’ll be gone. Hurry!”
Bill only stared at him. “How would you..?” He didn’t finish. Instead, he raised the walkie-talkie to his lips and gave instructions. “The little girl and a suspect were just spotted in the loading dock area. Get someone there right away.” After this, he turned to Bobby, who was again sitting on the bench. He studied him, not in an unkind manner, but curious. Bobby had been stared at this way many times before, in many places, and he was accustomed to it.
They would catch the man, the girl would be all right, and that’s what mattered the most. And his ride would be here soon. He hated when it was a long wait.
The radio crackled and Jeffery’s voice came over the air. “We’ve got them. We’re gonna need you in the office, Bill.”
“Be right there,” the security guard answered.
Before going back into the store, Bill came over and looked down at Bobby. Bobby looked up at him. “The trouble all over?” he asked, and then smiled.
“I’m going to need to ask you some questions, Bobby,” Bill said. “You are going to be here when I get back, aren’t you?”
“I am waiting for my ride, and when it gets here, I will be gone. It should be here very soon.”
Bill looked frustrated at the answer .He made as if to say something more but changed his mind. He went silently into the store.
Bobby waited for his ride. He put his bag on his lap and held it close, as if someone might, at any moment, attempt to snatch it away. Just a few more minutes, he hoped.
A family of five was coming across the parking lot, three children, all under five, judging by their looks, the mother, and a man who looked to be a little too old to be the father. The resemblance unmistakably declared them as a family. The older man might have been the grandfather. He wore a pair of black dress shoes, semi-casual pants, and a white, button-up short sleeve shirt. The sun bounced off his shiny hairless head.
When Bobby gazed upon this man, a clear message formed in his mind: not the heart, but the fall. It won’t be the heart, but it will be the fall.
The woman and the three children were across the parking lot and moving along the sidewalk to the entrance. The children were enamored with a small ride in the shape of a rocket ship, and the woman was digging in her purse for change to insert into the coin slots. There was enough room on the ride for all three of them, but the argument now was over who would get to sit behind the control stick. They didn’t look back to see the man begin to rub at his chest and slow to a near stop.
It wasn’t the words coming to him that prompted Bobby off the bench, but the sudden image of the man’s head cracking off the pavement that flashed before his eyes. It was as clear as watching his favorite television show in Ultra HD. His head hit, his eyes rolled back, and blood seeped onto the ground. This didn’t need to be true. Still gripping his package, he made the few steps to the man in a blur, catching him under the arms just as he collapsed. He laid the man down gently. He had countered the vision of the fall, which would have led to a final three weeks of life for the man in a coma, but there was still the heart attack with which to contend.
The man’s family was now there, the rocket ride a concern of the past, as well as several others, including staff members, one of which was beginning to initiate CPR. “Call an ambulance!” someone ordered.
The man was sitting up and breathing on his own before the ambulance arrived. They checked him over and then loaded him into the back.
The people around started congratulating the staff member who had performed the CPR, and no one acknowledged Bobby’s role in the man’s survival. That was okay, though; he didn’t do it for the recognition. He did it because he could.
Bobby knew the man would be fine—which was all that mattered—so he started to back up. He came to an abrupt stop when he bumped into someone. It was Bill. “We need to talk about how you knew where to look for that little girl, Bobby,” he said.
“Sorry,” replied Bobby, “can’t do that right now—my ride is here.”
“Where?” Bill began to look around, then…
The world froze in motion, as if everyone were characters in a video, and the PAUSE button had been pushed. Bill’s hand remained out, perpetually reaching, the ambulance that was heading out of the parking lot suspended in mid bounce over one of the speed bumps. Everyone and everything was still, completely silent, even the air. Then there was a popping sound from the right.
It was Bobby’s ride. It first appeared nearly a hundred feet in the air, a sleek, silver vessel, shaped somewhat like a full tube of toothpaste. It didn’t slowly materialize but was simply there, as if coming into existence at that very moment. It slowly descended until it hovered a foot above the ground. Then a portal in the smooth side opened with a soft whirring sound and steps extending from the inside.
Bobby took one final look around. He would never be back, his visits now at an end. He had revealed too much this time, but it was worth it; it was time to say goodbye to everyone, though they would not know he’d said it. It was also sad to say farewell to Bobby and hello to Gorp, which was the name his mother had given him. He boarded the ship.
“Don’t look so sad,” said Mazark, his longtime companion. “There are other worlds to visit.”
“It’s not that,” said Gorp. He set his bag down near the control consul, and then removed its contents. “I’m just going to miss these games. Humans may be primitive, but they certainly have making video games nailed down.”
“You’re right, let’s play.”
Lorne McMillan grew up in the Niagara region in Ontario, Canada. He has been writing since he was old enough to hold a pencil, starting with superhero stories. He currently lives in St. Catharines, Ontario with his wife and children and spends most of his time working on his writing. www.facebook.com/writerlorne