Listen to this story, narrated by C. S. E. Cooney:
This story depicts a child in danger.
Amanda drew while Mommy cooked dinner. Amanda was always drawing. Ever since she could hold a crayon. Sometimes she didn’t even see what she drew. Her hands took over and drew what they wanted, and everything else faded away.
Mommy dropped a glass and that was how Amanda realized she had done it again. On the paper was a crooked doorway, a woman with brown hair just like Mommy’s, and in the half-open entrance—
“It’s Daddy,” Amanda said, rubbing the cracked skin around her fingernails.
But Mommy was already in the apartment’s bedroom. Amanda followed and found her stuffing a canvas bag. Jeans. Underwear. Toothbrushes. One right on top of the other.
“I’m sorry, Mommy.”
“Not your fault.” She tugged Amanda’s arm and rushed to the door, snicked open the three locks, and pulled—
Daddy stood outside, hand raised like he was gonna knock.
“Sue,” he said, blinking. “Baby. Are you going somewhere?” He stepped into the apartment and took the sack from Mommy’s shoulder. A woman and man walked in after him. Daddy pawed through the bag while the woman eyed Mommy like she saw a cockroach.
“How did you find us?”
Ignoring her, Daddy pulled Amanda’s pajama bottoms out.
Amanda cowered behind Mommy, but he reached around and tousled her hair. “I see Mandy’s still got the gift.”
“We’re in trouble, baby. We need Mandy to help us, and then we’ll leave you alone.”
“You know it hurts her when you force her.”
“Not as much as bullets would hurt us.”
He walked them back to the kitchen table and sat Amanda down. “Go on, sweetie. Draw for us.”
The woman he’d brought made her gum pop. “Jimmy, we don’t got time for this.”
“Shut up,” he said, without turning around. He nodded toward the markers.
Amanda picked one up.
“Do what you do,” he said. “Daddy and his friends are going to the airport. What happens next?”
Amanda forced it. Her eyes rolled back and her hands moved across the paper. A trickle oozed from her nose to her lips, salty and coppery.
The lady sucked in a breath. “It’s Mr. H.”
Amanda looked down. An angry man, wearing a suit jacket over a T-shirt. A giant gun in his hand, and three bodies in front of him.
“Shit,” murmured the man who’d come with Daddy.
“Don’t curse in front of my kid, asshole,” he replied.
Mommy wiped Amanda’s bloody face with a wet kitchen rag. “Are you happy now?” The rag was rough and stung almost as much as the bleeding.
“Forget the airport,” Daddy said. “We’ll jack a car, head south on the interstate.”
What could she draw to make him leave? Amanda drew Daddy standing with his friends on the beach, standing under a huge blue and white umbrella.
“Nuh-uh. No faking.” He ran his thumb along her clean upper lip. “Do it for real.”
She drew again. Police cars on the highway. A crash. A puddle of red — not marker, but her own blood. Her head hurt, and a little vein in her forehead went boop boop boop.
The woman leaned in, casting a shadow. “We should bring them with us, Jimmy. In case we need hostages.”
Mommy slapped Daddy’s shoulder. “Dammit, she’s your daughter.”
The man who’d said the S-word took Mommy’s wrist and pulled her away from Daddy.
Amanda lowered her eyelids halfway and looked up, like her friend Tommy when he rolled his eyes back on purpose to imitate her. She drew quickly, before Daddy could do whatever Mommy was scared of. Her hand fought to take over, to draw on its own, but she fought back, shaking, biting her lip, spitting out blood.
“What the hell? Is that new?”
She drew a motorboat. Daddy and the others inside. Her hand wanted to draw an explosion so she let it, but she used a green marker, not an orange one, and she peeked and yanked the paper so the green fireball was over land. Added a brown trunk. A tree, not an explosion. Mr. H. standing under it, shaking his fists at the disappearing boat.
“The dock,” said Daddy’s woman friend.
“The dock,” Daddy agreed.
Mommy looked at Amanda out of the side of her eye. She knew.
“We should take them with us,” said the man she didn’t know.
Amanda shoved the paper aside and started a new drawing. A boat with five people aboard. On fire. Sinking. She didn’t even need to fake it.
“Okay,” Daddy said. “I get it.”
He pulled Amanda into a hug. He smelled like cigarettes and his jacket zipper dug into her cheek. He didn’t let go for a long time.
He stood slowly. “All right, Sue,” he said, quickly like a deflating balloon. “We’ll be out of your hair. Take care of my baby.”
They left as Mommy cleaned Amanda’s face again with the stained rag. On their own, Amanda’s hands drew on.
A green field with white stones. Mommy and her, and faceless others.
All wearing black.