Aphelion Issue 293, Volume 28
September 2023
Long Fiction and Serials
Short Stories
Flash Fiction
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by Lori R. Lopez

They all left him.
Even the cats.
Moving to another yard,
the ingrates. It was their fault
he took the girl.
She would be a substitute
for all of them.
Kids, wife, pets, brother, friends,
parents. One way or another
they left. Deserting him.
Is that fair? Is it kind or
Why then should he consider
anyone else's feelings?
He drove around with her,
sweating, eyes nervously checking
the rear and side mirrors
for flashing lights, any sign that
somebody knew what he did.
Knew about her. He glanced over.
She sat there, incredibly small,
delicate, completely vulnerable.
It struck him like a smack to the head —
the way his mother dished out discipline —
how defenseless children were,
away from their herd.
Their huddle. Everyone had one,
a protective circle. Except, of course,
him. He was different like that.
But in his case it wasn't by choice.
He let her choose didn't he?
Children were like domesticated animals,
at the whim and mercy of
smarter wiser beings to be gentle
and care for them instead of taking
advantage, doing the opposite.
Look at her, so patient and petite.
So calm. He couldn't harm her,
not for an instant.
He just wanted company.
Maybe this wasn't the best way
to go about finding it!
Bleak, guilty, frantic orbs
gaped at her, fishlike.
What had he done?
Shadows crossed his features
as the stranger,
this desperate desolate man
in a rumpled suit
who had just been stripped of
the career he put before everything,
steered through city lanes in horror —
wild-eyed, losing his grip
on Reality. Sanity. Afraid of himself.
A crazed lunatic.
A madman.
I didn't know what I was doing,
Your Honor.

Who would believe it?
He was average, a little offbeat,
introverted, twenty pounds overweight.
The poster image of a child-stalker,
a creep, a pervert!
He just didn't want to be so bereft!
Who would believe him?
She did. She was so trusting,
so mild and sweet-natured.
Untarnished by the Big Bad World.
She didn't know him,
yet believed he was a nice person
who wanted to give her a ride.
Take her home. He didn't say
which home. And now
her welfare, safety, future —
all were in his hands!
He couldn't be responsible.
It was too much.
He had not done a very
commendable job
with the lives of others,
or they wouldn't have left
would they?
In fairness, Mom and Dad
grew old. He wasn't to blame
for that. Perhaps a few gray hairs.
Not the whole batch. And not
the Cancer, the Stroke.
He wasn't a terrible son. He simply
wasn't a good one.
There were too many things
like that, too many unraveling threads
going through his mind.
If he could stop, turn things around.
Go back and make it right.
Could that be possible?
No. Too late. What was done
was done as Granddad would say.
"You can't undo a mistake.
You can only try not to do it again."
Still, if he braked his economy car
and let her out…
No! He couldn't abandon her.
Somebody worse might offer help.
Maybe the best thing,
the answer to this dilemma,
would be to keep his word
and take her home.
The right home.
Did she know where that was?
Luckily for her (and for him)
she did.
A perspiring stranger
in a disheveled suit
walked her to the door
hand in hand.
Shaking, he rang a bell and waited.
Making sure it was not
the wrong home.
Mother and child hugged,
the girl lifted and loved.
No questions.
Why are you late?
No accusations.
Did you take my little girl?
He held his tongue also —
rather than ranting
"She shouldn't be alone!
The streets are too treacherous!
Anything might happen!"
He quickly mumbled, "Keep her safe."
A grateful mom squeezed the girl tight
and gazed at him, appraising…
A matter of seconds lasted an hour.
He tried to stand straighter,
his shoulders less slumped,
a semblance of respectable.
The impossible occurred.
Nodding, thanking him,
she softly closed the door.
A stranger dallied on the porch,
astonished. Prepared to pay for his
misdeeds. All of them.
Instead, he sighed and plodded
to his car at the curb.
Uncertain, peering at the house,
he climbed in and drove off,
engine clanking. The sun beaming.
A tentative smile crossed his face,
then widened to a grin.
Maybe his grandfather,
always right, always telling others
his opinion,
had been mistaken.
Just this once.
Maybe a bad deed
could be undone.

© 2023 Lori R. Lopez

Author photoLori R. Lopez is a peculiar author, poet, illustrator, and wearer of hats. Verse and stories have appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies including The Sirens Call, Spectral Realms, Weirdbook, The Horror Zine, Space & Time, HWA Poetry Showcases, JOURN-E, Impspired, Aphelion, Altered Reality, Dead Harvest, and California Screamin (Foreword Poem). Books include The Dark Mister Snark, Leery Lane, An Ill Wind Blows, The Witchunt, The Fairy Fly, and Darkverse: The Shadow Hours (nominated for an Elgin Award). Some of Lori's poems have been nominated for Rhysling Awards. You can learn more about her at the website shared with two talented sons: https://www.fairyflyentertainment.com

Find more by Lori R. Lopez in the Author Index.