Mi Bella. Mi Princesa. Mi poco Isabella. Gone. I could not find the right words to say. I spoke two different languages but I could not allow any words to escape my lips. Trapped in my throat, the words were dry, they cut my throat. I tried to say the words out loud to myself because I knew that it would help me. I took a deep breath and finally said them. My daughter was taken from me.
I sat with my eyes fixed on the front door. I was waiting for my mamá to come home. I knew that I needed to phone the police but I was afraid. How did this even happen? She was playing outside, my darling Isabella. I always sat in the front room and watched her play with her toys. She was perfectly safe. I would never let anything happen to her. They have to believe me, I am not a bad mother. I just wanted my Isabella to laugh and play, enjoy this new house, this new country. We came here to give her a better life, a better chance, more than what was offered to me. I tried to understand how my Isabella was taken. At first I thought she had managed to escape from the garden somehow. But, she couldn’t unlock the gate; she was only four years old, turning five in a few weeks time. Someone must have opened it. These were all assumptions at first until I ran frantically down the street to find her.
An elderly man was walking towards me; I asked him if he had seen a little girl. With dark hair, brown eyes, a red dress with matching red bows in her pigtails. He nodded softly and my heart skipped up into my throat at this revelation. He told me that he saw a white man in his late thirties walking hand in hand with a little girl of that description. He also told me that they were walking towards a parked white van but he didn’t see anymore. I thanked him with a hug and we swapped addresses, his eyes locked onto mine.
‘I will pray for you and your daughter.’
‘Gracias, Gracias, Gracias. God bless you.’
I wanted to stay strong but I couldn’t contain my emotions for much longer. Tears started to fall down my cheeks, as I wandered back to my front door; I grasped the door frame to prevent me from falling. My mamá Georgina was due back from the store soon. I was afraid to handle the situation on my own. Where was Mi Bella? It was my job to keep her safe and all I knew was that someone was strange was holding her hand. It’s a thought that I could not bear. I was breathless as I heard my mamá open the front door. She looked at my face, stained with tears, Isabella’s ragdoll clutched to my chest. It was a mother’s instinct, she knew. Something terrible had happened and I needed her help.
It had only been a short while, living there. I and my chica moved to the states because we wanted a better life for my nieta Isabella. I knew when I got home from the store that something was wrong. The aura around my daughter screamed desperation, she needed my help. I clutched her hand tightly, my child was in pain and I didn’t know why. She took her time with her words, as I waited for them I held my breath. What had happened?
‘Isabella is gone.’
‘What do you mean she’s gone?’
Antonia was trying to catch her breath, I tried to calm her but she was breathing too quickly.
‘Sweetie, you need to calm down.’
‘She’s gone mamá. What are we going to do?’
‘We need to call the police, now! Did you leave the gate open?’
‘No we can’t. Of course not!’
‘We have to stay calm Antonia. I’m sure she just wandered off somewhere.’
‘She didn’t, I know what happened to her’ Antonia inhaled deeply.
‘Mamá, someone saw her when she was taken.’
Before we knew it the street was flooded with blue lights, the police had arrived and they were asking so many questions. Antonia and I were sat at the kitchen table, staring at the cold coffee swimming in our mugs. They kept asking us the same questions. Why were they sat here asking us? Why were they not looking for my nieta? The police man asked my daughter again if she knew what had happened. Her eyes were empty and distant; it was hard for her to accept. I was trying to be strong for her sake but inside my heart was showing the cracks of grief.
‘Madam, do you know anything at all that would help our enquiries?’
‘The man’ her voice was too soft for the police man to hear.
‘Sweetheart you need to speak up.’
‘Did you get a good look at this man?’ the police man asked.
Antonia shook her head as tears formed in her eyes.
‘Officer, could I have a moment alone with my daughter please?’
He nodded and as he left the kitchen, I turned to Antonia and hushed the tone of my voice.
‘What’s the matter with you?’
Antonia’s expression was blank.
‘They might get suspicious if you don’t co-operate. I know the last thing we need is the police snooping around but you have to answer their questions. Do you want to find Isabella?’
‘Of course I do!’
‘Well, answer their questions and there is a better chance that they will find her. I will bring the nice police man back in here and we can bring Izzy home, OK?’
‘OK’ Antonia wiped away the tears from her eyes and tried to find some composure.
The police man asked his questions and she replied with every detail that she could think of. She mentioned the neighbour, the white van, the man in his thirties and the description of what Isabella was wearing.
‘She was wearing red.’
He wrote down the word red on his notepad and circled it a few times. Now that they had everything they needed, it was time to find our Isabella.
It was something that I did every day, my morning walk. I liked my neighbourhood; the people were always friendly to me as I passed by. But one morning, I encountered a grumpy sort of fellow with a young girl. There was something unusual about the way he was holding her hand, he was almost dragging her. I hadn’t seen either of them before, but there were always families moving in and out of this neighbourhood. He glared at me with his steel eyes when my eyes met his.
As he walked past me, the little girl turned her head. I vaguely remembered her face from somewhere. Then it occurred to me that I had seen her playing in her front garden a couple of days before when I was walking past. I didn’t act on my suspicion and forgot all about it until a woman approached me on Hall Park Drive, half an hour or so later. Her face was fear stricken; her eyes were wide with desperation. She needed help. Her daughter had been taken and it didn’t take long for me to realise that the little girl I saw was hers.
I then felt a pang of guilt. Maybe I should have acted on my gut instinct when I knew something wasn’t right? I told the police everything I knew. Hopefully my description of the guy would help with their investigation. I hoped that they would find that little girl. It was such a sad time. Nothing had every happened like that before, it was a really nice neighbourhood.
I didn’t have my lollypop. The man told me I could have one. He promised me a red one. I said I wanted a red one cos it’s my favourite colour and it matched my dress. That’s where we were going, to get my lollypop. I think. I didn’t know any of these houses; they were different to the house that I lived in with my mamá and abuela. I liked that house a lot better than our old one. Our old one was tiny and I had to share a bed. I didn’t mind though, we always got to snuggle. Now I have my own bed. All to myself, my mamá says I am a big girl now so I don’t need to share. I do miss the snuggles though. I jump in mamá’s bed sometimes because I miss the snuggles.
I missed my mamá now. Maybe this man can take me back to her when we get my lollypop? I didn’t want to ask him, he had a frowny face. My mamá made the same face when I was bad. Did I do something bad? I only wanted a lollypop. My mamá didn’t like me having lollypops cos she says that all my teeth would all fall out. The man with the frowny face didn’t have many teeth. I think I had more teeth than him. His mamá didn’t tell him to brush his teeth like my mamá did, his teeth was yellow. My mamá helped me brush my teeth every morning after breakfast and before I went to bed, I didn’t want my teeth to be yellow. I don’t like yellow. My favourite colour is red. I was wearing my bestest red outfit today. I begged mamá to let me wear it. It was my favourite dress. I wish she didn’t put the red bows in my pigtails too tight, I want to pull them out. Maybe the man with the frowny face can help me?
‘Too tight’ I pointed to my pigtails but he ignored me so I shouted louder so he could hear me.
‘Pigtails too tight!’
‘Will you just shut up!’ his voice was scary and his frowny face was more frowny that it was before.
I didn’t say any more words because I didn’t want to hear his scary voice again. He stopped the van and looked at me.
‘We’re here.’ He held my hand tight as we got out of the van.
‘Yeah, yeah. It’s inside the house.’
I was excited about my lollypop but I was missing my mamá. I hope she doesn’t have a frowny face cos I didn’t tell her about the man. I will get my lollypop and the man will take me back to my mamá and abuela.
I couldn’t wait for her to go inside. She left her alone before. Why wasn’t she going inside? My hands were trembling with excitement; I was so close to getting what I wanted. Another beautiful little girl, and beautiful she definitely was. I was only watching her play in her front garden for a few moments. I wanted to make sure, to time it perfectly. As I edged closer to the house, I got a perfect view of her. Her hair was dark and so were her eyes. She had delicate Latina features, she was unfamiliar and this concept was alluring. I could hear the joyful laughter escaping from her mouth as she played with her dolls. I glanced at my watch, timing was everything. Her mother checked on her every ten minutes, almost like clockwork. If she was mine, I would never take my eyes off her for a second. I would give her the attention that she deserved.
My favourite part was watching them. I admired the innocence and delicacy of their nature, little girls faces were always perfect, undisturbed like a china doll. This little girl had rosy red lips; it was the first feature that I was drawn too. It was the day before that I spotted her. I didn’t want to wait but I knew that I must. I had to observe and make sure that she was the right little girl for me. I was a little bit too selective sometimes but I am glad because this little girl was worth waiting for.
The lollypop trick always worked. I never thought it would. The one time it didn’t work was a few months ago, when I lived in a different state. A little girl, with beautiful fiery red hair left her mum’s shopping cart to explore the sweet aisle. I waited patiently and offered to buy her a lollypop but her mother came around the corner before I even had a chance. I may have missed out on that little girl but this girl, with her foreign eyes and perfect red lips was a prize, another chance. She was easy to persuade but was going to be a handful I could tell.
I was almost at the house when she started complaining about the bobbles in her hair. It was always the little things. I preferred the quiet ones. The little girls that didn’t speak unless they were spoken too, they were my favourite little girls.
Why was there still no news from the police? I sat by the window, watching cars pass by and people walking with their dogs and children. My mamá was cooking in the kitchen. How could she think about food at a time like this? I could feel the insides of my stomach growling and purring with hunger but the thought of letting anything pass my lips made me feel sick. I had a salty taste on my tongue from all of the tears. My chest ached with sadness.
I knelt down to pray. I placed my hands together and squeezed my eyes as tightly as I could; I tried to resist the urge to cry again. I put my heart and soul into my prayer. I told God that I would never ever take my eyes off Isabella again and I begged for his forgiveness. I prayed for Isabella’s safety and I hoped that she would return and the police would find her unharmed. My mamá entered the room. She had no words to say. She knelt down next to me and prayed for Isabella with her own thoughts. We helped each other up and she went back into the kitchen and brought back some paella on a plate. The smell made my stomach flip with excitement but my brain was forcing me to reject it. I pushed it away from me.
‘Chica, you need to eat.’
I felt a rumbly in my tummy when we got to the man’s house. I wanted more than a lollypop. I decided to wait until we got inside to ask the man with the frowny face if I could have something to eat. It was darkerer than my house. Maybe he didn’t have enough lights? We have lots of lights in my house. My favourite is the lamp in my room. It had lots of colours, red, green, blue, red but not yellow. I didn’t like yellow.
I got to turn the lamp off all by myself when my mamá finished reading. I really really liked the book she read to me last night. It was a story about a bull named Ferdinand who liked to smell flowers. I like flowers too. Especially the red ones. Frowny face didn’t have any flowers in his house. He didn’t have many colours. Everything was grey, black and brown. Boring colours! I never had boring colours when I was colouring at home. I drawn a picture for my abuela of a mermaid and she put it on the fridge cos it was her favourite picture I had ever drawn. There was no boring colours in that picture.
I followed the man up some stairs. They were very big and hard to climb but I did it with no help. He took me into an even darker room and then closed the door and left me there. I didn’t want a lollypop any more. I wanted to go home. My eyes were crying cos I missed my mamá. I thought I was alone in the dark room until I heard a whisper and then another whisper. The curtain was pulled to let a tiny bit of sunshine in. There was another little girl and another. I counted on my fingers. Five little girls. Me. Add one. Six little girls. They had been crying too. I was only four but mamá said I was a big girl now. So with my big girl brain I counted. I cried. There was no lollypop. Was I going to see my mamá again?
I was in the kitchen, cooking my dinner in the microwave when I heard the new little girl crying. I knew it was her because the others knew better by now. I couldn’t stand the tears and more importantly, I didn’t want my neighbours to suspect anything. I paused the timer on the microwave and went upstairs; the room fell silent when I entered.
The foreign girl looked up at me. Her dark eyes were bloodshot with tears. They all did this, she will get used to it, just like the others. I didn’t have to say anything, my presence was powerful enough and I loved this feeling. They listened to me. They provided me with everything I would ever need. They were quiet, once they understood that I was in control. I was walking through the living room when I saw blue lights outside the window.
I pinned myself up against the wall and peered through a gap in the curtains, my palms were sweating and I could hear my heartbeat in my ears. The lights went past my house and once they had disappeared out of my sight, I drew a breath of relief.
I never experienced the feeling that I was going to get caught until now. Maybe this was one little girl too far? I was always careful with my methods. I was clever enough to get away with it. They wouldn’t catch me. I left no traces. But then, I remembered the old man and then I panicked.
As I was walking away from the house towards my van with the little girl, I noticed an elderly man walking in our direction. I looked down at the floor but I could feel his eyes scanning me, I gripped her hand tightly and got in the van. I looked in my mirror as I was putting the van into gear and he was still there, watching. I didn’t think of it at the time, only now as fear crept in my mind at the reality of blue lights passing my house. It might be time to move to a different state again. It would be harder to transport six little girls, last time I moved, I only had three. I glanced at the clock. It was seven thirty.
It was very quiet in the room when frowny face had left. I sat down on the floor when another little girl with brown pigtails moved the curtain more to let light in. I then saw all the faces of the five little girls. They was probably the same age as me. The girl with the brown pigtails sat down next to me, she was maybe older.
‘What’s your name?’
‘Isabella’ I told her that she could call me Izzy if she wanted too.
Her name was Charlotte. I like that name. She was very nice but very quiet.
‘Why are you whispering?’ she put her finger on my mouth.
‘He doesn’t like it when we’re noisy.’
‘Why are we in this room?’
‘None of us know but it’s better than being in the special room.’
‘What’s the special room?’ I didn’t want to go there.
They all went quiet again; I could hear Mr Clock ticking on the wall. We had a clock at home, when I was three I called him Mr Clock and my mamá laughed at me. I missed Mr Clock. I missed my mamá and abuela. I wanted to go home.
The pointy hand was on the twelve at the top and the little hand was on eight when we all heard Mr Frowny face come up the stairs. All of the little girls were scared but I was scared the most. I hid behind the big curtain but my feet could be seen so I sat down on the bed next to another little girl with yellowish hair, it was curly and long, she started to bite her fingers so I did too. He opened the door and grabbed Charlotte and pulled her arm until she nearly cried. When she left the dark room, I cried and so did all of the other girls. We cried quietly. They wouldn’t tell me what the special room was but I didn’t want to find out.
It had been a long time since I had seen my mum. I was stood at the school gates waiting for her when a grumpy looking man offered to buy me a lollypop. I thought he was a daddy of one of the other kids so I followed him. It was only when he locked the doors of the van that I got scared. I was alone in a dark room and after a couple of weeks a new girl would arrive, scared like I was when I got there. I was six when I was taken by him, I think I am seven now. It was only three weeks until my birthday and I know that I have been here longer than three weeks. I was the oldest. Marybeth was a little younger; the girl he brought today must be only four.
I was used to Phil’s special time. I was the only one that knew his name, he told me to say it when he was hurting me. He told me that I was his favourite. I learnt not to cry cos he would only hurt me more. I closed my eyes and thought about my mummy. She must miss me like I miss her. Every time I hear a car come past the house, I hope that it is her coming to find me. Once the special time is over he puts me back in the dark room with the other girls. I sit next to the girl in the red dress, the new girl. She was so little. So scared. I held her hand and we all sat in the quiet dark room, waiting for someone to rescue us. Some of the newest girls had hope, but I was losing it. Was I ever going to see my mum again? Was I going to play with my baby brother again? Was I going to go back to school? I really liked my school. My favourite part was the colouring, I really liked to colour.
My belly had been hurting for lots of days now. Phil hadn’t given us food for a while and when it did it wasn’t very nice, but bad food is better than none at all.
My heart shot up into my throat when the newspaper landed on the doormat with an unexpected thud. It had been twenty four hours since Isabella was taken and in that moment, as I saw a large faded photograph of her wearing her favourite dress on the front page the reality hit me. HAVE YOU SEEN THE GIRL IN RED? A young Latina girl aged four was last seen yesterday afternoon in her front garden of 74 Hall Park Drive. Police are looking for a white male possibly in his early forties, medium build, dark hair and stubble possibly driving a white van. Any enquiries contact Dallas Police department.
‘What’s that?’ her eyes were deep with naivety.
‘You don’t need to see it.’
‘They put her picture in there didn’t they?’ she was close to tears again.
‘Yes they did.’
‘Where did they even find that picture?’
‘I gave it to them chica. It was the most recent one I could find. Do you want a cup of tea?’
‘No, I don’t want a cup of tea. I want to go out there and look for her.’
‘Antonia, the police are doing their jobs. All we can do is sit and wait.’
‘I don’t want to sit and wait ma. I need to get out of this house. I need to look for my baby. I cannot stay in any longer and do nothing. Are you coming with me?’
‘I should stay here and wait by the phone in case the police call.’
‘OK, I will go out and look for her on my own then.’
‘Come on; be a little bit more practical now. Let the police find her.’
‘I can’t ma, I can’t. I have to go.’
I left my mamá in the kitchen and went into my bedroom to fetch a cardigan; I put on my shoes and walked out of the front door. I had no idea where I was going; I just had to find my little girl. I walked for miles and miles until I realised I was lost. We had only recently moved to the neighbourhood and all of the houses looked alike.
I wanted to panic but then I thought about my baby, out there somewhere, with someone strange. I went into her room last night. Everything was undisturbed, the bed was made, I peeled back the duvet cover and got inside. I grasped her pillow and absorbed her smell. Filling my lungs with the sweet and familiar scent, it triggered more tears. Her favourite book was sitting on the bedside table and it pained me to know that I wouldn’t be reading it to her. I wouldn’t be able to see the wide eye joy on her face when she picked out her favourite colours from the pictures or the way that she laughed when I impersonated Ferdinand the bull.
It was that image that motivated me to find my way back home; the sky had created every shade of blue before I made it back to my front door. Mamá was worried that I wasn’t going to return; she kept pulling me close and telling me that everything was going to be alright and the police would find her. I went to bed that night and stared up at the ceiling, my eyes wide awake in the infinite darkness, I prayed more times than I could count until my body gave in and I drifted off to sleep.
I woke the next morning with a splitting headache, feeling like I didn’t have any sleep at all. In a trance-like-state, I went downstairs to see my ma. She was sitting at the kitchen table with two policemen. The first thought that crossed my mind was… Did they find her?
‘Morning Antonia, the policemen have some news.’
‘Is it bad? It’s bad isn’t it?’
‘Shhh, just sit down and we can find out.’
‘Why didn’t you wake me when they got here?’
‘I didn’t want to disturb you.’
I sat down next to one of the policemen and listened as they told us what they had discovered.
‘We have communicated with other police stations in a few different states and your daughter isn’t the only little girl who has gone missing. There are six little girls in total, including Isabella, that have disappeared in the last two months. We have come to a possible conclusion that these cases may all be connected. We are trying to gather as much evidence as possible to try and connect the cases. Is there anything else you could possibly think of Miss Vazquez that could help us with our enquiries?’
I had no words so I simple shook my head. My stomach twisted. How could someone do something like this? She’s just a little girl. They are all just little girls. I couldn’t do anything to help them. I couldn’t rescue my darling Isabella from the cruel man that tipped my whole world upside down in one moment. They would find him. They had too.
The little girl in the red dress was in my prayers every night, for the entire time that was she was missing. It was another ordinary day. My life was built around routine and ever since my wife died, I found great comfort in knowing what I was doing and what I had to do. It was a Friday morning and I was doing the weekly food shop in my local grocery store. I was walking down the fruit and vegetables aisle when I saw a hooded figure. He was quite tall, medium build, with a dark sweatshirt on with a hood. He was trying to hide his face. I decided to follow him. This was completely out of character for me but my gut was aching again with suspicion. Something wasn’t right.
He was looking at the same shelf for a few minutes. He didn’t see me. But I saw him. He looked in my direction and I caught a glimpse of his face. It was him. The same guy. The one who stole that little girl. My heart was tumbling inside my chest and I knew that I had to think carefully about my actions. I pushed my trolley to the customer service desk and asked them if I could use the phone. I dialled 911 and called the police. I told the staff at the grocery store to make sure that he didn’t leave. It was a dramatic blur of blue lights and police men marching into a busy grocery store. I watched as they pushed him out of the front doors, his hands bound together by handcuffs, his guilty eyes looking down at the floor. It was in their hands and my part was over, well almost.
Although my heart was still pounding from my encounter, I knew that I wanted to be the one to tell the mother. I arrived at her front door later that morning. Her face hadn’t experienced joy for days and I was privileged to be the bearer of good news. The police still had to question the man about the whereabouts of the little girl but I was optimistic that the nightmare was almost over. A mother would be reunited with her child and everything would go back to normal.
That stupid old man. I knew that my mistake would cost me everything. I should have stayed at home with all of the girls but I needed to go to the grocery store. The cupboards were bare and now that I had six little girls, I had to buy more food. It all happened so fast. I saw the old man. I tried to make a run for it by before I knew it I was handcuffed and thrown in the back of a police car. They can ask as many questions as they want. I’m not telling them anything. I knew it was one little girl too far. I should have stopped at five but I gave into my selfish desires. There was something exotic about the little girl in the red dress. With her dark features and foreign qualities.
I gave in. I did it again. I was too weak to fight with the voice in my head. It always won. This time it ruined everything for me. This was it. I thought about the six little girls in my house. Waiting in a dark room, I would never enjoy their company again. I would never touch Charlotte’s smooth skin and see her innocent blue eyes widen when it was her turn for special time. She was my favourite. She always was, until I found the little girl in the red.
It pained me that I would never get to be with her like the others. Why didn’t I take her to my room for special time instead of Charlotte? I had the chance and I blew it. I guess I wanted her to be there a couple of days before I got to know her better. I wasn’t a complete monster. She was still upset and I wanted her to calm down a little. I had a little bit of hope that they would let me go. They had no proof that I stole those little girls. They only had the old man’s word for it. Maybe I will get out of here? Maybe I will get to be with the little girl who escaped my love?
The interview had started. I was sat in a grey room with two people, a tape recorder and a ghostly air of silence. They asked their questions but I said nothing.
Decided to upload a creative piece of work that I submitted for my university course this year. This is a short story titled The Girl in Red that was my final fiction piece, I hope you enjoyed reading it 🙂