Left for DeadBy: Lexi Cross
Fiona Mackintosh moved across the gift shop, picking up items that were out of place and putting them back in their proper spots. She paused to straighten a stack of birthday cards that had gone askew. The overhead lights caught the crystal beads of a display of bracelets and glittered as she approached. She moved the bracelets, spreading them out evenly along the bar they hung from.
The clock clicked over to 9 p.m. and it was officially closing time. She flipped over the sign on the door, locked it, then went behind the counter to take care of the cash register. After taking the drawer to the office, she counted and jotted numbers into the books, making sure everything came out perfectly. She took the time to sort the money just how she knew her manager, Sue, liked it, turning all the bills to face the same way, unfolding the dog eared corners so that the stacks sat as neat and flat as possible inside the safe.
Next, Fiona made a note of several items that she noticed were running low and should be ordered soon. This wasn’t part of her job exactly, but she found ways whenever she could to go above and beyond, hoping to earn the position of assistant manager, which had been vacant for some time now. She thought Sue really liked her from the way she always took time to explain things and teach her. She always complimented Fiona’s displays and often noted how good her work was.
She locked the office door with a hopeful glow in her heart. She could really use the pay raise that came with the assistant manager position. It hadn’t been easy moving here. She knew no one and had her daughter to think of. Who would watch Sophia while she worked all day? But Red Hills had been the picture of southern hospitality when she’d arrived, bruises still visible around her eye and on her cheek from her ex, Sam.
It had been Sue who first helped her. Fiona had rushed into the gift shop to buy an umbrella in a sudden downpour. Sophia had found her way to the toys and was begging for a new doll when Sue came to ask them if they needed help. Fiona knew she couldn’t afford the doll and had to take it from her four-year-old with tears in her eyes. Sue had seen this and given her the doll. They’d chatted a bit and before she knew it, Fiona’s life story was poured out on this poor woman.
Sue lived alone and insisted that they stay with her until they found their own place. For three weeks, Sue and Fiona got to know each other. Fiona started working at the gift shop, and a neighbor watched Sophia during the day. Life had finally started to come together. Now Fiona and Sophia had a tiny apartment. It wasn’t much, but it was theirs, and they had worked hard to make it home.
As she walked back through the store, Fiona’s eyes fell on the display of dolls that Sophia had so loved, and she smiled, thinking of how Sophia hadn’t let the pink-dressed, yellow-haired doll go for days. She was likely sleeping with it right now, clutched tight to her chest on Jeanine’s couch, waiting for her mommy to come and take her home.
Fiona flicked out the lights and set the alarm before locking the door behind her. In her car, she blasted music and sang along, enjoying the cool evening air tossing her hair around. She turned left and onto a stretch of highway that was heavily wooded. She was on guard for animals on this street, glancing often at the sides of the roads for glowing eyes that might run in front of her.
She glanced to the right and saw a mound on the ground. At first it looked like a dead animal. She couldn’t make out any part of it, but as she got closer and the object was washed for an instant in bright headlights, she saw a boot.
It had happened so fast that she had already passed the spot before she realized it was a person lying there. She pulled into the gravel, stomping hard on her brakes.
With her phone tight in her hand, she approached the person. It looked like a man from what she could see of his blond hair and jeans. But there was no movement, and she didn’t want to run up to a dead body in case it was a gruesome sight. Her stomach already felt queasy with the thought.
“Hello?” she called out tentatively when she was about twenty feet away.
No response. She tapped the flashlight feature on her phone and shined the light on him. It definitely was a him. Blood trickled from multiple places on his face. He’d been beaten badly. His eyes nearly swollen shut, his lip split and thick, purple splotches across his cheek bones. The sight gave her chills, thinking of how many times she’d had injuries like these after a night of Sam’s anger.
She inched closer, trying to see if his chest was moving.
He lay on his side, half curled into a ball. His black shirt was torn and shiny with blood. His jeans, also ripped in places, were dirty and bloody. A black leather jacket was hanging from him in shreds.