The Problem of Annie’s Map
by M D Flyn
Ike watched the child coloring. Little fingers with dirty nails wrapped around a single red crayon, she carefully placed each line on a torn piece of newspaper. Hunched over the flat rock, not quite settling, ready to run at any point. She drew trees, hills. A round thing, water. Ike leaned forward as she drew tiny red waves on her picture.
“What’s that?” Ike pointed at the waves.
She flinched when he leaned forward.
“What are you drawing?” Ike used a soothing voice to try to keep the girl from bolting. “Those wiggly lines, what are those?” Pointing again he kept his body relaxed, leaning away.
She glanced at him, then went back to her picture. Those smooth cheeks and clear grey eyes reminded him of how much he had lost.
He glanced at the people huddled around the fire. They had agreed to share the camp for the night. But they encouraged him to go his separate way come morning. The girl didn’t seem too attached to them, based on how far away she had settled to draw.
She spoke without lifting her head. “I’m not supposed to talk to tricky people. Are you tricky?”
Ike held up his hands. “I’m just sitting here,” he replied. “I’m not bothering anyone. You’re drawing a nice picture and I asked what it was.”
Tucking her snarled blonde hair behind her ear, she shuffled her dirty feet. “The cave where the water is. It’s a map. A treasure map. I still have to put in the X.”
“A map, you say? A cave with water would be some treasure. Are you making the map for pirates?”
“No, I’m making it for Clare, the woman who is taking care of me.” She nodded towards one woman with pinched features. “She wants to know how to get to water.”
Ike tried to keep his tone nonchalant, “you know where there’s water?”
“Sure, we lived near that cave. Before. I remember how to get there. Clare says they’ll take care of me if I can find the water again.”
If she did know where there was water, that would take pondering. What should he do? Follow the group? Take the girl? Steal the map? Forget it and go on his way?
He didn’t dare let the chance of water pass by. But was he at the point where he could kidnap a little girl? Possibly he was.
Stretching out his jean-clad legs he tried to look peaceable. “You known Clare long?” he asked casually.
“Nah, they just found me. I don’t really like her. But she feeds me.”
Ike glanced at her scrawny limbs, not as chubby as a girl her height should still be. He guessed that she hadn’t had a lot to eat in a while. He considered offering to “help” the girl. Would that spook her, or make it easy. Would it be better to snatch her and ask forgiveness later?
“Well it’s nice of her to feed you. Tell you what, I have something in my pack if you fancy a snack.” He held his hand out toward his bulging pack in a silent question.
“Are you being tricky?” She peeked at him from her tangle of hair.
“Nah, I like to share with my friends. We’re friends, right?” He moved over to his pack, being careful not to make any sudden movements. Unclipping the top, he dug around until he felt the right bag. That bag was for a special occasion. But turning a treat into a resource to tame the child was a good thing.
Ike pulled out the bag of chips and waggled it at her.
A happy, “oh” squeaked out and grey eyes lit up.
Ike opened the bag and pulled a couple chips. Keeping his hand down low, he offered them to her.
She glanced over at the others to see if they were interested in what she was doing. Their chatter was a low hum, not raising their heads, not checking on her. She took a step closer to him, reached out, and snatched the chips. Sidling to her rock she stuffed the chips in her mouth, chomping away. The rumbling noise she made was almost a purr, and Ike wondered if she had gone too feral to be worth trying to domesticate.
“Whoa now, you’re supposed to taste them. Chew them slowly and make it last. I have more. But who knows when the next bag will be.” He held out more chips.
This time she grabbed the chips, but then squatted within arm’s reach. Clutching the others she ate one chip. The corners of her mouth turned up as she chewed. Ike got a glimpse of the little girl she might have been, a pretty little thing with a mop of blonde hair. A reflection of things gone.
“What’s your name?” he gave her a couple more chips. “Friends call me Ike.” He kept an eye on the group as he waited for her to answer.
Swallowing, she grabbed the other chips before answering. “Annie.”
Ike decided kidnapping wasn’t in him. He thought his next best choice was to ask the girl to go with him, and hope she didn’t start screaming.
“It seems to me, Annie, that those people aren’t taking care of you properly. You’re too skinny, and dirty, and your hair should be brushed. I had a little girl, just like you. I know how to care for a girl right. You come with me, and we’ll go to that cave together. We’ll leave them to do their own thing.”
Ike swallowed as she stared at him, frozen. She would start the screaming now.
“What was your daughter’s name?”
“What happened to her?”
“I was out looking for food and bad things happened to her.”
“My father went out looking for food. He never came back. Then my mother went out looking for him. I think bad things happened to them.” Chin quivering, the fire reflected on the tears in her eyes. One slipped out and left a track in the dirt smudged on her face.
“Well I’m sorry you lost your parents, as I’m sorry I lost my daughter. Those people there should be taking care of you because you need someone to. Not because you will show them where the water is.” He pointed at the others, several of whom had already fallen asleep. He lowered his voice, “Maybe we can be a team. You help me, I help you.”
She looked at the others. Another tear streaked down her young face. Turning to her map Annie made her finishing touches. She turned back to Ike and held it out.
This story came from a prompt on Terrible Minds.