The fourth 200 words of a 1000 word story, to be written in five parts by five different authors. From a Flash Fiction challenge in Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds blog.
He had already looked in the frozen section. From there, he rushed past people toward the front of the store, past the pharmacy.
“Anthony,” he yelled in a panic.
At the end of the aisle, he looked frantically around the corner. Shoppers shuffled with their items and queued for purchase.
Joe parted the people with his hands and maneuvered down the row of checkout lines. The lottery machines usually held Anthony’s interest.
Each step, he squinted toward the machines, hoping to see the top of Anthony’s head appear. An elderly woman drove a motorized cart in his path and he stopped just before knocking himself into the metal basket.
A rush of warmth filled him. His stomach lurched.
“Anthony,” he yelled in frustration.
The woman in the cart looked up at him calmly.
“Oh, I’m sorry, I’m in the way, aren’t I?”
“Yes, actually,” he said, his gaze darting from the machines to the cart.
He grabbed the front end of the cart and pulled it back, so he could quickly scramble around. As he approached the machines, he saw there was no small boy staring up at them and checking the flaps for freebies.
“Anthony,” he yelled again, this time not as loud and much more desperately.
He looked to the doors, then back into the aisles of the store. A man in a red vest worn by the store employees approached him.
“Sir, is your son missing?”
Joe looked at the concerned brow line of the employee.
“Yes, yes he is.”
Joe’s eyes darted around the aisle full of shocked and concerned faces. He began to feel light-headed.
The man in the red vest turned to another store employee standing next to him.
“Get to the front of the store. Tell Julie that we need to lock the store-down ASAP. Tell her we have a missing child. She’ll call the police. Let me deal with the static.”
The employee immediately headed to the front of the store.
Joe was feeling his legs begin to weaken. The man noticed immediately and put his arm around Joe.
“Sir, I know that this is difficult, but we are going to find your son. Can you walk?”
“I think so,” Joe replied.
“We’ll get to the front office, I’m sure that the police will be here any moment.”
The scattered murmurs from the people gathered vibrated inside of Joe’s head.
A blonde woman in a store vest quickly approached Joe and the man. Moving along side of her was another woman who looked to be a store customer.
“Julie, are the police on their way?” Miers asked.
“I think we should move this to the back of the store,” Julie responded.
Miers and Joe both stopped walking.
“Did you find my son?”
The female customer now standing next to Julie stepped forward and put her arm around Joe.
“This is Kathy Cardona,” Julie said softly. “This is his wife.”
The woman looked up at Miers.
“There is no missing boy,” she said. “Our son died six months ago.”
“What? Are you insane?” Joe looked at Kathy. “And who are you anyway? Look, I don’t know who she is, but I really need to find my son so if you don’t mind…” Joe said, turning from them and starting to look around again.
“Joe, wait,” Kathy said, following him.
Julie and Miers stood there, dumbfounded.
“Joe, stop,” Kathy yelled, reaching for Joe’s arm.
Swinging around to her, Joe said: “I don’t know you. Leave me alone. I really need to find my son. If you want, you can help. He’s about so high” Joe reached his hand at chest level, “has blond hair and he’s wearing a GI-Joe T-shirt _”
“Stop it, Joe. You’re scaring me. Did you take your meds this morning?”
“What meds? What are you talking about?”
Suddenly, Joe’s hands started trembling and his eyes lost focus. He started remembering things in flashes.
A lake. Sounds of tires screeching on pavement. Anthony screaming from the back seat. A broken windshield. An airbag in his face. “Mr. Ward, everything will be alright,” said a woman. “We’ll take your son in custody. Agent Porter will meet you at the hospital for debriefing. Don’t say anything to anyone until you speak to Agent Porter. Do you understand?” Joe remembered nodding to the woman he now remembered as Agent Manning. The woman who just told the store’s employees she was Kathy, his wife.
Part 4, by me:
"Think, honey," urged Agent Manning, carefully feigning a look of anguished concern. "Remember the accident? The hospital? You had a head injury, and Anthony --" she paused for a practiced sob. "-- Anthony didn't make it. I know it's been hard, but you need to remember." She gave the word the precise stress needed to reinforce the post-hypnotic suggestion. This had better work, she thought. He shouldn't be experiencing even partial memory leaks, not this soon. Hopefully the situation could still be contained...
He blinked slowly, the look of wary suspicion fading, replaced by recognition, and guilt. "K-Kathy?" he whispered. "What did I --?" He looked around at the store staff, the curious customers. "Oh god, it happened again, didn't it? I'm so sorry!"
She breathed a sigh of relief. "That's OK, sweetheart, I'll take you home."
Outside, she glanced up the street to see if her backup was close. They'd need to examine him again, make sure the blocks were holding... But something slammed into the back of her head, stunning her.
When she regained her senses, she was pressed up against the brick wall of an alley, arms twisted painfully behind her back. "I remember everything," Joe hissed. "Now where's my son?"