“Am I in trouble?”
The boy raises a thumb to his mouth. Chews. There’s a layer of blood under the nail and he licks at it. Wipes it clean. The detective puts the boy’s file on the table. Flips to the last page.
“No, son. We’re just going to talk. Have a little conversation.”
The boy nods. Studies his fingers. He was brought in an hour ago, calm and quiet. Hands covered in blood. When the police found him he’d waved, smiling. Red hand against the blue sky.
“This girl. You met her at the foster home?”
The boy shrugs. Looks up. He holds the detective’s eyes and the older man shivers. Catches himself. Taps his red pen against the file and waits for an answer.
The boy sucks a fingertip. Another. He may be 12, 13. The detective can’t be sure. His file has a few notes — where he’s lived, how long. Why he had to leave. But there’s no birth certificate. No parents. He’s come from nowhere and now he’s here.
“And how long were you living there?”
The boy spreads his fingers, counts them off. Holds up two dirty digits and a clean one.
The detective uncaps his pen. Writes it down. Three days. Looks back at the notes. A year. Six months. Two weeks. A runaway. And escape artist. But this — this is something else.
Across the room the boy rubs his palms together. Sheds dead skin.
“How did you end up in that room with her?”
There’s a wet sound as the boy pulls a finger from his mouth. Swallows. He looks up and the detective sees something behind his eyes — impatience, maybe. He isn’t afraid, but he doesn’t want to be here. Doesn’t like to be trapped.
“They locked us in. For stealing.”
The detective reaches for his pen, changes his mind. There’s a spark behind the boy’s eyes now. A slow burning. If he looks away he’ll lose it.
“How long were you in there?”
The boy bites a nail. Another.
“Maybe an hour.”
The boy wipes away a line of spit from his chin. Sucks a knuckle.
“And no one came to check on you?”
The boy stops, looks up at the detective. Then switches hands and chews a nail. Licks a thumb.
“They never do.”
The detective leans in. Feels the heat of the fire.
“Then how did you get out?”
When the boy opens his mouth there are bits of red between his teeth.
“I made my own door.”
The detective checks the file again. Flips back, back to the earliest reports. Won’t sleep with the door closed. Tries to pick the locks. He wonders how the boy feels now, here. Trapped in a holding room. Back to the wall.
The boy smiles. Wipes his palms on his pants. When the detective meets his eyes he can see the embers there.
“I had help.”
The detective turns back to the picture. The crime scene. He studies the red square on the wall. The handprints stamped around a painted red dot. A doorknob. He turns the picture to the boy and points a finger at the figure on the floor.
“Did you kill her, son? Did you draw that door?”
The boy pauses to look at the picture. Shakes his head. Bites at the space between his thumb and finger.
“Who did, then?”
A slime trail as the boy pulls a thumb from his mouth. Wipes it against his sleeve.
The detective turns the picture around. Looks at the girl again. She’s younger than the boy. Pretty. Her red hair is tangled, bright as blood. Her eyes are open but there’s nothing behind them. No fire. No light. The only bright spot in the picture is her hand. The one that’s been cut off. The one she’s holding in her other hand.
The boy pulls two fingers from his mouth. Wipes them dry. Mimes a slice.
The detective leans in. Squints. Looks at the girl’s wrist, the severed one. He sees the rough scissor cuts, the tangles of skin. He looks again at the shape she’s drawn on the wall. The red box. The door. His finger traces the handprints left behind.
“What did you make her do?”
When the boy stands up the detective flinches. Gets to his feet. He is three feet taller than the boy and twice as wide. Yet his hand reaches for his gun. Wants to put out the raging fire.
“Watch it now, son. You’ve got blood on your hands.”
The boy smiles, white teeth gleaming. He holds his palms up in the air and the detective can see he’s licked everything clean. There’s not a trace of blood left.
“Not any more.”
The detective unholsters his gun. Wraps his finger around the trigger and aims. Fires. Shoots himself through the wrist. Then he walks to the far wall and draws a square in his own blood. A doorknob. Slumps to the floor as the fire fades from his eyes.
This time the boy uses his sleeve. Opens the door slowly, quickly. Steps out into the last bright moments of the sunset. Then he wipes his hands against his shirt one last time and walks away.
Tina Wayland is a freelance copywriter, part-time fiction writer and full-time mom to a great wee kid.