Swedish Fish and the Day I Nearly Vanished

The walk from my farm into the tiny village of West Hebron was at most, one mile. I was ransacking the drawers of my bureau that stood between two of the large windows in my bedroom. Only briefly, I paused to look across the road at the horses and then a warm breeze gently lifted the sheer curtains, calling me to walk.

At ten-years-old, I often spent my summer days exploring or playing with friends. One particular friend was my neighbor, Tracy, who was three years older than me. It was Tracy who I would meet for this walk to the Bedlam Corners General Store. My blue nylon Nikes scuffed along the side of the road, kicking up dust as I stopped to say hello to our horses. My fingers stroked the velvet nose of Tank who nodded his head in farewell before trotting off to follow me along the fence-line. That’s as much as I remember about the first half of our walk to buy a bag of penny candy.

The General Store’s counter was lined with glass jars full of penny candy. My personal favorite was the jar of Swedish fish. On that day, I filled my small brown paper bag with the appropriate amount of fish in exchange for my foraged pennies, stepped from the darkened interior of the store and into the warm late afternoon sunshine. Tracy and I began our walk toward home. We were moving slowly, talking through gummy mouthfuls of sweet, chewy candy when a blue van drove past. The woman in the passenger seat stared at us as the van crept past.

Tracy and I crossed the road to look at the water that flowed beneath the bridge at the bottom of the hill. The willow branches swayed gently, their rustling leaves were all that we heard. The tiny village was quiet. As we pushed ourselves away from the railing of the bridge and resumed our walk, the blue van pulled to a quick stop beside us. I was closest to the road and somewhat startled by the sudden reappearance of this unfamiliar vehicle. I remember seeing the face of the woman in the passenger seat as she twisted herself to yell at someone in the rear of the van. Her brown hair was limp and stringy. Her eyes held a disarming look of rushed panic. In the seconds it took for me to absorb her and her actions, the side door of the van violently slid open and then loudly jerked to a stop when it reached the end of its track.

Inside, a man with dark, greasy hair and a gaunt face was hanging onto the handle. He held the handle as he moved to the very edge of the van and lunged at me with his free arm. The van had begun moving forward in a slow roll when he grabbed my left arm along with a portion of my long, brown hair. I remember being pulled toward the open door of that van and thinking simply, they look so dirty. Their hair is greasy and I don’t know them. In the seconds that this was happening, I searched the faces of three strangers who were glaring at me with an odd hunger in their eyes. At once, I knew that they were taking me. Despite my innocence, instinct told me that they were bad people. As I attempted to pull away, I realized he hadn’t gotten a firm hold on my arm. He floundered. The van was too far from the side of the road and he hadn’t been able to get close enough to pull me in. I know, because he yelled those very words to the driver. The woman was still twisted in her seat and yelling at the man holding my arm, “Hurry the fuck up! Get her!”

courtesy Google image search

Both of Tracy’s hands firmly wrapped around my right arm and she pulled with all of her might. For a few moments in time, I hovered between the gaping hole on the side of a rusted blue van and the firm grasp of my thirteen-year-old neighbor.

As if in slow motion, I turned my head in her direction and saw alarm and determination in her expression. My head prematurely jerked to a stop mid-turn because his hand, the one that was gripping my arm, was also tangled in my hair. In that frozen moment, I looked behind Tracy’s head and watched the sunlight playing through the long, wispy leaves of the willow trees. I watched the long, graceful branches as they painted ripples into the water of the stream and worried that would be the last beautiful moment I’d ever see. Even though I had no idea what they wanted with me, some base instinct told me what they wanted was ugly.

courtesy of Google image search

Tracy’s feet stepped back from the sandy roadside and found purchase on the grass behind her, enabling her to pull with more force than the man in the van could muster from his awkward position. As Tracy tugged my arm, Mrs. Henry’s screen door slammed closed. The banging sound caught my attention and I watched her hurry to the edge of her porch yelling, “LEAVE THOSE GIRLS ALONE!” I saw another woman exit the house and lean across the railing to get a better view.

I turned then, to face the man in the van, and felt his fingers loosening. I looked down at his hand as Tracy pulled me from his reach. Burned into my memory is the vision of his dirty fingers wrapped and tangled in my hair then finally, slowly receding back into the van. As suddenly as it had appeared, the van accelerated and sped away from us. As it did, the man holding the handle was thrown backwards into the depths of the van and the sliding door slammed shut.

My memory becomes vague after his fingers left my hair. I was probably in shock. I recall sitting on Mrs. Henry’s porch and that she gave me a glass of iced tea. She smoothed my hair and asked if she could call my parents for me. Only later did I realize that I had lost my bag of Swedish Fish.

I periodically wonder what they would have done with me, then I shudder and thank God that he didn’t have a firm grasp.
I have never written about my attempted abduction before and returning to those terrifying moments this afternoon as I wrote, was difficult. I’ve never let go of the fear or dark curiosity of what exactly they planned to do.

While I have never forgotten that day, I decided to write about it following a nightmare that I had last weekend. I wrote about that nightmare here shortly after I woke, while the emotion and fear was fresh. A week later, that dream still haunts me. After I posted Nightmares, so many readers responded with their own fears and experiences. One of those writers is my good friend Patty from Another Cookie, Please! Today Patty wrote about the true and dreadfully frightening attempted abduction of her then three-year-old son in a post titled In the Blink of an Eye.

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