This is one of those real but surreal tales, one of those that make people with children shiver. Beyond that initial chill, the unexplained effects in this story make people tinkle with nervous laughter, because, as everyone knows, these things happen only in fairy tales or in Stephen King novels. But, deep down inside, we all know that these things really happen. Something has happened in everyone’s life that cannot be explained. We’ve all been there, at one time or another — or we know someone who has. But people learn, early on, not to talk about those things, lest they be thought of as “gone round the bend”, or worse yet, “the old woman that lives by herself with a houseful of cats”. Some call it a twilight zone, some just coincidence, and others say it’s a guardian angel or sixth sense that leads us to do (or not to do) what our character in this story does. Some say it’s God, some say a higher power, some say it’s our soul speaking softly in our ear to ward us away from danger. Whatever you choose to call it, know that this story is real: the characters are real, the circumstances are real, and the outcome, which you shall see, is real.
The day was warm, even edging toward hot. At least for Washington State, where 80 degrees is sweltering. It was a wondrous Saturday afternoon in July, and the condo parking lot was full of people, happily enjoying a day off work, with gorgeous sunshine and blue skies to boot~~a rare combination for this part of the country. Cars were being washed, somebody’s boom box was blaring Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band’s “Shame on the Moon“, children zipped by on their skate boards, dodging cars and people, amazingly missing both. Men, usually seen only in tailored suits and ties, were now bare-chested, sporting cut-off jeans, deeply engrossed in bringing their chrome-rimmed wheels to a mirrored shine. Women, otherwise seen in broad-shouldered, padded jackets and pencil skirts, sloshed about washing their cars in flip-flops, short-shorts and halter tops, hair clipped in loops on top of their heads, or hanging wet and loose to their waists. High-pitched shouts and squeals of glee could be heard from smaller children and teenagers in the nearby community pool.
Two little girls sat on a sidewalk, making stick-figures on the cement with colored chalk. Occasionally, a giggle erupted as they pointed at a shape they saw in the clouds, then resumed their chalk-frescoe version of the cloud-man/beast seen moving across the sky. They giggled again.
“They keep changing shapes, Mommie!” The little girl looked up at a young 30-something woman, who stood with keys in hand, purse slung across her shoulder.
“That’s what clouds do, Honey! You’ll have to draw fast to keep up with them!” The little girl’s mother peered up at the clouds. “It looks like an elephant, now, don’t you think?”
The little girl’s nose scrunched, as though something stung when she sniffed. She squinted for a long while at the clouds in the sky, then frowned. “The bad man in the blue truck,” she mumbled quietly.
“What did you say?” Her mother kneeled, put her hands on her little girl’s shoulders. “Look at me, Tanya. Tell me what you just said.” Tanya’s mother looked from her daughter to her little friend. “Emilie? What is this about?” Emilie stared, blank-faced, at the chalk frescoes on the sidewalk.
Tanya’s mother looked around the parking lot at the neighbors. Everything seeming so normal.
“The Blue Truck Man, Mommie. Remember?” Tanya’s eyebrows knitted together. For someone only six, she looked old, thought Tanya’s mom. With a sudden start, she stood.
“Oh, Honey!! The Blue Truck Man!! Oh, honey, I am so sorry!” She reached down and lifted Tanya up into a bear hug. “I forgot, I forgot.” She looked up at the clouds again, and pointed. “See, Tanya? He’s gone now. He’s just a rabbit, now!” She tried to make Tanya laugh. But Tanya didn’t laugh.
Emilie spoke up, still looking somber. Way too somber for a six-year-old. “Remember the paper the school sent home? About the Blue Truck Man? I think Tanya’s talking about that Blue Truck Man.”
Tanya’s mom recalled the two notices the school had sent home over the past six weeks. It warned parents of three, separate, alleged kidnapping attempts of three young children in the area. The only consistent, specific piece of information available was that a man, driving a blue truck of unknown make, model or year, had stopped these children, asking for directions. His aggression seemed to be escalating. On the last attempt, he had actually gotten out of his truck and approached a little girl, who had, fortunately, run, screaming and shouting, to a nearby home and banged on the door. Apparently, this had frightened the man off, because he “speeded away in the blue truck”, as reported by the little girl.
Tanya’s mom scanned her surroundings again. Unlikely, she thought, that anything like that would happen on a day like this, with so many people outdoors, so much activity going on, and during the bright sunshiny daylight. She tried to reassure herself, silently. She had to get to the pharmacy for medication, that afternoon. Surely, the kids would be fine, especially with Tanya’s big sister in the condo next door. Momentarily, she considered loading the children up in the car and taking them with her, but they seemed to be having such a good time! Surely, she was over-reacting. People were all over the place!
“Stay here, guys. I’ll be right back. I’m going to talk to Annie.” She turned on her heels and marched up the sidewalk to the neighbor’s condo. The Cavanaughs were home. Their son answered the door.
“Hey, David, could I talk to your mom?”
“Sure.” David ambled slowly down the hallway, tripping on the scatter rug as he went. MOMMMMMMMM ! Annie’s MOMMMMMMMM wants to TAAAAAAAAAAALK to YOOOOOOOOOOO !” He shouted. It was a small condo.
“Ya don’t have to yell, David. I’m three feet away!” Ellen Cavanaugh came to the door. “Sorry. Wassup?” Ellen looked like she’d been sleeping.
“Hey, Ellen. Annie’s here, isn’t she?” She peeked around the corner into the living room.
“Uh, yeah. They’re back in David’s room. Playing Nintendo.” Clatter and bangs and shouts emanated down the hallway from David’s room. Ellen turned toward the hallway. “WANNA KEEP IT DOWN TO A LOW ROAR BACK THERE?!! THE NEIGHBORS AREN’T INTERESTED IN PLAYING NINTENDO WITH YOU GUYS !!” She turned back to Annie’s mom. “Why? You want Annie home?”
“Uh. No. I’m~ I’ve just got to run real quick to the pharmacy, maybe 10 minutes–15 tops. I wanted Annie to keep an eye on Tanya.”
“No bother. I’ll do it. Where is she?”
“Out on the sidewalk.” She grinned. “Becoming the next Leonardo da Vinci with Emilie.”
“No prob. I’ll be here.” She looked down at her rumpled clothes, self-consciously, then ran fingers through her bed-head hair. “I was just reading.”
“Thanks, Ellen. I won’t be long.”
“No worries. Go!” Ellen smiled and closed the door behind her.
Tanya’s mom hurried back down the fifteen steps from the second floor to the sidewalk. “Tanya, I’m gonna run to the drug store. Be back in a minute.”
Tanya looked momentarily panic-stricken, then Emilie piped up, “Tanya. C’mon. Draw the clouds with me.” Emilie seemed to have completely forgotten The Blue Truck Man.
“Annie’s at David’s, and Ellen says she’ll keep an eye out. Go up there if you aren’t comfortable out here.” Tanya’s mom scanned the parking lot once again. It remained full of people and activity. She sighed. She really was a worry-wart. It was a beautiful, bright, sunshiny Saturday, with everybody and God playing in the parking lot. This was just silly. She’d be back in ten minutes, and she was worrying about absolutely nothing.
She turned and trotted up the fifteen stairs to her condo on the second floor, stepped inside and grabbed her prescription, then turned and closed the door, keys in hand. She inserted the key and turned the deadbolt to the lock position. But something wouldn’t let her leave it there. She reinserted the key and unlocked the deadbolt. “Those little stinkers are going to run in here and get into major mischief the minute I leave, if I leave this door unlocked,” she muttered to herself. She started to reinsert the key to relock the deadbolt, but it would only fit halfway. Puzzled, she looked down at her keys to make sure she had the right one. She did. “That’s odd,” she thought. Again, she inserted the key, and this time it went in all the way. She turned the deadbolt to lock, then turned to leave, but couldn’t take a step down the stairs.
“Don’t do it,” she heard. The whisper startled her, sounding so real that she turned to see if someone was standing behind her. No one. “Hm,” she thought. Sounded like someone whispering to her, but perhaps she’d said it out loud and not realized it. She turned again toward the stairs. “Ja-net.” The whisper was sharp, urgent, the first syllable louder than the first. She jumped. She turned back to the deadbolt and unlocked it, then ran down the stairs to her car.
“Bye, hon! Remember, Annie’s right up there!” She pointed to the condo next to hers, a few feet away. “Back in just a few minutes!” The parking lot remained packed with summer people, enjoying the rare, Seattle Saturday. Janet pulled swiftly out of her parking slot and drove away.
When I returned from the drug store, I was greeted with a parking lot swarming with police cars, cops and two children sobbing hysterically. Despite the warm security of the summer day and the neighborhood full of people, that security had been false. Two young teenagers who happened to be bicycling by were the only witnesses. Everyone else was too preoccupied with their fun-filled activities and the carefree feeling that the summer day brought to notice. The two witnesses said that, just as I pulled out of my parking spot, a blue truck whipped from around the corner, sliding to a sudden halt into the space I had just left open. Tanya and Emilie were still on the sidewalk chalking frescoes. The man emerged from his truck, and the witnesses stated that it appeared he held something out toward Emilie and Tanya. He seemed to speak to them, a warm smile on his face. He wandered to the passenger side of his truck and opened the door. He gestured toward the girls, then toward the open door.
My daughter told me she screeched, “Emilie, it’s The Blue Truck Man!” And she grabbed Emilie’s hand, both scrambling, just ahead of him, up the fifteen stairs to the door of our condo. The witnesses stated he followed the girls, making a pounding ruckus as he went. He was a morbidly obese man, so he couldn’t move quite as fast as the two, young girls he was chasing. My daughter stated that she reached for the condo door and it opened. She slammed it shut, and threw the deadbolt. The man stood pounding on the door, despite the people who were still swarming around, unaware yet of what was happening just a few feet away. My daughter dialed 911, and the pounding soon stopped. The witnesses watched as the man came lumbering down the stairs, jumped into his blue truck and screeched out of the parking lot.
I don’t know if they ever caught The Blue Truck Man.
But I do know, if I’d not listened to that disembodied voice, two little girls likely would not be here today.
And when I have a feeling that something’s wrong, when I hear a voice, I pay attention. Very close attention.
©Janet Mitchell, edited and published July 2012.