Katydid sat on the couch and looked at the bare, boring linoleum floor. She had nothing better to do.
Mommy had been lucky enough to get a job at a diner and was gone most of the day. There was no TV, no computer to play games on, no one to play with, and only three books, all of which she’d read dozens of times. She stared at the floor, trying not to cry from sheer exasperation and misery and memory.
This isn’t real, she thought. This isn’t my life. This isn’t real. This isn’t real.
Over and over again. It became her mantra as she stared at the floor and let her eyes go unfocused. She gradually gave up thinking the words and let herself fall into the belief that what she was living was not real.
She found herself on a dusty road. This wasn’t real, either, Katydid knew, but it was different and so she would stay awhile. And here she wasn’t alone. A woman smiled fondly at her as she approached.
“Hello, Katydid,” the woman said.
Katydid regarded her carefully. The woman was pretty. And she looked a little like Mommy, but also a little like Katydid herself.
“I’m Katy. I’m you,” the woman said, “all grown up. About fifteen years from now.”
“Oh.” And this impressed Katydid. The woman looked healthy and wore nice clothes and had a wristwatch with a gold band and a silver necklace with a jeweled pendant.
“I’m the you that you can grow up to be,” Katy said. She reached out and took Katydid’s hands in hers. “But it’s not a given.”
Katy lost her smile and got that look in her eyes Mommy did when there was something serious to talk about.
“Katydid, I need you to stay here in this unreal place with me. If you run away, if you go home too soon, we can’t help each other. What I’m going to say will be a bad surprise, but you have to stay here with me.” Katy tightened her grip on the girl’s hands.
“What is it?” Katydid whispered.
Katy knelt in front of her younger self. “Honey … Clint is coming.”
“No!” She almost pulled away but Katy held her. “No! He can’t! We’re a long ways away from him.”
“He hid a GPS unit in Mommy’s car,” Katy explained quietly. “He’s always known where you were. Every twist and turn Mommy made to try to get away from him, he knew where you were. And now he’s coming.”
Katydid recoiled from this hideous news. “No! It’s not fair!”
“No, it isn’t,” Katy agreed. “He’s hurt you and Mommy so much. But it’s not over, Katydid. And if he does what he wants to do, you won’t get to grow up to be me. And Katydid … I’m happy now. I have a good life, and so does Mommy. But I won’t have — you won’t have — and Mommy won’t have if Clint gets his way.”
“Mommy said the police won’t help.”
“Mommy was right. It’s up to you, Katydid. It’s all up to you. You have to deal with this alone.”
“Me?” She wanted to shrink away from Katy, but Katy held her firmly.
“You, Katydid. You’re the only one who can do it. If you don’t, he’ll hurt you.”
Katydid sniffled and a tear ran down her left cheek.
“He’ll hurt Mommy.”
Three more tears fell in rapid succession.
“Just like he did Tiger.”
Katydid looked at Katy’s face; she saw sorrow about the cat’s fate, but she also saw fury.
“You can pay him back for that, Katydid. You can send him to hell for that, and protect yourself and Mommy at the same time.”
One last tear fell and her vision cleared.
“How?” she asked Katy. “How do I hurt him? Tell me.”
Katy nodded, relieved at the purpose she saw in Katydid’s eyes.
“Mommy picked a good place to live. The apartment used to belong to a mean drug dealer.”
Katydid found herself back in the apartment, staring at the floor. She threw herself off the couch and crawled halfway beneath it, rummaging furiously in the worn springs.
There it was, just like Katy had promised.
She heard footsteps outside the door, and then the door exploded inward with a single ruthless kick.
On the other side of the room, Katydid froze as Clint strode through the doorway and fixed his hateful gaze on her.
“Hello, Katydid,” he said in a cruel singsong.
Katydid’s stomach turned to ice as he walked slowly toward her. Clint was all she knew of evil, and it was more than enough for a lifetime only ten years long.
“Remember Tiger,” someone inside her whispered, and the ice became lava.
Katydid, in a splendid imitation of Arthur pulling the sword from the stone, drew the drug dealer’s sawed-off shotgun from the sofa’s innards. She pointed it toward Clint and pulled the trigger until she realized the gun wasn’t making noise anymore.
And neither was Clint, who had been hurled back into the doorway and lay in a pool of blood and gore.
Fifteen years later, a beautiful young woman jolted upright in her bed. She saw her familiar bedroom and the morning light streaming in. A bird chirped outside the window.
She sighed in relief, as she had so many times before.
“Thank you, Katydid,” she whispered.