First published at Flashes in the Dark.
Florence exited the house, opened her umbrella, and spotted the girl standing on the brick walkway. She was nine, maybe ten, tall for her age and dark-skinned, wearing a yellow dress with a green brocade collar. A wicker basket filled with green, yellow and red vegetables hung in the crook of the girl's right arm. Florence stared at the girl. The girl stared back.
"Do I know you?" Florence asked.
She saw the girl's lips move, but heard no sound. She inched forward, her hands choking the umbrella's handle. Florence felt like a trout on a hook being reeled in.
Who is this girl, and what is she doing here? She stopped, not wanting to get any closer. The girl stepped forward, her bare feet floating over the wet sidewalk. Florence heard the voice now, but not the words, until the girl was close enough to touch.
"Any minute now, something will happen," the girl said, emphasizing each syllable.
"Any minute now, something will happen," the girl repeated without emotion.
Florence wanted to run, but her legs wouldn't let her. She looked around, her head snapping from side to side, eyes wide. Three houses down, Mr. Jenkins hobbled out to retrieve the morning paper. Florence opened her mouth to get his attention, felt her throat buzz, but no sound came out. She lifted her hand over her head and waved in quick, short motions. He waved back, a smile on his face, and retreated to his warm, dry house.
The girl leaned closer. "Any minute now, something will happen."
"Will. . .will it be something good?"
"No." The girl continued to stare with large, unblinking eyes.
"Are you sure?" Florence twirled the umbrella, thinking of the pointed end.
The girl's black hair framed her cheeks. The color and starkness of it matched the tone of her voice. "Yes."
"How do you know?"
"I just know." The girl stood, motionless, immune to the pouring rain. "It's your fault. You shouldn't have killed him."
Florence's eyes widened. She put one hand over her open mouth.
"I didn't kill him." She looked at the houses on both sides. "He was old and in pain. He wanted to die. I couldn't do anything more for him." She thought of the hours she'd spent at the patient's side, holding his hand, unable to lessen his pain, her nursing skills good only to a point. "It was the humane thing to do." She wiped a tear from her cheek.
"What about his family?" the girl asked.
"He has no family. He's all alone, except for me."
"You talk as if he's still alive."
Florence's lower lip curled between her teeth.
"None of that matters anyway," the girl said, waving her free hand, as if dismissing the older woman. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
"I didn't want him to suffer anymore."
"It was wrong."
Florence looked away. "He pulled the trigger." The words barely came out.
"With your help."
Florence took a deep breath and panned her eyes back to the girl. Before she could say another word, the girl dropped the basket and raised both hands. Some of the vegetables split apart and lay in pieces on the brick walk. Florence recognized them as the broken pieces of her life.
She gazed at the girl's raised hands and pointed index fingers. Eyes narrowed to two slits, the girl uttered an unintelligible chant.
Florence retreated to the front door. She turned. The girl stood close by, her body shaking. Florence ran up the stairs to the bedroom where he lay. The girl followed. Removing the gun from his hands, Florence aimed at the child and squeezed the trigger. She heard a click but felt no recoil. She tried again with the same result.
The girl's body shook. The chant became louder.
"No," Florence yelled as the gun moved to her temple. Unable to control her actions, she pressed the trigger. This time the gun exploded, and she fell across the old man, her face on his chest. Blood oozed from the wound and mixed with his.
The girl stood in the doorway and waited until Florence stopped breathing, then turned and walked away. Exiting the house, she passed the vegetables and basket, leaving them where they'd fallen.