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art by Cheryl Owen-Wilson

The Girl with Flowers for Hair

Elizabeth Shack is a former physicist and newspaper reporter living among the cornfields of central Illinois. When not writing, she comes in last in 5k races and attempts to grow vegetables in her shady yard. Find her at elizabethshack.com.

Holding the laundry basket, Gina paused in the doorway of Adam's room. It looked just like it had the day he hadn't come home for dinner, though the police had combed it for clues. Five years now. She knew she should turn the room into a guest room, but every time she thought about it, her heart turned to lead.
She hadn't even taken down the drawings of the girl with flowers for hair, though they made her skin crawl. The girl was a flowery Medusa, with bluebells and pink and yellow daisies ringing her head. Adam, a budding eight-year-old artist, had been proud of his crayon creations. He claimed he played with her every day after school. Gina hadn't seen any harm in his imaginary friend until the day Adam didn't come home. The police had dutifully photographed the drawings, but the pretend portraits had been no help.
A door slammed and Gina frowned. Was Charles upset with the lawnmower again?
"I'm home!" a voice she hadn't heard in years called.
Her knees went weak and she dropped the laundry. Gina leaned over the railing, staring down at a sight she'd thought she'd never see again.
Her son kicked off his shoes and dropped his backpack at the bottom of the stairs. Books and worksheets spilled out the opening left by the broken zipper. She'd bought him a new one the weekend after he vanished. It sat in his room, the tags still on it.
Gina barreled down the stairs and crushed her son in a hug. "Adam. Oh, God, Adam." All the questions she wanted to ask choked her.
He laughed, and Gina's heart lightened at the familiar sound. "Wow, Mom, I just saw you this morning." His grin flashed. He still had a dimple in his right cheek. "The girl with flowers for hair was teaching me to draw better. We drank tea from acorn shells and--why are you crying?"
Adam's spilled backpack, his dimple, his cheerful voice, even his sudden concern--nothing had changed. Goosebumps prickled Gina's arms. She'd bought him a new set of colored pencils for his thirteenth birthday, two months ago, a ritual Charles called silly but didn't try to stop. But Adam was still eight. She blinked away her tears and took a shaky breath. "Let's find your father. He'll be thrilled."
Adam told them he'd gone to the park for a few hours after school, and then straight home. Charles tried to explain he'd been gone five years, but Adam wouldn't believe him. He stormed off to his room, slamming the door.
Charles and Gina stared at each other from opposite sides of the living room. "This must be some kind of scam." Charles's voice was dark.
Gina wrapped her arms over her chest. "I know it's him. His smile, his voice. I can't explain it, but it's him." She stalked toward the stairs. Explanations could come later. Right now, she wanted to be with her son. As she climbed, she heard Charles pick up the phone, and then his voice asking for the Missing Persons department. Gina opened the door to Adam's bedroom.
Adam was at his desk, drawing. Such a familiar sight. She'd stood there so many nights staring at the empty room. Now she crept across the carpet and peered over his shoulder. Caught her breath. Adam had drawn his favorite subject, but instead of a crayon outline of the girl's face and cartoonish flowers poking from her scalp, he was shading a pencil drawing. The girl's hair was still made of flowers, but it flowed around her face, a mass of roses, daisies, and tiny pale bells, dozens of petals portrayed in detail. Her full lips curved in a smirk.
"When did you learn to draw so well?"
"I told you, she's been teaching me. We spent all afternoon on it. She said this is the first one that's any good." He grinned with pride. "Do you like it?"
Gina stumbled backwards and sat down hard on his bed. Adam had spent five years learning to draw, and to him it had been an afternoon. She forced herself to stay calm. "It's lovely," she whispered. "You've worked very hard on it."
"Yeah. She said tomorrow she'd teach me about colors."
How long would tomorrow last? "We have plans tomorrow," Gina said, trying to sound firm, not scared. "You'll have to wait."
"But Mom! I told her I'd be there."
Gina stood and draped an arm across his shoulders. "I'm sure she'll understand," she lied. She bent to kiss the top of his head, and then froze, her stomach going hollow. A daisy bloomed in Adam's hair.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

Author Comments

This story was written for a flash fiction contest on Codex. I've been learning to draw recently, but have been making much slower progress than Adam. Perhaps I should try getting lessons from his teacher.

- Elizabeth Shack
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