There was a list, and Fiona had to follow it. It was a short list, but checking off each item pushed a weight down on her shoulders, drew tears to her eyes.

But without the list, her son would die. And every day, she reminded herself that his life was in her hands.

When Fiona woke up on the fourth day, and decided to weigh herself. She felt hungry, and, as she suspected, she’d lost weight. Eight pounds, two for each day her son had been gone so far. Her price for not having kept a closer eye on him.

She blamed herself, then went through her nearly daily routine of pulling back the blame curtain, screaming in her mind that it was THEY who did this, THEY who were probably hurting him. Then there was that flicker, that flash of fear-driven suspicion that her son was responsible, that he didn’t take good enough care of himself, or pay enough attention to his surroundings when he was taken. As though, in America of all places, walking to the store is reason enough to keep an eye over your shoulder for predators.

There was still hope, however small, that she’d get him back, that the kidnappers would fulfill their promise when she completed everything they asked of her. On the first day, after she had cried for hours, the list seemed like a joke. Buy these items from the home supplies store. Leave them in a bag and run as fast as you can.

But there was a method, a reason that began to take shape on day two: buy this gun and pick it up in seven days. Thanks USA Background checks. Thanks government.

Fiona despised guns, despite the perfect way they fit in her hands. She hated the way they looked, the weight of them, the sound they made. When she came to America, she hoped she’d be far away from any gun, any piece of weaponry that would bring death to her neighbors. But that hope died when she and her son moved into their new neighborhood.

And today, over a week after her son had been taken, was the day when she would hold one in her hands, under her own name, only to give it to an unknown person at a still to be determined location. For seven days she’d had smaller and smaller lists, picking up bags in places she was asked to show up at, with no explanation, and drop them off at other points around the city.

Two pounds a day in weight she was losing because of this. She could feel her clothes get more loose, even as the eight of the situation felt increasingly heavy. She was sick to her stomach with what might come next.

All that these past ten days had brought her was the pain of wondering if her son was still alive, and last night, when they’d confirmed he was, she was finally able to think clearer. So when she read the list for today, the plan took shape, fully formed. They were making sure that each drop-off location had a camera so when she ran away it would make her appear complicit.


But still, she checked off the list and paid for the gun, the bullets, and the other necessary supplies. The shop owner had given her a sneer of disgust when she’d first requested the gun. But her paperwork was legit, and the man was running a business.  Doesn’t matter where the dollars come from, as long as you get paid.

As she walked out of the gun shop with the rifle bag over her shoulder, she wondered about the endgame — hers, and her son’s. Would they just let him go, out into the world, only to watch his mother go to prison? Was it their goal to make him look guilty, too?

Back home, across the seas, to that region that was full of hate and border-less violence, Fiona had killed an unknown number of evil men. Mostly men. The women had been just as evil, most days, and eventually the targets had become nondescript, just Human beings. When she had nearly put a bullet in her son’s head, Fiona had vomited, and smashed the gun over her leg.

That was when she knew they had to leave. They didn’t have more than a bag when they jumped on the ship, and nothing but the clothes on their backs when they rowed their raft ashore along with thousands of others. Her son had begged to bring their father, but Fiona didn’t believe the boy even knew who his father was. He’d died a long time ago, by Fiona’s own hand.

She pulled the rifle tighter over her shoulder as she climbed aboard the bus. The driver grumbled a few words about the rifle, but Fiona had the permit — forged but solid — and showed it to him without hesitation. A part of her felt a small thrill, that she could do anything, anything she wanted. But the sensation put a warm, sick feeling in the back of her throat, and she had to contain the vomit that threatened to rise.

They’d said it would only be five days, and after that she’d be free, her son would be free, and there would be no further threat. But it was over a week, now.  The end was nowhere in sight. They had promised that, once it was over, she should forget the whole thing, move on, and never speak to the cops. “We’ll watch you all time,” the note said.

How she hoped that wouldn’t be true, but in case it was she wasn’t about to tell the police anything. It was hard enough to get them to pay attention to the violence in her neighborhood, how would it look for her to try and explain all of this away.

By nightfall Fiona walked over the bridge and placed the gun and bullets at the tail end as requested, along with the other supplies. She crossed to the far shore and up the path a ways, then doubled back to the bench nearest to the water. By the time she cowered down and pulled out her binoculars, her adrenaline was at an all-time high and she could hardly believe what she was doing.

What was she thinking? Run from the scene and wait further instructions. That’s what they’d said, was all she had to do. But she had to know what they looked like, these kidnappers, the ones holding her hostage as well as her boy.

She looked through the binoculars — she’d had the sense to buy the kind with night-vision — and waited.

Out of the darkness came two figures, lanky and moving quick. They jogged to the gun and one pulled out a phone. He unzipped the bag and spoke into the phone. The other figure was crouched down, no doubt looking through the other bag of bullets and supplies. Fiona’s hand pulled into a tighter grip.

The crouching man suddenly stood and backed up to the wall. His partner lowered the phone, frantically looking around. Then he began to run. Fiona didn’t hesitate.

She pushed the button on the trigger, and for a moment everything floated, hesitating as time stopped. Then the explosion came.

The formerly crouching man’s body disappeared in a cloud of fire and death, while the other man stumbled and fell on his face a few dozen feet away. Fiona waited until she was sure she heard no sirens, no shouting. These two were working alone.

She crossed the bridge again, hoping that the other man was still alive, or, if not, she could snag his phone and find her son. This was reckless, she knew, but taking the problem into her own hands and finding a solution, that’s what her life was all about. When she reached the other man, she turned him over to look at his face.

Her son could barely breathe, just looked up at her with confusion and sadness. He mouthed words, and Fiona, through her tears, thought he was trying to say “no choice” but she couldn’t trust her instincts any more. The world was a blur, a kaleidoscopic confusion through her tears, and the tears never stopped coming even as she put her hands around his neck to grant mercy.

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