John Dahl found himself wrapped in a soft, white blanket. There were voices nearby, either in the room or down the hall. He was not sure where they were because the blanket was wrapped around his head as well, but guessed they were not very close because he could not make out what they were saying.
He thought back to the last thing that happened before he ended up here, trying to put together some causal link between then and now. There was none. How could there be? The last thing Dahl remembered was dying.
Maybe this was the afterlife, but it was not like any that he had imagined. Heaven and Hell were supposed to be harps and pitchforks. Nowhere did Dante mention being swaddled and mumbled at. Or maybe he had. Dahl had never read any of Dante’s work, but he did have his preconceptions and assumed they were in accordance with the accepted authority on such matters.
For a fleeting moment, Dahl considered the possibility that he did not die at all. He quickly dismissed the notion. That bullet definitely entered his brain via his eyeball and he did have that brief, semi-lucid moment realizing what happened to him as he lay on the ground before everything went black.
Why did the cop shoot him? People who are white and unarmed are usually taken into custody. Dahl wasn’t even making any sudden moves. The policeman probably reacted emotionally and if so, it would have been most unprofessional. Perhaps he had a daughter of his own at home, someone like Susie. But it wasn’t this Susie so in Dahl’s mind, the cop was way out of line.
How many Susies had there been? Dahl knew early on that he couldn’t keep track so decided to count in reverse. As a result, the latest became number one. The rest were unimportant. He had no recollection how many of them were named Susie, if any. He just liked the way it sounded and considering all that was forced upon them, a name change was small potatoes.
Over the years, Dahl had managed to go through life leaving a vapor trail of AMBER Alerts. It was quite a streak of success and Dahl owed much of it to his approach.
The conventional wisdom was to make his move under the guise of familiarity. “My name’s John. I’m a friend of your mother’s. Get in the car.” That sort of thing. The problem is that most kids have learned to see through that ruse.
So instead, Dahl would play the authority card. He would introduce himself as “Mr. Dahl,” tell the kid she was in a lot of trouble, and that she had better do what he said if she knew what was good for her. That tactic proved to be highly effective and as a bonus, it established the fear dynamic. This dynamic would be instrumental for what would transpire later on.
What did transpire varied little from Susie to Susie. Anything about a particular girl was unimportant. He did not care much about what she looked like. Hair color, eye color, and facial features were all superfluous details. All that mattered was she was nine years old (or near enough) and that she was terrified. For the rest, the Susie du jour was just, pardon the expression, along for the ride. Dahl then did what needed to be done, to use words he would later tell himself.
With the important business concluded, all that was left was a sobbing, frightened loose end. Sealing the girl’s fate by using his own name was merely a formality for Dahl. Her fear that made her so pliable (as well as so much fun) would wane once she was away from him.
This latest Susie was no different. She would tattle because that is what children do. The only way to silence her was to do it permanently. The problem was that Dahl did not see himself as a killer. For him, strangling the girl with a ligature or plunging a knife into her little heart was as much an anathema as dating a legal adult.
Fortunately for him, he had Mother Earth to do his dirty work. He also had a shovel. So in a rehash of events played out countless times before, he ordered the girl to lay still while he dug a shallow grave. Dahl worked up a sweat as he dug. He thought about making the girl dig the hole herself, but decided that would be unnecessarily cruel. She was also too small and weak to be any good at it.
Dahl stopped when the hole was three feet deep.
“Get in,” he said.
She continued to sob as he put shovelful after shovelful of dirt on top of her. Dahl was not completely heartless. He could see the sadness in the tragic events taking place and to make himself feel better, he decided to believe in reincarnation.
Dahl convinced himself that Susie and all the Susies before her would come back and lead charmed lives, devoid of this sort of unpleasantness. Of course, there was a small chance that all future lives would be an endless stream of sex and death coming way too early.
What kind of God would allow that, Dahl asked himself as he emptied the last of the unearthed soil to the hole and smoothed it flush with the ground around it. It was a deep philosophical question and Dahl promised himself to ponder it when the next Susie came along.
That moment would never come. A hiker witnessed Dahl and Susie walking into the woods, thought it suspicious, and called the police. The cops arrived, but as is often the case, a little too late.
While one officer held Dahl at gunpoint, the other frantically dug up the girl. She was unresponsive. He tried reviving her with mouth to mouth, but to no avail. Seeing this made Dahl smile, as he recalled doing something that looked like this just 20 minutes before.
“Does this amuse you, you sick fuck?” said the cop who was holding the gun on him.
Dahl thought it prudent to try to calm the police officer. He knew getting caught would eventually happen. When it did, it behooved him to come off not as a monster, but as a man who genuinely loved children. And who better than Mister Rogers? Dahl had spent years practicing the late Fred Rogers’ grin in front of the mirror and now it was time to put it to use.
The impression was spot on. Maybe that’s why the policeman shot him. Dahl died before any explanation was given.
So here he was now, wrapped in a blanket, and neither shot nor in any afterlife that he had ever heard of. Perhaps he had been reincarnated, just as he hoped Susie would be. It seemed as likely an explanation as any.
Hands large enough to cover most of Dahl’s torso surrounded him and carried him away. The blanket kept him from seeing anything, but the echo of heels on floor tiles made it sound like he was being taken down a long hallway.
He heard a door open. A few moments later, the blanket came off and he was staring into the face of a girl who looked to be about nine.
“OK,” a woman’s voice said. “I want you to meet a friend of mine. His name is Mister Doll. He is your friend as well. He’s going to help me know things that you may not want to talk about. All you need to do is point out the part on his body where the man touched you.”
The girl reached out and touched a spot between Dahl’s legs. Her hand was trembling. There were tears in her eyes.
She was just his type.