Entry #A8

The Bystander
S. Daniel Flynt

The convenience store was busy. As I waited for my deli order to come up, another patron entered and walked by me. Normally, I wouldn’t have looked twice. I try to keep to myself. He was probably in his late twenties and tall, wearing a motorcycle jacket. But that wasn’t what caught my attention. No. It was the black outline of a teardrop under his left eye and the sideways glance he gave me along with a strangely knowing smile. Like he knew something that I didn’t.

He was gone by the time I received my order. I hadn’t even seen him leave. As I walked out to the car, my hands full with my purchases, I breathed in the fresh autumn air. Crisp and clean, a contrast to the eerie feeling I had gotten from the guy with the ex-con look.

I suddenly stopped dead when I heard a strange noise. It sounded like cats fighting at first and I almost ignored it. When I looked around the parking lot, it was like a frozen still from a movie. Nothing was moving. An older woman stood poised at her car door looking toward the street. A green SUV was at the exit of the parking lot, but not pulling onto the road, though there was no traffic. Its brake lights glowed bright, ominous red in the darkness. A silver car behind the SUV waited for its turn to leave. The sound still permeated the air.

As if someone had pressed play on the film again, the silver car started reversing, the driver impatient with the owner of the SUV. I started to walk forward. Shrill screams resounded. The terror of a woman in mortal danger. Coming closer to the green SUV, still paused at the exit, I realized the shrieks were emanating from inside. My first thought was that the driver had been playing a Halloween soundtrack at full volume. Irrational, I know. But the mind works in peculiar ways when it’s not sure how to process a situation. Just as I caught sight of the passenger side window, a bloody palm smacked against the glass, a wide-eyed, blonde girl struggling against her captor. The raw sounds of her screams shredding her throat as she tried desperately to get herself free.

Just as suddenly as the scene had caught my attention, the sounds stopped. I could see the face of the driver in the side mirror then. The man with the teardrop tattoo, the same knowing grin on his lips as his eyes met mine. The SUV pulled out onto the road and disappeared. Shaken, I got into my own car and made my way home, just like the other bystanders in the convenience store parking lot. No one had said a word or thought to write down the plate number. Like me, they didn’t want to get involved.

Later that night, as I lay in bed wondering about the girl, I heard a sound in my backyard. I didn’t think much of it until light momentarily illuminated the inside of my room. I reluctantly got up and looked out the window, barely able to make out the shape of a bundle lying on the damp grass. Slipping into a pair of boots, I grabbed a jacket and went out into the chill air. The bundle was long and thin, a piece of paper attached to the rope holding it together. It was a note, typewritten.

“You know what to do.”

That was it. But the message was clear to me.

I pealed the tarp away from where I knew the head would be. Blonde hair spilled out. Her eyes were still wide, but already clouded over and lacking their tearful glassiness. Her skin was sallow, cheeks sunken in. Lips drew back tautly, baring her teeth in a death grimace. The deep gash in her throat was caked with dried blood and revealed her severed trachea. I gently wrapped her back up, shoving the note into my pocket.

It was nearly dawn when I packed down the last bit of dirt. If I had only done something earlier. Paid more attention to the license plate. After all, he did. I should have called the police and told them what I knew. But I chose to be a bystander.

I think I’ll plant rose bushes here.


  1. The 'atmosphere' of this story is dead-on. The descriptions were well carried out. The writing ... excellent!
    On a different note, this story hit home for me, I could relate. I was, for many years, employed by a convenience store and the portrayal of the 'bystander' as 'standoffish' is so true, don't get involved. After being held up at gunpoint, I gave up that job and never looked back.
    Thank you for writing this!


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