Leonard Twitty, Savior of Lost Children Originally Published by Dark Sky Magazine
He smoothed out his daily allowance on the counter of Wop Zsu’s. He pet it twice and then turned over to Honest Abe’s nice beard and stern eyes. Leonard Twitty bent down and whispered to him. It was the same conversation that he had every day, whether he talked to Honest Abe in front of the Burger King, Sparro’s or Kentucky Fried Chicken, it was always the same. Leonard would always say, “Goodbye Lincoln, you did great things, so I can do great things with my life.” So, he handed over the sweat-laden bill over, his hand shaking slightly and snuck another glance at the little pixy with unicorn earrings who was waiting in line behind him.
“That’ll be 4.85, what kind of drink you want, sir?” she said to Leonard, “and sweetie, it’s 1.07 total for an egg roll with tax. What drink did you want, sir?” The girl stamped her feet. Leonard smiled at her again, reaching for his duffel bag. She was a cute girl, a cherub, really not like video-private-time-cute but cute.
“I only have a dollar,” she whined her rainbow unicorn earrings dangling up and down, catching Leonard’s attention.
“Can you fill this up with Coke, no ice, please?” Leonard produced a large plastic red mug out of his duffel bag, the circumference larger than his face.
“Uhh, what is this thing?”
“It’s my campaign mug,” Leonard said, turning the mug around so that girl behind the counter could see the name tag. It said, HELLO MY NAME IS Twitty for Governor! “I’ve talked to your manager about it before,” Leonard said, “Please?” The woman sighed and turned away.
The whir of carbonation filled their ears as the steaming meal sat in front of Leonard when he felt a tug on his arm.
“Mister,” unicorn girl said, her beautiful lips breaking into a smile full of straight little teeth. He thought he could see a little mole near her nose and thought of tickling, “can I have your change for my egg roll?”
And as the mug reappeared on his brown tray and the sprinkle of silver change came with it and the two glints next to the styrofoam told Leonard that “yes, that would be fine,” he said to her, as she reached over, her small perfect palm covering Jefferson and Roosevelt. As the sound of the overhead speakers cracked open he walked away nervously.
“Attention Mall of America shoppers, looking for that last minute gift for that hard to please daughter? Maybe buy her a Half-World adventurer at Gifts-R-Us? It’s just what the kids are asking for this Holiday season.”
Leonard’s gubernatorial mug bubbled over and a wide goofy grin spread over the brown sauce with its red pepper flecks dancing with the baby corn. He watched the crowds moving, shuffling along bags shouting the names of purchases everywhere. They were checking their lists, they were checking them twice. Mothers’ eyes drooped towards cheese steaks, fathers grew irritated over the sound of milkshakes being slurped and the children–Leonard’s beautiful children–threw the crispy chicken pizza or the ice cream down their throats, while those bags were piled into empty chairs telling them who was naughty and who was nice.
As he spun his first helping of noodles into his mouth, biting down on a piece of chicken, the voice sprang out again interrupting, Here Comes Santa Claus.
“We ask for your attention please, would Molly Beets please join her party at the information desk on the second floor next to TGI Fridays, Molly Beets, please join your party at the information desk.”
“Molly Beets again, well, she’s another goner,” he thought to himself a smile cracking over him as he slurped down his noodles, swaddling their delicate folds with his tongue.
He ripped open the plastic pack and squirted soy sauce onto his food and licked his lips. After another spoon full he burped slightly and tapped his chest, while he watched the unicorn girl sit alone two tables across from him, chewing on her egg roll. Upstairs he heard the alarm from The Gap sing out as he took another sip. He read the headline at the Minnesota Chronicler and found just what he was looking for.
Eight Bodies Found on Farm in Canada.
“Now this is news,” he said between bites.
He couldn’t help getting excited. It started when he was a little boy. His mother would tell him about Lizzy Borden and would feel his erection growing. The rocking chair pulled him back and his mother whispered about the blood dripping from an axe head.
“Yes, that sounds good. Yes,” he muttered to himself, while he took another bite, working the defenseless noodles into his molars.
He chewed passionately while he read the details of rape, murder and a partially decomposed body. Their rocking chair stayed, no matter where they lived. Lizzy Borden, turned to Charlie Manson, Ted Bundy and then Jeffrey Dahmer. He licked his lips, the article and his noodles finished and turned the page and saw a short piece about missing child. The mother was the suspect. They were offering $10,000 for her return.
“That would be a lot of Lo Mien for giving a kid back,” he said to himself, “nothing like video-girl-cute money, but a lot of money.”
He stared at the unicorn girl her small black boots tinged the metal underneath the table. He closed his eyes and listened to the soft ting, ting and pause to two more tings and Leonard imagined that he was sitting across from her and grinned. She was alone without a care in the world, the egg roll on her. He licked his egg roll and stared at her dirty blonde hair and creamy yellow dress. Before he took his first bite he placed his fried friend on his lips again and held there like a cigar. Leonard paused in observance of the crooning version of Jingle Bells playing over the loud speaker.
“Sillllverrrr bells, Sillllverrrr bells, it’s Christmaaaasss tiiiimmmee in the ciiiityyyy,” he hummed along with a crooked smile. Yes, he loved the Holiday season at the Mall of America, the great music, the bustle of the crowds, and the kids. Oh yes, Leonard loved the look of joy on the children’s faces.
Leonard took the egg roll, as it formed a wet dab of grease on his fingers and bit down.
If Leonard Twitty could spot a distracted mother he would enjoy the companionship of a child. He liked to make small talk ask them if they liked to swing sideways on the swings sets. He was not the type of man that was opposed to the occasional online chat room. He didn’t care whether it was actually somebody his own age, but the idea of 12andREADY4U was enough to take it in his hand.
“Attention Mall of America customers, Attention.”
Leonard sighed and thought to himself, “not again.”
“Would Molly Beets please come to the Information desk on the second floor, thank you for shopping in the Mall of America.”
He watched unicorn girl look around at the other tables and then, her face blushing, she started to giggle. He smiled at this and wondered for a second, “Would Molly Beets be giggling, please take another bite of her egg roll?” He picked up the big gulp and slurped what was left of the Coca-Cola and itched his right ankle. He watched Molly suck on her egg roll and then bite down. He wrapped his meaty thumb around the base and finished it off.
He looked over to the other side of the atrium and burped loudly. He stared at the open-air skating rink and the Ferris wheel. He watched the parents watching their children go round and round. The flash popping, pictures snapping of memories being created.
Leonard was silent and just listened. He listened to the other tables, to those passing by and the droll of voices was everywhere around him.
“Yes, I’m fine.”
“When can I get new pair of sneakers then, next Christmas?”
“How about we get you ice cream, will that shut you up?”
“All presents for you so far, huh sweetie?”
“I don’t mind spending. I don’t mind at all.”
Leonard put his hands up to his ears and squeezed.
“No, no,” he whispered, his hair flopped around as he fidgeted, beads of sweat jumped from his forehead,
“Too many, yes, they talk all around and never get. Too many,” he thought to himself.
He wanted to pull it back and forth, “Oh, yes, oh heaven,” and laying across her stomach, his feet hitting the floor.
“Go ahead, Leonard, be a good boy,” she said. Yes, that would make him.
Hold someone, “would you please hug me? Please.”
And he thought about the rocking chair and the creek in the wood floors and how when the cradle was rocking–he liked it–when the cradle rocked and then when his eyes were closed tight and his mother whispered to him, “Be a good boy that does what he is supposed to do,” and then she would stop. The chair stopped. When she stopped is when it would happen. And then she would push him off her and he would jump up, his sneakers squeaking on the wood and she would say, “Now go change your clothes, you good boy.” And he would walk away, “Yes mother,” his only answer.
His glasses swung off his sweaty nose and the noise they made hitting the tray did not wake him as he rubbed his eyes, soy sauce on the bridge.
Leonard felt a tug at his extra large sweatshirt and thought he was caught on the chair as he shook his head.
“Oh, no,” he thought, “more voices. No,” he shook harder and felt for his sweatshirt and clasped a skinny hand tugging at him.
A hiss escaped Leonard’s lips as he turned his head to the sound of the voice.
“Mister. Mister,” she said, and slowly he opened one of his eyes.
In front of him stood the unicorn girl, her dirty blond braids and oval face poised up at Leonard her big blue eyes showing concern.
She had a pretty braid in her hair, with red sashes that had been woven in and he thought of pulling the sashes out. She could lay on his bed in the dark room where the hair would bend and curl in his hands. He thought of Mother and her big soapy eyes, he thought of his Mother and her mushy stomach.
“Who are you, little girl?” He asked, releasing her hand, crossing his meaty arms over his chest.
“Mister, are you okay. Are you lost? I saw you shaking your head mister. I’m Mol–” she said, cutting her self off. “Well, you gave me your change for my egg roll.”
“Good tidings to you,” he said and looked up, at the four levels of pure white teirs all around him.
“And good tidings to you,” she said, playing along. She moved towards the seat across from him and wrapped her arm around the back; resting it on top, not ready to climb in, feeling the cold wire in her hands. She looked at Leonard Twitty’s devoured plate of food.
“What did you eat?”
“Chicken lo mien with that yummy egg roll.”
“I liked my egg roll too, I forgot to thank you!” she said, extending her hand to greet him.
“It was quite scrumptious, wasn’t it,” then said coyly “Molly Beats?” Leonard smiled and held onto her hand for a bit too long and put his left hand over and stroked her wrist.
“How do you know my name?” she asked, taking her hand away.
“Haha, I knew it,” Leonard said, “well, I didn’t know, not until you told me. Don’t worry your secret is safe with me. Sit, please sit,” he told her.
Molly Beets swung her feet in her chair and unzipped her blue and pink ski jacket. The stared at each other and there was a long pause.
“So what have you been doing today, Molly,” Leonard asked.
“I was playing video games for two hours. The guy who runs the place kept telling me I play Duke Nukem better than any girl. He kept giving me more quarters. You ever play Duke Nukem?”
“I don’t play video games. Phyllis told me that it was bad for my eyes, but she doesn’t tell me what to do all the time.”
“Who’s Phyllis, is she your girlfriend?”
“No. No. No,” he replied shaking his head, “She’s my mother, but I do live with her.”
“I live with her so I can watch all the little boobs on the Internet,” Leonard covered his mouth and began to turn red, at the sound of “boobs” crossing his lips. “Oops, I shouldn’t have said that,” he muffled, “oh oh. I’m sorry I shouldn’t have said that.”
“It’s okay silly. You’re funny. I hear swear words come out of my brother’s mouths all the time. I don’t like my brothers, they always make fun of me and I was telling my mom that I want to play video games and she wouldn’t listen, so I just…” Molly drifted on with her story as Leonard’s attention went to the overhead voice again.
“Attention, attention Mall of America shoppers, we have an announcement to make. Tired of walking around the mall? Rent a Segway on floor 2E for the day and do your shopping in style. Please, would–”
“Oh brother, here we go again,” Molly said, putting her hands on her forehead.
“Molly Beets please go to the information desk and meet your family. Molly Beets. Thank you, and enjoy the holiday season.”
“Sheesh, get a clue, I’m not coming back!”
“Shhh, it’s a secret, remember?” Leonard said.
“So I just got up and left Sears while my brother and I are were arguing and I told him he was dumb, and then he kicked me. Then he complained to Mom and Mom believed him, can you believe it? She said, ‘Molly, why don’t you go pick yourself out something from the girls section.’ Uggh, she always gives my brothers the attention,” and she stamped her small fists on the table, “It’s always like that, Molly this and Molly that…”
Leonard’s eyes glazed over thinking of the life he could have with her at his side. “That’s me,” she said, “yup, that’s me.”
Leonard looked around the atrium and he couldn’t concentrate on the faces anymore. The clouds seemed to pass over the glass ceiling and the light dimmed, flickering sunlight down upon them in lily pads of waves. While the sun hid behind clouds Leonard muttered to himself. He was trying to figure how to get her out of the mall with him. To take Molly to his house. To keep her ready for him. To collect the reward and a plan began to take shape, like two mushy piles of play dough slapping into one another it was forming to one new color and he smiled at Molly as she played with her pigtails. He was enjoying every minute of watching her, tenting in front of her when he decided the best approach was just to blurt it out.
“Molly, or Miss Unicorn girl,” he said with a chuckle that made her smile and reach for her earrings, “Why don’t you come home with me?
Molly stopped swinging her legs and was silent.
“You see, I have lots of things to share with you at my house and I’ll always listen to you. We can be friends, can’t we Molly? Good friends, right?
She stared at the table again and she swinging her stockinged legs again.
“Yeah, we can be friends,” she said slowly.
Leonard watched her and he began to bounce his right leg, shaking himself. Her blue eyes glistened for a moment as she reached into her hair and brought her bangs down. Leonard wished she’d lick the ends but all she did was stare over his shoulder. She drummed her fingers on the table and sighed finally blowing her bangs up and out of her face. Twitty’s heart skipped a beat and Molly’s legs began to swing again vibrating the table.
He could deliver her to the front door. Her parents would wait, the flash bulbs popping and microphones pushed towards them. They would walk, down a red carpet in the green green grass. “Leonard, thank you for returning our daughter, we’ll pay attention to her now,” her mother would say. Molly would hug him and they would kiss on the mouth like adults kiss and her parents would say, “that’s sweet, she really loves you Leonard.” And he would walk away, a hero. He saw the newspaper heading that said, Leonard Twitty, Savior to Lost Children.
“Look at that weirdo,” she said, pointing across Leonard’s shoulder to an Asian man walking bowlegged, “he walks funny.” Leonard shifted in his seat, straining his hefty mid section and watched an elderly Asian man in a khaki pant suit kick his legs up and around in a bowlegged drift down the aisles.
“I can walk like that too.”
“No you can’t.”
“Watch me, I can if I want,” he said.
He looked down at her and smiled. took a deep breath while she popped her gum. One of his favorites played over the system, Elvis’ Jingle Bell Rock and he took that as a sign. He told himself that it would work out this time that the mother would stay distracted. That she wouldn’t run away like the others.
He shuffled off with his back foot and turned to her and spread his legs, locking his knees. He began walking like the man in the leisure suit. He picked up his legs knowing that wach step was a way out of the Mall of America. He smiled looking out at the waves of people sitting around him. A few other kids looked at him and chuckled. As he turned back to their table he nearly bumped into an older man with a camouflage hat who was walking with a bag of McDonalds and had to say, “excuse me.” Brunette twins wearing green t-shirts that said, “get lucky in Kentucky” smiled at him.
Aware of a draft on his backside he spun around towards Molly, hitched up his sweatpants, and began to turn red. But Molly, she said nothing and clapped and he beamed with pride.
“You try,” he said to her, offering his hand. Molly Beets looked into Leonard Twitty’s eyes and smiled, gushing in excitement to play their new game. Her hand felt warm and squishy he kept hold of her and brought her closer. The world went silent for Leonard Twitty and Molly Beets in the Mall of America. And everything was naughty and nice while the world watched Leonard get on one knee and bring his lips to her ear.
“Molly can I tell you a secret? You can keep a secret right?”
“Yeah, I’m real good at secrets.”
“Good. I have video games at home that I, uhh, want to give you. Duke Nukem and other games that are better,” Leonard’s voice was cracking in anticipation, “I really like you, and I want to give them to you for Christmas.” Leonard finished, while Deck The Halls, came over the speakers.
“Whoa Leonard, that’s just super cool.”
“I live close to here, you can play all day and all night. What do you say?”
“I like the sound of more video games,” Molly said smiling, “I like that a lot. Okay, let’s go.”
The two walked across the white and black checkered squares of the atrium, with their legs locked laughing, approaching the palm trees and exotic shrubs that marked the border between the places to eat, and the places to be served. The two of them moved between tables and Leonard turned back to hold Molly’s hand. He watched her legs contort to shuffle along in her own bowlegged strut. Leonard Twitty felt like he did when he was alone at night, hoping that his door was locked. Hoping his mother wouldn’t catch him with tissue paper in his lap, trying to pull his pants up.
He saw the end of the atrium like an invisible wall. “The atrium, the escalator, the front door, then the car,” he said to himself.
“My mom makes the best lemonade, do like lemonade Molly?” Leonard asked, looking at a Juicey Juice vendor and the banana, strawberry and pineapple sign that seemed to urge Leonard on, “Go,” it said, “you go Leonard Twitty, one small step to become the savior of lost children.”
“Mmmm, I love lemonade!”
“When I take you home with me I’m going to have my mom make you a big pitcher of yummy lemonade.”
They walked past the coconut trees laced with Christmas lights and through the lines of people they did their funny walk. Leonard grasped her hand tighter, thinking of the car ride, of pushing her into his lap to play another game and he would call it, “Escape from America.”
They weaved their way through the crowds and Leonard eyed the escalators.
“How about ice cream, what’s your favorite ice cream?” He asked, turning his head, while he pushed through a group of Chinese tourists.
“My favorite is vanilla fudge with sprinkles.”
“I have a whole tub of that right at home. That’s so weird, it’s my favorite too!”
As they approached the chomping black teeth of the escalator Twitty panicked. He wondered if he should get on first, if she would follow, perhaps, he thought, “I should go behind her.” He continued, in his careful bowlegged steps, to urge little Molly Beets forward.
“No, you go ahead first,” he said giving her a bow, “Now hold on, gosh isn’t this fun, I love escalators.” He pulled her up, wheezing slightly, “And upsee daisy!” As her small body was lifted her off the ground he held her small waist tightly. He wanted to keep his hands there and had to force himself to spin her around.
“Here we go, up the escalator Molly. Up, up and away.”
“Where do we go when we get to the top?”
“We go to my special place Molly, with the video games and lemonade and ice cream, a special place where it is all there just for you.”
“That’s a place for me and then I have to call my mom,” she said and it hurt Leonard that she would already be thinking about her mother. That she wanted to leave him already.
They walked past the faux strawberry marble, the sun poked out from behind the clouds and the light dressed the path towards the corner where TGI Friday’s stood.
“This way,” he said, giving Molly’s hand a squeeze, “I always park next to there because I like their cheese sticks. Do you like cheese sticks?”
“No, I don’t like them at all, my brothers always gets them.”
“Oh. Well I can’t eat them anymore, they’re bad for you, you know?”
“Well, why did you say you like them then?”
“Yes, you did, you just did say. Leonard why are you lying?
“I’m not lying.”
“I have to call my Mom when we get there, okay?”
Passing The Gap Leonard thought of tugging her harder, getting her to shut up.
Hey remember the walk, we’re not doing our walk?” Leonard tried angling his legs out, and doing the walk again. Leonard jutted his left leg out and hit someone’s foot. Leonard jerked straight, taking two tiny steps back stumbling.
“Haha that’s funny. You almost fell!” Leonard’s face turned bright red as they were passing clapboard cut outs of John Wayne and Brad Pitt at Video to GoGo, then the announcements came again,
“Are you hungry, why not eat at one of the 122 eateries in our world famous atrium?”
Molly kept giggling at him while scarves, duck boots and thick puffy jackets brushed up against them. They were walking past a Kay Bee Toy Store when Molly asked, “Can we go to get something here, can we please?”
With every extra word that Molly said, Leonard grew angrier. “She was supposed to help, not hurt me,” he said to himself. “I’m really thirsty, aren’t you thirsty? You should be thirsty from all this walking.”
“I think so.”
“Good,” and then he pulled her harder through the crowds. Leonard’s forehead was bubbling with sweat, as he quickened the pace. The red and white sign of TGI Friday’s was like a finishing line in the distance. Just around the corner then out the doors. Just around that corner. He felt the stares. He was sweating now. He was tenting, the erection in his pants bobbing up and down. Mothers hid their babies from Leonard’s awkward smile, large men towering over him glared at him and beautiful little girls made the puking sign looking at his fat chin and the children laughed. The children were laughing. He looked behind him and saw two police officers back in the crowds heading towards him.
“Attention mall shoppers, attention!” The voice began, and Leonard’s pace slowed, in the distance he could see large information booth, the sign hanging from the ceiling.
“Leonard, why are we stopping?”
“Merry Christmas Mall of America shoppers! Can’t wait to get away? Go to Chuck David’s Travel and Getaway and plan that second honeymoon.” The voice continued and Leonard started walking faster.
“I’m not listening,” he said to himself.
“What’s that Leonard?”
“Would Molly Beets please meet her party at the information desk, Molly Beets?”
“Here we go again. Wow, Mom is really looking for me, huh Leonard?” she said, winking at him, “I can call my mom, right Leonard? I figure I should go back when I’m ready, don’t you Leonard, that’s the way things work, right Leonard?”
Leonard saw it all slipping away, so close to the end. He dropped his duffel bag to the floor and then knelt close to Molly. The throngs parted ways for them, a small drop in the crowd for Molly and Leonard while the men in blue suits walked towards them through the sea of shoppers.
Leonard looked around, making sure no one was within an ear shot and bent down. He squeezed his face in front of hers and gripped her wrist so hard she would have a bruise there the next four days. His triple chin rolled and his breath enveloped hung on her face. He pushed his mass up against her.
“You better move it or there’s going to be no more lemonade. Don’t be so stupid or I’m going to hurt your mother. Shut up and move faster. Now let’s go,” he shook her slightly when he was finished. From that point forward lemonade, Duke Nukem and vanilla fudge made Molly Beets and sick to her stomach and she knew then that Leonard Twitty was no friend.
He could smell the deep fryer in TGIF’s and he could make out the green and purple pins tacked to the aprons.
“Move faster, we have to move faster,” he hissed at her, looking backwards.
He began to round the corner as far away from the information desk as possible.
“But Leonard…” she said, and he only squeezed her hand harder.
“It’s just over here,” he said, turning the corner, walking past the circular desk where a pale albino woman with long white golden hair sat at a computer.
It was bright outside; the doors slid open for a doe-eyed middle-aged couple pushing a stroller. He saw himself walking outside, breathing in the fresh air and picking her up, jogging towards his car across the street.
“Leonard stop,” Molly said, and he would have to teach her to be quiet. She didn’t know yet but he would teach her while he rocked her to sleep. He could teach her to be a good girl.
“Leonard, I don’t want to go,” she said struggling from his grasp. As they crossed the invisible line that triggered the doors to open, a voice called out.
“Hey stop! Stop right there!”
The red exit sign stood in front of them seemed to glow and then fade and then grew darker.
“Molly!” A voice rang up into the mall and there was silence again for Leonard Twitty but this time people were not listening to him, they were listening to the mother of a lost child.
“Leonard let go,” Molly said quietly.
“Molly!!” her mother shouted again, and Leonard could see the frantic swinging of her mother’s long hair as Molly began to sob slowly as she looked up.
Frosty the Snowman was playing and Leonard listened while he squinted, reading the expressions on their faces. He felt the tug of Molly’s hand fighting against his grip.
“Let. Go. Of. Me!” Molly said.
He saw the two police officers running towards him and he let her hand slip out of his.
And Molly ran towards her mother’s open arms as Leonard looked to the clear sky and the automatic doors closed again. He looked back and watched Molly run, her hair bouncing in the air. Her mother on her knees, her arms open waiting for her daughter. Past Molly the pale-faced albino was at the microphone. She picked up the microphone and pushed down on a little box. The speakers of the Mall of America sprang to life. The two officers charged towards him and one shouted while the other reached for his holster. He stared at the albino woman’s mouth and their eyes met. She stared at him with her dark black eyes. Nothing was stirring while the officer raised his gun and began shouting.
He could read her lips, she spoke to everyone because they wanted attention. All they wanted was your attention, please.