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 I remember when I was just a kid, maybe 5 years old, I used to love looking at clothes. Really, it was color that I loved, and it was most often found in clothes and cartoons. My sister always wore the most beautiful colors. I remember this pretty blue summer dress and a bright pink blouse, those were my favorites. I also remember watching Rocko’s Modern Life, and loving the sort of pastel colors that were used to create the show. Batman the Animated Series and the dark bold colors that that show was built on.

 Now, most of my clothes are brightly colored in some way, or contain multiple colors. My apartment has an eclectic group of furniture. Beautiful abstract paintings hang from my walls. My dad used to wear these brown steel toe boots everywhere. He used them for work, and just happened to wear them most of the time. I hated them. To this day, things without color, or are just bland to look at, seem to bother me. They get under my skin, and upset my stomach. I specifically remember seeing the school kids from a local private school walking around on field trips. An army of kids in gray bottoms and white tops, the boys with vile maroon ties. I threw up in the car, my mom thought it was motion sickness. This sickness started the day my cousin disappeared.

   I was playing with some toy cars and wearing my checkered shirt, it was my favorite, it was loaded with colors, orange and red and yellow and purple. My cousin, Olive, was sitting with me, watching as I mimicked the sound of roaring engines and pretended the dukes were driving my toys. She was always quiet and watchful, it was true for her entire 7 years. Meanwhile the adults were discussing plans for the day. My father had piles of paperwork to do and mentioned that he was going to test drive a used Toyota. It was difficult for my parents to get around when we only had the one minivan and they needed to do separate things. My mom, and my dad’s sister, Aunt Stephanie, were going to take me and Olive to the park, and they also wanted to stop at the post office because they both had some things they wanted to send to my great uncle back east. We were a very tight-knit family, even with those who lived on the other side of the country.

   My father dropped us all off at the park and then went about his business. Mom and Stephanie saw another mother that they knew, I think is was the mother of one of Olive’s friends, she was there walking her puppy. They chatted for a while as the puppy chewed some grass and I enjoyed myself on the slide. I liked the slide, it was attached to a fort that had three ways to enter: a web of blue ropes you could climb up, a green ladder, or a tall red pole, I would choose the color that matched my mood, but now I’m not 100% sure how I decided on that. When they finished they returned to me and called Olive over to us.

   “We’re going to run to the post office,” my mother said. “We won’t be long. If we let you play will you behave yourselves?”

   “Yes!” We both nodded.

   “And who don’t you talk to?” Stephanie asked.


   “Right. And what do you do if you feel unsafe because of a stranger?”

   “Scream with all my might!” We shouted.

   “Good. Be safe and don’t hurt yourselves!”

   As a kid, judging time is difficult. 3 hours at a park could feel like 15 minutes. I’m told that they were only gone for 5 minutes, but I’m not sure. It wasn’t long before a hatchback pulled up and parked on the street, it was a strange color, almost the color of pennies, except maybe brighter. Someone came out of the car and strolled up. Olive was attempting to climb a tree near the edge of the park, and the person began to talk to her. I couldn’t hear, but I stood next to the slide and watched because I thought it was strange. In a few moments she took the person’s hand and began walking back to the car, and they drove off. I couldn’t see who it was as they wore a red baseball cap, a long gray coat, and brown steel toe boots.

   I was confused and it took some processing before I realized that maybe I should be screaming. I didn’t scream, instead I sat down and cried out of confusion. When they returned, my mother wiped my tears and asked me what was wrong, I told her that Olive had left with someone. Stephanie was already frantically calling her name.

   There was a search party. There were helicopters, and hounds. And then, many weeks later, there was a funeral. They never found her. My family slowly fell apart. My father left me with my mother. Aunt Stephanie moved to Europe to get away from everything. By now my description has become legend in my town, some 30 years later, kids tell each other scary stories of the man who wears a long gray coat and a red baseball cap, and drives silently in a car made of pennies.

   My father died recently, he practically drank himself to death. One person said of him “His work ethic was one of a kind. He never stopped working. The one true testament to that is the number of steel toe boots that he had worn down.” My mother never stopped loving him, despite how he grew distant and angry. But she never let go. She made sure he was buried wearing a pair of those steel toe boots.

   My description of the person in a long gray coat, red baseball cap, and a car colored copper yielded no results. Only one thing is certain. Olive knew not to talk to strangers.

Credits to: Chris Smith (


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