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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Black (10/15/09)

TITLE: Trash Bag Luggage
By Marita Thelander
10/20/09


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Hidden in the corner of her room, cuddled up to a stuffed bear, McKenzie dried her tears on the back of Teddy’s head. Blue and red lights flashed eerie reflections on McKenzie’s bedroom wall.

“I found her,” Duane called to his partner. He squatted down to eye level. “I know you’re scared, Sweetie.”

The stench of urine overpowered the little girl’s room. Her disheveled hair and pale skin proved to Duane that the apartment manager had been right. He hadn’t seen the girl’s mother for several days, but he thought he heard whimpers today when he knocked on the door.

McKenzie sniffed and used Teddy’s ear to wipe her nose.

“Does your bear have a name?”

“Teddy,” McKenzie muffled into the brown matted fur.

“How about you, what’s your name?”

“Kenzie.”

Duane’s partner held up a black trash bag. “Do you need one of these?”

“Thanks, Steve.”

Duane sat McKenzie on her bed and addressed the bear. “So, Teddy, what should we pack?” He opened dresser drawers and searched through the filth for items of necessity and comfort.

McKenzie hopped off the rumpled bed and grabbed a plastic brown horse. “Horsey,” she kissed its nose and tucked it under her arm. She stared at the giant policeman apparently ready for whatever came next.

The giant and the preschooler’s heads both turned at the sound of Steve’s voice. “Are we ready to go?”

“Do you have someone lined up?” Duane whispered.

“Still working on it. We’re taking her to the caseworker’s office.”

***

Her thin, lanky, pre-teen body plopped onto the chair in the waiting room of the Child Protective Services office. McKenzie pulled her hood over her head and slouched, arms crossed over her chest. Familiar with the routine, she gave the black trash bag an angry kick and tried not to listen to the multiple one-sided phone conversations.

“No, we’re not looking for a temporary home…she’s eleven…this is the fifth time in seven years.”

McKenzie stuffed her fingers in her ears and closed her eyes, but it didn’t help. She jumped when she heard a thud and a familiar rustling plastic sound.

“Here’s your baby-doll, Anna. I need to make some phone calls and I’ll be right through that door, okay?”

McKenzie’s eyes scrutinized the fear-stricken face and recognized the characteristic bruising on her thin arms. Her stomach churned at the sight of the familiar black trash bag.

She pushed her hood off her head and dragged her own luggage across the room. “Hi, I’m Kenzie.” She sat next to the frail, undernourished girl. “How old are you?”

Anna sniffed, hugged her baby-doll tight, and held up five fingers.

McKenzie reached out to touch the bruises on Anna’s arm but withdrew when the little girl flinched. McKenzie’s eye caught a book poking out of the bag, “Can I read to you?”

Anna hopped off her chair and retrieved the treasured item. McKenzie carefully lifted Anna onto her lap. Her hair reeked of urine mixed with stale tobacco. McKenzie didn’t care.

Distracted with the book and baby-doll, the two girls were oblivious to the women’s conversation in the office.

“They’re on the way.”

“I’m concerned, though. McKenzie is pretty rebellious.”

“I’m convinced this will work. Both Christine and Jordan grew up in the foster care system. Their own children are grown and they just got their license. This is the perfect match, I promise.”

McKenzie glanced towards the door but ignored the couple that smiled at her.

“You must be McKenzie and Anna,” the woman sat next to them. “I’m Christine and this is my husband, Jordan.”

Anna buried her head into McKenzie’s chest.

Christine stroked Anna’s cheek. “I know you’re scared, but we want to take care of you…both of you.”

McKenzie tried to comprehend everything while the two caseworkers stepped outside to discuss arrangements with Jordan. “You mean me, too? We’re not sisters.” She tried to reason with Christine.

“Well, you are now,” Christine smiled.

McKenzie heard the sound of something on wheels being rolled through the door but couldn’t pull her eyes away from Christine’s face. Jordan proceeded to open Anna’s black trash back and gently place the few soiled clothes, a blanket, and Anna’s treasured book into a brand new black suitcase.

“That one is for you,” Jordan pointed.

McKenzie packed her belongings, which included Teddy and Horsey, and zipped it closed. She folded the two trash bags and handed them to her caseworker. “These…” she fought tears defiantly, “are for trash.”


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This article has been read 951 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Mona Purvis10/22/09
What an entry! Digs down really deep and pulls emotions from the reader. I love to read entries that say something life-changing...few do. This one does for sure. Children in Foster Care in our country are so much in need of loving, caring homes. I can't imagine toting your only belongings around in a black garbage bag, but I believe it's done. Shame!

Mona
Charla Diehl 10/22/09
I was pulled into this entry from the first sentence. This felt so real to me as it pricked at my senses. And the bottom line for these lost kids is simply--love. They crave it, need it and by command, we should give it. I expect to find this one in the high ranks.
Carol Wiley10/22/09
I loved the imagery used in this story. The characters were brought to life in it and I loved the end.
Loren T. Lowery10/23/09
Very compelling story and one could not but help to care for your MC and her ultimate outcome. You made her a sympathetic, vulnerable character, but one you felt was certainly redeemable. Thank goodness for people like Jordan and his wife who see this and act upon it.
Amy Michelle Wiley 10/24/09
Oooo, love this story. Well done. What a sweet thought to bring real suitcases for them. Almost made me cry.
Betty Castleberry10/26/09
Loved the realism. Your MC's big sister approach was believable. Nicely done.
Deborah Engle 10/26/09
A very realistic portrayal of a sad, ongoing situation for too many kids. I raised two of thoae kids for 8 years.
Myrna Noyes10/26/09
Oh, I just loved the ending--Perfect!! This story really tugged at my emotions. Great dialogue, believable characters, important insights. Very well-written!! :)
Beth LaBuff 10/27/09
Wow... loved the ending! Heart-breaking and heart-warming combined!
Melanie Kerr 10/28/09
Excellent story! You held my attention through to the end. I thought the appearance of suitcases was a lovely way to end the tale.
Yvonne Blake 10/28/09
Wow...so touching! I love it!
Jan Ackerson 10/28/09
The double meaning in your last sentence put a lump in my throat. Beautiful.
Kimberly Russell10/28/09
Mari- You did a really terrific job. Pulled the reader in from the very start with drama that kept me reading till the very end. Wonderful!
Catrina Bradley 10/28/09
Love love love it!!! Especially the ending. Great characterization with Kenzie, and even little Anna who only had a bit part was brought to life.
Laury Hubrich 10/28/09
It's so sad how many times this really happens. Masterful writing, as always:)
Leah Nichols 10/29/09
You nailed it, Mari! Very touching story....absolutely beautiful. Congrats on your number 9 placement!
Myrna Noyes10/29/09
WOO-HOO, MARITA!! :D Your wonderfully-written and heart-touching story totally deserves its E.C.!!
Beth LaBuff 10/29/09
Congrats, Marita... I so happy to see this on the list. (I loved your husbands thought). :)