“Stop running off,” she heard them tell the little girl. “They’re strangers about. You’ll be murdered.”
She almost choked on her coffee in disbelief, and looked round just in time to see the bewildered face of response from the little girl. She couldn’t have been older than 3 years old. The bewilderment had more to do with being told that she had to stay seated than with the promise of a violent death. She was sure the little girl didn’t even know what “murder” was! How could she? She seemed like a bright, inquisitive little thing though so it wouldn’t be long until she asked. Her parents would no doubt give her all the graphic, unnecessary details.
Shaking her head, she turned back to her drink. There had been a stranger danger campaign when she was a kid, she remembered. Loads of different events had been held at school, including a visit from some policemen in their squad car. The campaign had probably been in response to something gruesome and terrible but she had no idea what. She just remembered being able to play with the sirens and the colourful, round stickers that were handed out. There was also a vague memory of an accompanying song. She couldn’t remember it but smirked at the thought of the lyrics being written by the parents of the year, behind her.
She wasn’t a parent herself but she realised how hard it must be to raise a child safely into adulthood in this day and age. If the news was to be believed, there were paedophiles, rapists and murderers everywhere – and most of them hadn’t been strangers to their victims. But surely this wasn’t a new thing? For their own sakes, her generation had been kept in the dark and fed shit. They would never have known who Mark Bridger or Ariel Castro were. Surely being mushroomed was better than being told the awful truth?
In her day job, she was all for levelling with kids. Most of them were modern versions of the lazy, apathetic student she’d been but without any other redeeming features. She’d needed a kick up the backside to get going, they needed both barrels of the cold, hard truth. And they needed it from home as well as from her – but they were sixth formers! Why would you tell a nursery school kid they were going to be slaughtered just to get them to behave!?
She tried not to put herself in harm’s way. On the rare occasions that she went walking in the woods or something, it was never as pleasant and peaceful as it should be. Her city neuroticism was replaced by a kind of agoraphobic neuroticism. Worries about flat tyres, lack of phone signal and twisting an ankle would flood her head. The feeling of being Beyond-the-Wall, the anxiety of being surrounded by silent assassins disguised as heavy raindrops on leaves, the worry that the rest of the world would have somehow disappeared while she was rambling. Not to mention the dinosaurs and inbred locals. Okay, so they weren’t real worries (and they were certainly nicer than her city neuroticism) but they made her cautious all the same. And if she’d survived this long, the way she’d been bought up couldn’t have been too bad.
She looked round at the little girl. She was now sat in a chair much too big for her between her mum and dad, meekly watching her tiny legs swing and dangle beneath her. Never mind the paedophiles; what her imagination would do to her in later life didn’t bare thinking about.