Darcy knew how to hide. It was ingrained from a very young age. Her mother was paranoid and suspicious of anyone she met, whether it be about her work, or about her daughter; she could never be too careful. For as long as she could remember, Darcy knew how to get out of the house any way possible. Her mother made it into a game to which only they knew the rules.
“Okay, my little shadow, are you ready to play?”
Darcy’s eyes widened as she nodded excitedly.
“Play Momma, play!” she whispered.
“That’s right sweetheart, so if I sit completely still, just like this-”
She froze looking ahead with wide eyes. Darcy curled around the ottoman enough to cover her body, and slowly slunk towards the door in the room. Her mother’s eyes watched her diligently. With soft footsteps, the toddler moved to the hallway and down the back steps into the garage where her Oscar the Grouch backpack lay waiting for her. She shuffled from the door behind the boxes scattered around and sat as quietly as possible like she had been taught.
“Okay, Darcy, time to come inside.”
Darcy ducked down and held her breath. Her little body shaking but no noise coming from her.
“I mean it Darcy, if you don’t come out, you’re in big trouble missy.”
Still no noise or move to get up. Darcy started to play with her pigtails nervously.
“Darcy Marie Lewis. This game is over, come out right this instant.”
Darcy pressed her knees into her cheeks and squinted through the small cracks. Her body was almost vibrating with tension. Three beats of silence stretched forever until finally her mother let out a small exhale of relief.
“Mary had a little lamb. Its fleece was warm and gold.”
Darcy popped up and ran to her mother’s knees hugging them tight.
“You sounded mad, Momma.”
“I know sweet pea, but you did so good! You are the best hider I ever did see.”
Darcy giggled as two light hands ruffled her braids lovingly. Squirming out of her hold, she pulled her mother by the hand all the way upstairs for her favorite activity: Story time.
Every time it was the same; hide until Momma says so, don’t come out, don’t say anything. Darcy only ever saw it as a game. Something fun for her and maybe something to keep the quiet. She never thought she would need it. She never thought it meant anything.
Every few months, Darcy and her mother would pack up and move. Her mother called it their next adventure, and little Darcy was always excited to see what was next. At every new town, Darcy was allowed one new toy. At age 4, she usually picked whatever lit up the most. This time it was a Lite Brite. Darcy loved the colorful lights on the board; the happy child tapped on each color and giggled throughout the whole car ride.
At one point, moving her hand across the screen, she saw the board blink. Tilting her head, she stared at the lit up screen. She looked up at her mother then back down, but the board stayed stubbornly solid. Huffing, she went back to playing while her mother parked into their new driveway. When she didn’t get out right away, Darcy looked up to see an older bald man in front of the door. He smiled broadly at her mother, but Darcy didn’t like his smile. His lips were too thin and it reminded her of when her Momma was mad.
“Darcy, stay in the car.”
Darcy held the toy to her chest but hunched further into her car seat.
“Yes, Momma,” she whispered.
Her mother got out of the car and stalked up to the larger man in the suit.
“What are you doing here, Stane? I made it very clear I don’t want or need your help.” She snarled at him, trying her best to control the shaking of her hands.
“Now now, I am just here as a family friend. I can’t let you two little ladies alone in the world. Not when you mean so much to the mental health and stability of my own job and future employment.”
He smiled with dark eyes and put his arm around her shoulders, not deterred in the slightest when she flinched away from him.
“Now, I think it would be best if we all sat down and went over the plans together. You know, the plans you skipped out on when you left town in such a hurry?”
He sighed in mock disappointment as he shuffled her closer to the car. Raising his eyebrows, he let go of her to adjust his suit jacket and waited expectantly for her to move ahead. She stiffly opened the van door and started removing Darcy’s safety harness. Clutching the bright board by the handle, Darcy put her arms around her mother so she could hide her face in the hug.
She jerked her head at Obadiah, certain that he already had a key to her new house. Chuckling, Stane turned towards the house and sauntered in, giving passing glances at the empty rooms in the small bungalow and allowed the girls ahead through the hallway. Once situating Darcy into the corner of the living room, her mother turned to block Stane’s view of her.
Darcy dropped her toy for a moment, but her mother was too tense to notice. Hunching over the screen, she saw it flicker again. Scrunching up her nose, Darcy turned the screen side to side making sure not to break her new gift.
“Alright, we’re inside, Stane. What do you need?”
“Now now, Dr. Hansen. Let’s not get snippy. We both know how much trouble you would get in, if it were known exactly how much information you’ve stolen from Stark Industries. I wouldn’t want to get you in any hot water over corporate espionage.”
“Espionage?! I have never stolen any work that wasn’t mine to have, and you know this. I—”
“What I know, Doctor, is that a prominent scientist such as yourself up and left a highly prestigious employment opportunity without notice. You had an affair with the boss and, would you look here, a tiny carbon copy is along for the ride. If that doesn’t scream ulterior motive, then I’m sure the cool half million in your offshore accounts would raise all the right eyebrows.”
Maya sucked in a sharp breath, eyes wide and utterly seething at Obie’s smug face.
“What do you want, Obadiah?”
“Just information. I’d be inclined to know where you two lovely ladies are and when you would decide to leave. I’m also dying to hear all about little—where did she go?”
Stane’s face morphed from pleasant to glowering in an instant. The corner was empty except for the flickering lights of the Lite Brite. He ripped it off the floor and stomped up to Maya.
“What did you do?”
She lifted her chin and stared right in his eyes and said, “I have no idea what you mean.”
His lips thinned and he paced back shaking the toy toward the window before turning to face her. Composing himself, he smiled calmly.
“Call her back here. Now.”
Shrugging, Maya just raised her voice slightly, “Darcy! Come here please darling.”
Two seconds pass and no scurrying of feet passed by. Stane’s fist tightened around the toy, cracking it, and through clenched teeth he declared, “Again, or I swear you will regret it.”
“Darcy Marie, get back here right now!”
“Where is she?!”
“I told her, if she ever felt threatened, to go find the nearest police officer or adult to help.” Maya grinned at him, “You are welcome to stay and explain why my 4 year old is terrified of the strange man in the house with her mother.” She smirked at him.
“DARCY! Come out here now!” His voice shook the hallways and made Maya jump slightly. Glaring mutinously after several minutes, he threw the panel of lights near her head. She didn’t move but flinched slightly when the toy broke against the wall behind her.
“Something is going on here, and I’m going to find out what. This isn’t over.”
With that last threat hanging in the air, Stane marched out of the house slamming the door behind him. Maya waited as she heard the town car speed away. Even then, she waited, tears pooling around her eyes. She waited until 30 long minutes had passed and she rushed to the hallway, calling, “Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was warm and gold!”
A blur of green and black tore through the house at a frightening speed.
“Momma!” Darcy hid in her mother’s legs, sobbing at the lowest volume possible, in case the loud giant was still around.
“I know, honey, I know. You did everything you were supposed to. My brave little shadow. Come on, let’s go. We’re leaving so he can’t come back.”
They moved again. This time to the East coast. Maya kept changing cars and never left an electronic trace. She would take money from ATMs at airports and bus terminals to cover her expenses, but then drove three states over. After calling a previous contact and securing a clean identity for herself, she got a part time job at a local pharmacy. She worked enough hours to not seem suspicious and to create a network that would report to the police if she went missing.
Another hurdle she was trying to avoid was Darcy starting preschool. She actively avoided registering the little girl for anything. Even when she was born she purposefully gave Maya’s mother’s maiden name to avoid linking her to Maya or Tony. She never changed Darcy’s name though. It was confusing enough for Maya, she didn’t want to put the little girl through any possible memory blunders.
The new apartment was small, but in a good neighborhood. Maya made sure to meet all the neighbors after extensive background digging. Every opportunity to ingrain herself into the community was made, but she avoided televised events or newspaper photographs. They stayed longer than any other spot. Almost a year passed and Maya even found a group of mothers that rotated turns for home preschool. No registration necessary.
Things were quiet and smooth. Darcy was happy with friends, and Maya started to breathe a little more each day. She was completely blindsided when an unmarked SUV arrived in front of the town’s pharmacy. As she was getting ready to go back inside, the back door opened revealing Obadiah in a black suit. As he moved away from the door, she glimpsed Darcy in her carseat. She had a small monkey in her lap but was sleeping quietly.
“What did you do? What did you give her?” She whispered frantically.
“Now now, she’s just fine. She had an allergic reaction at school and the moms just didn’t know. Luckily I was there a bit earlier and gave her a small dose of antihistamine. She’s just dozing off. Now come along sweetheart, I know you want to make sure Darcy’s okay for yourself, isn’t that right?”
There was a dark gleam in his eye as Maya clutched her purse to her chest and nodded quickly. Sidestepping him off the curb, she clambered onto the back seat and ran her hand down Darcy’s small face. Her breathing was deep and even, but she had slightly raised bumps on her neck and hands. The door closed behind her and Obadiah got in the front seat. Nodding to the driver, he turned in his seat, “Buckle up, we’ve got a drive ahead of us.”