Fictionalizing is a writing exercise I set myself where I take a news article, normally a less important story from the local news, and use it as a basis for a short story. Although the story has a basis in real events I am in no way trying  to portray what really happened; both the story and the characters in it are entirely fictional. This story is based on this article and I call it The Sex Offender.

He felt the mans hand on his thigh, and though he couldn’t quite define why, he felt there was something intensely wrong about it. He looked up at the man, thinking he should protest in some way but the man gave him a stern look that silenced him directly. The mans hand moved slowly up and down his leg, kind of like a caress, but it didn’t feel good like when his mom hugged him and stroked his back. Too afraid to do anything else, he tried to ignore the bad feeling and stared out the window at the bleak landscape rolling by, the damp gray fields broken off here and there by a clump of dead trees, their bare black branches reaching towards the milky sky, or the occasional farm house.

After a couple of minutes the man removed his hand from his leg but he kept staring out through the window all the same, not wanting to show how relieved he felt at no longer being touched. “Hey.” He ignored the mans voice, “Hey, I’m talking to you,” the man nudged him on the shoulder. He turned around to look at the man, only just enough to show he was listening. “No need to look so sullen, we’re going for a little trip you and I, and we’re going to have so much fun together.” The man smiled but there was no warmth in it. The boy nodded then looked down at the floor, though he avoided thinking about it, he knew what the man meant by ‘having fun together’ and the thought of it made him feel sick. He also knew the man didn’t like it when he cried but he just couldn’t help it. He sat there, head down trying hard not to make a sound as the tears started trickling down his face.

Marie scrolled lazily through the Instagram flow on her phone, sipping her coffee. There was nothing of any great interest, just the same old news about Trump saying something offensive or stupid, and the same old memes as always. She put the phone down and looked out the window, nothing but the boring gray landscape of southern Sweden a rainy autumn afternoon. She sat like that for a few minutes, slowly finishing off her coffee while the landscape rolled by outside the window. She checked the phone one last time then put it in her bag and got up to go to the bathroom. As she made her way back to her seat, she looked at the other passengers she was passing and happened to notice a small boy sitting next to a gruff looking middle aged man. The boy sat curled up in the seat, tears streaming from his eyes as he whimpered “mommy, mommy” but the man just sat there, completely ignoring his crying. It was so unlike anything Marie had ever seen of  normal parent-child interaction but she didn’t dare confront the man in case he got violent. Instead she noted the seat number and went back to her own seat. She picked up the phone again but couldn’t concentrate on the social media on her screen, and kept looking over the top of the phone in the direction of the boy and the strange man.

After a little while the train rolled in to the next station and she made sure to check if the man and the boy got off but they remained seated. A minute or so after the train rolled out from the station the attendant entered her car, calling out her customary “Any new travelers?” When the attendant was almost at her seat, Marie waved her over. “New traveler?” the woman asked, a skeptical look on her face. “No,” Marie answered, “you already checked my ticket two stops ago. I just wanted to alert you to something. There is a young boy traveling with a strange man who I think isn’t his dad, and he keeps crying for his mom; I think there’s something seriously wrong with it.” The attendant’s eyes widened as she heard this and bent closer to Marie. “Did you see him doing anything to the boy?” “No, all I saw was that the boy was crying for his mom and the man didn’t do anything to stop it. If it had been his dad he would have hugged him or something but he just ignored it. That’s not normal!” “Do you know where they are?” The attendant asked. “Yes, they are over there, on seat row 22.” Marie replied. “OK, I will look into it. Thank you for informing me.” “No, thank you for taking this seriously” Marie said. They nodded to each other and the attendant straightened up and kept walking through the train, once more calling out her “Any new travelers?”

Linda walked on until she reached the gap between the two cars and there she stopped, leaning her back against the wall. If the things that woman had told her were true this could be some kind of kidnapping or something, but what was she supposed to do about it? Should she alert the driver, if she did, what would he do about it? Call the cops? Maybe, but could she really do that based on some passenger saying it was weird? She took a couple of deep breaths to calm down. OK, the first thing to do would be to check on the man and the boy and try to verify if something was actually going on. She looked at her watch, they were at 32 minutes from the next stop, she had plenty of time to finish her round before coming back. She resumed walking down the aisle, periodically calling out to the passengers, until she reached the front of the train. She stepped into the drivers cabin sat there for a few minutes before going out again. When she reached car 4 she slowed down a bit and as she passed seat row 22 she gave the man and the boy a seemingly casual glance, sure enough the boy was crying and the man, just having noticed the her, sushed the boy to make him shut up but he just kept crying. When she reached to parting between cars she stopped and leaned against the wall again. OK, she definitely had to do something, but what. She couldn’t confront the man, there was technically nothing wrong with ignoring a crying child next to you. However, she could try to talk to the boy, showing some ‘womanly concern’ for a crying child probably wouldn’t alert the man to her suspicions.

She stayed in the space between cars for a couple of minutes, making sure she could put on a calm, neutral expression when she went to talk to them. She walked back to the couple and, pretending she just noticed that the boy was crying, bent down towards him with a fake smile plastered on her lips. “Hello little friend, why are you crying?” she asked. The boy sniffled a couple of times then replied, almost inaudibly, “I want my mom.” and kept on crying. “But you have your dad right here, don’t you?” she said, hoping he would say yes. “He’s not my dad” the boy replied with another sniffle. “Are you traveling alone then?” she insisted. The boy just shook his head. “Look,” the man said, “I take care of him sometimes when his mom is too busy at work. He’s just a little cranky right now but he’ll be fine in a few minutes.” She didn’t dare push it further so she just said “Alright, hope you have a good trip” then walked away.

Though she pretended not to look, she kept an eye on the boy and the man every time she passed and she noticed that the boy never seemed to stop crying. When the train rolled in to Landskrona station she saw the man get up and grab the boy by the arm, pulling him with him as he moved to the exit. She hesitated for a couple of seconds then stepped off the train after them. The couple had already gone some distance along the platform and she started running towards them, shouting at the top of her lungs “Let the boy go!” The man kept walking but she soon caught up with them and managed to get hold of the boys hand. She kept telling the man to let go of the boy and after a little while he relented and started backing off. Gathering more power than she thought she had in her she shouted “Stay right where you are!” To her surprise he obeyed, just dropped his hands to his sides and stood there, like he had given up.

A small crowd had gathered around the scene and she called out to them “This man here was attempting to kidnap this boy, someone call the police.” She then turned her attention back to the boy who was still crying but a bit less now. “Come here” she smiled at him and he stepped forward a bit reluctantly. “He can’t hurt you anymore, the police will come and take him away” she said as soothingly as she could then pulled him in for a hug. He leaned his tear stained face against her shoulder, hugging her back. As she stood there, kneeling on the cold concrete of the platform, holding the boy tightly in her arms she cold feel a tear falling from her eye and roll down her cheek. Another tear followed and soon she and the boy were both crying, he for his ordeal and she in sympathy with him. They remained like that for a long time, she hardly noticed when the police came and it was only when they hauled the man off to the car that she stood up and wiped away her tears. With a final “It’s going to be OK” she handed the boy over to the police officers.

It felt good when the train lady hugged him, almost like his mom. It felt even better when he saw through his tears how two police men grabbed the man and hauled him off towards their car. When two police officers came towards them the train lady stood up and wiped her tears. She motioned him towards one of the police men, a young guy with a kind face, and told him “It’s going to be OK”. He took the police mans hand and wiped his own tears, they would finally take him home to his mom. He knew everything would be OK but he also knew, deep down in his heart, that the memory of the man and what he had done to him would never go away.