The Bag Man

“Mr. and Mrs. Sousa, I’m quite concerned about your daughter, Cindy,” Mrs. Carlyle says. She sits with her hands folded on top of her desk. Mandy and Pedro Sousa sit across from her in child-sized, hard plastic school chairs, fidgeting.

“Last week, she stole her classmate’s pencil and refused to give it back, saying it was hers. The week before that, she spread rumors about another classmate. The poor little boy came to me in tears because nobody wanted to play with him at recess.

“But this behavior isn’t what concerns me most. I’ve also noticed that Cindy can be quite violent with her peers as well. I’ve had to reprimand her three times for pushing and once for biting this month alone. Once, she pushed her friend into another classmate in an attempt to make them fight for her amusement. Whenever I confront her about her behavior, she always denies it and tries to blame someone else.”

Pedro sighs and looks away, slouching down into his seat. Mandy frowns.

“Please understand, I’m not telling you this to upset you. I asked you here today to discuss solutions. Cindy is a smart little girl who has a bright future…”

“But?” Pedro says, raising an eyebrow.

“…but, her antisocial tendencies will only hinder her ability to succeed. Not to mention the pain she causes her vict–”

Pedro slams his fist down on the desk, startling Mandy and Mrs. Carlyle.

“There’s nothing wrong with my daughter!” he says.

Mrs. Carlyle looks down and says nothing as her lower lip starts to quiver. Pedro stands, knocking over his chair, and storms out of the classroom. Mandy watches him leave, then looks at Mrs. Carlyle and says, “I’m so sorry. We know Cindy has problems and we’ve been trying to work through them with her at home.”

“Have you contacted a psychologist?” Mrs. Carlyle says.

“No, we haven’t.”

Mrs. Carlyle takes a deep breath and says, “Mrs. Sousa, you need to take your daughter’s behavioral problems seriously. I have a background in child psychology, and I can tell you she ticks all the boxes for a condition called ‘conduct disorder.’ If left unchecked, it can develop into something called ‘antisocial personality disorder’ when she becomes an adult.”

“What does that mean?”

Mrs. Carlyle leans across her desk and says, whispering, “It means your daughter could become a psychopath.”

Rain splatters on the windshield as Mandy and Pedro drive in silence. Finally, Mandy says, “Look, Pedro, you know Cindy’s problems aren’t confined to when she’s at school.”

Pedro stares out the passenger window and doesn’t respond.

Mandy continues. “Cindy lies to us all the time. She lies about small things and big things alike, it doesn’t matter. Remember when she stole my wedding ring and lied when I asked her about it? Then, when I found it in her toybox, she said that her little brother, Johnny put it there to get her into trouble. Johnny’s an infant. He can barely walk.”

Pedro says nothing.

“Speaking of Johnny, she constantly harasses him. I don’t know how many times I’ve caught her making scary faces at him, pinching him, and poking him. And remember last Christmas when he got more presents than she did?”

Pedro presses his head against the cold glass of the window and shuts his eyes.

“She took his presents and threw them one-by-one into the lit fireplace until she had one more than he did. I still remember the putrid smell of melted plastic hanging in the air. It lingered in our living room for weeks.”

“Why’d you leave her alone next to a lit fireplace?” Pedro says in an accusatory tone.

Mandy looks at him, then back at the road. “I was gone for only a minute, changing Johnny’s diaper while you were in the shower. I shouldn’t have to watch a 10-year-old every moment of every day to keep her from destroying things just because she feels like it.”

They continue on in silence, then pull up into their driveway a few minutes later.

Entering their home, they find their babysitter sitting at their kitchen table with her back to them. Upon the table sits a backpack and several textbooks. She turns to look at them and they see tears running down her cheeks.

“Rose, what happened?” Mandy says.

Rose sniffles and says, “Cindy stole my notes for my school project and locked herself in the bathroom. She wanted me to let her stay up late to watch a violent movie, and for me to order her a pizza.

“When I told her that I was going to tell her parents, she said she’d say I beat her and her little brother. I told her ‘No,’ and that she was being bad, and then I heard the toilet flush. She flushed my notes! All of them! I spent hours on my project, and now I have to start over. I’m going to fail my class!”

Rose brings her hands up to her face and cries. Mandy puts her arm around the girl and pats her shoulder. “Oh, sweetie, I’m so sorry,” she says. Pedro looks on with a blank expression.

Rose sniffs and wipes her face with the back of her hand. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Sousa, but I can’t be your babysitter anymore.”

“Wait a minute,” Mandy said, panic rising in her voice. “How about we give you a bonus for tonight and a raise?”

Rose stops crying and looks at her. “And an advance?”

“Yes. And an advance.”

Rose sniffles and gives her a weak smile. “Alright.”

A few minutes later, Rose collects her things and goes home. After she leaves, Mandy and Pedro walk together down the hallway toward Johnny’s room.

“An advance?” Pedro says, angrily. “We gave her an advance on tonight last time she was here.”

Mandy says, “In case you haven’t noticed, Rose is the only babysitter we know who’s still willing to look after Cindy. All the others quit after one night.”

Reaching Johnny’s room, they peek inside and find the little boy asleep in his crib. He has his arms curled around his teddy bear. They give each other an anxious smile which then fades into a look of resignation. Then, they turn and walk the rest of the way down the hall to Cindy’s room.

The door’s closed, but light from inside spills out under the door. Mandy knocks twice and opens it. They find Cindy sitting in the middle of the room, surrounded by Barbie dolls.

“Cindy, what are you doing awake?” Pedro says. “It’s way past your bedtime.”

Cindy ignores him as if he hasn’t said anything.

Mandy kneels down near her daughter and says, “Cindy, is there anything you want to tell us? Something about your babysitter’s notes for her school project?”

Cindy furrows her brow with a look of annoyance and shakes her head.

“Young lady,” Mandy says. “We will not tolerate you destroying other people’s property. Do you understand me?”

Cindy ignores her, concentrating instead on manipulating the dolls’ arms and legs. Mandy grabs one of the dolls out of her hand and says, “Cindy, listen to me.”

“Listen to your mother,” Pedro said.

Cindy stares at the doll in her mother’s hand. Then, with a blank, unmoving expression, she looks up at her, holding eye contact for several seconds. Mandy feels a tinge of fear under the little girl’s unnerving gaze.

Slowly, Mandy says, “Tell me what happened with your babysitter’s notes.”

In a robotic monotone, Cindy says, “Rose threatened to beat me and my baby brother if I didn’t do what she wanted. She said I had to go to bed early and eat nothing but turnips for dinner. I hate turnips!” Cindy makes a disgusted face and sticks her tongue out.

Mandy looks at Pedro and shrugs. He gazes back at her, shaking his head.

“Pedro, are you awake?” Mandy says. She turns to look at her husband as they lay in bed.

“Yeah,” he says.

“I can’t sleep.”

“Me either.”

“What are we going to do about Cindy?

“I don’t know.”

A few moments pass, then Pedro says, “I’ve got an idea.”

“What is it?”

“You’re not going to like it.”

“Tell me.”

“Ok, well I’ve been thinking about last Christmas and how well-behaved Cindy was in the weeks leading up to it. She ate her vegetables and went to bed on time, and she didn’t lie, cheat or steal at all. Even her third-grade teacher, Mrs. Chonko, remarked on how good her behavior was before winter break. Then, as soon as Christmas morning arrived, she went right back to being bad.”

“Yeah, that’s true,” Mandy says, nodding. “I noticed the shifts in her behavior as well. She was like that the year before, too. I guess she believed us when we told her that Santa Claus was watching, and that he’d reward her with extra presents if she was good.”

“Exactly,” Pedro says.

“So, you’re saying we should bribe her to be good all the time?”

“Not quite. Listen, whenever I misbehaved as a little boy, my mother would tell me that the Homem Do Saco was coming to take me away. That’s Portuguese for ‘Bag Man’.”

“Bag Man?”

“Yes, it’s an old Brazilian myth. The Bag Man is like Santa Claus. He’s always watching to make sure children behave. Like Santa Claus, he also lives in the North Pole. But, instead of a beautiful workshop filled with happy elves, the Bag Man lives in a cold, wet cave all by himself. And instead of rewarding the good children with presents, the Bag Man punishes the bad ones by kidnapping them and taking them away in his bag. Then he brings them back to his cave and eats them.”

“Your mother told you this when you were a child?” Mandy says, horrified.

“Yes, and I believed it. Whenever I acted up, my mom would tell me that the Bag Man had called to say he was on his way to come get me. The implication was that neither she nor my father would protest if he showed up to take me away. It made me feel like I needed to prove to them I could be good, so they’d protect me from the Bag Man. Otherwise, they’d let him have me.”

Mandy cringes and says, “What an awful thing to tell a child.”

“Yes, I agree. But it worked. I feared the Bag Man more than my own father, who was a mean drunk with a nasty tempter. Because of that fear, I never got into too much trouble, and felt like my parents’ love was my reward for being good. That, and not being kidnapped and eaten alive.”

Mandy scowls and says, “You’re saying we should tell our child that we’ll let the Bag Man get her if she’s bad?”

Pedro sighs and said, “Look, all I’m saying is that she responds to being rewarded. If we make her feel like being good will protect her from bad things the same way it leads to good things…”

His voice trails off. He and Mandy lay there, staring at the ceiling in silence until morning.

“Cindy, will you please pass the vegetables?” Mandy says. Cindy looks at her from across the dining room table. Johnny sits between them in his high chair, wearing his pea-stained baby bib. Pedro sits on the other side, chewing as he slices into a piece of chicken.

“Yes, mommy,” Cindy says, putting her silverware down on her plate. Then, she reaches for the bowl of steamed broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots sitting next to her. She picks it up and holds it out toward Mandy. As Mandy reaches for it, Cindy says, “Achoo!” and tosses the vegetables into Johnny’s face. The little boy starts to cry.

“Cindy!” Mandy and Pedro say in unison. Mandy says, “Young lady, that behavior is totally unacceptable. We do not throw food, definitely not at people, and especially not at your little brother.”

“But it was an accident,” Cindy says, whining.

“Cindy, you and I both know that wasn’t an accident,” Mandy says, exasperated.

“Yes, it was.” Cindy crosses her arms and furrows her brow as Johnny continues wailing.

Pedro reaches into his pocket and pulls out his phone, then holds it up to his ear. “Hello?” he says. Mandy and Cindy stop arguing and turn their heads to look at him.

“Yes, this is Pedro Sousa. To whom am I speaking?”

Pedro’s eyes grow wide, and he looks at Cindy with exaggerated concern.

“Oh, I see. Yes, Cindy Sousa is my daughter. Yes, she’s here with us right now.”

He covers the receiver with his hand and mouths the words, “It’s the Bag Man” to Mandy. She looks back with apprehension, saying nothing.

“When will you be coming by?” he says. “Tonight? Well, I suppose I understand. Ok, I’ll tell her. Thank you. Goodbye.”

He presses the phone’s blank screen as if he’s ending a call. Then he takes a deep breath as he puts the phone back into his pocket. He looks at his daughter and says, “Cindy, do you know who that was?”

“No,” she says.

“It was the Bag Man. Do you know who he is?”


“Well, he’s kind of like Santa Claus. He lives in the North Pole, and he watches all the little boys and girls in the world to make sure they’re being good.”

“Does he bring presents?” Cindy says, perking up. Johnny calms down and stops crying. He starts playing with the vegetables in his lap, making happy gurgling noises.

Pedro looks at Mandy who gazes back at him, expressionless. “Not exactly,” he says.

Cindy tilts her head to the side with a confused expression. He looks back at her and says, “The Bag Man only comes when someone does something bad and lies about it.”

Cindy shows no signs of comprehension.

Pedro says, “When someone is bad enough, he goes to wherever they are in the world and puts them into his bag. Then, he takes them back to his cave in the North Pole. He always calls ahead, so they know he’s on his way.”

Cindy raises her eyebrows as high as they’ll go. “What happens next?”

Pedro looks at Mandy once more, then back at Cindy and says, “He eats them.”

Cindy’s eyes open as wide as they can.

“That was him on the phone just now. He said he’s coming here tonight… for you.”

Cindy jerks backward in her seat with a terrified look on her face. “Don’t let him get me, Daddy!” she says. Then, turning to Mandy, she says, “Mommy, don’t let him get me!”

She jumps out of her chair and runs bawling down the hall into her room. She lets out a terrified shriek as she slams the door behind her. The muffled sound of her weeping echoes into the dining room. Johnny starts crying once more as well.

Mandy gives Pedro a look dripping with contempt as she folds her napkin and throws it onto the table. Then she stands up and speed-walks toward Cindy’s room.

“Cindy?” she says. “Daddy didn’t mean it. Nobody’s coming to get you. Everything’s alright, sweetie.”

Molly sits on the concrete slab beside the playground, watching the other children play. She lets out a deep, sad sigh as she listens to them laugh and chatter with each another. Then, she notices someone approaching out of the corner of her eye. She looks and sees Cindy walking toward her, smiling. Molly squirms in place, looking around for an easy escape but finding none.

“Hi Molly,” Cindy says with a smile that doesn’t reach her eyes.

“Oh, uh… hi, Cindy,” Molly says.

“Can I braid your hair?”

Molly looks at her sideways and says, “My mommy said I’m not supposed to let you. Not after you pulled my hair last time. It really hurt.”

Cindy looks upset and says, “That was an accident. I didn’t mean to.”

Molly frowns and says, “I dunno. You pulled really hard, and you kept pulling after I told you to stop.”

Cindy rolls her eyes. “That was a long time ago. I won’t do it again. I promise.”

Molly looks at her with doubt, then glances away, distracted by a peal of laughter from one of her peers. She casts an envious gaze toward the group of playing children, then eyes Cindy up and down. “Well,” she says. “I guess you can. Just don’t pull my hair again.”

“Great!” Cindy says, taking a seat behind her.

“Just don’t pull it,” Molly says once more. Then, she closes her eyes as Cindy begins twisting her shoulder-length brown hair into a braid. Several minutes pass between them in silence.

“Molly?” Cindy says.


“Have you ever done something bad and then lied about it?”

“Like what?”

“Like, did you ever take something that wasn’t yours, then say you didn’t?”

“Why do you ask?”

“Just because. I’m curious.”

Molly doesn’t respond for a few moments. Then, she says, “Well, one time last year, my mommy told me I couldn’t have any cookies before dinner. But we’d just gotten a new package of Oreos, you know, the one where you can open it and then close it again and it stays closed?”

“Yes!” Cindy says. “I love Oreos!”

“Me too!” Molly says. “Anyway, when my mommy was on the phone, I snuck into the pantry, opened the package, and took out some cookies. I got them from the back part, where you couldn’t see if any were missing, and put them in my pocket. Then I closed the package, so it didn’t look like it was open.

“I brought the cookies to my room and ate them. They were so good! Right after I finished, my mommy walked into my room and asked if I’d been in the pantry. I told her, ‘No.’ She looked like she didn’t believe me, but she didn’t say anything, and I didn’t get in trouble.”

Molly giggles and waits for Cindy to laugh too, but she doesn’t. Moments pass as a look of concern creeps across Molly’s face.

“Molly, have you ever heard of the Bag Man?” Cindy says, finally.

“No,” Molly says. “Who’s the Bag Man?”

“The Bag Man is like Santa, but instead of bringing you presents, he puts you in his bag. Then, he takes you to the North Pole and eats you.”

Molly gulpes and says, “Why does he do that?”

“Because, the Bag Man hates it when people do things that are bad and then lie about it. It makes him so angry.”

Molly pauses, then says, “Why are you telling me this?”

Cindy doesn’t respond. Molly then hears the sound of scissors cutting into something behind her. She turns around to see Cindy holding a pair of scissors in one hand and a severed braid in the other. Molly touches the back of her head and feels the short, jagged ends of her hair around a patch of bare scalp. A look of realization crosses her face, then she screams and runs away crying.

“Mr. and Mrs. Sousa, do you know why we’ve called you here today?”

Mandy and Pedro sit next to each other on one side of a large wooden desk. On the other side sits a thin woman with white hair. She wears a suit and has thick, dark-rimmed glasses. Upon the desk sits a wooden name plate that says, “Dr. Hutchison – Principal.” Mrs. Carlyle stands next to the desk with her arms crossed, frowning.

“Well, I’m assuming it has something to do with Cindy,” Pedro says with a defeated sigh.

Dr. Hutchison nods and says, “I think we can all agree that your daughter has a… troubled history with us here at Rockhill Elementary.”

Mandy and Pedro look at each other, and then back at Dr. Hutchison.

“But lately, your daughter’s behavior has grown markedly worse. Last week, she manipulated little Molly Beyers into letting her braid her hair. Then, once the poor girl’s guard was down, she took a pair of scissors she’d stolen from the art room and cut her hair off.”

Mandy and Pedro are shocked.

“When Mrs. Carlyle came to ask her about it, Cindy said she didn’t know what she was talking about. When Mrs. Carlyle noticed Molly’s braid sticking out of her back pocket, Cindy then changed her story. She said that Molly had asked her to cut her hair off, then lied about it to get her into trouble.”

Pedro opens his mouth to say something, but Dr. Hutchison holds her hand up for him to be quiet. Then, she continues. “Another disturbing trend we’ve noticed is that she’s becoming much more emotionally violent as well. Whereas before it wasn’t uncommon for Cindy to spread rumors, the content of her gossip has recently become much more disturbing. One story Mrs. Carlyle overheard involved a classmate named Tommy Dilkins. Apparently, Cindy told her classmates that someone called the ‘Bag Man’ was going to come and kidnap Tommy at any moment. This caused them to shun him for fear of becoming a victim of the Bag Man too.”

Mandy slowly turns her head to glare at Pedro. He shrinks down into his seat.

“Specifically in regard to the Bag Man, she’s always talking about him at inappropriate times. She even asks questions about him in class.” Dr. Hutchison turns to look at Mrs. Carlyle. “What was the question she asked you that upset you so much, Mrs. Carlyle?”

Mrs. Carlyle looks at Pedro, then at Mandy. “Cindy asked if the Bag Man cooks the children he takes before he eats them. Or, if he eats them raw.”

Mandy closes her eyes and shakes her head. Pedro puts his hand up to his face and squeezes his temples with his thumb and forefinger.

“In art class,” Mrs. Carlyle says, “she draws nothing but pictures of a scary man carrying a bag. Sometimes the bag is empty, and other times it has people inside it, calling for help.”

Dr. Hutchison opens her desk drawer and retrieves a stack of drawings from inside. Then she holds them out toward Mandy and Pedro. Pedro takes the drawings and began flipping through them as Mandy looks on, her face growing more and more horrified. They’re all done in black crayon on white construction paper. Each image appears as a variation of what Mrs. Carlyle described; a child’s scribblings depicting a scary man with a bag. There are more than 20 drawings in the stack.

“Mr. and Mrs. Sousa,” Dr. Hutchison says, clearing her throat. “We understand that Cindy’s problems might not entirely be a result of the environment in which she’s raised…”

Mandy and Pedro’s eyes open wide and their jaws drop open in unison.

“But, regardless of the reason for her abnormal behavior, I’m afraid we can’t keep her as a student here at Rockhill. My concern for the wellbeing of the other students and teachers is simply too great. I hope you can understand.”

“You’re… expelling her?” Mandy says.

Dr. Hutchison nods matter-of-factly. “We feel it’s best if you found an educational facility for Cindy that’s better equipped to accommodate her needs. And we wish you the best of luck.”

Mandy and Pedro drag themselves through their front door and into their home. Mandy’s eyes are red and puffy from crying. Pedro wears a stone-faced frown. As they walk into the living room, they find Rose waiting for them with her hands on her hips.

Pedro sees her first and said, “What’s wrong?” His voice is hollow and wheezing, as if he’d been punched in the stomach.

“What’s wrong?” Rose says, jerking her head back and forth as she speaks. “What’s wrong is that I caught Cindy waving a knife around in Johnny’s face.”

Mandy gasps and brings her hand to her mouth. Pedro shakes his head in disbelief and says, “What happened?”

“I’d just put him down for the night and told her to go to bed. Then, as I was sitting in the kitchen, trying to reconstruct my project notes from memory, I heard him scream. It was different than the cry of any baby I’ve ever heard, more desperate-sounding, like he was terrified. I rushed in and found her standing next to his crib. She had her arm through the bars, holding a steak knife in her hand like she was going to stab him.”

Pedro says, “Where is she now?”

“She’s in her room.”

Pedro turns and starts walking down the hallway. Mandy and Rose follow close behind. Arriving at her door, he turns the knob and pushes it open. He gaspes at what he sees inside.

There, in the middle of the floor, Cindy sits surrounded by drawings of the Bag Man. They cover every square inch of the carpet. She’s hunched over another drawing, scribbling hard with a black crayon. She doesn’t look up when the door opens.

“Cindy,” Pedro says with tears in his eyes. “What are you doing?”

She continues drawing as if she’s oblivious to his presence.

“Cindy, did you try to hurt your little brother… with a knife?” he says.

She looks up at him and says, “No, daddy. It was Rose. I was just trying to protect him.”

Rose shakes her head and says, “That’s a lie.”

Cindy points at her and says, “The Bag Man’s going to take you! You’ll see, he’s coming for you. He’s going to take you away and eat you!”

Rose rolls her eyes and throws her hands up as she turns and walks out of the room. “I’m done,” she says. Then she marches down the hall, grabs her purse off the kitchen table, and storms out of the house. Mandy and Pedro wince as they hear the door slam behind her.

Mandy puts her hand on her husband’s shoulder and says, “Pedro, can I talk to you?” He nods in silence.

Back in their bedroom, Mandy says, “This has to stop. You’ve got to tell her the Bag Man isn’t real.”

“But,” Pedro says, “Then she’ll figure out Santa isn’t real either. If that happens, she’ll stop behaving at Christmastime, too. We’ll have no control over her whatsoever.”

Mandy shakes her head and says, “Pedro, our daughter’s sick. She needs help. It’s not good for her to keep believing in the Bag Man or any other fictional characters. You need to tell her that they aren’t real. And then, we need to take her to someplace where she can get the treatment she needs.” Tears stream down her face as she speaks. “Please.”

Pedro slumps his shoulders and hangs his head. “You’re right,” he says. “I’ll go tell her the truth. Then, first thing tomorrow morning, I’ll take her to the emergency psychiatric clinic.”

Mandy sigh with relief and says, “Thank you.” Pedro kisses her forehead as she buries her face in his chest and sobs. Then, he returns to Cindy’s room. She hasn’t moved from her spot and appears to have started on another Bag Man drawing.

“Cindy, we need to talk,” he says. She doesn’t respond.

“Cindy, the Bag Man isn’t real, baby. I made him up. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have lied to you.”

Cindy stops what she was doing and looks at him over her shoulder. Shaken by her silent gaze, her begins to stammer. “Uh, and, Santa Claus isn’t real, either. Neither are the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy. They’re just characters like from a cartoon. Your mom and I, we made them all up.”

Cindy continues staring at him for several moments. Then, her face breaks into a hideous smile.

“Silly daddy, I know Santa’s not real.”

“You do?”

“Yes, and I know about the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy too.”

“How do you know?”

Cindy giggles and says, “The Bag Man told me. He told me everything; all the lies you and mommy say.”

Pedro’s face falls and he shakes his head.

“Want to know something else?” Cindy says, standing up and facing her father. “He told me about another lie you said.” She lowers her voice and says, “A big one.”

“What lie, baby?”

Cindy takes a step toward him and says, “I think you know, Daddy. You did something bad, something really bad. Something you’d never want mommy or anyone else to know. And then you lied about it. Didn’t you, daddy?”

Pedro shakes his head and says, “Cindy, there is no Bag Man. He didn’t tell you about any lies or anything else because he isn’t real.

Cindy giggles once more and says, “But you’re lying now, daddy.”

Pedro feels anger well up inside him. He kneels down so that he’s at eye level with Cindy.

“What’s this big lie the Bag Man said I told?”

Cindy leans forward and whispers something into his ear. As she does, his eyes grow wide. He looks at her, wild-eyed, then grabs her by the shoulders and says, “Who told you that?”

“The Bag Man,” she says, shrugging. “And now he’s coming to take you away.”

A cold ray of hazy grey sunlight shines onto Mandy’s closed eyelids through the window shades. She opens her eyes, her pupils shrinking in the light. She sits up in her bed, yawning and stretching.

Pedro’s side of the bed is empty, the covers tossed aside. Looking at the digital clock sitting upon her dresser, she sees it’s 6 a.m.

“Pedro never gets up this early,” she says. “Where is he?” Then, her groggy mind recalls the events of the previous night. With an odd mix of relief and apprehension, she says, “He must’ve taken Cindy to the emergency psychiatric clinic.”

She gets out of bed, takes a shower, and dresses for work. Then she walkes into the kitchen a few minutes later, putting her earrings on, but stops at what she sees. There, sitting at the table, eating a bowl of Honey Smacks, is Cindy. “Hi mommy,” she says, crunching her cereal with her mouth open.

Mandy balks. “Um, Cindy, where’s daddy?”

Cindy says something, but her mouthful of cereal muffles her voice. Mandy can’t understand her.

“What?” Mandy says.

Cindy swallows her food and says, “The Bag Man took him.”