Started today at the library. We didn’t actually find any real information in the papers — the articles were annoyingly protective of the missing boy’s friend’s name. Finally Julian gave up and just asked the librarian.
“We’re reporters,” he explained in that warm, self assured voice. I did my best to look reportery. “We’re hoping to interview people affected by the disappearances, starting from the beginning.”
“That was a long time ago,” she said, suspiciously.
“We understand the first to disappear was Fred Ericson?” Julian said.
The librarian sighed. “It was horrible what happened to the Ericsons. Losing both their boys like they did. They both died young, so I’m afraid they aren’t available for interviewing.”
“Both their boys?” Neal asked sharply. “Did they have a second son?”
“Freddy was the second son,” the librarian said. “Their first boy, Sonny, died out the woods the year previous. But he wasn’t missing. Had an asthma attack. Nothing anyone could do.” She made a face. “He died a year to the day before Fred went missing.”
!!!!!! A year to the day!!!!!! That can’t be a coincidence!!!!
“What was Fred doing out there that day?” Julian asked.
The librarian sighed. “You’ll have to ask Robert Jukes that. He was Freddy’s best friend, and he was out in the woods with him when Freddy disappeared. Still lives in town. Out by the water tower.”
Bingo. A place to start.
“We should look into Sonny Ericson’s death,” Neal said as we walked down the street towards the car.
“Before or after we interview Robert Jukes?” Julian asked.
“After,” Neal said. He didn’t explain but evidently didn’t need to because Julian agreed.
As we went we passed a group of kids going the other way. They were older than the missing kid would have been by a few years, which actually turned out perfect because it was less weird when Neal decided to call after them.
They paused, eying us suspiciously. I sorta squirmed under their gaze. Not that they were like intimidating or anything. Fifteen year olds from old logging towns are not strange territory for me okay. But still, I could tell they were trying to decide if we were kidnappers, which HAHA they sort of are.
Neal was totally unfazed. “Any of you know the missing kid?” he asked. None of them seemed super ready to answer so he added, “we’re from [redacted nearby town]. We lost our little brother some years ago. These things can be linked sometimes. Thought we’d come out and have a look around.”
“Yeah we all knew Breydon,” said one of the kids, a sleek, wealthy-looking kid leaning on the handlebars of his douchy trick bike. He was maybe an eighth grader and definitely popular if not well-liked. “He was cool. Good at riding the trails.”
Neal eyed the bike. “Riding the trails? You guys all bike?”
“Yeah,” said another of the kids. “They won’t put in a real skate park though so mostly we gotta go out in the woods.”
“Where?” Neal asked.
“Out by the water tower,” said Douchy Trick Bike. “There’s a bunch of old pipes and shit out there.”
Neal sighed as the kids ambled off. “Out by the water tower,” he said to Julian. “Sounds like it probably isn’t even our sort of thing.”
“I was thinking that, too,” Julian replied, squinting out at the quaint old stretch of historical town.
“We’ll talk to those kids,” Neal said. “And if they got nothing we’ll head out.”
“Just like that?” I asked.
“If it’s not our kind of thing there’s no reason for us to be here,” Neal said. “There are cops for pedophiles and serial killers. We’re all there is for the other shit.”
“You notice they talked about Breydon in past tense?” Julian asked.
“I guess missing kids don’t tend to turn back up around here,” Neal replied grimly. He rubbed his eyes with his finger tips. “Let’s get this over with.”
It was a bit of a hike out to the water tower, but it was easy to find. There was basically a trail of beer cans and chip bags and trash leading right to it.
The kids weren’t really biking when we got out there though. The older kids were half-heartedly hopping up and down off the rusty old pipes and smoking cigarettes but the younger boys were huddled around the legs of the water tower. They looked up warily when they saw us. I felt like a total interloper but Neal and Julian seemed comfortable. Julian admittedly seemed a bit out of place, in his sweater with the flannel collar poking up out of the neck, but Neal was basically just the grown up version of these miscreants and they seemed to sense that.
“You guys know Braydon?” he called to the kids.
They nodded as we approached, looking like a litter of stray puppies.
“We’re looking for our little brother,” Neal said. “He went missing last year. Thought this might be related.”
None of the boys said anything. I could feel them looking at me shyly. There weren’t any other girls around and I wondered for a flash if there was a place like this back home, like some boys-only hang out I didn’t know about.
“We heard Braydon was trying to show some friends something,” Julian went on. “You guys know what he saw?”
This earned us an uneasy ruffle and Neal and Julian exchanged a significant look.
“We don’t know,” said one of the kids, a scrawny, sandy-haired kid with a bandanna tied around his head. “Braydon was crazy.”
Past tense again, I noticed.
“What kind of crazy?” Neal asked and though his voice was carefully casual I could sense that he was onto something important.
“He said he found a hole in the woods,” said a second of the kids. He was cleaner than the others, but the holes in his clothes were the result of age rather than artful design.
“A hole,” Neal repeated. “Like… someone dug a hole?”
“No,” said Bandanna. “Like a hole in the world. That’s what he said. He wanted to show us.”
“Were you there?” Julian asked.
The kid with the bandanna and the kid with the old clothes both nodded.
“He wanted to show us,” said Old Clothes. “He kept telling everyone but no one believed him, so he wanted to show us.”
“Have you had a lot of lightning storms lately?” Neal asked.
This seemed to throw them. “Yeah,” one of them said. “We always have. The most in the state.”
“Anyone’s house haunted?” Neal asked.
“What the fuck,” said another.
“Stuff moving around or going missing without explanation? You hearing voices or footsteps when no one is home? Electricity acting up? Maybe… histories of family curses, that sort of thing?”
For a long time no one said anything, but I could see on their faces that they were all knew exactly what he was talking about.
“Shit,” Neal sighed. “Where did Braydon say he found this hole?”
The boy with the holes in his clothes pointed out into the woods. “Out by Mr. Jukes’ house.”
“Robert Jukes?” Julian asked.
The boys nodded.
“Fantastic,” Neal grumbled. “Alright, thanks boys.” And then, “You should all go home. There’s someone out there kidnapping kids.”
On the way back out to where we’d parked the car, Julian said, “that sounds like a rift.”
“An old rift,” Neal agreed. “When was that first disappearance?”
“Thirty years ago,” Julian said.
“Rifts stay open for thirty years?” I asked, hurrying to keep up.
“No,” Julian explained. “But they might open and then reopen. Once a site rifts it’s not uncommon for it to happen again. Like patching an old tire.”
We drove to five different houses looking for Robert Jukes’ place without luck, but then at last we turned off the main road onto a long gravel driveway and the sign above the mailbox read Jukes in old, decaying letters.
It was a long drive. No one had bothered trim up the path and pine boughs brushed the top of the car as we drove.
“Not much into landscaping,” Neal grumbled after a particularly loud scratching sound from the roof.
“No,” Julian agreed. “But someone seems to like decorating.” He pointed and we both squinted out the left side of the car. Hanging from a tree on red yarn was a bundle of sticks Blair Witch style.
Neal grimaced. “Fantastic,” he sighed.
The house, when we finally arrived at it, was decidedly dilapidated. Half of the roof was slumped in such a way that I could hardly believe it was still keeping rain out. More stick bundles were strung up around the house. There were stacks of stones too. I could see scraps of fabric between the stones in some places and shivered.
“Alright,” Neal said. He parked but didn’t take the keys out of the ignition. “You might want to bring —”
“Yeah,” Julian agreed, already taking a pair of hand guns out of the glove compartment.
Neal turned over his shoulder to look me in the face.
“You,” he said, “are staying here.”
“But —” I began, but even Julian was with Neal on that one.
“Stay put,” Neal said. “Do you hear me Shiloh? You stay in this car, I don’t care what happens.”
I made a face at him, and settled back into the seat.
They went up to the door, tucking handguns into the back of their jeans. They knocked and I swear my ears were ringing as I leaned over the cup holders and watched through the windshield. But idk he must have been out because no one answered.
We waited there for over an hour, until it got dark and still no one showed up so we left.
I think we’re heading back out there tomorrow morning early, hopefully to catch him before he goes to work.