For the next few weeks Orrick made an effort to keep a close eye on Milton. He invited Marky or Edgar with him, or anyone to run by Milton’s house and see what he was up to. But only after someone made ‘the call’ to their parent. Milton, he noted, was always very careful to engage in this action without prompting. It was almost suspicious.
One day Milton escorted the kids home early; in order to finish the eaves on Orrick’s house. It was the same day Milton was painting the interior of his own home, and all the windows and the door to Milton’s home were left wide open.
“You’re not worried someone will break into your house – I mean, walk in?” Orrick wondered. He let Milton push him along – today they were on going at it on foot.
“Why?” Milton inquired. “What would they steal? My tea kettle?”
Once Milton finished work on Orrick homes eaves, he sort of dropped off the map. Orrick noted Milton was hardly at his own home, but frequently saw Milton around the neighborhoods doing the old odd jobs. If Orrick caught up to Milton without the other aware of it, he could sometimes observe Milton amid a trance like state, staring off into one of the wooded lots that lingered around the neighborhood. No matter how heated the day was, Milton was always in his baggy turtleneck, nonplused and in a whole other world.
Orrick began to wonder if Philip was teasing him about the whole story, of Milton being torn up by wild animals. Though, Orrick never again saw Philip in Milton’s presence, even when Philip’s father had work done on the home; Philip would appear at Orrick’s place, and thus keep Orrick company for the day. Milton seemed detached from the whole set of drama.
Then, a month before festivities were completed for the Summer Initiation Fair, Orrick made his usual trip to Milton’s home, only to find he was beaten there.
Two patrol cars were parked in the bowl of the cul-de-sac, and two men were poking around the back corners of the home. The front door was wide open, but whatever was going on Orrick couldn’t see. And he didn’t want to get involved.
“The police were at Milt’s place.” Orrick marched into his house, and threw his backpack onto the couch beside his mother. Orrick climbed up and leaned back on his book bag. “I didn’t see him, but the cops were all in his place.” His mother looked up from her newspaper with an unhelpful expression, then looked back down. The television was on, but muted, with closed captions scrolling along the screen bottom.
“Is Milton in trouble?”
This time, his mother folded the paper and set it aside. She scooted over the cushions, closer to Orrick. “I don’t know honey. Milton seems like a very good person….”
“He seems to be all over the place, doesn’t he?”
“So?” Orrick hummed. “I mean, what could he be up to?”
“That’s the thing,” his mother led on. “The families around her, are starting to see a pattern. But we’re not sure what it means.” She tussled Orrick’s hair, and smiled. “For a while, stay close to home. Or stick to visiting your friends’ homes.”
The next day after school, Philip came straight over to Orrick’s place with a large sleeping bag. It was a Friday, and not much convincing went into asking his father to let him stay over at a friend’s place. Orrick and Philip spent most of their time watching the television shows, or they’d get outside and play in the yard, which eventually led them to the back alleys that sipped between many of the houses – as long as they didn’t have ambitions to venture near the wild-lots.
Orrick didn’t really catch that his friend was still upset by anything, but they didn’t spend the time dwelling on anything much but for the oncoming summer break. Orrick’s father had put a beaten up old television in Orrick’s room for the sleepover, and an old Power Rangers movie played with the volume lowered. It was like their friendship was rekindled, and Orrick had never known that there was the division between them. That weekend was one of the best Orrick had in a long while; not doing much and making preparations for the summer break. They even kidnapped Qubert for the day, and let him hang with ‘the big’ kids.
The day of the Summer Initiation Fair, and the unofficial last day of school before summer break, Orrick took off same as he did every morning when leaving for school. Rather head for his school though, he went through the network of back alleys to reach Brook’s home. Orrick’s mother never mentioned staying out of the alleys, and most had openings in the fences where the kids usually cut through. It was early dawn but Orrick didn’t need to be at school on time, the teachers and faculty would be setting up for the day’s festivities.
As Orrick weaved his way in and through the accessible yards, he noted the odd atmosphere. The neighborhood felt… subdued. Dew clinging to overgrown grass blades felt clammy, the sky was overcast and seemed much-much earlier than he anticipated. He didn’t hear the jabber of dogs, or get harassed by the animals barricaded within fully built fences – if a neighbor had a completed fence it was usually to keep a pet in. Birds didn’t chatter as they often did in early spring; everything felt off.
Orrick attempted to dismiss his unease. He cut through a neighbors open yard to reach the front door of Brook’s home; the house was nice and simple, with a little flower garden bordering around the side of the wall. Flowers were already bright in bloom, but even the color of the petals felt diluted and weary. Orrick hiked the steps to the front porch and knocked at the door.
No one answered. The lights in the windows were not on either. He knocked again and waited. Not a sound emerged from behind the door; usually a television program or someone arguing could be heard, preluding to the opening of the door. It was odd, usually Brook’s father made breakfast before she left for school.
Orrick bounced off the porch and followed the sidewalk, this time out and around to the front of the home. The garage door was wide open, the interior filled with an assortment of collected boxes and gardening tools crammed within, while leaving a breath of room available for one vehicle. The truck was gone, and the ensemble of possessions was in full view of the neighborhood. Orrick could just go in and take something, but he wouldn’t. Anyone could think that.
The interior door of the garage that led into the kitchen was unlocked. Orrick pushed the door in and looked around. The home was cold, no smell of food cooking or cooked; where he stood Orrick could see the sink, filthy dishes were piled up; an open bag of bread sat on the countertop, beside wilted celery on a cutting board, and a bowl of dried out meat ‘mixture’ that smelled strongly of garlic.
Unnerved, Orrick shut the door and left the home. He didn’t know what else to do, and thus made the trip to his school alone. The sun was brightening the sky at that point, the drab grays drew back into the eerie pool that night teased gloom from.
The atmosphere of the fair was a striking contrast compared to Brook’s abandoned home. The fair was held indoors within the school gymnasium, and in the connecting halls surrounding; stands were already set up, with construction paper bordering the tables labeling what grade and class each vendor represented. Families and parents came through hourly; many carried recycled grocery bags filled with macaroni cards or popsicle birdhouses, or other such crafts.
Bright lamps illuminated the glossy floor, obliterating the oppressive mood the scenery outdoors compelled; a dull drum of conversation lifted and moved the pitch of activity breeding throughout the ceremony; it was almost like none of the kids were missing anything what with the Stat Fair canceled. Certainly, this made up for it.
Orrick struggled to focus throughout the event; he was monitored by the teacher of his class, and she made certain the kids were keeping focused with their vending and not fooling around.
“Are you holding on, Orry?” Ms. Burr asked. She leaned down beside Orrick and looked him in the face. “Do you need to sit down for a bit?”
Orrick shook his head. After a thought, he turned back to Ms, Burr and called after her. “Hey, is Brook okay? Do y’know? I went by her home, but no one was there. I’m worried.”
Ms. Burr gave Orrick a stern, but sympathetic look. She took Orrick by the shoulder, and guided him out of the little vending table set up for her class. “Roxanne? Can you keep watch on my table for a bit? It can’t wait.” Ms. Burr didn’t wait for a response; she moved Orrick out and away from the hustle and bustle of the gymnasium, and took him to a smaller corridor that was low traffic. “No one told you? Where were you?”
Orrick fidgeted and glanced away, as if he committed the crime. “No. I-I left early-- What happened? Is Brook all right?”
“She’s fine,” Ms. Burr spoke, voice tight. “But Reggie… he was reported missing.”
“What?” Orrick barked. “When?”
“Sometime over the weekend.” Ms. Burr turned her gaze aside. “But, he was staying with some friends, and they haven’t been seen around either. The group could have easily gone off camping in the thicket somewhere. Brook and Mr. Tumult went to the station to file a missing persons report, and get people together to try and track him down. That’s why she’s not here today.”
Orrick nodded. He knew Ms. Burr was withholding the whole story - it didn’t add up all the way. He recalled the last time he saw Brook was Wednesday or something. That was around the last time he went by Milton’s house, when the police showed up.
There was only two hours remaining for the Summer Initiation Fair, but at the time when the gymnasium and the faculty were supposed to announce an end – order the kids to start packing up and cleaning station – it didn’t happen. Well, the teacher began coordinating the kids, and getting goods and gear picked up. There was no rush.
“We’re going to use a few extra hours to do some trading,” the Principal announced, through a megaphone. He stood center of the gymnasium, the axis of the kids and culmination of their crafts. The students chorused groans. “Now don’t give me that. This is a new activity we’ll test out, so none of you who have an excess of crafts you don’t want, can try and get something you might like.”
Orrick was okay with this. He didn’t have many badges left; he sold a surplus of thirty dollars, and doubted he’d sell the rest of his wares off. He got a ceramic bowl from Leslie (traitor), and a decorated ‘shaman’ stick from Philip.
The whole trading activity was a red herring, Orrick soon learned. When the students left the school grounds, there were police vehicles on the scene. More accurately, parked in specific areas around the wild-lots. Lights were flashing in silent warning, as the children were led in groups from the school and boarded onto buses, or picked up by their parents. Students that walked, like Orrick, waited on the playground until parents showed up.
“What’s going on?” Orrick immediately spat, when he climbed into the car with his mom. He glowered up at her as she pulled forward, and eased into the road.
“I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t,” his mother insisted. “Do you know Brook’s older brother? What was his name?”
“He went missing!”
“You left the house before I could tell you.” His mother flashed her eyes over the road; evading the pedestrians as they wandered across to overgrown lots – some men carried sticks. “When they went back to question Milton, he was gone. They searched his home, found nothing. That’s what sparked this.”
“Did they find Reggie?” Orrick’s eyes stung. He didn’t want to think of Brook crying, or her father holding her. He didn’t want to think about never seeing Reggie again. It never sunk into Orrick until now – he never really paid attention to Reggie or his antics – but Reggie was sort of a big brother to him. He couldn’t bear to think of Reggie out of their lives – gone from Brook’s life – forever. “Was he—?”
“No,” his mother gasped. “No. But, no one is waiting.” That odd expression crossed the face of his mother again; Orrick couldn’t place what it was, but he had a suspicion. She knew something dark, and she refused to share. “The police are keeping everything under control. The search parties are volunteers. That’s all.”
Orrick sunk back into his seat. He peered up over the passenger door, at the blurred homes. He expected to see Milton out in a yard, or on a roof, just anywhere doing something like always.
The first few weeks of summer holiday sucked. Eventually, the search crews died down; no one reported sign or hint of Milton. Orrick learned the prospected whereabouts of Reggie, the night it was believed he disappeared. Reggie was, as stated, staying with friends over the weekend. The group he was with decided to go out and make a food run, or something – that was where Reggie disappeared. Reggie’s friend lived way on the other side of the city at the time, and the friends were now under investigation for ‘underage drinking’ and another investigation.
But Milton was still missing, though not gone completely.
People still saw Milton creeping around. He remained a loose suspect, but his whereabouts were infuriatingly impossible to place. Police regularly patrolled the neighborhoods, and the kids went under strict house arrest – unless a parent was willing to drop someone off. The parent network was fairly strict, and even if parents were not present in the home or a babysitter on scene, kids that went up faced harsh consequences from someone else’s parents.
It was already the middle of June, and Orrick hadn’t done anything short of break a window in Edgar’s house – for the first time he was banned from Edgar’s. His mother and father scolded him, but since everyone was boxed up in their homes there wasn’t much they could do or be dramatically upset over. They took the AV cord of his hand-me-down TV, which made it useless since he could only watch videos on it. He spent the summer in his room playing action movies, and trying to shoot characters on screen with his dart gun. It was only fun when he came up with elaborate back stories that involved his favorite superheroes.
One unremarkable evening Orrick took a nap around dusk, and woke up for a few hours before his parents committed to bed. He had the light out, and everything under his bed pulled out; this enabled him to climb up and over, under and up his bed, again and again. The sheets hanging over his bedside made the drapes of a dark, sinister jungle. Tomorrow, Orrick would expand on his domain, and add a temple in the downstairs living room – once his mom left for work.
For the next few minutes Orrick sat beside his window, dozing. He had the window open and was listening to the distant yowl of a dog, and the rapid talk of the crickets. But for the sounds, the neighborhoods stretching forth were still and vacant blocks of color. No one was—
Orrick jarred. He gawked down as a figure darted into his peripheral – the movement faint, he was almost certain it was imagined. Orrick was intent to confirm his suspicion, and leaned far out of his window to see beyond the corner of his homes eave. Briefly, the shape darted out of sight. Orrick waited.
It appeared once more, zipping across the road and towards Orrick’s home. Orrick held his breath and slipped back, into the quiet depths of his window. This time, he reached up to the window edge, intent to latch the window tight regardless if he was visible or not. Better to have a barrier in place.
At the corner eave below the roof, the figure dropped onto the grass; the movement wasn’t right. It stood and managed a few, slow, agonized paces; the outline quaked and jittered. Finally, it was out of sight. Again, Orrick was leaning out far over his windowsill, struggling with the identity of the figure. He had a suspension he knew exactly who it was.
In the corner of Orrick’s room was a new, never used baseball bat. Once upon a time, his father did play with him, but not since years. The bat was small and outgrown, but it was sturdy and guaranteed to hurt. Milton looked like he was already roughed up anyways.
Maybe he needed help? Orrick didn’t know, but he would find out.
Orrick never dressed for bed that evening; he only needed to sneak out of his room and down the stairs. His home was absolutely silent, aside from the soft wheeze of the air unit embedded in the walls. The front door shut seamless and politely at his backside as he inched out into the dark, balmy night. The nearest streetlamp, a few meters up the road from his home, flickered sporadically. Orrick stepped off the cement path, barefoot, and moved in the general direction he thought Milton must have gone.
There was no sign or sound of the broken figure, but Orrick took the path between open fences and paused at the side entrance of an alley. He thought he heard a dog growl, at a distance to his left. Quietly he moved, baseball bat gripped tightly between his hands, palms sweaty. The sound stopped, and Orrick hesitated beside an open road. It rippled briefly in his mind that he had never crossed a road after dark, and at no midnight or whatever time it was. He crept across the asphalt, his feet stinging from the hard bites of warm stones.
Halfway across the road, Orrick recoiled. He put his foot down on something wet and cold. The road beneath him was an impassive black wall and he could see nothing like water; even if it was light out, he would probably have missed a puddle. Though, the grass was bone dry.
At an indiscernible distance, Orrick caught another snatch of cry. On closer inspection of the thick overgrowth, there was no visible path into the wild lot. He pushed in through the fragrant branches and leaves; the shrubs rustled loudly. He winced with each movement, but still he pressed on. What was the sound? It was like a dog, but higher in pitch.
Again, the sound came. Closer now. Orrick hastened his steps ducking down forward, and low under grabbing twigs. He prodding for the clearest, most hospitable opening visible in the prickly gloom.
In a net of foliage mere meters ahead, something large and dark shuffled about. Orrick stalled for a full minute as the mountain of noise huffed and plowed forward. Something smaller and lean shot out of the way, and crashed into a wall of branches – everything either crackled or snapped like a thunderclap. Orrick saw the face briefly, the white eyes as it glanced his way.
Milton ducked down, inflicted by some invisible blow. Orrick swung his head in the other direction, toward screaming branches. The shape was pressing through shrubs, eyes aglow. Orrick staggered backwards, but upright now he couldn’t submerge himself within the impervious lattice of shrubbery.
It was a bear! No. It was huge, but not enormous – it’s body disproportioned, but hulking. The eyes – something in the eyes was bizarre and terrifying; something in that glimmering light was calculating, intelligent. It was aware that Orrick was terrified, and it drank up the fear. Teeth glinted as oily lips curled back, he could smell the hot breath, the soured rot.
The infant bat was clutched in Orrick’s hands, ready to snap in his grip alone. But Orrick couldn’t raise or wield his weapon; it paled in comparison to those gnashing, titan teeth.
A strangled cry ignited, and the heap of death toppled sideways. Milton was actually on top of the monstrous animal wrestling its trunk of a neck – fighting it one way, then the other. Orrick remained rooted, squatting down and recoiling behind his arms; his thin weapon held high.
Milton was slung off sideways and plowed into the earth. The monster beast slammed a foot onto his chest, and stood upright. Milton fought at it with his arms. And squealed.
Orrick could smell the blood; gawked through the arch of his arms, unblinking and eyeballs shriveled in his skull. The gargantuan beast bit onto Milton’s shoulder and kept biting. Orrick heard crunching; jaws gnashing, and slurping. Milton went quiet.
Immediately, the abomination heaved its head high, ears aimed at Orrick; the pale swirls of night sky broke up the dark texture of the sculpted figure peering down. Orrick flinched back; one hand held the bat out now, between him and the beast. The monster made some careful, noiseless steps forward; snout stooped low and ears flattened back.
Orrick kicked away, but there was no escape. He backed up into a fixed tree trunk; everyway he turned there was more sharp branches stabbing into his face and shoulders. Orrick gave a constrained whined and swung his bat out at the crouched monster.
Knife like teeth bit down on the toothpick and ripped it from Orrick’s slickened hands. It flung the obstruction aside; its eyes gleamed as teeth bared. Orrick stared….
Past the beast. Milton was a few feet behind its shoulder.
Something flashed, and the monster yowled. Orrick recognized that sound. Pain. Milton was on top of it again, this time his heels stabbed into the earth. Dirt and leaves cascaded skyward in waves, there was a wild scuffle and the agonized song of branches tearing in the chaos.
The titan abomination slackened; a low whine rumbled as it toppled. It deflated like a soggy coat in Milton’s grip, and Milton heaved or jerked it backwards, away from Orrick’s position. Orrick was certain the wolf came a part in the rough treatment. He dropped his gaze, and gazed at the dark shade of impression in the dirt before him.
In sudden panic Orrick leapt upright and charged in a direction; immediately tripping and stumbling – blinded by a wall of leaves. Before he could untangle himself, a sharp grip snared his arm and hoisted him backwards. Orrick fought and screamed; he tried to bit the hand that seared itself to his arm, but the grip jostled him and hefted him up – all kicking and wailing Orrick – by an arm. He was shaken so hard at his shoulder, he thought his heart came loose.
“You stop that, now,” the voice hissed. It was Milton’s, but at the same time… wrong. This made Orrick fight harder. “Stop that, or I’ll kill you right here. It won’t be a trouble.” Orrick went weak in the knees and slumped; he hung by his arm. It was painful. But Orrick glued his mouth shut; eyes soggy and dripping. He had dirt in his eyes, and that was painful too.
“Don’t make a sound,” Milton resumed. He was dragging Orrick away from the ruin of the clearing. Orrick caught a glimpse of the beast, but now… it looked like less like an abomination or a monster. It was skinned. Pale. “If you attempt to get… attention, you’ll be dead before they register your danger. Don’t make this harder than it has—” There, Milton’s voice rattled. “To be.”
“Don’t hurt me. Don’t hurt me,” Orrick blubbered. “Please. Please—” He was cut off by Milton’s rough handling. Orrick was dragged by the arm through the dense shrubs; his arms cut and scratched by merciless branches – though none as cruel as the grip Milton held him with. Orrick could feel pins wriggling in his fingertips; no matter how he protested, Milton’s grip wouldn’t loosen.
Milton disentangled from the wild-lot a short distance from a road Orrick didn’t recognize; he thought it was familiar, but couldn’t be certain. The road was empty and void of sound. Milton checked their surroundings, completely oblivious to Orrick’s resistance. With Orrick in tow, Milton moved in a direction on the road – around the bend of a distant cinderblock wall. Orrick could see lights. Hope fluttered in his chest.
The threat was no doubt blunt and cold, but Orrick was willing to risk it; if it meant survival. He staggered after the callous march, eyes searching the open plaza for vehicles, someone – anyone – awake and not blacked out drunk. Milton hauled Orrick across the road, and as they moved more into the awaiting light – Orrick found he had no voice after all.
The abomination had butchered Milton up, and that was an understatement. Milton was coated in dark red, his hair matted – what was worse was the white creases beneath his scalp; one eye was gone, and the other was miscolored. Orrick gawped at the hand latched to his arm; Milton’s sleeve was gone, along with a sheet of flesh and muscle – two parallels of bone gleamed within the yellow haze of the streetlamps. He gulped down a mouthful of the smell. Hot copper. Orrick’s voice squelched in the back of his throat, when Milton constricted the free hand around his throat. Milton peered at Orrick with his remaining eye; it was terrifying and misshapen – damaged beyond seeing, yet still capable of seeing right into Orrick’s soul.
“Not in the mood.”
They reached a phone booth; the broken door screamed on its overused track as Milton forced it sideways. He shoved Orrick inside, and Milton pinned himself within the doorway. A shaking hand drew a coin from his pocket, and Milton dialed a number.
Orrick stuffed himself into the furthest corner and coiled up into the tiniest ball possible. He stared up at Milton between parted fingers.
“This is Extension Enoch. Commission fulfilled… you’ll find,” Milton leaned down against the phone and pressed a hand to his head. Red lines of blood disconnected from his chin and plopped onto the cement floor between his bare toes. “On the corner of Evans and Peters St. Neutralized. The Nashville Killer will fade away. Listen—”
Orrick screamed. He didn’t say anything at first, but then the words came desperate and scarcely coherent. “Help! HELP ME!” He kept begging, and began sobbing. “I don’t wanna die!”
“—that. Hmm? I want to... negotiate.” Milton peered through the glassed walls of the phone booth, up and around the gleaming roads and abandoned asphalt parking zone. “That won’t do. I won’t. It’s up… to—” Milton turned his head aside and exhaled into his shoulder. His shoulders shook.
Orrick crammed himself back into the corner of the phone booth. He struggled to hear through the conversation when Milton was silent, listening. Orrick could hear the other voice, but not the words it put together. He had a feeling he didn’t want to hear.
“Winding Loop, Off from Peters St. Orry, or… A phone booth down from the plaza, hard to miss. I recommend guns.” Milton took a deep breath, voice burbling. “Do or don’t – this’ll get messy. I make no guarantees.” Milton shoved the phone back onto the receiver. And shivered.
“All right. I need you to stay… right here.” Milton stepped out of the glass box and wrenched the door, on its track, more or less back into place. He kept scraping and fighting to force the door completely shut. “No guarantees.” He bent the swivel joint in the door, and jerked the panel in the remainder of the way. It wouldn’t go further.
Orrick slipped out of his protective cocoon, but stopped from standing or speaking. He watched as Milton fought with the door a little more.
“Well, I suppose you can’t get out.” Milton left smear marks across the murky window. He pivoted, stuck his hands in his pockets and strolled away, calling back, “Good luck.”
Orrick remained fixed on the battered figure. Milton’s backside was worn raw and red; he couldn’t be alive. Once Milton reached the edge of the road and slipped out of the lamp glow; he picked up the pace, skipped off and out of sight within the thick weaving of the smothering murk.
Minutes wound by slowly, becoming an indistinct segment of time that Orrick only recognized by its inexhaustibility. When would the dawn arrive and chase away the nightmare? Orrick curled back up into the cleaner corner of the phone booth – it smelt like people, sun roasted spit, and permeated with stifling rust. Very rarely, a car would go by, but no one ever seemed to see the child trapped in the glass box.
Somehow, Orrick did manage to nod off, but not for long. He recoiled; footing hitting the wall of the claustrophobic quarters. He crawled back upright, and peered out through the cloudy glass and handprints. His heart lurched in his chest.
A pair of headlights careened around the bend in the road. For a splint moment Orrick was certain he saw eyes glint, but the light flash was so swift he couldn’t be certain. He was momentarily distracted by the clunky vehicle as it rolled up the road and continued for several feet.
And then stopped.
The large van idled for maybe two minutes – it was unmarked, a dark tint of gray, and bare of windows except for the windshield and side doors. Then, the vehicle drove up and began turning, it hopped the curve and maneuvered toward the phone booth Orrick was locked within. The van rolled across sidewalks and a patch of dry grass, and Orrick was certain that the van was intent on running him down.
But it came to a halt several feet from the phone booth. The side door faced Orrick and ground open. Two people bounced out – a man and woman – in uniform, it wasn’t formal, not like the suits his dad wore, but the clothing was distinct if not professional in its own way. Neither of the two addressed him, or looked Orrick’s way, instead, they went to the phone booth’s door, completely missing (or ignoring) the blood splatter.
“It’s really jammed,” the woman said. She turned and ducked back into the van, when she emerged, it was with a few tools. She handed a chisel to the man, and she took a drill to the upper edge of the door panel. “Hang on. Keep working.” She left the man and briskly walked around the front of the van, and out of sight.
Orrick watched. She was gone a long time, during which the man managed to jiggle loose the bent joint in the doors fold. After a bit longer, the woman did return. She looked tense, and went straight to assisting in disconnecting the door completely by its hinge. The two heaved the door back; the man moved it out of the way and aside. The woman knelt at the opening, and this time addressed Orrick directly.
“Orry? You need to come with us now.” She held out a streamlined, gloved hand. Orrick hesitated. “I’ll force you if I have to, but I don’t want to. Please. Come here.” Her voice was controlled, low, but there was underlying urgency. She extended her hand more towards Orrick.
Orrick gripped her hand, and let the woman tug him out of the phone booth. She and the man eased him towards the van. There wasn’t much to remark of the interior; except there was a wire mesh, like in a police car, holes on the walls, and a bench. Orrick let himself be lifted inside.
When glanced back he expected the man and woman to climb in with him; the man knelt beside him blocking the doorway. The woman stood tensed, arms up. It took Orrick a long minute to recognize the stance; he didn’t have a chance to react, but the man capped his hands over Orrick’s ears in time.
A rapid succession of loud Pops rang off. Despite his ears muffled, Orrick was not exempted the powerful concussion. It started him. He stumbled backwards, but the man kept him upright.
“Missed. Let’s take a ride into the city.” The woman holstered her weapon and jumped aboard. She heaved the door shut at her back; the interior was plunged into darkness, except for a small light through the narrow mesh of the vans front. “Take your time.”
From the sliding door echoed a deafening crash; further thrashing and clinking noises rattled off. The door latch click-clicked, but the door was fastened by a strange and large lock from within.
With a somber groan, the engine roared to life. Orrick rocked on his bare feet as they gained traction and moved. He let the woman lead him to a bench, where she raised him up to sit. The woman crouched across from him, while the man moved to the vans front and leaned on the mesh; he began a soft conversation with the driver on the other side.
“Orry, look at me.” The woman guided Orrick’s eyes to her own; she pressed her palms on either side of his head. “You left your house this evening, without telling your parents.” Orrick gazed at her; he could only see the sheen of her eyes by the small light of the van. “Yes or no, don’t be afraid to answer wrong. You only need to tell the truth. Let’s try again.”
The woman reached behind her. Orrick watched intently as she brought forth her fist, and gradually, one-by-one unfrilled her fingers. From her thumb and index she gripped a thread of light which glinted and sparkled, and from the light hung a dazzling light, like a shimmering eye.
“You left your house this evening,” the woman began again. “Without telling your parents.” The pendulum rocked back and forth, rhythmically. The woman’s eyes peered through the winking beam, and into Orrick’s eyes. “They are worried about you.”
“You want to go home to them?”
“I saw something,” Orrick murmured.
“Yes or no for now, Orry. You want to go home to them?”
“Yes.” Orrick felt his eyes shutting, his head getting heavy. The woman cupped his chin in her hand, and gave him a gentle little shake.
“Stay with me now, Orry. You were having a bad dread, weren’t you? Stay with me, listen to my voice. It was a bad dream.” The woman didn’t break eye contact, even when the van took a sharp turn. She gripped Orrick by his shoulder and kept him from tumbling off the seat.
“This is a bad dream, isn’t it, Orry?”
Orrick nodded. It was impossible to keep his eyes open. The outline of the woman dissolved into the hazy fringes of Orrick’s vision. He sniffled and hiccuped.
“What did you see? You saw something, didn’t you?” Again, the woman gave Orrick a shake. “In one word, can you describe what you saw?”
“A big dog,” Orrick mumbled. “Big, like wolf.”
“Do you like dogs, Orry?”
The bright flash maintained its consistent sway; the light pulsed in time with his heavy heartbeat. Orrick saw eyes peering at him from the tree grove; the eyes twinkled eerily. A set of teeth grinned back.
“No,” Orrick whimpered. He watched the dog. It stood on its front paws, doing a weird haggard hand stand; the head bent far-far back, the neck splint wide and spilled dark ribbons across the dry leaves. The dog stared at him, and grinned – the grin widened until the jaw splint apart. Tears slithered down Orrick’s cheeks. “No… No. Don’t kill me. Don’t let it take me. It’s coming for me. Mom. Mom.”
“Shh,” the woman cooed. With her thumb, she wiped the tears from his face. “This is a bad dream. Remember? This is a bad dream. You’ll wake up.”
“No. It isn’t a dream. I saw him die. I saw him die… it bit his head off.”
“This is a bad dream.” The woman gave Orrick a harder shake. “A nightmare. It’s a nightmare. Do you understand? You’ll wake up.” Orrick couldn’t see the woman through the blinding thread of light. “You’ll wake up.” She repeated, again and again. “You wake up.”
Orrick dragged his eyelids up. He was under his bed, tangled in the sheets. He lay on his mother’s lap; she stroked his hair back and shook him gently. “Orry. Wake up. Baby. Are you all right?” His mother gazed down at him, and Orrick stared back, blankly.
“Yeah.” His mother pulled him up to her shoulder and hugged him tightly. Orrick hugged her back; legs tangled in the sheets he played under the night before. The striking light of a fresh day blasted through his open window and painted the walls with pastels, thick like paints and striking. “I have to use the bathroom.”
In the bathroom, Orrick took the time to dust off. Bits of leaves and dirt were clumped to his hair, but for the life of him he couldn’t recall anything of the previous night. He vaguely detected the few hours before his parents went to bed; he was playing under his bed like the delinquent he was. But, he must’ve blacked out. That wasn’t too uncommon, if he had a wild day playing and insisted on staying up way past his bedtime; he’d clonk out and wake up in the morning, tucked into bed and no memory of how that happened.
This circumstance bothered him more than anything. Yes, he was still filthy, but he’d gone to bed plenty of times in the past after skipping a proper bath. Something was definitely off, but he couldn’t nail down why. There was no framework or setting in his head, just shadows, and big ugly dogs. They unsettled him. He wasn’t much of a dog person.
On the sleeve of his shirt was a stiff red smear. Orrick pulled off his shirt and examined the mark briskly, before stuffing his shirt into the trash bin.
The remainder of the day Orrick spent in a half haze. It was the mid-point of summer, and though Orrick was an active and wild youth, he could have laze days and spend a day of a few moping around, napping on the couch, and doing nothing much. The days continued on without event, the weeks of summer wound by, and the mood hovering over Orrick eventually lifted. His disposition was not aided by the sudden upheaval of his world in early late July.
Throughout the moving process, Orrick was only given meager satisfactory reasons behind the abruptness, aside from a child’s gravest disappointment – his father was transferred. It was nothing that could be helped, but his mother promised it was a great opportunity for them. The best.
It wouldn’t be until years later that Orrick would recall his first home. By then, his father had transferred positions several more times, and Orrick was accustomed to leaving friends, but always tried to stay in contact. While cleaning up the attic and getting ready for a new move, Orrick found a box of framed pictures. He set the box aside and began going through the contents, swiping dust off with his shirt tail. After looking at a few through the cleaned glass, Orrick noticed his mother watching.
Reggie’s disappearance didn’t start it. That incident was a part of it, though not directly related. It wasn’t reported in that manner.
“You remember Brook?”
Orrick nodded. “I could never forget her.” His mother nodded as well; she looked worn, tired; years catching on and holding fast.
They sat near the high railing that slanted and descended beside the steps, leading down from the attic area. His mother was still going through the box of framed photographs; Orrick remembered the photos hanging in their home, the first house. He hadn’t seen them in years, didn’t know that the box existed. One time long ago, he must’ve dismissed their presence in an unfortunate casualty in one of their moves.
“None of us really conferred with each other. It was a tragedy,” his mother murmured. “Animals went missing, one at a time. But it was only the strays, no one cared about a scraggily dog, or cat.”
Orrick felt a sharp twinge in his chest. In all his years, he never bothered asking his parents for a real pet. He even avoided pet shops. Misift was never his, but he sorely missed her company and what she could’ve been.
Unfortunately, there was more. His mother went on; elaborating the story she carried.
“At the same time, a string of disappearances began within the city district. We were unaware, of course – the cases were thought unrelated. We had our problem in the suburbs with animals, pets, gone missing, the inner city was investigating missing people.” She took a ratty, bare photo from the box and looked at it. She set it aside, face down. “They did find his remains.”
Orrick frowned. His mother set a hand on his; she tightened her grip. “Remains.” There was sterility to that word. Remains. The hair prickled down his neck. “They only got ‘some’ of him back.”
“It broke the neighborhood.” His mother took another breath, and shut her eyes. A full minute passed, before she resumed, “He wasn’t the first. Not the last. The detective that came out to question Mr. Tumult, took the time to investigate our area. He didn’t go into details, but rumors did spread – precious little. Some brash conclusions, but it was enough. No one wanted to know the actual truth. It was… too much.”
His mother gathered the box up in her arms and began down the steps. “Your father put in his resignation, and immediately we made plans. It wasn’t easy, but we managed.”
“Mom.” Orrick plucked up the neglected picture from the floor. “Something else happened. Didn’t it?”
His mom stopped on the middle step staring up at Orrick. “No sweetheart. I promise.” She glanced away briefly. “They never apprehended a suspect. But, I’m certain they made an attempt.” She descended out of sight.
Orrick remained, staring at the picture in the faint light of the stairway. He fought away thoughts haunting him; nightmares he never outgrew. A thread of light. It didn’t match up. Glowing eyes. The dark cavern of a vehicle; light twinkling behind thick shrubbery. Teeth glinting. Dogs with ragged throats spilling white coils.
“A bad dream. This is a bad dream. Orry.”
He slapped the picture to the floorboards and stomped down the steps. The photograph was nothing special; it framed up the image of him with friends – Leslie, Brook, Marky, and Edgar. He didn’t want to know. He could let their memories slip away once more, and never wonder what became of childhood friends. That was safest.
- Characters and content © 2017 Tempus Willow.