An Informal Investigation of Six Missing Kids

An Informal Investigation of Six Missing Kids


Chapter One: The Janitor

The halls of a high school, my high school, have such an uncomfortable feeling to them at night. Beyond just the shitty irony of my ending up there as an old man. When it’s just past midnight and the doors are supposed to be locked. When the only sound in the building should be your own. When you think you hear something, but you can’t place what, and you really can’t trust it’s not just the pounding of your own pulse inside your forehead? I could never really get used to that shit, man. I don’t think anybody can. There’s something wrong with that school. Something… I dunno… Something evil. Everybody in town knows it. 

Right.

Do you mind if I smoke? I need to smoke. Just talking about this whole thing gives me shakes. I mean, will it affect the recording? 

This is only a transcription. I’m not recording. Your attorney…

Okay. Okay hotshot. I’m going to smoke. 

Try to stick to the story. The ad-libs are helpful but there’s no need to address me directly. I’m just an observer here.

A nobody would be a better way to say it. Not even a local. Would help if you shut the fuck up a bit, then, Inspector Gadget. A lot less talking from you would make this whole hell hole story time go faster. So will the smokes. You got a lighter? They don’t let us have lighters.

Yes.

Alright. There we go. Thank you. Helps the tremble in my hands. Clears the head. Right. There we go. 

In this line of work, janitorial basically, you often hear things late at night that don’t make any sense. I mean, especially these days, lots of reasons for it to not make sense. We lock the building at ten. We’re updated with the latest security cameras. We have bulletproof glass with shatter warnings. There are banks less protected in this country than schools, did you know that? I might as well be sitting on top of Fort Knox itself and nothing but a little rattle down the hall could still push me close to wetting my pants. Seems stupid, right, to feel that way? Ridiculous even. I’m a grown man. But I shouldn’t shake that feeling. That feeling of being watched. I wanted to quit. I wanted to quit so many times. But money is money… and bennies are bennies… I have cancer, you know…. Well at least they think….. And the treatment alone is out of this world expensive….

Let’s focus on the night in question.

Alright. Have it your way. That night. That awful fucking night. 

Give me a second.

I got to work a little bit late, as planned, due to my cousin’s wedding over in Follaton. The second shift guy texted me beforehand that he’d left the side door open. He also wanted… uh… some bleachers down for a morning assembly. Said he didn’t have time to get to it because of some other shit. So shortly after ten, I get there as planned, slightly buzzed and ready to tackle my night. The door was open and ready for me. I locked it behind.

I cleaned up the science lab and made a note to tell the librarians that the kids were responsible for their own garbage. I took down the bleachers and made a note of a couple rusty bits that looked in need of replacing. The last thing on my list was to mop the basketball court. Coach had complained about kids slipping, but the mop was in the boy’s locker room, and right away, even when he asked me, I started to get that feeling again.

What feeling?

Just a feeling, I guess. That room. So enclosed. Only one way in and one way out. Turned out to be right, didn’t it?

What did you see?

Steam. Lots and lots of steam. Like somebody just took twenty showers. I opened the door and just let it waft out for a minute before sending a picture to Mike. 

Second shift guy.

Right. He has a copy of the photo. I shared it with the police…

I have seen it. Please continue.

Right. Hotshot has seen it. Well, once the steam cleared, the locker room looked like it’s old self. A little damp, maybe. I went over to the bathroom and noticed that the shower there wasn’t running, but the handle was still hot, so my first thought is probably the same as yours right now. 

Kids.

Right. Not unheard of for some teenagers to stay after hours and steal shit. Certainly more likely than the alternatives. So now I’m in Argus Filch mode. I’ve got my mop stick, I’ve got my hip dysplasia, and I’ve got White Valley PD on speed dial. I take off running out of the locker room and into the hallway with no particular direction in mind. I think I just felt better getting out of there. And then… somebody screamed.

Describe the scream.

Well… uh… let’s just say it wasn’t the ‘we’re having fun!’ scream you might be expecting to hear from a band of marauding teenagers. No, no… this one came from the bottom of the belly. Deep. Animal-like. Couldn’t even tell if it was a man or woman, just a person, you know?

Fearful?

Sure. Fear, panic, pain, all of that.

What did you do next?

I ran. 

Where?

Towards the scream. I ran so fucking fast, I thought my knee would give out. Somewhere along the way my phone dialed for help. I know because I have the receipts. I don’t actually remember doing it. I don’t know why. It’s like… it’s like my memory is fucking with me.

Try to focus.

I saw… I saw a flash of black. Looked like a hood or a sweatshirt or something. The shape disappeared behind a door that led to the second floor staircase. I followed it. At this point my shirt is covered in sweat, my knee is throbbing, but I’m gaining on him. By the time I enter the bottom his footsteps are directly above me. He walked so heavy. I can’t forget that sound. Like two bricks slamming into the tile, one after the one, in rhythm. Thunk, thunk, pause, thunk thunk, pause. 

So I leap up the staircase two at a time and.… my foot slips. My knee connects with a lower step and my eyebrow hits the ledge. Hurt so fucking bad. Even in the moment. My entire world is a gush of pain, blood, and sweat, but at this point, the adrenaline takes over. I pick myself up and enter the hallway. That’s when I saw him, turning the corner, the only time I saw him. Fuck, I don’t even know whether to say him.

Can you describe anything about… let’s just say the figure you saw that first night?

Not much. The blood, the fall, I couldn’t see much. But I’m a tall guy… just a bit over six feet seven inches…. this thing…. this figure… looked to be about a foot taller than me. Maybe more. 

Thank you. Now for the hard part.

Do we have to?

Yes.

I don’t see why. I told them everything I know. 

One last time.

Fuck. Ah hell. I’m going to need more smokes.

Help yourself.

I followed …the figure… down the hallway in the direction he went. Towards the library. I didn’t see anything at first. Didn’t hear anything either. We kept the lights turned out up there, on account of the bill and lack of use at night, so I had to use my flashlight. I moved over towards the reception desk. A lot of the books were scattered all over the place, like there had been a fight, which was weird because I specifically remembered the second shift guy saying he swept the library. I started to look for my phone again, when I heard this, this whimper…

I turned my flashlight up to the ceiling and that’s when I saw her. 

The missing girl. 

Janelle. 

She was hanging there. 

By rope?

That’s your first fucking question? Yes, by rope. Tied up to the rafters way up. But it wasn’t around her neck, it was around her waist, so her body was just sort of crumpled over due to the gravity. And… and her mouth was gagged. She looked down at me like she wanted to say something to me… ah Hell. She was bleeding from a cut on her shirt. Bad. She looked close to passing out.

Where?

I couldn’t see where. I could just see the blood. One thin line, cut through the fabric, East to West. She… she tried to scream but she couldn’t. I froze for a second before I went to get her down. I told them that. Just the shock, I guess. Then I… I moved the flashlight to the desk, looking for a knife, a pen, anything that could be used to cut. But when I turned the light back… she was…

What?

Gone. 

Just gone. Like it never happened. I don’t know how else to describe it. I searched the entire fucking library. I looked up. I looked down. Nothing. She disappeared.

And can you confirm for me that you have not seen Janelle Petersen since the night of the first?

Nobody knows what the fuck happened to those kids. Least of all me. 

Thank you. This gentleman will now lead you back to your cell.

End of interview with Suspect #1 – John Baker

Chapter Two: 17 Going Under

My son always struggled to adjust to trauma. That was the way the therapist put it. Sammy just needs more time, you know? More time to cope. More time to dwell. More time to broil. He lost his father at a young age. I never remarried. I never had much extended family in the area. The few male role models we found filtered in and out of his life as frequently as the metaphorical doors slammed in our faces. I hated myself for it. I worried that he struggled to understand men because of it. I worried that he wouldn’t grow up right because of it. I worried… I just worried that he would be broken, you know? That inborn sort of rebelliousness in him led to problems with authority… staying out late… and girls. Oh gosh, the girls. One after the other. A dozen different embarrassed looks from my living room couch. You wouldn’t believe the stories. 

But I did my best, you know, I think we both did. Sammy kept his grades up. He took his medication regularly. He attended all his doctor and therapist visits. I wore the pants and the dress, so to speak, in our odd little relationship. Mornings for me at the convenience store on Highland Ave. Afternoons over at Rigby’s Dine and Drive. Plate on the table by six. I couldn’t promise to always be home for the plate, but the plate itself would always be there, you know what I mean? We had an unspoken bond, my son and I, especially about food. I couldn’t disappoint him on that… not with everything else going on…

Shit. That reminds me. I haven’t offered you a Goddamn thing since you walked in the door. Ruder than rude. And now I’m just talking your ear off to boot… and cussing… What can I get you? Coffee, tea, water, beer? Pretty much the staples for folks in these parts. 

Water would be lovely.

Folks would like it better if you said beer.

I have to drive.

Okay, pretty boy, keep them cheeks hydrated. One water coming right up. 


Lovely. Please continue.

Uy. Don’t know where. 

Let’s move onto Janelle.

Heh. Janelle Peterson. That girl hooked my son like a sun fish snacking on bread. Amour fou. Right? Maybe a young fella like yourself wouldn’t get the reference. What does that song on the radio call it? ‘An enigmatic love?’ Crazy love. Uncontrollable love. First love. Like dynamite. You must know a thing or two about it. Handsome guy like you. 

Uncontrollable how?

A fight would leave this boy dejected for days. A breakup would be world shattering. And that’s the thing – they broke up every other week. It was madness. One night Sammy locked himself in the bathroom for six hours. He actually fell asleep there. I had to coax him out with the smell of fresh bacon. Like a wounded animal. 

But the good came with the bad. I could see it myself. I’m not too selfish to admit it. Janelle understood my son’s illness. Perhaps even saw shades of it in herself. They bonded over the bad days. Most people think of mental illness as a dividing force in relationships, but for Sammy and Janelle, it brought them closer, made them stronger. 

That’s wonderful.

They got pregnant two months after they started dating. 

I see.

That was hard for me to take. As a mother. You know? I felt like… I felt like I failed them. Easy to see why. Janelle is a… was a… she’s a junior. So she’s only 16. Seventeen now since their disappearance. My Sammy is about a year older. Eighteen in a couple months.

Their baby boy is due in just a few weeks. Would be due. Should be due. Who knows anymore? Funny how that works with missing persons. How often are they pregnant? How often are they kids too? Is my unborn grandson missing as well? Did he ever even get a chance to be missing?

I’m sorry. 

tap, tap, TAP.

tap, tap, TAP.

So sorry.

Please.

I need to excuse myself. Just a moment. So sorry. Can we pause recording? 

Sure.


tap, tap, TAP.

tap, tap, TAP.

Hello?

tap, tap, TAP.

tap, tap, TAP.


Apologies. Restroom sprung a leak.

Mrs. Wright, I want to ask you about a noise I heard only moments before…

Judith. Just the ducts, boy, it’s an old house. You live in a place fancy enough that doesn’t need ducts? Maybe you could take me there some time. Sure would be nicer than this hell hole. 

Did not sound like ducts. Sounded like…

What?

Tapping.

Just like ducts.

Rhythmic tapping, though, as if in response to my question.

Do you want this story or not?

Please. Continue.

Where?

Her parents?

Right. Her parents. Janelle’s mother died in childbirth. A modern medical tragedy, the papers called it, cost the Valley hospital a lot of money. Basically, the doctors fucked up. They admitted they fucked up. The family sued and won a fuckton of money which the father spent on a fuckton of pills that somehow haven’t managed to put his scrawny ass in a grave yet. 

Yikes.

The redneck American dream. 

Is it?

You’ll have to excuse my mouth. A lady shouldn’t cuss so much. But the topic calls for it. Her father ran off at the start of the year. This would be the most recent of his many benders and the police likely have a case open for it. The aforementioned couch of shame became Janelle’s main bed in those months. I made sure to take better care of everything when she stayed. 

Where did she sleep?

The couch. That couch. Where you’re sitting.

I see.

I laid the bedsheet she used over the top, there. The pillows are right there under the dresser. Just in case she ever wants to come home. But she’s never been back. Not since that night.

tap, tap, TAP.

tap, tap, TAP.

Mrs. Wright, I have to ask you again about…

Please excuse me. 


tap, tap, TAP.

TAP, TAP, TAP.

Is there someone there?

TAPTAPTAPTAPTAPTAPTAP.


Okay. So sorry about that. Needed to check on…

Mrs. Wright…

Judith. My name is Judith. How many fucking times do you need to fucking hear it? 

tap, tap, TAP.

tap, tap, TAP.

Okay, Judith. Are we alone in the house?

No. 

You didn’t tell me that before.

You didn’t ask. 

tap, tap, TAP.

tap, tap, TAP.

Judith. Please tell me who is here.

I just want to bring my boy home. 

tap, tap, TAP.

tap, tap, TAP.

He said he could bring my boy home.

Judith. Is there someone in the hallway?

You want to know about the tall man? 

I see someone in the hallway.

tap, tap, TAP.

tap, tap, TAP.

I am armed.

I’m not sure he’s even a man. 

tap, tap, TAP.

tap, tap, TAP.

He doesn’t really look like one.

tap, tap, TAP.

tap, tap, TAP.

But he sure is tall.

Mrs. Wright… Judith… you’re bleeding.

He said he would make it all better, sweetheart. 

I see someone out there.

I couldn’t hear him say it, but I could feel it, do you know? One for one. A grandmother for her grandson. That’s not even a choice, is it? I’m an old woman. Take me, I said, take me and give them back the baby. Give them back that sweet baby. But we need one more. One more to bring Sammy home too.

tap, tap, TAP

tap, tap, TAP.

And by now…. You must know who. 

tap, tap, TAP

tap, tap, TAP.

Judith…

If you only could kiss me, pretty boy. I would love one last kiss. One last fuck, even, before he rips up that pretty little face of yours.

JUDITH. RUN.

Chapter Three: Faces in the Hall

I used to believe that nothing is impossible. I’m not talking about those printed little cliches hung up in home offices. I mean literally. Nothing exists beyond the boundaries of reason. Absolutely nothing. Everything that cannot be understood simply transcends to a realm outside of mankind’s understanding. And that doesn’t make it impossible, does it? Just misunderstood. A decade worth of knowledge can render the impossible as commonplace. We see it all the time. I suppose all of that can still be true in a roundabout way. Somehow. But as an educated man… it does feel absolutely fucking absurd to be sitting here talking to you about the existence of monsters. 

Do you believe in monsters?

I believe in whatever the fuck lives in that school. 

Can you describe it to me?

I don’t understand this. I don’t understand any of this. Why isn’t the military here? Who are you? What is this? 

I am just here to gather the facts.

The fact is that those kids are still missing. It’s been months. Do you plan to do anything about it? Does anybody plan to do anything about it? A dozen different interviews with cops and lawyers alike. Is anybody any closer? Did reliving this shit again and again solve anything but pad the pockets of some police, private eyes, and what? What are you exactly? You still haven’t asked my question. 

I’m here to help.

What does that even mean? ‘You’re here to help.’ Do you think you’re a fucking fortune cookie, son? This is peoples’ lives we are talking about here. This is life and death. And if you are not going to be straight with me, I’ll walk away. I know my rights. I don’t have to say anything to you. Give me one reason. Give me one reason to waste another breath on this nightmare. 

I’m here to talk about the monsters.

Yeah? 

Yes.

Good. Well…. good. First smart thing you’ve said since you sat down. Have you…. have you seen one? You have, haven’t you? Yeah… Well, that’s good… good… about time. I expected more of a military response. Like I said. Based on what I told the police…. But nobody fuckin’ listens…. Everybody in this town…

The police consider you to be a prime suspect in this investigation.

What? Why? How? 

Due to your close relationship with all of the victims, past drug convictions…

A little bit of pot and after school astronomy makes me a criminal?

You were also present at the time of their disappearance.

That’s not enough. I didn’t do anything. They know I didn’t do anything. My head. The bruises. They have to know. I am still suffering…

You wanted one good reason.

What? 

One good reason to talk to me…

This is bullshit. 

So talk to me. Tell me about the Astronomy Club.

Why?

I think I can help those kids. I want to help those kids. That’s all. I know you do too, Mike.

That much is true. I can’t stop thinking about them. I see them in my dreams every night. I just want… I just want this to be over. 

It was a small group, correct? Just the six?

We had more last year. Lots of seniors graduated. 

Name the current roster for me.

The pregnant girl and her boyfriend. Jeff. David. Nick. Kimmy. That’s six, right? 

And when did you meet?

The purpose of the group is to look at stars. The best time to look at stars is at night. So in the fall and winter, six or seven, depending on a few things. Never later. Never in Spring. Always weather dependent. 

Where did you meet?

The soccer field has the best view.

Okay. All six kids attended that night?

Obviously. 

Nobody left for any period?

No. 

Okay. Describe for me the start of Astronomy Club up until the moment your memory lapsed.

That’s a funny way of putting it. Memory lapse. Something lapsed it. That much is for sure.

Please.

The kids showed up in a group around ten after seven. That pissed me off, because it was already late, you know? I don’t get paid much for the extracurricular gig. I do it for the passion of the subject. And the kids usually do too. Which is why it annoyed me that they were being disrespectful to my time. 

I let them know as much. The skinny guy, Dave, offered up some lame excuse about broken lockers and late rides. I asked them to spot the equipment. They set to work, mumbling and whispering loud enough for me to hear argumentative tones. You didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to ascertain something was up. Janelle barked something at Kimmy. Sam grabbed her around the waist. I could have investigated it. I should have. I know that now. But I was tired. I just wanted to go home. These kids and their drama just didn’t interest me. They never did. It was better that way. You see a lot of teachers getting too invested… that’s weird. Especially for a single and lonely middle-aged guy like me. 

Sometime around half after we had all the remaining equipment set up. The kids listened quietly as we reviewed the major constellations. Whatever fight they were having seemed to have dried up by then. The girls were standing next to each other. The group laughed at my bad jokes. They asked relevant questions. They seemed genuinely interested in the topic at hand and the sky was clear that night. We could see all of what we planned to cover with minimal manipulation. So, I lightened up. I started to enjoy my job again.

We just finished pointing Nick’s viewpoint towards Orion when something bright turned the entire lens white. Everybody saw it. A few kids actually jumped back and complained that their eyes hurt. I looked up and scanned the sky for the source. But there was nothing. The whole thing turned black again. Like it never happened. 

The group argued a bit about what it could be. I advocated for heat lightning. Somebody pushed for a comet. Another mentioned that it could be a meteor, which caused me to spend the next fifteen minutes explaining the difference between the two, when out of nowhere, something reached up and smacked me in the back of my head. 

Just as suddenly as I described it.

My whole world went brown. The edges just sort of blended. My face connected with the ground, but I didn’t lose consciousness. I wish I did. Because the thing that sits with me the most, my friend, the reason this story is so hard to tell, the reason I fought you from the start, is the screams. Those goddamn screams. I can’t keep reliving them. They eat at me. They weaken me. I can hear them now. Talking to you. The way those girls seemed so frightened…. So completely terrified… I’ve just… I have never heard anything like it. So primal. So gut wrenchingly awful. Like a mouse cornered by a cat. Like a gazelle right when the lion digs in a claw. This was the scream that only happens when death is certain and bodily instincts have taken over. 

And the worst part was that I couldn’t see anything. I didn’t even know what in the Hell they were screaming about. My head was pushed onto the grass. My eyes were facing the wrong direction. I didn’t have the strength or balance to move. Everything was swimming. I honestly thought that somebody shot me. I honestly thought I would die before each coming breath. 

I could hear one of the boys yell to the others that they should run. Jeff must not have listened. There was a rush of footsteps. Then a thud. Then more screams. I finally managed to turn my head to the right, it weighed as much as an anvil, only to look directly into this poor kid’s lifeless eyes. Like a fucking mannequin. Like a doll’s eyes. Jesus….

I know this is hard.

He was dead. Deader than dead. I don’t know how else to describe it. From that point on it became pure and thoughtless chaos. Something roared. The children screamed. I saw one of them run to the left. Another moved to the right. Something grabbed them. All of them. Even the dead boy. Something long, wet, and black. I guess you could call it an arm. I couldn’t see it very well. After a moment they didn’t scream anymore. After a minute it got very quiet.

By that time my eyes adjusted enough to the darkness and pooled blood. I saw a figure out there in the distance. Maybe about twenty yards out, past the goalposts, headed towards the library. Walking away from me. I couldn’t make out many details, but it was tall, too tall to be human. And it had these long sorts of arms that dipped behind it like tentacles. The children were being dragged behind. I couldn’t see whether they were conscious or not. I finally mustered up the courage to yell something. I don’t even remember what. But afterwards it… this monster turned around and looked at me. Stared directly at me. I could feel it.

Could you see anything then?

Yes. Yellow eyes. Like a snake.

Thank you, Michael, again. But this isn’t anything different from what you have told the police. I’m afraid it will be difficult….

Wait.

Yes?

They won’t let me in the school anymore. I don’t blame them. I don’t want to go in. But even when I drive by, or walk by, I can still feel it. You know? I can still feel him. Like a presence. I won’t go near there anymore. I don’t think anybody should. I don’t think it’s safe.

And what do you feel?

He’s trapped. And he’s angry. He’s very, very angry. 

Thank you, Mike. I can feel it too.

Chapter Four: Existentialism on Prom Night

Don’t you remember what it feels like to be young? You’ve got to. Somewhere. Somehow. Try to imagine it. That beat in your chest that slips down to your stomach like butterflies and stress mixing together and rolling over to do happy little cartwheels through your insides? I want to feel that way forever. I want to suck it all up and bottle it somewhere before I get old. You know? I just don’t have that much time left. 

That’s not true.

Really? The only event after prom is graduation, if that even happens, and then it’s gone forever. Just like me. Another town. Another place. I just want to live this life while it lasts. I want to feel seventeen while I am seventeen. You know? 

This life doesn’t end after high school, hon.

But this feeling might. I know you felt it once, before Mom died, before you got old. I found your old yearbook on grandma’s bookshelf. You were handsome. Long hair, dark glasses, big smile. Lots of signatures from lots of girls. What happened to that guy? Is he dead, or do you just keep him locked up, like you do with me these days?

That’s not fair.

No. None of this is fair.

Things were different then.

What? You mean you didn’t live in a freak town with a freak monster running about kidnapping freak kids?

Honey…

No, Dad. Really. I want to know the cost of what I’m missing here. The price for our supposed safety. Be honest with me. Will there ever be anything in my life just like prom again?

I didn’t say you couldn’t go.

No. You just want to chaperone and creep from the bushes so hard that my date will think you’re going to gut him like that missing girl got gutted…

Katie… Jesus…

What does he have to do with anything? 

Janelle.

Huh?

Her name is Janelle.

Are you seriously recording this right now? You’re secretly recording your own daughter on her prom night? That’s fucked, Dad, even for you. 

No. Yes. I don’t know. I guess I left it on. I’m sorry, honey, I’m going to finish getting ready.

Wait. Dad. 

Hm?

Can you zip me?

Sure.


I wish we never even moved here.

Me too.

Like, really. Mom never would have allowed it. 

You’re probably right about that.

The rain never stops. 

It does sometimes.

The cold is awful. 

So, you wear a jacket.

The people here don’t even drive like the people back home.

What do you mean?

I mean, look at them. The way they stare at you. Who does that? Look. Look! Look at that one lady! Her eyes aren’t even on the road. Why is she staring at us? Dad, that’s so creepy…

I don’t know, honey.

I wish this rain would stop. 

I know.

It’s going to ruin my dress. 

I’ll carry you in if we have to.

You’re sweet. 

Your date is meeting us?

He is. 

Hm.

What?

In my day…

Yeah, I know.

It just seems strange for you to walk in alone. Especially with everything going on in this town. We could have picked him up too.

Dad? Can I ask you something? 

Yeah?

What does He look like? 

Your date?

No. You know who. Him. 

I don’t know who.

You said you saw Him at Sammy’s house. Waiting in the dining room. Watching. Listening to everything you talked about. 

Only a shadow.

A shadow that moved. 

I don’t want to talk about it…

I need to know.

Why?

Because it affects me too. 

Fine. I’ll be honest with you. You’re old enough for it.

Damn right. 

I think… I think if what I saw is really what I saw…

Yeah, yeah. 

That’s a major ‘if’. It was dark in that house.

Spit it out. 

If what I saw is really what I saw… those kids are in a lot of trouble.

And we’re going to prom. 

And we’re going to prom.

Thank you. 

Can’t be too bad. Look at all these people.

Park by the entrance.

Whoa. This place is packed. The traffic alone. How many kids go to your school?

I love you, Dad. 

Alright. Hold up. Promise me you will be safe.

I promise. 

Promise me that you know where to meet me.

I promise.

Promise that you will text every five minutes.

Ten?

Five. Promise that you know I love you.

I promise. I love you. Bye, Dad. 

Text from Katie. 7:58.

Made it inside. Thanks again Dad. 

Notes. 8:00.

A melancholy song plays on the radio. Rhythm gives way to static. Rain patters against the glass in slow harmony. A loud knock on the window shakes my focus. A jock in a white tuxedo pulls up by the passenger side. He attempts to open my door and finds it locked. He stops. He smiles. Are you here to see Him, he asks?

Who?

Don’t play games. You know Him! You’ve seen Him. He has seen you. Don’t interfere. I’ll be back. 

Can you tell me what that means? I shout to the now retreating stranger in the parking lot. Can you please tell me what in the fuck that even means?

Text to Katie. 8:02.

We need to go. I’m sorry. Something is happening.

Text to Katie. 8:03.

Let’s go. Now. 

Notes. 8:08.

Static fades as the local college radio station’s signal overtakes it with Straylight Run. My mind runs through the probability of finding my daughter versus her finding me. I settle on the latter. Wind howls and pulls at the signs in the parking lot. I stare at my phone, waiting desperately for a reply that never comes. A peripheral shape rips away my attention.

Fuck. What the fuck.

Standing in front of the headlights is Janelle Petersen. She is a sight to behold, beyond the obvious. Her clothes are ripped and tattered. Her nose is bleeding and her teeth are cracked or missing. When she speaks, a bit of blood dribbles down her chin, and she coughs to let out even more. She says something that isn’t caught by the dash audio.

He’s angry. 

People spill out of the gymnasium like ants fleeing a stomping toddler. A teacher falls in the distance and is quickly trampled by a horde of desperate teenagers. My car doors open. Janelle is in the back seat. Katie in the front. Drive, my daughter screams, and shakes me for good measure to break through the shock. I lock the doors. I hit the gas. The acceleration lurches us towards the fleeing mob.

Somebody please talk to me.

He’s angry, Janelle whines.

I want to go home, Katie cries.

We peel out of the parking lot through a maze of panicked bodies and disembodied screams. A few strangers slap at the van. A few others try to block us. They all want a ride, you see, but stopping for one of them means stopping for a dozen, and we don’t have the space or the time. We are a life raft in the middle of the ocean. We just can’t see the shark yet. 

What are they running from?

I have my answer in seconds. A piece of concrete falls from the top of the school. A school bus, two spots down, is crushed. The entire building shifts and whines. We hang a close right turn by the entrance to the gymnasium when something long, slender, and white flies out of the propped doors and into a parked car. 

Is that an arm?

He just wants to go home, too, Janelle whispers. But he can’t go home. Not until he has more. He needs more. Always more. More, more, more. 

More what, Janelle? More what? More time?

More bodies. 

We hit the main road and bang a fender on the uneven concrete. I floor it once we straighten out. The screams die out in moments. The adrenaline slows soon after. The street grows quiet and dark. The rain stops. I readjust my rear view and catch a glimpse of fire in the distance. The car stays quiet for a while. 

Then the road starts to crack. 

Chapter Five: A Letter From Janelle

My name is Janelle Petersen. I am a survivor of the attack on White Valley Memorial High School. There are… There are three of us here. We are trapped inside an office building on the edge of town. Right next to the Jamba Juice. We have been here for three days. We are running low on food and water. Soon, at some point, if no one comes, we’re going to have to make a run outside. Which is why… um… Katie, do you want to talk?

Katie: Okay.

Janelle: Speak into that part. The top part. 

K: I know how to use it.

J: Okay. Just… just hold that part. 

K: It’s my dad’s microphone.

J: know. The static can just sometimes be annoying. You have to hold it and speak.

K: My name is Katherine Smith.

J: Anything else? Tell them something. Tell them about yourself. 

K: I just want to go home.

J: Okay. Okay. Mr. Smith?

Marc Smith: What?

J: Do you want to say something for the recording?

M: Do I have to?

J: Got something better to do? 

M: I suppose not. 

J: Speak clearly. 

M: I… I never thought it could come to this. The school is destroyed. The town is destroyed. We have not seen another living person since the attack. But we… we hear things. At night. When they think we’re sleeping.

J: What kind of things? 

M: People. Out there in the rain. Milling about.

J: I hear them too. 

M But they don’t sound right. Their voices don’t have a normal cadence to them. You know? Like how background conversation usually is? They sound… they sound sick, or something.

J: Maybe they are.

M: What?

J: Sick.

M: Oh. 

J: He wouldn’t let them outside otherwise. 

M: You still haven’t explained what happened to you.

J: I have. 

M: You said you were abducted.

J: I was. 

M: Who abducted you?

J: You know the answer by now. Say it. 

M: I really don’t.

J: You’ve seen it. Stop lying to yourself. Call it what it is. 

M: A monster. A creature of some kind.

J: Monster is a good word for it. 

M: Alien. 

J: Alien is another. 

M: I get the feeling they are all referring to the same thing. All of the lore. Every boogeyman since the beginning of time all referencing the same thing.

J: This thing.

M: The Tall Man.

J: Correct.

M: What is it?

J: I thought we covered that topic. 

M: Did you know about it? Before, I mean. Did the people here know about it?

J: There’s a better question. 

M: Everyone I talked to… everyone in this fucking town… they all seemed to have some inkling that whatever happened to you… whatever took you had to be something… something inhuman.*

J: So you want to know why some God fearing folks in hick country would be scared of the Devil? Wondering if they made a deal for some updated sidewalks and a really nice guitar that plays the blues? 

M: Did they?

J: I wouldn’t know. 

M: But they knew about him.

J: The Tall Man? Maybe. 

M: Maybe?

J: Our people have been here for a long time. Before the colonists, before the tribes, even. There are rumors that a settlement existed in the Valley even before the land bridge in Alaska. You’ll notice that our skin is darker. Our eyes are better adjusted to better take in the sun. That sort of thing takes dozens of generations to develop. And yet, here we are, adapted to live in this town. 

M: I see. 

J: There have always been stories. You know? Sightings and the like. Ranger Rick out getting a blowjob in the sticks swears he sees a shadow in the trees. Martha’s grandmother insists on seeing a face in her window at night. But these were just rumors, urban legends that folks never really took seriously, of all the high school kids. I guess every rumor has a nugget of truth in it. 

M: What happened on the night he took you?

J: I don’t remember much. Better that way. I remember floating for a bit, then crashing for a bit, then hearing a baby cry… my baby. I don’t even know if it was a boy or girl.

M: Did you see the others?

J: Yes. All of them. Jonathan, Jeff, the rest. 

M: Where did he take them?

J: A tunnel beneath the school. Dug it out like a rabbit… 

M: Why did he take them?

J: That’s the million dollar question. Isn’t it? I only know the answer because he told it to me. He speaks in your mind. Right when you least expect it. 

M: What did he say?

J: He took them for a trade. The place he comes from doesn’t want him anymore. He needs to bring back something of value. 

M: People?

J: Men, women, and children are the biggest one. Lots of money for kids. He’s a pirate. A people pirate. Funny phrase, ain’t it? Simple economics. Goods exchanged for freedom. Amazing how well that concept travels. 

M: So, he got what he wanted. Six high school students. Wasn’t that enough? Why destroy the town?

J: He needed more. Always more. Alive is better. Dead is okay too.

M: And your baby?

J: Fetches the highest price of them all.

M: How do you know this? Really?

J: Can’t you hear it? Can’t you hear HIM? I can’t turn it off. Even now.

M: What is he saying?

J: He wants to hurt you. 

K: What is she talking about, Dad?

M: Alright. Enough. I’m sorry for asking.

J: Ask me something else. Please. 

M: I’ve heard it before.

J: But they haven’t. 

M: Who? 

J: They! The people listening to your recording. The ones who will get this message after we’re dead. I assume that is the point of this, right, to let people know what happened here? Before it’s too late? 

K: Too late? Dad, what?

M: Janelle. Please. 

J: You know what’s going to happen. That’s why you’re recording. 

M: Stop it. Nothing is going to happen. We are safe here. We just need to wait for the government.

J: You know they’re not coming. 

M: Stop it. We still have daylight. We’re fine. Everything is fine. 

K: Dad, what is she talking about?

J: Tell her. 

K: Dad…

M: You are scaring my daughter.

J: You haven’t been honest with her. 

M: Please. 

J What the Tall Man wants is us, Katie. We are the last breathing souls in this shithole town. As soon as that sun sets, we are fucked. We can’t hide forever. He’s getting closer. 

M: I said stop it.

J: I can feel it. Right now. I can feel Him coming. I know you can feel it too. 

K: Dad, do you hear that?

tap, tap, TAP.

J: Right on schedule.

K: Oh my God. What is that? 

M: Get behind the wood. Katie, Katie! Crouch down. Hand me the gun. Carefully. Carefully!

tap, tap, TAP

M: Janelle, get down, now!

J: Why?

K: I can see him.

tap, tap, TAP

K: We’re going to die here…

M: Nobody is going to die. Stop it. We’re going to be alright. Everything is going to be alright.

J: Mr. Smith. I appreciate all that you have done for us. 

tap, tap, TAP

M: Katie, honey, get a weapon.

J: Really. I appreciate that you tried. 

M: Get the bat. The bat!

tap, tap, TAP

J: This recording will prove to everyone that we tried. 

M: Katie, sweetheart, the baseball bat.

J: But for us, at least, this is the end of the line. 

tap, tap, TAP

J: White Valley is gone. 

M: Get ready to swing. 

J: Time to say goodbye. 

K: I don’t understand…

tap, tap, TAP

J: Mr. Smith. Now would be a good time to say goodbye to your daughter.

TAP, TAP, TAP

K: Daddy…

M: Honey… honey, just get down… I’m so sorry… I love you.

tap, tap, TAP

tap, tap, TAP

tap, tap, TAPRAPRAPRAPRAPRAP

K: Oh my God. Daddy!

M: Shit!

RAPRAPRAP

RAPRAPRAP

RAPRAPRAP

Static.

Static.

Unknown: Goodbye.

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