He had been missing for a week but it felt like a lifetime. My mind flashed back to that horrible morning, finding Christopher’s bed empty and cold to the touch. My mind reeling, my blood running cold and the sight of the note pinned to his pillow. It was serious, sinister and deadly accurate. Whoever they were had been watching us. That was painfully obvious. They knew where we had been, who we had talked to, even the song Aaron and I had danced to a month before in our living room behind closed curtains and locked doors. The only other thing the note said made my blood run cold. “You go to the authorities and your son dies.”
This was the first and only thing we had heard from them, whoever they were, since that horrible morning a week ago. 100 miles west, thank god Aaron had convinced me to come out to our favorite dinner that just happened to sit on a highway that ran east to west. Maybe they had waited for us to be here. Knowing we would come here sooner or later. Maybe they were watching us even now. My heart was thudding in my chest, I couldn’t quite breathe and spots started to dance across my vision. My husband laid a hand on my shoulder slowly moved me out of the way of the driver side door.
“Jen, maybe I should drive.” He whispered. I could tell he was trying to be sensitive. He could see the blood was drained from my face, could probably tell my mind was racing a thousand miles a minute but I resented him none the less. He had been treating me as if I was going to break for the last week and at night I could hear him crying down the hall from our son’s room. He wasn’t so tough. He wasn’t so much in control. The anger began boiling up inside me and was about to boil over when I remembered he was going through this too. He was just trying to be there for me. But I was scared, damn it! I was angry! How could our little boy be gone from the safety of his room just like that? Then I remembered what I had read in a book a couple years before. When a child goes missing the parents deal with it in one of two ways: they do it together or it rips them apart. After losing my little boy, I wasn’t going to lose my husband as well.
“We’re going to get him back, Jen,” his voice was so soft that I had to lean in to hear him, “I promise. We’re going to get him back.” His voice started to shake and I could see the tears welling up in his eyes. I realized then that he needed me as much as I needed him. I reached out and put my hand on his shoulder and he pulled me close. I could smell his aftershave close to my skin. I had always loved the way he smelled. Instantly my heart began to slow like it always did when he held me this tight. I hugged back furiously willing us to sink into one another. If we could only become one then we would have the strength to do whatever was needed to see our little boy again.
“We better go.” I couldn’t manage any other words but I could see the hurt in his eyes as we separated, then the understanding as he looked back into mine.
“You’re right. You think you can get to the other side of the car on your own?” I nodded not allowing the small dose of anger to even reach my eyes before I squashed it. I made my way to the other side of the car and before I knew it we were flying down the highway. West, a hundred miles, I wondered what we would find when we got there. Images flashed across my mind. His stuffed teddy bear hanging by a post drenched in blood, his pajama’s dangling from a sign ripped to shreds, his tiny body in a bag with only a hand sticking out. The flood coming from my eyes actually hurt as the tears rained down my cheek. I had to stop my mind; I had to get myself together. We didn’t know what we were going to find but we knew we were going to find something. If I let my mind go crazy how would I know what to look for? So I watched out the window as Aaron hit the gas until we were going 85 and we sped towards the only hope of finding our son. We were at mile marker 80 with 100 miles to go.
I was able to stand the silence for about 20 miles and then the shaking of the car began to get to me and my mind started to wonder. I clicked on the radio and searched until I found an old rock station, knowing it was the only station both of us could stand at a time like this. Keeping the volume low so we could hear one another my eyes began scanning the side of the highway for any clue as to where my son might be. I knew we wouldn’t find anything for another 80 miles but it was like my eyes had a mind of their own. They combed over every shred of tire and broken bottle that littered the side of the highway until my eyes nearly crossed from the effort. It took all my concentration to keep my mind blank of scenarios as we raced down the highway. But no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t keep my eyes from the side of the road. Aaron must have noticed because I felt his hand on my thigh and without saying a word he squeezed. That gave me some comfort. I knew, without him having to say a word, he was reminding me we were in this together. I reached down and squeezed his hand; we were not facing this alone. We, at least, had each other.
When we reached mile marker 180 Aaron pulled over the car. The gravel crunched and clicked under the tires and the car tilted at an angle but both of us didn’t seem to notice. The first thing we did notice was a dirt service road that went into the woods and my heart began to pound. Aaron put his hand in mine and squeezed then we got out of the car. First we would search the area, then we would move head down the service road to see if some other instruction had been left there. That was when I noticed the sign. It almost blended into the forest it stood in front of. A small teddy bear hung from one arm pinned to the wood with a rusty nail. I pulled my hand away from Aaron and began to run. The blood in my ears was so loud that I couldn’t hear the words he shouted after me. At least the bear wasn’t drenched in blood.
The bear was dirty and stained but I would have recognized it anywhere. Christopher never left the house without it and it was probably the bear that had kept him quiet when whoever took him snuck out of our home. Its right eye was missing and a small metal tube was protruding from it. I pulled out the tube, popped off the small plastic end cap and rolled up inside was a piece of paper. My hands shaking, I removed it and unfolded it. I couldn’t read the writing because my eyes wouldn’t stop flooding, so after a moment I handed it to Aaron in exasperation. He read it quickly, his eyes scanning the paper faster than I could follow. I blinked and he was running back to the car, I pulled myself together and ran as fast as I could to catch up to him. I was desperate to know what the small paper had said but I was too choked up to ask. When we were back inside the car, Aaron fired it up and took off toward the dirt service road skidding to a stop by the sign, he jumped out and ripped the bear down from the peg. He put it in my lap and I hugged it tightly to my chest. He got into the car and turned to me and said the only two words I wanted to hear.
“He’s alive.” My heart started to slow and I hugged the bear to my chest. Desperate with hope and crying tears of joy, having utter faith in his words as if they were sent down from heaven itself. The road was full of potholes and the ride was bumpy but Aaron navigated the road and drove like a bat out of hell. Missing the worst of the holes and only occasionally making the shocks take the brunt of the damage. We soon saw a small shed on the horizon. The dust finally caught up to us and a cloud billowed around as we stopped in front of the shed.
Coughing and barely able to see my own hand in front of my face, I made my way up to the door and had nearly grabbed the rust caked handle when I felt Aaron's hand on my shoulder. I turned and he motioned for me to step aside. The look on his face made it impossible for me to hesitate. He slowly opened the door and I peeked over his shoulder at the dim interior. We waited on the threshold until our eyes adjusted, my feet felt like there was cement holding me there but I forced myself to move forward behind Aaron. The shed was a single room. Dust caked everything except a small desk that sat at the back where the shadows were darkest. Televisions were stacked one on top of the other, some precarious in their positions but all were on. Their light illuminated the back of the room with an eerie glow. The images blinking across the screens made my blood run cold. There was our living room, our bathroom, our bedroom, Christopher’s bedroom, even our hallway, driveway and Aarons small desk at work, Christopher’s classroom filled with small children smiling at their desks and my mother’s house all lit the screens. It was as if our lives were a TV show waiting to be edited and sliced together. Who could do this? Who would do this? How could they? When did they? Questioned blared through my mind as I searched each screen for some sign of Christopher. Aaron didn’t allow shock to slow him. Before I could even process what I was seeing, he was sitting at the solitary chair before the desk and turning on a computer I had yet to notice was there. The screen blinked on happily and I could hear the fans begin to hum and the motherboard beep its happy beep. No password locked the computer and Aaron was soon on the desktop. He clicked the only icon on the screen which was labeled “Christopher”. A video feed much like those cast to the TV’s all around us was black and white. I could make out the little face resting on his knees as he sat on a stained up mattress. My little boy was alive. Aaron began desperately trying to get something, anything that would tell us where he was but no menu or message popped up and there was no change in the screen. The program only offered the feed and nothing more.
We sat for what seemed like hours starring at the image of our little boy. I searched the screen, my eyes flying over the room for any clue as to where he could be but the room was just a series of four walls and a bed. I didn’t recognize the room or the shape and I knew it was nowhere I had ever been or seen before. I looked at Aaron with a questioning gaze and he shook his head. He had no idea either. Aaron got up and I took the chair touching the screen hoping to get as close to Christopher as possible, wishing I knew where he was, wishing I could tell him we were going to find him no matter what it might take. Aaron began searching the small shack, checking under the table, following the wires to the holes drilled in the side of the wall, even looking under the chair that I was sitting on but I was the one who found the next clue to the location of our son. It was when I noticed the series of numbers at the bottom of each screen. They looked like product numbers you see on the side of packages but all were different except the live feeds of our house where no one was home. I wondered if they were ID numbers. Wouldn’t they correspond to the camera? And if so, why were 6 of them all the same? I pointed this out to Aaron and he immediately pulled out his phone, punching the numbers into a search engine and then his face went pale. He turned the phone screen toward me and the blood drained from my face. There was our house, the exact location with the tiny roof and little fenced in yard with its white picket fence, the tree we had planted when we first bought the house blocked out Christopher’s sandbox. It was an eagle eye view but I recognized it none the less. This was how we were going to find Christopher.
“Can you read it to me?” Aaron asked pointing to the long string of numbers at the bottom of Christopher’s screen. I nodded, not trusting my voice but hardening my nerve. This was our chance! This was the only chance we had to find our son! I could do this! I read the series of numbers then marched my finger across the screen as Aaron read them back to me. No way were we going to make a mistake now. Not when we were so close to finding our son. We got up and left the little dusty shack behind and got back into the car. We didn’t speak. We didn’t need to. Aaron flipped us around and soon we were back on the highway, this time going east to find our son.
The coordinates lead us to a small single brick and mortar building with no windows and only a single door. Aaron tried the handle but it was locked. I made my way around the building but found no other entry points. I came back to the car to find Aaron halfway in the trunk going through an old tool box I had forgotten was there. Soon he came out with a small crowbar and a mallet. He didn’t say a word just quickly ran to the door, inserted the crowbar and hit it hard with the mallet. With a loud bang, the door flew open and dust flew down from the ceiling. We heard a whimper coming from the only door down a long hall and both of us flew to it, our feet barely touching the floor. This door was also locked but Aaron still had the crowbar and mallet and I yelled for Christopher to stand away from the door and stay on the bed.
“Mommy?” the small voice of my little boy sounded through the door. I could hear the fear and uncertainty in it and it broke my heart.
“Yes honey, mommy and daddy are here. You’ve been so good just stay where you are sweetie. We will get you home.” I could hear Christopher start to cry but the creaking of rusty springs let me know he was doing what he was told. He had always been such a good boy and pride swelled my chest. I nodded to Aaron but he wasn’t looking at me, he was busy shoving the crowbar into the door frame. Within seconds the door was open and Christopher was crying in my arms. I looked him up and down but he didn’t appear to be hurt, only scared. Aaron was there, tears streaming down his face as he held me and our son to his chest.
“Everything’s okay now buddy, we’re going home.” Aaron picked Christopher up and buried his face in his hair. As a family we made our way back to the car.
“Who do you think did this?” I asked him in a hushed voice.
“Not now honey, all that matters is we found him and we’re heading home together.” I nodded knowing that we had what was important. But I made up my mind then and there that we were selling our house and moving out of state. There was no possibility of our lives ever being the same.
A phone rang.
“Report on Project Venio.”
“Experiment 1-17 complete, sir.”
“Were the results as we expected?”
“Same result as the other subjects, sir, no authorities called and acquisition of subject within 10 hours of phase 2.”
“Very good, proceed to Experiment 1-18.”
The line went dead and with a click the man held down the intercom button.
“Begin the acquisition of target for Experiment 1-18.” He didn’t wait for a response before clicking off the intercom. To him it was just another day at the office.
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© 2018 Jessica Jade Robinson