The call came in around midnight, startling Franco from his reverie. The shrill sound echoed through the silent cabin ominously. When he picked up the phone Sheriff Moore spoke quickly and effectively while Franco mindlessly stared at the thirsty looking Ficus in the corner of the room.
“We found him about twenty minutes ago, he’s alive.”
Within seconds, Franco was pouncing down the front steps and into his truck. He wasn’t surprised by the flurry of activity at the Miller’s home. Red and blue lights reflected off the canopy of tree’s that surrounded the lone cabin house and sheriff officers stood near the front steps, talking quietly to each other.
Sheriff Moore greeted Franco at the front door.
“It’s strange,” Moore said as he ran his fingers through his hair.
As Franco stepped into the small living room he saw the boy sitting on the living room sofa wrapped in an afghan with his grandmother’s arms wrapped tightly around his shoulders. The boy’s grandfather stood off to the side of the room, nearly blending in to the wall with his eyebrows pinched in confusion.
“Where was he?” Franco whispered to Moore.
“Just standing on the goddamn trail.”
“The trail by the river about half a mile from here.”
“How’s that possible? We combed every inch within a three-mile radius.”
“That’s not the strange part.” Moore lowered his voice even further. “He looked perfectly fine. As if he had gone missing just a few minutes before.”
“I don’t understand,” Franco said.
“Not a scratch on him. Not a speck of dirt. Nothing.”
“How’s that possible?” Franco asked, though he knew he would get no answers. He looked at the boy’s grandmother for the first time, really looked at her, and saw the etching around her eyes had gotten even deeper than before. She had aged ten years in just the week that her grandson had been missing.
“What’s the kid saying?” Franco asked.
“Some crazy story that doesn’t make any sense.”
Franco thought back to the other children and people who had been found. Of the few that were found, none remembered their story. Not a single one.
“So there’s a story, that’s new.”
Moore nodded. Although their relationship had gotten off to a rocky start, the Sheriff had come to trust Franco. It was almost as if he had forgotten that Franco was a journalist.
“It’s new alright.” Moore took a deep, heavy breath before continuing on. He seemed to shrink in size before Franco’s eyes. “He said he was taken to a cave and was asked –”
“Was asked to what?” Franco urged the Sheriff on.
“I’m not really sure.”
The Sheriff responded with a shrug. In the six months that Franco had worked with Sheriff Moore he had never seen him become flustered – even through the cases that would ruffle any seasoned officer.
Franco shifted his focus to the boy now, who was explaining to his grandmother about a ladder that he wasn’t allowed to climb out of. Her face had lost all it’s pallor as she listened to her beloved grandson share his ordeal. It was what he said next that sent a shiver up Franco’s spine, the sentence that would forever change his life and haunt him forever.
The boy turned to his grandmother with eyes that didn’t belong to a five year old. They were deep set and old, as if they sat on the face of a ninety year old — eyes that had seen too much. “I didn’t like my other grandma. I don’t care that she looked like you, I didn’t like her and I don’t want her to come back.”