Max woke confused. His head was stuffed with cotton and his mouth dry and … was he lying rocks? Nothing made sense when he opened his eyes, all he saw was a kaleidoscope of dark shadows around him. Then the moon broke free from the clouds and it all made sense. He was on the grounds, tiny pebbles stabbing him, lying under a bush.

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He swayed as he stood, vision blurring and the world tilting underfoot. He caught his balance on a tree, the rough bark pressing against his thumb hot and sharp. What? He looked down at his hand and saw the tiny red pricks. Briar. Was that…? Max looked around but the forest was dark and empty, no glowing lights, no bells. It was dark and he was going to be in so much trouble.

Which way was out? The forest was not as inviting as it had been during the day. Owls had replaced the woodpeckers and songs of the birds and their call was haunting through the trees. No cheerful squirrel ran past him. Not even the sound of water falling. Nothing, it seemed, stirred. Right or left?

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Max walked fast both to get home sooner, and to get out of the chill air. Without the sun, the wind was cold. His jacket was at school, though…as was his cell phone. So much trouble. He was going to be beyond grounded. Leaving school was bad enough, but not coming home? He had no idea how late it was, was is just dark? Or the middle of the night?

The picnic tables loomed out of the trees and Max breathed a sigh of relief, he’d picked the correct direction. He hurried down the steps back onto the street. What now? Should he head back to school? Would it even be open? Should he knock on a house and ask to use the phone? Not all the houses on the street were dark. He started walking as a car drove past, it’s headlights illuminating more than streetlights for just a second. Then it was gone.

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If there were cars, it couldn’t be that late? Max tried to think of what he’d ask someone if he knocked on their door. “Excuse me, I need to call my mom?” Then they would ask why he was out so late. He couldn’t tell them about Briar. They’d think he was lying. “I got lost?” That sounded pathetic even to him.

A dark car slowed as it passed him. Max looked down at the ground and tried to hurry. He should just go home as fast as possible. That would be fastest. No one else was out walking, perhaps it was dinnertime? The car stopped just ahead of Max and he swallowed uneasily as he approached it. The window rolled down as he passed.

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“Marcus Pigglewiggle?” An unfamiliar deep male voice asked from the open window.

Max shivered as the wind picked up, leaves rattling dryly. Should he run? Could he get to the white house with the lights on before the man reached him? Would they open their door in time?

“Max?” the man said again, sounding more sure of his identification.

He looked up at last and his eyes were caught by the man’s gaze. He looked…nice? Max nodded slowly. He was too nervous to speak.

“I’m Officer Nick,” the man continued, speaking a little faster, but still soft. Max could see the police uniform. Officer Nick smiled. “We’ve been looking for you.”

Uh-oh. He was in serious trouble.

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The policeman got out of his car slowly, Max could see now that it was a police car. He was tall. Taller than grandpa or any of his teachers, even Mr. Pancakes. But his smile was genuine and he looked relieved, not upset to see Max.

“Let’s get you home, boy,” Officer Nick said landing a warm hand on Max’s should. Max wondered if he was going to be handcuffed. He could see the silver cuffs on his belt.

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But instead, he was lead to the passenger side of the car. Once he was buckled in, the door was closed and Officer Nick walked around the car. Max could hear his walkie-talkie crackling as the policeman talked with someone on the other end. But he couldn’t make out what they were saying. The man slid into the driver’s seat and, with a reassuring nod to Max, pulled away from the curb.


Earlier…


Julia looks down at her phone. Behind her it is day.

“911 Emergency,” the smooth voice said with a practiced air as Julia’s call was picked up.

“Um, hi,” Julia was anything but calm, her heart was racing faster than ever before. She took a deep breath. “My name is Julia Pigglewiggle and I – I’m calling because I don’t know where my son is. He didn’t come home from school,” she said with a whoosh of air. She gulped in another breath. Bre squeezed her hand. Reassurance? Or panic? Julia couldn’t tell.

The operator confirmed her name, address, and telephone number before finally, finally asking about Max. Julia glanced at the clock 6:15. Was it too late? Had they delayed too long looking for him on their own?

“Can you tell me about your son?”

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“Yes, his name is Ma-Marcus, but we call him Max. When he didn’t come home from school today we tried his phone, but he didn’t answer. The tracker said he was still at school. But then he still didn’t come home. So we called his friends, but they didn’t know where he was.”

That had been when the terror had started. When she’d thought he was just staying at school late, Julia hadn’t worried. But by four she’d gotten nervous again. Mason and Billie both hadn’t seen Max after school. They hadn’t seen him since he left science class to go to the counselor.

“And how old is Max?”

“Twelve. Um, he was wearing a denim jacket and jeans today.” Julia added. She could hear the operator typing in the background.

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“And he’s not at school?”

“No, we checked there. The principal said he wasn’t held after school and that he hadn’t been to any of his afternoon classes.”

If Julia had been panicked before when the principal told her that. She’d nearly fainted. Why hadn’t they called her when he wasn’t in class? How many hours now had he been missing? Had he gone somewhere or had he been taken?

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“I’m sending a squad car to your house,” the operator said smoothly breaking a bit into Julia’s panic. That meant help, right? “You’re at home right now?”

“Yes,” Julia and Bre were stuck at home. Her father and mother were still out driving around, but she had had to come home to be with Bre and in case Max returned. She felt so helpless.

“And I’ve sent a message to all the cars in the area to be on the look out for your son.”

The operator continued asking questions about Max and Julia did her best to answer them. Had he disappeared before? No. Was he under any unusual stress? Probably? Had he mentioned any strangers before? No. She was being sucked deeper into the abyss with each question.

The red and blue lights outside were a comfort to see and she thanked the operator and hung up as directed. Bre opened the door and Julia could the serious faced policemen behind her.

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“I’m Nicolas Waters,” he introduced himself. “You are Julia?”

Bre shook her head. “Julia is my wife.”

The policeman spied Julia standing by the table, phone still in hand. He smiled reassuringly at both of them. “We’ve got all the cars tonight on the lookout for your son. I know you’ve just told dispatch a lot, but if it’s alright, I’ve got some more questions.”

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“Thank you for taking this seriously,” Bre said as the policemen followed her back to the dining room.

“Of course,” Nicolas said it like there was no thought that they might be overreacting and panicking over nothing. Julia took a deep breath, suddenly she knew this was serious. “Now, tell me about Marcus.”


Unique Credits

Police Car – by Ozyman4


Author’s note: I’m going to try try try to post this weekly going forward. This chapter has sat for over a month waiting for me to screenshot it. I could blame Christmas…but yeah. Not a very good excuse since it’s late January. A thousand apologies for leaving Max lost in the woods so long.

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