I haven’t really posted my own fiction on this site. This is something I’ve been working on, codenamed “Little Boy Blue.” Let me know what you think.
Jim Blake stumbled through the snow, listening to the cries of people all around him. “Titus!” they shouted, and he hoped along with them that they’d hear something, anything that would resemble an answer. The boy was 13, Jim knew, and he wasn’t afraid of anything. Jim had seen him the day before he disappeared, had shared lunch with the boy’s father the week before that, and both times he’d appreciated the boy’s fearlessness. He knew, too, that Titus had faced a lot of persecution at school, the punishment of boys who didn’t like him for a thousand different reasons. And though he avoided them, it wasn’t out of fear. Titus was a small boy, but he had nothing to fear from any boy his age or even a few years older. He could fight, Jim knew, had seen him compete at a karate tournament.
But Titus had been missing for thirty-six hours now, and the snow was already two feet deep.
Titus’s parents worked hard in the city, his mother as a teacher at the high school, his father in an electronics assembly plant. They waited an hour for Titus after he was supposed to be home. When he still hadn’t arrived, they started calling his friends, Mr. Daley on his cell and Mrs. Daley on the house phone. They got Mrs. Daley’s parents calling, too. And when they had exhausted friends, they started calling the boys they knew bullied Titus, or tried to. It took a while to get around to Billy Madigan’s family. After some prodding, some threats from his father that would have landed them in family court, Billy admitted that he and Mike Heatwole had chased Titus into the woods behind the middle school.
“We just wanted to scare him, Pop,” Billy said. “He was messing with Jeannie Oxford.” Mike’s girlfriend. Titus had, in actuality, been helping Jeannie with her Algebra, Titus’s strongest subject. But that never matters in middle school, or high school for that matter. What matters is that lines are there, boundaries that we don’t cross without good reason, and even then, we follow protocol. And most importantly, you don’t mess with another guy’s girl, for any reason. Judging from Mr. Madigan’s cold “That’ll do,” to Billy, the boy would regret his involvement.
The Heatwoles, on the other hand, had given nothing up. Mike was the kind of boy whose parents indulged him, believing every word he uttered, fawning over every accomplishment, no matter how small. Mike had been in altercations his entire school career, culminating the year before in a three day suspension for breaking another student’s nose. Mike’s story remained ironclad, as did Billy’s, that the boys had been arguing, and scuffled, but that the broken nose was an accident caused when the boys fell to the ground. The injured boy, too, corroborated that story, so Mike avoided more serious charges. The boy’s parents inexplicably refused to inquire further, though some in the community suggested a payoff, some kind of deal that kept Mike in school and the boys away from each other.
But his parents had done Mike no service. In fact, as the present situation now proved, it had just postponed the inevitable. Titus was missing the next morning, and the Daleys had spent a sleepless night by the phone, while Mr. Daley drove through the neighborhoods, and a few men drove down to the football field outside the woods and began a cautious search. The snow had started falling just after nightfall, however, thick and fast. And they had been forced to abandon the search. It had resumed the next day, the snow still falling but much slower, and the accumulation from the night before wet and compacted. On his way to the woods, Jim had watched two dozen kids racing down the hill at the park, a few brave souls on the old metal snow discs. They rocketed down the hill, the snow flying up behind them in a rooster tail until they reached the homemade ramp they had erected at the bottom of the hill. They hung in the sky for what seemed like minutes, the pale winter sun glinting off the metal, before boy separated from vehicle and their arms splayed out for the landing. They panted when they rose, putting hands on their knees to catch the breath the ride, and the landing, had knocked out of them. Then they headed back up the hill, exclaiming to one another.
The sight at the woods was far different. Only one police car was there, but more than thirty other vehicless had wound their way down around the middle school and driven onto the football field. Titus’s uncle James had set up a command station at his red pickup, and his wife, Sheila, was dispensing coffee into white foam cups. While James talked, the steam rising from the cups caught the sun, too, haloing the crowd.
“These are the areas we’ve covered already,” James said as Jim emerged from his car. “Most of them yesterday and last night, for some of the closer paths.”
“We found Titus’s scarf near the hard road on the other side of the woods, so we’ll move down there for the next phase.”
Sheila’s mouth was a thin white line when I approached for coffee, realizing only then that we’d be moving.
“Guess we’ll pack up to head to the other side,” she said. “Want your coffee now, or you want to wait?”
“I’ll take it now, please,” Jim said, smiling. Sheila managed to turn up both corners of that white line of her mouth, just the very tips, but Jim could see what was behind them. A kind of emptiness. Titus’s mom was her sister, the youngest in the family. Their older brother had lost a leg in Vietnam and eaten a pistol in ’85, and the entire family had a haunted look about them. Their father was a butcher in downtown Harrisonburg, had opened his shop in the early sixties when they moved from Pennsylvania. They were Mennonites, but not the most observant ones anymore. A few in the family still observed the old rules, protecting their families from the influence of the world. But for the most part, they lived among us, in but not of, as Jim’s grandfather would have said, keeping their souls pure with the only thing to remind others of their faith the names: Yoder, Shank, and others. Titus’s mother and aunt did not even have that. They married men of other traditions.
Jim held the coffee while he watched the cars load. He walked slowly to his own car only after most of the others had pulled out, leaving only him, the LeFevres (they said it ‘le-feever’), and the old man most of the kids knew as White William, an albino whose pinkish eyes seemed to shine out of the snowbank he stood in front of. He smoked a cigarette, pushing his thick glasses onto his nose.
When Jim reached the other side, the sight was not much different from the way it had been on the football field. The fifteen or twenty men huddled around James LeFevre, who divided up the land on the other side of the road into manageable segments. He numbered them aloud, then pointed to a team.
“Doc, Webb, you take segment 1. Foreman, Scanlon, segment two.” When he finally noticed Jim, he said, “Jim, why don’t you come with me. We’ll take segment eight and finish up by the bridge.”
Jim nodded, wondering what twist of fate had landed him with James LeFevre. They had never clicked, never gotten along, spent four years of high school avoiding one another as if each feared an infection. James LeFevre was sure of himself, and the kind of confidence he exuded made everyone else around—especially Jim—feel inferior.
James rolled up his map and rubber-banded it. “We’ll meet back here in an hour. Take your time, we don’t want to miss anything.”
There was some murmuring then, as the teams went their separate ways. Jim stepped up to the truck, let Sheila refill his cup, and turned to James.
“How are the folks holding up?”
“They’re going nuts, mostly. I had to make Stephen stay home with Faith. She really didn’t need to be alone today. I convinced him we could handle this, that she needed him at home more than we needed him out here.”
Jim said nothing, feeling that no one would convince him to remain at home if his sone were missing. Some relative would stay with his wife, and he would be out pounding the snow and beating the bushes. Dragging the river himself if necessary.
“Think Titus made it to the river?”
LeFevre sighed, looking in that direction, following Jim’s gaze. “No one’s sure of anything, but we can’t stop looking until we cover at least that much. You ready?”
“Ready.” They stepped into the trees, pushing aside the brush and joining the chorus of people calling for Titus. “Where are the dogs?”
“On the other side of the school, pushing their way up to the park.”
“No scent for them to follow?”
“Not after the snow. Filled in footprints too, but we keep hoping we’ll see some fabric on the brush. Something.”
Jim called Titus’s name again.
They pushed all the way to the bridge, finding nothing at all. When they reached it, Jim looked up at the concrete pillars rising from the river. It had gotten colder, and the wind joined with the cars driving overhead to make a kind of thunder.
Then he saw something.
“Jim.” Jim started walking toward a hole in the rocks. He couldn’t even be sure what he had seen, just that it had been out of the ordinary. “Something moving.”
“What’d you see?” LeFevre trotted up to his side and matched his pace, trying to pick out what Jim had seen.
“See that crevice?” Jim started running before he realized it, now knowing what he had seen.
(c) 2006 by Jamie Cain.