Lost and Found
by Paige Duke
“Pass through town and keep walking ‘til you feel you’ve gone too far; there you’ll find Harrow House,” I repeated the old hag’s words to comfort myself. I had already felt, more than once, that I’d gone too far, but the house was nowhere in sight. Only endless, empty fields. Now I just felt foolish. For believing some hogwash about a destiny. For chancing the precious few coins I had left to a gypsy’s word. For running from the sorrow that will forever cling to me. As my doubts swelled, the daylight disappeared, all too quickly.
Hopeless, I thought.
Hannah, I heard in the next heartbeat. My name coming to me across the long grasses, spoken by no human tongue. I shivered and could make my feet move no further.
Winking at me out of the dusk was a ramshackle house, where before there was nothing. What sort of trick was this? I spun around but found no one to answer me. No sound but the breeze and the whisper of my name again, no soul in sight but the Man in the Moon.
I felt a sharp prick against my wrist, an insect’s sting. But I looked down to see only the old trinket the gypsy had pressed into my hand at her glassy-eyed divination. A charm she’d hung on a chain, but the thing was too small to fasten round my neck, so I wore it as a double-wrapped bracelet. It didn’t look like much, little more than a chipped or halved coin. But from the moment I wore it, the thing seemed to hum there against my skin. Its strange energy coursed through me, pulsing at the emptiness, the raw ache at the center of me, that place where the child had left me but its soul still lived.
I looked between the charm and the house—its siding grayed with dirt, the roof as threadbare as an old dishrag, the doors hanging from their hinges.
Where else could I go? Even if the old woman had cheated me with her talk of fate, it was shelter for one night.
Suddenly weary, I surrendered. My tired feet slogged through the tall grass as if it were mud, but the gypsy’s trinket thrummed louder with every step. I felt the burst of new life, fresh purpose, though all around me was the stench of mold and decay. The porch creaked, and I tried not to imagine what creatures might be lurking in the darkness of that house.
As I passed through the door, a ray of moonlight sneaking through a patch in the roof illumined the house. All around me was dust and ash glittering in the silvery light, a curious sort of beauty. My hollow womb grieved at the sight, another emptied and abandoned room, and still the charm’s magic pulled me forward.
A weak cry startled me. Now it was my heart thrumming in my ears as I turned to find the source. Just beyond the moon’s spotlight I saw a wriggling mass of blankets I’d mistaken for a trash heap. I approached, my limbs alive with fear. Before me lay a tiny babe, tucked inside a blanket. It couldn’t have been there long, so healthy and perfect it looked. The poor thing was hungry, though, it suckled its fist and squirmed.
I called out, I searched the whole place, but of course the thing’s mother was nowhere to be found. I came back to the wailing child and longed to take it in my arms. As I lifted the tiny thing, the blankets fell back and around its neck hung the thinnest chain of gold with half a coin, whose mate still pulsed at my wrist.
The Case of Beatrice Burns
by Dani Nicole
Beatrice Burns disappeared near Wicker Place at dusk. She was victim twenty-six.
The old house got its name because of its burn marks. One match, and the whole place would ignite like wicker.
No one remembers how the house got its burns. There are no news stories covering an accident. No wildfires. No discarded cigarette butts.
Most people of Blanket, Texas choose to forget, but I’ve made it my focus in life to not ignore the abnormal, for it will always catch up with you.
I set my newspaper on the table and grab my banana, peeling it slowly as I read the bolded headline.
NEW REPORTED DISAPPEARANCE NEAR WICKER PLACE
The victim was only twelve, and new to town. She was walking her dog Toto near the perimeter of 766 Destiny Lane and never came back. You’re not in Kansas anymore.
“Another depressing headline?” Jennie says. My wife comes into the kitchen, her hair a bird’s nest on top of her head. The camisole she wears is thin enough to see through.
“You know, just another victim to the house.”
“You’re not still on that are you?” She yawns, stretching her arms above her head. I pull her close to me.
“It’s the only answer. Every time someone disappears in this town they are last seen near the perimeter.”
“It’s a house, Ray. It doesn’t just eat people.” She laughs, but it’s never funny to me. “Are you going to have a real breakfast, or just a banana?”
I kiss her on the cheek. “Have to run. Be home at 6.”
She smiles and smacks my butt on the way out of the house, but all I can think of is victim twenty-six.
“Victim, Beatrice, female, twelve, last seen near Wicker Place,” Sergeant Waters says. He slaps a folder onto his desk. “This is the twenty-sixth disappearance in five years.”
Since the burn marks appeared on Wicker Place.
“I want to put an end to this. We need to find the common thread.” His eyes hesitate on mine. “And something I can use in court, not a superstition.”
He moves to a chalkboard and starts writing details. We hypothesize about the connection, but my mind travels to past cases. It took three for me to put it together, to start associating the house with the disappearances. Once I did, I visited the house after each victim. But I never found anything.
“… Dakota? Are you listening?” Sergeant Waters says, staring at me.
“Good.” He tosses me the folder. “I’m putting you on this one. You can start by interviewing her family.”
The others exit the room as I weigh the folder in my hands.
The afternoon consists of a visit to the Beatrice’s house, where her mother is hysterical and difficult to talk to. Her father is calmer, and is able to verify that his daughter was out walking Toto and never came back.
“Someone took our sweet girl,” said Beatrice’s mother. “Who would do that?”
“We don’t know that yet,” I say, scribbling notes in the folder. “Let’s just start with what we know.”
Beatrice’s father assures me that she had no enemies, no suicidal thoughts, and had never talked about being bullied or followed.
“It was completely unexpected,” he said.
That’s what they always say.
I pack my briefcase and drive to Destiny Lane. I step out of the car and walk in the street, only able to glance at the house from afar. Its white walls are splattered with ash. Its roof caves in. Weeds poke up all over the dead yard.
This place is a gravesite.
The metal door is hanging off the mailbox, secured by only one screw. It looks as though it hasn’t been filled with mail in a long time – perhaps five years. I scan the rest of the scene, not finding anything that grabs my attention.
I turn to walk back to my car, and stop.
“Hello,” says a little boy with blond hair, standing near my door.
“Are you lost? Where are your parents? It’s not safe out here.” I squat down so that I am at his eye level.
“My camera is broken,” he says, tears welling up in his eyes.
“Maybe I can fix it. Where is it?”
He walks through the weeded grass to a small camera resting on a child’s sized tripod. “It’s right here. It won’t take pictures.
I push a few buttons. It doesn’t even turn on. “I don’t know if I can fix this.”
He starts to cry, but the camera flickers on. “Yay! Yay! Now I have to take a picture. You stand over there.” He points at a space in the grass.
I take a few steps back and smile.
“One, two, three–”
He clicks the button, there’s a flash, and I am moving.
I land on hardwood, the smell of ash filling my nostrils. There are walls on every side of me, burn marks splattered across them.
On the wall there are twenty-seven pictures.
Mine is the last.