The story so far:
On the fifth anniversary of his son’s disappearance, Theodore Long found he didn’t have the will to pick up the tablespoon to feed himself. Whilst engaged in a staring competition with the breakfast cutlery, his wife Audrey slid something across the kitchen bench. A tight fist came down hard on the exercise book – half a reflex, half in anger.
He cautiously lifted his hand off the book.
“What is this?”
Audrey stiffly rose and took a few steps from him.
“Where did you find it?”
She sharply inhaled. “If you want to have a drink today, you can.”
The front door slammed.
Theo sighed, and hesitantly pulled back the cover.
It has been said, the greatest tragedy of our world is that one doesn’t know, what one doesn’t know.
“I can’t read this,” Theo announced closing his son’s diary. All at once he could faintly hear those questions creeping back into his mind – questions about Terry’s disappearance; that of his own guilt; God’s plan for his life and family; what would have happened if he hadn’t disappeared – the very same questions that had driven him to four years of the bottle and six months in hospital fighting for his life.
He couldn’t ask those questions anymore.
But when Theodore opened his lunch at the office later that day, he saw that he had unconsciously packed the diary … just in case.
“Detective Joseph Gator. Could I have a word?”
Gator rapped his knuckles casually on the desk and turned away towards the conference room. As Theo followed him he passed the boss needlessly holding back the door; a cynical narrowing of the eyes in check. Theo defensively shrugged and took a seat opposite Gator.
The boss coughed lightly and closed the door behind them.
“Just about to knock off?”
“Another hour or so,” Theo shifted in his chair. “Have I done something wrong?”
“No, no. I just have a few questions about your son Terry’s disappearance.”
“I understand this must be distressful –”
“Darn right it’s distressful,” Theo snapped. “This is the anniversary of…”
“Oh,” Gator paused. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t aware. Listen some new evidence has come to light. I was wondering if you’d be able to help me clear a few things up.”
“Really? You’re being very vague. Is it deliberate? I was kidding about it being a touchy subject. Fire your best shot at me. It’s been five years so – do I give a stuff? You think I haven’t thought it all through; time and time again? You think I don’t know all the possibilities? You think I’m not prepared?”
Theo stormed out of his chair and paced the floor, trying to shake his anger.
“Did you ever consider the possibility that your son may have been kidnapped?”
Theo jerked to a halt, cocking his neck to one side so not to face him.
“Why don’t you take me through the events leading up to your son’s disappearance?”
He sighed and sourly returned to his seat.
“Well as you know, it was a camping trip. A mate of mine Rex; took his kid with Terry and I up there too. On the last night Terry was sound asleep at one am when I crashed; he was gone in the morning. We thought he might have run away. Or just went exploring and had an accident. Whatever. It’s ancient history, as they say.”
“The police report says you spotted a man lurking around the outskirts of your campsite several times throughout your stay there. You identified him as –”
“Oh right,” Theo laughed. “The Ghost.”
Joseph Gator passed him a photograph.
Theo turned it over in his hand. “That’s him.”
Darkness crossed over the Detective’s face.
“Did you know Passero was convicted of seven counts of child rape?”
Theo frowned. “They told me he was dead.”
“The man you identified is dead,” Gator said uneasily. “The man in that photograph you’re holding is Peter Passero, and very much alive.”
“We didn’t have anything on Peter at the time of your son’s disappearance. Now however, he’s just cut a deal and beaten a rap sheet not so different from his brother’s. This is Passero’s address.”
Theo stared at it blankly. “That’s – that’s the area where Terry disappeared –”
“I had a child once too, Mr. Long,” Gator murmured gathering up his things. “Not a day’s gone by where I don’t wish I couldn’t have gotten even with the son of a bitch responsible for the crime.”
Theo tried to swallow but couldn’t.
Gator closed the door behind him. “Her name was Noletta.”
The man who parked his car by the curb of Peter Passero’s home that evening could be best described as a zombie. His mind was empty; he felt nothing; it hadn’t been clarified but he had a sense of what he needed to accomplish; the baseball bat was equipped and ready. He walked across Passero’s lawn towards the porch unconsciously imitating the normal pace he’d accustomed himself to his entire life; and when he spoke to that whom answered the door his speech was some piece of automaton dialogue; his heart and soul was somewhere else.
The boy who stood before the man could see his sickness, and it frightened him; he simply told the truth: the rest of the family would be back soon.
A request for entry was denied but the man pushed his way inside regardless; a face of chalk, arms of steel, body of rock; the boy found himself in a fierce sea thrashing against the tidal waves; until a blow finally split open his head and everything turned to black.
He could see his wife’s Honda at the foot of the campsite; she was probably in the forest searching for answers. Everyone had their own personal way of dealing. Although curiosity would always linger, Theo’s brain had progressed from sobriety into sedation and passivity. He did not wait for Peter Passero’s return. He didn’t need booze; and he didn’t need any other form or fix; he didn’t need a hobby; he didn’t need answers.
His son’s diary sat back at the office unread.
With a crown resting in one arm, and heels in the other; Theo edged into the forest with Terry’s last hours in mind. Terry you see, was more like his mother.
Terry asked all the questions.
Theo remembered one evening when the child had some sort of epiphany…
I gaze out into the night sky from the second floor of my house wondering what lies beyond the stars and planets; what endless mysteries stand above the solar system and its galaxy. The minds eye traverses dust and space in a continuous spiral; but even at the speed of light it could not reach the bright white nothing that surely surrounds the infinite.
Terry hadn’t been pulled from his bed by some deviant; Theo didn’t need to read a journal to know that. Terry had voluntarily risen from his resting place that night and wandered into the hilly rainforest; taking the sounds and smells of the night in piece by piece until he reached the cave.
Theo could see Audrey cowering on her knees at the cave’s end, quietly sobbing before the last message their son had left for them.
My name is Terry I came out of the air
He turned from it in search of soft ground.
“My son, my darling, my child,” Theo whispered laying the child to rest in the dirt. “You were too good for this world, Terry.”
Once the boy was buried, Theo stood silent for a few minutes.
“He truly was an explorer,” Audrey murmured from behind him. “And not just of this world.”
Theo bowed his head. “He explored that within.”
She offered him the bottle. “Today its okay, Theo.”
But when he put it to his lips he found he could not swallow.
“No. Not right now. This is one thing I need to remember.”