Vanished

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In the early days, when the small town of Dovaal had just been found, the Black Forest was a frightening place where nobody went unless it was to punish prisoners of crimes so dastardly they are not mentioned nor acknowledged. It was said that an assortment of horrible ghouls and blood thirsty monsters that feasted upon children plagued the forest. There were horrible creatures that would hunt when the moon itself was so frightened it hid, and they would lurk around every monstrous tree until their parched throats were wet with blood.
And understandably so, the small town of Dovaal was built around superstition. The brick tiles were hardened from it, the cement plaster was dripping with it, and the doors had signs scrawled in charcoal from a drown man’s finger to keep it away. Yet, much to the devil’s delight, superstition still found itself a household name.
As the ages progressed, the forest became more and more feared as superstition lost to tradition. Tradition was lost to science and science was feared because nobody knew the answers. Except for a rare few, but the town of Dovaal did not keep anything that was considered rare. Confusion and political madness left the sad, superstitious town broken and wrecked, like a one legged, one winged bird that had broken its only wing.
Eventually the town found a way to struggle to the surface, and even with its television and microwaves, it was still the small, superstitious town of Dovaal that had been lost and found only a few hundred times. This is the story of two boys name Julian Mornestern and Sam Lackey, who find the hidden secret of their town, where witches were burned and alchemy roamed wild.

“Come on, Sam! This way, it’s a shortcut! We’ll be home in no time.” This had been going on for quite a while now. And it didn’t seem that it was going to stop any time soon. I looked up through the canopy of dark trees to try to find the hot sun. It was setting and we didn’t have much time until it was pitch black.
Julian seemed more alive at the promise of adventure. His brown, curly hair seemed to bounce a little higher; his tanned skin seemed to radiate a soft glow. His eyes lit up with a mischievous sparkle and his step was so light if it was any lighter he could fly.
I don’t know why. Sure, discovering things was fun, but it couldn’t be any more fun than reading a book and being transported out of reality. That’s what books are; escape. You can fly on the wings of a bird for a few hours, or dig homes in the dirt with small paws and twitching noses. You can speak with the gruff voice of the wolf or discover things that shouldn’t exist, like unicorns or narfs or phoenixes. I guess adventure is Julian’s escape from reality. Or way to find one.
Anybody would want to escape if you lived in my town. It is full of grumbling old grannies that tell you not to step on a crack and people on the street that stop you from walking if a black cat crosses your path. My town is small and claustrophobic and gives you nausea. All of the people in my town are weird and out of date.
So that’s what I was doing with Julian. His family just moved to Dovaal a few years ago and are settling in nicely. I asked Julian’s dad why he wanted to move to our town, I mean it doesn’t have any new job opportunities or tourist attractions, but he just ranted and raved something about culture and tradition and community.
The pine needles from the dark, evil looking trees were crunching under our boots. We had been wandering for hours among stale company and the musty air of the forest seemed dead and old. It was just our luck that as soon as it got dark, it started to rain. The droplets of water splattered against the bare, dusty ground where nothing grew, not even a blade of grass or a swatch of moss. Soon we were muddy and cold, wet and tired. We were shivering to the bone, and though our fear went unspoken, the air was and heavy with it. I dropped from exhaustion on the unforgiving mud, and Julian turned back and looked right through me. It was a horrible feeling, and for the first time since the beginning of our adventure, I felt really alone. Not even my body could comfort me. The fear inside it had grown like a viper coiled around my heart. It squeezed tighter and tighter, and I felt like exploding with fury. Then Julian’ eyes rested upon my brow, just for a moment, and one of the viper’s coils loosened.
He helped me up out of the mud and did his best to clean me up. Julian wordlessly pointed to a cave as we heard a monstrous howl, and I nodded vigorously as he led me to the opening. The wolves would be out hunting soon.
Julian’s wet curls were plastered to his forehead. When we got to the cave he pushed them back with one hand. The only sound was the constant, forlorn drip of water as it trickled off of limestone stalactites and the streaming sound of pouring water outside. It felt oddly comfortable inside the cave, like when you are snuggled up tight in a quilt on a rainy night with a cup of hot chocolate and a good book.
The air inside the cave was anything but cozy or crunchy hot, because it felt like muck that coated the inside of your lungs, but it was air nonetheless and I was glad to have it. Breathing in mud is no fun.
“This is your fault.” I heard Julian say darkly. His voice was deep and uneven, like the sound a cold rock would make when it hits a black pool with sharks in it.
“If you hadn’t insisted on lagging behind, we would be home and safe by now,” he continued. “I could be home and with my family instead stuck of this dump with you.” He turned around and his eyes were even darker.
I was bewildered. “How could this be my fault? If it is anybody’s fault it would be yours, taking me on adventures I don’t want to be in and getting me lost and soaking in mud!” I held out my arms like a marionette and looked down at my sopping wet, mud stained clothes. “And I’m sorry if I walk too slow for you. Why don’t you leave right now and run all the way home to your nice warm bed? Leave me here, for all I care. I have better company with these rocks.” I pointed to a clump of stones in the corner. Julian went over and slyly kicked one of the stones; it ricocheted off the walls and ended with a loud clatter. I covered my head and when Julian saw, he smirked scornfully and opened his mouth to insult me some more. I heard the sharp intake of breath, but we were interrupted by a mournful howl. It wasn’t a wolves’ howl or any animal noise that I know of. Julian must have thought that too, because he turned to the entrance of the cave in time to see some kind of creature hurtle toward him at top speed. It was big and black, and compared to the night it was like a smear of ink across a white page. Julian turned to cower but never got that far. The animal jumped on top of him and started to grapple for its meal. I hid in the corner, trying to think of a weapon to use. There were none, even the rocks seemed to hide from the beast.
The beast looked an awful lot like the viper around my chest.
Julian let out a single terrified, gargling scream that sent shudders down my back, and then was silent. He didn’t grapple any longer; he didn’t fight for his life. He just gave up. Just like that. The horrible creature loosed a victorious battle cry and viciously showed its shark-teeth. I just stood there, bewildered and transfixed by this horrible nightmare. All I could do was watch as my best friend was torn to bits, piece by piece, and devoured.

I woke up from a long sleep and rubbed my crusty eyes. I was covered in mud and all of my joints ached. My head was throbbing like it was a nest of angry hornets. I looked around and thought that this is what a zombie must feel like when they awake from their thousand year slumber.
I was at the hospital in a yellow room that seemed all too cheery after what I had witnessed. There were monitors and needles and a bag of saline solution and morphine attached to me through my IV. I looked down and noticed bandages of gauze and a cast on my ankle. Most of my skin was taped up, sewn, bandaged, and swabbed. The skin that was still open to air was muddy and horribly scratched.
I was still dressed in what were left of my clothes, and a hospital gown was folded primly on a chair next to me. My lips were chapped and when I uttered a groan I felt beads of blood form on them. It was like I had been attacked, not Julian.
I felt dozy because of the medication coursing through my veins, and I was sick to my stomach. There was a bowl of soup on a tray next to me and it smelled horrible, though it would usually be soothing and wonderful. I tipped it over in disgust.
The clattering awoke my mother, who had been sleeping on another chair by my bedside. She sat up with a jolt, and looked my kindly in the face. She explained,
“We found you in the forest by yourself. It looked like you had been attacked by an animal of some kind. You are at the hospital and the doctors are trying to relieve your pain. How do you feel?” I shook my head an affirmative and said softly,
“I feel fine. Where’s Julian? He was attacked too.”
“Who?” My mother asked. She must have thought I was dizzy on morphine, by the look on her face.
“Julian,” I croaked. “Julian Mornestern.” My mother nodded her head and then I fell asleep.

When I woke up again I heard my mother and a nurse talking.
“He keeps mentioning somebody named Julian Mornestern.” My mother fretted. “He claims he knows him. That he was there with him when he was attacked.” The nurse’s voice was soft and calming.
“It’s probably the medication. He is well enough to regulate it on his own, now. We can try to glean some information from him when he wakes up again.” So that would explain the pain. I grabbed my mother’s hand and told her that I was awake. With the nurse still there, I said,
“Julian Mornestern. My best friend, mom. I’ve even brought him over to the house.” My mother looked at me with concern in her eyes.
“You’ve never brought anybody over to the house, sweetheart.” I sat upright and furrowed my eyebrows in exasperation.
“Yes I have. You know, curly hair, dark eyes. He went to the forest with me, that day, and I remember we used to do it loads of times. You’ve even talked to his mom, Mrs. Mornestern.”
“Sam, honey, you went on those walks by yourself. I haven’t had anybody over at the house for years.” Then she looked at the nurse, “Is he still on his medication?”
She answered drily, “He’s been off for hours now.” Now I was really confused, but try as I might, I could not stay awake. I blacked out again.

I woke up to see my mom looking out of the window out to the town below. When she noticed that I was awake she told me,
“We’ve had the police run a check on the Mornestern family.” I looked at her with excitement in my blue eyes. “And there is nobody in this town named Mornestern. There never has. They’ve checked the job that you said Jim Mornestern had, nothing. They’ve checked out the librarian job that you said Nona Mornestern had, nada. The librarian that is currently there says that there are no books published by a Mackenzie Mornestern. Driving licenses, birth certificates, school enrollment receipts, electricity and water bills. Nothing. And there are no eye witnesses that have seen this family, except for you.” I was gobsmacked.
I remembered checking out Mackenzie’s book and reading it myself. I remembered walking to the grocery store with Julian and buying some pop and chips. I remembered going over to their house and watching television and playing outside, chasing Julian around and around while his dog Carmen would try to catch us. I remember playing card games on rainy days and cops and robbers in his garage.
Julian couldn’t be gone, could he?

Three months later I checked out of the hospital and got into my mom’s car. She drove me down to where I had said Julian’s house was. When I got out the wind was whistling a forlorn tune. Shocked, I looked at the empty lot. There was nothing there, not even a piece of rubble from the house. It was all gone.
Numb, I stepped over and around the perfectly level dirt. There were crows in the sky and they were laughing at me. “Caa-caaa!” They cackled. “Gooo-gone!” I turned on heel and heard a tinkling sound, like tiny bells on reindeer. It was a sweet, melodious and magical sound. I swiveled my head trying to hear where it was coming from. I looked down at a bush of hawthorn and saw a streak of shine. Something fell from my pocket before I could reflect upon it further, and as I bent to pick it up I stubbed my toe, hard. Cursing, I looked at what had been dislodged in my agony. It was a small, rectangular object that shone like quicksilver. The mercury color was seamless and perfect, like a mirror into my own soul. I didn’t dare look into it. Instead, I picked it up. It was cold and hard, but as I held it the object grew gradually warmer. I think I could even sense a faint heartbeat. I peered at it, looked at it from all sides. Eventually it dawned upon me, what that small object was. It was a book. A book of spells.
I laughed then, laughing at all of the craziness in the world. And as I laughed, and my voice played the octaves, the viper that had been nestled in my heart for so long, welcomed into my heart, began to release its vice-like grip. And when I finally closed my mouth, the only thing that remained were the imprint of scales, where they would stay as a scar. They had been scorched into my heart as a memento that the devil’s hellhound could soon return.





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