Gone Missing (Nog Simming) is a story in the Hello Neighbor Games Discord Server. It is a story of Leslie and his Partner investigating a missing children's case. The Discord community can choose what happens next.

Story

Chapter 1 - New Case

It was about 6:45 PM on a Wednesday, two police officers are sitting in the back of the Raven Brooks Police station. Officer Leslie, the younger of the two, has his coat slung over the back of his chair, his boots propped up against the edge of his desk. He looks about ready to fall asleep. He closes his eyes briefly but snaps them back open at the sudden feeling of vertigo as he leans a bit too far back in his chair. Quickly righting himself before he took a spill he decides to stand up instead.

Checking the watch strapped to his thin wrist, he gives a quick stretch and says, “Looks like it’s almost time to head out, I’m gonna grab a coffee for the drive home.” He stifles a yawn and heads towards the ancient coffee maker tucked away on a rickety table in a corner of the Detective’s bullpen. His Partner, an older gentleman with a large and very distinct moustache glances over from his almost completed daily reports, “More coffee? At this hour?” “Hey, I can’t help it if I'm tired all the time. Maybe I’d be more awake if anything ever happened around here.” The younger policeman retorted. “Suit yourself, but at least make a fresh pot, that’s been on the burner all day.” The older Officer said, eyeing the remaining dregs of that morning’s brew with concern and a small involuntary shudder as they were emptied into his partner’s to-go cup anyways. Hoping to cut out a few minutes early the younger of the two leans over to check his partner’s progress. “Well, if you’re almost done with those reports I’ll probably just be heading out...” He said, scooting towards the front of the station, with his precious caffeine in hand. Before he could make it that far, the inbound non-emergency line began to ring.

“Aw man, I can’t catch a break!” he mumbled under his breath, making his way towards the telephone. His partner continued to meticulously finalize his documents in the other room, his head still down and his large form hunched over the small pile of papers in front of him. As he shuffled into the front of the office the younger cop thought… “You know...it’s probably nothing serious, I could just let the machine get it…?” Having worked there long enough he noted there was probably only a few more seconds before it went to voicemail.

Chapter 2 - I've Got a Bad Feeling

“Ugh, might as well,” Leslie says. Coffee in one hand, he grabs the phone with the other. “Raven Brooks Police Department!” “Officer Leslie, glad I caught you, is your partner there too?” a deep voice asks from the other end. “Oh.. er- yes Chief! The old-timer and I are just finishing our daily reports.” He says, wishing he had let the call go to voicemail, but knowing he’d have caught hell for it the following day. “Good.” The Chief says, “Listen, there's been a call about a possible missing child. It could end up being that the kid just snuck out but we still need to look into it. Need you two to go check it out asap.” “Are you sure no one else is close? It’s probably nothing serious and we were just about to head home.” Leslie says out loud, briefly forgetting who exactly was on the other line. Before the Chief could take a breath to reprimand the younger officer the older policeman had made his way into the room, caught the end of the conversation, and snatched the phone out of Leslie’s hands. “Hello-Oh, Chief? Yes, sir, understood sir- no of course he was only joking...we can be on our way immediately...Ok” and hung up the phone. “You owe me one, rookie,” The older man says as he grabs his coat off the hook. “C’mon, we’re going.” The town was not large, and it took them little time to make it to the designated house. They pulled into the driveway and parked the cruiser just behind a dark green SUV with a bumper sticker that read Proud Parents of a Boy Scout, Troop 33, Raven Brooks As they pulled up, a couple, presumably the child’s parents judging by their age and mirrored expressions of worry emerged from the house and made their way towards the vehicle.

Getting out of the driver's seat the older officer identified them, “Raven Brooks PD, we are responding to a call about a possible missing child?” “Yes, our son” The man closest to them responded, “We went to check on him earlier in his room and he’s disappeared!” “I’m very sorry, I know how worried you must be. If you don’t mind my asking, have you recently had any disagreements? Or is there anyone you believe may wish you or your family harm?” Leslie’s partner inquired. “No, nothing like that, and we haven’t had any arguments either. Just this morning we all ate breakfast together and things seemed fine!” “I understand, may we see his room? We’ll need to investigate.” The Senior police officer advised. Making their way up the stairs and into the missing boy’s bedroom they begin their investigation. Doing a brief visual scan, nothing seemed amiss at first. The bed was neatly made and everything appeared to be in its place, but the TV and video game console had been left on and running... There appeared to be no immediate signs of forced entry but the first-floor bedroom window was unlocked and left open a crack. The two officers noticed a wardrobe in the corner and a single bedside table as they entered the room to sweep for clues.

Chapter 3 - Eerie Promise

Stepping into the room first, Leslie’s partner made his way to the back of the room. Passing the wardrobe set against the far wall he went to inspect the window. He pulled a small camera from his coat pocket and snapped a few photos before finally pulling it open wide enough to lean out of. Thick, well-kept shrubbery obscured the ground not too far below, he leaned back in to see his young partner carefully setting his coffee on top of the nightstand before leaning down to get a look under the bed. Quickly checking under the bed and, finding nothing but a missing sock and what looked like a few colored pencils, Leslie straightened himself and got back on his feet, then glanced over at the wardrobe. It was a big, old-fashioned thing made from heavy wood and took up most of the back wall. “Nothing here, take a look at the wardrobe while you’re over there,” Leslie said to his partner. The elder policeman pulled open both of the wardrobe doors. Inside hung a clean light green Scouts uniform, a black hoodie, and a few other assorted shirts. The majority of the clothes sat in a pile at the bottom of the wardrobe no doubt hastily thrown there to tidy the room. Leslie’s partner once again snapped a few photos before poking around the wardrobe. Moving aside the jumble of clothing at the bottom the older policeman spied a small shoe box. “Got something” He rumbles. Pulling the top of the shoe box off they found some more colored pencils, some comic books, a string of purple arcade tickets with some sort of bird on the front, and a small handful of odd-looking leftover Halloween candy.

Pulling the contents out to have a better look they both glanced down as a small slip of folded paper fell from between the pages of the bottom-most comic book. Leslie reached down to pick up the paper and flipped it open. Both policemen looked at it, then at each other The paper looked average enough, torn from a standard-lined notebook, but its contents were enough to give anyone pause. The words “I promise” were scrawled in large black letters through the middle, underneath were a handful of names. The missing child’s name was written messily near the bottom, along with the names Kate, Matthew, and a few others. The two policemen glanced at each other, an uneasy feeling settling over the both of them. Heading back downstairs, they stepped into the living room where the absent child's parents were waiting for them to conclude their initial investigation. One was pacing near the window, the one nearest to them was absent-mindedly petting a small white and black cat sitting beside him on the sofa. “We found this hidden in one of his comic books...do you recognize any of these names?” The elder cop asked, handing the folded piece of paper to the man on the sofa. The cat shot them an annoyed look as this caused the petting to cease.

“Yes, these are all friends of our son, they’re in the local troop together...are they missing too?” the father asked, the worry in his voice growing ever more apparent. “We’re not sure, can you give us their information? At the very least it’s a lead, and if we’re able to speak to them that will get us one step closer to finding your boy.” Leslie’s partner said. “Don’t worry...we will find him.” He added, his usually gruff voice softened a bit as he noticed the spike of panic growing on both parents' faces. ”Thank you both for your time, we’ll be in touch with any updates,” Leslie told the couple. They bid the missing boy’s parents farewell. With the other troop members’ info in hand, they had scarcely settled into the cruiser when Leslie’s partner pulled away from the curb with a hard lurch forward, picking up speed down the quiet street. Leslie hastily grabbed his seat belt and locked it in place then asked, “So what’s our next move?”

Chapter 4 - Lies and Soda

“It looks like Matthew’s residence is the closest.” The elder cop said, “We can start there.” The drive to Matthew’s house was fairly short (only partially due to the older policeman’s lead foot) they turned off the main road and into another small neighborhood. The sun had met the horizon and the sky was turning pinkish as they pulled to a stop at the curb outside a light grey two-story house. A dark blue car was parked half inside the open attached double garage with the trunk open. As they exited the cruiser, an old teal colored van clunked past them and continued down the road before disappearing around the corner. The two policemen didn’t pay it much mind as their attention was on the house ahead of them. A blonde woman in her late 30’s, hearing the racket from the van, stepped around the side of the car with two large grocery bags in her arms. “Oh! Hello, can I help you, officers?” She asked, a concerned expression already beginning to make its way onto her face. “Sorry to bother you ma’am but is your son Matthew around? We need to speak to him for just a moment.” Leslie advised. “Oh dear...He’s currently over at a friend’s house, but I can call over right away.” She said. “...Has he done something to get himself into trouble sir?” she added. You could tell by her expression she was trying to figure out whether to be worried or angry, and that would likely depend on what the police told her next. “-we’re investigating the possible disappearance of one of their friends and just need to ask them a few questions, it’s possible it’s just a runaway situation but still, we need to follow up with every lead. It shouldn’t take long.” He explained, quickly providing a bit more detail so they could hopefully get the information they needed as quickly as possible.

“Oh my goodness - of course officers, please come in. I was just unpacking some groceries so you can follow me through the garage here and I’ll grab the phone” She said, heading back into the garage and bumping the inner door to the house open with her foot before heading inside. They passed through a small mudroom and Leslie noted a few pairs of kids sneakers, a yellow skateboard, and a worn-looking red and blue knit sweater thrown haphazardly in a pile on the floor just inside the door. “Please have a seat, I’ll be right back, Matthew’s mother said. “Would you like some tea? Soda maybe?” she added, her manners briefly clashing with her concern because you must always offer guests a refreshment. “Do you have coffee, by chance?” Leslie asked, realizing he’d left his on the nightstand of the missing boy’s house just after they left. “Mmm, no I’m sorry, just soda, tea, and...orange juice.” She said, peering down into the grocery bags she still held. “I’ll take a soda if it’s not too much trouble.” The older cop said. Matthew’s mother came back from the kitchen with a can of soda in one hand and the phone in the other, he nodded his thanks as she handed it to him before leaning against the nearby door frame with the phone readied. “ “Alright officers, let me just call over there really quick for you,” she said. “Thank you ma’am”, Leslie said, followed by “It’s a bit of an odd coincidence that all the kids seem to be in scouts together.’ “Oh..the missing child is from the same troop?” she asked, faint tones coming from the phone as she dialed. “Are you able to tell me who it was?” Leslie gave her the missing child’s name, and her face immediately drained of all color and she stopped dialing. “That’s...who Matthew said he was staying over with”

Chapter 5 - Something in the Cemetery

“Don’t worry ma’am. We’ll find them, both of them” Leslie assured the distressed woman as they exited the house and headed back towards the cruiser. They had asked a few additional questions once it became clear Matthew’s disappearance may be linked to the original missing boy’s case, but there still wasn’t too much to go on. Matthew had said he was staying over at a fellow scout’s house and as this was pretty common, they had no reason to question it. But given that the missing boy’s parents had mentioned no such thing during their original visit there it was pretty clear they were not aware. “Well, the way I see it we’ve got two options.” The old-timer said as the cruiser doors shut and he started the engine. “We could head towards the cemetery, if there's mischief going on in this town it’s usually there. Or we could head back towards our first location to search around the area. I'm sure there was something fishy about that window but I couldn’t get a good look outside because of the shrubbery.” They settled on the Cemetery. As they drove Leslie noted another vehicle behind them and quite a ways back, but it turned off just as the edge of the graveyard came into view and he couldn’t quite make out the color. He turned his attention back to the road in front of them and stifled a yawn. It was fully dark by the time they pulled into the visitor’s lot and the surrounding area was empty as it was well into the evening, but Leslie still could swear he felt eyes on him as he scanned the thick woods surrounding the grounds. Shaking his head he made his way around the back of the car and caught up with his partner, who was following the walkway around the side of the main building. They made their way towards the back, hoping to speak to The Graveyard Keeper.

The older cop took the lead. As they approached the small outbuilding they heard a scuffling sound and noticed a few boxes off to the left. Both policemen shared a glance before changing course briefly to check it out. As they approached a small cat jumped out of the nearest box, hissed, and ran off through a hole in the fence before either cop had much time to react. Leslie blinked hard, using one hand to push up his glasses and the other to rub his eyes. “Ok, I’m a bit tired but I could have sworn- was...was that cat wearing a hat?” He asked incredulously. “A hat? I’m not sure, little thing was pretty quick.” His partner said, squinting in the direction the cat had run with a bemused expression. They rounded the corner of the outbuilding, Leslie pulled up the rear and attempted to stifle another huge yawn. The older cop gave the door a brief knock. A few moments passed and a wizened face peeked through the small window set above the door and then disappeared again. “Just a sec!” a creaky voice called from behind the door and the sound of a chair scraping across the floor could be heard. A very short and very old gentleman pulled open the door moments later, two crochet hooks and a half-finished project in his wizened hands... Squinting at them in the faint light coming from a sconce on the side of the outbuilding he caught sight of their hats and badges. “Oh hello Officers, what can I do for ya?” he said. A chair with a few phone books stacked on its seat could be seen just inside the door behind him.

“Hello Sir, we’re sorry to bother you but have you seen or heard anything strange tonight by chance?” Leslie’s partner inquired. “Strange? Hmm, actually yes. I was doing my rounds and there was this horrible racket, thought it was a bear that tumbled down from the woods near the back of the property there. But when I turned my torch on whatever it was it scurried off before I could get a clear look.” The watchman’s voice whistled a bit as he recounted the story. “I see, and you’re sure you couldn’t make out any details at all sir?” The older cop pressed. “My eyes ain’t what they used to be, boy. I’m sorry that’s all I caught. To be honest with ya I’m just glad nobody was vandalizing the graves!” The aging man said. “I see, well thank you for your time Sir. If you remember anything else or if there are any other strange occurrences out here please give the station a call ok?” He handed the man a small card with the relevant information on it. “Now, if you don’t mind we’re probably gonna take a quick look around the back where you mentioned earlier before heading out.” “Will do officers!” The old man chirped with a small casual salute “Say, before ya go” He continued, almost as an afterthought, “I was just about to put on a fresh pot of coffee. It’s not the ritz but come in, have a cup of joe and warm up, yeah? I don’t get visitors too often…well, living ones that is” Leslie, caught in another yawn, perked up immediately at the mention of caffeine. “Coffee?” he said, leaning around his partner.

Chapter 6 - Evening Closes In

“Hold up there rookie, we’re in the middle of an investigation here.” Leslie's partner said as he grabbed him by the collar and took a step back. Twisting out of his grasp, Leslie shook his jacket out and settled it back on his shoulders straight. “I know, I know, can’t blame a guy for trying. It’s getting cold out here too, could use something to warm up.” The younger cop said, shooting his partner a hopeful look. His partner gave him a long hard look back from underneath the low brim of his hat...at least Leslie assumed that’s what kind of look it was and finally sighed. “Ok fine.” He holds up a stern finger and gives it a shake in Leslie’s direction, One cup of coffee. Warm up a bit, I’m gonna head back to the cruiser to lock up and radio the Chief, need to update him on our status and notify him there’s potentially more than one missing child. When I get back we can go investigate the area where the groundskeeper heard the commotion earlier.” Having said his piece, he made his way back in the direction of the car and Leslie followed the elderly gentleman into the small building. Ushering him in, the old groundskeeper shut the door behind them. The door closed with a bang and a loud creak, Leslie jumped at the unexpected noise and turned around to see the Graveyard keeper reaching for the chair they’d seen next to him earlier. Catching Leslie’s startled look he gave a small whistling chuckle.

“Sorry about the noise, doors a little old and sticks. Sometimes ya gotta give it a good yank.” The old man grabbed the stack of phone books off the chair and moved them to the floor, then set it opposite the only other chair in the room, a well-loved overstuffed armchair.

Leslie looked around, taking in the modest abode. The woodstove did double duty heating the small building. Next to the armchair was a small basket of yarn and a few extra crochet hooks. There was a bookshelf in the corner stuffed full of novels and what looked like maybe…old VHS tapes? An old Tube TV sat against the wall next to the door they had entered through. As a police officer, Leslie couldn’t help but notice that both the armchair and the tv were positioned in a way so as to have full view of the door. His eyes narrowed as he also noted that the door had a slightly alarming array of locks. His attention went to the old man who was currently busying himself disassembling an old Italian style espresso pot. He dumped some fine ground beans into the basket and some water into the bottom part. Screwing it all back together, his old hands moved with practiced precision and placed it on the stovetop to heat. Two mugs sat on the small counter nearby. “That’ll take a minute to boil, in the meantime, let’s have a chat!” He said, settling into the overstuffed armchair and picking up his unfinished crochet project. Leslie sat down in the chair opposite him, thinking he should interview the Graveyard Keeper some more, there may be something he had left out as their initial questions were quite brief. But before that something the old man had said earlier stuck out. “You mentioned vandalism on the graves Sir? Is this a regular occurrence?” Leslie asked. “Not all the time, but it’s a small town and bored kids are always gonna find ways to make some trouble...that urban legend sure ain’t helping either.” The elderly gentleman said, frowning a bit at his project before looking back up to Leslie.

“Urban legend?” Leslie asked, curious. The Graveyard keeper took a deep breath before his creaky voice began to recount what he knew about it.

“Yeah, ‘bout ten years back a kid went missing in this area, seems like kids have got it in their heads to go ghost hunting for him. Sometimes while they’re at it they mess up the graves a bit, knocking over headstones and such. They could’ve just asked me though. I’ve been minding this cemetery for a long time and I’ve never run into the ghost of a missing boy.” He said the last part a bit quieter, as if more so to himself. Leslie was a bit disconcerted at the implication that the old man had not met that particular ghost, but despite his morbid curiosity he was straying a bit too far from the investigation. “Was there anything else you remember from earlier sir?’ He asked, getting back to the subject at hand and hearing the water begin to bubble in the bottom of the Moka pot on the stove. “Hmm, not too much I’m ‘fraid. But now that ya mention it there was this,” He mused, fishing a small metal object from his breast pocket and handing it to Leslie. The younger officer held it up to get a good look. He noted a metal pin of a fleur-de-lis symbol atop two banners with the words “Boy Scouts” on top and “Be Prepared” below it. “Noticed something shiny in the mud near where whatever-it-was taking a tumble out of the woods. But this is an old graveyard and it could have been there for a while. Just as Leslie had opened his mouth to say something in response there was a loud crash. A rock had broken through the window above the door and came to rest near Leslie’s feet. He snatched it up and ran to the door, the old man had been right it did stick. Leslie struggled for a moment before giving the door a good hard push with his shoulder, the door frame protested but finally, it opened with a squeal and a jerk.

The light on the outer wall was dim, mostly meant for making out the door in the dark but he could hear the thuds of sneakers and he could just make out the form of a person as they retreated down the path that led behind the funeral parlor at a sprint and off into the darkness beyond. Just then the older policeman came jogging up from the opposite direction, “I’d just made it to the car when I heard the noise, what happened?” He said, huffing slightly as he stopped in front of the groundskeeper’s house. “Someone hucked this rock through the window there.” Leslie pointed to the window with the hand that still held the rock. As he did so he noticed it was wrapped in some sort of thick paper and secured with twine. Picking at the twine and attempting to smooth out the paper he realized it was a photo...of himself and his partner standing in the missing boy’s room. And it was taken from outside the house…

Chapter 7 - Nothing But the Wind

“How on earth would someone have gotten that photo, the only people who knew where we would be were the kid’s parents and -,” “- The Chief.” Leslie finished for him. “But there’s no way he’s involved in something this weird, there must have been someone else we don’t know about either tailing us, or following the same clues…” Leslie trailed off, suddenly remembering the van he had seen several times earlier that day. Had it been parked near the missing boy’s house when they were there? He could only recall noticing it for the first time as they approached Matthew’s residence. “Hey, you were on the driver’s side, did you get a good look at that noisy blue van that passed us earlier at the second house? Remember anything about the driver?” Leslie asked his partner. His partner scratched his head and advised, “I recall it having some sort of satellite dish on the top, looked like there was a logo on the side but I couldn’t quite catch it.” “Alright, we can figure that out later, just had a weird feeling. First, we gotta chase down that vandal. Destruction of property is grounds enough to take them in for questioning, but I’d also like to know what's with this photo and what they’re trying to tell us with this.” He said, holding up the rock and crumpled photo before slipping them into separate jacket pockets. You could hear a slight metallic clink as the rock bumped against whatever was already in Leslie’s pocket, coins most likely.

“Unfortunately I’m gonna have to take a rain check on that coffee sir, but thank you for the company, you might wanna head back inside but we’ll check this out and send you a copy of the report if we find anything, for your records,” Leslie said, turning to the old groundskeeper. “No worries sunny, pop by anytime I’ll be glad for the company, and give whoever broke my window a piece of my mind for me alright?” The old man whistled out, understandably miffed his window was broken. Luckily it wasn’t too cold out that night. “Will do sir.” Leslie nodded as he and his partner clicked on their small flashlights and turned to follow the unknown vandal’s trail around the back of the cemetery. They walked quickly but carefully, their flashlights bouncing off of oddly shaped gravestones and memorial sculptures. Between the trees scattered throughout the old cemetery and various small family crypts that dotted the graveyard, there were plenty of places an assailant could hide if they had a mind to. After a time they made it to a point where the cemetery grounds met forest, this far back the only light sources were their small lights. A quick sweep of the area shows them scuff marks in the embankment that the graveyard keeper had mentioned earlier, but it would have been far too steep for someone to climb back up, especially starting from their location. “Let’s check the forest perimeter, see if we can pick up their trail” His partner advised. Leslie nodded in agreement before realizing his partner likely hadn’t seen him in the dark and instead just fell in step right behind the older cop. Their efforts were not in vain, a ways down the two hit paydirt, their lights catching on a very fresh trail. Leslie noted the fresh sneaker prints in the muddy grass leading straight into the forest, the undergrowth broken and pushed down by additional footfalls as the unknown party pushed their way into the forest.

“Well, let's get to it I guess.’ Leslie said, eyeing the dark woods. He took a deep breath, settled his jacket around his shoulders, and stepped into the forest behind his partner. The angle was steep and only got steeper once they started pushing further into the forest. The wind picked up and a distinctly unsettling noise began emanating from around them, almost a clicking cracking sound that Leslie had to remind himself that the chilling noise was coming from the branches above and not behind them…” More than once he did catch himself swinging his light to look behind them, just to be sure though. After some time following the trail it began to get fainter and fainter, and just as Leslie worried they had lost it for good they exited the underbrush onto part of a hiking trail. It was quite overgrown and forked off in two directions. “You wanna flip a coin?” Leslie said, half-joking despite the dark pressing in around them. He couldn’t help but eye the fork further to the left, something in his gut told him this was the way. “No need, rookie, this trail has been running through the woods more or less parallel to some country roads that loop around the cemetery. My guess is whoever we’re trailing parked on those roads to make a quick getaway. We go right and we might be able to catch them before they make it to their ride.” The more seasoned cop said with surety. “Not to challenge your famous sense of direction but my gut tells me we should take the other fork. I don’t know what we’re gonna find further in but something tells me we just have to go left, you gotta trust me, partner.” Leslie said, a little confused as to why he himself was so set on this. He wasn’t usually one to go on gut reactions alone.

Chapter 8 - It's Just the Trees

His partner gave him another hard look through the dark, then coming to a decision, purposefully turned around and made his way the few steps back towards Leslie. “You’re not usually one to be going off hunches, that's my thing,” He said. And before Leslie had time to fully process that the usually stoic man had tried to make a joke, he was already stepping around him down the left-hand path. “But if you’re this serious then I trust you, now let’s go find these kids,” The older policeman said, settling his coat around his shoulders and pulling his cap down a little tighter over his eyes. They set out and deeper into the forest. The slope itself was not impossibly steep but it continued on relentlessly upwards and at just the right incline that before long Leslie was feeling the burn in his legs as they ascended the old hiking trail. The light from their small flashlights bounced off of the rocky path ahead of them and the forest around seemed to press in tighter the further they went. It started a ways off, and at first, Leslie thought it was just the trees. But as they continued on there came that low creaking sound again, but this time it came from down the path behind them...and it sounded like it was getting closer. Leslie whipped around, pointing his light behind them as quickly as he could but saw nothing. And just as soon as it had come the sound was gone, leaving him wondering if it really was just the trees. “You alright?” His partner asked from ahead of him, having stopped so as not to lose each other in the dark. Leslie shook his head, the stress from the case was wearing on him. The lack of caffeine didn’t help either and he could feel a headache was probably coming on. “I’m good, let’s keep going,” he said, catching up to the older man at a quick jog, but he couldn’t shake the feeling of eyes burning into his back as they pushed on.

After what felt like an eternity (to Leslie’s legs, at least) the path began to level out. Perhaps the urban legends the groundskeeper had mentioned caused this area to be less popular with hikers, he noted the trail felt like it was getting fainter and fainter the further they pressed into the woods surrounding the graveyard. Just as he was afraid they would lose it completely their lights caught on something ahead, was that...a tent? They slowed, listening intently for any sounds from the clearing ahead but even the forest seemed to be holding it’s breath, The branches overhead seemed muffled as they gave each other a nod and approached as quietly as possible. The clearing was not large but they searched it thoroughly with their eyes, alert for any sign of the missing children. A standard two person tent was set up about ten feet ahead, a small fire that had long since burned out sits a ways in font of it, and a bottle of bug spray lies forgotten on it’s side between the two. The zipper door drawn and no sounds of life emanate from inside, as they approach his partner makes his way to the far side of the clearing checking for any hidden threats around the side of the seemingly vacant tent. Leslie approached the tent carefully, as he reached to unzip the door a bead of sweat dripped down his temple. ‘Deep breaths,’ he thinks to himself. He pulled the zipper up and flipped the tent flap back as quickly as possible, pointing his light inside to find...nothing. He let out a breath, sincerely having hoped the missing kids were inside. Leaning down he noted three sleeping bags, wait, three? The third name signed messily on the paper they found in the missing boy’s room swam in his mind, the ink dark and ominous. As he leaned back to exit the tent a small leather wrapped journal caught his eye, he grabbed it went to peek around the side of the tent.

"Three sleeping bags inside, all empty, and I found this,” he said, reaching out to hand it to the older man. His partner took it reflexively but didn’t seem to fully register what he said as he was examining a large black backpack that sat tucked to the side of the tent. As Leslie came around to look he noticed a strange expression on his partner’s face. Following his glance he realized the drawstring of the old backpack was open, and it was filled with shoes. A cold chill crept up Leslie’s spine and despite all the other events of the night, this was what made him feel true fear. “What do you make of this…” His partner asked, clearly as unsettled as he was. The older man was now holding the notebook in one hand and his flashlight in the other so Leslie gingerly reached down to pick up the bag. He didn’t have to empty its contents to know there were exactly three pairs, and that they were all in children’s sizes. “I don’t know, but we have to find out.” Leslie said, at a loss for words but more determined than ever to find the missing children despite the case becoming more bewildering by the minute. “We can try to see if there are any clues in that,” He said, gesturing with his chin to the journal the older man held.

As his partner reached to pull the latch on the old leather bound notebook, something crashed into Leslie from the side, throwing him to the ground and wrenching the bag from his hands in the process. It happened so fast, his parter tried to disarm or disable the dark humanoid figure but in the scuffle both the journal and his flashlight were flung to different sides of the small clearing.

The figure darted back out of the clearing as fast as it had come and Leslie scrambled to his feet as both policemen gave chase. “What on earth was that?!” His partner yelled over the sound of them crashing through the underbrush. “I have no idea but it took the bag, we have to follow it!” Leslie said, trying to keep their one remaining light pointed at the ground ahead. As they ran the sound from earlier resonated through the forest from ahead. They kept pace with the unknown assailant for a short while, judging by the sound of crashing bushes ahead punctuated by that awful noise. Just as they thought they may be gaining on them the older policeman went to jump over a small log, the rotted wood gave way with a loud snap followed closely by a loud grunt of pain. Leslie ran a few more steps before quickly retracing his steps carefully to find his partner in the thick brush. The older policeman had slid down a small incline and was trying to stand but his ankle was unable to support his weight. He stumbled as Leslie rushed back to him and grabbed onto a nearby tree for support.

“Are you alright?” Leslie said, the sounds of the unknown attacker quickly growing fainter. His partner’s face was drawn with pain as he responded “I don't think it’s broken, I’ll be fine you keep chasing them” He said. But even as he urged Leslie to go after the attacker he realized their footfalls were too far away to hear any longer, muffled by the thick mat of pine needles and dead leaves below. Their chances of catching up with whoever, or whatever had attacked them were fading by the moment. Leslie too, followed the same thought process with a pained expression he offered another option “If we can get back to the campsite we can try to find more clues from the notebook and I can go for help.” Leslie said, with everything that had happened the last thing they needed was for one more person to go missing on this case.

Chapter 9 (Finale) - Memoirs of the Missing

Leslie’s flashlight was growing dimmer as they picked through the woods in what was hopefully the direction of the camp; they had strayed far from any established hiking trail in their pursuit of the unknown attacker. His partner was leaning hard on him as he struggled to stay off his injured leg, his expression was pinched in pain but he resolutely continued forward, and Leslie did his best to support the larger man. He was already on high alert from their bizarre encounter, no...this whole case, and everything that had happened since that phone call from the Chief. They had followed this case all across town and for every new clue unearthed he was only left with more questions. It was slow going, and just as he began to worry they were truly lost in the old forest, the light caught on a bit of reflective trim in the distance. They had finally found the campsite again. Leslie breathed a sigh of relief, thankful that at least that they would not be stuck wandering the woods until daybreak with a rapidly dying flashlight. He helped his partner the rest of the way and eased him down onto the fallen log to the far side of the small, cold fire pit, had they even lit a fire before…-? He shook his head, better to focus on the task at hand, and right now that was finding that journal.

He began to scour the clearing meticulously starting from the location of the attack. The area of the scuffle was easy to make out as the mat of pine needles and dead leaves was heavily kicked up, but there was no journal amongst the disturbed and decomposing plant matter. He continued to search, turning up his partner’s flashlight in a bush on the edge of the clearing but the small leather-bound book remained missing. Leslie confirmed multiple times with his partner where he remembered seeing the journal fall. “It’s like it just vanished”, he said, kicking a clod of pine needles and dirt near him in frustration. His partner, despite his pain, spared him a sympathetic look. Going over the encounter in his mind Leslie felt his anxiety spike. Why would this unknown attacker stalk, photograph, and then bait them at the graveyard...only to lead them into an attack in the woods? And did this individual then somehow circle back to the campsite before they got there to steal the rest of the evidence? There was no way, even though they had moved slowly it would mean whoever, or whatever had attacked them would have had to move that much faster to loop back around them. And there was no way they would have been able to do that silently enough so that the two policemen would not have heard. Were they dealing with a team? He thought, pointing his light around the clearing and suddenly feeling even more uneasy, if that were even possible. He glanced over at his partner, his face still drawn in pain and dirt staining his clothing on the side he had fallen. He made up his mind and straightened up, “Hey old timer, hang in there, I’m gonna go get you some help.”

Five hours later found them back at the station. In the time that had passed Leslie had made it back to call both an ambulance and the incident in, and his partner had been safely transported down the steep hiking trail and to the local ER. To everyone’s relief, there were no broken bones, only a very nasty sprained knee. He would need to stay off it for a week or two while he healed but he was otherwise alright. Leslie and his partner were once again filling out paperwork, but this time in earnest. They had plans to go back out and survey the area with the help of Forest Services, but the two rangers were still en route and it would be a while yet until their meet-up. They had also made an attempt to determine if Kate’s parents knew the whereabouts of their daughter, but it seemed the family was out of town for the week to visit relatives and as such, no one had yet to return their calls.Trying to commit everything to paper from memory that had occurred since they last sat at the station table was no easy task, especially due to the fact that the station was out of coffee. The remains of the previous day’s grounds no more than a very burnt sludge at the bottom of the pot that not even Leslie, exhausted as he was, would dare to try to ingest. He attempted to stifle a huge yawn and failed, at the sound his partner looked up.

“You alright?” The older man asked. “I should be asking you that,” Leslie replied. He sighed “Just tired, but there’s not much we can do about that right now.” He said,. his partner took in the intense dark circles peeking out from under Leslie’s shades, checked his watch, and then advised, “Tell you what, we still have a little while until our meeting with the Rangers. If we finish these reports up there should still be time to get you one of those double-shot espressos from that drive though joint you like so much...heck even I could use some caffeine.”

“Now you’re talking old timer.” Leslie said, perking up. “I really wish you’d just call me Nielsen.” The older gentleman huffed, not at all preferential to Leslie’s choice of nicknames for him. They quickly finished the remainder of their report and stacked the paperwork neatly before placing it into a fresh folder. Leslie stood to grab his coat while his partner took a bit longer, standing carefully and grabbing the set of crutches that had been leaning on the table next to him. “C’mon rookie, let’s go get you some coffee...but you gotta chauffeur me” The older man said, obviously getting him back for the ‘old timer’ dig from earlier, the side of his bushy moustache lifting in a slight smile as he tossed Leslie the keys. They exited the station, but before they could take more than one step out the doors they saw something that made them stop dead. It was the journal, and a single child’s sized sneaker. It must have fallen out in the scuffle as well, Leslie Mused...but why was it here? Quickly remembering that his partner was limited mobility wise, Leslie went to pick up the items sitting on the front steps of the station. Gingerly lifting them he inspected both, outwardly nothing seemed amiss, they took the few steps back inside and Leslie set the sneaker on the table next to their previously completed paperwork (that was now in immediate need of an update). His partner lowered himself back into his chair with a grunt and set his crutches back in place next to him, resting the medical boot he now wore on an adjacent chair. “Doc says I gotta keep it elevated.” He said, looking expectantly at the small book in his partner’s hands.

Leslie nodded absently, focused as he gingerly opened the leather cover of the notebook. The very first page was mostly plain, aside from a name and a troop number, but it was not one belonging to any of the two (possibly three) missing children, though the troop number matched. His stomach dropped as his thoughts corrected him ’or was that four now’ He flipped the page, immediately noting the date inside and his eyes narrowed. It was from over a decade ago, how was this little book ten years old if the person who wrote it was in the same troop? He flipped through more pages, skimming the information inside until one entry in particular caught his eye. ’There is something in the forest, and I’m going to find out what it really is.’ “Got something,” Leslie said. ’The adults tell us there’s ghosts in the forests around these parts, but I know the truth. There is something else, something real and I’m going to find it. The rest of my troop says I’m too much of a baby to make it one night in the woods but I’ll prove them wrong too!’ The journal went on to detail the scout’s plan to set up camp deep in the woods on the outskirts of the cemetery. Leslie read aloud for his partner’s benefit. He turned the page and squinted at the journal in his hands, “What on earth?” he said, clearly confused. The following pages continued in a different handwriting and on different paper, the extra pages wedged between the existing ones along with some post-it notes. As if whomever had taken over did not wish to disturb the property of it’s previous owner.

“The Scouts of Troop 33 are on the case!” It began. Reading through the scattered notes it became clear that the previous owner had gone missing, and in the years since the journal and the missing scout had become a bit of an urban legend itself, with the local troop at least. Though the more they read the more it became apparent that it was not for the same reasons Leslie would have thought. Moving on to the next scrap of paper wedged into the old book Leslie noted it was a photocopy of a paper clipping, He knew enough to recognize it was likely copied from the archives at their local library, the police department occasionally had to request similar newspaper articles for their records in regards to investigations. The clipping had a grainy picture of a pre-teen boy, it appears there was never any trace of the scout found in the forest surrounding the cemetery and the possible theories for his absence ranged from running away to kidnapping. It made more sense to suspect these things than to place blame on a mysterious forest bogeyman, Leslie thought. From the rest of the information they were able to piece together, the present day scouts believed the latter reason though. As the sparse remainder of the notes outlined their plans to try to either find evidence of the missing scout in the woods, or to find proof of what took them. Leslie moved to take off his jacket again, he had been pacing while he thought and it was getting warm. As he did so there was a metallic clink in his pocket and he reached to pull out the rock and the metal pin the graveyard keeper had given him. He had completely forgotten about it in the ensuing craziness the rest of their night had become, he was actually surprised it hadn’t flown out in the scuffle.

“Was that in the journal too?’ His partner asked, Leslie advised that the elderly groundskeeper had given it to him when we went to the car. “Can I see it?” His partner rumbled. Leslie gently handed it over and his partner peered at it closely. “This is pretty old, did you know they stopped making these? Now everything is just cloth badges.” The older man mused. Leslie briefly flashed back to the un-sewn badges from the missing boy’s room, then felt a thought worm it’s way into the back of his head. “Hey, how long ago did they stop making these?” "Oh it would have had to have been about ten...years ago.” His partner saw where his thought was going as he finished his sentence and it clicked into place, they set the badge next to the journal. Leslie picked up the small book a final time, intent on scouring it for any remaining clues. He flipped to the final page, there was a photo, he raised it up to get a better look at it. In it, a dark figure could be seen between the trees, blurry as it appeared to be moving quite fast. He could barely see some wooden structure, perhaps the roof of a dilapidated building much further into the distance. His attention was caught by color. There was writing underneath the photo and as he turned to look he felt the now familiar chill of dread run up his spine, but stronger. The handwriting was different yet again from either of the journal's other two authors and large, ominous red-inked letters read: FIND THEM, SAVE THEM

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