On the night her brother disappeared, the most pressing thing on Alice’s mind was what movie she wanted to see with her friends.
“I can’t decide between A Letter from Missouri or The Beast of Boulder Street.”
Alice Hayes stood in the entrance to a hallway as her mother sat on the couch, her TV show paused. Alice was a typical high school girl with raven black hair with pink highlights, brown eyes, and freckles on her cheeks. She wore the bright, colorful blouse and pants that were fashionable at her school right now and had just a hint of makeup, enough to accentuate her features.
She was the spitting image of her mother, though her mother was also plumper with quite a few more wrinkles. Mrs. Hayes also had the weary look of a woman who led a busy life, though she did brighten up whenever her daughter asked her for advice.
“Oh, I hear A Letter from Missouri is very good,” she said.
“Nuh-uh,” said a young boy’s behind Alice. “A romantic comedy over a horror movie? Horror is better, and that’s a fact.”
Alice, slightly annoyed, looked behind her to see her younger brother Arthur, a skinny kid with a big, mischievous grin and blonde hair. As he walked past his sister, she saw him bundled up in winter clothing with a backpack on his back.
“Shows what you know,” said Alice. “It’s not a romantic comedy, just a romance.”
“Even worse,” said Arthur, grimacing as he set his backpack down to confront his sister. “At least a romantic comedy can pretend to be funny.”
“As if you know anything about comedy,” said Alice spitefully. But her and Arthur’s voice began raising as they got angrier and angrier.
“I know plenty about comedy,” said Arthur, offended.
“Oh, like you know about movies? Mr. ‘I can’t tell the difference between a romance and a romantic comedy.”
“Both are stupid.”
“You’d know what’s stupid being stupid.”
“That’s enough!” said their mother sternly.
Alice and Arthur stopped talking immediately, bowing their heads to avoid looking their mother in the eye.
“Can you please try to settle your disputes without bickering? Honestly, you can treat each other so horribly sometimes. If your father were here, he’d…”
Her mother chocked up for a moment, unable to finish the sentence. The room became awkwardly silent for a moment as Alice and Arthur shifted uncomfortably. Alice took a deep breath, trying to ignore the pictures in the hall behind her where their father looked at them smiling. Some of those photos had him in his military uniform. They didn’t talk about their father much these days. It almost felt like a cheap shot to bring him up right now, but Alice knew her mother didn’t mean it that way. Also, she was probably right about what Dad would have said he was still there.
“I’m sorry,” said their mom, wiping a tear from her eye. “But my point still stands. It’s okay to disagree. Lord above knows you’ll probably have disagreements your entire life. But you can settle your disputes without insulting each other.”
Alice and Arthur kept looking away as their mother looked back and forth between them sternly.
“It’s just,” said Alice. “I like romance. When you call it stupid, it sounds like your calling me stupid.”
“I never said that!” said Arthur angrily.
“Arthur,” said their mother sternly. “Try again, but say it gently.”
“I mean,” said Arthur, annoyed. “I don’t mean to say that.”
“Then don’t,” said mom. “Alice is allowed to like whatever type of movie she likes. If you personally don’t like them, you can say that without calling what she likes stupid. You can say it without calling what I like stupid as well, I might add.”
“Yes mom,” said Arthur.
“And Alice,” said mom. “When you respond with an insult of your own, it just makes things worse. And, I might add, your doing the exact thing your so upset with in the first place. You should both be able to tell each other how you feel without demeaning each other. I expect you to settle your arguments like civilized people, not like barbarians screaming at each other. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes mother,” said Arthur and Alice.
The room became silent for a moment as the two siblings took this all in.
“Beast of Boulder street is pretty good,” said Arthur hopefully.
“Is it?” asked Alice. “Have you seen it?”
“Last week,” said Arthur. “It’s about a guy who becomes a werewolf. He can’t control it but thinks he can get revenge on the people who killed his family. It’s about him trying to do that without getting anyone else hurt, but the more he becomes a werewolf, the longer it lasts until he starts becoming a wolf completely.”
Alice thought about it.
“Yeah,” said Alice. “Sounds like it could be good.”
Arthur nodded enthusiastically, and their mother smiled at them.
At that moment, someone rang the doorbell.
“That’s probably Johnny wondering why I’m not there yet,” said Arthur, picking up his backpack. “Bye mom, bye sis.”
“Have fun at your sleepover,” said their mother.
“Sure thing,” said Arthur, heading for the front door.
Alice watched him go, seeing his friend Johnny Baxter for a few seconds, a tall kid for his age with messy brown hair. The Baxters only lived a few houses down, so arranging sleepovers wasn’t hard. Should could just barely hear Arthur protest that he was only five minutes late when the door closed.
Once Arthur was gone, Alice turned back to her mother to see the woman looking at a picture of dad on the wall. For a moment, Alice wondered if she’d had arguments with him that she never resolved. She’d heard her parents argue before. However, seeing the sad look on her mother’s face, Alice decided to leave well enough alone.
As she went back to her room, Alice finally decided on her own plans. She’d call her friends and tell them she’d decided on The Beast of Boulder Street. A horror movie did sound like fun right now, and admittedly Arthur’s pitch had sounded pretty neat.
Though she’d never admit that to him.
“Alice,” said her Mother as Alice was getting ready for school. “Could you swing by the Baxter house and make sure your brother gets to the bus stop?”
Alice, packing her backpack with schoolbooks in her room, sighed and said, “Yes, mother.”
And moments later, she was outside, bundled up in several layers of clothing with a hood over her head as she walked down the sidewalk. It was early in the morning, the sun not yet risen above the houses. Frost covered anywhere the sun’s rays couldn’t reach yet, and Alice’s breath was visible as she walked. She rubbed her mitten covered hands together as she reached the Baxter house, turning up to it and get Arthur.
The first sign something was wrong was the open door.
Alice stopped in her tracks. The front door to the Baxter house was wide open. Mr. Baxter wasn’t out getting the newspaper, nor did she see anyone else there. The door was just wide open with no one in sight. That was very strange, especially given how cold it was this morning. The second sign something was wrong was how dark it was inside. Aside from the light in the entryway, the interior of the house was nearly pitch black. Even with the lights off and the curtains drawn, there was no way it should be that dark inside.
Maybe Arthur and Johnny had already left for school, the Baxter parents left for work, and the door was left open by mistake. That, however, was easy to check as she could look down the street. The corner where they usually caught the school bus was a fair distance away, but she could still see that it was empty. No other children, never mind her brother and his friend. After all, she was fifteen minutes early, so that wasn’t surprising, but it meant that either her brother was skipping school or he was still inside.
Despite that nervous feeling telling her that something was wrong, it could only be one of those two options. Slowly she approached the house, getting closer and closer to that looming darkness. Eventually, she stepped right up to the entrance and looked around, not seeing anyone. Not that she could see much of anything inside the house. The only things she could see clearly were the tiles in the entryway, illuminated by the open door.
“Mr. And Mrs. Baxter?” she called out.
Only silence answered her.
Again, silence answered.
But still, silence answered.
Alice had time before the bus arrived, so she stepped inside, looking for the light switch. She saw the living room before her, a wall of pictures to the right and a dining room to the left. The light switches were behind the open door, and reaching for one gave her the third sign that something was wrong. The lights didn’t come on. She tried all three switches but got no result. Why was the power out? It had been fine back home, and she’d never known the Baxters to be out of power when they weren’t.
Again Alice had that nagging feeling that something was wrong, but he tried to tell herself she was being paranoid. She also considered just closing the front door and going to school, but she’d already told her mother she’d make sure Arthur got to school. She had to check things out, just to be sure. Checking her watch, she still had time, so she stepped in further, moving to the living room.
“Mr. and Mrs. Baxter?” she called out again.
Alice walked carefully so she wouldn’t stub her toe in the dark. Slowly but surely, she made her way to the window in the living room. She found black curtains that shut out the light completely. When had the Baxter’s gotten these? She opened the curtains, wincing as light flooded the room from the back yard. She turned around to get a better look at the house.
And saw three bodies on the floor.
She gasped, pressing her hands to her mouth to stifle a scream as she backed away, her back colliding with the window. She stood there, her eyes wide open in fear as she took heavy, strained, terrified breaths. Unable to take her eyes off the horrifying sight, she quickly realized who they were. Mr. Baxter, with a balding head, a chubby build, and a clean shaven face, lay on the floor in his suit, staring at the ceiling with glassy eyes. Mrs. Baxter, a salt and pepper haired woman in a blouse, skirt, and apron, lay next to her husband. She had curly hair, age lines all over her face, and eyes just as lifeless as her husbands. Finally, Johnny Baxter, the same tall, messy haired kid Alice had seen just the other night, lay there, his eyes staring blankly at the ceiling. Each was deathly pale and gaunt, their skin stretched thin. For some reason that Alice couldn’t fathom they lay in a perfect row, right beside each other.
And at the base of each of their necks, two pricks showed on the skin. It was as if some beast had bit into them without tearing any flesh away. For a brief moment, a creature came to Alice’s panicked mind, one from horror movies, but she was too afraid to give that thought more than a moment.
As Alice looked on, hyperventilating now. She could barely think, and what few thoughts she could muster wondered if whoever did this was still there. She wanted to run but couldn’t move. She wanted to stop looking but couldn’t muster the will to close her eyes. Finally, after a minute of strained, heavy breathing, a thought pierced her might that gave her the will to do more than just stand there in fear.
Where was her brother?
“Arthur?” she said, her voice a hoarse whisper as he slowly pulled her hands from her face. “Arthur?” she said louder, her panic shifting its focus entirely. “Arthur?” she said even louder, looking around as if he might come running any moment. “ARTHUR!” she screamed, and then she screamed his name again, and again, and again.
But only silence answered.
Ten years later
“Hey? Are you listening to me?”
Detective Alice Hayes turned to look at her partner. Her partner, Detective Gary Frasier, sat at the desk next to her as police officers filled out paperwork all around them. Phones periodically went off around the office, and at least one juvenile delinquent in handcuffs had to be led to the holding area. Aside from that, however, it had been a pretty slow day for the most part. The pair of them wore suits that fit the department’s dress code for a detective. If one looked closely, you could hear just a hint of wear and tear on those suits that came with this job. Not to the point that it looked unprofessional, but just enough to show that they saw some action.
Gary, it seemed, was trying to have a conversation as they worked at their computers. He was a tall, broad shouldered man who shaved what little hair had survived his balding. He had a round face and a large nose. Not exactly a looker, but be gave off an air of friendliness that was contagious to most people. Alice wasn’t one of them.
“Sorry,” said Alice. “I just…had something on my mind.”
Alice wore her black hair short and had no makeup on her face, giving no quarter to making herself appealing. She had a job to do, and she took that seriously, though she’d been distracted this once. She quickly cleared the cobwebs from her mind and gave her partner her full attention.
“So, what were you saying?”
“I was saying,” said Garry. “That we’re planning a movie night over at officer Larsen’s place this Friday. We’re thinking of watching The Beast of Boulder Street.”
“Gary, you know how I feel about horror movies.”
“Oh, come on,” said Gary. “The Beast of Boulder Street is a classic. I’d figured even you could appreciate that.”
“I can appreciate its impact on our culture without seeing it,” she replied, turning her attention back to her work. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, this missing person case isn’t going to solve itself.”
She turned to her computer and continued looking over some case files. They’d been working a case for a while now but had come up short on potential leads. Alice figured she might be able to find something they’d missed. Gary was helping, both with the case and with stuff that wasn’t his business as far as Alice was concerned.
Gary said, “Look, I’m as committing to finding this kid as you are, but you need to learn to relax. Exhaustion isn’t going to help you find anyone. Besides, it’s good for partners to be friendly with each other. Honestly, we’ve been partners for seven years, and I barely know you.”
“Maybe if it wasn’t a horror movie,” said Alice.
“Oh, come on,” said Gary. “You always turn me down. Or any invitation for that matter.”
“What can I say? I’m an introvert.”
“Uh…no. Officer Johnson is an introvert. You come off more like a recluse. There is a difference, you know. I mean, do you ever go out? Seriously, this job takes its toll, and it would help if you got out more. Socialize. You know, live a little.”
Something about that sounded eerily familiar, and Alice slowly put down her paperwork and swiveled her chair to look straight at him. Seeing her from the corner of his eye, Gary paused his own work but refrained from making eye contact.
“You’ve been talking with my mother, haven’t you?” Alice accused.
Gary, hesitantly, said, “She…got in touch. And she’s not wrong, you know?”
Alice took a deep breath, turning back to her computer.
“Gary, it’s sweet that you’re worried about me,” she said. “It really is, but I’m fine. If you want proof, I’ve passed all my psych evaluations, so if you really want to worry about someone, worry about Kenny Halsen. Somewhere out there, this little kid has been abducted, and we’re the ones charged with finding him.”
“We don’t know that,” said Gary. “We don’t have any leads yet. For all we know, he was just a runaway. Sad, but preferable to…other scenarios.”
“Well, I have a hunch,” said Alice. “He had good grades, friends, no problems at school or at home…I just don’t see any red flags that would make him run away. So like I said, if you want to worry about someone, worry about him. We’ve got a job to do, so let’s do it.”
“Alright,” said Gary, restarting his work. “Alright. Message received. I’m just saying, wearing yourself out will only make it harder to do your job. You do need to relax sometimes, even with this job.”
“Thanks,” she said. “But I’m fine.”
Gary shrugged and said, “If you say so.”
She didn’t respond to that. Anything she thought to say sounded petty in her mind, so she kept it to herself. It was nice that he worried about her, but she really was fine. She just needed to stop thinking about Arthur. She had work to do.
They didn’t get any leads on their case that day, so Alice went home discouraged. She knew she couldn’t let herself get too attached and had to remain objective, but it easy to get discouraged with this sort of thing. Exhausted, she entered her apartment, locked the door, and looked around. She had a modestly furnished apartment with little to no decoration. Her furniture was functional and did little to blend with other furniture in the room, and no decorations adorned her walls. To most, including Alice, it was a dull look for a home. The most ascetically pleasing thing in the room was the movie collection to the left of her TV. It was mostly romance movies and romantic comedies, all with, as others had put it, optimistically sappy endings. She didn’t care. They were a nice break from…well, everything.
Actually, Alice thought, a movie before bed sounded nice right about now. She would quickly make her dinner, get a tray, and watch something while she ate. She went over to her shelf and scanned for something. It took a few moments for her to make a decision, but finally, she settled on something, almost without thinking about it. She decided to watch A Letter From Missouri.
Alice finished her dinner and the movie with a tear in her eye, in a good way. Seeing the couple get together at the end was always cathartic to see for her. It wasn’t as if that was going to happen for her in real life. That would require dating for a start. Even so, she still liked to see it happen for other people, even if they were fictional.
After the movie, Alice took a shower and went to bed. Laying there in her pajamas, she found she had trouble getting to sleep. Even on nights when she distracted herself with a movie’s happy ending, this wasn’t uncommon. When she was working on a murder case, she sometimes had the victim’s face on her mind, at least until she solved the case and got justice for them. Tonight was different. Tonight a face she hadn’t thought about in a while filled her mind’s eye, and it was the face of her little brother, Arthur.
Even now, years later, it was so frustrating to think about with so many questions left unanswered. Why had someone killed the Baxter’s and abducted Arthur? The Baxter’s had been drained of their blood through two pricks in their skin, as if by a Vampire. Vampires weren’t real, but someone had gone to great lengths to make it look like they were. It all left Alice wondering, Why? Why would someone turn the deaths of the Baxter’s and her brother’s abduction into one of those tabloid stories next to bigfoot and space aliens? Why? Why kill them in the first place?
Why did it have to happen on the night Arthur was there?
And what had happened to Arthur? She still wondered if Arthur was out there, somewhere. It seemed unlikely, and every day the odds of him turning up again seemed fainter and fainter. The person who killed the Baxters had probably killed Arthur eventually. Sometimes she could still hear herself screaming her name in his head.
She shook her head, clearing her mind. She’d put this behind her a long time ago. It wouldn’t help to start digging up those memories now. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. She missed her little brother. They'd fought and argued all the time growing up, and yet despite all the arguments, she missed her little brother. Even so, she wouldn’t let this destroy her. Right now, she needed to get some sleep and then do her job. She could put Arthur out of her might long enough to get a good night’s sleep.
For once, she craved some silence in her mind.