Raymond gripped his coat tightly as wind violently blew his way. Wincing to shield his eyes from whatever bits and pieces flew at him, he yelled out, "Monica! Monica!", yet his voice was drowned out by the wind and rain’s incessant ruckus. He desperately called out her name, but there was no response, no sign of life in the dark streets of Porter.
He drunkenly stumbled his way around, the wind blowing so strongly it almost sent him flying. He retrieved his pocket watch and tried making out the time. It read two thirty-four in the morning, and since the previous afternoon, there was still not a sign of his daughter.
Monica had suddenly disappeared. It happened so slowly and so silently. She went to school per usual and never came back. That morning, there had been nothing out of the ordinary. He woke his sweet daughter up as he always did, made sure she ate her bread and walked her to school. That same afternoon, when he waited for her at the exit, she never showed up.
He had watched as children threw themselves into their parents’ arms, giggling and telling stories of the many things they were up to during the day. The more he saw it, the more it drove him insane. And, as the school cleared out and the sun began to set, he was breathing down the teachers’ necks pressuring them to find his daughter.
They claimed they did not see her in class, and that, in fact, they never saw her coming to school in the first place. He responded with, “That’s impossible, I held her hand all the way here and kissed her goodbye!” As they offered their apologies, they contacted the police who accompanied the frantic father from the school to the station.
It was evening when they arrived, the clouds were forming and the wind started picking up. Raymond paced around with a racing heart and gritted teeth, earning himself looks of pity from the people around him.
After a brief exchange with the policemen, and after receiving a seemingly insincere promise that they would look around town to find her, they escorted him back home and suggested he’d stay inside for the night since the weather conditions were worsening.
At around ten PM in the evening, he sat in his leather chair, hands squeezing the armrest strongly and right leg nervously shaking up and down. His eyes were swollen from tears, his body shook and his throat burned from the whiskey he had been drowning down, cup after cup.
After losing his wife years back, he held onto Monica so intensely to the point where he felt he would perish without her. And now that she was gone, he felt so helpless and weak, as though he could die if she never came back home. The very thought frightened him, and little voices screamed at him for his inability to care for his own.
His friend, Martin, passed by his house to check on him and make sure he wouldn’t do anything too reckless. He knew Raymond to be very impulsive, and he would stop at nothing to fight for what he cared for and believed in. Sadly, as much of a quality as it was, it was more often than never his worst enemy.
“Where is she?” Sobbed his torn friend. “Where is my Monica?”
Martin looked at Raymond silently, observing how the young man slurred his words, how his blue eyes filled with an ocean of sorrow and grief. His brown hair was messy as if he had spent the entirety of the day attempting to pull it out from his head. Knowing him, that probably had been the case.
“Raymond…” Muttered Martin shaking his head. “You can’t keep going like this, maybe you should rest a little.” As he reached out to take the bottle of whiskey away, Raymond brought it closer to his chest and hugged it tightly, pouting like a child.
“I won’t rest until I find my daughter.” He said through hiccups and tired eyes, then took a large swig from the bottle.
Thirty minutes later, he passed out in his chair. Martin examined him for a while before he fell fast asleep on Raymond’s couch.
Raymond woke up at twelve AM to a knock on the door. She was back! Monica was back! His sweet angel had finally returned home!
He quickly got to his feet, sped to the door and flung the door wide open ready to receive his daughter back, only to find complete and utter emptiness in front of him.
Yet not entirely.
A small shadowy figure observed him from afar, standing next to a streetlight on the other side of the road. He was somehow able to spot it within the pitch-black environment laid out before him. He squinted his eyes to get a better look. “Monica?” He asked out loud before the girl giggled and started skipping away from him. He quickly grabbed his coat and stepped out of his house in pursuit of the girl.
The more he tried getting closer to her, the farther away she went, but the more he fixated her, the more convinced he was that she indeed was his daughter. He knew it from her occasional giggles, from the pigtails he had helped her with that same morning before school, and from the unique smallness of her frame. Yet, he would never fathom the idea that his daughter would be playing such mind games with him. To suddenly disappear like this, miss an entire day of school and worry him to no end? To then come back and make him follow her around in the middle of the night as a storm threatened to rage on?
It nevertheless did not make him stop, and he was determined to get some answers.
“Monica!” He called out. “Stop!” But the little girl did not listen. She kept on skipping away from the man and further into the city.
There was not a single soul outside, and after all, who would be? In a town like Porter, everything was closed by eleven PM, and the only busy place would be the local pub. However, with the upcoming weather conditions, no one dared to roam the streets. Porter was very well known for its harsh winters, so no one would think of adventuring outside on their own during the peak of night.
But it was as though the blowing wind did not affect Monica at all. Normally, such forceful air would make her lose balance, and he would always be there to catch her. That time, Monica did not even flinch.
He watched as his daughter’s small frame blended in with the darkness of the streets, so well that he had lost sight of her and could no longer hear her childish laughter. He had lost track of time and location, he was in a deserted place in the middle of the night searching for a girl who had simply just vanished.
“Monica!” He yelled out desperately, “Please, just come back home.” He pled and pled, but there was no answer. Rain began pouring down and the wind picked up strongly. It was a cold and bitter night for Raymond.
He could not understand what he was doing or what was happening at that point. He aimlessly walked around town calling for his daughter under the hard rain and through the strong wind.
Buttoning down his coat, he began entertaining the fact that maybe he had been imagining things. Maybe his worries mixed with alcohol made him see things that were not real, but as he heard laughter erupt from the alleyway to his right, all assumptions cleared out from his mind.
He focused on the alleyway and heard familiar echoic laughter. He grinned to himself and said “Monica?” as he stepped closer to the source of the noise. "Come out, sweetheart." He heard trash cans being knocked about as the laughter became more maniacal than playful. He slowly walked closer and closer, puzzled. His eyes finally adjusted to the lack of light.
When they did, a sudden loud thump filled his ears, then silence fell. No more wind, no more rain, no more laughter, but complete quietness, and all he saw before him was a small body laid out on the floor.
“Raymond!” Martin said, relieved that he had finally found his friend. Raymond was on his knees, shaking about form incessant sobbing.
Martin stood behind him and briefly remembered the man Raymond once was, someone hopeful and hardly ever sad. The man he had become over the past years was someone completely different from who he first came to know nearly three decades ago. He wanted his friend back.
He walked closer towards him, letting go of his sympathy for his friend and replacing it with concern. He would be strict and harsh with him, a wake-up call to make him come back to his senses.
It was truly nonsensical. His daughter had disappeared nearly five years ago, and since then, Raymond would not stop hallucinating about her, imagining her there, only to be struck once again with the grim reality that she was indeed gone without a trace. As desperate as he was, he would attempt searching for her in the craziest of ways, but would always end up sobbing on his leather couch downing down bottle after bottle of alcohol.
The inhabitants of Porter did not help his situation at all, for they let him sink further into his delusions and played along, thinking he might finally accept the reality of things if he repeated it enough times that he became sick of it, that maybe if they just let him be, he would either decide to heal from his wounds or fall deeper into his depression. He was a grieving man, lost his wife and then his daughter, and there was nothing else to it.
Martin knew his friend needed proper help, and he wanted to give him just that, but he did not want to take him to those specialized facilities where the only means of therapy were the electric chair. No, he would deliver the truth as many times as need be until Raymond understood it and accepted it.
He reached an arm out to place it on his shoulder and said, “Raymond, please stop, your daughter’s been gone for the past five years, you can’t-” He stopped mid-sentence once he saw what Raymond was sobbing over.
Shock overcame him and it felt like he had been splashed with cold water. He stood mouth gaped over his friend as he saw Monica’s lifeless body between his arms. He wanted to say a million things, ask a million questions, but disbelief struck him so hard that he could no longer speak.
"Monica, my sweet Monica... Who would do such a thing?" Raymond cried out as he squeezed her limp body closer to his own.
Her clothes were torn revealing multiple cuts and bruises, but there barely was any sign of decay, as though she had only died a couple of minutes ago. Fresh blood coated her mouth and jaw, and her eyes were open wide, cold and empty. She was the exact same height and form as she was five years ago as if she had stopped aging the second she had disappeared.
But how? How could this even be possible? The case had been cold for years now and everyone was sure she was simply abducted and never to be returned. How did she come back? Who would murder her like this? And why has she not grown at all?
Martin’s head spun, unable to comprehend what he was witnessing. He started believing that maybe he became just as insane as his friend, that maybe he as well was imagining things like Raymond had been for the past years. Yet, as he knelt down and checked for a pulse and only felt the coldness of her skin, he could no longer think of the phenomenon to be anything less than real.
And, on this cold, bitter night, as the snow slowly began falling from the sky, the two men knelt in the dark alleyway, one wailing and the other thinking, just who would do such a thing to a sweet little girl?