The Vanishing Six
The man pulled the shivering woman closer to his body. All around them, large drops of water thudded obnoxiously against the hard ground. The man grunted, he was uncomfortable, and unsure if he would make it through the night. The woman coughed violently against his bare chest, spewing a sticky discharge across his body. All he could do was hold her tighter, but he knew that she was dying.
Darkness would be falling soon, meaning the cold would get worse. A sharp cracking sound, like a branch splitting in two, alarmed him. He gently placed the woman down, crouched, and proceeded out of the cave to investigate. In a patch of weedy grass, he spotted several uneven pieces of wood. He moved towards them, but the wind howled, knocking him backward, and kicking the branches in several wild directions. It's no mystery what happened; he shouldn't have left her without his warmth.
He trotted back towards her, and fell flat on his face, his chunky forearms cushioning his impact. Undeterred, he fired his palms into the moist ground, launching himself upright, when he saw what caused his fall, a rogue piece of wood. There was something odd about the branch that caught his eye, a slight shimmer, like a pearl poking out of a clam. He grabbed it and sprinted inside.
She was shaking like a leaf dancing in the wind. He laid the piece of wood to the side and blanketed her with his form. He hoped that this would be her last night. He wanted to do more, but alas, there was nothing to be done. Drifting off to sleep, he wished he were warmer.
He rose with the sun like he did each morning. Its orange flicker told him that it was safe to find food. The orange flicker ... it isn't the sun! It's a few feet in front of me. His chest is suddenly alive, pounding with fear, the unfamiliar creature is mere feet from where he slept. He raises his foot, preparing to stomp it like a bug, but he pulls back. It's warm.
He shakes the woman to show her the miracle, but she is not breathing.
The cheap beer hit Tommy's taste buds, transporting his mind to simpler days. He unleashes a triumphant burp, followed by an "ahh." He could afford better stuff, especially since his promotion to Senior Buyer, but he preferred it this way.
The humming of an engine sends a small wave of panic through his body, he tucks the bottle between the couch and his feet. Jessica, his wife of two years, greets him lamely. He watches her ocean-blue eyes scan the room, when she clocks the beer, her face sags. Before she can say anything, he says "It's just one, I swear. It was a long day, Richards wouldn't stop nagging me."
She sighed, then offered, "That's fine." Like many married men, he knew what fine meant. A pregnant silence hung in the air, "I'm going to jump in the shower," she finally said. Not breaking the silence, just avoiding it.
A head appeared below their front door, followed by 50 pounds of fur, paws, and an ever-wagging tail. "Biscuit!" Jessica yelps. It was as if she'd been shocked back to life, Tommy remembered when he could do that to her. She rubbed his belly, making him drop a toy he'd found outside (something he often seemed to do), and gave him a meat treat, in the shape of a bone. Then she went into the shower.
Biscuit darted to Tommy, leaping like Michael Jordan jumping from the free-throw line into his chest, his nose sounded like a mini vacuum as he inspected Tommy's face. Tommy pet him robotically, "I miss when she used to look at me the way she looks at you." The dog hopped onto the floor, and rolled onto its back, revealing the sensitive pink skin of its underbelly. Tommy obliged by rubbing it. "I just wish we could get that spark back." He said to no one in particular.
He heard a scream. Jessica! He exploded up the stairs, moving like a rabid beast, he flung the shower door open, and she was standing by the sink, in a towel dress. She turned to him, she was unharmed. Is she happy to see me?
"What is it?" He begged. "Are you okay?"
She picked up a toothbrush and tossed it over to him. He was too disoriented to catch it, and it fell stupidly to the floor, bouncing around on the wet tile. "What's going on.." It was only then that he noticed it wasn't a toothbrush, but a white stick, with slender ends, and a chubby center, where a pink plus rested.
Biscuit wasn't sure why his parents were squealing, but he didn't care, they'd left him all alone to play with his shiny new stick.
Detective Jaxston Quint felt like his lungs were on fire. Sitting in his dark green, Apple Hover RTX, right outside the mansion, he coughed loudly, temporarily relieving his discomfort. He wanted nothing more than to be in bed with Laura, but the Captain insisted. His words echoed in his mind, "He is a powerful SOB, go find out what he knows. You can take a sick day when we find them." Cap always got his way, which is why Quint was loitering below the Spires Mansion. Peter Spires was one of the wealthiest men within 200 miles of Havensville, Indiana. He made a habit of donating to political campaigns, meaning he had powerful friends in his suede pockets.
This place gives me the creeps, let's make this quick.
Spires had to be involved in these disappearances, he'd find out what he knew, and be on his way. In the past two weeks, there had been six disappearances. Six people with nothing in common, except they all worked for Spires.
He engaged the parking brakes, four metallic objects, which resembled ski poles jutted out from the bottom of the vehicle, they clicked, locking his ride in place.
The mansion sat menacingly atop a steep hill. The old brick eyesore was only built twenty years ago, despite looking like Dracula's castle. Quint climbed towards the house, and he felt his left hamstring spasm, sending a sharp pain to the rest of the leg. I should have stretched. Luckily, the pain resolved after the one bite, allowing him to focus on the case.
Six victims, each employed at a Spires company. To be fair, Spires owned half of the business in the county. He started all these businesses on his own. It was impressive, and almost impossible considering he was in his early thirties. Each missing person worked in a separate location, He went through the list,
Dirk O'Brien, a 42-year-old, Hover Inspector at Spires Mechanics.
Jabari Johnson, 22 years old, working a summer internship at Ocean Blue (The Spires Space company)
Jessica Riddle, 50 years old, mother of four, worked the front desk at Red-Banks country club, A Spires property.
Tasha Madison, 28, bartender at Biscuit's Bar and Grill.
Donna Jones, 31, Fitness instructor for Spires Biking.
Brittany Smickson, 45 years old, Librarian at the Spires collective.
Each went to work and never returned. No witnesses at their jobor in the surrounding areas recalled seeing anything suspicious. Quint had reviewed the Eye-In-The-Sky footage from each location, the roaming drone clocked each victim walking in, but none coming out. The IT department reviewed the footage and verified that it hadn't been altered. Although Quint wasn't so sure, he never trusted the Eye-in-the-Sky program. A program invented by Spires Tech.
Five minutes later, he stood in front of a dusty wooden archway, he was out of breath, sweat was turning his salmon shirt red, and he launched into a coughing fit, that nearly knocked him over. After this, I'm eating a box of cough drops.
He dabbed at his shirt in a failed attempt to wipe off the sweat; if anything his efforts blotched it, making it more noticeable. He rapped his knuckles against the doorway, producing a cloud of dust that moved in the air like confetti. There was an eerie creak, followed by the sound of feet pattering on pavement. The archway split weakly, barely allowing Quint to see the face behind it. The shiny ocean-blue eyes told him it was Spires. He'd never met the mogul before, but he had a peculiar reputation.
"Who is it?" Spires's voice came from behind the door. It was higher pitched than Quint had anticipated.
"Mr. Spires, I'm Detective Quint with IPD, I'd like to ask you a few questions about the recent disappearances."
A moment of silence. Quint wondered if he was still there, but then he materialized, sliding through the slit in the archway. He was awkwardly lanky, with long messy brown hair, that curled awkwardly in the back, creating a rat tail. He reached out a limp hand, Quint shook it.
"Please, come in." The voice was squeaky and off-putting.
The inside of the mansion matched the outside, it reeked of wet wood, and the only lighting was provided by a few antique lamps. Spires led him past a stringy spiraled staircase, that reminded him of the beanstalk from the old fable. Each room they passed looked identical, littered with dusty relics, a few family photos, and no technology from this century. Finally, they arrived in a room with a few couches, Spire sat, "Make yourself at home, detective."
Quint felt something crawling up his arm, which he hoped was his imagination, he patted it quickly, but nothing was there;he fought the urge to cough. What was I thinking coming here alone? I better make this quick.
Quint cleared his throat and began, "Mr.Spires.."
Spires cut him off, "Please, call me Pete."
"Sure. Pete, are you aware that the IPD has been trying all week to set up a meeting with you at the station?"
Spires shrugged innocently, "I don't like to leave my house much. But I"m happy to have guests, really I am."
Quint was taken aback, this was a very strange person, and for the first time, he doubted whether Spires knew anything about the missing people. He pressed on, "Mr. Spires."
Whining like an offended toddler he said "Pete! It's Pete. Please!"
"Pete. I'm sure you know that six people went to work at one of your offices and never came out."
Spires began rocking back and forth in his chair, like a bobblehead. "Would you mind if we walked around a little? I could give you a tour." Once again Quint was caught off guard, "Okay." He said.
They walked through three more rooms, Quint couldn't tell if they were moving further from the entrance, this place was a maze. He tried to focus on the task at hand, but Spires hadn't said a single useful word yet. The host froze in front of the curved staircase. Quint gazed up, the ever-thinning steps twirled on for at least 100 feet. I am not climbing those.
Spires raised an index finger, bizarrely signaling for Quint to wait. He bent down, his head was parallel to his knees, and he looked like a bent piece of bacon, he brushed at the ground with his palms, until he heard a clinking sound. He grabbed at the floor, and yanked his upper body, revealing a trap door. "I want to show you the basement!" He said excitedly.
"Pete, I don't want to take up too much more of your time. I just have a few questions..."
"You're not taking up my time! I"m so happy to have a friend over. Come on! I have cool stuff down here."
This guy is a capital W Weirdo. But if he thinks we're pals maybe I can get more out of him.
He decided he'd go along for now, but he was on high alert. The trapdoor connected to the staircase, he followed Spires down, "Watch your step," Spires warned.
A loud smacking sound rang from above, which Quint realized was the door closing. "Don't worry." Spires said, "I know the way back up.
Great. I should have made a run for it.
The basement was dark, except for small white light, that emitted from somewhere in the pool of shadows. Quint tried to bring things back on track, "Pete, I'd like to ask you a few questions now." Pete didn't say anything. He decided that was okay, "How involved are you in the day to operations of your companies?"
"Not too much. I don't get out often."
"Do you know that your businesses are withholding internal footage?"
"Oh no. Why would they do that? That's not very nice!" He sounded like a kid tattling on his brother for making a mean face.
"I umm..." Quint was stumped. He suddenly coughed loudly, the force nearly made him lose his balance. He felt a rush of relief when he realized they'd reached the bottom. The white light bathed the area, allowing him to see a few feet ahead. Spires walked towards the spot where the light was emitting, and Quint followed.
"Would you be willing to release those videos to us?"
Spires acted like he didn't hear the request, "Look over here!" He pointed at the wall. There was a crude carving, of two ape-like figures, standing next to a bundle of sticks. He's going to tell me that he drew these, isn't he? "Do you like them?" He asked.
"They're great." He hoped displeasure was apparent.
"They're thousands of years old!" Quint's felt his eyes bulge out of his skull. "This house was built on a bunch of caves. Mommy and Daddy had a man come, and he said that cave people lived here! Some of the first ones too!"
Mommy and Daddy ...
"That's awesome. Do your parents still live here?"
"No. They both left" His shoulders slumped, then a smile crept onto his face "It's okay though. Daddy was always mean to Mommy, and then he started being mean to me. Can you believe that? Mean to his little boy! Then he left. It was just Mommy and me, but she started lashing out at me too. I guess Daddy was right to leave, cause she was a huge B-word! Like Dad had always said. Then one day, she was gone too."
Oddly enough, nobody ever talked about Spires's parents. Peter was the one who'd made the fortune but maybe they were important. "How long ago did they leave?"
"Oh, at least 15 years. I lose track of time a lot."
"You don't know where they went?"
"Don't know. Don't care. They just vanished into thin air!" He said it like a nursery rhyme.
They'd reached the source of the light, it was a ceramic lamp in the shape of a vase. Quint felt like his throat was being itched with a badger claw, he coughed, and dust fluttered around him. "I want to show you my treasure." Quint nodded, he was still fighting the razor in his throat. He pointed to the glowing lamp, Quint realized that it wasn't a lamp, there was something in the vase that was making the light,
Is that a stick...
"Ta-Da! This is my magic light!"
Quint cleared his throat loudly, the itch was still there but he said "Magic light? Can it get rid of this cough?"
The pain melted away instantly. He was stunned, and it showed. "Sure can!" Spires grinned widely. "It can do whatever you want!"
What on earth ...
Quint felt like his skin was crawling, he was suddenly terrified. Without consulting the rest of his body, his feet pulled him towards the stairs. His heart was fluttering in his chest, sweat was pouring down his body, and he wanted to run. Faking composure, he said, "I actually need to get going, I forgot my wife was making dinner."
He heard Spires sigh deeply, "Why does this always happen? Every time I think I've made a friend they want to leave me. It makes me so angry!" He yelled. "I try to do nice things for everyone! I saw on the news that people needed jobs, so I made jobs! All sorts of them, so everyone could have one! But then people started saying all sorts of mean things about me. They say I'm a loner, that I collect toe nails and vulgar things that I don't even understand!"
A horrible truth dawned on Quint, "The people who said mean things about you... did you want them to disappear?"
"Of course!" He said without hesitation! "What goes around comes around."
Quint was searching for the staircase, but the dark fog had swallowed it, "Did any of these people say mean things about you?" He recited the names of the victims.
"Yes! Yes, they were mean! Mean! Mean! On the internet too! Where everyone could see!"
"You killed them..." The words slipped out. He knew that was a mistake.
"No. I would never. I just wished that they were gone! It's not my fault they were bullies! And you know what ... you're being a bully too! Showing up to the house, accusing me of all this nasty stuff! I want you to disappear too!"
Quint knew that was coming, he knew he'd made a grave mistake coming here, a fatal one. He recalled the itch in his throat, how it just evaporated. He watched Spires's mouth form the words that would condemn him, he had one final thought,
I wish things had gone differently ...
He heard a sharp cracking sound, and then everything went black.