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Fiction Suspense

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“Ready or not, here I come!” Beth tapped out her text, hit send, and tucked her phone into her back pocket. She glanced around, making sure that Elisa had enough time to hide before she began the weekly ritual of searching for her. The Saturday routine was getting on her nerves, but she only had a few weeks left before graduation and the start of her internship. Whatever. At least she would finish babysitting in time to meet up with Greg for dinner and drinks in the city. She could get through another mindless game of hide and go seek in the park.

Forcing an extra cheerful lilt into her voice she called out, “Where is Elisa? Is she under the picnic table?”

Making a grand show of bending down to peer under the redwood table, she called out, “Nope, not under the picnic table. Is she in the tunnel?” 

She knew the little girl was afraid of the dark and wouldn’t choose to hide with the shadows. Not bothering to actually check, she called out, “Nope, not in the tunnel. Where could Elisa be? She found a great hiding place this time. Where, oh where, can Elisa be?” 

As usual, she felt conspicuous and somewhat foolish with the loud singsong nature of their game. The other children played as a group, but Elisa preferred her company, sticking to the same routine every week. Beth reminded herself that it was an easy gig, the extra cash was worth it. Besides, it wasn’t as if anyone was paying attention to her meandering about talking to herself. The young mothers sat scattered around with heads bent and fingers flying over tiny screens.

She sighed as she went to the weeping willow tree behind the swings, the spot where Elisa hid nine times out of ten. Each spring the purple blossoms hung close to the ground, making the space underneath a magical retreat.

“Is Elisa hiding behind the purple blossoms?” Beth stepped over the gnarled roots, fully expecting to see the little girl smiling up at her mischievously. Instead, her heart dropped.

***

“Uni…….” Elisa’s tiny cry was cut short by the hand over her mouth. 

“Shut up, kid,” the stranger whispered gruffly against her ear as she was lifted up off the ground.

Her thin arms flailed against the man’s chest to no avail as he carted her off to the parking lot and dumped her into the back of the already full van. 

***

“Elisa!!” Grabbing the purple unicorn, Beth screamed out for the little girl. “Elisa!! Come out, come out wherever you are!”

Don’t panic, don’t panic, don’t panic.  Beth’s thoughts ricocheted wildly around her head. You know she likes to play tricks on you, that little rascal. She’s somewhere laughing her ass off at your expense.

But Uni? She never left her favorite toy behind.

***

“Line them up!”  The harsh command set off the execution of procedure after the van arrived in the warehouse. 

Carol appeared, looking distraught as she studied the selection. Although assigned to the operation to make the children feel at ease, her true nature was anything but motherly.

“A bit young, don’t you think?” Her steely grey eyes bore into the recruiter. 

“Yeah. Special request by the new guy down south. Freak likes them young.” 

“These are babies for God’s sake.”

“You want to argue with the man? Meet his demands or he’ll come for you in no time, believe me.”

Carol shuddered, knowing that to be true. 

“Boys and girls! Who likes to have their pictures taken?  Let’s get you all cleaned up and sparkling for your photos. Doesn’t that sound like fun?” She called out in a cheerful tone, realizing that the horror show was getting worse by the day.   She would find a way out if it killed her.

“I want my mommy,” the smallest of the children wailed, setting off a chain reaction of tears and demands. 

“Me too. I want to go home.”

“Where’s Uni?” Elisa spoke up for the first time since getting out of the van drugged and disoriented. “I want my Uni,” she slurred, wiping her nose with the back of her dirty hand leaving behind a trail of filth.

***

“Anyone see Elisa?” Beth frantically ran from the empty space under the weeping willow tree to the group of mothers on the benches.

“Elisa? Who’s that, hun?” Pulling her attention away from her phone, a young mother glanced up at Beth only for an instant before the ding of a text drew her attention back down. The question hung in the air.

“Elisa. Little girl, long dark hair and eyes. Wearing a purple t-shirt. Someone must have seen her?” Beth’s voice rose in volume, her tone became shrill. The mothers glanced over, called out to their children “five more minutes” as they gathered their belongings preparing to leave.

***

As the bile rose in her throat, Carol applied the red lipstick to Elisa’s quivering lips. She removed the purple headband, letting her long hair fall loosely around her face. The new black dress she had helped the girl change into was slightly too large, falling off one shoulder casually. 

“Don’t you look pretty. Now be a good girl and look up at the camera.” Carol arranged one hand loosely on her small hip and tilted Elisa’s head to the side. That was the money shot. The child had the look that was in high demand; she would sell quickly.

***

Greg let himself into their darkened apartment and found Beth tucked under her blankets sleeping soundly just as he had hoped. Her only way to cope with the anniversary was to sleep through it, taking a sleeping pill if need be. He sat on the edge of their bed and stroked her hair, letting his thoughts wander back to that day five years prior when Beth had called crying hysterically from the park. He had arrived shortly after the police to learn the horrifying details of Elisa’s disappearance.

He looked around the bedroom turned office at the piles of folders, each representing a missing child that their foundation was searching for. The flyers stacked next to the printer, the ink hardly dry, displayed the smiling face of the latest little girl who had vanished from her local playground without a trace. 

His gaze traveled to the corner of the room where the notebooks sat one on top of the other. Page after page of clues, ideas, scribbles, and sketches had led to false hopes and dead ends. However, refusing to give up, they continued to search for the key to open the door hiding the children. If they could find one child, reunite one family, it would be the miracle that they prayed for. 

He bent down to kiss Beth’s cheek, careful not to wake her. She deserved a day of peace, a day off from the nightmare that had engulfed her life.

“Sweet dreams, Beth,” he whispered.  

April 14, 2024 16:04

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30 comments

Melissa Matury
16:41 Apr 20, 2024

Cold and realistic. You did a great job letting us know exactly what was happening to the children without screaming in our faces. That makes the horror even more horrifying. My inner sleuth wants the story to continue . . . Beth the vigilante breaking up a trafficking ring!

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Hannah Lynn
23:24 Apr 20, 2024

Thanks Melissa! Ooh Beth the vigilante, I love that. It will no doubt be her life’s mission to keep searching for the missing children. It really is horrifying.

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Vicarious 59
07:59 Apr 29, 2024

I know someone in the FBI that hunts down these monsters, this really hit home and made me feel her anger and determination. This was very dark with no fluffy Hollywood ending, much more realistic. Raw. You did an amazing job at not billboarding our mind's eye, You have a gift and I wish you the very best. Love your style. I did not intend on seeking you out once again. I've become a fan. Again, wonderful read.

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Hannah Lynn
22:36 Apr 29, 2024

Wow, thank you so much! I really appreciate the feedback. It's true, most cases are not solved and they are true monsters, you used the perfect word.

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Joan Wright
22:38 Apr 25, 2024

Amazing story. Very cold subject, you handled it really well. Breaks my heart. I loved the progression of the story. We didn't know to give up hope til the end.

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Hannah Lynn
01:27 Apr 26, 2024

Joan, thanks for reading, and for the feedback. I appreciate it!

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21:30 Apr 24, 2024

Very well written… and terrifying.

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Hannah Lynn
12:24 Apr 25, 2024

Thanks for reading, Laura!

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Serena Riche
04:46 Apr 24, 2024

Really well written. Tough topic to read about and it was so heartbreaking. I definitely wanted Beth to find Elisa. I want to read more and see if she does end up finding her or other kids like Elisa.

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Hannah Lynn
13:10 Apr 24, 2024

Thank you so much, Serena! Yes, this would be an interesting project to turn into a longer story although difficult to delve deeper into the horrifying details. I appreciate the feedback.

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Darvico Ulmeli
07:30 Apr 21, 2024

Always makes me sad to read stories like this. I know it happens a lot in the world around us, but it affects me so strongly (probably because I have two little daughters). I was hoping for the happy end but...

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Hannah Lynn
11:52 Apr 21, 2024

Oh, I’m sorry, Darvico.

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Darvico Ulmeli
12:08 Apr 21, 2024

It is ok. I wanted to read your story because I like how you write, but I usually avoid this type of story. Make me sad. I don't like to be sad. :)

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Hannah Lynn
13:03 Apr 21, 2024

Thanks for reading! :)

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Harry Stuart
01:54 Apr 19, 2024

Like Annie mentioned, it’s a hard topic to read and like, but you did it justice. You kept the fear front and center. As the reader, you want Beth to find Elisa, to find all the missing kids. Well done, Hannah!

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Hannah Lynn
20:11 Apr 19, 2024

Tough subject that’s for sure. I would have loved to write a happy ending but there’s too many missing kids out there. Thanks for reading!!

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Annie Hewitt
03:27 Apr 17, 2024

Really well written. Hard topic to “like” but it’s really well written. Good job

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Hannah Lynn
13:00 Apr 17, 2024

Thanks Annie. Difficult topic for sure.

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Alexis Araneta
14:07 Apr 16, 2024

Oh, Hannah ! What a story. This is such a heartbreaking and unfortunately raw and real story. I was hoping in the end Beth would find Elise, but nope. :( Smooth, chilling writing. Splendid work !

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Hannah Lynn
16:54 Apr 16, 2024

Hi Stella! Nope, no happy ending this time. Too many stories like this out there in the world. Terrifying. Thank you for reading!

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Mary Bendickson
18:50 Apr 14, 2024

Message loud and clear! So sad. Can't even play an innocent game anymore!

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Hannah Lynn
19:18 Apr 14, 2024

You are totally right! It’s very sad. Thanks for reading, Mary!

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Mary Bendickson
20:57 Apr 16, 2024

Thanks for liking my Too-cute Eclipse.

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Trudy Jas
17:52 Apr 14, 2024

Wonderfully told. Nothing extraneous, just the chill, the heartbreak, the pain and guilt. A class act.

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Hannah Lynn
19:18 Apr 14, 2024

Thanks Trudy! It’s a scary world out there!

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Trudy Jas
21:00 Apr 14, 2024

That's true, but I believe it's no more dangerous than it ever was. We just get to hear about it more.

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Hannah Lynn
21:02 Apr 14, 2024

That is an excellent point! You are right.

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Trudy Jas
21:05 Apr 14, 2024

Hm. You sound surprised. Just last week you said I was perfect. :-) My bad, it was Myranda who is under delusion that I'm perfect. You of course, know better. :-)

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Unknown User
14:05 Apr 16, 2024

<removed by user>

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Hannah Lynn
16:53 Apr 16, 2024

Wow thanks so much for your feedback!! :)

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