I have a rather large, separated family. In my childhood it wasn't uncommon for us to take long trips during the summer up the East coast of the country, visiting different aunts, uncles, even some people who were just close friends to my parents as opposed to actual relatives. One of my favorite relatives we frequently visited was my aunt Charlotte.
Aunt Charlotte was a nice, middle-aged lady with ginger-colored hair, and a thick southern accent, living in North Carolina. She was from my dad's side of the family, and would commonly acknowledge how much I looked like my father when he was my age. However, as a child, the most memorable thing about Aunt Charlotte was her house, and all the interesting bits and pieces she had as decor. Most of my visits, when I wasn't playing with my cousin Kyle, would be spent staring at taxidermied animals, movie props, fossilized plants, and old trophies that not even my uncle Don, who had won all of them in his old athletic days, could remember all the stories behind. I typically enjoyed my visits to Aunt Charlotte's house, but there is one such visit that I will never be able to forget.
This night started like any other. We had dinner around the ornate dinner table while listening to my mom and Charlotte talking about our plans to go to the beach the next day. They were talking about how beautiful the weather was going to be for the occasion, and all the great restaurants on the beach, while Kyle and I were jokingly kicking each other's legs under the table until my dad had us settle down. After dinner, when we had showered and gotten changed, we were sent to bed. Kyle showed me the direction of the guest bedroom I'd be sleeping in, telling me to go to the last room on the left, before walking in the other direction to go to his bedroom. The guest bedroom I was in was very close to the guest bedroom my parents were staying in, and right across from the master bedroom. Kyle's room was on the other side of the house though, as his parents wanted to grant him a bit of privacy for when he started getting older. As I walked down the hall, I saw even more fancy house decorations to gawk at as I walked past. An old car tire from the 1920s, the skeleton of a cat, a full-sized suit of knight armor standing upright, and a poster of some WWE wrestler I couldn't recognize.
As I entered the childishly painted room I couldn't help but roll my eyes at the bright colors everywhere, as well as the assortment of Disney VHS tapes and cartoon characters on the wall. Being ten years old at the time, I couldn't help but feel that I was getting a little old to be sleeping in a room like this, but I had to put up with it for now. I crawled under the covers, plugged in my phone, and silently watched Youtube videos until I fell asleep, blissfully awaiting the next day of fun ahead of me.
However, what I awoke to was anything but "fun". I woke up to the high pitch wail of police sirens outside, with blue and red lights flickering in the curtains. I was too scared to move, so I hid under the covers and hoped that whatever these cops were out there for would blow over. Minutes passed like an eternity, as I resorted to counting my breaths. Suddenly I felt a hand on my back, and my skin felt as though it froze as my mind went blank in fear.
"Jason, wake up. Wake up. I need to tell you something." I heard my dad's voice, stern and commanding, yet I could sense the slightest amount of fear in his voice. In all my life I had never seen my dad show fear, and now it gripped at my soul to hear its signature quiver in his voice. I bolted up and looked at him, as he used his phone's flashlight feature to illuminate the room around us.
"Dad...why are their cops here...I'm scared." I whispered to him, fighting back the urge to jump into his arms and cry.
"We'll be ok son. We aren't in danger...but there is something you need to hear, and it won't be easy." He replied, sitting down next to me and looking into my eyes. I swallowed a lump in my throat and nodded for him to continue.
"Your cousin is missing. Aunt Charlotte woke up late and was walking to the bathroom when she noticed the front door left open. She called the cops thinking someone had broken in, but right now it looks more like Kyle, at some point, got up, unlocked the door, and ran away himself." He said, putting a hand on my knee.
"Why would he do that?" I choked out as tears began to well up in my eyes, stammering as I tried to process this information.
"We don't know, but there is no sign of forced entry, nothing missing or out of place, and the neighbors across the street didn't see any cars pulling into the yard despite being up late enough to see a figure open the door and run out of it. I'm sorry I don't have an answer son, but it looks like he decided to run off and get lost." he said, staring off into space.
"So...what are we gonna do? Is he gonna be ok?" I asked, gripping my hands into fists to hold back the tears still trying to form in my eyes.
"The cops are looking for him. We're gonna go ahead and head home though since your aunt Charlotte is in no state to have company over right now. You can sleep in the car, just grab your things and I'll walk with you out there," he finished as he stood up and waited over by the door. It took me a second to begin gathering my things, as I was in such a state of disbelief. Kyle loved his family. He never seemed to argue with his parents, and he seemed excited to go to the beach the next day so surely even if he had been planning this he would have waited till there were less exciting things to look forward to.
I came to my senses and rushed to grab all of my things and stuffed them into my bag, then held my dad's hand as he walked me out of the room and through the hall. However, it was when we got into the hallway that my blood truly ran cold. Something was missing... something I was sure I had seen earlier. I counted the decorations around us. The wrestling poster, the car tire, the cat skeleton...what was missing?
We walked past the cops as we entered the yard, and they were interviewing the neighbors who had been up late that night about what they had seen. I listened in close.
"You said you saw the figure exiting the door, do you know if he had anything on him?" The officer asked the individual.
"Well yeah, now that I think of it, something pretty bulky looking...it might have even been moving. That must have been why he didn't bother to close the door on his way out, he must have been struggling to keep hold of whatever it was, maybe he needed both of his hands." The woman said as I could see her gesturing with her hands by her shadow against the lawn.
"I honestly didn't see him as much as I heard him running." She continued.
"Was he making a lot of noise then?" The officer chimed in.
"Yeah, but not with his voice or anything. It was just the sound of metallic clanging, quickly moving away from us."