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In the dark: In Principio

Chapter Text

Hatchetfield is a sleepy town, barely big enough to be a city. Founded in 1824, this town in Michigan is the epitome of a town where nothing ever happens. The biggest event in the town's history was the opening of the nuclear power plant in 1960 - all weird and inexplicable events have been blamed on its presence by paranoid townsfolk. Besides this, Hatchetfield is a fine town where neighbors know one another and care for each other; where no one ever leaves, but everyone dreamed of doing so. 

When you dig below the surface, however, you'll find things you never wanted to know. You'll find mysteries you can't solve, secrets never meant for prying eyes. You'll find yourself trapped in a loop you can't escape from. It's better to walk away ignorant than to dig at all. It's even better not to know this all exists, as most citizens of Hatchetfield live blissfully. 

We trust time is linear. Nobody has reason to doubt this fundamental truth. In Hatchetfield, this isn't always the case - Hatchetfield, where the future bleeds into the past, which both influence the present. These terms only create an illusion. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow are connected in a never-ending cycle. Even if it doesn't seem to make sense, everything is connected.

For the sake of linearity, we assume the story begins on June 21, 2019, when Mr. Tony Green took his own life and left a letter on his desk with clear instructions not to open until November 4, 2019, at 10:13 pm.

But November 4 is the day the narration starts.


The alarm clock blared. Ethan woke up and stared at the ceiling. It was almost a ritual, to keep his thoughts calm as he got up to start his day. His father usually worked in the attic, right above Ethan’s room. He'd hung himself in the attic. Without a note, without a sorry or a goodbye.

Why hadn’t he written a note? Why did he do it in the first place? As far as Ethan had been aware, Tony wasn't depressed or dealing with some shit. Maybe he didn't notice because he didn't pay attention.

Ethan wished he had. Maybe his father would still be alive.

Stop it! Ethan sat upright in his bed and rubbed his eyes. Today was the first day of school; he should focus on that instead of his father. He should distract himself with other things. It was going to be hard now he was back home, especially as he wasn’t feeling well.

Ethan had a false start as a junior. Last year, only a week until the summer break, Tony Green robbed himself of his life. Three days after, his mother Harriet decided Ethan needed professional help to process his trauma. She arranged for him to go out of state.

If anyone asked, he had been in California. Where he had actually been was less glamorous.

Ethan got dressed, walked out of his room and downstairs to the  kitchen/living room. He wasn’t hungry, but he should probably eat something. He was riding his bike to school and the road was long, from the outskirts of the town to the high school.

His mom wasn't up yet. Ethan turned on the lights and toasted some bread. After a few seconds, the lights briefly flickered and went out. Ethan frowned. He turned the switch a couple of times, but nothing happened. The slice of bread was heated, but not toasted, and the lights in the fridge weren't working, either.

Ethan groaned. Not again.

He walked to the stairs.

“Mom, there’s no electricity!”

She should be able to fix it. If it wasn’t a power outage, then grandma Becky purposely turned off the power. That’s what his mother said – Ethan did not believe his grandmother would do something like that. She wasn’t a cruel person. She’d isolated herself since her son had died, but she’d never leave them without power. They were living in grandma Becky’s old house, after all, and old houses came with old infrastructure that sometimes failed. His mom would still blame it on Becky, though.

Ethan looked at the family picture on the wall. It was taken last Christmas. When Ethan had left, Harriet had torn Becky out of the picture. Now, there was an empty space where once Becky stood, next to her son, daughter-in-law, and grandson. A happy family, smiling.

Ethan looked at the top of the stairs. Still no response. Apparently, she was doing something else.

“Mom! I don’t know who you’re with, but fixing power seems more important.”

Nothing happened for a few moments. Then, some leaves rustled outside. Ethan didn’t look – he didn’t have to look to know what happened. Someone climbed down the thick ivy on the side of the house from his mother’s backroom. They landed on their feet with a thump and hurried to their vehicle. They turned on the car and drove away.

Ethan shook his head. Sleeping with married men wouldn't solve anything, nor fill the hole left by Tony. It had only been four months! How long had she waited before she pounced? Had she waited at all?

“Ethan.” There she was. She walked down the stairs and looked at him, a familiar frown on her face. “Power’s out.”

Ethan nodded. “Maybe you’d notice if you didn’t sleep around.”

It wasn’t a secret. Harriet had admitted she looked for affection and help after Tony died. She believed they might help her get over her late husband. But Ethan felt she did not even play the grieving wife and jumped right to having an affair.

“Ethan—” Her tone suggested she had an explanation.

Ethan shook his head

“Don’t.” It was too early for this kind of shit. Ethan grabbed his backpack. “I’m late for school.”

He was not late at all. If he rode away now, he’d still have twenty minutes or so before the first bell rang. It wouldn't hurt to be early - it was better than arriving late on his first day back from ‘California’. It also helped to get out of that old house filled with beautiful and painful memories, with love and betrayal and hurt.

Ethan loved his home. It was a neighborhood on the outskirts of Hatchetfield, next to the forest. They had neighbors, but the houses weren't packed together. Their home was small, but they had space enough outside. It made for a comfortable summer. One Ethan couldn't enjoy while he was away. He followed the concrete road out of this neighborhood, which would eventually lead him to downtown and the school. 

A red light on a crossroads briefly stopped him and Ethan’s gaze was drawn to his left.

On his left was the forest, but one thing stuck above the trees. The state road led to the Hatchetfield nuclear power plant. Every time Ethan looked at it, a chill ran down his spine. He’d never been there, but it gave him the creeps. He’d heard of the dangers of nuclear waste. He’d heard of Chernobyl and that power plants across the States were being closed. Soon, in the summer of 2020, it would be Hatchetfield’s turn. Finally.

The first plans were made in 1953, the first stone laid in 1956, and it was opened four years later. Exactly sixty years after it opened, the old power plant was closing down. Many would lose their jobs, which sucked, but Ethan knew more people who’d like to see it close than who wanted it to stay. That included the son of the current director and most of the youth.

One problem at a time. The stoplight had turned green and Ethan continued to ride to school, where he’d finally see Lex and River again.


Every morning was a challenge.

Would it be fun if it wasn't? It wouldn't be fun if all three of Jane’s children behaved and always did what their mother asked. Unfortunately, that was far from the truth. 

Her eldest daughter sat in the living room. Jane walked to her with a sandwich and a big sigh. She put down the plate before Lex, who didn't touch it.

“You need to eat something,” Jane insisted. Lex picked up the plate and held it out so Jane could take it back.

“I’m not eating,” Lex responded without looking at her mother. “I’m not hungry.”

Jane didn't know why Lex was attempting a hunger strike. It had to be something stupid she wanted to show support of. The world's problems weren't going to be solved by not eating a sandwich and Jane didn't back down.

“Well, you're free to fast on the weekends. Not on school days.”

Jane left the sandwich with Lex and walked back to the dining room portion of their open concept home, while her son dashed around in the hallway. Now she needed to see to the needs of her middle child, Hannah. She sat alone at the table, pouting, and hadn't touched her sandwiches yet. Jane stood next to her and glanced at the sandwiches. She knew what the problem was.

“Don’t you like them?” she asked. Hannah shook her head.

“No crusts,” she said. Jane sighed and crouched next to her.

Behind her, in the hallway, her youngest child Tim still ran around, shouting things like ‘alakazam’ and ‘hocus pocus’. She tried to block him out for now – Hannah needed her attention more than Tim.

“Don’t you think you can try them?” Jane asked. Hannah shook her head. “How do you know you don’t like them when you haven’t tried?”

“No crusts,” Hannah insisted. Jane had always cut the crusts off the sandwiches. They were not edible so long as they had their crusts; one of the many quirks of autism, Jane supposed. Hannah wasn’t allowed to leave the table until she finished her breakfast, however, and there was no knife near her to do it herself.

Jane then nodded in defeat. She had no time to argue. “Okay. I’ll cut them off.”

Hannah smiled instantly. Jane shook her head when Hannah couldn’t see. She cut the crusts off. Behind her, Tim’s rapid footsteps were so loud, Jane could no longer ignore them.

“Tim! Come in here and get some breakfast.”

“One more trick, mom!”

“Come here!” she raised her voice, not too much. Hannah did not like shouting. Even the raised voice irritated her. It wasn’t easy not to shout when both Lex and Tim were not in the mood to sit at the table and eat breakfast. Was it because Tom had promised fresh pastries and he still hadn’t arrived?

Tim asked for one more trick. Jane shook her head again and looked at him, exasperated.

Where the hell is Tom?

She heard the car drive up their driveway and the key slide into the lock of the front door. Jane took a breath of relief.

“Finally.”

The door creaked open and Tim turned his head. Tom walked into the hallway and greeted his son with a smile. 

“Hey, Houdini!” Tom said as he passed his son to go to the dining room, where Jane waited. He placed the bag on the table and placed the pastries on the plates.

“What took you so long?” Jane asked, taking one of the pastries and taking a bite. She hadn't eaten anything yet.

“If you saw the line at the bakery, you’d know. It's like the world is gonna end,” Tom responded. He leaned into his wife and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. “Morning, sunshine.”

Tim zoomed by again. Jane groaned; she was done with his behavior.

“Can you help? Tim hasn’t eaten yet.”

Tom frowned and turned his head. Tim saw the worried frown when he ran into sight again and stopped.

“You haven’t eaten yet?” Tom asked him, in a tone that made him feel guilty. Tim shook his head.

“One more trick,” he asked. Jane sighed.

“Tim—”

Tom placed a hand on Jane’s shoulder. It's my turn. Go sit and eat.

“Alright,” Tom said as he nodded and looked at his son. He sat down at the table. “Come here. Show me your trick. Then you'll eat and I’ll bring  you to school, okay?”

Tim nodded, his mood lifted. He walked to the table, while his mother watched in disbelief.

“Unbelievable,” Jane muttered to herself. Whatever connection Tom and Tim had, it helped. While Jane focused on Hannah, Tom now watched over Tim and watched him perform the magic trick.

Tim grabbed two empty cups from the table and took a dice out of his pockets. He turned the cups upside down and placed the dice before the cup on his right. He looked at his father.

“Ready?” Tom nodded.

“Sure.”

Tim lifted the first cup and placed it on the dice. He lifted the second cup and placed it at the same height as the first cup. He tapped once of the first cup, where the dice was, and again on the second. He briefly glanced at his father, who looked at him as well, curious to see how this would end.

Tim lifted the first cup and placed it at its original spot. The dice had disappeared. He lifted the second cup and the dice had appeared underneath.

Tom laughed. He thought he knew what was going to happen. He thought he'd have to fake enthusiasm, that he should hide how he noticed Tim was messing with something. Instead, he was dumbfounded and even Jane, who did not really pay attention, was surprised.

“That’s amazing,” Tom said. “How did you do that?”

Tim grabbed one of the pastries Tom had brought and smiled mysteriously at his father.

“The question isn’t how, but when.”

Chapter Text

It was strange to walk into school again. Ethan likened it to his first day of school, because it was. He was nervous, wondered about the new teachers, wondered who changed in his absence and who hadn't.

The difference between Ethan and the other was that everyone had gone through these feelings in September. Ethan felt out of place in the crowds. He could tell they recognized him. He could tell they remembered what happened in June - they all had an opinion on him, based on what his father had done. They surely would walk up to him and ask questions he didn't want to answer.

The students just passed him by, maybe glanced at him and whispered among friends - nothing more. Something else must be on their minds.

It came into view when Ethan walked onto the playground. It was hard to miss - about fifteen posters, unevenly spread on the wall. They all bore the same picture of Deb Harrington, her name written under the large MISSING header, with more information about her under the picture. A girl was putting up more posters still, and a pile lay at her feet. It looked like she wanted to cover all the outside walls.

“Pathetic, right?” a familiar voice said behind him. “You’d think she’d spread them out a little more, maybe all over town instead of on one tiny wall.”

River Monroe came up behind him and shook his head at the girl. He was the oldest and least irritable Monroe brother and – unlike the others – not an outright asshole, though he did have his moments. Ethan wouldn’t call River a good friend, but he was a friend nonetheless.

“Can’t blame her,” Ethan responded. “She lost her girlfriend. What would you do?”

“I wouldn’t have up all the posters in one place, for a start,” River commented. He glanced up and down the wall and shook his head at the result.

Ethan wished he kept in touch with River. He didn’t have that contact. The only contact he was allowed were handwritten letters from his mom. Even then, Ethan did not write – his mother did not bother to send him letters, so why should he write back?

River smiled at him and patted him on the back. “It’s good to see you, man. How was California?”

“Good,” Ethan said. “It helped.”

River nodded. “Yeah. Nothing like soaking up some sun to get the positive vibes going. And you’re feeling okay?”

Ethan nodded though he wasn't sure. Deep down, it didn't feel like it. But the more he faked being okay, the more he should be okay. That’s what they always said. Fake it ‘till you make it. But instead of making it, he’s feeling fine.

“That’s great,” River said and they walked into the main school building, past Alice Woodward. Ethan looked at her until she disappeared out of view, reaching down for another poster to put on the wall. 

“What happened to her?” Ethan asked once Alice was out of earshot. River gave him a funny look, one that said ‘poor boy doesn’t know yet’. Ethan had been away, but this had happened the day he returned home. How had he not heard the rumors yet?

“She disappeared four days ago,” River said. “Police still don’t know shit, so it’s gonna take a while until we know what really happened. Some think she ran away again, others say she was kidnapped, or even murdered.”

“In Hatchetfield?” Ethan said in a deadpan voice. People don’t get murdered in Hatchetfield. The most exciting news over the summer was how Peanuts the squirrel found a home and a weekly update on how he grew. It didn’t get any more exciting, or disturbing.

River shrugged casually. “Just because nothing ever happens, doesn’t mean nothing ever happens here. Didn't a kid in the eighties once disappear, too?”

Ethan shrugged. He had no clue.

Ethan followed River to his locker. Ethan hadn't had the chance to get one and this late in the year, he probably wouldn't get one. So he trailed behind River, who took his books for the first classes of the day from his locker. Ethan carried everything with him in a backpack that was too heavy. Great start of the day.

When the first period was about to start, Ethan caught a glimpse of her. Lex Houston, on her way to class. A smile came to his face – she still looked beautiful, even when she was annoyed by her next class. In that moment, he realized just how much he missed her, and his heart started to ache. How had he survived these past months without her? 

She turned her head and spotted Ethan. He tried to wipe that silly smile off his face to keep a little of his dignity. It was too late for that now. Lex immediately came over - she, too, smiled.

“Hey!” she said. Ethan's mind took him back to that summer night. End of June, at the beach, and the wonderful night that followed. Notwithstanding that was the same night his father left this world. Other than that, Ethan thought it had been perfect and he always assumed Lex did, too.

“Lex,” he said. She was the first good thing of the day. Seeing Lex Houston made his day ten times better already.

“Ethan,” she responded with a grin. She glanced at River, but then looked at Ethan again. “How are you?”

“I’m good,” Ethan said, nodding. “And you?”

“I’m fine.”

A million things ran through Ethan’s mind – a million things he wanted to say. Somehow, he couldn’t think of a single one. Of course, the bell rang before he could find one. 

“Gotta go,” Lex said in a feigned enthusiastic, more sarcastic voice. Before she left, she gave River a kiss on the cheek. “Later.”

What just happened?

Ethan was too astonished. It took a while before his mind formulated even one proper thought. By then, Lex had already walked out of view, hidden between the students swarming around to get to their classes. Yet now, one thought was clear in his mind.

River had been kind enough to wait and walk Ethan to his first class. He did not expect Ethan to space out. He also didn’t expect Ethan to grab his vest and push him violently against the wall.

“Wow!” River reacted, shocked. “What the hell?”

“What was that?” Ethan asked in a raised voice. River frowned.

“What, me and Lex?”

“When did that happen?” Ethan asked, speaking louder and louder. “Why didn’t you say anything?”

“I was going to,” River spat back. He glanced at the hands that pressed him against the wall. 

Ethan calmed down a little and loosened his grip. River took a couple of steps away. Ethan looked puzzled, like he couldn't believe what had happened, and he shook his head.  

“Look, man,” River began, still angry with what happened. “She tried to reach you. Multiple times. But you didn’t get back to her, like, at all. Four months! When she got no reply, she came to me. She came to me, not the other way around.”

Ethan wished he could have seen the texts, calls, maybe even mails and letters, if she attempted to write those. But his mother refused any communication, so Ethan had nothing.

“You shouldn’t have gone to an asylum if you wanted her,” River continued. He placed a sarcastic hand before his mouth. “I mean, California. Shouldn’t have gone to California.”

Ethan shook his head. “You’re an ass.”

“And you need to realize things change,” River responded. He already walked away to his first class of the day. “That missing girl? She’s just the tip of the iceberg. I'll bet a lot will change soon.”

River turned around the corner and disappeared, leaving a distraught Ethan in the hallway, wondering where his classroom was.


Hatchetfield prides itself on the island's nature. The Witchwood Forest, a large natural forest, is one of the island's biggest prides, along with the beach. Still, people so easily forgot they lived on an island when they didn't need to leave it. But these people did appreciate the unique fauna and flora that existed in Hatchetfield.

That is why so many were against the nuclear power plant when it was first proposed. It was built in the middle of Witchwood forest, far away from the Hatchetfield city center. A concrete state road connected the power plant to the town, but so did some smaller forest roads, which provided a quicker way to Hatchetfield. Most people were content to be energy-independent from Clivesdale (fuck Clivesdale) and the power plant became a staple of the city as well as a big employer in Hatchetfield. 

 The power plant also claimed parts of the Hatchetfield caves, some of which ran underneath the power plant. It was an intricate cave system with many tunnels and caverns, sprawling for miles in every direction. It was hard to tell how much of it has already been mapped and how much was yet unexplored. Either way, the power plant had built a doorway to indicate where their portion of the caves started. Nobody knows what lies inside.

The main entrance lay further away, in the side of a hill. Some people did not respect nature, and thus someone had recently dumped old furniture near the entrance. A couch, a chair, an empty fridge. The fridge had been taken away because it worked with electricity, but nobody had come back to clean up the couch or chair yet. For now, it had become part of the unique surroundings near the caves' entrance.

Around noon of November 4, a stranger in a weathered raincoat who carried a pristine suitcase walked out of the caves. He briefly stopped to take a breath, to look at the furniture, and moved on.

There was no time to lose. Yet, he had all the time in the world.

Chapter Text

The Houston family owned two cars. Jane, as the principal of Hatchetfield High, drove the kids to school while Tom could easily go to the police station downtown for work. It wasn't a long drive - even if the traffic was terrible, Tom could be at work in twenty minutes.

So why was he late?

Police chief Sam Hidgens stared at the clock. In his field of vision stood a desk with a computer and a cardboard box filled with the evidence they gathered in the Deb Harrington case. His usual partner was still missing from the picture.

Sam shook his head. Unbelievable. Usually, Sam was the one running late and Tom had to wait. He could start working, but waited for Sam to get started together; gentleman's rules. It was great Tom waited, because when he got stuck on a theory and Sam wasn't around, it could quickly take over his mind and end up in a tunnel without any escape. When working together, neither Tom nor Sam would get stuck on a conclusion if it was the wrong one.

But they couldn't work when one ran late.

Sam impatiently tapped his fingers and glanced at the clock again - not even two minutes had passed. He groaned? How much longer could this take? Traffic was fine, so where the hell was he? 

And when Tom strolled into their office - without haste -, Sam stood up from his desk and shook his head.

"Took you long enough," Sam said. "What happened?"

“The girl’s parents,” Tom responded as he sat down. he pulled the box with evidence closer toward him. “They came to the station. They begged for help when they saw me.”

“What did they say?” Sam wondered. He hadn’t seen the parents when he arrived. If they stayed with the receptionist and he hadn’t referred them to the offices, Sam wouldn't have seen them.

“That she hadn’t run away this time,” Tom explained. “That she usually comes back after a day or two, but she hadn’t been home since Wednesday. They’re very worried.”

Sam frowned. “That’s five days.”

Tom nodded. “They begged me to look into it, to treat it seriously. The father was especially adamant. He believes something bad happened.”

Of course you think the worst when someone you love suddenly isn’t where they were supposed to be. Sam wasn’t too sure. He’d already looked into the girl before Tom showed up. His colleague didn't need to know Sam broke gentlemen rules. It was better than wasting time and staring at Charlotte's picture all day.

“What do you think?” Sam asked. He guessed they weren't going to agree. 

“I think he might be right,” Tom said.

“You do?” Sam said incredulously and he raised an eyebrow.

Tom sighed. Every new case started like this. One of them thought something and the other scoffed at the idea and suggested the opposite. But in this case, under these circumstances, Tom wasn’t in the mood for their usual banter.

“We need to look at the possibilities, Sam. We’re police officers. We should go to a crime scene with an open mind, not a conclusion.”

Sam already had a conclusion in mind. Tom hadn’t heard, but it was so easy to guess Sam didn’t have to say anything for Tom to know what his partner thought of the disappearance.

“I agree,” Sam said. “But this time, there’s no crime scene. No footprints, no note. Nothing that points toward foul play, kidnapping, or worse.”

He glanced at the cardboard box - it was practically empty. So he had to look at precedents. Deb Harrington had her habits when she ran away. As of yet, she seemed to follow her usual pattern. Nothing out of the ordinary had happened. She'd gone without a trace - her trademark.

"It can always be worse," Tom said. Sam threw up his hands in defense.

"I haven't said that. I just pointed out there are no traces."

Sam stood up and looked directly at Tom. This time, he knew he was right and he wouldn’t let Tom convince him otherwise.

“And?” Tom said, hoping something sensible might still come out of Sam’s mouth.

“We’re talking about a rebellious teen with a tendency to run away. This time, she’s staying away a lot longer than usual.” Sam paused for a moment. “You know, maybe she’s trying to send her parents a message. If it became normal to expect her back after two days, maybe staying away for a week is a sure way to worry them and get what she wants.”

“If that is her intent,” Tom added. He leaned against his desk and looked at his colleague with a serious gaze. “But I’d still like to label this disappearance as concerning. Whether she returns or not, we should take it seriously.”

“I will. Of course I will,” Sam responded. Yes, he'd take it seriously. He was allowed to have his theories, so long as he and Tom figured out whether that was what actually happened. He added with a smile: “Just tell me I was right when she turns up on Wednesday.”

“I won’t,” Tom said. He tapped his finger on the wood and looked out of the window, a frown on his face. “If we don’t act quick, we won’t find her again.”

Sam finally pinpointed why his colleague looked at this case in a bleaker way than usual. The concern for a missing kid who would turn up anyway - it opened an old wound. One that made Tom more miserably, pessimistic, a little too serious and frowny for Sam’s taste.

Sam leaned forward, clasping his hands together, and he looked at Tom.

“Why are you that concerned?”

Tom turned his head to Sam and shrugged defensively.

“We’re police officers. Why aren’t you more concerned?”

That was the definite proof Sam needed. Tom wasn’t that snappy. Not toward Sam, anyway.

“I am, truly,” Sam said defensively. “But we need to look at precedents. And I wonder… Tom, are you sure you’re good?”

Tom frowned at him. It wasn’t the frown of a man trying to figure out a difficult crime scene. It was the frown of a man who didn’t understand what the other was saying.

“What do you mean?”

“Missing teenager, no signs anywhere…” Sam came a little closer to his colleague. By now, Tom realized Sam was worried about him. He even spoke in a softer tone. “Are you sure you’re okay? Are you sure your behavior has nothing to do with Max?”

Tom’s face hardened. Sam shouldn’t have mentioned Max, but it was hard not to think about it, especially not since they were assigned the missing case of Deb Harrington.

“It doesn’t,” Tom said with a cold voice. He went to sit on his chair.

“Yeah, but—”

“Sam.” Tom glared at him and Sam knew he should stay silent. “We’re working on the disappearance of a teenage girl. We did not come to work today to solve a cold case from ’86.”

Sam nodded. He went back to his desk and sat on the chair. When he looked at Tom, he was staring at the computer screen and typed in Deb’s name, to look up the same files Sam had already inspected earlier today.

They should focus on the girl. Yet, Sam’s mind was still with Max.

“Do you miss him?” he eventually asked Tom. He had been typing, but stopped for a second, finished whatever he’d been writing at a slower pace. He placed his hands on the desk, glancing at his keyboard, and then at Sam.

“Every day,” Tom said. “Now, can we try not to think about it so we can figure out a possible motive – if she doesn’t turn up on Wednesday.”

Sam nodded. “Sure.” Though there still was a little tension in the air, it wasn’t that bad. Some tension never hurt anyone, and Sam preferred this tension to the peace and quiet at the office. It kept him sharp. “So, what’s your theory?”

Another officer walked into the office space. Xander Lee looked directly at Tom.

“I’m sorry to interrupt,” Xander said, “but, Tom, your mother called. She wants you to come over.”

Tom sighed. “Right now?” The workday had only just started and his mother already called him. He barely sat comfortably behind his desk.

This must be serious. If she wanted to talk, she could have just called Tom. But she didn’t – instead, she called the police station to inform them she wanted her son to visit her. Whatever it was, she didn’t want to talk about it on the phone.

Tom knew what the topic would be. He nodded at Xander. “Alright. Thanks for the warning.”

Xander left the room and Tom stood up. Time to jump into the car again and listen to what his mother had to say – if she had something sane to say. Tom feared it wouldn’t be the case.

He turned to Sam. “Do you think you can go on without me?”

Sam nodded. “I'm not going to lose time, Tom. Go to your mother. I'm sure she'll have something to sy.”

“Shut up and get to work already,” Tom said, shaking his head. When he left the room, he slammed the door. Sam really shouldn't have mentioned Max, or made that joke. 

But Sam grinned a couple of seconds before he went back to work.


Tom drove to his mother’s apartment. She and Tom’s father have been living there for a while now. While Tom and Jane lived in the home Tom grew up in, Carol and Trent Houston moved into an apartment complex downtown.

It wasn’t far away, but it was still annoying she had called Tom away from work. This time of year was always hard on her, and the news of the missing girl must have made an impact on her mental health. When she heard about the girl, her mind would immediately go back to Max.

When Tom was sixteen years old and Max only thirteen, he disappeared without a trace. The police looked everywhere, but they never found him. No body, no trace of him, no indication he ran away. They looked everywhere to see if he wasn’t living anywhere else under a different name. Max Houston vanished in early October, and his mother never recovered.

Neither did Tom. Where he did something useful with his grief, his mother turned to the paranormal. She saw Max in everything – even places where Tom doubted her sanity.

Tom entered the apartment with the spare key he’d received. He was always welcome to visit – maybe he should come over more often. He did knock on the door, to announce his arrival, to be polite.

Tom’s mother sat at the dining table, staring out of the window. From the fourth floor, they did not have a spectacular view of the street and Hatchetfield itself, but it was a view. His mother liked it enough.

“Mom?” Tom said. Carol turned her head.

“Hi, Tom,” she said with a melancholic smile. Tom walked towards her and looked into the small space.

“Where’s dad?”

“He’s out,” Carol said. “Said he had something to do.”

Tom nodded. Trent may be retired, but he still loved to be out and about. Tom sat down at the table and placed his hands on it, looking at his mother.

“What did you want to talk about?” Tom wondered. “I’m busy at the moment.” The missing case wasn’t going to solve itself.

“I know,” Carol answered, before telling her story. “I walked through the forest. I saw spirits.”

“Did you?” Tom said. He no longer feigned interest – they both knew spirits did not interest him, but Carol still talked as if he were.

“A couple,” Carol said. “All vague and formless, but one did have a big head. He pointed to the ground and then I found this.”

She opened her hand. In her palm lay a piece of plastic that Tom immediately recognized. Carol dropped the wrapper on the table and Tom dragged it closer to him.

There was no doubt. This was an opened, empty yellow Bonkers wrapper. The sight of it made him remember how it tasted. But those bars had been discontinued in the 1990s, and this wrapper was somehow still in pristine condition. Like someone had held on to it for decades, not touching or crumpling it, only to lose it in the woods, where – if it had been there for a while – it would have definitely been stepped on a couple of times, and the bright yellow would have faded.

Strange. Just as strange as Deb's disappearance.

“It’s all coming back, Tom. Everything is coming back.” Carol’s voice was unstable. “Max disappeared thirty-three years ago, and now this girl vanishes, too. History repeats itself.”

She spoke with such authority, Tom was almost inclined to believe her. But this wasn’t the time to listen to superstition. The girl was out there, somewhere. She would see her parents again.

“I’m gonna find her, mom,” Tom said, pushing the yellow wrapper back to her. “She’ll be home before you know it. You’ll hear about it on the news.”

Carol shook her head. “History repeats itself. You won’t find her.”

Tom sighed. If this was all she made him come here for, this was the end of the visit. She passed on the wisdom she wanted him to have. Now it was his turn to do something useful with it. He glanced at the wrapper. That was a mystery for another day.

“I’m gonna make you some tea, okay?” Tom said. “Then I’m going back to work.”


Henry Hidgens was nervous.

He paced up and down his room. It wasn’t big, but it was enough. It was a standard room in the Hatchetfield nursing home. Normally he was perfectly at ease in his environment and thrived on the visits of his son and daughter-in-law, Sam and Charlotte. They came every week or so with their daughter. And when they weren't there, his multiple crafting projects kept his mind sharp. 

Not even the thought of their visits or his projects could calm his nerves today.

He looked outside. His window looked over the beautiful garden. In his reflection, he could see his weary face and and the scar that covered half his left cheek and reached over to his mangled, twisted, broken ear, a remnant of childhood trauma that never truly healed. Yet, he was looking past his reflection - something else was on his mind. Something more important than how he looked.

As Hidgens gazed out the window, only one phrase escaped his lips, without stopping. 

“It’ll happen again.”

Chapter Text

The cafeteria was crammed. Still, Ethan quickly found River in the crowd. Ethan walked to him, between many tables slammed into a space too small to hold all students who had their lunch breaks now. Somehow, River managed to grab one of the smaller tables. It was enough for the two of them as well as Lex.

Of course she was going to be there - she and River had a thing.

Ethan still couldn’t wrap his head around their relationship. She couldn’t reach you, she came to me. Even now, River's words echoed through his mind. She must’ve been very desperate, otherwise Ethan would never see Lex dating anyone like River. The Monroe boys were everything Lex did not like, and yet she chose River.

Ethan sighed – just breathe. It’s not the end of the world. Lex dated someone else before Ethan could ask her out. It’s fine. It happened all the time. He selfishly hoped their romance wouldn’t last long. She had to remember that perfect summer night. She had to remember the good times, what they said and did in the privacy of her room.

Ethan sat down across from River – Lex might want to sit next to her boyfriend. Ethan didn’t want to take away that option.

“Hey,” he greeted River, who hadn’t been paying attention to his surroundings and was surprised to see Ethan already sat in front of him. He looked uncomfortable.

“Hey, Ethan,” he said. “I’m sorry about what I said earlier today. I was…”

“Stop it,” Ethan said. River lashed out because of a stupid impulsive thing Ethan had done. “I should apologize for shoving you into the wall. And yelling at you.”

“Yeah, you should,” River said. He nodded and took a bite from his lunch. “Friends again?”

Ethan frowned with a half-smile on his face. “Did we stop being friends?”

River laughed. It would take a lot more to break their friendship. Shoving each other into walls was commonplace when they were younger. It was normal to them, just as it was normal to be friends again after some hours after they realized how stupid they were.

They pushed the issue to the back of their minds and ate their lunch. After a couple of minutes, River spotted someone behind Ethan and he smiled. Ethan already guessed who came over to sit with them in their overcrowded cafeteria.

“Hey, Lex!” River greeted her as she walked to them. As previously anticipated, she sat down next to River. Ethan nodded at her. Lex nodded back at him before she turned her attention to River again.

“So,” Lex said as she put down her tray. “What couldn’t wait until this evening?”

Ethan frowned and looked at River.

“Making plans?” he asked. When River looked at him, he shot Ethan a mysterious smile. Like he knew more than Ethan, like he was about to share a secret with them.

“Maybe,” he said in a mysterious tone. Lex shoved him playfully. River didn’t intend on keeping this mysterious air and already quit after Lex shoved him. In all seriousness, River leaned forward and spoke with a softer tone. If he could not keep it mysterious, he could make sure only the three of them knew about it.

“You know Deb was a member of the smoke club, right?” he asked them.

Yes, that was quite obvious. Though neither Lex nor Ethan were a member of the smoke club – those guys put a lot of pressure on their members, even though they appeared to be the chillest people at school – they knew Deb had been a part of it. She quit some weeks ago because her girlfriend came to a meeting and wasn’t allowed to stay if she didn’t smoke.

“How is that relevant?” Ethan wondered out loud. He figured this would be about Deb – one of the more exciting things the town has seen since 1986 – though what did her former membership to the smoke club matter?

“She went missing. It looks like she’s not coming back.” He briefly looked at Lex and Ethan. “Which is sad. But I know where she hid her stash.”

That was it? Ethan briefly believed River would reveal a giant mystery, such as being a member of an ancient society that recruited new members. With such a thought in mind, knowing where Deb hid her stash was a disappointing revelation.

Lex, however, took River at face value and looked at him incredulously.

“What, you wanna break into her home?” Lex asked, clearly against this idea. River shook his head once, dispelling the image from their minds. They weren’t going to break into a house to find drugs. They weren’t that stupid.

“She doesn’t keep it at home, though,” River then revealed. He paused for a dramatic effect and flanked knowingly at his co-conspirators. “I know where it is. I say we go and take it tonight, before anyone else has the chance to. Use what we want to use and maybe sell the excess.”

That sounded like a solid plan. Though Ethan still worried about the location. Where were they going to find it, and more importantly, how dangerous was it? Ethan had a bad feeling about the situation, whereas Lex seemed to be comfortable with it.

“You in?” River asked them, his own excitement finally shining through. River’s excitement and Ethan’s need to feel a sense of belonging again made him accept the offer, despite the bad vibes.

“Depends,” a voice behind him said. “What are we selling?”

River turned his head while Ethan immediately saw her. Another junior, Jenny Hidgens. She waved Ethan hello when he stepped into their algebra classroom earlier this morning. She seemed open and welcome. Now, she looked a lot like her father – calm, collected, a curious look on her face capable of analyzing the situation and deducing stuff.

River did not want her to be involved; maybe because her father was a cop and she could snitch, if she wanted to. She was a liability, one they couldn’t afford to have.

“This doesn’t concern you, Jenny,” River said coldly. The excitement had worn off when she first spoke.

“I think it does,” Jenny said.

“What are you doing here?” River asked her. Ethan found his rude tone rash. If she only came to sit with them, or take a seat before they’d leave so she could have a seat in the cafeteria, she wouldn’t have the chance anymore.

“I heard you talking about Deb,” she said. “I’m not letting you disrespect her.”

She, Deb and her girlfriend were best friends. You could never see one without the others. Only their different rosters separated them at school. Like her father, Deb had a great sense of justice – sometimes too great. She’d heard Deb’s name and made an assumption. Considering he was a Monroe, she wasn’t necessarily wrong, but this time it was wrong.

“We weren’t,” River said quickly, with a cold tone. “Can you go now?”

He glared at her and she glared back at him. Jenny wasn’t welcome and she wasn’t staying around longer.

“This isn’t over,” she said before marching away. Some boys walked out of her way when they saw her coming, seeing the glare on her face. They did not want to be the target of the girl’s wrath. They were right to let her pass peacefully.

As she walked out of sight, Ethan turned to River and Lex again. Lex was uncomfortable with the encounter while River softened, letting the excitement take the better of him again and letting go of the resentment and irritation that Jenny’s intervention had brought. Ethan was glad the awkward encounter was over.

“So,” River said, leaning on the table again, “are you in?”

The question was now a formality.

Lex nodded. “I’m in.”

“Me too,” Ethan said. He needed to belong. He hadn't really belonged after his father died, especially since his mother sent him away without a second thought. Maybe he could recreate how he felt before that June day. He needed the mental stability he couldn’t find at home.

River nodded. He knew the answers before he asked. He followed it up with another question.

“Good,” River said. “There’s a parent meeting tonight. You can make it, right?”

“I’ll have to take Hannah,  but we’re good,” Lex said. Hannah couldn’t be left alone. She could stay on her own, but it was a different story when the only other person who could help her was Tim, who wasn’t very good at it.

Though Ethan was a little concerned, River did not seem to mind. “Awesome.”

River turned his head to Ethan. It was his time to answer.

“Mom doesn’t care, so I can get away, too.”

“That’s amazing,” River said. “Let’s meet at the south Witchwood entrance, around ten o’clock.”

So that’s where Deb hid her stash.

Lex and Ethan agreed, and River was happy with it. “Great.”

The conversation steered to the usual topics while they ate their food and conspired to steal a missing girl’s stash. Ethan listened more than he spoke and finished his lunch first.

It wasn’t how Ethan thought he would spend his evening, but it was better than staring at the ceiling and letting his mind wander to darker places.


Deb lay in the bed. She pulled the blankets over her head and pressed her head against the pillow to block out the loud lyrics of “Walk like an Egyptian” - a song she started to loathe.

She turned. The bed stood in the nook of a room covered in bright blue wallpaper with foxes and bunnies in two vertical lines. The blankets and pillowcase had the same print as the wallpaper and the bedframe was painted in a neutral white. On the other side of the room stood the old-school tv that played the song and its video clip. She couldn’t turn it off – she’s tried before. Throwing it off won’t work either, as it had been fastened to the table. The white light inside the room was never turned off, either, always basking the room in its cold light.

Only two things broke the weird immersion: the massive old metal door that separated her from the world and the giant chair she could best compare to a dentist’s chair, but with a large clamp that could cover her eyes.

Deb had tried to escape. Since she’d been taken, she wondered where she was. She did not know where the man had taken her, nor what was expected of her. She only knew she wanted to leave. The entire room screamed at her, telling her this was wrong, she’d been lured into a trap. Instead of weed, she’d gotten imprisonment.

Did anyone know where she was? How could they when Deb herself had no idea? In any case, she was away from society. She screamed loudly and banged the door, hoping someone would come.

No-one had found her yet. She was alone, in a stranger’s bed, with the Bangles yelling at her to walk like an Egyptian. No matter how many songs were played, it did not diminish the crushing loneliness. It was not a substitute for the human connection she started to crave.

All she wanted was to go home, no matter how shitty things were there. She needed to go home.

A metal clang came from the door. Deb turned to look at it. Another clang indicated someone place the key in the semi-rusted door.

When the door swung open, Deb was filled with dread.

Chapter Text

Jane did not want to spend her evening at the high school, but she had to go. She organized this meeting where she could talk to her students' parents and announce measures to keep the children safe. Nobody asked for measures, but Jane wanted to implement them nonetheless. Some might disagree, but Jane would never forgive herself if something happened to another kid.

Jane had not gone home after the school day. Instead she stayed to help the teachers set up the gym for this meeting. They set up the bleachers and added some chairs. Not every parent would show up, but she still wanted to give everyone ample room. If enough people heard the message, hopefully word-of-mouth might do the rest.

It was a late-night meeting. At half past nine, people slowly started to come in and picked their seats. Harriet Green sat in the far back, near the door; Jane expected her not to show up. In the middle of the room sat Sam Hidgens, scrolling on his phone. He'd come alone, as Charlotte wanted to stay home. In the front sat the most infamous Hatchetfield resident: Linda Monroe.

She chatted with her husband Gerald on the phone, loudly and obnoxiously. Anyone could follow their conversation. She complained about having to be here because Gerald had to work overtime at the power plant. Jane almost pitied that man - he'd been the director of the power plant for so long and had worked hard, but it all was coming to an end. How did someone like him end up as Linda's husband?

Jane looked at her watch. It was time to start the meeting.

She walked to the makeshift lectern and stood at the microphone. Few noticed and looked at her – others were too busy with their phones to pay attention.

“Good evening,” Jane said in the microphone. She wasn't waiting for Linda to finish her call. These parents wanted to go home as soon as possible and she didn't want to make it longer than it needed to be. She nodded.

“Good evening,” she repeated. “Welcome. I know it’s late, but I appreciate you coming here. This is important and I’m glad you thought the same.”

She paused. Maybe one person blinked, but that was the only reaction.

“Tonight, I will present some measures that could help improve the security as well as the sense of security for our students.”

Jane continued talking as Linda finally put down her phone. With everyone in the room paying as much attention as they could muster at this time, Jane discussed these measures one by one, going off of her list of bullet points.

Most measures were about awareness. They planned to teach students to report anything that looked suspicious: behavior, car movements, all those things. In school, there would be an office where students could anonymously place tips to find Deb. The school website would feature a link where they could report it, too. Flyers with Deb’s face would be further handed out in the streets with the message to keep an eye out.

The parents were also encouraged to go to the police. Jane even suggested to write the police if they couldn’t physically go. Hatchetfield did have a bad historical reputation when it came to missing children, either disappearing or turning up out of nowhere. It was time to shake the small-town feel - 'nothing ever happens', but something did and they couldn't risk someone else being taken away because of carelessness.

Jane did not know how long it took to explain these measures. But she’d reached the part of the meeting she didn’t look forward to – mostly because of the criticism she would receive from the woman sitting in the front who gave her judging looks.

“Does anyone have any questions?” Jane asked. Her eyes were already on Linda Monroe.

“I do,” she said in her pretentious accent and shrill voice. Jane almost lost her patience already.

“Yes, Linda?”

“So, what I’m hearing is that you want bad press for Hatchetfield.”

Some of the attendees snickered, others rolled their eyes or gasped. It was hard to tell who sided with Linda and who, like Jane, didn’t see how this applied to the current situation. Weren’t the measures bringing good press? They tried to keep other children safe and spread enough information so they might find Deb a lot more quickly.

Unless there was some monetary reason she mentioned it.

“Where did you get that idea from, Linda?” Jane wondered. Why did she believe there would be bad press if these measures were implemented by Wednesday? It was strange it came from the mouth of the woman who notoriously did not like anyone but herself, her husband, and her boys.

“Your ‘great’ security measures will definitely call attention to themselves,” Linda grated. “Before you know it, journalists swarm the place and terrorize us with their terrible questions. They’ll portray Hatchetfield as a bad place.”

“And then you won’t be able to rent out as many rooms, right?” Jane guessed. Not only was Linda Monroe the president of the Hatchetfield Boating Society, she also owned a semi-successful hotel in downtown Hatchetfield. She made quite the profit, though – as one of the wealthiest families in Hatchetfield – she did not need the money. Yet she liked her side-income and had watched it dwindle as cancellations came in. If Deb’s disappearance brought bad press, only a few tourists would come and Linda would make even less of a side-income. 

Exactly!” Linda exclaimed. “How am I supposed to earn money with all the bad press?”

She spoke as if there already was bad press, while it hardly made state news yet. Deb’s disappearance only appeared in regional newspapers yesterday, to help spread awareness and so the citizens of Clivesdale, for example, could keep an eye out for the girl. If she had been kidnapped and someone spotted her, it would help as well.

Jane shook her head. She wasn’t surprised but disappointed. A girl disappeared, and all Linda could think about was the economic impact on her side business.

“This isn’t about you, Linda,” Jane told her. They knew each other, they knew how the other could be. It was always about her – even in childhood, into adulthood. She had a way of drawing attention to herself and making things about her. Jane had always taken a disliking to Linda and the feeling was mutual.

“Of course not,” Linda defended her statement. “It’s about all of us.”

Linda’s demeanor shifted. Her annoyance turned into a threat. When she stood up, even from the stage, she appeared taller than she was. Her wrath was now aimed at Jane Houston.

“Have you ever considered that, when more children disappear, you might lose your job?” Linda sneered at the principal.

That was a low blow. It wasn’t Jane’s fault Deb disappeared or that she hadn’t been found. She knew about the trouble at home, but if Deb refused any help from the school counselor, there was little Jane could do about it. What was Linda trying next, implying it could destroy Jane’s personal life? That Tom would leave her or one of her children would go missing?

Either way, Linda crossed the line she'd carefully toed. Jane appeared unbothered with the accusation, holding strong in the minds of the parents watching the situation go from bad to worse.

“If you don’t want to discuss the measures, you’re free to go or to shut up,” Jane said with her strict principal voice. Linda was taken aback and had no immediate rebuttal. Jane nodded, claiming her victory, and looked around the gym again.

“Anyone else?”

They were silent. Not many people spoke during these types of events. Jane looked at her watch - it was late and these people were ready to go back home. Some had left during the meeting, so she wouldn't drag it out any longer.

The doors flew open. Everyone turned their heads and saw the disheveled old man with the mangled ear walk into the gym. He didn’t know who to look at with his paranoid gaze as he shuffled deeper and deeper into the room.

“It’s going to happen again.”

Sam Hidgens stood up. He recognized his father immediately –  something worried him. Something must have happened. Sam walked toward him.

“Dad,” he said, placing a hand on his shoulder. Though Henry Hidgens did not have the tendency to wander out of his room, he had made the two-mile walk to warn everyone in the school something would happen again. How had nobody seen him?  Why did he come here, of all placed, instead of going to the Hidgens home?

“It’s going to happen again.”

Sam looked at him and Henry caught his gaze. There was a hint of recognition in his eyes. At least he still recognized his son.

“It’s me, Sam,” the officer said, aware everyone was looking. “What are you doing here?”

Henry stared right at Sam and a shiver ran down his spine. Henry seemed terrified. He reached out for Sam’s arms and held them tightly.

“It’s going to happen again,” Henry insisted.

“I know,” Sam nodded. This calmed Henry a little, but he at least didn’t squeeze Sam as much anymore.

“Let’s go home, alright?” Sam said. As Sam guided Henry through the door to bring him back to the elderly home, Jane officially closed the meeting. Linda stormed out of the gym to drive home recklessly, while others would be more careful on the road.

All the while, Henry did not shut up. They needed to be warned – did they even listen to him? This was important.

“It’s going to happen again.”


Harriet looked at the night sky.  Dark clouds covered the moon and stars, but it was still a nice sight. In the dim light of the school’s playground, she stared at the clouds, whirling around like smoke. They obscured the mystical from view and kept those who dared look up from ever beholding such a wondrous sight – grounded in the boring and mundane.

The story of her life.

The meeting was too boring. She came to support Jane, but Harriet didn't think the measures would help. The teenagers would find ways to get around them. Some parents may not want to participate, which also weakened them. They worked only if everyone participated. One person ignoring them would be enough to create a weak spot.

Now she found herself outside, breathing the cold air and taking in the night.

Harriet glanced at her phone. He hadn’t texted back. In the hallways, she texted him ‘come see me’. She didn’t specify where she was. She didn’t need to – he knew where Harriet was.

So she waited patiently. She had all the time in the world – or until the meeting was over. If he decided to come.

She glanced at her phone again. No text. She noted the time – 10.02 pm. How long would this meeting last? Were they even going to have enough time together before it ended? 

Time; something she seemed to have a lot of. But as the years flew by, she didn’t have enough. Harriet grew older and time didn’t slow down to give those who wanted it more time to enjoy life.

A car drove to the school and parked to the side. In the light of the street, Harriet saw it was a police car. She smiled.

He came.

The police officer stepped out of his car and walked to Harriet. He didn’t smile. Harriet figured he’d be happy to see her, but that wasn’t the case. He had to be worn down – he investigated the disappearance of a girl, the sole reason Jane introduced measures to prevent another disappearance. It wasn’t easy to work on such a case when you have children yourself.

“Harriet.” He nodded to greet her. His hands were in his pockets and he looked at her with a neutral gaze.

“Tom,” Harriet greeted him with a smile. “You came.”

“I did.”

He looked at the school building. His wife was inside. She believed he was working overtime to find Deb. He had been, but Harriet texted him. So he came.

He could still go inside later. For now, he stayed outside with Harriet.

“It’s a beautiful night,” Harriet said. Tom glanced up with a frown.

“I think it’s going to rain.”

“Does it matter?” Harriet came closer, so close they could kiss. She backed away, slowly, her eyes on him or the small alleyway where they were out of sight, away from curious eyes.

Tom followed her. He didn’t think straight – or of anything else. He mindlessly followed the beautiful creature in front of him, until the shadows of the alley were bigger and more dominant than the street lights. There, hidden in the darkness, Harriet was bold enough. This is what she wanted – some distraction from the boring meeting.

“I missed you,” she said. He lifted his hand and caressed her cheek. They leaned to one another and kissed.

Harriet was alive. This is what she always wanted – Tom Houston loved her, wanted her, kissed her, and ran his hands over her body. A dream come true. Jane was nearby, which made the experience even better. The thrill excited her. Not even Tony could make her feel so special. He was a sweet man and she missed his presence, but Tom Houston was always her first. He always would be. He made her feel alive, feel like something.

But where Harriet was alive, Tom was empty.

He had never been so apathetic about love and loyalty. It was perfect with Jane; high school sweethearts who couldn’t marry soon enough. Since they had met, it was always Jane. Always. He always loved her and only her. Until a couple of years after Tim was born. Something was missing. Something unknown. Tom tried to keep the flame alive, but with everything he did, he died inside, little by little. One day, he knew it was gone. Nothing left.

Harriet came to him right before Tony’s death. They talked. One thing led to another and now, Tom could no longer deny it had turned into a full-fledged affair.

He didn’t want to stop, though.

He didn’t know what he wanted.

It was wrong. Tom was wrong. He betrayed Jane with every kiss and lied to her at home. He couldn’t separate from her, for the kids. But he couldn’t say no to Harriet, either.

So he kissed the woman, maybe to feel something, to feel what he missed. There was nothing.

They kissed until it rained and Tom received a call from work to come to Witchwood Forest immediately.

Chapter Text

Becky Green had hung her copy of the family picture on the wall. It was a happy sight of last Christmas, with her, Tony, Harriet and Ethan. Everyone laughed.

It was the last picture taken before Tony passed away.

Becky had barely seen them since. It was her fault as well as Harriet’s; she hadn’t reached out to Becky and Becky didn’t have the guts to walk back into the house where she grew up, to the house where she raised Tony, because of Harriet. The poor kid needed a mother, needed stability, and Becky provided. When the time came, she even moved out so Tony could stay in the home he grew up in with the love of his life. She gave up her home for his happiness. Now he was gone, there seemed to be no reason to return - not even Ethan, who loved her, had come to visit since his father's death.

She received a text message. Cold, distant, from Harriet. Power’s out. Fix it.

Becky sighed. It was an old house - she hadn’t deliberately turned off the power. She’d never do that. She wasn't as cruel as Harriet projected onto her.

Besides, she had better things to think about today.

Becky took a decorated wooden box from one of the cabinets. She placed it on her living room table, careful not to drop it. Her hands trembled. She tried to breathe evenly. She needn’t have any nerves. She wasn’t doing anything yet.

Slowly, so as not to break the mood, to not break Tony’s presence, she reached with one hand to the box and opened it. Its contents were priceless. Tony’s last written words.

She’d found him. She snatched the letter before she alarmed Harriet and called 911. She didn’t know why she didn’t share this with Harriet and Ethan, but it felt... personal. Something between her and her son. The universe wanted her to have this letter. She shouldn’t show Harriet and Ethan yet.

Tony had written, his last wish on the envelope: do not open before November 4, 10:13 pm.

Becky looked at the clock on the wall. 7:47 pm.

It was going to be a long evening.


It was easy to get out of the house. It was easy to jump on his bike – he couldn’t wait until he owned a car – to go to Witchwood Forest for River’s crazy plan.

Ethan had not seen this plan coming. Then again, who else would try and take the missing girl’s stash? It was none of Ethan’s business, and none of River’s, either. His friend wanted it, though, and if he wanted it, he’d get it. Even the ‘nicest’ Monroe brother fell into that trap.

The way to one of the Witchwood Forest entrances, the one where River would meet up with his friends, ran past the nuclear power plant. It was sitting in the distance, far off, but the shortest road Ethan took ran parallel to the plant. He wasn’t looking at it, keeping his eyes on the road, but he could feel it.

The power plant had a presence. During the day, Ethan paid no attention to it. When the night fell, it was ominous. It hid many secrets, very much like Hatchetfield. But where Hatchetfield’s secrets were largely harmless, the power plant’s secrets were darker.

The sooner it closed, the better Ethan would feel.

He found the forest entrance River had texted them. He wasn’t the first who arrived – the Houstons were already there. It wasn’t only the Houston sisters, though. Their little brother was present as well.

Lex smiled at him when she noticed him, and Ethan smiled back. At that point, Hannah saw him, too.

The face. That face alone was one reason why Ethan was glad to be back home. Had Lex even told her sister Ethan had returned? The shock and pure joy on her face suggested she wasn’t informed, but at least she got the surprise of her life. She must’ve missed him – Ethan had missed this ray of sunshine.

“Ethan!” she shouted. She ran to him, after she recovered from the initial shock. She almost tackled him as she hugged him. She held him like he would disappear again if she ever let go. Ethan patted her back, laughing.

“Hey, Banana,” he said. Hannah eventually let go of Ethan and smiled, too. Lex and Tim walked to him. Hannah backed away as Tim stepped forward, just as surprised and excited as his older sister.

“Timmy!” Ethan said. He leaned forward and held up his hand. “High five!”

Tim easily smashed Ethan’s hand.

“I’m glad you’re back,” the boy said, beaming. It made Ethan smile.

“We all are,” Lex added.

Ethan nodded. “So am I.”

At that moment, the nuclear power plant was far out of his mind. He was spending time with the Houstons, like he did before his father died – when he was young, naïve, untouched by tragedy. It was a good thing, as he already felt like he belonged. With Hannah, whom he treated like the sister he never had, and Tim, the kid who’d grow up to be amazing.

And with Lex, of course.

Did she remember that summer night? She had to. Swimming in the lake with River, Hannah sitting at the side. One day of fun before school ended and they’d have even more fun. One more connection made, one missed opportunity that turned out great.

Then it fell apart. Harriet couldn’t bother to look after her son and thought it better to send him away and lie about it. It fell apart because Ethan was gone and River filled the holes.

River arrived, too, in one of those fancy sports cars. His mother would kill him if she found even one drop of mud on the bright orange paint, but River didn't seem to care. He greeted Ethan with a 'hi', but gave Lex a long hug with kisses on her cheek. Did he do that because he wanted to or because Ethan was watching and he wanted to make a point? Ethan guessed it was a mix of both.

River’s eye fell on Tim, who waved hello from a safe distance. River looked at him with a neutral face. He could stand Hannah’s presence – the sisters were always together outside of school – but Tim also being present wasn’t something he expected.

River looked at Lex. “Why’s the kid here?”

“I don’t like being alone,” Tim said before Lex could say anything. Tim hadn’t planned to go to the forest, but he missed the Halloween parties because he hadn’t been feeling well and this was the next best thing. Besides, he did not like being alone, in case something happened when nobody else was around.

“He’s not gonna be any trouble,” Lex said. It was a promise to River and a warning to Tim – don’t be trouble. Ethan decided to stick with the boy; Tim was always more chill around Ethan, anyway.

River sighed.

“Fine. Stay close, okay?” he said. Tim nodded. The Monroe boy scared him, so he didn't respond verbally. 

River nodded. He took his phone and opened the flashlight app. Ethan and Lex did the same. They were ready to go in the cold dark night to get themselves some missing girl’s drugs.

What had Ethan gotten himself into?

“Alright,” River said, taking the lead. “Let’s go get it.”

They only needed to walk ten minutes before they arrived where Deb had hidden her stash, according to River. It was the second creepiest place in all of Hatchetfield, right behind the nuclear power plant.

The Hatchetfield caves. The entrance was a big, looming hole in a hill that sloped down into the actual caves. Shining their lights inside, they couldn’t see the back or where it first branched off into different hallfways.

Hannah hid behind Lex. The caves made her uncomfortable. She always believed demons lived there, and being so close to the entrance made her anxious. Lex stayed at a comfortable distance from the caves with her younger siblings – Tim also was anxious, though that might be River's fault.

River did not look at the caves, nor did he feel anxious. His eyes were on the dumped furniture, the iconic Hatchetfield caves' couch and chair, weathered down, hardly usable. How had it not yet fallen apart?

“So it’s here?” Lex asked River, who nodded.

“Deb hides it under the pillows.” He turned his head to Lex and Hannah to give them a confident, borderline arrogant smile. “Perfect spot.”

“Or maybe too obvious,” Ethan said. He looked at the couch. If Ethan had something to hide, he would not choose this couch. He would pick a random tree nobody but him would be able to find and bury it near that tree.

Or maybe this was the perfect spot because it was so obvious.

River shrugged. “Either way, it’s here somewhere.”

He walked to the couch. While Ethan shone his phone’s light on the couch, River overturned the pillows. However, he did not find it so easily as he believed he would.

“Or it should be here,” River muttered to himself. He turned every pillow again. He was close to sitting on his knees and looking under the couch. He lost his patience and grabbed the pillows, throwing them away at random. He tore the remaining pillows apart, looking inside, to no avail.

“Fuck!" River exclaimed. "She must’ve hidden it before running away. Where is it!?”


Becky had only moved the letter around since she opened the box. Pick it up, stare at it, put it back. It lay on the table, next to a letter opener. Becky had turned down the radio, completely focused on the one task at hand. There was one thing that mattered, and that was her son’s letter.

She looked at the clock. 10:09 pm.

Four more minutes.

The thought to open the letter four minutes early did not cross her mind. It was Tony’s last wish. He had been gone for four months now, but she could feel his presence in the room. Almost like he stood beside her, glanced over her shoulder and whispered ‘not yet, wait a little longer’.

She waited four months; what difference would four extra minutes make?


“Looking for this?”

Ethan and Lex shone their lights on the girl in the cave. She had been waiting for River. She’d arrived first – when she walked out of the caves, she held the closed-off bag in her hands, almost dangling it in front of him. River had his eye on this stash and glared at the girl. He was furious - he already considered those drugs as good as his.

“Jenny, you son of a—”

“I’m willing to sell,” Jenny Hidgens said. She looked at River with a smug grin. “Got any money on you?”

River was close to fuming. Ethan assumed he held back because Lex was here. River walked to Jenny in a threatening way. Jenny still looked at him with confidence. If she was scared, she didn’t show it.

“That doesn’t belong to you,” River said in an eerily calm tone when he stood about six feet away from her. Jenny hesitated, but firmly held on to the bag.

“Doesn’t belong to you, either,” Jenny said. Her brutality was a response to River’s calmness.

This pushed River over the edge. He came for the stash, he didn’t have money on him, and he wasn’t letting Jenny, of all people, get away with the prize he’d claimed when he spoke about it at lunch.

He took one more step and grabbed the bag. 

“What are you— River!”

River did not let go, as he pulled the bag and pushed Jenny. She let go of the bag so she could break her fall. River turned his back to Jenny and walked to the Houstons, who weren’t happy with the way this had gone.

“Really?” Lex said in an annoyed tone. She looked at Jenny and Ethan. He helped Jenny get up and Lex wanted to help, too, but she did not go any closer to those caves. Hannah still tugged at her sleeve to remind Lex she wanted to leave.

“What?” River said. “It’s not like she was gonna use it.”

 Ethan asked Jenny if she was okay. Jenny nodded. Ethan was ready to leave, after making sure Jenny was safely going home as well. As for Lex… it was her decision to stay or leave, or to smoke a little and sell what they didn’t want. No doubt River was keeping the profit and not sharing. He was the ‘rightful owner’, after all.

Ethan escorted Jenny away from the caves when it rumbled. Everyone looked at the caves. It was a deep rumble, long and dark. And terrifying.

“What was that?” Tim asked in a high-pitched voice. That rumble, combined with the darkness and the power plant’s gloom, distilled a sense of terror in him and the others. Ethan didn’t feel good staying and even River had become a little nervous.

“That’s just the wind,” he said. He tried to keep his confidence, hoped it was enough to keep everyone calm. The caves housed all kinds of weird shit in there. Maybe there were bears, maybe something else.

The rumbling stopped. For one sweet moment, they had peace. Their minds barely had the chance to calm down or evaluate whether what they heard was real or something their minds had made more terrifying because they couldn’t see what it was.

The caves growled at them – large, never-ending, telling them to leave. Even the ground shook a little. They shone their flashlights into the caves, looking for anything that made such a gruesome sound. Their lights flickered as thunder cracked above them and it began to pour.

“That, too?” Tim asked, referring to these strange events.

The caves roared.

A primal fear had been awakened. Whatever the caves held, it was terrifying. Too much to handle at the moment. And everyone wanted to do the same thing.

“Run!” River yelled with panic in his voice. “Run!”

Chapter Text

It was pure chaos. Everyone turned and ran. The rain had turned the solid ground under their feet to mud. The teens didn't care - they ran out of the forest, to find peace of mind far away from the damned caves that scared them.

Ethan lost track of where River, Jenny, Lex, and Hannah went. The few times he looked back, he only saw Tim. Maybe he should hold his hand. Ethan decided against it. They wouldn’t be separated in this forest.

Ethan stumbled and fell. He stood up and continued his way, now covered in mud.

“Ethan.”

He stopped and turned his head.

His father stood before him, covered in oil or a similar substance. Ethan shook his head. It wasn’t real – he was dead.

Great. Now he hallucinated, too.

Ethan sprinted away from the apparition in the rain. Away from danger, whether real or perceived. Away to safety. 

He ran another five minutes before he saw the familiar lights of the lonely road he knew well. He could barely catch his breath - on his last legs, he pulled one final print out of the forest.

His hair clung to his forehead and the heavy rain had washed off almost all the mud. He never liked the rain, but this was on another level. The forecast hadn't included such a storm. And except for the one crack of thunder, there was no thunder nor lightning. Which made it worse.

There! They stood safe and sound. He stopped near his friends and panted. He’d never run so fast. The gym teacher should see him now, after she’d yelled at him for being too slow last year.

“Where’s Tim?” Lex asked.

Ethan frowned and looked at the group before him. River and Jenny stood far from each other. Hannah held on to Lex. But no Tim.

“Where is he?” Lex repeated the question.

Ethan shook his head. This could not be happening. He had not just lost Tim in the fucking forest. The kid was smart enough to find his way here, right? He’d soon show up, right?”

“Wasn’t he with you?” Ethan asked. River wordlessly shook his head. Ethan’s face must’ve gone ten times paler than it was. What a great way to reintroduce yourself after a four-month absence.

“Stay with Jenny,” Lex told Hannah. The girl nodded. Jenny took her hand and watched as Lex ran back into the forest, shouting Tim’s name.

Ethan took a couple of quick breaths and followed her.


Sam walked Henry out of the school building. It was pouring – they wouldn’t make it to the car without being soaked. Sam wouldn’t let his father walk through this type of storm.

“I’m going to get the car,” Sam told him. “Stay here, okay?” He would be wet, but at least Henry would stay dry.

But Henry looked at the sky. He hadn’t said a word the last few minutes. He did not look at Sam or acknowledge his son had even spoken to him. Sam couldn’t help but think how far gone he was. Such a bright mind could’ve accomplished so much more, but now he looked at something in the sky that wasn’t even there.

“Dad?” Sam asked, worried.

“Too late,” Henry said, looking sadly at the crying clouds.


When Tom received the call, he jumped into his police car and drove to Witchwood Forest. Harriet, who had heard her son was involved, sat next to him. She tried to make conversation, but he did not say anything. He was not in the mood to talk.

His son was missing, after all.

With sirens blaring and his lights on, Tom drove faster than the speed limit. When he arrived, another police car pulled up beside him. Tom got out of the car and ran to his daughters. He hugged them both, happy to see they were okay. Harriet walked to her son as well. When she hugged him, Ethan did not return the favor.

“Where’s Tim?” Tom asked his daughters. They could not say anything. Hannah cried and Tom held her for a while.

Over her shoulder, he looked at the forest. His son was out there, somewhere. There were many reasons why he wasn't here, with his sisters. He may not be able to find his way back and hid somewhere, seeking shelter until the storm died down. Over the rain, he may not have heard Lex and Ethan shouting his name.

Tim was out there. Alone, scared.

Tom let go of Hannah and yelled his son’s name. He ran into the forest and looked everywhere Tim could have been. He didn’t worry about his daughters – Xander would take the children home. They were safe, so Tom could focus on finding his son.

Time ticked away slowly. Every minute lasted an hour as he hoped to hear a response to him shouting Tim’s name. he hoped to stumble across his son, to see him running around and then towards his father. Even as the rain stopped, Tom didn’t think about giving up. Tim was out there. Every minute counted. The first forty-eight hours were the most crucial in any case. He could not waste precious time. He could feel it in his bones – Tim would show up somewhere.

He did not 

That did not happen, though. Tom stopped when Sam called at five in the morning and told him to get some sleep and continue afterwards.


When the clock hit 10:13, Becky grabbed the letter opener. She soon saw the letter inside the envelope. With trembling and careful hands, she carefully took the paper out of the envelope and read the last message her son wanted to communicate in his pristine handwriting; a short letter.

When Becky had reached the end and finally fully understood the boy she’d adopted many years ago, she cried.

Chapter Text

It was barely half-past seven. The sun started to rise over the trees. If more time passed, they wouldn’t need their flashlights anymore.

Sam led a small group of agents around Witchwood Forest. The first hours were crucial – the more time passed, the greater the area where they had to look. Whether he ran away on his own or someone kidnapped him, this area grew every minute. They couldn’t afford to lose time.

First Max, now Tim. Thirty-three years apart. Sam couldn’t begin to understand how Tom must feel.

His phone rang. He looked at the screen. Charlotte.

Sam sighed. This was not the best time. Yet he promised he would pick up whenever she called – even if Sam couldn’t see how it could save their marriage.

“Charlotte?” he asked in the phone. Even before he spoke, he could hear her sniff and sob. Sam shook his head – this was going to be a trainwreck of a phone call. 

“S-Sam?” Charlotte managed to say in between sobs.

“I’m here,” Sam said patiently. “What’s going on?” Sam continued to walk around with the other officers. He wasn’t stopping his work because his wife called him. They had agreed they shouldn’t do this. Charlotte broke this agreement, so it had to be bad.

“I n-need to t-tell you something, Sam.”

“Can you make it quick? I’m searching Tim Houston and I don’t have much time right now.”

She sobbed and sniffed, tried multiple times to speak, but it was intelligible. When she’d calmed down enough, another wave of emotions hit her and this mess started all over again.

“Charlotte?” Sam asked. “Hello?”

It took her long to get herself together to speak. Too long.

His team must have found something, as they all stood in a circle around it. Sam came closer. The lone shoe in the dirt tanked his hope.

“I’ll call you back.”

He hung up on his wife. He felt bad, but something else was more important.

Sam approached the crime scene. He walked past his colleagues and looked at the ground. There wasn’t much to see – a shoe, a leg, two arms. The rest of the body was covered in crisp brown autumn leaves that obscured the view. None of the officers had the heart to remove them yet.

Next to the body was a Walkman; it looked brand new. It hadn’t been damaged and wasn’t dirty – as if someone deliberately placed it there.

Sam called his partner.

“Tom? We found a body.”


Tom had gone to the police station and slept in his car. He couldn't go home - if news came in, he would be on his way.

Tom counted the minutes. It did not make time go by faster, but he had to keep his mind from wandering. With no distractions, his mind was propelled to the worst possible scenario: the terror of not knowing what the body looked like.

He hoped it wasn’t Tim. Years of service told him otherwise. A fresh body in the forest where the boy just disappeared… the evidence pointed to the bleakest event.

Tom sped up, justifying his reckless speed with sirens and lights.

Before he knew it, he stood at the crime scene. Sam came and comforted him. He asserted the crime scene hadn't been touched. The forensics team already was on scene, but the leaves on the body had not yet been removed.

Tom approached the body. That was definitely a child. Tom almost fell on his knees - this could only be Tim. He slowly reached out and wiped the leaves off of the poor boy’s head.

The sight was horrifying. It was hard to describe and equally disgusting to look at. The boy missed a part of his face, like a bite had been taken out and the wound was scorched until it was dark and crusty. The eyes were gone, along with any skin and meat, temple to temple. The nose and a large part of his forehead were untouched as well. It was just the area of the eyes, and Tom almost gagged.

But there was one important detail.

“That’s not Tim.”

More of the boy was uncovered by the forensics team. Tom believed this to be the work of a man with a twisted mind. He not only disfigured the boy, but dressed him in clothes that would’ve been in fashion in the 80s, complete with that Walkman.

Tom sighed. He needed to do a lot of work. They needed to figure out who he was and bring him to justice. They needed to inform the family. 

It wasn’t Tim. Which means he was out there, still. Possibly in the cruel hands of the creature that could harm a child like that.


This man was nicer than the priest. He spoke little and wasn’t condescending. He was laser-focused on his tasks – maybe that’s why he didn’t speak. Deb didn’t mind him. She’d rather deal with someone who said nothing than one who kept babbling about destiny and God and shit.

The man was gentle. He asked her to sit in the metal dentist-like chair. Deb obeyed. The man had locked the door behind him and she didn’t want to know if this man had a bad side or not. The seat was strangely comfortable, though she felt no comfort when she sat.

The man gagged Deb with a white piece of cloth. She allowed it to happen. It was best to go along, though she didn’t like where this was going.

Maybe the man was letting her sit in the chair without strapping her arms in. But she hoped wrong, and now there was no way Deb could get out of the chair and run.

The man changed the channel. No more music, but a science lesson. An older man explained to the audience, with the glorious quality of an old 80s television, how wormholes worked; how items lost within don’t exactly disappear, but become stuck in an infinite loop. Deb didn’t pay attention; she was more interested in what the man was doing.

From his pocket, the man took a penny on a red string. His gloves would ensure his DNA wouldn’t be found, should they ever find her. He placed a penny on a red string around her neck and disappeared behind the chair.

Deb already knew she was not walking out of this room. People would have to find her. But in what condition?

The man closed the metal clamp around Deb’s head. As expected, she could still move her head, but it still covered the area around her eyes. only the tip of her nose peeked out from under this clamp. The man muttered to himself before he activated the machine.

Something pressured her head - her eyes and ears. So much pressure, she wanted to scream until her lungs popped out of her mouth. This pressure increased and increased until only the darkness comforted her.

Chapter Text

In the early morning, people had gathered to form a search party. They were given equipment and looked for any clues that could help find Tim. They worked diligently, sweeping the fields and forests, both inside and outside of the Hatchetfield nature reserve and Witchwood Forest, in a long line so as not to miss anything.

They were so focused on what could be in front of their feet, none looked at the nearest hilltop.

The Stranger surveyed the area. He stood there, silent, suitcase in hand. Unbothered. Nobody saw him. Nobody ever reported a stranger on the hill.

He admired their friendliness and compassion. He admired how they searched for a child or grandchild that wasn’t theirs. If it were an adult man – like Tom Houston – none would be here. They heard the news, be sad for a few minutes and continue with their lives. But a kid going missing mobilized the town.

What they did was none of the Stranger’s concern. He needed to be someplace else. He had a schedule to keep and none of his duties could be neglected.

So he descended from the hill, away from the search party. He would not bother them and they would not bother him. The first thing on the list: getting a room at the Hatchetfield City Center Hotel.


Sam stood in the police station’s morgue. It was the last resting play of the boy they’d found. Until he was identified, anyway. Then, his family would be contacted and they’d put him to rest.

Then again, it was hard to identify a body with a head so horribly disfigured as this one. Sam could not think of any proper description of what he saw. Whatever had happened, the boy must’ve been terrified. He probably didn’t know what was going to happen to him.

At least, that’s what Sam hoped.

He was cleaner. As clean as a corpse could be. His clothes were taken off and a white blanket covered his body, but not the head. Sam’s eyes were drawn to the horrendous wound, but tried to keep them on the coroner, Dana Pristle. She spent the last few hours with the corpse. Hopefully, she would shed some light on the situation. DNA testing hadn’t resulted in any matches, so Sam hoped she had good news – or at least something from which they could move forward.

“So, who are we dealing with?” Sam asked her.

“This boy was thirteen years old,” Dana said. “He died approximately sixteen hours ago.”

So this wasn’t just any fresh body. This murder happened less than a day ago.

“Cause of death?”

“We could not determine a single cause of death."

Really? Nothing at all?

“I don’t mean to disrespect,” Sam said, “but even I can take a guess.” He gestured to the area where the eyes should have been. The coroner glanced at the spot and looked at the officer again with an air only coroners could – calm, respectful, not taking any shit from anyone, not even from the officer who found the body.

“We cannot determine anything, but we do have theories. Those wounds, however, are not what killed him.”

Sam frowned. “No?”

Dana took a breath before she continued. Sam subconsciously knew that, if this was a hard topic, even for her, it was a strange case.

“He was likely exposed to extreme pressure,” Dana said. “We believe it was only applied to the head, as nothing else shows the same exposure to pressure.”

“Weird,” Sam said. That was all he could say about the situation. Only pressure on the head? No blunt trauma, no brain damage, nothing? This boy became more and more mysterious every second.

“That’s not all,” Dana continued. “His ear canals have burst and the vestibular system, which regulates and maintains our balance, has exploded as well. We believe whatever exerted the pressure may have done the damage to his eyes as well, though we cannot confirm that.”

She stopped there. Sam didn’t know what to think. Nothing added up. What caused his ear canals and balance system to be destroyed, his eyes to be scooped out, but looked anatomically fine from the neck down?

“Any foreign DNA?” Sam asked. Surely, there would be something.

“No,” the coroner said. “Whoever killed or found him was very careful.”

So, the boy is dead and disfigured, but we found no DNA or anything else that could help us find out how he died, for even a cause of death was too hard to pin down.

“Do we have anything we can work with?”

“Maybe.” Dana moved on from the boy to his clothes. “The boy was dressed in clothes made in the 1980s. He wore a penny made in 1986 around his neck. The Walkman offers another strong connection to this year. We also found this.” She held up a bag of red dirt.

Sam looked at the evidence. The bronze penny on a red string that hung around the boy’s neck. The Walkman that looked new and even had a cd in it. And, of course, the red dirt found on and around the boy that didn’t match with the dark forest ground. If they could find this reddish dirt, they could figure out where he’s been and find the culprit. Unfortunately, it did not seem to occur naturally in Hatchetfield.

Still, Sam nodded at Dana.

“Thank you.”

Though he may not have learned much, all pieces of information were useful.


It was Trent’s turn to wash the clothes.

This was one of the chores both Carol and Trent could do. This week, it was simply Trent’s turn to put all dirty clothes in the washer. While Carol sat in the living room and watched the news, Trent was only one room over, in the bathroom, where both the washer and dryer stood.

Trent did not mind the chores. They broke the monotony of the day. Carol was never employed again after Max disappeared and Trent only recently went into retirement. Anything that broke the daily routine was a welcome change.

As he loaded the laundry into the washer, his eye fell on the old blouse. He’d worn it last night. It still had some red dirt on it.

Crap. He thought all evidence had been wiped clean. It didn’t matter, anyway.

“Trent?”

He threw the blouse and the rest of the laundry in the washer before Carol came in. She was none the wiser.

“Yes?”

Carol walked into the room. Her eyes were sad.

“It’s happening again,” she said. “First with Max, now with Tim and that girl.”

Trent nodded. He couldn’t feel a thing – he’d gone through this grief thirty-three years ago and didn’t allow himself to grieve again. Not so soon. 

He could, however, comfort his wife. Old wounds had reopened. Where he was the silent confirmation he could never tell anyone, she only had speculation. That was worse.

He embraced Carol and wished he hadn’t gone out yesterday.

Chapter Text

Ethan awoke in a cold sweat. He sat upright and panted, turning his head to the alarm clock. Four in the morning.

Was it that early? It felt like he hadn’t slept at all;

But he slept. And he woke up from a nightmare.

Ethan had been running through Witchwood Forest at night, away from the caves. The faster he ran, the more tired he grew, yet he made no progress. When he turned his head, the caves were still right there. He could not leave, though if he went toward the caves, he might go in there.

He didn’t want to. In the distance stood two people. Tim watched him with neutral eyes, while Ethan’s counterpart’s gaze watched him curiously. They were covered in some black goo, which they both ignored.

Ethan could not move when Tim walked closer. He grew as he walked until they were the same height. Tim placed his hands around Ethan’s temple and they closed their eyes.

“Ethan.”

He opened his eyes. Tim and the other Ethan disappeared; now his father stood before him, covered in the same goo. He looked at his son with compassion and Ethan almost cried. He missed his dad. Even in his dreams, he could feel the hole his father left behind.

“We’ll meet again,” Tony said. Goo dripped from his mouth as he spoke.

At that point, Ethan woke up.

Ethan lay in his bed and closed his eyes. It already was hard to sleep, and he didn’t expect it to go any better now. Not while Tim was out there.

Not while it was his fault Tim was gone. He should have held the boy’s hand, he should have made sure the kid was behind him, he should have the kid run in front of him to make sure he’d be okay.

That’s a lot of ‘should haves’. That’s a lot of ‘didn’t happens’. Ethan ran and assumed Tim was behind him. He wasn’t and now Ethan had to live with that guilt, that Tim disappeared under his watch.

That was a hard weight to carry.

He wouldn’t sleep well ever again.


Jenny held the phone in her hand. She glanced at her mother, on the couch – she watched the tv, following the latest stories from a local tv station.

Jenny didn’t follow the news. Every day, she learned what happened in Hatchetfield through rumors and snitches, which usually turned out to be true. Whatever else happened in the world didn’t matter.

She’d lost her best friend four days ago. Deb disappeared without a trace and Alice shut herself in. Jenny tried to reach out, approached her at school, but she wanted to be alone. Jenny let her be, but she couldn’t help but feel she was now losing the second of her two best friends.

Now Tim Houston has gone missing and it was her fault. If she hadn’t gone, they might have left sooner and Tim may not be missing right now.

Jenny looked at her phone. She already called Lex, apologizing and wishing her the best. The next phone call, on the other hand, was harder. Apologizing to River, so his mother wouldn’t try to ruin her life. Linda Monroe was vicious enough for her to accept an apology on River’s behalf.

Jenny dialed the number and held the phone to her ear. It went to voicemail.

“Hey,” she said. If she hung up now or waited until River picked, she wouldn’t have the courage anymore. “I’m calling to apologize. I’m sorry I overheard your conversation, but…” she sighed. Now or never. “I just miss Deb. Knowing what you were going to do with her belongings, with her memory… you don’t need to call me back. I don’t think you’d do that, anyway. Just know I’m sorry, okay?”

She almost added to tell his mother she told him she was sorry, but she hung up before she did.

Her heart raced. This was one of the hardest things she ever had to do in her life. 

The news announced another child has gone missing. Tim Houston was officially missing. And her mother, when she heard the news, burst into tears again. Jenny sighed.

“Mom…”

She walked to her mother and sat down. She hated to see her mother like this, as one big mess, but she knew her mother had trouble with her emotions. She was quite the emotional person, after all.

Jenny wrapped her arms around her mother and comforted her.


Lex left Hannah in her room. She hadn’t said a word since the incident. Hannah was inconsolable. Lex believed only the sight of Tim could make her feel better. For now, that wasn’t an option and somehow, Lex knew in her heart yesterday was the last time they’d seen him.

But Lex didn’t want to think about it. she comforted Hannah the best she could and hoped Hannah would learn to cope with it.

Lex made her way down the stairs and to the living room. Her mother sat on the couch; dad hadn’t come home last night. He had been out looking for Tim. But if he hadn’t come home, where was he? Lex and Hannah needed him as much as mom did.

He could look for Tim all he wanted. Better yet, she hoped the police would allow him to keep looking for Tim with a team behind him. So long as he came home at the end of the day and showed they wouldn’t lose him, too, it would be great.

But he wasn’t home that morning. Mom lay on the couch and stared at the ceiling. Now, she looked at Lex with red, swollen eyes. Like the girls, she had been crying.

Lex came to the couch and sat down next to mom, who sat up. Just the silent company already did wonders. The company alone was enough to feel the comfort and love.

Questions came to mind. Not about what happened to Tim, but about dad’s brother.

“What happened to Max?”

For a couple of seconds, Jane didn’t answer. Eventually, her mind had processed the question and was ready to tell her daughter everything she wanted to know.

“He was thirteen,” Jane said. “Tom was fifteen. They used to fight like brothers, but they loved each other deeply. Tom was devastated when Max disappeared.”

Jane paused. Her mind took her back to that day – she had been with Tom when he told her. They wanted to skip school and look for Max as well but couldn’t find him. The police couldn’t, either. Back then, Tom was mad they couldn’t find him quick enough.

Lex figured, in the future, she would be reminded of yesterday the same way Jane remembered that day. She’d think about the heavy rain and the stupid kids they were, trying to get some drugs. They got what they wanted, but lost Tim.

“He doesn’t admit it,” Jane continued, “but I’m sure Max is the reason why he became a police officer.”

Lex wouldn’t be surprised if this was the case.

“What about grandma and grandpa?” she wondered.

“Carol never got over it,” Jane said. She became more comfortable telling the story. “This is where her belief in spirits comes from. Your grandfather was more realistic and believed him dead. It strained their marriage, but they stayed together.”

Maybe, living through the disappearance of Max in 2019, they may have divorced. Or they still tried to make it work. Either way, their opinions about what happened to their youngest were fundamentally different. Which made Lex wonder…

“Is he dead?”

Jane shook her head. She wished she had an answer. “We don’t know, but he hasn’t come back. He probably is.”

That’s not what Lex referred to. “I meant…”

It was hard to say out loud. Is Tim dead?

Jane hadn’t wanted to think about it. she didn’t want to because she couldn’t. She had to believe her son would come back. She was his mother; she couldn’t give up hope just yet, especially after such a short time.

“He hasn’t been missing long,” Jane said. “He’ll show up eventually. We need to have hope. Either he returns or the police will find him.”

“Like with Max?” Lex asked.

She hadn’t meant to say it out loud, but it didn’t make her believe it any less. In her pessimistic mind, the cases of Max and Tim were similar. That same pessimistic mind believed they wouldn’t find Tim, either.

Now, with those two words, she’d hurt her mother. She spoke something into existence neither had wanted to acknowledge. Jane didn’t know what to say and only stared at her oldest daughter, wishing she could say the police would find Tim, but the words were stuck in her throat.

“I’m going back to Hannah,” Lex said. She stood up and walked up the stairs, away from her mother.


River tried again.

He impatiently tapped his phone as the phone rang. Like the past five times, it went to voicemail.

River barely stayed calm. Lex was at home – surely, after six times, she’d take a look at her phone and see her boyfriend tried to call. He wouldn’t believe it if Lex turned her phone off. Surely she’d want to get support from him, to hear him say everything would be okay, maybe ask to have some of yesterday’s catch.

Never mind they lost Tim trying to receive it. Never mind their catch was irreversibly tied to his disappearance. Never mind Lex probably never wanted to try anything from that bag.

River already opened the carefully sealed bag. It had contained about a hundred grams of weed and exactly one phone.

River grabbed the old phone. It wasn’t the one Deb usually walked around with; Deb knew better than that. This phone was probably the one she contacted her dealer with.

There was one problem – the phone was locked. Only a number combination could unlock it, but after three wrong attempts, it was blocked forever. No return, no dealer phone number. No extra drugs from the supplier.

River wouldn’t be a Monroe if he didn’t at least try to crack the code. He also wouldn’t be a Monroe if he went about this with care and time to think everything through. He punched in a four-digit number that felt right.

It was wrong. Two tries left.

He pressed in two numbers but stopped. After a couple of seconds, he deleted it. He wasted one of his three chances. He needed to be more careful.

That showed some restraint. Shore, Ocean, and Lake never showed as much restraint. Granted, they were younger and had much to learn, but for now.

River stared at the phone. He had no idea for how long, but it didn’t help. It established only how badly he wanted to get the phone number.

He placed Deb’s phone aside and called Lex again. Some time had passed – surely she’d pick up now, right?

It went to voicemail. In a fit of frustration, he threw his phone across his room. It landed safely on his bed. Even if it had hit the wall, his mother would’ve given him a new one. Phones were easily replaceable, after all.

Except for the phone lying by his side. That phone, Deb’s phone, was irreplaceable.

Chapter Text

“Tim!”

Tom looked everywhere within Witchwood Forest. Everywhere, but inside the caves.

It was possible. The teenagers said something scared them enough to flee. They didn’t say what. It was plausible Tim hid in the caves. It was even more plausible he lost his way and waited for someone to come and save him.

Don’t worry, Tim. Dad’s coming.

Tom descended into the caves, flashlight on, and shouted his name. it echoed against the walls and ceilings, twisting and turning and spreading further along the caves. He disturbed some bats, but Tom relentlessly continued. Tim had to be down here.

Because if he wasn’t, Tom wouldn’t know what to do.

He didn’t know how long he was in there. It felt like he’d seen every tunnel already, and maybe even had seen the same tunnel twice. It was hard to keep track of stretches of tunnel he already inspected.

Then he found something he hadn’t seen before.

The nuclear power plant was partly built over the caves. Tom, like everyone else, had always assumed they built on the surface. Now, Tom found a rusted metal door with the nuclear sign printed on it, blocking the way.

Tom hammered on the door. “Tim!”

He could be on the other side. Tim may have forced himself to go to the other side. The door could’ve fallen into the lock. What if he was there? Alone and scared?

His reasonable side this wasn’t the case. The door was locked. Tim could have never gotten through.

But if Tim wasn’t there, there was nowhere else he could be. Tom could not accept that.


Everyone gathered in the briefing room. Even Tom decided to show up. Sam was glad the obsession with his son’s disappearance wasn’t big enough to forget about the corpse they found in the forest.

It was Sam’s task to brief the other officers, being the police chief. In front of him sat and stood the officers who would work on the case. Tom was there, too, as he was put on this case as soon as they found the body. It was better if someone else looked for Tim. Tom’s subjectivity would inevitably appear the more progress they made.

To keep him working as an objective good officer, he was taken off Tim’s case, though he was never officially involved. Now, he had something else to investigate.

“Alright, people,” Sam said, scratching his throat. The noise died down until the officers looked at him with varying levels of interest. Most looked at the evidence on the table.

“A body was found in Witchwood Forest. Thirteen-year-old boy, deceased. He was dressed in clothes from the 80s and a Walkman lay close. It has a cd inside.”

Careful not to taint the evidence, Sam put on a glove and pressed the play button. The room was filled with the cheerful music of the Bangles’ “Walk like an Egyptian’. Some chuckled, but most didn’t know what to do with this information. Sam only let it play for a couple of seconds.

Then, he picked up one of the evidence bags. “This penny, engraved with the number 1986, was placed around his neck. We don’t have a conclusive cause of death, but this boy is not Tim Houston.”

Luckily, Tom was a police officer and had already seen and negatively identified the body. Sam would hate to have found him and then ask Tom to identify the body.

Sam leaned a little closer to his officers, his tone a little more serious.

“This information doesn’t leave this room. Two kids have gone missing in four days and a third unidentified child ended up dead in our forest. For the public’s sake, we don’t talk about this boy unless we know who he is. Then we can inform his parents.” Sam glanced at Xander Lee. “Xander, you’re leading this case. Is that okay?”

Xander nodded. “Sure thing.”

“Dismissed.”

Everyone grabbed their coats and started to file out of the room; Tom was one of those people. But Sam wasn’t quite done talking to his partner.

“Tom, can I talk to you in private?”

Tom listened to his friend and backed away from the officers walking out of the room. He walked towards Sam and the evidence. Both knew what the conversation was going to be about.

“Sam, listen,” Tom began, fearing Sam would shut him down before he could say everything. “I was in the caves…”

“A kid won’t go in there,” Sam interrupted him.

Tom shook his head. “Tim would, if he was afraid. Look, I need a warrant for the power plant. I found a door leading to their section of the caves. I need to search it.”

For a moment, only the thought “why” crossed Sam’s mind. Then, he sighed – he realized what Tom was trying to say.

“Even if a kid went into the caves, they wouldn’t be able to open those doors.” He was certain the power plant locked the doors and guarded them well enough to ensure nobody entered those areas. Not even the police could enter if the director didn’t want them on his property.

And Tom hoped a warrant changed it.

“They have cameras everywhere,” Tom said. “If he’s not behind the door, maybe Tim hid on their terrain. Either way, I need a warrant.”

Sam knew better than to go against his friends, though it would be the right thing to do. Though it was unlikely, this was a credible option they had yet to explore. So Sam nodded.

“I’ll try to get one.” And if it is a dead-end, they could focus on other places and Tom could move on to the disfigured boy.

“Great,” Tom said. He already walked back to the door, to do his work again, but Sam wasn’t done yet.

“Tom.” The man stopped and turned to his friend. “I know you don’t want to hear it… but there is a connection between the two.”

Indeed, Tom didn’t want to listen. Sam still didn’t understand why he didn’t like the topic. He must have his reason, which Sam could not see right now.

“It’s different,” Tom said after some silence.

“How?” Sam wondered out loud. “Perfectly fine kid goes missing, vanishes without a trace. Exactly thirty-three years apart. That’s not different, Tom. It’s a pattern – a disturbing one.”

“It is different, Sam,” Tom insisted. He saw the facts. He didn’t throw them out but placed them at the back of his mind. Objective facts weren’t as important as his subjective feelings. “This time, I’ll find my son. And I’ll find Deb, too.”

We will find them,” Sam said. We. There was no reason why Tom would have to do this alone. There was a reason they worked in teams. Once everyone ran around on their own, without second opinions, their work suffered. “It doesn’t take away that there is a connection.”

Tom rolled his eyes only half-heartedly.

“Go get that warrant,” he said. “I’ll meet you there.”

“Tom, you—”

Tom was already gone. He didn’t turn back, no matter what Sam would have said.

Sam sighed. He was going to get that warrant – or at least try. Hopefully, Tom wasn’t wasting his time by driving to the power plant as quickly as possible.


This was one of the worst business days of Gerald’s life. Not only was the closure of the power plant around the corner, but the disappearance of a second child brought them to the spotlight. The kid disappeared near the caves – it was widely known the power plant was nearby. Nobody but a select few knew what was in the plant’s portion of the caves, and now the disappearance came at an inopportune moment.

Gerald Monroe had run the power plant for most of his adult life. He knew everything there was to know about it. This place held secrets everywhere, such as in their part of the caves. if the police came over, they’d ask questions. He did not like questions.

He avoided the law for thirty-three years. The disappearance of one stupid boy wasn’t sending him to jail – not if he could help it. But the stress remained, and not even a massage from Harriet Green relieved the anxiety.

He hadn’t seen a warrant yet. But he had been contacted about it and knew they were coming.

Which meant he had to get some things in order. He told his assistant to call Geoff Harrington. A good man, but unfortunately his daughter went missing. He was low in rank at the power plant, Gerald knew Geoff could keep secrets. After all, the man had a secret of his own – one Gerald had promised not to make public in exchange for jobs like these.

Mr. Harrington came into the office. He looked exhausted, worn down. His eyes told the story of a weary man who waited for a command. Gerald didn’t want to place himself in Geoff’s shoes – only the thought of one of his sons disappearing and never coming back made him emotional. He didn’t want to share such an emotional side with his employees, however.

“Mr. Monroe,” he said politely. Gerald Monroe did not return the favor.

“The police are coming today,” he said.

Geoff frowned. There was no logical reason the police would come. Unless someone decided to dig up dirt on Gerald, they were coming for the boy.

“If he were on the property, the alarms would’ve gone off. We would’ve found him before anyone realized he was gone.”

“Yes, but they still believe the kid is somewhere here,” Gerald said.

“He’s not here, is he?”

“Of course not.”

Geoff worried. He took a step back and looked at Gerald incredulously. He believed they had time, and Gerald had believed the same. If the father wasn’t an officer, they probably wouldn’t even bother coming. But because they came, they needed to get it off the power plant’s grounds.

“I can’t have the police snooping around. You need to dispose of it,” Gerald said. He stood up behind his desk. “I cannot take any risks now this plant closes soon, and we can’t have the police on our back. Not now. We’ve worked too hard.”

“When should I do it?” Geoff asked. He was taken aback by the ill timing. Gerald rolled his eyes.

“As soon as possible, please,” he said. He tried not to be too annoyed with Geoff’s slow brain. “If you don’t do this before the police knock on our door, you are fired. Understood?”

Geoff gulped. Gerald Monroe never used that threat – he was not that kind of person. But what they were dealing with was dangerous, something Hatchetfield and shouldn’t know about. Geoff believed Gerald when he threatened him.

“Understood, Mr. Monroe,” Geoff said.

“Good. You can go now.”

Geoff nodded and hurried away. The threat had been effective. So long as he didn’t let anyone know what happened or why he ran through the halls, it was okay.

Gerald sighed. He did not like to be a mean boss. If they wanted to be careful, he needed to be as cruel and commanding as his Linda could be.

Then, a voice in the back of his mind asked a valid question.

What did we get ourselves into?

Into something we can’t back away from.

Chapter Text

A good shower may not fix all problems, but it did wash away current problems.

The Stranger couldn’t forget about everything he set out to do in 2019, but in the shower - he hadn’t had a shower in such a long time – he could wash the dirt off, the past and the future, all lies and cruel twists of fate. In that shower, he found some much-needed peace.

He didn’t stay too long. It was nice, but the shower distracted him from his mission. In the mirror, he stared at the ragged hair, the scar that wrapped around his neck like a rope, the barely hopeful eyes. The many scars he couldn’t see on the back.

He couldn’t linger too long. There still was a lot to do.

He stepped from the bathroom into his hotel room. The lady at the desk was happy to rent him a room; apparently, two missing children in a week were responsible for cancellations. The Stranger paid upfront, cash, for the next three days. The lady did not mind – she was happy to have a customer.

She would be in for a surprise.

The Stranger had transformed the wall into his bulletin board without regard for hotel rules. He hung everything on the wall – conspiracies, drawings, sketches, newspaper clippings. Almost the entire wall was covered. A masterpiece, an accumulation of everything he had learned. Everything he should do.

He glanced at the wall. A newspaper article from today, which the Stranger had kept. The ‘where’ in the headline ‘Where is Tim Houston?’ had been crossed out and underneath was written ‘when’. Other pieces of paper referred to Adam and Eve, to Sic Mundus, to the triquetra, to the White Devil, and so much more.

He turned his back to the wall and looked at his suitcase, which sat on the bed. It held his most important possession – the only one that mattered.

He opened the suitcase and looked at his apparatus. Three small cylinders on the front turned around but did not obstruct the view of the other buttons. Its strange design suggested this wasn’t made in 2019.

The Stranger felt at peace. He had everything he needed to set things right. Now, he needed to wait for the right predetermined moments.


There was no more distraction from the attic.

Ethan had not yet come out of bed. His eyes had been glued to the ceiling. He only thought about his father and Tim. His mind had been restless and calm at the same time. He was numb. And as he stared at the ceiling, the thought crossed his mind.

Why not go up there?

All this time, he hadn’t gone there. Neither had his mother. It had been his father’s getaway. When he wasn’t working, he spent his days there, creating pieces of art, most of which he wouldn’t share with his family or anyone else. After he quit his day job, he spent more and more of his time there, until he barely even left the room or the house anymore.

Maybe those were the first signs – signs that came so gradually, Ethan hadn’t noticed until it was too late.

Either way, his father spent his time there. Maybe going there would help him mourn, or heal. Though he wasn’t sure if he could focus on his father since Tim had gone missing.

He shouldn’t feel guilty. It wasn’t his fault Tim got lost. Except, Ethan was the last person who saw him. He should’ve guided him, should’ve been there, paid attention – but he hadn’t.

But first, his father. One trauma at a time.

Ethan reluctantly climbed the second flight of stairs to the attic. It’s not too late, a voice said, you can still go back.

Ethan did not want to go back; he wanted to go forward.

He turned the doorknob. The room was still unlocked. He thought mom had locked it by now. She hadn’t, and now Ethan walked into his father’s atelier.

It was as Ethan had expected, but nothing like the mental picture in his head. It was a large organized mess. Papers, drawings, paintings, sketches on the walls, on the desk, in the drawers and closets; a lot of black and white with the occasional speck of red. Many abstract, few with actual shapes and landscapes. One drew his attention – a white figure in a dark cave-like structure, his back to those who looked at the painting.

His dad wasn’t the next Picasso, but what he made was good; the emotions behind them were all too real.

Something else drew Ethan’s attention. His gaze pulled up, to the ceiling. Standing on a chair, it was easy to throw a noose over the wooden beam. Did he suffer? Was he happy, or satisfied with the decision he’d made? Did he think of his family, or was his mind blank?

Why did he go?

Ethan wished he knew the answers to all of these questions. Then again, he feared he wouldn’t like the answers when they were presented to him.

His eyes were drawn to one of the many closets with his dad’s supplies. And to the wooden panel behind it that stood slightly ajar. Ethan walked to the closet and reached for the panel. At the first touch, he knew it was loose and hollow.

Without a second thought, Ethan put his hand in the empty space and for a while, he did not feel anything. Then, his hand stroked past some papers. Between the tips of his fingers, he pulled what he believed to be the first of a pile. As he pulled, he realized it was a large piece of paper that had been folded a couple of times.

Ethan opened it and put it on the ground. Even then, he wasn’t sure what he was looking at. A set of lines running parallel to one another, never straight, connecting and splitting of like swerving, sprawling roads to nowhere.

Then, under these roads, the words in his father’s neat handwriting: Hatchetfield caves.

And to the side, frustratedly written and in red underlined: WHERE IS THE PASSAGE??

Chapter Text

Trent Houston signed up for the search party. It was the least he could do.

He received some equipment and was told to wait with the others. A little later, the officers told the volunteers what they expected: walk in a line across a field or through the forest, look at the ground for any clues. If they found something, they had to alert the police and shouldn’t touch what they found.

Before the search, some officers gave Trent their condolences. They knew Tom and saw how these disappearances affected their colleague. Trent thanked them.

The search started. The volunteers walked at a slow pace, so they would not miss anything. Sometimes, one or two slowed down or walked ahead, but they never crossed another’s path. Everyone followed their own line and while they hoped they’d find a clue, most didn’t want to stumble upon a decomposing body; a thought that popped up once in a while.

All but Trent - he hoped this was over soon. His guilt moved him to help, though he knew it would not produce helpful results.

“I’m sorry about your boy,” the woman who walked next to him said. She didn’t say much, but she seemed compassionate. She was older, probably a grandmother herself. Trent briefly smiled at her.

“Thank you,” he said. It was polite to accept the condolences.

“I’m sure we’ll find him,” she continued. Trent shrugged.

“Maybe,” he said. “Maybe not.”

The woman shrugged off the comment. He was a grieving grandfather who didn’t know where his grandkid was. Maybe he already lost hope. Either way, she did not speak to him again.

She didn’t know what he knew. She was blind; Trent had seen too much. What he had seen last night scarred him, and she would never know.


The caves knew many visitors throughout the years. Teenagers came to smoke, far away from parents and school. Sometimes kids came to play around or scare one another. These caves were popular, especially for Halloween and parties. More than once, an ambulance was called because children tried something stupid and one of them broke a leg or were stuck in a cavern.

The adults stayed away. The caves filled them with joy and fright as children, but only the fright remained. They couldn’t say why; something about the caves unsettled them. They warned their kids the same way their parents had warned them. Don’t go to the caves. Children don’t listen; they go and pass this same message down to their children.

At one point, some vandals cut the trees near the caves' entrance. The police caught them and they were punished accordingly. The logs – the remains of their misdeeds – stayed in a neat pile near the caves’ entrance; it wasn’t moved for two months.

On the third day, at the beginning of November, a stranger without a suitcase walked out without a care in the world, for she knew there were no witnesses.


Tom sat in his car. It poured again; the wipers barely kept up with it to clear the vision. Where Tom was going, the road was used exclusively by employees of the nuclear power plant. Because these were working hours, nobody else was on the road. Though visibility was low, he didn’t need it as much because there was no chance he was going to find himself in an accident.

His phone went off. Tom ignored it; he wasn’t in the mood. Besides, he was almost there.

The phone rang again and again. On the fourth attempt, Tom picked up. It was Sam. All four times, Sam tried to call. It had to be important, then.

“What is it, Sam?”

“Are you on your way to the power plant?” There was a sense of urgency in Sam’s voice – this definitely was important.

“Almost there.” Within a couple of minutes, Tom would arrive at the power plant. If he went further, he could confront Gerald Monroe. He hoped Sam was calling to say he had the warrant and he was coming. Tom’s more rational side knew this wasn’t why Sam called.

“Turn around,” Sam said. He likely was still in the office. Maybe he hadn’t even tried to get that warrant for Tom, either. “We don’t have the warrant yet. They’re not going to let you in, Tom. Come back here.”

Of course they had no warrant. But Tom was so close – he couldn’t turn back. Not now.

“Tom, I don’t like that silence,” Sam continued. “You’ll waste your time. Turn around and come back. We can return at a later time when we do have the warrant.”

Tom shook his head. He drove a little slower. The rational side knew Sam was right, they should wait longer and come when they had a warrant. It was better than running up to a closed gate.

Tom couldn’t turn around, however. A shadow loomed over him – a shadow the size of Tim. It whispered in his ear, begged him to pursue the lead, without delay, without thinking about any consequences. It begged him to look for him in the power plant.

Are you there? Tom tried to ask. It remained silent. Tom assumed it was a yes.

"Are you listening?” Sam asked. “Tom—”

He closed the call. He didn’t need to hear Sam calling out all irrational things he was going to do. Tom was well aware himself. But he couldn’t stop. The shadow was always in the corner of his eyes, pushing him forward, driving him to do things he shouldn’t be doing.

Tom parked his car. The gate to the grounds of the nuclear power plant was closed and the guard didn’t want to open it. he wanted to see a warrant or a key card before allowing Tom entrance. Tom didn’t have either, so he was stuck on the outside of the fence. The gate separated him from the inside, stopped his search, and made him anxious.

Tom was asked to leave. He did not. He wasn’t going anywhere – he told the guard multiple times. The guard hurried to his booth and called someone. It better be the director or someone else who could give him the necessary authorization to go inside. Not even the rain dissuaded him from the course he was on.

The director himself came to the gates of the power plant, though they were closed still.

“Gerald Monroe!” Tom called out. He was alone with his umbrella, still dry and calm. He was the opposite of Tom, who was soaking wet and held on to the metal gate as if they were prison bars, and he tried to plead with the man on the other side.

“Mr. Houston,” Gerald said, with a small nod. It was distant. Everything in his demeanor screamed he would rather not have a police officer through the gate.

“Let me in, Gerald,” Tom said. He didn’t say anything else – he hoped his authority as a police officer would be enough to be invited in. His desperate side even wondered if Gerald would bring him to a room where Tim was sitting and waiting.

Gerald did none of that. Instead, he tilted his head and looked at Tom.

“You don’t have a warrant, do you?”

Of course. That fucking warrant granted him access – the one he didn’t have. Sam was not cooperating in the slightest, now he made a fool out of himself in front of Gerald Monroe, of all people. This wasn’t how he wanted to spend his day, let alone the next few minutes.

He grew even more desperate. Even if Tim wasn’t there, he had the right to look around and see for himself his son wasn’t there. He was a cop, damn it! He should be allowed access.

“My son—”

“If he was here, we’d know and would have already contacted you,” Gerald said calmly with that nauseating nasal voice. In this situation, he was the better man. He played by the rules and stayed as calm as Tom should be. Tom shook his head, a non-verbal confirmation of his despair and disbelief.

“He’s not here, Mr. Houston,” Gerald said. “I suggest you go home to your family.”

“Not before you let me in,” Tom said defiantly. He needed to go in there. He had to.

Gerald shrugged. “Then I can’t help you.”

He turned around and strolled back to the power plant. That was the most infuriating – how casually he walked away. Tom couldn’t stand it. He pushed and pulled the bars of the gate, trying to make them move – though it remained shut.

“Gerald!” Tom roared. “Let me in! let me in, you bastard! Gerald!”

There came no response. As far as Gerald was concerned, this had been nothing more than a stroll away from his office, to stretch his legs. He happened to meet a desperate officer who was not afraid to show it anymore.

“Let me in!” Tom shouted. He punched the frame. His hand hurt, but he didn’t care. “Damn it!”

He stood in the rain and raged for ten more minutes, as far as he was aware.

Chapter Text

When Tom returned to the office, the receptionist feigned not looking at him. He looked horrible. He was soaking wet, having stood in the rain for so long. Everything, from his jacket to his socks, was wet. It was uncomfortable, so he felt terrible as well as looked terrible.

The subtle stares of the receptionist made it worse.

“How did it go?” he asked.

“What do you think?” Tom rebutted. He couldn’t get into the power plant, didn’t have any leads and those crucial first forty-eight hours were mercilessly ticking away while he tried to get past the reception to change into a dry uniform and continue to work.

“Right,” the receptionist said. “You have a visitor.”

Something else Tom didn’t look forward to. Sam probably waited for his partner to return to the office. He expected a rant about having to work in a team and not going off alone.

He didn’t think someone else came to see him during working hours. After he explicitly told her she shouldn’t call him while he worked. He hadn’t even seen her until she stood up and looked at him.

He froze for a second. He’d never seen her at his work, and there was a good reason for it.

“Hi,” said Harriet Green.

Tom lead her toward his office initially. But he wasn’t bringing her to the office, because Sam would wonder why she was there. He would ask questions and something might come up – something Tom successfully hid for a couple of months.

He walked her into the supply closet. They could have an uninterrupted conversation. Nobody saw them – if they did, well, it wouldn’t be any different than Tom walking with her into the office in front of Sam Hidgens.

The look on her face suggested she was enticed, standing so close to Tom. Tom failed to notice. He was glad they were together, out of sight, and hoped the cleaner wouldn’t come to find them.

“What are you doing here?” he asked.

“I know what you’re going through,” Harriet said. She nudged closer to Tom, who didn’t react to her advances.

“You can’t show up at my workplace,” Tom said. “They’re gonna find out.”

“I wanted to be there for you,” Harriet said. She laid her hands on his shoulders. He didn’t protest it. Harriet saw it as a sign she could take it one step further. “Tom—”

She kissed him, again and again. Tom let it happen for some seconds. Just those seconds, though – too many in his eyes.

“Harriet, no,” he said softly. Then a little louder: “No.”

Harriet pulled away from him. She looked disappointed and a little surprised. Like she hadn’t expected him to tell her to stop. When they met and things got steamy, Tom had never shut her down.

“Don’t you want to?” she asked, her voice a little pouty.

Tom shook his head. “Not now. My son—”

She tried again. This time, Tom leaned away from her and softly took her arms off of his shoulders.

“Harriet,” he said. “I need to get to work.”

This stopped all of her attempts to seduce him and get him to love her or make love to her. That flirty look on her face melted away – she did not like this rejection but could put it into perspective. He was looking for his son. He was busy. She’d see him at another time.

“I’ll go,” she said and Tom nodded in relief.

“Thank you.”

“Do I see you tonight?”

“Maybe.”

Harriet left the closet before Tom. He stood there for another ten seconds before he left, too. He looked around the corridor. He couldn’t verify whether anyone had seen Harriet leave, but nobody saw him leave the closet. He continued his way through the police building.

At the office, Sam indeed waited for him and as expected, he went on a small rant. Tom nodded and listened to every word and swore he wasn’t going out on his own again. Outside working hours, however, Tom could still do whatever he wanted.

Then Tom sat behind his computer and did some actual work. He needed to do some investigation, such as the tire patterns they found near the crime scene. They had no idea whether these specific tire patterns have been added to the database yet, but Tom was looking it up anyway. 

He found a match. A picture of a white van appeared, as well as its registration number. Tom looked up who owned the van.

Geoff Harrington. Father of Deb, working at the nuclear power plant. A history of possession of drugs, a couple of DUIs, no violent crimes.

Not yet, anyway.

A seed had been planted in Tom’s head. The tires lead directly to Geoff Harrington – a man who now was Tom’s main suspect in Tim’s missing case, and possibly in Deb’s as well. 


At night, Tom went to Geoff Harrington’s home. He arrived without sirens and lights, so as not to alarm Geoff to his presence. Even then, he wasn’t sure Geoff would hear him.

The Harringtons lived outside of the city. They had some hangar where all kinds of junk were stored. The last time Tom was here, some criminal hid their weapon among the rubble. DNA evidence proved Geoff had nothing to do with that case.

Maybe it hid something much more sinister now.

There was no house on the property; only a rundown caravan. The lights were out and Tom snuck into the hangar. He quickly scanned the immediate surroundings to see if anything would set off any alarm. He quickly unlocked the door. It creaked only slightly, and soon Tom stood in the hangar again.

With his flashlight, he slowly made his way through the hangar. He watched the piles of rubble and junk, watched the many different appliances and other items scattered around the hangar. Nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary.

Tom listened, looked for something that shouldn’t be there, anything that could point him to the kids.

At the back, an old cabinet that had known better times, a jar had caught his eye. Tom put on a glove and picked the jar.

It was just any general peanut butter jar. Its label had been removed. There was nothing wrong with it in itself, but it contained a lot of coins – and when he shone his flashlight, they had the same color as the coin they found around a red thread on the dead boy’s neck.

Tom put it down again, looking around more carefully. This was a clue; a clue he couldn’t turn his back to. Something that only in the right circumstances could be incriminating. It wasn’t illegal to store coins in a jar.

It made Tom more alert, however.

He spotted a mattress on the ground. A single old worn-down mattress in the middle of the room. Tom looks at it. why wasn’t it piled on one of the many piles of junk? Why was it lying on the ground, right between two piles?

Unless there was something visitors weren’t supposed to see.

Tom pulled the mattress away from its spot. It indeed hid something; a trapdoor in the floor. Tom didn’t remember seeing a trapdoor when he had been here before; then again, last time he didn’t look for hiding places, but for a murder weapon.

The trapdoor wasn’t locked. Geoff must not be expecting anyone to find this. The mattress had to have been enough to hide this secret.

It wouldn’t be a secret any longer.

Tom opened the trapdoor. It was heavy, but he lifted it without a problem. He shone in it. There was a rope, tied to something at the bottom he couldn’t see. Tom grabbed the rope and pulled. It wasn’t heavy enough to be a child, but it was something secret. Something he was hiding from everyone.

Tom already had the feeling something illegal was going on. He had no idea what that was yet.

He pulled the rope. It might be the stress, but it felt like ages before something came into view. Something – soon enough he knew what it was.

“Put that down.”

Tom looked up. Over him stood Geoff Harrington in his coat. He pointed a rifle at Tom. He trembled from head to toe and his eyes betrayed fear – fear of being found out. Fear, perhaps, to pull the trigger as well.

Tom shouldn’t take risks. But he almost pulled the thing out of the trapdoor, and he needed to know.

He decided to ignore Geoff and pulled the rope. Geoff became more nervous.

“Put that down!”

Tom just pulled up the black plastic bag. He tore the plastic away and it revealed another bag; a transparent bag with clear contents. Tom recognized it – he’d seen enough drugs in his life to know what it looked like.

He looked from the bag to Geoff. Even in the darkness, Tom saw his face paled. He knew he’d been caught. It wasn’t for the reasons Tom had thought to bust him for, though.

“What’s this?” Tom asked. He was relieved it wasn’t a head, hand, or another body part. On the other hand, the fact that he found nothing that leads him to his son or Deb saddened him.

“Deb and I used to make it together,” Geoff confessed. He saw no point in lying to an officer when he’d been caught red-handed. “A side project, when we didn’t have a lot of money.”

The Harringtons did have money problems. Tom would never have guessed Deb was involved in this, too, and even encouraged to participate.

“And that jar?”

“She’s been saving up for a motorcycle,” Geoff said. When people bring things in to be fixed, sometimes there’s some extra change in some crevice or place the owners missed – forgotten coins Deb put in the jar. The start of something big; a goal to work toward.

Geoff took a step to the officer, who stood up and could only look at the man.

“Do you have any news?” he asked, tears springing in his eyes. “Where’s my daughter?”

Tom was ashamed for thinking Geoff Harrington kidnapped the children.

Chapter Text

The stranger without a suitcase had found what she was looking for. The body was there, as it had always been. She sighed. Deb Harrington, a teenager, living in the 21st century.

Not anymore. Her eyes were burned away, as happened to others, and she was dead.

The body needed to be moved.

So the stranger with the long white hair bent over and grabbed the girl by her feet. She dragged the body away, at the pace her body allowed her, steadily. Though she was dead, Deb had someplace to be.

That’s what the female stranger came here for. Things must happen as they always have.


Under the cover of night, Gerald Monroe decided to oversee the job himself, so he went down to the site.

The truck was ready. People were pushing in the yellow barrels – people Geoff trusted not to let anyone know what was going on. they carried the barrels from their usual hiding place and transported them to the back of the truck.

Gerald stood a little further away. He didn’t have a perfect view, as some trees blocked parts, but he saw enough of what he needed to see. Enough to know they were doing their jobs well, but not quick enough to his liking. And these men knew, with Gerald looking over them, one bad word could get them discredited or maybe even killed.

“C’mon,” Gerald said. “A little faster.”

They wouldn’t run into anyone. After that kid got missing in Witchwood Forest at night, Gerald didn’t expect anyone to go into the forest tonight, let alone travel to these parts of the forest.

Yet, something behind him snapped. A twig. maybe.

He turned around, shining his flashlight. There was nobody.

At least, Gerald hoped so. One good look and any bystander would see just how shady this business out here was. How illegal it had to be. Because it was.

If Gerald had spotted anyone, he would’ve had them killed for their curiosity?

But nobody showed up, except those he’d ordered to be there, and so he continued his business. When the barrels were loaded onto the truck, it drove away. Only the driver and Gerald knew where the load was going. The others had to do with a big cheque and the orders to shut up or be killed if this information came out.

Gerald genuinely hoped he wouldn’t have to follow up on that threat.


Ethan came downstairs for dinner. It was a sober meal and neither he nor his mother had much to say. Neither of them needed to speak because there wasn’t a lot to say.

Harriet left during the day. It wasn’t one of her regular jobs. She didn’t say she was going to work when she left. Ethan had a good reason to believe she hadn’t found a new client and hadn’t gone to massage them for the first time, either.

She had returned disappointed. Normally, she at least would be glad to have worked. It wasn’t a nice side-job for Gerald Monroe either – she’d come back with a wallet with four hundred-dollar bills; he tips well and might be paying her not to speak of any irregularities she saw when she walked through the power plant, on her way to his office.

It gave Ethan food for thought. He’d looked at the map the entire afternoon, but only now did his mind shift to his mother. It had been two months now. It was no secret Harriet was seeing someone. Ethan didn’t want to know who it was – he only needed to know what she thought about his father.

“Mom?” he asked.

“Mhm?”

“Do you miss dad?”

Harriet put down her fork and knife. For a moment, silence hung between them. Harriet either delayed having to answer or needed more time to get her thoughts together. Luckily, Ethan had more than enough time to wait for her answer.

“Of course I do,” Harriet eventually said. “I miss him, Ethan. It’s just…” She sighed when she couldn’t find the right words. Or she was holding back information. Either way, Ethan’s curiosity was piqued and he wanted to know what this was about.

“What is it?” he asked.

Harriet was backed into a corner. She couldn’t back away now. She owed Ethan a response, especially since a lot had changed after he’d left for the mental health center.

“I loved him,” Harriet said. Her lips curled into a faint smile when she remembered Tony Green. “I loved him with all my heart. But I’ve always felt like I could never know him.”

More mysteries. This time Harriet did not offer any more clues. Such a feeling was hard to capture succinctly into words, but she tried nonetheless, so Ethan could understand.

“There was something about him I can’t explain. I was pulled to him, even as a kid. Of course I was interested, he was a mystery. When we were together, it felt like I’d known him all my life, yet I knew nothing at all.” She paused, lost in her memories of the man she decided to spend her life with. Even Ethan could see that, as the silence dragged on, the nostalgia of the past turned into the indifference of the present.

She turned to her son again. “Tony was a good man. And I miss him. But I can never say I really knew who he was. Or that I loved him as much as the last years. It’s weird to fall out of love with someone for the same reasons you fell for them. But we were still friends. We cared.”

Ethan had seen that. Again, the process had to be slow and gradual and the changes so small he hadn’t noticed it while it was going on. in hindsight, it was easier to see the love between his parents slowly decreased, but they still cared for one another and were closer friends than they’d ever been.

Ethan wasn’t sure what to do with this info now it was presented to him. He tried to picture the man his father was, and how even his mom didn’t feel like she truly knew him. How could Ethan figure out who his father was and what he wanted from the caves if even his mother couldn’t be sure who he was?

“Thanks,” Ethan nodded.

He found that he lost his appetite. Not that he had a big one, anyway. Since Tim’s disappearance, he didn’t feel like eating much, though he knew he should try. He stood from his chair and excused himself. He turned to walk to his room, but heard his mother’s chair scrape over the floor, too, as she stood up.

“Ethan.” She spoke with a quicker, more urgent tone. Ethan turned and looked at his mother, who still had one last thing to say. Something she wanted him to know, if only for her own peace.

“I’ve found someone to love,” she said. “I’ve been meeting him, too. Please know I’m not trying to replace your father.”

“It just happened out of nowhere, right?” Ethan asked, to see how she would react.

Harriet nodded, almost in relief. “Yes. It was unintentional.”

Ethan had no reason to believe this wasn’t how it happened. A couple of weeks after Tony died, maybe, she looked at a man she knew in a different way and, in an attempt to comfort her, he may have fallen for her as well. It seemed perfect.

Then why didn’t she come clean about the man she loved earlier?

“Yeah, right,” Ethan said and he went upstairs.

Chapter Text

Lex stared out the window.

There was nothing to see. The streets, lights, passing cars and bikes, and anything else. Nothing she hadn’t already seen before.

It was a good sight. Lex looked outside, so she didn’t have to look in.

Hannah was a mess. When she wasn’t crying, she wandered restlessly or cried in bed. She didn’t leave her room. She only allowed Lex to come close. While she stared, Hannah sat on the bed and watched the clock. She didn’t dare to ask it: when is he coming back?

Lex couldn’t answer. Hannah couldn’t speak without crying. The silence comforted them both as they let their minds go numb and focused on nothing at all.

Her phone rang. Lex looked at the screen. River.

She hung up. She didn’t want to talk to him or anyone else right now.

She shut off her phone, to block him from calling again, and Hannah sobbed. Lex wished she had any tears left, because she felt like a monster, not crying for her missing brother. Those and many other thoughts ran through her mind as the street lights turned on and the sky darkened.


Home.

It had to be around midnight, but the lights were on in the living room and Tim’s room.

Tom walked into his house. He turned off the lights in the living room. Nobody was there. At this point, why go to a living room when the entire house had a dark and gloomy atmosphere about it?

Slowly, Tom walked up the stairs. They creaked; he didn’t want to wake Hannah or Lex if they’d gone to bed already. Tom didn’t go to his bedroom; instead, he went to his son’s.

Jane was there. She sat on his bed. Their eyes locked briefly.

Tom hadn’t been in his son’s room in a long while. Even before he disappeared, it must’ve been a long time. Coming in now, he almost broke down again.

It was exactly as Tim had left it. If Jane had picked something up, she placed it back where she found it. The bed wasn’t made, the crooked blinds were halfway pulled down. His stuff was scattered over his desk, the floor, the cabinets. Clothes and toys alike, dropped without care. He’d put them away at a later time when one of his parents told him to.

That moment would never come again.

Jane stood up. She did not take her eyes off of him. Neither spoke; they knew what they were thinking of.

Tom opened his arms at the same time Jane walked to him and embraced him. Together, they cried for their son, wherever he may be. At that moment, for a split second, they could feel his presence. A presence that would never leave, so long as this snapshot, captured in his room, would exist.


Tonight would be as taxing as last night. He had little time to sleep before he left again.

Which meant his mind ran rampant.

Trent could not sleep. He probably should get some, but it didn’t come. His mind was with Tim and Max, and with everything that was going on – everything that, if he told anyone, they would declare him insane for. And they’d imprison him.

He wasn’t insane. He was just doing what needed to be done, even if it wasn’t pretty.

He watched the clock. He couldn’t sleep, so why stay in bed? Besides, it was almost time to get back up anyway.

As quietly as he could, he stepped out of his bed. He got dressed and walked out of the bedroom, out of the apartment, into his car, and he drove into the night.

He hadn’t noticed his wife had been awake as well.


Sam was ready to go home. He’d done some good work, even worked overtime. Now, it was time to go home to his wife and daughter. To the family he silently failed every time he caved for his selfish desires.

He shouldn’t think like that. He put that behind him. It would only get him in a bad time by the time he arrived home. He shouldn’t try to give Charlotte a bad mood either because of his wandering, lustful thoughts.

As he stood up, the lights flickered.

It wasn’t usual. If it did happen, it flickered for a few seconds in a room or two. Never had Sam experienced the lights in the entire station flicker for more than a minute. Everyone else who was present at that time believed it was strange that it didn’t stop.

Nobody found the source.


Old man Hidgens watched out of the window. The lights flickered in the nursing home and the streets. No doubt they were flickering and failing in all of Hatchetfield.

As Henry watched the lights dance, he shook his head.

“Tick, tock,” he said. “Tick, tock.”

A nurse came to check on him. Henry said nothing, his mind stuck in the beautiful moment where time briefly was tangible and within reach and all was good.


Something fell.

Lex saw it, but she couldn’t see what it was. She needed to comfort Hannah, who was scared out of her mind because the lights flickered, as their flashlights and phones had near the caves.

But outside, something fell. Lex was sure of it.

The shadows fell to the ground. With the little available light, it was hard to see what hit the floor. In that scary moment, Lex had no idea what was big enough to watch it fall – or what could even be out there of which many would fall at this moment.


Just like that, the lights became normal again.

Charlotte had watched the lights flicker and looked at the light bulbs as they returned to normal. She slowly stood up, not taking her eyes off of them.

She turned her head to the window. Something was going on outside. Something she could not explain with science or common sense. Something she could not yet see.

Charlotte walked to the front door in her night robe. She did not hesitate.

What she found outside was beyond her wildest imagination.

Birds. Dead birds on the ground, one or more for every square yard. Dead birds on the grass, on the asphalt, as far as the eye can see under the street lights.

A bad omen!

Charlotte closed the door and prayed. A bad omen. She couldn’t tell what had happened, what bad things were going to happen. All she knew was that this was generally bad and she prayed it wouldn’t affect her family.


Finally, some light.

Tim stumbled out of the caves. Alone.

Where had Ethan gone?

It didn’t matter. It looked like the storm had died down and the sun shone brightly. A brand new day had begun and Tim must’ve fallen asleep during the storm. It had to be noon, or maybe already even afternoon.

He looked at his clothes. They were dirty. His mom would definitely not like that. Tim wasn’t concerned they’d missed him – it had only been an evening, after all. When he came home, he surely expected his mother to rant about trying to keep his clothes clean (after hugging him because she’d been worried). Then she’d send him upstairs to change into clean clothes, after which he expected his life to continue as usual.

Something was off, though. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but as he looked around the area in front of the caves, he knew something changed. It had been dark and raining and he hadn’t taken a good look at his surroundings, but Tim could’ve sworn some furniture had been dumped in the area.

There was no furniture here.

Maybe they’d been swept up with the storm. Maybe, while Tim was in the caves, someone had taken them away. Whatever the case, they weren’t there anymore. In fact, it looked like they had never even been there.

But Tim didn’t care. He was cold and hungry, and though the sun helped with the former, he still needed the latter. He just wanted to go home after what had been quite an eventful evening.

But to go home without his bike (he could not find it anywhere) meant he was going to have to walk all the way home. Luckily, he knew the way, so he wouldn’t have to worry about that already. His legs would be dead by the time he arrived, but he would at least be home.

It was a beautiful day – nothing Tim would expect after the grey days of early November and late October, not after the immense rainstorm that raged yesterday. He didn’t see any signs that it had rained, or stormed. No branches that had fallen on the ground; no puddles that would remain there for another four days; no dark clouds loomed over the town and threatened another storm.

Tim was too stumped by the sudden change in weather to notice how odd the cars were. While he pondered about the weather and how quickly the winds could blow away dark storm clouds and how easily the sun dried up large puddles, he found his way back home.

It looked exactly as he had left it and yet, some things stood out. There was a car in the driveway that wasn’t his mom’s or dad’s. A strange motorcycle he didn’t know blocked the car from driving away. Both looked weird, old-fashioned; Tim knew nobody who drove these. The house itself was different, too. It looked newer. Better taken care of.

That was the second clue that something was wrong. He wasn’t paying much attention, though. He could always ask mom or dad why they were in the driveway and if they cleaned the house.

He took the spare key out of his pocket. He’d been lucky enough to grab it before he and his sister left for Witchwood Forest. Without this, he would’ve had to ring the doorbell or, if nobody opened, wait for someone to come home. And he really wanted that sandwich and shower.

The key didn’t fit in the lock. Tim frowned and looked at it. Yes, he held the spare key for the front door. Why didn’t it work? Had his parents talked about changing the locks? Had they done so while he was away? Tim didn’t understand what was going on, but he knew something was definitely wrong.

The door opened. Tim was ready to apologize to mom, dad, whoever opened the door; ready to go in. He was left speechless, however, when a teenage boy he’d never met stood in the doorway and looked down on him. He leaned against the door and wasn’t happy to see this kid.

“Who are you and why are you messing with the door?” the boy asked.

Tim didn’t speak for a few seconds but eventually found the words.

“I live here,” he said quickly. Did dad or mom let him in? Had Lex made a new friend? No, Tim would’ve known. He kind of looked like Ethan, though there also were differences.

“No, you don’t,” the boy said. Tim didn’t know what to do next. This was his house! Why didn’t this teenager let him in?

“No, I do live here,” Tim tried again, but it was a weak attempt. Before he asked to see his mother or father, the teenager shook his head and snickered, as if Tim was telling a joke and wasting his time.

“Do you, now?” he said.

The conversation stopped when a girl walked up the driveway. Tim knew only because the teenager shifted his gaze from him to the girl. She was pretty, but Tim didn’t like this. He thought she was going to call him out, too, and say he wasn’t at the right place.

Instead, she stayed near the road and waved at the teenager.

“Tom!” she yelled. “Let’s go!”

A loving smile came to the teenager’s face.

“Coming, Jane!”

Tom brushed past Tim, who still wasn’t sure what was happening and how he should react to the situation. He stared at the teenagers that looked vaguely familiar while they walked to Tom’s motorcycle.

“Who’s that kid?” Jane asked. Without looking back, Tom shrugged.

“I dunno,” he said. They wore their helmets and Tom drove them away. He didn’t look at Tim again, but Jane did. She seemed to pity the boy at the front door.

Tim turned to that same door again. It was left open at a crack; Tim could walk inside if he wanted to.

Did he want to know all the weirdness piled up in a giant mess?

He saw the newspaper on the first step. It spoke about a nuclear disaster on the European mainland that happened half a year or so ago, and how it still impacted Europe. Tim bent over and looked at the article, and then the date. Tim almost fell over.

November 6, 1986.

Chapter Text

1986

When Tom walked out of the house, he didn’t close the door. Tim stared at the crack – it begged him to be opened, and Tim didn’t hesitate any longer to enter the house. The newspaper article with the date slipped his mind – that had to be a prank. It wasn’t really 1986.

He looked around. It was the same, but different. The house was still here, the walls were at the right place, but the insides were different. Different wallpapers, pictures on the wall, furniture. Normally, if Tim turned right he’d walk in the living room leading into the dining room. That was reversed now. He looked at a table that stood in the same space where he remembered the couch once stood.

The TV was on. It aired something old, and a woman sat on the couch to watch. She sat with her back to Tim and hadn’t heard him yet.

“Mom?” Tim asked. It didn’t feel right, but he hoped the woman on the couch was his mother. She did have the same brown hair, though the woman’s hair was wavier. She turned her head and almost fainted as her eyes became big.

“Max?” she breathed. She stood up and walked to him. Tim was too shocked to back away. That wasn’t his mother. The lady crouched next to him and examined him and the scratches on his face. She stared at him and her cautiously happy gaze shifted.

“You’re not Max,” she said. She grabbed his arm and stared intensely. “Where is he? Where is he? Where’s Max?”

She raised her voice, shouted. In her desperation, she squeezed Tim’s arms, held them tightly, did not let go. Tim tried to wrestle out of the iron grasp.

“You’re hurting me!” Tim said.

“Where’s—”

Tim pulled away and somehow freed himself. He pulled so hard he stumbled backward, but he found his footing and backed away from the strange woman, safely out of reach of her sharp nails and painful grasps.

Time to get out of here.

“Wait!” the woman yelled. She didn’t have the energy to go after him. She fell to her knees and burst into tears. “When will he come back?”

Tim didn’t hear this. He ran out of the house and went to the place where he would certainly find his mother.


Becky walked down the hospital hallways. She was happy with her job. She did hate how she got this far in her career, but at least she had a stable job. She had a roof over her head. Though she was alone, it was leagues better than when she was forced to share the house with Stanley.

“Becky?” nurse Schwarz said. “I’ve heart Jodie’s daughter fell ill with a fever. She wants to stay home with her. She can’t do the night shift anymore. Could you take over?”

“Because I have no family?” Becky finished the thought nurse Schwarz had in her head.

Stanley ran away three months ago, leaving Becky for a younger who lived in Clivesdale, and with whom he moved out of state. At least, that’s what everyone in Hatchetfield believes. Nobody questioned her motives or role when she spoke to the police.

“I’m sorry,” nurse Schwarz stammered – it was genuine. “I didn’t mean to—”

“I know,” Becky said. “It’s fine.” She did not mind taking over the late shift. Work was the one thing she had these days. She could socialize and help those that needed help. Her one purpose in life.

Nurse Schwarz only nodded and changed the schedule. Becky looked over her colleague’s shoulder. She was still listed as Becky Barnes. That was Stanley’s last name, and Becky knew he could never return unless he found a way to beat death.

“Could you change that to Becky Green, please?”

“Of course,” nurse Schwarz said. There was a certain gratification in watching the ‘Barnes’ be deleted and ‘Green’, her maiden name, written in its place. It felt right.

 “Thank you,” Becky said with a smile.

“No problem.” Nurse Schwarz gave her a sympathetic look. “It looks better. You never deserved such a douche anyway. It’s a good thing he left.”

“Yeah,” Becky said. She walked further down the hallway, to her next patient, peace coming over her. Finally, his absence truly felt right. She was ready to take the next step and make her life that much better.


Charlotte biked to the high school. She was free as she could ever be on her bike. She had her daily exercise and freedom until she arrived at school, where she’d inevitably fall to the background and be forgotten. she was certain half of her classmates didn’t know she existed. Her friends had moved away, so she was alone at school.

Charlotte didn’t care, though – she had her grandfather and that was what mattered. On her way to the school, she did come across something she hadn’t expected to see: a dead bird.

Charlotte stepped off her bike and bent over. She had no idea how long it had been lying there, but it was still warm. This must not have happened too long ago.

Poor bird. Who could have done this to you?

Nothing had happened. Looking at the bird, Charlotte could not see wounds or infections or anything that could have killed this bird. Something else had happened unless the bird had somehow succumbed to a cardiac arrest mid-flight. Birds don’t usually fly down and choose the sidewalk to peacefully die.

Charlotte stood up. She stared at the bird. Even as she got on her bike and continued her way to school, her mind stayed with the fragile corpse of the bird.

How could such a small thing made her question her own place in the world? How could it bring her comfort and distress at the same time?

It was a wonder of God, Charlotte decided. Life was given but could be taken away. And people usually had no choice in the matter.


Today was a good and calm day at the police station.

This is what it should be. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Never in the history of Hatchetfield had the police force had been ridiculed to this degree. One case had shaken them all. They had been sleepy, complacent in their work. They always did good and honest work, never corrupt, never to harm those they swore to protect.

One boy goes missing, completely off the radar, and it’s the biggest story ever in the town.

Ewan Monroe listened to the radio. One month ago, Max Houston disappeared without a trace and even after this time, they still hadn’t found any piece of evidence that could help. Therefore, they asked the public for any tips. The newscaster’s tone was condescending; as if his words were directed to the listeners, but the tone was aimed at the incompetent police.

The police couldn’t be blamed. They had not found any evidence. It was strange, but the truth. They weren’t lazy; they definitely didn’t want the kid to stay missing, as many suggested. They just didn’t have any leads. No footprints, no strange white vans or strange behaviors, no strangers arrived in town or left when Max disappeared.

There was absolutely nothing. That was extremely frustrating.

Ewan was the main officer on the case. He worked on other cases as well since, in Max’s case, there was nothing to work with. He’d filed the report – went to go fencing one afternoon, never returned home. People looked everywhere but found nothing. It was as if Max Houston had been plucked off the street and the perpetrator vanished. The only things that ever pointed to Max existing were his birth certificate, his elementary school diploma as well as his home.

Since today seemed to be one of the slower days, he didn’t expect phone calls. He picked up anyway.

“Ewan Monroe,” he said in the horn.

One of his farmer friends had called. Apparently, some of his sheep were lying dead in the pasture, and he wanted to police to look at it and to hopefully start a case because he thought it was weird.

Well. It was better than sitting behind his desk and filing all sorts of reports. Yes, he was getting older and inching ever closer to his retirement, but it didn’t mean he couldn’t get out in the field (literally) to investigate.


While Claudia Monroe drove her car, she looked at herself in one of the mirrors. She couldn’t have been more nervous than today. Everything still looked fine. Claudia always looked her best – to succeed in the business world, she not only needed to look impeccable, but she needed to be aware of everything that was going on. she needed to be on top of her game, always. Anything less than perfect was punished immediately. Any mistake cost her more than anything her male, sometimes underqualified colleagues were given.

Women shouldn’t stay home, she’d often heard. Women shouldn’t do this kind of work.

But if they were all better than her, Claudia thought gleefully, why didn’t one of them become the new director of the nuclear power plant instead of her?

From the mirror, she looked at her disinterested daughter. She was an absolute. Claudia hadn’t said a word when she stepped in the car. She figured her daughter might not have time to get ready and would touch up in the car. This was not the case, however, as Claudia feared. She shook her head.

How could a daughter of hers actively want to look like a homeless person?

“Linda, look at you!” Claudia said. She no longer ignored her daughter’s untidiness. “Did you forget to comb your hair?”

Unlike her mother, Linda Monroe made no efforts of looking at Claudia. In her mind, she should already be glad Linda wanted to answer the question.

“Just like I forgot to brush my teeth and put on fresh underwear,” Linda said. She specifically mentioned these to rile her mother up. There was more she hadn’t done, but her mother wasn’t worth the effort. Within an hour, she’d forget all the reasons.

“You should try to fix that as soon as possible when you arrive at school,” Claudia said. “You’re not going to get very far if you don’t look impeccable.”

Mind and body should be separated. Claudia believed everyone should get the same chances. Unfortunately, as Claudia’s experiences proved, women didn’t get very far unless they were at least conventionally pretty and presentable. Men could show up to job interviews with untidy hair and get the job – a woman with the same competence was told to leave if she looked like a slob.

“Gee, I wish there was someone to tell me to do so,” Linda said sarcastically. Claudia couldn’t tell whether Linda looked at herself in the window or if she looked outside.

“You’re fifteen! You’re old enough for me not to have to tell you,” Claudia said. It was good to take the initiative – but it shouldn’t be something she had to be told to do. Not combing your hair one day was one thing, neglecting personal hygiene another.

“Linda, are you listening to me?”

“No.”

Claudia shook her head. Teenagers.

Oh well. Soon enough, she’d be at school, where she could try to fix her appearance, and Claudia could focus on the first day of her new job.

Chapter Text

1986

Everyone at school wore strange clothes.

Tim didn’t know what to think. Was this how things were at high school? Had he missed how Lex complained about having to go to school dressed like this? He couldn’t even pinpoint what he saw: bright colors, weird hairstyles, … everything so over the top, they must’ve scheduled Halloween a week late and forced everyone to dress according to the same theme of the 80s.

Tim stumbled through the doors Ethan, Lex, River and Jenny also walked through. He saw the missing posters but ignored them. After all, he knew a girl went missing. Except these missing posters displayed the information on Max Houston, not Deb Harrington.

Somehow, things were worse in the hallways. He couldn’t say if anything changed, but even the teachers had been roped into the Halloween dress-up party. The students packed the hallway and Tim wondered how he’d find the principal’s office in this place.

“You look good, Harriet.”

Tim recognized that voice. A little further way stood the girl Tom drove away, with two of her friends. Her name was Jane, wasn’t it? One of the girls said thanks – that was probably Harriet.

Since Tim didn’t know anyone and since he happened to see them, he decided to go to them. It was easier than clinging to the first teenager who passed him. At least Jane might be able to take him to the principal’s office, or give directions. She seemed nice.

He walked towards them. Jane caught him as he stopped, and her friends followed her gaze.

“I know you,” Jane said when Tim looked at her. “Why were you at Tom’s place?”

Tim couldn’t answer. Tom already ridiculed him, he didn’t need these girls’ ridicule, either.

“I’m looking for my mother,” he said truthfully.

Jane and her friend giggled. Harriet didn’t.

“This isn’t kindergarten,” the third friend said and Jane seemed to like this comment. Tim didn’t let this get him down, however.

“My mom’s the principal here.”

“Mr. Hobbs is your mom?” Jane laughed. Now even Harriet couldn’t resist a giggle.

“Do yourself a favor and leave,” the third said.

Tim listened. If this was how they treated him, he wasn’t staying any longer. He didn’t even want to look for his mother anymore. He didn’t want other students to laugh at him when he asked to see the principal and mentioned she was his mother.

But his mom never said a word about any Mr. Hobbs.

Tim ran out of the double doors and off the playground, though students just stood around and talked rather than played. He drew attention, but he didn’t care. So long as he could get out of here.

Mom wasn’t here. So if she wasn’t at school, then maybe his dad was at the police station. Though at this point, Tim hoped more than he knew.


Ewan easily found Carl Raymond’s pasture. It wasn’t hard to miss; a tractor stood by the side of the road and Carl himself waved at Ewan when he saw the police car had finally arrived. Ewan pulled up beside the tractor and stepped out of his car. He walked onto the pasture through the opened gate, as Carl ran up to him.

Even from the short glance, Ewan could see things weren’t right. This piece of land was flat and surrounded on all sides by barbed wire. All sheep in the pasture were lying; not a single sheep was still standing. If Ewan had driven by, he would not have guessed something was wrong; he would’ve thought they were asleep or resting.

“Thanks for coming,” Carl said, amicably shaking Ewan’s hand. Ewan shook it as well.

“Thank you for having faith,” Ewan said. After the disappearance of Max, nobody had faith in the police anymore. They’d rather call the fire services for something the police were authorized to do. “What happened here?”

Carl shrugged.

“I hope you could say that,” he said, as he led the police officer to the middle of the patch, where most sheep lied.

“Were they sick?” Ewan asked, hoping to get some information. If they were sick, maybe it could be at the heart of the strange mass death. If not, something else must have happened. Something that might be more sinister than Carl may suspect.

The farmer shook his head. “No. They were all healthy yesterday.”

That opened up many possibilities. Unfortunately, Ewan wasn’t that familiar with caring for sheep and thus, it seemed his options were limited. The only ones who could say what may have caused these deaths, were Carl or some sort of professors or other farmers. Given the size of Hatchetfield and the size of the professors’ egos, it was highly unlikely they wanted to assist in this case.

So, Ewan had to draw a conclusion he didn’t have enough evidence for until at least an autopsy was performed.

"I don't know, Carl,” Ewan said. “I can only think of bad intent.”

“Bad intent?” Carl said incredulously. “I haven’t got enemies. And who in their right minds would kill thirty-three perfectly fine sheep?”

He didn’t believe anyone had killed the sheep. There was no blood and no sheep were maimed. He left them on the pasture last night and none of them showed signs of being hurt before Carl left.

The question also puzzled Ewan. Who would do this? A vandal, no doubt. Someone who did this for fun. Someone who found a way to kill them in a short span of time – they’d be scattered if they’d been attacked individually – and who took pleasure in seeing animals suffer, possibly for the heck of it.

“I’ll look into it,” Ewan promised. Carl looked at him in relief. “Someone will come to pick them up. I’ll have them undergo an autopsy.”

Without an autopsy, the deaths would never be solved. At the very least, if they couldn’t find anything, the thought of the autopsy had given Carl some comfort. It would take a while or a lot of money before his herd would be this size again.

“Thank you, Ewan,” Carl said. He walked Ewan back to his police car. “If I’d called the station, they’d laugh at me.”

Ewan nodded. If Carl decided to call the police station, he may not have been put through. The poor secretary would have rolled her eyes, told Carl she took it seriously, and then ignored it. More prank calls had come in and this was something the secretary could not take seriously, despite the urgent tone and the older voice. As the respect faltered, more prank calls came in.

“It’s not the most urgent,” Ewan agreed with his friend. “But if it’s important to you, it’s important to me. I’ll let you know when the results come in.”

They came to the car. It was going to take Ewan twenty minutes to drive back to the station – some of that time was spent on the dirt roads leading everywhere and nowhere, and a smaller portion on the concrete roads of the Hatchetfield city center. First bumpy, then smooth. If the chief found out, Ewan would have to clean the car himself. The man cared more for prestige and image than the good work the officers did.

“I’d like to thank you again,” Carl said. “Will I see you at church?”

Ewan frowned.

“I thought you didn’t go to church?”

Ewan wasn’t a man of faith anymore. The community was nice, but after the affair, he’d been cast out. He still kept in touch with some of them, but Carl was not a religious man. Carl liked the community aspect, too, but never expressed the want to go to church.

Even now, Carl shrugged.

“Not really, but there’s this new pastor. He seems nice,” Carl said. There was a short pause. “We could check it out together.”

“Maybe when this mystery is solved, okay?” Ewan said. Even if a pastor was nice, it didn’t mean Ewan went back to church. He didn’t feel comfortable anymore. The pastor would probably have heard about the affair already, with how quickly the citizens’ dirty laundry was hung out to dry to newcomers.

But hey, if Carl asked after Ewan had figured out what exactly happened to the sheep, he wouldn’t say no for a sense of community.

Carl nodded. “Okay.”

He thanked Ewan again for everything he’s done and is about to do. Ewan took it all in, told him no problem, and stepped into his car. He already anticipated the bumpy road before he turned the key and started the car.


Tim ran. Though his legs screamed that he was tired, he did not stop. He needed to get to the police station and see his father, have him hug him, tell him it was okay, it was just a bad dream.

It looked a lot like a nightmare wasn’t going to end, as he thought it would.

At long last, he arrived at the police station. He managed to walk in through the front door and past the receptionist, who was busy taking a call. As his dad had sometimes brought him to the offices, Tim knew exactly where he needed to be. It seemed to be quiet today, as he did not meet anyone on his way.

He pushed the door open to his father’s office. Behind the desk, however, sat an older man who was as surprised as Tim was. He’d never seen this police officer before, and he wore the wrong uniform, too. Though, that might just be a new one.

The officer stood up and looked at the boy.

“Are you okay?”

Tim gulped before he responded. “I’m looking for my father. He works here.”

“Who’s your father?”

“Tom Houston.”

The officer’s face was blank for a few seconds. Then, he frowned at the boy.

“Are you serious?” he asked. “Is this some kind of joke?”

Tim shook his head as his hope sunk. “No, sir.”

The officer sighed. If he believed Tim, it didn’t show. He walked from behind the desk and came closer to the boy.

“What’s your name?”

“Tim Houston,” he said. Somehow, this was also a bad answer, because the officer shook his head.

“Tim…” He took a closer look at Tim’s scraped face and focused on that instead. “Did he do this to you? Did Tom hurt you?”

Tim shook his head once. “No.”

Somehow, Tim started to fear teenager Tom, who left Tim’s house and might be the one the officer referred to. Was he that bad? Had Tim been saved by Jane from something worse? Or did this man have a bone to pick with this Tom? Could he be the father? Only the mother had been home, though the officer was likely a grandfather by now.

“You can tell me if he did,” the officer said. “I’ll make sure he’ll never hurt you again.”

“He didn’t do it,” Tim said. The scrapes came from the caves. and when he ran out again, everything had changed. People wore strange clothes, technology had been set back a couple decades and the people in the streets did not look familiar at all. He did not even recognize one, which was odd, because he usually saw them at school, as they walked or biked or hung out in the park or Witchwood Forest.

Something had changed. Something the newspaper already told him this morning, which he fiercely hadn’t wanted to believe when he read it.

“What’s the date?” Tim asked cautiously.

“It’s November 6,” the officer said.

“And the year?”

“1986.”

The ground shook under his feet. Tim tried to catch his breath. The shock rendered him taciturn, unable to speak or even register anything that went on around him for a few seconds.

It really happened. He time traveled. He was no longer in 2019. Many questions popped up; questions he had no answers for. All these questions were a variation of ‘how did this happen?’. His mind wandered to the supernatural, to aliens, to magic, to hidden technology, to nuclear fallout. Nothing seemed too outlandish anymore; he wasted his time performing stupid magic tricks – tricks! – when all this time, real magic could’ve been out there. Magic that brought Tim to an entirely different time period in familiar Hatchetfield.

The officer noticed the shock of the boy and realized this wasn’t part of the ‘prank’. He kneeled beside the kid, for as far as his aging body allowed it, and looked in the boy’s eyes.

“I’m going to call the hospital,” he said in a calm comforting tone. “A nurse will come to pick you up so she can clean those wounds. We can continue this at a later date. Is that okay?”

Tim barely remembered to nod. He watched the officer stand up and sitting behind the desk. The older officer called the hospital and Tim learned his name. Ewan Monroe. He didn’t know anyone named Ewan, but he did know River. Was Ewan his grandfather, or an even older relative? Tim couldn’t tell, and even then he barely had the motivation to think about it. His mind was consumed by two things, completely co-dependent, one just as scary as the other.

One: he had no idea how he traveled through time.

Two: he had no idea how to go home.

Chapter Text

1986

Claudia Monroe parked her car in the main employee car park in front of the nuclear power plant’s gate. She took all her documents and shut the door. She was already running late. That was Linda’s fault, she wanted to argue with her mother.

Claudia could have understood at any other moment, but today was too important. What a horrible first impression she made if she were any later than the twelve minutes she’s lost! The board of directors would kill her. She could already hear their thoughts: why did we pick a woman again? She’ll only be late and think about her pretty appearance.

Claudia stepped to the opened gate and spotted a man she’d wanted to avoid. Now he’d seen her, however, he waved at her and wanted to talk to her – so she walked even faster, or would be held up even more.

“Miss Monroe!” The man waved and smiled. Claudia sent him a polite smile.

“Hi, Henry.”

Henry Hidgens had the worst luck. He could have had a bright future, with her guidance, if it weren’t for that creep. It destroyed any sense of self-worth and made him a bit of an imbecile. If Claudia had been allowed to continue to work with him, he may have been a professor. Now, he was the power plant’s janitor, and only because his father Bernard had pity on him and gave him the job.

“I’m glad to see you here,” Henry said, stumbling over his words. “I mean, you're the first female director here, that’s a pretty big step.”

Claudia nodded. She silently counted the seconds. Didn’t he have work to do?

“I know,” she responded, “but I need to—”

“I have a present for you,” Henry said and he rummaged through his bag. Claudia tapped her foot – this was taking too long. If this took any longer than ten seconds, she’d excuse herself and leave. She’d pick up her present when she’d go home.

“Here,” he said. “I think you’ll like it.”

He’d wrapped it sloppily and had written her name on it. As Claudia took it, she could already feel it was some sort of book. Based on the topic, she might read it and put it on her shelf. If it wasn’t something for her, she’d probably give it to Linda or give it to the local library.

She didn’t unwrap it yet. She was still running late. she only had taken the gift now because she respected him and his father. She’d been one second away from telling him to give it to her after hours.

“Thanks, Henry,” she said, putting the gift in her bag. “I’m sorry, but I’m already running late. I have to go now.”

She pushed past him and walked through the opened gate. Behind her, Henry proclaimed: “We’re all behind you!” Claudia did not pay attention to him anymore. Her feet could not keep up with her mind, which was already in her new office.


Claudia smiled when she set foot in the power plant building.

This wasn’t the first time she’d been here. After Bernard pushed her forward as a candidate for the position of CEO, she had taken all opportunities to visit. She had researched the site thoroughly and could perfectly recite its history and goals. She knew perfectly from public records what was going on inside the plant, but could never wait to get her hands on internal private reports. She specifically wanted documents from the last five years, to see how things were actually going. Bernard told her to be patient, that she’d see those numbers when she was ready.

Today, however, was the first day she walked through the large halls as its new director. She was here based on merit – not because Bernard had ‘installed’ her, but because she proved she was the best candidate. And she could not wait to get started.

A woman walked toward her, holding many bundles of paper.

“Good morning, Miss Monroe,” the woman said. “I’m Nathalie, your assistant.”

Claudia guessed Nathalie would have shaken her hand if she hadn’t been holding the papers. Those were the figures, Claudia assumed. She didn’t ask for them yet, so she wouldn’t come over as impatient or greedy.

“Good morning, Nathalie.”

“First of all, congratulations on the job,” Nathalie continued. “You’re going to be very busy. You already have an appointment with a journalist. There’s clear interest in you.”

A journalist already. Claudia believed they’d write an article about her today or tomorrow. She envisioned it as a speculative piece on the place of women in the world, without her involvement. She never expected a journalist to sit down with her so she could tell her story and share it with Hatchetfield. It was fun, but so long as they didn’t flock to the power plant whenever something changed or she did something they didn’t like, she would be even happier.

“I’m well aware,” Claudia said. “Do you have the—”

“The figures, yes,” Nathalie said. “Here you go.”

She handed the bundles of paper to Claudia. She could no longer wait and quickly glanced at the first page. It wasn’t much, but she saw something that did not make a lot of sense. Something was off with these numbers, though she couldn’t immediately put her finger on it.

She turned the page and looked at the second one. Again, something wasn’t right. She couldn’t figure it out yet, but she was going to. Her first real challenge as the new director! Unless…

“And you’re sure these are the right ones?”

Nathalie nodded. “Yes, I’m sure.”

Claudia looked at the papers. This was a challenge, one she wholeheartedly accepted. She was going to figure out what was wrong, and why, and possibly how to fix this.

She looked at her assistant. “Thanks, Nathalie. I’ll see you later.”

Nathalie nodded and returned to her office. Claudia barely noticed her anymore. She barely noticed the world, as she scanned every word and number on the papers she had just received, to get a first clue as to what was and wasn’t said in these figures.


The numbers did not add up. She’d asked the relevant people to tell her what they knew and their numbers did not match what Claudia had in front of her. This could only mean one thing: Bernard Hidgens was covering something up.

Claudia stormed through the hallways, to Bernard’s old office. She wasn’t supposed to move into this office until tomorrow, but she could not wait. She wanted Bernard to have some peace, but damn it, they talked about this. He was going to tell her everything and he hadn’t.

The employees who walked by had their first look at the new director: a fierce woman who stomped through the halls with thundering eyes. A couple of employees even moved out of the way.

Then she saw someone she had hoped she'd never see again – or at least not in the short term. A man in a nice suit, combed hair, a notebook with pen in hand. He sat near Bernard’s office, waiting for the new director to show up.

He got what he wanted. Unfortunately, Claudia was not in the mood nor looking forward to speaking with Trent Houston at this moment. When he noticed her, he stood up and lifted his hand to greet her.

“Hi, Claudia,” he said.

Claudia stopped and shot him the biggest annoyed look she could muster. It was too easy to direct her anger for Bernard to Trent. She wasn’t going to hold back, either.

“Really, Trent?” Claudia said, stopping to talk. “Why do you even bother coming here?”

“I’m here for the interview,” he explained, holding up the notebook. He quickly pulled it back and even dared to take a step in her direction. “There’s genuine interest in you, Claudia. What you’re doing is short of revolutionary.”

“Yes, but is your intent just as genuine?” Claudia fired back at him. Trent felt the fury emitting from her, but he did not back down. He still braved the storm, to get the interview he wanted, and maybe a little more.

“You’re amazing and the people deserve to know that.” He took another step, and Claudia glared. “I can’t get you out of my mind. It’s… it’s hard, Claudia. At home, I can’t find peace. It’s a mess. Carol barely talks anymore, Tom is acting out—”

“Then you should get things in order there before you come here,” Claudia suggested.

She walked away from him, but Trent could not let her go. After a few steps, she felt a hand around her arm. She almost slapped it. If Trent’s intention was to gain her attention again, he succeeded.

“Don’t you regret it?” Trent tried again, now completely leaving his job as a journalist out of the conversation. “Don’t you want to try again? Try to make it work this time?”

“No,” Claudia said curtly. What happened in the past should stay in the past. Especially what they once had. Claudia still referred to it as the biggest mistake of her life.

“This appointment has already been rescheduled,” she continued. “Come back at a later time.”

Claudia walked away again.

“Claudia—”

“That’s miss Monroe for you,” she answered as she marched away.

Chapter Text

1986

Officer Ewan Monroe had left the boy in his office. He didn’t want the kid to wander off while he went to greet the nurse that had come to pick Tim up.

Tim didn’t mind. He wanted to be left alone anyway.

He was allowed to sit in Ewan’s chair. While he sat there, his eyes were on the telephone on his desk. It was ugly, blocky, not as handy as a mobile phone, but it served its purpose. That purpose was to give Tim the final confirmation this was the bleak reality, that this was not just a nightmare he couldn’t wake up from.

He grabbed the horn and stared at the phone. He figured out he needed to turn the dial for the numbers. Luckily, his parents had their children memorize their phone numbers, in case they needed to call their parents and their phone had died.

First, he called his father’s number. There was an instant result.

“This number is no longer in use. Please—”

He put the horn back on the blocky horn holder thing and picked it up again to dial his mother’s number. Even then, he hoped at that point against all hope, because he already knew what the answer would be;

“This number—”

Tim slammed the horn on the machine.

It was true. He didn't want it to be, but it was true. He was stuck in a different time period, one he was completely unfamiliar with, with no means of escape. No way to get back. Unless he went into the caves and figured out how he managed to travel through them to get here in the first place.

Until then, Tim sat on Ewan’s chair and looked at the many things on the desk before him. A picture of him, his daughter, and his granddaughter. Some reports scattered around. A lighter that Tim grabbed and put into his pocket on impulse. And among the reports, one of them drew Tim’s attention. Its title left little to the imagination: the missing person case of Max Houston.

Houston. Tim frowned. Didn’t his dad have a brother once?

Tim did not read the report but instead looked at a picture that lay next to it. Two boys smiled in the camera, with a forest in the background. One of them looked like the boy at Tim’s house.

Tim turned the picture around to look at its back. The names of the boys were written on the back: Max and Tom Houston.

Tim had no idea what to make of this, but fear gripped him. Max had gone missing; his dad’s brother was missing. He would never be found. And if Max was never found, did it mean Max used time travel as well? Was Tim missing in 2019? Did Tim go to 1986 while Max ran around in 2019? How would all of this work? It made his brain hurt.

He was taken out of his thoughts when someone knocked on the door. He put the picture back on the desk when Ewan opened the door. He’d knocked to make sure Tim wouldn’t be startled when the door opened. Tim stood up and walked to this side of the desk – he didn’t know if Ewan really wanted the kid to sit in his chair.

“Kid?” he said. “The nurse is here.”

Ewan stepped into the office. Behind him, a nurse in an impeccable white uniform followed, her hair up, a friendly smile on her face. She walked toward Tim.

“Hi,” she said as she crouched down. “I’m nurse Becky, but you can call me Becky. I’m going to take you to the hospital, okay?”

Tim only nodded. It’s not like he had anywhere else to be.

“Let’s go,” Becky said.


Ewan Monroe’s next stop was the Houston house. He needed to check-in, to see if they were doing well, but Tom was the biggest reason for his visit. The oldest Houston boy was not the best citizen, and Ewan wouldn’t be surprised if he grew up to be a troublemaker, either.

Ewan couldn’t put his finger on it, but he never liked Tom Houston. If anything happened, Tom was always a suspect. When it came to petty crime, Ewan always suspected Tom first unless he could be ruled out completely. The one thing Ewan hadn’t suspected him of was Max’s missing case. He could have been responsible for most petty crimes Ewan had encountered, but he never hurt his brother. At least, Ewan hoped Tom didn’t have the capacity for doing such a thing.

When Ewan arrived, he realized he hadn’t met the family in their home since Max vanished. Now he finally came to their house instead of telling them what progress they’d made when he met the family in the office or on the street.

The first thing Ewan noticed was the loud music. It sounded muffled, but it had to be loud enough that anyone who walked by the house could hear it faintly. Ewan guessed that was Tom, destroying his ears for years to come.

The second thing, when Ewan walked to the front door, was that it was open. As if someone forgot to pull it closed and it stayed open at a crack.

“Miss Houston?” Ewan called out. “Carol?”

There came no answer. When he pushed the door further open, the noise of music grew. As Ewan had guessed, it was Tom’s music. If you could still call those loud guitars and screaming music. If he wanted to talk to Tom, he had to follow that noise and eventually made it to the boy’s bedroom.

Tom did not notice the police officer entered the room; he was playing video games while his record player blasted the music of some rock or death metal band – whatever it was, Ewan barely understood what was going on or how such disorganized music could still be called ‘music’, with such abhorrent lyrics talking about death and murder and other terrible things. 

Ewan turned the machine off. The following silence was deafening. Deafening enough for Tom to notice someone came into his room and turned off his music.

He turned away from his game and glared at Ewan.

“Hey! He protested, but Ewan wasn’t fazed. The tension between them had become normal.

“What kind of music was that? Ewan asked, pointing half-heartedly at the record player. Tom shrugged nonchalantly.

“The good kind. One you could never understand, old man,” Tom responded. He stood up and defiantly walked to the officer. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m here for an investigation,” Ewan answered truthfully, keeping his eyes on Tom. The teenager already wasn’t thrilled with the cop’s presence, but hearing that word – investigation – made him shake his head. Trust was hard to find between these two.

“Right, because I did it,” Tom said. “That’s what you want to hear, huh? I did it.” He leaned even closer to say those last words. Tom backed away, creating space between himself and the cop. "I haven't done anything.”

That’s what Tom believed. That’s not necessarily the truth, though. He proclaimed he’d done it with more passion than he defended himself, though Tom still technically didn’t know what was going on. Or did he, and was he just playing with Ewan?

Ewan’s gaze glided through the room and rested on an opened closet. Clothes piled up on the bottom, but one of the shelves held something that pulled Ewan deeper into the tunnel, deeper into his personal theory that Tom was involved.

A black hoof, cut clean off, no blood. Ewan snatched it from the closet and held it up for Tom to see. It was a sign; he’d caught the boy now.

“What’s the hoof, then?”

Tom grabbed it out of Ewan’s hands and threw it on his disorganized desk.

“None of your damn business.”

“Carl Raymond’s sheep have been killed,” Ewan said. He would have continued giving him details, but Tom was such a reactionary teenager, he just had to have the last word. He had to win from the officer to feel good.

“You’re at the wrong address,” he said. He continued in a raised voice, his underlying anger coming up. “Why don’t you do your fucking job and go look for Max instead of sitting on your ass or investigating the deaths of fucking sheep!?”

It must have looked disproportionate. Frankly, it was. How dare he walk in asking about dead sheep when his brother was missing and possibly dead? Ewan understood one was more important than the other – but when almost every available avenue had been exhausted and still nothing had been found, even the police moved on. Even the police needed new people to look at the case with a fresh pair of eyes. However harsh it sounded, Ewan could no longer look at the file without feeling disheartened, without feeling like he’d never solve this case.

“I know you’re hurt,” Ewan tried to reason with him, knowing he could not reason with the boy. “We’re doing everything we can to—”

“Well, it ain’t good enough,” Tom spat at Ewan.

“What’s going on?”

A woman stood in the doorway. She had cried and was in no condition to discipline her son, to tell him to turn down the music or to be respectful to the officer. Maybe she allowed her son to do what he wanted because she didn’t care or because she didn’t want to restrict her son’s freedom.

“This ass is wasting my time,” Tom said. He turned his back to the officer and his mother.

“Tom—”

“Get out of my room,” Tom said. Carol obeyed, while Ewan was more hesitant. He, too, left the room and closed the door behind him. The conversation wasn’t as productive as he’d hoped, but it had done what he hoped. He found evidence. He had lost it, but if they could prove a person was involved in the death of the sheep and had cut a hoof off, he could finally put Tom behind bars.

“Did he do something?” Carol asked when they stood in the hallway of the second floor. Ewan shrugged.

“That’s what I came to investigate,” he said. “Mrs. Houston, the door was unlocked. You should consider locking it.”

Carol shook her head. “I can’t. Max forgot his keys.”

The hardest wasn’t hearing the pain in her voice, but knowing she was convinced he wasn’t dead yet. That he was still coming back – that’s the most heartbreaking thing.

“I see,” Ewan said. “I’ll let myself out, then.”

He walked down the stairs and out of the front door. He made sure a little crack was left – small enough it wasn’t visible from the street, big enough so someone knew it was open when they pushed it.


The boy sat on the hospital bed and the doctor stood before him. He was about to finish his examination while Becky stood aside and watched it happen. Other than the scrapes on his face, nothing seemed to be wrong.

Physically, anyway. He hasn’t said a word since Becky had picked him up at the police station. He only stared ahead of him, deep in thought. Not even the doctor managed to get him to talk.

Becky looked at the clipboard with the boy’s admission form. It was still blank.

“So,” the doctor told the boy, “nothing seems to be broken. You’re good.” He paused. “Are you sure you don’t want to say your name?”

He did not react. He didn’t shake his head, didn’t open his mouth, didn’t even look at the doctor as he stood up.

“Okay,” the doctor said – he gave up on getting the information out of the child. “Nurse Becky will continue to patch you up.”

The doctor walked away from the boy. As he passed Becky, he briefly stopped. “If you could try to get more out of him, that’d be great.”

And he walked out of the room. Only Becky was left with the boy who did not want to speak or do anything. A late lunch stood untouched at the hospital table; he knew it was there, he’d seen it, but he hadn’t eaten.

What happened to that boy?

Becky tried to push the thought to the back of her mind. She was there to help, but she did not understand what made him so unresponsive, even if she wanted to know.

“Hey,” she said in a friendly tone as she approached him. She put her clipboard aside and took her medical equipment. As she cleaned and covered the scraps on his face, she tried to make a conversation with him.

“You’ll be fine. Those scraps will heal quickly and you can go home soon.” She waited for a little while before she continued. “Or you can stay here for a couple of days if you’d like. We’ll understand if you don’t want to go home right away.”

She hoped for a reaction; any at all. It made her work easier, but it was scary this boy barely even moved his head. He remained stoic and Becky again wished she could look into his mind and take the pain away.

“It’s okay if you don’t want to talk,” Becky then said. The boy probably needed to hear it. “It’s okay to feel hurt. But if you want to talk, you can always come to me. I’m working the night shift today as well, so I’ll be there.” She was available to come to him until eight in the morning.

At this time, Becky was done with the scraps. The boy stayed in the hospital, at least for tonight, maybe for another couple of days until someone reported their son missing and came to pick him up. And if nobody came…

Becky shook her head. She didn’t want to think about that.

“I’m from the future.”

Becky stopped and turned around. The boy had moved. He looked at her, still with emotionless eyes, but at least he had spoken. It had surprised Becky, who was sure he wasn’t going to say anything today.

“Excuse me, what did you say?”

“I’m from the future,” he said again. “My name is Tim.”

Becky still didn’t know what to make of that revelation, but she smiled at him. At least she had his name now and a little bit of progress.

“Nice to mee you, Tim.”

Chapter Text

1986

Bernard Hidgens sat in his office. During this transitional day – his last day as the director of this power plant – he spent his time in his office, gathering his personal belongings. Nothing much would be moved out. That was great, especially since Bernard could barely lift anything himself anymore.

He only needed to remove his pictures from the desk. One of himself, before he had to use a wheelchair. One of him with a cane, his wife, and his son – Henry. He lovingly put them in a cardboard box on his lap. So long as it wasn’t too heavy, he could balance it.

There. The desk was empty, the office bare, every trace of Bernard was gone. It was a clean slate, for Claudia Monroe to dress up however she liked. It was about time new life came to the company. Yes, nothing much would fundamentally change, but Claudia’s fresh perspective would greatly benefit the power plant.

At that moment, Claudia stormed into the office. The door slammed open and through sheer force, it almost closed again behind her. She threw the bundles of paper on the table and glared at Bernard, who stayed calm. Claudia was smart; she already figured out he hadn’t told her everything.

“Are you fucking with me, Bernard?” Claudia almost shouted. Bernard shrugged.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Claudia angrily poked the bundles. If her nails were any sharper, she might have punctured the pages.

“These numbers. I know this does not make sense. Take a look at these pages.” She lifted a few pages so she could point out the mistakes she had found, mistakes she was aware Bernard knew about. She pointed out a couple of these pages before she started again. Maybe it riled her up that he remained calm.

“I’ve told you, if there are skeletons in this company’s closet, I need to know.” She spoke in a lower voice. Maybe she feared someone could pass the office and listen in. Maybe she spoke in this tone to show how important this was. “Don’t you fucking trust me?”

Bernard looked into her eyes. She had grown up to be a beautiful lady and showed how ruthless of a businesswoman she was. He smiled at her.

“With my life, Claudia,” he said. He wheeled behind his desk toward her. “You are the new director. From now on, you are responsible for everyone living in Hatchetfield.”

Claudia frowned. She didn’t know. Not yet, anyway. The time was drawing closer, though, for him to pass on his knowledge and to keep the secrets he had kept all those years.

“I’m pretty sure I only need to care for our employees…” Claudia began, but Bernard shook his head once. It shut her up.

“Everyone in this town is reliant on this power plant, whether they know it or not,” Bernard said. The smile on his face and in his eyes disappeared as the seriousness seeped through. “You need to understand the gravity of the situation. You need to know everything.”

And Claudia shut up, and her fury died down as she saw how Bernard’s tone shifted from amicable to hostile; he was no longer a very good friend, but a mentor who was about to pass vital information to his apprentice, and Claudia listened.

“Come with me,” Bernard said, going to his office door. “There is something I need to show you, that I cannot put down in writing.”

Because writing it down meant someone else could find it. That was dangerous.

Claudia followed the older man out of the office.


Claudia drove her and Bernard to the spot he indicated on the map. He held it and told her where to drive, so at least Claudia wouldn’t have to bother with holding and reading a map while she drove. It wasn’t smart to read a map and drive at the same time, anyway.

They pulled over in a small section of the woods, near the power plant. A little ahead of them stood fencing that went into a circle. When you came closer, you’d read the plaques. The terrain inside the fences was property of the power plant and inside, there was a secondary entrance to the caves. It was smaller, steeper, more dangerous. Not some place Bernard, wheelchair-bound, would easily be able to go.

“Why are we here?” Claudia asked. This didn’t seem like the right place.

“To show you what you need to know,” Bernard said. “It’s down there. I won’t be able to join you.”

Well, if it was that simple. She had the key to the lock on the fence door and walked toward it. OR, she would’ve done so if Bernard didn’t hold her back for a while.

“Claudia.” He spoke in a serious tone. “What we know is just a drop in an ocean of knowledge we haven’t been able to gain yet.” He let go of her arm. “Good luck.”

Claudia hadn’t been nervous before – now she was.

She unlocked and walked into the fenced-off area. A little more hesitantly, she descended into the caves. She was not an experienced climber; in fact, she’d never been inside those caves, not even as a child.

Her curiosity was bigger than any fears she had. She was not backing down now. She needed to know what was down there and if Bernard could not tell her, damn it, she was going to see it with her own two eyes.

Frustrated, she walked through the caves when the ground had leveled around her. She went deeper and deeper, finding it harder to see too far in front of her. Eventually, when the daylight was only a dot behind her, she could feel that she reached whatever Bernard had been talking about. Something that she could not see, as she was this deep into the caves already.

She did not have a light, like her father, or even a lighter. But she had matches on her and they came in useful at this moment.

Claudia struck a match and gasped.

Barrels upon barrels of toxic waste. That’s what she assumed was in there. Yellow barrels, rows of barrels, blocking her way deeper into the caves, stacked upon one another until they almost hit the roof. All marked with the universal pictogram for “radioactive”.

Claudia didn’t count them. She should have, but didn’t. The sight itself was strong enough without counting the number of barrels she could see, let alone those she couldn’t see.

So these were the skeletons in the closet. Or rather, barrels in the caves.

So that’s why she was responsible for all of Hatchetfield.

When she returned, Bernard was only silently looking at her. She drove him back to the power plant and sat in her car afterward.

Henry’s present seemed so small compared to the company secret, but she needed to look at something else. Something that may distract her before she started her new job or figured out why these barrels were in the caves.

It was indeed a book. A journey through time, written by H.G. Tannhaus.

Claudia only stared at it.

The gifts from the Hidgens family felt connected. She had no idea how, but she was going to find out.

She had to find out.


It was already nighttime when Linda returned home. It was dark.

“Mom?”

She had to turn the lights on. That was the first clue to knowing her mother hadn’t yet returned.

Linda walked to the telephone. She had been in this situation often enough to expect a voicemail from her mother. If she was feeling especially bold, she predicted her mother would tell her to heat up some food because she wasn’t going to make it.

Linda pressed the button. It had no meaning anymore and she heard what she had expected. Today, Claudia encouraged her to heat up a pizza, because she was going to work overtime.

Linda rolled her eyes. Some things never change. New job, same shitty behavior.

Linda did not heat up a pizza. Instead, she went to the bathroom and looked at her reflection. She did not see the beautiful and smart girl her mother wanted her to be. She only saw the uncombed hair, the baggy clothes, the pain in her eyes – all Linda’s own doing. Her mother only cared when she was not doing her best. The price for her mother’s attention showed in her non-existent social life – those who were nice only were nice to make her feel better. More than once a day, she was the punchline to a mean joke. She was ugly, a know-it-all, a bitch. Sometimes things even became physical. Because when her mother didn’t give her daughter attention, somehow she’d make sure her classmates would. Be that negative or positive attention.

Tears sprung in her eyes. why the fuck did she still put in effort when she only came home to darkness and freezer pizza? Why shouldn’t she get the hell out of here and show her mother how much she was hurting?

Because at this age, she knew something other kids and teenagers did not realize yet. They lived in Hatchetfield, and nobody ever left Hatchetfield unless the town wanted you to.

Chapter Text

1986

Ewan could not wait for the autopsy results, so he took it upon himself to go to the coroner. The coroner, a good man named Andrew, still performed the autopsy on one of the sheep when Ewan so inconsiderately walked into the room.

Andrew didn’t mind. At least, Ewan hoped so. Andrew just continued his work while Ewan watched and waited for the right moment to ask the questions he had wanted to ask the coroner.

No moment seemed to be right, though, and the sight did not help either. The coroner was focused on his work. He wore his attire and armed with delicate tools, he slowly cut into the sheep’s head. Before Ewan had come in, the man had cut open the sheep’s stomach and investigated its intestines. Ewan was lucky he hadn’t seen it, or else his lunch might’ve come up. This is why Andrew didn’t eat before an autopsy if he could help it. He was used to the sights and smells, but he didn’t want to take the risk.

Eventually, before Ewan built up the nerve to ask even how the man was doing, Andrew volunteered all the information. He continued his work as he spoke and Ewan tried to take it all in. nothing out of the ordinary appeared in their stomachs; no foreign objects. The only cuts on the animals were from the coroner’s own blades. There were no infections or illnesses; as far as Andrew could see, these were healthy sheep.

“So they weren’t stabbed?” Ewan asked. Andrew shook his head.

“No stab wounds.”

“Poisoned?”

“Nothing found in their stomachs that shouldn’t be there,” Andrew responded. Finally, he looked up from the sheep and looked straight at the officer. His gaze did not betray anything that Ewan could hold on to if he wanted to figure out what happened to these sheep. “I’ve looked at the rest, too. I’m pretty sure they died by cardiac arrest.”

That wasn’t something Ewan had been expecting. This was not one of many possibilities that crossed his mind, mostly because it sounded stupid and something a child might suggest why a group of sheep died simultaneously when no wounds or blood were visible.

“Cardiac arrest?” The coroner nodded. Ewan was baffled. “All thirty-three?”

Andrew just shrugged as an answer. He wasn’t there to seek justice; he was there to determine the cause of death of people, and today also of sheep. If his family hadn’t kept sheep, Andrew may be largely unqualified and what he was about to say might have been a wild guess. Luckily, he could make an educated guess.

“They’re sheep,” Andrew said. “If one of them panics, the others start panicking, too. Before you know it, they’re dropping like flies.” He turned to the sheep again to finish the autopsy. “Whatever did this, must’ve been real scary.”

That got Ewan thinking. If something had scared them enough, the sheep died. Before Ewan was willing to accept this as a viable solution to the mystery, he had to ask. He had to know if a person could do this. He had to know if Tom Houston could have done this and was lying to Ewan earlier.

“Could one person be responsible?”

For a moment, Andrew didn’t answer. Then, with a big sigh, he continued his work as he spoke.

“Unless they’re really scary,  I don’t think one person could have caused this.”

Okay. That sounded reasonable. One scary person couldn’t cause mas cardiac arrest. Still, Ewan couldn’t shake the feeling Tom was involved, one way or another.

“Was any of them missing a hoof?”

“No,” Andrew said curtly. He wasn’t in the mood to talk too much about a possible culprit, especially since all evidence pointed to a natural process one person could not replicate.

“Right,” Ewan said and he nodded. It wasn’t Tom. That was disappointing but expected. Ewan couldn’t put his finger on it, but every time he looked at that smug face, he got a bad feeling. Like he was nothing but trouble. Suspecting him of killing sheep for fun wasn’t out of the ordinary.

“Congratulations, by the way,” Andrew then said, taking Ewan out of his thoughts. For a moment, he didn’t know what the coroner talked about, and the silence was enough reason for Andrew to assume the same. “Claudia. New job.”

Today was her first day on the job. Ewan nodded and smiled. It was hard not to be proud of his daughter.

“Thank you.”

“It doesn’t happen every day a woman gets the chance to be the new director, let alone of something as important as the power plant,” Andrew continued.

Unfortunately, not many women got opportunities like this. Luckily Ewan and Claudia were good friends of Bernard Hidgens, the former director of the power plant. He put her forward as his successor, especially after she presented her resume. Some questioned how she could combine the job with motherhood, but the answer was there: how did these men combine their job with fatherhood, and why should these presupposed answers differ?

“I’m sure she’ll do great,” Ewan answered humbly. Claudia never failed to do great.

“Yeah,” Andrew nodded. “She’s gonna be good.”

He stopped in his tracks; he found something. Ewan couldn’t see what it was, but Andrew’s enthusiasm for Claudia had been overturned by something strange in the corpse – more specifically, the head – of the sheep.

“That’s interesting,” Andrew muttered to himself.

Ewan raised an eyebrow. “What is it?”

“The eardrum. It’s been ruptured.”

Ewan looked over but lacked the professional eye to see what Andrew saw. He’d never seen an ear canal, especially a sheep’s, so though Andrew pointed it out, Ewan could not see it.

He gained new knowledge either way. The eardrum was ruptured and Andrew found it noteworthy. That alone justified Ewan’s return to the crime scene to look for more evidence of a crime. Because eardrums don’t just rupture.


There had to be more to it. There had to be.

When his shift had ended, Ewan returned to the pasture. He knew he wasn’t going to find more sheep, but he wasn’t coming to look for more. He had missed something; something he couldn’t explain. Something that, if he saw, would solve the case. He was sure of it.

The official report said it was a mass cardiac arrest. As far as the HFPD was concerned, this was an open and shut case. The animals were startled and died in rapid succession. No further investigation was needed.

But their eardrums were ruptured. It was a small disregarded detail, but Ewan thought there was more to it. Something had done so, on a scale so big that all sheep dropped around the same time.

Something that could cause this, had to be big. Something that could cause this had to be hard to set up. Maybe some evidence was left in the pasture. Maybe, if Ewan had looked better – he’d brought his glasses this time – he would find the thing he was looking for.

He dragged the unhelpfully clunky light from his car. He wished he returned when the sun shone, but he could not wait. This mystery needed to be solved now it was clear Tom had nothing to do with it – at least, Ewan couldn’t yet prove Tom wasn’t involved.

It had become cold. Even the bright sun did not prevent Hatchetfield from cooling down at night in the last month of the fall. In the night, with his light, Ewan could not find anything on the ground. He stayed for a little while and soon realized he looked for something that wasn’t there. Nothing else was in the pasture; nothing that clued him into the circumstances and nothing hidden from the police.

As he was about to return to his car, a loud rumbling filled the air. The noise made him anxious and he pointed his light to the sky in the direction of Witchwood Forest. It didn’t do anything for extra visibility. Whatever had made that sound, if it even was ‘something’, was already gone.

BAM!

Something soft hit Ewan’s shoulder and landed on the ground.

Ewan immediately stepped away from it and shone his light at it. He frowned when he saw a dead bird.

He looked up again. Something had killed a bird up there. They did not just drop from the sky already dead; something messed with them. While he looked up, his light started to flicker – something that did not usually happen.

Another bird fell, and another, and another. It was raining birds.

Terrified, Ewan ran out of the pasture to the safety of his car. One bird had already landed on his roof, but as more birds hit the ground, some inevitably landed on his car while he was inside, startling him with every muffled thump.

Nothing startled him as much as witnessing this strange event, which surpassed the mystery of the dead sheep. What was stranger than a flock of birds, dead or not, raining down on the world?

Chapter Text

1986

When the light flickered in the hospital room, Tim looked up. Surprised, he stood up and looked in the hallway. Nurses ran around, unsure what to do and looking for an electrician to fix the problem.

There was no problem with the wiring. Tim recognized the signs. The light had also flickered before Tim made his unforeseen journey to the past.

He had to go.

He barely had time to put on his jacket before he opened the window and jumped through. Luckily he was on the ground floor, so he could easily flee from the hospital. He was also grateful this hospital was located at the edge of the city; near Witchwood Forest.

Tim didn’t know where to go. He could only go off of things he remembered from last night. If he could find some spots he recognized, it would be easier to find those caves again and run through to go home.

Tim found the place where he and his sisters met with Ethan and he ran in the direction of the caves. he ran slower now – his burst of energy had run out and his legs ached. His need to go home was greater than any pain in his body, and he pushed through.

There they were. The caves.

Tim allowed himself a second of rest. He panted, his feet screamed at him to take a rest, but he could not do it. He merely stopped so he could safely take the lighter he snatched from Ewan Monroe’s desk earlier and open it.

Armed with the small flame, he walked into the caves. Even in his haste, he could not stand being alone in total darkness as he remembered it in the caves.

As expected, it was cold and dark. He could barely see three yards in front of him, but pushed through nonetheless. Somehow, he had managed to get lost and appear in 1986. So why shouldn’t be find his way back to 2019 so he could forget this horrible day and go back to normal?

He placed his foot on a loose rock and it rolled. He found his footing again; that could have gone so wrong.

Down there, where the small rock had rolled to, he heard something he wasn’t expecting. It was only faint, but Tim thought it sounded like metal hitting metal, hollow clangs following one another quickly. That wasn’t a naturally occurring sound. There was someone else down there.

In his enthusiasm, Tim forgot his surroundings. He slipped over other loose rocks and fell down a particularly steep stretch of the caves. As he tumbled down, the lighter slipped from his hand.

He made a nasty fall, and his right leg took the brunt of the damage. It hurt and blood slowly crawled over his leg. Tim did not think he’d be able to walk on it. A couple of arm lengths from him lay the lighter. It had landed while it was still opened, providing a small flame that illuminated its surroundings.

He needed help. Luckily, he could hear someone else further down in the caves.

“Help!” he shouted. “Help me! Help!”

He stopped to listen. There came no response.

“Help me, please!”

There was nothing but silence again. Tim almost broke down in tears, but didn’t. Not yet. He needed to get out of the caves first, then he could cry. If he broke down in the caves, it would take even longer to get out.

So Tim stood up. His hurt leg could barely support the weight. Yet, he climbed back up the slope he’d fallen from. It was hard to walk uphill on a wounded leg – he needed to get that looked at. He needed to get back to the hospital.

He wasn’t particularly looking forward to it, but if he stayed silent, they wouldn’t know where he went and what happened. It was better if they didn’t know that.

At long last, the stars greeted him again. He hobbled out of the caves and sat on the left side of the entrance. He looked up. These stars are the same stars who will witness in the future that he came to the past. These silent watchers had seen it all.

They probably knew what Tim’s fate was.

Tim closed the lighter and cried.


2019

Jane lay on Tim’s bed. She had fallen asleep on the sheets that still smelled like him. Tom, on the other hand, was still awake. He could not sleep. Not now Tim was out there, possibly at the power plant. He might have gone through that door in the caves.

Tom knew what he had to do and he cursed his impulsivity.

But he had to do something.

Tom left the room. Jane wouldn’t know where he’d gone. When she woke up, Tom would be there, next to her. For now, he just needed to get out of the house. Before he stepped into his car, he grabbed a crowbar. He was going to need it.

He couldn’t get to the caves fast enough. He couldn’t get into the caves fast enough. Slow down, he thought. Mind the details. You might be running past evidence you haven’t seen before.

Tom wasn’t thinking straight. Armed with the crowbar in one hand and his phone with the flashlight app in the other, he entered the caves. Luckily, he remembered where he needed to go to find that damn metal door. Something was behind there; Tim maybe, too. He needed to know what that was.

He was going mad. He was going down the rabbit hole and he knew it. He went deeper and deeper, Tom could feel it. Everything was piled on top of him – the infidelity, the insecurity, how he was helpless in finding Max, and now he was incapable of finding his only son in today’s day and age, when cameras were all present yet none captured his kidnapping. His insanity and how he felt he was losing himself a little every time he obsessively thought of Tim and Max and how he failed them.

If he didn’t find Tim soon, Tom was going to enter these caves one day and he wouldn’t come back.

Finally, he reached the door. Nothing had changed since he last was there. Still rusty, still locked. Tom felt the weight of the crowbar in his hand. Time to do some work.

Tom placed the crowbar at the door. When he thought he found the right spot, he pushed. He put more and more energy into it. He pushed the crowbar until he had almost no energy left, and still that door wouldn’t budge.

That door became the bane of his existence. It was locked well, maybe it had been welded shut. Something was behind it; that something might be Tim. He hated that door. All the anger he had buried and masked by his sorrow and covered up by his work… hell broke loose.

He took the crowbar in both hands and tried to smash the door. Metal clangs echoed against the caves’ walls and Tom only stopped when he had calmed down again, and the truth started to dawn on him.

If Tim was behind the door, this wasn’t the way to get there. If he opened the door, he’d have to talk to Gerald Monroe and maybe get Sam to work together with him.

He was so lost, he heard someone faintly calling out for help.

Tom frowned. That wasn’t a figment of his imagination. At least, he didn’t think it was. He turned his head and listened carefully.

There it was again! Almost too faint to hear, but Tom had heard and his mind immediately jumped to conclusions.

“Tim?” Then louder. “Tim!”

Nothing. It had stopped and Tom shook his head. Maybe there really was nothing. Maybe he did imagine it. He was going mad, after all, and this was just a symptom.

He needed to get out of the caves.

Tom walked away from the door, not looking away from it, crowbar loosely in hand. He walked through the halls, quietly, shining his cellphone light at anything that made even a little sound. Of course, nothing that made a noise brought him closer to his son. The more he looked around for signs of life, the more he wanted to get out of the caves. luckily, the way out always seemed shorter than the way in. Time could be funny that way.

When Tom exited the caves, he sat on a fallen log on the right sight of the cave entrance and looked at the stars.

Where was Tim? Was he looking at the stars? Was he alive to do so?

Tom did not look away. Somehow, somewhere, Tim was looking at these stars, too. He was sure of it. And though it may be his imagination again, the thought calmed him.

Chapter Text

2019

Sam woke up in an empty bed. He didn’t care too much – he got up and got dressed. As he put on his uniform, he heard someone else walk through the hallway and down the stairs. That was Jenny, probably, as he usually didn’t hear her bedroom door open and close.

He always had felt powerful when he wore the uniform, but less so the past few days. He wore this uniform to protect his people – how could he continue to wear it when some of their weakest and most vulnerable had gone missing without a trace? And yet, he wore the uniform, hoping that he was going to make a difference today.

He opened his bedroom door and saw how Charlotte walked out of her bedroom, opposite to his. Until a year ago, that was the guest bedroom. Not anymore.

Sam frowned. Normally, Charlotte should already be downstairs, making them a delicious breakfast. She always did so. Except for today.

What was she planning?

“Good morning,” Charlotte said. Sam nodded.

“Morning.”

“I’m leaving early,” Charlotte said. “There’s enough in the fridge to make breakfast. I’m sorry, but I want to visit Henry, to make him feel he’s not alone. Maybe that’ll make him less prone to running off.”

Sam nodded again. He was looking forward to a freshly cooked or baked breakfast, but there was nothing wrong with eating cereal for one morning. Even if he wanted eggs and bacon.

“That’s okay,” Sam said. “We’ll manage without your delicious breakfasts. Go to Henry. I can bring Jenny to school and pick her up.”

He added this last part as only an afterthought, but he knew he needed to do this. for his and Charlotte’s state of mind. Because if they accompanied her on her way to and from school, they would not have to worry about her being abducted on the way.

Charlotte loved the idea.

“Great,” she said. “I’ll see you tonight.”

Sam waited until she had gone down the stairs before he followed her.


As promised, Charlotte went to visit Henry in the nursing home before work.

Sam would’ve come, too, if it weren’t for his job. If it weren’t for the severity of the missing children cases. If they found something, any lead or clue, Charlotte would have allowed Jenny to bike to school. For now, it was a relief Sam was able to bring her. One less thing to worry about.

One less thing…

“You can’t keep running off like that,” Charlotte told Henry. “You got us worried sick.”

They sat at the table in his room. It was cloudy today, and it may even start raining. If Henry ran away again, he might get wet and sick and Charlotte didn’t want that for her father-in-law.

Henry muttered something under his breath; something Charlotte barely heard. He was in his own world, repeating these words over and over again. “The beginning is the end and the end is the beginning.”

Charlotte looked at him. Poor thing.

“Henry? Are you listening?”

He wasn’t. He stared at the wall. Charlotte pitied the man and prayed he’d still have this little autonomy until God inevitably called his son back to him. She put a hand on his arm.

Henry turned his head to Charlotte. He worried too much. Charlotte saw the pain in his eyes. Now he looked a her, he finally found a conversation partner who might believe her.

“I have to tell him something,” Henry said. “It needs to stop.”

“Who is ‘he’?” Charlotte asked him. “Who are you talking about?”

He didn’t hear her. He leaned back in his chair, eyes fixated on the broken clock on the wall.

“Tick-tock,” he said. “Tick-tock.”

“Henry, can you please explain? Please?”

“Tick-tock.”


Jenny let her father drive her to school. She never had any trouble with this; she didn’t fear being looked at as lame because her father brought her. It was for her safety, anyway. If she sat in a car with her police officer dad, there was a smaller chance to be taken on her way to school. Her parents did not want to take any chances and Jenny didn’t either, since one of her best friends and another boy had disappeared.

But when someone drove her to school, these trips were much more uneventful and boring than when she walked or biked or even took the bus.

Her father took the usual route to the police station and planned to make a slight detour to drop her off at school. Even though other routes could have been shorter. But Jenny wasn’t going to call him out – you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Or a police officer new routes.

They drove the longest possible way to school, one that ran past Witchwood Forest. It was a road people only used if they absolutely had to. Sam Hidgens may be the only person who used it on a daily basis.

Jenny wasn’t paying attention. She played a silly game on her phone when the car stopped. She frowned and looked up. Sam parked the car on the side of the road and got out of his seat. Jenny watched him, confused. What was he doing?

Sam walked a little into the forest and kneeled beside some sort of box. Through the opened car door, Jenny heard Sam smash this box open with something hard, possibly a stone he found by the side. She watched with curiosity as her father took something from the box, and returned to the car with it.

“Dad, what did you—” Jenny said when her father got back into the car. “Did you just steal something?”

Sam sat down, placing a smaller black box on the backseat. Jenny stared at it incredulously.

“I didn’t steal it. I confiscated it,” Sam said, giving her a knowing look. “There’s a difference.”

“You still took it without asking permission,” Jenny said. Sam shrugged as he closed the door and put on his seat belt.”

I won’t get in trouble for it,” Sam said. “And I’ll return it when I’m done.”

But what did he need that box for? Did he have so little evidence that this box was something he had to take information from?

Sam continued his way to the police station via the school, and Jenny did not mention it. Even if she spoke, she knew he wouldn’t listen. Her father had taken something in a way that might have been held up by red tape and procedures, and it told her more about the investigation than Sam would have wanted.

Chapter Text

2019

Black holes are inescapable.

Everyone has heard about the existence of black holes; a mystery to the universe slowly deconstructed by earth’s best. A region of spacetime where the gravity is so strong, nothing can escape from it once it’s in its grasp. Nothing – not even light.

Suppose an object was pulled into a black hole. It might stay there for the rest of eternity.

Or would it? does this object stay in the black hole, or does it go somewhere else? We cannot say if a black hole can fill up. Does the object stay, or is it deposited elsewhere? Taken from their original time and displaced, to fly into the same black hole again?

What happens when everything that ever existed was connected in a never-ending cycle? What happens to that object that flew in the black hole, to the beginning and the end of everything?

What happens?


Ethan had studied the map. He knew every line, every little corner he could turn. Knowing the map didn’t mean he knew the caves as well, though. But it had ignited his curiosity and had slowly morphed into a slight obsession. It was a mystery he could solve, something to keep him busy, to keep his mind off of the losses he suffered. His mind had been significantly calmer since he found the map last night. He actually slept kind of well; better than the night before, anyway.

Going to school only confronted him with the loss of not only Tim but also of Deb. Lex would not go to school for a while, but River would be there. Ethan wasn’t looking forward to having him around.

So he decided he was not going to school today. Instead of his books, he packed the map and a flashlight, some batteries just in case, as well as snacks and some water. He was going to explore the caves.

When he packed everything he needed, he only needed to put on his jacket and get out of the door.

He walked down the stairs and saw his mother smoke at the dinner table. She greeted him before he could sneak past her.

“Hey, are you okay?” Harriet asked. She sounded genuinely worried about him. Maybe there still were miracles in this world.

“Yeah.”

“Do I need to call the school? You could—”

“I’m fine, mom.”

For a moment, they stared at one another. Since Tim went missing, she’s been making an effort to be there for him. She hadn’t said so, but he’d noticed. Did she do this because she was worried or because the man she’d been fucking was looking for his son? Either way, it was good to know her mother was at least still trying to put in the effort.

Ethan moved away from the living room to go to the front door, but Harriet wasn’t done yet.

“Ethan, wait,” Harriet said. “I was thinking… maybe we could do something together. Just the two of us. You and me. Not now, of course, but maybe in the weekend, or whenever you feel up to it.”

Ethan already made up his mind, but he did not vocalize it, because he would have disappointed his mother. And if he said no now, maybe she would stop trying in the future. He liked that she still tried.

“What do you think?” Harriet said.

“I’ll think about it,” Ethan said. “I need to go now. I’m going to be late.”

Ethan left the house and jumped on his bike. He rode away, not to school, but to the Hatchetfield caves. Time to check them out. Time to find that passage his father could not find.


The morning was nice, albeit a little cloudy. Good enough for Ethan to decide to leave his bike out. He rode all the way to the nearest forest entrance, and from there he continued his way on foot. He wasn’t leaving his bike by the roadside, though. He put it next to a tree close to the entrance, to lower the chances of being caught. The caves were still an active crime scene, as far as the police were concerned. Nobody was allowed to enter.

Fortunately for him, the police taped off the entrance with a single line of police tape and further urged all parents to keep their children away from the caves. They hoped it was enough; no police car was on patrol in the area, no cop stood at the entrance to keep people out. Nobody was there.

They hadn’t counted on Ethan and his exploration ideas.

Ethan stopped at the entrance and took off his backpack. He did a cursory glance of his surroundings, to make sure nobody was around, before he pulled the folded map out of his bag, as well as the flashlight. He put the flashlight in his pocket and unfolded the map after he’d put the backpack back on.

With the map in his hand and his flashlight at the ready, Ethan stepped over the police tape and started his venture into the caves, to find out what his father was looking for and hoping to still feel connected to him this way.


Someone watched Ethan. The Stranger, from his hiding spot, looked on as Ethan unfolded the map and entered the caves. He knew he wasn’t going to be seen, because Ethan saw nobody today.

Once Ethan had disappeared into the caves, the Stranger lifted his arm and looked at his watch to note the time. 10:04 AM.

Now all the Stranger needed to do was wait a little.

Chapter Text

2019

Sam parked his car in front of the school so Jenny only needed to cross the street to walk onto school grounds. He could have parked a little further away, but Sam wasn’t taking any chances. Something sinister was going on in Hatchetfield, and he wouldn’t let his daughter get involved.

“Here you go,” he said. Jenny unbuckled her seatbelt, grabbed her bag, and stepped out of the car. She looked at her father one last time.

“Thanks, dad.” Before she walked away, however, Sam wanted to tell her one more thing.

“Jenny?” he said. She waited to close the door and looked at him. “I’ll be picking you up, today. Or your mother—”

“If you’re too busy. I know,” Jenny said. She smiled at him, but something about it seemed forced. Sam decided not to mention it.

“Bye, dad!” she called out as she closed the car door.

“See you tonight,” he said, though he doubted she heard it.

He waited by the side. He watched her cross the street and walk through the gate on school property. Only then could Sam breathe in relief, because Jenny made it to school safely. Tonight, the same hopefully happened. So long as they did not find who kidnapped Tim and Deb, Jenny would be accompanied to school for her own safety.

Before Sam drove off, he looked at his daughter again. Jenny hugged her friend, Alice. They didn’t let go of one another for a while. Deb had been a good friend of theirs, after all.

Sam was happy Jenny had a friend at school, to have someone close to her who could support her and guide her through these rough times.

Sam went to work. It was time to see what he could find on the wildlife camera he took from the forest.


Jane stayed until Tom woke up.

She wasn’t going to school. Not after what happened to her son. She could not bear the sight of children around her at the moment – she’d see Tim’s face in the crowd, on the faces of many, and she did not want to do that to herself.

Tom had come home late. he had fallen asleep next to her, on Tim’s bed. She had woken up before him. He still wore his clothes. He lay down beside her and fell asleep. He even still wore his shoes.

Jane did not disturb him. Tom needed the sleep. If he was awake, he would not get back to sleep again. Jane knew how bad things were going for him. For them. For the entire family. If sleep was the one thing that gave Tom some peace, Jane wasn’t waking him up.

She did sit on Tim’s chair and looked at her husband. It was more an excuse to stay in Tim’s room than anything else, but it was nice to see him sleep, not overworking himself and thinking the worst.

Then he woke up. He looked at her with sleepy eyes, and yet his mind was already sharp.

“What time is it?” he asked. Light already poured in through the window. Jane was dressed, too. She heard the silent question he wanted to ask but answered the one he vocalized.

“A little over ten in the morning,” she answered. You haven’t lost that much time. The colleagues would understand if you arrived late. Stay, have breakfast. Comfort me.

She said nothing, even as Tom stood up from the bed and left the room. She stayed in her seat and heard him barge down the stairs, heard the front door fall into the lock, heard the car drive out of their driveway, to the police station, or worse.

Jane sighed. This was going to be the death of him.

This was going to be the end of their relationship.


Sam arrived at the police station. The receptionist watched him with more interest than other days – Sam carried a bag with two highly unusual items, after all. One was the confiscated wildlife camera, which hopefully cleared up if any cars drove on the road. The second item, however, was not something Sam could get information from.

But the coroner could.

Before he walked to his office, he passed by the coroner, who did not have any work to do at the moment. Sam was lucky – he still hoped the coroner could do something with a dead bird that Charlotte saw falling from the sky. It rained birds, Charlotte called it.

Sam only witnessed part of it. Charlotte saw it from beginning to end.

Dana was in her office. She was surprised Sam came to visit her, while no other running cases required a coroner.

“I brought you something,” Sam told her. From his bag, he lifted the bird. He had wrapped it in a towel, so Sam didn’t directly touch the creepy dead bird. He normally wasn’t so squeamish, but the circumstances were enough to spook him.

The coroner took the towel-wrapped present after she’d put on some gloves and she unwrapped it. A frown appeared on her face.

“A bird?”

“I’m sure you’ve heard it on the news,” Sam said. “They dropped dead, out of nothing. That’s not normal. I’d like to know what happened.”

It wasn’t your usual case, but they needed something different to hold on to, something that could make them forget about the children for a second. Sam also really wanted to know what happened. It could have been an accident.

Dana nodded and looked at the bird. “I’m not an expert, but I’ll try.” The mystery intrigued her as well. She hadn’t wanted to bring a dead bird to work, so this gift was welcome. She quickly inspected the bird’s exterior.

“I can already say I haven’t seen those white flecks on this species of birds before.”

Sam nodded. It was a start. Maybe those white flecks were a major clue. Maybe.

“Thanks for looking into it,” Sam said. The coroner nodded.

“If you bring this to me, it must be important,” Dana said. She looked up from the dead bird. “Have you seen this happen before? The mass falling?”

Sam shook his head. “No, I haven’t. my wife, Charlotte, told me birds also dropped dead thirty-three years ago.

As he spoke, some sort of revelation came to him. His mind took him back to Hatchetfield in the summer of 1987, the year he came to this sleepy town. He remembered everything Charlotte told him about what had happened. Thousands of birds fell to their deaths. Power outages were still unexplained to this day. Thirty-three years ago, a boy also disappeared – Max Houston.

Charlotte believed there was a connection. He’d brushed it off, but maybe there was some truth in her words. Maybe there really was a connection.

“I’ll be in touch,” the coroner said.

“Sam nodded. “Okay.” He walked out of Dana’s workplace. He found it hard to take his mind off of the parallels and to think about what he should do with the wildlife camera.

Even in the hallway, Sam was still shocked. Was it really true? A connection between now and then, thirty-three years apart. What was a common cause? What was the reason the birds fell, the power went out, those kids went missing?

Either way, he figured that dead boy whose eyes were burned away, may not have disappeared recently before he was found. He had died sixteen hours after being found, but how long had he lived? How long had he been missing?

He walked past Xander Lee – just the person he needed right now.

“Xander!” Sam said. Xander had already passed him but turned around when he heard his name. He wasn’t doing anything that required his immediate attention, anyway.

“Yeah, what’s up?”

“I’d like you to look into older missing cases,” Sam told his colleague. “For the dead boy. Broaden the window by ten to fifteen years or so. I have a feeling this kid might have disappeared years ago.”

And if he did, he might have to contact those poor parents who had waited years for the return of their son, only to learn he’s not only dead but badly mutilated. They’d have to identify the body.

Xander nodded. It was a logical step since they’ve exhausted all missing cases from the last few years. He’d been toying with the thought this kid went missing years ago as well but hadn’t mentioned it yet.

“I’ll let the others know,” Xander said.

Sam nodded. “Good.

“I’ve also got an update on the red dirt,” Xander said before Sam could continue the walk to his office.

“Really?”

“We can’t find it anywhere,” Xander broke the bad news. It wasn’t a lack of officers or even a disinterest, but they hadn’t found it. They’d looked everywhere in the city and the forest. The investigation was still running, but the chances of finding something were slim.

Still, Sam believed he had seen that kind of red dirt somewhere before. In his past, maybe. If only he could figure it out or remember it.

“There has to be someplace—”

“If there is, we haven’t found it yet,” Xander said. “So far, that’s a dead end.”

Another dead end in a case which only had dead ends. Sam wasn’t even surprised to hear it anymore, but it did deal a blow to his morale.

He still had one ace of up his sleeve. He had the wildlife camera. With a bit of luck, it contained a clue that could lead to something useful.

“I’ll see if I can think of more places,” Sam said. I’ll see if I can’t find where I think I’ve seen it before.

Xander nodded. Before he could leave, Sam had one last question for his colleague.

“Say, have you seen Tom yet?”

“No.” Xander shrugged. “Maybe he’s finally taking a day off.”

“Maybe.”

Definitely not. Sam had no idea where Tom was, but if he wasn’t at the office, he must be somewhere else. Sam feared that, whatever Tom was doing, was something he shouldn’t be doing.

Sam hoped against all hopes that Tom indeed decided to take a break. God knows he needed one.

Chapter Text

2019

After what must have been hours, Ethan only had one more branch of the caves to go. One more branch where he could find what Tony Green had been looking for. Nowhere else in the caves had Ethan found something substantial. Nothing had pointed him in the right direction. Nothing that could help him in any way, shape, or form. So this was his final chance to figure out what was going on.

The final chance for some peace of mind.

Something rumbled behind him. Ethan promptly turned around and shone his light into the darkness of the caves. He saw nothing. It might have struck fear in him a couple of days ago, but not today. Not anymore. The rumbling did not take Tim away from them. If anything, Ethan still blamed himself for Tim’s disappearance.

So he pushed his fears off of him as he entered the last branch of the caves he had yet to inspect. The final one; the one where he certainly would find something.

As before he inched further and further. He did not go quickly, but slowly, to see anything he would have missed if he had walked a little faster. There was not a square inch he did not look at, not a patch of stone Ethan did not inspect for irregularities.

Before he realized it, he reached the end. He bumped into the rock walls and the floor climbing upward to an unsurpassable wall.

Ethan didn’t panic. If anything, he felt numb. This was it; the end of the line, the end of the potential clues. He had looked literally everywhere he could, he was certain of it.

So that was it, then?

Ethan stared at the wall for another minute, to confirm it indeed was a dead end, to know he could not go on from here. Then, he took a deep breath, gathered his courage, and turned around.

He couldn’t say how long he had been inside of the caves. He did notice that, when he walked out and stepped over the police tape, the sky had darkened, either because time had passed and because dark clouds had rolled over the island. He did not care about the weather, though; he cared that he failed. At least, like his father, he could not find this passage.

When he walked to his bike, he saw something he hadn’t noticed before. His bike was where he had left it, but a piece of rep rope or string was attached to the steering wheel. Someone took that piece of rope and had tied it to his bike. Ethan had no idea who did it, or why, or what the meaning was.

Maybe it was fate. Maybe this was a sign he had to wait.

Or someone was drunk and thought it was funny.

Either way, Ethan untied the rep piece of rope and unthinkingly put it in his pocket. He packed his things and decided to ride around a little, until it was safe to return home without being too early. He needed to clear his head, anyway.


When he sat in his office, Sam looked to his side. Tom hadn’t arrived yet. Hopefully, he stayed home today and took some rest.

He wasn’t going to worry about what Tom was or wasn’t doing. Sam still had a job to do. He knew what he needed to do.

Before he started, Sam took Tim’s missing file. One thing they had in common was the small window of time during which he disappeared – vital information they did not have when it came to Deb. Because they had this crucial piece of information, Sam could now do what he was about to do.

He hooked the wildlife camera to the computer, downloading its files. While that was going on, Sam looked up the time of Tim’s disappearance. It was noted between 10.15 pm and 10.45 pm. Half an hour, thirty minutes during which Tim had disappeared. A time window during which someone might have driven their car past the wildlife camera.

He checked frame by frame between those time periods if anything drove by. Sam wouldn’t say it was excruciating, but he could say it wasn’t his favorite pastime, clicking at regular intervals to check the next frame and the next, without speeding up and potentially missing something.

He found nothing. He needed to broaden the time frame within which Sam worked. He first checked if any car drove by after 10.45 pm. He did not see anything out of the ordinary. Sam id see wildlife, as that is what the camera was intended for, but Sam couldn’t do anything with his information. He did not need to see which small rodents or birds passed by; he needed to keep his eyes on the road. So far, he wasn’t getting any results out of this part of the investigation.

Sam started to lose hope, but still wanted to check some frames taken before the time frame during which Tim disappeared.

At long last, a car drove on the road around 10.02 pm. Sam would have sighed in relief if he didn’t still have to zoom in to read the license plate. He was rather suspicious of the car, which he recognized.

He printed the picture he had opened on his computer, zoomed in. The car almost took up the entire page and it was highly pixelated. Still, Sam could discern the main shapes and the license plate somewhat legible.

Sam’s familiarity with the car helped him read what the license plate said. He had been right – he had seen that car before. He had memorized the license plate long before he saw it on the paper. He saw that car daily, on his driveway.


Work was stressful. Then again, when hasn’t work been stressful?

Charlotte always ate her lunch off-site. She couldn’t stay during lunch break. She felt everyone’s judgement. Even though Hatchetfield was big in size, it still had this small town feel, and one of the primary ways it showed was how her colleagues shared rumors and gossiped about het behind her back. News spread quickly. No matter how much they tried to keep it a secret, news got out. Sam cheated on Charlotte and she forgave him and even kept him in the house. How crazy was that?

They weren’t sure how the news spread. Charlotte blamed Zoey. And now, because of Zoey, Charlotte had to eat her lunch some other place. Most often, she just sat in her car because she didn’t have the energy nor the will to drive away.

When she opened her car door, she noticed something she hadn’t seen before. There was some red dirt on the ground, near the pedals.

Crap. Had that been there all this time? Sam could’ve seen that.

She grabbed the loose carpet and pulled it out. With a little shaking and rubbing, she managed to get most of the red dirt off of the carpet. If someone looked at it now, they would need to squint to see a hint of red. She put the carpet back in place.

Still, Charlotte worried. She would never not worry. Which is why she almost jumped when her phone rang.

Charlotte grabbed her cellphone, her hands shaking. It was Sam. She breathed – she shouldn’t be afraid of Sam. But he was such a good detective…

But not picking up the phone looked suspicious, so she did it anyway.

“H-Hi, Sam,” she said.

“Hey, Charlotte,” Sam said on the other side of the line. He was probably in his office. “You tried to call me a couple of days ago about something. You seemed upset and I hung up on you.”

Crap, he remembered. Charlotte quietly scolded herself for even trying to call Sam that morning. She should have cried it out without trying to tell her husband first.

“I’m sorry about that,” Sam continued, “but I figured I’d wait until you were calmer. What is it that you wanted to tell me?”

He was on to her. A chill ran down her spine. He was on to her!

But he had no evidence, right? He knew she tried to call. He hadn’t even seen the dirt in her car. There was no way she was suspicious, so she had nothing to fear.

“Char? Are you there?” Sam asked. It occurred to her she hadn’t answered him yet.

“I’m still here, Sam,” Charlotte said, trying her best to sound as confident and carefree and she always was. “I-I don’t even remember what I wanted to say. I was panicking, and I don’t remember what it was about. It must’ve been a bad dream. I shouldn’t have bothered you with something silly like that.”

It definitely felt like a bad dream. The discovery of the red dirt in her car confirmed again that it wasn’t a dream. She could only hope Sam would believe her.

“You can always bother me with that. Anything to calm you,” Sam responded and Charlotte almost cried. What did she do to deserve such a sweet man? What happened to make them grow apart?

“When I was called to the caves, I passed by our house,” Sam continued. He spoke in a different tone – less amicable. “I didn’t see your car. Did you go somewhere?”

Anxiety gripped Charlotte’s heart and sent her mind into overdrive again. He’s on to me! But she took a couple of breaths and responded as quickly as possible, so as not to become too suspicious.

“Oh, right,”’ she said, trying to fake-remember something. “Yes, I went to see a friend. I arrived there at ten and stayed as the news of those children came in. It’s horrible.” At least this wasn’t a complete lie. She had indeed gone to see a friend, but it didn’t meant the night ended this way.

For a moment, Sam said nothing. Another moment passed. And another. And for a split second, Charlotte didn’t think Sam would even answer.

“Are you sure?”

Charlotte nodded to herself. He knew. She knew that he knew something. She knew they weren’t being truthful to one another. The last time they hadn’t been honest, they stopped sleeping in the same bed. How would this end?

“Yes, I’m sure,” Charlotte said.  She did not try to hide the defeat in her voice.

“I’ll see you tonight, then,” Sam said. She could not hear anything in his voice that betrayed what he felt;

“See you tonight. Bye, Sam.”

Charlotte hung up and ate lunch in her car and cried.

Chapter Text

2019

Sam sighed.

This was a bit of a stretch, wasn’t it? Driving to the carpark on the edge of town, where only trucks stood and truckers rested before they could go back to work. This parking also had one trailer, ugly, old. Still, it looked homey, warm. On the window hung Christmas lights, spelling out a word: OPEN.

It wasn’t the best way to make a living, but Zoey had a permit and she could get by with the services she provided to the lonely men and sometimes even women who passed by. For these truckers, Hatchetfield was like the end of the world, and they could use some company.

Her clientele did not exclusively comprise of truckers though – some Hatchetfield citizens were regulars. This time, however, Sam did not come for pleasure. He needed to know where Charlotte was the night Tim disappeared. She hadn’t been with a friend – and if so, maybe she tried to see Zoey.

He stepped out of his car and walked to the trailer. He knocked three times on the door. Not even a second passed before the door opened.

Zoey was dressed for work, even if the weather was cold. Short skirt, enticing make-up, a shirt that left little to the imagination, high heels. To think she once worked in a coffee shop. To think the next logical step after being was to sell her body.

When she saw him, her trained smile came to her face.

“Hey, Sam,” she said sweetly. She already had a sweet voice. “Ready to get back at it?”

“Not today, Zoey,” Sam said. Even before, he never visited during working hours. “I’m here for my wife.”

The smile disappeared. Another great quality – she knew when to drop the act and just be herself. With a worried look on her face, she stared at her former customer.

“What about her?” she asked.

“Has she been here last night?” Sam asked, hoping Zoey would confirm. The worry already told him Charlotte hadn’t been here – or she was worried about something else entirely.

“She hasn’t,” Zoey said. “Is she okay? I haven’t seen her in months.” A little over a year, to be exact. “Did you tell her we—”

“She figured it out herself,” Sam said. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

It was Charlotte who brought Zoey into his life. When she still worked at the coffee shop, she and Charlotte started talking. It was the start of an unusual friendship. She even had Sam meet Zoey once.

Not long after that, Zoey lost her job. Sam and Charlotte visited in her trailer and paid her for the time she couldn’t work when they visited. Sometimes Sam came alone. Later, he succumbed to her charms and paid for her services as well as her company. He came alone.

Charlotte eventually figured it out.

Not only had her unfaithful husband betrayed her, but someone she considered a friend as well – someone who seemed to have incited her husband. She cut ties with Zoey and moved into the guest bedroom at home. She forgave him as a loyal and faithful wife, but it still hurt every time she looked at him. He could hear the question she never asked: when will you be unfaithful again?

“So she hasn’t been here,” Sam muttered to himself.

“Like I said, she wasn’t,” Zoey answered. “I hope she’s okay.”

I hope so, too. However, the more he thought about it, the deeper he dug into this new lead, the more he had to conclude that somehow his wife was involved in Tim’s disappearance. But how could Charlotte be responsible, let alone involved?

“She’s a little stressed out, but fine,” Sam said and he nodded at Zoey. “Thank you for your time.”

“You’re welcome back anytime you want,” Zoey said before Sam walked back to his car. From the tone in her voice, Sam knew she didn’t try to get a customer back – just the company of a man who was worried about his wife.

Then again, wouldn’t the company lead to pleasure again?


Henry sat in the chair in his room. He did not want to look out of the window today. His mind was on something else, after all.

“I need to tell him,” he said to himself. “It needs to stop. He needs to stop.”

He repeated these words a couple more times until he heard a conversation outside his opened door and listened in.

“Those poor kids,” one of the nurses said. She and her colleague were folding towels or napkins or something. Henry did not care what exactly it was; he cared about what they were saying.

“I hope they’re gonna find them,” her colleague said. They shared a look and then the first nurse looked around. She did not check if Henry was listening – he was usually so distracted he didn’t listen. The first nurse leaned in closer to her colleague and talked in a hushed tone, but not so low that Henry couldn’t hear it.

“I have this cousin police officer,” the nurse said. “I’m not supposed to tell you, but I heard they’ve found a body.

Henry froze. Poor boy. Poor kid, unknowingly brought to his doom. To be found so late. To never know the joy of life.

“One of the kids?” the colleague asked in a shocked voice.

“I don’t know.” The nurse shrugged. “He doesn’t want to talk about it. I just know the body’s gravely mutilated. But don’t say anything! The news is not supposed to be out yet.”

“Oh, dear.”

Henry had to go. He needs to be stopped.


Sam couldn’t ignore the feeling anymore.

It was clear to him that Charlotte might have something to do with this whole situation. She had been lying to him. She told him she was with a friend around the time she drove past the wildlife camera; the proof was right there, definitive and indisputable unless someone had stolen her car, which was an unlikely scenario.

Now he had a suspect, he also had a number of places she could have gone to. A lot more places she could have used, or had someone else use for their nefarious purposes.

One certain place came to mind; a place Sam had forgotten about because he had no reason to be there. A place Charlotte always liked for its charm, though it always belonged to Sam’s family.

It was a little cabin in the woods that belonged to the Hidgens family and which Henry had used in his youth. It was possible Charlotte had been there. It was possible that’s where Charlotte had driven to. Now it was time Sam, who had been there only once or twice in his life, visited it again.

Sam was surprised he still knew the address. It was a little harder to find, but when he saw the cabin through the trees, he knew he was at the right place. It looked exactly as it had the last time. The wooden walls were weathered and more mosses grew on them. It seemed a lot less sturdy, though it remained standing. Nobody had set foot in that cabin for years.

Or so he hoped.

Sam got out of his car and walked to the cabin. He glanced at the ground, at the small dirt path leading to it, and he stared at it.

He hadn’t wanted Charlotte to be a suspect. He didn’t want his wife, the mother of his daughter, to even be complicit or unknowingly be involved in these missing cases. But this dirt, the red dirt Wander and his colleagues could not find anywhere in Hatchetfield, was the same dirt Sam walked on right now.

Sam crouched down and took a closer look. It was the same reddish-brown of the dirt they found at the crime scene. That’s why he felt he’d seen it before – because he had seen it before, but had not paid any real attention to it. In the past, he hadn’t thought this dirt would become evidence in a murder case.

He proceeded to the cabin, carefully, hand on his gun. Someone might still be in there. A criminal, another body maybe. Sam hadn’t been here in so long, he expected to see anything and anyone. Maybe he even hoped to find Tim and Deb.

But if they were in the cabin, wouldn’t they have already heard the car drive to the cabin? Wouldn’t they have already tried to draw his attention?

Sam glanced through the window. At first sight, nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary – nothing proved this place was the scene of the crime. He still wanted to go inside, to take a closer look around. This must be the first time he was happy to have a key to this cabin.

His phone rang. Sam took it – Dana was calling. The autopsy must be finished. He picked up the phone.

“Sam Hidgens,” he said, his eyes on the cabin. He might be able to inspect the outside while he listened to the results.

“Dana here. I’ve got the result,” the coroner said from her office phone.

“And?” Sam was curious to hear what Dana had found out about the bird.

“Its eardrums were burst, the same that happened to the boy,” Dana explained, “but that’s not the cause of death.”

Sam hadn’t known about the eardrums. It was weird, especially as they still had o idea how they could have been burst, as well as the boy’s. What happened – what could have caused it? And, if that was not the cause of death, how else could this bird have died?

“Then what was?”

“I’m sure they died when they hit the ground,” Dana said. “This specimen had a cracked skull, the others possibly had as well, if they all exhibit the same conditions.”

There was no reason to believe this one bird was the exception. In all probability, they fell to the ground and cracked their skulls, and their eardrums burst along the way. Could there be a connection between the birds and the power outages?

“And those white flecks?” Sam asked. “Anything weird about them?”

There was something weird about it. if Dana had already said it wasn’t usual to see those flecks when he first showed the bird, then he wondered what she had found regarding this unusual feature.

“They don’t usually appear in this species,” the coroner said. “I thought I’d heard of the phenomena before, so I did some research. It never showed up in the US, but the flecks did appear in several bird species on the European mainland, right after Chernobyl.”

Sam was not expecting this. Chernobyl? Of course everyone was afraid of nuclear fallout, but as far as he knew, none of Hatchetfield or American wildlife had been affected by radioactive waste. If this was the effect on birds, what was the effect on the citizens of Hatchetfield?

Sam was suddenly even happier the power plant was closing.

“I see,” was all he could say. “Thanks for the information.”

“No problem,” she answered and she hung up the phone. Sam pocketed his phone and tried not to think too much of the implications. He’d come here to check if any criminal had been using the cabin as a hideout. He could think about the bird later.

Sam took the cabin key and slowly, carefully turned it in the lock. Not a minute later, he had access to the cabin.

It was empty, just as he expected it to be from looking in through the window. With only a small cabinet that held nothing. There was not even any secret passage here. To Sam’s disappointment and great relief, he found nothing in the dark and gloomy cabin that, based on the way the floorboards creaked, might collapse soon.

Then Sam looked out of the window and saw something he hadn’t noticed before.

Someplace behind the cabin stood something you could not immediately see when you drove to the cabin. It looked like it could be the entrance of a bunker: a grey concrete cube poked out of the green environment. What was that doing in the middle of the forest?

Sam focused on the concrete instead and left the cabin. Why should he inspect the cabin, something innocent, when there was something else that wasn’t as innocent, hidden between trees and bushes, well out of sight?

Sam walked through the foliage, gun drawn, to the bunker entrance. It was a simple structure: a concrete block with a rusted steel door that led underground, where the main bunker room was. Sam put a hand on the lever and pulled. He did not need to pull hard for the door to open.

He descended a narrow but steep staircase, three yards underground. The ceiling the walls were concrete and in front of him was another rusty steel door that seemed heavier than the other one. It was open and Sam looked in an untidy room.

There was a light switch outside the door. When Sam pressed it, the lights whirred and turned on. they were old but Sam took the risk of keeping them on for visibility.

There was more of the red dirt in the bunker area; there was no concrete floor, only dirt. This place was a more plausible crime scene than the cabin was. Well out of sight, not noticeable unless you directly looked at the entrance, and Sam figured few people knew where it was. Did Henry know this dreadful place existed? Did Charlotte know?

His phone rang again, taking him out of his thoughts. When he looked at the screen, Gerald Monroe’s name flashed across it. Sam sighed in relief. Maybe he was finally willing to provide the warrant so Tom could look around and see his kid was not there.

He picked up the phone. “Sam Hidgens.”

Gerald explained what happened in the power plant. Sam could only listen and was dumbfounded.

“He did, what now?”

Chapter Text

2019

Sam sped through the woods. The roads were abandoned, even more so than the outer ring of streets surrounding Hatchetfield. But the road to the power plant was long-winded: he had to drive all the way from one side of the city to the other, and it was going to take a while. Which meant he was going to be late.

Sam reached for his phone. He wished he hadn’t broken a promise, but bailing out Tom Houston was something only he could do – Charlotte could still pick up Jenny. Luckily, she picked.

“Sam?” she asked from the other side of the line.

“Hey, Char,” Sam said. “I know I was going to pick up Jenny, but you’re gonna have to do it now. Tom fucked up and now I need to pick him up.”

The call from Gerald was not completely unexpected, but Sam still didn’t like it. Tom was not a stupid man – he was far from it – but his behavior was getting ridiculous. Yes, Sam could understand. If something happened to Jenny, Sam would also do anything – even stupid things – to get her back.

He wouldn’t be so stupid to break into the nuclear power plant based on a fantasy that his kid may be in there, though.

Charlotte still hadn’t answered.

“Charlotte?”

“I’m still here,” Charlotte said, unsure what to say. “I-I don’t know if I can leave now—”

“Neither did I,” Sam said, and immediately after speaking, he realized he interrupted her. He sighed. “Look, I know it’s shit. I know this isn’t an ideal situation. But I have to go all the way to the power plant, I’m never gonna be on time to pick her up. It’s gonna have to be you.” He paused – Charlotte didn’t say anything. “Sorry.”

“You don’t have to apologize for your partner messing up,” Charlotte said. There was no anger in her voice. Charlotte never was truly angry, except for that one night a year ago. “I’ll try to be on time.”

“Thank you, Char.” Sam sighed in relief. “Again, sorry to ask you this late. I swear I’ll pick her up tomorrow and the day after.”

“I’ll keep you to it,” Charlotte said and she hung up.

Sam pocketed his phone and continued to drive. There was no way he could not pick up Jenny. He considered it as a good thing; if Tom ever decided to do something stupid again around the time school was out, Sam wouldn’t be able to pick him up. It’d teach him a lesson.

A true win-win situation, coming from one stupid decision.


Alice and Jenny walked out of the school building after their last class. They mostly attended the same classes and preferred each other’s company. Unlike the other students, they had lost a friend. They lost Deb, a friend and girlfriend, and nobody else in the school could feel that loss as they did at that moment. The girls found solace with each other, comforted each other. Though Jenny was more supportive than Alice, for obvious reasons.

They sat on a bench outside of the school grounds, finishing their conversation before going home.

“So, are you walking home?” Jenny asked. Alice shook her head.

“Dad comes to pick me up,” she said. “Thinks it’s safer.”

Jenny nodded, more to herself than to her friend. Her dad was coming to pick her up… Jenny’s mind floated to the family life Alice knew, to the family she was surrounded with at both houses, depending on where she was staying that week.

“You’re lucky,” Jenny said, leaning back and staring in near distance of the front of a house on the other side of the street. She did not see how Alice frowned at her.

“What do you mean?”

“Your parents,” Jenny responded. “They’re happy.”

“Yours are, too, right?” Alice asked.

Jenny shook her head. Alice didn’t understand. She’d never understand with her happy parents and happy families that did not torment themselves as unnecessarily as Jenny’s parents did.

“Nope,” Jenny said, popping the ‘p’. She turned her head to her friend, who still had no clue. “You know, they haven’t slept in the same bed for over a year. They try not to make a big deal out of it, but they stay together for me. I can see how painful it is. I can see them try to avoid the elephant in the room and it grows and grows until there’s not even any room to breathe anymore.”

Jenny paused to take a much-needed breath. The way her parents ignored it at home – she could barely breathe even if she stepped out of her room. Until she turned eighteen in September, she would have to go back there every day.

Somehow, she knew they would never divorce until Jenny had left the home, which was terrible if they still had ten months to live with one another in his way.

“You’re lucky,” Jenny continued. “Your parents divorced and live happy, separate lives. I wish my parents could have that, too. But they’re too fucking stupid.”

In general, adults were always stupid. You just couldn’t tell when they acted like they had their shit together, when they presented themselves in a professional way and convinced you they were not stupid. It was a good quality to have.

“You gotta tell them,” Alice told her. Jenny could hear everything that wasn’t said out loud. Tell them how you feel. Tell them you are suffering. Tell them not to think of their child for one moment and make a decision that’s good for you. Tell them that a divorce may make everyone happier in the long term; no one needs to suffer.

Jenny shook her head. “I’ve tried. They don’t listen.”

Adults were always stupid. Once they’ve made a decision, it is hard to make them change their mind. Last year, Jenny had discovered this first-hand.

She smiled at her friend with genuine gratitude. “Thanks, Alice.”

She didn’t need anyone’s sympathy. That’s why she hadn’t told anyone at school yet. But if there was one person she could tolerate the sympathy from, it was from Alice.

“Alice!” a voice from the right said. “You coming?”

The girls looked in that direction. There stood Bill, Alice’s dad.

“I’m coming!” Alice said. Then, as per usual, she hugged Jenny. “See you tomorrow, Jenny.”

“Yeah,” Jenny said, “Tomorrow….”

She watched Alice walk with her dad to the car and they drove off. She watched many other teenagers who, mostly against their will, were taken home by a parent or grandparent. Everyone feared the silent kidnapper first took Deb and then Tim and who may target some of these kids, too.

Jenny wasn’t afraid of this kidnapper. She was, however, afraid of what she was leaving behind and how her parents would react if they learned that she was gone. Ironically, her disappearance may be the one thing that could bring them back together - a common feeling of loss to find comfort with one another, and possibly a reignited love.

Jenny looked around. Still no car in sight that she recognized, her father’s or her mother’s. Where were they?

Fuck it, Jenny thought.

She wasn’t going to wait for her father. He’d be too busy with work, anyway.

She’d walk.


Charlotte made it to Hatchetfield High. Her last client had taken up much more of her time than she wanted to. Charlotte had wanted to leave a little early, so she would be on time to pick up her daughter.

Those last clients though had ruined those plans. Charlotte left the building twenty minutes after school was done, caught in traffic, arriving late to the school. When she arrived, it was not only pouring, but one of the teachers or something was closing the door. Charlotte ran up to her.

“Excuse me,” she asked, “is Jenny Hidgens still here?”

The woman locked the door and then turned to Charlotte, shaking her head.

“No,” she said. “All our students have gone home.”

“Even Jenny?” Charlotte wondered, her anxiety ramping up already. She took steady breaths, repeating the mantras in her head so she could stay calm. She could not stop her fidgeting with her fingers, however, or looking at the woman with a nervous tick.

“I think I saw her leave earlier today.”

“On foot?” Charlotte asked, her voice rising. The woman nodded.

“Yes,” she said.

Charlotte’s eyes dashed around the school property. There was nobody here, as this teacher said, but could not see anyone. No young girl, no Jenny anywhere. Nobody.

And then she panicked.

“Misses Hidgens, is everything okay?” the teacher asked, but nothing she said could calm down Charlotte. Jenny wasn’t around. She was the next one, missing, disappeared in thin air. Gone.

No, she isn’t, Charlotte told herself. Jenny decided to walk home instead. She was on her way home, walking. Alone.

To be sure, Charlotte would drive on the route to see if she was there. Just in case.


It was so easy. People barely cared when you looked like you belonged.

It helped even more that the staff knew Henry. He liked to wander. He liked to roam around in the facility. Only since two days ago did he wander off to warn Hatchetfield.

He was too late then. He wasn’t going to be too late again. He needed to be there, to see the menace that caused all this pain.

Henry needed to tell him something: he needed to stop it.

A new receptionist sat at the desk. She barely looked up from her phone when Henry walked out through the front door. The poor girl was none the wiser. If people asked, she knew nothing.

Which was good. It meant that Henry had more time before they found out he was missing again. More time Henry could spend looking for him.

He had to be out there somewhere.

“I have to tell him something,” he said aloud as he put more distance between himself and the nursing home. “It needs to stop. He needs to be stopped.”

Chapter Text

2019

Sam came to the power plant, where Gerald Monroe himself waited for him. He brought the officer to Tom, who sat in the security office. Tom sat in the chair and was grumpy. There were bruises on his face; he apparently hadn’t been very cooperative.

The power plant security allowed Tom to go with Sam. Gerald decided not to press charges, but only if Tom stayed away from the power plant. Even though Tom didn’t verbally agree, he did grunt and Sam vouched for his colleague. Gerald let them both leave.

Now, they sat in silence in Sam’s car. Normally Sam would’ve turned on the radio, but this did not seem like the right thing to do. Not while Tom sat next to him.

But Sam could not stand the silence either. As soon as they turned the corner away from the power plant, he needed to talk to Tom. He needed to say something.

“What the hell, Tom?” It may not be the best start of the conversation, but it showed Sam’s true frustration. “What were you thinking, breaking into the power plant? You’re lucky Gerald understands what you’re going through, or else you would’ve been arrested.”

He looked at Tom for a second. He wasn’t in a talkative mood. He only stared ahead of him, to some point in the distance. Sam shook his head and sighed. He thought he wasn’t breaking through to his colleague at all.

“This has got to stop,” Sam then said.

“I can’t,” Tom responded. He shook his head, too, but slowly. A single tear escaped his eye. “That’s it, Sam. I can’t stop. I’ve tried, believe me, God knows I’ve tried, but I just… can’t.”

Tom paused. He still stared ahead. Sam wished he could say something nice, something to calm him down or to let him know that he was there for him. But Sam could not find the words and Tom continued talking.

“I have to continue. I need to continue doing this shit. It’s my son we’re talking about. My son.” He took a deep breath and turned his head to Sam. “You’d do the same if it were Jenny. You wouldn’t be able to stop either. Not until your child is safely back home.”

Sam had no idea how to respond to it. But Tom was still staring at him and probably expected an answer. Sam shrugged.

“I don’t know.”

Tom rolled his eyes. “Don’t.”

“What?” Sam asked. What was he doing wrong now? He still felt quite frustrated, but he was sure he hadn’t tried to convey that too harshly after this small breakdown. Tom apparently saw something that Sam wasn’t even aware of.

“That look in your eyes,” Tom said, “I don’t need your sympathy or anyone else’s.”

Tom turned his head away from Sam and looked ahead again.

“You can drop me off here.”

“Tom—”

“I came here by car,” Tom interrupted Sam. “I just want to drive home. Or don’t you trust me?”

Sam sighed. “You’re making that difficult.”

Sam slowed down the car and stopped. Before Tom could leave the car, however, Sam still had one last thing to say.

“If you jump over that fence again, I won’t bail you out.”

“I know,” Tom commented as he stepped out of the car. He walked back to his own car - at least, Sam hoped so. He hadn’t seen a car on his way there. He hoped there was a car Tom walked back to. If he tried to break in again, Sam knew he was too far gone to be helped.

Sam’s phone rang. Even without looking at the screen, he had the feeling that it was Charlotte. This seemed to be one of those days where they couldn’t go one hour without contacting one another. Sam didn’t mind. At least he wasn’t calling her to ask her where she’d been or to pick up their kid, a promise he’d made.

Sam picked up the phone. “Hey, Char.”

“Jenny’s missing.”

Her voice was shaky, unstable. Though he couldn’t see her, he could already imagine her crying her eyes out. And for a moment, Sam panicked as well.

“Didn’t you pick her up?” he asked her.

“She left before I arrived. I tried looking for her on the road back home, but I can’t find her.” She let out a whimper. “I-I’m sorry, Sam.”

“I’m coming,” he said before hanging up. He doubted she heard it.

And while he drove home as quickly as he could, one thought crossed his mind.

Please not Jenny.


Ethan could only look at a map for so long.

Where did it go wrong? What turn didn’t he take? Had he walked right past the passage his father’s map talked about?

Ethan was certain he had gone through all the caves. He had seen all the walls, left no stone unturned; he had been everywhere. Then why could he not find this passage?

No.

Ethan folded the map. Staring at it wouldn’t make him miraculously remember one turn he didn’t take, or make him realize where he needed to go. On top of that, he was tired. He should try to look at it the next morning, when he was rested enough, when he may look at things in a different way.

Ethan took the map and walked to his desk. He put it in the second drawer, safely out of sight. His mother never really had come into his room, anyway, but just in case, he didn’t want it to lie around.

After this exhausting day, Ethan fell fast asleep. He did not wake up once and slept better than he had in weeks.

This was also the night the Stranger came into his house.

The Stranger, without making a sound, stood in the doorway a little after one o’clock in the morning. He calmly looked around the room, taking in all the details and all items on display. What else was there to say? It was a teenage boy’s room. He barely paid any attention to Ethan.

The boy was young, naïve. He knew so little of the world around him. Of all the little cogs that turned and moved around him; of what his existence meant to the world.

The Stranger moved. He walked towards the desk and without hesitation opened the second drawer. As expected, he found the map. A blank map, with only Tony Green’s handwriting wondering where the passage was.

Tony Green never found it again. His son, on the other hand, should.

The Stranger took a red pen and drew a line on the map.


Charlotte was home already when Sam arrived.

He had talked to Xander for a while, giving him the lead of this search. Jenny hadn’t been gone for very long and Xander knew what he was doing, despite his young age. As for Sam, he decided to leave the police work to his colleagues. He wished he could help, but he was also aware he had a wife who was so stressed out lately, she was not going to fare well if she was left alone.

So Sam opened the door and walked toward his wife. Charlotte sat on the couch, trying to dry her cheeks with a tissue.

“Charlotte,” he said, to announce his arrival. Charlotte looked up at him; her red and swollen eyes were on him and only him.

“Sam!” She stood up and walked towards him. She nearly fell into his arms. He held her tightly while she continued to sob. All Sam could do was hold her. He hadn’t reached that point yet where he cried. Jenny was coming back. Charlotte, on the other hand, held the exact opposite beliefs, if only because her anxiety brought it up.

“I’m so sorry,” Charlotte said in between sobs. “I’m sorry, I couldn’t make it in time. M-my clients—”

“Hush, Char,” Sam said. She should try to take deep breaths instead of unnecessarily trying to defend herself. He knew, in this case, she’d done nothing wrong. “It’s okay. It’s okay. I don’t blame you.”

“But I couldn’t find her,” Charlotte said. Sam patted her on the back once.

“It’s not your fault she walked home,” Sam told her, still holding her close. “She’s used to it. Maybe she forgot someone would pick her up. She could’ve forgotten to tell us.”

It was her habit to take the bus or walk home if she wanted to. Though Sam made sure she listened, she could have easily forgotten. With everything that was going on, Jenny had been easily distracted. Because she may think nothing was wrong, she hadn’t told her parents, either. She was going to come through that door. Any minute now.

Charlotte leaned away from him and stared at him with a frown.

“Why are you here?”

She didn’t sound accusatory. She only wanted to know why he was here, at home, and not with the police to look for their daughter.

“Xander’s on it,” Sam responded. “They are on it.”

Charlotte shook her head and broke off the hug. “You should—”

“I wanted to be there for you,” Sam said. That stopped Charlotte in her tracks. She stared at him wide-eyed, not sure whether she should be mad at him or happy he stayed.

“I’m not leaving you tonight,” Sam continued. “I trust Xander. And I know you need me.” He paused. “And frankly, I need you, too.”

Charlotte gasped.

“Oh, Sam!”

She embraced him again and they held on to one another.


When Tom returned, Jane was doing chores around the house. She needed to keep moving, keep busy. To do something that could take her mind off of Tim.

Jane stopped the vacuum cleaner and looked in the hallway. Tom stood there, soaking wet. It had been raining heavily. Tom had not said anything to her. He hadn’t called. The only thing he told her today was to ask her what time it was that morning.

Even now, they did not speak. They only watched each other - Jane from the living room, Tom from the hallway, one dry and the other drenched. Their gazes met. Both were empty.

Jane felt nothing. Tom felt nothing, either. The only thing on their mind was Tim, and neither of them knew how to deal with this properly. For how could you deal with it ‘properly’?

Silently, Tom turned away and went upstairs. To put on dry clothes; maybe to take a shower; possibly to go to bed. It was late, after all.

Jane did not try to stop him, to talk to him, to let him know she was there for him. He did not give her the same courtesy.

Tears sprung in her eyes.


It had grown darker.

Henry had been wandering around for hours now. Time was not a concern of him. One way or another, he was going to bump into the man who was sneaking around and snatching these children. Illegitimately pulling them from their homes and doing horrible things to them.

Henry shuddered.

“I need to stop him,” he said and repeated these words.

He needs to be stopped.

It’s going to happen again. Henry could no longer stay by the sidelines and do nothing. Yet with his condition, his age, the way the adults treated him, he was never going to be taken seriously. He stopped caring, so long as the message got across.

Maybe he should consider caring about that.

Not now. He needed to find that cursed man. He needs to be stopped.

His legs were taking him to the place he knew so well, to the cabin where he found peace. Nobody was there, though. The lights were out. Had it even been used since Henry moved into the home? On the one hand, it was sad nobody did anything with the cabin. On the other hand, it was a good thing.

Did anyone find the bunker yet?

He did not stay too long. After all, the man needed to be stopped. So Henry moved on and walked away from the cabin, to something else.

Subconsciously, he walked to the light. Even in the darkness of the forest, the flashing lights stood out. The man wouldn’t make such a show, but Henry walked in that direction nonetheless.

He stumbled upon a police patrol. Some police cars stood parked with their lights shining, but without their sirens. Some police officers were on the scene, calling out for a girl named Jenny. Then one of their flashlights shone in his face.

Henry blinked a couple of times and the flashlight was taken out of his face. Now he could see a face, too. A familiar-looking officer. Maybe Sam knew him. He frowned.

“Henry?” Xander Lee asked. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“I have to tell him something,” Henry told him. “He needs to be stopped.”

Chapter Text

2019

Sam and Charlotte had no idea how long they had been waiting. They only knew how relieved they were when they heard their front door open. They stood up from the couch and watched Jenny walk into the room as if nothing had happened.

“Jenny!” Charlotte shouted as she ran to her daughter and hugged her. Sam came closer, too, but left the hugging to Charlotte – he was just happy to see her. He had to call Xander to let him know Jenny was home. She had been gone for three hours, but they had been the longest three hours of their life.

Jenny did not seem to notice how worried her parents were, or just how dire the situation had seemed to them.

“Hey, it’s fine,” she told them. “I’m fine.”

“Where were you?” Charlotte asked in a still worried tone. Jenny shrugged.

“I walked home,” she responded. That was not good enough of an answer.

“It never took you this long,” Sam said, and he felt how easily he stepped back into the role of the police officer. “What held you up?”

“Don’t worry,” Jenny said, rolling her eyes. Sam could not look into her mind to see what she thought, but he figured she was not happy with how nosy her parents were about something she labeled as insignificant. “I was completely safe the entire time. I even met a guy.”

Maybe she meant to say she met a guy and nothing even happened, but Sam did not think about it that way. That man Jenny mentioned could have been scouting out new victims, people who were alone at night or in the morning. That man might be someone of interest.

“Do you have a description?” he asked her. Jenny groaned.

“He didn’t kidnap me, dad.” She dragged her words, to show her annoyance with her father. Don’t be so hard on me, he didn’t even do anything wrong!

“Give me a description, please,” Sam said in a friendly but pressing tone. Jenny sighed and decided to give her father what he wanted, but she wasn’t particularly happy about it.

“It was just a guy,” he said. “Black hair, mustache, long coat. He gave me something—”

“Drugs?” Sam interrupted. Jenny stared at him incredulously for a second. Jenny didn’t even want to answer it out loud. Instead, she reached into her pocket and showed him the beautiful golden pocket watch that fit perfectly in her hand. He was surprised and confused to see that watch.

“He said it used to belong to mom,” Jenny said. She handed it to her mother, who looked at it with the greatest interest.

Charlotte inspected it. She hadn’t seen this before, but it somehow felt right. When she opened the pocket watch, she could see the inscription: for Charlotte. If it ever had belonged to her, she was too young to remember. Given her background, it likely did belong to her.

“Did he say his name?” Sam then asked Jenny.

“You wanna do this now?” Jenny said, not even trying to hide her annoyance anymore. She glared at him and with every passing second, she lost more of the will to cooperate.

“His name, please,” Sam said in a lower tone.

“He said his name was Ted.”


Henry Hidgens was back in the senior home, where he belongs. The staff had put him in his bed and now, a nurse had come to attend to him.

It was a routine health check-up. Henry had been out for at least six hours, so anything could have happened. He seemed to have no outward injuries, which was already a big relief, but they still need to determine whether anything was okay on the inside as well.

For now, the nurse was going to start with his blood pressure.

As the machine did its job, Henry opened his eyes and grabbed her arm. She was too shocked to immediately try to pull it off of her. Henry wasn’t one to be violent, so she inherently trusted him. He looked directly at her, worry present in his eyes.

“I need to tell him something,” he said. “He needs to be stopped.”

The nurse frowned. “Who needs to be stopped?”

“Ted.”


Alice decided to walk to school that morning.

Her father would’ve taken her if she’d asked. He would have gladly done so. However, she wasn’t in the mood for anyone’s presence today. She left early, so she could take the long way around. Her route took her to a pathway that ran past the Witchwood Forest. If kept this pace, she would arrive at the school on time.

She’d love to go into the forest, skip a school day. Cry it out in the forest. But she didn’t want to miss any classes, either, so she went to school anyway. In her mind, she was already in the forest, crying for Deb and that other boy who went missing. She cried because she knew in her heart they may never be found again.

Alice was pulled out of her thought when up ahead, a man stood. He wore a black coat and a hood was pulled over his head. It wasn’t that cold today. Alice stopped, ready to turn around and run if necessary.

“Who are you?” she yelled, taking her phone in her hand. One step away from making a call.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” the man said. He sounded hesitant – as if he had trouble speaking. “Ted sent me. He knows where Deb is. He wants to show you.”

Chapter Text

2019

Lex didn’t want to talk. She was glad to be at home, away from school, looking at the world from the safety of her house and Hannah’s bedroom. And though she preferred to seclude herself from that cruel world that had taken her brother, she was still human and craved contact.

She tried to call Ethan. He did no pick up his phone. At least Lex had the solace of knowing he didn’t purposely turn it off - it always went to voicemail.

Lex turned around and looked at Hannah. She was hit the worst out of them all. She lay in bed all day, only standing up to go to the bathroom or to eat. Lex could not leave her side - if Lex stayed away for too long, she started to cry, thinking that she had been taken, too. Lex had been sleeping in Hannah’s room, too, so Hannah could see that Lex was there when she woke from a bad dream. Hannah might even think her parents had disappeared, too, if Lex wasn’t there to remind her they were not going to leave.

But then Hannah would ask about Tim, if he was coming back. And Lex wouldn’t know what to say. She did not want to lie to her sister. She could not say everything would be okay because they would not know. She could not say the police would find him soon, because they had no idea how far along they were with the investigation. All Lex could say was that the police were doing their best to find him; that was the only truth she could tell her sister.

Someone called her.

Lex took her phone and looked at the screen. It wasn’t Ethan, as she had hoped, but River.

Lex sighed as she hung up. What was she doing? She and River were in a relationship. They told each other only weeks ago that they’d be there for each other no matter what. They’d be there. River was clearly keeping his end of the promise. He wasn’t the nicest of people - he was a Monroe, for goodness’ sake - but he was good to her. He had the potential to be a great person. And there was no doubt in her mind that he truly did love her. And she loved him.

Then why didn’t she try to reach him? Why were her thoughts with Ethan instead of River? Why did she not pick up his calls and talk?

Lex groaned. Something had changed the night Tim disappeared. She didn’t know what it was, but she wanted to figure it out. She had to figure it out.

But she couldn’t so long as she had to keep an eye on Hannah. And so far, she didn’t actually mind spending her days with her sister.


Harriet bit her nails as the phone rang. Come on, she thought. Pick up!

She had not seen Ethan yet. He had to be sleeping in. Harriet had planned to go to him and ask if she should call the school and tell them he wasn’t coming, but that apparently wasn’t necessary anymore. She had received calls from the school staff. They called all parents to let them know they were closing the school for a couple of days. Another student had disappeared while they walked to school and they weren’t taking any risks.

Harriet wouldn’t tell Ethan. He didn’t need any extra stress. The poor kid already blamed himself for Tim and was still crushed by the death of his father, so she decided to keep it from him. He’d learn it from someone else.

For now, Harriet had other problems.

The call went to voicemail and Harriet cursed.

She took the phone away from her ear and looked at the screen. Twenty-two unanswered calls. Twenty-two opportunities to pick up the phone that Tom Houston hadn’t taken. That he missed two or even three calls was understandable; missing twenty-two calls could only be described as neglect.

His phone wasn’t shut off. So he deliberately ignored her.

Harriet did not like being ignored.

She started to think. If Tom was ignoring her calls, there was no other option for her but to come over to his house and tell him what she needed to tell him.

She had told herself she would never cross that line. She had told herself she wouldn’t try to involve Jane or his children in their relationship. But if Tom was ignoring her, she had to do what she needed to do. And if Jane and the girls were home, then so be it.


The next morning, everything was the way it was supposed to be. Charlotte stood up earlier to cook breakfast for her daughter and husband. They got up later but enjoyed a nice home-cooked meal.

Today, it was Charlotte’s turn to bring Jenny to school. Jenny was still neutral about the situation, but after seeing how worried they’d become after she took the long way around, she decided not to complain about it. After all, they were just trying to protect her.

Before Charlotte brought her daughter to school, she needed to do something else first. While this was going on, Sam received a message from the station. An overly long text message bringing him up to speed with the most recent events.

He glanced at Jenny. At that moment, she was the most important source of information, though he did not like that.

Jenny stood up from the table and wanted to take her backpack, but Sam stopped her.

“Jenny, come here,” he said. She thought nothing of it until she saw the serious look on his face. She sat down again and frowned.

“What’s wrong?” she asked him.

Sam hated to break this news to her. He could see how she suffered now Deb was gone - and how hard she tried not to cave in. How well would she be taking the news? How would she react when questions followed.

Sam took a deep breath. “Alice went missing.”

Jenny remained silent at first, as the truth started to seep in. Alice was indeed gone; her father would not lie about these things.

“What?” It was barely as loud as a whisper.

“She went to school early. She normally texts Bill when she arrives, but she didn’t today,” Sam explained. The text held more information, but he wasn’t going to give her the details.

“S-She could have forgotten,” Jenny said, almost in tears. Sam shook his head. Denial was a strong emotion, and it overwhelmed her. Better to be in denial and hope instead of mourning a friend.

“I’m sorry, Jenny,” Sam said. He had tried - he’d given Ted’s description to Xander, who found nothing. Sam had done all he could, and yet another girl was taken. Another Hatchetfield child missing.

“I know I heard you out yesterday…” Sam began, slowly, carefully, “but if there’s anything else you can remember?”

“Could it be Ted?” Jenny asked. She did not hold back the tears.

Sam nodded. “He is a suspect, yes.”

Today, Jenny was more cooperative. Now Alice was gone, she might tell him more details. Sam was counting on it.

“I-I don’t know,” she said. “He wore a hat. I told you the rest yesterday.”

She had been honest yesterday. Sam nodded and let her go. Was she even in the mood still to go to school? He had no idea, but he now had more information than yesterday. One more detail to lead him to this Ted. One more detail to lead him to the kidnapper.

Sam got out of the kitchen himself, to go and grab his hat out of his room. In the living room, however, Charlotte stopped him. She looked mad; Sam thought that she might have heard the conversation between Sam and Jenny.

“Did you just interrogate our daughter again?” she asked him. She looked as furious as she could be. Sam nodded. He was not going to deny something that was so blatantly in public.

“Yes, I did,” he said. And he added: “Where were you on the night Tim disappeared?”

He hadn’t intended on asking. He couldn’t bring himself to do so yesterday, but today was a different story. Today, he learned another girl had disappeared and he could no longer allow himself to ignore the possible part his wife might have played - if not with the disappearance of Deb and Alice, then at least with the disappearance of his partner’s only son.

Charlotte was taken aback. She had not been expecting that question again, especially not at this moment.

“I was with a friend,” she stammered, but even before she could finish her sentence, Sam was already shaking his head.

“We both know that’s bullshit,” Sam said. Charlotte stared at him. She disliked it when her husband swore, and though he usually watched his language, he - again - wasn’t in the mood for this.

Sam sighed. “Charlotte, you haven’t been honest. I know you weren’t with a friend.”

He had taken the picture back home. He hadn’t even realized he had been carrying it until he put his hands into his pockets and found the picture. Now, Sam only needed to reach into his pocket and show it to Charlotte.

Sam handed the picture to her. She took it and looked at it: at the dark forest, at all the black that was only broken by her car and, as far as it was legible, her license plate. She looked at the picture incredulously, and her hands started to tremble. This was a sign that she may feel like she was caught. Sam shook his head.

“Please look at me, Char,” he said. Charlotte lifted her head, but it was hard to tell how she felt. At least Sam knew how he felt - betrayed and saddened.

“Right now, I don’t want to believe you have anything to do with it,” Sam said. “I don’t want to know where you were, who you were with, even what you were doing. But please look at me and tell me you are not complicit. Tell me you have nothing to do with it.”

Please tell me you’re innocent, he thought, so I don’t lose one of the few certainties in life.

Charlotte took too long to react. She would’ve already ensured him she was okay, she didn’t have anything to do with it. Maybe she’d finally say what it was - it must’ve been painful and embarrassing, but that was not something to keep secret when she was acting suspicious on the evening of one of the disappearances.

But Charlotte scrunched up her face. She looked at him with proper disgust.

“You are crazy,” she said. “You’re seeing things that aren’t there.”

She left the living room to drive Jenny to school. Sam, on the other hand, stayed in the house for a while longer. He did not get what he wanted; instead, he got the silent confirmation of his defensive wife that she was indeed involved.

And frankly, he had no idea how to deal with it.

Chapter Text

1986

That evening, Tim returned to the hospital. They'd called the police; nurse Becky was talking to the nice police officer when she saw her. She ran to him, more relieved than Tim ever imagined a nurse would be. He still was silent - he didn't tell them what happened.

What could he say? I tried to run back to the caves to return to 2019, but it didn’t work?

He allowed Becky to take him back to his room where a doctor checked out his leg. He’d be fine, the man said, but it did need some medical attention. It didn’t need any scans, though, so that was good.

His mind was stuck in 2019.

How could he go back there? And how had he done that the first time around?

Tim started to come to the realization that, if he ever went back to 2019, he wasn’t going to use the caves. Instead, he would have to wait it out, all those years, until he returned.

And then what? Go to mom and dad and tell them that he was their son who went missing? They wouldn’t believe him - how could their son be lost in time and now be their age? This man must be an impostor, trying to hurt them even more. Finding them as children would yield the same results.

Tim shook his head. That was never going to happen.

He should try not to think about home. That was hard, however, when home was so far and so close at the same time. Right now, there was no place he could call his home. The only world he knew, was the hospital room where he stayed, where he sat on the bed, lost in thoughts, and still did not say anything.

Because what could he have to say that the others would understand.

Someone knocked on the door. Tim did not even turn his head. He could already guess who it was.

“Hey, Tim,” said nurse Becky as she walked into view. “I brought you a present.”

She placed it on the bed beside him. Tim took it in his hand. From the shape and the weight, Tim believed it had to be some sort of book.

He did not need any books now. He wanted his parents, his sisters, he wanted to go back home. He wanted something that Becky could not offer at this moment.

She glanced from the book at him; she was trying to gauge him. Maybe he should talk to her - she seemed genuinely nice.

“If you want to talk, know that I’m here,” Becky said with that nice smile. “Whatever you want to say - no matter what happened - you won’t be judged. You don’t even need to say what happened, if you don’t want to.”

But how could she understand what he was going through, even if he told her the bare minimum? They’d look for his parents, who had to be children themselves. They’d look for his address, where this Tom kid lived. They’d do everything they could to help, while Tim knew they would not get any results.

Maybe that’s why he didn’t speak. It made things easier.

“If you want to talk, you can always call me,” Becky said with a nod, and she left again.

He turned his head to watch her leave.

Wait, he thought.

He wanted to talk. He just didn’t know where to start.


Tim did not need a priest. He did not need a holy man telling him that he needed to pray and that when he did, everything would magically be okay because a man in the sky would listen to him and make things right.

Tim hadn’t made up his mind yet. But he knew for certain now that he wasn’t a very religious kid and he would probably grow into an adult who also wasn’t very religious. What kind of God ripped a child from his time and dropped him off some thirty years earlier?

But the priest entered his room nonetheless. At this point, Tim had been lying in bed and staring at the ceiling, his gift still wrapped and on the windowsill. He only sat upright when the priest himself took a seat and tried to smile at him to comfort him.

Tim did not feel very comforted, but the man seemed nice enough. That mustache was a little funny, but Tim had nothing else to say about this man of God. He took off his hat as he sat down and he looked at the child.

“Hello, Tim,” he said. He paused there already. If he was waiting for an answer or a greeting, he wasn’t going to get it. Though Tim would more than likely speak to this man - if only to contradict him - he wasn’t going to say him to the man who came into his room when Tim didn’t want him to.

The priest did not seem to mind. He glanced out of the window: today was a beautiful, sunny day.

“Don’t you wonder about the world?” The priest said to try and elicit a reaction from the boy. “About all the beautiful things that God has created? About every wonderful thing around you?”

No, Tim wanted to say. Things are not wonderful at all. He did not say that to the priest. Tim did not want to explain what had happened to him; he barely understood it himself. Instead, he had something else to say.

“It’s all because of the Big Bang,” Tim told the priest. “It brought everything into being. All the rest is evolution.”

He had hoped the priest would be shocked. Instead, the priest shrugged.

“Maybe,” the priest said. He leaned in closer to the boy. “But what came before? The Big Bang, evolution, that could be God’s work. Science and religion can work together.”

“My dad doesn’t like religion,” Tim responded. He remembered his father not being that much of a religious person or praying as much as mom did. They did not go to church, but mom still didn’t like it when Tim or the girls spoke ill of God. Dad did not mind that kind of language, though.

The priest nodded in agreement with Tim’s statement.

“As is his right, unfortunate as that may be,” the priest said. He looked at the boy again. “But what do you think?”

He did not look away from the kid while he waited for his answer. He knew exactly how he felt about this whole thing, but now the priest sat in front of him and was staring at him, he couldn’t tell him what he felt. He did not feel like saying that in front of this nice, tolerant priest who didn’t seem to want to convert him or lecture him about Jesus and stuff.

“I don’t know,” Tim said and the priest nodded in understanding again.

“That’s okay,” he said. “God has a plan for all of us. Even for you. Even if that path isn’t immediately clear.”

Tim hoped so. Even if he didn’t believe it, he sure hoped so, because if there was no reason for his involuntary journey to the past, then what else could he do?


That day, a woman from Child Protective Services came over. The hospital had contacted them as soon as the silent boy arrived in their facilities. Since he wasn’t saying anything and they hadn’t received any calls from worried parents or relatives yet, they had decided to quickly contact CPS and get them involved as soon as possible.

The woman, Miss Doppler, was a nice and friendly woman who always seemed to smile, however faint it was. She had spoken with the boy - or attempted to, because he still hadn’t said a word. Then she interviewed the nurse who had been primarily taking care of him: Becky Green. She volunteered every piece of information Miss Doppler asked for and cooperated in a way that the boy couldn’t.

After their conversation, Becky walked the woman to the exit.

“So, we will be picking him up this Wednesday,” said misses Doppler.

Becky stopped physically for a second before she recovered from the shock.

“This Wednesday?” she said. “So soon?” That wasn’t even a week from now! She didn’t think they would work so quickly. Maybe they made this a priority case because the boy had run away in the night and returned with more scraps than he had before and a hurt leg.

Misses Doppler nodded respectfully. “Yes, so soon.”

“Can’t he stay in the hospital? I’m sure—”

“A hospital is no place for a child, miss Green,” Miss Doppler interrupted her. “I’m sure you can find reason in this. Rest assured, they will take good care of him in a children’s home.”

Those words were meant to inspire relief in Becky, so she would back off. So misses Doppler probably did not expect Becky to grow even more concerned for the taciturn boy.

“You want to put him in a children’s home?” Horror images jumped through Becky’s mind. A home is not the place for a boy like him. He did not deserve to be in a home where he might be treated horribly.

Miss Doppler nodded. “Temporarily, yes. It’s hard to find a foster family at such short notice, but he’ll be in good hands until then. Capable hands.”

Becky could not decide whether this woman was a good person or an evil one who hid behind friendly smiles and great word choices. She decided this woman did mean the best, but even after the interview they’ve had, Miss Doppler did not know the boy the way Becky did. She didn’t connect to him the way Becky did.

“The boy,” Becky said. “He’s sensitive. Very fragile. I’m just worried he’ll go someplace that is not fit to take care of him.”

They stopped in the hallway. Misses Doppler looked at the woman and gave her a reassuring smile. To her, Becky must’ve looked like a worried mess. All that for just one child.

“Don’t worry, Miss Green,” the woman said. “The home has a good track record for taking care of special needs children. They will know how to handle him.”

Becky nodded. “I see.” She still wasn’t fully convinced, but she was willing to let it slide. If it was the best for the boy, she wasn’t going to fight too much about it with this representative of CPS.

“It will be okay,” misses Doppler said. “Until then, let’s hope the family comes forward, or maybe even the school. Every little bit helps.”

“It would help, yes,” Becky agreed. “Thank you for coming.”

She watched as the woman walked back to her car. Becky returned to her daily duties, but her thoughts were still with the boy and CPS. She just knew he would wither away in any children's home.

There had to be a solution. She only didn’t know what that would be.

Chapter Text

2019

One more try.

River put the phone to his ear. He didn’t expect much, given his previous attempts hadn’t led to anything, but he could always hope that Lex would pick up. He was worried about her, too, and it got even worse now she wasn’t responding to his calls.

At least she didn’t hang up before the conversation could get started. She let it go to voicemail. It did not really matter - she didn’t want to talk. That was her right.

Still, River could not help but feel like he was purposely being ignored. They were still boyfriend and girlfriend - why wasn’t she answering even one of his calls?

River shook his head. Lex was probably busy keeping Hannah calm. She was needy like that. Sometimes, River thought it would be better if Hannah was normal, or if she was a little smaller, so Lex wouldn’t have to spend so much time with her.

His eyes fell on the drugs. He still hadn’t taken the opportunity to hide them, or even use them - maybe he should invite Ethan, if he was in the mood. Maybe he heard something from Lex that he could tell River about when he came over. If he wanted to.

What drew his attention more was Deb’s phone. It was still locked. River had only one try left. One try to unlock the phone or lose the dealer’s number.

Why did he care so much about that stupid phone? For a dealer he did not even know? To get more weed, which he knew how to get anyway?

Fate could be funny. River did not really care for it, but he understood it when he saw it. This time, fate decided to answer his calls almost literally. Deb’s phone rang. An unknown number called him.

River stared at it for a full second, flabbergasted, before he picked up the phone.

“Hello?”

“Hello, River.”

River frowned. “How do you know my name?”

“My name is Ted. I have something that might interest you,” the voice on the other side said. “Are you interested?”

Something deep inside River, something that he could not stop even if he wanted to, made him nod.

“Yes,” he said. “Yes, I’m interested.”


The Stranger looked at his hotel wall. It was an amalgamation of everything he had learned; pictures, mementos, brief flashes into the mind of a man who’s seen and learned so much more than the average person would.

An average person might look at the wall and recognize some things. They’d take a look. They could recognize some maze on a picture, which a scholar might identify as the Minotaur’s labyrinth. They could see a simplified image of an Einstein-Rosen bridge and recognize it’s something scientific, nothing more. These were the same people who’d be puzzled to read the newspaper clipping on the wall with the headline “where is Tim?”, with the ‘where’ crossed out and ‘when’ written above.

This was hard to understand for those who weren’t meant to know these secrets. This was hard to understand for those who would never get the chance. But who did get their chance and who didn’t had been predetermined, and fate had decided the Stranger was one of the more important characters in this enormous cycle of life and death and rebirth.

Only one thing missed from this intelligible masterpiece. The stranger walked to the calendar he’d hung on the wall and crossed out yesterday, November 6th.

There. Perfect.

The Stranger knew his time had come to leave the hotel. The time had come to travel again. There was someplace else he needed to be. An appointment he couldn’t reschedule, one he knew he had to be at without scheduling it.

But though he had packed his bag, with the few belongings he had, there was something else he needed to take care of before he would travel again. During his time at the hotel, he had gathered some equipment and had put it in a box. This was not meant for him, but for someone else - a young man who would need it the most at this point in his life. Though only three items were in the box, they were all he needed to take the next steps.

But the Stranger wasn’t going to deliver this package. He knew he wasn’t going to be there when Ethan Green opened it, nor was he going to stay around for too long. He was needed elsewhere, and so it was up to the hotel to do the job.

With his suitcase in one hand and the package under another, the Stranger walked to the hotel lobby. The receptionist just called with a customer who wanted to cancel their reservation and wasn’t happy to pay the full cancellation fee.

Poor receptionist. It wasn’t her fault three kids had gone missing. It wasn’t her fault people no longer wanted to stay in their nice Hatchetfield hotel. And yet, she was one of the lucky ones, always in the dark, always unknowing. Another lucky one was Linda Monroe; he could see her walk to her office, like the proud woman she was. He was certain she had glanced at him when she thought he wasn't looking, and she'd scrunched up her face at the 'dirty man' who made use of her hotel's services, wondering where all the nice and posh guests were, blaming the Houstons for her misfortune. 

The receptionist put down the phone and greeted him with a forced smile.

“Good morning,” she said. Her voice sounded strained, too.

“I’m going to be traveling for a while,” the Stranger told her, “but I’m going to come back. In the meantime, I’d like to keep the room.”

“Of course,” the receptionist said with a relieved smile. She was a lot happier now, to hear one of their customers had decided to stay around and continue to keep the room. “How long will you be staying away?”

“I’m not sure. A while,” he responded.

The Stranger placed the package on the counter. He had written the address of Ethan Green on the box already, so the receptionist only had one job to do.

“Could you deliver this for me?” he asked her. “A friend asked for it, but I can’t make it. He’d like to have it before this evening.”

“I’ll take care of it.”

“Thank you,” the Stranger said with a polite nod. Then, he turned around and walked out of the hotel.


Ethan visited River that afternoon.

He did not want to go to the caves again. He tried that yesterday, and it hadn’t amounted to anything. He found nothing yesterday and he wasn’t feeling up to the task of trying again today. Instead, he visited his friend.

When Ethan arrived, he heard from River why they were allowed to stay at home - Alice Woodward had gone missing. It was sad, of course, River said, but it gave them the opportunity to start smoking some of the weed they’d stolen from Deb’s stash. Ethan didn’t protest - he could use some to calm his nerves about the passage in the caves and why he couldn’t find it.

A couple of minutes later, it reeked in River’s room as both of them smoked a joint.

“Have you heard from Lex?” River asked after some moments of silence. “She’s not answering my calls.”

“She’ll contact you when she’s ready,” Ethan responded. He decided not to tell him that Lex had called. He had wanted to bring it up, but after learning that Lex hadn’t gotten back to River and instead chose to contact Ethan, it did not seem such a good idea anymore. He didn’t want to anger or disappoint River in his own room.

River shrugged. “I hope so.” They remained silent for another minute before he asked another question.

“Is she trying to shut me out?” When Ethan looked at his friend’s face, he could see that River genuinely worried about her - and specifically about Lex ignoring her. Now it was Ethan’s time to shrug.

“I don’t think so,” he said. She had tried contacting Ethan, so she wasn’t trying to shut people out. Why she wouldn’t answer her boyfriend’s calls was another story- one Ethan couldn’t piece together yet.

River nodded. “Good.”

They smoked their joints until there was only a small stud left. They dumped the remains and decided they weren’t going to use it all in one go. Instead, they amused themselves by playing a game on one of River’s high-tech game consoles - one Ethan could never afford.

It was a shooter game with a split-screen. Ethan tried to keep his attention on the game. River was more invested in the game than Ethan was; River was the more aggressive player and Ethan provided him cover. They had been playing for a while - River barking commands and Ethan following them - when their peaceful play was interrupted by a strange question.

“Can I trust you?” River asked him.

Ethan glanced at his friend. River hadn’t even taken his eyes off of the screen. A question he shouldn’t need to ask - he should know Ethan’s answer by now.

“Of course,” Ethan said, still not fully trusting this situation. Why had River asked the question? What was his goal and had Ethan fallen into a trap? was he going to do something illegal, or did he just want to make sure that whatever would be said in the room, did not leak out of this room? Did he want to talk about a possible surprise for Lex and make sure Ethan wouldn’t tell?

Whatever the case, Ethan was curious and slightly distrustful, whereas River did not seem to make a big deal out of it at all. He merely nodded at the confirmation.

“That’s great,” he answered. “Deb’s dealer called.”

Out of everything River could have said, this was not what Ethan had been expecting at all. He wasn’t even sure if he believed his friend.

“Really?” he asked.

“I’m meeting him tonight,” River said matter-of-factly. “Do you want to come or not?”

Ethan wished he had more time to think about it. He wished he didn’t have to make the decision right then and there, which River probably wanted him to do. But Ethan needed time, and eventually decided that he did not trust the dealer and did not trust anyone. Deb had gone missing - maybe it was that dealer that did it? If Deb disappeared, the dealer must’ve heard, so why call that number in the first place?

But then again, he missed the interaction with his friends, and since they probably wouldn’t need to go to school, there were going to be fewer opportunities to see them. Besides, someone needed to protect River from his impulsive self.

“Yeah, sure,” Ethan said. Two is better than one in these times.

“Awesome,” River said. “We’re meeting in the forest, near the— watch out!” River smashed the buttons on his console. A second later, Ethan did the same, but their virtual attackers had already arrived en masse. “No, no, no, no, no, NO!” The characters River and Ethan were playing as were quickly killed. GAME OVER flashed in big red letters on their screen.

“Damn it,” River said, roughly placing - just this short of throwing - his controller next to him. Ethan was less concerned with their recent loss, and more with the mysterious dealer, and how he could prepare for the meeting - one he hadn’t wanted to go to in the first place.

Chapter Text

2019

Harriet was already wet when she arrived at the Houston house. She decided that it was a nice day. Yes, it was cloudy and the clouds were grey, but she rode her bike in worse weather, and so she decided to go with her bike.

The rain fell over her. In one second, it started to rain. She was lucky to be near the Houston house already, but it deeply demotivated her. How was she going to go home?

She could still find a positive thought. Maybe Tom could bring her home. It had been, in her opinion, too long since they had seen each other, since Harriet had felt her lips on hers.

Harriet parked her bike next to the house, in a spot where it should stay dry under the extension of the roof, and she walked to the front door. With the freshly prepared dish in her hands, she rang the doorbell.

She was already smiling at the thought of seeing Tom. It was still early enough, and his car was still in the driveway. He was home, and Harriet could not wait.

Harriet was a little taken aback when not Tom, but Jane opened the door. The smile did not fade from her face, though it slightly did diminish.

“Hi,” Jane said. She had not expected Harriet to be here. “Come in.”

Harriet took the opportunity and walked into the house, under a roof where she would not be soaking wet if she stayed in the same place for too long.

“Hello, Jane,” Harriet said. “I figured, with everything that’s going on, you may not want to cook sometimes, so…”

She offered Jane the casserole. Jane glanced at it at first, but then took it from her hands. She quickly thanked Harriet for the meal and brought it to the kitchen, to place it in the fridge. She indeed wasn’t in the mood to cook all the time, and this made a good meal.

Still, she wasn’t too keen on having Harriet in her home. Harriet did not notice, but Jane thought it was weird. She rode all this way, on her bike, to bring them a meal. She knew it was going to rain, if she watched the weather forecast – why had she come?

Jane shook her head. She shouldn’t be so judgmental. Yet she’d been walking around with the feeling for a while now, thought that Tom was hiding something from her, and it wasn’t the confidential information from work. It was something else, something he didn’t want her to know. Jane could never say what it was, never even thought that this paranoid side of her could be right.

But Harriet showed up, one of her best friends, and Jane became suspicious. She couldn’t tell why.

Jane led Harriet to the living room, where they sat on the couch. They spent some seconds in silence before Harriet decided to start their conversation.

“How are the girls?” Harriet asked.

“They are in Hannah’s room,” Jane said. Unlike their parents, they tried to avoid Tim’s bedroom and could not stand the sight of his room. “She’s taking it especially hard.”

Harriet nodded.

“I see. This must weigh on you so much.” Poor girl couldn’t handle change, and Tim being gone was quite the big change. The entire family suffered under his disappearance. But unlike them, Jane still seemed to believe Tim would could back.

“And Tom?” Harriet asked, looking around.

“He’s in the shower,” Jane said in a deadpan, “Finally.”

Harriet could barely contain herself. Tom was showering. She pictured how Tom showered, how the water ran over his chest and how good he looked soaped in. But a fantasy wasn’t enough to keep her going.

Much to her happiness, Tom walked into the living room. He was fully dressed up and had only come into the living room to say goodbye to Jane for the day. He had not expected Harriet to be there at all, nor had he expected his wife and the woman he had an affair with to sit on the same couch.

He tried not to outwardly show the panic inside. He felt like he was caught, like they had been talking about Tom and his escapades. But Jane did not seem to be angry, so he figured he might get away with it.

“Harriet? What are you doing here?” Tom asked.

“She brought some food for us,” Jane responded.

Tom nodded. So that was the reason. He could feel the panic slip away again.

“Thank you,” he said, but did not want to waste any more words on her. He looked at the ladies. “I’m going to work now.”

Before he could walk out of the room, he heard Harriet’s voice.

“Tom? Could you bring me home?” she asked. “I came here by bike, and I don’t know when the weather will clear up enough to ride home.”

Tom did not look forward to giving Harriet a ride. He did not want to be anywhere near Harriet. He only wanted to go to work and to do his job - he did not want to have to deal with this mess. He literally did not have time for this.

“I don’t—”

“Sure,” Jane then said, standing up. This was something he had not expected. “Of course he’s going to bring you home.” Well, fuck. Harriet stood up and she and Jane shared one last hug.

“Thank you for the food,” Jane told her.

“You’re welcome,” Harriet said. She broke free from the hug and Tom walked Harriet to his car, wondering what he got himself into, and whether it had been a smart idea to take his shower now instead of taking it when he returned home from his shift.


Tom drove Harriet back home. By the time they arrived at her cottage in the woods, the rain had not subsided. In fact, it seemed it was raining even harder than before.

Harriet sat next to him, looking hesitantly to the rain. When she got out, she would need to take her bike (which Tom also took with them) and walk it back to her house. Of course she was hesitant to get out - they haven’t had such bad rainstorms in a long while.

“Here we are,” Tom said.

“Thank you,” Harriet said and she lovingly looked at him. Tom could feel her attraction, the electricity between them. She wanted to kiss him now she had the opportunity. And Tom wanted to as well.

He couldn’t. He didn’t want to want to kiss her. He had a wife, two girls, a missing son. Harriet never fit into the picture, no matter how much she wanted to. She was Jane’s friend. It should have stayed like that.

“You can’t come to my house anymore, Harriet,” Tom said with a heavy heart. “I can’t do this anymore. My family needs me. We need to end this.”

The love on Harriet’s face turned to confusion, and then to disappointment and light anger.

“So…” Harriet said, “so you’ll just throw me away, like I was some sort of side-chick – thrown away when you are done with me.”

Her tone grew meaner with every new word she spat out. Tom could understand where she was coming from. That is the way it usually ended with affaire. The least he had expected was to get some understanding from her in return. Apparently, he shouldn’t count on it.

But Harriet wasn’t yet done. She merely paused.

“I can’t just turn these feelings on and off, Tom,” Harriet said. Her tone softened again. “I love you.”

Tom shook his head. No. He did not like this. He could not want this anymore.

“Please don’t,” Tom said. “You’ll just make it worse.”

Harriet did not answer. She just stared at him, incredulously. Like she could not understand how Tom could dump her, how Tom could do this to her. He saw in her eyes how she was already twisting these events to make him the bad guy and her the victim.

Tom might look back and point this moment out as the moment he fell out of love with Harriet.

“I don’t want to see you anywhere near my house unless you got a job there,” Tom said with a colder tone than usual. He did not look at her anymore. “You need to stay away from me, my wife and my daughters. Do not come to our house again.”

Harriet was not expecting this change. She looked shocked.

“Tom—”

“Get out of the car, please,” he said. When Harriet did not do as she was asked, he repeated, a little louder. “Get out of the car.”

She got the message and unbuckled her seatbelt.

“Don’t think this is over,” Harriet said in a calculated tone before stepping out of the car. He gave her the time to take her bike. When he noticed she had it firmly in her hands, he drove away from that house, from that woman he loved for two months, the woman he could no longer love.

I escaped, he thought. He could go to work, go home, and try to live his life as if nothing ever happened.

Though he would try, Tom already knew things would never be the same again.


1986

In between classes, Harriet and Tom were walking through the halls together. Tom was finishing a story - it was the plot of a movie he had watched. It was a good movie, apparently, as he spoke about it passionately, with sound effects and wild hand movements.

Harriet walked next to him and looked at him, silent. Sometimes, she nodded and threw in an ‘awesome’, ‘okay’, ‘great’ to show him that she paid attention and listened to him. It was so much fun to listen to him talk; Harriet could listen to him for hours, if she had the opportunity. Such a beautiful boy with such a beautiful passionate voice.

At the end of this explanation, Harriet saw her chance.

“That sounds amazing!” Harriet said.

“I know, right?” Tom said and he looked ahead in the hallway. Harriet looked in front of her as well, taking her eyes off of her crush.

“Maybe we can see it together again, if you liked it that much?” She turned her head to Tom again, but he stood in the hallway and only looked ahead. He seemed to be focused on what was over there. Harriet glanced, but didn’t see it.

“Hello?” she said, “Tom?”

“Hold that thought,” he said and he walked away from her. Harriet couldn’t stomach walking after him, as she finally saw what he too saw. It was Jane Perkins, who smiled at him when Tom came in sight.

“Hi, Tom!” she said with a cheerful voice.

“Hey,” Tom said. They stood together with some of Jane’s friends. Harriet only had eyes for Tom’s hand, that was holding Jane’s hand.

A pang of jealousy ran through Harriet. Why had Tom decided to love Jane and not her? What did Jane have that Harriet didn’t? And what did Harriet need to do to show Tom that he and Jane weren’t the perfect match and to make him notice Harriet was that perfect partner?


When school was done, Jane and Tom lingered behind on the school grounds. They watched most of their friends leave already, but they stayed behind.

Tom had made Jane an interesting proposal. They loved each other, truly, and Tom had suggested they have sex. Neither of them had done it before. Tom was ready to take this big leap with her, but Jane still did have some worries.

“So…” Jane said, “you really wanna do this, huh?”

Tom nodded. “Definitely.”

Jane sighed as she tried to sort out her thoughts. She should try not to give in to temptation, but she also wanted to have Tom - all of him. It didn’t help he was looking at her with those beautiful eyes, waiting for an answer.

“Tom, I’d rather do it with you than anyone else,” Jane said, and as she spoke, she made her decision. “If we’re doing it, you’re wearing a condom. I don’t want kids.”

Tom frowned. Yes, he liked that Jane wanted to have sex with him, but wasn’t it every girl’s dream to one day start a family and have children?

“No kids?” Tom asked. “Like, ever?”

“Not at this age, anyway,” Jane said. “Maybe, in the future, who knows. But not right now.”

Maybe, she was going to be a great mother. But she did not want to become a mother before the age of twenty, or at least before she turned eighteen. She did not want to be one of those girls who became a teenage mother and who had to give up her dreams because of that unplanned early baby. Like her own mother.

Jane looked at Tom. He seemed to understand. Not every boy did.

 “Do you promise, Tom?” She asked. “No kids?”

Tom nodded, and he took her hand again. He did not look away from her eyes. “No kids.”

Chapter Text

1986

The next job of Harriet’s father brought them back to the school. This was one the jobs that also took a little longer. Harriet knew why he didn’t do his job here first before going to the hospital. He didn’t want the other kids in school to see her father driving by and having to tell her friends that she had to wait until her dad was done in the school. Harriet wouldn’t mind, but Mr. Kruger might think other kids could bully her for it, so he took her to another job before he would go to the school to do his job.

The car was parked on the school grounds and her father soon disappeared in the halls Harriet knew well to collect all of the dirty laundry the school needed cleaning.

In the meantime, Harriet was finished with her homework and just sat in the car, looking around. She’d lowered the window to breathe some fresh air when she suddenly heard strange sounds.

They were strange only because the school was closed and she thought she heard noises come from the locker room.

In the original old school building, there were small windows at the top of the wall that looked into the locker room. They soon realized that, if students stood on benches against the wall outside, they would be able to look into this locker room. To prevent any perverts from seeing anything, they had blinded the windows.

One of these windows had been opened, to allow fresh air to flow into the locker room. And on this window, a corner of the blinds had been ripped off. And the noises Harriet heard came from the locker room.

Harriet, taken by her curiosity, stepped out of the car and left the door open - she did not want to scare whatever was happening in there. She walked to the wall, stood on one of the benches, and looked through the one part of the window that wasn’t concealed.

What she saw, shook her to her core.

Tom and Jane had snuck back into the school. They stayed behind. Tom and Jane kissed and in their enthusiasm must’ve hit several pieces of furniture in the locker room that produced the noise. Jane took Tom’s jacket off and he ripped his shirt off while Jane unbuttoned her sweater. They continued the kiss, for as far as it was possible.

Jane lay on one of the benches, Tom on top of her. They kissed and kissed and kissed and took off their pants. And as they lay on one another, they didn’t just kiss anymore, and what they did was completely consensual.

Harriet turned away. She had to look away from this disaster, or else she would not be able to look away later. It felt like a betrayal. Even though Tom did not owe her anything, this still hurt her to watch.

They were having sex! In school! Consensual sex.

Sadness fell over her. She had lost Tom. She had lost her chance. This was horrible.

But as the sadness settled in, her mind was already going into overdrive. It was already trying to work out a plan to hopefully win him back and pry him away from Jane.


When he had finished his round, Harriet’s father drove to the hospital. Harriet seemed absent-minded. Mr. Kruger did not want to pry - he didn’t want to ask intrusive questions. They had a good bond and he did not want to ruin it by asking his daughter the wrong questions. But Harriet always knew that she could come to him. There was no barrier.

Maybe she was hesitating to speak to him.

“Dad?” she asked. He could hear the hesitation in her voice. “What do you do when you saw something you weren’t supposed to see?”

Mr. Kruger frowned. Harriet had never asked him such a question. And the way she hesitated to say it out loud made Mr. Kruger believe that something bad had happened - something that his daughter may be involved in, but at least was a bystander for.

“What do you mean?” he asked cautiously.

“I mean,” Harriet began, just as hesitant as before, “when you see something, that was private but wrong. Very wrong.”

Mr. Kruger took a second to look away from the road and to his daughter. She still looked through the window, avoiding his gaze. She fidgeted with her backpack. Something about her behavior was also an indication that something serious had happened. He was glad she opened up to him, but still, he wished he didn’t have to pry it out of her.

“What did you see?” he asked.

“At the school,” Harriet said. “I saw him climb on top of the girl. He slapped her. I think he forced himself on her.”

That was a serious allegation. But he knew his daughter didn’t lie about something this serious.

“Harriet,” he said. “I know it’s not pretty, but hold that thought. We’re going to the police.”

He turned the van around and drove in the opposite way, to the police station. Mr. Kruger even decided to go a couple of miles above the speed limit - if this was indeed what Harriet said it was, then the police needed to know as soon as possible, with a solid testimony.

Harriet did not need to say another word until she sat opposite police captain Ewan Monroe. He was a nice man and comforted her. He even gave her a sympathetic smile, knowing vaguely what Harriet was going to say. To both, this could be a good means to an end.

“Is this anonymous?” Harriet asked. Ewan nodded.

“If you want it to be,” he said and Harriet nodded. Good. She didn’t want people to find out what she had witnessed was not what she was going to describe to the officer. But she needed to separate Jane and Tom, and this is what it took.

“So, what did you see?” Ewan asked. He turned on the recorder. She knew she was supposed to say the truth. Every word she said would be regarded as the truth, later used as an anonymous source.

She was ready.

“Tom Houston walked into the locker room at school. She was there, too. I couldn’t hear them well, but she raised her voice. I don’t think she wanted him to be there.”

“Did he do anything to her?” Ewan asked. When she looked at him, she noticed he wanted something incriminating. She thought it was weird a police officer would have that thought, but she’d give him what he wanted.

“Not at first. She shook her head and tried to point him to the door, but he refused. He slapped her to shut her up. He grabbed her and climbed on top of her. She couldn’t really defend herself. And he—”

“That’s enough,” Ewan said. Harriet couldn’t tell if he stopped their session because he had enough information or if he wanted to spare her from recounting the events she had made up.

“You are a very brave girl, Harriet Kruger,” Ewan Monroe said.

But I shouldn’t have to be. If Tom hadn’t been so foolish today, this would not have happened.

Ewan stopped the recording and jumped into action. While Harriet and Mr. Kruger returned to their last destination, Ewan jumped with his team into their police cars and they drove with sirens and lights to the Houston home, where they found Tom. Ewan would have liked it if he struggled, but Tom willingly walked with the police officers. Almost as if he knew in his heart he had to be punished for his crime, though he told them he did nothing.

Whereas Ewan gladly put Tom in the police car, he pitied the boy’s parents. A month ago, their youngest son disappeared into thin air and now, their other son turns out to be a rapist. They were taking the hard blows.

But Ewan did not go to them to console them. He would personally see to it that Tom Houston would be put in one of their cells and that he would pay for what he had done.

Chapter Text

2019

Tom arrived at the police station in a bad mood, and he remained in this bad mood. Even Sam had taken notice and decided not to speak out on it. This day already started bad, Tom didn’t want to think about the way it was going to end.

Sometimes, he wished he hadn’t worked himself into this shit.

Around noon, he and Sam returned to their blackboard. They had attached pictures to it, written on it with chalk, and added all of the information at their disposal. Pictures of Tim, Deb, and now of Alice were attached to the board, and now they could finally add the picture of a suspect.

It was a composite of a man’s face, one Sam had made based on the description his daughter had given. A man with dark hair, a mustache, and a hat. He even had a name: Ted. It was good to have a face to focus on, but it was harder when Tom had never seen that face before. It did not even feel familiar.

Even when it looked like they were making progress, it did not feel like it. It felt like they were set back every time progress is made.

“Do you know why I became a cop?” Tom eventually asked. Sam, who had been staring at their board as long as Tom had, turned his head to his colleague. It didn’t look like he was going to say anything unless Sam answered in some way.

“I suppose you’re going to tell me now,” Sam said, and Tom nodded.

Yeah. It was time to get into this topic and to let all of his frustrations regarding the case out.

“I became a cop because in 1986, with Max’s investigation, everything that could go wrong did go wrong. They did everything wrong and it didn’t help the chief was an incompetent cheating asshole. But I would do the right thing. I’d do things differently.”

Sam was looking at Tom with a worried face. He didn’t know where this was going, but he knew that he worried about Tom and his mental health. He was in a vulnerable state. He wasn’t doing stupid things anymore, but that didn’t mean Sam wasn’t going to turn a blind eye when he ranted like this.

“But look at us now,” Tom continued. “Nothing has changed. Everything’s the same as it was thirty-three years ago. Two girls and my son are missing and now I’m the incompetent ass. We’re not going to get any further.”

And something popped into Sam’s mind as Tom finished his small rant. It was something Charlotte told him a long time ago, but it seemed fitting to their situation. It might not further their case, but it could take Tom’s mind off of things.

“Do you know about the thirty-three-year cycle?” Sam asked. Tom shook his head.

“Charlotte told me about it, a long time ago,” Sam said. “If I remember correctly, it basically says that our calendars are off by I don’t know how much. But every thirty-three years, the universe aligns itself perfectly again. It’s like some sort of reset; everything then looks exactly as it did thirty-three years ago.”

Tom did not really respond to this story. Sam shrugged.

“The circumstances of the disappearances have come back. Who knows what else will.”

Tom rolled his eyes. He did not care for these stories. These were nonsense. If they came from Charlotte, Tom was even less inclined to believe what was being said.

“Sounds like the biggest case of a cosmic deja vu,” Tom commented. “Do you believe in it?”

Sam shrugged again. “Who knows what’s out there. If I can find proof, then yes, I will believe it.”

“Belief won’t help us find these kids,” Tom said and he stood up from his chair to walk to the window; he needed some fresh air, he needed to look at anything but that damned board that had the victim’s faces. And he thought about the theory, and the more he thought about it, the more he became too pessimistic about the situation and the theory.

“Based on your theory, this means we won’t find the kids,” Tom said. “And I really don’t want to think like that.”

If they were going to find those kids, Tom could not believe that theory. Even though he did not want to believe it, he did feel deep in his heart this might be the case. There may be some credibility to the theory, and Tom did not like it.

“Alright. I’m sorry for trying to offer you a story,” Sam said. “Good news: in thirty-three years, another incompetent ass should be sitting on that chair.”

“What, and I’ll be as crazy as your dad?” Tom asked. He looked at Sam, who shrugged again.

“Who knows?”


Ethan visited his father’s grave.

He had been at the Hatchetfield cemetery before. Tony Green had been buried soon after he had committed suicide. The next day, Ethan also visited the grave for the first time. Not much later, Harriet sent her son away.

Ethan had not been at the cemetery since June. And now he visited his father’s grave once again, and he felt at peace. Though Tony was gone, standing at the grave, he felt some sort of connection between them. As if he were still there, watching over his shoulder and encouraging him.

Ethan did not really believe in heaven or hell. Tony was gone and he wasn’t coming back, not even as a ghost. The one thing that Ethan had left of him on this world, was that all-too-real headstone that bore his name as well as the dates of his birth and death.

There was nobody around. He enjoyed the quiet. Even when he heard footsteps behind him, Ethan believed that someone else had come to visit a loved one. He did not expect that someone else had come here for Tony, too.

“Are you okay?” a soft voice said.

Ethan turned around and looked at the man. He looked dirty. The stranger wore a dark green weathered rain jacket but didn’t wear the hood on his head. All other pieces of clothing screamed that he was homeless, but his short beard was trimmed and his mustache well-taken care of. He looked weary; like he had lived multiple lifetimes. His weathered look was in direct contrast with the semi-clean suitcase he held in his hand. There was a nametag, but Ethan could not read it.

He did not want to read it. Because, when he looked at the Stranger, he could not help but notice that this man looked like Tony Green.

“I guess so,” Ethan mumbled. “I’m sorry, you… look like him.”

The Stranger merely nodded mysteriously and he looked at the grave. He kept a respectable distance from the boy, but Ethan’s focus was gone. This Stranger… there was something about him, and not just because he looked like his father. Ethan felt some sort of familiarity, like they had met each other before. Yet, if they had, Ethan could not remember it, for this was - in his case - the first time he had ever seen the stranger.

“Have… have we met before?” Ethan asked him. The Stranger shook his head once.

“I’m afraid we haven’t.” He turned his head to look at Ethan for a couple of seconds. A calm gaze, steady. Like he had a purpose. But then, why did it feel like he was nervous.

“I did meet your father once,” the Stranger said, as he turned his gaze to the headstone. “He was a good man.”

Ethan nodded. “Yes, he was.”

The silence between them lasted for a minute - one minute, each to their thoughts, each to their own minds. With their own doubts and strengths, at the grave of Ethan’s father.

“He saved my life once,” the Stranger said, unprompted. “Back then, I didn’t know it, but he did.” He paused for a while. “In some way, he got lucky.”

Ethan turned to the stranger and frowned. “Lucky?”

He committed suicide - that wasn’t something to call ‘lucky’. The Stranger nodded, but he did not look directly at Ethan again.

“Tony Green was offered peace. He got out. Some of us do not have that luxury; we keep on going down a path that has no end until we’re too deep and have to continue, even though we forgot why we’re going in the first place.” The Stranger briefly closed his eyes - Ethan could not guess what he was thinking about, but he did know this man was very weird.

“His road has ended,” the Stranger said. “His life meaningful in many ways.”

Ethan took the opportunity to look at the suitcase. He had put it on the ground, in such a way that Ethan could see the name that was scribbled on it. In semi-neat handwriting, it said: Paul Matthews.

The Stranger had a name now. And Paul took his eyes off of the headstone and nodded once at the boy standing next to him.

“Good luck, Ethan.”

He picked up the suitcase and walked away from the cemetery, leaving Ethan behind at Tony Green’s face.


1986

After giving her statement, Harriet tried to make her homework in her father’s van. Mr. Kruger would rather not leave his daughter alone at home, so she came along while he delivered the clean sheets or took the dirty laundry with him. Harriet had become quite proficient in making her homework in this van, even after what she had done.

No. Don’t think about that.

Today, she couldn’t keep her mind on it. Even though the police would shake Tom up, Harriet still had a bad feeling about it. Her thoughts were firmly on Tom and Jane and the perfect family they were going to create with perfect children who were only going to mock Harriet because Tom chose Jane over her. Why? Because she had bigger breasts?

Her father stopped at their last stop: the hospital. Just looking at the size of the building, Harriet knew this wasn’t a simple five-minute job.

“This is going to take a while,” Mr. Kruger said.

"Okay,” Harriet said, her eyes on her English homework. Her father stepped out of the van and went to do his job. As soon as he was out of sight, however, Harriet put her homework next to her, pulled at the neck of her shirt, and looked down. No way Jane had bigger breasts than her.

Harriet sighed. Jane was a good girl, perfect in almost every way. Of course Tom was going to fall for her, but couldn’t it have been Harriet instead?

Was Harriet even pretty in his eyes?

When she looked out of the window and looked over the plaza in front of the hospital, she saw a boy sat on one of the benches. He wore some pajamas and had a scratch on his head and a present in his hands. He seemed to be about her age, maybe a little younger.

Maybe he could tell her if she was pretty. Though she may not be his type - she did not know him, nor his type - but he could tell her if she was generally pretty.

Since she couldn’t focus on her homework, she stepped out of the car to ask the boy. He was unwrapping that present on his own. She briefly wondered where his family was, but pushed that to the back of her mind. Maybe they couldn’t stay and left him the present. It was none of her business, anyway.

She sat down next to the boy and glanced at the present. It was a book, titled ‘I Am Not Afraid’. There must be a reason for it, but again, Harriet didn’t want to ask. It was none of her business. She hadn’t come because he was lonely, anyway.

“Do you think I’m pretty?” she asked him upfront.

He looked at her, a little scared. He probably hadn’t seen her walk over or even noticed her sitting down next to him. He stammered as he looked at her and it was hard to know what he thought. Which was annoying. She’d like to have her answer.

“Wha- I…” The boy tried to speak, but he couldn’t formulate a sentence. Harriet sighed and leaned on the bench.

“Figures.” Of course he couldn’t say anything. She’d flustered him and now, he wasn’t able to give her the answer she needed. She folded her arms and stared at the van. Maybe he hadn’t answered because she truly wasn’t as pretty as Jane. And if she couldn’t, then how could Tom ever love her?

Harriet wanted to complain. Luckily, she did not know the boy and the boy did not know her, so she could easily say stuff she did not want anyone else to know.

“Do you know what I’d like?” she said, without much regard for the boy that sat next to her. “Sometimes, I wish I could do magic. I wish I could make myself prettier, or just fly away from this town and never come back.”

When she was done talking, she glanced at the boy. He was looking at her with renewed interest, and it was a little weird.

“Magic?” he asked. Harriet nodded.

“Yeah,” Harriet said. “You were listening?”

She hadn’t thought he listened to her after he couldn’t even say a full sentence to her. But he had been and ‘magic’ seemed to have been the literal magic word to bring him to life.

“I know about magic,” he said. He leaned forward and reached for the ground. There lay a cap of some bottle of soda. He took it in his hand and showed her; in one hand lay the cap, the other was empty.

“Magic. It’s mostly illusions created by the magicians in combination with distractions.” He closed both hands and bumped them against each other. She looked up from the hands to look at his face. He was smiling. He had a cute smile. Didn’t look that bad, either. Not as handsome as Tom, though, but something about him intrigued her.

“If you find that right combination,” he continued, “you can make anything look like magic. Every great magician does it.”

He opened his hands again. Somehow, he managed to transfer the cap from one hand to the other. She hadn’t seen it move, not even a little bit, except for the bump. Harriet laughed.

“That’s awesome!” she exclaimed, and she looked at him. “What’s your name?”

The boy dropped the cap and looked at her.

“I’m Tim, from the future,” he said, extending his hand to her.

Harriet looked at it, smiled, and shook it.

“Hello, Tim from the future,” she said, “I’m Harriet.”

Chapter Text

2019

In the evening, Ethan walked to the Houston home. He told himself he was going to invite Lex to come with them to meet Deb’s dealer and explain everything that River had done. The longer he rode his bike, however, the more he realized he wanted to see her. She probably didn’t want to have anything to do with drugs, anyway, as that was the reason why Tim had gone missing.

She hadn’t contacted River, either, but she had called Ethan. She was allowed to call or contact whoever she wanted, yet Ethan still wanted to know what was up with that.

As he rode to her house, he stopped before he drove onto their driveway. He could not go any further. He did not feel like he should be allowed to do so. It was still his fault that Tim disappeared – if only he’d been more cautious, looked around more, done more. Thinking about that in combination with Lex contacting him instead of River, Ethan wondered what he had done to deserve this attention.

And so he waited. He stood there, outside the fence, looking at the house but not having the courage to ring the doorbell or even to walk onto the Houston property.

Ethan almost decided to go home when the front door opened.

It was Lex. She hadn’t noticed him yet; she only opened and closed the door as she walked through with her warm coat, her eyes on the door or the driveway.

“Lex,” he said, so as to alert her of his presence - Ethan couldn’t back out now - and so she wouldn’t be startled if she saw him creepily lurking from a distance, something she won’t appreciate. He placed his bike against the fence so that at least wouldn’t stand in the way.

Lex lifted her head and though she was surprised to see him, a smile appeared on her face. She ran to him.

“Ethan!” She hugged him and Ethan hugged her back. “It’s good to see you.”

They broke free from the hug and looked at each other. Ethan had a hard time concealing just how happy he was. Only him and Lex, in the dark, outside in each other’s presence without anyone else. It felt right. It felt more than right.

And then the memory of Tim hit Ethan like a brick and he felt guilty again. And a voice in his head told him that he shouldn’t even be here and make use of Lex’s goodness.

“How are you doing?” Ethan asked her.

Lex did not immediately answer. She had to think about the answer. Her mind must be on Tim and the impact he had on the family.

“We’re… we’re coping,” Lex said. She did not go into too much detail. Ethan had already decided not to ask if Lex herself did not volunteer the information. “Hannah is heartbroken. She can hardly be left alone without having a breakdown. She’s asleep now, so I can get some fresh air.”

Lex was so much braver than Ethan could ever be. Taking care of her mourning sister, panicked sister who could not stand the thought of losing anyone else in her family. Ethan had no idea where she got the energy from to keep doing it. And now, she was going to get some well-deserved rest.

And Ethan had just hijacked that moment of rest.

“Lex, I’m sorry—”

“It’s not your fault, Ethan,” Lex interrupted him. “It’s not.”

Though he found comfort in her words, he still did not feel like this was right. But he swallowed his words - Lex did not think it was his fault, so he wasn’t going to bring it up endlessly.

“I’m glad you came,” she said. “I thought you were ignoring me.”

He wondered if it was rude to just talk about it or if he had to preface it by trying to steer a conversation to this talking point, but now he didn’t need to do so. Now, he could just ask the question.

“I wasn’t,” Ethan said, “but now you mention it, you’re in a relationship with River. Why don’t you call him back?”

Lex did not like the question. “I can speak to whoever I want to.”

“I’m not saying you can’t,” Ethan said. “No, I was just asking because I was with River today, and he wondered why you weren’t taking his calls.”

He figured he would save the situation, but still, Lex seemed uncomfortable. She was conflicted, and Ethan wished he could help, but he also knew this was something that Lex wanted to figure out on her own and she may not appreciate Ethan’s help or even an offer to help.

“I don’t want to talk to him,” Lex eventually said. “I don’t want to talk to a lot of people right now.”

She looked at him. Her eyes, once fierce, now were sad. She’d been crying. She was tired, and taking care of Hannah must take a lot of energy. Everything took a mental toll and it was her right to decide who to talk to.

“Are you walking with me or not?” she asked. Ethan quickly nodded. She planned to walk around the block, to stretch her legs, and get some fresh air. They didn’t need to talk, but Lex was open to both silence and conversation.

Somehow, Ethan’s thoughts brought him to the last months. Had River told Lex where he had truly been? Whatever the case, Ethan felt the need to tell Lex. She was a close friend, always had been - she deserved to know the truth, deserved to know why she could not send Ethan any messages.

“I didn’t actually go to California,” he said. He could not bear to preface this with some related topic, only to lose hope or courage halfway through the introductory topic. He had to blurt it out - it would grab Lex’s attention and force him to keep going. Lex deserved to know, even if he didn’t like talking about it.

Lex, who had not expected this topic, had stopped walking and stared at Ethan. She didn’t know what to say or think, didn’t know what to do with this new information.

“I wanted to keep in touch,” Ethan continued, “but mom sent me to some sort of mental hospital. I was diagnosed with PTSD or something and she thought it was a good idea to send me to some place in Illinois. Only mom could contact me.” And she didn’t. That hurt.

“Ethan—” Lex tried to say, but Ethan didn’t let her.

“Are you still thinking about that night as well?” he asked her. They weren’t walking anymore; they stood side by side while Ethan spoke. “I don’t believe you’ve forgotten. I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind. It probably was the one thing that kept me sane while I was away.” Ethan sighed and shook his head. “What happened that night… it could’ve been more than that. I still think it can be. If you—”

“Just shut up already.”

Lex wrapped her arms around him and kissed him. Ethan surrendered to this sweet feeling and kissed her back.


River started to become impatient. He had been waiting for half an hour at the place where he had agreed to meet with Ethan before they headed to Deb’s dealer.

He called Ethan again. Maybe this time, he’d pick up. Maybe this time, one of his friends was going to respond to his calls today.

It went to voicemail. River cursed out loud. Why was everyone avoiding him? He could understand Lex’s perspective and wanting some space during these hard days, but Ethan should respond. He had seen Ethan today – he had agreed to this. Ethan should have shown up. He should have sent a text telling River he was coming, or delayed, or something.

But no. Ethan just left him hanging. Like a bad friend would.

River sighed. If Ethan didn’t care about this operation, River was doing this on his own. He didn’t care. He’d wanted to present Ethan with a good opportunity to get drugs, but now Ethan missed out on the dealer’s number and the quality weed that River wasn’t going to share.

River left his bike by the roadside - it was dark enough so nobody should be able to spot it - and trekked into the forest, to the meeting spot, near a bridge at a small forest road that ran over a small creek. It was not lit up, but River did not mind. He kind of like the forest in the dark, and it seemed like he was the only one who had managed to get over what happened at the caves already.

Still, if he was told to go to the caves, he would not go. If he came there again, he might lose all rationality when it came to the event and might be scared again when there was nothing scary about it.

A car pulled up beside him. The windows had been blinded and one rolled down.

Inside the car, on the backseat, sat a priest with black hair and some mustache. Somehow, River did not believe this man was a priest, purely based on his appearance. But he knew immediately who he was, especially when he spoke.

“Hello, River,” the man said. That was Ted’s voice. River tried not to laugh. How funny was it? A priest, a man of God, distributing illegal drugs to the youth. River could tell there was more to this man than he let on - and a familiarity he could not explain.

The priest took his hat from the seat beside him and placed it on his lap. “Get into the car, River.”

River thought he would have to stay outside. It had gotten cold. With the prospect of a warm car, River stepped into the car. The door closed and the car drove away as though nothing happened.

One hour later, after driving a circle outside the Hatchetfield city center, away from security cameras, the car arrived back on that bridge across the creek running through Witchwood Forest. River stepped out of the car and watched Ted leave again.

River did not negotiate any prices. He would leave without drugs - the priest was not a drug dealer. He was so much more, and everything he had revealed to the oldest Monroe boy shook him to his core.

River went home, still numb from everything he had learned.


Late at night, Tom returned home. He was still doing late hours, but he believed he overcame that first hurdle; those first few days during which he ran around like a headless chicken and did all kinds of stupid things you wouldn’t expect from a police officer. Actually breaking into the power plant was him at his lowest, and he was brought firmly back to reality.

They weren’t going to find Tim, Deb, or Alice if he was doing stupid shit like that. Jane wouldn’t appreciate it either.

Tom found her lying in Tim’s bed, facing the wall. That seemed to be the only room in the house where he would be able to find her this late at night. Without saying a word, he joined her in the small bed and cuddled with her, lying close to her.

So they stayed for a couple of minutes. Then, Jane spoke.

“Are you cheating on me?”

Tom’s blood ran cold. He had thought Jane was none the wiser. If she didn’t know, it would be better for their relationship. How did she figure it out? Did she when Harriet came to visit? What had they discussed while he stood in the shower?

“I’m not,” Tom said calmly.

“I’m only asking this once more,” Jane said. “Are you cheating me?”

Tom did not move at all. He breathed in and out.

“You know I’d never do such a thing, Jane.”

He wished he could tell her. He wished he could be honest and confess everything. But it would mean the end of their relationship. Jane would want a divorce. Hannah’s heart would break. Lex would definitely be mad at them.

Most importantly, it would be an insult to Tim if they divorced. Tim had two loving parents, and if he is out there somewhere, he would want to come home to two parents.

Or was it just an excuse for Tom not to confess?


When Ethan returned to his room, he found a package. His mother was already in bed, so it was possible this package arrived while Ethan was away. Harriet must’ve taken it and placed it on his bed, so he could unpack it when he returned home.

It had been a good evening. He didn’t go with River, but he did what felt right to him. He didn’t know what Lex thought of their kiss, but he figured he was going to learn about it the next time they were alone.

Ethan picked up the large cardboard box. It was rather light compared to its size and as he placed it on the ground, he could hear some of the items inside rolling around.

When he opened the box, he saw the empty space. It did hold some sort of orb, some small machine, and a letter.

First, he took the orb. It had a handgrip inside in a notch big enough to fit a hand in. When he moved his other hand over the orb, it started to shine a light on its surface, except for the notch. It seemed to be the perfect light source when he walked around the caves. He started to get an idea of what the content of this box was supposed to be used for.

Ethan then held the tool. He recognized the small yellow-and-black box. It was a Geiger counter; a machine commonly used to detect how high the levels of radiation were. As he’ll be wandering near the nuclear power plant, this tool could also be helpful, though Ethan had a feeling that is not the only purpose of this tool.

The item that intrigued him the most was the letter, still sitting in the envelope. It looked old, and when he saw the handwriting, Ethan’s heart did a double-take.

Do not open until November 4, at 10:13 pm

He did leave a letter.

Ethan did not wonder what it was doing in the box, and how it ended up in there. He only knew that it was indeed his father’s handwriting and he left a note, which Ethan could not ignore.

He unfolded the paper and read all the words. He did not know what to feel when he read it and by the time he had reached the end, Ethan was shaking his head. His mind and everything he had ever known was overthrown. He dropped the letter and tried to catch his breath.

 

Dear Ethan,

By the time you read this, everything has already irreversibly happened. There is nothing you can do to change what has passed. I can only hope that one day, you will understand. One day, you can look back and see how this was necessary.

We are all hiding truths, one person more than another. I am one of those people who had hidden his truths and blocked them out with lies. You try to forget, try to leave things in the past, but the present is coming closer and you realize you can never truly forget. The universe will not let that happen. Despite the truths and lies, there are many mysteries in the world and we are mere wanderers, blinded to everything except for what lies directly in front of us; blind to the big picture, happy with breadcrumbs.

On the night of November 4 in 2019, a boy went with his sisters on an adventure. He ended up in the Hatchetfield caves and walked out of them in the year 1986. Though he wished he could go home, he learned he could not. The boy hid his truths and lived the lies. That boy became a man, Tim became Tony, and by the time this envelope is opened, both will be irreversibly gone from this world and this time.

Do not despair. Everything is connected. Nothing happens without reason. God has a plan for all of us, and it was my time to leave.

I wish you all the happiness and luck.

 

Yours truly,

Tim/Tony

Chapter Text

2019

Linda was alone.

The girl stood against the tree, the rope hugging her tightly. She couldn’t even wriggle her wrist from under the rope to see what time it was.

The sun had been setting when this started. It had to be past midnight now. It was dark, too dark.

And Linda was still alone. She was shaking, wondered why she had ever agreed to this game. Was she that desperate to have some human contact, to maybe make a new friend? The answer had been ‘yes’, but it may just be ‘never again’.

“Hello?” she shouted. “This isn’t funny anymore.”

The girl looked right into the entrance of the caves. She was facing that direction on purpose. It was all good when the sun still shone, but now only the moon and stars lit up the forest, everything had become spooky and the ominous caves were the spookiest of them all.

She shook her head. With these thoughts, she only scared herself. They wouldn’t help her at all.

But they did do their job and Linda hadn’t wanted them to. She became utterly terrified.

“Tom!” she called out. “Jane! This isn’t funny anymore!”

But they were nowhere to be seen. Figures.

They said they’d be back. They said it was all part of a game. Though Jane, perfect Jane, was still a little hesitant, she did not stop Tom nor did she say just how wrong this was. Tom tied her to the tree, but Jane was watching and did not interfere. Now, they both had gone home, forgetting or purposely leaving her in the forest.

Alone, with all the scary noises, coming from around her as well as the caves.

This wasn’t a nice game.

She tried to fight with the rope, but it just wouldn’t budge. It frightened her even more.

“Help!” she shouted. She would be lucky if anyone found her and freed her. At this hour, it was more likely some kind of wild animal would find her first. “Help me! Help!”

She shouted and shouted until she only saw black and only heard her own screams.

Linda sat upright in her bed, panting.

Where the fuck did that memory come from? And why did her brain think it was a good idea to make her relive that horrible experience?

It had accomplished its goal. Linda was disoriented, frightened by the nightmare, reflexively reaching out and touching her husband’s arm. His touch calmed her down already and she slowly caught her breath. She knew she had to take her time to calm down.

On the other hand, she wanted to go back to sleep so she won’t be a grumpy asshole in the morning.

Gerald stirred. Great, now she’s woken him up, too.

“Linda?” he asked, still sleepy. Of course he was.

Then again, Linda was glad that he had woken up.

“Tell me everything will be okay,” she told him. It wasn’t even a question - she couldn’t bear asking and him responding negatively. Luckily, Gerald was a good man. He shifted and placed his calm hand on her shoulder.

“Everything will be okay.”

Linda nodded, and though she did not believe it, it calmed her.


The following morning, Lex decided she could not stay inside for a full day anymore. That half an hour outside yesterday, with Ethan, showed her just how much she missed being outside, being on her own. Away from Hannah. She loved her sister, and she loved helping her, but she had reached a point where looking after Hannah was draining her energy and she needed to take a step back.

The only reason she didn’t go out was that her mom was away. She said it was work, but when Lex saw the poster pile, she knew how Jane felt. If it was about Hannah, though, Jane had found a reliable caretaker who shouldn’t have to be a caretaker.

So when Lex decided she was going to spend some hours outside, she didn’t run her plans past her mother first. She just got dressed, told Hannah that mom was going to take care of her, and then walked to the kitchen to grab some snacks.

Jane didn’t say a word when Lex took those snacks from the cabinet. Lex didn’t know if Jane was so in thought or if she didn’t say anything and honestly, she couldn’t care. But when she walked to the front door, she caught her mother’s attention.

“Lex!” she said and she stood up. Lex turned to her mother. “Lex, where are you going?”

“Out,” was the short answer.

“No, you’re not,” Jane said. “You’re staying right here.”

“I’m going out, mom,” Lex said defiantly. No matter what she was going to try and sell, Lex was going out. “I’m not skipping town, I’m not going anywhere I shouldn’t be. I’m just going out, taking a walk.”

But that did not convince Jane. She shook her head and looked at her with a worried frown.

“You need to stay here,” Jane said. “Hannah needs you.”

“And why is that, huh?” Lex said. She hadn’t wanted to bring it up, but if Jane insisted, she wasn’t going to leave the opportunity. “Because you’re too busy with your missing son to look at the daughter who needs you the most.”

“Don’t you dare,” Jane said in a semi-threatening tone. Lex did not stop, though. She had noticed the one pile of posters had turned into five piles all about three feet high. How many posters does one person need, especially when there are two of these posters in each street in Hatchetfield already.

The poster thing was seriously going out of hand. Had she seen the wall where Alice had hung as many missing posters about Deb as she could? Had she taken inspiration from this? Because that was what it looked like. There must be enough posters to cover all of town hall, inside and out.

“Dad barely comes home anymore,” Lex said. “I haven’t seen him for more than a minute the past few days. And because you’re putting up too many of those damn posters, of course I’m the one who takes care of Hannah. I comfort her, I feed her, I help her, because her mother doesn’t want to.”

Jane took it personally. Lex hadn’t necessarily meant it, but she did feel like she was being used so her mother could focus on Tim. She was allowed to look for her son and be worried and raise awareness, but in the process, she neglected her other kids, which was not okay.

“Lex—” Jane said, but Lex couldn’t stop. Not while she was riled up, on a roll, and not willing to stop.

“Everyone in Hatchetfield already knows what Tim looks like!” Lex said. “Going online and spreading the message is way more effective than what you’re doing all day.” She shook her heady angrily. “The moment I want to take a break when you can check on Hannah, I’m not allowed to go.”

“I need to be sure you’re safe,” Jane said as she walked closer to her daughter. Lex let her, but if Jane would try to hug it out, she would back away and right out of the front door.

“So you lock us up and hope Tim walks back through the door?” Lex was ready to cross a line, to say something that she was thinking, that some other people had to be thinking as well. “When I go out, at least I’m coming back. Tim may never come back. For all we know, he is dead.”

Jane looked at her daughter, shocked. She couldn’t bring out a single word. The thought alone stopped her in her tracks. She hadn’t wanted to consider it before. Lex, however, had done nothing but think about the possibility, and yes, while that was horrible and she almost started crying again, it had to be the truth, if they really couldn’t find anything.

Not wanting to continue the conversation, Lex turned around and walked through the front door. Jane did not stop her.


Before the shift started at the police station, Sam called everyone together in the main hall. Every officer who could be present was there. Tom, who had shown up on time and wanted to get on with it, was now waiting with Xander and the other officers in the main hall. Not even two minutes later, Sam climbed on a chair to address those who made it.

“We will take the investigation of the missing children to the next level,” Sam announced. “This investigation now has the highest priority. From today onwards, we will triple our efforts to find these children. All available officers should work on this case. We start with searching the general areas where the children went missing. We will go door to door and ask everyone if they have seen anything that could be useful to the case. If we systematically search the city, we will find something.”

Sam paused, looking at the officers. They nodded, agreed verbally, some even clapped. Still, there were some officers who grumbled about wanting to go back to work, or who may think that yes, the children were important, but not more important than the other work that needed to be done. These were few and far between, though.

“Officers who remain at the station need to look through missing cases that happened the last fifty years. If we have a repeat offender, any research from the past can be helpful to find whoever is doing this. If any child goes missing for more than twenty-four hours, we need to know.”

He paused again and let the officers react to the plans he laid before them. Tom merely nodded.

“Let’s do this,” Sam said and he stepped from the chair. While the officers walked out of the main hall, Tom remained to the side. He was ready to go but waited. He was certain that Sam would want to talk to him. He was worried, and Tom was trying to show that he wasn’t going to do stupid things anymore.

At least, not until something or someone stood in the way of justice. Then, it’d be justified.

As expected, Sam walked up to his partner. Tom nodded at him.

“Nice speech,” Tom said.

“Thanks. We need to put a stop to this madness.” Sam looked directly at Tom. “What are you going to do?”

The question wasn’t really a question. Tom knew what Sam would like him to do, and he wasn’t too mad about it.

“I’m staying in,” Tom said. “Looking through the cases.”

Sam nodded. “Good decision.”

Together, the men walked out of the room. Sam walked to the police car whereas Tom went to the archives. It was like a dream, if such a dream could exist - he was allowed to look through missing person cases of the last fifty years, to figure out a possible motive, or to see if any other perpetrators have used the same methods. He was allowed to grab one of those boxes, open it and look through its contents.

And Tom knew where to start.


Ethan was still reeling from the letter he read yesterday. Even now, holding the letter in his hand, this didn’t feel real. No way Tim Houston, little Tim Houston, Lex’s little brother, was his father. No way.

But it was his father’s handwriting. The words on the page and the message it held were written in a style that was distinctly his. It made things all the more confusing in a world that had become more and more confusing with every passing second.

That letter was the reason why he came out of bed and went to his mother, who was getting ready to go to her next client.

“Mom?” he asked. “How did you and dad meet?”

Harriet always left ten minutes early. Ethan knew she had the time to briefly answer his question before she went to work.

“We met in the hospital,” Harriet responded. “He was there for a broken leg, and I… was in a very bad mood. But he seemed lonely and looked like he needed someone to talk to, so I walked up to him.”

And Harriet smiled. The memory worked on her nostalgia, bringing her back to a simpler moment in her life. Ethan himself even smiled briefly, before remembering she may be talking about Tim.

“And what was he like back then?” Ethan wondered out loud.

Harriet shrugged, packing her bag.

“He was like any boy, I guess. Even so, he felt… different.” She paused for a while. “Different from the guys at school, anyway. He was good, never failed to make someone smile. He had a strange sense of humor. You never knew if you could take him seriously with some of the stuff he used to say. It was always fun.”

Always fun.

It was hard to imagine. Ethan didn’t want to think about it - it had tainted his worldview, turned it upside down, destroyed the status quo. However much he wanted to scream about it, nobody was going to understand. Even worse, if his mother knew, she’d probably send him back to that horrible asylum.

“Are you okay?”

His mother brought him back to reality. He blinked a couple of times, looking at her semi-worried gaze, and then he nodded.

“I’m fine.”

Harriet nodded once. She grabbed her bag and her coat.

“I need to go now. But if you want to talk about your dad, you’re always welcome to ask.”

“Okay,” Ethan answered and Harriet walked through the door, on her way to work. Ethan was left behind in the house with his own thoughts, his confusion, and the letter that started it all.

Chapter Text

2019

Tom easily found the box.

Like every officer, he barely knew his way around the archives. He barely had to dig through older cases, or if he did, he had someone grab the box he needed for the current case. However, there was one archived case he knew to locate; one he could easily find, because he had come multiple times and every time, he decided against opening the box. It was archived after all, and he couldn’t just open it whenever he wanted to.

Today, however, he was allowed to do so. He was allowed to take the archived missing case of Max Houston and look through it, as Sam had allowed it. Of course Tom was going to do his job; he would look for clues or anything else that helped him find his son and the two girls. But he wasn’t going to let this opportunity slide, either.

So he took the box and moved to one of the tables. The archived cases weren’t allowed to leave the room, but some tables were placed in the main room to allow for officers to peruse through the documents when they needed to. Tom walked to a quiet corner and placed the box on one such table.

First, Tom looked through the documents. He found there was nothing written in there that he himself didn’t already know. The one thing that differed was that this was written by Ewan Monroe, that cheating asshole, specifically written for police records.

He also found a picture; It was old, but still of good quality. He was sure a similar picture hung on the wall at his parents’ apartment. It was a nice picture of teenage Tom and Max, smiling into the camera. It was the last picture taken of the brothers; a month later, Max was gone, and Ewan drew a question mark on it.

Tom put the picture aside and took the tapes.

These testimonials were taken in the 80s and the cassettes they’d been recorded onto were gathered in the box. At least Ewan had the decency to write who he interviewed on the cassettes. Tom checked if the recording had to be reversed, but then popped it into the machine and listened to the testimonial his mother gave to then police captain Ewan Monroe.

“When did you last see your son?” Ewan asked.

“He went to fencing class at five,” Tom’s mother replied with her emotionless voice. Even then, she was already sinking into the lie she told herself. “The class takes an hour. Max has always been punctual, so when he didn’t show up at seven, I started to get worried.”

“And you were home at that time?”

“Yes, I was.”

“Was anyone else at home?”

One second, there was a pause. Tom leaned closer, though it did nothing to help the audio, but this pause did spike his curiosity.

“Yes,” she said. “I was at home with Tom and Trent.”

“So all three of you were home?”

“Yes, officer.”

Tom pressed the pause button and leaned back in his chair, letting these words simmer in his mind. Yes, officer, I was home. Yes, officer, all three of us were home when it happened. Just her and her husband and her oldest son worrying themselves sick about Max.

That was the picture Carol painted. Tom remembered that night vividly, and that was not the case at all.

He reversed the tape and placed it back in the box, which he, in turn, put back in the rows and rows of shelves. Without much thought, he walked out of the archives and to his car.

It was time to pay his parents another visit.


Tom had not announced he was coming over. He was certain his parents weren’t expecting him to show up at their door with the questions he had. But it was still early in the day - or at last early enough that Tom knew he would find both of his parents still in the apartment.

When he rang the doorbell, he imagined Carol and Trent were confused and wondered who wanted to see them. He waited a little at the door before Trent opened it.

Tom walked into the room and Trent smiled at his son. He was happy to see him again, but Tom could only look at him with a respectful yet neutral gaze.

“Hi, Tom,” Trent said.

“Hi,” Tom greeted his father. He looked around: his mother wasn’t in the living room, nor could he hear her in the kitchen. He frowned. Maybe he had come at a time where only one of his parents was at home.

“Where’s mom?”

Trent nodded at the bathroom door.

“She’s in the bathroom, taking her meds.”

Tom briefly glanced over at the bathroom door. Carol was home. Good. He thought it was best if he could talk to his parents separately, but close to one another so they couldn’t tell the other what their son had asked them. He didn’t want it to influence their answers.

“How’s work?” Trent asked Tom. He shrugged in response.

“Depressing,” Tom said. He left a short pause, in which Trent could nod in understanding, but those were all the pleasantries Tom indulged in. He was here for work, and not to catch up with his parents.

“I’ve listened to mom’s testimony in Max’s case. She said all of us were home,” Tom told him with a semi-neutral tone. “I distinctly remember, however, that you weren’t there. Mom looked at the clock every hour, waiting for you to return, but you never came home that night.”

Trent’s face dropped. This gave Tom valuable information: he knew his wife had lied for him, but he wasn’t happy that Tom had brought it up. Or why.

It was simple, really.

“Where were you on the night Tim disappeared?”

Trent had not been home when Max disappeared. If he wasn’t home when Tim did, that wasn’t just a coincidence, but a dangerous pattern that needed to be investigated. And Trent himself figured something was wrong. He folded his arms and looked at Tom with disappointment.

“Am I a suspect?” he asked. Tom did not answer the question. Instead, he repeated the question he had asked. Being stubborn wouldn’t help the situation at all, so Trent answered.

“I had nothing to do with it.”

“You weren’t home when Max disappeared,” Tom said, “but you had an alibi - one that doesn’t hold true. Now I want to know where you were on November 4?”

Trent shook his head.

“He was at home,” Carol said. “With me.”

She had stepped out of the bathroom. Tom looked at her with the neutrality he tried to bring to investigations. He didn’t need to turn to his father again to know he was angry and mostly disappointed about his son’s behavior.

“Will you trust her word this time or not?” Trent asked. He did not wait for an answer. He just grabbed his coat and walked out of the door. Tom did not blame him - the implicit accusation was harsh and if Tom wrongfully accused him, he needed to defend himself. Not now, anyway.

Tom looked at Carol again and they stared at one another for a couple of moments. Then she asked him if he wanted a cup of coffee. He agreed. With a  cup of coffee next to him, Tom perused through the box that Carol had brought to the living. It was a box filled with memories of the past - specifically memories of Max and the brothers as young boys.

Tom took an action figure from the box. He remembered there were two of these: one with a blue body and one with a red body. He held up the red one; the last time he had seen it was the last time he visited the cemetery. His mother regularly swapped out the action figures on Max’s grave to preserve them.

Carol spotted him holding the action figure.

“You and Max used to fight over these things,” Carol said. She sat down next to him, sipping from her own coffee. “I remember how you fought in the living room. Max fell on the glass table. There was a lot of blood, but it just ended up being a scrap under his chin.”

Tom nodded. He remembered it vividly. “It left a scar.”

This incident had looked horrible. Tom felt so guilty, even though Max was fine. This was one of the last fights they’d have.

While it was fun to look through these things, it made it extra hard to remind himself he was here for work. He still needed to ask Carol some questions, though he didn’t want to break the mood.

Still, he had to do his work.

“Mom, why did you say dad was at home the day Max went missing?”

The nostalgic smile on her face disappeared. She nodded once, but then looked in front of her for a couple of seconds. Tom did not repeat the question: he was more patient with his mother than with his father. He knew she’d answer.

Carol turned her head to Tom.

“Did you know I wanted to leave your father?” she said. “He was having an affair - it wasn’t his first, or his last. I said he was at home because I knew he was with someone else that night. He wasn’t involved in his disappearance.”

Tom was not as shocked as Carol would have believed. Tom wasn’t blind and he knew his father regularly wasn’t home; he already suspected he had an affair but never said a word about it so as not to fracture the broken family even further.

“Who was he with?” Tom asked. Maybe he could get some clues there, in case he went somewhere he wasn’t supposed to.

“Claudia Monroe. It was one of the last times he saw her,” Carol answered with no hate or disdain for the woman. “Her daughter and Tim used to go fencing together, just like that day.”

That was news to him.

“Linda Monroe took fencing classes?” Tom asked. Carol nodded.

He didn’t know Linda Monroe used to fence. Then again, he never cared enough about Linda to care about her pastimes. What did interest him was her connection to Max.

“Yes,” Carol said. “I think she may be the last person to see him before he…”

After all these years, she still couldn’t say the words. But that didn’t matter – Tom had received important information in his brother’s case: the potential last person to see him.

It was time to pay Linda Monroe a visit.

Chapter Text

2019

Before Linda Monroe went to work at the hotel (she only went there twice a week), she took her time drinking her coffee and reading the newspaper. Still filled with awfully biased articles. Though she couldn’t care less about these children, she was glad the media wasn’t pushing the story aside. She’d rather read about those kids than that demented pocket squirrel, anyway.

She checked her mailbox. She wasn’t normally one to do so, but she had been expecting an important letter. It was weird: she walked to the mailbox with dread and was relieved when she saw no letter addressed to her, but she already feared what the next day would bring.

Today was that day. The letter had arrived.

Linda took it inside. Before she opened it, she checked whether her sons were awake, and if they could walk into their open concept kitchen and dining room when she would open the letter. But it was still relatively early for a day where they didn’t have to go to school, which was about half-past nine in the morning. Only around ten would the first boy walk into the kitchen to eat his breakfast and then do whatever the fuck he wanted to do.

Linda opened the envelope. It had been folded neatly, and she unfolded the letter. Her eyes rested on the header, displaying the name and logo of the Hatchetfield mammography center. The implication alone was enough to make her hands tremble.

Stop it. You’re Linda Monroe. You are not afraid of a little examination.

But it wasn’t some little examination. Weeks ago, she thought she felt a lump in her breast. She went to check, just to be safe. It had been a while since she’s had this examination.

But when her eyes darted over the piece of paper, she could already feel in her heart what her mind could not accept yet.

She was sick. Furthermore, she was unable to come to terms with this. Again, the universe showed its bias towards her. Why did everyone else have their perfect fucking lives without tragedies? Why was it always Linda Monroe who needed to be fucked over?

Linda could not cry. Because she did not want to - and because she physically couldn’t yet. Not yet. Not while she was still in denial about the deadly tumor residing in her right breast.


Linda had gone to the hotel. She didn’t often go there - she’d hired people to run the place for her – but she needed to get out of the house. Usually, she went to her office to relax, to read some emails, maybe yell at her employees if things didn’t go her way. In general, keeping up with everything that was going on with her business.

Today, however, she did none of that. She quietly went to her office. She did lash out at the girl behind the front desk, but she didn’t care and maybe that was better - now, they wouldn’t figure that something was ever wrong with her.

They couldn’t be more wrong.

Instead of checking her email or looking at the canceled bookings, she sat at her desk and stared at the ceiling, she walked around in frustration, and was all around restless. She could do so much, but she could start nothing. How important were these things compared to what she was forced to go through?

She took her phone. Her favorite picture stared back at her. That Linda was at her happiest point in life. That Linda still wanted the world and knew she deserved it. That Linda had no idea what the future would bring.

She was furious at the universe. But she was also aware she would never be able to pull through this shit on her own. And now she was far away from everyone she loved and cared about, she felt more comfortable taking her phone and calling Gerald.

She didn’t want sympathy. Not yet. She now just wanted to let someone know so they could talk about it.

The only person she wanted to talk to was Gerald. Her hands were shaking, though she didn’t want them to. If they shook, maybe her voice trembled, too, which she would hate. She didn’t want Gerald to hear her shaky voice.

But Gerald did not get the chance to hear her shaky voice as she broke the news. It went to voicemail. Maybe it was for the better - he may not work as well if he learned it during work hours. Besides, Linda still had other things to work on, too.

If only she could focus enough to even sit still long enough to open her mailbox without her thoughts wandering.

Luckily, someone walked into her office that could take her mind off of things. Her secretary could not stop him, but was too afraid of Linda to step into the office. She must already be preparing to get shit all over her because she let Tom Houston walk into the office unannounced.

“Linda Monroe,” he said in some sort of introductory manner. This interruption made it easier for her to become the person she presented to the world.

“Tom Houston!” she said. “What the hell brings you here? Don’t you have a kid to find?”

It was easy to hurt someone when you were hurt yourself. She was still Linda Monroe, after all, so it came naturally. Tom, though he hated the comment, stayed on topic.

“You are the last one who saw Max Houston,” he said. “Where was he?”

Linda was stunned. That is why he decided to storm into her office?

“It’s been over thirty years,” she said. “I don’t remember everything that happened back then.” She glanced at him, up and down, and then shrugged casually. “I did prefer your brother over you. He never had anything bad to say, unlike some people.”

Her gaze was fixed on Tom Houston. She had no idea how he viewed himself, but she saw him as a giant ass who had grown up, but not grown out of bad habits. What he’d done to her, what still gave her nightmares, she could never forgive him for.

“Did you know that your mom had an affair with my dad?” Tom asked. Was he trying to move the conversation to a different topic?

If her mother had an affair, Linda didn’t know about it. She was much too busy raising herself to care what her absent mother was up to.

“How is that relevant to the first question?” Linda wondered. She gave Tom some time to answer, but he remained silent. This was the silent confirmation that Linda could bring the conversation back to where he’d started it, and she slipped back into her arrogant self.

“If this is what you want to talk about: I believe it should’ve been you,” she said, and she meant every word. “You should’ve been taken instead of Max. The world would’ve been a much better place. At least your brother wouldn’t even entertain the idea of tying a young, defenseless, vulnerable girl to a tree in the scariest part of the forest and leave her there for fun.”

Tom shook his head. This is not where he wanted the conversation to go. Linda couldn’t tell if he didn’t want to defend himself or if he really thought it was a good idea to hurt Linda like that. Or was he annoyed she brought it up?

“We were kids, Linda,” Tom said. “I’m sorry that happened—”

“It comes too late.” Sorry should’ve come the day after, not thirty years late.

“Kids make mistakes, and so did we,” Tom tried to defend himself. He sighed. “You made a mistake, too, as a kid. If you hadn’t reported the so-called rape to the police—”

“You still believe that outrageous lie?” Linda said. She got shit at school for reporting Tom to the police, for saying that he raped a girl. But Linda never went. She only knew that the rumors went around. People avoided her. They hated her more than they already did.

“Do you even realize it is a lie?” she asked him. Tom didn’t understand - of course he didn’t! He believed what he thought was the truth and discarded everything else.

“But Harriet saw you at the police station,” Tom said, frowning.

“Harriet said a lot of things that aren’t true,” Linda said. “Really, how blind are you? She would have done anything, anything, to split you from Jane, to have you for herself. Have you never noticed?”

No, because Tom was also blind to everything that didn’t fit into his life, such as Harriet being a bad person. But Linda could see his eyes widen, his thoughts going wild, and she reveled in the fact she shook him to his core.

“You’re starting to realize now, aren’t you?” Linda said. “Finally.”

Tom shook his head; he was fully in denial. Linda decided to continue.

“You ruined my reputation because someone else told you I called the cops and you didn’t care to ask me if it was true. That blind trust, Tom, is even worse than anything you did to me.” Linda sat down on her chair, giving the air of being unbothered. “Now get out of my sight. I have work to do.”

“I’m sure you do,” Tom said. If he tried to sound sarcastic, that was lost in his confusion and shock. He walked out of the room and apologized to the secretary, because he knew Linda well enough.

She didn’t plan to yell at the poor woman, though. Despite this cathartic conversation, something else was still on her mind.

Chapter Text

2019

Within the comfort of his room, he still could not calm his mind. It confronted Ethan with the imagery that the letter had provided: Tim as his dad, his dad as Tim, memories with Tim where he could only see the man who raised him. It was everywhere, and no matter what Ethan tried to do to shake those thoughts, he could not think of anything else.

He had to do something.

He could return to the caves.

Yeah. That sounded like a good idea. His father had been looking for a passage, and with the tools someone had sent him yesterday (along with that polarizing letter) it may be easier to find that passage.

Or the nuclear power plant. That Geiger counter detected the radiation levels, so it might lead him to the power plant. Still, Ethan was willing to give it a shot – he was going through those caves and find what he couldn’t find before.

Which reminded him, he was going to need that map, just in case he’d have to crawl into the furthest crevice and needed to find his way there. He stood up from his bed to put both the Geiger counter and his new orb light in the backpack. The only thing that still missed was his father’s map.

When he took the map from his desk, he noticed something that hadn’t been there before. It was a red line, starting from the cave entrance and running deeper and deeper into the cave system as depicted on the paper. It ended in a cross, like a treasure map, and still in red ‘FOLLOW THE SIGNAL’ in a familiar handwriting that wasn’t his father’s.

Someone had been in his room.

Furthermore, someone had known where he could find the map, taken a red pen from Ethan’s desk, drawn this route, and then returned everything to its rightful place without Ethan noticing something had changed.

Ethan did not know whether to be happy for this extra help or weirded out that someone else had come into his room. The more pressing thoughts occupying his mind quickly pushed out that worry as well. He had this help now. He needed the map, so he took it.

And, before he left his room, he grabbed the letter and put it in his backpack as well.


Lex was starting to feel better.

It had been two hours since she walked out the front door. Look, mom, I’m not kidnapped. I’m still here.

Despite her mother’s negligence and her own need to go against what her mother wanted, Lex stayed well in sight. Even if she was taken, there was a trail. She knew where the security cameras hung in downtown Hatchetfield and stayed in their line of sight. Whoever was taking kids had to be smart enough not to kidnap someone in view of the cameras. That’d be stupid.

Walking around, who knew she could feel so free? Not even two weeks ago, she wouldn’t have thought about it. She’d wonder about where she was meeting her friends, if she was skipping class, and whether Ethan would return and when.

How quickly things change…

She enjoyed the city noises when she spotted a familiar face she did not want to see. Unfortunately, he had seen her, too, and came towards her.

There we go.

River Monroe ran to her after he crossed the street. He still looked cute, but she didn’t want to see him now. She’d thought he was staying home with his brothers today. It was quite a drive from the Monroe home to downtown Hatchetfield, and River wasn’t the kind of person to go on a walk just because.

Or he could’ve been going somewhere and saw Lex and decided to change his plans a little.

“Hi, Lex!” he said when he’d come close enough to talk to her. She nodded at him.

“Hey.”

“How are you doing?” When she didn’t answer, he continued to talk. Lex didn’t mind - at least she wouldn’t have to say anything.

“I’ve been trying to call. I don’t know if you’ve seen it or not, but I admit I called a lot. I’m just worried, that’s all.” He paused, to allow an answer, but Lex did not break the silence. “Look, it’s my fault Tim went missing. I mean… what kind of idiot would ever think it’s a good idea to grab a dead girl’s stash? Well, this idiot. I should’ve told him to go home.”

No, I shouldn’t have brought him. Either way, if Tim had stayed home, Lex would have regretted not bringing him. It was a lose-lose situation. She had done what she thought was the best thing, and she couldn’t be mad about that. She could only blame herself for losing Tim when they ran away from the caves.

“Lex, are you angry with me?” River then asked.

Lex shook her head. “No, I’m not.”

“Then talk to me, please,” River said, “because it feels like I’m monologuing to myself and I don’t like it.”

Lex wished she could give him what he wanted. But the world wasn’t turning the way it usually did. And only yesterday, Lex had kissed Ethan. They’d done what felt right, what still was right.

Lex wanted Ethan. But she could not yet drop River, either. It was easier to break up, but why didn’t she?

“I don’t feel like talking,” Lex eventually said.

River nodded. “Understandable.”

He leaned closer to Lex. He looked at her with love. Lex knew what he wanted: something she couldn’t give him in good faith. Not anymore.

 So she backed away, and looked at him apologetically. River frowned sadly.

“Not in the mood for romance either?” he asked. Lex nodded, though it was only partially true.

“Not really.” Not when it’s you. Lex nearly screamed at herself for not telling River what was up, for not breaking up, for not confessing that she had liked Ethan before he left and still wanted him. She guessed she didn’t want River to feel used and later dumped when the true guy walked back into the picture, and so she stayed silent.

River nodded with a sigh.

“Alright,” he said. “I should be going. You don’t want to be bothered.”

And lex nodded thankfully; the sooner River left, the easier it would be, the better it was especially for Lex and her peace of mind. River walked away, but only a few seconds passed and he turned to her again, a frown on his face.

“Have you seen Ethan lately?” he wondered.

Lex shook her head. “No. Why?”

Her blood pressure rose, her stress levels heightened. Was River onto them?

River shrugged, and Lex calmed down again.

“The jerk stood me up yesterday. Nothing special,” River said. “It was good seeing you, Lex. Really.”

And he walked away, back to where he was going, and Lex continued her walk. She’d just started to feel better and now she was back on the ground.


The caves held no secrets anymore. They were no longer the empty dark mass of rock that brought discomfort. Now, it was more of a silent friend, who did not judge and silently followed all those who entered the caves as they sought its secrets. Only the worthy would see them.

That changed today. Ethan Green parked his bike near the entrance and with more ease than before, walked towards it. He stepped over the police tape with such confidence he hadn’t felt when he first stood face to face with the caves.

Ethan grabbed his orb light and the map from his bag. He didn’t yet take the Geiger counter; he had a feeling he wasn’t going to need it on the first stretch of the journey. With his light turned on and the map in his hand, he followed the red line on the paper without thinking too critically about where it would lead him.

It led him to a crevice he’d missed the first time he inspected the caves. It was a little higher from the beaten path and he had to climb up to reach it. A grown man could fit through it and Ethan easily continued his way from this point, into the unknown.

A little before him, he spotted red string. One end was tied to an anchor point, the other end disappeared into the darkness, in the direction of the red line on the map. It was a sign he was going the right way – he was making progress at last.

Ethan followed the red string, but did keep an eye on the red line on the map. But those lines were finite, and when the red line on the map had reached the end, so did the string.

He looked around. He ended in a room that was larger and taller than your standard living room, round with jagged rocks and uneven walls. This room branched out in different pathways, and there was no more red string to follow to the right location.

But this wasn’t it. This couldn’t be it.  There had to be more to it than this room. Ethan glanced at the map again. FOLLOW THE SIGNAL.

Ethan took off his backpack and grabbed the Geiger counter. Still, he wasn’t too confident that he wasn’t going to run into the power plant and be arrested for trespassing. On the other hand, he had nothing left to lose, and he was in the caves for so long he barely knew how much time he’d spent here, or where he was in relation to the power plant or the cave's entrance.

He turned on the Geiger counter. It was quiet at first, but whirred when he slowly pointed it to a pathway on his right. Lifting the orb light in the air, he followed the signal.

Chapter Text

2019

Gerald returned home. It was a closer drive to the power plant than it was to the Hatchetfield city center, and even further away to the hotel. As this was one of the days in the week that Linda was working, he hadn’t expected her to be home yet. Still, he would have loved to meet his wife in the kitchen, waiting for him to arrive and complain to him that he needed to cook the meal. Of course Linda didn’t cook, and when Gerald worked overtime, a cook took over his duties.

Today, as he walked into the kitchen, he noticed something out of the ordinary. It had been hidden where none of the boys ever dared to go: right next to the fruit bowl. It was only half obscured from view. Even if any of the boys saw it, they wouldn’t be interested enough to take a look.

Gerald, however, was interested. He took the letter in his hands. The Hatchetfield mammography center finally sent in the results for Linda’s examination.

He barely read half of the letter, before he decided he couldn’t read any further. He placed the letter in front of him. He had a bad feeling about this. He couldn’t read it. If he did, he didn’t understand half of what was said.

He decided to call the number in the header. Though Gerald could not bear to read what this letter had to say, maybe her doctor could explain all the things he did not understand.

“Hatchetfield Mammography Center,” a gentle voice on the other side of the line said.

“Hello, this is Gerald Monroe,” he said, his eyes on the paper. “I’m calling for my wife. Are the results in yet?”

“Her name is…?” The voice asked him.

“Linda. Linda Monroe.”

There was some silence on the other side of the line. He assumed the secretary looked up the information. Gerald didn’t mind waiting this little amount - he could already see Linda making the same call and cussing at the poor secretary that he should hurry up.

“We do have the results,” the secretary said. Gerald did not like the pause that followed. “I’m sorry, sir, but it doesn’t look good. Do you want the short or the long version?”

“The short one,” Gerald said as fear settled in.

“She has stage four breast cancer.”

Gerald almost cried. He hung up the phone after bringing out a quick ‘thank you’ and he sat down, to his thoughts.

He didn’t know any of the details – he understand the details in the letter. However, he knew stage four cancer was not good. He knew it as a death sentence.

His wife was dying. She hadn’t told him.

He didn’t blame her. Knowing Linda, she was even more in denial than he was. She probably wanted to acknowledge it on her terms, at her time – but he was glad he knew now without waiting for Linda to tell him. He wouldn’t have to live in ignorance until Linda collapsed, or until it was too late to even give her the support she desperately needed.

What a stubborn woman. What a beautiful woman, who had seen nothing but bad luck in her personal life. She had grown arrogant, and Gerald could acknowledge he played a part in this, but even she was kind when you looked behind all those walls she’s built. The treatment might just break these walls and reveal the gorgeous and pained woman hiding behind them.

Gerald needed to call her. He normally didn’t do so, but this was a good exception to that rule. He needed to hear her voice, and maybe discuss things more substantially when she got home.

The phone rang two times before Linda picked it up. Gerald was already surprised that she had answered it.

“Hello?” she said. She sounded strong, like usual. She didn’t yet know that Gerald had read the letter.

“Linda,” he said.

“What is it, Gerald?” she wondered. She could hear the heartbreak in his voice.

“Where are you right now?”

“I’m still at the hotel,” she said.

Gerald heard a slight hesitation in her voice; it was barely noticeable, but Gerald had heard it. She may find it suspicious he called. She may suspect he knew. She may suspect a whole lot of other things, too, but Gerald couldn’t look into her mind and see what she was thinking.

And the words he wanted to say somehow didn’t feel right if they came through the phone, miles between them.

“Linda, I want you to know…” Gerald took a breath. “No matter what happens, I will be there for you. Always.”

There came no immediate response. Gerald nodded once, though Linda couldn’t see.

“I love you,” he said softly.

“I love you, too,” Linda said in that same soft voice. A tone he hadn’t heard since they had first met and their first years together. A tone from before she put up the walls he helped her built.

He hung up the phone and waited for Linda to return home.


Jane didn’t mind having to look after Hannah.

Maybe Lex had been right. It wasn’t good to keep her daughters locked up inside the house. That wouldn’t be good to anyone. So instead of being cooped up inside, she decided to go on a walk with Hannah and, if they happened to find a good spot to put up a poster, she didn’t let the opportunity go to waste. She gave Hannah some purpose as well – it made her feel like she actively helped to bring Tim home. You should’ve seen the smile on Hannah’s face with each poster she helped her mother with.

They ran out of posters and returned home after dark. Hannah had walked all day and had become tired. Jane put her to bed, and Hannah fell fast asleep soon after.

Lex was in the bedroom, too; she spoke with Hannah about what she’d done that day, but Jane and Lex did not speak – they exchanged unsure glances and glares, whenever Hannah wasn’t looking at either. When Jane invited Lex to grab some snacks, Lex responded she already had dinner and told her to leave the room.

Jane walked back downstairs and looked at the posters piling up in the living room; it was never enough. Jane had someone print more.

But was it enough? Was it even having any effect?

She planned to eat a quick meal and return to decorating the city with posters of Tim, but the sight of these piles somehow discouraged her. How could she put up all of these posters? How could she give Hannah so much hope?

Maybe Lex was right. Maybe Tim wasn’t ever coming back, because he couldn’t. Because he was dead.

Jane hadn’t allowed herself to think like that. She was his mother, for Christ’s sake! She should be the last to give up on Tim. She should believe that her son might return to her while there was no evidence of his death.

But if she did, she wouldn’t be any better than Carol. Though she loved her mother-in-law, the disappearance of Max broke her. She started believing in spirits and weird shit. Jane remembered what she thought as a teenager, around the time of Max’ disappearance: if my child disappeared, I won’t be like that.

Maybe the universe punished her. Maybe it was just a cruel coincidence. Either way, Tim was gone and he may never come back. And to avoid becoming like Carol, she needed to not cling to the possibility of his return as vehemently as Carol had.

To take her mind off of things, Jane turned on the radio. She wasn’t too aware of the programming, but she expected to listen to some soothing late-night music. She hadn’t thought some radio host talked about the subject she had tried to forget.

“…the disappearance of the three kids,” the radio host finished his sentence. “The police has also revealed they have found a body in Witchwood Forest, but which isn’t one of the children. If you know more, or if you have any tips to share, you can call us or leave a message at our number, and your message might be broadcasted on the air. Let us know what you think…”

The host mentioned the phone number.

And Jane reached to her phone and rang that number.

She hadn’t intended to call. But she needed to. She needed to get rid of this ever-growing uneasy feeling. She needed the listeners to know what she felt, how bad things have gotten, and maybe, they’d learn something - or they’d tune in to the rant of a woman mad with grief.

Jane hadn’t planned anything to say when she was told she would be put on the air. She was saying whatever felt right in the moment, even if it hurt people’s feelings. She wished Lex wasn’t listening to the radio - or Tom, if he wasn’t fully engulfed in his newest lead.

Tonight, we have one of the mothers of a missing child on the air, Mrs. Jane Houston,” the radio host announced. “Jane?”

Jane took a shaky breath and started talking.

“We have all been blind. Our children aren’t missing. They are dead, their bodies dumped somewhere. And all of Hatchetfield has been blind to the murderer living next door. He passes us and makes us believe his lies. We think we know our neighbors, but we don’t. We only know the masks they’ve put up, never seeing their true identity behind.”

She paused only one second. There was more she wanted to say.

“Hatchetfield is sick. This city is filled with these corrupt individuals, and there is no cure for such a serious illness. We can only pray no other children will be taken, because God knows that kidnapper will show up again and kill another one.”

The radio host tried to transition to another guest quickly. Jane wasn’t even listening anymore and the radio station had to end the call, as Jane wasn’t even able to do that.

There it is. Here’s what I think.

And she started crying. She couldn’t hold it anymore. She thought she had no tears left, that she had shed them all, but this new feeling wasn’t something she had experienced. She was mourning her son all over again.

What she hadn’t expected was Lex hearing every word. Instead of cussing at her mother, she walked towards her and they hugged it out. They held each other tightly and cried together.


Home.

Linda sat in her car and looked at her luxurious home. Blood, sweat, tears, and the family fortune went into this house. Linda had been very proud of its grandeur and how it was far enough away from Hatchetfield, even as a kid. A nice, big home for her, Gerald, and her four sons.

But in the grand scheme of things, how much did this heap of bricks matter without family?

She stepped out of the car because the light in the kitchen was turned on; their kitchen, that looked out over their long driveway. Gerald was there.

With all her courage, she walked to the front door, trembling from head to toe. She walked as quickly as she could bear - which was slowly. Her hands shook as she put the key in the door and turned it. She closed the door carefully and took off her coat.

She stood in the hallway for but a moment to catch her breath and she walked into the kitchen.

There was Gerald. He looked at her without judgment. He didn’t even hold the letter in his hand, but he must have seen it. It’s been a long time since Gerald looked at her with such compassion and sympathy. And all the love in the world.

He was there. He was always there. When she was at her lowest point, he appeared. When she hit rock bottom, again through no fault of her own (the universe hated her), he was still there. Still not asking questions, still not leaving a sick woman who had a long and gruesome battle ahead of her.

Any other man would’ve left; not Gerald. She remembered when she first met him. Because of him, she became a proud and unapologetically confident woman. Traits that have grown to the extreme. What had she done recently to deserve his love and support?

Just the sight of him made her break down in tears. She walked towards him and collapsed in his arms. He held her tightly, without saying any words.

As they stood there, she could feel him crying on her shoulder as she cried on his chest.

Chapter Text

2019

Tom knew he wasn’t in his right mind. He was furious, seething, out of his damn mind. He knew he should go to the police station - he should talk to Sam so he could hopefully calm Tom down before he could make any mistakes.

But that would be a waste of time. Sam probably wasn’t even in the office and if he looked through his case, he’d see the testimony was anonymous. Even listening to the tapes, he may not be able to positively identify Harriet’s voice, but he was so sure he was able to drive to her house and confront her with the truth she’d been keeping from him.

He never thought he’d be back at her place so soon. He never thought he would ever willingly return to the woman he so selfishly loved and chose to leave behind. But circumstances brought him back to the place where he never wanted to go to again, especially not to see the woman who lived here.

He stepped out of his car and slammed the door. He marched to the door and banged on it. There was a doorbell. He didn’t use it, though - he was too mad to even consider being polite and ringing the doorbell. He hoped he disturbed her peace.

At long last, Harriet opened the door. He walked in past her, but he could already imagine the happy, smug grin on her face as she realized

“Tom!” She sounded genuinely happy to see him. “How are you?”

“No, don’t,” he told her, pointing accusatorily at her, though he hadn’t made any accusations. When she saw his furious face, Harriet realized that something wasn’t completely right.

“Tom?”

“I know what you did,” Tom said, trying to dial down the anger to tell her what he had learned today. “You went to the police as a kid. You told them I’d raped Jane. How could you?”

Harriet did not respond at first. But she calmly shook her head - how did she stay so calm when such an accusation was thrown at her? When she spoke, her tone was calm and cold, calculated.

“That was Linda—”

“Really, Harriet?” Tom said. “I’m not a fool. That was you. You ruined my life!”

Harriet did not flinch at his loud voice. He hadn’t come to yell, but that was an unfortunate side-effect of his fury. Harriet did not seem to mind, to try to calm him down. A silent admission of guilt; something that justified Tom’s behavior in his mind.

 “What the hell do you want from me?” Tom asked her, despair in his voice.

“I want you.”

A chill ran down his spine. That was it? Tom shook his head. Harriet was even smiling about it! Did she truly like the thought of having him, at every cost?

“How sick do you have to be to report a perfectly consensual relationship as rape? How sick?”

Again, Harriet did not answer. She only looked at him with a lustful look. She’d probably kiss him if she could, but Tom kept her at a safe distance from him, so she couldn’t do any stupid things to her.

“You’re poison,” he told her. “At first you’re as sweet as honey, but that facade drops quickly with such erratic behavior.” Tom shook his head, taking a couple of steps towards her. “How the hell did Tony put up with it all? Maybe he didn’t. Maybe that is why he ended things.”

Harriet slapped Tom in his face. Tom deserved it, and he did not retaliate. He wasn’t there to fight. He’d wanted to confront her with the truth, and that last comment was a bridge too far.

But he couldn’t take back spoken words. And he wasn’t in the right mindset to apologize to her.

“Harriet, this is the last you’ll see of me,” he told her. “Do not ever contact me or my family again, do not show up at our door, or I will have you convicted for false testimony.”

Tom then left her, leaving her no chance to say anything else. He needed to get out of the house, away from the poisonous environment he found himself in again, and back home.


Night had fallen and Tom returned home.

He didn’t go into his house. He stayed in his car, with a book of pictures that Carol had lent him. So long as he brought it back, he was allowed to keep it for as long as he wanted. In the safety of his car, he took the book in his hands and flipped through the pages.

It started with baby pictures, of him and Max. Tom laughed when he saw the first picture of the brothers: a two-year-old and very unwilling Tom held Max in his small arms and glared at his father behind the camera, almost screaming to take the baby away from him. Tom couldn’t remember this moment - he was two years old - but based on the picture, he would have pushed the baby off of him if Max had stayed on his lap even a second longer.

The more pages Tom flipped, the older the boys became. Their personalities shone, the camera capturing several moments that Tom didn’t remember, or never wanted to forget; formal pictures, silly pictures, pictures with the most unusual of situations.

The last picture in the book was the last picture of Tom and Max, standing side by side, smiling at the camera. It was taken after the incident where Max smashed into the glass table; one picture.

Tom barely remembered the circumstances of the picture. He didn’t know what happened before or after, or what elicited the picture being taken. He only knew that, at this point in time, both boys were happy.

And as he looked at his brother’s face a little longer, a new and strange thought popped up in Tom’s mind. He didn’t know where it came from.

No, it couldn’t be. Could it?

Tom took the picture from the book and carefully placed it in the glove cabinet. He was glad to still be in the driver's seat; he only needed to put on his seat belt and drive away.

Back to the police station. Back to work. Even if this lead went nowhere, he would at least be comforted that his strange thought was just that. That he didn’t need to look into it any further.

Nobody said a word when he walked into the station. Everyone knew Tom was working 24/7 these days and put in 200% effort. Nobody tried to stop him - it was best to let him be, even under normal circumstances.

So he walked into the morgue. There was a body he needed to look at; he’d taken the picture with him. And not before too long, he stood before the compartment where the mystery boy dressed in 80s attire was located.

His hands trembled as Tom took the picture in his hands and looked at Max. He focused hard on the new scar on his chin, the scar that was the cause for the strange thought.

Tom lowered the picture and looked at the boy.

This boy had the same scar. He had the same hair color and length. His clothes, now put away, were definitely something that Max would have worn.

Tom cried as he looked at the dead boy with the mutilated head in front of him. This boy, without a doubt, was none other than Max Houston.

Chapter Text

2019

The Geiger counter seemed a perfect guide. It showed Ethan where he needed to go. He traveled through a cave system where bigger spaces were connected by winding hallways, where it was easy to lose your way and where no red string pointed him the way. The Geiger counter pointed him in the right direction, to his goal, one that was not yet in sight, but which came closer with every step that he took towards it. Ethan could feel it.

He was getting excited. He was nearing the passage. He was going to find what his father failed to find in so many years. Then again, he didn’t have the anonymous help Ethan had received.

What would he find? How would this passage look like? Tony never knew, and Ethan did not care about it. He knew he was going to see it when he found it, and he would know this is what he’d been looking forward to since he found the map.

And there it was.

Ethan stopped and stared at the sight. He lifted the orb light a little higher so he could look at it in its full glory.

It was a door; a small door, barely enough for a child. It was perfectly even and smooth and metal, ornate. Whoever created it, knew exactly what he was doing. It wasn’t rusting at all, like it had been installed just yesterday. The centerpiece was a triquetra; the trinity knot, with no discernable beginning or end; everything is connected. This stood in a circle in the middle of this ornate door, and four words were written on it; two above, two under the triquetra.

SIC MUNDUS

CREATUS EST

Ethan walked to the door, with the utmost respect and fear. He reached his target; it was behind the metal door. He put away all of his stuff in the backpack except for the light and then reached out for the door.

It swung open to his side. Some wind blew in his face, but it wasn’t so strong that he couldn’t move forward. He looked inside: it was a small crawlspace, perfectly chiseled out. As if someone had used a tool to cut a perfect square and used it along the entire hall. It was small, like the door, so Ethan needed to crawl.

So he did. He crawled through the door, in the hallway, his light in front of him. He could not see the end from here, but he figured he’d have to go a long while before he was going to find the other side of the hallway.

It feels like he was crawling forever, and that no time had passed at all. He crawled and did not know how far away the first door was, which had slammed close behind him. He did not know how far to go to find another door.

He did not find another door first. He finds a choice: the hallway split into two parts, one that goes right and one that goes left. There was no way of telling where which hallways would end up, as they looked exactly as the hall he’d just crawled through.

Ethan chose to go right. In the same amount of time, he crawled through this hallway, wondering when he was going to see a door, if he’d have to make another choice, and how much time he’d still have to be in this very tiny constrained space.

He almost sighed in relief when he saw the door again. He hadn’t noticed when he first went into the crawlspace, but the door looked exactly the same on both sides. The same triquetra, the same ornaments, the same words. He had to push the door open, and wind again blew in his face. He crawled the last inches out of the cave and stood up, the door slamming behind him, and he looked around.

No results. That was his first thought. This cave room looked exactly like the one he’d been in when he went through the door.

Had he gone in a circle?

No, that was impossible. He’d gone in a straight line and when he had to choose, he went to the right. If he indeed had gone in a circle, he would’ve seen something - another connection, something that made it clear it was possible for him to end up here again.

The mystery puzzled Ethan, and it dampened his euphoria - he had found the passage. He had even passed through. But since this logically couldn’t be where he started - unless this room looked exactly the same - then where had he ended up?

Ethan sighed and started walking. He would have to find out himself.


What has she gotten herself into?

Charlotte had asked herself this question many, many times. She could never seem to find the answer though. Even God had remained silent on this matter, when it mattered the most. So Charlotte had to blindly trust things were predicted accurately and were going to happen.

She hadn’t thought she’d come to the bunker and meet with Trent Houston. She had thought she would stay home, with Jenny. That had been the plan, until the news leaked that Alice had gone missing and Sam decided to work even harder with the police force. It opened the opportunity to leave the house unseen when Sam hadn’t returned home yet. Then she received a message from Trent and she knew she could not ignore what he asked of her.

So she was in her father-in-law’s bunker, with Trent, with that book with dates and times written in it that accurately depicted the times the barriers were opened.

It scared Charlotte, but she remained in the bunker, under the bunker light, while the world outside was dark.

“What’s the time?” Trent asked her. She looked at her watch.

“7:09,” Charlotte responded. Only eight more minutes until 7:17 pm. Eight more minutes until these barriers were open again. She started to feel anxious. Maybe she shouldn’t have come.

“Are we sure this is a good idea?” she asked Trent. He looked up from the book, from the page with the dates and times, and watched her with a tired face.

Suddenly Charlotte realized how old he was. Over seventy years old, and still roped into this hot mess he wasn’t allowed to talk to anyone about. He shook his head.

“I’m not sure what is a good idea anymore,” Trent said. “Hopefully, this clears up some things.” He pointed with his finger to the book, to today’s date. Charlotte looked at the damned book. She wished she could tear it apart and return home. She wished she had not become involved in the first place. She wished she could go home.

Then again, she would never forget what she was forced to see and do on November 4.

“Do you want it to happen?” she asked quietly. Trent shrugged.

“I don’t know,” he said.

Charlotte looked at her watch again. 7:10. Seven more minutes.

Because she did not know what to do, Charlotte started to pray.

After a while, she looked at her watch again. She’d prayed, but found no comfort. She was even less comforted now she saw only less than a minute was left before they hit 7:17 pm, the hour described in Trent’s book.

And she saw how one arm moved and declared it was officially 7:17 pm.

The bunker light started to flicker. Both Charlotte and Trent looked at the light as it flickered. They had checked - the infrastructure was old, but it had never failed. Except now.

Except at the time when the entirety of Hatchetfield was about to experience another power outage, one that was supposed to last three minutes according to the booklet Trent held in his hand.

Charlotte stared at the book. It had been right. There was no other reason for this change to happen. This was not a coincidence. She’d looked in the book before; she didn’t quite catch the time on November 5, but the times described in the booklet matched those when the power outage struck the city.

She looked at Trent, while he only glanced at her. Neither of them had the words for the miracle that was happening today.

No. Charlotte shouldn’t call it a miracle. This was not a God-given miracle. She could feel it in her core; this was something deeply rooted in evil.

At 7:20 pm, the lights returned to normal. Trent looked inside the booklet. Charlotte glanced in it as well.

There it was, on the third-to-last line. Today’s date, followed by the starting time (7:17) and ending time (7:20). It was even highlighted with yellow marker, as was the last line.

Charlotte gasped. It was true. Maybe there was some truth to be found. She still couldn’t find herself to believe, but this was the first step to coming to terms with what was presented to her.


Only when Ethan exited the caves, he noticed a change.

Everything in the caves had stayed the same. Out here, the night had fallen, and the trees swayed in the wind and it rained heavily. And when he looked out, he saw the couch and chair were gone. Due to the heavy rain, Ethan could not see too far ahead of him, so he put on his rain jacket and hood and trekked away from the caves and towards the road.

He was confused when he couldn’t find his bike where he left it. He was certain: the passage had brought him back to a familiar environment, but without its identifying markers or anything that gave away Ethan had been here. He was going to have to explore without his bike and go home - if there even was a home.

During his walk through the heavy rain, he came across a bus stop that he didn’t remember. It provided some shelter and light, so Ethan walked under it and looked at the posters that were put on the bus stop’s walls.

One of them caught his eye. It was a missing poster. It wasn’t for Deb, or Tim, or Alice. It was for a young boy named Max Houston.

A car horn brought him out of his thoughts and Ethan turned around. On the road stood a van; it was dark, dirty green, worn off, and the sides advertised the dry cleaning company the man at the wheel worked for. Next to him, in the passenger seat, sat a girl - his daughter - who seemed strangely familiar. The van was going into town, to Ethan’s right, and the girl sat closest to him.

“Do you need a ride?” the man asked him through the opened window. “It’s still a while to Hatchetfield on foot.”

Ethan didn’t immediately say anything. His mind was still stuck on Max Houston. The man did not seem to mind this hesitation, as he turned to his daughter.

“Move over, Harriet. Let the boy in,” he said. Harriet scooted closer towards him and opened the car door.

“No, thanks,” Ethan stammered. “I’ll walk.”

“Okay,” the girl said, closing the door and exchanging looks with her father.

“Weirdo,” he commented before driving off. And as they drove back into town, Ethan’s mind finally caught on to the most important detail in this small conversation.

Harriet.

The girl was named Harriet. If he remembered correctly, his mother once told him about his deceased grandfather’s dry-cleaning company.

He just met his grandfather and his mother. She looked younger than him.

I did it. Until that moment, he hadn’t known at what he succeeded.

He traveled through time.

Chapter Text

2019

A young boy woke up in a strange room. The lights were on ane the big rusted metal door was closed. There stood a bed in the nook, a double bed with bedsheets that matched the cheerful wallpaper. A bright blue background showed red foxes and yellow rabbits dancing together, all in two perfectly straight lines running around the entire room. There was a tv as well, but that was not the most impressive thing in the room.

There was a large metal chair in the middle of the room. If he were to sit in it, he would be watching the tv, but it was too big for the boy. It was quite the contraption, impressive. It was a weird chair, and if there was a purpose to it, then the boy did not understand what it was.

He just knew this wasn’t where he was supposed to be. In his reflection, he caught his ear; or what was left of it. Had it stopped bleeding? There already was so much blood that he couldn’t tell. There was only a small lump left, as he reached out to touch it. When he made contact, numerous chills ran down his spine and he gagged.

Fear gripped him. Such fear as he had never felt before, and never will again. Fear that scarred him for life and put him on the path that he had walked in his life.

Henry Hidgens woke up in his safe bed, in the nursing home. The heart monitor beeped softly, registering his heartbeat. It beat faster than usual, but that was to be expected. Henry had just woken up from a nightmare.

Or was it a memory floating to the forefront of his mind, that appeared because of what was happening with the children?

“I remember.”

The horror of that moment set in again. He shivered and pulled the blankets up higher.

“I remember.”


Tom had to see the grave. He needed to see it again. As he stood before it, he only thought of his brother, thirty-three years missing, about a week dead, still as young as he was in 1986.

Tom stared at the stone. It had Max’s name and read his birthday: December 14, 1974 - forever.

Forever. That should be November 4, 2019. If anyone looked at the stone if it had that death date, they wouldn’t know it was such a tragedy. They wouldn’t know that, for thirty-three years, time had stopped for the young boy who disappeared.

None of this was possible. There was no logical explanation for these events. Maybe things made sense if he had all the information - but Tom was limited in his means and knowledge was hard to come by. And it was impossible to go back to the past to figure it out.

Fortunately, a police officer from the past worked on the case and left meticulous notes behind.

Tom needed to see the evidence. He had to go to the station. Such a thorough investigation as he planned required a lot of space, however, and there was not enough of that on the small tables provided.

But when he came to the police station, he decided to take a quick detour. The coroners knew a lot about death in general; maybe one of them was going to answer some pressing questions.

Luckily, someone was present at the coroner’s office. There sat Dana, the woman who had examined the boy and who probably knew the most about the case. The perfect person to talk to.

“Hi, Dana,” he said. Dana, who had been working, lifted her head and nodded at the police officer.

“Hello, Tom,” she said. “What brings you here?”

“Is there a way that boy could’ve been dead longer?” Tom asked directly. He didn’t come for small talk - only for the info he needed. “Like, could he have been preserved for a while, and then dumped?”

At first, Dana stood and looked at Tom, a curious look on her face. Then, she turned her body to the officer to answer.

“It’s possible for a body to be preserved,” Dana said, “but that wasn’t the case with the boy. He had just died; we would have seen something if he had been dead longer and had been preserved.” She tilted her head. “How long were you thinking?”

The coroner had a keen eye; Tom had come with a question that pertained to his case, and there had to be a reason behind it. If he had a theory, she’d be glad to listen and maybe help with her advice. And Tom took the bait.

“Two, maybe three decades.”

He spoke hesitantly - he knew how impossible it sounded. Yet, that was the time frame. It was an outrageous amount of time and the coroner thought so, too. Her jaw nearly dropped, but she kept her composure. She was wordless for a couple of seconds, though.

“That’s impossible, Tom,” she said in no uncertain terms. “You cannot preserve a body for that long. You can’t then drop the body and not have us notice something, even if it were possible. The boy died at most a day before you’ve found him.”

Tom nodded. Of course. Bodies decompose. Max Houston should be a pile of bones by now, if not less. But he was not; he was an eye-less corpse in the morgue, to be cremated or buried in an anonymous grave.

The boy was Max. Yet all the evidence pointed to the opposite. DNA could point to it - but no Houston DNA was in the databank, so they couldn’t immediately link it to Tom. A mystery he solved - which the world would declare him insane for.

“Anything else?” she asked.

“No,” Tom said. “Just… testing a theory.”

“Have a good day, Tom,” Dana said. He didn’t know if she meant it or said it to get Tom out of her office.

“You, too,” Tom said and he walked out of the office, right to the archives. He grabbed the box with the evidence and reports of the Max Houston case and walked with it to his car.

Chapter Text

1986

Ethan woke up. For a moment, he didn’t know where he was.

Then it all came back to him. He walked into the caves in 2019 and he woke up in some quickly built shed for hunters in Witchwood Forest. It was cold, and Ethan had slept on the floor, using his backpack as a pillow. A hard pillow, but it worked well enough once he had taken out the light and the Geiger counter.

He quickly ate some candy bar, putting the wrapper in the backpack when he was done. It was a candy bar from the future, and Ethan didn’t want to take any risks by littering. Then he took a quick sip from his bottle of water before he finally got ready to travel again.

These parts of the forest hadn’t changed. They were exactly as Ethan remembered, except they may be a little cleaner and the small pathways were even smaller or didn’t exist yet. But he hadn’t come to admire these forests. He had come to find Tim Houston, and his first stop was the school.

Because the school was further from his location than Ethan first thought and because he didn’t want to steal a bike, Ethan walked for an hour and a half before he finally reached the site. His legs hurt and he wanted to sit down for a moment and take a break. Yet, when he saw the building, he found some energy reserve he didn’t know he had; some energy he would use to find Tim in this school.

At the school, it became clear he had ended in a different time period. Everything, from the music to the fashion to the way they talked, was different than what Ethan was used to. He believed he stood out like a sore thumb, and he did attract some attention, but nobody spared him more than a passing glance.

He found a girl, sitting on the ground, attempting to read a book. Nobody paid much attention to her, and soon, Ethan and the girl were alone in the hallway.

Ethan figured she might know something about the school and who goes there. But how would he phrase his question? Was he going to ask about the date as well?

He could do it. He didn’t know what day it was, and maybe she’d give him the year as well, as some sort of confirmation that he was indeed in the past and on the right track to find Tim.

“I’m sorry, what day is it?” Ethan asked the girl.

At first, she didn’t answer. She kept looking at the book - maybe she was just staring at the words to ignore the strange boy that had appeared. When he wasn’t going away, she decided it was beneficial after all to give the boy the information he desperately required from her mouth.

“November 9,” she said, with an annoyed tone. Like she did not want to talk to him and wanted him to leave after she had spoken.

Ethan, on the other hand, was just getting started. November 9. Checks out, because yesterday was November 8. So the time-travel crawlspace connected the same dates to one another, from one year to the other, though Ethan couldn’t say why it connected 2019 with 1986 just yet.

But that didn’t matter. He was looking for Tim and the girl could be helpful now, too.

“I’m looking for someone,” Ethan said. “He should be here.”

The girl closed the book with a thud and glared daggers at him.

“Who is it?” Her irritation had almost turned to anger. She hoped it would scare Ethan away. It usually worked with the students - they always turned away when she got furious, because her fury knew no bounds.

Luckily, Ethan knew none of that.

“Tony Green.” Her face was blank. “Son of Becky Green?”

The girl sighed and shook her head.

“Don’t know any boy by that name. And that nurse has no kids.” She sounded condescending - as if every woman needed a child to feel whole. “If you’re looking for her, you might as well go to the hospital instead of wasting my time.”

Ethan turned away. She didn’t want to be bothered. As he walked down the hallway, another girl came from the other way. She didn’t notice Ethan, even as he crossed her, but he did see her roll her eyes at the girl on the floor.

“Fuck off, Linda,” she said confidently. Linda was worked up enough to insult her back, but by the time she had finished firing off her rage-induced insults, Ethan was already gone and on the way to the hospital on this cloudy day.


Ewan Monroe sat at his desk, the picture of Max and Tom Houston before him.

He’s always known Tom Houston was trouble. He couldn’t say where this feeling originated or what Tom had done in the beginning to elicit the attention, but now Ewan had the proof. Tom Houston was a troublemaker, and he was a sex offender, too. This would not reflect on him well.

And this whole situation has made Ewan think. If Tom was capable of such a heinous act, how small was the leap from sex offender to murderer? To kidnapper? It did look like he loved his brother, but in any of these cases, the family should still be investigated.

Ewan took a pen and drew a question mark on Tom’s body. He was a suspect - unofficially, but still a suspect. If he didn’t want his possible part in the disappearance of his brother to come out, he shouldn’t have done something so stupid.

Then again, he probably hadn’t counted on having any witnesses.

Someone knocked on his door and walked into the office. It was the police chief, carrying documents into the office.

“Ewan?” he asked. “I need you to go to the power plant. Ask for all the routes and times of the employees that worked on the night that Max Houston disappeared.”

He dropped the documents on the desk; on top of the files Ewan had been working on. He glanced at the new papers and looked up at the police chief.

“Can’t someone else do that?” He asked. The police chief raised an eyebrow. “I mean, I’m already working on his brother’s rape case. Who knows, maybe he was also involved in the disappearance of his brother.”

The police chief sighed and looked at Ewan with a mix of disappointment and sympathy.

“We're not in the 50s anymore, Ewan,” he said. “We don’t follow hunches or make things up. We follow leads and work with real evidence.”

The police chief placed his hands on Ewan’s desk. He was still rather young, and leaning a little forward, intimidating to the older officer. If this is where the police force was going, Ewan was glad to not have to be involved with it any longer in only a short while.

“Three more months and you can go into retirement,” the police chief said. “Will you throw that away in a lawsuit if you are wrong?”

“No, sir,” Ewan said. Three months and I’m gone. He loved the job, but he did not love the intimidating nature of the police chief. With a bit of luck, this boy wouldn’t stay in this position too long and a good man would take his spot.

The police chief put his hands in his pockets and nodded.

“Good,” he said with a nod. “Please go to the power plant. That case isn’t going anywhere.”

The police chief then walked out of the office. Ewan stared at the papers and sighed. He didn’t want to do this. He didn’t want to get out of his office, away from his prime suspect, but if that is what the police chief wanted, he wasn’t going to go against those orders.

So he stood up and walked to his service car to take the long drive to the power plant, and he thanked God the forest road existed.


The forest road was a bit muddy, but it was nothing Ewan’s car couldn’t handle. He was going to the power plant, using the existing shortcut. He didn’t want to be there, but he was going to do his job.

Three more months. Just three months.

He quickly arrived at the nuclear power plant’s closed gate. Not even him, the father of the new CEO, could enter whenever he wanted. He was still also an officer and he’d be treated as such. Which meant he wasn’t allowed to go through the gate without permission.

There was nobody there, though. The gatehouse was empty, and unless a guard came, Ewan would have to wait. He really wasn’t in the mood for waiting at this moment. He already felt like he was wasting his time by coming here, now they were inadvertently going to waste his time even more.

Luckily, someone had seen the officer at the front gate. The man moved closer to the gate, to talk to the officer and help him in any way he could. Ewan immediately recognized him.

“Good morning, officer,” said Henry Hidgens from the other side of the gate. Ewan nodded politely.

“Henry,” he said, “You're just the guy I’m looking for.”

The half-smile on Henry’s face disappeared. He looked at the officer nervously.

“I am?” he stammered.

Ewan nodded. The young man shouldn’t worry about. He should learn not to feel too nervous when people wanted to speak to him.

“Yes,” Ewan said. “I’m going to need all the routes and times when employees arrived and left the facility on October 2.”

He could see Henry hesitated. He wasn’t sure what to do, but there was some sort of relief on his face as well. Relief that Ewan found a little strange.

“I can’t help you right now,” Henry said. “I need to do my rounds.”

“I understand,” Ewan responded, "but I also wanted to take your statement. When you do, you can bring those papers with you. Do you have a preference for a date?”

The relief shifted again. It turned into desperation, and a feeling like he couldn’t escape this duty. He could not refuse the conversation, then Ewan would be even more suspicious of him. Yet, it was in everyone’s best interest if Henry didn’t speak to Ewan.

“I’m free on Tuesday,” Henry said. He glanced to the road he’d been walking on before he saw Ewan. He wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible.

Ewan took his notebook from his pocket. “Good.” He planned the interview for Tuesday, November 11. He then looked at Henry again, a curious look on his face.

“Where were you on that day?” Ewan then asked him. “October 2, I mean.”

Henry nodded a couple of times, maybe to prolong giving his answer to Ewan. But Ewan continued to look at him with a curious stare and Henry knew he had to say something.

“I was working,” he said with a fast pace and pointed to the ground. “Here.”

Of course. Where else would he be working?

“When did your shift end?”

“I left at six,” Henry said. “Took the state road.”

Now that was an interesting tidbit that Ewan would have never asked about had Henry not mentioned it. He frowned.

“Did you have anything else to take care of?” Ewan asked. “Isn’t the forest road shorter?”

Henry glanced at him nervously, as if he’d been caught in a lie.

“I prefer the state road. Feels safer,” Henry explained. “Good day, Mr. Monroe.”

Not even giving Ewan the time to say goodbye to Henry, the young man walked away again, to continue his rounds.

Ewan knew Henry was a good man. He was coming over on November 11 to give his statement. And maybe, after all that weird behavior and the strange things he said, Ewan might even pull a confession out of him.

As Ewan walked to his car, he wished he’d asked Henry if he had seen Tom Houston. He could always ask when Henry came to give his statement as well as the necessary papers.

Still, before he left, Ewan wrote four more words on the second line of November 11 in his planner, to keep one key detail in mind when Henry eventually showed up.

Why not forest road?

Chapter Text

2019

Sam was on the phone in his office. Last night, around nine o’clock, he was still at work in the Witchwood Forest and he could have sworn the ground was shaking. It was such a strange experience that Sam took some time out of his day to call someone to discuss the occurrence.

Except the ground didn’t shake all over Hatchetfield. The power was going crazy again, but the ground hadn’t shook. Sam was certain it had happened as he had first described it, but he also didn’t feel like arguing to the guy on the other side of the line, so he just stopped the call and sat in his chair.

This town got weirder and weirder every passing day and Sam didn’t know whether this was a good or a bad thing.

Fortunately, distraction came. Xander Lee knocked on the door and walked into the office. Sam could see from his face something good happened for once.

Sam didn’t even need to ask. Xander simply handed the document to Sam.

“We have the warrant,” Xander said proudly.

Sam looked at the document. This was it - the piece of paper that Tom needed days ago, but couldn’t get. Now it lay on Sam’s desk. Finally, the time has come to go to the power plant and see what they were hiding from the police, if they were hiding anything.

Sam stood up, the paper in his hand.

“That’s great,” Sam said. “I’m taking two teams with me. You stay here.”

Xander nodded. “Should I call Tom?”

Sam shook his head. He wasn’t going to involve Tom. He wasn’t officially on the case - Tom had to look into the identity of the dead boy. Besides, if Tom came along, he may do something stupid again, and Sam couldn’t have that behavior reflect negatively on his police force. Two teams of agents on the case were coming with Sam and Tom stayed out of it.

Sam called the officers to the main hall and told them what was about to go down. Excited to finally be able to look around on the power plant’s grounds for more evidence, the teams jumped into three service cars and followed Sam, who was first.

They couldn’t lose any time. The forest road was a more direct route as it ran through the forest and was used as a legitimate shortcut to go to the power plant over the state road. Luckily, the mud had solidified again after the rainstorms of the past few days, none of the cars got stuck in the mud as they drove to the power plant.

Sam got out of the car once they reached their destination. The guard didn’t want to let them in. Sam held up the warrant, and the guard squinted as he tried to read it. Once he realized what it was, however, he called Gerald Monroe, so he could take a look.

Sam didn’t mind the wait. It was the last barrier before he could put his men to work. If he lost his temper, Gerald could compare him to Tom - something he didn’t want in this specific regard.

Gerald came to the closed gate. Sam held the paper up again. Gerald looked at it from his side of the gate, and then turned his head to the guard.

“Open the gate.”

Sam smiled as he walked back to his car. All of the police cars drove to the opened gate, ready to start searching the expansive power plant grounds for even a hint at something out of the ordinary.

As Sam got out of the car, Gerald Monroe approached him again with one simple question.

“No Tom Houston?”

Sam looked at the director. “No, sir. He’s not on the case.”


Armed with the evidence box, Tom walked to Tim’s bedroom. It had once belonged to Tom, and Jane wasn’t there at the moment. Since she would not appreciate how he spread out all of the evidence and all reports on the bedroom floor, Tom decided he was going to do it in Tim’s bedroom and clean it up when he was ready.

It was never good to bring work home. But he couldn’t stay at the police station. He had to get out of that environment. A new working environment might be what he needed to connect the dots; preferably in the place where Max used to live.

Tom placed all pieces around him. They were mostly papers, reports and all sorts of things. Tom looked over all of them.

Among the papers, he spotted a picture. It was a copy of the picture Tom had used to positively identify the dead boy as Max Houston. Ewan had drawn a question mark on Tom’s body. Tom looked at it and frowned. He never knew Ewan had him pinned as a suspect in the case, which Tom found ridiculous. Then again, he was close to retirement and quite old, so the man probably was grasping at straws to keep his reputation intact.

Tom read almost everything, until another piece drew his attention. It was Ewan’s notebook. He was working on the case and had planned many interviews with this notebook, including brief notes. Only two lines per day in a small notebook wasn’t a lot, but Ewan had made it work.

Tom looked through everything that Ewan had noted from October 1986 onward. The first days, Ewan was actively speaking with people and taking their statements for further investigation, all of which were bundled in a neat pile that lay before Tom. None of them sparked his interest, though, so he flipped through the pages quickly.

When he reached November, however, something caught Tom’s attention. On November 11, 1986, Ewan Monroe had planned to take the statement of one Henry Hidgens. Tom frowned - what did Ewan want to discuss with Henry? What could that man add to the conversation?

The next line was more important: why not forest road?

Something happened, or Henry said something. Either way, it was important enough for Ewan to note it down before they had their conversation. Now, this was interesting.

Tom took the bundle of statements and flicked through them. He then did so again, and again. He thought he missed Henry’s statement the first two times, but after the third time, he was certain. Henry’s statement was missing.

No. It wasn’t missing. Ewan wouldn’t leave it out. He wasn’t that kind of person; everything, the good and the bad, was included in the box, whether it made Ewan look good or bad.

There was no statement. Henry hadn’t made it to the police station to give his statement. Which was odd, to say the least, and an interesting and possibly implicating detail in this case.

Tom reached for the phone. This information was too juicy not to pass on.

He called Sam. Tom hadn’t seen his partner when he was at the station, so it was safe to say Sam was somewhere in the field. With a bit of luck, he wasn’t doing something super important.

The call went to voicemail. Tom cursed and called again. Damn it, Hidgens, pick up!

After another agonizing four seconds, the ringing stopped - Sam had picked up his phone.

“What is it, Tom?” Sam asked. He sounded annoyed - maybe he was doing something important Tom interrupted. But Tom didn’t care. Sam picked up and now he could share the news.

“Did you know your father was implicated in the missing case of Max Houston?” Tom said. It wasn’t exactly true, but it wasn’t wrong either.

“What?” Sam asked after a couple of seconds of confused silence. Tom nodded. He’d gone through the same emotions.

“He was on Ewan’s radar,” Tom specified. “Henry was supposed to give a statement on November 11, 1986 - Ewan had planned it, but Henry didn’t show up. There’s no statement.”

“I’m sure he had a good reason for it,” Sam responded. Tom first assumed the same, but later came to the conclusion they couldn’t know. He might have missed it. He might have purposely not shown up. He might have forgotten. They couldn’t know.

Unless Tom would visit Henry.

“He was suspicious,” was Tom’s simple answer. “Ewan had written something else. Why not forest road?”

“What does that mean?” Sam wasn’t only confused with Henry’s involvement, but also with Tom in general. Tom chose to interpret it as confusion about the sentence and shrugged.

“I wish I knew,” he said. “But Ewan thought it was important enough to jot it down in his planner. He might have something to do with Max. Maybe Tim, too.”

Tom could feel the facepalm on the other side of the line.

“Tom, he’s not a murderer or a kidnapper.” Sam spoke as if he talked to a child who did or said something extremely wrong. “He’s a good man. Besides, I was with him when Tim disappeared. Max, maybe, but he has nothing to do with your son.”

Tom sighed in the horn, while he tried to remember at which nursing home Henry stayed.

“Maybe you’re right,” he said. “If at all possible, you might want to look into the forest road. Henry used to work at the power plant, right? There’s something fishy about it if Ewan found it necessary to write it down.”

“I will. Goodbye, Tom.”

Sam quickly hung up the phone. Tom wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Now, he could fully focus on Henry Hidgens.


Sam wished he could shake off that strange feeling.

He hadn’t had a feeling. Only after Tom had called saying that he should pay attention to the forest road, did he start to feel a little weirded out. Like he somehow knew that something was wrong with the forest road. Like he knew Tom wasn’t lying about this one and that this also wasn’t one of his imagined leads.

Sam diverged from his route. The other officers were doing a great job, so he walked to the far side of the power plant. It was a long walk, but it was hopefully worth it.

Hopefully, Tom hadn’t roped him into some sort of conspiracy.

Instead of climbing over the fence, as Tom had attempted to do, Sam looked for a small fence door. This wasn’t the side of the power plant where people frequently came to walk or enjoy nature (of which the path happened to run next to the power plant). As such, it should be less defended, or easier to break. If Tom had been more patient, he may have found the fence door instead of hurting himself by climbing the fence.

The fence door, as expected, was only locked with a lock that Sam could easily break. For most of his career, he disliked just how casual the citizens of Hatchetfield didn’t properly lock their homes. Even now, as it translated into a not-so-well-locked gate, Sam was planning on telling Gerald about this weakness - but not before using the fence door himself.

A little further ahead lay the forest road. It was a portion of the road the police officers hadn’t used; one that lay more to the back of the power plant, one that was probably mainly used by employees who were tasked with the maintenance of the fence.

Sam could see one clear set of tire tracks. The pattern didn’t look familiar, but they may be to Tom - he’d been trying to find a possible abduction vehicle based on nearby tire tracks. Sam only recognized those tracks because he recently looked at a clear picture of the track.

The fence seemed well-tended to. If Sam was right, the fence had been given a full inspection earlier this year, in August. Nobody else had a reason to be around here at this time of year, yet someone had been here recently, looking at the fresh set of tracks.

The feeling had been right - something was going on here. Tom had been right, too, but probably not for the reasons that he imagined them to be. These tracks were curious enough for Sam to decide to follow them to wherever they lead.

This lead did not disappoint. Sam had reached a part of the forest that was a while away from the power plant, but was also surrounded by the same fences the power plant used. They had their own entrance to their portion of the caves. It was nothing more than a hole in the ground that sloped down and eventually just went underground.

It had the same security as the fence around the power plant had; it was far away from any walking paths, so nobody would accidentally come up to this place. If the kids knew about this, the adults would have known about this as well. This small area may be one of Hatchetfield’s best-kept secrets.

With ease, Sam got to the other side of the fence and he descended the cave. He carefully walked ahead, flashlight in his hand, his eyes open to everything and anything out of the ordinary. Because this was the perfect place to hide something that you wouldn’t want to police to know about.

But there was nothing. As Sam went deeper and deeper into the caves and the natural light slowly faded behind him, he saw nothing but the cave walls and ceiling. There was absolutely nothing that Sam could see.

Nothing big, at least. Against one of the wall was a jagged piece that caught his attention when he saw a flash of yellow: a color unnatural for these caves.

Sam walked a little closer. It was yellow; some scrap. Something had stood in this room, he theorized. Something that was painted yellow, and possibly old, and which someone had pushed out, which hit the wall and left a piece of this dried paint behind. A fragile small piece, which crumbled upon first touch.

Sam looked deeper into the cave. He couldn’t see the end. Something else could still be down there, if something had stood all the way ever here.

He had come so far, he wasn’t turning back now. He stood up again and continued his journey deeper into the dark underbelly of Hatchetfield, where everyone was equal and a victim of the darkness.

There was nothing more of interest until he hit the back. It was a rusted metal door sitting in a concrete wall, definitely built to keep those entering from the other side of the caves out.

Sam looked at it and realized that one of his officers had already seen that door, but not from the angle that Sam looked at it now.

Tom Houston had seen the door when Tim disappeared. He’d tried to open the door, to no avail. That door was the one reason Tom had wanted that warrant in the first place and why he later climbed over the power plant fences.

There was something strange going on here, and now Sam would like to know why. Unfortunately, he figured the disappearance of the children was equally important, if not more, than his non-findings.

Chapter Text

1986

It was cloudy in Hatchetfield, so of course, an ancient law of nature stated it had to rain. The intensity could vary, but cloudy weather often resulted in rain. Unfortunately, this rain was a downpour that Ethan’s raincoat could hardly protect him from the weather. Even his waterproof backpack would be soaking wet by the time he arrived at the hospital. He was still traveling on foot, and if so all distances were further away in time than when he used a bike or car to go there.

He just had to admit that this journey was going more slowly than he first imagined, that distance had no meaning in a modern world, and that he would have to just shrug it off.

It was raining so much, he barely heard the car coming up behind him until it drove past him. Based on the lights on top of it, it had to be a police car.

It had driven past him, but it stopped a little further ahead. Ethan didn’t know what the reason behind this was, but it soon backed up until it was at the same height as Ethan. Of course he was not going to pass up an opportunity to talk to a teenager who was clearly not in school and who walked away from school.

The older officer rolled down the car window and looked out, while Ethan still stood in the rain.

“Hey, kid,” the officer said. “Shouldn’t you be at school?”

Ethan knew the question was coming. Luckily, he did have an answer ready.

“I’m not feeling well,” Ethan said. The raised eyebrow of the officer told him that he didn’t believe this story.

“You look fine to me,” the officer said, suspicious of the boy’s behavior. “Where are you going?”

“I’m going to the hospital,” Ethan responded. “I hurt my arm.” It was hard to see with all the coats on. He hadn’t moved that arm too much in front of the officer, so it was easier to pull this off. If he only remembered to pretend this arm hurt, he might get away with this.

“And you’re walking? Can’t your parents bring you there?” The officer asked incredulously. Ethan merely shook his head - his parents wouldn’t even have a driver’s license at this point in time.

The officer nodded at him.

“Get in the car, I’ll give you a ride.”

Ethan didn’t have to be asked twice.


Again, Ewan Monroe had to change his plans. This time not because the chief officer had told him to change his schedule around what the jerk wanted, but because there was a small emergency. In the rain, he found a boy walking through the rain, who was going to the hospital - on foot! It was only right to offer the boy a ride. Afterward, Ewan could always return to the police station.

“So, what do your parents do?” Ewan asked while he drove the boy to the hospital. For a moment, the teenager didn’t answer,

“My mother works at the power plant,” he eventually said. “My father’s dead.”

“I’m sorry,” Ewan said. He didn’t know, but it was always sad when a child had to miss one of their parents, or maybe even both. Like his granddaughter Linda. “How’d you hurt your arm?”

The boy put a hand on the arm and Ewan wondered what the nature of the wound was. Did it bleed? Was it bruised, or broken? Whatever it was, the boy put a hand on a part that apparently didn’t hurt enough for him to flinch in pain when he touched it.

“Nasty fall,” the boy responded. “It hurts when I move it.”

“Then you should keep it still,” Ewan advised. It might be broken. The boy nodded and continued to stare ahead of him.

Ewan had seen something that puzzled him. He tried to keep his eyes on the road and to be a good driver, but he couldn’t help but feel his gaze being drawn to the boy’s pocket, from which a white bent piece of plastic poked out. Something that Ewan had never seen in his entire life, nor something that he recognized.

“What’s that?” Ewan eventually asked. The boy turned his head, confused about the question.

“What?”

“In your pocket.”

The boy reached in his pocket and smiled lightly - as if it was a funny joke that Ewan knew nothing about. Luckily, the boy decided to take it out of his pocket and give an answer.

“Those are earphones,” the boy said. Ewan shook his head.

“Those are not earphones.”

“Yes, they are.” As the boy pulled them out of his pocket, Ewan didn’t know where to look. “You just put them in your ears, like so.”

On the white bent plastic sat a white plastic ball-like structure, which he put in his ears. From these ‘earpieces’ ran some white string that connected a little under the chin and then ran as one string to some plug. It was nothing like Ewan had ever seen - then again, he was kind of behind on the current technology and he barely knew what was going on with the youth these days. Maybe this was all the rage; weren’t headphones good enough for the youth anymore?

“Now I’ve seen everything,” Ewan said, shaking his head. “What’s the world going to?”

The boy didn’t answer, but he did have a knowing smile on his face. If anything, maybe Ewan’s comments may have made him briefly forget about the pain in his arm.

Not much later, they reached the hospital. An ambulance drove away, leaving a place for Ewan to drop the boy off. When he parked, he took a breath and looked at the boy.

“Here we are.”

The boy thanked him and stepped out of the car. Before he could walk away, Ewan called him.

“Kid,” he said. Luckily, the boy paid attention to him again. “Go call your mother and tell her to pick you up. You shouldn’t be walking home alone in these times.”

The boy nodded.

“I will.”

“Good luck,” Ewan said. He drove away from the hospital and hoped the boy was going to be fixed up. And that his mother was indeed coming to pick him up when he called her. No person should walk all alone in the middle of nowhere, especially in such horrible weather.

But the boy soon left his mind as he drove back to the station, the prospect of having to see the police chief again and sharing the news dominating his mind.


Ethan had first planned to walk around and look for grandma Becky while she was at work because Tim was probably going to be with her. And if he wasn’t, he may just see him around as well.

But he quickly discarded that thought. If Becky was working, she may feel an affinity for the young boy. She may be around him or check in on him regularly. And maybe, Tim was with her at the moment as well. So he changed his plan from running around like a headless chicken to simply asking a nurse where they were.

Luckily, quite a lot of nurses worked in the hospital, and Ethan already had one in sight who he could ask the question. Without hesitation, he walked to the nurse, who was writing something down on a clipboard. She’d just walked out of a room and wrote additional information on the paper.

“Excuse me,” Ethan asked the nurse, “does Becky Green work here?”

The nurse first looked up from her paper and frowned at the boy. She wasn’t sure what he was doing there, and the less she knew, the better. Yet, this also made her a little suspicious of him.

“Yes, she is.” The nurse tilted her head. “Why do you ask?”

“I was at her house and the key she gave me got jammed,” Ethan said. “I can’t get in.”

It was a story that could be the truth. He had received a key to the house from Becky, but this happened in 2018. If he tried to use this key on the front door of the same house in 1986, it definitely would not budge, as the next lock hadn’t been placed on the door yet.

“Becky didn’t mention she was having a visitor today,” the nurse said, letting her suspicion of the boy shine through. She didn’t trust the strange boy with the strange rain jacket, and she didn’t trust him to go to Becky.

But Ethan smiled at her; a charming smile, like some young men could. He leaned a little closer and spoke in a lower voice, to create the illusion of secrecy.

“It’s a bit of a surprise,” he told her. “And I thought, if I can’t surprise her at home, I’ll surprise her here.”

The nurse’s suspicion melted away, and she immediately became much nicer to the boy in front of her. When he smiled, the nurse felt that she wanted to smile as well. This boy, she concluded, couldn’t be any trouble, despite the strange choice of clothes.

“Well, she’s currently working,” the nurse said. “Maybe she’ll have five minutes to talk to you.”

That was amazing news.

“Where can I find her?”

The nurse pointed further down the hallway. “She’s outback, with a boy.”

Ethan nodded thankfully.

“Thank you.” He left the nurse to her work and continued down the hallway. The nurse smiled, happy that Becky wasn’t the recluse that she believed her colleague was.

Ethan walked out the back of the hospital. There were quite a few members of staff here; it had stopped raining in the meantime and some of the staff had decided to spend their breaks outside. As did Becky. Ethan immediately spotted her; he only recognized her from old pictures. He always thought she was a beautiful woman, but now he could witness that beauty in person. With the most radiant smile, she picked up an acorn and brought it to the boy she’d been enjoying the outdoors with.

Ethan’s heart stopped. That was Tim. He wasn’t smiling nor speaking, but he was happy to be in Becky’s presence. He was enjoying the time out of his room. His cast was hidden under a pair of pants, but Ethan saw it peeking through - the injury wasn't so bad he needed crutches, or he refused to use them.

Either way, it was strange seeing Tim Houston, barely thirteen years old, interact with a younger version of Ethan’s grandmother in 1986. This thought alone made Ethan’s brain hurt as the reality of the entire journey started to set in: this was the past, and Tim was right there.

Ethan hid behind a car and watched them. He was certain they wouldn’t be able to see him, but he could still watch them. Unable to look away, Ethan only stared at these two having fun collecting nuts and other things from the staff parking lot.

“The world is a strange place,” a voice behind him said. “that it brings these two together when they needed one another the most.”

Ethan turned his head and couldn’t believe what he was seeing. It was the Stranger from the graveyard, with the suitcase, looking at Ethan and Becky for a while before his calm gaze shifted to Ethan, who had not been expecting him to show up in this different time period.

“Y-You’re—” Ethan stammered.

The Stranger nodded. “I am here.”

That’s it. This couldn’t be real. Ethan had suppressed thoughts of him going crazy; who goes to the past successfully? That’s just a fantasy. And finding a kid who went missing in the past? That’s not possible; And now this guy showed up here, too, and made Ethan doubt himself and his sanity. The caves did not provide some sort of portal that went through space and time in that itty-bitty crawlspace - no, he was probably lying there with a concussion, making all of this shit up because that’s where his mental state was right now.

“Am I going crazy?” he asked the Stranger. “Or are you a hallucination?”

The Stranger shook his head, putting down the suitcase.

“You’re not hallucinating,” he said, “nor are you going insane. Your assumptions about the caves are partially right.” The Stranger shifted his gaze back to the nurse and the boy. “Tim Houston is here, with Becky. And he is indeed your father.”

Ethan had suspected it. The suicide letter confirmed it. It was hard to wrap his head around and hearing someone else say it made it even more real. More than it should be. And with this confirmation came a whole lot of implications that Ethan hadn’t even thought about yet, which now seeped into his mind.

Ethan shook his head. “That’s impossible. That would make Lex my—”

“Your aunt, yes,” the Stranger said. His calmness was a curse. How could you be so calm while you informed a teenager the girl he is in love with is actually his aunt? That’s all kinds of fucked up.

“But that’s insane!” Ethan said, slowly losing his mind and temper. It was a miracle none of the staff had spotted them yet. “That’s not right! All of this, whatever the fuck is going on here, whatever the fuck you pulled me in, is insane.”

Ethan’s eye fell on the suitcase. He saw a name on top, in plain sight. Paul Matthews. Now Ethan had a name to attach to his insanity and this mess.

“It’s insane, Paul,” Ethan said. “If that even is your real name!”

He did not trust the Stranger. He did not trust the Stranger to be sane, to be able to do normal things. Maybe he stole the suitcase. Maybe he killed the guy who owned the suitcase. Either way, the Stranger did not look like a Paul to Ethan - then again, not many people looked like a Paul. Yet, it was the one name he had, and it was better than calling him ‘the stranger’ in his head.

Ethan was done. He was done with this. Whether this was all in his head or not, he knew what he needed to do. He was going to do what he came here for. It was time to bring Tim back home, where he belonged, to his family.

The calmness on Paul’s face shifted in worry.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Paul said. “Don’t.”

Fuck you, Ethan thought.

“Tim needs to go home.”

“No,” Paul said as if his word was the final authority. “He only travels once. He stays here, meets your mother, and marries her. Then they have you. Without his presence in this time, you will not exist.”

His tone grew more and more worried with every word. Ethan hadn’t thought of that part yet, but it didn’t matter. Tim did not belong in 1986. He should not be here.

“It’s only right to bring him back,” Ethan argued, but Paul did not agree with him.

“It would be the most stupid thing you will ever do in your life,” Paul said in a serious tone. “What’s more important: his life in 2019 or your entire life? Because you will cease to exist if you decide to bring him back to a home he shouldn’t return to.”

Ethan shook his head. Why was this guy so invested in Ethan’s life?

“You’re sick,” Ethan spat in his face. This did not in any way feel right. But somehow, deep in his mind, something agreed with Paul. If Tim returned home, if he really were to be Ethan’s father, Ethan wouldn’t exist, and then what would happen to the world? What was non-life even like? He couldn’t tell.

“I’m merely an observer,” Paul said. He was calm again, though still a little aggravated with Ethan’s behavior. “Every decision for something is also a decision against something else. Try to keep that in mind.” Paul looked at the boy. “Leave him here. Let him fall in love with your mother, let him have some sort of life. Trust me; your role in this is bigger than you can fathom.”

Paul then glanced at Ethan one more time before he picked up his suitcase and walked away, without saying another word. Something that Ethan somehow didn’t want.

“Wait, no, don’t you walk away, you—” Ethan groaned; the man knew more than Ethan at the moment, and he wished he could have only a smidge of that man’s knowledge. He didn’t like Paul or what he represented and though he hated what Paul said, Ethan knew he had a point.

He made Ethan doubt. That was all Ethan could think about; was it good to bring Tim home after all? Or should he leave the boy here?

Chapter Text

2019

It didn’t take Tom long to figure out where Henry Hidgens was staying. An elder breaking out of the nursing home twice the same week was newsworthy enough and it appeared in the papers. Tom only needed to look up this article and find the name of his nursing home.

Once at the nursing home, it also was rather easy. They let him in; why wouldn’t they? Each room had a nametag for forgetful elders who may wander and forget where their rooms were, or for visiting family.

This all worked in Tom’s favor. Before he even knew it, he stood in Henry’s room.

He wasn’t looking good. His last two walks hadn’t turned out so well for him. He was receiving oxygen and was hooked up to a heart monitor that beeped steadily, calmly. Henry was at peace.

Perfect.

Without hesitation, without regret, Tom walked up to the man.

“Henry.”

Old man Hidgens woke with a jolt, a small spike in the beeps, but they calmed down as he saw Tom’s face. The face still instilled a sense of discomfort in him; Tom’s face, the face of a devil returned, now in front of him.

“I’m sorry,” Tom said, “but I’m going to need to ask you some questions.”

He leaned closer - closer than was comfortable. Closer than what Henry preferred. Henry started to sweat, his heart beat faster. Tom didn’t notice.

“Were you involved in the disappearance of Max Houston?”

Henry shook his head. “I’m—”

The heart monitor beeped faster. Tom interpreted it as a sign he was on the right track, that Henry wasn’t saying everything. It emboldened Tom to press on harder.

“Did you kidnap Tim on November 4, 2019?” The beeps of the machine came quicker and quicker and Henry said nothing as his mind and heart raced. He’d recognized the face - the face of a monster, once hidden, now revealed.

“Ewan Monroe wanted to talk to you in 1986. Why didn’t you show up?” Tom grabbed Henry’s shoulders. “Why did you take the state road instead of the forest road?”

Henry breathed too quickly. A new beep emerged from the monitor - his heart beat too fast. Tom didn’t care. His suspect was involved, he was sure of it, and he didn’t talk. But Tom needed answers and he was going to get them.

“What did you do to my son!?”

“Sir, get off of him!”

A nurse had come in. She quickly called security. They would soon be there. Until then, she couldn’t pull Tom off of their patient.

“I can change it,” Henry finally said. Even Tom was quiet. “I can change the past and the future.”

He wasn’t sure whether Henry was talking to himself, or if he said it to Tom. Either way, it was all he said.

“Where’s my son? What’d you do to him? Where is he?”

The security had arrived; two burly men grabbed Tom and pulled him off of Henry. Tom fought back; he was in a rage, wanted, needed the answers that he thought only the old man with the mangled ear could provide. So he yelled and tried to free himself to get to him.

But the guards were stronger. They pulled Tom out of the room and to their office, where they would contact the police.

The nurse stayed with Henry, who could not calm down after this attempted assault.

“Are you okay?” she asked him.

“I can change the past and future,” Henry muttered to himself.


1986

Ewan had not expected Tom’s rape victim to show up at the station today. He didn’t plan on taking her statement, but when she volunteered to do so, he wasn’t saying no. After all, a stronger case could be made against him if this young lady, Jane Perkins, was brave enough to testify against him.

So he led the girl to his office, not saying anything about the nasty bruise on her cheek, right under her eye. If anything, that was the biggest sign that something had happened to her, and it was possible that Tom was responsible for it.

But when she sat down for a conversation with the man, he said something that he hadn’t expected from her mouth.

“Tom didn’t hurt me,” she said. She was visibly nervous and tried to avoid his gaze. She wasn’t saying something.

“You don’t have to lie to me,” Ewan said to reassure the girl. She was safe here, and she was allowed to say anything she wanted without fear of repercussions. If she told the truth, Ewan would swear to protect her fiercely.

“I’m not lying!” the girl said, “He didn’t hurt me.”

“What happened to your face?” Ewan asked.

Jane averted her gaze again, almost as if she were trying to hide the bruise from sight. But once seen, it was hard to unsee. Ewan knew that victims had a hard time acknowledging the abuse they had suffered or didn’t want to rat out the one who did it, even if it was the right thing to do.

“I fell,” Jane said.

Ewan leaned forward. He made sure she knew that she was safe, that nothing could happen to her. She didn’t need to feel abandoned, even though their versions of the truth were fundamentally different.

“Look, I know you might have some mixed feelings,” Ewan said, “but someone saw it happen. What’s most important right now is that he cannot harm you so long as he is in that cell.”

But Jane only leaned back in her chair, folded arms, and stared at the police officer.

“He did not hurt me,” Jane insisted. “What we did was completely consensual. Who reported it, anyway?”

“I’m afraid can’t say that,” Ewan said. Harriet wanted to stay anonymous, and they couldn’t say anything. Confidentiality was still a thing, too, and he believed Harriet when she said what she had said. The bruise confirmed as much

“This doesn’t make sense,” Jane said, shaking her head. She couldn’t wrap her head around the events. Ewan briefly shook his head when the girl couldn’t see it. “He did not hurt me. If anything, I wanted it. We both wanted it. And I know Tom. He’d never hurt anyone. He’d never hurt me.”

Proper men have done less. Even the most unassuming of men, such as Henry, could have done the most horrible things and still fly under the radar. But at the very least Tom Houston was behind bars now, and if everything went according to plan, he wouldn’t be walking around freely for a long time.


2019

When Sam got a phone call from the nursing home, he was furious. He fumed for about five minutes before he could call Tom to come to the office as quickly as possible. Even then, he was certain Tom could hear the venom in his voice.

In this investigation, some things were off-limits. Trying to get into the power plant via illegal means was one of them. Interrogating an old defenseless man was definitely was one of them, and a line that Tom should never have crossed.

When Tom entered the office, neither of them said a word. Tom wordlessly came into the room and sat on the chair across from his friend, who still was looking for the right words to communicate with Tom in a way that it wouldn’t amount to a shouting match.

“Tom,” Sam eventually said. He was surprised at how even his voice sounded at this moment. “What the hell were you thinking? I’m gonna have to suspend you.”

Tom sighed. “I know.”

Then why did he do this stupid thing in the first place? He could have asked Sam if he could ask his father some questions, maybe even give these questions to Sam, who would treat him with the necessary respect instead of assaulting him when he didn’t answer.

“Why are you so obsessed with my father?” Sam asked him. He knew what Tom would answer, but he wanted to know if Tom was going to insist in front of his partner.

“Because he’s involved somehow,” Tom said, “I haven’t completely figured it out yet, but Henry is involved, too.”

Sam shook his head. How could Tom believe such a thing? Henry, in his old age, could have done nothing to change any of the events that happened. In his state, Sam thought it impossible he was aware enough to even do anything.

“He didn’t kidnap Tim,” Sam said. “He was with me on that day.” He also wasn’t capable of kidnapping a child, especially how Sam had seen him that day. He wished Tom was there that day, so he himself could have seen how Henry wasn’t completely there mentally.

“But Xander found him wandering in the woods the day before Alice disappeared,” Tom argued. “Something fishy is going on, Sam. Can’t you see?”

“I can see something, alright,” Sam responded. He saw how Tom was convinced of something he could not prove; that Henry somehow regained his senses and bested his trauma to quickly go kidnap children before reverting back to his old self.

“How is he involved exactly?” Sam asked, only to entertain Tom, who did not let the opportunity slide.

“I told you, I haven’t figured it out,” Tom said. “But when I visited, he did say he could change the past and future—”

“And you believe him?” Sam wondered out loud. “Tom, my father has dementia. He sometimes says crazy things, sees things that aren’t there. Sometimes, those are things from his past.” Maybe that’s why he sometimes didn’t recognize Sam. “Go home, Tom. You’ve done enough.”

Tom couldn’t say anything else to convince Sam. He stood up without saying anything, looking at the office. He didn’t know how long he would be suspended, but however long it lasted, it was a period of time Sam saw fit.

Before he stepped through the door, however, Tom turned one last time to Sam.

“Why didn’t Henry take the forest road in 1986?” Tom said. “That’s something to think about.”

“Just go,” Sam said, not wanting to waste any more energy on Tom’s crazy theories. Tom nodded and finally left the office. Sam was left in the silence of the office, to think about the things that Tom had said, and whether his delusions might contain even a pinch of the truth.

Chapter Text

1986

Now the Stranger Paul was gone, nobody could stop Ethan from approaching Tim and bringing him home. For that to happen, however, he needed Tim to walk away from Becky.

It was only fitting Ethan was the one to return him home. It was Ethan’s fault that Tim traveled through time in the first place – his fault that Tim had been stuck here for a few days now. He grew more and more certain of himself as he tried to inconspicuously keep an eye on Tim, without drawing the attention of nurses and patients. He had managed so far.

Then, Becky brought the boy back to his room. He still wasn’t talking much, but she didn’t mind. As she went back to work, Tim was left in his room, stayed in for a second, and then decided to get a snack from the vending machine. Ethan, who briefly lost sight of Tim, quickly spotted him again.

That was Ethan’s chance. He started to walk to the boy, who waited for his snack to be dispersed by the machine. Ethan’s mind buzzed. He was starting to get excited. It was time to right his wrong and to bring Tim home.

He stopped in his tracks, however, when he spotted a girl on the other side of the hallway. It was the same girl he’d seen yesterday, in Mr. Kruger’s dry-cleaning van. Harriet, his mother, walked toward Tim. She came specifically for him; there was nobody else in the hospital Harriet could come for.

 From this distance, Ethan watched Harriet and Tim talk. It was so weird to look at, but somehow, it looked right. Tim smiled as he was talking to Harriet, who was laughing as well. They were having so much fun with this conversation. Since Tim only had been here a couple of days, it was hard to believe they hadn’t known each other for years, as that was what it looked like.

Every decision for something is a decision against something else.

If Ethan chose for bringing Tim home, he chose against his own existence.

If Ethan chose for leaving Tim behind, he chose against saving Tim and his father. He chose against saving Tim, thirty years in the future, from going into the cave.

It’s a closed loop, Ethan realized. It was a permanently closed loop. If Ethan were to mess with it, what happened? Tim wouldn’t be here, Ethan wouldn’t exist, and beyond that, it was hard to see what the world would look like.

Ethan knew it already happened in his time. Tim was living it, but this was all behind Ethan. Like the Stranger Paul, he was only an observer. He wasn’t supposed to be here and lift Tim from his new home.

Besides, Ethan saw he was happy. Tim seemed to be doing well enough for the situation. He found Becky and Harriet. Soon, Becky might adopt him. And he’d grow up as Tony, with Becky and Harriet’s love.

Ethan turned around and left.


When the shift was over, Henry went straight to his car. He wished it had been largely uneventful. But of course, Ewan Monroe had to show up, the father of the big boss. Ewan Monroe, whom he had to give the times and routes of all people who worked the night Max disappeared. Ewan Monroe, who wanted to speak to him.

That was all Henry’s fault. He shouldn’t have acted so worried. If he’d reacted in a normal way, Ewan would have no reason to plan that interview the day after tomorrow. He should have faith. He knew nobody would know his role. He would remain anonymous.

But the thought of the interview was enough to make him nervous.

When he sat in his car, he opened the glove cabinet and grabbed some candy bar out of it. He kept it there in case he got hungry, but now, he ate it for comfort.

Nothing’s going on, Henry thought. You’re fine. Everything is fine.

It was November 9, after all. It was time again. He drove away from the power plant, making sure nobody saw him drive on the forest road. Not that it mattered - so many people came here via this road, it’d be more suspicious if one of the familiar vehicles drove down the state road. He shouldn’t worry if anyone saw him.

Still, he could feel Ewan’s breath over his shoulder, and Henry drove a little faster.

He checked the back seat. There, in a neatly sealed bag, lay his hood and coat; oversized, ageless. His trusted outfit when he had to travel. The outfit that could blend in with every place he visited.

He was going to have to wear it today. He wasn’t looking particularly forward to it, but if this is how they were going to save the world, this needed to be done.

It had to be done. No buts, no going back.

Just the grind of righteous work.

Henry parked the car close to the bunker and his cabin.


Ethan traveled home, back through the same chiseled out crawlspace, back through the caves. When he walked out of the caves, he looked around. The worn-down couch and chair stood where Ethan was expecting them. He was back in 2019.

Still reeling from his decision and all the existential shit that came with it, he found his bike and drove home. The journey through the caves was longer than he experienced them; it was day when he left in 1986, and it was nighttime in 2019. There was something funky about the tunnel that didn’t make the journey any longer, but it felt like time passed more quickly around him as he traveled through the crawlspace.

Half an hour later, Ethan finally arrived home. He was never so happy to see the house grandma Becky had lived in - in which Tim had lived. Tim had a good life here. He never said otherwise when he was Ethan’s father.

He climbed the stairs and almost walked into his room, but stopped. He turned around and looked at his mother’s bedroom door.

He needed to talk. He didn’t know if he was going to say anything about what had happened or if he was going to ask for advice, but he needed to talk to someone who knew him and cared about him.

Silently, Ethan opened the door. It hadn’t been quiet enough, however, as Harriet’s bedside light turned on and Harriet visibly sighed in relief.

“Jeez, Ethan, don’t scare me like that,” she said.

He wanted to speak, but lost his voice. He looked at Harriet and saw only the girl he’d seen this afternoon, talking to Tim Houston, smiling and maybe already falling in love with him. And now, thirty-three years later, he stood and watched her. His mother.

Harriet saw him only stare.

“Is everything okay?” she asked.

For a few more seconds, there was silence. Then, Ethan’s lips finally moved.

“Do you believe in fate?” he asked.

Fate - such an abstract concept. And yet, Ethan firmly believed he had experienced it the moment he saw Harriet and Tim talk to one another.

Harriet wiped the sleep out of her eyes and shrugged.

“Well…” she sighed. “It seems to be my fate that all men leave me.”

“Dad didn’t,” Ethan said, walking closer towards her. “He loved you very much.”

Harriet nodded. “I know.”

And she cried. Ethan hugged her and held her tight as she cried, maybe mourned him for the first time - or mourned that she seemed to be undesirable to men. Either way, there was some built-up sorrow inside of her and she was letting it all out, in Ethan’s arms.

Minutes later, she wiped away her tears and told Ethan to go to bed. She switched off the bedroom light when Ethan had left. He didn’t go to his bedroom, however. He went to the attic.

Tim spent a lot of his time here the past years. He created beautiful art, reflecting how he felt about the passage, how his life had turned out, and nobody had understood it. As evident from the map, he was looking for the passage through time, but could never find it.

Maybe that, too, was fate.

Ethan had made his decision. Tim stayed in the past, and Ethan had to live with that decision. Now, he needed closure.

So he took a metal bucket and a lighter and sat in the middle of his bedroom. He took Tony’s suicide letter from his pocket and read it over one last time. Then, he lit it on fire and dropped it in the bucket, so it could burn safely.

Ethan watched until the last spark had died out and the only thing that remained of his father’s letter was only a pile of ash. The closure he needed to move on, as well as knowing Tim was probably happy as he grew up.

Chapter Text

2019

Tom arrived home. By that point, he wished he felt shame or guilt for what he had done. He wished he was sorry for stressing Henry and all the other dumb shit he did.

But he wasn’t. If he hadn’t gone, he wouldn’t have the silent confirmation that Henry was involved. He wouldn’t be that little closer to solving this mystery.

He also wouldn’t be suspended. Something Jane wouldn’t like about this all. But it was time to face her and break the news.

She sat in the living room, clearly waiting for his arrival.

“Jane,” he said. She didn’t speak at all - instead, she looked at him with mild interest. She was letting him speak first.

Tom took a breath. This was one of the hardest things he’s had to tell her.

“I got suspended. I’m going to be home for a while.” He sat down next to her and looked at her, while she continued to stare ahead, not looking at him. “I’m so sorry for leaving you here alone. I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you. But I swear, I’m here now. I’m not going anywhere and I’m going to be there for you.”

He meant every word. He did find one thing to regret: not being around when his family needed him most. That was at least one positive thing to come from his suspension.

He laid a loving hand on hers. Jane pulled back.

“You haven’t been there for me for a while,” she said, turning her head. Sorrow pricked in her eyes, and Tom could not guess why she said something like that.

“What do you mean?”

“I know, Tom,” she said quietly, as if Lex and Hannah would hear if she spoke louder. “I know about you and Harriet.”

Shit. Tom sighed. His quest to find Max’s killer and Tim’s kidnapper had made him forget about everything else, including the ended affair.

But how did Jane find out?

“Did she tell you?”

“That’s not important,” Jane said. She shrugged and looked in front of her. “I guess, in my heart, I’ve always known.” She couldn’t bear to look at her husband.

Tom leaned forward, elbows on his knees, eyes on her. “I can explain—”

“Don’t,” she snapped. Then, more calmly. “Please don’t.”

So Tom stopped talking. He’d lost her. He definitely had lost her. Somehow, this was worse than finding out his brother was the dead mutilated boy they found in the woods last week.

Jane stood up, walked a couple of paces away, but turned to him again.

“While you were out, Carol called. Our son has been missing for a week and all she could talk about was Max.” She shook her head. “Looks like you’re not the only asshole in your family.”

She walked out of the living room, upstairs. Probably to the bedroom, since he left a mess in Tim’s room. That wasn’t going to make her mood any better.

Tom sighed. It may be better to get out of the house. And since Carol called, it might be a good idea to visit his mother again and hear what she wanted to say. Maybe she’d say something that could cheer him up, too.


Tom Houston sat at his mother’s dining table, sipping on a cup of coffee. He didn’t want to ask her anything before he allowed her to brew some coffee for him. She did it with much pleasure, and Tom wasn’t going to tell her he was only there to ask her what she wanted to talk about.

Well, no. He also had to recover from the blow he’d gotten emotionally. Max was dead in the morgue, and Jane confessed she knew about the affair - which was basically a stab at their marriage. It was bleeding out, anyway; bleeding since the first day he kissed Harriet.

He was a bad husband and an even worse father.

But sitting at this dining table, with a cup of coffee in his hands, he felt safe. So long as he sat there, the world couldn’t touch him.

And at one point, their conversation drifted to the topic of Max (still Carol’s favorite topic) and his grave in the graveyard.

“Your father wanted the grave,” Carol said in a quiet voice. “I didn’t need it, but he did. There’s no coffin, though. It’s just an empty grave. More of a memorial of your brother first and foremost.”

Tom had always known the grave as empty; there was nothing to bury, after all. Yet, it was somehow even worse knowing where Max was, what would happen to the body of unclaimed. He hadn’t the heart to tell Carol. She lived in a fantasy, yes, but the reality would kill her. Such a frail woman wouldn’t survive this news for long.

“I heard you tried to call,” Tom said, to steer the conversation away from the grave. “Is there a reason?”

Carol nodded. “Actually, yes. But…it sounds stupid.”

She sounded a little hesitant. Tom leaned forward and placed his hand on hers.

“Mom, what is it?”

She stayed silent for a couple more seconds, but then started to talk.

“I may have additional information about the disappearance of Max. I didn’t tell the police - it didn’t seem relevant at the time, but I’m sure now.” She grabbed her cup, took a sip, and continued. “A week before Max went missing, a priest and a man were in our street. They were arguing. I’d never seen a man of God so angry, yelling at the other man in public.”

She shook her head at the display of indecency and noise on the street. If she remembered it until now, it must have been heavy.

“Earlier this week,” Carol continued in a more conspiratorial voice, lower, “I saw that same man walk down the street. But it was exactly the same man! I recognized him. He hadn’t aged a single day. At least, it looked like it. And his ear was still as busted.”

The news hit him like a truck. Tom had not come here expecting to get a somewhat perfect confirmation of a crime. He knew only one person whose ear was busted and mangled, and Tom had spoken to him earlier today.

Henry Hidgens had been in two time periods. Both times, Carol had seen and recognized him. He was definitely involved in these cases. He kidnapped the children.

Tom had no evidence, though. He had only his mother’s word - his mother, who believed in spirits and who you couldn’t take too seriously. If Tom wanted to take action, he needed to find some evidence.

And he knew just where to find it.


Why not the forest road?

Somehow, Sam thought it was a good question. If Henry drove home, he was probably driving to Hatchetfield. And if he drove to Hatchetfield, the most used road during dry days was the forest road, which was shorter and more convenient than the state road. Even wildlife knew to stay away from the road if they heard a motor roar, so drivers didn’t even need to worry about hitting them.

But Henry claimed to take the state road. Nothing special happened that day, so he had no obvious reason to drive on that state road.

So Sam had asked Xander to get a map of the caves. It wasn’t easy to come by, as the caves sprawled all over and it was sometimes rather easy to miss entrances to new cave sections that hadn’t been explored yet. So, maybe a part of the caves ran under the forest road.

It was crazy. Sam could only think of Tom, who - if he were here - would encourage this kind of investigation. But Sam could not deny this had sparked his interest, and he genuinely wanted to know now if the caves did run under the forest road.

Sam was deep in thought when Xander finally entered the office, a large piece of paper in his hand. Sam almost sighed in relief but didn’t do so. He didn’t want to become as desperate as Tom.

“Xander!” He said. “Got the map?”

“Yep,” Xander said, placing the map on the desk. Sam stood next to him as he flattened the piece of paper, which was almost as big as the desk.

 “Not every inch of the caves are mapped out,” Xander said, “but it does look like a portion of the caves do run under the forest road.”

Sam looked at the map. Luckily, the forest road and other specific landmarks were denoted on the map, though the irregular lines that indicated the cave walls buried deep underground. And looking at this map, he made an interesting discovery.

“Sam?”

He looked at Xander. The junior officer was worried, for good reason. Sam told him that nothing was wrong and that everything was fine. He told Xander he didn’t need the map anymore, and Xander went to put it away again.

This was supposed to be the last task for today. His discovery made Sam want to jump into his car and check out the cabin. The sky already darkened as he started the car and drove down the forest road.

While he drove, he received a phone call. It was Charlotte. This wasn’t the best time, but Sam honored their promise.

“Hello?”

“Sam!” Charlotte said from the other side of the line. “I’m calling to tell you… you’re doing great, but we miss you. Jenny and I are worried.”

Sam nodded. The job required him to work long nights, especially since they had such a high-profile case now. This wasn’t usual behavior. He didn’t believe Jenny ever had known a period in time when he wasn’t home for dinner three days in a row.

“I’m fine, Charlotte,” he said, and an idea came to mind. Now they were talking, Sam could ask some questions.

“Do you know if Henry lived in the cabin?”

“What?” Charlotte replied after a couple of seconds. It wasn’t a ‘what, I can’t hear you’, but a ‘what are you talking about’. It was a strange question to ask her, after all.

“You heard me,” Sam said, “did Henry live in the cabin?”

Silence fell. Charlotte had to be racking her mind. Or she tried to figure out where this question came from because they never really spoke about the cabin.

“Shouldn’t you know that?” Charlotte asked. She was properly confused. Why would a son call his wife about his father’s old cabin?

“Honey, I only moved to Hatchetfield in 1987,” Sam responded. “I don’t know about what he did or where he lived before I came.”

Sam was not a Hatchetfield native. His mother was, though, and when she and Henry split, she took their son back to Clivesdale. Sam grew up on the other side of the bridge, knowing his father was somewhere on the island. Only after his mother passed away in 1987 did he ever cross the bridge to visit him. By then, Henry already lived in the home.

Charlotte, on the other hand, was born in Hatchetfield. Still, she did not know what happened all around the town.

““I-I don’t know, he could’ve,” Charlotte said. “Why do you want to know?”

“It might sound crazy,” Sam said, “but Henry may be involved in a case.”

Even saying it out loud, Sam could hear his own disbelief. He was chasing ghosts, just as Tom was, but they were different ghosts, going in different directions.

“What?” Charlotte said. This was a ‘what, are you out of your mind’. Sam could not blame her for thinking this and he nodded.

“I know,” Sam said. This is crazy. “I need to get everything straight to prove his innocence. When did he have his accident, again?”

Henry had been in a car accident. Some old guy crashed his car into Henry’s, leaving another mark on Henry, especially his mental health. It was such a big thing, it even appeared in the Clivesdale newspapers. Sam didn’t pay attention because he wasn’t too aware of who his father was, but Charlotte might have paid attention.

There was silence on the other side of the line and for a second, Sam thought that Charlotte had hung up.

“Charlotte?” Sam asked.

“I think it was around this time in 1986,” Charlotte eventually said hesitantly. She definitely wasn’t sure of herself. “I don’t know the exact date, but it was early November.”

“It’s fine. That’s what I needed to know,” Sam said. At least he had something to work with. “Thanks for the information. Goodbye.”

“Sam, what’s—”

He hung up before Charlotte could even finish the sentence. Sam shook his head. Chasing ghosts to the forest road, to Henry’s cabin in the woods, to the bunker which may even be built in parts of the caves or directly above.

He needed to go there and confirm Henry was not involved in anything. Because if he was, how could Sam trust others?

Chapter Text

2019

Later that evening, Henry had calmed down after Tom assaulted him. What he said was true. He could change the past and the future. The nurses may think it was nonsense, but he knew the truth. He was the only one who knew exactly what was going on. And if he spoke, they did not listen. Who would even want to listen to an old man with dementia?

So Henry lay in bed, waited for a sign. Something was going to happen. But without a sign, Henry was staying in his bed, watching the ceiling, indirectly looking at the light.

It flickered. The power failed again; it was not a natural occurrence. The cables were fine, and so was the power plant. This was something else; some higher power messing with the power and the birds, letting everyone know something inherently unnatural was happening deep in the caves. That someone traveled home, or away.

That was the sign. He needed to act. He needed to stop him.

Henry took his time to take himself off of all the machines. He didn’t waste any time, though he knew that he had to be careful not to alert the staff. He was going to leave this nursing home one way or another, and he wasn’t going to let the nurses know where he was going.

Though, at this point, it should be easy for them to take a guess. He snuck out of his room, through the hall, out of the nursing home, and walked into Witchwood Forest.


The cabin and the bunker were located in the middle of Witchwood Forest. One could reach them via an offshoot of the forest road. And, according to the map Sam had seen at the station, the caves ran under this part of the forest road, and ended where the bunker had been built.

Sam did not walk to the bunker. If his father had lied that day and said he took the state road, there was something on the forest road he didn’t want anyone to find. If he lived in the cabin, horrific things may have happened there, but the bunker seemed like a much better pick, as it was more easily concealed and harder to penetrate.

He turned on the light and went inside, flashlight still in his hand. It was still the same as the last time he was here - dirty concrete underground, dirty old wooden bench, rusted metal door which still seemed strong enough to stay locked.

Sam couldn’t do a cursory glance of the entire room, however. He was ready to sweep the whole room. Sam started in the back and looked everywhere for a sign of something nefarious happening here, or even of this bunker ever being used. If it ever was used, it happened so little they couldn’t keep cleaning the place for the next time.

Right when Sam thought he wasn’t going to find something, a little thing grabbed his attention. It lay under the bench, covered by dirt, but a faded blue had caught his eye.

Sam pulled what felt like an old piece of paper from under the bench. It was folded up, but Sam unfolded it and stared at it.

He had never seen such a pattern before. A blue background with yellow rabbits and red foxes dancing around in even rows. All the colors were faded now, but they must have once been bright and colorful, maybe cheerful.

Sam stood up and looked at it in disbelief. This hung against the wall. This room had been used enough to warrant putting up this cheerful wallpaper all over the walls.

But what was this bunker ever used for?


Somehow, it was easier to sneak into the nursing home the second time. Tom knew where he was going, he knew which room was Henry’s and on which floor it was located. He knew to avoid staff when possible, because by now they all knew about the man who attacked Henry Hidgens.

They didn’t think Tom would come back. Then again, it would be weird to put Henry under permanent observation only for this attack. For his nightly walks, however, he should’ve already been placed under observation.

Either way, after what happened, Tom expected to find some security, but it wasn’t there. He just opened the door and walked in.

The room was empty - Henry wasn’t in his room. Which unexpectedly gave Tom free reign to look around for evidence.

At first glance, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. This was the room of your average elderly person suffering from dementia, including monitors and medication. There even lay a book on the bedside table.

Tom picked it up. A journey through time, by H.G. Tannhaus. An interesting book, considering everything Tom had been working towards. If Tom hadn’t been on the trail of time travel or time shenanigans, he would not have given the book a second thought.

But its contents were even more valuable. At first glance, a red string seemed to have been used to keep track of the reading progress. However, when Tom pulled it from the pages, it had a penny in it - similar to the one Max wore.

That was it. This was the damning evidence Tom had been hoping for. Irrefutable proof - Tom was involved with the disappearance of Max and possibly others.

He happened to look out of the window and spotted the old man, in his pajamas, walking around outside again. Why wasn’t Tom surprised?

He immediately went outside. It was just as easy as going into the building, and Henry hadn’t walked away too far. Tom could easily follow him at a steady pace while Henry had no idea that the police officer who assaulted him now was hot on his trail.

Since Tom didn’t know what was going to happen, he decided to call the last number on his phone. That was Sam’s. It went straight to voicemail, but Tom didn’t care for once. He just needed someone to know in broad strokes what was going on.

“Hi,” Tom said, to still be polite. “The question isn’t who took Max and Tim, but when. Call me back as soon as possible.”

It sounded cryptic, but that’s all Tom could muster. Besides, it was Sam - he’d probably make the connection with Henry, if anything were to happen. He may not know everything that Tom knew, but it could help him on his way to discovering the same things Tom had discovered the past few days. That question isn’t who, or where, but when.

Tom did not relent, as Henry did not relent. Tom followed Henry without as much as a second thought, ready to catch the old man red-handed. Henry walked into the caves, ready to stop Ted and his accomplice, to end this once and for all. And Tom walked in behind him, with the exact same thoughts, except “Ted and his accomplice” was just Henry.

They did not walk out of the caves.


1986

It was nighttime when Henry came out of the bunker. He could positively say he hated this part of the job.

He carried the bag outside. It wasn’t easy, climbing to ground level and carrying the bag, but he managed to do it. He put it down. This was a tiring operation, even for him. At least he didn’t have to see the blood.

Instead, he had the other job, which may even be worse.

In the way he positioned the bag, a head peeked through. Just the head - beautiful brown hair with burned away eyes. The sorrowful remains of Alice Woodward.

Henry cried. Another one failed. Another one died on impact, as they landed, without their eyes, bleeding out on the clear concrete floor.

Henry mourned. He went into this experiment with good faith. He believed they would crack the code. Unfortunately, three children already died from this process.

Where would it end?

And while he cried, the priest had been busy. With a bucket, enough water, and a mop, he had walked into the bunker. After three times, Ted had become adept at cleaning the bloodstains from the floor. He took the mop in his hands and struck the stains. They were hard to clean and Ted knew he’d spend some time inside, but when he was done, there would be no trace of the blood. Nobody would know anyone died there, if they came in.

Henry didn’t help. Ted liked it that way. He didn’t need an assistant if said assistant was only going to cry and sob instead of doing anything productive.

But the job has become easier this third time, and after half an hour to an hour of hard work, the stains were gone.

There was only one last thing to do now.

A small stone lay in the bunker; one Ted had placed there. He easily wrapped his hand around the stone and walked to a specific portion on the wall.

This wall wasn’t particularly special because of its inherent properties. It was special, however, because Ted used the stone to carve the date into the wall. The first time they came was already carved in; now, only today needed to be added to the wall. The third date of failure, the second in this year.

November 5, 1953

November 9, 1953

Chapter Text

1953

Life is always simpler on a bike. Henry loved it. It was easy to clear your head while you rode around, eyes on the road ahead. Nothing could touch you while you were on a bike, especially in the calm environment that Witchwood Forest provided, with its small dirt paths that Henry knew by heart.

He should be going home. But he still wanted to stop by the construction site. He really wanted to see the progress, even if they only started digging a week or so ago.

To get there, however, he needed to leave the narrow dirt paths in the middle of the forest behind. The shortest road to the construction site was a larger dirt road that cars could drive on. It had fewer turns and had a generally more even terrain.

Before Henry rode onto this road, he heard the loud police sirens. He stopped and watched.

The police car came from his left, sirens blaring and the lights turned on. For one second, Henry and the young officer made eye contact. He watched the police car drive out of view, to Henry’s right. Toward the construction site.

Henry climbed on his bike and started to ride. He knew he was going to be there later than the police were, but if he rode fast enough, maybe he could still see what the police were called in for. He’d love to see it; nothing much ever happened in Hatchetfield.

At long last, Henry arrived at the construction site. It was a large cleared-out area in the middle of the forest, just barely bordering the nature reserve. Some excavators were already on sight; big yellow beasts of vehicles that had made three piles of dirt, about two people tall. All of this would one day be the Hatchetfield nuclear power plant, a great project that Henry’s father Bernard was extremely proud of and funded.

Two police cars stood near the middle pile, and nobody else was there. Henry didn’t dare to come too close - he didn’t want to be told off. But even from the distance, he could see what the officers were talking about.

Two bodies lay in the dirt piles; two girls. They lay clearly in sight and were only partially buried. As if someone had dumped them on the pile and covered them with a thin layer of dirt, specifically missing their faces.

Their faces… it was hard to see their eyes. Then Henry realized they did not have any eyes. And their clothes were weird, too - it was as if the guy who put them there decided to dress them up in these unfamiliar and strange clothes.

The officer he had seen turned and stared directly at Henry.

Henry grew uneasy. He grabbed his bike, turned it around, and rode away. He’d seen what he wanted to see. Now, it was time to finally go home. Maybe his mother wouldn’t be too mad that he was late.


1986

The old clockmaker was about to close his shop when one last customer walked in. He was in the back, preparing something for another customer, and he would be done within seconds anyway. He put the watch down and turned around.

“Good evening, Tannhaus,” said the Stranger called Paul.

“Good evening.” He hadn’t changed his outfit since last time, the old clockmaker noticed. He still wore the weathered rain jacket, hadn’t tidied his hair, and still carried around that large suitcase that contained something important.

“You’ve come to continue our conversation,” the old clockmaker said. Paul walked to the back of the shop and set down his suitcase, sitting in one of the chairs of the workspace portion of the shop, in the back.

“Of course,” he said.

The old clockmaker sat down on the other chair after he closed the shop for customers and looked at his unofficial student. The man before him was eager to learn about time. He could understand why Paul would come to him - nearing his fifties, he may not want to go back to school officially and the next best thing was to find the clockmaker who wrote a book about time and included quite a few theories in it, and who should have the necessary knowledge.

And Tannhaus was willing to deliver. The man had made some interesting points last time, and this evening could turn into a discussion about different theories proposed by scientists and philosophers and how they were interpreted, and how Tannhaus and Paul thought about them.

“Where did we leave things off last time?” The old clockmaker asked. His memory was a little rusty, and it’s been a while since they last saw each other.

“The Einstein-Rosen-bridge,” Paul reminded him. The old clockmaker nodded.

“Of course,” he said. What a start to their evening. Tannhaus cleared his throat and presented the information to his willing student.

“Einstein and Rosen theorized in the thirties about the existence of bridges, scattered across space,” the old clockmaker explained, “A black hole, the beginning, connects to a white hole, the exit. They create these bridges, or wormholes, as you may know them. These two sides connect space and time with one another.”

“You can use them to travel through time,” Paul commented. Tannhaus almost wanted to shoot that idea down, but found he couldn’t. He shrugged in response.

“Theoretically, is it possible to enter a black hole and come out of the white hole, though you wouldn’t know where you would end up.” The time travel aspect of black holes was extremely theoretical, as wormholes themselves were extremely theoretical as well. Black holes existed; wormholes attached to them couldn’t be proven.

And the discussion of wormholes with one entrance and one exit brought up a whole other theory that Tannhaus had been working on, but hadn’t expressed anywhere else.

“In my opinion, people are trapped in dual thinking. They think of good and evil, beginning and end, entrances and exits. They think in twos. But no two dimensions can exist without the existence of a third.”

Paul listened with silent interest, nodding occasionally and soaking up all of the information with a sponge. Tannhaus took a piece of paper and a pencil that lay on the desk near him.

“Are you familiar with the triquetra?” Tannhaus asked, putting the pencil on the paper.

Paul nodded. “I am.”

Tannhaus drew the figure; three interlaced arcs, without lifting his pencil, ending at the exact place where he started, to create a triangular figure that endlessly continued in that loop.

“Continuing the theory,” the old clockmaker said while he drew, “if we assume the wormhole can support time travel, we can say that this wormhole constitutes three dimensions: past, present, and future.”

Paul nodded and stared at the figure on the paper.


2019

Henry came prepared. Tom ran through the cave system. Henry had hidden a lantern in the caves prior to the journey and it worked phenomenally well. Tom, on the other hand, was glad to have his phone with him to shine some light, but soon decided a lighter may be a better choice - luckily he carried one. His phone had a low battery and he wanted to preserve what was left for a phone call with Sam.

But when he switched from phone to flame, he somehow lost track of Henry. Somehow. The man had continued his journey, whether he knew Tom shadowed him or not. A steady walk, with the lantern to light the way. Now Tom could not even see the lantern’s glow as he tried to orient himself and find Henry before he was lost in the caves.

Not completely lost, and maybe not really alone. Tom almost stumbled over a rope. A small rope, red in color, tied to some sort of anchor. A smooth circle, that depicted a snake eating its own tail. From there, Tom had to improvise. Henry had gone somewhere. He needed to find the old man.

How could an old man find his way so easily in these caves, if they didn’t play a part in his murders or kidnappings? Tom couldn’t be convinced otherwise.

But his gut told him where Henry had gone, and Tom followed that gut feeling. And indeed, he found something peculiar. An ornate metal door with many ornaments that read “sic mundus creatus est”. His gut encouraged him to go through the door - this had to be where Henry had gone to.

Tom opened the door and crawled through the space. He almost caught on fire but had the situation under control. And he crawled and tried to walk through the perfectly chiseled-out hallway.

Did Henry really go through here? Could an old man even do so? But it was hard to turn back with such limited space, so Tom pushed forward. He’d find something soon. If not Henry, then something else.

Tom came to a split in the hallway. The crawlspace branched off in two different directions. It was hard to tell the difference between the two - the only difference seemed to be the direction they were going in.

Choose something.

Tom went left and hoped to find Henry at this end. Because if he wasn’t, Tom wasn’t going back to go right.

Chapter Text

1953

Henry arrived back home. He didn’t wear a watch, but he could feel he was late. His mother wasn’t going to appreciate it. Now, she wouldn’t have to know if he snuck into the house.

The Hidgens family owned a big plot of land at the edge of the town, with a mansion in the middle. There were more than enough rooms her mother could be in, enjoying her day while the staff did the cooking and the cleaning. They could afford it - Bernard had worked incredibly hard to reach this level of wealth, and he was damn proud of it, too.

Henry guessed his mother was currently sitting in the living room, where she sat by the fire and drank her tea, enjoying some novel a famous person wrote. If Henry came in through the front door, he was certain his mother may not notice - on the condition that he was really quiet.

So Henry dumped his bike in the backyard and walked to the front door. As silently as he could, he turned the knob and cautiously pushed open the door.

It creaked to the extent that Henry had expected, and quietly, steadily pushed through. He even took the caution to push it closed at the same rate, so as not to raise any alarms. He was glad when the door finally shut. Now he needed to get up the stairs, change into a clean set of clothes, and come down to go to Claudia for his lessons.

He stopped in his tracks, however, when he spotted a figure at the top of the stairs; a stately lady in a dress free of wrinkles, not a hair out of place, and a cold look in her eyes.

Henry looked to the ground in shame. His mother had caught him.

“Look at you. So dirty,” she said, letting the disappointment show in every syllable. “Where have you been?”

“The construction site,” Henry said loud enough for his mother to hear, still not looking at her. Even a wrong look might send her into a fit of anger. She never hit him but wasn’t afraid to humiliate him. He could feel this was what was going to happen shortly.

“You cannot play there,” Mrs. Hidgens said. “Undress yourself.”

He did as he was told. Fighting back was not an option. As calmly as he could, he took off his jacket and shirt. He hesitated when he came to his pants, but his mother’s strict gaze reminded him it was better to just get it over with. Soon, he stood in the hallway wearing nothing but his underwear. It was chilly in the house, and Henry shivered once. The thin layer of fabric of the shirt and shorts could not protect him from the chill for too long.

“Wait here,” Mrs. Hidgens said. She turned around and climbed the stairs, to go to his room. She was going to fetch him a clean set of clothes. She was going to take her time, too, to learn Henry this lesson. It had never really worked, but maybe she hoped that one day, the lesson would stick.

Until then, Henry stood at the bottom of the stairs, in his underwear, waiting impatiently for his mother to return so this could end. Luckily, none of the servants were around - Henry would feel more humiliated if they saw.

The door behind Henry opened. The front door. There was only one person who would come home at this hour. Somehow, Henry felt more at ease and more terrified. It wasn’t the first time his father had seen him in his underwear, but Henry still didn’t like that. Maybe that’s why his mother left him at the bottom of the stairs - for extra humiliation.

“Hi, son,” Bernard said. He’d walked into the home with the familiar footsteps and ticking of the cane hitting the ground. “What are you doing here?”

Henry turned around to look at Bernard Hidgens. He had a smile on his face and looked at Henry’s face; he didn’t even dare to look at anything else, to make Henry feel like he was looking at him and not laughing with the situation his mother had put him in.

“I was at the construction site,” Henry said, who also did not look at anything else but his father’s friendly face.

“Really?” Bernard said with genuine interest. “What did you think?” He glanced up briefly; his wife must have walked down the stairs with the fresh set of clothes. Henry did not turn to look at her - his father’s face was much more pleasant.

“I think it’s nice,” Henry said. He loved the place. “But the police were there.”

“Were they now?” Bernard asked. His son’s words made him curious. After all, he hadn’t heard of the police having to go to his construction site. Why didn’t he know about this?

“They were looking at a pile of dirt,” Henry said truthfully. “There were bodies in there.”

“Are you telling the truth, Henry?” Bernard asked. His face was suddenly serious, and a chill ran down Henry’s spine. If his father was serious, it must be important.

“Yes,” Henry said. “There were bodies.”

Bernard muttered a quick goodbye to Henry and an apology to his wife. He grabbed his coat and hat again and hobbled out of the front door as quickly as he could. This was an important matter, after all, and if he’d known about what happened, he wouldn’t have cut his workday short and come home.

The door slammed shut. Henry turned around again to look at his mother. She stared at him, unsure whether to believe his words or not. The clean set of clothes became a bargaining chip.

“Are you lying?” his mother asked, her voice cutting through the temporary silence.

“No, mother.” There really were bodies. The police were really there to investigate, and Henry had witnessed at least a part of the process.

Apparently, that answer was all his mother needed. She put the clean clothes on a nearby cabinet.

“Get dressed,” she said, and Henry quickly took these new clothes and put them on. If there was a way to put them on in an instant, Henry would have done so. Next to the set of clothes, there was a dollar bill. Henry stared at it for a second before continuing to get dressed.

“This money isn’t for you, it’s for Claudia,” his mother said. She’d seen him look at the money. It was indeed for Claudia - she was getting paid for the lessons with Henry. If the Hidgens family was to keep up the appearance of a bright son with an amazing mind, they needed to silence Claudia by paying her for her services as well as her confidentiality.

His mother was gone. She’d left - the clothes would be picked up by a maid or something. Henry grabbed the bill and put it in his pocket.

He looked at the clock. There was still some time left to play before he was supposed to be with Claudia. And if his mother wasn’t going to let him play at the construction site, he knew just the place to spend his time.


Since nothing ever happened in the sleepy town of Hatchetfield, their coroner could put himself to the case immediately. That same afternoon, Daniel Green and Ewan Monroe could already visit him for the first results that were in. Based on the wounds they’d already seen, the results weren’t going to be positive.

“Have you got any news, Harry?” Daniel asked. Harry, the coroner, shrugged.

“I’m gonna have to disappoint,” he said. He looked at the two bodies. They lay on separate morgue slabs, a white sheet covering everything but their toes and head. The burns where the eyes should have been, were in plain sight and Ewan nearly gagged when he saw it again. This was just monstrous.

“These are the worst burns I have ever seen in my life. I’m guessing it was the works of some phosphorous grenade,” Harry suggested. “But the grenade does not explain why their ears are also destroyed.”

Daniel frowned. “Their ears?”

Harry nodded. He pointed to his own ear.

“On the inside, it’s all destroyed. Almost as if something burst through it.” He walked to a tray with some objects and picked it up: a red string with a bronze penny attached to it.

“We also found these pennies around their necks. The coin says they were made in 1986.”

Daniel and Ewan exchanged confused looks for a second. 1986? That was about thirty years from now. When Harry handed the penny to the officer, he could clearly see that same year on the penny. Whoever did this, must have made an enormous effort to get that date on the two pennies.

“Is that some kind of joke?” Daniel wondered out loud. It couldn’t be more than that, right? Dump two bodies and give them a penny supposedly from thirty or so years into the future. But this all went a little too far to be a joke in Ewan’s eyes. There was more to this, he could feel it.

“That’s not the weirdest thing,” Harry said as he nodded to a bundle of clothes, neatly folded at the girls’ feet. “Their clothes. Look at the labels.”

With a cautious mind, Ewan leaned closer to the blouse. Its label indeed shocked him. This was by far the strangest thing.

“Made in China?” Ewan read aloud. A blouse, made in China. Did that mean…

“All of their clothes were made in China,” Harry confirmed. Everything they were wearing at the moment of their death was made in China. That was something shocking and quite disturbing, too.

“So they’re communists?” Ewan wondered. That was a possibility. If they worked with the communists in China, maybe they also wore their weird Chinese clothes or costumes as a sign of support. Or maybe they worked together.

“They wouldn’t go so low as to hire children, would they?” Daniel asked. Ewan shrugged. They had no idea what the commies were up to - maybe that was a strategy, using the youth to recruit others to their cause. Still, it didn’t explain why they were killed, or how.

“Even then, they don’t look Chinese,” Harry said. “This one is clearly Caucasian, while the other seems to be black or something.”

True. They couldn’t be of Chinese origin. But that didn’t mean the American youth wouldn’t be influenced by these devilish ideas. Ideas always had the chance of gaining support where one most and least expected it. Unfortunately, corrupting the American youth seemed to be part of the plan.

Why kill them, then? Who killed them and why seemed to be the big question, but that was not the only mystery they could uncover here.

Ewan sighed. “This is going to be a long investigation.”


Later in the restroom, Ewan found he was going to have a hard time focusing on his job. Yes, he was a police officer who helped and served the community - but those girls and their deaths took all of his energy. It siphoned from him, and he could only regain the strength if he solved it.

Two teenage girls, two lives brutally ended by something, maybe with a grenade that left horrible burn marks and melted the eyes. Communist or not, that was horrifying.

Which meant an even more horrifying person walked around, reveling in his crimes.

“What kind of monster mutilates girls like that?” Ewan said, looking out of the window.

“I don’t know,” Daniel responded. He sat in a chair a little further away and smoked a cigar. Ewan refused his offer; he didn’t feel like smoking one right now.

“You know what’d be easy?” Daniel said, breaking the silence again. “If murderers were just… born with some sort of mark. Something easy to identify them with. We could lock them up before they even commit a crime.”

Ewan nodded. That would be a utopia. It would make their work indeed a whole lot easier. Even in that scenario, there was something Ewan could not get behind: locking up people when they were still innocent and haven’t done anything.

“Unless they commit a crime, we shouldn’t lock them up,” Ewan said, turning to his colleague. Daniel groaned.

“Alright,” he said, and he stood up from the chair. “If we could see what murderers look like and catch them making plans to kill - sounds better, right?”

Ewan nodded. “At least that scenario has some criminal intent.”

Knowing if someone was going to commit a crime wasn’t enough. They hadn’t done anything yet - they may not even walk around with the idea of murder or any other crime. A lot of circumstances informed how one behaved around others. Someone desperate may not have planned to kill someone at the beginning of the day, but when the opportunity arrived and it seemed right, maybe that person would be a murderer by the end of the day. Intent may not even be there until the moment he sees the person he was going to kill.

Ewan shook his head. What were the chances of this hypothetical coming true? Criminals ought to be locked up after a crime, or if they planned to do so. In the heat of the moment, it is hard to determine intent, but if it’s there, it should be considered in court.

“Those girls aren’t from around here,” Daniel then said. “Maybe the criminal isn’t, either.”

Ewan shrugged. “Maybe.”

Chapter Text

1986

“I’ve been doing some reading,” Paul said, to shift the subject a little. “Didn’t Nietzsche once speak of an ever-repeating universe?”

Tannhaus laughed - what a thing to bring up! Still, it did have something to do with time, the main subject that Paul was interested in. Time as something that brought eternal repeats to the known universe.

“Yes,” the old clockmaker said. “He called it ‘eternal recurrence’, which is the idea that all events repeat themselves in the exact same manner through an eternal series of cycles. Though it is a sound idea, I don’t exactly agree with this.”

Tannhaus took a breath. It was always harder to deal with philosophers than with scientists. They could prove or disprove something, and theories were grounded in science. Philosophers always worked in theoreticals, that may or may not be proven with human thinking, never hard science. At least, that’s how the old clockmaker felt about things.

“While Nietzsche believed this applied to the universe,” Tannhaus continued. “I’d like to take the concept more loosely. The same events may happen at specific times, but the same people may not be there. A car accident may happen today and then thirty years in the future, a car accident could also occur at the exact same time, but maybe with a different location, a different driver.”

This was it; he loved his job as a clockmaker, but these discussions were even better, especially with a partner who listened to his every word.

A smile can to Tannhaus’ face. “And then we’re not even looking at causality of any kind.”


1953

Finally, some light!

When Tom had crawled out of that small hallway, he had initially believed he’d gone in a circle, though his mind told him otherwise. That was not a circle; that was a clear straight line with one bend. He had ended up in a different part of the caves; one where Henry must have gone through as well. But why he would go through such length to crawl through the hallway to come here, was unknown to Tom.

But he kept the pursuit going, even if he had lost sight of old man Hidgens. He must be somewhere out there, he just knew it. Tom only needed to find the man and confront him with his crimes. Soon, Tom found an exit to the caves and was happy he didn’t need to use his lighter anymore.

When he exited, he felt like something was wrong. These seemed to be the entrance of the main cave, but things were different. There hung bars from the side of the cave wall, possibly a botched attempt to keep people out of the cave. It also seemed less storm damage had been done, and there were trees where Tom remembered stumps to be.

Tom noted all of these changed, but he didn’t care about them. There was only one person on his mind, and that was Henry Hidgens. Old man Hidgens, in his pajamas, running around somewhere in Hatchetfield in broad daylight. If he hadn’t been taken back to the nursing home by now.

Tom needed to be quick. He had to find Henry before he returned to the safety of his son. Because if Sam found out that Tom pursued Henry, even after his suspension, that suspension may just turn into dismissal. Tom couldn’t lose his job.

He couldn’t lose Henry.


It was only a short drive to the cabin in the woods. It was just off of Hidgens property, but it still belonged to the family. But his mother didn’t care for it and Bernard found it hard to come here, so this was the perfect getaway for Henry. The perfect playground, in and around the cabin.

Once there, Henry indulged in his fantasies. He was a soldier with a gun (a stick) who threw grenades (pine cones) at the enemy soldiers. He was a war hero killing all the bad guys and saving the day with his awesome military skills. And while he took aim, he noticed something he hadn’t seen before.

It was a door of metal sticking out of a concrete box. Henry came closer and walked through the opened door. It led underground, to some sort of bunker, with a field bed and an open closet with canned food.

This was perfect.

Henry rolled on the floor, shot his enemies, threw grenades at them, and thoroughly saved the day before he remembered he was about to meet with Claudia for his lessons. He could always return to the bunker at a later date, if nobody was there. Maybe someone lived here; he could read two dates on the wall. They were the 5th and 9th of November this year; only yesterday and a couple of days ago. If Henry returned, he might have to be more careful in the future. If he saw who lived here, maybe he could get permission to play here again.

For now, he climbed out of the bunker and walked to his bike. his clothes weren’t as dirty as earlier today, so he was at least presentable when he went to the Monroe house.

“Hey, kid!”

Henry looked up. Two teenagers came up to him. He froze. He didn’t know them, but that devious look in their eyes said enough. He wasted valuable time staring at them as they ran toward him. When he climbed on his bike to ride away, they had already reached him. They pulled him off his bike and Henry landed painfully on the ground. He threw up his hands as a defense.

“Please,” he said. “I haven’t got anything!”

“Really?” One of the boys said. “Your father’s probably swimming in gold.”

His friend bent over to rummage through Henry’s pockets and punched him several times when Henry tried to fight back. Soon, the teen held the dollar for Claudia in his hand and pocketed it. The boys reveled in Henry’s fear and laughed.

“Don’t pee yourself,” the other one said. He pulled down his pants and peed on the poor boy. Though it lasted only seconds, Henry was horrified. He’d closed his mouth and eyes and pinched his nose closed, for fear he might accidentally ingest something as the warm fluid dripped over him.

“Hey!”

A third voice called out. The boys turned their heads. A little ahead ran a man, who had witnessed everything. Now, it was time for the boys to panic.

“Run!” The first teen said, and the teenagers ran away from Henry, who sat up.

This was horrible, this was icky. He could still feel it and shivered. Yes, the boys were gone, but he’d still have to go to Claudia. His mother would kill him if he came home for yet another set of clothes. He’d be late and humiliated. Better to explain the situation to Claudia than face his mother again.

The man in the weird clothes came up to him, a semi-worried look in his eyes. He stopped near Henry.

“Are you okay?” he asked. Henry nodded. It was best to keep the interaction at a low enough point. Yes, I’m fine, now let me get on with my day.

“Have you seen an old man pass by?” the man asked. “In his pajamas?”

Again, Henry shook his head. “No.” He would have remembered something so noteworthy if it happened.

The man nodded to himself. He was about to leave, but he turned his head to Henry and his bike again.

“You gotta learn to stand up for yourself, or else they’ll keep doing it,” he said.

Henry had figured. But always, he had stumbled upon a barrier that he could never break through, even if he tried.

“But they’re bigger than me.”

“Next time they come, you bite them,” the man then said. It was such a small thing, but it might work. If they’re bigger and then hold you, you could always bite. Yes, they could get mad, but at least Henry could say he had fought back. That thought alone was enough to give Henry some confidence.

“You can get home?” the man asked. Henry nodded. “Okay.”

Then, he left as quickly as he came, running away, looking for the older man in his pajamas. Why someone would go away in his pajamas was a mystery to Henry, but it wasn’t his problem. His problem, however, was having to go to Claudia and face her in these dirty, smelly clothes.

Chapter Text

1986

Paul had asked the old clockmaker to explain how wormholes worked in general. Though time travel may be on the forefront of Paul’s mind, he was still considerate of Tannhaus, who wasn’t against the idea necessarily, but thought it was highly improbable.

Tannhaus turned around the piece of paper for another visual representation of what he was going to explain to Paul. Paul watched with interest how Tannhaus drew a picture.

“Imagine you were standing in an infinite room,” Tannhaus said, drawing a stick figure in the middle of the paper. He didn’t bother with the background - in an infinite room, you wouldn’t see any walls. He also drew a line starting near the body and going left in a straight line.

“Now imagine you shot a laser,” Tannhaus said. “In this space, it should always go straight ahead without ever bending. It couldn’t accidentally hit you in your side.”

“Nice drawing,” Paul commented and he nodded, to show he understood what Tannhaus was getting at. The old clockmaker shot him an annoyed look, but he couldn’t help but feel flattered, even if his drawing skills were basically nonexistent.

“If there were a wormhole on the laser’s path, it could travel through,” the old clockmaker said as he picked up the piece of paper. “A wormhole changes the topology of spacetime, connecting two spaces or two times or both through a bridge. It makes it so that nothing is where it should be.”

Tannhaus bent the paper so the line at the left side of the paper hit the stick figure in his back. Nothing is where it should be - so the laser that was supposed to travel forward, now hitting this stick figure in his back. Out of place.

Or maybe exactly where it should be.


1953

Henry was an old man with dementia, in his pajamas. He was not going places he wasn’t familiar with. He would probably walk around someplace where he recognized it. And since he’d once wandered off into Witchwood Forest, that’s where Tom would stay to look for him.

It was also possible he went home, be that Sam’s home or where he lived as a kid. Those were options for later. For now, Tom stayed in and around the forest, to catch him, hopefully because he’s lost his way and had forgotten where he was going.

Tom stumbled upon the main road and was stunned.

This looked different. And unlike with the caves, he couldn’t look past it.

There was the state road, leading from the Hatchetfield city center to the bridge connecting the island to Clivesdale. There was another road, like an intersection, that should cut through this road; it should go to the left, to the power plant, and go to a different part of town to Tom’s right.

But the road on the right wasn’t a concrete road; it was cobblestone, and the bus stop was missing as well. There were no traffic lights. The road to the power plant didn’t exist yet; it was hardly a dirt path and when Tom looked over the tips of the trees, he realized he couldn’t see the familiar sight of the pylons, either.

He could not ignore this. The power plant wasn’t where it was supposed to be. Now he thought about it, that boy wore strange clothes as well - clothes he remembered his grandfather wearing in pictures, from the fifties or sixties. But would any child wear such clothes voluntarily today?

“Excuse me?”

Tom was pulled out of his thoughts. A car - an older model - had pulled up beside him, in the middle of the road. A woman got out of the car. She was pretty in her red dress.

“I’m not from around here,” she told him, “could you point me the way to an address?”

Yes, he could. The road couldn’t have changed that much around here. Most of the infrastructure was already here when Tom was a child, so it should be about the same now, shouldn’t it?

The woman told him the address. And Tom frowned.

“That’s my house.” That lady was looking for his house. What was she looking for over there?

“Are you Ewan Monroe, then?” the woman asked. Tom didn’t know what to think or say. Ewan Monroe? That bastard has been dead since the late eighties. Or, maybe he was still alive now. Whatever ‘now’ meant in this world.

“No,” Tom said. He was losing his mind. There was no other possibility. But the woman was nice, so maybe a strange question was not a problem to answer.

“Sorry, ma’am,” Tom then said. “but what’s the date?”

And with the same generous smile, she answered: “It’s November 9, 1953.”

What?

“1953?” He could only speak after a couple of seconds.

The woman nodded. “Yes.”

What the fuck just happened? And how? And why? Had Henry counted on this? Did Henry deliberately let Tom follow him into the caves, to lead him to a secret spot where he traveled through time, or something? This was so weird, Tom could barely understand what had happened to him.

“Where are my manners?” the lady then said. “I’m Agnes Houston, my son Trent’s in the car.” She walked back to the car and opened the back door. “Trent, come say hi to the nice man.”

A young boy walked out. He couldn’t be any older than Tim at this point. What was even weirder was that Tom recognized him. From the pictures. This was even more impossible.

“Trent… Houston,” Tom said.

“Of course,” Agnes said.

Now Tom lost it. He was talking to his father and grandmother, in the flesh, in 1953. And still, a voice inside his mind insisted this couldn’t be the case. Time travel didn’t exist. Was this an elaborate prank?

Despite this, he told them how to drive to get to his house - no, Ewan’s house - and they thanked him for his kindness. They didn’t even ask for his name. Maybe it was for the better not to have given it, either.

Tom remembered the book on Henry’s bedside. He’d put it into his pocket. He’d forgotten about it until now. A journey through time, by a man named Tannhaus. That man should be alive now, and working in Hatchetfield.

Time to pay that man a visit. With a bit of luck, he had something sensible to say, because Tom needed someone to explain to him what was going on before he truly lost his mind in this wild goose chase.


1986

The old clockmaker wasn’t surprised when Paul asked him to explain the grandfather paradox to him. Tannhaus had done so, but he did not want to leave it there. It was an easier concept: travel back, kill your grandfather - you don’t exist anymore, so you don’t travel back to kill him, which makes him alive and gives existence to you as well, giving you the opportunity to kill him. And so that impossible cycle continues forever.

But Tannhaus had his own ideas to the premise of the paradox, which was the meeting between grandfather and grandchild. and if Paul was willing to listen - and he was - Tannhaus was willing to share.

“Imagine you could go back in time,” the old clockmaker said excitedly. “Imagine you meet a young man, your father or grandfather, before you were even born. It is an interesting situation to theorize about. Could such an encounter, that one meeting, already have changed things? Or, has this meeting always been here? Has your grandfather always met you, but has he forgotten, or hasn’t he thought too much of it? Was this meeting meant to take place? Are you doing your own thing or do you follow the path the universe laid out for you? And does that path ever change?”

Tannhaus lived for these theories, and even Paul was entertained with the thought-provoking questions he provided. So much so that Paul now had a question of his own.

“Do you believe in free will?” he asked Tannhaus, who was silent for a couple of moments. The old clockmaker folded his hands together.

“That’s a difficult question,” he said. Yet, something in his eyes made Paul believe he knew the answer already, “No, I do not. But I do believe in the power of people to change things. Causality plays a big role, for people react to what happened before and make decisions based on those actions, and then they will cause something else to happen.”

Tannhaus shifted in his chair. “I used to want to time travel. To go to different places and times and see how things were back then.”

“And you don’t want to anymore?” Paul wondered. The old clockmaker shook his head with a smile on his face.

“Dreams can change, too,” he said. “I am content with my shop. With my chosen family. I am truly happy to be in the position I’m in now.”


1953

The clockmaker’s shop had been an empty building in the Hatchetfield city center since the nineties. Yet, Tom always remembered passing by this place on his way home. Sometimes, he even saw the old clockmaker doing his job. Before he passed away, of course, and his shop became some sort of heritage. Nobody wanted to transform it into another shop - every Hatchetfield citizen held fond memories of the store.

But here, in 1953 - if that’s really when he was - the shop was flourishing. The old clockmaker was a younger man, without a teenager girl to take care of but with a shop to keep in a pristine condition.

When Tom walked into the shop, he was greeted by a thousand different clocks and a young clockmaker, who was currently not helping any customers and who should have time for him. A little bell went off when Tom walked through the door, and the clockmaker - who stood behind his counter - looked up from the latest clock he was tinkering with.

“Goodday, sir,” the young clockmaker said, “what can I help you with?”

Tom pulled the small book from his pocket and showed the back to the young clockmaker. It had a picture of the older clockmaker on the back - the same man, but older.

“Are you the man on the cover?” Tom asked him. The young clockmaker put on his glasses and looked at the picture. He eventually shook his head and looked at Tom again.

“I don’t think I am,” he said.

“But you’re H.G. Tannhaus, right?” Tom then asked.

“That’s me, yes,” the young clockmaker said. He briefly took the book in his hand to look at the front cover as well. A triangle, an optic illusion, that seemed to have no beginning or end. He handed the book back to Tom. “But I’ve never written a book. Certainly not on this topic.”

Tom took the book back from him, without saying a word. This was the man. Tom was sure of it - this man had written the book he held in his hand, the book Henry had been reading. But of course this man was too young to have written it; that was the old clockmaker, not the younger version.

And the big question popped back in his mind.

“Are you okay, sir?” the young clockmaker asked him.

“What’s the year?” Tom asked.

“It’s 1953,” the young clockmaker said, though he was confused why this man had asked. And why this man suddenly went pale and seemed to lose all hope for something.

“Sir?”

But Tom couldn’t react. The lady in red - his great-grandmother - had spoken the truth. It had happened. As the reality set in, Tom tried to grasp at what he knew, to hold on to his sanity, because no way he traveled through time without knowing. No way he ended up in 1953, with no sign of old man Hidgens in pajamas everywhere.

No way he wasn’t home. No way.

“That’s impossible,” Tom muttered under his breath, shaking his head. “Impossible.”