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The Disappearance of Sarah Williams

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(Article on the Sarah Williams case)

Sarah Williams found by camping teens after seventh month disappearance.

 

Around 4pm today Wayne and two friends (who do not wish to be named) embarked on a hike that would make them a hero to the Williams family.

 

“We were about to turn back,” says Wayne. “Then I saw her. Well, at first I thought she was a dead animal. I don’t know, we could have easily missed her.”

 

Sarah Williams was laying on a flat rock by the river. She was covered in dirt and, according to Wayne, she was dressed “… in some freaky medieval battle sh*t.”

 

They knew immediately that something was wrong when they saw blood and she did not respond to their calls. Wayne stayed behind while his friends went to find help. “She looked like she had been through hell. I didn’t recognise her, I didn’t know until the detective guy told me. Everybody knows who Sarah Williams is, but she looked so different.”

 

Sarah first went missing May 1st on her way home from a party. There was been no indication if there was foul play nor was there any sign she was leaving. The last message on her phone read ‘Call his name and bargain for me’ sent to her younger brother. Ever since, her disappearance has devastated her family, the community and those who love her work as a playwright. It also captured the imagination of many, as strange rumours and theories spread across the Internet based on the dark, fantastical themes of her plays. The most popular theory, from her now famous play Minos Dreamt and it’s novelisationis that she became deluded and ran off into the wilderness believing her own fantasies. The more superstitious say that she found a gateway into the supernatural world.

 

For now it is all speculation, as Sarah has given no comments as to what happened to her over the past seven months. According to detective Paul Harrington she is still in shock and it may be sometime before we can really know what she went through. She is being treated in a local hospital for minor injuries and is soon to be reunited with her family.

 

Updates in the coming week.

 

...

 

Home: Day One

 

Detective Paul Harrington flicks his cigarette butt out the window before pulling up into the hospital car park. At the sight of the cold, sleepy and nearly empty space he lets out a little sigh of relief. They had managed to keep Sarah’s location a secret but it is only a matter of time before the nut-jobs and two-bit media scum find out. Only a matter of time before Sarah would see the T-shirts, the silver crosses and signs reading ‘demon,’ ‘delusion’ or ‘fraud.’ She had been through enough.

         Harrington leaves his cigarettes in the car, keeping one tucked behind his ear, and takes the case files he has spent seven months working on. Clare is waiting for him inside holding two coffees. In the unnatural hospital light her hair seems darker and strands have fallen out of her low ponytail. She hasn’t slept yet.

         “Two sugars.” She accepts his silent nod as gratitude. They had long stopped saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to each other. “Press conference?”

         “Bunch of arseholes.” Harrington groans as he tilts his head back and lets the warm liquid fill him. This was going to be a hard day.

         “Steady there, boy scout.” A smile pokes through before she covers it with a coffee cup. “Things here are better than expected. The family came and that seemed to wake her up more. Doc says she is responsive but fragile.”

         Throwing the empty cup into the bin he sighs. “Is she ready to start talking? The sooner we give these people a story the sooner they will loose interest.”

         “Yeah, I don’t know. You’ve seen what they’ve found her with, right?” fishing out her phone she holds out an image of a silvery white breastplate. Over the heart there is a rose made from deep red sharps that on first glance looks like a wound. “My buddy in the lab sent this over.”

         “That doesn’t look cheap.”

         “That’s not all” swiping to the next image she shows a page of a handwritten book. The writing is compact, squeezed together as tightly as possible until the white of the page resemble the starry night sky. “I’ve shown this to three professors now and none of them recognise the language. Parts of it are from some ancient culture or something.”

         “Are you saying she could have been taken by one of these die-hard, bat shit fans?” This theory was old news, it could be just as likely somebody fame hungry had found Sarah and planted her with these.

         Clare closes her eyes for a moment and shakes her head, something she does when she is drawing strength to be patient. “Just keep an open mind, boy scout.”

        “As long as you don’t jump to conclusions, Miss Marple.”

         “Call me that again and I will shoot you.”    

 

Sarah is sitting up in bed when they enter her private hospital room. Tapping a spoon against a half-eaten tub of jelly and staring at wobbling bright red gelatine. All the grime and blood has been washed away. A cast put on her fractured arm and stitches up her calf. This was Sarah Williams, the young girl Harrington and Clare had searched for, however she looks different from her smiling photographs. Suffering always has a way of marking and transforming people. Pale, heaviness around the eyes from lack of sleep and distress, and her dark hair had grown past her shoulders.

         “I’m Detective Clare Hobbs and this is Detective Paul Harrington.”

         “It’s good to see you home.” He keeps his distance, it’s important to make the victim feel safe and she may be uncomfortable around men. Not that she gives any indication. Instead she is more interested in the cigarette tucked behind his ear.

         “I know this isn’t easy, talking about what happened to you, so we’ll take it slow and when things get too much we’ll stop. Does that feel okay with you?” There is something Clare is dying to ask her, he can see it in the way she leans forward in her chair and her tight smile.

         Sarah’s voice is steady and she seems to choose her words carefully. “I will try my best detective. I am still a little confused.”

         “That’s okay, let’s start from what you can remember. The beginning.”

         “No.” spoon flat on the tray Sarah closes her eyes. “Not the beginning.”

         Clare takes a moment before answering, “Then were would you like to start.”

         “I don’t mean to waste your time detective. I wish to tell you in a way that makes sense. Was I found with a journal?”

         “Yes.” Said Harrington.

         “Were you able to read it?”

         “No.” Said Clare.

         “That is troubling.” Sarah pushes the tray away and peels away her bedding with a wince. “He said this would be hard. Coming back. I never pretended otherwise but somehow I let myself hope that life would just go back to how it was.”

         “No. It won’t be easy.” Clare scribbles a note down before looking Sarah square in the eye. If anybody knows it would be Clare, she has seen more devastation in her career than anybody he knows. “But you won’t be alone. Over time things will start to feel easier.”

         For a brief moment a wave of repulsion seems to rush over Sarah. She mumbles an apology before sliding off the bed to stand awkwardly on her good leg. He had felt strange noticing it before, her body looked healthy and strong.

         “That’s just it, isn’t it?” Words come out a little faster this time, like the gears are starting to click into place. “Over time we can accept anything. It’s an inexorable and cruel corrosive. I used to dread spending time. Now, I can’t wait for it to wear me thin and ease me into my old age. That will show him. I know though, it takes a little more than time to heal though. Little pushes here and there. Therapy, family and routine”

         “Is ‘he’ the man who took you May 1st?” As he says this Sarah begins to hobble towards him and he is not sure what to do. He stays still like wary animal.

         “He would argue no. However, he would not deny he kept me from returning.” She stops in front of him, in sushi PJs her parents brought and hands on hips. “I’ll have that cigarette Detective Harrington.”

 

 

How had she missed something so damn bad? Sarah coughs out the open window of her hospital room. The next inhale is long and deep – she has earned it after all. The cold morning air makes the smoke visible for just a moment longer before disappearing. Harrington pours her a class of water and skulls it when she refuses. He looks like he should be in a poster of a man helping old ladies cross the street, trustworthy with his straight tie and soft features. Did he abandon that old lady for this? During the investigation he must have interviewed her friends, family and the cast and crew of the last production she worked on. One of them would have told him that she smoked when things got stressful. That night she had gone outside for a smoke and for many that would have been the last time they saw her.

         Harrington probably snuck one in to build trust. Probably smarter than he looks. That old lady never stood a chance.

         Clare, on the other hand, had strength about her Sarah had only seen in older women. Women who had had seen it all and took every hardship in stride. It was obvious that she was suspicious of Sarah.

         She drew in the last life of the cigarette, wincing at heat, before tossing it out the window. “It was meant to be a night off. I worked from home and my housemates were sick of seeing me stressed out and overworked. So I put on this short little back dress. Velvet, expensive and not mine. Not even something I would normally wear. It was gorgeous. Silly how putting on clothes can make you feel like a whole new person. Just like putting on a mask. I felt incredible. Enough to go to a house party, something I’m not known for doing. Not that it mattered. I could have stayed at home, agonised over those few lines that have plagued me for months, and nothing would changed. Well, maybe I would have least fixed that line…”

         Eyes closed she let herself sink into her world of words. Flicking through the pages of everything she had written she conjured the unfinished document in her mind. She could almost feel the paper on her fingertips. Reading those words she had weaved she no longer filled her with the same passion, excitement and frustration that once consumed her. She decides to give it time and let it seduce her slowly once more.

         “…Your love is the withering heart of my despair.” Sarah’s laugh is a hollow, bitter sound. “It’s terrible. I always had to work harder to nail the climax.”

         “You said it didn’t matter if you stayed in or went out. Why is that?” Says Clare after closing her eyes and shaking her head a little. This woman is not as subtle as she would like to be.

        “Some long winded nonsense about destiny. And, on that particular day the veil between our worlds is at it’s thinnest. At least, that is what I was told. I could have been at the bottom of the ocean and they would have found me. It just so happened I was walking home. I’m sure you already know it’s a short walk, maybe fifteen minutes or so. I was upset, my ex and I had a fight. He is talented at making you feel terrible about yourself.”

         “Ah.” Harrington flipped open his as if to check the name and Clare shifts ever so slightly in her chair. “You are talking about David Meyer?”

         “Yes, David. He wanted to get back together – I did look good in that dress – I laughed at him. When calling me a slut made me laugh more, he said my plays were ‘self-indulgent, childish and melodramatic.’ I have my pride… My works are pieces of me and I am never without them. It was like having every my thought and feeling dismissed. More than that it reminded me of something unpleasant from my childhood. Something I thought I’d let go.” The Goblin King had also made her feel small, ashamed of her imagination. Of the way she clung to her childhood. With nobody to talk to about her time in the Labyrinth she poured it into one of her early plays and mixed it with familiar mythology. Minos Dreamt never made it to production. David had convinced her to turn it into a novel and he gave it to a publisher that was a friend of his. It even sold a few thousand copies and for years she would get long, strange and misguided letters from a small dedicated fan base. Always asking when her next book would come out.

         She always regretted giving that part of life away.

         “That’s what I was thinking about on those quiet streets. How I had never really grown out of toys and costumes. And, how he would love to lord it over me.” She closes the window as if it would keep the world from listening. “When I first heard it I thought I was loosing my mind. I thought I could hear the sound of galloping hooves on the asphalt. Maybe I had drunk a little too much and watched a little too many period dramas. It grew louder, vibrating through my sinew and hammering my chest. I was already running when I turned to look. Riding towards me was a... Well, he preferred to be called a knight, I would say mercenary because you are no knight without honour. He was on a white horse under the sickly yellow streetlights. He looked like a spectre, a ghost come to take its finale revenge, armour darker than night and with a thick black-gloved hand reaching out as he leaned off the saddle. I had home in my sights when he grabbed me.”

 

Clare had stopped taking notes and points the pen at Sarah as if trying to impose a full stop. “A knight kidnapped you?”

         Slow down. This is too much. “That’s what he called himself… Detectives, I’m willing to bet nobody saw anything that night.”

         When they don’t respond she probes. “No neighbourhood is that sleepy. Especially when there was a party still going.”

         “Let’s focus on what you experienced.” Harrington smiles and it looks like he is trying to comfort her.

         This is hard. “I didn’t get a good look at him when it happened. He looked more like a shadow clinging to light. But I knew he was going to try to take me to the underground. Knight, kings and heroes are not so strange there.”

         “Underground?” Harrington shifts on the spot.

         “That can wait…” She hadn’t meant to say that. Well, she didn’t really know what she was going to tell them. If they were open to it perhaps she would unburden. No matter how unlikely that is, the hope burned inside. “I don’t know if I screamed or not when he lifted me, it felt like I did with my whole body. Those arms felt like steel they just wouldn’t budge and motion of the horse threw me off. He was saying something to me, what was it again? Oh yes, ‘I’m not going to hurt you.’ What an asshole.”

         For a moment her voice broke, betraying a deep guttural emotion.  

         “I was being held against his chest. The metal of his armour dug into my shoulder blade. So, I turned my head and bit his throat hard enough I tasted his blood. His screamed, even more when he pushed me away and I tore his skin. Before I fell and lost consciousness I saw a pale blue light. It was like being immersed in a pool on a hot day.”

         The two detectives exchange looks and Sarah starts to feel tired. They are still communicating in widening eyes and twitches of the brow when she crawls back into bed. Clare sucks in a breath ready to let something loose that had been building the moment she walked into this room. Harrington shakes his head and made a lazy pointing gesture to indicate that he had the situation handled.

         “ Sarah,” he said. “Did you see David after you left the party?”

       “No.” Pausing, she gave them both a firm look. “He’s an arsehole but as far as I know he hasn’t committed any crimes.”

         “The knight did it.” Clare says with tight lips and Harrington taps her shoulder.

         “Please understand, Sarah, the last text you sent Toby…” Harrington checks the file as if to refresh his memory. “‘Call his name and bargain for me.’ Made us think that person who took you was somebody you and your family knew.”

         “It’s not easy to text and run.” Sinking back into the pillows, Sarah rests her eyes. They weren’t going to believe her. Just like last time there would be nobody she could share the burden of her experience with. Even if they thought she was crazy she had at least hoped they would listen. They need answers and no doubt somebody to take the blame.

         “When I was little, my parents always said I had an ‘active imagination.’ I’d get lost in little worlds for hours. They were going to take me to a doctor before they got divorced… perhaps I remember things the way I do to make sense of it. To shield me from what really happened. Make of it what you will detectives… If you bring me my journal I’ll be able to give you the answers you need.”

         Clare returns to writing down notes “Is it coded?”

         “Yes.” Sarah yawns.

After the detectives leave she falls into a fitful sleep. Memories wait under her eyelids. The man in beetle-black armour, waiting on a white steed, pleads with her I had no choice! The Goblin King with his silvery hair, cold beauty and lean, strong frame. Circling in, breath hot on her neck as he laughs at her. Do you really think you will be able to lay down your arms?

 

 

Harrington jingles the keys in his pocket to fill the silence as Clare paces in front of his car. There was a time when he found her moods intimidating and he would approach her like she was an exposed wire.

         “We’ll take the journal out tomorrow and come back tomorrow.”

         “Come on, Harrington. You can’t be that naïve.”

         “Spit it out, Clare, if I don’t head home soon my wife will watch Mad Men without me and my marriage can’t sustain that.”

         “This is some sick con to sell books. David, Sarah and Toby faked this to make money.”

         “Clare, really, you’ve read the doctors reports. Do you really think they are capable of giving her those bruises? Those scars? Jesus, Toby is just a kid.”

         “More than capable.” The look on Clare’s face mirrors the moment she first gave him the nickname ‘boy scout.’ Only less amused. “Kidnapped by a knight? Underground?

         “We don’t know what trauma this girl has experienced. For now we give her the benefit of the doubt until we get something to feed the press. Or she talks until she slips up.”

         Clare wagged her finger. “She is hiding something.”

         “Until we can say for sure we treat her like a victim and not a suspect.”

         She points at him indicating that she is going to have the last word. “Being right doesn’t suit you.” With that she storms off to find her car.

 

 

The first day in the underground Sarah woke up on a bed of pine needles in the middle of a tall, elderly forest. As the morning light filtered through the trees, she wondered just how fucked she was. Through whatever portal they went through she had pushed her capture away and arrived somewhere far from him. It didn’t feel like a strong advantage lost in the wilderness with a little black dress, no shoes and no reception. There wasn’t a lot in her bag, she figured in a pinch she could rip and the pages of her empty journal to help build a fire. She didn’t let herself panic in that moment and in hindsight she is exceptionally proud of that. She let herself believe she had gotten drunk and ran off in some waking dream. Even when she realised she could still taste the knight’s blood. Getting home wouldn’t be that hard. It was no different that defeating a king as a teenager, right?  Easy.

         That cool determinism didn’t last. The deep aching sound of thick trees bending vibrates around her along with the snapping of branches and the odd occasional crash. Rolling into the clearing was what could only be described as a giant brown ball of fur – tall as a truck with the same horsepower. There were leaves, branches and small creatures – that did not make it in time – stuck to it. The pungent animal smell reaches her as the ball screeches to a halt in the clearing. Reality struck her hard across the face. Last night she had been attacked. She was probably in the underground. Alone. And, as the ball uncurled itself to reveal eyes, fat claws and rows of gnarly teeth, she realised death might be waiting for her this time.

         How could she tell her brother that? She couldn’t even tell him half of what happened the first time. Which was dangerous, but a child doesn’t fear death the way an adult does. It’s more real the older you are. And, the moment he walked into her hospital room alone she could see he felt responsible for the pain she went through.

         “So you did go there.” Toby is looking at her with big, teary blue eyes – looking into them she sees the crying baby she used to take care of. The sweet little boy she almost lost twice. Sarah wants to tell him that she is fine. Instead she reaches over to squeeze his hand and his eyes lower to stare at the thin blanket on her bed.

         “What did you tell them, about where you went?”

         “Barely anything. They already think I’m crazy, which is fine. It’s better if I am an unreliable witness.”

         “Sarah, I didn’t know if you were coming back. Nobody knew where to look. Even with what I know I had no idea where to start.”

         “It’s alright, it wasn’t all bad you know. I had friends there. I dare say I’ll I will even miss them. You’re still a kid, little man. There was nothing you could have done… It was wrong of me to send you that text.”

         “I didn’t know what it meant. It took me months to remember and even then I didn’t think you possibly meant him. I thought it was a dream. A story. By the time I called on the Goblin King it was too late—“

         “Be thankful he didn’t answer, Toby. I put you in danger by telling you to do that. I should be begging for forgiveness.”

         “Don’t apologise for asking to be saved.”

         It would have been better if he never knew. “You’re the only person I can talk to about this. For that I am sorry. Please, let your selfish sister burden you every now and then. For now, just be a kid.”

         Back straight and shoulders set wide he announces. “You can tell me, Sarah. I can take it.”

         Jareth would’ve loved this. It felt like a test and he relished in testing her. She can almost hear him How long can you keep this all to yourself, precious?

         “That world does play by the same rules we do. The way things are done there are more binding and far more ancient. Like it’s stitched into the essence of every living being. We are not tied down by their laws of nature, and for that reason I was taken to the underground. My quest was no small errand, Toby. It took me a long time to complete it. Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered… but I was always going to find my way home.” She ruffles his hair and his little worried face turns into an annoyed pout. This was the best she could do for him. Anymore might break his little heart.

         “I think you’re lying to me.” He isn’t angry with her; he almost looks relieved.

         “Only a little bit.” She smiles and lets him eat her jelly. It’s comforting to see he is still a messy eater. Somehow a little red blob ends up in his yellow hair. Maybe it won’t be so hard with Toby there. Maybe. She can tell he doesn’t really know what to say now.

       “We’re famous down there, you know.” Sarah winks at him like she used to. “I am the champion of the Labyrinth and you are the child the Goblin King gave his name to.”

         “We’re famous here as well, Sar.” He says with his mouth full.

         “What?”

         He shuffles his chair so they can both look at his phone as he types in Sarah Williams.