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.
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.