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In the dark: In Principio

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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.


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.


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.