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Monday, October 10, 2016

Missing Person


Brett Cole is one of the nearly three thousand Americans who go missing every day; however, in Brett’s case, he disappears willingly. Thirty years old and disillusioned, he packs his bags (including his Smith & Wesson) and vows to reach Mexico. 

Halfway there, Brett stumbles upon a kidnapping and FBI Special Agent Hayden makes it clear that Brett has stumbled upon something far greater: Operation Ethereal (OE), an ultra-secret branch of the FBI in operation since the Hoover Administration, “took” Brett as a young boy because of his ability to pick up timeprints, impressions of the past. After erasing memories of the first eight years of his life, OE reinserted him into society for observation. Now that he has gone off the map, they want him back in their custody. 

As Brett flees from the FBI, he must come to terms with his newly awakened gift and what it means. Can his past be redeemed and his future rewritten?

The Dark Man stepped out of the shadows, and they could see him more clearly. A grave, serious expression. A face that suggested years of some kind of suffering—worry, addiction, and pain. It was a face that may have at one time looked attractive but had been worn down by whatever burden it had carried. Dark eyes squinted. His hand reached to the back of his pants where something—perhaps a gun—was probably kept. But one thing was for sure: he was intent on them and them alone. No mistake about it.
          “We need to get out of here,” Brett said, pulling Chelsea by the arm. He moved toward the edge of the dance floor and, sure enough, the Dark Man followed.
          Brett looked at the exit. He would be able to beat the Dark Man there, but once there, he’d be in a pickle. The Elevator Man in his top hat would be standing there, leaning against the wall and reading his copy of H.P. Lovecraft, but no way would they have time to wait for the elevator before the Dark Man arrived. They could take the short flight of stairs up to the bar, but once there, then what? No way down other than out the massive windows, and that wasn’t an option.
          Brett remembered there had been a stairwell also going down that had been chained off. He had glanced down on his way up to the bar earlier and looked down at the dizzying, disorientating abyss of stairwell. This is what infinity looks like, he’d thought while looking down a small, rectangular shaft with endless stairs descending on all sides like an Escher painting. How many stories was it? Thirty? Forty? Fifty?
          Without thinking, Brett charged for the exit. Chelsea kicked off her heels and followed him. The Dark Man came charging after them.
          I need to call Fletcher, Brett thought. I need to call him now.
          “If the Sultan of Swat likes this place, can’t be all that bad!” someone said as he ran off the dance floor, but the voice sounded distant and ethereal like the ones he’d heard before: voices without origin, floating around like mist.
            The woman at the front desk gasped and dropped a few menus as Brett charged toward her. Another elderly couple, just coming into the restaurant, scuttled out of the way with rusty reflexes as they approached. The older gentleman, wearing a bowtie and giant Clark Kent glasses, mumbled something about the insolent youth of this generation as they ran past. The Elevator Man was there, still in his top hot, leaning against the wall, thumbing through his book. Amazingly, despite the disturbance, he never once looked up. Must be a good book, Brett thought.
            Brett dashed into the stairwell and, instead of going up to the bar, hopped over a small and pathetic excuse of chain with a sign that said PATRONS: DO NOT ENTER. Chelsea did the same.
            From here, there were nothing but stairs, stairs, and more stairs. They didn’t say a word as they descended the first several floors. The stairwell was so narrow they would only move a few feet and then turn, a few feet and then turn again, and down and down they went. Something about the frequent turns made it more exhausting. When they looked up, they could see the Dark Man descending behind them.
            “Brett, stop! Chelsea, stop! I need to speak with you! I’m not here to hurt you!” the man yelled.
            Brett didn’t have to say anything, but he could see the look on Chelsea’s face. She was thinking the same thing that he was: He knows our names! How does he know our names?
            But there was something else about the voice. Brett recognized it. It was the same voice he’d heard back at the campground last night, the same lone figure calling out for him when he ran to his car. He was sure of it. He’s one of the bastards who killed those parents and took that child, he thought. Fletcher. I need Fletcher.
            He wasn’t sure how many stories they had raced down, but they stopped to rest for a moment. Chelsea leaned on the side railing, out of breath, looking quite delirious. Brett felt the same. His legs were on fire and even though he was gasping for air, it felt like he wasn’t getting enough.
            One thing was for sure: it was still a long way down. A lot more floors. The Dark Man was maybe ten floors above and descending, but he was going slower too. They had a few seconds to regain some strength and then they’d have to continue.
            Brett had an idea. He tried to open the door onto the current floor, but it was locked. He wondered if all the doors along the stairwell were locked, and then a terrible thought occurred to him, one he hadn’t thought of earlier.
            “What if they’re all locked?” he said, gasping for breath. Chelsea looked at him with grave understanding. “What if the bottom one is locked? We could be stuck in here. After all, it’s not supposed to be in use anymore.”
            “There’s some that are open,” she said in a strangely confident manner.
            “How do you know?”
            “I know.”
            Now that they had caught their breath, they continued their flight down the stairs. The Dark Man was still several stories above them. As they came to each floor, Brett quickly tried the doors, but they were all locked. After a few tries, he gave up. It was taking too much time, and he didn’t want to spare any more than he had to.
            The sudden realization that he was walking right into his own grave overcame him. He imagined this was what it felt like to be on the Titanic as it was going down; you could run to one side all you wanted and move to the highest part of the ship but, soon enough, it was all going to be under open, icy waters. This could be just a matter of prolonging inevitability, and he hated the thought of it.
            “Both of you, stop!” the Dark Man yelled. “I know who you are!”
            “Floor eighteen will be unlocked. It’s where the ballroom is,” Chelsea said.
            They descended what felt like an endless staircase, and by the time they got to Floor 18, Brett gasped for every breath of air he took. His entire body dripped in sweat. Chelsea wasn’t in much better shape, though she didn’t look to him to be as sweaty as he felt himself. Wasn’t that something girls said about themselves, he thought, or maybe a bumper sticker he’d seen before: I DON’T SWEAT, I GLISTEN.
            He tried the door, and it opened with no problem. Chelsea was right beside him. He looked up one more time and caught a glimpse of the Dark Man as he continued his descent. They would have a minute or maybe less once they were on Floor 18 to ditch him.
            They found themselves walking through the Emergency Exit (this one much more attractive than the one Brett had pondered) and into a giant, elegant ballroom. A blast of big jazz music struck them like the wind from twin turbines. The room was festooned with pink and black streamers, silver balloons, and below them—on a large dance floor that didn’t seem to end — an ocean of bodies, mostly young this time, doing the Lindy Hop and East Coast Swing in a way that looked incredibly chaotic and incredibly organized at the same time. It was an ocean of contradiction and frenzy. There was no band. Just a DJ in one corner of the room beside a long and seemingly endless table of refreshments—cookies, lemonade, crackers, and cheese.
            All of the dancing was here, on the north side of the ballroom. There were rows of fold-up chairs on the other side of the room where some watched and most refreshed after a few rounds on the dance floor. A few groups of guys and gals stood over in that area, drinking lemonade, talking, recharging their swing dance engine, and some, perhaps, waited for an invitation to get back on the dance floor. Apart from them, there were only a couple women standing beside what looked to be a ticket table in front of the two large oak doors that gave entrance to the ballroom.
            Brett and Chelsea, holding hands, stopped in stupefied bewilderment at the edge of the dance floor. He’d been to one of these “shindigs” before in Portland, and he wasn’t quite sure what to make of it then either.
            An old drummer that he’d played with, Kevin, had invited Brett out to a swing dance joint called the Crystal Ballroom with his girlfriend not long before Charlie passed away. That place, similar to this, was a beehive of swing dancing and he’d felt, from the moment he walked through the door, like a stranger in a strange land. There had been lots of younger people there —like here—all dressed in a way and carrying themselves in a way that made him wonder if they secretly longed to be born in a different, perhaps simpler time.
            And they all knew this language of swing dance. Complete strangers walked up to each other, took hands, and then spun around the dance floor and two-stepped in a rhythm that would have made the average Joe think they had rehearsed it for weeks, maybe months. And then there’d be another tap on the back, two more strangers at it again, swirling and bouncing around as if they’d practiced this for years.
            Brett hadn’t gotten it. He’d stood in the corner then, drinking his Coke, accepting the fact that he was going to watch much more than he was going to participate. But Kevin had basically forced him to take the introductory course the Crystal Ballroom had hosted that evening for free. Brett had gone to a side room with about thirty other guys and gals and practiced the footwork for basic dance moves with a rotating group of strangers. But after about twenty minutes of rock step, kick, kick—the instructor had repeated that phrase so many times it had nearly given him a headache—he concluded that there were people in this world meant to dance and there were others who weren’t—and he was one of the latter. So he snuck out of the class and went back to the corner of the ballroom where he’d had a couple more Cokes and avoided the floor altogether.
            “We need to get through this mess and out of here,” Brett said.
            “No, that’s what he’ll expect. I say we join them. Blend in.”
            Chelsea pulled Brett into the madness, took both of his hands, looked up at him, and grinned. He could still see the sweat GLISTENING on her forehead and along the nape of her neck. Though beautiful, he could also see the fear in her eyes; she was as clueless as him as to who the Dark Man was.
            “Okay,” Brett said. He knew they had to move. They’d stick out like a sore thumb if they just stood there. He made up his mind. They’d dance, and as they danced, they’d slowly make their way over toward that other exit. And when the coast looked clear, they’d bolt for it. But Chelsea was right, they had to blend. First, they had to blend.  
            He looked down at his feet like a man might look at a car he didn’t trust was going to turn over. She was barefoot. She’d kicked off her heels before their high-speed flight into the stairwell.
            “Sorry, if I hurt you,” he said shakily, “I’m, uh, not much of a dancer.”
            “It’s easy. Just follow me. Rock step, kick, kick,” she said.
            “You’re good, huh?” he said, but it seemed like a foolish time to ask.
            She didn’t answer, but he felt her body move, and he did his best to remember the brief twenty-minute lesson years before in the Crystal Ballroom. And then they were dancing, lost in the sea of bodies.

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William Michael Davidson is the author of the children's book, The Dragon Who Pulled Her Scales (Winner of the 2013 OCD Book Festival Award), The Dragon Who Tamed Her Temper, Missing Person, and Living Sacrifice. He lives in Long Beach, California, with his wife and two daughters. Always reading, always writing, Davidson is drawn towards stories of suspense and adventure that delve into man's inherent desire for redemption.

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