OCTOBER 9, 6:03 AM
? DAYS REMAINING
EDWARD RUIZ WAS HERE FOR two things; gas and a coffee. Something black, he had told himself, groggily climbing into his car that morning, but he hated black coffee. It would end up whiter than coffee should be by the time he was at the checkout stand, no doubt. Stepping onto the curb, Edward passed the shelf of propane tanks, locked away with an iron padlock, and then a cork board, littered with a hundred white, orange, pink, and other colored flyers. Babysitter wanted. Lost dog, reward, $300. Lost cat. Advertisement. Water stained movie poster. Local church youth group announcement. Another advertisement. Back to school flyer. Another advertisement. Free coupons.
He was not sure what had stopped him. He passed this cork board at this Seven Eleven every other day. There was nothing of interest here. That dog poster had been there for months. He hoped they'd found the dog by now. But an urge came. Edward went to it. He reached. His finger peeled away crumbling, dry paper, stapled up there for God-knew how long. He tore an advertisement. Another one was beneath it, this one for a mom and pop's grocery store that had closed down two months prior. His other hand reached. Edward tore away a lost cat flyer left up there maybe weeks ago. A woman watched him as she pulled open the door to the convenience store. The bell on the door rang. He did not hear it.
Blood rushed in his ears. Taken over by something, Edward did not even think to think why he was doing it. He peeled more papers away. Another church flyer, for the same church. Another movie poster. He peeled more away. Another lost dog. He peeled more away. A sun-faded, indecipherable flyer. He peeled more away. A voice that was not his own asked him within his mind, do you see it?
He stopped moving and stared at a flyer beneath several layers of papers.
Edward blinked once. His ears drummed now, and his heart was beginning to pick up. Still, he did not think to think as to why. The boy on the missing persons flyer went missing six years ago. The picture was sun faded and water stained, and the ink had run on the little section that read last seen at Mulberry Middle School. He thought, suddenly, finally; holy shit, I went there. But at the time of the boy's disappearance, he would have just started high school. He would have been at Jefferson, which was on the other side of town. The boy's name was Adam Yuan. The boy's hair was an offset white color. Edward wondered if that was because of the black and white photo, or the sun, or was the boy's hair really white. The boy, at the time of his disappearance, was fourteen. The boy was five foot three. The boy was Chinese-American. The boy - do you see it? The voice that was not his own asked again- was of light skin and had brown eyes. The boy had a freckle beneath his right eye. The boy had a scar on his knee on his left leg. The boy was ambidextrous. The boy- do you see it?- weighed 114 pounds. The boy went missing on May 14th. The boy was last seen at Mulberry High School at 3:24 PM, alone. If you have any information please call-
Edward straightened, suddenly aware of the crumpled papers in his hands, suddenly aware that his heart was speeding rapidly within his chest.
"What the fu-"
DO YOU SEE IT? This time, the voice yelled within his head and he jolted, and the woman, walking out of the convenience store, plastic bag in hand, asked him, "Sir, are you alright?"
Edward snapped to meet her face and she arched her brows and took a defensive step back.
"Is there a radio playing?" he asked. The voice must be on the radio.
"Radio-..?" she blinked, once, looked up as though sound could be seen. There was a speaker near the door, but it was silent, used for emergencies only. "No," She said, and then again, "Are you alright?"
"That-that radio," he repeated, -SEE IT- pointing up, and spinning on his feet as though he could find the speaker the voice was coming from, "You don't hear that?"
"No," said the woman. She tightened her grip on her plastic bag, and her other hand tightened protectively over the strap of her purse. "... Sir-"
"I'm fine." said Edward suddenly. "I'm sorry for scaring you. I have a headache." Still clutching the papers he'd torn away, for some reason, Edward walked past her. She moved quickly to avoid knocking into him as he shoved the convenience store's door wide open.
…. Can you hear me?
"Yes, I can hear you," said Edward, brows knitting together now. His head was beginning to pound dully. "Where the hell are you?" He turned, again, on his heel, and met the eyes of the man behind the counter. Older. Glasses. White hair. Frowning. Big nose. Black vest, the name, Richard on the badge. "You- were you talking to me?"
The old man frowned, shook his head.
"Oh," said Edward, and he crammed the remnants of the papers awkwardly into the trashcan by the door.
Can you not hear me…? I-
"YES I can hear you..!" he shouted, and began searching through each of the four, narrow and short aisles of the tiny convenience store. The voice was young and boyish. He had forgotten his coffee and gas. "Where are you?" he called, almost annoyed. He passed each aisle, twice. He stood on his tip-toes. The convenience store was tiny, cram-packed with junk food and ibuprofen and soup cans and travel items. Chips hung on a clip hanging from the ceiling. He could see over every aisle. The white lights inside of the fridges made his reflection smudge. There was him. There was Richard. There was no one else.
Hello? asked the voice, as though on the other line of his phone.
"Hey," Edward answered loudly, then thought, what the fuck is this.
And the voice, answered; You can hear me!
It made him stop in his tracks and his heart was again, racing. His head was pounding still. Edward felt sick. A nauseousness gripped the bottom of his stomach. He looked for a restroom. He found one, trudged for it.
"You need a key for that," called out the old man, and he whirled, smiling, preparing to thank him and ask for it when, "But you're high as hell. You're not going in there, kid."
Edward frowned deeply, even further annoyed now.
"What- no," He had not been high since freshman year of college, and that had been four years ago.
"No, no, not that either. I just have this headach-"
"Please." he said, holding out his hands, like a beggar. He wanted to splash cold water onto his face and realize he was still half of asleep, get his coffee, get his gas, and go to work. "Do I-.. I'm wearing a suit, if I were high, or something, would I be dressed like this?" He did not look drunk, he wanted to think, but glancing down at himself, he found he looked the part perfectly. He had yet to brush his hair, so it stuck out, left and right. He had planned to do that in the parking lot of his office building. He hadn't ironed his shirt. His hoodie was unwashed and wrinkled. His tie had not yet been done. That, too, would have been done in-
"No." said the old man. A sort of anger bubbled within him until he thought, just watch him press that button beneath the counter, and then you're causing a scene at the fucking Seven Eleven. He didn't know this Richard, but had anyone else been here (Christof or maybe Nadine or even Anne, with her bitter glaring), they would know him. They usually worked the counter.
You can hear me! The voice repeated.
"Fuck." Breathed Edward and he went forward and watched Richard reach beneath the counter, his finger no doubt hovering over the panic button, waiting, waiting for a gun, or a knife, or-
Edward fished a wallet from his back pocket, tore out a crumpled twenty, flung it onto the counter and said, "Twenty on seven."
Cautiously, the man took it, and Edward turned and went for the door.
"Do you want a reci-"
The sky was exploding into orange and red and purple as the sun peeked from its horizon. The clouds from last night's rain were scattering, slowly, hinting at a later rainshower, perhaps a drizzle. Distantly, Edward heard the sound of thunder rumbling far off. He stopped at the cork board and braced his hands against it. He met the smiling eyes of the missing boy. The voice said, do you see it-
"I fucking see it," he said aloud, then- I fucking see it.
Ah, said the voice, sounding both astounded and gleeful. You- You see it. You see me?
The pounding in his head quickened, but it did not compare to the twist in his stomach, the way his heart skipped. You, he thought.
Me, said the voice.
HAVE YOU SEE ME?
NAME: ADAM YUAN
HAIR COLOR: WHITE
EYE COLOR: BROWN
DOB: January 23, 19-
"Th-this..? This is-" Edward stammered, maybe terrified, and shook his head. This is you?
It is me, the voice affirmed, eager.
MISSING SINCE MAY 14th-
Edward stepped back, "What the hell is going-"
The sound of boots scuffing the cement to his right. He met eyes, again, with another stranger. This one was a man, haggard, old, like Richard. He was balding. His eyes were pale, pale grey. He was scowling.
"I-" Edward stared at the man. The man stared back. The man wore overalls better fit for the country and not the city. Then again, this gas station was just near the crest of the woods, which turned the city into a blair witch style forest that many a child had been lost in. No doubt the man was from that part of town. He wore a dirty white t-shirt beneath that. Edward thought of all the horror movies he'd seen that began similar to this. Old, cranky man glaring at the young guy. He had no girlfriend, which meant he might not survive-
A-Ah- the voice said, or breathed, if it could- th-that's…. Him...
"I'm sor-" Edward began because it was all he could think of. But before the word could fall off his tongue, the old man spat, right in front of his feet, next to another, ugly, black tar or spit or whatever-it-was mark. Then the old man grunted, and pushed open the convenience store door. The bell rang. Edward stared, confused. A sort of horror struck him, finding the soles of his feet, reaching up his knees, finding his stomach, his chest, and finally, his scalp, raising hair like a crisp brush of cold air. He thought, Jesus Christ. He took that kid.
On the cork board, the boy in the photo named Adam was smiling. It was cropped to show only him and the arms and hands of perhaps a relative who hugged him from the side. He wore a plain shirt, a jacket tied around his waist. He smiled. He smiled. He smiled.
Yes, said the voice of Adam, full of terror.