Search For Nick

Perhaps you've heard of me. I'm something of a famous adventurer. Using my ever-generous grandparents' wealth, I've been traveling all over the world since I was seven. Paris, London, Rome, Venice: all those fancy places, I've been to them. Not just those, but the jungles of the Amazon, the freezing Yukon, the highest peaks, underwater temples in the deepest depths of the ocean, the most dangerous volcanoes; well, you get the picture. And like any good explorer, I've researched ancient mysteries, discovered historical artifacts, and braved great dangers. Pretty impressive, right? For instance, the Cajun: I'd been fascinated by my research, but my cousin told me they didn't exist. In fact, she mocked me horribly for believing in them. But I showed her. If all the historical evidence wasn't enough for her, I'd search everywhere and prove their existence myself. Nova Scoatia, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Lousiana. I scoured the land for anything to add to the historical record. Then unbelievably, in Acadia itself, I discovered a lost tribe hiding in the woods, still practicing the Cajun ways of neutrality as though the Seven Years' War and their expulsion had never happened. Got in the papers for that one. More importantly, I showed my cousin up. Anyway, as you can see, I'm quite a big deal. So no need for introductions, right?

Presently, I'd stopped off at home to use the computer, and I was conducting research to determine my next destination. Summer was fading, and come autumn, I'd have to go back to college, so there wasn't much time left. This was quite the conundrum, as I'd still yet to succeed on my search.

As it turns out, there was a reason I was traveling all over. It had started twelve years ago, when by happenstance I'd knocked over a waste bin at my aunt's house, spilling paper everywhere. Amongst them was a particularly crumpled up piece, which I uncrumpled, thus revealing a picture of a boy I'd never seen before. He wore glasses and had a rather long nose, a big forehead, and a goofy, nearly buck-toothed grin. The paper was a missing child poster, and it had a few holes in the corners as though it had been nailed to a pole somewhere. But who was the boy?

Oh, it said his name was Nick. I guess that's who he was.

I asked my mother about the poster, and she told me he was my cousin, my elder by a few years. No relation to that other cousin, the obnoxious one who doesn't believe in Cajuns. Well, except that they're cousins too. But anyway, back to Nick. Nicest guy around, a soccer star with charm, a brilliant mind already tinkering with robots at age seven, and everyone in the family loved him. But he'd disappeared a while back, and he'd been gone so long the search had been forgotten. Well, if he was really so great, then I wanted to meet him. That's when I decided that I was going to be the one to find him.

Ever since, I'd been researching, traveling, and even doing some criminal detective work, all in the hopes of finding my lost cousin. Like I was right now, researching possible locations where Nick might have gotten lost. I was hot on a lead of a kidnapping ring, when an irking interruption came in the form of a knock on the door.

"Hey, I need to get to bed, so get off the computer and out of my room!"

My sister. What was her problem. Didn't she know this was important research? I was so close. I ignored her and zeroed in on some German articles about the kidnappings.

Oh, did I mention I can speak German? Ich spreche Deutch sehr gut. Or wait… Was it, Ich spreche sehr gut Deutch? One thing is for sure: Das Boot means 'boot'. A lot of German words are the same or similar to English ones like that. Yep, without a doubt, that's what Das Boot means. I think there was a movie called that. Probably about the fairy tale of the old woman in the shoe. It's funny though…. For some reason, I'm remembering something about the ocean? Oh well. At any rate, I was a little rusty, so I used a translation program to put the news articles about the kidnappings into English.

"Hey! Stop playing your dumb RTS game! It's my room! Get out!"

If you don't like it, don't put the family computer in your room. Ugh. Sisters are the worst. Doesn't she know I'm trying to find everyone's favorite nephew? Now let's see: string of kidnappings of German tourists all over the world, year after year, dating back to half a year after Nick was kidnapped and continuing to the present. Could he have been the first victim?

The doorknob rattled, and there was a furious pounding on the door. "Goddamit, I have school tomorrow! I have to get to bed! Get out!"

Would you keep it down? What do you think I locked the door for? Seriously. So freaking noisy. You don't even deserve to know how close I am to the truth, so I'm just going to ignore you. But it was getting late, so I got out a flashdrive so I could download the news articles.

"I'm going to kill you!"

Well, this could get serious. Now I really didn't want to open the door. My sister was a scrapper. We'd gotten into tons of fights before. I remember one time, I gave her a black eye. What? It was self-defense. She's always the one who attacks me. That should be obvious from how annoying she is. She's loud and violent, plus a biter and a scratcher, and I've got the scars to prove it. I've got four clawmarks across my face from when she almost gouged my eye out.

"Boy, what are you doing? Let your sister in her room!"

Uh oh. Backup. Even I didn't think my sister would sink so low. If Dad was here, then I didn't have much time to get those research files. There was some data I'd like to have, but I guess I'd have to settle.

"What are you doing in there? You better not be using my credit card to buy those crappy action figures again. And don't use it for those free trials for subscription services either! I got charged fifty dollars the last time!"

First of all, they're not crappy action figures. They're collectible figures, and they're awesome. And as for the second thing, I admit that I messed up on that one. Didn't realize automatic renewal was set on by default. That's how those subscription services get you. Guess that explains why you have to put in a credit card for a free trial. Live and learn.

Oh, look at that. Data's done downloading. That was the longest minute of my life. Well, the longer I kept Dad waiting, the angrier he'd get. I pulled the drive free, kicked the chair back, and threw myself at the door to unlock it. After shooting a furious glare my way, my sister scurried past me into her room and slammed the door. What awaited me outside was a fate worse than death. I don't even want to write about the terrible and totally unjustified tongue lashing my dad gave me. It was some kind of lecture about something or other. It was hard to tell what he was talking about, what with all the screaming and angry proclamations. And even after he'd calmed down, he still casually cursed up a storm. I nodded and said I understood whatever it was he'd said, and that I wouldn't do it again. As soon as escape was possible, I ducked into an adjacent room, my room.

Well, that was awful. But at least I had the flashdrive. Though come to think of it, a flashdrive wouldn't do me much good without a computer to plug it into… Oh well. If I couldn't continue my research, it'd just have to wait until tomorrow. I played some video games to relax before trying to get to sleep. Until my Dad woke up on account of an explosion and yelled at me for that too and told me to get to bed. Well, he couldn't complain about reading a book. Except he did. Guess he saw my light on. Sheesh, what's his problem? I'm not a little kid. And how am I supposed to get to sleep when I'm on the verge of a breakthrough on the case?

I guess that was the price for keeping my work a secret. But what choice did I have? If I told them, then they'd say it was too dangerous, what with all the potential for Nick's disappearance to have been originated by dangerous cryptids or secret organizations with their sights set on world domination. That was the kind of stuff I dealt with, whether they liked it or not. But I didn't need them trying to stop me, so best to keep it secret.

The kidnapping ring I'd found was promising, but all my promising leads in the past had all led to dead ends. Maybe it was time I let one person in on the secret, so that I could ask what she knew about what happened. Too much time had passed, and there was no longer any room for errors. That's what I was thinking as I drifted off to sleep.

The next day, I decided I was going to get to the bottom of things, no matter the cost. But first, there was a board meeting scheduled at my grandpa's company, and I was subbing for Grandpa. I still remember the first one I'd gone to. All the bigwigs were in a panic over some financial problems or something. It must have been bad, because their advisor kept saying, "This is bad!" I'd only been eight, so I'd just been sitting in, not paying attention. I'd been provided a meal from a nearby restaurant, and after finishing, I'd started mixing condiments together at random in a dipping cup, just to kill time. My grandpa, who had just been sighing and shaking his head all the while the other executives ran in circles, tearing up papers and throwing the scraps into the air, noticed what I was doing. He took the cup from me and stuck his pinkie finger in it, then had a taste. He was impressed. It seemed it was the solution to the company's problems. All the executives tasted my secret sauce, and their panic died down. They decided to sell it, and it was a big hit. Basically, what I'm saying is that I singlehandedly saved the company with my culinary ingenuity.

But the present meeting wasn't so exciting as that one. Pretty standard expenditures and profit analysis. My stuffy suit, combined with the sweltering summer heat, was killing me. I would have just skipped it, but of course, I was the only one present who could protect the best interests of the company and its employees. The only thing the executives cared about was their bonuses. Plus, I had to make sure they didn't try to close my traveling expenses account. So just as soon as I'd convinced those greedy miscreants that dumping nuclear waste in a river to reduce disposal costs at our power plant was as short-sighted as it was illegal, I was out of there.

Onward! Yes, time was running out. Innumerable things could have happened to Nick after so many years went by. But as it turned out, I still didn't have the full story about his disappearance. Only one person did, but I hadn't been able to ask her. And that one person was my aunt, Nick's mother. She'd been traumatized, naturally, so it hadn't seemed right to ask her. But with so much at stake and no time left, it was time to bite the bullet and get the full story.

After having my whole morning sucked up into a black hole of tedium, I was a little tired; but no matter! There'd be time to nap on the limo ride over. I told the chauffeur to get me to my aunt's house. And of course, he knew where that was without me explaining it. He'd been my grandpa's chauffeur for years, and he'd driven there hundreds of times (Don't tell my mom, but Auntie was Grandpa's favorite daughter. Probably because she's a lot nicer than his other daughters).

When I got to my aunt's house, I got a warm welcome. She offered some store-bought cookies and strawberries. I took a cookie, but had to remind her that I was allergic to strawberries. Well, I sat down and had some cookies as my aunt went about tidying up. The place was a tad messy. A pile of clothes had been thrown down on a sofa chair, and there were crumbs all over the counters and floor. Oh well. Can't be helped if the place is a little, or maybe a lot, messy, on account of Auntie grieving for her lost son. Speaking of which, guess I'd better ask her about that.

"Uh, Auntie, about, er… Nick. What happened to him?" Sometimes I surprise myself at how suave and eloquent I am when broaching delicate subjects.

Auntie showed visible signs of being troubled by the question, such as a frown and downcast gaze, but that was to be expected. After a moment, she smiled and gave me an answer. "He was on a select soccer team. His team went to do some training at soccer camp, but Nick and everyone else disappeared. The police never found them."

Of course! Nick was a big soccer player! Well, in England, Germany, basically anywhere else in the world, they'd call it football. Why am I telling you that? Just in case you had any doubts about how well-traveled I am. But more importantly, this new lead was a big step in the right direction. I was sure of it. Pressing my aunt further, I learned that the soccer camp had been held in South America. That made sense since the sport was real popular there. Forget that dumb kidnapping ring conspiracy lead: I knew exactly where I wanted to look. Yeah, there were all sorts of jungles with dangerous flora and fauna on that continent, so I'd just pick the one closest to where the soccer training had been.

After some niceties and farewells, I was off to South America. I bought my plane tickets, readied gear and provisions, notified my grandparents where I was going, and was off the very next day. Putting on my explorer's gear (which was all long-sleeved, since I was an expert, and only idiots leave their arms and legs open to bug bites), I headed into the jungles, where Nick's team had gone to get some intense soccer training done. Pretty sure I saw a giant spider stalking me on the way. But I scared it away with a shrill shriek (they can't stand high-frequency noises). I made it to the site of the old encampment. There were a few scraps of tents caught on trees and some rusty iron bars for soccer goals, but other than that, nature seemed to have reclaimed the space. Even the fire pit was covered in poison ivy. That's a jungle for you. Wild and dangerous. That's why I tell amateurs to stay in the cities.

I noticed some hoofprints, but it was too fresh. Didn't look like I'd be able to get anything from the camp. Too many years had gone by. Any spoor in the area wouldn't tell me anything. I followed a deer trail to a lake, where I filled up a vial. The sample was just for testing. I'd brought my own bottled water, of course. You can't trust random water sources these days, what with all the pollution. But I liked to collect research samples to find out just how rotten and polluted the world was.

Anyway, after that I sat down on a stump and rested for a little while. You have to pace yourself. Not good to push yourself too hard. As I looked out on the shining green lake, I wondered if Nick and his teammates had used it for swimming. It was close enough to their camp, after all. Well, as I was pondering that, the sun started to set, and the waters started to look like shifting shadows. It was time for me to set up camp. I did some risk management, hanging my food supplies from a tree so wild animals wouldn't maul me in my sleep, setting up a tent to keep the elements out, and using a knapsack so that my back wouldn't have to touch the icky mud and potentially poisonous plants covering the ground. I was so tired from hiking that I got to sleep right away. The adventure novel I was reading also helped.

Before the sun had risen, I woke to a most unpleasant sound: the drip-drop cascade of rain. It turned into a downpour before long, transforming the ground into a slushy mud. After collecting all my camping gear and food supplies, my boots were caked in the mucky stuff. And that before I'd even begun hiking. The day was bound to be unpleasant.

There was one other problem: I didn't have a poncho. I'd brought one, of course, because I'm an expert survivalist, and you can't go to high precipitation areas without a poncho. But I'd, uh… lost it the previous day. Tiger attack. Yep, that's right. Forgot to mention it before. Jumped at me and tore a hole in my supplies bag. I had to kick it off of me. Barely got away with my life. But my poncho lost its life. Necessary sacrifice.

Well, without my poncho, I had to improvise, otherwise I'd get drenched, and getting drenched leads to hypothermia, which leads to death when you're this far from civilization. After taking the stakes from my tent, I draped it over myself and tied it with the rope I'd used to hang my supplies. Not a perfect solution by any means (there were literally holes in my plan, you might say), but it would keep me from getting soaked to the bone. Whew. Crisis averted, thanks to my incredible ingenuity. Just in time, too. The downpour intensified.

I grit my teeth and soldiered on. There was a lot of ground to cover in this jungle, and I didn't have the luxury of waiting for nice weather to do it. When you're adventuring you don't have any luxury. That's the difference between an adventurer and a tourist. Some people can't take the harsh conditions, but not me. I love the challenge, because I'm the real deal.

The rain was deafening, and it limited my vision as I trekked down the path. I almost stepped on some colorful, poisonous frogs. I probably would have been alright since I had my boots, but it's best not to provoke or squish such creatures. Next time, croak louder so I can hear you over the rain, you dastards.

Well, the next thing to happen was… I got sloppy.

Suddenly, I found myself attacked by an unknown assailant. I'm always on-guard, but the rain meant I couldn't hear anything. My attacker came at me from behind, pulled a wooden shaft to my throat, and tried to choke me out. I couldn't breathe and everything was going black fast. I could feel the life getting sucked out of me. That was nearly the end of me. It's fortunate that I'm something of a martial arts enthusiast.

I jabbed the cocky fool with a sharp elbow to the gut. That got him to loosen his grip. I took in a long breath of air before unleashing my next move: my deadly shoulder throw. Once I'd floored the guy, I finally got a good look at him. A boy, around my age, garbed only in a leaf skirt, upper body and face covered with mud. The wooden spear which he'd tried to strangle me with lie on the ground beside him. I snapped the shaft in half with my boot, rendering the weapon useless.

I hadn't expected someone to use the cover of the rainfall to ambush me, but this might be a lead. I needed answers from this boy. It was possible he knew the whereabouts of my cousin. So I asked him. Why had he attacked me? Where was he from? But he just looked at me with a dumb, dazed look. Did he not understand language? I'd met with so-called 'primitive' people before, so I knew that they were a lot less primitive than most people think. They're not afraid of technology, and some of them even use GPS to keep trespassers off their territory. But this boy was giving off a different vibe. He had a feral look in his eyes and was dressed like some kind of wild man. Like, straight-up raised-by-wolves wild.

That was what I thought before he sat up, gave me a smug grin, and nodded. "Sup?"

That was surprising. It still didn't seem like he understood my questions, but was he capable of speech after all? That was good. If he'd been raised by wolves for his whole life, it wouldn't have been possible for him to learn. Not everyone knows this, but language acquisition has to take place during the early phases of brain development, and once you're an adult it isn't possible, barring a miracle.

At any rate, the boy wasn't trying to kill me anymore. I tried introducing myself the simple way, pointing at my chest and saying my name. The boy responded, pointing at himself and saying, "Brad." Off to a good start. I showed him the lost child picture of my cousin. He snatched it from me and squinted at it for a while.

Slapping his hand on the picture, Brad looked at me and said, "Warrior Nick." He stood up and dashed to a tree. Looking back, he motioned me to follow him.

I admit, I was a little stunned at the recognition Brad had seemed to show. Was I closing in on my missing cousin at last? It wasn't some trick, was it? And that "Warrior" part… What was that about? Well, I guessed that I'd find the answers if I followed Brad.

Brad took me to some kind of rudimentary hamlet, built into a hilly area of the jungle. There were burrows dug into the hills that served as shelters, and there was a low fence made of wooden stakes with vines tied between them. At the borders, there were mechanical traps that shot arrows, and mounds of giant spider corpses. Ick. Oh yeah, and there were more feral young men about. Upon closer inspection, I saw that they were wearing soccer shorts under their leaf skirts. Could they be Nick's missing teammates? They all stopped to stare at me, brandishing their spears, but Brad, still smiling smugly, tilted his head to let them know that everything was cool. He introduced me to a couple of them: Delta was a tall, chubby fellow. Did that stand for Delta Force? I'm guessing I don't want to mess with him. Another one, Cacher, was burying a bag of food.

Then Brad took me to a gazebo with a roof made of big leaves. The inside was like a throne room, and the well-poised person inside had a familiar face. Sitting on an old rusty spinning chair that I assumed this band had gotten from a nearby dump, was the face of my long-sought cousin, aged by ten years from the poster, sans glasses. Or so I suspected, at least. But what other genius could have constructed those traps around the village, and the two robot guards? Those were just like scarecrows, right? They couldn't actually move, could they? Well, I wasn't about to test them or their sharp spears.

Brad, Delta, and Cacher kneeled, and I followed suit. In a reverent voice, Brad said, "Warrior Nick!"

Warrior Nick spoke with the three of them in an incoherent babble. It was totally incomprehensible, but at least it seemed they were capable of some kind of language. At times, they addressed me and waved their hands and said things. From their gesticulating I gathered that Nick had been bitten by a radioactive mouse, and that was why he was their leader. Or something. Hard to be sure what they meant, wiggling their arms like that. I nodded, pretending to understand, then they went back to whispering amongst themselves. When they were done explaining the situation, or whatever it was they were saying, Warrior Nick looked at me. He pointed and said my name.

Slowly, I stood. In a methodical, deliberate voice, I spoke, while also pointing and miming so that I could get my meaning across. "Go home. I take home."

The wild men fell into whispers. Again, it was incomprehensible. I was hearing a lot of "yolo". What language was that? At any rate, they all started nodding as if they'd come to a conclusion. Then Delta and Cacher went to a box by Nick's throne and pulled out a well-preserved video game console. What the hell? Where'd they get that? Even if they'd brought it for their soccer camp all those years ago, they wouldn't have been able to play it in the wilderness. With great reverence the two carried it between them, like it was the Arc of the Covenant or something. With the sacred treasure secure, Nick got off his throne and nodded at me, as if saying to lead the way.

I have to say, I was tingling all over as I led that band of wild men out of the jungle. After all, if their leader really was my cousin Nick, then I was drawing to the conclusion of my quest. Why wouldn't I be excited? It would pretty much be my biggest achievement to date.

Somehow, it didn't seem like the best idea to take the band of spear-carrying kids through a city to an airport. Plus, there was no time to figure out their legal status. I called my grandpa's private airplane into an open field so I could smuggle them out. I took them back with me to the states. But I wasn't quite ready to tell everyone the news. I wanted to make sure these boys were civil before I reintroduced them to society. Speaking proper English, dressing appropriately, getting caught up on vaccinations, and leaving their spears at home. Took me about a week.

Thanks to my genius, I'd put Nick back to his normal, robot-building, soccer playing self. Still had a tendency to walk around in his underwear. A side effect of his time in the wild, I guess. The therapists would have to pick up where I left off if they wanted to cure him. So, it was time to present him to the family. I called up all my relatives, told them the good news, and told them to get a party started to celebrate my achievement.

When I brought Nick, the family had a real tearful reunion. There was hugs and tears, and all that sappy stuff. I gave Nick and his mother some space. I knew the time to bask in the glory of my heroic rescue would come.

Yeah, any second now. Well, the sappy tears stuff ended after an eternity, but all my relatives seemed more interested in talking with Nick, asking him about his adventures in the jungle and how he'd survived all these years. I'm the one who brought him back, you know. Nick seemed to cast some kind of spell over everyone with his story. Come on, what's so great about him? Athletic, smart? Sure. I've got that, too. Well, I guess he did sort of have an amiable personality that drew you in. No wonder he was the center of attention.

Darn it. I did too good a job fixing him up. Done in by my own insurmountable talent. All my cousins, aunts, and uncles only wanted to talk to Nick. Even Grandpa was under his spell. So this is what it meant about Nick being the darling of the family, eh? Nobody could compete with the top favorite, no matter how awesome he was. Somehow, I had a feeling I wouldn't be able to use the wealth of Grandpa's company for traveling anymore.

Hey, come to think of it, had my cousin just been saying she didn't believe in the Cajuns to rile me up?