Hold Tight to Your Children


What I am going to share with you today started many years ago. It was a time in my life marred by tragedy, severe depression and several near attempts at suicide. It took an immense amount of emotional exploration and healing as well as time, but it did lead me to my passion for travel and exploration that became the most meaningful thing in my life. The dark did eventually lead me to light. But that was only temporary.

It was six years ago that I lost my son. My heart. My wholeness. I had been a single father for almost all of Hunter’s life until then. His mother went off the rails and left for Colorado with her dealer almost immediately after recovering from her pregnancy. It seemed that the year she had spent clean had simply been too much for her. She snapped back from the unusually long period of sobriety and clearly was not able to cope with the responsibility of parenthood.

I was not perfect either. But to be fair and allow myself to simply be proud, I will say that I really stepped up as a father. With the challenges I was given, I did an exceptional job of putting myself aside and making Hunter the center of my life. I did everything for him, and the love that we shared was the most rewarding thing I had ever experienced. Until he was suddenly gone.

We had been on a three night camping trip in the Allegheny Forest. Hunter was six years old, and though he was becoming slightly more resistant to the plans I would make, he absolutely loved camping. We would sit by the camp fire at night, and he would begin these conversations that would quickly become philosophical. It was so wonderful for us to discuss whether or not we both saw colors exactly the same way, and try to answer all of the child like questions that would lead to mystical and esoteric exploration.

It was mid afternoon when we broke to eat lunch. We had just climbed hundreds of vertical feet to the top of an incredible waterfall. We sat, eating cheese and pepperoni on the boulders near the head of the falls. We rested, lied back and warmed our bodies in the sun. Fat and happy we soon both swooned in the beating sunlight and took a small siesta. I remember maybe thirty minutes of that strange dreamy, restful but half conscious sleep that happens in direct sunlight. Odd shapes and scraps of memory paraded through my semi-consciousness.

When I turned on my side to check on Hunter, he was gone. There was no one in the area. I called for him and searched for hours alone, absolutely distraught. I cannot even allow myself to describe the state I was in because frankly, I cannot bear to come anywhere near to experiencing that feeling again. Please forgive me. I cannot.

After what seemed like two hours a family came hiking through the area I was in. I told them what had happened through tears and worry beyond comprehension. Within hours the rescue teams came in, along with local police and the hunt began. Bless these men and women. Bless them and bless the local people who took part in the search. For five full days they searched, day and night, through storms and overcast skies. I never had a single moment where I thought that more could have been done for my boy. My heart. My life.

After five days there was no choice but to slow and then stop the search. There was not a single sign of Hunter. There was nothing, and in the end after another five days of my wandering the trails, scanning the waters, and haunting that forest like a ghoul, I went home. The moment my front door shut behind me as I entered, my soul was destroyed. Coming home without Hunter was very nearly the end for me.

I drank constantly for months. I took painkillers, frequently mixing the two in the extreme, nearing overdose many times. It was during this period that my sister visited. We had been estranged for years at this point. I won’t go into detail and I don’t want to be unfair, so I will just say that our personalities just never meshed. It was like mixing fire and gasoline every time we met. We always loved each other but the incredible intensity of our respective personalities was simply too much to exist peacefully in one space.

She did love me. She did care. She invited herself without my knowledge, showing up at my home on a Tuesday with her new one year old, Jessie in tow. She found me in my boxers, nearly unresponsive, unkempt, unshaven, and living in filth. She stayed for a week, cleaning, propping me up, getting me involved in grief groups. She even found out that my friend Tony from school had lost his daughter just a year before Hunter went missing, and put us in touch. I tried so speak with him and share the common experience, but he seemed never to be able to open up. I would try to share my grief and he would just cry and say nothing, clearly turning inwards with his pain.

My sister did help, but I had a very difficult time being around her daughter. It was simply too much to live in that house with her child. Eventually when she felt that I was stabilizing, she returned home and consistently checked in with me on the phone or on Skype when she wanted to see my face, and see that I was not failing back into severe self-medication. For the most part this did not happen. For the next three years I was on a slow and painful journey, but it was a journey towards partial recovery.

At this point I had come to my life’s passion. Over those years I discovered that the thing that made me feel most whole was exploring new places. I became a seeker. I had sold my small house, collected unemployment and traveled full time. I would stay in hostels at times, camp often, and once in while treated myself to a nice hotel room where I would shower for hours and sleep like a baby. I traveled much of Europe, spent some time in Chile and Bogota, lived in Spain for several months, but eventually returned to the States to begin camping up and down the east coast.

The day that my life changed again was during a hike through the thick forests of Maine. It was after noon and slightly overcast which gave the woods this rich mossy feel. As usual I was hiking and contemplating the universe. Thinking about reality and how the level of randomness in probability theory must ensure the possibility of the incredible. My mind often wandered towards such elusive and mind bending topics. However, before this day I had never actually experienced the possible impact of such expansive considerations.

I had left the marked trail perhaps twenty minutes previous and was exiting a very thick section of forest, into a small clearing. I stopped dead in my tracks, my eyes widening and my mouth gaping like a buffoon.

There before me was a gentleman sitting in a leather chair in his living room, wearing a paisley silk robe. When I say he was sitting in his living room, I mean it. However there was no house. In this small dark clearing there stood the entire physical contents of what appeared to be a very dated, but classy living room. He sat with his legs crossed, one slipper dangling over his knee next to a standing lamp in front of a mahogany coffee table. There was a very old wooden radio in “the room” and a small fireplace with free-standing chimney burning and smoking before him. The only other actual structure whatsoever was a single door, and door frame behind the man. Everything else was just a collection of common household items. Picture frames on a small side table. A set of coasters, and glass of whiskey on the coffee table in front of this gentleman.

“Well, hullo!” The man put down the book he had been reading and rose to greet me with a wide, welcoming smile beneath his thin black mustache. “If you would forgive my informal attire, I would love for you to join me for a moment.”

I stared blankly trying to comprehend this situation as the man remained standing, laying a welcoming hand toward the chair beside his. I cannot tell you what I was thinking. I don’t know if I was thinking. The oddness of this experience seemed to lead to some strange state of hypnosis. The result was that this was an incredibly unique and valuable experience, and I had no choice but to be a part of it. Doing otherwise would be to cast aside a miracle.

I calmly approached the man, skirting around his furniture and introduced myself, shaking his hand. I remember that his hand was incredibly warm, almost hot. The whole space he was set in felt exceptionally warm in comparison to the forest I had been exploring.

“My name is Jack. My mother used to call me Cracker Jack as a child. I must have been quite the handful” he smirked warmly as we both sat. “So what brings you to my home here today?”

I explained that I had spent the last year exploring and camping, dodging several inquiries about what had lead me to this lifestyle. I was generally mesmerized by the situation, but could not bear to tell this strange man of my loss.

He pushing a small plug of tobacco from a pouch on his side into his pipe and lit it. He inhaled deeply, raising his eyebrows slightly. His eyes narrowed, examining my face very closely.

“We just met sir. I understand your trepidation. But I am only here for a very short time. I am happy to share this time with you, this unique opportunity for connection. But I do know why you travel. I do know why you seek.”

His eyes locked mine as if they were trapping a rabbit. He peered intensely and I could feel him seeing me in fullness. It was not entirely uncomfortable. It felt like I used to feel as a young child when I prayed. It felt like God could see every corner of me being in completeness, but there was benevolence there. He saw me, and it was perfectly safe.

“Hunter.” he whispered.

I put my face in my hands. I had no compunction to ask him how or why he might know my son’s name. There was nothing there for me but the sorrow that this name still evoked. I was seen. I was laid bare to this man.

“Yes, Hunter. Such a wonderful child, and such a terrible loss for you. Let us end that loss, Michael. Shall we?”

I raised my eyes to look at the man, wondering what he could have possibly meant. I did at this point start to feel slightly anxious.

His answer was to put his pipe on the coffee table, slowly rise, turn, and open the door behind him.

My God.

Standing there was Hunter. He was just exactly as he was the day he was lost. He was the same age and wearing the same clothes. His face lit up seeing mine, and he ran to me embracing my neck with his warm, wonderful smelling arms.

My knees gave out completely, dropping me to the ground to accept this unworldly embrace. I cried and collapsed as my hands explored and felt his little body. His face, his birthmarks, the way his hair smelled and his bright little eyes were just as they were. He was here. It was him. My boy. My heart. My love.

After several minutes of just holding him I raised my questioning face to the man in the robe.

“I want nothing more than to send you home with your son as soon as possible.” He stated. “As I am sure that you understand. I have done something wonderful for you and it is only fair that you may offer to return the favor, yes?”

“Anything.” I whispered through my tears. And I meant it fully. There was nothing I would not do, for this to be reality.

“I appreciate that. And I can see that you are being completely honest with me.” he sounded so very sincere. “You may take your son home now and enjoy the rest of both your lives, and I ask only one thing. In one year I will visit you. At this time I will make one single request. You must do that one thing for me. It will be a small simple errand. It is the only thing I ask in return for your wonderful boy.”

“Yes.” I said simply.

“Very well Michael. Be on your way then, enjoy every minute and every facet of that wonderful young man.” He smiled at both of us and ushered us away from the living area, and back toward the path.

Just as I had walked out of the forest missing Hunter years previous, I now left this forest with my son by my side. He remembered nothing of the years after our previous trip and seemed completely and utterly himself. We talked, and joked, and hugged occasionally as we made our way to the trail, then to the lot, and then back to Pennsylvania where I located a job and bought a small condo. I could not go back to our home town since there would be too many unanswerable questions, so we started a new life. Hunter and I spent every waking moment fully engaged with each other until he started school. This entire time I continued to speak with my sister but could never determine any possible way to share the knowledge of Hunter’s return. The story was too odd, too unbelievable for me to consider attempting to explain. I simply lived in the bliss of having him back, and decided that knowledge of his existence would be mine alone.

Shortly after Hunter’s seventh birthday I dropped him off at school and headed home. I descending the steps into the building’s laundry room with a basket slung over my shoulder. I stepped through the laundry room door to find myself standing in a timeless, 1950’s style living room with the man from the forest sitting in that same leather chair before the fireplace at the eastern wall. Everything was exactly as it had been in the forest, except that there were walls surrounding the room rather than forest.

“Michael, wonderful to see you!” He rose and shook my hand.

I immediately fell into the chair by his side, feeling strangely worried and defeated. I didn’t think that he would take Hunter away from me, and I did not necessarily fear the request that I knew he would present. It was just simply that I knew the score. I was a passive party here, with a job to do. And I would be informed as to what that job was and I would do it without question.

I was correct.

Jack very simply explained to me that I needed to convince my sister and her husband to take a camping trip. It did not matter where, as long as the forest was thick and dark. Furthermore, I must convince them to bring their daughter Jessie.

I did it. I knew, and I did it. In fact it was even worse than that. The moment I heard the request, everything fell into place. I realized immediately that my old high school friend Tony had lost his child almost exactly a year before Hunter went missing. I knew that Jessie was next in line for the same fate, and that this might continue forever, in a never ending chain of parental despair unless someone stopped the cycle.

I truly hope that someday, someone will. Until then I live for my beautiful growing boy. My heart. My love. My soul.

I never expected to be writing here again. Frankly I am devastated that this is the case. I wrote my first post as a means of confession, to display my sin to the world and ask for understanding. Thank you to everyone who commented and suggested alternative courses of action, as well as those who simply expressed sympathy for my decision. I am now in the very unfortunate position to admit that my choice had been the wrong one after all. I thought I was saving my son. I now know that I was sorely mistaken.

I will pick up where I left off in my last post. I had submitted completely to the man who seemed to have the power to appear and take my child at will, by promising to deliver to him the daughter of my sister. That very day I reserved a small vacation cabin in the same forest in which I had lost my son. I called my sister to explain that I had reserved that cabin each year and had forgotten to discontinue the repeating reservation. I told her that I could not bear to be there, but I would feel honored for their family to use the cabin as a tribute to the wonderful times that Hunter and I had spent there throughout his life. The ploy worked perfectly and my sister, her husband and their daughter Jessie made arrangements to take a vacation.

I was crushed after I hung up the phone, but reminded myself over and over that this was the only option. This was the only way that my beautiful boy could remain in this world and lead a full life. Besides which, she would be returned, good as new sometime in the future. It was selfish, but only as much as it was protective. I could not convince myself that I was doing the right thing. I could only manage to steel myself against changing my decision. I literally felt as if I was turning to stone, bound to accepting and participating in this madness out of unquestionable necessity.

Two days previous to the reservation I received a visitor. I was surprised to hear a knock at my door, as I had made almost no social connections in our new home. I immediately feared that it was my sister who I dreaded facing in person.

I opened the door to find Tony. I had not seen him in almost seven years but recognized him immediately. He had changed and not for the better. He looked like he had aged twenty years. His hair was grey, his shoulders slumped, and his face seemed to droop from his skull as if it had given up holding on to his skull quite some time ago.

“Thomas.” it stuck in his throat, and took him a second to recover. “I think you know why I am here.” His eyes looked up from his lowered head like a dog who knows he is about to be punished.

“Yes. I do.”

“We need to talk.” clearly relieved at my measured response. “Samantha is in the car, I didn’t want to bring her to the door right away. I didn’t know….” his head dropped again. “May I bring her in?”

“Sure. Hunter is playing in his room. She can join him.”

Tony went to the rusty station wagon parked on the curb and helped his daughter from the car. I could immediately sense that she was not well. She seemed to lean to one side, favoring her left foot and Tony held the palm of his hand to her back all the way up to my door.

I looked down to greet her as best as I could, but stopped dead. Samantha was about twelve years old. She clearly had a cataract in one eye, was shuffling with her bad leg, was missing at least one tooth in the front and seemed to be developing grey in her hair.

“Hi Sam” I managed to expel in a shuddering whisper.

I looked up to see Tony’s eyes welling with tears, locked onto mine intensely. He needed to say nothing. What he had come to discuss was already quite clear. My heart sank as the full scope of the situation became apparent to me.

No. It could not happen again. I had lost my boy for years, I could not fucking do it again. A rage burned in me as I thought about this happening to Hunter. I raged at my choices, at my lack of fight, at my deception and assistance in spreading this cancer. I held it deep inside to smolder and burn as I introduced Sam and Hunter until they were comfortable playing together alone with Hunter’s door shut.

The moment it closed I pulled Tony into the den. I opened my mouth to begin questioning him, but he beat me to it.

“She was fine for about nine months. Everything was perfect.” He began to weep again. “Then she got sick. They thought it was just a bad flu and treated her with antibiotics. Then her leg. They couldn’t figure it out, but they tested her for bone cancer which came up negative. Then her teeth began falling out, then her eye, and just….” He fell to the ground, squatting awkwardly. “It’s just getting worse, faster and faster.”

My mind raced. Nine months. I could only assume that this would also happen to Hunter in in a similar time frame. I dropped to the floor and sat, putting my hand on Tony’s back as he struggled to regain his composure. I could not hate this man. I understood his actions all too well.

After a time, we both made our way to the couch and talked for several hours. We compared stories and started a mental examination of the details of our interactions with this man, Jack. One of the first differences that stood out was that Jack’s demand of Tony was simply to choose a child that he knew. Someone that he had ties to. As you may remember Jack had demanded that I actually arrange the trip that would lead to the abduction of my sister’s daughter, Jessie. Tony indicated that myself and my son had immediately popped into his head the moment he was questioned even though he had not seen us for years. Furthermore Tony said that Jack seemed to smile knowingly after hearing our names, as if he had expected them.

Aside from that, almost everything else seemed to be basically inline with my experience. Samantha had disappeared when Tony brought her along for one of his hunting trips, the first time he had ever chosen to do so. He came upon the man on another such trip years later. His description of the contents of the “room” matched mine exactly, though Jack was dressed differently during his interaction.

At the end of several hours of conversation, emotional instability and heated debate we quickly came to a conclusion. In two days we knew where Jack would be. It would be our only chance to locate this man, capture and question him. It would be our only chance to find some way to determine if we could repair the damage done to our children, and to then ensure that it never happens again. We decided that our primary goal was to find a way to save our children, but regardless we would stop this forever.

It seemed that Tony had come prepared for this conclusion. His station wagon was loaded and ready with an array hunting and camping gear, as well as a wide collection of army surplus items. We informed the children that we would be taking them on a camping trip for which Hunter became very excited. Samantha however, took some convincing. Tony and I spent the rest of the night planning and sharing food and a couple of beers. I liked the man. He was entirely different from the boy that I had known in school, but he had a very quiet, thoughtful deepness to him while he retained a simplistic life.

We packed up and left my home early the next morning for the long drive to Allegheny. Upon arrival we located the cabin that I had reserved and spent the next few hours finding the perfect place to setup camp. We wanted to be somewhere where we could easily observe the activity of my sister’s family without making our presence known. If my sister spotted us, there would be some serious explaining to do. In the end we picked a site on the side of a hill overlooking the cabin approximately three hundred yards away. We setup our tents, got the children situated and began our preparations.

There were two trees very close to each other in front of our camp where Tony and I setup two tree-stand seats. From this height we were unlikely to be seen, and using his high powered binocular’s we had the ability to observe almost every angle of the cabin. We also prepared go-bags, knowing that at any moment we may have to move out and track the activities of my sister’s family. Since we had a night left before their arrival we also had the opportunity to examine the cabin’s surroundings a bit. We were lucky in that there was a motion detection light post near the entrance way to the cabin. Having had some experience with electrical work, I was able to rewire the light to remain on permanently. This would illuminate the grounds at night and ensure that we could clearly see any activity after sundown.

After hours of preparation we spent the evening involved with the children by the camp fire. I remember Hunter starting to become very protective of Samantha, holding her around the waist by the fire. Tony and I met eyes and became silent at the sight of this, trying to hold back the despair, and hold onto our anger. We would catch this fucker. Jack would pay, and we would do everything possible to reverse this damage. Focusing on this was all I could do to hold onto my self.

After a moist and uneasy sleep we began our watch. We sat in the trees and each watched our children playing below, and my sister’s family arriving and beginning to move luggage into the cabin. It was very odd to silently and remotely watch every move they made, trying to fill the silence of their distant conversations in my mind as I tracked their movements. Throughout the day Tony and I took turns watching, and spending time with our kids. When they made trips to the park offices Tony tracked them, taking his walkie with him to alert me of any unusual activity. Most of the day passed without incident, and they did not leave the cabin often, likely just settling in and relaxing.

That night was when it happened. Tony and I both were in the trees and completely alert, each watching the cabin with our binoculars when we saw the front door swing open. Little Jessie stepped out in her white nightgown, and closed the door very cautiously. We watched as she stepped off of the front porch onto the lawn and pointed her finger straight in front of her, eyes wide. She then slowly spun as if drawing a circle in the air around her with her finger-tip, then stopped facing directly to the west. Jessie then lowered her arm and began walking in that direction into the woods. The way she was headed was perhaps only thirty degrees from our campsite, so she would pass us by two hundred feet or so. This gave us time to do a bit of extra preparation.

We grabbed our bags, and told the children that we were going to take a nighttime hike. We told them that we had seen Hunter’s cousin Jessie and were going to make a game of following and protecting her. I cannot say that either child bought our story completely but they complied. Tony had brought a hiking backpack that had a child’s seat built into it. Samantha was much too old for this, but he managed using it to carry her as we followed Jesse. The moon as nearly full and the night was clear so we did have enough illumination to be able to navigate safely without using our flashlights and risking discovery.

In approximately thirty minutes we started to see this warm light in the woods directly ahead of Jessie. We again stressed that we needed to be exceptionally quiet to Samantha and Hunter, and cautiously continued until we had a full view of the scene from a hundred feet away.

There he was. Jack was sitting in his leather chair dressed to the hilt in a full tuxedo, and surrounded by his complete collection of living room furniture. This time the lamp was off, and instead his little “room” was decorated by tens of candles.

“Take Sam.” Tony whispered urgently.

Withing a minute I had her off of his back and situated. Jessie was quickly approaching the “room” and Tony was fitting an arrow to his hunting bow.

I lowered down to a squat and told Hunter and Sam that Jessie was in serious trouble, and that the man in the distance was evil. I asked them to sit quietly and close their eyes while Tony and I made sure that Jessie was safe. They accepted this and did what I asked of them, though clearly they were beginning to become very anxious. Again Hunter reached out and comforted Sam as they sat facing the other direction.

“Five… Four… ” Tony began, setting the pace and then becoming silent.

I heard him inhale, and exhale as the arrow flew through the air. The moment I saw it strike Jack, I yelled Jessie’s name and ran toward her as we had planned. I was there in seconds scooping her up in my arms protectively. She seemed to come to as she said my name in surprise. I ran with her back to Hunter and Samantha and commanded the three of them to stay exactly where they were, as Tony and I headed toward Jack.

We could see that Jack had by now pulled the arrow from his right shoulder where it had been lodged. He held it in his hand as he peered at us walking slowly toward him. His recognition took a moment, but it came.

“Well, look who it is! Winner Winner, Chicken Dinner!” he boomed.

Tony and I picked up our pace, seeing that he was mobile. The last thing we wanted was for him to escape, leaving us without answers.

Jack reached quickly into the pocket of his jacket and extracted something, heading for the door. It appeared that he was attempting an escape so Tony yelled for me to tackle him as he stood firm and fired another arrow. The arrow struck his right leg, as he inserted the key into the door and turned it.

The moment the key was turned, the contents of the room seemed to fall and spread in a million loose, smoky particles around him. As I entered the area I could see the dark wood colored cloud that had been his coffee table swirling around my legs. In the split second it took me to reach the man himself, Jack had taken the arrow that he had freed from his shoulder, and plunged it into his own neck as he stared at me dead in the eye. He fell.

I dropped and turned his body over, blood gurgling from his mouth and throat. I demanded he tell me how to help our children, demanded that he fix what he had broken. He only looked me in the eyes calmly as he shivered and then fell silent and still. His body was now the only thing in the darkening clearing. All seemed lost. Jack was dead, but our children had no remaining hope. I sat upon the cold ground and mourned. I mourned what I would soon have to face, watching Hunter die a slow death. This failure far outweighed the success we had in ending the man before me.

Tony headed back to collect and protect the children. After a time I began to examine Jack’s body, all while wondering what exactly to do with it. Upon his person, in the interior of his jacket pocket, was one single item. A letter. It was elegantly penned, stamped and sealed with a small wax circle, crest and all.

Over the next ten or so hours, Tony and I completed our immediate work. We returned all three children to the cabin, giving hurried and worrisome information to my sister. We told her enough to allow us to leave, return to the scene and bury Jack deeply. We came back afterwards, tired and dirty and explained everything from start to finish to my sister and husband. I don’t know what I expected from that conversion, but at this point I am positive that it is the last one I will ever speak with them. We packed up and returned to my home, the four of us together.

We repeatedly studied, examined and discussed he contents of the handwritten letter we had found on Jack’s person, which were as follows:


Jack D.

1XXX Third Street

New Orleans, Louisiana 70130

My Dearest, and most wonderfully despised Lizette,

I have heard, via my usual sources that your collection has grown by great bounds this decade. I find it disheartening that you continue to focus so mindlessly on quantity over quality.

The way you destroy this art of ours is abhorrent. The way you just end things, and leave those souls to be found in such a mundane and obvious manner. Why do you insist on this stark outcome for those we collect, my dear? There is no artistry, no beauty, no flow in what you do.

I take pride in my work. Every single one I collect is a symphony of anguish. Everyone affected by my reaping takes a journey. They follow a wondrous arc of emotion. The loss, the recovery, a miracle and then the despair of a destiny they could never have escaped. Beauty my dear. This should be about beauty!

But you have no eye for aesthetics. You base, shallow beast. This was so obvious to me the last time you murdered me. Such a poorly constructed and thoughtless action, so beneath our kind. How dare you treat me in such a gauche manner. A shotgun to the stomach. Frankly it was just like you, base and trite.

I assure you Lizette, that you will learn my artistry whether you will to or not. I will show you what can be accomplished when one is passionate about their work, rather than a mindless hoarder such as yourself. I shall do so posthaste!

All of my Love,

All of my Hate,



You can interpret this for yourself. I cannot take the time to explain what we gleaned from this letter. The most important thing however was the simplest. We had an address. We had a location. I am packing up my laptop now that I am finished writing and we are beginning our road trip to New Orleans. This is not fucking over.

It took our group three full days to get to New Orleans. It was Tony and I, our two children, all of our gear and Tony’s cousin Theresa. We had offered to pay Theresa to travel with us and watch the children, as she was the only semi-responsible, unemployed person we knew. I didn’t know her exceptionally well, but we were positive that there was no way that Tony and I could deal with whatever might come, having the children at our side every minute.

During this trip we shared quite a lot of what had happened with Theresa, and had filled the children in on some key points. I could not bear for Hunter to know that he had this impending sickness to look forward to, so our story was simply that this man had made Samantha sick, and that we were going to find him, and force him to make her better. Samantha was very quiet throughout the journey, clearly suffering. This was heartbreaking for both Tony and I to watch this sweet little girl slowly wasting away mentally and physically. It was a lot for Theresa as well, though she did an excellent job of engaging her.

We arrived in New Orleans on a Tuesday night and checked into a moderately priced hotel. Tony and I decided that it being nighttime, it was in our best interest to immediately scope out the house under the cover of dark. Theresa was given some spending money and asked to take the children out for dinner, and generally entertain them for the evening.

We dressed in black, grabbed a couple of handguns and a small assortment of gear and headed out. We parked five blocks from the location of the house, and slowly made our way to the home. When we reached the block on which the house stood we squatted in the back yard of the home across the street. Both houses were dark, and we were able to secure a position where we could not be seen from the street.

We used our binoculars and night vision googles to visually explore the house before us. It was a gorgeous historic two-story with wrapped balconies and columns. There appeared to be no one home at this moment. We began preparing to get closer and see if we could find any possible easy entrance. Before we could cross the street however, we started hearing footsteps tapping down the sidewalk. We ducked deeply back into the shadows.

Click. Click. Click. The hard shoes tapped away at the sidewalk getting louder and louder as we saw the figure enter the lit area beneath the street light. Perfectly erect but walking languidly, Jack was approaching his front door. He was casually dressed in brown slacks and a sweater. He appeared to be just as he had been before, unharmed, unruffled and perfectly at ease. He turned from the sidewalk away from us toward his front door and stopped. The small gas lamp above his head lit, and he turned facing toward us. We watched, my breath held, as opened a small pouch, extracted his pipe, and began to smoke. He appeared to be looking directly at us, but we knew that we could not be seen. For five full minutes he stood there, perfectly still outside of the movement it took to smoke. He then tapped his pipe upon a stone near his walkway, turned and entered his home.

Tony and I had a short whispered debate about whether or not we should try to enter the house tonight. It seemed like Jack was home alone now, and we felt that we did have surprise on our side, being so soon after our last encounter. We decided against this plan since we did not have Theresa on the ready to bring the children if we managed to discover how to reverse what had been done to them.

In the end, we setup a small video camera to the side of the house we hid against, aimed at the front door of Jack’s home. We were able to connect the device to a nearby wifi hot-spot that was not password protected, so that we could view the live stream from our room. Being a hunter, Tony was very much interesting in gathering information by tracking Jack’s comings and goings. His position was that it would be best for us to enter the house when empty, and surprise him when he next came home.

That night we went back to the room and spent a few hours with the kids before turning in. We explained our plan to Theresa and made sure that she would be prepared to bring the children to that location once we signaled her via text.

We spent the entire next day watching movies, ordering pizza, and keeping a solid eye on Jack’s house. There was no activity whatsoever until about 8pm. At that time, we were alerted on my laptop that movement had been picked up on the camera. We watched as a black sedan pulled up to the house, Jack stepped into the vehicle which then promptly headed towards the city.

We acted fast. We were standing in the private back yard within thirty minutes, and quickly found a viable entrance. There was high window slightly ajar and by our estimation it likely lead to the kitchen. I was able to boost Tony first, and then Tony assisted in helping to pull me up. As we expected, we entered over the kitchen sink, and lowered ourselves into the dark room. There was just enough light coming from the windows to allow us to navigate the room. We quietly searched but we knew that we would be more likely to find information in other areas of the home.

We pushed through one of the two doors in the kitchen into a pitch dark room. We did not want to risk turning on any lights so we decided to attempt to use the night vision goggles we had brought. The moment I strapped them to my face, there was a searing pain in my eyes and head. I was confused and I tore them from my face thinking that I must have stabbed my eyes when putting them on.

After a moment my eyes adjusted to find myself standing in the center of a well lit ballroom, surrounded by about thirty men and women dressed as if they were attending a party.

“Surprise!” someone said mockingly from the back of the circled crowd. He stepped forward slowly clapping his hands. Jack stepped through the last line of participants smiling at the two of us.

“Truly a surprise to us all.” he seemed to be giving us credit as the crowd tittered and whispered amongst themselves. “We have not had your kind of distinguished company at my home in many many years. I dare not tell you just how long.”

Tony muttered an insult and made a move to charge Jack immediately. He was stopped by two thick and heavy men dressed in black suits who held under the arms.

“I like that energy, Tony! That may come in handy for you. Why don’t you save it for a moment though, we have much to discuss.”

“I’ll kill you.” Tony growled, struggling against the men restraining him.

“Ah yes, but that’t the rub, Mr. Freid.” he paused smiling, “You’ve already done that. I do so hope that both of you are adaptable. It will be a necessary quality shortly.”

Jack turned toward his surrounding circle of guests and politely requested that they move to the sides of the room. I had become fearful that their intention was to crowd in on us, and do god-knows-what, but this was not the case. Once the party guests had cleared the back of the room, we could see what had been behind them.

The back of the room housed an altar and a balcony. It was much like an altar at a catholic church, but rather then being decorated in pure white, the cloth covering the altar was red and trimmed with gold. Above the altar was an elevated platform on which stood what looked like two ornate, standing coffins. They were almost Egyptian looking, but there were some consistently different design elements that were clearly not of that origin.

Worst of all though, standing in front of these containers were Samantha and Hunter. They were bound, blindfolded and sitting Indian style before the containers, with a guard on either side of them.

Tony and I both struggled, and were now both restrained.

“Yes! You see now. This is why you are here.” he raised both arms above his shoulders indicated our children behind him. “This is always how things should be. Your love and loyalty to your offspring have brought you here. Here and now. With me, and with us. It is beyond Poetic.”

While most of the guests looked interested, chatted and sipped upon their drinks, I saw one woman push her way to the front. She must have been six foot three, tall, dark and Romanian looking. Her face was cruel, the light only increasing the shadow in her thin, shallow features.

“Let’s begin!” She croaked with a heavy accent.

Jack’s eyes rolled to the ceiling as he turned toward her. “Oh Lizette, Would you please give me a moment. Tonight’s festivities will be enjoyable for us all, but more so if we can invite our guests to understand the impact of the game. May I?” He questioned her in a mocking tone, and proceeded after several moments of her frowning silence.

“Gentlemen. You are here to save your children. I wonder however, if you understand the meaning behind what you have witnessed?”

Before I knew it I was shouting. “You take them. You steal away their lives, so that you can live. You’re vampires.”

“Very good. Much what I expected, though your mythological interpretation is a tad droll. In essence though, you are correct. They die so that we may live. I will not try to convince you that what we give back to the world is worth this sacrifice. I cannot expect you to even consider that, your position being what it is. What I can do.” he paused for several seconds “is return to you what has been taken.”

Tony and I looked at each other questioningly. Was Jack offering to reverse the damage done to our children? Would we return home with our children healthy and happy?

Jack watched us closely, smiling. He was clearly enjoying the tension in this moment and reveling in it. It was sick. His eyes, his smirk. This was his design and he took an unholy pleasure in it.

“For one of you, of course.” He let that statement settle. “In a few moments you will both be given knives. The man who kills the other will have his child restored, fully. If you refuse we will take you after we have taken your children as you watch. You see, eternity does become very tiresome. We have other needs, beyond your years. Now, you may be struck with the urge to attack me or my brethren here.” He indicated the people around the room. “I can assure you that it is simply moot. I think you now understand that there is no chance of winning in this situation, unless of course you follow the path that has been laid for you, generously by yours truly. If you choose to take a guest or two with you, so be it. I will not protest. But understand that it would simply accomplish nothing.”

Jack signaled the men at our sides. Tony was dragged to the opposite end of the room. The visitors backed against the walls, as we were made to kneel and each given long, thin stiletto blades.

My mind had been scrambling to find a way out of this, but at the point at which the knife was in my hand, the thinking had stopped. The reality of the situation took hold, and I was just a man with a knife facing an opponent.

“One more time before we begin. When one of you is killed, the other will have his child restored. At your convenience, please begin.” Jack and his guests became still, staring and examining the scene intensely.

Tony and I began to circle each other, slowly at first, then speeding up.We were just from arms reach when I whispered to him. “I have an idea.”

He looked to his left and right, as if to see if anyone had heard the communication, and clearly excited that I thought there may be a way out of this. He nodded his head to me. He was ready for me to make a move and put my plan into action. I leaned in, close to his ear getting ready to whisper my command. Then my knife was in his neck.

There was nothing for it. I was again given a choice to save Hunter, or let him die. Nothing could change this. And nothing would change my choice. Ever.

I forced myself to look Tony in the eyes as he bled out on the floor before me. I saw his pain, his anger, his submission. I think that I saw the understanding behind all of it as well though this may have been a hopeful interpretation.

The crowd moved forward, bending and examining Tony’s body excitedly. Three of them eventually carried the body out as there were raucous cheers and congratulatory looks from the party-goers. I remained kneeling, staring at my bloody hands after dropping the knife to the marble floor.

“I am so very happy that it is you. And Hunter will be as well.” Jack smiled at like a loving father would, betrayed only by his dark eyes.

The two men upon the raised platform escorted our children into the two standing coffins, and shut the covers. Shortly thereafter one of the men opened the tomb on the left and extracted the now still body of Samantha, carrying her out the same door through which they had removed Tony.

“Now, we have another winner, aside from my friend here, namely me! More importantly, we have a loser.” Jack smirked coldly. “Lizette, if you would my dear?”

Jack took Lizette’s hand in his, and lead her up the platform and guided her into the now empty casket which Samantha had occupied a moment ago. The lid was shut and I watched as everyone in the room bowed their heads in silence.

I immediately began to weep when after a minute, Jack opened the cover of the tomb on the right and Hunter stepped out. I saw the guard near him remove his blindfold, and point to me and whispering something. Hunter quickly ran down the steps to embrace me.

This was it. It was done. I had my boy, he was healthy and I could put all this behind me to move on with my son. I swept him up in my arms and stood.

“May we leave?” I asked Jack politely but forcefully.

“You may.” he stated from the platform, looking down at me. “But there is one final piece of information you may want to hear.”

The bastard actually waited until I asked him what it was before speaking again. I was once again becoming furious at these turns. I wanted out of this place, immediately.

“Your son, Hunter. He is special now. He is part of our Society. You see, due to the wager that was made, Lizette has provided your lovely son with not one lifetime, but several. Hunter will remain as he is today, strong, healthy, and energetic for just under five hundred years, thanks to his benefactor. You must also know that Hunter will remain exactly as he is today. He will not grow, age or develop any further. And, I would think, that he will continue to need his loving father in his life.”

I stood in shock. This only got worse. Each time I thought that I had made the ultimate sacrifice for my child, the reward was tainted. Each outcome worse than the last.

“You fucking bastard.” I could only whisper it as I fell to my knees.

“Yes well. I have been a bastard of this world in which you live for some time now. But I am not heartless. I have done nothing but give you choices, and now I will offer the final one. You may leave with your son and care for him until your years expire, at which point he will likely return to our society for guidance and care taking. Or you may collect on the remainder of Lizette’s wager, and live with him until you have both expired together.”

I silently took in the entire history of what lead me to this moment. I had lost my son, recovered him, gained knowledge that I would lose him again, and was now standing here after killing my friend, being offered extended life. It was too much for my mind to handle. I focused upon only one thing. My son. My Heart. My love and greatest achievement.

I took the deal, and before morning we were both headed back home. We had lost Tony. We had lost Samantha. We were informed that Theresa was no more as well. I had only one thing left, and I love him so much. I will love him for centuries to come. I will share my entire self, my entire life with Hunter, always. Until the long awaited end of our days.

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D.M. Blackwell

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By D.M. Blackwell

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