A small impact next to Derek’s head woke him up from a fitful sleep. Some unknown object had fallen from the treetops above and rolled away to some unseen resting place. Derek, still tired, had imagined hearing footsteps approaching, but there was nothing save for the gentle low hiss of his radio. The static wavered as the batteries began to finally give in. Feeling into his backpack, Derek picked out a new package of batteries and replaced them into the radio. He checked to make sure that it was on channel 6, grew accustomed to the invigorated chaotic patterns of the empty channel and slipped back into the dark silence of sleep.

“Why did you leave me back there?! I barely caught up to you, you jerk!”

“Look, if you are going to marry my sister, you better be able to take care of yourself. You found me, didn’t you? And don’t worry, I knew where you were. Just trust me, I can take care of you.” Derek smiled to himself as Henry put his backpack and knapsack on the ground next to a fallen log.

Henry stared into Derek’s eyes. “Fine,” he said, “Just don’t let things get out of hand, I don’t trust myself out here nearly as much as you seem to.”

“You’ll do fine, just stop worrying so much. And worst case scenario just pull out your radio and use channel 6, I’ll be right there to help you. Now, what would you like to eat? We have some hot dogs, or we could make a quick sandwich.” Derek said as he took a quick drink from his water bottle.

“I think I’ll go for a sandwich, we can eat the hot dogs tomorrow for lunch before we head back.”

“Sounds perfect, I’ll get everything ready, can you get some firewood? Anything dry you can find should be a good start.”

The fire pit had a few stray leaves covering the cold ashes. A few pamphlets describing Henry’s appearance and some tips on what to keep an eye out for when searching for lost hikers were strewn about. The organizers had left, the volunteers went back to their jobs, and Henry’s family had turned their attentions to funeral arrangements for an empty box. He was here. Sitting on that log, warming by that fire pit, he was here. Separated by time alone, Henry was still laughing as he laid down his sleeping bag. Where once the gentle crackling of the fire and songs sung by forests filled the shallow valley, now only the hiss of strange atmospheric forces played through the speaker of a small radio.

“I can’t believe I’d never gone camping before. Hell, it’s like I’ve never even seen the stars before! Before today all I’ve ever known is that constant urban twilight blocking out the sky at night. Here I can see the Milky Way. I used to wonder why they called it that, but it’s pretty clear now that I can actually see it.” Derek watched the stars as they imperceptibly spun around Polaris, the hub of this particular viewpoint of the universe. People from the city always seemed to wax poetic when they camp for the first time. They are so busy seeing new things that they can hardly actually enjoy what makes camping worth the effort.

“I’m going to go the bathroom before I pass out. I’ll be right back.” Derek stood up and walked off to a particularly large tree well beyond the reach of the dancing orange light. The plan was simple: just let Henry be alone until he begins to wonder, and then until he begins to worry. It’ll make for a great toast.

The sun began to fall again. The last night. After this there was no more waiting, no more wandering the woods looking for any sign of life, no matter how fleeting. Derek took a small soggy sandwich and ate it slowly. Laying down, he looked up at the cold uncaring stars. They would know what happened that night, where Henry went, but they would never tell. They might as well have been bacteria under a microscope for all they cared of our human affairs. They held an answer that Derek would never know, and as he sat there, sandwich in hand, he began to cry.

“W-who’s there? Derek?” a voice in the distance asked. “I can hear you walking around, over there, who’s there?”

Derek zipped up and opened his mouth to reply.

“I don’t want to go. I want to stay here,” the distant voice said calmly.

“Henry? Who’s over there? Don’t walk off, stay by the fire!” Derek shouted as he ran back to the fire, but for some reason he began to doubt the return path. Dancing sources of light now seemed to fill the forest in the deep dark corners. Where did they come from?

“Henry?!” It was near that rock, I know it. I just have to get there. “Henry, where are you? Answer me!”

“I want to die, it would be better.” The voice seemed to dance among the lights fading father and farther into the void of trees.

“-ou hear me? You need to hear me.” Derek shot up from an empty sleep and shot his hands to his radio. The radio struggled to amplify the weak and hollow speech.

“Henry?! Henry, is that you?!”

“Where are you, Derek?” The radio crackled and sputtered, the signal seeming infinitely weak and distant.

“I’m on the crest of the hill overlooking where we camped out. Where are you?! Henry, we can get you out of here!”

“No, we can’t.” It sounded like a whisper spoken through a shattered glass.

“What are you talking about? What happened, are you okay?” Derek turned on a flashlight and began to wave it around fruitlessly.

“I’m not okay, Derek. You didn’t take care of me. You left me.” The stratosphere seemed to shyly echo the voice.

“Henry, I-I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to go far. It was just a bit of fun.” The weight of a silly prank came down full force onto Derek’s small frame, and he shuddered.

“It’s not funny, Derek. I’m not laughing, and neither is he.”


“He takes us away, Derek, and he knows where you are. You are his.”

The radio squealed as a tall emaciated figure passed from behind a large tree trunk. He turned toward Derek in silence, and the radio cut out.

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