Suzie Morgan was the first kid to disappear. It was hot out, and the fields were full of grasshoppers. The big ones that didn’t just jump, but they also flew away from you when you tried to catch them. And if you did manage to catch one, they always pooped in your hand. I remember I was trying to catch the largest grasshopper I could find when my mama called me in to tell me about Suzie.
I felt bad that someone had went missing, but I didn’t really know Suzie all that well. She wore her hair in pigtails a lot, and I think she liked the color pink. Or maybe purple. She always smiled at me, but we never talked. I told my mama the last time I saw Suzie she was playing in the park behind the school where all the neighborhood kids liked to play. Every kid played there because when the sun started to go down, it was the best place to find lightning bugs.
The whole town got together to look for Suzie. They searched everywhere. And Suzie’s mom, Mrs. Morgan, just cried and cried. My mama baked her brownies to help make her feel better. But she just cried and cried. For days, nothing but crying.
When Suzie’s disappearance wasn’t as exciting no more, people stopped helping to look for her. I heard my mama on our porch talking to our neighbor about how Mrs. Morgan was an unfit mother who was always high. And how she worked the night shift pleasing the married men of the town, so it served her right that she lost one of her children. Plus, it was probably one her children’s fathers that came and got Suzie. There were a lot of married men in our town, so it made sense to me that Mrs. Morgan wouldn’t have time to watch Suzie or her other four kids.
They still let the neighborhood kids play in the park, even though several parents said it was unsafe. We didn’t know why. It wasn’t like the lightning bugs were actually lightning. So those of us who were allowed to, continued to play. But we had to be careful not to rip the posters of Suzie that Mrs. Morgan put up, or she’d yell all sorts of bad words if she found out.
When the cops said they had finally stopped their searching, Mrs. Morgan wasn’t the same. I don’t think she liked us much. Especially me. She came to the park every day and stared at us while she smoked. She would go through one and sometimes two packs of cigarettes just staring. Never said nothing. Just stared. Watching us. Like she didn’t want us to have any fun without Suzie.
One time, when I got too close to where Mrs. Morgan was sitting. She looked me right in the eyes and flicked her cigarette at me. All she said was “Someone’s going to find her.”
After that, I told my mama I wasn’t going to that park anymore. I wasn’t afraid of Mrs. Morgan; mama had always told me to not be around people who smoked, did drugs, or drank. Cause we were Christians. And God and my daddy were watching me from Heaven.
My daddy was the one who taught me burying treasure. We weren’t poor, but we weren’t rich in the first town we lived in. My mama worked two jobs, and my daddy had some disability that let him stay home with me. When mama was at work, he would take me out to woods behind our house and have me dig holes. Then he would have me put our valuables in. Our treasures. Money. Our nice shoes. Keys. His pills. And we’d bury them so the government people couldn’t come and take them from us.
My mama wasn’t happy with my daddy burying so many things all the time. But he never told her where they were. He didn’t tell anyone. And when he went out to his truck and accidently shot himself to heaven, he took his treasure map up with him.
After Suzie’s disappearance, I decided to bury my own treasures. And I had lots of different treasures. The largest grasshopper you ever did see. Silver bottle caps. A bible signed by our preacher. Priceless things. My daddy would have been proud. I went deep into the woods at night to bury them. Where no one would find them. Cause if someone was going to take me like Suzie, I didn’t want them getting my stuff too.
Four more people went missing over the rest of summer and fall. A kid from the far west part of town name Jackson Briar. A nursing student named Ashley Watson. Some hitchhiker who I think they said was named Teddy. And my mama said we shouldn’t worry about the last one cause she was some whore like Mrs. Morgan.
My mama stopped liking Mrs. Morgan after Ashley Watson went missing. She said Mrs. Morgan was seeking attention by having the cops talk to all the unconventional households in town like us. Mama said only a desperate slut would call the cops on a widowed mother and her son. Still, mama made sure I was on my best behavior when the cops came by our house to ask questions.
I tried my best to not be shy, but the cops made me nervous. I didn’t know how, but I was pretty sure they knew about my buried treasures. Daddy said the government had it’s ways of tracking people at all times. Thankfully, mama did most of the talking. She told them we didn’t know any of the people that went missing. And that we were home together eating and praying the nights they all went missing. Which was mostly true. I didn’t tell my mama I snuck out at night to bury treasures like daddy used to. She would whip me good if she found out.
The cops didn’t bother us after that. But they did tell us to let them know if we knew anything. One of the cops knelt down to where I was playing and said they were only looking for the truth. I didn’t say nothing back. They weren’t taking my treasures.
I didn’t go out much in winter. I hated the cold, and I still felt like the cops were watching me. The only way they were going to find my treasures was if I took them there. Cause like my daddy, I didn’t write a treasure map.
Everyone in the town knew I wasn’t very smart. Mama said I wasn’t very bright but even a dim bulb gives off enough light to see by. I did have a good memory though. I remembered everything. That’s why I kept the treasure map in my head. Daddy once told me the government wouldn’t be able to read our thoughts for another fifty years or so. So I still had some time.
No one was reported missing in winter. Everything was calm. And snowy. So much snow. The town went right back to normal. Which mama said was also because Mrs. Morgan packed up and moved away.
I did like the snow though; it made everything so pretty. My favorite was nighttime. The moonlight made the snowfall look like glitter. And everything from the day before would be covered up in a blanket of white.
When everything went back to normal, the town became happy again. The kids went back out for snowball fights and sledding. Christmas lights and decorations went up early and came down late. Mama made us hot cocoa every night before she went to bed. Even though I hated the cold, winter ended up being my favorite.
Spring was terrible. I was trying to be more independent, and Mama didn’t like that. She kept having bad feelings about things and didn’t want me leaving the house without her. Especially since I kept hurting myself when I wasn’t with her. I just wanted to show the new year that I wasn’t a little boy anymore. I was a man. But all I had was bruises and scratches. Mama called me her little daredevil and said that anything with devil in the name didn’t get into heaven.
Spring was also when they discovered a body near the sledding hill. An unidentified female that had been hiding in some snow. It was the first time the town had discovered a dead body. Everyone was scared. Which I didn’t understand. Dead bodies weren’t scary. My daddy just looked like he was napping when he died, so I’m sure she just looked like she was napping too.
Still, the cops launched a full investigation. I didn’t know how we could help, so Mama said we should pray. Pray that the mysterious dead woman found her way into heaven. Mama seemed scared too. It’s why I hated spring. I started burying more treasures. Even some of her things, cause I knew I had to do it for her.
I was more careful when summer came. Walking deeper and deeper into the woods to bury my treasures. Making sure to spread them out and not bury them in the same place. And because I was a year older, I was strong enough to bury them deeper and deeper into the ground. No one would be able to find my things.
It was a good thing I started burying things again. Ten more people went missing over the summer. Most of them were from neighboring towns. But the cops’ involvement and interest in our town grew. And I started to understand what my daddy had been talking about. They were coming to take my things. Using the missing people as a way to get closer to me.
In September I made a fatal booboo. I knew daddy would have been in heaven shaking his head. All because I lost track of one of my treasures. As he would have put it, I half-assed it. I knew better. But I was tired and sloppy. So one treasure got away from me.
It didn’t take long for the cops to come for me. They burst into our home and took me away so fast. My mama screamed and cried. And cried and screamed. She begged them to let me go. She said whatever I did, I didn’t know no better cause I had some mental problems. I had the IQ of a ten-year-old. She said all kinds of things to try and get them to let me go. But they took me anyways.
The same cop from before tried even harder to get me to talk. But I didn’t like him. And I didn’t like being away from my mama. I didn’t say anything to him. He called me all sorts of names. Names you shouldn’t call anyone if you wanted to be a good Christian. He said he didn’t believe my mama and that I knew what I was doing cause I was a grown-ass man. I told him not to call my mama a liar.
The cops told me they were going to charge me with something called abduction. Attempted murder. And they were going to use DNA from under that dead woman’s fingernails to prove I had killed her. Daddy told me that DNA was make believe, so I knew they were trying to find my treasures.
Sure enough, the cops threw photo after photo of the missing people in front of me. They asked me where they were. Asked me to just tell them because I was already going to jail. But I didn’t say anything. It would be fifty some years before they could read my mind. They were never going to find my buried treasures.
Originally from Ohio, Eddie Fogler currently lives in Virginia with his husband and two spoiled dogs. He has his MFA in Writing from Lindenwood University. His works have been featured in From Whispers to Roars, Haunted Waters Press, Literally Stories, Exoplanet, The Sirens Call, Capsule Stories, Umbrella Factory, and Gravitas. The first chapter of his novel-in-progress was featured in Seven Hills Literary Review. You can see his antics @ eddiewritesthings.com