The word had been scratched into the earth, and the dad and son nearly missed it. Heading towards the forest, they were surrounded by nature. They were puzzled when they saw the word “HELP” scratched into the dirt road.
The two of them had thought they would be alone, save for the wild animals. They couldn’t help the shiver that ran down their spines. They had no idea that something was waiting for them that would completely change their world.
After some minutes of reflecting on what to do, the pair got out of the car and inspected their surroundings. Everything was absolutely quiet: only a few birds sang here and there. There were no houses, farms, cars, or any sign of human activity around that area.
But that’s when they heard the voice. They started walking in the direction where it came from, making their way through the wild vegetation. Then, they saw what was going on. The father instantly felt his stomach drop to his knees.
Chris Gordon shared a bond with his son Ryan that many fathers would be jealous of. Ever since he was a toddler, the dad had always made an effort to be in his son’s life.
The two of them shared hobbies, activities, and conversations. Chris’ biggest goal in life, the thing around which everything he did circled, was this: he wanted to be a man that his son could look up to and be proud of. But that wasn’t all.
He wanted to be a good example, someone who would inspire and guide his son through the avenues of life. He firmly believed that his main role as a father was to teach his son how to be a good, reliable, and dependable man.
That included regarding his son as an equal, being attuned to his thoughts, desires, and doubts, and sharing his knowledge and experience with him. There was a reason why this was so important to Chris.
Chris didn’t have the privilege of having such a present father figure growing up. His parents divorced when he was just a kid: Dominic, Chris’ father, had a series of bad habits and never paid much attention to his family.
It had been decades since Chris had last talked to his father. Growing up, Dominic’s absence in his life had serious consequences on his personality; even years later, he still struggled with those.
Growing up and in his transition to adulthood, Chris often felt directionless. He surrounded himself with the wrong people and got into trouble sometimes. He was even close to being incarcerated due to his involvement in some events that he refused to discuss even years later.
But everything changed after he met Alice, his wife and the mother of his son. Since then, he made the decision to clean up his act, and his life had been mostly free of trouble. However, something was about to happen that would put him to the test.
Hunting was one of the hobbies Chris and Ryan shared. It was one of their favorite things to do. Nothing could beat the sense of adventure and thrill, but also calm that they got from spending a day in the forest, on the lookout for wild animals.
When it happened, they were in Chris’ car, on their way to their favorite spot in the forest. They were talking about what sort of animals they would find at that time of the year when suddenly, Chris stopped the car dead.
Ryan’s first reaction was to look at his dad. Chris had frozen and had his eyes set on the road, with an alarmed expression on his face.
“What’s wrong, dad?” the kid asked. Chris didn’t say anything. He just pointed at the road ahead of them. Ryan tried to get a grasp of what had made his dad spot, thinking that it may be an animal crossing the road. That’s when he saw it.
They could have easily missed it: the sign was roughly scratched into the dirt in thin lines and in a rushed manner, like the person who had made it was escaping from something or someone.
But once one could take a closer look at it, it was unmistakable: someone had written “HELP” in the middle of the road. Quickly, father and son got out of the car to see what was going on and think of what they could do.
Taking a closer look, Chris realized that the lines on the dirt looked recent; no one had stepped over them, and no car seemed to have driven over. That could only mean one thing.
They were probably the first people who had seen that message. But who could be its author? Was it someone in trouble, or could it be just some twisted joke? In the middle of all these questions, they suddenly heard something. It sounded like a human voice.
The two of them heard something sounding like human screams coming from the forest. A chill went down her spine. Things were getting scarier by the minute.
“Maybe it’s a fox?” the kid asked his dad, trying to hide the fear in his voice. He knew that foxes in heat can shriek in a manner that is uncannily remindful of human screams; but he also wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. After a few seconds, his father replied.
“Maybe, but maybe not. We have to go there and make sure,” Chris sentenced. The pair started walking towards the depths of the forest, where the chilling sound came from.
They did their best to make their way through the bushes, watching out for any hidden animal that may give them a nasty surprise. Ryan had never been more scared in his life, yet he followed his dad. What would they find in the heart of the forest?
The kid didn’t know it, but Gordon was scared as well. However, he felt it was his duty to do the right thing and ensure whoever was in trouble could get some help.
After walking for a while, they finally saw it: a woman was sitting deep in a small ravine in the middle of the woods. There was no way to reach her, as the terrain was too slopy. She probably had fallen in there. What could they do now?
The woman couldn’t get out, so they wouldn’t be able to do so by themselves either. Quickly, Chris took out his phone and called a rescue team.
In a matter of minutes, they were there. With the help of ropes, they managed to get the woman out of the hollow. But when he could look at her from a closer distance, Chris realized something: he recognized that woman.
Her name was Amanda Ogle, and Chris had seen her face before. It was in the news and the papers. Apparently, the woman, who was mentally challenged, had gone missing just a few days ago.
Luckily enough, she was in a decent physical state. However, there was still one question in the air: how did she end up in the middle of the forest? What was her story?
Right after Amanda was rescued by the team, one of the members called the police. The most obvious explanation was that she had escaped from the care center where she usually stayed, located on the town outskirts.
However, right after a police car appeared on the scene and four officers got out, a startling fact was revealed.
The care center hadn’t reported Amanda Ogle’s disappearance to the press or the police. It was her family who did it. The care center, which should have been responsible for ensuring that Amanda was under the care of professionals and safe at all times, hadn’t said a peep about it.
Naturally, Amanda’s family was outraged when they went to visit her one day and found that she wasn’t there, while the care center’s administration played dumb about the whole issue. What was going on?
Every member of the rescue team was baffled when they heard this from one of the officers. Clearly, there was something fishy in that story. Chris, particularly, was left wondering what could be going on.
He approached one of the officers and offered to help them in whatever way he could to solve the mystery. However, there was still a lot to be done concerning uncovering Amanda’s true story. And at that moment, only one thing could be done.
They had to question Amanda and try to see if she could tell them something useful for the investigation. So quickly, after the rescue team made sure that the girl was in proper physical condition, the police officers went to her and introduced themselves.
Knowing that Amanda would probably be feeling disoriented and confused, they tried their best to make her feel at ease before asking her any questions. But soon, they realized something unnerving.
Amanda seemed incapable of uttering a single word. No matter what the officers asked her or what they said to her, she just remained silent. She seemed to hear their words and react to sounds, but it was like she had become mute.
And that wasn’t all. There was another unsettling detail that made the whole situation an enigma like these officers had never encountered before.
Amanda’s expression wasn’t that of a distressed or scared person. She looked absolutely calm and peaceful, like she had gotten over her accident in a matter of minutes.
If that were so, why was she unable to speak? If it wasn’t because of the trauma and shock she had undoubtedly gone through, what could possibly be the issue? The police officers and the rescue team were immersed in these questions when, suddenly, a car parked near the scene.
It was Amanda’s family. The rescue team had phoned them the minute after they made sure Amanda was alright. Naturally, they had been worried to no end for the previous days, and absolutely furious at what seemed, at least, like outrageous negligence by the care center.
Little did they know that, when the truth unfolded, it would turn out to be even darker than they could have ever imagined.
However, there wasn’t much that could be done for the time being. Amanda seemed unable to say a word about what had happened to her, how she got out of the care center’s facilities, or how she ended up in that forest.
Chris talked to the police officers. They thanked him for his willingness to help, but advised him to leave things to law enforcement professionals and stay out of it. As he saw the police car leaving the scene, Chris had a gut feeling.
He knew there was something fishy. He talked to Amanda’s family; they were furious and outraged about the care center’s negligence and hoped the police would clear the matter in the following days.
But as he drove back home with Ryan, Chris couldn’t stop thinking about how strange everything looked. That’s when he made a decision.
When father and son finally got home, Chris told his wife about everything that had happened. “I don’t know what’s going on, but it all sounds really fishy to me,” he told her. “I’m gonna try to find out what’s happening here.”
Chris’ wife stayed silent for a few minutes, like she was pondering whether she should say what was really on her mind. Then, she spoke.
“Do what you feel like you have to do. I trust you. But please, for Ryan’s sake and mine: be safe.” Chris promised that he would resort to the authorities if he felt like he was getting into a dangerous situation.
They both went to bed, and it took them a while to fall asleep. Their minds were filled with thoughts about what could be the truth behind Amanda Ogle’s disappearance and what Chris could be getting into.
The next morning, Chris began his investigation. He started off by searching for the people involved on the Internet. He looked up the care center in question and tried to find all the upper management staff.
As he was going through the names of all the members of the care center’s direction, he read something that rang a bell. When he realized why that was, a chill went down his spine.
The care center director’s surname, Salkeld, sounded strangely familiar to Chris despite it being an odd one. He thought about it for a while. “Where have I heard that surname before?” he wondered. Suddenly, he realized.
The local police chief had the same surname. He had been involved in numerous scandals for the last few years, related to alleged connivance between the higher ranks of the local police department and certain organized crime groups. And that wasn’t all.
Allegedly, some of these groups were involved in matters as serious as human trafficking. However, none of the allegations against the police chief had seemed to stick, and the man hadn’t been indicted. But could he be related to the care center’s director?
He looked up both of their names on the Internet. He saw an online post of an obituary for someone who also bore the surname of Salkeld. His heart jumped when he realized something: the care center director and the police chief were brothers.
Now that was starting to get really creepy. It might be something way bigger than Chris could handle by himself. So. after thinking for a while, he decided to do what his wife had advised.
He dialed the FBI number, told them about all he had witnessed in the past days, and offered to help with whatever they could. The man on the line listened to everything he said, asked him a few more questions, thanked him for the information, and guaranteed that two agents would be in town by the end of the week. Chris sat back, overwhelmed by how his life had changed in just two days. He didn’t know what was ahead for him, but there was something he knew: he had done the right thing. In order to protect the privacy of those depicted, some names, locations, and identifying characteristics have been changed and are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblances to actual events or places or persons, living or dead are entirely coincidental.