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Missing

Laurie Delaney
[writerinboulder@gmail.com]

I only have a few short hours to get this down on paper, before the battery dies on my laptop. I can only hope that I am able to tell my side of this tale before that happens, for I won't likely get the chance again. Everyone thinks that I am a killer, but I am much like you, curious about what happened. These people, that say that I've done these things, know what I know. In my case, this is a very bad thing, because I have a soul. I can only come to believe by the events in the last three months that they do not.

           It all started when I came into the office on a Monday morning. I work for small Lab in Alabama doing research for the government. I tried to use my key card like always, but the door didn't respond. I kept shoving it into the door when..

           "New badge I take it?"

           My heart shot to the center of my throat, returning slowly to its normal place in my chest. At the time I couldn't imagine why the voice I heard startled me so. It was not just startled, it was fear! A feeling like the feet of a thousand spiders with icy feet scuttling around my neck, and spine.

           "Didn't mean to startle you, my name is Josh Hatch."

           "It's all right." I stammered. "Who are you? I've been working here for five years and I've never seen you before."

           "I'm a lab assistant, been here for about two years. I'm surprised we haven't met either. What area do you work in?"

           "Classified," I said. I couldn't help but feel a little smug. "I'm sure you understand."

           A slightly hurt look crossed the young man's face, and I began to relax.

           "Well, I guess we better be going in." He said. "You should really go up to the security office and get that fixed. You can get in deep shit if they catch you tailgating."

           I laughed at this and followed him in. We paused at the doorway, allowing it to shut before opening the second door. The world's deadliest new bacteria were held in this facility, and all precautions were taken. Though I was grateful that Josh had been there to let me in, the breach in security did concern me. He could have let anyone in here.

           As he headed up the stairs, I called after him and said, "I appreciate what you did for me today, but you really should go get security and have anyone who tries to get in escorted to the main entrance."

           "Thanks for the tip." He said, and jogged up the stairs.

           I walked to my office considering this strange encounter. Why is it, he has been here for two years and I've never met him. It seemed impossible. I decided I would look into this when I got into my office. I had a few hours of grant paper work ahead of me, before I could get to work. As I walked briskly to my office, I asked my assistant to do a little checking on Josh Hatch, and opened the door to my office. My paper work had been scattered everywhere. I glanced down nervously at my trash can, fearing what I might see. The shredded paper that had been in there was gone.

           All of the labs had a dead bolt and keypad lock system. No one gained access with the seventeen-digit code. The most confidential files, stored in a cabinet that required a full thumb and cornea scan before being able to access it. It was impossible for anyone to get into my office. My mind raced with suspicion. There were only a few people who had access to my office, as the most confidential information was stored here. Panic had swept over me like damp sheet, as I tried to piece it together. The only place to start with was Kim, my assistant.

           From the moment, I pushed open the door; I could see the fear on her face. She knew I was angry.

           "Kim have you let anyone into my office today?" I said, trying to remain calm.

           "No, Sir," She replied.

           "Did you see anyone go into my office today?"

           "No, Sir,"

           "I need you to pull up the names of everyone who is able to access it right now."

           She pulled up the file her hands shaking nervously. She had a right to be nervous. The only people who had access to my files were the general, the colonel, she, and I. Suddenly a look of surprised crossed her face.

           "Who's Josh Hatch?"

           Fear flooded my body as I ran out the door, shouting behind her to call security. I sprinted up the steps, and saw him at the far end of the hall. I sprinted down the hall, chasing him as fast as possible, but he was about ten-years younger than I was, and it showed. He jumped the last five stairs, and threw himself out the door. I made it to the first one, but got trapped at the other the lock down had come moments too late. I panicked entering in the over ride code and had to start over. Finally, I ripped the door open, only to spot a black X-Terra racing out of the parking lot. I grabbed for my pockets hoping to find my keys, but realized I had left them inside my office.

           There was a door near the parking garage where he would be able to manually over ride it from the outside. I sprinted down the steps entered the thirty-digit code, and stepped into the first door. Waiting for it to close, I entered the second ten-digit code. Finally, I stepped into the sterilization chamber, where I would normally change into a protective suit. This was not that kind of lock down though, so I pushed through the last door and ran to my office, as I turned the corner into the reception area my stomach flipped. I pressed my hand against the wall and tried not to vomit.

           My assistant and the security guard had been shot in the head. They law there slumped over each other like to after math of a murder-suicide pact. I tried desperately not to look at them as I hurried to my office. I reached into my pocket grabbing for my keys and felt something metal and cold. I shut my eyes as I pulled it from my pocket, hoping not to see what I knew I would. I was holding a nine-millimeter beretta. I threw the gun to the floor in disgust. As I opened my door and started out, I realized it might not be wise to leave it behind. It was far too incriminating. I snatched it off the floor, and as I turned to leave, I heard quiet voices. I tried my best, but couldn't catch all of what they were saying.

           "Now, he may be in there...."

           "...Lost his mind...."

           "...Have to take him out...."

           Searching my office frantically for a place to hide, I threw myself under the desk. I huddled there quietly, as they opened the door slowly.

           "If your in here," one said, "It'd be best if you came out now."

           Thickheaded southerners were usually the best choice for security guards at a place like this. They didn't ask questions, and wouldn't understand the answers. I could hear the door being open, that subtle creak that I had become so accustomed to, over the past five years. I heard one step inside, and then pause.

           "Ain't no one in here, Boys," he said, "but he made one heck of a mess out of this office before he left."

           "Then let's stop wasting our time and get the colonel down here. He needs to know about this," the other replied, "If what ever they've been working on is out there with that nut, he best know right away."

           With that, I heard the sound of fading footsteps traveling down the marble corridor. I slowly slid myself out from under my desk, snatched my keys out of my pocket and slipped out the door. I had to work quickly before they got back to their desk and changed the access codes. I reached around Kim's corpse (trying yet again not to vomit), and pushed her mouse to take down her screen saver. Josh Hatch's name was no longer on the list. According to this, he has never even worked at this lab. I searched for his name in frenzy. Finally, realizing that he was nowhere to be found, I bolted for the door.

           I punched the keys quickly, but more carefully this time, realizing that if I slipped up they would lock down, and I would be trapped. I had no time to attempt to explain myself to these morons, time was of the essence. What this man was now carrying is the most deadly virus known to man. The most dangerous part about it, since so few know about it. That and one other factor. It is astonishingly simple to make.

           The combination of these chemicals create the perfect war weapon. War is a necessary thing for our government. We've been taught it is our patriotic duty to kill, maim and murder innocent people whose only crime is usually being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The blood and violence was getting to be too much. After Vietnam, they realized what kind of affect this was having on many soldiers psyche. Military support was growing weaker by the day, and recruiters quickly realized they had the hardest job on earth, trying to get young people of this generation to sign there life away. That was five years ago.

           About two months ago, we created the final product. This was not a disease that worked over months, weeks, days or even hours. You only needed one hour after contact and you were gone. I don't mean you were some disgusting little heap on the floor, you were gone. It is a bacterium that eats through flesh bone, cartilage. The only hint that there is a trace of that person remaining, a black singe about the size of a dime.

           I sped down the road trying to think. Where would he have come from? How did he get in? Nevertheless, slowly it was coming to me. I pulled to the side of the road and pulled my badge from my pocket. The metal strip on the back was missing. How was it possible that he could have removed that? My mind was racing with questions, which I had no real answer to. There was nowhere to begin. He hadn't left a hint of himself behind. Sweat was trickling slowly down my eyes frantically searching. But there was nothing. I was too late and now there was nothing I could do.

           The realization at last came to me that I could go back. I turned my jeep around and headed slowly back towards the lab. It was really the only option. I had no way of finding this guy alone, and I was possibly the only person who knew what he looked like. It might take time to convince them that I wasn't the one who did this. Military men and scientists rarely get along. They get in our way, and they don't like us knowing their secrets. The Colonel was certainly a man who did not trust easily, but over the years, we had grown to respect each other. The general, however, would be quite a different story. The colonel and The general were all they were ever referred to. The general felt that no one really needed to know his name, or his second in command. Never let anyone know anything they don't need to know was his motto, and I had made a big slip up.

           True they had managed to hack into the main system to gain access to the main server to access my files. Somehow, they had accessed the security systems. It was baffling. When I was hired for this position I was assured that we were working under the most secure security measures known to man. I looked down at my speedometer, saw that I was going eighty, and decided to slow down a bit. I was pulling onto Lookout Road, and as I bared left into the parking lot. I saw something shiny on the ground. I screeched to a halt and leapt out of the car. Scrambling down to the ground, I looked under the car, and sure enough, found a keycard. The name Josh Hatch was printed in bold lettering in the front. I walked up to the door, clutching it in my hand. I still have it actually in my front left pocket. It's the only proof I have now that this is all real and I'm not crazy.

           I opened the door to the lab, this time not waiting for the first door to close.

           "Did you hear something?"

           The voice was coming from my office. I slipped into the small space beside the stairs. The second door had closed; it must have drawn their attention. I did not want to speak to security until I talked to the colonel. Maybe he could explain things to the general. The footsteps that had come into the corridor finally receded toward my office, and I peaked around the corner. No one was in the hall. I snuck slowly up the hall, hoping I get past them to the office, when I realized it was the colonel's voice I was hearing.

           "We've got a hell of a problem here, General."

           I started towards my office, hoping to explain, but the general's words stopped me in my tracks.

           "Look, I know that Adam has become a friend to you, you knew this day would come."

           My heart dropped. They were setting me up. I was going to be their fall guy. I leaned against the wall, moving as silently as possible across the marble floor. A very difficult task, I might add. They had chosen marble for the floor because it would make the most noise. I leaned carefully against the wall.

           "Are you sure you don't hear that," said the general. "I swear I heard something, would---"

           "---Don't change the subject on me damn it, why does it have to be Adam?"

           "Because it's too late to change the path now. It will be done this way, because it is now out of our hands. Do I make myself clear, Colonel?"

           "Yes, Sir," He replied.

           "Now don't take this so hard. You've done a great thing today. Imagine what a wonderful new world we'll be living in now. Our society can finally be purified of the plague that sweeps our great nation. Those who stand in our way will simply be removed. Erased. What a wonderful concept."

           "How can you think that's wonderful? To just erase a human being? To leave no memory behind to be honored and---"

           "---How dare you use that word with these types of people. We are talking about the homeless! The pathetic junkies who plague our street corners and crack-whores who ruin our streets. How do you use honor in the same sentence when referring to filth like that?"

           "Because I believe they have that right!" the colonel said. "Every person on this earth deserves to have the fact that they existed recognized."

           There was suddenly a loud crash and a yelp of pain from someone. I inched closer to the door hoping to catch what they were saying. Cautiously, I peaked around the corner, to see the general straddling the colonel, whose wrist was pulled tightly behind his back.

           "I was worried this might happen if I got you involved Tim." He said.

           The general pulled a small dropper from his pocket and dripped a little in the colonel's ear.

           "I can call you Tim now, right? Since you're going to die anyway. No point in hiding it now. You were always weak Tim. You lacked my vision. When this is finished, I will be remembered forever. People will read of me in the history book as the man who ended the war on drugs and prostitution. The world belongs to me now."

           "Nathan you can't do this." He shouted. "How will you even make sure it gets to right people?"

           "Ah, that's the best part. I'm so glad you asked." He said. "I didn't fill you in on that did I? You see, Tim. That young lad, Josh Hatch, who made it all so easy to pin it all on Adam, doesn't know exactly what he has. He thinks he has the most potent new drug on the market. It can be smoked, snorted, or made into a liquid form. It has no taste or odor and is quickly going to be the best new thing on the market."

           "Have you thought about the kids? What about the ones who are just trying it, you crazy fuck!" the colonel shouted.

           "They would have gone that way anyway, you'd have to be stupid to try that."

           Suddenly, two shots rang out, and again the colonel screeched in pain. I peaked around the corner again, and saw that his legs were bleeding. The general was leering down at him with an odd grin on his face.

           "Goodbye Tim," he said. "I hope it hurts every bit as much as it appears to from the lab test."

           He started to turn, and I ran back to my space under the stairwell. He must have heard something, because I heard him jerk the door open hard. There was a long pause before he finally returned to his office down the hall. When I heard the door shut, I ran out the doors and screeched off in my car.

           I've been hiding ever since. Though the Colonel's body was never found, traces of his blood were detected in my office. The TV reception is really bad here, but I can still pick up the news. Police have been searching heavily in this area, but evidently found no trace of me. Moreover, in other news, drug use around the nation has dropped drastically, but missing persons are at an all time high. Police are baffled. I doubt any one besides me has made the connection that the missing people all had drugs in their rooms -- mostly marijuana. Teen-age girls and boys, their mothers speaking through tear-filled eyes that they didn't know they were even using it.

           Sometimes, when I look real hard. I can see it, the place where their bodies now forever rest in peace. That place where the last of their earthly bodies vanished. Its that little black smudge the size of a dime. Of course, no one else will see that. It'll simply be brushed away, if even ever noticed at all. I'll always see it though. Perhaps it is my penance for unleashing this monster upon the world. If that is my only punishment, I have gotten off far too easy.



About the Author (click here) © 2002 Laurie Delaney, all rights reserved
 appears here by permission



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