Freedom House - Chapter 9
"The next update is on case number 59316, fourteen-year old Samantha Watson. Mother last saw her the night of March 4th. She sent her to the store on Broadway and 7th to pick up some eggs and Samantha never returned. We've received some leads that have pointed us to what seems to be a commune out in Felton. It took us about 2 weeks to locate the house. I spoke with a girl named Claire but of course she says she's never seen or heard of Samantha. As you all know, every month, about four girls in the Santa Cruz County region go missing. Some underage and most from broken homes but not all. Any questions?" Detective Salvino scanned the room.
"Yes, Detective Trenton?"
"How sure are you that these girls might be living at this commune? Is the commune dangerous? I mean, let's face it, we might just be dealing with runaways."
"Those are some good points however when we have under-aged girls missing, it doesn't matter if they chose to leave their families. It's our job to find them. It's also our job to locate the adults in charge of allowing these girls to stay with them as runaways. Yes, Detective Bailey?"
"Have these different leads led you to this same commune? If that's the case, then it seems likely that most of these girls could be there but why? What is pulling them to that house?"
"That's exactly what we're here to find out. I will continue to lead this case but those of you who are assigned to some of our other missing girls, you may be brought in to investigate this house further. To answer your question on what may be attracting them to this location, we don't know but if it's in fact true, it's concerning. Any other questions?"
A female detective raised her hand. She had dark brown hair pulled back into a tight bun. Her eyebrows scrunched downward, pointing towards the top of her nose, deep with concentration. She wore little makeup and had small lips. Her thin face accentuated her sharp features. She was young but was already forming small wrinkles in between her eyebrows.
"Yes, Detective Arc?"
"Detective Salvino, forgive me but don't you think we need to move a little faster on this? I was assigned to Faye Miller's case four years ago. She was fifteen when she went missing and now she's nineteen. The case went cold but if we're onto something here then we need to move fast."
"I agree Detective Arc. We are working strategically and as fast as we can. As you all know, we need to come up with a careful plan, one that won't jeopardize anyone's life. If there aren't any more questions, let's begin brainstorming."
Officer Trenton shouted out, "Let's raid the house. That always works." He laughed, his mouth wide and open.
"We have to proceed with official protocol, or it will bite us in the ass later in a court situation. Any other winners?"
"We can continue to chase those leads. They probably have more information than they're telling you." Officer Bailey suggested.
"We're definitely going to continue to investigate current leads and track down any others."
Detective Bernal spoke, "Why don't we send an undercover. Eight years ago, we sent someone undercover to work on the commune case up in Boulder Creek. Blew it wide open. We all know how it ended but at least it ended."
"That might not be a bad idea. But we don't want another Boulder Creek situation. We need to be preventive. If we did go that route, who could we send to this Felton house in the redwoods?"
Detective Arc stood up. "I can do it."
Sophia Elizabeth Arc was the youngest detective in Santa Cruz County. She made it at twenty-eight years old. Sophia was fourteen when her younger sister, Charlotte age eight, went missing and that's when she took her vow. They were playing in the cul-de-sac, what they referred to as the "U-ie." The "U-ie" was about five houses away from the Arcs and was the usual hang out spot for the neighborhood kids. One summer day, Sophia and Charlotte had been riding their bikes for hours, checking in occasionally at home and using the opportunity to grab a snack or pick at the food their mom was cooking.
The sun was starting to set, and this was always their signal to start back home. As they began to ride down, passing the McKinsey's, the enchanting music of an ice cream truck was heard, every kid's hope and dream before calling it a day. The neighborhood ice cream man was Mr. Keats. If Sophia or Charlotte were short a dime, he'd say, "I'll just add it to your tab," and hand them their ice cream.
Charlotte looked back at her sister while riding, "Sophia, I want one."
Sophia rode up next to her sister, they both put the brakes on and stood, holding the handlebars of their bikes.
"How much do you have?" Sophia asked.
Charlotte reached into the pocket of her jean shorts and pulled out some change, a red jolly rancher, and a small piece of paper crumpled up.
Sophia searched her pockets and handed her sister fifty cents. "I'll wait here. Hurry up, mom will have a fit if it gets dark."
The ice cream man was now at the "U-ie" and parked right at the curve. One boy bought an ice cream but was already running back home. There were no other kids outside, the entire neighborhood followed the home by sunset rule. Sophia watched as her sister rode back, about 3 houses away, and disappeared behind the truck, only pictures of ninja turtle pops, WWF vanilla bars, and popsicles could be seen.
As Sophia stared, she noticed something different about Mr. Keats' truck. He had a large sticker on the driver side of the truck that read, Keep Santa Cruz Crazy. It wasn't there. It was taking Charlotte longer than usual to get her Lemon Lime Ice Tickle. The truck began to move fully around the "U-ie" and picked up speed down the street. Sophia's eyes followed the truck as it approached, about to pass her. She looked into the truck and locked eyes for a second with the driver and it wasn't Mr. Keats. She just saw dark, soulless eyes. The truck was gone.
She looked down at the cul-de-sac. Lying on its side was Charlotte's purple bike and no Charlotte. Sophia raced over to it. She hopped off her bike and dropped it onto the curb. A foot away from Charlotte's bike were the coins Charlotte was holding. All Sophia could think was, what had I done? Why did I wait behind? Why didn't I just go with my sister?
When Sophia went back home and led her parents to the "U-ie," her mother shrieked, falling to her knees and throwing herself over Charlotte's purple bike. The police taped off the neighborhood and the McKinsey's came out, standing on their lawn, Mrs. McKinsey held her hand over her mouth. The Jacksons also came out. So did the Hensens and the Smiths. Sophia sat on the curb in front of her house with bloodshot eyes and in a daze amongst the flashing police lights, the red and blue tinting the street, parked cars, and light poles. She told the police what happened. She wouldn't speak another word for a month.
-Written by Sterp
All Rights Reserved
I am Sterp. I write dark fiction and have a very unhealthy obsession with disturbing narratives. I am the author of The Cult Called Freedom House: Sophia Rey Book One. My short story The Lost Tea Cup is in Issue 26 of The Literary Hatchet. I am also a painter.
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