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The Lost Boy

by Vernillia Burgher 2 years ago in fact or fiction
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A lost boy seeks help at a 24/7 diner

I hated working the graveyard shift at my 24/7 diner. Only the lost, the wanderers and the completely desperate ever visited “Becky Jo’s Diner” at that time of the night. It didn’t help that we were located on a deserted stretch of US 50, the loneliest road through Nevada. Our closest neighbor was almost 25 miles away. We saw the occasional bikers, hitchhikers, and lonely drivers taking cross country road trips at this witching hour; so, visitors seeking a midnight meal or a cup of coffee to ward off sleep didn’t surprise me in the least. Nights were boring, but tonight was different.

A late-night monsoon was dragging slowly across the desert. Not complaining…we certainly could use the rain in this heat. Even at midnight, this stretch of the desert could sometimes run in the high 90s and low hundreds.

It had been completely quiet for the last hour; and. when I heard the door announce a visitor with a soft chime I didn’t even bother to look up from my chores. I stopped polishing the coffee mug in my hand and placed it and a menu on the raised countertop, expecting our usual late-night visitor to perch on one of the stools. It was the sudden chill that made me finally look up in the direction of the doors. “Ooohhh…that’s a nice breeze you’re bringing in. It sure has been a warm evening.” There was no one there. I quickly looked in the opposite side of the diner wondering where did they go, and when I looked back to where I laid the mug and menu, a young boy around the age of 15 was sitting at the counter. His sudden appearance made me jump. “Wow! You sure know how to put the fear of God in a per--!”

He was soaked from his head to his feet. He wore an oversized suede jacket, much too large for him, but that didn’t stop him from being totally drenched by the rain. I had frozen midsentence because he was a sight to see. His skin was almost grey, possibly from being soaked through. His short dark hair stood in spikes from being completely drenched. His eyes looked shadowed with heavy dark circles and his lips were blue and trembling. My heart went out to this kid and I felt a strong urge to help him. “Looks like you could use some hot cocoa and soup to warm your bones.”

He didn’t speak, he just nodded his head a simple yes.

“Hey, Al…we’re gonna need some warm liquids to warm our visitor’s bones.” I turned to the kid, “Want some chicken noodle? That always does the job for me.” Then I yelled over my shoulders, “Make that the chicken noodle, Al!”

The kid didn’t look up; just nodded his head again.

“It’s awfully late for you to be on this stretch of road. Are you here with someone?”

He still didn’t look up, but this time he shook his head no. “I’m…all alone.”

If I didn’t see his lips move, I might have missed him speaking. “Well, you can hang out here for a bit.” I replaced the empty mug with one of steaming hot cocoa and placed a small pack of tiny marshmallows next to it with a spoon for stirring. “You meeting someone here?” I asked, because I felt that if this kid needed help, I couldn’t just leave well enough alone. “Do you need to make a phone call to someone?”

He shook his head no.

“So, what’s your name?”

He finally looked up at me, and I saw a look of despair cross his face. He looked completely lost and I almost thought he was about to cry. “I-I don’t know.”

For a minute, I was struck with fear that this kid might have been attacked and left abandoned on the side of the road. I needed to call the authorities, but maybe I could get some details from him to help them solve his mystery.

“So, how old are you?”

“I...I…don’t know.” He appeared to be thinking hard.

“Well, don’t worry for now. Drink your cocoa and I’ll go get your soup before it gets cold.”

I came back quickly with his warm bowl of soup, and a biscuit on the side along with a stack of napkins. “Thought you might like to dry some of the rain from your hair.” I studied his features as best as I could to give my best description to the Sheriff’s office. Maybe he was a runaway. “I’ll be just over there. If you need anything, just holler.” I strolled over to the phone near the back of the diner.

“Hi Cindy…I know it’s late.” I turned my back to the kid so he couldn’t hear what I was saying. Maybe he didn’t want to be found. “Is Charlie available?”

In the short time I waited, I hesitated about revealing this kid’s whereabouts to the authorities. If he didn’t want to be found he could bolt if he found out what I was doing. I wanted a clear conscience, so I needed to do my part to help this kid. I quickly, looked over my shoulder to make sure he was still sitting at the counter and sighed in relief as I saw him hunched over his bowl of soup, sipping slowly and biting into his biscuit.

“Hi Charlie.” I took a deep breath. “I know it’s late, but we have a bit of a situation at the diner.” I paused and looked again to assure he didn’t hear me and make a run for the door. “Can you come over? We got a kid here who looks a bit messed up and lost. I know…I know…he might be a runaway…but I got a sense it’s more than that.” I looked over my shoulder again. “The thing is he doesn’t remember his name or how old he is.”

I suddenly felt nervous that the kid would see me and get suspicious that I was ratting him out; so, I hid in the doorway leading to the kitchen. Thankfully, the phone was cordless and wouldn’t give my location away. But a quick glance at the counter where he sat revealed he hadn’t even looked up from his bowl of soup, and I sighed once more. “He’s about 5’5”, looks around fifteen and might be from the reservation. He’s got short dark hair and he’s wearing a brown jacket and blue jeans.” I took another quick peek.

“How soon? Ok…see you in about half an hour.” I quickly hung up the phone and made my way back to the kid.

He had used some of the napkin to wipe his hair, and as soon as I saw the bloody napkins on the counter my heart stopped. “Oh, Lord! Looks like you might have gotten hurt. The napkins…there’s blood on them. Do you want to go to the bathroom and wash off?”

“Huh? What?”

“You can go to the bathroom and rinse some of that blood off. Looks like you took a wicked hit on your head.”

I saw him instinctively reached to the back of his head and when he pulled his hand back, there was still fresh blood on his palm.

“You’ll need to apply some pressure on that. In fact, here…don’t move…let me help you.” I came around the counter and applied a stack of the napkins to the back of his head. My mind spun with all kinds of theories on what might have happened to him. Who would hurt him? I wasn’t a doctor, but I knew that this blow to his head might explain why he didn’t remember his name. I knew in my heart that I needed to keep him talking so he wouldn’t pass out from blood loss or a concussion. “Do you remember what happened to you?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Well, is there anything at all you can remember?”

“Uhm…a truck.” He looked like he was focusing really hard. “I think I was in a truck. A man in a black Stetson gave me a ride.” His voice faded almost to a whisper.

“Can you remember anything else?”

“I don’t know.” He searched my eyes as if silently begging me to help him remember. My heart ached for him. Maybe this man had done something to him…hurt him somehow?

“Did this man hurt you, son?”

“I don’t know. I think so.”

“Do you remember anything else…maybe something about the truck?”

He shook his head and began to cry. “Help me…please.”

His hollow words tore through me like ice shards, and I shivered. How could I help him? I didn’t know the first thing to do to help him. “I’ll do my best, honey. I called someone earlier who might be able to help you. Maybe help you find your folks.”

I felt compelled to put my arms around his shoulders. I wasn’t sure how to help him, but maybe I could give him some comfort in that moment. “Do you live on the reservation?” Maybe if I kept questioning him, he might remember something else like he remembered the man in the black Stetson.

“I don’t know.” He lowered his head into his soup once more, but this time he also grabbed a napkin, and asked, “May I borrow your pen?”

“Sure, honey.” I only had that one pen, but the diner was quiet. It wouldn’t hurt to let him use it.

Then, the door chime announcing another visitor’s arrival. I looked up to check but not before seeing the image of utter terror crossed the young boy’s eyes. That’s when I noticed the black Stetson being lowered off of the visitor’s head. I turned to reassure the kid that it was only Charlie, our local sheriff. But, as I did, I froze. The kid had disappeared!

“Wait! I don’t understand. He was right there a minute ago, Charlie!” If I wasn’t looking at the half-eaten bowl of soup and empty cocoa mug, I wouldn’t have believed it myself. Where did he go? The kid hadn’t exited the diner and I would have noticed him walking past me to go to the bathroom. The only other exit was in the back through the kitchen. He hadn’t gone that way either.

I tried to explain to Charlie what had happened, and his usual poker face remained stoic until he saw something sitting where I explained the kid sat. I couldn’t deny the flicker of panic I saw in his eyes that he quickly tried to hide. The kid had left a message behind. On the napkin were the crudely written words, “Don’t tell the sheriff”. My eyes flew to the window where I could see the outline of a truck was parked, and, in that moment, shivers ran down my spine. I understood the kid’s message clearly.

“No…it can’t be…” I tried to stop the words from escaping my lips, but it was too late. So, I played it off. “Maybe he was just another runaway who doesn’t want to be found. You know kids these days.”

Charlie took the napkin message and folded it into his pocket, but I quickly cleared off the other evidence before he could ask me about the bloody napkins. I even tried not to bring attention to the fact he hadn’t placed the note in an evidence bag. “Sorry to waste your time, Sheriff.”

“Well…thanks for calling, Tammy. If you see him or hear anything else, give me a call.” As he turned to leave, he paused suddenly at the booth nearest the door. “My suede jacket! Hmmm…did I leave that there this morning?” I tried to hide the fear that chilled me to the bone.

Maybe this kid was a runaway or a victim…or maybe a ghost. But rest assured…I never spoke of him again…not to anyone. I often think of him, though, and wonder if he’d ever been found.

fact or fiction

About the author

Vernillia Burgher

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