It’s now been two months since his father died. We had been to the funeral and I knew that losing his father must have been painful. Still he just held our son’s hand and sat there silently. No tears, no sadness on his face. Just a calm face with a hint of concern. A few times he looked down to Ian and nodded to himself.
We watched as they closed the casket and walked in the first row when they carried it out to the grave. They lowered it inside. There was another speech. I threw a flower and my husband and son threw soil.
On the way back he didn’t say a single word.
Josue had never been the type to show his emotions but he had been close to his father, closer than any other father-son pair I can think of. They had spent many weekends on camping trips and their “men tours.”
Of course it all makes sense now.
I wanted to give him the space he needed. For a week I waited for him to make a move, for him to let his grieve out. Then I asked how he felt.
He never screamed at me before, at least not like that. Not with so much anger.
And then, just a minute later, he was calm again. He smiled and nodded and went to bed early.
The next day I woke up alone in the house. They were both gone, Josue and Ian.
They didn’t leave a note. Their mobile phones were dead. The only hint as to where they were was that all our outdoor equipment was gone.
Two days later they were back. They arrived in the middle of the night with dirt crusted on their shoes but most of the equipment perfectly clean.
Josue didn’t want to tell me where they went. Usually Ian would have been bubbling with stories of whatever adventure they had gone on. He too was quiet.
At night I tried to talk to Ian but he only shook his head. The only phrase I got out of him was “We went for grandpa.”
Normal mourning. Of course he is not as strong inside as he always pretends. He wants to relive the things that he himself experienced as a child with his son. I was angry that he hadn’t said anything but I understood and accepted it.
Thinking back Josue’s father was often gone. Josue’s mother was often at home alone when we came to visit.
“When will he be home?”
“Oh,” she would say. “Tomorrow. Or maybe the day after.”
The next Friday afternoon I came home and found both gone again.
I cried, less because they were gone and more because I knew that they would be gone again. I didn’t want the life of his mother. I didn’t want to be the woman alone at home.
That’s what I told Josue when they came back.
“I don’t want to live like that. Please ask me before you go.”
Josue just nodded.
“You know,” I said. “Maybe I want to come along too.”
There was a flash of shock on his face.
“No,” he said.
“It’s a family thing.”
I stood there with my mouth open for at least twenty seconds. He looked at me but stayed quiet. I don’t remember what curse words I used when I stormed out of the room.
He always did it when I was either not there or asleep. In the middle of the night they left. I don’t know how he got so many days off work.
It was affecting Ian. He is just twelve. He was always so happy and energetic, but now he looks grim and stern. As if he aged a lot within just those few weeks.
They always came back with dirt on their shoes and clothes, but the equipment was clean. Josue bought Ian a new waterproof jacket.
They never told me where they went or what they did. They both usually looked tired.
I never thought I would do such a thing. A friend gave me the signal. Her husband works with birds and had signals and recorders to track the animals he studies. Three weeks ago I sewed the small black tube into the hood of Ian’s new jacket.
My friend’s husband showed me the recording. They had gone straight to a spot in the forest, just about a hundred miles North of Josue’s hometown.
There they moved around in the forest for a few times, then they came back.
Around that time I also noticed his credit card statement. Josue had ordered goods worth hundreds of dollars from an online store. He must have ordered them straight to work, or maybe he picked them up somewhere else. I never saw a single package.
The first two times I resisted. I tried to reason with myself that I should trust Josue and his decisions. I always trusted him.
But now that I’ve seen it – I don’t think I can trust him anymore. I don’t know whether I can trust anyone ever again. I just wish I still had Ian with me.
I went while Josue was at work. It was a three hour drive until I reached the forest. A large patch of thick woods with a high fence around it. There was only one entrance and it was locked. A large sign said “Private Property – Keep Out!”
Around 1pm I finally found a spot where I was able to squeeze my body through a hole in the fence.
The trees all looked very old, the forest was unkempt with rotting trees lying between those still growing. I saw a few deer running around.
I followed the compass straight North, straight towards that spot where they always stayed.
After about twenty minutes I smelled it. Rotting meat.
The further I walked the stronger the smell got. I was barely able to breathe.
To my right was suddenly noise, then movement. Three or four black birds flew away.
When I looked around he hedge I found the source of the smell. A deer carcass, still fresh.
Small pieces of flesh had been cut from the back and the legs. But the one thing I couldn’t look away from was the throat. A single long and deep cut. Dried blood crusted all over the fur.
Carefully I walked on.
Then I found the second carcass. A third just a few steps further. Then a stack of six or eight of them, most of them gray and dry and already falling apart.
The forest was littered with dead deer, a few dead birds and a long rotted boar were there too. It looked like a battlefield littered with bodies. Some had shot wounds too – but always their throats had been cut.
I noticed the clearing already from the distance. When I got closer I noticed two deer carcasses hanging from a tree. There were pots below them. Pots with a crusted red inside.
I looked around but there was nobody else. I was terrified.
In the center of the clearing was a cold fireplace. Chairs and cooking utensils were spread around it.
There was a huge stack of books. Some looked new, others looked as if they had been in the rain for long.
It was at the side of the clearing, right behind the books. There were boards on top of it. I wouldn’t have moved the boards if not for the sound it made when I stepped on the boards. Hollow.
The boards were heavy. I only moved two of them, just enough to see into the hole. There wasn’t much light. The walls were stone rather than mud. I saw pots and then the beginning of a wall or bench made of stone. The room looked long. There was something on the bench.
I used my mobile phone to shine light into the hole.
Feet. Bare feet lying on the bench. Thin and grayish legs.
I ran towards the trees.
I crouched behind the bushes, holding back tears, for at least ten or twenty minutes. There was no noise. No movement.
I wanted to make sure. I thought I had maybe seen it wrong. I didn’t want to believe that there could be a human body in that hole.
I went slowly and tightly held a stick out and towards the hole.
Crouching down again I saw into the hole. In the shade I could make out the feet, still unmoved. With the light of my phone I saw that the color was unnatural, dead. Choking back tears I crouched there and wanted to run but all I could do was stare at those feet.
I heard a scratching sound. Then there was light inside the hole.
Looking back I saw a thin hand reaching out of the hole. I threw myself into the bushes. I hoped they wouldn’t see me.
Two men slowly climbed from the hole. They were nearly naked. Their skin gray and hanging limply from their spindly bodies. They looked old, ancient even.
They just stood there, looking around. Their eyes looked dry but awake.
One of them took the lid off a pot, smelled the liquid inside and drank. When he sat the pot back down there was a clotted red liquid on his chin.
Then the third one climbed out of the hole. He too had gray skin and his ribs were clearly visible. He had a beard. Still I recognized him straight away. Josue’s father.
I pressed my hand in my mouth to prevent myself from screaming.
They stood there for maybe five minutes. They each took a large gulp from the pot.
Then they climbed back in the hole. They replaced the boards from below.
First I crawled, then I walked silently, then I ran.
The whole car ride I felt my hands trembling.
I took Ian from school. We went to a hotel.
I questioned him but he refused to speak. He only shook his head.
In the evening Josue tried calling me several times.
We watched TV and ate. Ian avoided touching me. He sat far away.
I don’t remember falling asleep.
In the morning Ian was gone. The door had been unlocked from inside.
It’s been three days and there are no traces. I called the police about a child abduction. I called a different station about the forest with “slaughtered animals” and a weird campsite.
Ian and Josue are still gone. Josue’s mother isn’t home either.
The police told me they found the animals but no camp. Just an old fireplace and a large and empty hole in the ground.