““Liv? Liv!” I yelled out. “She’s just hiding, playing a game with me.””
Declared missing September Sixth, 2006, 4:06pm. She was last seen exiting The Mountainside School with her sister Rain Hackett, 12 years old. Quotes from her sister say, “She was walking with me until I closed my eyes for a second and then all of a sudden she was gone.” She was not near anyone except for her sister. Reports say that she was not one to play practical jokes like this or to want to run away.
I glanced up from my paper to the analog clock that stood on the cobbled adobe wall of the small classroom. 3:46. 14 minutes left. I looked back down at my quiz. One question left.
“66 watermelons? What’s wrong with you?” I thought to myself but completed the equations nonetheless. I scrawled down the answer on the page and then turned over my paper. I sat at my desk quietly, surveying a small roly poly’s ascent up the window sill. Just as he was about to finally reach his destination, a shrill ringing woke me out of my stupor. Ms.Cooper sighed and pulled off her spectacles.
“Alright, everyone hand in your papers, then you’re free to go,” she said absentmindedly. I carefully folded my paper and threw it into the air. The airplane soared, doing a loop de loop through the air before landing smoothly on Ms. Cooper’s desk. Then someone started clapping. The class joined in, and so I gave bow while Ms. Cooper just rolled her eyes, unfolded it, and put it in her desk.
I pulled on my coat and backpack, then swirled out of the room to go find Liv so that we could go home. I walked down the stairs to Liv’s classroom where she’d just been dismissed. She stood patiently outside the door, where we’d declared our meeting spot. Her bright smile encased in a raincoat that was a few sizes too big greeted me as soon as she saw me.
“Hey Liv! How was school?” I said as I gave her a hug.
“So much fun! We started learning times tables,” she replied, jumping up and down. “And I got an A on my science project!” She held up a piece of construction paper crudely illustrating a butterfly’s life cycle.
I grinned at her and said, “That’s great! Now c’mon, let’s get home, Mom’s waiting.” I tugged her hand and she started skipping next to me across the hallway. As we came to the wooden doors that led outside the school, I pulled out mom’s dark blue umbrella; mine wasn’t big enough for the both of us. I opened my umbrella after I pushed through doors, you know, just in case. I held it over our heads as the angry drops of water hit the ground incessantly, the air smelling that roasted kind of smell that always comes with rain.
I closed my eyes blissfully for a moment, taking in the perfect weather. Other people like sunshine, the beach and the water, others the coldness of the snow, making angels and fighting with friends. But I will never enjoy anything better than a good pour. And it’s not just because my name’s Rain!
Opening my eyes, I looked beside me to find Liv. But she wasn’t there. “It’s alright, she’s probably just run ahead.” I thought. But as I looked around, Liv was nowhere to be seen.
“Liv? Liv!” I yelled out. “She’s just hiding, playing a game with me.” I looked around the playground for her, but she wasn’t anywhere. She couldn’t have disappeared…could she? I started to grow panicked. “LIV! WHERE ARE YOU? COME OUT! COME ON LIV, YOU CAN COME OUT NOW! LIV!” I looked everywhere, checked everywhere 5 times. No Liv. “Where is she?!” I thought. I ran back inside of the school desperately.
I ran until I came to the office where I said breathlessly to the secretary “My sister’s missing.”
“Calm down Ms. Hackett — are you sure that she’s gone?”
“I’ve looked everywhere! I can’t find her!” My big eyes pleaded for her to me believe me.
“Okay, okay. Tell me what’s happened.” She sat me down in a chair and looked at me sympathetically.
“A-alright,” I began, forcing my voice to steady. “We were leaving the school because we were about to walk home, when I closed my eyes for a second and she was gone. I looked everywhere — but I couldn’t find her.”
I choked out a sob and she said, “There there, we’ll find her, don’t you worry. Stay here for a second, okay?” I nodded sorrowfully and watched her enter the principal’s office. She said a few words to Mr. Adams, and he nodded, then dialed a number on the phone and starting saying something when the secretary returned.
“Okay, Mr. Adam’s calling your mom. She’ll come pick you up, okay?”
“But what about the police?” I asked with a sniffle. “Don’t they ought to know? She patted me and said, “Don’t worry, we’ve notified the authorities, they’re coming.”
“Okay,” I said and coughed. I waited in silence, watching the secretary and the principal to bustle about. Finally I hear the door crack open — my mom. As soon as she sees me she pulls me into a hug.
“Oh Rain — how could this happen?!” she said tearfully.
“I’ve wondering that myself,” I replied. She pulled away from me looking the saddest and most scared expression I’ve ever seen.
“She’ll come back, I know she will. I hope for god’s sake that she does.” My mom said.
“Let’s go home,” I simply said.
“Okay,” she said. She turned around to the secretary and said, “Thank you so much for helping — this kind of thing is tough.”
“Oh it’s no problem. I’m so sorry for your loss — er — no, but I know that we’ll find her. “
“Sorry for your loss? She’s not dead… I hope…” I thought. She smiled and we went through the door. I found Mom’s hand and I clung to it, my clammy fingers to hers. Our walk home was in silence, each contemplating our own despair, tears burning our faces.
Later that night I started researching kidnapping. My mouth gaped as I read about some of the things that had happened to unsuspecting people. All I could do was hope that Liv would be okay. If she wasn’t, I didn’t know what I’d do to myself. The rest of the evening rested in silence throughout dinner. I couldn’t help but glance over to the chair where Liv always sat, start to say something, only to realize she wasn’t there. I slept fitfully, dreaming of horrible things happening to Liv. I went to school in a despicably miserable state, my mom at a loss for words with no Liv to tell to brush her teeth and not forget her lunch.
At school I picked up my books without another glance. But when I returned to put them back before lunch, I saw something peculiar… a note. I wondered what that could be from, since I usually kept my locker pretty tidy. It was fancy paper, the kind that’s used for wedding invitations. I put down my books and picked up the note and squinted at the neatly scrawled words .
We have Olivia. If you ever want to see her again, follow the clues. Drop it in locker 168. Oh, and if you tell your parents or the police, we won’t hesitate to kill her.
Here’s your first clue.
And then nothing. Nothing except the one last clue — a dot, blood-red. I put my finger on it — still wet. The note was new. I was smart enough to guess it was Olivia’s — unless it wasn’t. This all could just be a red herring as they say. But who knew that Olivia was gone? I counted on my fingers — Mom knew, so did Mr. Cooper and the secretary. And then whoever on the police force. Who could’ve done this?
And then there was the question of what the musical note meant. I knew I should remember what those are called, since I did learn it. But that was in 3rd grade! I pulled out my phone and quickly thumbed in “curly musical note with line through it” on Google and pressed send. A Wikipedia article titled “List of Musical Notes” appeared. I tapped it, and up came the page. I scrolled through all the lines until there, the first one under clefs. Next to the picture read the title, G-Clef.
Like I knew what that meant. I kept on thinking about what it could mean as I sat down at lunch. I could barely pay attention to my friends talking about an anime show, my favorite one. And suddenly I didn’t feel quite as sorrowful about Olivia’s kidnapping with this new development. I was, as they say in mystery novels, hot on the trail.
The rest of the day was a whirlwind of tests and homework, which I worked diligently at so that I could spend the rest of the day trying to figure out the clue. When the final bell finally rang, I bolted from my seat before anyone could stop me.
As soon as I got to my locker to pick up my stuff I called my mom to tell her I’d be staying late at school for clubs. My mind was tearing myself apart about whether I should tell her what I was actually doing. But what if doing so got Liv killed?
She agreed to me staying but told me, “Take care. I couldn’t handle you disappearing as well…”
As I shut my locker closed I realized I needed somewhere to think. I finally decided the best place to work this out would be the tables next to playground (where Lily went missing).
As I made my way outside all I could think about was “G-clef, G-clef, G-clef, what does it mean?” Scanning my eyes over the playground I tried to think if there was anyway she could still be hidden there, just waiting to pop up and say “Gotcha!” but of course that couldn’t happen. She had been kidnapped for whatever reason, and it was my job to find her.
I absentmindedly sat down at the plastic blue table. I set down my backpack and pulled out my laptop, suddenly realizing there was another kid sitting across from me.
“Oh, I’m so sorry, I’ll sit over –” I started to say, standing up.
“No, no, it’s alright.”
I sat back down slowly, realizing that this kid was in my grade. Sam, the shy kid who played the guitar really well. I had a crush on him back in 5th grade, but I was over him now. He’d always been nice to me but we’d never really been friends.
“Um,” he said quietly, “I heard about your sister. I’m sorry.”
My throat became dry as I looked into his dark brown eyes. “I… it’s okay. We’re, we’re going to find her, I know it.” But really my mind was saying Yeah, unless this psycho killer doesn’t get to her before I figure out what music scales mean!
An idea suddenly hit me.“Wait. Sam…you’re good at guitar right?”
“Uh… yeah, I guess,” he said modestly, turning his glasses-covered eyes away from me. “Been playing since I was six.”
“Um, do you think… you could tell me what this means?” I said, rummaging for the incriminating note in my bag and showing it to him.
“Yeah, that’s a treble clef, less commonly a G-clef. In sheet music, depending on what instrument you’re playing, it tells you what octave to play the notes in a higher or a lower octave.”
“Okay… thanks for the help, Sam,” I said, excited, opening my laptop.
“Wait a second… what did the rest of that note say?” he said worryingly, trying to take it from my hands.
“Um… nothing!” I replied nervously, trying to stuff it in my pocket, but he snatched it before I had the chance.
“…We won’t hesitate to kill her!” he read shrilly as I tried to pry it from his hands. “Rain, you’ve got to tell someone! The police, a teacher… someone!” he cried out.
“Be a little louder why don’t you? Didn’t you read the note? They’ll kill her if I do! These clues are the only way I can find her.”
Sam sighed defeatedly. “Fine. But only if you let me help you,” he replied matter-of-factly.
“What!?” I whisper-shouted. “Nope. Out of the question. Liv might be dead just because I told you! There is no way you are getting involved,” I said firmly.
“Look, I’m good at puzzle solving! I’ll help you! For example, I’ve already figured out that we need to get the key for Room G and take down the three inspiration posters to get the next clue.”
I stood there shell-shocked for a moment before replying quietly, “H-how d’you suppose you figured that out?”
Sam shyly turned his head away. “Oh, well, y’know I figured, I take Latin and clef means key, so I thought Room G at school… and then I realized treble means threefold and what three things is Ms. Giamatti constantly going on about? Our three inspirations,” he replied modestly.
“W-well then,” I replied, surprised at his intellect. “We should probably go do that.”
Sam and I wandered the halls together trying to find the janitor (the only person in the whole school who has all the keys) until we finally walked into the office, spotting him at his desk. He was a large man with scarily dark eyes and a wispy mustache, hunched over devouring a sandwich. A plaque in front of him indicated his name was Mr. Ruiz.
“Mr. Ruiz?” I said quietly as we approached his desk. Still focused on ferociously eating his sandwich he took no notice of us. “Mr. Ruiz?” I said a bit louder. Finally he stopped chewing his sandwich and looked up at the pair of us.
“What do you kids want?” he grunted in a suspicious manner. “If you need keys for a prank m’ not helping you, *** kids almost got me fired…” he trailed off in his husky voice.
“No no, nothing like that,” I replied as nicely as I could. “I just… I… well, I um…” I sputtered. Mr. Ruiz glared at me angrily while eyeing his sandwich.
“She thinks she forgot her laptop in Room G. We were wondering if you could unlock it for us? We’d be really grateful.” Sam said smoothly from behind me. Mr. Ruiz grunted and started standing up, mumbling, “*** kids, was on my lunch break, never should have taken this job…” quietly under his breath.
When we finally arrived at Room G on the other side of the school I bounced impatiently on the balls of my feet, waiting for him to open the door already. He unlocked it so slowly it felt like a million years had gone by once we finally stepped into the music room. Me and Sam both a mixture of excited and very nervous walked over to the posters on the wall of Beethoven, Franz Liszt, and Mozart each looking pretentious and pompous in their stance.
As quietly as I could, trying not to alert the hungry janitor outside, I ripped the bottom of the posters off the wall, and out fell a small piece of parchment paper. I quickly stuck the poster back on at hopefully the right angle while Sam picked up the paper. We rushed out the door, janitor only looking a bit suspicious.
“Sorry for wasting your time,” I said quickly. “It wasn’t in there, um, you can go back to your lunch now!” We rushed away from the scene, probably looking like the most suspicious a pair of people can be without having a burglar mask or a gun. We walked quickly back outside to our blue table while Sam anxiously opened the note. This is what it said:
Well done Ms. Hackett. We did not expect you to solve our puzzle quite so fast. But, well, we did not expect your little friend either. Tell no one else or you will bid your sister adieu.
Here is your next clue :
Again, it was only accompanied with one drop of blood. The strange thing, however, about the note was the words. As I ran my hand across the cursive I could tell it was penned by hand, perhaps with a fountain pen. However I could still feel the wet printer ink from the strange clue’s font. Why go through the trouble of printing the words on the paper and writing it?
“Stendhal syndrome… I’ve never heard of that…” Sam mumbled over his shoulder. Still uneasy about the strangeness of the note, he dismissed it.
“Me neither. We should–” I started to reply before feeling a vibrating against leg. I pulled out my phone out of my pocket, and sure enough it was my mom calling.
“Dang,” I muttered under my breath. An hour had gone fast. “We’ll finish this later. I have to go home, or my mom will freak,” I said to Sam, folding the paper and stuffing it in my pocket.
“Alright. Do you have a Skype? I’ll look up Stendhal’s Syndrome and text you if I find anything,” Sam said, both of us starting to set off down the paved road.
“Okay,” I intoned and wrote down my name in his contacts. “I’ve really got to go, I’ll see you later.”
“Yeah,” he responded absentmindedly. We both started setting off but a few second later somebody tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around and saw Sam standing there under the cloudy sky, peering up at me gravely. “You know Rain, this is serious. This isn’t just some puzzle game. We’re not just having fun. Someone’s life is at stake.” I looked at him and saw how determined he was, and I knew I had made the right choice in letting him help me.
“I know. This is my sister that’s at stake, and we’re getting to the bottom of it.”
7:06 9/7/06 starsandguitars: heyyyy its sam. i found some stuff on stendhal’s syndrome. u might want 2 check it out. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stendhal_syndrome
7:09 9/7/06 rainthecupcake: Whoa that’s some weird stuff. PS why is starsandguitars your name. I mean I get the guitars part but
7:10 9/7/06 starsandguitars: idk i like stars!! gee so judgy. when urs is rainthecupcake
7:10 9/7/06 rainthecupcake: I WAS 6 YEARS OLD. MISTAKES. WERE. MADE.
7:11 9/7/06 rainthecupcake: Anyways about this Stendhal guy. Who was he?? Maybe he’s somehow part of the answer.
7:13 9/7/06 starsandguitars: hmm he was a french writer dude in the 19th century. stendhal is only his pen name tho. he’s written a bunch of stuff, novellas and biographies…but he’s best known for Le Rouge et le Noir and La Chartreuse de Parme.
7:15 9/7/06 rainthecupcake: Doesn’t sound like anything I’ve read. Send me an excerpt maybe?
7:16 9/7/06 starsandguitars: “Love born in the brain is more spirited, doubtless, than true love, but it has only flashes of enthusiasm; it knows itself too well, it criticizes itself incessantly; so far from banishing thought, it is itself reared only upon a structure of thought.”
7:18 9/7/06 rainthecupcake: That can’t be it. What is the actual syndrome tho?
7:19 9/7/06 starsandguitars: its like this thing that sometimes happens when u go and see famously amazing art, some people actually faint bc they are so amazed. lol
7:19 9/7/06 starsandguitars: it mostly happens in florence, italy cus the statue of david as well as like the uffizi gallery cus it has lots of famous michelangelo type art
7:20 9/7/06 rainthecupcake: Weird. I wonder if the clue has to do w/ art or italy or something.
7:21 9/7/06 starsandguitars: i wonder…no i bet not
7:21 9/7/06 rainthecupcake: oh no i gotta talk to u later im eating dinner w/ my parents. try to think of connections k? ttyl
7:21 9/7/06 starsandguitars: oh ok bye…
“Rain! Get off your computer for once and come eat dinner!” my mom hollered at me just as I finished tapping out my last message to Sam.
“I’m coooooooming!” I replied. “Gee, can’t you be patient?” I said jokingly at my mom as I walked into the dining room. My mom rolled her eyes and finishing putting her classic arrabiata pasta with turkey onto her plate. My stomach grumbled as the smell wafted up at me.
“Smells so good,” I said as I sat down at the table, across from my mom, the spot next to me eerily empty.
“Thanks sweetie. I just hope my worry hasn’t gotten into it….” she said distantly. My mom thinks that her emotions seep into her cooking, and she’s kinda right. In our house you can usually tell if my mom is having a bad day by her chicken.
I took the first bite of the pasta, and though it was amazingly spicy and good, there was something lacking, something that could only be discerned by a mom-cooking-aficionado such as I.
“It’s really good,” I assured my mom through a mouthful of pasta who was chewing with a sadness to her eyes.
“Yeah…” she answered, looking at the window. Suddenly she turned her head and stared at me pleadingly with her large eyes gazing into mine. “If you knew where she was, you would tell me right? This isn’t some elaborate prank you two are pulling?” I looked at her and saw the intense worry in her eyes.
“Number one: I promise I would tell you if I knew. Number two: I wish I could say it was, but it’s not. She’s missing.” I said, the guilt creeping into my stomach like a bloodsucking parasite.
My mom sighed. “I almost wanted you to say yes. But of course you wouldn’t. I’m so sorry for doubting you,” she said sincerely as she gave me a hug over the table. It felt like the guilt was consuming my body. Chewing it inside out with its corroding, insidious black slime, making my throat go dry. “I love you so much. Please don’t ever missing. I don’t think I could ever go without both of munchkins,” she begged of me.
“I promise I never will,” I barely squeaked out before rushing to go clean my plate.
To be continued…