“And remember class, submissions for the internship at the Rose Tribune are due next Friday.” A bell rang signaling the end of class. All of the students stacked up their books and shuffled from their seats. All except one. A junior at Ivy Ridge Prep School sat gloomily in her seat. Her head flowed with lush blonde hair and her eyes were a sparkly green. Despite the beauty of her fair skin, her shiny red lips were squished into a frustrated frown. A white button down blouse hung loosely over her slender frame; neck adorned by a slim black tie. She wore a short green and blue plaid skirt while her legs were covered in sheer smoky nylons. Her feet were shod in shiny black heels with ankle straps when she bothered to keep them on, but they pinched so badly she often would sneak them off to relax her poor toes. This outfit was the uniform of Ivy Ridge, a Preparatory High School of refined note. Only privileged child attended.
“Miss Meadows, is there something I can help you with?” The teacher approached her desk, standing over it trying to examine the spread of news clippings. They were the same ones that she’d been analyzing for weeks now.
“Mr. Anderson, you just said that the submissions are due next Friday and I feel like I’ve hit a brick wall,” pouted the young girl with a sniffle she tried to hide.
“Ah, Dawn you’re being too hard on yourself. I’ve seen you pour over these articles and police reports for weeks now,” replied Mr. Anderson sympathetically as he stood behind her desk to get a better view of the information spread.
It was a selection of missing persons reports over the past several months. The only relation was that the majority of the missing people had been reportedly homeless. So far the police had not turned up any suspects nor had they declared that there was any definitive foul play at hand.
“You chose a difficult story to follow, Dawn. I mean, the story is full of holes. Nobody really knows all that much about these people, and the ones that do are other homeless people, and their stories are unreliable at best. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but what is it about these people that has you on such a crusade? This is not really a story to be tackled by such a young girl. The only place a story like this is likely to lead is danger.”
“That’s just it! These people need a crusader! They’re missing and nobody seems to care! I’m not okay with that. I don’t care what the police say. I think there is something very foul going on here, and I intend to find out what it is. At least I wanted to, until I reached this dead end.”
“What dead end is that?” asked Mr. Anderson, cleaning off his glasses. Feeling the concerned tone in her teacher’s voice, Dawn quickly dabbed at the tears that had been rimming her pretty green eyes and cleared her throat. Arranging the articles and reports in a new manner, she began.
“You see, according the some of the reports I’ve gathered the one fact we do know is that all the people went missing in a 1 mile radius, located here,” she indicated by pointing a well manicured nail on the map. Mr. Anderson scratched his chin to see where his young pupil was going with this. “Now everybody knows that this area of the city has been abandoned for many years due to the unsafe conditions of the buildings.”
“Right, which is why most of the homeless congregate there, because they’re often left alone,” added Mr. Anderson, unsure where Dawn was taking things.
“Exactly. Only two years ago, this man, a… Dr. Mitch Clayton purchased one of the factories in the area. He’s a scientist,” added Dawn when she saw the quizzical expression on Mr. Anderson’s face.
“I don’t really see how that has anything to do with it, Miss Meadows,” replied Mr. Anderson, returning to addressing her professionally.
“Don’t you think it is a little strange that a scientist would purchase a burned out old factory in the middle of a dead part of the city?”
“No, as a matter of fact I do not. If anything, it makes perfect sense. With any luck he’s doing something there with his studies that will create new life in this city.”
“But he’s the closest source to those who have gone missing. What if he knows something?” cried Dawn.
“Well, have you tried asking Mr. Clayton if he knows of anything suspicious occurring in the area?” inquired Mr. Anderson with an arched eyebrow.
“Yes… he won’t return my calls,” admitted a glum sounding Dawn as she looked down at her feet, wiggling her stocking clad toes.
“I see, well that does sort of leave you a little stranded with your story.”
Not waiting for him to bring it up, Dawn blurted out, “Perhaps you could speak with him! I mean, you’re a teacher at a respected institution. He would certainly give me an audience if you requested it!”
“What? Me? No! Certainly not, that’s out of the question, Miss Meadows!” replied a shocked Mr. Anderson.
“Please Mr. Anderson, I need this! If I don’t get some solid information, I’ll never get a story by Friday and then… I’ll never have a shot at the internship for the Rose Tribune,” pouted a young Dawn, fidgeting her hands in her little lap.
It went against all his ethics as a journalism teacher, but regardless how he examined the situation, Dawn had no story if she did not get at least one interview. And without that, Mr. O’Neil over at the Rose Tribune would not even consider her for this year’s internship. Rubbing his pounding temples, Mr. Anderson sighed deeply and let it out.
“Miss Meadows, I want you to understand I’m not in the habit of opening doors for young would be journalists. It counters the teachings of hard work and the cold fact that sometimes you need to let a story go, no matter the passion behind it.”
Unable to make eye contact with her professor, Dawn tucked a few locks of her blonde hair behind her ears, “I understand Mr. Anderson,” she whispered.
“That being said, I’m still a believer in the passion of journalism, and while nobody else may really care about the missing, perhaps you are their crusader… and who am I to stand in the way of that?”
Dawn looked up with tears rimming her shimmering green eyes.
“And that is why I’m going to make a call to this Mr. Clayton and see if I can’t set up a meeting with the two of you this afternoon,” finished Mr. Anderson. He could not help but smile at the reaction on his young pupil’s face.
“Oh my goodness, are you serious? I can’t believe this, oh my goodness, you’re the best teacher ever, Mr. Anderson!” Dawn exclaimed with elation. She clumsily slipped her feet back into her heels, strapping the buckles on the ankles and stacked her books before standing from her desk. “Thank you so much!” She marched from the room tall and proud in her heels, back arched, trying to seem as dignified as possible, though she wanted to jump and scream for joy.
“Come back and see me after your next class, and I’ll let you know what I can set up,” Mr. Anderson called after her.
An hour later…
The purr of the midnight blue Jaguar lulled to a stop with one final roar as the key turned from the ignition. The car was part of an inheritance that Dawn received from the estate of her late parents. Previously she was chauffeured by one of the mansion’s drivers, but had recently gotten her license and was eager and excited by the independence of driving as many youngsters are.
Tapping nervously on the steering wheel, she mentally prepared herself for an interview. Peering through the windshield of the Jaguar and seeing just how dilapidated and creepy the factory area of the city did very little to calm her nerves.
Mr. Anderson had secured the interview, but busy scientist insisted that it occur this afternoon so Dawn was forced to leave directly from school. As a result she was unable to change and was still in her uniform. While she felt kind of silly in it, she had to remind herself that to others she appeared professional. Her clothes were clean, she was in a skirt and heels, legs appropriately adorned with run free pantyhose, hair and makeup were looking good from a quick inspection from the rearview mirror. Yep, she certainly looked the part of a professional young woman. Making sure that she had her notepad, Dawn stepped from the comfort of her Jaguar and onto the gravelly mud covered ground before the menacing old factory. Adjusting the tightness of her tie, she then smoothed out her plaid skirt, and took a deep breath before taking confident if a bit awkward steps across the uneven gravel lot.
While the factory boasted many very large doors, all sealed tightly, there was only one human sized entrance located up a few steps. It was held ajar by a large stone at the base of the threshold. After a timid knock, Dawn peeked her head inside, “hello?” she dared. The factory was very large and full of old rusting machinery of which purpose Dawn had no clue. When she received no response, Dawn took up the courage to enter the factory and give a search for her host. It was a giant place after all. How could she have expected him to hear her timid little knock and mouse of a voice if he was all the way on the other side? At least, this is how Dawn justified it in her young mind.
The catwalks and pathways were winding and some so very narrow Dawn had to be very careful she did not get a dreadful run in her nylons. How embarrassing would that be? Her first real interview, looking like a fool! Luckily she was raised with enough privileged grace to maneuver her exposed legs out of harm’s way in order to keep up appearances. After several more dared calls of “hello?” Dawn reached an office like room. Thinking this to be as good a place as any to find a busy scientist, Dawn tried the handle and found it to be unlocked. With a little effort the door gave way to a working office with desks, filing cabinets, charts on the walls… but no Mr. Clayton.
“Hmmm, I wonder where he could be?” she wondered aloud. As she walked around the room, her fingers absently traced over the desks and various objects upon them, taking in the room with all her senses. The charts on the walls were all scientific, relating to biology, DNA, or genetic matters, clearly outside Dawn’s educational level. The more alone time that passed, the greater her curiosity appetite grew, and it became almost impossible to deny her urges to begin sifting through desk drawers and filing cabinets like a real investigative reporter would do. Imagine! Living the adventurous life of a reporter! She longed for the excitement. For all she had ever known was the posh life of a girl with an inheritance. Dawn did not want to be a reporter for the money. Anybody knew the pay was not glorious by any means, nor did she have any need for more money. It was the adventure, the danger that she hungered for.
By then, Dawn was already opening file cabinets and flipping through folders. Her fantasy of the adventurous life was manifesting itself into a reality. Perhaps this Mr. Clayton wasn’t going to tell her anything anyway? This was her opportunity to do some real investigation. Sure it was illegal, unethical, and maybe even a little dangerous, but somebody had to find out what happened to all the missing persons. And that’s when she found it. After dozens of folders full of seemingly pointless financial spreadsheet records, Dawn came across something that looked to be a work order of some kind. It stood out against the financial stuff. Carrying it over to one of the desks, she switched on the lamp and sat down in the chair, slowly crossing her legs as she flipped through the pages under the harsh white light. The report was some sort of inventory list, but it seemed out of place in a factory office. In fact it looked like it belonged in a hospital!
The list compiled a number of human organs as well as pounds of muscle, fat, and flesh! “What in the world?” Dawn said aloud, trying to make sense of why the list called for 10 hearts, and 1000 lbs of muscle! What kind of factory was this? And then it hit Dawn. Where would a person go to fill an inventory list of this nature? It certainly did not sound legal, so it would require black market tactics. And who would miss a bunch of homeless people? The puzzle started to fit itself together in her young mind, but the key was still missing. Why? Why would someone need all these body parts? Organ donors? That would explain some of it, but some of the list was just too disgusting even for that, so it seemed doubtful. The answers all seemed scary and out of touch for the mind of a mere high school junior! Dawn felt herself getting nauseous when the unmistakable sound of footsteps clapped against the metal catwalk outside the office! Her heart seized in her chest and she immediately stopped breathing.
“Oh my God, what if he finds me in here going through all his stuff, especially this stuff?” thought Dawn in a panic. Without enough time to fix everything, she closed the filing cabinet and shoved the inventory report under a stack of other papers praying that they would not notice its displacement. Then without a second to spare, Dawn climbed under one of the desks, and pulled the chair in as far as she could without squashing herself.
The door flung open and somebody walked in banging it shut behind them. The footsteps marched around the office for several maddening seconds before the bottom half of a white lab coat swished past the desk Dawn hid beneath. The closeness of the man was almost too much for the young girl to bear. If Dawn had been searching for the dangers of investigative reporting, she had found it. This was the real deal. And it frightened her to tears. The salty raindrops slid down her porcelain cheeks and soaked into the stocking clad knees she had so protectively drawn up to her quivering chin. She begged him not to look under the desk. What would he do if he found her? The very thought made her heart pound so hard she was almost certain he could hear it! But he simply walked past the desk and picked up a telephone, a rotary by the sound of it.
Ten long seconds of dead silence passed. “Yeah, it’s Clayton. Yes, I installed the engine yesterday… I know, it was clunky at first, but I managed to make a few adjustments. He’s starting to get hungry. I don’t think the rats in this place can sustain him… Yes I’m serious… No, he’s got a hunter’s instinct… I mean he’s really alive… or almost anyway. Listen, I need that next delivery, or we’re going to have a real ogre on our hands.”
Dawn strained her ears, eagerly eating up each and every cryptic word of Clayton’s phone conversation when her good fortune evaporated.
Her cell phone rang.
The cute sound of the ring was violent and horrifying.
Clayton stopped mid-sentence, “I’ve got to go,” he said quickly hanging up the phone. He walked over the desk, standing right in front of Dawn’s clever hiding spot. As her phone continued to ring, dooming her, she prayed that none of this was real. She promised to be a good girl, and not be so foolish, but the chair was still ripped out from under the desk, and then a strong hand firmly gripped her forearm and yanked her out too despite her cries, “Nooo!”
Snatching her still ringing cell phone from her trembling hand, Clayton looked over the little spy he found in his office. He did not hide the delight in his face as he looked her up and down, causing Dawn to shiver and pull at the hem of her short skirt. And then the ringing phone stopped.
“Hello?” he answered with a wry smile, keeping his eyes on Dawn’s terrified form. “Who’s this? …Ah, I see. Yes, I’ve just met Miss Meadows… Yes, I found her rummaging through my files… Yes, I’m shocked as well.” Clayton smiled wickedly, “it’s for you,” he said, handing the phone to Dawn.
Stupefied by shock and fear, Dawn put the phone to her ear, “hello?”
“Dawn, what the hell are you doing!?” responded the voice of Mr. Anderson. “I can’t believe this! Rummaging through his personal files? What the hell kind of reporter are you? I set up an interview for you, and you pull a stunt like this? I put the school’s reputation on this! I put my reputation on this! This is ridiculous! You really blew it this time! Fate be what it may, young lady. You’re most likely about to meet it!” With those dooming words, the line disconnected.
Dawn’s mouth was dry. She was caught. Would she really be killed for her mistake? The question hammered in her brain. She dropped the cell phone and placed her hands in front of her privates but it was too late. A damp line leaked down the inside of her thigh as she wet herself from fear of what might be done to her.
“Well now, that’s embarrassing,” chuckled Clayton. “It’s so unladylike. I do hope you brought an extra pair of stockings?” he mocked.
But Dawn’s desperation to survive her junior year kicked in and she stomped down hard on Clayton’s toe with her high heel! He howled in unimaginable pain, falling to the floor, as Dawn wasted no time in running for the door. The catwalks and metal stairwells were a maze, but the adrenaline carried her to the factory floor. As her heels hit the soiled earth, a horrifying roar filled the high ceiling of the factory and echoed off the metal machinery. The sound was so commanding, that even in her panic streak, Dawn stopped dead in her tracks wondering, “What in the hell was that?”
Perhaps it was reading her mind, because a moment later, Dawn heard the sound of machines being overturned, crashes, and the heavy thud of… footsteps? Whatever it was, the destructive sounds were getting closer and closer, so Dawn did the only thing she had the courage for. She ran like hell!
The machines and debris passed in a blur as she ran before her lungs told her that she would need to hide or they would give out and let her be caught. An iron barrel caught her wide green eyes as she quickly ducked behind it, panting with exhaustion. Her lungs burned with too much use, her ankles sore from running in high heels.
Dawn was not as fast as she thought, nor as clever as her pursuant noticed her duck behind the barrel. The beats of her heart matched the thuds of the footsteps as it approached. Her lungs afforded her no more breath for running, nor did her legs even give her the strength to stand. With the dread of defeat, Dawn realized she was trapped. Looking up, she saw something peering down at her that her own fear had not even imagined. The thing was monstrous, many times the size of Dawn. Bodily it was like a man, but more horrific than anything human. It was literally stitched together, large patches of mismatched flesh made up an impossibly muscular beast. His gigantic reaching hands boasted thick fingers with long jagged nails. The head was nearly skeletal, with uneven crooked teeth and wild hungry eyes. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the monster was the large pipes that protruded from its back, billowing a thick black smoke, mingled with the putter of an engine not so unlike her Jaguar. Whatever it was, this “ogre” was some kind of living machine towering above Dawn’s trembling form, reaching down with unstoppable hands!
“No please!” was all Dawn could manage which sounded pathetic against the grunts of the ogre. His thick disgusting fingers brushed over the silky blonde hair atop her head before violently clenching it up tightly into his fist. With a yank, he dragged Dawn out from behind the barrel and proceeded to drag her along the factory floor. The pain was unimaginable. Her long legs kicked out begging to stop, the horror and pain causing her to see spots. After a long drag and nearly passing out from the torturous fire in her scalp, Dawn met new level of pain as the ogre dragged her up off the floor to dangle by her pretty locks in front of him. Staring the ogre in his twisted monstrous face caused Dawn to tremble like a leaf. She shook so bad she thought she might die of fear.
And then, things got worse. Dawn felt something unusual beneath her, and peered down from her dangling position. Beneath her on the floor was a giant stew pot that boiled a sick green fluid! Seeing the boiling pot, and feeling the uncomfortable warmth heating up her stocking clad feet jolted the memory Clayton’s phone conversation. “He’s starting to get hungry. I don’t think the rats in this place can sustain him anymore.”
“Oh God no! Please no! Please don’t eat me!”
But Dawn was not so fortunate that the ogre could understand her begging. Alas, begging, screaming, cursing all fell on unintelligent ears. The ogre understood one thing; hunger. And it had just caught something that promised to be more delicious than every rat in the factory. Dawn understood something as well. She was about to be deep fried in a bath that would prove to be her last. Her begging degraded to groveling sobs as the ogre curiously played with his dangling meal. Flipping up her skirt, he pulled at the waistband of her nylons, confused by the strange “skin” of her legs.
Dawn felt the grip on her hair loosen and tucked her legs up as far as she could which bought her one more millisecond before she splashed into the scalding green liquid. She thrashed around in horror at her untimely end before she expired from shock. Her long lean legs joined “The Missing” leaving behind only a pair of smoky black nylons that floated atop the green broth of the stew pot.