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Backpacker Magazine – November 2009

The Lost Boy of the Ozarks

After three decades of silence, a reporter reveals the story he was afraid to write.

by: Neville Franks

Illustration by Tomer Hanuka
Illustration by Tomer Hanuka

A large man with the sad, liquid eyes of an otter slapped me.

"What?" I tried to say, but what came out was "Wulb!"

"He's alive," the man said, then wrote on a clipboard.

"Wuh-wuh-wuh-wulb?" I said.

I was at the Cox Medical Center, the doctor told me, in Springfield. Fishermen headed to the James River had found me at dawn, passed out at the edge of Highway 176. They had brought me here. Doctors suspected alcohol poisoning, which turned out to be true, but when they ran tests, they also found large amounts of Ibogaine, a powerful hallucinogen used by certain tribes in South America. They also found LSD, horse tranquilizers, Ecstasy, and methamphetamines.

I thought of BC and the drink he had given me.

"You're lucky you're alive," the otter-eyed doctor told me. "Having fun with happy pills at home's one thing, but in the woods? That's plain dumb."

"But," I tried to say, but what came out was "Blib."

After he left, a nurse came in and whispered to me.

"Your girlfriend's been calling," she said. "She sounds angry."

"My girlfriend?"

"Sissy."

"Why haven't you been returning my calls?" Sissy said, when I got her on the phone. "I've been calling you for two days! We found him."

"What? Who? No, I found him. He..."

"Little Boy Blue, you boozing, animal-loving, mood-piece-happy idiot! He never disappeared into the woods. His mom's ex snatched him. Kevin's source in the highway patrol fed him the inside dope, told him everything. And Deadline got the cops in Eureka Springs to fill in the gaps. The ex's cocktail-waitress girlfriend wanted a kid, but she wasn't so keen on being pregnant. She convinced the ex that kidnapping was a great solution. So they invited Little Boy Blue and his sister and their folks to St. Louis, then hired one hillbilly from Branson to trail the car and to call another hillbilly to grab the kid when he saw a chance. He saw the chance when the kids were playing by the stream outside Gus's Diner. It was the second hillbilly's idea to smear raccoon blood on the little girl and tell her if she said anything, he'd come back and snatch her, too. He took her shoes, too, so she wouldn't get back to the restaurant as fast."

My head hurt. My eyes hurt. My feet hurt. I wanted to stop hurting. I wondered what time it was. I wondered if there was a bar nearby.

"And the coonskin hat?"

"Weird thing about that. No one knows where that came from. After the boy was found, the little girl kept babbling about a stuttering child in the woods, how he was hungry but didn't want to hurt anyone. She said he gave her the hat. She kept crying and yelling to the cops that they had to go back and save the kid. Finally, a paramedic gave her a sedative to shut her up. She'll probably sleep for a week."

I would find the bar, and I would treat myself to a beer, and I would drink until I didn't hurt anymore. I would remind myself that scared little girls make up stories every day and that hallucinogenic drugs make even flinty-eyed reporters imagine things, and I would drink some more and I would go back to school and I would become an accountant. I would drink lots and lots of beer.

"So Little Boy Blue's okay?"

"Yep. Home sweet home. A pizza delivery guy saw his picture on the news and spotted him at the ex's house. The ex and his shifty galpal are going away for a long, long time. Deadline Ed says the cops are still looking for the first hillbilly. But Kev's working on a piece about how they arrested the second one yesterday, the snatcher. They caught him in the woods near Goodnight Hollow. A nasty piece of work, that one. Top suspect in five or six murders down there in Deliveranceland, but they never had enough evidence to convict him. He liked knives, though, everyone knows that. It's funny, huh?"

"Funny? What's funny?"

"A psycho like that, with all those knives, running a hotel."

I thought I was going to throw up.

"What did you say his name was?"

"Clemons."

"His first name?"

"Balthazar, though everyone down there called him BC."

I shut my eyes, saw the man by the rock, backlit by fire. I saw the man in the woods, hunched over a rock, sharpening his knife. The bad man.

"Hey!" Sissy snapped. "Are you still there? Or are you tripping your juicehead wonderdog skull off?"

"No, I mean yeah. I'm still here."

I could hear her sigh.

"Right. Sure you are. The nurse told me all about your pharmaceutical celebration in the trees. I wish I could say I was surprised. Get your ass back to town. We got a kids' turtle race that needs to be written up. And then it's time for the state fair and the Biggest Pumpkin in Boone County contest. Guess who's covering it?"



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Reader Rating: Star Star Star Star Star

READERS COMMENTS

Chris
Jul 19, 2012

I feel sorry for those who need to know up front that the article is fiction. If you didn't pick it up after the first paragraph or 2, or even at least enjoy it that bit more because you weren't sure, then you are really missing out.

Jackie
Mar 02, 2012

Still can't throw out my nov 2009 issue because I want to re read this story, came to website for more by this author.

ed
Jan 14, 2011

I couldn't read the article as it was written in a horrible manner.

So I came straight to the comments to get the gist.

It's fiction? ok, nothing to see here, move along... I'm a realist.

Greg Hall
Dec 09, 2010

I couldn't stop reading it, very compelling, I loved it!!

WayneB
Dec 09, 2010

Nice story, what there was of it. But it kind of makes you wonder, if BP is doing fiction now, how many other articles are fiction also? If I want to read fiction, I'll go to Barnes and Noble.

Donald E. Park
Nov 08, 2010

Don't send anymore reprints of stories that end part way through the story. I'm not about to spend several hours trying to find my copy of a magzine published well over a year ago.

Brian
Oct 29, 2010

Great story, great writing!

Brian
Oct 29, 2010

Great story, great writing!

Carlito
Oct 29, 2010

I loved this story when I read it in print... all you cry babies complaining about Backpacker not labeling this as fiction up front are lame. It's obviously fiction, but it's fun to imagine it is real for those of us that actually retained their imagination when they passed into adulthood.

Carlito
Oct 29, 2010

I loved this story when I read it in print... all you cry babies complaining about Backpacker not labeling this as fiction up front are lame. It's obviously fiction, but it's fun to imagine it is real for those of us that actually retained their imagination when they passed into adulthood.

Anonymous
Oct 28, 2010

that sucked

Sam Mudd
Oct 21, 2010

This is really fun

BJ Hopkins
Oct 21, 2010

This is real.

Dale Garrison
Aug 20, 2010

Great read. Thank you Backpacker and Steve Friedman.

Leo
Aug 14, 2010

Journalistic integrity took it on the chin in Backpacker after this article.

Steve
Aug 13, 2010

Should have been labeled as fictional from the start.

Megan
Feb 04, 2010

Really fun read! Where is the rest of it?! I read the article in the magazine, but have lost it (don't ask me how!) ofcourse this is the one I can't find. I want to share this story with some friends... have them read it and enjoy the suspense! Where can I find the rest of it?

Joan Littlefield
Jan 16, 2010

I would love to read more from this author. Where can I find it?

Nick Davidson
Dec 01, 2009

Having said that, no blame to the writer. I was entranced by the story. Just wish Backpacker would have been honest about this fictional anomaly.

Nick Davidson
Dec 01, 2009

Great story. If it were real. Too bad we readers had to be tricked into reading it, and only found out in a vague contributors note at the end of the article. This is sloppy and irresponsible journalism. A note should have appeared at the beginning of the article that what we were reading was not real. I'm pretty disappointed about that.

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