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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

I drove through patches of blinding sun and shade dark as night. I saw the hand-lettered sign for County Road EE, and pulled off the pot-holed, single-lane pavement onto what looked like a driveway, but was another paved road. That gave way to gravel and the gravel to dirt. The dirt was hard-packed, and up ahead smoke curled out of a brick chimney. Dead petunias were scattered on the side of a white frame house.

She had braces and slim ankles, and the rest of her was covered in a long navy blue skirt and an expensive-looking black cashmere sweater. She could have been 35, or 45. She turned the corners of her mouth up and showed just a little bit of metal and tooth, but I wouldn't call it a smile. She had brown bangs as fashionable as any magazine model, and they framed high cheekbones and hazel eyes. In the white of her left eye was a popped blood vessel that made a tiny explosion of red, perfectly matching her lipstick.

"Can I help you with something?"

"I'm the reporter," I said.

"The reporter?"

"Uh," I said, "the one who's reporting the disappearance of the little boy?"

She coughed. Or was she stifling a giggle?

"Oh, yes," she said. "Beatrice called me about you. I've been out of sorts. I had meant to have some things to show you, but my prints were late, and, well, you can imagine. Can I get you something to drink? English Breakfast Tea? Coffee?"

She turned, did something to a vase on a table. The hair that should have fallen over the back of her neck had been hacked off.

She turned again, put her hands on her hips and smiled. Her eyes were like marbles–lovely, cold, and lifeless.

"What do you think?" she asked, flouncing what hair was left.

"It's great," I lied.

"You're lying, but that's okay." Before I could answer, she'd taken my hand and pulled me toward the kitchen. "Let's have some tea before we talk," she said.

I told her tea would be fine, as I wondered what had been getting her out of sorts, besides disappearing children and spooky woods. I also wondered what prints she was talking about, and what a nice-looking woman with braces and tea was doing living in the muddy backwoods. And where was Mr. Loomis?

"You like being a reporter?" she asked, as we sat down.

"Yeah, for the most part," I said. I didn't mention Jim the Wonder Dog or Snuffy the Miracle Rabbit.

"Have you found the little boy yet?"

"No, and I'm not going to. I'm not here to find the lit..."

"What if I could lead you to him?"

Maybe that's the moment I should have called the local cops, or at least checked in with Deadline Ed, or Kev. Maybe I should have called Sissy. And maybe if I had done any of that, things wouldn't have turned out how they did. I've always pondered the maybes of my life. It's never helped.

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Reader Rating: Star Star Star Star Star


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.

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.

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!!

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.

Oct 29, 2010

Great story, great writing!

Oct 29, 2010

Great story, great writing!

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.

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.

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.

Aug 14, 2010

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

Aug 13, 2010

Should have been labeled as fictional from the start.

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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