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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

"Lead me to him? Sure, lead me to him. Right. Let's go."

She took my hand and pulled me out the back door. Black clouds had piled upon each other and they sat, bullying and sullen, on the western horizon. We walked around the farmhouse, to a small path in the woods that abutted the backyard. My shirt stuck to my back. Streaks of lightning cut through the clouds, but I heard no thunder.

She walked ahead of me.

"My ex said I was hallucinating," she said. "He told me no one lived in the woods, that it was just coyotes. He told me I was hearing what I wanted to hear."

She said this in the same tone of voice she'd used to tell me that she was waiting on her prints. I looked at the back of her haircut. What was the deal with that? That's when I heard the huh-huh-huh sound again.

We had walked 50 yards down the path. What had seemed like a cute little trail had turned into an overgrown, weed-choked passage into a dark, dank jungle. I knew there couldn't be a jungle in mid-Missouri. I knew that the huh-huh-huh couldn't be a monster's growl, that it was more likely the mating grunt of some smallish Ozarks rodent. In a minute, Mrs. Loomis would show me the animal and I would note its fuzzy ears and its cute wet nose and its funny little paws. It would help my mood piece.

Sweat dripped into my eyes. The jungle was getting darker, and more dank. The huh-huh-huh was getting louder. This was more mood than I needed.

After a quarter-mile, the trail ended at a small pile of ash, what looked like a rudimentary barbecue pit, at the northern tip of an oblong clearing 20 feet by 15 feet.

I saw blood. I smelled meat.

The wind had picked up. I thought I heard animals chattering and shrieking. I tried to get a fix on the clouds, but the horizon had disappeared. We were deep in the forest. Fat, cold drops of water fell on us. I had never felt such heavy rain.

"Huh-huh-huh-huh," the woods cried. I heard movement in the bushes.

She grasped my hand again. When I turned toward her, she was peering into the woods. I followed her eyes and thought I saw a flash of fur, a shy, greenish quivering.

"What's that?" I croaked.

"What's what?" she said.

"In the woods."

She turned to me. What was the expression on her face? Amusement? Regret? Despair?

"It's okay," she said.

"What is?"

"Everything will be okay. Don't worry."

She took my face in her hands. They were like ice. I couldn't remember why I was here. Why had we come this way? Why was she looking at me so strangely? The rain continued, heavy as sin, loud as a guilty conscience. Cutting through the sound of rain, something worse. Something remorseless: "Huh-huh-huh-HUH."

There was rattling behind the tree, then primal, urgent moaning.

"We'd better go," she said. "Leave him be."

A wave of dizziness overwhelmed me. I clung to her hand. I followed her down the path, out of the woods.



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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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