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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 woke in a puddle of vomit. I could see the glowing embers of the dying fire, but BC wasn't on his bedroll. My eyes adjusted to the darkness. I saw a shape at the edge of the fire circle. It was BC and he was doing something on a rock. It looked like he was sharpening a knife.

DUH-DUH-DUH-DOE! The noise was behind me and I turned, startled. It was a strangled cry. Now I saw a light, too. The light was dancing, in the same location as the cry. I looked back at BC, but he kept doing what he was doing. I wasn't drunk anymore, and I wasn't stupider than usual. Asking for BC's help might have been my most reasonable next move. Staying put would have made sense, too. I wish I could tell you why I followed the light into the woods, but I can't. All I can tell you is that I did follow it.

I crawled on my belly for 50 yards.

When my head bumped into a log, I stood up. I didn't feel hungover. I didn't feel quite sober either. I felt like I was floating, like I had spent my life in these woods. I followed the light over hills and through ravines. My feet must have hit the ground, but I couldn't feel them. It was more like I was leaping, or dancing. As I moved, I breathed, and as I breathed, I could feel the woods breathe. I was one with the woods, and with the thing I was following. As I was floating through the woods, I heard eating sounds–I don't know how else to describe them. Lip-smacking, chewing, tearing exclamations, and wet grunts, and soft sobbing. I don't know how long I followed the sounds and the light, only that the embers from the campfire were long out of sight before I came to another clearing, one we had not passed before. Now the sound was everywhere. The eating, and the sobbing, and the screaming. Then slobbering and then the scream again and then it was deafening, a shrill, witless bawling.

I knew that the sounds were impossible. Maybe hitting my head on the log had affected my hearing. I shook my head, but the sounds grew louder. At the clearing, I realized the sounds weren't all around me–they were coming from the edge of the woods on the other side of the treeless circle. I walked into the clearing, and the light on the other side didn't move. I saw a shape in front of the light. The noise was coming from the shape.

I moved closer. It wasn't tall enough to be a bear, but it was upright. It had to be a wolf, or some kind of feral dog, on its hind legs, with its forelegs resting on some slim branch I couldn't see. But it was so skinny... so bony, like an undersized, malnourished chimpanzee, or ground sloth. Its head was shaking from side to side, chewing. Was it looking at me?

I moved closer. Its head was large and angular, and covered with fur, and its eyes were moist and ravenous.

I moved closer still and saw that the fur covered only the head, and that the face was pink, and that the forelegs weren't leaning on anything. They were holding something. And they weren't forelegs. They were arms, covered in ragged, torn scraps of cloth.

I moved closer, until I was only 10 feet away. Closer.

It couldn't be. It couldn't possibly be.

"DUH-DUH-DUH-DUH-DOE," the little boy said.

I stopped breathing.

It could not be a little boy. It could not be a little boy holding a kerosene lamp. I told myself I would never ever ever drink again.

"DUH-DUH-DUH-DUH-DOE," the little boy said. He put down the kerosene lamp. He was wearing a coonskin hat. There was something wrong with his mouth, something messy. I should have run. I should have screamed. But I did nothing. I was one with the woods. I couldn't feel my feet. The boy walked closer. I realized what was wrong with his mouth; his lips were smeared with blood. He was holding something wet and dripping.

"DUH-DUH-DUH-DUH-DOE," the boy screamed.

"What?" I said, and he moved toward me and I saw what he was holding. It was a hand, a tiny little fist, a baby's fist. Two fingers had already been chewed off.

"DUH-DUH-DUH-DUH DON'T TRUST HIM," the little boy cried. "Duh-Duh-duh DON'T TRUST THE BAD MAN WITH THE KNIFE." And then the little boy reached out his hand and he took mine and his hand was colder than death, slick with blood. "I-I-I-I'm your fuh-fuh-fuh-fuh-friend!" he bawled.

I heard a high, keening wail, an awful shriek of pain, and terror. The little boy in the coonskin cap stared at me with dead eyes, and the shrieking wouldn't stop, and then I realized the shrieking was coming from me.

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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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