Author's note: Behold! I am actually writing something non-LotR related! Anyway...
(Note: I've edited this chapter. Nothing major... just grammar and such.)
Joan's friend Tobias has gone missing, and no-one can tell her where he is. But on her search for the truth, she gets caught up in something bigger than she ever imagined…
My name is Joan.
I go to a regular high school, in a regular town, a regular state; I am of normal height and build, with normal brown eyes and hair; I live in your typical neighbourhood, with a mall and a school and a bunch of typical, uniform houses and apartments. In fact, you might say that my life is boringly average.
At least, that's what I used to think.
It all started when one of my friends went missing. My friend Tobias. I thought he was ill at first, or hadbeen shunted off to another relative – but surely he would have mentioned something. No: he'd just disappeared one day, and even though the cops made a kind of half-hearted enquiry, no-one could find anything and the matter was dropped. Just like that. You know when you lose a bracelet or something and you're a bit put out and look for it? But then you think: Never mind, I've got plenty of bracelets and I can always buy a new one, and just give up? It was like that. Only Tobias was a human being. I can't believe they did that.
But shortly before that, I was conducting an enquiry of my own. The first day Tobias wasn't at school, I'd called the uncle he was staying with, but the phone just rang and then went to one of those annoying little novelty answering machines. The second day, this was repeated, with the same result. My friend Erika hadn't seen him either. So I decided that, on the third day, if Tobias was still off, I'd ask around school and see if anyone else knew anything.
My first target was Jake. He's a tall guy and quite good-looking, and I knew him through Tobias—Jake once stopped a couple of thugs from giving Tobias a swirly in the school toilets, and they've been friends ever since. Jake's a good guy.
I decided to grab him at lunch. I found him hanging out with his friend Marco in the lunch hall—I swear, the two are joined at the hip. They were having some dumb argument about whether Batman or Spiderman would win in a fight. It was the same dispute they'd been having for months, and I had a feeling it would endure until the end of time itself.
"Hey, Jake," I called across the crowd, strolling over to them. "Can I have a word?"
They both jumped—they'd been a bit on edge lately. Marco batted his ridiculously long eyelashes mockingly. "Ooh, Jake, you ladykiller. Who's your latest conquest?"
He knew who I was, but you see, Marco's always fancied himself a comedian. Jake pushed his shoulder playfully to shut him up, and nodded to me. "What's up, Joan?"
"You haven't heard from Tobias, have you?"
They both looked at each other, no longer grinning. "He's…"
"Away," supplied Marco. "He's gone back to live with his aunt…"
I frowned. "Why didn't he say anything?"
"Well… it was… extremely short notice. Here today, gone… slightly later today."
And that was pretty much the whole conversation. I thanked them and walked away, a little hurt that Tobias had found time to tell them and not me. I knew that he and Jake were close friends, but still… see, I like Tobias. You know, like like. I thought he like liked me too. Enough to phone me up and tell me he'd moved away, anyway.
Looking back, maybe I should have figured out straight away that there was something else going on. And perhaps I did sort of know, at least subconsciously, that things didn't quite add up. People can move quickly, but not that quickly. And if he'd simply moved away, why had the police been called? And why couldn't he have phoned me? He had my number.
Even so, there was no harm in checking, and so after school I jogged straight home and grabbed the telephone. I'd forgotten to ask Jake and Marco which aunt he'd gone to live with, but luckily Tobias had given me the phone numbers for both—although I had never visited him there. I think he was embarrassed by them.
I phoned the number with the out of state area code first, reasoning that if he'd gone there he'd have been more likely to have to change schools. But he wasn't there; the cigarette-voiced woman on the other end told me in no uncertain terms that she had no plans to have him there anytime soon, either. So he must be at the other aunt's, I thought. No biggie. Typed in the number. Listened to the dial tone, and the shrill ringing. At last the phone was picked up, and I asked the same question as before.
The reply: Tobias wasn't there either.
His uncle's house. He must be there. I dialled quickly, hit a wrong number, dialled again. A slurred, drunken-sounding voice answered.
I put the phone down, breathing hard.
Tobias had disappeared, and I had no idea where he was.