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Sandbox - Episode 3: Babies in the Night (Part 2)

Sandbox - Episode 3: Babies in the Night (Part 2)

A covert intelligence officer discovers that our universe is not what we imagined it to be.

Episode 3 - Part 2

A strange entity kidnaps young teenage girls, who are then transformed into babies.

Scene IV

Felix drove towards Mr. Belkowitz’s home, admiring the scenic route and taking full advantage of New Brunswick’s higher than the average provincial speed limit along the way. After forty minutes on the road, he approached the town of Mino, a small settlement near the banks of the Grand River with a population of just under two hundred. Passing by a homey little restaurant by the name of the Nifty Nook, advertising homemade pork schnitzels and Polish perogies, he turned on Mistywood Drive, heading slightly north-west. The Belkowitz residence was easily recognizable by its characteristic crimson red exterior paint job.

Parking his car in the driveway, Felix approached the front door, knocked loudly twice and rang the doorbell once. He heard heavy footsteps from within. Just as he was about to knock once more, the door opened. It was Mrs. Belkowitz that greeted him, her eyes red with tears.

“Hello, Mrs. Belkowitz. My name is Officer Sor…” Felix started introducing himself but was abruptly interrupted.

“When are my husband and baby going to be returned to me?!” she cried out hotly. “I want them back. They are both my family! Why won’t you give them back to me! My husband has done nothing wrong!”

“Mrs. Belkowitz, please!” intervened Felix with a tone of urgency and sternness. “I am here to find out what happened last night! Before your husband can come home, we need to collect evidence to support his innocence! My name is Officer Soris, and I am here to view the scene of the kidnapping and search your residence for evidence.”

“I’m sorry Mr. Soris…” said Mrs. Belkowitz, here voice suddenly fading into a whisper. “I know you’re just doing your job. But, as you can understand, I don’t know what going on myself. I’m in a state of shock. On one side I’m relieved my baby girl is still alive, even though she’s just gotten younger. On the other hand, who will actually believe it and give her back to me…”

‘Mrs. Belkowitz, I’ve ordered a DNA test to be performed.” said Felix. “Using the results of that test, we can confirm if indeed the baby is yours. If by some incomprehensible reason the tests prove you are the mother, there are no grounds to keep the baby from you.”

“Oh dear! You’ll see that she’s mine. You’ll see Mr. Soris!” cried out Mrs. Belkowitz.

“Now, with your permission, I’d like to perform a quick search of your home.” said Felix.

“Of course, Mr. Soris, please come in,” said the distraught woman. “I’m sorry for my outburst. I’m just on edge from what happened.”

Felix carefully scanned each nook and cranny of the house, focusing his attention on Christina’s room. The window was completely broken, with no trace of any alien evidence unaccounted for in the report. One thing did stand out as he looked out to the ground below. It was a dark spot, barely noticeable directly underneath the window. He rushed outside to examine it more closely. Mrs. Belkowitz followed him around like an owl with unusually large bulging eyes, watching his every move, twisting her head in all directions.

“Mrs. Belkowitz, do you have any idea what caused this spot?” asked Felix curiously.

“I haven’t the faintest idea Mr. Soris,” she replied. “Though I’m sure I haven’t seen it before. If you hadn’t drawn my attention, I wouldn’t have noticed.”

“Hmm..The kidnapper jumped from a second story window, with your daughter and probably landed in this spot,” said Felix out loud. “What’s troubling me is the implied superhuman feat in all of this. Jumping with another person on your back, regardless of the weight of the second person and landing on your feet, only to sprint towards the woods. It’s just not physically possible for anyone.”

“There’s one thing that might help you!” spurted out the woman. “My husband said that kidnapper was as black as night itself. He was a shadowy figure, pitch black he said.”

“Thank you Mrs. Belkowitz for the description,” replied Felix. “Though I doubt I can use that as evidence. However, I can get a sample of this sand here analysed.”

Felix grabbed a portable evidence case from the car and deposited a sample of the darker sand and the sand further outside of the spot into separate containers using a disposable plastic spoon. Taking the evidence case with him, he proceeded through the woods towards the lake.

The entire wood canopy smelled musty. There was also a highly repugnant smell of rotten mushrooms mixed with the pleasant aroma of evergreens. As Felix trekked through the forest, he spotted a pair of footprints preserved in the dark mud, studded with a copious amount of pine needles. The needles had thickened the mud, giving it a less viscous quality. There was only one set of footprints.

Following the trail, Felix reached the shores of the Grand Lake. The mud here was less thick than in the forest and attempted to suck down his feet into its slimy depths at every step. Scanning he shorelines, he paused as his gaze reached the waters directly in front of him. Several meters ahead he saw a fuzzy silhouette right above the water. Looking even more closely, he saw a thin outline of a circle reflecting on the water, with a mist-like vapour exuding from it. Felix stepped back into the grass. As he was trying to even out his balance in the slippery mud, his phone rang.

“Officer Soris speaking…” said Felix, answering the call.

“Soris! Glad you actually picked up the phone this time!” said Aurelia on the other end. Felix looked down quickly on the notifications and indeed he had missed over three calls.

“Sorry, don’t know how I didn’t hear.” said Felix.

“No worries, Soris,” said Aurelia. “Just wanted to call and touch base in this unusual case of ours. I’m honestly a bit stuck. What about you? Have you managed to make sense of anything?”

“Well, not really, no. I did, however, discover a few anomalies on the scenes of the kidnapping.” said Felix thoughtfully. “Also, I would recommend performing a DNA test on the baby to see if it actually belongs to the mother.”

“Really Soris? Do you honestly believe that the children of these parents were not abducted but transformed into their much younger, snot-trickling selves?” exclaimed Aurelia with a hint of surprise. “What do you think the motivation would be if it were even possible?

It was then that it dawned on Felix. “Listen, Aurelia, suppose these girls that were abducted had some kind of relationship? Perhaps they were friends, or related to the mysterious kidnapper somehow?”

“It’s definitely a possibility. More possible than if we were to entertain the transformation theory,” said Aurelia.

“Could you check on that on your end and I’ll do so on mine?” asked Felix. “It might lead us to the actual perpetrator.”

“Sure, I’m on it,” said Aurelia. “I’m actually inspecting the abduction scene myself, so just call me in about five minutes.”

They both hung up, and Felix rushed back to the Belkowitz residence. As he ran towards the house, he saw a strange figure conversing with Mrs. Belkowitz in front of the door. It appeared to be a man dressed in black, but shimmered in the sunlight, his entire outline appearing blurry like a bathroom mirror after a hot shower. Felix ran towards the porch, yelling at the man.

“Sir, please raise your hands above your head where I can see them and get on your knees, now!’ commanded Felix.

The figure turned out to face Felix and vanished in a wisp of smoke. Confounded, Felix approached Mrs. Belkowitz:

“Mrs. Belkowitz, who was that you were just speaking with?” asked Felix with a bedazzled expression.

“I’m sorry Mr. Soris, but I don’t know who you are talking about,” said Mrs. Belkowitz with a hint of craftiness in her voice. “You couldn’t have seen someone since no one was here and that’s that. I believe you go now and leave me be.”

She closed the door tightly as Felix approached closer to try and convince her to divulge her secret. It was then that he got a call. It was Aurelia again:

“Soris, you were right!” said Aurelia excitedly. “Both girls were related. They attended the same school together in Fredericton and were close friends. They kept contact over the years.”

“I see, well, at least, it's a start.” replied Felix. “There has to be something to tie them to the kidnapper. I believe I just saw him outside the Belkowitz residence, but he got away.”

“Really?” exclaimed Aurelia. “What happened? What was he doing?”

“He was talking to Mrs. Belkowitz on the porch, but then something strange happened…” explained Felix.

“What was it? Did he vanish into thin air?” joked Aurelia, mocking his account.

“It’s something along the lines of that room we were stuck in,” said Felix slowly. “So I think we should let be for now. I’ll head back to the safehouse, where I transferred the suspect. I’m also waiting for the DNA test. Can you also check the girl’s medical history?”

“Sure, what do you expect to find?” asked Aurelia.

“It’s gut feeling,” said Felix. “If we were to entertain the idea or the possibility that someone can be transformed into their younger selves, then we would have to think in terms of what those possibilities could offer. But, I need more clues. Let’s talk again soon.”

Felix ended the call and jumped into his rental car. As he pulled out with the intention to head for safehouse FNB-04, a resonating grumble erupted from the inner depths of his stomach. He had not eaten since morning and a long evening was ahead. Before heading out for the main road, he swerved into the parking lot of the Nifty Nook on the corner of Mistywood Drive, deciding to grab a bite to eat.

Scene V

It was close to sixteen-hundred hours when Felix arrived at the safe house with a large cup of hot coffee in his hand. Striding towards the interrogation block, he heard a muffled but wild, despondent cry as he passed a steel door. It was not a cry of defiance. It was the cry of a person being unceremoniously subjected to a range of enhanced interrogation techniques and gradually breaking down psychologically and physically. Held indefinitely and experimented on, using a sophisticated array of discomforts, there was no escaping the government’s investment in search of the truth. Cries for mercy were met with deaf ears. It was not torture of a person, it was an excision of a threat. Taking a few anxious sips and burning the tip of his tongue, Felix listened intently while standing behind the door. He opened the report of the DNA test for both girls. Both females were undeniably their mothers’ daughters according to a ninety-eight percent determination. Scanning the report in disbelief, he felt a presence address him from behind.

“Humanity has come a long way since the days of yore when the Brazen Bull and the tub were in fashion.” a familiar voice spoke eerily. “Unfortunately, only the methods have changed over time, while the principle remains the same: subject a victim to uncomfortable levels of distress or pain in the hope of uncovering a needed piece of information…The question is Officer Soris, what are you doing here?”

Felix turned around to look at the person addressing him. He saw the Apple Man pull out a sumptuous Macintosh from his fanny pack and bite down on it with a loud chomp.

“What am I doing here? What the hell are you doing here?” exclaimed Felix. “You are under arrest as a suspect in my investigation, now get your hands up and turn around!”

As Felix was about to call for backup to detain the Apple Man, he heard an intriguing proposal.

“Why not have a chat with me, Officer Soris?” said the Apple Man. “Or do you want to torture me, derive pleasure from another’s suffering? I assure you, you will not be able to confine me in these walls..”

“Oh, so you just want to sit down and have a nice chat, huh?” spoke Felix sternly. “Maybe a cup of tea too? Should I bring out the muffins as well?”

“It would certainly get me talking than if you were to waterboard me,” replied the Apple Man, standing still and chewing his fruit. “Besides, no one would have to know that we had talked and you would face no compromising situation with your superiors.”

“The way I see it, is you are the prime suspect in a string of unexplained events.” cried out Felix angrily.

“As I am aware, no person involved in those events had yet been hurt,” replied the Apple Man sternly. “But, things can take a turn for the worst…”

“Is that a threat? Stop speaking in nonsensical riddles!” asked Felix. “I have no interest in either bargaining or listening to you unless you give me a good reason as to why I should. If you want to offer information, then go ahead before I change my mind.”

“The kidnapper you seek is a teenager by the name of Rufius Mashkin,” said the Apple Man. “You should be able to find him easily.”

“How do you know this Mashkin? And how do you know about the kidnappings?” inquired Felix. “Perhaps you can explain why he kidnapped those girls, only to mysteriously transform them into their baby-selves?”

“Officer Soris, consider for a moment the seemingly innate human desire to build, to create and to entertain…The social drive to form and shape the world using raw materials available, moulding them into more complex applications over time…” spoke the Apple Man slowly. “…Throughout this human existence, these desires grew more complex, they grew more interactive. Scientific genetic modifications of plants and animals, the creation of artificial ecosystems and the modification of nature itself for the purposes of making life more comfortable at the expense of the toils of others. Among such advancements is the development of complex open-world games for entertainment…”

“Spare me the philosophy lesson, can you get to the point?” interrupted Felix sharply.

“Consider the possibility Officer Soris, of an open-world game so advanced, it would be indistinguishable from your reality…” said the Apple Man.

“Enough!” stopped him, Felix. “You want me to believe that I’m a part of some video game? That we are being ruled by some robots?”

“No, you are being ruled by no one. And no, not a video game per-se…” said the Apple Man. “…Your governments, culture and social rules dictate you. You are you but limited by the physics of the game. A game so advanced that spawns characters with artificial consciousness. A game so complex, it has generated a believable world. Consider why all the brightest scientists throughout history and the present time, have yet to formulate a single conclusive fact about your very existence or origin of the universe itself? There are many major theories, but they are only theories. Theories that can be disproved at any time. With each particle collision, more new particles are discovered each day. With each new telescope or satellite, you discover more about the universe. With each discovery, you open the door to new questions. An endless amount of questions and an even more conflicting amount of answers. It is an open-world which eloquently hides its secrets, but also incidentally provides the tools for you humans to discover them. Your friend Bogdan’s insight was close to the truth, insane as it may sound.”

“I’m sure that if there was any scientific evidence for such a possibility, then someone has already looked into it and found none.” retorted Felix. “Otherwise, I find your twisted theory baseless. Besides, you have not answered my question.”

“Indeed, I am responding to your very question, Officer Soris, in quite more detail than I expected to divulge.” said the Apple Man with a smile and pulling out another apple. “If you were to entertain the possibility of the world you are in nothing more than an open world game, what do you think would happen if a sudden glitch were to take place in the coding? Would you not start to witness unexplainable incidents, such as bizarre kidnappings and baby transformations? Unexplainable events defying the logic and physics you are used to? Consider for but a moment…”

“Ok, that’s enough now. Turn around with your hands up!” Felix turned around to reach the speakerphone mounted near the door to call for backup, leaving the Apple Man out of sight for a brief instant. As he turned back around, his potential detainee had disappeared.

Felix was confronted with backup, which he thanked but dismissed with an apologetic hand gesture. Heading back to the main surveillance office, he requested to view the security footage in the hallway. An agent obliged by rewinding the recording, but there was no visible evidence that another man had been present with him at any point in time. Quite the contrary, the video showed no signs that Felix had been talking!

Pulling out his phone, Felix called Aurelia, pressing her number on the touchscreen with his cold fingers. His hands were sweaty, and eyes raced from side to side. He took turns wiping each hand against the side of this pants for a better grip. The phone rang.

“Hello, Felix,” answered Aurelia warmly. “How goes the investigation?”

“Basically, both babies belong to their mothers. The DNA is irrefutable.” replied Felix.

“That means that the teenage girls did get younger…” said Aurelia with a hint of disbelief. “Maybe the test was wrong? There is a certain degree of error allowed in these types of tests…I mean it’s just impossible!”

‘I have the name of the potential kidnapper we need to track down, Rufius Mashkin.” said Felix. “Can you check your sources in Moncton, while I check out any leads here in Fredericton?”

“Sure thing, Felix,” replied Aurelia. “I’m on it.”

Placing the phone back on the desk beside him, he felt something crumple up inside his jacket. Reaching inside the inner right pocket, he unfolded a large piece of paper that contained the missing letter puzzle from the paperback novel. With no desire to lose time deciphering the odd discovery, Felix placed it back and headed to conduct a search for Rufius Mashkin.

A police database search for the newly suspected kidnapper turned up negative. Yet, despite the initial cold trail, a short google query revealed quite more than Felix expected. Scanning archived social media posts, Mashkin appeared tagged in photos in both kidnapped girls’ profiles. The young man appeared to be a close friend to them both, but the relationship was not immediately apparent. It was then that Felix pulled up an image of the suspect with Mrs. Belkowitz standing in the background. Further probing into New Brunswick’s driver licence database revealed the last known Moncton address of one Mashkin. This was the necessary evidence Felix needed to initiate a legal search for the suspect. Initiating a call to Aurelia, Felix provided her with the address and instructed her to await his arrival prior to confronting the suspect.

Scene VI

A gentle ocean breeze blowing through the city of Moncton playfully tickled the inner nostrils of all those strolling through the streets, tending to their late evening affairs. The sunset was fast approaching, and lampposts all across the city lit up with a single, bright yellowish spark in preparation for the impending darkness. Passing by a small, family owned bakery by the name of “Miss Pupon’s”, a police patrol car swerved into a vacant parking spot next to it. Exiting the vehicle, a particularly short officer with a tired face exited the vehicle. Entering the bakery, he ordered a large box of donuts with an equally large cup of black coffee. Getting back into the police car, he drove off into the night along with a significant quantity of delicious, freshly baked carbohydrates.

Felix pulled up behind Aurelia’s vehicle parked directly across from the bakery. Motioning to her to get out, they both approached an inconspicuous apartment building entrance. The owner had refurnished the top second floors of the building spanning the entire city block into low-cost apartments. The first floors housed a variety of independent retail stores. The dirty red brick exterior was crumbling near the roof while the entire exterior was stained by a layer of thick, black grime. Once upon a time spotless clean, the building now was in a state of disrepair and barely indistinguishable from a pile of rubble.

“Look at this awful place Officer Faust,” commented Felix. “I lived in something like this as a boy… Brings back the memories. It looks as if it’s about to collapse at any moment. Even the ancient Romans built things to last thousands of years, why can’t our civilization with it’s advanced scientific knowledge do better?”

“It’s simple,” replied Aurelia. “Our modern society relies on a system with equal rights for all. But, when everyone shares equal rights, that means everyone wants to keep the expenses low and the profits high. Back then, why not exploit a bunch of slaves to build a structure from layers of solid rock? Bad job? The heads roll. Obviously, no one can do that now.”

“I believe you have a point…” replied Felix. “Anyways, let me give the owner a call to open the door. He should be waiting for us.”

Felix dialled the building owner’s number, who emerged from Miss Pupon’s bakery with a bagel in his hand. The owner waved to the agents cordially and walked up to the entrance. Pulling out a circle of keys from his pocket, he located the correct one to open the door. Thanking him for his help, both officers ascended the stairs in search of Mashkin’s apartment.

The corridor smelled of rotting wood. A dark spot on the wall appeared to be caused by a fungal growth. It was eating away at the walls from the inside. With each step, the stairs creaked under their weight, sounding like a deer being ripped apart by wolves in the wilderness. Spotting Mashkin’s door, Felix heard two distinct voices from the inside. Leaning with his ear against the door, he tried to ascertain the subject of the discussion. They could be barely heard, sounded like a heated conversation. He knocked twice and took a step back and sideways away from the door. It was then that they heard a muffled gurgling noise. Someone was choking.

“Felix, you have to try and break down the door.” cried out Aurelia. “I think whoever else is in there is trying to kill Mashkin!”

Standing behind the door, Felix gave a few whopping kicks with all the strength he could muster. The flimsy door cracked open. Aurelia rushed in with her gun blazing, ready to restrain the potential assailant. But there was no one else in the room. There was only Mashkin, lying on the floor. Felix kneeled down and placed two fingers firmly against the top side of the suspect’s neck.

“There’s no pulse,” said Felix gravely. “And the body is abnormally cold. As if it was lying here for quite some time. But I swear I could hear two voices in the room…”

“This is definitely Rufius Mashkin,” replied Aurelia. “There’s no mistaking it. We saw his driver’s licence photo. The face is his.”

“Time of death at…” before Felix could note the exact hours and minutes, the body blackened as he removed his fingers from the neck, transforming Mashkin into a solid piece of hardened charcoal. With a hushed “poof” the body then turned into ashes. Lying in place of the body was a single piece of paper, folded in half. Picking it up, Felix saw the same letter puzzle he had discovered in the paperback. Feeling his jacket pockets, he could not find the same one he had discovered earlier in the safe house.

“What was that Felix?” asked Aurelia. “Could this be some kind of joke? Maybe someone replaced some kind of mannequin of Mashkin here only to somehow magically disappear?”

“The body felt completely real to the touch Officer Faust…” replied Felix slowly, staring at the piece of paper in disbelief, but placing it again into his pocket unopened.

“What about that paper?” inquired Aurelia. “Does it mean something?”

“I have no idea,” said Felix, but tried to assess the situation and make a decision. “But, it’s best if we take it with us.”

“So what now Officer Soris?” asked Aurelia, sheathing her gun.

“It appears there’s no evidence of any crime committed…” said Felix disappointedly. “Our prime suspect just spoofed into ashes. Our other suspect, Mr. Belkowitz, has no incriminating evidence against him. The babies both belong to their mothers based on the DNA testing. We have no case and we have no solid leads. But, I think to find some closure, we should call in a forensic team to collect any possible evidence here. I also want to talk to Mrs. Belkowitz before we head back to Ottawa…”

“I’d like to come along.” declared Aurelia, her eyes revealing an urgency to make sense of the transpired events. “I need some kind of explanation for what happened. Anything remotely reasonable or unreasonable, but something logical.”

The two officers called in a team to see to the evidence and headed to Grand Lake. It was a long drive in the middle of the night. Every few kilometres there were signs outfitted with flashing lights that warned about the danger of moose in the area. The signs were on both sides of the highway, bearing a large depiction of the king of the forest. With barely any streetlights to guide them, except when passing through a settlement, the road was enveloped in darkness. Only the high beams could penetrate it and provide a longer field of view of what was ahead. Both officers kept silent the entire drive, each ruminating to themselves about the Mashkin incident.

It was close to midnight before they arrived at the Belkowitz residence on Mistywood Drive. Knocking loudly on the door, Felix made his determination not to leave without an answer clear with every hit. Finally after the tenth knock, Mrs. Belkowitz piped up from behind the door.

“Who are you and what to you want this time of night?” she yelled out fearfully.

“This is Officer Soris, here with Officer Faust,” said Felix. “This is urgent and we need an answer concerning your family’s relationship with Rufius Mashkin.”

The door popped open and Mrs. Belkowitz stared at them with her large, bulgy eyes. “What do you want to know from me?”

“I need to know why Mashkin came to see you and what you discussed,” said Felix sternly but seeing Mrs. Belkowitz’s defiant expression, he decided to change his tone to one less demanding. “Listen Mrs. Belkowitz, the case is closed. Your husband will be released in the morning, cleared of any wrongdoing. But, unfortunately, Mr. Mashkin has been found dead under mysterious circumstances. We are looking for some logical closure. We just want to know what this was all about and I have my suspicions that you might have the answer we seek.”

Her stubborn expression slowly giving way to one of profound relief and sorrow, Mrs. Belkowitz started explaining her side of the story. “I went with Christina one day to have her examined at the hospital. My daughter was diagnosed with terminal cancer and the doctors gave her a few months to live. And just when things could not get worse, Christina found out that her best friend Fiera got the same diagnosis…”

“Did the fathers know about this?” interrupted Felix.

“Paul didn’t know…” said Mrs. Belkowitz. “I decided not to tell him…Well, I was going to of course, but then Mashkin came along…He found out somehow, whether Christina told him, I have no idea. They were friends, so there is the possibility, but that’s when she was kidnapped. Mashkin later came by and told me that he had done it on purpose. He said he did it to absorb the illness from both girls…He only briefly explained how he did it, that it was an ability granted to him by a higher power, to travel like a walking shadow from one place to the next…When I felt Christina in my hands, I knew that she’d been given a second chance, a chance to live a full life. Now, when I get Christina back, she’ll be able to live a full life!”

“Thank you Mrs. Belkowitz,” said Felix. “Impossible as this sounds, we currently have no other alternative explanation or theory. We will be on our way. Thank you for your help.”

As Mrs. Belkowitz locked the door behind her, Felix and Aurelia exchanged glances at one another. Looking up at the sky, they witnessed a dense star-studded mosaic, the bright lights eternally glowing within the dark fabric of space.

“Time to head back.” Felix broke the silence. “Sikorski will be pissed I did not hand in the report he requested.

“Yes, time to go,” said Aurelia quietly. “It’s a shame we made no progress…”

“Yet you learned so much…” a familiar voice clamoured from behind them, echoing through the forest, yet sounding like a whisper brushing against their ears. Turning around sharply, they saw no one. Felix reached into his pocket and unfolded the piece of paper. He held it against the faint light of the lamp hanging above the front door, illuminating the porch. Some of the letters were coloured in, spelling out the words “hope” and “love”.

To be continued….

This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

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