Mitigation Report 1

The child is a chronic runner. In his bedroom at night, the sound of the television treads along the halls; the blue bleeds under the door. He can put his shoes on in the dark. He can cut a neat square in the screen and fold himself into the smallest package. As the summer days cool into darkness, the sweat dries underneath his hair; his eyes adjust.

He has his ways; he has his trails. An X carved into a fallen log. A leaf pile where he hides his “specials.” When he runs, it is on a grid from point to point. Oh no, he is not just running – he has plans, too. He lies down and covers himself with branches, his ears alert to any sound, wet bark seeping into the thin fabric of his pants, where, underneath, his legs are still soft and unformed.

Is there sufficient identifying information to locate the child? Is the victim in imminent danger?

Years later, a finger bone is found, and this prompts a letter.

Dear Sir,
We are writing to alert you that the finger bone, found in our search, has been retained. As yet it remains unidentified. We do not anticipate its being claimed. Please do not be distracted by it, as it is immaterial to your case. It is immaterial even to itself. Useless. No teeth. No hair. No tissue. We are at a loss.

Just the finger bone, the slim ivory of a piano key. It lies among the leaves, winnowed by the snow pack, the whining wind. Relic. Crooked curiosity. When they find it, it shines out a bleached white, picked clean. One could set it on a window ledge, use it as a paperweight. It has just the right heft, a perfect curve.

Because he has run so many times, he has a kit, hidden in the slot of a fence post. He slides his finger in, child size, and pulls out a wad of bills, whatever he has stolen and put away for the month. He has a surprising way with sleight of hand. For security, he has barbed the mouth of his hiding place with fish hooks, which he removes one by one, every time, dropping the hooks into his palm. The boy is exacting, there can be no doubt.

The question is: how did the bone get here? And is its presence incidental? Of course, even if its origin were discovered, we are almost certain of its irrelevance. Something carried over by a dog, no doubt. Perhaps it came downstream with the melting snowpack, just one stick of many.

What may be relevant, on the other hand, is the location of the boy. We think the boy grew up, even if his domicile has often been in flux. We would like to know what he has been up to since falling off the grid.

An attempt has been logged to track him through his correspondence, to look for signs in a rambling rent dispute, a vicious letter to a female colleague. Letters, written on page after page of yellow paper, all raised over with the welts of his penmanship. The suppleness of the paper is an invitation to him, requiring the pressure of his hands, the focus on neat, square letters.

Such a man has no regard for the give of flesh itself.

Meanwhile, the finger bone is photographed from all angles and tapped with instruments. It is sealed in a plastic bag and dropped into a box. And that is the end of the finger bone. As we have mentioned, it has been retained. And it is irrelevant.

We have been up and down over those woods, turning over the black soil and the wet trees and the leaves, viscous and disintegrating. This has been our only find to date. Please be advised that we will be searching new quadrants, that we know there remains significant discovery in this portion of the woods. There is a personal history here that runs deep. The suspect’s seized letter constitutes a direct threat of force, with an expectation of its being carried out.

Which returns us to the child – the child who is a chronic runner. For him, there is always energy in the night sky, a buzz under his skin, and just outside, floating, rearranging in the air, there is some kind of demand, some kind of nascent purpose, just forming in the corner of his vision. Except in the woods, where there is nothing except the dripping of water through the leaves, marking time in the silence. Water is even dripping onto his ears, into his eyelashes. He can’t help but lie awake, thinking of the raw gray morning and where he will go, what name he might claim for one town, and for the next.

On a metal shelving rack, the finger bone lies quietly in its box, implicating the ceiling with its gesture, and so not implicating anyone.

Is there sufficient identifying information to locate the child?  Is the victim in imminent danger?

Report remains inconclusive. •


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