Every year thousands of people simply vanish. Some are kidnapped, some are abducted by aliens and some like Tristan Bell’s father disappear in the most boring of ways. His dad woke up one morning. Got dressed. Kissed his wife goodbye, went to work and was never seen again. They found his car abandoned in an empty parking lot behind a discontinued fish packing factory. Tristan Bell was about to vanish but to him that day seemed just like any other day.
It happened on a rather ordinary Saturday afternoon. His mother was in the kitchen making dinner. His stepfather, Gus was in the living room drinking beer and watching football. Tristan sat on his bed. Listening to his favorite band, ‘Murder! Death! Kill! and reading a fantasy manga about a ninja who’d retired to become a flower arranger. He was just getting to the part where the ninja was about to propose to the clumsy milkmaid when his bedroom door flung open.
His stepfather Gus stood in the doorway breathing heavily like he’d just ran a marathon. Tristan took off his headset and looked up at the red faced man.
“Didn't you hear your mother calling you, boy?" Gus asked in a slurred voice. The man wiped his chin with the back of his hairy arm and belched loudly.
The bruises on Tristan's arm had taught him to answer Gus quickly.
“My music’s loud,” said Tristan. “What does she want?”
Gus shook his head in disgust. “Always sitting in your room. It's pathetic,” Gus moaned. “ When I was your age I’d be out all day chasing girls and getting into trouble with my mates.”
Gus picked up the manga and blinked at the cover for a second. “A ninja with flowers in his hair,” he said. He threw the manga back onto the bed. “This worlds going to hell in a handbasket, I tell you.”
Tristan knew that Gus was looking for a fight. His football team must have been losing and Gus needed someone to direct his anger at. Tristan knew that anything he said would set the man off.
“Too spineless to speak, boy?”
Tristan got out of bed, snagged his leg in the bathrobe he was wearing and tripped, bumping his head on the wall.
Gus laughed like it was the funniest thing he had ever seen. “Pathetic, now I know why your dad ran away.” Gus snorted as he laughed. “Still wearing your bathrobe at this time of day. Trust me your days of lying around are over.”
Tristan's mother shouted from the kitchen. “Half time is over, babes!”
Gus drained the rest of his beer and shouted. “Another beer!”
He stumbled back to the living room and plonked himself down on his favorite couch.
Tristan’s mother, Cora, had a face that radiated warmth and kindness. She wore her mousy brown hair in a neat bun and always wore makeup, no matter the time of day.
She smiled at Tristan as he entered the kitchen. “Could you be a dear and run down to the shops for me?” she asked.
Gus roared at the TV. “Stupid refs, open up your eyes.”
Cora glanced nervously at the living room and for a moment her smile slipped.
“He's just passionate about his sports,” she said.
Gus was passionate about anything that he could be angry at. When he wasn't watching sports and swearing at the referees he watched the news and swore at the news anchors.
“We need some carrots,” Cora said.
Tristan opened the fridge and held up a packet of carrots.
Cora’s smile slipped again. She glanced inside the fridge. “I see we are out of cabbage. I really do need some for my famous coleslaw.”
“You never make coleslaw,” Tristan said, as he closed the fridge again.
Cora laughed but her eyes glanced nervously at the living room.
“What are you talking about Tristan, you silly thing? You love my coleslaw.”
“That was dad,” he said. “He loved your coleslaw.”
Cora shifted uncomfortably. “I get mixed up sometimes,” she said. “You look just like him, you know.”
Cora stepped across the kitchen and held Tristan. “Your dad had hair as white as snow, just like yours.”
Tristan wasn't much of a hugger but he could tell that his mother was acting stranger than usual.
Cora never spoke about his father. Tristan always suspected that she knew more about his father’s disappearance than she let on.
“Are you ok?” Tristan whispered.
Cora released him from the hug and made a dismissive gesture. “Let me fetch my purse,” she said. “Maybe you can get yourself something nice. One of those comic books you like so much.”
“They’re called manga's, not comics,” said Tristan.
Tristan stepped over a crushed beer can as he followed his mother into the living room.
Gus with his feet on the table looked up expectantly at Tristan's mother. “Where's my beer?” he asked.
“One sec, honey. I'm just getting some money for Tristan.”
Gus groaned and went back to watching the game.
Tristan, who was feeling very uncomfortable standing so close to Gus, stood awkwardly with his arms wrapped around his body and his eyes glued to the TV. He didn't care much for football but he didn't know where else to look and he figured the TV was a safe bet.
The TV screen flashed and for a second Tristan saw a pair of electric blue eyes staring at him through the TV screen. He blinked and the screen was back to normal. Gus on the other hand hadn't noticed.
Cora finished rifling through her handbag and turned around and handed Tristan a twenty pound note.
“That should be enough,” she said, as she led Tristan towards the front door.
“Don't rush,” Cora said. “His team’s losing so give him some time to cool off before coming back home.”
She pushed the door open. “Tristan,” she said. Cora looked at her feet avoiding Tristan’s eyes. “We need to speak when you get back.” She pushed Tristan out of the door.
Tristan stood outside, clutching the money. The door shut behind him and he realized he was still wearing his bathrobes.
The last thing he wanted was to go back inside the house and see that smug look on Gus's face. Gus took so much pleasure in pointing out Tristan’s faults.
“Can't stand seeing that boy moping around all day,” he heard Gus shouting to his mother. “I hope you’ve told him the freeloading days are over.”
Tristan leaned with his back against the front door.
“Yes honey, don't you worry,” she replied.
“He needs to move out. You hear me,” Gus shouted. “It's not right for a boy his age to be sitting around all day. Did you see he was still wearing that damn bathrobe?"
Tristan sighed and pushed himself off the door. He wasn't wanted anymore, Gus reminded him of that every day. Tristan was barely seventeen and was still in school. He didn't have a job and the only friend he had was someone from an online game who called himself ItHurtsWhenIPvP.
Tristan was just the living memory of the husband that had walked out on his mother. He felt abandoned and rejected. He didn't belong anywhere and the worst part. He wasn't even popular online. He knew people who dressed up like cats and purred when they spoke and they were super popular online. Maybe he could pretend to be a cat, he thought. Maybe then he’d get some attention.
A car honked at Tristan as he crossed the street. The driver who’d jumped a red light, leant out the window and swore at Tristan. The driver's eyes were electric blue just like the eyes Tristan had seen on the TV.
Tristan passed a shop window and saw the same blue eyes looking out at him again. The vision faded and Tristan saw his own reflection. Snow white hair in a tangled mess. Bathrobes that were too short for him and he stood with a hunch from years of playing video games.
“What am I doing with my life,” he wondered out loud.
He’d grown up dreaming that he’d have a life of adventure and romance but the only adventure he’d ever had was from video games. As for romance, staying up late watching porn and drinking energy drinks was the closest he'd ever gotten to a date.
Apart from a few homeless guys asking for money, the people passing Tristan on the street never once looked at him. He could have been walking around naked for all the difference it made. People walked with their necks craned forward and their eyes staring at their feet as if they thought he would ask for money if they looked at him. It felt strange to live in such a crowded place and be surrounded by so many people and still feel lonely. He wondered if people with lots of money still felt poor or if beautiful people felt ugly. Maybe that was just another of the great injustices of life. Did that mean that no matter what Tristan did, his life would never change. With that depressing thought in mind Tristan stepped onto the bridge.
His mind turned to thinking about how many people had jumped from the bridge. He wondered if the architect who’d originally constructed it suspected that they were building one of the most effective tools for killing oneself.
Tristan shivered at the thought.
If he jumped, that would show them. Tristan really didn't want to die, he just wanted an escape from the pain. He knew jumping was a childish thought but it gave Tristan a bit of pleasure thinking about paying his parents back in such a dramatic way.
He reached the edge of the bridge and looked down at the river running under it. He felt a strange moment of panic come over him. He didn't understand why. He wasn't afraid of heights, and there was a railing along the side of the bridge so he couldn't fall.
Tristan tried to back away from the edge but something was wrong. His legs were uncooperative and seemed frozen in place.
A mighty wind rushed over Tristan and he looked up in time to see a massive shape flying over the bridge.
He thought it looked like a cloud of mist but with blue sparks shooting off of it in all directions. Tristan gaped. In the center of the cloud a pair of blue eyes were watching him.
The blue eyes bored into his mind and his stomach twisted like he was about to be sick. He tried to lean against the railing to stop his knees trembling but as he reached out to grip the railing, the railing vanished. He stumbled forwards and tried to catch himself from falling. He righted himself and stepped back but something invisible gripped his right arm. The smell of burning flesh filled his nostrils. He tried to pull back but the invisible arm yanked him forwards over the edge of the bridge.
Tristan fell. Wind rushed over his ears and his own screams turned into distorted howls of fear. The river below raced up to meet him. He closed his eyes and braced himself for the impact. Terrifying moments passed but the impact didn't come.
The falling was taking longer than it should have. Maybe the movies were right and life did slow down in a person’s final moments.
A vision entered Tristan’s mind of his mother waiting for him to come home, the same way he had waited all those years for his father. Tristan saw her tears, he saw her growing old alone.
“I don’t want to die,” he cried.
Tristan didn't mean for it to end that way. He didn't want his mother blaming herself for what happened to him. He didn't want suffering to be the only legacy he left behind.
“It's too late,” growled a voice that chilled Tristan's blood. The river disappeared from view. Mist swirled in the air and took shape and he saw large outstretched wings and blue flames pouring out of a dragon’s mouth. The dragon swooped up towards him, it opened its mouth ready to swallow him.