You Are Researching a Crime...

Okay. It's possible that a crime did not occur.

When people talk about it now, many years later, they refer to it as a "thing that happened." You have also heard the word "incident."

You don't have many facts to go on. The year. The date--within a week or two. The place-- a patch of woods at the edge of a family campground. There was only one witness, a ten-year-old. And you only know her first name.

The suspect ran away.

Somebody called the police, so there might have been a police report filed. Perhaps a small article appeared in a newspaper? These are the details you're trying to figure out as you do your research. A librarian you know has good suggestions about internet searches. How to track down digital records and microfiche collections.

It may take some old-fashioned sleuthing. Calling a library in another state. Visiting a police station and hoping they've kept old records on an incident that occurred almost forty years ago.

And what would be written in such a record?

Notes from an interview taken at night in the woods? The words of the traumatized ten-year-old witness?

The victim.

Unfortunately, she has no recollection of what happened.

She was ten too. Going on eleven. She has a clear memory of the first part of the afternoon. It was supposed to be a short walk in the woods to look for sticks to roast marshmallows. She'd just met the other girl that day. That's why she only knew her first name. She didn't really like the girl all that much. She didn't like the woods. She wasn't a huge fan of marshmallows.

She saw the man first. Or rather, she heard him. A rustle of leaves. A snapping of twigs. And then he was standing there, several feet away, in the center of the path. His legs spread. His hands on his hips. He was smiling.

One more detail: he was naked.

The witness giggled. But our victim knew something wasn't right. Maybe some kind of survival instinct kicked in. What to do when you encounter a predator. No sudden movements, she thought. Don't let him know we see him. But don't turn your back on him...

She nudged her new friend, putting herself between the man and that silly giggling girl, and slowly slowly backed them out of the woods. Slowly. Slowly. And wasn't it strange how time slowed down further? How slowly her new friend seemed to move?

Another rustle of leaves and snapping of twigs. The man came running. The giggling girl, no longer giggling, tore out of the woods and left the victim behind.

The research is slow-going. An internet search of the towns surrounding the campground. A scroll through other crimes in the area at the same time, near the same place. Assaults. Kidnappings. Murders. Unsolved cases. Reports on sexual assaults. All dead ends. Did you know you can jump on the Library of Congress site and see a listing of all U.S. newspapers from the 1690's to the present?

But you won't find what you're looking for there. The truth is you're not sure what, exactly, you are looking for. Or why you are doing this research.

What will you make with it? Is there even a story here?

A blink, and the girl was curled in a ball, hands around her knees. The man was gone. Strange, that her flip flops had flown off her feet and were dropped in the brush off the path. Strange, how quiet the woods were now. She got up shakily and retrieved the flip flops, hardly noticing the cut on her leg.

But this was nothing. Probably just a scratch from the marshmallow stick.


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