The night air is cool, and the stars shine merrily above me. My sister takes my hands and says, “Håkan, look! Over there is the pirate hideout! We have to go over there and kill them all so we can take our treasure back!” Her eyes, even in the darkness, are resolute and zealous. The night is dark, and the place that she points to is completely devoid of light, but her voice, even in her whispers, is steady, strong, she’s my big sister, she will protect me.
I clumsily unsheath a skinny stick that I’ve plucked from the ground. My sister lightly taps a heavy branch that resembles a club. “Let’s go!” I whisper back.
We charge through the trees, whispering our yells and our grunts and attacks so that our parents don’t notice that we snuck out and put us to bed again. For an instant, it is us against a legion of pirates. Brother and sister, armed only with a club and a sword, a branch and a stick.
We triumph over the pirates of course. It only lasts an instant. No one can stand to the likes of us!
“We did it Håkan!” She whispers happily, eyes shining. “All of the pirates are dead! Now we can take their treasure!”
I didn’t question at the time why an 8 year-old was playing such bloodthirsty games. Why an 8 year-old was carefully, methodically selecting long and heavy branches instead of picking up any random stick, like her brother. It was all innocuous to me, it was an innocent game between children, much like the cops and robbers game I played with my friends in primary school.
Of course, they used childish finger guns instead of actual clubs.
Now the same forest is overgrown. That path that we used to play on disappeared. It had been thinning as we grew older and no longer went there as often to play.
I stepped on a snapping twig and covered my head as a reflex. My heart was pounding, and my vision was a little shaky, despite the clear moonlight from above. In fact, the moonlight might have been part of the problem. It’s sickly silvery light was covering everything in a blurry mirage. I felt for the knife in my back pocket and was relieved to find it was still there. I waited for a few seconds to catch my breath.
It was here where I’d stopped following her that night. We were grown now. 16 and 19, and she was sneaking a blond boy into the forest path that she and I knew so well. Her hair was messy, his breaths were fast and shallow. I didn’t follow them.
She had always been a little weird about privacy. Again, nothing strange about that, especially not in a teenage girl. It was only when I saw the news 2 days later that all the slightly odd things grimly began to fall into place.
The face of the boy that had followed her into the forest was plastered on our TV screen. Mikael Eriksson, the screen said. Age 20, 193 cm tall, 80 kilos, last seen… Last seen the night he went into the path with my sister. I looked at my parents, and then at my sister.
My parents were tapping away at their phones, my sister was looking at me.
I quickly looked away. The floor was fascinating all of a sudden. In front of me, the newscaster continued. “If you have any information, please call 46-771…” I could feel my sister’s eyes on me, and my cellphone had never felt heavier.
I don’t know why I didn’t ring. The boy’s face was on TV constantly for about a week, sometimes along with the mother’s desperate pleas for closure. Every time it would air, the reporter’s grave voice would tell us to please call if we have any information. “46-771…” And every time, something in me would refuse.
I trudged up a hill, there was a clearing now, about 50 meters in front of me. I stood at the top of the hill, and looked down. In the center of the clearing, maybe a little to the right, was a small pile of rocks.
As I made my way down, it became apparent that not only were the rocks human placed, but that they were on freshly dug soil.
Against all better judgement, I gently knelt by the rocks, and began to dig. It was slow going; the night was cold, and my fingers were trembling uselessly, but eventually, I managed to hit something. Something soft, and pale, with decaying blond hair…
I stopped digging. I threw the soil back into the shallow grave, and patted it several times to make sure it looked undisturbed, then I got up, and began the walk through the old path back to our house.
The newscaster’s voice rang in my head, “If you have any information, please call 46-771…”
I pushed a branch out of my way.