‘Absconsa Laterna’

by C.M. Muller

Gentlemen, you have asked me here to speak of the disappearance of my son, and while it is true that I was the last person to see Jonathan, I must state unequivocally that I had no part in his abduction. I do realize how strange the details of his disappearance might seem, but my testimony is the honest truth. The horror of that day lingers still, like an unshakeable illness, and not a moment goes by when I do not think of my darling boy.

As regards the sculpture park: we visited it on a weekly basis, and from the start it became a favorite locale. Jonathan had just turned five, and the park stimulated not only his imagination but allowed him the freedom of wide open spaces. And while it was no short drive from our home in the city, never once did he complain about spending so much time in the car. I certainly do miss those days. The fact that I was able to stay at home with the boy in lieu of daycare was a grand turn of events. And while my homemaker status was unnerving at first, I soon grew accustomed to it; my personality, as it turned out, was perfectly suited to the task. Like many individuals during that time, I had lost my job due to the recession. Thankfully, my wife’s occupation provided us with sufficient income to keep afloat, and she appreciated my willingness to do the “hard work” of raising Jonathan.

And we certainly kept busy. There was preschool to attend, play-dates to arrange, and more visits to the local park than I could have imagined. But, as I said, the most exciting part of our week was venturing to the sculpture park. Because we attended so regularly, we were able to witness the slow and often painstaking process by which many of the artists constructed their weird fantasies. It’s amazing the lengths some individuals will go to make their madness known. Jonathan’s favorite installation by far was the playground. It, like many of its counterparts, was composed of an impressive amalgam of painted metal and wood repurposed to stunning effect. Jonathan would gravitate toward this installation first, sometimes spending an hour on it alone. While he played, I’d sit on a nearby bench sipping the watered-down coffee provided at the information hut. Watching the boy at play brought me so much joy. There’s nothing quite like youthful exuberance.

Once Jonathan had his fill at the playground, we would venture along the many pathways encircling the park, spending time at various other installations which either encouraged interaction or were simply too bizarre to take in at a mere passing glance. As I said, there were always new installations going up, and that was part of the fun, especially if one of the artists happened to be working. I purposefully avoided making small talk with these individuals, particularly as to what might have inspired their work, but such respectful distancing was impossible for Jonathan. Like most children his age, questions were the order of the day; and, while the majority of the artists were cordial, a few were downright rude.

On the day of Jonathan’s disappearance, we had come upon just such a new exhibit, though the artist was nowhere in sight. It had been erected at some point during the previous week, and had resembled little more than a rectangular box, which from a distance brought to mind a charred freight container. It rose above the prairie grass like some dark monolith (or cemetery marker) to a forgotten god. Indeed, I kidded with Jonathan that it had been placed there by extraterrestrials, and we of course continued ahead like explorers traversing a forbidden planet. Jonathan played the role of captain, choosing our route and notifying me when to move and when to remain still.

Once we arrived at the rather blasé installation, Jonathan decided to drop the playacting and ask the true purpose of the thing. I had no answer for him. I do remember thinking that up close it resembled a huge aquarium, filled to the brim with black ink, and that within this pool a variety of unseen things slithered through the murk. I know that this was merely my imagination, but the idea of it all scared the hell out of me. Like the other sculptures in the park, this one also contained a small placard with the title of the installation as well as its maker. It was called ‘Absconsa Laterna,’ the translation of which was provided in parenthesis below: Dark Lantern. The name of the artist, however, was not so informative: Anonymous. Impulsively running ahead, Jonathan quickly began searching for an access point into the thing. From where I stood I could see nothing that indicated a door. Jonathan waved me forward, but I hadn’t taken my first step when he disappeared behind the installation. A moment later he called out, “Look, Dad, a door!”

Imagine, gentlemen, those being my son’s last words: Look, Dad, a door.

When I arrived, Jonathan was nowhere in sight. Upon examining the monolith, I glimpsed for a brief instant the outline of an entrance. But the illusion faded fast, consumed as it was by the boxed darkness surrounding it. No entrance, no Jonathan. Nothing but a wall of perpetual night. Panic had not fully set in at that point, but disbelief had. I attempted to follow the route Jonathan had surely taken through the invisible door, but only succeeded in crashing headfirst into the wall. From there I scrambled around the structure, looking for anything that resembled a point of entrance or exit, all the while calling for Jonathan. Eventually, I began a frantic search throughout the entire park, stopping visitors to inquire if they had seen my boy, and then sprinting to the information hut to inform the attendant about Jonathan’s disappearance. I gave a detailed description of the installation, repeating “absconsa laterna” numerous times, but the attendant kept politely informing me that no such structure existed within the sculpture park. I was even further shocked to discover, when the two of us eventually arrived at the space, that nothing but a flattened area of grass remained.

I realize, gentlemen, that you have gone so far as to excavate the site, merely to ascertain if I buried my own flesh and blood there. And the fact that you found nothing should of course prove my innocence. My suggestion to you is to dig deeper. Much deeper. There are places in this earth which hide the most sinister of things, if the nightmares I have been experiencing as of late are any indication—things which occasionally must feed. It is with Them, not me, that you should direct your questions.

And that is all I have to say about the matter. I shall continue my weekly excursions to the sculpture park, in the hope that one day I will be reunited with my boy. ‘Absconsa Laterna’ will reappear, of that I have no doubt, and when that time comes I feel certain it will welcome me into its mysterious depths. Until that day, until I embrace my son again, I will remain but empty shell, blasted as that section of prairie which never grows.

______________________________________________________________________

C.M. Muller lives in St. Paul, Minnesota with his wife and two sons—and, of course, all those quaint and curious volumes of forgotten lore. He is related to the Norwegian writer Jonas Lie and draws much inspiration from that scrivener of old. His tales have appeared in Shadows & Tall Trees, The Yellow Booke, with one forthcoming in Supernatural Tales. On the nonfiction front, he is occasional contributor to Weird Fiction Review and is the editor/publisher of the annual journal Nightscript.

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