The court gave us joint custody. I had custody of Jim, my son, for the weekdays, and the crazy bitch I used to call a wife gets him on the weekends. I contested as much as I could, because I knew she was abusive, but the court still bought the idea of her as a victim because she is a woman and this country is still sexist as fuck. So I had to work with Jim as much as I could, asking him about everything that happened so that I could undo any damage. And, no, it wasn't pleasant, I tried to press charges against that bitch several times but apparently calling your own son a worthless piece of shit for moving your vodka is a valid form of parenting in Maine.

It started off relatively straightforward. I picked up Jim on Monday morning and brought him back to the old cabin near the lake that I inherited from my father, then returned him on Saturday to the wretched whore's apartment. The cabin was old but I loved the shit out of it and so did he. Two stories, built from scratch by my grandfather, it was a cozy place to live. My son, the silly cat that my ex-wife was too inept to keep, and my old dog max were all I had outside of work. But my boss needed me more and more as time went on from the divorce because the business was so close to finding investors. I should have quit. I kept telling myself that we were almost there, just a little bit longer, but it kept dragging on.

The bad shit started around his six birthday. By this point, I saw him for two hours every day, maybe three including dropping him off at school, and he was seeing more of the wretched abyss that used to be a mother. I managed to take that day off to stay home. I called off the babysitter and set up a little birthday cake and bought him a few gifts the night before. I remember him opening the presents as the six candles on the cake lit the waxed wooden walls with a pale orange. He smiled and thanked me, but I could tell something was off. There's something unimaginably depressing about seeing your son take that toy truck he wanted, take it upstairs to his little bedroom in the wooden loft, and place it in his toy box, before laying down in his bed and taking a nap. I couldn't imagine why he would be tired at 2 in the afternoon, other than that wretched whore draining his mood.

I spent a lot of time over the next few days at work trying to get Social Services to investigate the mother but their excuses as to why they wouldn't were as inconsistent as they were numerous. It's hard to explain why this was depressing to me, but there is an instinct you get as a parent when every toy in your six year old's toy box stays in the exact same position, including the brand new truck that he asked for, and there's nothing else he could be doing. That's the instinct I got which kept me calling social services.

But a week after his birthday, I was able to take another day off work and go home early when my boss had to go to a doctor's appointment, and this is when things got strange.

I came home and found that the babysitter, Jessica, a twenty year old from Bangor, seemed to spend her time sitting in her car listening to godawful rap music and talking to her friends, rather than, you know, actually watching my son. I told her to leave on the spot, saying that I'll be sending her last check by mail. When I came inside, my old retriever Max, rather than greeting me like he usually was, merely barked towards the back door and only acknowledged my existence for a moment. I walked across the open cabin floor to the back door, and the door was ajar. I heard the sound of Jim crying upstairs.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

Jim said in that half crying voice that young children do, "Keto ran away." Keto was the cat that my wife had and treated poorly, and I became close to that cat after the ex-wife left, especially since he always reminded me that I could undo what she had done. I left the cabin with him to search for the silly cat to no avail. We searched for hours, until he had to go to bed. I even went back and searched more after taking him to his mother's, telling Jim that I would keep trying. It's hard to explain how as a grown man I can be saddened to the point of tears by a missing cat, but this was certainly the case. I just wanted to see him again and for everything to be normal, but I just couldn't find him.

Jim's behavior continued to be depressing even after I hired a new babysitter. The new babysitter was a woman named Kara. She was around 28 and seemed nice enough, and promised not to pull something like the other babysitter. I trusted her, despite getting the feeling that she was a lot like the last babysitter, and continued with my work. A few weeks passed and Jim continued behaving strangely - not using any sort of toys, hiding uneaten food in the trash, and generally acting jaded. I decided to cut the shit at this point and told my boss that I was going to leave work at 5 p.m. and if he fires me for it then so be it. That talk was a success and he agreed to let me go home given the circumstances with my son, but this proved to be too late. I should have done that long before.

The first day I took off at 5 p.m, I didn't tell the babysitter I would be home before 9 p.m, and came home to find that my instinct was right. There she was, in her black sedan, sitting with her seat back, listening to something akin to someone rapping to a washing machine with a brick in it. Her floorboard was littered with half-eaten food and a jar of solidified peanut butter with my missing butterknife laid visible by her dash. She apologized and said that it was just for a minute but the evidence about her car told me that was a lie. I fired her too, and at that moment decided that I would just put my son in after-school care and bypass these godawful babysitters this state seems to have. This time, I entered the house, and once again my son was crying, and the back door was ajar.

But this time, Max wasn't present at all. The old dog was neither there to greet me with a wagging tail nor there to bark at the door. That dog and my son were the only two in my life that I couldn't imagine living without, and now he was missing. I figured that he must be going in and out as the babysitters sat in the front driveway listening to the sound equivalent of vomit while texting away, and letting the animals out in the process. I consoled him for only a moment before looking for the dog.

Unlike the cat, this was not the first time the dog had made it out the door. Max typically went out and wandered about the forest before returning home, and spent the majority of his time marking every tree around, so he shouldn't have been hard to find, but we just couldn't find him. He didn't come home later like he usually did, and he was nowhere in sight.

This was as confounding to me as it was saddening - How does a dog disappear suddenly, and why was my son crying this time when the last time he got out, my son seemed okay with it? Something didn't add up.

I took Jim back to his mother, who still seemed shaken by the missing dog. I came back home, using every fiber of my being to hope that I would come home to a frustrated looking retriever sitting by the front door, or walk inside and find the back door ajar again with the dog sitting on his bed, but this wasn't the case. He was still missing. I entered the old cabin after dropping him off and began investigating closer.

The first place I investigated was Jim's room. His messy single bed was against the wall, with his small dresser beside it, and the toy box at the foot. The toy box was an old transparent bin, and I could see through it that the firetruck I bought him remained on the top of the pile, with the rest of it unchanged from weeks ago. I should have noticed this earlier. The idea deeply concerned me because there wasn't really anything else the kid could be doing, other than watching television. So, that's where I went next. I figured that if I want to find out what my son has been doing, despite the fact that when I ask every night what he did today he says, "I played a lot and had such and such for lunch."

The television was paused on an episode of Top Gear. I remembered that I hadn't actually touched the television since I started working inhuman hours, and the last thing I ever watched was an episode of Top Gear which I paused, so my son can't have been watching television unless he has a thing for watching a still image of a week old episode. I also found it odd that there was a bit of fishing wire next to the television, but didn't think much else of it. At that point, I figured he must have been playing with the animals and somehow in the midst of things let them out. But that only explained how the cat got out, not why the dog disappeared. Max wouldn't just disappear like that, especially not in a north-eastern forest where the only thing he could come across is a moose.

I walked to the back door to see if there was anything there. It was a thick wooden door with a window on it, and had a slight problem with the latch. The latch made the door easy to open but difficult to close. It seems logical that if Jim opened the door to go outside, he might have trouble shutting it. He was allowed outside, just not far into the forest that surrounded the house and the yard.

I wandered out into the back yard to see if I could find anything about where the dog went. There was some foul smell and I wasn't sure what it was, though I didn't think much of it at the time. I looked past the dark wooden porch into the forest. Despite the fact that this was the morning and the forest was beautiful in the autumn light, part of me being a fan of horror stories and creepypastas expected to see a shadowy figure or some demonic ritual, especially with the off smell, but there was nothing. But while on the train of thought, I did notice something about the fishing equipment I kept on the back porch. One of the spools of fishing wire was missing, and I didn't remember taking it. "Why would Jim need a spool of fishing wire?" I wondered.

I recalled finding it odd that there was a bit of fishing wire by the television, and moved back to it. And, indeed, there was fishing wire by the television. I picked it up and got a closer look. Feeling like a detective on a mission to find the lost dog, I put it up to the light childishly imagining myself on some sort of crime drama. That's when I saw it - at the very end of the wire was a small patch of two or three black hairs at the very end. Both Jim and I have red hair, and Max was a golden retriever, but Keto was a pitch black cat. I didn't know what to think of it other than he must have been doing something with the cat - but that thought was cut short when I looked into the kitchen.

There was a huge metal trashcan that I used for the kitchen which was rustled towards the side, to where the lid opening was perpendicular to the wall whereas it was supposed to be parallel. I knew that the trash can was too heavy for Jim to easily move, so I began thinking about what could have caused it. And then I realized the most logical thing that could cause the trash-can to move like that.

Old Max backing up into it - he's just the right size to get the torque on the trash can if he were backing into it. But he would only back into it if...

Every once in a while, we get an idea that seems outlandish but makes perfect sense based on everything that has happened. This was one of those ideas and the feeling I got from it was one of both clarity and an unimaginable feeling of hopelessness and dread. Old Max would have backed up into the trash can, moving it about, if he were trying to get something off his head. I've seen him move like that when I jokingly put a sock over his nose and watched him back up and pull it off with his paw. If he had something around his face or neck, then he would back up. Something like a spool of fishing wire.

It was such a wretched but sensible idea. Constant abuse from his mother, never seeing his father, neglecting his mother, Jim hasn't been using his time on nothing. He could have been taking his frustration out on the only things he could - Keto and Max. But Keto was large for a cat himself, and Max was huge for a retriever. Jim was far too small to overpower Keto, let alone Max, but he's not too small to tighten a knot on a trusting animal. I got an image in my head of poor Keto with fishing line around his neck trying to get loose, and an even worse one of Old Max trying to paw off the fishing line, backing up into the trash can to try to get loose.

If this idea, outlandish as it is, were to be true, then I might never find Keto, but Old Max is far too heavy for a six year old to get far with him. And that's when I remembered that foul smell on the back porch. I wandered to the back porch and found the bravery to look under. A pair of dead, pale white eyes looked back at me, with the autumn sun lighting up his fur. Around poor Max's neck was some of the missing fishing wire. I immediately threw up, and can't remember much of how I reacted until the point where I got in the car.

Of all the emotions I was feeling at the time, anger was the most strongest. Not towards Jim, but towards the whore. The only reason Jim would have for doing something like that is as a reflection of whatever his mother is doing on the weekends. With how fast I was driving, it is sheer luck that I didn't wreck or even get pulled over. Strangely, I wasn't angry at Jim, but sorry that I helped turn him into this.

And there I was. Her little ghetto duplex in the city, with trash bags sitting on her front porch evident of her laziness, and windows that hadn't been cleaned in so long I couldn't see inside. I should have called the police but I just wanted to get Jim out of there. She never locked her front door, so I simply walked in and yelled her name. "Michelle!" I said. No response. "Jim!" I continued, also to no avail.

The absolute mess of the apartment would appall me if I could think of anything other than Jim, Keto, and Old Max, but the smell of cigarette smoke and spilled vodka still filled the air of her filthy run down duplex. I looked to the living room - the television was muted and the cigarettes were out, so she must have been in the back yard. The only thing we had in common was a love for gardening, so despite her wretchedness and laziness, she still kept a little garden in the back, and that's where I headed next. As I approached the dusty old back door to her garden, Jim ran through the door. His young hands were holding an empty spool of fishing wire. He began crying. I grabbed him as tight as I could and told him "It's not your fault." The door was ajar.