The Disappearance of Braden Kelly

📅 Published on June 28, 2021

“The Disappearance of Braden Kelly”

Written by Edyth Pax-Boyr
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 7.25/10. From 4 votes.
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I know we’re not supposed to speak ill of the dead, but Braden Kelly was a monster.

I can say that now, after years of therapy with someone who specializes in treating trauma and abuse. But, if you’d asked me about him even two or three years ago, I would have sounded like any other member of his Kool-Aid-drinking, ride-or-die fan club.

I would have told you, without a hint of sarcasm, that Braden Kelly was a genuine gift to mankind. That if you were lost, or your home life was bad, or you just couldn’t seem to find your place in the world, Braden would make room just for you. That everyone was welcome at Braden’s table.

I would have told you that he was handsome, charismatic, friendly. Popular, but with friends in every stratosphere. That his brilliant blue eyes would sparkle with mischief, and his smile could melt ice cream in Antarctica. And that when he sat down and talked with you, he would make you feel like the only person in the world.

I would have told you that no one was an outcast in Braden’s eyes, no matter how life had treated them before crossing his path.

In my case, I was adopted, left in the care of my paternal aunt and her husband when I was six.

A New York winter took my parents. I know they tried, in their way, to make sure I still had contact with my mom’s side of the family—all First Nations—but they didn’t really understand. To them, a family separated by distance meant catching up over drinks and too much food on holidays.

To me, half of my entire identity was trapped behind a cultural barrier that couldn’t be replaced with seasonal updates and food.

But I was far too young to explain that to them.

I had a hard enough time explaining the bullying.

Understandably, because of this, I learned to avoid making waves. I made sure to agree with the crowd and leave my concerns and misgivings unspoken. I kept my head down as much as I could so I didn’t make any more trouble for myself.

You know, beyond the stuff I still couldn’t change.

Eventually, with nothing to counter what was beaten into me by my peers, I learned to hate myself through their eyes.

I drifted between worlds, untethered and unloved.

Especially by myself.

I was a perfect target for someone like Braden. When I could barely find something to love in myself, he was there, lifting me higher than I could even imagine.

So if his jokes were a little ignorant, or if his moods were a little unpredictable, or if his temper were prone to boiling over things you’d think were inconsequential, I never said a word.

Because he said, my skin reminded him of sunsets in September.

Because he said, he could just ‘drown in the midnight’ of my ‘soulful eyes.’

Because he was the one who encouraged me to get my first tattoo—a replica of my mother’s, a matrilineal mark of my heritage going back for generations. When I finally agreed, I would put it on my back or somewhere equally easy to hide beneath my clothes, but he stopped me. He told me to put it on my right forearm, where everyone could see.

Where I could always see.

And remember.

I think … I would have done almost anything for him. For the man who told me I was beautiful when I couldn’t see it in myself. Who gave me a sense of belonging when I didn’t even know what it meant to belong.

You understand why I fell for him.

Why we all fell for him.

Why, when he suggested we all take a trip to one of the local forts, there wasn’t a single voice of dissent.

Not even mine.

“You’re going to love this,” he said, holding my hands and kissing my fingertips one by one.

I grinned, watching him, entranced as always. “Oh, yeah? Where are we going?”

“It’s a fort,” he said, his fingers disappearing in the inky black of my uncut hair.

“Like …” My brow furrowed, confused. “A fort?”

Why on Earth would he think I’d love that?

He laughed, though, the sound warm and soothing. “Like a fort, Lil. Like soldiers, and period costumes, and historical re-enactments. You know, fort stuff.”

I smiled, then, because I knew that’s what he was looking for. Inside, though, a pang of quiet dread pulled at my stomach like a heavy stone.

A monument to the colonization of my ancestors and their land didn’t sound like a lot of fun to me. But I knew—had known for a long time—that most people didn’t realize how their history wasn’t the same as mine. That it would never cross his mind how differently events hit when you’re from “the other side” of history.

I kept that to myself, though, and smiled at his suggestion. “A fort sounds like a great trip,” I said. And a week later, we were there—the whole lot of us, a tour group unto ourselves.

“The website says that it’s all self-guided, gang,” he said and swept his free arm out to the side to indicate the whole of the park. His other arm was wrapped firmly around my waist. I remember it feeling warm and reassuring at the time. Looking back … it doesn’t feel the same. The way his fingertips pressed into my hips, his muscles taught around me, caging me against his side as if I might, at any moment, try to run away.

After we passed through the first gate tower in the park, everyone split off into mini-clusters, leaving Braden and me to wander alone.

Braden guided me at a leisurely pace past reconstructed walls of brick and stone and rolling earthen barriers. To the side of our path, in one of the gently sloping hollows, a line of men stood in period uniforms—some red, some blue, some grey. They took quiet aim at the darkening afternoon sky with bayoneted muskets. A smattering of observers (many of them from our own little clan), watched, phones ready.

In rough unison, the muskets clapped, sending up ephemeral streams of white smoke, which vanished on a frigid gust sweeping in off the Great Lake the park grounds faced. Dark clouds hovered in the distance, swallowing the sun and casting cold shadows over us.

I shivered, chilled despite the warmth of Braden against my side. I was regretting my choice in attire. Braden had insisted the weather would be great and that “what I had on” would be fine, but a slouchy tank top over a black sports bra and jeans was feeling far from fine now.

“2:00 p.m.,” he said.


“The time,” he nodded toward the musketeers. “They demonstrate the muskets every hour.”

“Oh,” I said, realizing he expected me to have an opinion about that. “That’s really cool you know that.”

He laughed. “It was on the website, dummy.” He squeezed my hip. “I told you to check it out before we left. This is why your grades are so bad, Lil. You never remember what I tell you.”

I felt the shame rise to my cheeks and hoped I could play it off as the cold. “Yeah, I guess I should have remembered that.”

“Aw,” he said, gently brushing my cheek with the back of his hand. “Don’t feel bad.”

My chest hurt from the tension suddenly rising in it, from the tears I refused to shed.

His disappointment stung like violence.

I shook my head silently and sniffed back the pain like it was all the fault of the wind. “I’m fine,” I said. “It’s just getting cold.”

Braden looked up as if noticing the weather for the first time, even though the wind was ruffling his hair like it knew him. “Let’s get you inside, then, huh?” He smiled, and in the space of that smile, I felt the tension in my chest loosen somewhat, though, at the time, I couldn’t have told you why.

* * * * * *

He led me into the fort—or what I supposed was the fort proper—the one built to look like a massive house.

The atrium was barren, built mostly of stone. Beyond an ancient built-in well near the far wall, it was empty of both objects and other visitors, which I found odd given how hard the weather was turning outside.

While Braden fascinated himself with the various plaques of information posted to the walls behind Plexiglas covers, I wandered into one of the other rooms. I felt him watch me as I passed.

Though I wanted to find the kitchen as fascinating as Braden found those plaques, my eyes were drawn to the large window set deep into the wall and the strange sight beyond it.

The sky loomed heavy above, thick with clouds nearly black, slowly churning over the angry waters below.

A dock bell rang listlessly.

A massive galleon rocked back and forth on the choppy waves. Its sails rolled tight against the oncoming storm. It didn’t look to be moving in any particular direction, just rocking. Back and forth, back and forth, driven by the wind and waves. Maybe it was anchored? I had no idea.

I also had no idea what the hell it was doing out there in the first place. It didn’t fit. I didn’t remember there being any kind of dock outside. Or any kind of water-based re-enactments.

An oppressive sense of foreboding pressed against my shoulders as I stared at the galleon listing in the unnatural dark. It reminded me of stories of ghost ships and pirates, but not in the Disney way. More in the way that death settles over a place and only leaves when its job is done.

“Hey, Braden?” I called out, my voice echoing off the stone walls around me.

“S’up? Oh, man, look at this place!”

“Yeah, it’s great. But …”

He joined me at the window. “But what? Aren’t you having fun?”

“Yeah,” I said, forcing a faint smile. “No, I just. Look out there.” I pointed out the window as his arms slipped around me.

“Yeah? What about it?”

“That ship?”

“Yes …” he said, his tone betraying his impatience.

“I … n-nothing. I thought it was cool. And that you wouldn’t want to miss it.”

‘Don’t make waves,’ my inner voice pleaded. ‘There’s already a storm brewing, don’t make it two.’

Braden kissed my cheek. “Yes. It’s very cool, very period.” He seemed to think for a moment, then. “Not what I would have expected in the off-season since there’s almost no one here, like, staff-wise. But really cool. Good call, Lil.”

Relief washed over me, easing tension I hadn’t realized had been building. What else would it be but a period demonstration?

Braden led me away from the kitchen and down one of the halls. I glanced into the rooms we passed, taking casual note of them without really registering their purpose, but Braden moved as if looking for something specific.

“Here we go,” he said, pulling me into a smallish room with a set of cramped-looking bunks along one wall, each with its own little straw-stuffed mattress. The wall opposite the door was a high-set window with a dismal view of the black clouds outside. Belts, boots, uniform jackets, and other things soldiers would reasonably keep around were hung about in ordered chaos as if the owners had only left the room moments ago and would be right back.

It didn’t feel like the rest of what we’d seen of the fort.

That made me uneasy.

Other rooms had wooden rails and fences that kept visitors from interacting with the historical pieces. But here, there were none. “What’s this?”

“It’s the guard room.”

“Are you sure we should be here?”

He was already slipping into a grey woolen uniform jacket. “Sure.” He laughed. “Why wouldn’t we be? The door was open, right?”

I glanced to the door with all its heavy iron fittings. It had been open, yes … “But doesn’t it feel like this room is … I don’t know, different from the rest?”

“If by ‘different’ you mean ‘cooler’ because of all the stuff we can play with, then yes,” he said, sidling up to me and taking my hips in his hands.

“Braden,” I whispered, my heart suddenly racing. “Not here. We’ll get caught.”

Braden released me and put his finger to his lips, grinning as he slipped to the door and gently closed it. “No one will even notice we’re missing, Lil. I promise.”

But I backed away from him.

His smile shifted to something dark, disapproval flaring in his brilliant blue eyes. I knew that look. It meant I was on thin ice. My heart raced as I tried to decide if I was more terrified of getting caught by the people running this place or Braden’s anger.

“C’mon, Lil,” he cooed dangerously; gently, but firmly as he corralled me toward one of the bunks. “When are we going to have a chance to role-play like this again?” His breath was hot against my ear. “I’ll be the brave French soldier, and you can be the beautiful Indian girl sent here to trade ‘goods’ with us. So exotic and … willing … to trade.”

I registered the threat in his tone and squirmed free of his hold, trembling as I dashed to the other side of the room, beneath the window, putting as much space between us as I could.

“I said no.” My voice came out so firm and bold it startled me, but I was proud. ‘Indian girl’? The sheer weight of how casually he had thrown that in made my stomach churn. Was that how he saw me? Was that really the fantasy he wanted to play out? Was that all I was to him?

I felt filthy and vulnerable.

He glared at me in silence for several long moments. “Fine,” he said, at last, his voice low and flat. His eyes had lost all hint of their mischievous sparkle. They, too, appeared flat, and I saw something in his face I’d never seen before, someone I’d never seen before. It was like “Braden” had only been a mask he’d been wearing—one he’d just dropped to the floor—and I was now looking at the face of the man wearing Braden’s skin.

The monster wearing Braden’s skin.

A slow, malicious smile spread across his lips but didn’t meet his eyes. For one, horrified breath, I thought he was going to come at me. To hurt me for having the audacity to say no finally.

Instead, he started backing away, locking me in his unblinking gaze like a predator watching prey it knew it had already captured. Blindly, but with no fumbling, he reached behind himself, pulled the door open, backed into the hall, and pulled the door shut again from the other side.

I heard the rasp of old iron on iron.

His voice followed, deadened by the heavy wood between us. “I think you need a time out, Lily.”


He wouldn’t have … would he? He wouldn’t have locked me in. That wasn’t the Braden I knew.

Was it?

But then the look in his empty eyes as he’d backed out of the room flashed through my mind again, and I hurried to the door, giving it several hard tugs.

It was stuck fast. “Braden, let me out.” My voice wavered this time. I wanted it to sound as firm as it had when I’d told him “no”, but I couldn’t keep the tremble out.

I heard him chuckle from the other side. “Not until you’ve had a chance to think about what you’ve done,” he said. “You’ve been a very bad girl, Lily.”

“This isn’t funny, Braden!”

He laughed again. It was a hard, hurtful laugh. “Yeah, Lil. Actually, I think it is.”

The scattered clap of musket fire rang out. But it sounded different this time, less uniform than before. “Looks like it’s 3:00 p.m.,” he said. “Just an hour until closing. Let’s see if anyone finds you before we all head home.”

“Braden! Please!”

Distant shouts echoed down the hall, followed by the sound of boots on stone. Then more scattered musket fire came from outside.

“Braden? What’s going on?”

“Oh, Lil,” he cooed, teasing me through the door. “You’re missing a re-enactment!”

“Are you sure that’s what it is?”

“Well, what else would it be,” he snapped, his voice sharp as a slap.

I recoiled from the door with a flinch.

I didn’t know how to explain it to him. To know that reason was on his side, but that something deeper was calling to me and telling me that this was no re-enactment. At least … not in the way he meant.

Voices rose outside.



More gunfire.

I heard feet at a distance, boots scuffling against stone. I pressed myself to the door, heart racing. Someone stumbled toward us from the atrium. Their footsteps were uneven, halting. They spoke, and I couldn’t make out what they said because I don’t speak French, but they sounded terrified.

“Holy shit,” I heard Braden say before grunting slightly. “This is so surreal.” He laughed, the sound high as if he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. “This looks amazing! Lil, I can’t believe you’re missing it! This blood even feels warm!”

A cold wave of vertigo swept over me. I lowered myself to the floor slowly as black tendrils clawed at my vision. Outside, I could make out formless voices whooping and calling over the screams of terror and pain. The cacophony was punctuated by uncoordinated musket fire and the occasional thud of something heavy hitting the ground.

Something heavy hit the door, as well, thumping loudly against the wood before sliding down in silence.

“Braden?” I pressed my ear to the door.

I could hear something on the other side. The sound was faint and strange. Wet and bubbling. Like a balloon deflating in syrup.

Something warm seeped under the door.

Warm … and red.

“Oh my god,” I gasped, crawling away from the blood creeping toward me.

Something moved in the hall. Whatever was against the door slid down, scraped against the stone floor of the hall and then grew faint, as if it had been dragged away.

I couldn’t move. I could barely breathe. Whoever was out there had to know I was in there. And I was trapped, locked in from the other side.

* * * * * *

Iron scraped against iron. I hadn’t even heard anyone moving in the hall.

The door slowly opened.

A warrior stood before me, his body covered in blood, paint, and tattoos. Fresh trophies hung from his waist and bled down his bare thigh. Their scope was varied but followed a similar theme.

Among them, I spotted a pair of brilliant blue eyes. I held out a trembling hand in an automatic plea I couldn’t verbalize. The warrior’s dark eyes watched my hand, then my arm. He said something I couldn’t understand, at least not consciously, but a wave of calm washed over me.

I don’t know how I knew it, but I knew he wasn’t here to hurt me.

The warrior pointed to my arm, then pointed his thumb at his chest as if to say, “you are mine.” But it didn’t feel possessive. He wasn’t capturing me or claiming me as property, was just making an observation.

When I said nothing, he made a new gesture, beckoning me toward him.

I rose to my feet, vaguely aware of the distant clap of musket fire and screaming beyond the fort’s stone walls, and crossed the small distance between us.

Bloodstained the hall in spatters and streaks. It pooled where the door had been closed. It covered the grey-jacketed body lying on its side against the wall.

I didn’t look to see if I knew his face.

The warrior reached for me, for my right arm, and pressed his fingers to my tattoo. Then, he pushed down the leather covering his shoulder to reveal the same design.

I stared in shock, reaching toward him without thinking. Shy of touching his shoulder, I stopped. It felt strange and intimate, and I smiled as I looked into his glittering brown eyes.

He lifted his hand, painting my face with the only red he had. I should have been appalled … but, at that moment, I felt beautiful—more than beautiful. I felt fierce. And some deep part of me knew I had been painted not for war but beauty and strength.

With a kiss on my forehead, he finally released me. ‘Go,’ he indicated, waving me toward the atrium. ‘That way.’

I nodded to him one last time and strode down the hall with a confidence I don’t think I’ve ever felt before or since.

When I reached the fort’s entrance and looked outside, I had to blink against the light. The cloud cover had seemed to pass quickly, shoved along by the lake’s strong winds until sunlight prevailed again.

I bathed in it, feeling like I’d never truly appreciated the sun on my skin until that moment.

“Oh my god, there you are, Lil!” One of our group spotted me at the entrance and rushed over. Others heard them call my name, and one by one, they all jogged across the field to join us, followed by a handful of uniformed re-enactors and two or three staff members in plain clothes.

Before they swarmed me, I gave one last look into the fort behind me.

The atrium was barren, devoid of people and objects beyond the ancient stone well built-in near the back wall.

No blood. No bodies. No Braden.

* * * * * *

It’s been years since Braden’s disappearance. His case is cold and confusing to the people who care to solve it.

I haven’t spoken with his fan club since it happened. I don’t even really think about him anymore.

Though every once in a while, I do have dreams.

I dream about his smile.

I dream about his voice.

About the way he held me close.

I dream about his brilliant blue eyes ….  staring at nothing from the waist of a painted warrior—my ancestor.

And I smile.

Because Braden Kelly was a monster, and in this case, I am happy to speak ill of the dead.

Rating: 7.25/10. From 4 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Edyth Pax-Boyr
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Edyth Pax-Boyr

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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