When the manager realized that the girl might be a minor, his thoughts started to race. How frequently had he heard spooky tales about kids in grave danger?
Others, however, reported neighborhood kids causing trouble. His hope was that the kid before him wasn’t in either of those categories. It was unknown territory for him.
When Hunter got promoted to store manager at his local convenience store, he was beside himself with pride and a sense of fulfillment.
He’d been behind the counter for more than a year, juggling work, his tiny family, and school. At only twenty-four, he was glad to be making such strides. He didn’t know what mystery and terror loomed in his future at the store.
Hunter’s life had always been a predictable routine. He’d spend his early mornings with his girlfriend, a nurse in training, and their one-year-old daughter before driving to school till noon.
Afterward, he’d report to work, overseeing cashiers and store clerks until nighttime. He’d then head home for a quiet night with his beautiful family. As far as he was concerned, life was perfect. But it would all change soon.
The incident that changed everything seemingly came out of nowhere. As a manager, Hunter walked all over the store to ensure everything was in order.
He’d formed a route that he adhered to, ensuring he helped anyone along the way irrespective of who they were: staff or customers. His one-in-a-million meeting with the girl would happen on one of these walks.
The day began peacefully enough for Hunter, who, after breakfast with his family, said goodbye and left for college. By noon, he’d already clocked into work, ready to start his shift.
But although the day was bright in the morning, the rest of it would devolve into a gloomy, cloudy mess. Although Hunter had never been a superstitious person, he couldn’t fight the feeling that something was about to go terribly wrong.
Hunter got ready to start his patrol around the store. After a few fun back and forths with his workmates, he checked the day’s schedule before aligning it with his daily itinerary.
With everything set, he began his rounds. But he wasn’t fifteen minutes into his patrol when he saw something that made him stop in his tracks.
A girl was standing in one of the dairy aisles near a cashier. She seemed a bit out of place, dressed in worn-out jeans with her head hidden inside a hoodie. But Hunter knew he couldn’t judge a person solely based on their looks.
As he was still close to his office, he walked back in and checked the day’s footage. His mouth fell open at what the camera revealed.
The footage revealed that the girl had been walking around the store for almost two hours. She seemed confused by everything, eventually stopping before the rows of milk cartons before her. She was also eyeing her surroundings as if she were doing something wrong.
Hoping she wasn’t trying to cause any trouble, Hunter approached her. But he noticed that the girl, although seemingly an adult, was younger up close. He needed to be careful with her.
Hunter’s mind began racing as soon as he discovered that the girl was possibly a minor. How many harrowing stories of children facing all kinds of dangers had he heard?
But there were other stories of kids causing trouble all over the neighborhood. Hunter hoped the kid before him fell in neither of those groups. He had no idea what he was stepping into.
Looking at the girl as he hurried back to her, Hunter realized she was wearing a filled backpack, which she’d slung on one shoulder. She ran her fingers along the row of milk and picked one but didn’t place it in her basket.
She looked around for a second, and when her eyes landed on Hunter, she froze in place. As Hunter walked to her, she seemed to get a hold of herself and place the milk carton back on the shelf.
The girl stepped away from the shelf, turning around as fast as possible. But Hunter dashed to her before she walked away, asking her to stop.
The girl turned around, looking up at Hunter with interest. He didn’t want to ask her what was in her bag, but he knew he had no choice. If someone acted suspiciously in the store, it fell to him to get to the root of it. Maybe they were in danger – or the danger themselves.
Hunter introduced himself to the girl, asking her to accompany him to his office. He hoped to at least search her bag in private, so the public wouldn’t harass her with cameras and the like.
The girl agreed to the offer, but instead of following Hunter, she opened her bag before him. What he saw inside made his brows furrow. Was it a joke?
The girl held her bag up to Hunter. Inside, there were several tattered textbooks. There were notebooks and pens as well.
But as Hunter returned the bag, smiling as he was glad the girl wasn’t engaging in any illegal activities, she asked him something that set the alarm bells right off again.
“I need help,” the girl said, her voice a whisper as if she wasn’t sure if talking to Hunter was the right thing to do. “What is it?” Hunter asked as he walked the girl away from the aisle.
He could see the worry in her eyes. She slung her backpack off her shoulder, opened a side pocket with shaking fingers, and pulled out a worn and folded piece of cardboard.
The girl slipped Hunter the note, turned around, and walked away. Hunter’s eyes widened when he saw a cardboard cutout of a photo with the words ‘Call 911’ and an address written on the back.
Hunter spun around to ask her what was going on, but she was already gone. A fleeting thought passed through his mind as he thought that this must be some kind of practical joke. But then, he saw it.
Hunter saw the milk carton that the nervous girl had picked up and put back on the shelf – it was jutting out among the other cartons so it looked out of place.
She’d also turned the carton around so Hunter could clearly see the photo on its side. It was a black and white photo of a young girl – no older than three. And It was the same photo she had just slipped into his hand. There was something about the girl’s eyes staring back at him that turned his blood to ice.
The teen girl was 17-year-old Ruby Larsen. She had her world turned upside down when she spotted her own face on a milk carton when she was just 10 years old.
It was that photo that made her suspect she was living a giant lie and eventually seek help. After years, she’d finally realized the truth and worked up the courage to approach someone about her unbelievable situation.
Ruby wasn’t an unusual child – she loved to play and was naturally curious about the world around her from a young age. However, Ruby hadn’t been brought up like other kids.
Despite the fact that Ruby had never been to school or socialized with other kids her age, she had no idea how different her upbringing really was. That was until one fateful day, more than a decade later.
Ruby lived with her parents in Hawaii on the tiny, isolated island of Saipan. The island had a small population of around 60,000 – in fact, many people outside Hawaii were oblivious to the island’s existence.
Ruby was never allowed to go outside, and she was home schooled. Nevertheless, she trusted her parents and had no idea what she was missing.
After living on the island during her formative years, Ruby and her parents moved to Eureka Springs, Arkansas. The little girl loved the town, even though it was very different from the basic life she had grown to know.
She still wasn’t allowed to interact with the outside world much, but there was one place she was allowed to go.
On rare occasions, Ruby was allowed to go to the grocery store with her parents. She loved the colorful aisles of produce and all the eye-catching packaging.
On one such occasion, when she was 10 years old, she was in the cool refrigeration section looking at the yogurts, ice cream, and dairy cartons when something happened to catch her eye.
As Ruby was taking in all the sights of the dairy section and enjoying the refreshing, cool relief from the outside heat, her eyes were inexplicably drawn to one particular milk carton.
At first, Ruby was enamored with the girl in the black-and-white photo who stared straight back at her from the carton, but she wasn’t sure why.
The girl in the photo was much younger than Ruby – she must have been around three years old. But, the longer Ruby stared, the more she began to recognize her.
Suddenly, it dawned on her that she was staring at a younger version of herself. Mesmerized, she waited for her father to come over to the dairy aisle, hoping he would be as delighted as she was. Puzzlingly, all he did was buy the milk carton for her. He didn’t say a word.
Ruby’s father made her promise not to show anyone the milk carton – not even her mother. Her father cut the photo out for her and she loyally kept it a secret, but took it everywhere with her.
But as she grew older and entered her teenage years, the uneasy feeling that started out as mild curiosity grew into a terrible gnawing in the pit of her stomach. She knew something wasn’t right.
When she turned 17, Ruby was occasionally allowed to go to the grocery store on her own. On that fateful day, she watched everything she thought to be the truth turn upside down, shaking the world she once knew.
All it took was that one visit to the grocery store for her to suddenly question everything and everyone she trusted in her life.
Wandering into the dairy aisle, Ruby found herself speechless when she saw her own face staring back at her on a milk carton with one word written in bold: ‘Missing.’
It was the same photo she had in her backpack. After all those years of keeping the photo a secret, the truth felt like a punch in the gut.
Ruby found herself wandering up and down the grocery aisles for hours, deliberating about her next course of action. Her palms were sweaty and her heart raced when she pulled the secret photo out her backpack and wrote on the back.
She didn’t have the courage to give it to anyone in the store, so she planned to leave it in front of the milk cartons where someone would spot it. But she changed her mind.
A long-forgotten memory had surfaced as Ruby paced down the aisles. She had never remembered much about her early childhood, but there was something there.
But Ruby couldn’t go through with it. She slipped the photo back into her backpack. She knew that there would be huge repercussions for her actions at home – and what if she was wrong? But then, a man approached and made the decision for her.
A man walked toward her as she was staring at the milk carton in her hands again, so she quickly put it back on the shelf. From an outsider’s perspective, she knew she must be behaving suspiciously.
She knew what he was thinking and quickly slung her backpack off her shoulder and opened it to prove she wasn’t shoplifting. But there was something about the man’s eyes that made her decide to give him the photo.
After turning to see that the girl was gone, Hunter called the police without a second thought and gave them the address on the back of Ruby’s photo.
Ruby’s “parents” were promptly arrested, and the police were able to track down her biological father. She was right – she had been lied to for most of her life.
It happened when Ruby was just three years old. Her parents were embroiled in a bitter custody dispute when her mother refused to obey the court ruling and fled with her child.
After 14 years of living with her mother and stepfather, Ruby was reunited with her biological dad – all because of a twist of fate and Hunter’s gut feeling. Disclaimer: To protect the privacy of those depicted, some names, locations, and identifying characteristics have been changed and are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblances to actual events, places, or persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.