Come Find Me(3)

The premonition tingles like static electricity.

The boy and the dog are never seen again.

* * *

That was two years ago. My brother is still gone. Missing. The police, the FBI, the volunteers who have devoted thousands of hours of labor, have found nothing. The newspaper headlines crackled for attention: The Unsolved Mystery of Promising Student Athlete; All-State soccer goalie, National Merit Scholar, golden child of Battleground High, disappears without a trace. Liam Chandler, stuff of legends.

Liam Chandler, reduced to nothing more.

* * *

Allow me to set today’s scene: It’s Saturday morning, barely dawn. I’ve got a loaded backpack, schoolwork dumped out on my floor. The phone rings. My dad paces downstairs while he talks. My mom works at the computer station in what was once our living room with earbuds in, her head nodding in agreement to some statistic or statement on one of her podcasts. Eventually, the doorbell will ring, and the hum of activity and the scent of coffee will overtake the house. It’s the same every weekend. Worse, now, with the influx of kids back from college, partnering with my parents’ foundation for volunteer credit. Even worse because I recognize a few of the names—kids who were at my high school a few years ago.

    This is the best time to leave, before the phone lines become congested, before their voices start to carry up the steps, before they decide they could really use another set of eyes, or hands, or ears, and somebody inevitably calls, “Nolan?” I head down the back steps, out the back door, walking around the outside of the house to the driveway, partly to avoid my parents, who will ask why I’m heading to work so early, but mostly to avoid the pictures.

I should explain the pictures.

They started in the living room—just a few taped sporadically to the walls—but they’ve slowly and steadily seeped into the dining room, down the hall, and have recently begun encroaching on the kitchen. They’re like wallpaper, their edges overlapping, eyes of the missing following as you pass. Their names and measurements, birth dates, and last reported seen statistics written in Sharpie underneath. A girl, age twelve, from Florida, over my seat in the dining room. Next to a boy, age fourteen, from West Virginia. Round and round they go.

    It was a rapid progression from a seemingly normal house to this: First, the police, the FBI, the psychic my parents consulted—clinging to her every word even while looking embarrassed for themselves—failed to provide any answers. Next, the volunteer-run center migrated from the generosity of the coffee shop meeting space to our living room, and my parents redoubled their efforts. Then, getting nowhere, they tripled them, spinning faster and faster until they finally landed in some exponential realm so that instead of just finding Liam, they’d inadvertently taken on the case of every missing child on the East Coast. Or so it seemed to me.

Okay, the truth: They run a nonprofit foundation for missing children throughout the Southeast. They’ve channeled their grief into action (so said the local paper). But if you ask me, they just feel at home in it now. And so they’ve willingly inherited the cause of every grief-stricken parent.

Meanwhile, I’ve inherited Liam’s old sedan, which was my father’s before that. It’s kind of a toss-up each day whether it will start, and beyond that, whether the air will kick in. Please start, I beg the car. Especially because Abby’s apparently home from college now, currently in running gear, tying her sneakers in front of her parents’ front door, doing her best to look like she hasn’t noticed me—and I’d really prefer to do the same. Nothing’s quite as awkward as casually waving to your brother’s old girlfriend, who accidentally—and only once—in a moment of weakness, or grief, or whatever, ended up in the back of this car, with me. Not something either of us would really like to relive. Betting it’s worse for her.

    The engine stutters and then catches, and even the air kicks in, the scent of Freon bordering on intoxicating.

I don’t look at Abby as I drive past. Today will be a good day.

* * *

The ranger at Freedom Battleground State Park thinks he’s got me all figured out. EMF meter? he once asked when I pulled the gear from my backpack. You got one of those infrared cameras, too?

Apparently if there are enough ghost stories in your area, you’re bound to get some amateur ghost hunters. I guess I wasn’t the only one roaming the woods, looking for signs of the unexplained. I don’t have one of those infrared camera things, though—or a temperature gauge—because I’m not looking for cold spots or orbs or anything. I’m not even looking for ghosts, exactly. But I let the ranger think that’s what I’m up to, because he mostly leaves me alone. I must seem harmless enough.

But, like he assumes, I am measuring, and mapping, high-electromagnetic spots, and I also have a Geiger counter to detect radiation pockets, and an extra-low-frequency meter, all of which are typically associated with the other side. With signs of ghosts. Or spirits. Honestly, I’m not exactly clear on the proper terminology.

That psychic my parents hired came out here with us, and she said she could feel some energy, that something happened here—well, of course it had, we’d told her as much. And she gave us some hard sell about her colleague who was an expert and could help pinpoint spirits, or energies or something, and this was the point where she lost my parents. She preys on the desperate, my father said when we got back home, and my mother, with her silence, agreed.

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