The sign read Missing: Dorothy Copewell. One year ago yesterday, the teenage girl had vanished, but kids had been disappearing for years. It all started ten years ago with Mark Krainin. He was the first. No one in the small town of Paulson, Indiana, believed the disappearances were related. The cops always seemed to have a new excuse. I was fed up with it. Everytime I passed the missing signs in the supermarket I felt a pit growing in my stomach.
People didn’t just disappear. They had to be out there somewhere dead or alive. Some families searched restlessly. Others made peace with it. I thought instead. Thinking was both my best friend and my worst enemy. My parents told me this brain would get me in trouble one day. I lived in Indiana what else could I do besides think.
Not many young people were as curious as I am. Well, some were I supposed. It never bothered me, being different. Being an outsider gave me a safe place to think. A safe place to watch. A safe place to dream. I often thought of including myself with others, but there never seemed like much of a point. Leaving that town was my dream.
On my walk to school, I passed more signs. Of course, I also passed more apathetic teenagers looking at their phones. The Mark Krainin signs hurt the most. No one had hope for Mark. He was the first kid to go missing. Even his father had claimed that he couldn’t search any longer. Peter Krainin just so happened to teach my first period class.
Even though he stopped looking, Mr. Krainin hung a missing sign outside his classroom door. I interpreted it as more of a warning not to mess with him than his actually wondering if someone had seen his son.
“You stop and look at the sign everyday, Ash,” he commented as I entered the room. My mouth went dry. I had been sure that he didn’t know I existed, like most people.
“I’m sorry,” I shrugged.
“Don’t be,” Mr. Krainin said. He actually smiled. He never did that. I understood why of course. “Someone should remember him.”
“Don’t you?” I asked.
“I remember that he’s gone. Is there anything else I need to remember?” Peter Krainin said, returning to his usual grouchy self.
“That he existed,” I blurted out without thinking.
“Mark still exists but I think he wants us all to forget that, don’t you?”
The bell rang and I took my seat in the back of the class. What he said to me actually made some sense. Sometimes I wished that I didn’t exist, that I could disappear. I stared at the spot in front of me. Dorothy used to sit there. Now, some guy who smelled like Axe body spray sat in front of me.
Dorothy always used to laugh at Mr. Krainin a lot. Never on purpose. I could see her squirm around in her desk trying not to make a sound. Peter Krainin was bitter and sarcastic, so of course she would always mess up and giggle. I never said anything to her but it was the highlight of our class last year. Every time, Mr. Krainin stopped in his tracks and glared at her for a moment. She would then sink into her seat, flushing red.
After school I walked home in the snow since both of my parents worked and couldn’t pick me up. The snowfall started increasing the second I started heading home. Snowflakes dangled on my eyelashes blocking my view. Then I saw her—Dorothy Copewell.
I had to blink a couple of times before I was sure. Her dark brown eyes stared directly at me. My heart skipped a beat. Of course, it surprised me, but a part of me always believed she was alive. She had only been gone for a year. It was the most recent disappearance. I reached in the pocket for my phone to call the cops. Dorothy turned to walk down the street. Following her down the street the best I could, I chased her until I slipped on a patch of ice.
“You need to be more careful,” my mom scolded me once I got home.
“I saw Dorothy Copewell,” I said, emphasizing each word. All night I kept telling my mother what I had seen. She never believed me which wasn’t much of a surprise. Mom told me I was only acting this way because of Edith.
Edith Maynard was the girl I was in love with up until the beginning of my sophomore year when she vanished. Her jerkish boyfriend Greg was found dead in the woods. They all assumed the same happened to her. Edith became like the others, another missing sign. How many signs would have to be hung up for people to wake up?
The next day, I gazed out my frozen bedroom window, like I expected Dorothy to walk by. I knew she wouldn’t. I would never see her again and I would never have proof of the first time. My only option was to look insane. This wasn’t new to me.
Edith and I used to talk about Mark Krainin. She said that she believed he was living an adventurous life somewhere else. He was a good looking guy. He was smart too, not that his father would have given him another choice. Before Edith, I never thought of them. The people who had disappeared.
At first I tried to tell myself Edith had gone to find a better life. I told myself the same thing about Dorothy. With all the vanishing stories, they couldn’t all have happy endings.
When I headed to school on Monday, Tommy Luna walked on the other side of my street. He went missing seven years before, when we were eleven. I couldn’t let him vanish again, not like Dorothy. This time instead of running like a lunatic, I stayed put and called the police. Of course, when I looked up from my phone Tommy was gone. The police called my father, and I missed school and had to listen to my father’s lecture about how it wasn’t funny to lie to the police. Like I would have ever thought it would be a good idea to claim to see a missing kid. My father told me it had all been in my head, that my fall the other day caused it. Apparently, he forgot that I had fallen because I was chasing another “missing” person at the time. No one would believe that I had seen them though.
Things only got worse. Everyone in school believed I had lost my mind. Maybe they were right. I was never popular, but I now knew what rock bottom looked like. No matter what anyone said to me, I saw Dorothy Copewell and I saw Tommy Luna.
Even Mr. Krainin appeared to believe that I had lost my mind. While he taught class, he glanced at me every few seconds, like I would jump up right then and claim I saw his son. As I left for my second period class he stopped me.
“Ash,” Mr. Krainin said, preparing me for what would probably be a ‘Ash we all know you’re just nuts speech.’ “Why didn’t you chase Tommy? Why call the cops? You could have caught him and brought him to his parents.”
“When I tried to chase Dorothy, I hurt myself,” I shrugged. My eyes widened when I realized that no one knew that I had seen Dorothy.
“Dorothy Copewell?” he tapped his pencil on his desk. Peter Krainin remained oddly cavalier for what we were discussing. He probably thought it was funny to watch me freak out like that. Up until now, Mr. Krainin wore the title of the town freak, the man who taught English by day and spent all his time drinking at night. His lifestyle was a strange one, but he appeared to have no shame. Sometimes, he wore sunglasses to class because he still felt hungover.
“Look, I get it—”
“No you don’t,” he interrupted me.
“I’m not trying to hurt anyone. I’m trying to help them,” I pleaded with him.
“How is this helping anyone?”
My mouth opened and I had no words. He made a good point all I had done up to that point was hurt people. The Lunas thought someone had brought their son home because of me. I should have chased him.
“Ash?” Mr. Krainin tilted his head.
“Yes, sir,” I responded still half out of it.
“Go to your next class,” he rolled his eyes at me. After checking the clock, I darted out of the classroom and down the hall. The beauty of everyone thinking I lost my mind was that I could act however I wanted, so I decided to run the whole way to second period.
On my way home, I gathered every missing sign I passed. I needed to know all of their faces just in case I spotted one of them. The missing signs were neatly sorted on the side of my bed away from the door.
Missing: Dorothy Copewell
Missing: Tommy Luna
Missing: Andrea Whitman
Missing: Justin Kint
Missing: Mark Krainin
Missing: Edith Maynard
Part of me knew there was a chance I would never see any of them again. At that point, I had considered pretending that I hadn’t seen anything at all. It could have all been in my head. That didn’t matter though because I couldn’t get it out.
I looked for them everywhere. Not like I hunted them down. I just was always aware of my surroundings. My eyes always wandered out the window or behind the tree. If I saw one of them again, I wouldn’t let them get away. Weeks passed and they never appeared again. Tommy never walked across the street from me. Dorothy never stood out in the snow.
Finally, one day after school on my usual route, I noticed my physics book wasn’t in my bag so I went back to school for it. The halls were dead, only a few kids stood by their lockers. After searching all through my locker, I couldn’t find the book. I decided I would use my new insanity to my advantage and the teacher wouldn’t be too hard on me. I dragged my feet as I left the school again.
The sound of rustling bushes filled my ears. Without thinking, I turned back, expecting to see my usual disappointing nothing. Instead I gazed at her in awe. She stood behind the bushes with her hand on top one of them. She got my attention on purpose. Edith.
“I stole your book,” Edith whispered, offering me my physics book back. Slowly, I approached her. Of course, I always wanted to believe that Edith was alive. I wanted to believe that one day she would come home and I could finally admit how much I cared for her. Edith had been the last person I had expected to see though. Since her boyfriend had been murdered, the easiest thing to assume was that she was dead too. That’s what most people said.
“Edith? Why?”
“I missed you. There’s a lot of missing involved in being missing,” she told me, her eyes glistened with tears.
“Then come back,” I smiled at her. Tears rolled down her cheeks. I grabbed my phone out of my pocket. With my other hand, I stroked a piece of her strawberry blonde hair. She was real. Edith was back.
“Take your book,” she extended both of her arms.
“I don’t care about the book. Let me take you back to your house,” I begged her.
“Take it, Ash. All I wanted was to see you and I got what I wanted.” Edith nudged me with the book.
“Well, I haven’t gotten what I wanted!”
“What do you want? Do you even know?” She shook her head at me. Edith let the book drop to the ground. Without another word, she turned away, going to vanish again. I looked down at the book lying in the grass and I squeezed my phone in my hand. Her curls bounced like they always did as she walked away from me. I didn’t know why, but I couldn’t bring myself to call the cops.
Time passed as I sat on the steps to the school, ignoring calls from my parents, staring at my physics book. Mr. Krainin walked passed me. He went straight by me without saying a word. Walt, a guy from my English class, almost did the same, but he stopped.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, sounding clearly afraid of me.
“I saw Edith Maynard,” I told him, and I didn’t care if he thought I was crazy.
“Where are the cops?” Walt walked towards me.
“I didn’t call them,” I muttered, fiddling with my phone.
“Why not?”
“Because I don’t think these kids want to be found,” I looked up at him. Without another word he ran away from me. I didn’t even flinch.
I could see my own reflection in some kid’s sunglasses. I looked like a red-faced emotional wreck. Seemed about right. No one else tried to say anything to me. Again, seemed about right.
As I slept that night, more like tossed and turned, this light kept flashing in my window. I ignored it at first. Eventually, I decided to check it out. When I looked out my window, I saw them. Dorothy Copewell. Tommy Luna. Andrea Whitman. Justin Kint. Edith Maynard.
I ran outside my house, but they didn’t leave. No more disappearing. I smiled at them. I handed them each their own sign that I had seen and taken down. Then, they led me away. I was dying to see where they had been. They took me to a van parked down the street from my house. I got in hesitantly.
From the driver seat, a man turned around and counted each of us.
“Mark Krainin?” I almost jumped out of my seat. It had been so long since he went missing that he barely looked like the young boy on the sign. He turned away from me and didn’t say another word. Like father like son, I guessed. A piece of me wanted to scream at him for walking away from his father like it was nothing. It broke him. Mark didn’t even seem to care.
There I was, in a van of missing kids, all forgotten. They seemed oddly happy though. Maybe not completely happy but free.
Mark took all of us to a diner on the edge of town. I still awaited my explanation, why they had left and where they had been. Not even Edith would tell me.
“Get out,” Mark demanded.
“Go inside,” he told me. Dorothy looked at me and nodded. Tommy patted me on the back. Then, I got out of the van alone.
When I walked in the restaurant, the host said there was a table waiting for me. He guided me there without telling me anything else. A table for two awaited me and so did someone. I couldn’t tell who because they held a menu in front of their face.
“Do you understand?” a familiar voice spoke to me. I froze. My whole body remained motionless. I observed the outside of the diner. The others stood outside the van and hung out together. They almost appeared to be a family.
“Yes,” I said quietly.
“Then, I would like to make you an offer,” Peter Krainin set down his menu.
Before I knew it, I stood behind a tree in a park I went to when I was younger. Everyone cluelessly carried on with their lives, like nothing happened outside of themselves. I placed my hand on the piece of paper on the tree. The sign read Missing: Ash Denton.

About the Author

Macy DeBosier

Storytelling has been a passion of mine my whole life. It is my goal to share unique stories that are not often told. I enjoy showing people complex and conflicted characters that hopefully move the reader as much as they move me. Most of my free time is spent writing because I love telling these stories.