By Anna Weinbeck ’19
Crickets. Lots of them. It was almost deafening as he stood there among the vast lake in front of him. The sound of the rock being skipped across the water echoed through the cavernous space created by trees surrounding the body of water. The splashes almost disrupted the peace, even though the sounds of nature were roaring at this time of night, so no one would have been able to hear the disruption anyways. The crickets were so loud his own mother didn’t hear him leave through the noisy back porch door. That thing is so loud and each time she hears the squeak she swears she is going to rip the nuisance off its hinges. Too bad she grew so accustomed to the sound she didn’t go to check what it was.
In the small town of Emerson, Georgia, everybody knew everybody. Word carried so fast the old woman who lived on the corner of town knew within fifteen minutes that the owner of the grocery store, that was on the other side of town, had fallen and broke his arm falling off a ladder. Long story short, everyone knew your private business. With just under 500 people in town, it’s hard for someone to be unaccounted for. If Suzy, the town clerk, didn’t show up to work, someone knew she was at home sick from the flu. Or if Robert, the garbage man, didn’t collect the trash on Wednesday, someone knew he was out of town for vacation. But there was one person no one knew entirely. The mother of a son who lived in a rickety, old home on the outskirts of town with weeds growing out of the space between the side panelling. The only thing for sure known about her was that she was a single mother and her son was eight years old. It was believed that no one lived in that house after her husband had gone away and the family had moved, until she was spotted one day on the porch knitting. The house used to be so beautiful. Brand new everything; furniture, windows, appliances. Lovely flowers and plants that were kept up by a landscaper they had hired every month. A wrap-around farmers porch that was perfect for a summer night. A dream home that most of the townspeople ogled as they drove in and out of town. It was in a blink of an eye that everything changed.
It was getting close to bedtime. She knew she should call her son back in, but she couldn’t bring herself to get up out of the chair anymore. The overgrown grass in front of her whispered in the wind as if they were trying to tell her something. As if they knew something was wrong and were trying to will her to get up.
“Alright, alright,” she said to the open air and she shoved herself up from the rocking chair that, surprisingly, still held her weight. She trudged through the dark house while knocking into the thousands of stacked up newspaper articles that lined the hallways. The squeak of the back porch door echoed through the night, slicing through the exclamations of the outdoors.
“Come on in, my son, it’s time for bed,” she exclaimed into the night. Nothing. She yelled for him again. Still nothing. Nothing but the sound of crickets, literally, chirping back at her. She stepped out on the the rotting staircase. She squinted her eyes to try and strain her focus on the edgeline of the pond, searching for the outline of her son’s frail figure. Panic started to set in. She rounded the span of their marshy backyard that lined the water, searching for what felt like hours. This can’t be happening again. She couldn’t help but let her thoughts get the best of her. Who is doing this to me? Why me? She wanted to scream into the vastness of the surrounding woods as if the tall, unwavering trees would give her an answer back. A huge gust of wind blew through the fall air, causing the back door to fly open and have newspapers fly out into the night. One of them got caught on her leg. She reached down and picked it up. HUSBAND GOES MISSING IN SMALL GEORGIA TOWN. Crumpling it up in frustration, she threw the small wad of paper into the pond. The water rippled out until it wore flat onto the waterline.
It took a total of thirty minutes for the town to learn that another member of the unknown family was reported missing.
She went to the cops that following morning to report for a missing person. They’re all going to think I killed my son too, she thought, but she did it anyway. There was no way she could lose the last person she had left.
“I’m sorry ma’am. The person has to be missing for at least 36 hours for them to be considered missing.” The police officer had a look of skepticism on his face. The way his partner was looking at her, she could tell he was new and thought she was crazy. He probably heard the rumors already. Wouldn’t surprise her.
Four years ago when her husband went missing, she quickly turned from a mourning wife to the main suspect of a murder investigation. The whole town had flipped on her. Starting rumors and accusations that she had killed him for his money or that she was a serial killer planning on killing everyone in town. It was all so crazy. She couldn’t believe that this was happening to her. She stuck to her story. He had gone out late one night to retrieve some more wood from their pile in the backyard and never returned. She was found not guilty, but that didn’t stop the town from differing their rumors. Neither did the police. They for sure thought she was crazy now.
Three weeks had passed with no sign of her son. A missing persons report had finally been filed and her stress had been relieved the tiniest bit. She paced the back porch for hours on end, waiting for her son to return home. Once the town had figured out he was gone, only one person seemed to be sympathetic. His name was John. From what his letter said, he lived on a short strand of houses by the corn fields. His letter sent his condolences and would let her know if he knew anything. The letter surprised her to say the least. She was almost heartwarmed by the thought. However, she grew confused when more and more letters started to pile up in her mailbox, along with flowers and gifts paired with them. The notes grew more personal, like complimenting her or inviting her over for dinner, then sending information about her son. She had never met John before, let alone heard of him. One of the letters mentioned he’d only lived here for about four years, but she feels like with this town she would have simply heard his name in passing conversation.
One morning, she was sitting in the breakfast nook enjoying her food, when she heard the unfamiliar sound of a knock at her door. The first thought was that it was a police officer, just as they had done a few days back to search the property and ask her some questions; they had seemed more accusing the second time around. She pushed herself out of the creaky chair and eagerly strode to the door, hoping they might have some news about her missing child. She was surprised when she wasn’t met with a police uniform, but flannel, jeans and a warm smile.
“Hi, uh, I would have shown up sooner, but your place is not the easiest to see with the…forest…your front yard has created,” He blew out a laugh at the end of the sentence.
“I’m sorry, do I know you?” her voice flitted up an octave at the end. She crossed her arms in front of her chest.
“Oh. I’m John,” he smiled nervously, “the one who keeps sending the letters.”
A look of recognition crossed her face. She finally had an image to match to the notes, or love letters they had seemed to turn into. “Oh yes, uh hi! Would you like to come in? I have some coffee left.” She wanted to gain some allies in hopes to get help in the investigation, even if he was a little weird.
“Yeah, I would love to.” She stepped to the side to allow him to enter the home. John glanced around the hallway. She could tell he was looking at the newspapers, but decided not to ask about them. He sat where she was originally in the dim room while she grabbed him coffee.
“I would like to apologize for not only the loss of your son, but your husband as well.”
How does he know about my husband? Guess the town still talks.
“Thank you, it’s much appreciated. I don’t get that a lot.”
They made small talk for the rest of the morning before he excused himself because he needed to get to work. He started whistling the tune to “Every Breath You Take” as he walked out the door when she caught a glimpse of a bracelet on his wrist. It looked very familiar to the one her husband had given to their son. A dark leather band with a metal clasp with my husband’s initials engraved in the harsh silver contrast. A one of a kind bracelet that no one else has.
“Oh, and Jessica?” He called out just before shutting the door. Jessica came to a screeching halt in her walk back to the kitchen.
“I’ll make sure to tell your family that you are doing well.”