“Where should we look first? I have already looked in all the places she used to hang out. I even dropped by some of her other friend’s houses, but she was not there.” Tanya was terribly puzzled, and I could see the worry on her face. I never thought of her to be that bright. I always thought she was kind of ditzy but, today, I realized she was just as real as I was.
“I am not sure Tanya. Maybe we should look in places we would think she would never go, places she hates.”
“Yeah! That is a good point. She probably knows that I am looking for her so would probably go to a place I wouldn’t expect, right?”
“Yup. It makes sense to me. Helen?”
“Yeah, whatever you girls want to do is fine with me.” She nodded in agreement.
“Ok.. hmm... Let me think…I know she hates school.” Tanya announced, as if she was the only one who knew that.
“Of course, but isn’t that too obvious?” I asked, doubting that is the place where she would be, especially after school hours.
“True. But where else would she go? The forest maybe? She hates bugs and nature I know that much. One time we tried to bring her camping, and it was like she was in hell. She was definitely born in the wrong place, eh Liz?”
I smiled knowing how much Ruth hated nature, and how ironic it was given where she lives. She might be the only person in our town who doesn’t like nature. I remember her even complaining about the mountains how they were too big and imposing on the sky. She referred to them as ugly guards, keeping her inside a cage. I knew, though, that she was really referring to our parents, not the mountains. They blocked her freedom, just as the mountains made it difficult for anyone to go past them. The mountains probably also reminded her of power- something she thought our parents had too much of.
“That is true. She did hate the woods. But it so big, where would we start?” I asked, resisted to go.
“Well, I think we should start with the main trails. And we should get going because it is getting dark fast.” I could hear the anticipation in Tanya’s voice as well. We both knew this wasn’t going to be easy.
“Yeah, for sure.”
We drove to a major walking trail first. We figured that if she was going to the woods, she wouldn’t want to go on an extensive hike, which most of the trails around here were. We made sure to bring flashlights. At this point, the sky was still cloudy, but there wasn’t any rain or thundering anymore. The cloudiness made it very dark in the woods. We were five minutes into the trail when we had to start using our flashlights.
Even though this trail was well worn, the forest was still packed full of wildlife, and if we made the whole loop, we were sure to run into an animal. I love animals but, when it is this dark, even the slightest sound in the bush makes me jump. The animals were particularly active this evening and, sure enough, every couple of seconds both Tanya and I would flinch. Helen, of course, laughed at us, since she was very much an outdoorsy person, even though her appearance fooled me.
“How far should we go Liz? Mom?” Tanya asked now anxious to get out of the forest.
“I think we should make the whole loop. Otherwise, we are just wasting our time.” Helen suggested. She seemed too pleased, walking in the dark forest. I think she enjoyed us being scared, despite her good intentions.
“I think your mom is right Tanya. I don’t like being in these woods right now either, but it is worth it if we find Ruth.”
“Okay, fine. But if I hear something big out here, I am turning back.” I didn’t like that Tanya was putting her own needs before my sister’s. Maybe she didn’t want to find her as badly as I did. Or maybe her fear is just getting the better of her.
I laughed it off then gave her a pat on the back, “Haha. Don’t be so worried, Tanya. I spend a lot of time in these woods, and nothing bad has ever happened. The darkness is a little unsettling, but I am sure we will be safe. Besides, there is so much traffic on this trail, we may even run into some other people who can help us, and the animals won’t come too close.”
“Yeah. I guess you’re right.” I could tell the fear alleviated from her by the way her shoulders relaxed, well, enough that she kept walking with us.
“I hope so, and I am not just saying that to make myself feel better!” We both laughed a little. Then, sure enough we noticed some people walking in the opposite direction of us. Helen told them of our situation, and they told us that they had not come across anyone in the other direction.
“Well girls what do you want to do? I think if she were here, she would have been here a long time ago, and somebody would have seen her.” Helen concluded. I could tell she was ready to leave. I was too, but not because of the darkness. My gut was telling me she wasn’t here.
“Well, I vote we should check out the school.” Tanya again suggested. I assumed she had a strong feeling that my sister would be there. Or, maybe she knew more than what she was telling us.
“I am starting to think that too, Tanya.” I agreed.
“Okay then. Let’s turn back. We have been walking for 20 minutes, and we would have to walk another 40 to finish. It is also getting pretty chilly out here.” Helen then guided us back, walking with her head held high. I could tell she felt proud to be helping us out.
As we walked back, I was no longer scared of all the sounds. I was actually very comforted by them. All the anxieties I had about Ruth and the forest seemed to dissipate, but I knew it was not over yet. I took the time in the woods to clear my head, and follow my instincts. I was scared to go to the school for some reason. That is why I avoided it before, but I knew now that was where we had to go.
Tanya and her mother talked the whole way back, but I didn’t even hear a word they said. I only heard the crickets chirping, the birds singing, the trickling of the nearby creek, and the soft rustle through the bush. When I could not bask in the beauty of the forest, the sweet sounds of the forest became more predominant. It made me so calm that I felt like I was sleep walking. At one point I almost ran into a tree, because I was not paying attention. Helen and Tanya got a good kick out of it.
When we got out of the forest, all of sudden my anxieties arose stronger than ever. It was as if I fell into a pit full of snakes and there was no way out. “Let’s hurry!” I exclaimed to Helen and Tanya since they were still talking away about pointless things, while my sister could be in danger.
“Yes of course Lizzy, right away. C’mon Tanya, it’s time to be serious now.” Tanya frowned, knowing her mother was right.
We were just outside the city, so it took us about 20 minutes to get to the school. And those 20 minutes seemed like the longest minutes of my life. I was so restless that I kept moving in my seat. “Are you okay?” Tanya asked.
“No I am not. I can’t keep still.”
“Well, we will be there soon. So relax. Mom why don’t you put on the radio so we can think about something else.” It was a thoughtful idea but it did not help me. The songs that kept playing were sappy love songs, which just made me sad, and they also made me think about that boy and Ruth.
“We are here!” Helen announced. Finally I could breathe again. I got out of the car and stared at the school, for what seemed like a long time. At night, it looked like a jail. Fog was hovering over it, and the moonlight was shining through just enough so you could see its outlines, and the glare from some of the windows. I felt like we were about to enter a haunted house.
I wondered how things on Earth can appear so frightening when the supposed scariest dimension is not scary at all. There is a lot to be afraid of here, and I could not help but wonder if my dreams were not real, and that maybe I was delusional. No- that could not be. The tree in the lane, for example; my brothers had seen it too, and it had disappeared the next day. How could that be if Oochoo, Goasila or another being didn’t put it there? So, instead of continuing to think of the most frightening thought of all (me being crazy), I decided to put my fears aside, and label them an illusion, because that is really all they were. My mind was constructing so many bad things, when they did not even exist. I had to be strong, if not for me, then for Ruth.
The doors were locked, so Helen had to call the principal to get the janitor to let us in. He said that the janitor was off duty so he had to come down himself. Usually, a principal would not make this kind of exception, but he and Helen seemed to have a thing for each other. She was quite flirty with him on the phone, anyway.
The principal got out of his BMW, waltzed over confidently, smiled at Helen, looked at us and then quickly put his smile away. “So you gals want to have some fun in the school at night eh?”
“No Mr. Walich. We are here looking for my sister. It seems she has gone missing.”
“Oh. You must be Elizabeth, another one of the Murphies. You look a lot like your sisters. I know your sister Ruth; she has been missing for a long time, well from this school anyway. She claims to be ill, but I have a feeling her notes are false, am I right?”
“Yes, sir you are right. And now I think she needs all the support she can get. She may not be physically ill, but emotionally and, perhaps, mentally she is very sick.”
He stepped back and said, “I do not understand this Elizabeth. Your family is known for their place in this community. All the charity events your father has done and the sweet disposition of your mother. I do not know how Ruth could be in any agony.” He then put his right hand on his hip, and scratched his head with his left.
“Things aren’t always what they appear to be sir.”
As if he didn’t hear what I said, he changed the subject, “Well, I look forward to having you in our school. You seem like a very intelligent girl, and very articulate, I must say. And as for your siblings, they seem a bit spoiled. Well, that is what I always thought was the reason for their behaviour.”
“No, Mr. Walich. None of us are spoiled, I assure you. It goes much deeper than that.”
Mr.Walich seemed very puzzled as he scratched his head again. I could tell by his distorted face that he could not believe what he was hearing. “So you are telling me that your home situation is not good, right?”
“Correct. In fact, it is the complete opposite of good, especially for Ruth.”
“How so?” he asked with his arms crossed, and a hint of disbelief in the tone of his voice.
“Well, it is hard to explain, and I’d rather not discuss it right now. I’d much rather be looking for my sister. I feel she is in danger.”
His confusion and disbelief quickly turned to concern as his eyes grew soft and asked, “What makes you say that Elizabeth?”
“It is just a hunch I have. Also, she got into a big fight with her best friend here, Tanya, and she was acting really weird last night. So much that it made Tanya frightened as well, right Tanya?”
“Yes. I did something I thought was harmless, but I guess I really hurt her feelings.” Tanya went on to tell her story to Mr.Walich. My stomach was churning the whole time. I was even beginning to sweat. I tried to hide it, but I think Tanya noticed because she cut her story short. Thank goodness too, because otherwise, I would have had to find a way into the school myself.
After Tanya was finished, Mr.Walich also was in shock, and offered to help us. I think he realized how she has suffered since she has also been skipping school, even more often than she had before.
We entered the school and it was very sinister. Mr. Walich figured the storm earlier must have put the lights out, so we used our flashlights, and made our way to the basement. After Mr.Walich figured out how to switch on the lights, we could finally search for Ruth without stumbling in the dark. I was relieved with this accomplishment. I took a deep breathe, and smiled to show my appreciation. Mr. Walich smiled back then said, “Good to go!” It was hard not knowing how Ruth was, but trying to find her in a gloomy, empty school was even more frightening. It gave me the chills to even think about it. I was now comforted by Mr.Walich’s confidence, and the lights being turned on gave me a little bit of hope.
As we made our way upstairs, I noticed the lighting did not have the effect I had hoped for. The hallways were still seeping with uncertainty. Every time we were about to turn a corner, my stomach dropped. Mr. Walich decided to lead the way in case there were any unexpected visitors. I could tell he felt like he was doing something important and his ego was being served. When he heard a weird noise or thought he saw something, he would always say, “Stay back. I don’t want you ladies getting hurt. I can take care of it.” He was our protector and he knew it. I always thought it was funny how men never failed to take on this role. Normally, I would be laughing about it, but this time I was utterly grateful.
We were on the third floor now, the highest one. Half of the lights were off, so Mr.Walich made sure to be extra careful and extra protective of us. He walked slower, used his flashlight to check corners, and even banged on the lockers. I’m not sure why he did the latter, maybe because he thought he was scaring “the bad man” away, but there was nothing he could do that would protect us from was about to happen.
Just before turning the corner into one of the main, pitch-black hallways, he said to us again, “Stay back. I don’t want you ladies to get hurt. I can take care of it.” As soon as he turned the corner he gasped, stared straight ahead, then quickly turned to us and told us to go back to the car and stay there and wait for him. I resisted, “Please Mr. Walich! What is it? Please!”
“Elizabeth, no. Go back to the car, now! I don’t want you to see this, you hear me. I don’t want any of you to see this. Go back to the car. I said, NOW!”
“But Mr.Walich! Please! Is it my sister? Please just tell me that, please!” I begged. I needed to see, I needed to see what happened. The others started to walk back, and pulled my arms urging me to come with them. I didn’t want to. I had to see for myself no matter how bad it was.
“Elizabeth, control yourself!” Mr. Walich demanded.
“C’mon Liz, it isn’t good for you. You have to come with us. Believe Mr.Walich, he knows what is best.” Helen also persisted.
“NO!” I pulled away with all my strength, and ran past them into the other hallway. They tried to run after me, but it was too late. I stopped dead in my tracks and fell to my knees. I did not have a flashlight so I could barely see, but I knew what it was. It was my sister. I burst out in tears, and Mr. Walich and Helen put their arms around me. When Tanya came around the corner she started screaming, and kept screaming until her shrieks transformed into tears. She ran up to my sister, and grabbed on to her legs.
“Tanya, no! There is evidence, don’t touch!” Mr. Walich yelled out. Tanya kept holding on. It was a painful sight. “Tanya come here, Tanya please come here.” Mr. Walich urged. She would not budge. She started to yell out, “This is my fault. This is all my fault.” Mr. Walich came over to her and pulled her away. He hugged her tightly, and told her it was not her fault, that it was nobody’s fault.
I stopped crying once I saw Mr. Walich, holding Tanya and consoling her. I felt numb, as if my whole body completely froze, and immediately stopped working. My sister, my dear sister, was hanging there so motionless. With no light left in her eyes, no breath in her lungs, no strength in her heart. My instincts were right. I deeply wished I had found her sooner. I wished she knew how much I cared, how much I loved and still love her, but now she will never know. She died thinking that no one wanted to save her, that no one wanted to care or love her. So many of us ignored the multiple signs. So many of us thought these problems would just go away. So many of us felt powerless. It was somebody’s fault. It was all of our fault. Although, maybe Mr.Walich was right, maybe it wasn’t anyone’s fault, but how could that be? I felt like I had failed her, that we all failed her.
“I see something. Mr.Walich, do you still have a flashlight?” Helen asked. By this time everyone was calmer. Mr.Walich was still holding on to Tanya but she was now crying softly. Helen was the strongest of us all; she had not shed one tear. Maybe she was in shock, or maybe she was trying to be strong for the rest of us.
“The flashlight is right here by our feet. What is it that you see?” Mr.Walich asked, somewhat annoyed. I assume he must have been thinking what could be more important right now, and he was still consoling Helen’s daughter.
She took the flashlight and aimed it towards the wall beside Ruth. It was a message written in blood that said, I finally came to class. “What does this mean? This doesn’t make sense. Why would she kill herself because she didn’t go to class, she felt guilty?” Helen asked shaking her head in despair.
“No, Helen that is not it but I agree, it doesn’t make sense as to why she would write this. I think it would be best to call the police now.” I insisted while still wiping the remaining droplets of the sea that had come down on me tonight.
“Good idea Liz, I am on it right now,” Mr.Walich assured me. “In the meantime you girls better get home.”
“I can’t go home. I just can’t.” I protested.
“Well, come home with us sweetie. There is nothing you can do. We will take care of you, until you can go home. But you do need to contact your family immediately.” Helen suggested while taking my one hand and holding it softly.
“I..I.. can’t talk to them. I just can’t.” I tried saying while another wave crashed against my face.
Mr. Walich came over to me, put his hand on my shoulder, and said softly, “Don’t worry. I will call them. I will let them know you are staying with Helen and Tanya as well, of course that is if you want me to?”
It was a tempting offer but I thought it might be best if I was with my family. I wanted to avoid them, especially my parents, but I figured they would suspect something if I wasn’t with them or that I would be in trouble for not staying with the family. This was mainly because they didn’t want other people to wonder and ask questions. “No. Thank you for the offer, but I should spend this time with my family.” I also figured, at least at home, I could get some solitude in my bedroom tonight before bed, and maybe talk to Oochoo or Goasila.
“Okay sweetie. But if you need anything, you just call me.” Helen assured me, her eyes now glazed with moisture. I could tell she was trying to hold back the tears.
“I will, thank you Helen. And Tanya?”
Her eyes were red and puffy from crying and tears still melted down her face, she said in a very innocent tone, “Yes Liz?”
“Mr. Walich is right. It was not your fault. Ruth was very damaged, and there was nothing you could do to fix that.”
“Thank you Liz, but it still feels like it.”
“Yeah, I know it does as it does for me too. But you can call me too, if you want anything. I am determined to get to the bottom of this. I just know there is more to it.” Right as I was saying this, the police came in to assess the situation.
A tall and burly man, who looked like the leader, called out, “Okay everyone, time to go home! We have work to do here!” Although he was completely insensitive, I knew he was just trying to do his job.
I took one more look at my sister, and I started to tear up again. I just could not believe it. Logically, it makes sense why she would, do such a thing. I just never thought anybody in my family or life would do this. I felt horrible pain for her that she lost her life, or she felt so badly about it she took it away from herself. I knew, in the future, I would be able to deal with it better but right now, I just couldn’t. The confusion, agony, and emptiness I felt was just too great.
We finally got to the parking lot, after what seemed like a very long, dreadful walk through the school. My whole family was standing there in a line, just gazing at the school. I walked over and joined the line. Christine put her arm around me and didn’t say a word. I thought for sure everyone would have come running up to me asking me all sorts of questions, but I think they knew that would be incredibly insensitive. Not that they understand what usually is or isn’t, but I thanked God that they didn’t badger me. Having to talk about it would be the last thing I needed.
Hours later the forensics were done, and they finally took Ruth out, and put her in an ambulance. My mom and sisters began crying as soon as they saw her, but my brothers and father just stood there in shock, barely blinking not making a sound or movement.
When the ambulance drove away, it was final. The next time I would see her face, would be in a coffin, in a church. This saddened me the most. I could not hold back, I again began to cry and hugged my sister Christine tightly. She too was crying. We all stood there for a while, until the most unpleasant noise interrupted, “Let’s go kids. Crying won’t bring her back girls. We have a lot of arranging to do in the morning, so let’s go home.” My father did not shed a tear all night. My brothers shed a few at least, but not my father. I wondered if he was even sad about what happened, or if he was just annoyed. It was hard to say. I thought at least he would put on an act out in public, but he didn’t.
Maybe he was trying to stay tough, like Mr. Walich was, but I knew that was not true. Mr.Walich actually had a heart. He even consoled Tanya, as tears ran down his face. On the way home, to keep my mind off of Ruth, I thought about how the two men were so different from each other. It did not seem to help though, because my mind kept reverting to the realization that my father was probably the main reason for my sister’s untimely death.