After midday Alex and her mother went out looking for Carlos. Well – she had initially planned on walking Alex to her bus port by the train station (it would later turn out that all forms of public transportation bar taxis were suspended until further notice), but they stopped halfway across the road, almost screeching a passing car to a halt. Katherine discerned a missing person notice taped to a red-brick wall. It was near the edge of an apartment complex, between two buildings.
Her eyes shot open. The hem of her ebony overcoat flung back against her ankles and dipped into the puddles of rain beneath her.
She thought: No, no. Oh God! Don’t let it be true!
“It’s not true.” Katherine hurried the rest of the way across the road. It was a greenlight, but she didn’t care. That’s not what mattered to her. It was a moment that she’d never forget, nor would she try to forget it. No, it was a simple episode of shock that seemed to begin tapering off little by little as she sauntered towards the leaflet on the wall. “Please, tell me it’s not true.”
The maroon sky above was slowly starting to cast a translucent beam of blueish-purple light over the pathway; it was like a second, much brighter sun peered between the gap of two separating clouds and sent forth a bioluminescent ray that shuffled itself throughout the length of the road.
“Mom,” said Alex, chasing after her with her red backpack strapped to her hoodie, “what are you doing?!”
A car beeped by, and a voice called, “Get off the road, you stupid bitch!”
“MOM!” Alex lunged onto the walkway and stepped towards her mother.
Katherine stood still, facing the wall.
“What is it?” Alex asked her mother.
There was a moment in which the silence was so long and heavy that Alex felt as though she may have collapsed from her anticipation for a response. “Mom?”
“Nothing,” said Katherine, turning around with a forced smile. “I just thought . . . I thought I saw your father, is all.”
“Mom, I don’t like this. Can we just go home and call the police?”
“We can’t, Alex!” her mother told her. “There’s no signal for miles. And the closest police station is two – maybe three hours away in this traffic.”
Alex didn’t know what to say. So instead she nodded.
A long sigh blared from Katherine’s lips.
She said, “We’ll wait at home for the time being. Once the phone signal comes back in like . . . another hour or so – I’m not sure – but we’ll call the cops then. And they’ll find him. ”
Alex nodded her head again.
They exchanged looks, and then Alex looked at the missing person notice on the wall:
DATE MISSING: DEC. 7th 2032
WEIGHT: 130 lbs
ADDITIONAL FEATURES: A BIRTHMARK ON HER LEFT CHEEK
“That’s a teacher at my school,” said Alex. “There ain’t no way she went missing.”
“Ms Melbourne,” said Katherine, turning her head back to look at the page. “I know. And she’s missing, Alex.”
There was a lot to say in that notice that was left unsaid. They forgot to add a phone number, an email, or anything to help people deliver a message on her whereabouts. It was as if . . . they wanted her to remain unfound, unseen. And why would anybody put this up now – when there was a power outage and a signal failure across the city not too long ago?
Such things were not out of the norm in a city as large as Violetwall. Many incidents over the years gone by were cold. The truth was that nobody knew much about anyone, about anything. They hardly knew the back of their own palms. Carlos used to say, “They wouldn’t be able to find their own ass with both hands, a GPS, two detectives from Philadelphia, a map, and let’s see . . . oh, I almost forgot, a brain.”
But there was always one he would forget to mention: a missing person notice.
Was this here for a while? Katherine thought.
“Your father . . . he’s . . .” Katherine paused mid-sentence. “He’s . . .”
“He’s what?” said Alex.
“He’s missing, isn’t he?”
Alex felt like crying. She had felt so for quite a bit of time – from the moment she got home yesterday morning to the moment her mother announced he hadn’t returned any calls.
“Geez, mom.” Alex’s voice broke. “I-I don’t know. He’s not here, or at home. And you said he didn’t return any calls.”
“He couldn’t,” said Katherine. “The phone signal went out after dark. He could be anywhere. But I sure hope to God he’s somewhere safe in a hotel or something.”
Alex kept her silence. We have to find him.
“What if . . .?” Alex began. “What if he is lost? What then, mom?”
Katherine rushed over and grabbed her by the wrist. “Then we call the police when the signal comes back like I said; we gather a search group and look for him; we contact the goddamn FBI and make sure they find him; and if all that fails, we call him, over and over again. Or, at least, I’ll call him. Even if it means I have to spend the rest of my life listening to his stupid voice go on about those Chewits taffies, I will find him. You don’t worry about that – you worry about keeping out of harm’s way and living a good life. And I swear to you . . .”
Katherine let go of Alex’s wrist and hugged her, tears beginning to build in her eyes. There was a moment of silence. ” . . . I will find him.”
Alex stood still with her arms stiffened at her sides. Slowly, she began raising them to accept her mother’s embrace.
Andy awoke to the sweet aroma of his mother’s cooking. He was dressed in the same clothes as yesterday night. Except this time he didn’t have his coat or beanie on. His mother had taken them into the laundry room and put them in the dryer for a while. Then she ironed out the creases on his jacket. After that she made herself and Michael tea. All sorts of things happened throughout his rest, but they eventually decided to sleep at around 3:27 A.M. By then, Andy’s breathing had returned to normal and he was sound asleep.
Diane Caulfield was cooking what Andy liked to call the yellow stuff. Eggs, bacon, orange juice, toast, sausages on occasion, and pudding. The kitchen was as large as any other room on the bottom floor – if not larger than all the others. It had smooth marble counters and freshly picked flowers potted by the sink. There were two dining tables; they didn’t have a designated dining room, so they used the kitchen for breakfast and lunch, and the living room for dinner. Everywhere else was free to roam.
It had blue drapes by the cabinets, and silky white walls. Andy’s mother had planned to have the entire interior of the house repainted with new and fresh colours; a nice carmine for the kitchen; a crimson red for living room; a light yellow for the laundry room, and either blue or purple for the bedrooms. The bathroom could remain the same (it was black all over).
Michael was watching TV in the living room. He flicked through each of the news stations. One by one he saw numerous reports about missing people across the United States. He watched a news report on CTN about how four hundred people vanished in Orlando. All sorts of things were popping up in the media, and as he browsed through more channels, he saw similar announcements from across the states: there were a further three thousand missing in North America, two hundred and fifty in Violetwall, and eleven hundred in New Oregon. But those were just the documented cases; it was estimated, according to the news anchor on CTN, that there were roughly twenty thousand missing person cases across the whole of America.
Michael switched the TV off, and all that remained was the rich sound of eggs sizzling on the pan. He sipped a cup of tea. One spoon of sugar. No milk.
Andy tottered out of his bed at twenty past twelve on the cold winter afternoon of December. It was a windy day, the most stress-free afternoon since NASA uploaded those images last Saturday. Too bad I don’t get to spend it with Alex and Phoenix, Andy thought. But there were people out there who were spending it with the people they loved; young folks with their parents watching their every movement and older folks going out for walks when they were advised to stay home. That’s how it was whenever there was an emergency loose.
He groaned sighs and wheezed headaches as he went downstairs. Then he entered the kitchen without his mother noticing at first. She was wearing a white morning nightgown with teal streaks dipping down through the centre. Her simple yet delicate brown swooped down over her shoulder and kissed her upper back.
Andy took a look around the kitchen. Nothing had changed since he left yesterday, and something told him he wouldn’t be allowed to leave for quite some time.
He pulled up a seat and sat down.
“Oh.” Diane turned around with a smile. “I knew you’d get up around this time. You always do.”
“Yeah, uh, what happened?”
“You passed out, love,” said Diane.
“I passed out?! When?!”
Diane spun around and started stirring tea for Andy. She said, “Do you honestly not remember? Your father and I had to carry you into bed because you came home late last night. When the cloud or hole in the sky came about. Remember?”
Andy couldn’t remember a thing.
“Yeah,” he lied. “I remember now. Thanks for reminding me.”
There was a short moment of quiet. Then the sound of Diane’s tea stirring continued. It was gentle at first, but as she came close to finishing it became louder and louder.
“If you were any heavier we’d need a cot to carry you inside. You might wanna lay off the fast food. As it seems we won’t have much of a choice anyhow.”
“DIANE!” Michael’s voice called from the living room.
“WHAT?!” she said.
“ROUGHLY TWENTY THOUSAND PEOPLE HAVE GONE MISSING IN THE LAST TWENTY-FOUR HOURS!”
“WHAT?!” she said.
“Come in here!” Michael yelled.
“Not now! I’m busy! And Andy just woke up!”
“Okay, mom,” said Andy, “what exactly is going on with the big hole in the sky? Like what is it?”
“Nobody knows,” Diane told him; she was surprised that he was worried about it. “I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about.”
“But what if it is, mom?”
Diane finished making the tea and handed it to Andy. “What you’re gonna do right now is eat. Eggs, bacon, sausages. And when you’re done you’re gonna take out the trash and not worry about this black hole thing, okay? I already told you there’s nothing to be worried about.”
“’NOTHER THREE HUNDRED GONE MISSING IN VIOLETWALL!” Michael said, getting the number wrong. It had actually been two hundred and fifty.
“OKAY!” Diane turned back and finished making her son breakfast. After that she went into the living room to see what the ruckus was about.
Andy was still confused.