Shadow Play

Missing - White Male, 32, Brown Hair, Brown Eyes

The only lights were ours. We were going as fast as that truck could take us.

She was sleeping in the floorboard of a U-Haul packed with everything we had. Our dogs slept on the seat with me. I'd driven the whole way.

I couldn't see her down there in the floor. But after five years you know a person by the rise and fall of their breath. In the pitch black I could make out the rise of her hips from memory, barely tucked into the space under the dashboard.

The U-Haul had a governor. I could only go so fast.

I changed radio stations, but it was no use. We were barreling through the middle of Montana at 2 a.m. I could make out parts of a passionate sermon on an AM station and there was the faintest hint of an Oldies station, but the only thing that came in clearly on the radio was a call-in show featuring a silky voiced DJ named Delilah who played love songs people called to dedicate to others they hoped might be listening.

Phil Collins sang "One More Night," and I tried to remember the last time I grabbed the hips tucked under the dashboard, willing slopes I could sink fingertips well into. All I could remember was the pull of her skin against my palms as she moved away, the tap of steely lips tapped against my forehead.

One of the dogs yawned. The high school girl called Delilah to say how much she loved her boyfriend and requested "You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman" for him. And I laughed, tickled at the idea that this teenager could feel like a woman, much less a natural one. I imagined this school girl's next phone call to Delilah, her voice thin with devastation.

I drove and drove miles and miles, always exactly as fast as I could. Darkness was everywhere. I was amazed at the near absence of street lights. Ours was the only vehicle on the road for such long stretches of time that a nagging fear began to creep into my throat from my gut: What would happen if I lost control and flipped this truck? Who would save us?

I gave both dogs long scratches behind each ear. Delilah was now playing Celine Dion, but it was no use trying to try tuning into anything else.

She hadn't moved in what seemed like an hour or more. She was an amazingly heavy sleeper who could nap upright in a pinch, and often did. She regularly fell asleep mere hours after waking in the morning.

I hurled the truck through darkness, vast blackness that felt thick. It felt like moving through a vat of oil the color of midnight. I began to feel suspended, numb in my body, separate from myself. The only lights were ours, and they shot through the night like lasers, cutting through the cloak of darkness, allowing me to ride the void going as fast as I could.

I can't say when it became imperative that I stop the truck. Something happened, though, and I had to. It became so obvious, so simple: Stop. Get out.

I pulled my foot off the accelerator. The one with the limit. The one that would only let me go so fast. The truck began to slow. I found the shoulder of the road wide and safe to park. I brought everything to a stop.

The dogs stirred. The black one snuffed and the blonde one licked my hand and nuzzled her snout against my thigh. I didn't pet her. She slid her head off my lap and filled the cab with a sigh and settled back into sleep. The blonde one takes after her mama.

I couldn't look into the floorboard. It was too dark to see her, anyway.

I had to go. I had to go out into the total darkness.

Turning off the headlights with a click turned on a canopy of stars. I could see space fires, many of them long since burned out, through the glass. There was a perfect windshield-sized portion of sparkle and wonder.

Delilah promised Michael MacDonald, so I turned the truck's engine off. I sat still and closed my eyes.

I could hear her breath filling up the car, a cadence that can only be achieved in the paralyzing depths of intense sleep, so I opened the driver's side door. I saw my hand opening the handle as if it was a scene from a movie. My gut guided me out of the truck.

The dogs immediately leapt to their feet and even then she did not wake. I thought they'd whine when I closed the door after slipping out. Not a peep. They may have been looking out the window after me. I don't know; I didn't look back.

The crunch of my shoes on the gravel was the loudest thing I'd ever heard. Each step sounded like bones and glass and precious things breaking.

I moved in the direction of what I knew to be a pasture. I floated, my hands groping the space in front of me. Soon my feet met soft grass and my footsteps no longer made a sound.

I don't know how far I walked before I decided to plant my feet and look into the sky. I let my neck relax and the weight of my skull sink back and let my mouth hang open and tried to see as many stars at once as I possibly could.

A fat star, wobbly and weak, caught my attention out of the millions staring down on me. It was smiling, I would swear it to this day. It pulled me and I followed. I walked and walked and walked in the darkness, the pitch black of night enveloping me like velvet, soft and welcoming and new. It was an inky void you could sink your fingertips into.

So, I walked and walked and walked in the darkness until morning, when I walked some more. I walked so far that it became necessary for her do some of the driving. I walked so far she had to find a different apartment and put the dogs in daycare because she works so much to forget. I walked so far that it became necessary for her to tell people that I was gone, I'd disappeared.


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I really love this one.

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